According to Seymour and the maids, Ivey had come home. Home…inside Devil's Tower. Who would have thought that inside such a vast monument, there would be people...magical people like Seymour, living out their days?
For Ivey, despite never visiting the place before, there was an odd, familiar sense of relief and affection. It truly felt like she had come home after a long and hazardous journey, similar to returning after a tedious day from work. In fact, Ivey felt more alive with every step than she had ever felt in the past few days.
Even now, as they quietly made their way in the dark with just a few candles decorated around the walls, Ivey felt like it was calling out to her. The place spoke to her, whispering across her senses and into her very Soul.
The two maids led the way with Ivey in the middle, and Seymour trailing closely behind. She'd guess they were maids judging from the way they were dressed. Both were in dark button blouses with dresses stopping at the ankles and a white smock tied to the waist. Even their heads were covered in a plain white cotton cap.
It's been so long...
Who's that? Is that our King?
Our King has returned. We have a King again!
The hairs on the back of her neck stood, and Ivey slowed her pace. I have officially gone insane, considering I am now hearing voices.
Ivey crossed her arms, observing the maids. They gave no indication of hearing anything.
Ivey turned back towards Seymour. She didn't have to say anything; he gave her a small nod, indicating the voices were nothing to be afraid of.
At least I can be insane together with him. Ivey sigh, turning back to the front and nearly crashed into one of the maids. Luckily, one of Seymour's arms came around her waist, pulling her back against him.
"Please stay close as we enter the Forest of Life," the shorter of the two spoke up. Both the maids had stopped in front of a stone wall. It looked like the path ended here. "While the Forest won't harm you, it still hasn't completely recognized you as its owner yet."
Before Ivey could ask what that meant, the other maid stepped forward to wave her hand into the air once, from left to right. The wall before them started to give way, crumbling into pieces before their very eyes. Massive piles of stones landed on the pavement before separating into smaller segments.
The newly created opening was enough for two people to squeeze through. Without saying anything more, the maids disappeared to the other side.
"Do you believe now?" Seymour's voice whispered in her ear. His breath tickled her ear while her stomach twisted itself in knots. Ivey became acutely aware of the arm that was still around her waist and the way the underside of her breasts brushed against his skin.
"Ivey?" He asked when she didn't respond.
Still lost in thought, Ivey's voice was a bit dry when she replied, "What?"
You don't even know him. Stop thinking such dirty thoughts. It's not like he's embracing you on purpose, Ivey! Pay attention! Ivey shifted slightly so that her breasts no longer came into contact with his arm, and she gave a small sigh of relief. Much better.
"Earlier when we were outside. Do you believe now?" He was still holding her against him.
"Ah, that," Ivey coughed, recalling the conversation. Since he refused to move, Ivey stepped forward and away from his embrace, "You were referring to tributes, offerings, and wishes."
"I was referring to more than that."
Feeling more confident now that he wasn't invading her senses, Ivey strode out and brought her hands up to shield her eyes against the sun's brilliant glare. Yes, she knew what he meant, but feigned ignorance. Even now.
And if she were to give him a response? It would be the same now as it was then: I don't know what to believe anymore.
But…it was becoming harder and harder not to.
How does one justify the way he traveled? How did Seymour describe it? A portal, an opening, to get from one place to another. Or the creatures he referred to as the Whites that attacked her? Even the stabbing earlier on... shouldn't it have killed her?
Even now, with those voices, speaking about a King and welcoming her back. Ivey wasn't born yesterday. She knew they were referring to her.
But with everything happening so fast, so abruptly, it was impossible to believe any of it. A small part of Ivey still hopes to wake up from it all.
"Lady Ivey, welcome to the Forest of Life," the maids were waiting for Ivey and Seymour on the other side. The tallest of the two spoke up when they passed through and into the rich, green landscape before them. "The forest is the Center of our powers. It is the source of all spiritual beings and has protected us for centuries. It will do the same for you when you are ready."
Unsure of how to answer, Ivey only nodded. Satisfied, the maids bowed slightly before turning to advance into the thick wilderness.
The forest…Ivey examined it with reverence. The quantity and depth of the colors; the way it came alive with distinct calls of wildlife—there was only one word to describe it: magical. It was like a magical forest full of vibrant pigments of the rainbow. Birds of all different colors fluttered from tree to tree. Monkeys howled while grasshoppers called out to one another. It seemed all were not at all afraid of the unwelcome visitors that had just entered their domain.
Ivey's eyes widened in awe, observing flowers of all different colors scattered near and far among the grass. In the distance, Ivey could hear the constant current of water rushing downstream—or upstream—she couldn't be too sure.
Ivey slowed, taking in the forest and everything about it. The maids were now several steps ahead of her, with Seymour following quietly behind.
"We'll be reaching the base soon after this point," Seymour said, suddenly accelerating his steps until he was side by side with her.
Ivey didn't answer but was glad he kept her company while they made their way through the thick forest to a field of clean, fresh grass as far as the eyes could see. In the middle of it stood a giant tree trunk with four humongous branches reaching out in horizontal seams across the sky. The log itself seemed to be as wide as the Devil's monument.
Is this even possible? How does such a thing exist and inside the tower?
Seymour glanced over at her, reading her thoughts, "Think of the tower simply as a gateway. The base of the tower actually ends with the forest. From here on out, we'll be entering the foundation of the Shaman Clan."
There were a few lingering questions on her mind. Still, she didn't voice them: her head unable to handle anymore unimaginable, unexplained things.
Right now, she was simply going to just let things be. Sometimes, it was better off not knowing, after all, curiosity killed the cat, didn't it?
"Once we get to the Center, I'll have to leave you for a bit, "Seymour continued, glancing over to see the alarm on her face. "Don't worry. It'll just be for a few hours, and no one will harm you here. You are their Queen, after all."
King...those voices said King, not Queen.
Ivey was just about to open her mouth and question Seymour when the maids abruptly stopped again...in the middle of the open valley. Even though the trunk of the tree—or the Center as Seymour called it—appeared even more widespread at this distance, they were still no closer to it than they were earlier.
"The only way to enter is through magic," the maids brought their hands out in front of them. "Lady Ivey, please continue to follow us when we get inside. The Spirit has requested Lord Seymour's presence, so we'll be going our separate ways from here on out."