ZAUBER: the thread that binds us
"Of course I want to see her again!" Paltar’s voice broke for a moment. "If she wants to see me, that is."
Reod just laughed at his words. "Oh, I'm sure she would. You should have seen her, all determined and heartbroken!"
"What have you done to Nanna?!"
So much for the wizard's challenge. Was he just waiting for a moment of weakness to separate them? What was his true goal?
"Nothing." Reod shrugged. "We made a deal, just like that."
"A deal? It can't be any better than your curses," Paltar spat.
This wasn't like him. He had never felt so angry. Nanna was out there... and he couldn't be there to protect her, to lift her up, to laugh with her. All because of that wizard! But all this rage was better than the emptiness he felt before.
"You want to save her, don't you?" The grin on Reod's face turned wolfish. "You wish to break her curse."
"She's still cursed?"
It drained all the energy out of him. What deal had Nanna made? Even if he didn't know, he felt the realization set in as he looked down at his tattered shirt, the flawless skin beneath it. For him... She shouldn't have...
"Of course." Reod shrugged. "You two haven't made it to my castle yet.
Paltar had almost forgotten. But if that was all he had to do...
"Then tell me how to get there."
But Reod just smiled.
"We couldn't find an exit," Paltar argued. "I don't know if Nanna found one, but I can't see it."
He tried his best not to think about her. It only made it harder. Where was she right now? What was she doing? He just hoped she was okay.
"There is a way," Reod finally said.
"Tell me. Please."
Paltar was done. Whatever ridiculous request Reod had, he would agree. It was all for her, anyway.
"Well, it only opens if you carry me," Reod grinned. "Is that okay with you?"
Paltar froze for a moment. Carry him?
"Don't you have magic to teleport you around? Or at least fly?"
Paltar knew it was a useless question. He had seen the wizard fly before, so it shouldn't be a problem for him. It wasn't a question of 'could'... but 'would'.
Reod shrugged with a grin, as if he could hear his thoughts.
"Or you can go back, give up on this journey and leave all this behind," he said.
That was not an option for him. With a sigh, he dropped to one knee before the wizard.
"Then hop on," he grumbled.
Reod let out a roaring laugh.
"You're really doing it! Fantastic!"
He jumped, and before Paltar could blink, he felt the heavy weight of Reod on his back. He stumbled back, but somehow kept his balance.
"Careful," Reod scolded him.
Paltar didn't answer. Instead, he slowly stood up. How heavy could this man be? He looked quite scrawny, but he was so heavy it reminded him of lifting sacks of carrots as big as himself during his childhood on the farm.
"You're not making this easy," he said through clenched teeth.
"Of course not!" Reod laughed. "That's part of the fun, isn't it?"
Paltar took a step forward. The earth rumbled, and the vines bent down and away from where they stood, as if a great pressure forced them out of the way. A staircase suddenly manifested beneath his feet, each step looking as if it were made of glass, or perhaps crystal. The stairs wound high into the sky, though he couldn't see their end. He took a deep breath.
"This is the way to your castle?"
"Exactly! Isn't it exciting?"
Once again, Paltar took a deep breath. He could do this.
"I wouldn't describe it that way…" he muttered.
Still, he took the first step, trying not to look up or down. It could only get worse from here.
"You're doing a fantastic job for someone who is afraid of heights," Reod commented. "Oh, and remember, there are no handrails! Every step counts."
"Could you please stay silent?"
"I’m afraid I can’t! Besides, this way you can concentrate on something other than the stairs, right?"
Paltar said nothing.
"Come on, don't be like that!" Reod pouted.
Paltar took another step. If he kept this up, he might be able to focus on something else... like Reod's weight. Or his magic. Did he make himself heavier on purpose? It didn't help that he had to look at the stairs and what lay beneath them to progress. He hadn't gone far yet, but still, seeing the distance to the ground was getting to him.
"I'm sure she misses you," Reod said.
"The princess," he continued. "You should have seen her face when she..."
This time, the wizard actually kept quiet. Paltar looked up, because that might be safer than looking down. Above him, the stairs glittered, but he still couldn't see an exit. Was the wizard just messing with him? No, he didn't want to think about that. If there was even the slightest chance that he could help Nanna, he would take it. Even if it made him look like a naive fool. He wanted to trust his words.
Nanna. Reod said she missed him. Was that just to confuse him?
Paltar took another step. He was now at the height of the highest vines, and a light breeze blew through his hair. Above him, the cruel sun shone, and a few beads of sweat ran down his forehead. He could do it. He just had to hold on. One step after another. And at the end...
"Don't look down," Reod reminded him.
"I won't," he replied.
Still, he glanced down, and just seeing how far away he was made his knees go weak. He really had to climb even higher? How was he supposed to endure that? He couldn’t even wipe his sweat away.
This was hell.