There was a skeleton on the top landing. The stairway itself was like everywhere else in the old hotel, drooping ceilings and rotted walls but no vermin; the rats and roaches stayed far away and the pigeons always found other places to roost. Occasionally the boy would spy some evidence of the building’s true nature, be it the discoloration that wormed its ways through metal and wood alike or the strange reverberation that seemed to be working its way up from beneath the building.
It didn’t surprise him that the Monarchs had been clawing at the gateway in his absence; in fact he was surprised they hadn’t torn the entire edifice apart brick by brick in their hunger. The boy paused before the skeleton, smiling with recognition. Then he moved forward, the top story door was rusted in place but a few strong pulls was all it took for it to swing wide open.
The inner and outer walls of the topmost floor had either collapsed or been pulled down. Sunlight shone through the gaps between the exposed metal and sagging sheet-rock, clumps of wiring hung from the ruined ceiling. Rusty kerosene lanterns traced a line from the doorway to a cracked stone platform.
The boy paused, letting the sunlight warm him, smiling at the simple pleasure of it.
“Do you have time to lose yourself to sensation?” The voice shook with anger and time.
The boy turned to see a shape nestled high up in a corner of the ceiling. The frayed ivory-yellow cloak it wore hung down around its body, concealing it. The face was hidden behind a white leather cowl with a matching, snout-like mouthpiece. The boy let his smile become a grin, “I was wondering when you might reveal yourself Hierophant.”
“My Aspect draws closer, he has an assassin in place.”
“I suspected nothing less of him.”
The Hierophant quivered as he spoke, “Together we can end his reign of disorder and salaciousness.”
“As you no doubt have concluded, I have an agenda of my own to pursue.” The boy walked over to one of the walls and began ripping out lengths of old wire. “Therefore, both you and your future concern me very little.”
“Fool! The Monarchs will betray you. They will drain this world dry.”
The boy wrapped the lengths of wire around his forearm, “You are a vacuous prophecy Hierophant, a death-bed anamnesis given form.”
“How dare you….” The shape on the ceiling trembled with outrage, “I have tasted futures you can only dream about.”
“I long ago came to appreciate that tenacity does not equate with destiny.” The boy said, “Be gone spirit, you serve no purpose.”
The figure faded like a sun bleached photograph until it was gone. The boy stepped up to the gap in the wall and stared out at the city. While the Hierophant’s prophesies might be dubious at best, one thing was true, if he was there then the Hanged Man couldn’t be very far behind.