It was different the second time around.
The first time I made my way into the Watchtower of the Iron Gauntlet, the air was filled with screams. I wandered aimlessly through hallways that twisted and turned, scenes of humanity's depravity playing out before me in the fleshy walls. I'll admit I broke down; what I didn't do, though, was stop moving. I knew there was a way out of that hellhole, and by God I found it. I found the library in the center chamber after what felt like hours, basking in the silence the room offered. The shelves were lined with books that detailed the lives of every man, woman and child alive today. Eventually, I found mine.
Let me tell you, reading about your life from the viewpoint of an omnipotent narrator really makes you think. There were a few times that I wanted to put the book back on the shelf, but I kept reading. As I did, I could see the strands that connected me to the people I had met, people I had screwed over, people I had loved, and people I had hated. I reached the final page, which was a contract of some sort in a language I couldn't read. I recall thinking Well, can't really go back now, and I signed the contract with a pen I found on the shelf. As I looked at the signature, the letters changed around to form the name Caliban. Satisfied, I put the book back…and that's where I woke up.
The second time, though. That happened almost exactly a year later, although this time it was in a dinky little apartment in Seattle. Lydia…I wasn't sure what she was doing. Still not sure, to be honest. I was in my room of the apartment, half-asleep on the bed, when I heard a knock on my door. I got up to answer it, thinking it was Lydia. However, there was nothing on the other side of the door.
Literally. There was nothing on the other side. Understandably, I was a little concerned. I backed up a few steps, then tripped over something. Looking around, I realized that I was back in the hellhole…but things were different. The first thing I noticed was that the place was falling apart; the walls had huge holes, the floor was covered with rubble. The second thing I noticed was that there was no sound at all; not even moving rubble around to clear a path broke the silence. I made my way through the broken hallways, heading to the center chamber; for whatever reason, I knew exactly how to get there this time.
The center chamber had changed as well. Although not as damaged as the rest of the tower, the room was definitely in need of some repairs. The floor was covered with books, most of them torn and damaged. I rummaged around for a while, managing to find my book. Flipping through it, I realized that pages had been added, written in the odd language that I couldn't recognize before in a different handwriting. They were accounts of my training under Lydia, the places we'd been, the people we'd…well, you know. At the end of the added pages was another contract, this time written in blood. The contract stated that it reaffirmed my connection to the source of magic; it also stated an additional connection to the tower, but didn't specify. Although wary, I signed the second contract. As I set the pen down, my body froze as the ink of the contract slinked off the page and soaked into my hand. I stumbled backwards, nimbus flaring and warping into something else entirely as the ink spread throughout my body. As I cried out in alarm, I felt someone shaking me awake.
"Wake up, sweetie." I looked up but saw nothing but blackness. It was a woman's voice, but it wasn't Lydia. "It'll all be okay."
I sat up slowly, shaking my head to clear it. I realized that I was sitting in the back of someone's pickup in the parking lot behind our apartment. The building had gone up in flames; I stared in shock as the glass from the window in my room exploded outward. "Oh, god. Lydia!" I called out, but the woman in the truck bed with me put her hand on my shoulder. "She's dead, sweetie. We got you out of there, but she didn't want to let you go."
At that point, I broke down. I was taken to another apartment in the city; I know people were asking me questions about the things Lydia had taught me, but I don't remember much of that next week. Calliope – the woman from the fire who helped me back on my feet – introduced me to the Mysterium; she was my mentor there before she died on that dig in Peru last year. I know now what Lydia was, and what she tried to do. I also know now what happened to me the second time around. Not many people know that part, however. Even so, the Mysterium here likes bouncing me around from watcher to watcher, making sure that I don't become what Lydia was.
What they don't know, though, is that I went even farther along the path than Lydia did. I like to think that, if she was alive, I would have made her proud.