One Way: Part Two
They weren't home.
I had checked every room of the house except one. Then I took in a deep breath, let it out again, and swung open the door to the storage hallway.
I'd checked the obvious part earlier. But not the hidden part.
I slithered around some stacks of books, having to feel my way along in the dark corridor. I paused at the end of it. Once, we thought of this room as the hallway that went nowhere. But we were wrong.
I coiled myself up and sprang at the trapdoor in the ceiling. My wing came around the handle. It fell open, so I pulled myself through.
Faith had told us everything. "Our houses are connected," her voice echoed inside my mind. "I don't know what happened to him, but I'd feel seriously better if we blocked that really long corridor off."
I reached out my wing, and touched the wall of dirt in front of me.
True, it was a little paranoid. But I'd understood her intentions and had told her it was a good idea. The three of us got to work that night. It took a few days, but we managed to pile up dirt there until we had a five-foot-thick wall of it. It could easily fool anyone into thinking that the hall truly ended there.
We never went there. I told Cerulean and Faith that the tiny space would be the best hiding spot if someone ever tried breaking in again. It was just big enough for the three of us to lie down in, even if it was cramped. I said that if a stranger came in unannounced, we should run to the hiding space immediately, unless we could get outside. My two Xweetoks had nodded at my suggestion.
The trapdoor shut as I swung myself down into the hallway again. I honestly didn't know what to do. They weren't inside... They couldn't be outside...
I didn't know whether to look outside anyways or to rifle through spellbooks on teleportation spells. Those were my best bets, but they were terrible ones. I wanted Cerulean and Faith back more than words could say.
I was alone again, just like I wanted when I first left home so many years ago.
Just like I wanted.
I buried my head in my hands. When had I ever let something like this happen? To both of them?
Why in the world would I ever do nothing about it?
I knew I had to look for them. So I put my slightly-tattered shawl on and went outside. I took a breath to shout their names, but let it out in the form of a gasp.
Golden and amber leaves drifted around me in the open forest as smooth, brassy oaks stretched up far beyond my range of sight. Specks of fall color littered the ground. My eyes widened as tiny, tiny autumn leaves cascaded down from above. But I knew why I was here.
I slowly spun turned around, until it was in front of me. The mouth of a huge cavern opened up ahead.
I knew of this place.
"It's one of those things that happen when you're expecting nothing at all," Faith reminisced.
"Yeah," Cerulean agreed, grinning. "You look down the entrance to that cave, and you know that you're there for a reason."
I must be going crazy. I'm so used to being around them that I keep hearing things they've said earlier.
But I knew this was no hallucination. I stared deep into the cave. The warm sky's light couldn't make it into the mystifying dark.
I was not going to admit I was afraid. I put one wing to the smooth side of the cave and began to make the journey.
The air was muggy and warm on my skin. I went down, slowly, steadily. Then I stopped. Deep, throaty snuffling noises carried up from the depths. Almost like crying.
I kept going.
After a couple of seconds, my muscles froze up, and my mind flooded with shock.
It was crying.
She was lying down. Eyes crinkled shut, a trail of damp fur on one cheek. The beautiful creature, the one whose wisdom I had heard so much of, was in pain.
A golden glow enveloped her. She was beautiful, larger than life, and had markings of powerful magic. Her aura. Flawless fur. Golden circle marking on forehead. Impossibly-clean air around her. Gorgeous. Mighty. Legendary.
I've failed. I've failed to take care of them. The child she entrusted to me... her one and only Messenger... If they were with me now, it would be a sign of my success. And this... this is the sign of my defeat.
"Rubia," she choked through her tears, opening her eyes, "Please tell me you know where they are. Please."
I looked to the ground and murmured, "I'm so sorry."
"Oh, I hate it when this happens!"
"Come on, are you even trying?"
"Yes, I'm trying! She just won't answer me!"
I was hungry and weary. Cerulean showed no signs of wanting to stop. Amadeus wouldn't stop belittling me. And the last thing I need now is to be cut off from the Creator. It was getting tiring.
"Well, no matter how brilliant my ideas are, they never work anyways." He shrugged.
I remained silent.
I rested a hand on Cerulean's shoulder and gazed at his emotionless face. His mouth was a steely frown. His amber eyes kept looking without seeing. His fur was clean, skin healthy, burlap hood down, wings folded comfortably at sides. But he must have felt terrible if he felt anything at all. I sighed.
"Would you quit with the sighing?" Amadeus said.
I ignored him.
Amadeus had incredibly-fine, bright orange fur, and a tall, bony figure. His tattered admiral's jacket hung on him like clothes on a frame. His facial features were clear-cut. He was nearly handsome. Maybe he was, without the baggy eyes and oily face. Or maybe nobody would ever find that out.
He grinned. "If I was Cerulean, you wouldn't be irritated."
"If you were Cerulean, you wouldn't be so mean about it." I kept my focus on Cerulean. If my love for him was all I had, I would hold onto it. Even if he couldn't love me back. Because that's what love really is all about, isn't it?
Amadeus asked me, "Oh, are you sure that he has never, ever been mean to you?"
I couldn't decide whether he was tagging along to annoy me, or if his motivations were deeper.
I shrugged and said, "If he wanted to annoy me, I'd let him. He has every right to do what he wants with me."
"Amadeus, I thought you knew that Cerulean's acceptance is one of the things I am most grateful for, but can't explain at all."
"That's right. You would let him or Rubia, or, really, anyone from Deepwood bring harm to you just because you feel like you owe them an apology."
I bowed my head. And then, "You're wrong, because that's not true anymore. There were plans for me that I can't interfere with now, because it would throw off the plans of the person I respect most."
Every word was true.
I thought I heard Amadeus mutter, "Well played, Faith."
But it could've been my imagination.
The moment I discovered that Cerulean was a Creator's Child, I knew that I'd meet his mother someday. But I had hoped it wouldn't be under circumstances anything like this.
I stood there for the longest time, stroking one of the Creator's huge blunt claws. My own heart ached with sorrow, but as always, I found my comfort in being the one to comfort.
Finally, after the longest time, it happened. She collected herself. And because of that, I did too.
"Rubia," she said, "Tell me what you know. I," she paused, "...Know nothing."
"But you've got so much magic," I argued. "I can smell it in the air. You have to have some means of at least finding Faith."
She slowly shook her head.
"I believe that there is a distance – a great one indeed – between power and perfection."
"I was... busy yesterday. I did not find time for a single word with my messenger. She just wasn't there when I reached for her today. And I soon realized I couldn't find Cerulean either."
"I don't understand. You mean power and perfection are in completely opposite directions? That perfect people must have no power whatsoever?"
She looked at me a little more closely. I gazed a little more deeply into her gold eyes.
"That is not quite what I mean. Once someone has obtained power, perfection is still a ways away. That's all."
"But why did you mention finding Cerulean? He's always so far away from you."
She gave me a strained smile. "I am always watching over him."
I nodded sympathetically.
"I feel guilt that I was not with Faith. Maybe I'd still be with her if I had been. Or at least I would know what happened to her. I sense that she's alive. If our link were shattered entirely... I'd take notice."
I shuddered at the words shattered entirely.
I placed my wing on her paw. "What should I call you? The Creator doesn't sound like a proper name up front."
"Just Creator," she suggested with her secretive smile. But then she shook it off. "It's what Faith calls me." Then she just looked at me for a moment; a moment that was, for me, filled with anticipation. I knew she was about to make a move.
She suddenly scooped me up in her huge paws. I squeaked, her fur smothering me for a moment. But she turned one open palm upward, and I could breathe again. But my stomach shuddered with panic.
"I don't like high places," I squealed.
"A Hissi raised on a mountain... And she's scared of heights?" she asked. "There is nothing to be afraid of now."
"O...kay..." I uncoiled myself and stretched out, taking a moment to savor the feeling of her soft fur. Then I sighed. "All I know is that they were together when they vanished."
The Creator sighed. "Well, at least they have each other, wherever they are."
Half a day's walk later, and I was exhausted. Amadeus was wearing at me, and Cerulean wouldn't put a stop to it. The glass landscape provided us with no food, but oddly enough, we never got hungry. At long last, when nothing had changed, Cerulean stopped and lied down.
"Finally!" I shouted, throwing my hands in the air. Cerulean closed his eyes.
Amadeus sat down and leaned against a tree, yawning. "You tire too easily."
I was curled up near Cerulean when I shouted, "Hey! I was getting ready for bed when Cerulean shoved me through the portal! Maybe you're nocturnal or something, but—"
"Would you quit with the whining? Seriously, do you do anything right at all?"
It was on again already.
"Well, I'm pretty sure you haven't heard me on the ocarina."
"I'm pretty sure I don't care."
"I'm... the Creator's Messenger?"
"Is that a question?"
"Well, no, it's just unusual and interesting."
"If anything, that's the Creator's talent, not yours."
I took a deep sigh.
"I know! I can survive on my own just fine!"
"Well, yeah, so can I. And pretty much everyone."
"...Just because someone doesn't have absurdly powerful magic doesn't mean they have no talent whatsoever, you know." I narrowed my eyes. "Hey, wait a minute. It's not like you can do anything now."
"I can mock you."
I was already drifting off to sleep. Amadeus alone kept me awake.
"Amadeus... Make fun of me. Go ahead. I'll let you. You know why?"
"Because I'd sure hate to be you."
He looked away. I turned back to Cerulean. He was almost asleep, too.
And, so that Amadeus couldn't hear me: "I miss you, big guy."
"All I really know is that they disappeared last night in the furnace. When I went inside after a few minutes, they were both gone. And there was spilled tea on the floor."
"Any tufts of hair lying about? There could have been a struggle."
"I wasn't paying attention to that, but I would have noticed chunks of fur."
"They... couldn't have burned, could they?"
"Good grief, no! At least, not completely in ten or fifteen minutes. I hate to think that could happen!"
I said nothing, but held Rubia still. Had it been a selfish thing to call her here?
"Am I causing you grief?" I asked.
"Of course you're not! Don't take so much blame; I should've been in the furnace with them!"
"...Rubia, there was no way for you to have known."
I watched the Hissi for a few more moments before saying, "This reminds me of something."
"Last evening – and if I am correct, it is the same time that they disappeared... I take it you remember both Cerulean's guardian Evre, and his twin brother Amadeus?"
"Right, and Evre was tracking him down."
"And last night she found him."
"Really?! That's great news! We don't have to worry about him now!... What'd you do with him?"
"I know there is a connection here. I know how the twin-connection works. Cerulean vanishes, Amadeus vanishes. I have a deep hunch that they were both pulled into a separate world – if not, I would probably be able to see Cerulean."
"A separate... world?"
Pain flashed in my heart. "Yes. There have been countless theories of multiple dimensions, yet facts are scarce. There is... one place known for sure, where people go when their consciences would have been erased from existence otherwise."
"That place exists. However, nobody has come back from it. And that place's existence is one fact among countless theories of similar dimensional pockets... Across the ages, there have been many accounts of people just disappearing, but we can't even be sure if all of them have gone through to that stable place, and not one of the countless chaotic places between. Our only hope is that Cerulean and Faith are, indeed, not in that safe place."
"Because no soul has ever returned from there."
"You know, I hate to think it, but combined we probably have enough knowledge to figure out what's happening here," I said while walking alongside Cerulean and Amadeus the next morning. In truth, I still hadn't fully grasped the situation. I was just too confused, and Amadeus kept distracting me.
"Too slow. I've found everything out on my own. You could do it without me." Amadeus shrugged.
"Yeesh, thanks a lot."
"Glad to be of service."
I looked back to Cerulean. He walked with rhythmic steps, wings still folded at his side. I wished so much that his feathers were resting on me.
That started out as him being nice to me, but he made a joke awhile back... He said that he was really too lazy to hold up his left wing on his own. Only a month ago it was serious. It was so weak even after it healed, that I had to support it often...
And now he doesn't remember me.
"So... What did you find out? I'm pretty stumped here. Cerulean shoves me through a portal, and I'm stuck following him through this creepy place."
"Easy. What's he missing?" Amadeus coaxed.
"Well, his emotions..."
"Emotion comes from?"
"Well, the soul."
"I was about to say the heart, but he seems to be missing that too."
"So that's it? He loses his heart and soul somehow, and a portal opens up so he could find them?"
"Weeeell, all I know is that he's missing his heart and soul. Not sure about the portal."
We both walked on for a few moments of silence. I turned my head to stare at the barren branches above: I could see through everything. Like this realm had no substance.
Then Amadeus said, "Do you know what the Order of the Fourths is?"
"I think so... Isn't it the body, the mind, the soul and the heart?" I asked.
"Well, looks like you know something after all. Nothing I don't know, of course."
I began, "Sticks and st—"
"Anyways, you should know that the mind can't function without a body, the heart can't function without a mind, and the soul, in turn, depends upon all three."
"Yeah. And in a way, it works backwards—"
"No it doesn't."
"Actually, Rubia taught me that—"
"Mmmh-hmm. What exactly does she know?"
"Would you shut up? She taught me that the body doesn't have a real purpose without a mind, and so on and so forth."
"Not like anyone cares or anything."
I placed a hand on Cerulean's forehead. "Well, I sure believe it."
"Would you quit with the self-pity? It's getting irritating."
Cerulean... Promise me you'll wake up soon. It's because of you that I'm not scared of Amadeus now. You broke the Crystal Boomerang to begin with... When you wake up, what will happen? Will you keep me safe against his insults, too?
My head felt hollow as I stared down at the open book.
I'd agreed so easily to do research for the Creator. But I regretted it. There was no way I could focus. No matter how many teleportation spells I looked up, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was doing nothing.
I was following orders. I wasn't used to following orders. When had I ever followed orders?
From everything that Cerulean and Faith told me about the Creator, I'd expected someone perfect. And I saw someone in tears. Someone who showed pain and weakness. Someone who I wanted to help. And by following orders, I knew I wouldn't be helping her at all.
I would've studied, oh yes, how I would've – if only I'd been told to do something else. But of course there was no way I could follow orders. I was a leader and a mother. Looking out for others was always my own idea.
It was the same way with the Creator.
I needed to look out for her – and get my children back while I was at it. So I checked the furnace one... more... time.
To be continued...