One Way: Part Three
"So you see, Faith, the mind is made to want a soul if it doesn't have one. Also, the heart creates the feeling doubt, so without the heart, the mind listens to instinct right away..."
"Funny thing that you know so much about hearts. Considering that, y'know, you don't really have one..."
"You heard me. Just letting you know."
The glass forests were unrelenting. I felt homesick already. Throngs of spiky, sculpted glass trees, an unforgiving blue sky above us, and smooth, foggy glass ground beneath our feet. Nothing to see there.
Amadeus asked me, "Why are you always saying stuff like that? I'm pretty sure that you didn't ask Valence the Traitor if his conscience caught up to him."
"I was around Val for twenty minutes at the most. Seriously. And almost the whole time, he was either fighting or unconscious." I shrugged.
Cerulean, ignorant as ever, kept trudging on in the same direction.
"Can't argue with that."
"Anyways, Amadeus... You were saying?"
"Yes, right. Well, Cerulean is likely going in the direction of his soul. I bet that his heart is bundled in with it."
"Are you sure he's missing the soul?"
"Yeah, he has to. If he still had his soul, he'd recognize you. The heart uses the soul to function better, and he's obviously lacking emotion."
"Weeeell, that's not entirely true – I mean, he did push me through the portal—"
"Nope. You wouldn't get out of his way, so he pushed you. The mind's working without the heart."
"...Okay... I get it. Thanks."
He stopped dead in his tracks.
"Did you just...?"
"Obviously, you'll keep trampling over me if I don't try buttering up to you a little."
He didn't say anything.
I couldn't force my lips to move again.
"Do you feel something?" he asked abruptly.
"No... The temperature here's completely normal... There's no weather."
"That's not what I mean. Something's tugging on me. This whole place feels like a vortex, and we're sorta by the edges of it. I feel like something is gently pulling me towards the center of it all."
"Now that you mention it..." I stopped. "It's coming from the left, right?"
"Yeah! And does this whole place feel like it's slowly spinning?" His face illuminated.
"It does, but not literally; it's so weird! But... What's at the center?"
"Could be anything. One thing's for certain."
He half-heartedly smiled.
"Now that we both know that this place's a spiral, neither of us can fight the urge to head to the center forever."
I still hadn't cleaned up the tea on the floor.
I ignored it and glanced around.
Nothing was different. At least, nothing I noticed right away. Two wooden mugs sat near the door. The air was rank with burnt bread. I had lost my appetite long ago. And the will to do housework.
But then I saw it.
A panel of sparkling blue, just three feet high. I tilted my head. It was flat and perfect and out of place. I poked it. My wingtip went through. I pulled it out again.
In. Out. In. Out. I popped my head through.
Below me was a twinkling forest made of crystal; it gleamed, but didn't shine. The sun shone right through them – the glass wasn't foggy.
And that's how I saw Faith and Cerulean walking around below.
I was getting bored.
On the bright side, I completely got over my minor fear of Amadeus. On the dull side, he was still annoying me. On the bright side again, I'd gotten used to it. Also on the bright side, I had overcome my shock, leaving only worry.
...Unfortunately, I was about to be jarred again.
It was just the second or third day of following Cerulean. And I really had no idea how part of my world suddenly stitched itself together again.
A flash of crimson swooping down through the treetops, and then Rubia was right in front of me.
I gasped and clutched my heart. Panic flashed through Amadeus' eyes. Cerulean stopped short, and then rushed forward to hug Rubia.
Guess which one of those is a lie.
"Well," Rubia said, "what happened?"
Cerulean stopped short, though his face was as steely as ever. I rushed to her with a grin. Her eyes went to the right a little, and then jumped to the left. She screamed.
"This is your doing, isn't it?!" Rubia grabbed my shoulders and pulled me away from Amadeus. "If you even touch this girl...!"
Amadeus sighed. "Leave me alone."
Rubia snorted. "Well. Look at who is totally miserable without an infinite supply of evil, dark, corrupt magic. I still can't believe you're my son's brother. More like bother!"
"...Sorry to give you a reality check, but your son's leaving you."
Rubia let me go and suddenly hurried after Cerulean, who'd been mindlessly walking forward while she bantered with Amadeus. I broke into a run after them, the Blumaroo trudging behind us.
"Rubia, I'm afraid he just hasn't been himself lately," I called after her as we caught up to Cerulean and slowed to match his pace.
She looked to me for a second, pondering. Then she got in front of Cerulean.
"Has someone been feeling under the weather?" she gushed gently, placing one arm over his shoulders.
Cerulean finally stopped to size her up. His amber eyes, glazed with ice, didn't recognize Rubia or her sympathy. He finally just shoved her aside.
Rubia scoffed, trying to comprehend it.
"Rubia, he literally hasn't been himself," I told her, taking her hand and taking a step towards Cerulean, who was now heading off again, to tell her we needed to go.
She glanced to the ground. Then she put a wing on my back and murmured, "Let's just keep going."
"If you don't mind me interjecting, and even if you do, I have something to say," Amadeus spoke up.
Rubia moaned, "What is it?"
"Cerulean's leading us somewhere, but we don't know where."
"Amadeus, how does it help us to know that?" I piped, wishing he weren't there. "And didn't we sort of already figure it?"
"If you follow him, you could probably die. We don't know what lies ahead."
"Then why are you of all people coming after him with us?" Rubia narrowed her eyes. "Look. I just got on the wagon here, but I still know that whether or not we stick with Cerulean is our business. But why would a selfish nothing like you be coming with us?"
Rubia already knew that we couldn't force Amadeus to go away. We could just persuade him. I was thankful for her quick understanding.
"I can't possibly be hurting myself by tagging along. Since my life depends on his, all I can do is help."
"Help him, maybe, but not us," I muttered. "We wouldn't miss you."
Rubia gave me a questioning glance.
"Isn't that cold of you?" Amadeus raised his eyebrows. "For all I care, you can't stop me. You can't kill me. Technically I guess you could try, but I know that either of you would never dare to lay a finger on him unless it was out of... affection or whatever you call it."
"Why does it always have to be about killing with you?" I asked him.
"Simple," Rubia said. "Cerulean loves life, and Amadeus is his opposite."
"Whatever. Let's go," Amadeus mumbled.
Rubia quickly asked, "Go where? Might you be hiding anything from Faith and I? How exactly are you so sure that we're all walking into a death trap?"
The Blumaroo shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Well...?" Rubia asked.
"I had a dream," he said. "I can dream the future like Cerulean."
"Go on," she urged.
"I saw a flaming mace swing through the air and then towards me."
"That's it? Could you tell where you were?"
"No. The mace's all I remember. That and being terrified."
Fear mounted in my heart as Amadeus spoke. One hand made its way up to my neck, and clutched the key hanging from it.
"Maybe we aren't in that much danger," I hurriedly said. "After all, Cerulean could've been holding that mace."
Rubia pointed out, "Cerulean holding a flaming anything is a disaster about to happen. Now, you two explain all this to me."
When Cerulean stopped and tucked his legs under him, we all knew that it was time to stop.
Amadeus sat down against a tree and closed his eyes without a single word. Faith and I lied down as the air around us turned cooler and the sky turned orange. The sculpted glass glowed in the colors of the sunset.
"It's actually kind of beautiful." Faith managed a smile.
"Well, when you hate a place, you should always try to find something you like about it." I patted her on the shoulder.
Amadeus had explained everything that afternoon without much prodding, which I found strange. Maybe it's just who he is: he needs to clarify everything that happens to us. Well, it's useful, that's for sure.
As I closed my eyes, I thought. The incident sounded like something I'd read about in a book about magic. People being thrown into some alternate universe, getting scattered, and being released when they found each other. But we were basically all together, except for... for Cerulean's heart and soul, I realized, eyes widening.
"Guys! I think I figured something out!"
I just hope it's enough...
No matter how hard I focused, I kept coming up empty.
With a heavy sigh, I got up, padded in a circle, and flopped over with a thunderous slap.
If a deity falls in a cavern and people hear it through the walls, then she makes a sound.
One... two... three...
The door eeked open. An Ogrin popped her pink head in, blonde curls falling in and around her face.
To be honest, I'd been expecting someone else. "Evre? Were you... Waiting by that door?"
"...I was in the next room over."
"What were you doing in the spell section of the library?"
Cheeks burning, she stepped inside. I raised a long, curved claw, and jerked it back. The door snapped shut behind Evre.
Glancing at the packed dirt floor, she muttered, "I can't get over my failure. I wanted to know what happened."
"I've already got Rubia on that," I assured her. Then, I bitterly added, "Too bad she just disappeared without a trace, too. Now who goes next?"
Evre cringed. "Stuff gets to you, doesn't it? When you lose a messenger?"
"Faith isn't dead. That's impossible." I watch her blankly.
"Well, I'm not going to argue with you if you really think that, but I just meant the fact that she's gone."
"Yes, Evre. I knew."
She looked at me funny. "You know a lot more than anyone tells you, don't you?"
"Yes. It is to be expected of me, after all."
"Expected by you by whom?" Evre just furrowed her brow. "Yourself?"
She just shook her head.
It was about three hours into the next afternoon when we found it.
A golden wall.
I looked up and stumbled back. It was slanted, dark gold with a clear sparkle to it. I put my paw to the smooth surface, and stared at my yellow reflection. Real gold. And an entire wall of it...
"Where would anyone find this much gold?" Rubia asked.
"It has to be at least seven meters high," Amadeus guessed.
Cerulean just stared blankly at it. Was even he daunted?
"Alright, let's see what he does," Amadeus said. "Hopefully he'll start following it around the edge in search of a door or something, and not try to—"
The blue Xweetok sprang into the air, unfurled his white wings, and began to flap.
I leaped into the air. My hand grabbed Cerulean's leg. He kicked idly but powerfully, trying to shake me as he flew harder, higher, up. I clung to his leg harder as he pulled us both through the air, my heart pounding, his heart... well, I didn't know where his heart was now.
"FAITH!" Rubia barked.
I glanced down. Her features were blown away by shock, and Amadeus just stood there, gawking. Let go, or stay with Cerulean?
I clamped my eyes shut and held on tight.
Ungroomed fur stuck up between my fingers. Tense muscles rippled beneath them. Cold air whipped against us every time Cerulean's feathers slapped the air.
Finally, instinct opened my eyes, and I saw us crest the wall.
Cerulean angled his wings, plunging downwards. Halfway down, I let go and rolled onto soft, real grass, and into a bed of flowers. Cerulean landed beside me, paws alighting on the ground with utmost grace.
"What is this?" I asked aloud, although I knew that Cerulean couldn't respond, and there was no way Rubia and Amadeus would hear.
I already knew the answer. It was a palace of gold, bigger than the wall, but surrounded by lushly-gardened yards that were broad enough to not be visible from beyond the wall.
"Where would anyone ever find this?" I asked, throwing my hands into the air for emphasis.
Cerulean strolled along a golden brick pathway, his eyes fixed on the stout fortress. It had two staggered levels, each slanted like gold bricks. A boxy, closed-in porch jutted from it on this side.
"This isn't even decorated or anything! It's just... just raw gold, all of it!"
Cerulean was galloping to the porch now. He's excited... Amadeus said a body wants a soul if it doesn't have one. I hope this means we're close to the rest of Cerulean. But... why would his soul be somewhere in there?
He flung the huge gold screen door at the front of the veranda open. Then he stepped in and approached the inner door. As he lifted it up with both hands, I pressed myself against the wall with the door on it.
He slammed the knocker twice. Clang! Clang!
I heard the door slide open from the inside. Cerulean rushed in, and a couple of screams followed.
I clapped a hand over my mouth.
The door slid shut again, and I heard nothing more.
I was glad I wasn't seen. But I didn't have an eye on Cerulean anymore. Idiot. Now go and find a different door. If he actually attacked someone, then you should try not to look like you're with him, even if it's not really his fault. ...But then I'd put more distance between us... And what if this is the only door?
I lifted the knocker again, straining to muster my courage. Then I dropped all. This time, I was prepared for the clang. It like when Cerulean had slammed it, but I still cringed.
The door slid open again. A new voice, an important voice, a dangerous voice asked, "Yes?"
I felt sick to my stomach.
"Yes?" the spotted Chomby repeated, leaning on her golden staff.
She's huge! I realized. Her hind legs were thicker than I was, and she had to crane her neck down to look at me. No matter that was such a big door. She wore a blue-and-yellow desert headdress, and a multitude of golden clasps cluttered her wrists. Her neck alone had a jeweler's worth of fine chains on.
I stepped back.
Her eyes widened angrily. She grabbed two handfuls of my mane and pulled me inside a golden room.
She banged her small metal cane on the ground. "Who was that?"
"No," I lied, even though it made no sense.
She smiled knowingly and opened her hand. A couple of my scarlet hairs drifted to the ground.
"Don't worry about my servants... I have a few brutes in there with him."
"So he was your friend," she realized, smirking at my horror. "Little liar."
I bit my lip. If Cerulean really had attacked some of her servants, then I had nothing to defend him with. Asides from the wild truth that he'd lost his soul, and was really just a savage now.
The Chomby grabbed the door's handle, pulled it shut, and turned a knob near the top of the room. The lock clicked, and I realized that I was trapped.
Don't worry about that. You're not leaving until Cerulean is whole again anyways.
"Well, maybe if you show me where he is, then maybe I can get him to calm down and stop trying to hurt your servants," I suggested.
As if I've been able to get to him.
"Oh, don't worry," she assured me. "It's him you should be worried about. At any rate," she paused to smile grimly, "I could always use an extra maid."
I jerked upright.
"No," I said.
"I never said you had a choice," she replied.
"I never said I'd cooperate!"
"I never said I didn't have bodyguards awaiting my every command."
I glanced around the room. It was square, small and – of course – golden. One wall was painstakingly engraved with keen designs and details. A desert-style Chomby took up most of the scene. From the self-righteous sunbeams reflecting off of her, and the various creatures kneeling around her, I could tell who it was easily enough.
"Bring me to my friend," I demanded nonetheless. "It's not my fault he led me here, and it's not his fault either. We wish nothing against you. If we can leave in peace once we've found what he lost, then we would be eternally grateful."
"Words mean nothing to me," she said, the dozens of golden chains and necklaces around her neck jangling as she shook her head. "Don't you understand? Gold, and extra servants, and power are everything."
I panicked. For that one short, freezing moment, I hesitated.
And then I pounced.
I leapt onto her headdress with ease. Her face was bigger than I was, after all. She howled in horror, hands flying up to grab my tail, but I quickly flicked it out of her way. I climbed onto her back, unsheathed my claws into her navy kimono, and earnestly prayed to my Creator as the Chomby yelled for her guards.
To be continued...