The Door Closes: Part Four
PART 4: WORDS
We break free from the sands of the desert to find calm, rolling western hills.
The sight of dark, shiny grass and blooming white clouds exhilarates me. Yuandi feels it too, I can tell.
The rainbow Kau stands up a little straighter, mentioning she’s never been out of the desert before. The western coasts of crashing waves make me wish we could stay.
It seems like there should be somebody living out here. Not a lot to eat, though, so that much is understandable. Yuandi has burned through some of her food already. We step forward, and spend a long afternoon wandering the hills.
Finally, we come to a stratified maw that opens down into darkness. I stuff my hand into my cloak and pull out my lightstone from Rubia. It begins to gleam brightly. I nod at Yuandi, and we begin the descent into the cave. Vast empty spaces softly glow ahead of us, barred by spidery black pillars at various distances. Smooth steps slope downwards at our feet.
Yuandi gives a low, quiet whistle. "Shall we go?"
"Naturally." I lead the way, and we begin the descent.
The caverns feel pressureless, like a dizzy night sky. I can't smell anything. The steps wind downward, barely long enough for our feet but wider than the light shines. A musty chill settles over my skin. Somewhere in the distance plinks a lonely drip, drip, drip.
Yuandi suddenly claps her hands together. It reverberates loudly.
"What?" She asks, accusedly, as I stare at her. I focus back on my lightstone and keep walking.
It goes on. I feel weightless as we spiral downwards.
Tension builds in my heart. I know others have tried to open the door. But surely none of them had this resource. But the last question – will the caverns really make a difference? Or will I go to the door with nothing?
The stairs level out. A stone complex stands before us; slender towers violently spiral upwards. Ornate walls rise up just to the height of our shoulders. Staircases, similar to the short and even one we came by, lead to empty shelflike floors.
Molded pictures – almost like the hieroglyphs Joreph had shown me at his apartment, but appearing sculpted, not carved – ramble across many of the structures. Primitive clusters of tents. Wide open skies filled with constellations and star graphs. I place my hand to a wall and feel the shapes. Even beneath my skin, the pictures feel complex and careful.
Multiple times appears the same cluster of five or six characters, each carved distinctly from one another. I look closely at one set. The smallest one crouches to the ground, spikes of earth jutting up around it as if in defense. A sleek, muscular almost-Jetsam soars through space, foam bubbling up at its fins. A hoofed creature spreads its Faerie wings in flight beside it. A looming quadruped with a spiky body and two sets of ears: one pointed, and one long. Flames twist upwards from the wings of a chunky bird who stands half-crouched. Behind all of them is a simple long-tailed figure in barely-defined clothing.
I run to the sound. In front of Yuandi a wall holds deeply-carved, large symbols. She is already on the floor, getting something from her backpack.
She glares at the wall, to the pamphlet in her hand and back again. Finally, slowly:
"I am… Manor… And I say the door must… not be opened."
The solid earth begins to fade to sand, and it becomes apparent that Manor has little control over it. It slows us down until, at last, he lets go of my shoulders. "We walk from here."
I take a hesitant step onto the sandy soil, and glance to Manor, expecting him to take the lead.
Eyes on the horizon, he asks, "No words today?"
"You want words? I'm sick of you."
He stares at me, taken aback. I clench one hand into a fist. He's expecting me to speak again. He looks like he thinks I'm surely going to apologize, but all he could possibly expect is for me to cut him deeper.
I say nothing. He isn't worth it.
The word leaves my mouth before I understand it. We have found the last thing we would ever have searched for. I feel discouraged and ashamed.
"A person named Manor says the door must not be opened," Yuandi echoes. "So what?"
All the while, I'm going through the name over and over again in my mind. I don't know who Manor is. But I know we have to find out.
"Come on." I clench my fist. "We need to find the rest of the story."
“Alright,” Yuandi reluctantly admits. “Hopefully we’ll find more of the symbols, or at least a depiction of the door.”
Yet the symbols which were so angrily yet thoroughly carved are nowhere else in the little labyrinth. And the artwork depicts no doors. I do, however, find a tunnel. It seems purposeful. I call my sister, and we head down the tunnel.
I look ahead to see a huge vaulted hollow, with dark waters lying still far beneath us. I feel exhilarated as my lightstone's glow barely touches the waters – but there's nothing for us here. If we jumped to explore the depths, we would never be able to resurface. There is a walkway around, however. We take it and head down the next tunnel.
We stride through two small, round rooms lined with cloth and bedding. I don't know how old any of it is, but I get the curious sense that anything could be preserved down here.
That's it. There is nothing left here for us.
It takes several hours for us to navigate back to the surface. Yuandi finishes the last of the food she packed. I feel delirious from the depths. But when we break free to the surface and fresh wind fills my lungs, it's a remedy.
Yuandi finally breaks the long silence we've had. "Now what?"
I silently clench a fist.
"We go to the door anyways."
The climb is not as harsh as it seemed.
I put a hand on the ground and lean to my side. We made it up to the door. The sun has risen clearly here, with no grey cover congesting the sky. Just a single rough wooden door standing erect, but it's easy enough to look around.
"I never knew you were so fond of sunrises," Rubia remarks. I glance back to her. She's loosely coiled at the edge of the cliff, where ground gives way to air just inches from her body.
"I never knew you weren't so afraid of high places anymore." I grin. With a sigh, I flop onto my back.
"Oh, well, things change."
I lay in silence. I'm thinking of Faith.
"Not everything, of course. But many, many things. Almost everything, I guess you could say."
I lie back down. I feel sick. Not angry at Manor, or even passionate about trying to protect Faith anymore. I'm sick of separation.
The grass grows warm beneath my outspread wings. As I loosen my cloak around me, my fingers run over the stitches that Faith made so long ago. I remember all the stitches she's made for me. From the little things to the day she came for me, erased her wrongdoings, and found her real life.
I change my mind, and fasten my cloak again.
"We're almost at the door."
Manor's back is turned to me. His voice is stiff. The single sentence sounds forced and rehearsed.
I gulp, wringing my hands. "If the door will kill me, guess it's time for me to say goodbye to this world then? One way or another, heh?"
My anxiety shows through my skin and every tremble of my voice. The land thins; oceans crash on the shores in front of and behind us. The sunlight I've rarely felt dances on my skin, although this is no occasion to enjoy it.
"It very well may be. Faith, I… I'm sorry."
I gasp. He turns to me.
Manor is miserable.
Eyes cried red, face etched with grief. His posture appears strict and rigid, not a proud byproduct of his endless good humor. It's like he's being affected by gravity for the first time. I weakly ask, "…Manor?"
Manor laughs sorely.
"I want to send you home. I really know I ought to take you there myself, but… I'm quite afraid I can't."
"Oh, how I hate to go through with this.” He takes a couple of long, pained steps. “You don't have to listen to me or pity me, so I won't bother explaining anything."
"No! I want to know! I promise I'll listen!"
"You shouldn't have to. All you need to know is that things aren't always as they seem… and nobody ever knows a good liar.”
"What? Is somebody making you…?”
I trail off as his face goes far grimmer than it was before. I didn't think it was possible.
"I am making me do this.”
Manor can't stand talking to me anymore. I'm his victim. His greatest fear. He can’t stand me. He can’t stand his conscience. He grabs me by the arm for the last time, clamping one hand over my mouth so maybe I won’t scream.
I don't need it. I'm well over the fear. So I just close my eyes as the last of my world slips away beneath my feet.
I, Dromiay, have found it. My finger trembles over the inky line of words in the black-bound book in the library of everything. And yet it is the library of nothing.
I look up and around at this library of… of death? No. This library of emptyness. The knowledge meant for no sane mind. The knowledge of too many things. I do not know how long I have been here, but I do know that it has been too long. Every moment here is wasted.
I take a deep breath, and look back down at what I've searched so hard for, but known all along.
Trapped in the library are Lacy, Dromiay and Benjai.
That's it. The words rest beneath my fingers.
I can hardly believe I ever had a chance out of this prison. I’ve won. Am I ready to return to the world? Is the world ready for me?
Yes. It is. It has to be. It will be.
One more deep breath. I begin to carefully tear the sentence in two.
I realize something. There's something on the other side of the page. I'll be doing damage – or good – to somebody else. But it’s too late for me to stop. I get the feeling I have to do this quickly.
No matter. I'm sorry. But I have to do this. For Lacy. For Benjai. And for me.
I forgive Benjai.
Maybe we'll meet again, or maybe she and I will be scattered too far apart. It's okay. We don't need each other anymore. We never needed each other, and everything would have been better if I never met her.
But what if you never met Amadeus?
I tear Lacy's name. There. She's gone. Or she'll be going, or she was never here. It doesn't matter. Not when anywhere but here is better.
My own name. Immediately, I start feeling light-headed. My heart skips.
I'm fading fast.
Half her name. Ben. I try to rip the jai all at once, but just wind up with a huge tear down the paper, missing the three letters.
The book falls from my hands and clatters shut. I reach for it, but my hand goes through. The library is fading to white all around me. I can do nothing now. What will happen to Benjai now?
With that final thought, light surrounds me.
To be continued…