The Door Closes: Part Six
PART 6: WIND AND FIRE
Clouds of sand lash through the sky above, staining most of it orange and a few scarce threads of it red. For the first time, I feel like something I'm going through could be a dream in my dreamless life. So I blink once. Twice. Three times.
The reality settles in and unpacks its bags.
I sit up slowly. Massive pillars of blobby stone rise up around me, carved smooth by time, striped orange and crimson from the silt. Anders whines and shields his face with his wings. Beneath the lonely wind howling far above, I hear… music?
"…Outside, looking in
"…my anthems again…
"As I… … who I really am…
"When everyone I know best is me…"
I get up and follow the sound. The hot earth stings my barren feet; the air feels heavy and burning. It all still feels like a dream. After I slip by a few more of the stone columns, I find the musicians.
The guitarist is Manor. He's different. Placid yellow fur, tabard ripped in several places, square face etched with concentration as he fingerpicks his way up and down the fretboard of his guitar in a rambling manner. He purses his lips, staring sadly at the strings. I slip back behind a pillar, and listen.
"Show me all that you know,
"What lies beyond the gates
"Tell me, where will I go
"How much more I can do than think"
The voice has changed far beyond recognition and yet I know it. Though the beauty and youth has faded and the warmth is nearly all gone, the gentleness remains. It’s Creator.
"Now I can see everyone else is so clearly defined,
"Oh there's been so much wrong with me
"I pick up the pieces and put together a kaleidoscope life"
She sings with strength, her gaunt grey form standing as tall as she can. She seems injured. I can't tell if it's the way her skin is nearly sunken in with age while she still has the face of a child, or if it's the way her voice just barely cracks, or that she seems just feeble and tired.
"Show– me– all that you know,
"What lies be-beyond the gates
"Tell me, where will I–I g-go
"What all I can… I can do but think…"
As they keep playing, every word is bringing her closer to tears. Her form begins to cripple, until she's bent double and barely eking out each syllable.
But Manor joins her. His voice is still rich and untainted, and seems to fortify Creator. And his face has a newfound pity in it. Or was it there all along?
"Now I know, Ohhhh
"It wasn't too late
"Not when the sunlight streams through the pieces
"And paints on the wall my kaleidoscope life!"
Creator raises her voice. He has empowered her. She sings the last lines with him louder, higher, stronger, and clearer:
"Show me all that you know
"What lies beyond the gates
"Tell me where I will go
"What more I can do but think
"Oh, show me how to make a kaleidoscope life."
It is finished. Creator squeaks, once again on the verge of tears, "You remembered?"
"How could I ever forget?" Manor replies dryly.
He sets down his guitar and takes Creator in his arms. She cries weakly into his shoulder. He sighs, his face exhausted and full of regret.
I approach them. Manor was never going to harm me, and he won't harm me now. He gives me a pained, pitying smile, and murmurs to Creator, "Hey, look up."
She looks at me. Her eyes have changed color to a dark, stormy grey.
The land changes in an instant. The grass beneath our feet withers, sinking back into the ground. The wind abruptly halts its shrieking, and the oceans become gauntly still.
Cerulean plummets towards Creation. His arm is extended as though paralyzed, his wings limp. “Fly!” I call to him.
He simply lands in the water with a deep heavy splash. Two small objects hit the ocean a few seconds later. When Cerulean surfaces, his arm remains frozen upright. His face is imprinted with shock and horror. I help him out of the water. He sits up and hunches over, but says nothing.
A few moans rise from the rubble of the cliffs. “Amadeus?” I call out. More moaning. “Amadeus!”
I rush over to the rocks and throw a few aside. The Blumaroo clambers upright. He is hurt.
Scarred. Marred. Wings tattered and scraped, missing chunks of feathers. It is like he took the absolute sharpest, heaviest rocks when the cliffs collapsed.
“Is anything broken?” I ask.
“No. At least, I don’t think so.”
I glance around. The land changes more. The grass is already all dead beneath our feet. The air feels stagnant. Everything around me seems to say, “It’s dead now.”
I look to the last stand of trees. Many are still bowled down from what Manor did. All their leaves, standing and fallen, however, are turning red and orange. There is still life in the woods. “Amadeus,” I say, “There might be some herbs in those woods. Stay here and I’ll get some.”
“No. I can come with you.”
“Alright. Just stop if you have to.”
We pass by Cerulean and ask if he’s coming, but he vaguely indicates that he doesn’t. Kneeling by the water, he is in shock and horror still.
So am I. But I feel the desire to distract myself. Where there are injuries, I have a job to do, and that job is welcome. But nothing can disguise the fact that something nightmarish is happening to Creation.
We return from the woods. “I have nothing to work with,” I hiss under my breath. “I’m sorry, Amadeus. We could tear some clothes for bandages, but what good would bad bandages be for these scrapes and bruises?”
“Rubia. Amadeus.” Cerulean stands up, still facing away. “Look at this.”
Two objects float against the shore. One is Manor’s magic wand.
The other is a golden circlet.
I sob dryly into the open air, my voice hoarse and hurt already. My hands shake as I stare into the calm, dull face, a few hot tears forming in my eyes. Through all the choking I manage to get out one word:
The dam breaks. I scream, the tears rolling down my face. I stop only to sniff violently. I can barely breathe.
"Faith!" The voice is normal, weak and crisp without the magic. The fingers curled around my shoulder are short and nearly lifeless. "Calm down." She's still crying too, but slowly and gently, without spending all her energy on it.
I bow my head. "Cre… Crea…"
"No.” She touches my head to lift my face. “My name is Jewel.” She looks firmly at me. "You will call me that until I am restored to my place of power and am again the maker of a world. Then I will be Creator. But for now, I am Jewel.”
I nod once. Manor’s name for her won’t feel right coming from my mouth. I turn back to Manor. I remember that he did this. He shrinks a little under my gaze.
“I forgive you.”
He sniffs, a tear in one eye. Wordlessly, he returns to the two of us.
"But why?" I choke out to Jewel.
"Because I tried to save you and stop Manor." She takes my hand in hers. "If you want details… I shrank myself into my condensed form and rammed into Manor. We were both severed from our powers."
"And homes," Manor adds. “Which, for one of us, is incredibly problematic.”
Jewel shoots him a glare. "Problematic is an understatement. Creation will suffer from my absence, as life there has never been set up to be possible without me.”
She softens. The two exchange a long, meaningful glance.
"Jewel and I were talking." Manor warily adjusts the collar of his tabard. "We have had a drastic misunderstanding. If we hadn’t kept so much from each other, she would still be back in her place supplying magic to her people, and I would be here alone to look for who I came for."
The who he mentions suddenly sounds like an actual, meaningful person. Not an amorphous enemy he has come to hunt down, but like a cause that he cares about.
"It is not your entire fault we are in this situation. As much as I care about the innocent generations whom we now realize never existed – well, and Faith, who does exist – it was reckless of me to try and stop you."
"At least you didn't straight-up lie to me." A moment of silent as Manor tucks his guitar back into his cloak, and then he speaks to me. "I never wanted revenge. I came here to search for a man named Fact, after spending many years searching the rest of the universe for him. Jewel was extremely upset at Fact back in the day, and I was convinced she would actually approve more of me seeking revenge.” He dips his head. “…I just wanted more of us to be together again, even if we may never be able to reach Lacy.”
I look up. Manor glances away.
"Manor," Creator says, "I forgave Fact a long time ago. I would have gladly let you through to try and find his soul."
Manor tilts his head. A faraway smile lights his face up a tiny bit. "I should have known. His body's been roaming the galaxies on its own far too long, after all." He pauses. "If only I had come here alone, or one of us had our magic. Now I can’t waste any time seeing you and your servant back through the door, and once we're through, the door may disappear or do some terrible thing to us or simply become impossible to open ever again. It’s always been so unpredictable. This time, Fact could become lost forever."
"You had the only heart of love you needed in trying to rescue our companion. You took Faith in case you needed access to my magic to open the door.” Creator pauses. “I guess the man who waited all these years will wait forever now.”
Creator and Manor suddenly seem like warm friends who go way back. Manor himself is just as polite as he was before, except… he’s sincere. Anders pokes his head out at Manor. Even the Wherfy forgives Manor now.
Manor closes his eyes. He was so amused at every little thing before this, and now he's too crippled for more than a sad smile. "We need to get going. Your world can't survive without you, but Fact’s soul will keep, wherever it is doomed to lie.”
I blink myself awake, again, to a red world of howling winds. This time is a little different.
For one thing, I'm being carried.
"Manor," I say immediately, "I'm awake."
Manor lets me down from his arms and straightens his clothes. "You passed out from walking."
"I understand." One nod to him, and I turn to Creator. "You two don't tire? I'll have to be carried every time I can't go on?"
"Yes," Manor replies. "We haven't any time to lose."
I sigh. Manor is going to have to do it. He is still young and strong. The Door hit Creator much harder.
But for now, I have strength. For now, I can fight for what I've left behind.
"Let's keep going," I tell them, standing as strong as I can. "We're running out of time."
Creator looks at me warmly. Even her eyes are tired and weak. "You're a good person, Faith."
I smile. "I've changed, then."
We trek through the world of burning sand for two hours. The landscapes pass through all manner of strange phases. One minute, we cross a bridge of orange stone that falls away to darkness on either side of us. Awhile later, we climb over a craggy, stair-steppy hill as the wind tries tearing us away. We hang on, through worlds of spiraling mountains, hot dunes, and plains of stone that stretch on as far as the eye can see. The whole world looks like a canvas that has been twisted and torn in more ways than we can possibly count.
“Can you tell me more about where we are?” I ask, bored of just walking.
"A time pocket," Creator says, her eyes fixed on the sky above us. Manor tugs at her elbow to get her to keep going. She glances at him bashfully, but doesn't mention it.
"Tell me, do you know how time pockets work?" Manor asks me. I shake my head. "Well," he starts, "All you need to know is that we're in a place where time moves separately, and when we return, it will be in the same moment. Except…"
I look at Manor. He's fallen silent, staring off into the distance alongside Creator.
"Well?" I whisper, wanting the rest of the answer. They seem to be different people now. Silent, scared adults.
Manor closes his eyes. "This place is weak. It sags with the weight of somebody, whether that somebody was the now-dead civilization here, us, Fact, or all of those. The pocket will tear if we stay here too long. And then Creator's world will have to stand without her."
I glance to Creator. She sighs.
"Do you know how much she does?" Manor asks. "Do you understand what she gives to your world? Life. The very essence of it. The plants will be the first to go, but it won't be long before…"
He doesn't finish. I'm glad.
I want to think about something else. "Tell me who Fact was."
Manor glances to Creator doubtfully. Creator sighs deeply. "Faith was pulled into this. We're telling her anything she asks us to."
"Very well." Manor closes his eyes. The wind howls around us for a moment, a hostile sound worse than the deadliest silence. "Fact was… a fire elemental, I guess you could say. And… another equal. Equal to Creator and me, I mean. As in, strongest fire magic of any mortal… and later, any immortal. He was the most irritating person you ever met… He was reckless and aggressive, and Jewel has good reason to dislike him. But he meant more good than anybody in the world, and was immensely loyal towards me. It was an honor to have him as… as one of us."
I stare at him thoughtfully. "What was the… us?"
Manor laughs. It is bitter and self-hating. "The six. The successful incarnations of the elements, in the stable part of the world. We could bring order and balance to the rest of the universe. Move the earth, shape the stars, and heal the monsters that roamed the dimensions."
The three of us come over the top of a hill. Great plains of burning, striped orange desolation stretch out before us. Manor places a hand on my shoulder and a hand on Creator's shoulder. "We stabilized almost the entire universe. Dimensions could be staked down. We made better every life in the universe. However, we paid a price for it.”
“You remember Benjai. It was by her hand that I lost Lacy, the element of Wind. Someone I held closer to than a sister. Fact was lost as far as we know to this very door and – funnily enough – for the original purpose of seeking revenge on the lost civilization from whence we came.”
Manor takes a moment to stop and sigh. “His recklessness was his undoing,” he mutters. But then he picks up: "But with two of the elements lost, there was little we could do. The remaining four of us have retreated. Staked ourselves down each in a different corner of the stable world, and held reign over what we could. Perhaps someday the six of us would return to our impossible task together… but hoping is impossible. Especially when we will so likely seal Fact behind us when we return to our world."
I feel a tear at the edge of my heart. We begin to walk again as the two start to really banter on.
"It is difficult to determine whether Fire or Wind has had it worse. Fact was severed in two – body and mind left with us, heart and soul who knows where. On the other hand, Wind has been wiped from the universe for all anyone can tell. Maybe she rests in peace, or maybe she is held trapped and tortured in the darkest depths of the unexplored chaos. Maybe she will turn up any second to help us, or maybe she has truly been lost to time, and her name and deeds will be consumed by history."
Manor clenches a fist as Creator finishes speaking. He swears. "They… they never deserved this, and Fact would never want us to be sucked into his resting place, and both our worlds be left to wither away." He swears again, more loudly, with words I never heard. "Fact never deserved to do what I left him to do!"
"And what is that?" My first words in awhile. I never expected to hear so much and I want it to stop, but my curiosity must tear my heart a little more. So Manor continues.
"Fact's mind and body have been flying through space for years, non-stop, stabilizing a belt of burning lava. Mindless work. But the thing that kills me… even when he's left with only fading traces of his heart and soul, he still listens to me."
"Manor, I… I think we're done here."
"Yes, Jewel. I do not know what more we would say."
To be continued…