One Way: Part Seven
What Was Before
We made it to an abandoned dressing room.
No more guards crossed our path on the way there, but no doubt they'd start searching for us if we were wanted. Faith held her breath all the way. I did my best to look after her: maybe we'd made our way to a deserted wing of the palace, but there were holes in the floor and even some collapsing golden ceilings.
"What does it take," I murmured, "for a golden roof to collapse?"
"I don't like this. This looks like... like someone's attacked this place. Look, you can see the sky. We're at the edge." Faith's green eyes shone with fright.
"How will we find Rubia?" I lamented. "And Amadeus too... I guess. But I don't think I really want to find him."
We stuck our heads in every room we walked by. But it was all barren. I asked, "Do you think this is why they have the wall?"
"Yes." Her answer was plain. "How... how many people died defending this place?"
I carefully picked up a copper helmet that was lying against the wall and squinted at it. It was basically a spiked bowl. But I glanced at the inside of it and gasped so hard my lungs hurt. "Faith!"
"What is it?" She peered over my arm.
"Someone's been here! From... from Creation! It says A Soldier of the Creator on the rim of this!"
Her paws flew to her mouth. But she recollected herself and said, "Someone's been here. But not anymore. Sooner or later, we'll find a few skeletons."
We were silent for several long moments.
"Wait. This belonged to a soldier. A dust pixy, I assume." Faith furrowed her brow. "And there are so many collapsed walls..."
"What are you leading up to?" I asked.
"Someone got stuck in here. It wasn't an army of dust pixies. The Creator sent the dust pixies to get the stuck person out."
"Did... it work?"
"Doesn't look like it."
The skull of an Ogrin was lying on the ground in front of us.
"Don't panic," I said. "Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't panic."
I clenched my fist. Faith squealed.
I glanced over at her, and realized that I'd been holding her hand. Without even noticing it. Unclenching my fist, I whispered, "Sorry."
Faith smiled sadly.
But it was a short-lived pleasure. Her eyes wandered back to the hallway. The palace collapsed in front of us, an exotic garden visible just beyond the walls. It was night.
"There it is," she murmured, "The exit. But not for us. Not now."
"And it's not really an exit. It leads outside, but not to where we belong."
"I wonder... The road to where we belong... Is it an entrance or an exit?"
Now I couldn't blink without being home. But I realized yet again that my true home was not one place but two people.
"Hey, look!" Her voice snapped me from my trance. "A dressing room! We can disguise ourselves!"
"Stereotypically genius." I nudged her away from a doorway and stepped in first. She followed.
It was just like the other dressing room, only abandoned. Dust coated the floor. A few wooden chairs were falling apart. I breathed in. I breathed out again. "Okay. Time to get into something... comfortable."
"Or concealing," Faith said as she approached a rack of oriental robes. Lifting a set of orange ones from it, she added, "You'd better take something from here. They'll conceal our tails and your wings. And if we can find some hoods..."
"Don't like covering my wings," I grumbled.
She didn't hear me. The red Xweetok was already heading for a dressing stall. I sighed, grabbed a hanger with some black robes on it, and headed for the other stall.
"So, why are we looking for these people again?" I asked plainly, letting Rubia and Amadeus take the lead down the golden corridors. I remained silent most of the time. We were seldom questioned by passing guards or servants, as I stomped heavily behind them to make it look like I was escorting them. To add to the effect, I held my hands up to their backs. I might end up zapping these two if they irritate me enough.
"So that we can hopefully get snapped back to our time and place," the orange Blumaroo explained.
"Just hopefully, huh?" I criticized. "You aren't sure that this'll work."
"It was her idea." Amadeus jabbed a thumb in Rubia's direction. The Hissi narrowed her eyes and sighed, still off in her own little cloud.
My mind still rippled with doubt. "You two are together. Not separate. Eventually, we will be questioned."
"That's a mean tactic." Rubia spoke understandingly. "Wrench people apart from their companions, the only people they know... Just so that overweight Chomby can have an extra servant or two. Makes me sick."
"Our leader Queen Benjai's ways are not to be questioned under any circumstances. She knows what is best for herself," I recited, the words still implanted in my head after they rolled off my tongue.
I immediately regretted it.
Amadeus and Rubia stared for a second.
"Methinks someone is having loyalty issues," the Blumaroo guessed.
"No! Really! I'm in this with you guys!" I started suddenly. This is the first chance I've had to get out of here and go home! As for Queen Benjai... Well, she can just learn magic herself if she needs mages that much!
"Ri-i-iight," Rubia said. "Well, I know fear when I see it. And it looks like you have plenty of it. At any rate, since you wouldn't be scared of us hurting you, you're scared of us leaving you. Is that right?"
"Yes!" I hurriedly quipped, thankful that she'd read me.
"Okay. I believe that you're scared of being left. But the question remains... Do you want to stay with us so you can really hold us prisoner, or do you genuinely want to be free from this place?"
Amadeus said, "She is powerful enough to theoretically take charge and do whatever she wants with us. It makes no difference whether she answers that question or not."
"I want to go home." The words left me as easily as my testimony to Benjai just had. But what I really wanted was this.
"...And there's my proof that she wants to stay with us. She could've gone ahead and took charge just then if she wanted."
Amadeus shrugged. "How are you so sure that she's from Creation, anyways?"
"Simple. You could use her magic. That would never have worked if she were from an alternate universe."
He gasped. "I didn't know that!"
"You would've if you've read the Eighty-Eight Laws of Magic." Rubia looked smug.
I loosen up a little.
Amadeus stuttered, "Those? I gave up at number three—"
"Look. Most of the Eighty-Eight Laws of Magic are gibberish that the insane scientist-magicians who invented them tossed in there, but there are about twenty that make sense. It's worth sifting through. There's an abridged version of them, you know."
"I... was reading the abridged version."
"Oh, that's right. The unabridged version has about three hundred points. By the by, have you memorized Awkin's Thousand-Hour Spell? It really is a beautiful work as far as spells go... Poetry, really. It's a shame that all it does is apparently turn all the flowerpots in a twelve-bound radius inside-out while simultaneously curling the hair of anyone who is reciting the alphabet at that time. I hear that it has been used for some pretty elaborate pranks, though..."
While the two (mainly Rubia) babbled on, I noticed the changing surroundings. We hadn't met any loyalists for a few minutes now. A layer of dust was coating the floor, but the others were subconsciously correcting every slip of their feet.
Amadeus' voice cut off Rubia's, "You know, if I ever had magic again, I suppose it'd be fun to use it for pranks—"
"Sorry to talk while you're interrupting," Rubia began—
"Where are we?" The Blumaroo finally noticed.
Well, it wasn't as though I'd expected Rubia to say that.
"Abandoned wing." My mind was sent spinning by memories as I stared down the hallway. "For good reason."
"What do you mean?" Rubia asked.
I shot her a glance.
"Right, guess I shouldn't try anything." She sighed.
I offered with an odd burst of kindness, "If it makes you two feel any less downcast, if one of you has something that belongs to one of these people you're looking for, I can use my mag—"
"Well, why didn't you say so earlier?" Amadeus' voice was rich with greed, and he pulled me into a self-centered hug. His clothes were dirty and he was much taller than me. Disgusted, I pushed him away.
"Surely you two have something I can use to locate them. Anything."
Rubia mentioned, "Shawls don't have pockets, and this is all I have on me."
"And you?" I turned to Amadeus.
The Blumaroo swiftly unbuttoned the front of his beaten crimson admiral's jacket. He turned several inner pockets inside out before shaking his head.
"Right," I muttered. "Dead end this early. Lovely. No hairs or anything on your clothes?"
"Probably not." Rubia began examining her shawl again. I sighed.
"I'm pretty sure I haven't really touched either," Amadeus admitted. "Strange how I'm so connected to them, but I'm not close to them... I'm not close to anyone, really..."
I narrowed my eyes meanly. "Right, cause I'm sooo interested and concerned for your wellbeing."
Amadeus stared at me, horrified.
I realized that, for some reason, I actually kind of meant it.
Rubia blurted, "Wait! I think I have something! But... I'm not sure they'd count..."
"Go on. Hit me. Not literally." I glared her in the face, inching towards Amadeus.
"Well... They're words. I can't get Cerulean and Faith's voices out of my head, not until I'm together with both of them..."
"Do these words belong to them, or the substitutes your brain is coming up with?" I asked.
"Them. They've already told them to me."
"Alright. Go ahead."
Amadeus had clearly detected the impatience in my voice, and decided to stay out of this.
"Okay... I... I..." Rubia drifted to a halt. "I... I don't remember a thing!"
"Oh brother!" Amadeus groaned.
I ignored him.
"You know, if this is going to work, the words don't have to be anything they've told you recently. Two days, two months, two years, twenty years... Think of anything one of them has ever told you. All I need is one sentence that has Cerulean or Faith written all over it."
"We only need one?" Amadeus inquired.
"One at a time, at any rate," I huffed.
"I have snippets that just anyone could say... Let's see... Oh, I'm so terrible at this! I remember the gist of what they were saying, but—"
"Hurry it up!" I snapped.
Amadeus glanced at me.
Rubia snapped her wingtips. "Got it! He kept me alive with the Crystal Boomerang. He wanted to use me as a ransom to kidnap Cerulean. Faith told me that awhile ago; it was sort of an explanation, so it stuck in my—"
Amadeus spat, "That was all you could find?"
"Just out of curiosity, who was this person Faith was talking about?" I gently inquired. It was too late for Amadeus to stuff the words back into Rubia's head.
Rubia gave Amadeus a look that blew his features into a grimace. My heart erupted into shock.
"What?!" I blurted.
He clenched his fist. "You two just knock it off. Dromiay, do that spell of yours. The sooner we're back in our dimension, the sooner I can find some solitude."
"Wow, poor you. Having to interact with other people." Rubia beamed.
I felt the tension getting me down. These two are insane. Amadeus is a kidnapper.
Folding my hands, I went ahead and recited the spell. The two stepped away as I got to the middle of it, incomprehensible words spilling from my lips. I felt colors swirl around me in a strange world, one full of total light and total darkness. My magic churned, gushing, pounding in my ears. Exhaustion steadily crept up on me. Finally, I felt the last word on my tongue—
And I passed out.
The next thing I felt, Cerulean and I were being whisked through the air, wind rushing past us. The palace was gone, replaced with what looked like open sky. It lasted for a moment.
And then we stood there with Rubia and Amadeus, and a brown-skinned Shoyru unconscious on the floor.
Before I can even gather myself, Cerulean rushed from my side and grabbed Rubia into a hug.
"Rubia! I... I'm so sorry."
His words moved me, though they were intended for Rubia. He's remembering things.
I smiled at my friends' reunion, but then my gaze met Amadeus'. He had a new look – a stare of poorly-guised jealousy. My emotions faltered.
Cerulean caught my eye. I shrugged, and joined the embrace. I felt myself join with the other two thirds of me as we stood there in our true home, silently alive.
But when we released each other, I noticed something that shocked me into curious satisfaction.
Amadeus was pulling the Shoyru to her feet.
The newcomer dusted off her blouse and skirt with a single swipe of her hand. She glanced around. I noted with throbbing sorrow that she had a single wing. Her right wing.
"I'm Dromiay," she said, in a weak voice. Her eyes flickered at me with tired disrespect. I nodded.
She seemed moody, hanging by Amadeus. She's a stranger to us, and Amadeus is... well... sort of worse. But we've pitied him for so long. I... I think they click. Amadeus needs someone to get him out of... well... this.
"Faith," I told her with a grin, extending my hand.
She shook it.
The afternoon began with me leading my new friends to a safe place I knew of – an abandoned wing of the palace. More specifically, a room full of broken shelves of rotting garments, complete with a crumbling wall of stone revealing an overgrown courtyard outside.
"I think it's prettier than all those tended gardens," Faith pondered, gazing out at the tresses of ivy creeping into our room, tiny golden flowers blooming amongst them.
"How come there's no gold here, except on the jewelry?" Rubia asked.
I replied slowly, "...This was before Benjai's obsession."
Faith turned to Rubia and Cerulean. Understanding flickered across their faces. Amadeus just stood by me and gazed out at the forgotten yard, with its lush vines and sprawling wildflowers.
I turned to him with a tiny smile. It took him three seconds to notice it, but he returned it with the weakest, most powerful one I'd ever seen.
"What do we do now?" Cerulean asked to everyone in the room, snapping me from my moment of euphoria.
My reply was immediate.
"You let me handle this. I know that Benjai has a book with the names and origins of everyone here. I can go retrieve it. There could be others from Creation."
"How dangerous would that be? She'd notice it missing," Amadeus pointed out.
"Doesn't matter," I shrugged. I intend to get it and to use it. Don't count on me dying out there, Amadeus.
"You're not doing it alone." Amadeus took a stride towards me. I turned to him; he was closer to me than the others now.
"Thank you," I accepted.
Why do I accept?
The others looked ready to join. But I admitted, truthfully, "I don't need any more." I glanced at them, my gaze meeting each of theirs in turn. I felt so connected already.
Cerulean didn't observe me rudely, but from his standoffish stance and expression, I could tell he still thought of me as a stranger. He'd benefit from a more complete story once we finished this.
Faith gave me a confident nod. Her grass-green eyes sparked with trust and empathy. Rubia just gave me a blink as the corners of her mouth drew up in a grin. I could tell she was looking at Amadeus, too.
"Wait, we're going now?" Amadeus asked as I gently took him by the wrist and headed for the room's only door.
"Yes. Before either of us has a chance to wimp out." I placed a hand on the rusty doorknob. Then, with a slow glance over my shoulder, "Amadeus?"
"Yes?" he whispered.
"...You needed me more than Benjai ever did. I think I understand now."
He opened his mouth, but no words came.
"Now let's go." I smiled.
"Benjai's personal quarters, of course."
To be continued...