One Way: Part Eight
I frowned at myself in the mirror.
Servants huddled around me, draping necklaces around me and clipping on bracelets. I'd just taken a bath. My skin radiated clean, but I sensed something was wrong.
It seemed like I hadn't seen Dromiay in awhile.
"Dromiay," I murmured.
A couple of the servants stopped, but it was barely for a second. They carried on. They don't want to offend me, now, do they?
I sighed slowly, deeply.
"Someone fetch Dromiay. Immediately."
"Yes, ma'am," a Kyrii said, and flocked out my door.
"You must really know your way around this place," Amadeus remarked, while we were still walking in uninhabited hallways. I shrugged.
"I've only been here for most of my life."
The reply made him shudder.
He took long strides beside me, trying to look ahead but constantly glancing to me. Confidence rushed into my bones when he was near. I tried to ignore the giddy feelings he also gave me, and focus instead on how we were actually going to do what we had to do.
"Her quarters should be unguarded at this time of day," I explained. "Not sure how we'll get by anyone in the halls who decide to question us, though... I never learned any invisibility spells, and I don't want to resort to violence."
His eyes flickered with surprise, and his limp ears might have just twitched a little. "You didn't seem opposed to violence when..."
"These are people who I lived with," I explained, quickly realizing he referred to our first encounter. "No offense."
He shook his head forgivingly. "None taken."
I sighed. I couldn't think of a reply. We sank into silence for a few seconds.
"Wait, you said you never learned any invisibility spells, correct?" Amadeus questioned. I glanced to him in surprise.
"What, you suppose we should both go back and ask the other three if they know any? I could tell they only had docile magic. Life forces and such."
"I remember an invisibility spell."
"But you don't have any—"I stopped. "But..."
Amadeus informed me, "You don't have to if you think we can go without."
"Alright. Do you want to do it now? We're getting close to the inhabited parts of the palace."
"Yeah. Give me your arm."
I held it out, and looked away.
He placed a hand on my forearm. It was gentle. I knew I should've expected pain, but it didn't come. I felt some of my strength leave me as Amadeus breathlessly muttered foreign words.
He's not stressed.
He awkwardly lifted his hand from my arm, having finished the spell. I asked, "Did it work?"
"Yes. We can see each other, of course. But there's a drawback."
I groaned. "Of course there is."
"If it wears off before we dismiss it, it could have... physical drawbacks..."
"Such as nausea and numbness?"
"Yeah, and occasional... sudden cases of... death..."
"Amnesia, fatigue, etcetera?"
I shrugged. "Whatever. I have experience with spells that need to be dismissed before they get cranky. All you gotta do is remember."
We kept walking.
They didn't see us.
Servants rushed by us in the long halls, dusting and sweeping beyond the point of making any visible difference. We'd lost track of time. I kept at Dromiay's heels, focusing on her ballet-flat-clad feet hustling ahead of me.
We'll have to hurry. I bit my lip.
But the golden halls were getting grander. They opened up wider, rows of carved pillars running along the length of them. Low fountains bubbled with sparkling water. The eternal question returned to me: where did all of this even come from?
But I didn't dare to speak. We could still be heard.
Dromiay eventually grabbed my hand. The butlers and soldiers were getting difficult to maneuver around, but now she was helping me to weave past them. I trusted her.
More than I've ever trusted my own brother.
I tried to keep thinking about the spell. Just let it get us through, and then I'll call it off. No worries. Don't feel guilty for using it, because this may just be the only way.
Along the way, Dromiay started to use her magic to bust locks on the sliding doors, forcing white sparks of it through their gaping keyholes. Truly forbidden territory beckoned us.
"Are you ready?" she whispered, turning to me. Her makeup had long since begun to smear, and her skirt even had a small tear in it.
She was sitting right there.
Softly glaring herself in the mirror, alone. No servants hung about her. Her hands rested on the vanity, folded.
I expected her to say my name any moment.
We're still invisible, I duly note. I patted the air for Amadeus to stay there as I began to tiptoe across the room.
The place was crowded with sprawling woven rugs, sparkling tapestries, ornate vases and one enormous canopy bed. All gold. Everything was so gorgeous, so flawlessly-crafted, so perfect that none of it could possibly be special.
I reached the bed.
Each column-carved bedpost towered towards the ceiling, and lush rolls of fabric came down from a point in the ceiling towards them. Smooth curtains cascaded to the floor from the upper frame. Somewhere... on... the... bed...
I checked underneath the bed first, terror pounding in my heart. A long rectangle of light shone on the other end of the space. Nope.
There were no bedside tables. I cautiously climbed onto the ornate bed linens, and sank into the deep, larger-than-life mattress. Painfully, I lifted one arm enough to prod each pillow several times. Not in the pillows, either.
My next inclination was that the book was hidden somewhere in the mattress. No! I screamed. I'd never find it!
But reason found me.
She gets new people every week or so. She would never deal with fishing the book out of the mattress every single time she needs it.
Finally, I just rolled onto my back and examined the bedframe. It was worked into a design over my head, with upside-down steps of gold leading towards the center, where a fat golden square sank nearly into the ceiling. Constellations were etched onto its front cover. It looked like it could come out if someone just worked it just right...
I raised my hands. As they glowed with magic, I maneuvered them, coating the book with my grasp and finally bringing it down to me. I placed my hands on the book. Finally.
On the other side of the room, Amadeus groaned, placing a hand on his stomach. I winced as my wing suddenly tore.
Benjai stood up and whirled around. Her tail swung into the stool, which clattered away.
I burst into a dash, grabbed Amadeus' arm, and tugged him after me. Benjai screamed, "GUARDS!"
Amadeus and I were already bolting through doorways. Well, it was mostly me. He just stumbled wearily behind me, moaning.
"Just run!" I urged him. Down in the hall behind us came the thick footsteps of bulky men.
"No, I... I can't do it! Go on without me; I'll be fine!"
I stared at him in shock.
"I'm serious! Don't let me slow you down; just run! They want you!"
Finally, he pushed me away from him.
"They won't kill me. They can try."
And he turned to face the onslaught of guards. There were three of them, but he may as well have been against an army.
I forgot about the extent of my magic.
I took the coward's path.
I did exactly what he told me to.
Amadeus, stupid, stupid, stupid! I took a deserted side passage. Nobody followed me. You idiot; don't try to do something selfless! If we lose you, we're all stuck!
As I bolted down the corridors, I almost began to wish I was being followed.
All the more people left behind to beat him up. Oh, stupid, stupid, stupid Amadeus!
The rooms fell into decay. Skeletons and stone, not servants and gold. I knew my way around even there, though, and every step brought me closer to the three we'd left behind. Not to mention farther from the one I left behind.
We're lucky the spell didn't hurt us any more than it did... or at least I'm lucky... What must Amadeus be going through?
Just outside our dressing room, I sank onto my knees and banged my head on the wall, the golden book slipping from my grasp. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Finally, I got up, and entered.
Dromiay stepped in the room, alone. Hysterical, she hugged a massive golden book to her chest.
The problem was obvious.
Faith, Rubia and I got up.
"There's no shame in being the bearer of bad news," Rubia told her.
"That doesn't change anything." Dromiay said, eyes still wide. "Amadeus – they have him, and he's going to get killed, and then we'll all be stuck here forever."
I immediately told her, "No. He was right."
"He did it for me! That idiot!" she shrieked. She dropped the book on a dressing table, and, sobbing hysterically, sank into a chair.
Rubia left my side to go explain to her. Faith stood, frozen with shock and confusion.
He... he chose to take pain for her? I stared as Rubia began to soothe Dromiay with words I couldn't hear.
Dromiay lifted her face. "What?" she murmured. "What?"
"He knew what he was doing," Rubia solemnly confirmed.
"Then – then all we have to do is get him back?"
I blinked, and nearly smiled. My brother had some good in him after all.
"We'll find him," Rubia assured her. "In the meantime, one of us should—"
"I'll do it." Dromiay picked up the book and began to make a beeline for a dressing room. But a knock came at the door; she stopped short.
I placed a hand on the doorknob and turned to the others. Dromiay nodded.
A single servant, a white Kau, stood in the hall. "All of you have been invited to dinner tonight," she squeaked. And then she ran.
Rubia frowned. "Let's... think about it."
But someone stumbled in after her. Someone who looked torn apart, barely standing. He flashed a half-dead smile.
I leapt to my feet. "You're alive!"
"I waited for them to be sure I was dead," Amadeus said. "And then I got up."
It was mindless work.
I sat in a chair in the dusty dressing room. A magic lamp, a white sphere hanging from the ceiling, lit the room. Words flickered under my fingers as I sat there for hours. My fingers flicked the pages again and again. Each page had two columns: name and homeland. I never did find out how Benjai knew both of them – I had always guessed she had some magic of her own.
The four haunted my thoughts as I scanned the pages.
Cerulean was a stranger. I let him be.
Rubia was right when she'd said I was like Faith. Except I felt empty. Faith was happy and nice.
Rubia herself was a little kooky, but somehow, I accepted her. She was different from all the people I'd grown up with. I liked her.
And as for Amadeus... He was just, well, him. I couldn't think of any way to describe him. I just knew that we hit it off alright, even when we were mean to each other. I felt something I'd felt before, except it was different this time. Better. I'd never admit it, but it was the most merciful thing I'd ever felt.
I was secure.
That word, Creation, occurred once near the middle. Just me, I noted dully.
I neared the end. Four more names penned in there – Rubia, Amadeus, Cerulean, Faith.
Dang. Benjai, that was fast.
I closed the book, and ran to where the others were.
"Something is wrong." I slammed the book onto the table, as though I had suddenly discovered it was worthless. It was. "Something is terribly, terribly wrong!"
No one even had the courage to reply. Not at first.
Cerulean finally replied, "How many others are there?"
"And how many could there be?" Amadeus added.
I just dipped my disappointed head. "You really want to know?"
"We must. Even if we didn't want to. No, wait—especially if we don't want to." Rubia shot me a reassuring glance.
"You're one of us now," Cerulean said. "And we're in this together."
"Okay then, fine." Massaging my temples, I sat down against the wall, and broke to them the news: the news that had shaken me to my very core. "No names. There are no names besides us."
It was worse than having to find a hundred, thousand, million now-servants or now-nobles who were from Creation, and convince them all to come back to their homeworld. All or nobody was the rule of the game here... the five of us just lost the game, so we lost everything.
"I... I was sure!" Rubia stuttered. "I was sure that this was the way home! And now we find out that I was wrong?"
Amadeus muttered, "I trusted you and your thinking so much, Rubia... I shouldn't've done that."
Cerulean stared at the tarnished gold floor.
"Where's Faith?" I asked.
"She just disappeared a few minutes ago." Amadeus shrugged. "I figured she's just having a Faith moment."
Cerulean jerked awake, growling to his twin, "Don't blame her. She's sensitive, that's all."
"She needs to know. Where is she?" I heaved my book into my arms, suddenly over-protective of the thing that had practically sentenced my death already.
"Over in that one dressing room," Amadeus said, pointing to one of the doors at the edge of the room.
"Should I go get her?" Cerulean asked.
"What? You do realize it is a girl's dressing room?" I criticized. "I've done enough for you three plus Faith already. You can suggest things, but you are in no place to command me to wait to give her a necessary update."
The Blumaroo started, "I agree with Dromiay. Give her some space."
"Give Faith some space," Cerulean argued. "Sometimes, she just wants to either be by herself or be with one of the few people she trusts completely. It doesn't matter which."
"And you're saying you're definitely one of those few?" I raised her eyebrows.
"Faith and I have been through more than you think. Seriously. You have no idea."
I shrugged. "Alright. You have a point, but there's no point in you going in first and then me. Like you said, she seems to prefer to be either alone or with someone she can tolerate."
Cerulean opened his mouth to speak. But Amadeus silenced him, "We know what you said. But the people Faith tolerates and the people Faith trusts completely are the same people."
"Pretty narrow window of friends she has there, but I guess she must choose them carefully," I lamented, finally able to break away and get to Faith. If Faith is the person Rubia said I reminded her of, does that mean I'm sensitive?
In. Out. Steady; one, two, three. Exhale.
I had long since perfected the art of painlessly sitting cross-legged . I'd endured a week of uncomfortable nights out in the cold, with nothing to do but meditate or try to sleep. I'd found the former to be easier at the time. The southern Silent Lands had rattled my body then, but at least I was harder to shake now.
In. Out. Steady; one, two, three. Exhale.
The situation gave me a perfect opportunity to use my skills. I knew how to sit upright without putting weight on anything but my backbone, breathe to my lungs' full capacity, and think only one thing at a time. I am not useless. Amadeus, as much as you shaped me in that one week, you were still wrong.
In. Out. Steady; one, two, three. Exhale.
I saw everything spring-water clear, my clouds of hurt and frustration finally blown over. My heart bubbled up with love. Love for Cerulean, Rubia, and Amadeus and Dromiay.
I remembered when I couldn't love myself no matter how hard I tried. So love found me instead.
Knock, knock, knock.
Three knocks exactly, all three delicate, sounding as if they were each done by just one knuckle. I sighed and righted myself. "Who is it?"
"Me. Are you busy?" Dromiay called in her slightly-nasal voice.
"Not really." I rose to my feet and opened up the door. "By the way, it wasn't locked."
The one-winged Shoyru had washed off her golden makeup and changed into a white dress. She appeared softer without her glamour. I felt more willing to trust her, and accept her as a friend.
She held a large tome, the one with the constellations etched onto the front of it. Every golden star gleamed in unity with the golden sky, leaving no space for plainness to stick out. Then Dromiay spat, flipping the book open to the middle and beginning to thumb through it too fast for me to make out any of the curly handwriting. Every white page was beginning to crack, the black ink etching a worn name onto every line. She reached the part where the pages were blank. All those names that weren't there yet, but were doomed to be written in...
Her thumb touched the inside back cover, the hard, unavoidable end of the book. Some books had doodles in the back. Some had stains. Some signatures, and some obscenities. If it had concise plotline notes in, it was Rubia's. If there were impressive corrections, then Cerulean had read it.
But this book was unloved. Used too little.
The back was stark white.
Dromiay snapped it shut. I flinched at her exasperated sigh. "What is it?" I moaned.
"There are only five names from the world Creation." She cast her downlifted gaze at the ground, staring through the empty book. "They're us. That's it."
My spirits died.
She threw the book to the floor.
"Faith, I just sai--"
"I know, Dromiay. I know."
Then something happened. Dromiay threw her arms around me.
"I... I barely know you!" I exclaimed, letting her get in some comfort.
"I've never really had a close friend before," she muttered. "I was abducted here when I was six. Being indoctrinated as a noble is the worst thing that's ever happened to me."
"I can't think of what the single worst thing that's happened to me is. I can only think of the best thing." Scenes flashed before my eyes. A starved me striving for an apple, but instead finding myself at the feet of the person who'd truly save me. A week of tireless travel that lead me to unleashing that person. Feeling joy whenever that person did. Finding acceptance in the face of truth and light.
"Must be nice... I realize I've wasted so much of my life like this."
"Really? That reminds me of myself."
Dromiay fell silent.
"I started off bad, and finally found something when I met Cerulean. You can have a best experience ever, Dromiay. In fact, it might happen very, very soon."
"I'd like to hope that, but I just feel so useless now."
"You feel useless? Really? After you've done so many little things for the rest of us? Well, leave the thinking to everyone else for awhile. We'll find a way. And," I added, "We've been invited to dinner."
Dromiay lifted her head in confusion. That was when the door creaked open, with Rubia on the other end.
"Girls." Her eyes flickered with graveness. "I've figured it out. Benjai's name isn't in the book, is it?"
To be continued...