Do You Believe In Magic: Part Two
Elwin didn’t remember the landing. He could recollect falling into the well and the surprisingly short drop down the dark shaft, but the landing itself…he had no memory of that. Likely he had hit his head immediately upon impact and forgotten everything. That made sense. After all, it was a very long fall.
Elwin sat up and shook his head to clear it. The reality of the situation was beginning to hit him as he slowly regained consciousness. He was at the bottom of a well. Mother was out of town for the next few days, and no one else was likely to come by in that time. The options left to him were either to wait or to scream for help. Screaming for help was by far the better option, but Elwin didn’t want to waste his breath. If it wasn’t daylight, he wouldn’t bother; no one walked down that long road at night. No one but him.
He could tell by the dim light that it was likely at least dawn, and a quick peek up the shaft told him that the sun was, in fact, entirely risen. However, only a small portion of light made its way down into the hole, so that the entire base of the well looked as poorly-lit as though it was still after dusk. Elwin could see his hand in front of his face, but anything beyond that was irrevocably hidden in shadow.
It was at this point that Elwin noticed something…strange about the bottom of the well. While still peering in from the top, he had assumed that as the shaft stretched down, it maintained the same width all the way to its base, some three or four feet. But as he looked around his stonework prison, he couldn’t help but notice that he was slumped against one side of a veritable chamber! Though he couldn’t see all the way across, he guessed that from side to side, the circular shaft was now twenty feet across at least. Perhaps it was created that way to store more coins? Or was it for some other purpose?
Elwin continued to look around. To his surprise, he noticed that, right beside him, built right into the wall, was a small wooden door. It was without ornament save for the iron ring nailed into the boards as a handle. No keyhole was apparent, and Elwin’s mind raced with the possibilities.
A large chamber…A door….Must be maintenance or money collection or something, built by the person who made this well. There was no bucket, I should’ve figured there’d be another way to get down here and collect the money.
Elwin shakily got to his feet. He briefly checked his head and extremities for damage but was shocked to find nothing broken or even sore. Score one for magic, I suppose. He chuckled at his own joke and turned to pull on the ring of the door when something caught his eye. Against the far wall of the chamber, Elwin could just make out a small lump. Or a pile of sorts. The coins, no doubt, of many years of wishing. He thought briefly about going over and scooping them up, but something stopped him. As he tried to move forward to get a better look at the shadowy pile, he felt a sudden dread and fear come over him. Something inside him was telling him not to go to the pile, not to scoop up the treasure, not even to move from right beside the door.
“Still shaky from the fall,” he said to no one in particular. Again, she shook his head a few times to try and straighten out his thoughts. Then, turning away from the shadows at the base of the well, Elwin pulled the handle on the door and strode through, away from the few rays of light that eked their way down the shaft.
He found himself in a small hallway, built of stone and lined with torches every few yards. Torches? And they’re still lit…Whoever built this place had a fondness for the good old days. The sconces were nowhere near as bright as modern lighting, but Elwin found the fiery warmth reassuring and didn’t struggle at all to find his way down the path. The only thing that bothered him was the length of the passage. He felt as though he’d been walking for hours, but when he turned around to see how far he’d come, he could still see the wooden door. Sure enough, it was getting further away each time he checked, but the time he spent walking didn’t seem appropriate for the small distances he was traveling. I’ll get my head on straight soon, Elwin thought. But for now…it’s kind of cool for time to have lost meaning!
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Elwin found the corridor widening into something that could only be described as a cavern. Stalactites reached down from an invisible ceiling, stalagmites stretched up into infinity. Here and there, slow drips echoed throughout the chamber. The only other sound was a subtle, low rushing sound from far away. Elwin thought that the whole place looked as stereotypical a cave as he could have imagined. The place was even complete with a stagnant underground river not too far from where the corridor entered the area. The only thing he couldn’t have dreamed up was the small rowboat docked along the side of the river with a wretched-looking Kyrii hunched over the bow.
Whereas above-ground Elwin might have hesitated, this new, fall-addled Elwin didn’t waste any time in greeting the mysterious figure. “Hello there! Are you the owner of the well? I, er, accidentally fell down here and I was wondering if you knew how to get out of here! Hello!” As Elwin continued shouting, he kept making his way down the embankment towards the river’s edge. The Kyrii had to have heard him, but he made no motion. He just sat there, hunched over the decrepit rowboat’s prow.
Finally, Elwin was right on top of him, fairly shouting in the old Kyrii’s ear. Up close, Elwin could see that Kyrii was, indeed, Eldery. This explained the lack of hearing, but even the deafest of pets couldn’t fail to notice a person striding up right beside them. It wasn’t until Elwin touched the pet’s arm that anything happened. As soon as paw touched fur, the Kyrii turned his cobwebbed head towards Elwin and opened his mouth. “A pet…So young…”
“Er…yeah, I guess. My name’s Elwin and I live not too far from the well! Who are you?”
“I…am Charon. I run the boat….To the other side.”
“Other side of the river?”
Charon’s toothless mouth broke into a demented grin, one without happiness or mirth. “Yes, the other side of the river…Tell me, Elwin. Do you believe in magic?”
Elwin hadn’t considered magic up to this point. He’d considered ancient architecture and the logistics of well-digging, but never magic! Was this…his wish? Was this adventure?
“I…don’t know, Charon. It’s never done much for me so far.”
A cackle wheezed its way out of the old Kyrii’s lungs, full of dust and debris. “So it hasn’t, so it hasn’t.” Charon suddenly stopped his laughter and looked directly into Elwin’s glazed eyes. “Let me tell you something, Elwin. I suggest you start believing in magic. I suggest you believe it with all your heart, for if you don’t…the alternative might be something you don’t like.”
“Let’s assume that I am magic, Elwin. And I am also the only one who can take you to the other side. Where would you be without magic?”
Elwin pondered for a moment. “Stuck on this side. With the well.”
“That’s right. So what will it be, Elwin? Do you believe in magic?”
“I…I guess I do! If it’s between sitting at the bottom of the well and getting out of here, I’ll take magic any day.”
Another cackle escaped from the sarcophagus that was Charon’s lungs. Elwin could have sworn he saw actual puffs of dust escape with each wheeze. “Then climb aboard, Elwin. We must cross this river.”
Elwin did as he was bade, partially because he had no other choice and partially because he felt as though he was finally living out some sort of adventure. As he stepped into the creaky rowboat, he imagined himself stepping onto the deck of the Revenge or the Black Pawkeet. Though it was only a few feet across, he saw yards of boards, cannons, sails, masts, everything he ever dreamt could be on a pirate ship! And there, at the helm…Captain Scarblade. Or Dread. Or Garin, it didn’t matter too much. But some captain of note, barking orders at him, Elwin, to hoist the mainsails or some other sailing jargon.
But the illusion was broken as soon as it started; Charon heaved his tired body into the boat, rocking it from side to side and splashing fetid water around Elwin’s ankles. Then he began to row, accompanied by the cracking of each and every joint in his body. The progress was suitably slow, the boat crawling along the stagnant river at a pace that could have been beaten by Elwin during his morning walk to school. But they were making progress towards…somewhere. The other side, wherever that was.
Much like the corridor, Elwin lost all sense of time. It seemed like hours that Charon was dipping the rotten oar into the water, but every time he looked back to check their progress, the torchlight of the corridor still appeared within view. He hoped that the effects of the fall would wear off soon; he was eager to experience this new adventure without feeling like he had to wait hours and hours to cross a single river!
But Charon’s inexorable paddling did eventually bring them to the shore. With a tiny scratching sound, the boat heaved itself up onto the rocks on the far side of the river, and Charon slowly stood up and removed himself from the boat.
“Your journey continues, young one, if you seek it. Through the corridor.” He offered a hand to Elwin and almost lifted him out of the boat with his bony arm. “Do you…still believe in magic?”
“Well, although this well isn’t exactly the textbook definition of an adventure, it’s still better than sitting at the bottom of the well. And definitely better than sitting in the dark house, so I’ll go with yes.”
“Good. Then go, and find what awaits you.” With that, the Elderly Kyrii turned back to his boat and hunched over it once more. Elwin found that all attempts to communicate with him after this were lost, and he finally committed to continuing on down the new corridor that opened up before him.
The journey down this new corridor was much the same as the others, with time warping, distance stretching, and nothing being as it seemed. By this point, Elwin had become quite inured to it all. Finally, after a few “hours” of walking, he emerged into yet another cavernous room, though this one was more room and less cavern.
In fact, it would have been wildly inappropriate to say that the room had any cavernous qualities whatsoever. Whereas before, the river crossing and every hallway had been adorned with nothing but dark rock and nothing else, this new room was walled with gleaming silver steel, floored with riveted panels, and, high up above, Elwin could see bright white lights shimmering faintly. Normally this sudden shift from subterranean cave to modern space station would have sent Elwin scrambling for an explanation, but not anymore. Now, it was just part of the adventure.
As he continued into the room, he noticed more details coming into existence around him. The steel walls gained control panels, filled with flashing lights, levers, knobs, buttons, and every other thing imaginable that one could push, prod, pull, or otherwise activate. The paneled floor clanged under his feet as though hollow. Or maybe there’s another hall underneath! Elwin’s mind raced with the possibilities. Was he still underground? Or was he…
Suddenly, a porthole materialized to his left and he could see outside. His brain half-expected “outside” to consist of nothing but dirt and worms, but this porthole showed something different. It showed a green and blue orb, suspended in a sea of inky blackness, dotted with tiny pinpricks of light. It showed a wondrous expanse of infinite possibility. And there…two ice caps on either side of the orb. A moon in the distance? It was…Neopia.
Elwin gasped lightly, pressing his face up against the window. It couldn’t really be Neopia…could it? He was still underground, in the chambers attached to the well! Or…was he? What was it Charon had said… Do you believe in magic? Did he? He’d written about it often enough, but was he really ready to believe that the well had finally granted his wish? That it had transported him to an adventure? Maybe this was all just a dream and he was still there, at the bottom of the well. Sleeping. Dreaming. But what a glorious dream it was turning out to be…
“Oy!” A shout rang out in the silent, steel room. “You there! Front and center!”
Elwin tore his face away from the window and glanced wildly around the room. Not ten feet away from him stood a Grundo, decked out in full battle armor, standing before a small desk and glaring pointedly in Elwin’s direction. Behind him stood a large gate that Elwin was positive hadn’t been there before. It was set into the steel wall but gleamed with a pearly luster, as if shining from something other than the cold Virtupets lights above. Something sunny and warm.
“Yes, you! Come over here and let me see you properly. You can’t expect to get past on curiosity alone, can you?”
It was the tone of the voice more than the words themselves that brought Elwin in front of the Grundo; it was the sort of voice that didn’t brook any argument. It would surely be worse than disobeying Mother if Elwin didn’t get in front of that table on the double.
As he approached, he noticed with a start that the Grundo was one he recognized from his books! “Sergeant Zarex! Uh, sir!” He gave a quick salute that would have embarrassed every soldier in Meridell had they been witness to it.
“Put that down, boy, you look as foolish as a Grarrl brushing his teeth. Just need to ask your name.”
“M-my name? Uhh…Elwin?”
Zarex grunted. “Because there aren’t hundreds of Elwins in the world. Do you have a last name or do you think you’re as important as Boochi or Balthazar?”
“Thomson, sir! Elwin Thomson.”
“Thomson, eh? Son of a Tom. Strong name, that. Could’ve used a Tom or a Thomson in my squad once.” He flicked his eyes towards Elwin’s upturned face. “Might have a use for one now, as it turns out. Just need to check something.”
Elwin straightened up without realizing he was doing it. His chest puffed out slightly and he found himself rising up on his tiptoes to appear taller to Zarex. This Grundo was a hero after all, the one who held back the swarms of Section Six on Kreludor. For him to accept Elwin into his ranks was nothing short of…well, magical.
“Aye, sir,” was all he could think to say.
For a few moments, Zarex scoured a large tome he had pulled out from underneath the desk. “Squadron list,” he grunted. “If your name’s not here, no way I can take you on a mission. That’s the rules.” He searched for another minute or two before sighing and underlining a part of the book with a pencil he pulled out of one of his many pockets. “There we are. Elwin Thomson, looks like I’ve got a space for you after all.”
Elwin found himself grinning ear to ear. He wasn’t quite sure what being on a mission with Zarex would mean, but it had to be better than sitting at the bottom of a well or starving half to death in the house!
“Right, let me just open these up for you.” Zarex slapped a hidden button on the desk, and the pearly gates opened up behind him. “Step on through, Private Elwin. You’ve got quite an adventure ahead of you.”
To be continued…