The Door Closes: Part Three
PART 3: FIND A WAY
”Manor was here. He took something. I wish I could tell you what it was."
I stare down at the table, head in my hands. Anders pokes his nose at my fingers, chirping quietly. Several spikes of stone lie broken on the ground. Until today, I wasn’t aware that Rubia owned a hammer and chisel.
"You know you couldn't do anything. I've been trying to blame myself too – funny thing is, I can't figure out anything I possibly could have done. I don’t even think I was in position to bite him.”
Faith is our priority. "We need to go get Faith." I stand up. "Surely there's a way."
"I don't know how we can."
"Well then, maybe we can't. But we can try. Just like we don’t know Amadeus can get Dromiay back, but he feels compelled to try.”
"You're right," Rubia snivels.
She’s crying. A part of me dies.
Anders sits upright on the kitchen table. His dull red eyes stare into my soul. He won't eat much of the food we just set out for him .I think he knows. I hold out my hand for the Wherfy so he can climb onto my shoulder.
I put my arm around Rubia and give her face a soft nudge. We begin to climb the stairs that way, with Anders' head resting on Rubia's wing.
But our first step out the door, everything changes. The usual downpours are now tiny red leaves pirouetting to the ground. A few craggy oaks stand by the smooth, sloping sides of trees that soar too high to be identified. The muddy ground is held together by roots alone, a carpet of red and gold stretching out before us.
We’re in the Creator’s Forest.
The cave gapes open just ahead. It is time. We head down the slope, and find the one who already knows.
Mother appears strong, determined. She folds her paws adamantly, her eyes piercing us. "Manor is fast," Creator says. "But I can take you to his destination – the door at the end of our world – faster. You can even try and get Faith back there."
“What?" Rubia asks bluntly. Creator doesn’t flinch. "He can move the earth! How do you expect us to–"
"You'll be fine." After Rubia stares disbelievingly at her for a few more moments, Creator adds hastily, "Trust me. I promise, I-I'll come through, we’ll find a way."
A second's silence.
Anders chirps, confused.
Rubia shoots Creator another dubious glance. Last time the two met, Rubia had been too hurt to speak well. Seeing them like this hurts me. Almost like when Rubia first met Faith.
"What do you have in mind?" I ask Mother.
She takes a deep breath, almost as though collecting herself. "Trust me, Cerulean. I have plans. Faith will be fine. As for Amadeus, he will not find what he needs from the door."
The Creator rises. "You two are going to buy time from Manor.”
"What?! But Manor… he… he could kill us." My throat goes dry. Rubia narrows her eyes at the Creator.
"He wouldn't," the Creator says, bowing her head. "Manor is self-absorbed, but he is a gentleman. He doesn't hurt where he doesn't have to. It's unusual of him to want something like vengeance in the first place."
"If you're sure." Rubia curls one wing around my shoulders. "Let's be off, Cerulean."
We begin to head back up the slope.
But Rubia stops. She turns back. "Creator, what does Manor need Faith for?"
Creator hesitates. And then, "A heart in love. It's the key to the… the door."
Rubia bites her lip.
I bow my head.
I get off the ground and to my feet. (Rubia never sat down.) Creator lowers her head to press her nose against mine. Rubia bows to her, and we leave. I can’t believe it.
Creator had stuttered.
The earth beneath my feet is still.
I try to calm my jittering nerves as I step down into Manor’s chosen campsite. The earth was never meant to part for the living, I have decided. I sit down cross-legged, bowing my head secludedly.
"Is the Creator's slave weary?" Manor chimes. He bends his lofty figure over as though he were talking to a small child.
"I am not a slave. I am her Messenger." Anger fills my numb mind.
"Oh! So it's Messenger, with a capital M, isn't it?" He snatches his arm to his chest in fake embarrassment. "I did not realize I was talking to someone with a title. My apologies to the young sovereign."
"I'm no sovereign, and I don't put on titles.” I pull my arm away from him. “I am glad to be in her service, even if I sometimes do think I'd be gladder if my life was more normal."
Manor frowns. It is soon permeated by his grin again in seconds, however. "Oh, perhaps I should tell Jewel! She would just hate for her servant to be unhappy in the slightest!"
"The Creator? You call her Jewel?” I ask faintly. “She knows."
Manor floats up into the air, yawning grandly, twirling his wand around several times in his thin tail.
"You're just like Amadeus was."
His eyes snap back to mine. "Who? Oh yes, him. Afraid I'm still missing the reference." He drifts to the ground, making miniatures from the ground. Knights, peasants, a king, a queen. "He seemed rather weak and pathetic."
"Manor, that’s because Amadeus had just lost someone close to him.”
"That's right, that's right. Whoopsee." He looks belittled. He knew about Dromiay? "If you think I don't have boundaries, you clearly have never had someone really pry your mind open like a clam, making you relive memories you didn't remember forgetting…" he puts his arms to his shoulders and shivers melodramatically. "I'm barely following your train of thought, and even that because I really can't help it. You should imagine me around crowds."
"I take it back. You're nothing like Amadeus. You’re more dramatic and less violent."
"Still missing the reference." Manor shrugs. Everything he does looks exaggerated, lofty and just a tad fake. "Say, care for a game of chess?" He spreads his hands out. I see that his miniatures were really chess pieces. They float into formation. He's hardened them into stone and even formed flat ground with sunken squares for the board.
"The mistress enjoys chess!" He waves his hand, and starts the game.
The beginning plays out without incident. Pawns meet pawns. We pick off a few of each others' stronger pieces. But the match gradually grows tense. We lose our strongest weapons. Exploit each others' mistakes. Put the world on hold. Because our game is the world now.
In the middle of making my move, I realize he's trying hard not to read my mind. It was a miracle that registered with me, when I'm much more concerned with beating down my kidnapper. I tear my thoughts from the matter at hand, and begin talking to the smooth, familiar voice back in my head.
Creator informs me, 'Faith. I can tell you what he's doing. He's going to use you as a key. There's a door. You only need magic and a heart of love to get through it – and he's using you.' It sounds familiar to what Manor told me before.
‘Am I going to die?'
'I don't know that you would.' She sounds genuinely confused and concerned. 'But we're not going to try and find out. Manor has you for a vicious purpose, and has absolutely no regards for anyone he needs to bowl over to get his way. The only advantage we even have is the fact that this is my territory.'
Manor can't suspect me. Idly, I make a move. It is a poor one. Manor grins for a split second as I lose my last pawn.
'If you say so, Creator. He's a gentleman to me.'
'He seems that way, doesn't he? But he can be a vicious man – more so now than he has in thousands of years. The very reason he is trying to get through the Door is that he wishes to take revenge on the descendents of his old enemies.’
‘Well, that’s unfair.’
‘Tell him he's had my last warning, and he'll never find the peace he wants until he stops looking. Be on your guard, Faith.'
With that cryptic note, she leaves me.
The message may have already cost me the game. My white queen has been fenced into a corner by both of Manor's knights. My king on the other side of the board will fall soon afterwards. I know I have to get over it, but I don't like the thought of losing this game. If I fell now, would it be an omen?
"Your move, Faith."
"The Creator, your Jewel, has told me to deliver you a message." My eyes stay fixed on my solitary queen, subconsciously searching for a move. "She has given you your final warning. You'll never find what you're looking for unless you stop looking."
"That's it?" His beautiful grey eyes go wide in disappointment. "Tsk, tsk. Nothing I didn't know." He crosses his arm and bows his head dramatically, but still looks up at me. "Clever girl. Finding a way to her. I missed something."
Losing this game will have been worth it. For all Manor knows, Creator could have told me how to best him. Not at chess, but at his game of kidnapping.
But she told me nothing.
I move my queen.
He moves a knight.
He moves his king a step away from me.
I take the king's life.
Manor glances up and clenches his fist. "Good game."
The half-moon spreads its glow across the sands, lighting them up like silver.
All my life has been silver and gold, it feels like. I've been free to do what I want, explore my own interests, and build my few relationships. But now I'm on a mission for the first time.
Amadeus hangs his head and sighs.
“What’s up?” I ask.
He stiffens. I think I’m getting no answer, but then he slowly says, “It’s just the journey. I’ve… never really gotten out much, at least until now.”
Sympathy stirs in my gut. We plod onwards for a few more minutes before I finally figure out how to reply.
“I’ve never been out of Shinedune, even though I’ve had ample opportunity. All my friendships are there and I’m hesitant to leave any of them.”
“That’s the opposite of what I meant. I’ve been all over the forests and once to the North, but for the first year of my life, I barely spoke to anyone.”
“I don’t need to eat. I was a born sociopath. It seemed natural, especially considering lots of thoughts I had that were particularly… dark.” Amadeus pauses, and shrugs. “Now I know I was just an introvert. I never had to be a sociopath.”
"Shinedune was always a kind village to me. I was a straggler. Raised by nobody, indebted to nobody, tied down by nobody. I was surrounded by friends, but it couldn’t be enough company for me… I was miserable."
Amadeus looks at me. It’s like we’re mirrors. I decide to keep talking.
"They told me what I was. They told me that I was made for somebody. And I was surrounded by somebodies constantly. The family I stayed with was kind to me, but I could tell that I was intruding. They never wanted or accepted me."
"That's awful." Amadeus seems genuinely sympathetic, but still surprised.
"It didn't last forever. He was there all along. It just took awhile for me to find him, and it took him awhile to really need me anyways."
"At least you were made for someone. Made to matter to anyone at all."
"What do you mean? Amadeus, aren't you–?"
"I am a Creator's Child. But I wasn’t intended. I should be thankful I have free will at all." Amadeus stands up and looks at the moon with me. "It's hard to live when you don't matter to anyone. Period. I’ve become better, but only with the help of others after I stopped pushing them away.”
“What made you travel to Shinedune?”
"Somebody. Somebody’s life could hinge on my own now, and I’m coming to get her.”
I see him differently now. My brother is my companion now and he needs my help. I would do no less for Joreph, after all.
I guess I always have been a problem solver. Maybe I can help Amadeus too.
Brackish wave slaps against the shore, receding to an ocean that reflects milky lavender clouds and thick swaths of stars.
The continent of Creation nearly tapers into nothingness, but at its tip it actually widens into a city of cliffs. The bluffs wind left and right, into and around each other, higher, loftier, their single path faint and full of gaps. A treacherous climb, but one we have to make. Because at the top stands a single dark door.
"Nobody's ever opened it," I echo to Rubia.
"Never." She holds her shawl around herself, the wind picking up the edges of it. "I've always wanted to go here… but never like this."
We are silent. The waves keep coming. In and out, in and out. They feel alive. But what's the point of life if your best friend falls in the ocean?
You have another friend, Cerulean. The sea stretches, unbroken, to the horizon. The one you had first. Before anyone else even liked you.
Tears well up in my eyes. I don't know how I lived without Faith, but there was a time.
Even if you had never cleared away the prejudice, Rubia would have stayed with you. You were everything to her. And half of a greater everything when Faith came along.
I break into tears, burying my face in my hands. The wind grows stronger, ruffling my disheveled feathers, lowered cloak, and tousled hair. I don't even know why. Maybe it's the thought of this huge world without her. A still-empty sea, but one less person on the shore.
Rubia puts a wing on my shoulder. Anders rests his head on mine.
I wouldn't be alone. Faith could never be replaced, but I've never, ever been alone.
And no matter what, you never will be.
We decide to stay up late into the night. She and I head to a copse on the edge of Creation to gather sticks for a fire. When we're within the shadows of the trees, I ask Rubia something.
"When we took Faith in, you said that you'd ask her to be your medicine apprentice. It was my idea, in fact. Did you ever…?"
She sighs. "I didn't. She seemed happy enough doing her own little thing. I began to care about her as more than the apprentice I've always wanted. So I left her alone."
"Since you mentioned it, I'll ask her when we get home. Who knows." She smiles in the dark. "Maybe she's wanted to learn medicine this entire time."
We head back to the cliffs. Together, stick by stick, we build a campfire. I’m about to go get some thicker ones to light it with when Rubia stoops, and sets the whole thing aflame with a flicker of light briefly visible between her wingtips.
"Rubia!" I jerk back. "That was– That was light magic!"
She smiles in her elderly way. "My little gift from the Creator."
"You… you hid it."
"I didn't want Amadeus to feel hurt. He hasn't exactly had much work out for him, and it will be worse when he gets to this door and finds out we’re trying to keep it shut."
She's right. I've spent a lot of time thinking about him since the Dromiay circumstance, and I realized just how much always went wrong for him. It's like all the best gifts in life went to me, and the only things left for him were conditional immortality and a partner who sacrificed herself after knowing him for a few days.
I never wanted it to be this way for him.
He deserves so much more, I can see now. His own magic. His own friends. His own life. And now he's coming for this door, but now we know that there will be nothing for him here. Rubia sent him on this journey in vain. And now he'll get to this door and find out that behind it is no Dromiay.
The campfire shifts and sends a swirling storm of embers into the night sky. They glide into the night, swirling lights in a sea of darkness.
One by one, they die.
To be continued…