Passing through the great round door, the four Magicians stepped into a dome shaped room lit only by the six curved spires forming a great circle around the center. Each towering spire was adored with a large blue crystal that hovered, slowly rising and falling, a few feet above its point. The blackened cobblestone platform beneath them was trimmed in what Doran thought to be gold. Situated in the center of the floor was a large gray boulder which appeared far too simple and mundane to interest them.
They each had very different expectations of what the Vault of Chronicles would present them. Aria had believed it would be an endless room of sacred books, volumes and volumes of answers to the riddles of the Universe itself. Rhazgul had hoped there would be magnificent architecture and contraptions, like the those in the Grand Citadels of the North Continents he’d heard so many stories about. Xarian had believed the Vault would be a museum of all the greatest magical instruments that had ever existed, while Doran himself had simply dreamed that whatever they uncovered beyond that great door, it would provide them with peace at last.
Yet, despite all their glorious intrigue, despite the crystals and finger like spires of stone, it seemed quite ordinary. Even small. There were no libraries with a wealth of hand-scribed books, no technologically impossible machines, no powerful instruments of magic. Just a strange chamber.
It was Rhazgul who spoke first. “This it?” He gave his own beard a subtle tug, a nervous habit he had.
The Sirens moved past them to the central stone. One spoke, “This is the Great Portal. It will take you safely to a place neither here nor there, but in-between.”
Rhazgul approached a spire and asked bluntly, “Where’s the button? Or the lever? If I made this it would have a great big button! Right there in the mid-” He stopped cold, concern creeping in.
The Sirens looked at one another, their expressions resolute but reassuring. Sevriana uttered her words quietly. “The Portal has been locked.”
Xarian sighed. “Please, for the love of Elarra, tell us you have the key.”
“We are the key,” came her gentle response.
“You?” Aria spoke barely above a whisper, yet it echoed.
The Siren folded her blue-green hands in front of herself. Where once she was terrifying, she now seemed infinitely less threatening, perhaps even beautiful. “To awaken the Great Portal, it requires a charge of raw Magika such as is only found within the spirits of Magical creatures. This is to ensure that it never falls into the hands of any Mortal who might abuse it, and to ensure that it may continue to function only in a world where Magic creatures still thrive,” she explained. “This stone is the last EverMaji Well. It will offer an eternal supplement of unfiltered Magika from its core. It is the heart of the Great Portal—and of Magic itself.”
Taking a single step in her direction, Doran held the Siren in his gaze, “To awaken the EverMaji Stone, you must sacrifice your lives?”
She smiled at him, “A Magic creature never dies, only changes form. We’ve been here for so very long, and now we will be free.”
Aria attempted to take her hand to her mouth but it stopped at her chin as she considered the Siren’s words. “But you will –” She stammered halfway through her thought. “There must be another way, so that you may return to the Sea.”
The Siren approached her slowly, glistening drops of water occasionally arcing up into her aura, then vanishing into her again. “We will return to the Sea. Our spirits will disperse into the great ocean of Magic. Be untroubled: we made this choice long before Elarra knew you.” In her hand she manifested a sphere of spinning water that sparkled brightly before slowing, stopping, and fading to reveal a small pearl in her palm. She took Aria’s hand and placed the pearl carefully within, clasping her fingers around it. “I have seen your thoughts. I know your dreams as I do my very own now. Your heart is pure and your compassion unending. You will…” She cast her eyes to the others around the room. “All of you, you will save us.”
Aria, lost in her reflection in the Siren’s black eyes, nodded slowly.
They watched as the Sirens returned to the great grey boulder of the EverMaji Well and each placed a watery hand atop the stone. As wetness enveloped the stone, gleaming in the blue light of the crystals, the stone trembled. A loud, throbbing hum filled the air. Sparks of blue particles erupted from the crystals around them, and sudden shards of powerful lightning shot out of each one, penetrating the rock with a resounding clap of thunder.
The ground heaved, nearly knocking them down, as the stone disengaged itself from the floor. There were rains of dust and the pattering of small fragments of stone. A luminous blue haze began to emanate from beneath the stone, and its glow began to fill the chamber.
Another shift of the floor sent them clinging to one another for stability. Aria felt an unusual prickling sensation about her face, then looked her arm to see her chestnut fur standing on end. As she turned to show Rhazgul—who stood at her side, clutching her vest—she saw his coarse beard floating outwards from his face, fanning in the air. She laughed aloud.
“What?” he yelled obliviously, attempting to be heard over the constant roaring. He turned to Xarian then. “What?”
Xarian’s ever-dispassionate face showed not even the faintest smirk.
Doran recognized this feeling. He had experienced it once before, a long time ago, but the memory of it resurfaced now, as vivid as if it happened only yesterday. He knew beyond question that, somehow, within that well so far away in a place he once called home, there had been a Great Portal.
From places unseen, a rising, torrential wind momentarily stole his breath. He gasped, and yet another tremor sent him to his knees. Through the haze that had enveloped all of them, he could see the soft silhouette of Sevriana and her sisters. For reasons he could not name, he reached for her, and he was comforted when one hand reached back, their fingertips only just brushing as her voice followed her touch.
“Save us, Human from Earth.” Her voice faded away. “Save us.”
There was a resounding crack as the stone split into three pieces. A brilliant blue liquid shot like lava into the air, raining down upon them. As it pooled and flowed like veins between the cobbled stones on which they lay, they could feel its unusual warmth pulsing through their bodies. The grinding and droning of what could have been a thousand machines increased to a volume one could only describe as paralyzing. Aria held her ears and curled into a fetal position on the ground. And in that moment, a blinding light erupted from the Well, a light almost solid. Doran tightly closed his eyes to shield them from the intense glow, and even still they were pierced by the glare. Then abruptly…
…there was silence.
“Welcome, Adventurers,” a synthetic male voice said. It sounded more adult than child, but there were youthful inflections. “How are you today? Is it cold where you’ve come from?”
Xarian barely opened his eyes, but was unusually comfortable until he realized he was cradling Rhazgul in his arms. Blinking, he steadily pushed the stout fellow away, causing Rhazgul to rouse as well.
“I could make you some tea, or dewmilk, or perhaps you’d prefer a sweetsnuffle pie. Elarrans love sweetsnuffle Pie. Or I could make an apple pie for you. Would you enjoy that?” The voice seemed to ramble on.
Aria pressed herself upward, albeit weakly, on her arms. She shook Doran, who lay face down opposite her. “Wake up.”
“Of course, I can make you any dish you like. A souffle? A nice vegetable lasagna? Or a Hillburpee Weed Stew.” Between his words they heard a subtle whirring sound. “We can play a game if you you prefer. I have cards. I enjoy Slap Jack. It makes me laugh.”
The four found themselves still within the grasp of the spires, beneath the watchful eyes of the six crystals, upon the blackened cobblestones. The EverMaji Well was bubbling now as Magika oozed from it.
After finding their footing, they stood together, dusting off the rubble and dust from their clothing. They were no longer beneath a dome of rock, but in a proper room with a large fireplace burning within the back wall. The furniture appeared rather aristocratic, doused in deep silvers and maroons. Spiraling pillars rose to the vaulted, gilded ceilings. Despite the elegance, there seemed to be the odd toy thrown about: a cloth doll with button eyes, a beach ball, an easel and paint set off in the corner with an unfinished portrait.
“Where are we?” Aria asked, placing one hand on Rhazgul’s shoulder, which was easy enough as he only stood as tall as her waist.
“I can put us on some music,” the mechanical voice chattered. “I’m a very good singer. We could do karaoke. Do you know what karaoke is?”
A shadow moved in the back of the room, accompanied by the now familiar whirring.
Dorian stepped in front of Aria and Rhazgul protectively. “Who’s there?” He demanded.
“I’m here,” the voice responded casually. “You’re there. I’d like us to be in the same place to give a proper greeting.”
Xarian pursed his lips tightly. “Then do so and reveal yourself,” he insisted.
The gentle whirring rose again.
“I hate to be rude to guests. I’ve never had guests before. This is very unfortunate,” the voice said.
The Magicians looked at one another curiously.
“Are you dangerous?” Rhazgul asked.
“Only to myself. Would you like to paint a picture with me? We can start one together. I’ve not been able to finish my own since my accident.”
For the first time, Aria stepped off the cobblestones and onto a lush burgundy carpet. “What is your name?” She inquired as she moved slowly toward the back of the room. The others fell in behind her, following closely.
“My name is Tobee.”
“That’s a lovely name,” Aria offered politely as she crept along the lush carpeting, her long ears perked, awaiting the next indication of the direction the voice had come from.
“Tobee, or not Tobee, that is the question. That’s what my Mother used to say. I much prefer Tobee.”
As they came around a spiraling column that reached toward the goldleaf ceiling, Rhazgul stepped on a squeaky toy. Both let out much the same noise. He cursed beneath his breath as the others anxiously shushed him.
“I apologize for the mess. I’m much more tidy. I haven’t been able to clean up after myself,” said the voice.
Aria turned and motioned to the left, toward a small hallway beyond an arch of marble. The whirring grew louder as they approached, until finally was right before them – as was a small form on the carpet below. They found themselves staring down upon a small robot, tipped over onto its back, desperately moving its mechanical legs. The gears whirred as he struggled. “I’m awfully embarrassed,” he said, with a grill of a mouth that pulsed red when he spoke. He blinked and began moving his arms and legs again, squirming.
Aria knelt to his side and with great ease, set him upright with one hand. He was no bigger than her forearm, and even Rhazgal dwarfed him in size.
Tobee tittered with delight as his feet found the floor again. “Thank you for helping me! I had tripped,” he said, gesturing his metallic arm toward a red-and-blue swirled rubber ball.
“You’re a Machine,” Aria observed, unable to cloak the wonderment in her tone.
Tobee took a step forward and then back again to balance himself. He arched his neck upward to see her more clearly, even though she sat on her knees. “So are you,” he said as a matter of fact, and then toddled off behind them all, back toward the archway and the great hall beyond. “I have a piano,” he remarked.
Xarian shook his head. “This cannot be the resting place of the Chronicles. I suspect we’ve been deceived.”
Aria ignored him and followed Tobee, an awkward task given that one of her steps equaled five of his own. It would surely take ages for his tiny mechanical legs to carry him to the hall – much less anywhere else in this surely-palatial building. The pleas of the Sirens still echoed in her ears, drowning out the whirrs and clanks of Tobee’s slow progress. “Tobee,” she began, mincing down the hallway like a bride, “I’m afraid we’re in some hurry. We’re looking for the Vault of Chronicles.”
He kept walking. “Why?”
“We need help,” she said simply.
The robot bent at his waist and picked up a stray yellow pencil. “I can teach you to color.”
Rhazgul guffawed loudly and held his stomach, casting the metal creature a fond and avuncular look. Immediately he was met with sharp glances from his companions. He shrugged, but quieted.
Gradually, they passed through the arch. With a clack and a hum, Tobee’s neck extended a few inches, and he gazed at the Portal sitting across the room. “The Portal,” he said, nearly frozen in surprise. “Mother is home!” The inflection of his synthesized voice went up an octave, and as the baffled Magicians watched, he scuttled toward it with surprising speed. “Hello, Mother! I have missed you!” he exclaimed, dodging various toys in his path. “I don’t see you, Mother!”
Aria stood perplexed as she watched him survey the room. “Who is your Mother, Tobee?”
“I will introduce you. She may be in the Garden. My Mother loved flowers. She rides the Great Portal. When it is here, she is here.” He started off again toward the hall’s great doorway.
“Wait, Tobee,” Aria called. He paused and faced her. “Before we meet her, tell us her name. So… so we may greet her properly. Who is your Mother?”
“My Mother is Lady Spectra. I will introduce you!” He raised his small arms in enthusiasm.
Among themselves, the four Magicians traded glances that spoke of confusion, suspicion, sorrow, and some small pity. They knew that Lady Spectra had been dead for thousands of passes.
The robot waved them onward, then trailed his metal fingers along the curves of the grand piano as he passed. “Come with me to the Garden and meet my Mother. When the Portal is here, she is here,” he repeated.
“Tobee…” Aria spoke with a carer’s gentle firmness. “Your Mother isn’t here. We came through the Portal.” Her eyes quickly searched the faces of her companions for some reassurance. “There was no one else.” Tobee stopped in his path. Barely a breath followed. She closed the gap between them as his eyes fixed on her. Kneeling down, she reached an arm around him. Like an infant, he held up his arms, and she picked him up, holding him a moment before placing him gently atop the piano.
“Will you take me to my Mother?” Tobee requested, ever so politely.
“I cannot take you to your Mother, Tobee. I’m sorry.”
“Why? Am I in trouble?”
Aria gave a sad smile. “No. But your mother left our world a very long time ago.”
“Mother visits many worlds. She draws pictures for me.”
Aria cleared her throat uncomfortably. “She is in a place that is unlike any of our worlds. A place called the Great Hereafter. It is where we go forever, Tobee, when… when we die.”
“My Mother left me? But my heart is broken now. She has the other piece.” He said, tremolo entering his synthesized voice.
“I… she…” she stammered as Doran stepped forth to assist. “She did not leave you, my friend. You may not see her or hear her, but I’m sure she is with you. She did not choose to leave you.”
Xarian spoke plainly. “My heart weeps, I assure you. But there is a greater risk, Tobee. We have come from one of the many worlds, a world we call Elarra. There is a risk that all the Magical creatures of Elarra might die. We have come in search of the Chronicles so that we may save this world.”
Aria frowned sternly at Xarian, but nodded. “It’s true, Tobee. The creatures and peoples of our world are being threatened by a dark force. It is a form of magic we do not understand, like this Portal through which we—and your Mother—have traveled. Can you help us?”
Tobee made a small beep and stoop upon the lid of the piano. “I register that I have information that may assist. But I can not access it on my own. I am incomplete.”
“How do we gain access to it?” Xarian urged.
With his small, claw-like hand, Tobee opened the compartment of his chest wall. Within the circuitry and wires, mounted by metal clasps, was a red jewel in the shape of a heart. At its center was a circular indentation where it seemed another piece should be.
“My heart is broken,” he said again. “I am incomplete.”
Ever the engineer, Rhazgul crossed his armed thoughtfully and murmured, “Well, how do we fix that?”
Reaching into her pocket, Aria revealed the small pearl. “Is… Is it this?” she asked. With great care, she reached her hand into the machinery of to place the pearl within his heart. It fit perfectly.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully. “I am complete. And I am the Chronicles.”
The dome atop his head slid backward and a small instrument rose from it. The lights of the hall went dark, and as narrow laser beams burst forth from the whirling instrument, the four Magicians found themselves amid a swirling holographic galaxy. Uncountable stars floated about them amid a haze of glowing gas. The illusion was so vivid that Rhazgul attempted to touch one of the galactic arms — but his hand slipped right through the image. Tobee reached out as well, and with a nauseating rush of speed, a solar system came into view. All its planets, still mere specks from this distance, were highlighted in various colors. Tobee himself seemed surprised. “That‘s very pretty,” he said.
“Complete, I now know this: Many of these planets cannot support life. Those you see in red are inhospitable,” he said, pointing toward a handful of the orbiting worlds. As he indicated each one, a closer image of it popped up in a red and sharp-bordered circle, a fine line connecting that circle to its speck. Tobee waggled his metallic fingers and the view pulled back once more. More and more such red-highlighted planets popped up, until they almost filled the view. Aria leaned back, and Rhazgul waved a hand before his face as if waving away a bad smell.
With a wave of his own hand, Tobee cleared the view and returned to the scene of the galactic arm. “Those in blue are worlds on which life has been found, but on which there has never been Magic.” A smattering of blue-bordered circles arose, each showing the close-up of a world. Doran’s jaw dropped. “They are barren lands,” said Tobee, whisking the images away almost as soon as they’d popped up. A twirl of his hand brought up an even smaller array of worlds, all profiled within green-bordered circles.
“The planets in green are life-supporting locations where Magic once existed, but exists no more. Most have become dangerous and quite uncivilized.” He glanced at Doran for a moment. Then, moving his own metallic hands in the air, Tobee brought the hologram’s focus toward another star system, toward its star, toward a single orbiting speck, highlighted in green.
In all his expeditions, he had seen many maps – many with great spans of empty and yet-uncharted land. He was seeing more of it now, and more truly, than he ever thought he’d see again, and he raised his hand to his face. “Earth,” he said, in a hushed voice.
Tobee heard him. “Earth was a Magical world. But all of its Magical creatures have fallen into extinction. And yet it is called the only such world whose inhabitants can still display kindness.” Tobee looked at Doran. “My Mother, too, was a Human of Earth.”
Realization dawned, and Doran spoke more urgently. “There is a portal on Earth. There must be residual Magic, if that portal brought me to Elarra.” He turned and took Aria’s arm. “We can send our creatures there for safety. We can supplement the lack of magic there with the EverMaji Well. If it supported Magic once before, if it’s not completely dissipated, if it’s not too late, this could provide us a new sanctuary.”
“Perhaps.” Tobee considered.
Xarian stepped in front of Aria. “Robot, what can you tell us of the Gray? It is devouring all things Magical.”
Tobee whirred, and he displayed a variety of systems and planets through the hologram. “The devourer has crossed many planes. In each one, wherever Magic lived, the devourer visited and consumed. Once it has devoured all Magical sources, it moves on to the next.”
“How do we stop it?” Xarian queried.
Tobee paused, and when he spoke again, his robotic voice was penitent. “I don’t know. We could only ever run from it.”
Xarian moved back, heading toward the Portal. “We must get back to Elarra, robot. We have to mobilize and remove creatures from the path of destruction.”
Doran followed. “Wait a moment, Xarian. Let us take our time. We’ve only been here a few minutes; there is more to lear-“
Tobee interrupted. “You have been here 6 years, 23 hours, 16 minutes and ten seconds.”
Rhazgul’s mouth fell open.
Doran shook.“How is that possible? We’ve only just relocated the Sabra and the Dearling to the coast.”
Tobee seemed remorseful. “They are gone. My databases are synched with life forces within this galaxy. I can tell you of nearly 8 million creatures marked extinct.”
“What of the Mystics?” Aria tearfully managed.
“They remain.” He looked downward at his reflection in the black surface of the piano top and twisted his foot back and forth. “For now.”
Xarian stood now upon the platform of the Great Portal. “We have no time to waste.”
Rhazgul and Doran joined him and stood around the center EverMaji Well. “Thank you, Tobee,” Aria said before placing him back on the floor and then meeting the others.
“How do we drive this thing?” Rhazgul blurted. They all stopped, having never had to consider such a vital detail.
Tobee‘s synthetic voice trilled at them. “Quite simple, really. It will take you to the destination of the origin of the individual who touches the stone first. Should an Elarran touch the center stone, Elarra will be it’s destination. If the Human touches the central stone, you will go to where Humans originate, Earth. The Portal knows where you belong.”
“Touch the stone Aria,” Rhazgul said, “Let us be off. And no laughing at my beard this time! I’ll hold it down.”
She moved toward it and placed her hand on the stones, the blue ooze from the broken fragments of the core spouting over her fingers. The platform lurched and trembled, the walls began to shake, and the blue light and strong wind began to rise.
Rhazgul waved at the Robot. “It was great to meet you! See you soon.”
Tobee made his way toward the edge of the platform as the lights flickered and dust fell from the vaulted ceiling. “I would like that very much, but if my Mother is gone the Portal cannot ever return here, and once you depart, this place will also cease to exist.”
Doran remembered the words of the Siren. The Vault would destroy itself upon their departure and they could never access it again. He watched the stray toys whirl around the room as the wind gained strength. He watched the windows shatter inward. He watched the chandelier crash to the ground. He watched Tobee moving away now, into the glowing blue haze, toward the button-eyed doll that lay upon the floor. The small robot picked it up by the arm with his clawed hand. “Don’t be afraid, Suzy, I will hold you.”
The ground suddenly shifted hard and Doran collided with a spire.
“Hang on!” Rhazgul shouted above the roaring sound.
But Doran did no such thing. Xarian’s eyes widened with shock as he saw Doran run off the platform and disappear into the blowing dust and debris.
“DORAN!” He yelled in terror.
A few agonizing seconds later, Doran reappeared, clutching Tobee tightly to his chest. A moment later, in a great rush of blue, they were gone.
To Be Continued
February 25th, 2015