I couldn’t believe it. Everything was accurate: the opulent furniture, the Persian carpet, the porcelain tea set stationed on top of the glass table. I observed everything in the room to make sure my mind wasn’t tricking me. There was the figural clock sitting on the mantle. The Palladian windows revealing the countryside. The many paintings and portraits hanging on the walls. My eyes trailed over to the chestnut bookcase tucked in between two armchairs. I picked up a book with a red binding. The small weight of it in my hands caused me to tear up a bit. This was real, it wasn’t not in my head. I was home. I was truly at home.
Azure’s head protruded from the door I had entered from, bringing me back to my strange, new reality. I was not at home, I reluctantly reminded myself, and I could not waste time believing that I was.
Azure cleared her throat politely. “If your sister isn’t here, we best be going.”
“Give me a moment, please,” I said, I was well aware of the urgency of the situation. But a single minute wouldn’t hurt. And as much as I missed the feeling of being home, it would surely do my frayed mind some good to experience calm for a mere minute.
I walked from one end of the room to another. I gazed up at the crystal chandelier that dangled from the ceiling, to an arrangement of white carnations and white snapdragons below on a table. I picked out one of the carnations and inhaled softly. Next I passed by and glanced up at the paintings hanging on the wall. There were paintings of horses running in a field, and birds taking flight, paintings that I had watched grandma create.
My favorite animal was the horse, so grandma painted them for me. Sophie’s favorite animal was a dog, so naturally there were paintings of spaniels running about too. Sophie’s favorite painting was that of a sleeping puppy wrapped in the arms of a little girl. The girl wore a pure white dress with violet roses strewn into the fabric. The puppy also had a violet rose laced around his neck. I wondered if. . .
I lightly touched the painting, and with the touch of my finger, the dog in the painting was startled awake and the girl gasped. She exclaimed to me: “How rude!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said, pulling my hand away.
The girl frowned and calmed her dog by petting him. “Who are you, what do you want?”
“Nothing,” I said, I didn’t think that these paintings bore life as well, but then I considered. “Uh, actually, have you seen someone who looks a bit like me? She has short brown hair and is just a few inches shorter than I?”
“No,” the girl said bluntly, getting up from her chair. “Now if you excuse us.” She stormed out of view with her dog in hand. All that was left in the painting was the chair that she once sat in.
“Wait!” I called, but the girl didn’t return. I felt rather bad that I disturbed her and her dog, I didn’t mean to.
“Miss Suzette.” Azure’s gentle yet urgent voice spoke up.
“Yes, my apologizes,” I said, backing away from the array of paintings. I turned around and headed out with Azure, though I was a bit reluctant to. Perhaps I should’ve stayed a bit longer. No . . .no we had to go. But I couldn’t help but look back at the room one last time as we moved on.
“You shouldn’t dwell too much in one area, Miss. Suzette,” Azure said as we started down another path. “I understand that you miss home, but remember what’s most important right now.’”
“Yes. . .” I mumbled.
’When are we getting back?’ I thought to myself, pinching my lip. Tears returned to cloud my eyes, but I wiped them away and focused on what was ahead of us.
“There’s another one,” Azure noted as we came across another white door with a gold knob I opened it and inside was yet another room of the mansion. This time it was the piano room.
The grand piano was nestled in the corner, and it glowed ivory by the sun’s light pouring through from the window behind it. There was nothing in the room but the piano. Usually there was furniture, but without it the room looked so much bigger. And it was so much quieter.
I walked over to the piano and sat down at the bench. I rested my hands upon the ivory keys and involuntarily started to play a couple of keys before stopping myself.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. . .” I said. “I had hoped that once I entered the room I would hear the sweet sound of my sister playing.”
Though she was young, she was incredibly talented when it came to music. Yet the quiet room remained just so, and in my newfound solitude I slipped into a happy memory of Sophie and I at the piano together. My eyes drifted shut and the corners of my mouth turned upwards as I watched the two of us play a duet, a simple lullaby, beneath my eyelids.
Azure saw my thoughts and interrupted politely. “What a beautiful memory, you both play wonderfully. I’m sorry your sister isn’t here.”
My eyes snapped open and my smile fell. She was right, Sophie was not here and we had to keep going.
As I left the room and shut the door behind me, Azure spoke again while we searched for the next promising entrance. “That lullaby you played in the memory. . .it reminds me of the one I sing to my children. Whenever I sing, the eggs moved.”
I was surprised that a dragon knew anything about lullabies. As I searched through the darkness, I thought of my mother, singing to Sophie and I a long time ago.
“I don’t see another door. . .do you?”
I shook my head. “I’m sure we will come across one soon enough.” Azure watched the memory of my mother intently as we searched. “Your mother seems kind.”
“She was. . .but she’s not here anymore, unfortunately,” I answered with a sigh. “Our parents put a lot of pressure on us to be well educated, to proudly represent our family line and find future husbands. But they loved us so, regardless of their strict rules. It was only with grandmother that we truly got to have fun. To escape the rules for a day and be as creative as we wanted.”
Perhaps that’s why I wanted Sophie and I to go on such a great adventure. But I never thought it would turn out this way. Why did grandma have to disappear? Why did I have to lose Sophie? This isn’t what I wanted at all. Maybe I should have just buried myself in my books and given up on adventure!
Azure sensed my aggravation and reassured me. “Now, now Miss. Suzette. There isn’t any reason you cannot be both educated and creative. I’m sure in the end your family will be reunited.”
“You’re right, thank you. . .”
We came across a couple more doors, each looking the same with white paint and gold knobs, but as we looked through them all, we found that they didn’t contain what I truly wanted. They all held different rooms of the mansion, but were all empty.
“Four hours left,” Nihil whispered.
Just as I had suspected, time moved differently in this world. What had felt like a couple minutes had in truth been an hour. I spotted another door and thrust it open. I paused and instantly froze, as if an electrical shock prickled my skin. Instead of it being another room in the mansion, this time it showed a blood colored sky, and in the distance, I saw a familiar monstrosity with deathly pale skin and a featureless face flying toward us.
The Vacuus released a terrible shriek that blasted through the doorway and caused my ears to ring. My mouth opened, ready to scream, but no noise came out. The only sound was the dreadful Vacuus as it came closer and closer until—
Azure’s cry threw me back into reality, and once her voice reawakened my senses, I took the doorknob and slammed the door shut. The Vacuus’s scream vanished and my legs nearly gave in. I exhaled sharply and wiped cold sweat off my forehead.
“Are you alright?” Azure asked, but before I could answer, Nihil’s voice glided about the air.
“Oh, that’s your fear,” Nihil said.
“That’s everyone’s fear,” Non joined in.
“Our nightmares becoming a reality.”
“But in order to get rid of your nightmares, you have to face them.”
“Yes, you must face them.”
“You can’t run away.”
“How do I face them?” I asked.
“That you have to figure out yourself, child,” Nihil answered.
“Yes, you have to figure it out yourself,” Non agreed.
“Good luck, Suzette.”
“Yes, good luck.”
The voices slithered away and I clenched my fist.
“I don’t want to face that thing again,” I said.
“We might, Miss. Suzette,” Azure said.
“I just want to find Sophie, that’s all.” I rubbed my arms and glanced forward at the path ahead.
“We will, Miss. Suzette,” Azure promised. “We need to be patient and not let fear or anything else get in the way.”
“I know,” I said. “I know. . .” My steps slowed and I eased to the left, rubbing my arms that were still trembling from the encounter.
“Do you want to catch a break, Miss. Suzette?” Azure asked. “You don’t look well.”
“Perhaps. . .it might do us some good. I won’t be able to focus while thinking of facing that. . .that thing.”
“Don’t forget what I’ve told you,” Azure said. “No matter what happens, I’m here for you, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
I glanced over and released my hands from my arms. “Azure, why is it that you care so much for me? You’ve done so much, yet I’ve never done anything for you.”
Azure leaned her head forward, her bright blue eyes flickered in the torch’s light and she appeared to smile. “It’s because you’re my friend, Miss. Suzette. Aren’t friends supposed to care for one another?”
“Most certainly, but again, I’ve never done anything for you though, and I feel it’s unfair to you, as if I’m dragging you through this,” I exclaimed.
Azure shook her head. “All I want is for everything to return to normal so that my children can grow up safely. That’s all. I don’t need anything else.”
I smiled. “You really aren’t like the dragons I’ve read about in books. All they want is treasure.”
“That’s odd,” Azure remarked, tilting her head. ‘What would us dragons ever want treasure for?’
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “That was always strange to me too, perhaps it was to show that they had power.”
“But aren’t our size and firepower enough to show that quality?” Azure inquired.
I shrugged again. “I really can’t say. . .” Our short break was over, I turned back to what was ahead. The flames upon the torches appeared brighter than usual, showing a clearer path before us. I couldn’t stifle a smile when a thought occurred to me. “When all this is over, I’ll show you how different the dragons are in my books.”
That brought a light chuckle in Azure’s voice. “Certainly. . .but unfortunately, I can’t read, so you’ll have to teach me.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “that’s a promise.”
I had lost count of how many doors I had opened in the past two hours, and all of them had led me nowhere. But this time, one door brought me to an unfamiliar and strange place. Rows of crystal chandeliers hung down from the ivory sky, and tiny specks of—what appeared to be snow—spiraled down.
I walked upon a floor made entirely out of glass, and beneath the glass was my home. I was fifty, maybe sixty feet above my home, which was cast in a light mist. Beyond the mansion was the vast countryside that trailed on and on. It looked much larger than it usually was. And in the far distance, there was the sun, falling so steadily over the horizon. Where exactly was I?
I turned back to look at Azure who could still only fit her head through the doorway.
“I want to see if there’s anything else here,” I called.
“Alright,” Azure said. “There’s a door nearby so I’ll wait for you there, don’t take too long.”
“I won’t,” I promised, and then faced what was ahead of me. I glanced up at the chandeliers and my eyes trailed to the snow falling. The snow instantly disappeared once it made contact with the glass, as if they weren’t really there. I went up to touch the snow, but it didn’t feel cold, but rather, they felt soft like feathers.
“This is such a peculiar place. . .” I whispered to myself. “What does it mean?”
I walked on for a while until I saw silver butterflies flying in the air. They circled around my head before flying off to another direction. They took off quickly and I followed them, transitioning my slow stride to a run. I chased after the butterflies which were much faster than they appeared. I had a hard time catching up to them since my legs were aching. But soon, the butterflies stopped before a staircase that appeared in front of me. The staircase rose high in the air and was also made from glass.
At the top of the stairs was a platform, but I couldn’t see what was at the top from where I stood. The butterflies glided up the stairs, and I continued to follow. I climbed up dozens of stairs before landing on the glass platform, which was oval shaped. At the center of the platform was a bronze chest marked with decorated moldings of butterflies. The butterflies flew to the chest and vanished once they made contact. I walked over to the chest, it was big enough for me to lay inside. I placed my hands upon the chest’s rough surface and lifted the lid. Surprisingly, the lid wasn’t as heavy as it looked, and so I pulled it open with ease.
Inside the chest was a sword with a short, silver handle and a rose gold blade. The sword was cushioned upon a lavish pillow, and it shined brilliantly due to the chandeliers above, as if the dawn was presented inside the blade. Before I picked it up, I noticed that the door that I had entered through was now below me, just several feet from the staircase. There didn’t seem to be anything else here besides the sword, so I certainly needed to head back now. I already took up a lot of time already and Azure must be growing impatient.
However . . .
I turned back to the sword, its brilliant shine practically led me into a trance. I reached down and gently picked it up. It was remarkably light in my hand. I freely rose it skyward before bringing it to my face to get a better look. Upon the handle were little carvings of butterflies, similar to the ones on the chest. I traced my fingers over the silver, and then my eyes trailed to the rose gold blade. It was a strange, but yet unique color for a sword.
The blade was long and slender, reaching upward towards the lighting. I stared up at it with wonder, and a warm feeling blossomed inside my chest. My heart rung in my ears and my body trembled with gratitude at the boost of courage that I was given.
But then. . . the lights from the chandeliers dimmed, and the sky darkened to a brownish-gold shade. My home and the countryside vanished, and there was nothing but a dark abyss. The floor trembled to the point that the glass was cracking. The chandeliers gradually swayed and the snow had stopped falling.
I tightened my hold on the sword and used both hands to grip the handle. My eyes flew to my right and left before I took a step forward, and once I did that, another crack of glass cut the air. Something big slammed into the glass and caused more of the cracking. Glass broke off the floor and fell straight into the abyss.
I turned slowly and saw a tall, pale white figure looming over me. It wasn’t a Vacuus, but it was similar in a way that its eyes were small, empty pits of nothing, while its mouth was a curved slash upon the jaw. The figure wore a sheer white cloak with the fabric fluttering in the air despite the absence of wind. The figure stared down at me with a blank gaze, opening its tear of a mouth that produced a drawn out moan. The figure raised a pale hand, blocking out one of the candle’s lights and casting a shadow upon the platform.
’Wait a minute’, I thought, my hands almost lost grip on the sword’s delicate handle. ’I don’t know how to fight, never mind use a sword!’
The creature threw down its hand and broke through a good portion of the platform. I jumped back and nearly lost balance when the platform started shaking. I backed towards the stairs when the figure took another aim and broke off more shards of glass. I held the sword upright and in front of me in a defensive position, but the blade trembled in my hands. My bent legs slid from the creature’s ever opposing hand that now tried to grab me. Long, twig-like fingers swiped along the platform and I finally seized the opportunity to act.
Before the hand could make direct contact, I drove the blade forward and only managed to deliver a quick cut. The creature hissed and withdrew its hand. I eased back until my foot touched the lip of the staircase. The creature raised its hand for another blow, but I retreated down the stairs as fast as I could. Right before I reached the bottom, the creature’s hand broke through the staircase. I tumbled to the floor and lost grip of the sword as it flew several feet from me.
“No!” I exclaimed and chased after the sword, just when the creature had destroyed the entire platform and shards of glass shot everywhere. I barely avoided the glass as some cut through my dress, but I kept running toward the sword, it was only inches away.
’Hurry, hurry!’ I urged myself. I finally snatched the sword and turned to see the creature coming my way, but now it was the size of a regular human instead of a huge monstrosity. The sky had returned to normal and the chandeliers regained their bright lights, but now a mist had swept the entire area.
The door was just behind me, but I couldn’t move. The creature walked toward me as if it was gliding in the mist. I still couldn’t move. My hands were clammy against the metal of the sword’s grip, and my legs ached terribly from running. Despite this, I stared intensely at the creature walking up to me. Then. . . the creature stopped and opened its crooked mouth.
“This is what your soul interprets your fear to look like,” the creature appeared to say, but it was Nihil’s voice coming out of the mouth. “This nightmarish creature. . .such a disturbing image, a result of the Vacuus mixed with other fears. . .loss, death, failure. . . common fears that everyone has. . .but do you think a sword will get rid of it all? Will fighting be the answer?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted, glancing down at the sword. “I’ve never fought anything in my life.”
“Then why did you pick up the sword?” Non asked. “Was it only because you saw it? You could’ve just turned away and gone back to the door.”
“I could’ve,” I agreed. “But. . .”
“Do you believe you’ll become stronger just because you have a weapon?” Nihil asked.
“Perhaps,” I said and added, “but someone once said that. . .fighting can be meaningless and there are always other options. You only fight when you really need to.”
“You wanted to fight your fear, was that meaningless?” Non asked.
“I . . . I didn’t want to run away, that’s for sure,” I confirmed. “I’m tired of running, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Besides, you attacked me first. What was I supposed to do?”
“Just because you have a sword, doesn’t make you strong, but it doesn’t make you weak either. If you believe you’re capable with a sword, keep it. If not, don’t use it. It’s whatever you believe is necessary to reach your goal,” Nihil responded.
I focused my attention back on the sword. I vaguely saw my reflection within the blade, though it was distorted.
“Only if it’s truly necessary. . .” I started slowly and continued: “I’ll use it.”
“You’ve made your choice,” Nihil said.
“But was it a wise choice?” Non asked.
“It’s an interesting choice considering that you’re a child.”
“A child with a sword. . .sounds dangerous if it’s not used properly.”
“No matter, you’ve made your choice.”
The creature and the voices faded away. With the heavy weight of the sword against my palms, and the weight of my lost sister weighing against my heart, I tightened my grip and stormed out the door. I had made the right choice. And I was going to prove it to anyone—or anything—that would dare tell me otherwise.