I had an hour left. The clock’s chimes were beating into my head, reminding me over and over that I had very little now. I needed to hurry, but there were so many doors and they all led to nowhere. They were all just a constant reminder that I wanted to return home, but I feared it would be a long time before Sophie and I could return.
“Miss. Suzette?” Azure beckoned me over to a door. I lost track of how many doors we had gone through, how many memories I had seen and could only pass by. As tempting as it was to take a break and read a book at the library, or lounge in the garden, I had to give up those moments of bliss. This was urgent and I wished that the next door I opened wasn’t a bittersweet welcome back to the manor. I couldn’t bear going back to what I had seen countless times before; it hurt me inside to know that I couldn’t return there yet.
I wanted to go somewhere else now. . .anywhere but the manor.
I went up to the door and opened it. Sunlight poured through, and I heard birds tweeting in the distance. I had stepped into the courtyard of a huge baroque building. A dome dotted with windows and niches towered the building, and it was topped off by a roof lantern. Cypress trees lined the courtyard’s walls, and a fountain made from red and green marble stood in the center.
A white marble statue of a woman poured water from a vase and spilled it into the pool. She wore a flowing dress, as if the wind was playing with the fabrics. The woman had her head bowed, her eyes half opened and a small smile plastered on her angelic face. Surrounding the fountain was a field of violet roses, sprung up to catch the golden droplets of the sun’s light. The birds continued to tweet, but I couldn’t see them. They were singing a song, it sounded like a lullaby.
I wandered about the courtyard and bent down to smell the roses. They smelt so sweet, reminding me of honey. I cupped my hands around one of the roses, the petals felt like feathers. They were so light and fragile, almost as if they could scatter away if I wasn’t careful.
I stood back up and a warm breeze brushed through my hair. I pushed my hair back so it didn’t get in my face. I sat down on the fountain’s ledge and just admired the view. It was so peaceful here. . .but I had to keep moving. Perhaps I could return when I finally found Sophie.
The birds continued their song as I headed to an arcade that led me inside.
I let out a little ‘oh’ realizing that I had stepped into the hall where Sophie and I had met the wolf. I believe Sophie had named him Shadow. It was an odd name to give to a wolf, but I couldn’t judge her. Shadow did suit him. I wondered if he was here.
The hall looked just as it did when Sophie and I visited: barrel vaulted ceiling, round-arched windows, checkered floor that showed my reflection, and pure white walls that were highlighted by the sun’s light. The bird’s songs were replaced by a comforting silence. There didn’t need to be any noise, it would had just disturb the tranquility of this place.
I wandered down the long corridor before coming across the dome. Looking up, the dome appeared more beautiful than ever. The painting of violet roses sprung out against the snow-white field, vibrant alongside the ivory sky. I was so curious if that was a world. . . didn’t Sophie think the same? Maybe if it was a world. . .she could be there?
“Sophie?” I called. My voice echoed quietly in the hall. There wasn’t a response. I shook my head. What was I thinking?
I gasped and turned around. I couldn’t believe it. Sophie? She was right there, barefoot and wearing the nightgown I last saw her in. But what caught me off guard about her appearance were her sunken eyes and utterly pale skin. Too pale to be healthy.
“Sophie?” I slowly eased my way forward, reaching out a hand.
Sophie opened her mouth, releasing a low moan before asking: “Why didn’t you save me?”
“Sophie?” I halted.
“You weren’t there for me,” Sophie said. Her voice was unsteady, breaking, not unlike her usual sweet tone of voice. “Didn’t you promise you were always going to be there for me? Isn’t that what sisters are for?”
“Y—yes, but. . .Oh, God, Sophie. I’m so sorry,” I said, covering my mouth. “But—but you’re here now, right? We’ll stick together and make sure we don’t get separated again. I promise. I promise.”
Sophie’s shoulders slumped and she dropped her head. Her bangs covered her eyes and she stood there quietly for several drawn out seconds. It was so quiet I could hear my own heart beating in my ears.
“It’s too late. It’s too late, Suzette,” she rasped before picking up her head. She didn’t have eyes—just a pair of black, empty holes.
“And it’s your fault, Sue.” Sophie said, slowly walking toward me, raising a shaky finger.
“You could’ve saved me.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I thought you loved me, Sue.” Sophie said.
“I—I do,” I stuttered, trying to clearly respond but everything in my being was failing to cooperate. “I really love you, you’re my sister. You’re my sister.”
Sophie was mere inches from my face. I stared helplessly into those empty sockets where her kind eyes had been. Those eyes that brightened her face along with that kind smile. Now there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“You’re a horrible sister.” Sophie spat. “You allowed me to die.”
No. No. No. No!
“Stop it! STOP IT” I dropped to my knees and dropped my sword, which clinked loudly to the floor. I let out a scream. I clutched my head and shut my eyes, continuing to scream and scream until I was sure my vocal cords were going to rip apart. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening. This was a nightmare. This was my fear. I was being messed with. Sophie would never say things like that, and most importantly, she was not dead!
“She’s still alive!” I exclaimed. “You’re just a nightmare! A nightmare! Get out! GET OUT!” I felt so sick inside, so sick. I was going to throw up, I felt something warm slither up from my stomach, but I reluctantly swallowed it.
I watched as the nightmare transitioned from my sister into a white cloaked being with empty eyes. I took hold of my sword and stood back up. My legs were shaking, about to collapse but I held my ground. With one last scream, I ran forward and jabbed the sword through the monster’s chest. The monster screeched before vanishing into thin air. I inhaled sharply and dropped to my knees.
That was not Sophie. That was not Sophie. I wiped away some tears, and gave myself a moment to catch my breath. When I looked up finally, I saw Shadow sitting on the same spot the nightmare stood.
“Shadow?” I walked over to him and patted his head. Shadow licked my hand, and I dropped back down to hug him tightly. I was ready to burst into tears, but I held them back. “She’s still alive. . .she’s still alive. . .” I mumbled into Shadow’s fur. I let go of him and made contact with his golden eyes. “Please help me find my sister. Please, Shadow. She has to be somewhere. She has to be. Is she? Please, give me something. Anything. Is she still here?” My voice was cracking from the screaming, but I needed answers. I needed them now. I needed to know that my sister was safe and still alive.
Shadow nodded and gestured his head to the right before walking away. I followed him down the hall. I rubbed my arms, which were shaking. They couldn’t stop shaking. My legs were moving unevenly. I was afraid they were going to collapse. I felt lightheaded, like something was moving my head back and forth and I couldn’t stop. The sword felt heavier than usual, and I wasn’t sure I was still capable of wielding it anymore, but I kept it in my grasp. Something in me couldn’t let go of it.
Sophie, wherever you are. . .please be okay. Please.
I gasped and shot up suddenly, nearly hitting my head on the ceiling. I quickly looked around, but there was nothing but the darkness around me.
“Are you alright, Sophie?”
I looked down from my bunk bed, but covered my eyes quickly when a lantern flashed at my face. Molly was holding the lantern and I turned away, rubbing an eye.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Didn’t sound like it.” Molly pursed her lips. She got off the bed. “Sounds like you were having a nightmare. You were whimpering a lot and then you woke up so quickly you could’ve made the bunk bed collapse.”
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
“Hey, hey, don’t apologize,” Molly said. She climbed up the ladder and sat next to me. “You were having a nightmare. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“N—no, sorry. . .I just got. . .scared all of a sudden,” I mumbled. “Never mind, it’s nothing. . .let’s go back to sleep.”
“I got a better idea,” Molly said, patting my shoulder. “How ’bout some hot coco? It’s one of the best, wait no, it’s the best midnight snack!”
“Oh?” I blinked. “I’m not sure.”
“C’mon, it’ll be great!” Molly dragged me down the ladder and raced out of the room. We wandered down the empty hallway with the guide of the lantern that Molly held. We wandered about for a bit before we halted. There were footsteps behind us.
“What are you two ladies doing?”
We both froze and turned around. There was Hertha looming before us in a long, black and purple nightgown. She carried a candlestick in her hand, which caused her eyes to glisten like gems. She had a small frown on her face as she stared at us with those cat like eyes pinning us down. I gulped quietly and turned to Molly for assistance.
“We were gonna get some hot coco!” Molly exclaimed, ignoring the hard stare Hertha was giving us.
“This late at night?” Hertha asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah!” Molly nodded. “Sophie was having a nightmare so I thought I could cheer her up with a nice ol’ midnight treat!”
“Hmmm.” Hertha’s eerie eyes trailed to Molly and then to me. “A nightmare? Are you alright?”
“Y—yes,” I said, though somehow, I hesitated and hoped I didn’t sound rude.
“That’s unfortunate,” Hertha said. “Although, it is quite late, and it’s not good to be up at this hour. Why don’t I make you some warm milk and honey? That’ll help you sleep better.”
“Oh, I would love that,” I excitedly gasped. “Mama used to make me that when I had trouble sleeping.”
“That’s wonderful to here,” Hertha chuckled, her frown turned into a genuine smile. “Let’s get to the kitchen then and I’ll make you a little drink. Would you care for any, Molly?”
“Yes, please!” Molly answered with delight. “Milk and honey is the second best midnight snack!”
“Come along then,” Hertha said and walked in another direction. We followed close behind, and I started to wonder if I should throw away all my doubts about Hertha.
Shadow led me to a circular chamber with a well carved into the marble floor. We stood before the well and clearly saw our reflections in the silvery-blue water. It was just like a mirror, but it kept rippling as if there was wind moving the currents. I stared into the water for sometime until Shadow dipped his nose into the water’s surface. The water rippled rapidly before our reflections were replaced by an unfamiliar hallway lit by purple candles. The hallway was rather narrow, and tall windows were stationed on the left side, allowing the moon’s light to pour in.
It was quiet, but then I heard someone running and bells ringing. There were many doors, and as one was thrown open, the sounds became clearer and I gasped. It was Sophie! She was wearing a polka-dotted dress with tiny bells around her hands. She had barged through the door and was running down the hall as fast as she could.
“Sophie? Sophie!” I called back. She couldn’t hear me. I attempted to jump in, but Shadow nudged me back. I could only watch Sophie running. Why was she running? Where was she going? Was she being chased? Who was chasing her? What was chasing her? So many questions ran through my head at once.
“Sophie!” I called again, only much louder until the water started rippling like crazy. “Sophie!” I practically screamed her name, and then Sophie stopped. Did she hear me? Her head turned swiftly around. Her face was ghostly pale and sweat was dripping down her face. I’ve never seen her so scared. I heard footsteps approaching. They were drawing closer and closer. Sophie whimpered and broke into another run. She disappeared from my sight.
I slapped my hand into the water and I was face to face with my reflection again. I slowly stepped back before rushing out of the door. I heard Shadow howling behind me, but I couldn’t turn back, I had to go. I had to find Sophie!
I dashed through the door and nearly crashed into Azure along the way.
“What is it, Miss. Suzette?” Azure asked.
Before I could answer, Nihi’s voice swept through the chilly air.
“Congratulations, you found your sister.”
“Or at least saw her,” Non added, “at a different time that is.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your fear sparked up a future danger your sister will be trapped in,” Nihil said
“She’s safe for now,” Non said.
“But for how long?”
“You mustn’t hurry though,”
“Rushing into things can cause you to make rash decisions.”
“And we don’t want you to do that.”
“You’re a clever girl. You wouldn’t do something rash, now would you?”
“Would you?” the voices asked in unison.
“No, I wouldn’t,” I answered.
“Good girl,” Nihil said.
“Yes, very good,” Non agreed.
“Where exactly was Sophie?” I asked.
“Mmmm, well. . .”
“Since you have been a clever girl. . .”
“We’ll give you a hint.”
“Yes, we shall.”
“She resides in a merry place.”
“A merry place filled with laughter and smiles.”
“Fun and joy.”
“But on that particular night. . .” they said in unison.
“There will be no laughter, no laughter at all,” Nihil said.
“You have time to save her though,” Non assured.
“Yes, enough time.”
“Or perhaps. . .you won’t be the one to save her, but someone else.”
“Someone else?” I echoed. “Aleck?”
“Perhaps. . .” Nihil drawled.
“Perhaps it could be someone else entirely,” Non added.
“Or perhaps she won’t be saved at all.”
“Perhaps it’ll be her last night—”
“I’ve heard enough!” I exclaimed, stomping my foot.
“Oh? Struck a nerve,” Nihil chuckled.
“Our apologies,” Non said, but chuckled as well.
“We’ll leave you be so you can move on.”
“Would you like to explore more of the labyrinth? Or go on your way?”
I only had less than a half hour left. . .was there a point now? I couldn’t spot any doors from where I was, and the chiming had given me a headache. The chimes were beating into my head constantly; I couldn’t think straight.
“Miss. Suzette?” Azure’s voice called me back.
“We’re going. I want to get out of here,” I confirmed.
“That’s understandable,” Nihil said.
“We’ll leave you be,” Non said.
“Good luck finding your sister, Suzette,” they said in unison.
The voices faded out, and the labyrinth disappeared as well. We were standing in the middle of a clearing, and above us was a tear in the sky. The chimes had ceased, and it was quiet now.