Face Value

By Michael Young All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Part IV: Far From Home Chapter 21: Where Are You Now?

My eyes fluttered open to the glare of bright overhead light, glaring down at me like an ever-unblinking eye. Lazily I wiggled my arm, finding that I had once again regained control of my muscles. Gradually, I coaxed my muscles to lift me to an upright position. The room about me was bare of any decoration or furniture except the bed, which I had been laid on. The floors and the walls had been painted a dull forest green and only extended a few feet in every direction. The air clung to my nostrils, heavy and overly sterilized.

Where I am?

I shook my head, trying to dislodge the cobwebs that had gathered there. Tossing the sheets aside, I swung my feet over the side of the bed, and planted my bare feet on the cold tile of the floor. Glancing down at my chest, I realized that my attire had been changed, replaced with a dingy, white, one piece, jumpsuit. Immediately, my hand flew to my neck,

The locket!

To my relief, I found that both lockets still hung about my neck. My heart racing faster, I dropped back to the bed. Suddenly, the cobwebs flew from my mind in an instant, allowing the memories to pour through, The cave...the lion...Christine...Mercos...fire.

Frantically, I dashed to the wall, madly searching for a door. Incredibly, each of the walls showed no sign of yielding to a door. Panic swelled inside me, like a rat trapped in a cage, and I threw myself against the nearest wall, pounding and kicking, “Christine, Fred, Andrus, get me out of here!”

My mind raged recalling he evil laughter of the Phoegoyles. I yelled and screamed, until my throat grew so horse that I couldn’t make a sound. Once again exhausted, I collapsed against the wall in despair.

The room once again became saturated with silence. Then, out of the silence, a tiny, jovial voice drifted into my ears. It was neither commanding nor powerful in tone, yet with every word, life seemed to return to my weary bones.

“You really shouldn’t carry on so,” said an unfamiliar voice. “Your friends are quite safe. I kept them alive while you had me in your possession. Your outburst just now did no more good than to give your lungs a good workout and your face a good cleaning.”

I glanced down in disbelief at the lockets, which hung, about my neck. The voice had not come from the lion. The smiling mask locket, which before had been lifeless its features fixed in a never-ending grin, was now animated and lively. Its features changed every second, seemingly breathing in and out the musty air, all the while keeping an expression of unrestrained joy about its features. Its eyes glowed like polished pearls, seeming somehow to skip the layers and skip right to the core. Shocked into the silence for a few moments, I gazed at this token of marvelous beauty, and at once all doubt and fear fled from my mind. Finally, I mustered up the courage to speak.

“You...you saved them? But how? I never commanded you to do anything. Is that how I survived getting torched when Mercos tried to kill me?”

The locket chuckled mirthfully as a baby’s laugh, its eyes pulsing brighter with every syllable, “I see that for all that you have sought us you don’t really know much about us. Unlike most lockets, you don’t have to command me in all things. I simply perceived the need from your thoughts, and acted. So as a result, both your friends and you are safe. And I am much more contented.. being away from that awful creature of hatred. His very touch disturbed me greatly though I doubt my companion minded much.”

Trying hard to digest all this new information, I furrowed my brow, slipped off the locket into the palm of my hand, and inquired, “Your companion? You mean the other locket?”

The locket bobbed up and down slightly as if nodding, “Yes. That is correct. Though we are much more than mere lockets I can assure you that.”

I rubbed my chin in thought, was met with a sandpapery surface, and released that I had neglected to shave the previous morning, “I guess I shouldn’t just call you ‘locket’ then. Do you have a name that you would prefer?”

The locket blinked, her eye shining like searchlights, “Well, my proper name was Ezradamus, but I hear that humans don’t often use such drawn out names. Shorter names just don’t have the depth in description that longer names do, however, if it pleases you, you may call me Ezra.”

I grinned broadly, nodding in approval, “And what is your companion called? I don’t suppose he’d like being called locket either.”

Ezra drew his lips together, “You’re quite right, Face. He is not as merry as I and will quickly take offense if you should so much as breathe wrong in his presence. His full name is Morgetmelchior, though he might tolerate it if you called him Melchior.”

Since she had already revealed her power over my thoughts, I did not think it odd that she already knew my name.

“Well, Ezra,” I muttered politely, “I seem to be in sort of a bind, being stuck in this room and all, especially not knowing where exactly this room is. You don’t happen to have any advice, do you?”

Ezra smiled knowingly, “Go back and lie down for a bit. The extra sleep will do you well. It might be sometime before they decide what is to be done with you.”

I popped up my eyebrows quizzically, “Who do you mean by ‘they’?”

The locket’s clenched her eyes and mouth shut, trying to stifle its amusement, “I am a hasty one, and not the greatest host either. Just go to bed, and I’ll explain it all when you wake up. Suffice it to say that you are quite far from home.”

Far from home.

The words mulled over in my mind like a hamster in a wheel. The farthest I had ever been from home had been to visit my cousins in California during my childhood summers. The word ‘far’ held a degree of ambiguity to me. It was the same word used to describe the next town over, and the also the countries on the other side of the world. It caused a faint shudder of delight and fear that originated in my spine and then crawled up to the tips of my hair.

If the locket could perceive my thoughts, it made no indication. Deciding that I really was exhausted, I followed Ezra’s advice and slunk back between the brittle sheets. Placing the locket against my chest, I slipped my eyelids closed and once again let sleep overtake me.

My slumber, however, turned out to be anything but peaceful. Fiery visions of crimson, cackling demons still danced in my head. Near them lay the wounded figures of Fred and Christine, aching and helpless. The flames swelled and roared around them, threatening to swallow them up in an instant.

Suddenly, a new face popped into my view. Samot hung over me, her eyes misted over with sadness. However, when she spoke, the voice did not match that of the kindly doctor, but that of another familiar voice from out of my dreams, pale and pained.

“Hello, Face,” the voice whispered, “it hasn’t been that long, but I am grateful for another meeting with you. It is I, Oriona. I hope you do not mind the form that I chose to take.”

At once remembering my bizarre encounter with the shadow, I hastily replied, “Yes, I remember you. Your form is fine, I suppose. I did not expect to meet you again, but I guess I shall count myself lucky. So much has taken place in such a short time. You come bearing advice, I presume?”

The ghostly face nodded gravely. “Yes, but very little because time is short. I have entered many dreams since last we met, including those of him who is an enemy to both of us. His desires with the lockets are unspeakably cruel. It is a stroke of the greatest fortune that you managed to take that one back when you did.”

The lines sank even deeper into the face’s brow, “However, you can’t just keep it as a souvenir any more. No, it is much too dangerous for that. It is not safe in the hands of anyone, not Mercos, not Trezzlepeg, not even yourself.”

My mind balked at the thought, automatically swinging to the defensive, “What do you mean they’re not safe? Those lockets are my ticket to getting my life back in order. Couldn’t Trezzlepeg lock them up good and tight in some vault? Until then, I don’t see why it won’t be safe with me. Gyem didn’t destroy them, so why should I?”

Oriona’s features hardened to almost a statue-like quality, “You speak out of ignorance. You still think you are dealing with a trinket, mortal? The power in the two combined is enough to swat entire galaxies aside with a simple flick of a finger! Had I a body...I would seek them both out and dispose of them immediately. The problem is that you can’t just cast them off like a trinket. That’s been tried...and been failed. That is why I have come to you.”

“Then what I am supposed to do with it? If I can’t even trust myself, then what can I trust?”

Oriona shook her head solemnly, “Only the hope that you can dispose of them beyond the reach of ever being found again, and there is only one way that I can come up with: you must give them to the Wanderer.”

My mind’s eye drew nothing but blanks, “Who? Remember, I’m not quite well versed in all the matters of galactic importance. A few days ago I had no idea there were other inhabited planets.”

Her reply was swift, “I don’t have time to give you a full explanation. You must take this question to Gyem. I think he is the only one who would clearly remember all the details.”

Her voice trailed off, waning with each word, “You could have asked my master as well had he not been under the Enemy’s control,” she sighed, “he looks a bit strange these days though I’ve finally think I’ve found him.”

Prepared to blurt out a question, I was met instead with obscuring mists in front of my vision. Oriona’s face melted away as my eyelids fluttered open to greet a similar face. The face of the real Samot stared down at me through her glass screen. To my surprise, her face shared the same ghostly paleness of her dreamlike counterpart.

She spoke first, her voice grazing through the air like fingers of sunlight on a cloudy day, “Welcome back, Face. I’m sorry if you have found the accommodations to be less than hospitable. You are the first Earthside human we have accommodated for decades, at least since the start of the War anyhow. Sit up and follow me to where you can change into some more comfortable clothes. You are feeling better, are you not?”

Lethargically, I stretched my muscles and found everything to be in working condition, if not a bit stiff. I nodded, “Yes, thank you. I’ve taken some close scraps in my younger days, but I can’t say I’ve ever tasted death as close as that. It was good timing on your part. I would have hated being cheated out of a chance to say goodbye to everyone.”

She offered one gloved hand, which I gladly took. As Samot helped me to my feet, I couldn’t help notice the anguish etched into her features. Her pained gazed locked into mine for a second, as her grasp on my hand held firm. Releasing the carelessness of my comments and fearing the worst, I ventured a few words, my voice faltering under strain, “I am sorry, about Tomas. I didn’t mean to offend you. From what I could tell, he must have been a valiant man, and I owe him my life. I only wish...”

Samot released my hand and sighed, a deep moaning like breeze through willow branches, “Yes, I am very proud of Tomas. Had he not come when he did all of us would have perished. He always wanted to go saving someone else and I guess he fulfilled that wish whether or not I was ready for him to.”

She bowed her head and I held my peace, not wanting my words to drive the dagger of her grief in any deeper. At last, she motioned for me to follow,

“There are pressing matters at hand. I’m to escort you directly to Gyem, as long as you feel up to the trip.”

I nodded my head vigorously, being suddenly filled to overflowing with expectations and wild fantasies of exploring a new world. My excitement, however, was quelled a notch as my mind suddenly sprung to thoughts of Fred and Christine, “As long as you can tell me something about my companions,” I pleaded, “I won’t be able to concentrate on anything until I can be sure they are okay.”

Samot remained expressionless, “Yes,” she replied, “we can see them before we go. But we must be quick about it. Every second squandered stacks the odds against us.

With that, she once again motioned for me to follow, and stepped right through the wall, melting in as if she had been molded out of hot wax. Eager to follow, I stepped forward and marched into the wall, trusting that Samot wasn’t trying to poke fun at my inexperience. Apparently she wasn’t in the mood for jokes, and I melted through the wall as if it had been no more than mist.

My eyes clouded momentarily as we passed through and were met with brilliant sunlight. We had emerged on a narrow catwalk looking over a broad expanse of stairs and passageways below. The distant walls were of a lavender transparent material, which allowed sunlight to filter in from overhead. I glanced beyond the walls to get a glimpse of the surrounding territory; however, the entire expanse as far as the eye could catch was entirely shrouded by curling mists. Off in the distance, a vague structure peaked out from the top of mists, glinting and glimmering green in the sunlight.

If the scenery had been surprising, even more intriguing were the sounds that filled the expectant air. At one moment, the tender languishing tone of a cello sighed, and then next a sprightly flute burst into life. Snatches of lilting voices chortling, sobbing, yelling, pleading, and rejoicing echoed off each shimmering wall the sounds rippling along like water down a windowpane.

Seemingly unaffected by the wonderfully live surroundings, Samot continued her even stride across the catwalk and around a corner leaving my alone. I was about to pursue when I was planted in place by a hauntingly beautiful melody. It was the voice of a woman, both strikingly clear, and hauntingly beautiful at the same time, enveloping the air with its mournful tone. In all my years as a musician, and all the years since, I have never heard its equal.

Where are you now?

Can’t somebody say?

I’m roving and reaching

Imploring, beseeching

Waiting in silence

For your face to shine through

Why did you go?

How I wish that I knew.

My tears, they are pouring

And softly imploring

Just merely adoring

The memory of you.

Goosebumps formed over every inch of my skin, and, tears sprang to my eyes:

Samot said that they’re both alive and healthy. There’s nothing to be sad about. Besides, this will all be over soon and things will get back to normal.

Suddenly realizing that I had fallen behind and was going to make Samot late, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and jogged in pursuit. Catching up, I tapped her shoulder smiling apologetically. Apparently she hadn’t even noticed my absence, “Excuse me, Samot,” I gasped, releasing how out of shape I had become, “but this is all so very new and different to me. Couldn’t you explain at least where we are?”

She turned and a vague smile pursed her lips, “I guess that wouldn’t hurt anything as long as we walk while we go. As anxious as you are, I am even more anxious to bring this to his Excellency with all possible speed.”

She motioned down the catwalk towards what appeared to be an elevator, “Come this way. I’ll explain on the way down to the port.”

At the end of the walkway sat what looked like an elevator in a transparent lavender tube. Samot approached the door, it immediately swung open, and she beckoned me to follow. Without hesitation, I entered the elevator. Once inside, the door automatically closed behind us, and at first it seemed to me as we were going nowhere fast. However, Samot broke the silence by humming a series of notes, first climaxing in the upper register before slipping into a deep, rumbling vibrato, and the craft leapt suddenly into life as if it had been a wild beast that had sat on the wrong end of a spear.

My stomach heaved into my ears, and I struggled to maintain my balance, flailing like a cubby clown on spindly stilts. Fortunately, I eventually managed to steady myself, much to Samot’s amusement. As I glanced up at her, I detected the first glimmer of mirth in her eyes since the horrible incident in the cave, “I’m sorry if this is a little much for you,” she explained, chuckling under her breath, “but since we have so little time, I told it to double time us to the dock.”

I nodded tenuously, still clutching at my stomach, “This is nothing really, but now that we are underway, I would at least like to have some idea of where we are.”

She dipped her head in agreement, glancing out at the swiftly flying surroundings, “I guess I’m must seem about as friendly as a dust mite today. I apologize. It’s a lot to cram into the short time we have here, but I’ll give it to as straight as I can. This tower is known as the Citadel of Song. Here, every note and rhythm that takes life in this world finds its way back here. That’s why we sometimes call it a Confluence. There are all many different kinds of Confluences in this world, though we don’t know exactly why they exist. Most people come here to study and to relax, but in your case, we brought you here to heal.”

I scratched my chin, intrigued by the concept. “What happens to all the songs after they come here? Are they lost?”

Samot shook her head, “No. They are stored. The keeper of the Confluence stores them in his memory, and they are passed down through the generations. Sometimes he has been known to give songs away in little packages, but that’s only if he really likes you.”

At once a grin crept across my cheeks and I felt a great desire to sit at the feet of this man, and swap a song or two.

Gulping, I clutched a hand around the locket about my neck. Suddenly my thoughts took a 180 degree spin, “What about Fred and Christine? Aren’t we going to see them before we go?”

Before she could answer my question, the elevator slowed gradually to a smooth halt, and the door slid open revealing a spacious room bustling with activity. Hundreds of suit-clad humans scurried about tending to the needs of three enormous white birds. The birds closely resembled gigantic albatrosses, each with the wingspan about the length of a football field. Their ivory feathers glistened and played in the sunlight as each stood nearly still, swaying only slightly for breathing. On each of the bird’s backs lay an oblong, metal cabin, apparently for housing passengers.

I stood there in awe as Samot stepped of the elevator, “We’re flying on those? They’re amazing…” My voice trailed off as I realized the inadequacy of my words.

“Yes,” she replied, “we often don’t use these birds much anymore in preference to our machines, however, these birds provide the only way into Gyem’s palace, and so we pardon the technological regression.”

At last breaking my trance, I slowly crept out of the elevator and down into the docking area. As I entered the room, I suddenly realized that my presence had literally sucked the noise out of the room. All around me gazes turned like a forest of inquisitive trees, their eyes brimming with wonder, almost reverence. I wasn’t sure whether it was the jewelry about my neck or my absence of a suit, a trait that I shared with no person in the entire hangar. All at once, I felt completely naked, as if I was marching in front of a firing squad. I managed to laugh nervously,

“Samot, where are Fred and Christine?” I asked, trying to purge my jitters by occupying my mind with other matters.

At once Samot took my arm, and yanked me towards the nearest bird, “They are already aboard. Hurry, I can’t help their prying eyes, but I can get you quickly out of sight.”

Briskly she dragged me to the side of the nearest bird where a ramp had already been lowered. Then, suddenly, she halted and pivoted about to meet my gaze her lips pursed together and her brow furrowed, “I should warn you, Face. They are both not quite well yet. They still might require some time to get over their condition.”

The way she pronounced “condition” you might have though she was a judge pronouncing the death sentence. What on earth does she mean by “condition?” A heart condition, a sleep condition, a skin condition…what?

However, before I could importune her for an explanation, she had already dashed half way up the ramp. Seeing no alternative, but to follow, I dashed up behind her. At the summit, I was quickly ushered into the cabin, and then into a plush seat near the rear. The cabin was lavishly decorated with intricate tapestries adorning the walls and plush carpeting.

As I sat down, I realized that I recognized the people sitting across from me. Both Fred and Christine wore the same dull, white pullover and equally dull expressions on their faces. My heart leapt with sweet relief, “Fred, Christi-”

However, my heart quickly careened back into despair. Their faces registered no more recognition than if I had been no more than a blank mannequin in an endless sea of faces.

Standing at about arm’s length, Fred cordially extended his hand, “Good day,” he said, firmly grasping my hand, his voice hollow and distant “you seem rather familiar. Have we met?”

His grasp wrested not only my hand, but the air from my lungs as well as I fought back the urge to firmly grasp him by both shoulders and throttle him violently back into his senses. Instead, I replied evenly, groping for breath, “Yes, Fred, we have.”

It was all that I could say to keep from losing my cool. I shifted my gaze to Christine, hoping against all odds that she had not been so stricken. “Christine, do you...”

But the sound died at my lips. One look into her pale blue eyes confirmed my worst fears: she too appeared as vacant as a playground on a rainy day. She grinned blankly, never seeming to focus her eyes on any one thing.

Suddenly a white-hot anger flared in my cheeks and I swiveled about to face Samot, “This,” I snapped, my cheeks flaring like fans in frustration, “this is what you call a condition? What’s the matter with them? They look like they’ve been brainwashed. They’re vegetables!”

Samot didn’t react immediately. Instead, she just stared off into the distance her eyes glistening slightly. At once, her gaze squelched my anger, leaving only the ashes of shame.

It was now my turn to fall silent. My insides turned into a ball of tangled yarn. “Samot...I...I’m,”

She quickly cut me off with a curt wave of her hand, “I know,” she muttered, “don’t worry about it. I should have warned you better. Our doctors are not sure what they can do for them, but there remains hope. After we meet with Gyem, I’m to take them to the Green Tower, Girhadras: Garden of Healing. Until then, there isn’t much either you or I can do. I’m sorry.”

The knots in my stomach loosened, replaced with only a bitter emptiness. I turned my gaze back to my brother and Christine to find them still standing ghostly still, their features seemingly fixed as if chiseled out of stone.

Someone finally invented a fate worse than death, I mused silently.

Slowly and deliberately, I approached Christine, intent on one last attempt to call her back, not wanting to believe Samot’s bleak prognosis. Gently taking her hands, I stared into her eyes once so peaceful and serene, but know turbulent and misted over. The calm sea had become a swirling whirlpool. Swallowing hard and wiping the perspiration from my brow, I leaned in and whispered, “Christine. I know you are in there somewhere. You’re lost and I’ve come to find you. I want our life back...I want our little Annie to call me daddy again. I want you to come back. I love you! And that’s why I know you can hear me.”

Despite my pleading, her face remained blank as ever.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and met Samot’s understanding gaze. She nodded her face grim, and I couldn’t help but do a double take between the woman in front of me and the woman behind me. The resemblance was so uncanny that I longed to believe that it was really Christine behind that glass and metal prison and that the woman in front of me was the imposter. However, my fantasy was shattered as Samot spoke,

“It’s hard trying to let go, Face. Let’s just hope that you don’t have to. I’m going to have put them back in their beds. We still need to run a few tests, and you need to get into you seat for takeoff. Go through those doors and take any seat on the edge. I’ll try and come back after these two are taken care off.”

And that was that. I tried to protest, but my arms had gone limp and lifeless at my side. I watched in resignation as Samot took each by the arm and led them through the double doors to our right and out of sight. Following orders like a drone, I paced through the back double doors and slumped into the nearest available seat. The corridor was void of lighting and, as far as could tell, was empty. Reclining in my seat, I struggled for control with my many emotions, but decided instead that a bit of sleep would do me better than anything else. So, I shut my eyes, and pictured home, as I had known it. Then, for just a moment, I felt just as if I was there despite all the distance that separated us.

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