Do You Believe In Magic: Part Three
Elwin stepped through the gates and, before he had gone more than five steps, heard them slam shut behind. He spun around to ask Zarex if he wasn’t coming with him but found himself face-to-face with a solid stone wall. Gone were the gates, the steel walls, the grumpy Grundo with a targeting helmet. It was as if Elwin had simply walked out of the earth itself into this new hallway.
“Shouldn’t even be surprised,” he muttered. “Just more magic.”
Despite his mutterings, he felt a thrill rise in the pit of his stomach. As strange as the rest of his journey had been thus far, this felt like real magic. The rest could have been pre-arranged, actors stationed at various points in the subterranean caverns for some unknowable reason, but this…this couldn’t have been done naturally. This was his wish come true. This was adventure.
The walls now were stone, but not the rough-hewn kind of the earlier caves. These were built, constructed out of small blocks, stacked in deliberate rows that extended infinitely into the distance. Torches sat in wrought-iron sconces, vaguely illuminating a small circle around them but providing no light otherwise. Moss could be seen creeping down into these circles from damp patches up above. On the whole, it all looked rather like…
“A dungeon?” whispered Elwin. “The nearest city isn’t for miles, and…” He stopped and thought for a second. “I was just on the space station, there’s no reason I can’t be somewhere else now. Meridell or Brightvale or…” A sudden thought struck him. “The Citadel……”
He hurried on, feeling his heart pound. Even if this was all a dream or a magical reality or something that wasn’t quite real, he still didn’t want to be anywhere near the Citadel. It was said that those who were sent to Darigan’s dungeons never came out again. Not the same way they went in, at least. Elwin’s footsteps quickened to a brisk walk, then a light jog, then a full-on sprint. Torches blazed past him as streaks of orange light, bricks blurred into one another until the whole wall looked like nothing but a grey and black streaked blob. Individual details meant nothing as Elwin ran faster and faster and faster.
And then he stopped, dead in his tracks. Ahead of him, the passage ended. However, it was not the stone wall he would have expected, but a cell, the only prison cell present in the whole length of the dungeon. The door hung open slightly, clearly unlocked, and the resident of the cell stood against the back wall, leaning on it with one leg and eying this newcomer to the hallway with a skepticism that bordered on the amused.
It was a Darigan Uni, one who looked as though he might once have served Lord Darigan. He had an air about him that was at once unsettling and comforting. You wanted to have him on your side, but keep a secret eye on him. Was he only out for himself? Was he a friend to the throne? Was he-
Elwin stopped these thoughts. He knew who the Uni was; he had known it would be him all along, somehow. At the end of these twisting adventures, at the end of the bizarre occurrences at the bottom of the well, he simply knew that the one person standing at the end of it would be this one. The one who had thwarted his day and, it could be argued, his last few weeks. Garholmar Thunderhooves. The Uni with a touching backstory, compelling character development, and who ended the last chapter in Meridell’s dungeons, rotting as a result of King Skarl’s cruelty and Darigan’s forced hand. Elwin had only written it the other night. And yet…here he was, just as Elwin had imagined. Just as he had wished.
“It’s you, then.” The words came from Garholmar as a river of syrup from his lips. Elwin had actually written those words once upon a time and was surprised to hear that his description was surprisingly accurate. The Uni had a voice that could convince the hardest of hearts to give his entire fortune to a needy Warf. “I knew that something was different. You’ve come.”
Elwin couldn’t make sense of Garholmar’s cryptic words, but he had also written him to be enigmatic. He found that he could write meaningless nonsense, ascribe it to metaphor, and not have to explain what it meant. Not that anyone ever read it. “It is me. And you’re Garholmar.”
“Of course I am. Skarl’s locked me in here thanks to you, and I figure it’s only right that you get me out of it. I will be asking for your continued help in return for this betrayal you’ve seen fit to perpetrate against me.” Garholmar’s gaze didn’t break from Elwin’s. The boy was no match for the hardened advisor, though, and he turned his eyes quickly to the floor.
“W-what do you mean? The door’s unlocked, you can come out the way I came in. There’s a well and…”
Garholmar’s mouth turned up in a smirk. “A well, ha. Boy, listen to me.” Garholmar often called people “boy.” It wasn’t always a sign of disrespect. “You might have got by whoever else there was with innocent nonsense like that. But I know you. You’re no fool. You wish in a well, you get magic like this, you don’t go back. I certainly don’t.” He paused for a moment and brought his hoof down from the wall where he had placed it. “Do you want to see what there is? What your wish has given you?”
For the first time, Elwin found himself hesitant. Up to this point, he’d been treating the entire experience like a fantastic dream. Something to enjoy for the moment but wake up from when he had tired of it. Charon had instilled the surreal feeling necessary to maintain the dreamlike state, and Zarex had given him the slight hint of unbelievability. But Garholmar…he should have solidified the dream of it all, but instead he was making it sound more and more real. If he wanted to see his wish in its entirety, what would greet him? Why couldn’t he go back? What would happen?
Could the adventure continue?
Garholmar snorted and pushed the cell door open further than it had been. Elwin entered without provocation and barely flinched as the door slammed shut behind him. It had happened once already with the pearly gates, and now he felt…different. He no longer guessed he was in a dream, and he no longer felt the trepidation that came at the start of a reality that would soon change. He was oddly at peace.
“Managed to carve out an escape route through the back of my cell. No thanks to you, I should add.” Garholmar pushed lightly against one of the stones in the wall and stepped back as the whole wall collapsed into a pile of rubble. “More like an escape hallway, perhaps. But no time for semantics. There’s something you need to see.”
The Uni moved into the darkness, Elwin scrambling behind, barely able to make out his imposing figure. The faint torchlight died away quickly to be replaced by utter nothingness. Like floating in space or sinking in the ocean. Being flung off a tower. Falling off the mizzenmast. Being on Faerieland during the fall. Soaring with Judge Hog. Was this the ultimate feeling of adventure, then? A feeling of weightlessness, of not having any pull on this world? A faint dizziness in the stomach and a faint anticipation in the heart? But in the senses, just...nothing?
Ahead, a light. Dim. Dawn.
“Look out at what you see.”
Elwin ran to catch up to Garholmar, who had climbed a shallow series of stairs onto what could only be described as a tower. The escape route passageway, which had morphed at some point into a normal corridor, ultimately ended in a tower that would not have been out of place in Meridell Castle. In fact, when Elwin strained his ears, he could swear that he heard the faint bustle of the Meridell marketplace somewhere in the distance, even though he knew the real thing was hundreds of miles away. But here he was, standing atop the tower and looking out over…
His house. In the light of dawn, Elwin could see everything. The lone house standing slim against the infinitely flat landscape. The little well, so small and far away from up here. Had he really walked so far? The dirty path that led over the horizon to the school. And that was it. Those three things were the entirety of what Elwin saw in front of him, and, truly, the entirety of what he had always seen in front of him. His entire life. Everything he had ever been or ever would be laid in front of him. Everything except…
“This?” Garholmar held out a hoof, over which was slung a dusty backpack. “There was a lot of good work in here. Things I wish Darigan could see. It might make him a better person. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but my backstory?” He looked around conspiratorially. “You got it word for word.”
Elwin took the backpack and opened the main pouch reverently. Inside were his stories. Not just the ones he had placed haphazardly inside at the end of the day yesterday, though. Every story he had ever written. Garholmar was in there, in his advisory capacity, but there were also stories of avalanches in Terror Mountain, Brute raids across Tyrannia, hidden depths of Maraqua and secret rituals on Mystery Island. Every scrap of every idea he ever had was crammed into the backpack until it was near to bursting. Elwin clutched the fraying strap to his chest and felt tears well up in his eyes. He didn’t know why. “Thank you.” It was all he could think to say.
“As I said, it’s good stuff. Quite a shame to lose it all. Now, look. Look at what there is below and ask yourself this: Is this the price you will pay? Sure, you tossed a coin in a well and made a wish. But for true adventure, for true magic, you will have to give up everything you once knew. This house, this well, this path, everything. You will never again be able to return here. In exchange, you will see all your pages, all your stories, everything your brain ever dreamed up come true.”
Elwin looked down at he saw. The house, the well, the path. Everything. But what he saw was something other than what was there. He saw his Mother, absent always from his life. He saw notes on the fridge, on the counter, on the door, on his bed and empty backpack. He saw notes and notes and notes and notes. He saw the well as a dark hole. Just a pit into which people threw money for no reason. He saw wasted wishes. He saw a prison chain, dragging a poor boy one way and another every day, tearing up feet. He saw jagged rocks. He saw mockery and derision. He saw nothing from that tower.
“Yes. I will pay this price.”
Garholmar smiled, one of his smiles that truly had no mirth in it. Elwin always liked when he did that. “Then it is settled.”
A shadow suddenly fell upon the entire landscape, darkening everything within view. Elwin looked up and saw a flying chunk of rock slowly drifting in front of the sun. A small string flung itself out from the base, becoming larger and larger in his view until he recognized it for what it was: a chain, unraveling from the base of the rock and coming to rest just in front of the pair of them.
“Is that what I think it is?” Elwin’s heart beat fast in his chest.
“Darigan Citadel, come for a rescue. It’s a long climb, Elwin, but I think Lord Darigan will be very interested in what we have to tell him when we arrive. Perhaps he’ll even be interested in sending you on a scouting mission to learn more information.” He shot Elwin a half-grin. “Would you be interested in that?”
Elwin didn’t need to respond. Instead, he jumped onto the chain with an eagerness and aptitude he had never before displayed. And then, he began to climb. He climbed without pause, without regret. He climbed away from the tower, away from the subterranean tunnels. Away from the pile at the bottom of the well, away from the dirty, dusty path. Away from the lonely house in the middle of the plains and away from the ceaseless notes. He climbed away from all this. He climbed towards adventure. He climbed towards something new, something skyward, something…magical.