The Great Door
Journal Entry 10: The Great Door
I sat on the bed in my cell, trying to digest what I had learned and what I had been told. In Melmoth’s office, the sand would be running through the hourglass, counting down my last minutes in the tower. Whether that led to my death or not, would depend on my next few choices.
My gaze wandered the room, pausing a moment with the few possessions I’d acquired over my time. I thought about packing them up and taking them with me, but as I looked at each in turn, I realised I wouldn’t miss them. Every one held a temporal value, tying me to this life, this place and these rules.
It had been days since I renewed my powers. If I were to attempt the door, I might have to revisit the deep caverns and the molten rock, but the spell came to me when I discovered Meris. Was I strong enough without the ritual?
Dare I risk it?
Eventually, I found myself staring at Apprentice Cross. He had accompanied me here and now stood in the open doorway. He studiously avoided looking at me and waited in silence, leaning against the wall.
“Why are you still here?” I asked.
Cross glanced at me. “Melmoth told me to ensure you were prepared,” he said. “If you choose not to face the door that means escorting you back to where you came from.”
“Or pitching me out of a window?”
“If it comes to that.”
I nodded and let the matter drop. My gaze went back to the faded tapestry on my wall. I stood up and reached out, moving it aside. Underneath were a set of symbols like the ones in Melmoth’s chambers.
I replaced the cloth and stared at the scene; my eyes drawn to the figure on at the top, holding the staff.
All wizards had staffs. Yet we had never been permitted to practice with one or seen their use. Where does a wizard get a staff from?
I turned from the tapestry and without saying another word to Cross, walked from the room.
As I began the ascent, I saw people. Apprentices and acolytes waited at their doors, while other servants of the tower stood in hallways and passages. When people blocked my way, Cross yelled from behind me “Make way for the penitent!” and people stepped aside, bowing their heads, as if I were diseased or ennobled, I’m not sure which.
I met the eye of many acolytes who I had seen during my time. Some glared, but others nodded to me as a comrade. All refrained from touching me. This came from a superstition I read about; the purity of the ascendant. They didn’t wish to risk sullying my soul with theirs and thwart my chance with the door.
If only they knew.
I passed Mistress Abraxia’s rooms. She was not outside them and the door remained shut.
Higher and higher we went, beyond familiar places into old and dusty spaces. Bereft of light, we took candles. The air grew thin, making me pant as I walked. The decoration of these chambers was sporadic and neglected. Some doors were locked, but Cross had keys and opened them for me each time, until we came to a black arch at the top of a steep set of stairs.
“This is the last passage,” he told me. “I am permitted to go no further.”
I turned and stared at him for long moments. “Thank you,” I said at last. “Will you wait for me here?”
“There is no need,” he said. “If you pass, you will not return without warning. If you fail, there will be nothing of you left to come back.”
And with that he walked away down the stairs.
The final steps were difficult to manage. I knew my choice was made and my fate awaited, but that did not make the ascent easier.
On the arch, I found more of the strange symbols I had seen in Melmoth’s room. They were clustered in groups with spaces between them. Occasionally, some would repeat; a written script then, something forgotten with important counsel for me, no doubt.
Something I couldn’t read.
The blackened stones were wet. As I drew closer I could see they had also been scorched by fire. I reached out to touch them.
“You are wasting time.”
I twitched my hand away and glanced around. Lord Sallis stood at the far end of a circular room. He wore his blue robes, armour and other devices, making him appear much larger than the person I remembered at dinner that night. In his left hand he clutched a helm with strange pipes attached to it that ran into a backpack. In his right, he held an ornately carved staff.
I bowed. “My Lord, I thought you had departed.”
“Most people think that,” Sallis replied and smiled. “I am content to leave them doing so.” He nodded towards the arch. “Many acolytes have come here and tried to learn something from the writing. To my knowledge, none have deciphered its meaning. It is said no wizard, half-breed or human inscribed those symbols.”
“Then who made them?” I asked.
Lord Sallis appeared to shrug inside his armour. “No one knows,” he said. “But if you linger to work on them you will miss your opportunity. The paths of the great door are affected by the vortex and the worlds beyond it. Sometimes is it hard to open, sometimes easy. You will learn to sense the change. Right now, you have a good chance, but it lessens with each moment you waste.”
I gazed around the room. “But I see no door.”
“The arch is the door,” Lord Sallis said. “Can you not feel its magic?”
I closed my eyes for a moment and reached out with my senses as I had been taught in the earliest lessons. The faint tingling sensation that came from the blackened stones confirmed the presence of an enchantment. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked Sallis.
“I cannot tell you,” he replied.
I opened my eyes and stared at him. “Why are you here then?”
“To ensure the debt I owed is fulfilled.”
I considered his words as they settled on top of everything else I had been told. My thoughts went back to that first day, the day of my mother’s death when a hand grasped my shoulder. “Vyasa sent you,” I realised aloud.
“Yes,” Lord Sallis admitted.
“You killed Meris.”
“Because she was in your way,” Lord Sallis smiled. “Granted, Tallien made matters easier for me with his performance, flouting the rituals so all manner of motives might be read into the act. If the girl had not died, she would be standing here now. We could not take the risk.”
I felt unclean and ashamed. I leaned against the blackened arch to steady myself and without warning the magic welled up inside me. My hand and the stone it touched began to glow then lines of light spread in a web across the empty space, gradually filling it with a rippling sheen of power.
I shrank away from the glowing gate. “I—I didn’t do that!” I gasped.
“You did,” Lord Sallis’ eyes glittered, “and you will be doing it a lot more.” He stepped towards me and then to the arch, examining the distortion. “Yes, it seems complete to me. I’ll go first and then you follow. There are a few things awaiting you on the other side.”
“Like your staff, wizard, and some other items to help you on your way.” With that, he walked into the light and vanished.
I was alone and hesitant. Lord Sallis murdered Meris. I could run back down the stairs, tell Melmoth, Ellis and Abraxia, but to what end? If everything I’d been told was true, there would be no justice, only a quick death awaiting me as well. The alternative lay in trusting a confessed murderer at his word, accepting his bloodied hand of friendship knowing I could be betrayed at any moment.
I gritted my teeth and followed Lord Sallis, into the unknown.
by Allen Stroud