So where are we to go now? We have two out of three Keys, we’re up in a forest currently inhabited by my former master and dozens of Lady White’s men, Anne is pretty much unconscious and I’m uncertain as to whether or not she will ever wake up, and I’m missing most of my left boot.
I sighed. This was going to be fun.
“What happens now? Where do we go?” Joey asks, eyeing me. “You do know where we’re going right…?”
I pause, think for a moment, and then whisper, “Home.”
You should have seen the looks on their faces…!
“Wh-wh-what do you mean ho-home?” Max asks, his eyes wide.
“Lady White has hopefully managed to locate a way for you people to return to your dimension. Not that we don’t we don’t enjoy having you hear, but I believe that you must desire quite greatly to go back home.”
They look at each other, and as one, they shake their heads. “I like it here,” Joey tells me, “And I’m pretty sure Max does, and I know Anne does.”
I just look at them for a while. This just wasn’t making sense to me—why didn’t they want to go home? How bad could their world possibly for them to not want to return to it from here, a place so strange to them?
But then I think….Why not continue this wild adventure? It was a long journey home, and I knew that Lady White wouldn’t be very pleased to see me. She would be quite angry, and I knew the kind of things she did and the orders she gave when she decided she was annoyed with someone.
Sighing, I bit and chewed on my lower lip, looking around me carefully. But I knew that they were right—there was no going home. Not yet at least, and not without the final Key.
Just as I was about to consult my map and begin to locate the next goal, I heard something. A young Magician wandered out of the forest—he was the brother of one of my classmates, so I took an automatic dislike to him. “Avery, Lady White wants you to know that she is sorry for her apparent lack of trust. She did trust you with this mission—she just knew who you would happen upon, and she wanted a few of us to keep our eyes on you in case you needed it. She still wants you to complete the mission, Avery.”
I just start to glare at him, before I sigh and realize that he is right. “I might as well complete the mission. Not like she’d let me come back home.”
He nods at me and smiles grimly. “If you were to turn back now, I would have had to make good on my promise to kill you. Your old friends wanted me to keep them from being forced to torture you to death.”
I just gave him a look, sighed once more, turned my back on him, and led my motley group off on our next adventure.
“We’re going to visit the chocolate factory?!?!” Anne yells, starting to dance around. “Will we see Willy Wonka? Grow huge from eating blueberries?”
I just stared blankly at her. What kind of drivel was this girl spouting? What kind of strange things happened in her weird wild world?
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to think she might have lost her mind. Joey smacked her on the back of the head, glaring at her. “Quit. Anne, just because this place is beyond crazy doesn’t mean the chocolate factory will be inhabited by your favorite pedophile. Anyways….It’s going to be filled with fairies, most likely.”
I slapped my hand to my face and groaned in exhausted exasperation. Why must humans be so terribly infuriating? Was their stupidity intentional, or a trade shared by ALL of the humans of their world?
I eyed them carefully, and decided that yes….Yes stupidity WAS one of the basic human traits.
Now that I had that cleared up, I figured that it was the perfect time to explain to the humans about our next destination.
“Our first job is to get out of this dreamland,” I said, looking around at them, “I believe we may have found ourselves in a different realm. It’s the only reason that Anne could have woken back up so suddenly and that bright yellow dinosaur is over there by the willow tree.”
Of course they all looked over at the yellow dinosaur….
I sighed, pulled out my sword, and wondered when and if the attack would come.
Strangely, the attack never came…….
I watched the rain come. I stood there with the humans by my side, and the rain fell around us, splattering on the ground like soft bells. How could rain sound so musical? I wondered briefly, before looking up at the cloudless sky. How is rain falling without clouds?
“Why do things have to make sense, young Avery? Don’t you recognize this place at all?” a voice whispered in the depths of my mind. I didn’t recognize the voice, and it certainly wasn’t mine….who’s was it then?
None of this was making sense anymore….now my mad adventure seems to have just deteriorated into an odd rambling. But granted maybe that was all they had ever been?
I snapped out of my reveries when the lightning hit the earth a few feet away from me and the others, and we all jumped back, our noses attacked by the scent of burnt earth and grass. What had just happened? There still was not a single cloud in the sky…..
“And, again, Avery, do things need to make sense?” there was the voice again! The accursed voice…..Swearing softly to myself, I rubbed my ears hard and then my eyes, as if that would help me free my mind of the horrific voice. But I knew it would do no good.
Realizing I was being closely watched by the others, I turned to them, and gave them a quick smile, as if assuring them that no I was not losing my mind, and that, yes, we were going to make it out of here okay.
It didn’t seem to do any good, but at least they didn’t bother to complain. I looked around us, and opted to not go in the general direction of the big yellow dinosaur, so I started leading them in the direction of a large rocky hill, where we might be able to find some shelter from the rain. As we walked, I took special care to remain close by Anne’s side, watching her every move. She seemed to be perfectly normal, perfectly fine, but I didn’t entirely trust it….Wherever we were, things happened without any real explanation given, and I had the feeling that, whatever the explanation was for Anne being awake, it wasn’t going to be one I would end up liking.
We reached the rocks, and settled together under a small outcropping, curling close to each other to try and share our body heat. It was then that poor Max, seeming very dazed and unhappy, spoke his first words in a while, “I-I’m c-c-cold…..”
I couldn’t help grinning when Joey replied with, “I-I’m c-c-c-c-c-cold too….” The poor kid’s teeth were chattering so bad that he sounded like he had an even worse stammer than Max!
Anne seemed to agree with me when she rolled her eyes, before she did something I can never forgive her for: She proceeded to toss her head around, shaking the rain from her hair, soaking all of us even more, the chain holding her hair whipping around like a metal snake, leaving a small bruise on my chin in the shape of a metal skull. She shot me an apologetic look, but I simply sighed, and hugged my knees tighter.
A few minutes later, Anne broke the silence by asking in a soft voice, “Where the hell are we?”
I just looked at her, shrugged, and looked away again. I had not the faintest idea, even though the voice within my mind that I refused to admit was there seemed to know. “Don’t you remember, Avery?” it whispered in the depths of my mind, refusing to be ignored. “I know you have had your memory wiped clean, but now that you’re here….It’s coming back, isn’t it? It’s returning….All the things you’ve left behind.”
I refused to acknowledge that voice with a response, and tilted my head back, breathing in and out slowly. I didn’t know what to do, so I opted to just remain here for a while longer.
We ended up falling asleep, and on the next day, when we all awoke, we began to move out. The stone that had helped me earlier in finding the Key was useless, so we were going to just have to walk in a direction of our choice, and hope it was the right one.
We walked together into the future, hoping we’d find a reason to keep walking, but knowing we wouldn’t. I breathed slowly, but I couldn’t ignore the voice, even though I forced my eyes to continually look around me for hints as to where we should go.
Finally I gave up and followed the voice’s directions, breaking into a sprint as I heard the voice grow louder, louder, louder, louder…..
I stopped when I ran into nothing.
I staggered back, my nose bleeding, my head aching, my mind awhirl. What had just happened? I didn’t know and nothing was making sense.
The others didn’t take too long to catch up to me. “What the heck just happened?” Anne cried, carefully touching the blood coming from my nose, a worried look on her face. “Avery, what’s going on?”
I just shoved her away and leaned against the invisible barrier I had smashed into, listening to the voice, letting my mind drift further and further away….
Until I found myself…remembering. My eyes snapped tighter shut, and my breathing grew shallower, my every facet of heart and soul drew back into my mind. I wasn’t thinking anymore, I was only remembering….
I was remembering my training. I was remembering all the torments, all the pain, all the little agonies. I was remembering everything I had blocked from my mind.
I was also remembering this place….
“It’s a dreamscape, your mind come alive, where you can choose to either realize your dreams—at a price—or choose to learn the slow way.. It’s there that you realize who you truly are. If you can survive there, you can survive anywhere. You’ll encounter the true you, and it all comes down to what he tells you, as it will allow you to realize what you want most.”
That was what Master had told me.
What was it I wanted most? Was it the final Key, and the elves to be at last free of their torments? Or was it perhaps Anne, so beautiful but so unattainable? What was it I desired most?
I fell deeper into my thoughts, until suddenly my eyes snapped open and I found myself in a world of mist, all scenery lost to the soft whiteness. I blinked in surprise before smiling softly—I guess it was here that my choice would be made.
It was then that I heard the voice speak again, and this time it wasn’t from within my mind: It was from behind me. My back tensed, and I turned to confront the owner of the voice at long last, and who would I see there but me?
I was a lot younger—longer, more raggedly cut hair, smaller muscles and skinnier too, a few less scars and smoother skin. He grinned at me—or should I say I grinned at me? “I look good as an old guy,” he commented, and shrugged, “Or as good as an old guy can look.”
“What do you want, young’in?” I replied, giving my impertinent and annoying younger self a glare.
“I just want to tell you the choice you need to make, Avery. Anne’s dying, and the only thing that can save her is the Necklace of Infinity. Which needs to be taken back to Lady White and used in the ritual, which would likely render it useless. You have the choice of saving the girl you love’s life and making her immortal to boot, or saving pretty much everyone else. Which choice will you make?”
I sat down, put my head in my hands, and sighed, before looking up at myself and asking, “Where’s the final Key?”
He pulled something out of his pocket, and tossed it at me. It was a small gold ring, no inscriptions, just gold. I examined it, nodded, and muttered, “So that’s the Ring of Strength?”
He nodded, and shrugged a bit sarcastically, “What, you were expecting a circus ring?”
I glared at him, stood, brushed off my leggings, and stuck him with a cold look, “How do I get out of here?”
“Easy. You just say the magic word and you’re out of here.”
“What’s the magic word?”
I was back in the real world again, and all the others were around me. Leslie, who I’ve been forgetting to mention for the last while, was the first and thankfully not the only one to greet my return by giving me a hard kick in the shin. I glared at her, and then looked over to where the others were, kneeling beside Anne.
She wasn’t moving.
She didn’t seem to be breathing….
I shut my eyes tightly, and pulled out the Necklace of Infinity, letting my hands trace its shape. It was made in the shape of an angel, wings spread wide, and a rapier held high. I cut my thumb on the blade, and tried to keep myself from bursting into tears.
Anne was dying and I doubt I could do anything to save her….
Heartbeat racing, I stood, walked over to her, and bent down to slip the Necklace around her neck.
She snapped awake and kissed me, grinning softly. “I guess I’m alive.”
I nodded gratefully, and hugged her tight. “I think I’m in love with you….” I whispered softly in her ear, and she tensed briefly in my arms, before relaxing again.
“I know I’m in love with you.”
I smiled, and sighed, just happy to be holding her again.
The moment was shattered by an all-too-familiar female voice calling imperiously, “Ah lover, have you done as I asked you to?”
It was Lady White. I turned and stared at her blankly, before my eyes flooded with anger. “What are you doing here, my Lady?” I asked sharply, “I thought you would be anticipating my return back at home, but apparently you opted to follow me every step of the way.”
She smiled widely: “Did you honestly expect me to entrust such a mission to a bumbling fool like yourself? You may be powerful, but not even as powerful as the helpers I sent along to assist you. You would have died a long time ago if it wasn’t for me.”
“So you’re expecting me to just thank you for lying to me about all of this? I even doubt that you love me—were you honestly just using me as a way to get rid of your prisoners and your rich brat daughter?”
“Aw, Avery, you only figured out now that you mean basically nothing to me or to anyone else? You always were just someone we used. You were too weak to be anywhere close to trainable, and you still are. I had just sent you on this mission so I could get rid of you for a while longer, and I must say I’m impressed. You’ve survived a lot more than I thought you could—and yes quite a few of the other quests I have sent you on were attempts to kill you. But now that this quest is done, Avery, why don’t I release you from my service after you, of course, give me the Keys?”
I couldn’t imagine a woman I hated more….
Lady White smiled wider. “It will free your kind forever, Avery. We’re dying, us elves. More of us are drained every second. After you hand over the Keys, you will be able to live out your life with Anne, who will get the Necklace of Infinity right after we use it for our purposes. Hand over the Key, and everything will be okay.”
Not even bothering to speak, I obediently handed her the Book of Journeys and the Ring of Strength, before pausing to gaze at Anne. Her eyes were wide and she looked afraid, holding tight to the necklace that was keeping her alive. I touched her shoulder and kissed her deeply, before taking the Necklace of Infinity from her slim neck and handing it to Lady White.
I caught Anne when she collapsed into my arms, almost dead, and I stared at Lady White while she whispered a few words in a language I did not know, a soft light starting to glow from the Keys that she held clutched in her hands. Suddenly, there was a click¸ and I suddenly felt…fully alive. I could sense the magic all around me, and I knew it was there.
Smiling softly, Lady White handed me the Necklace, and watched calmly as I restored it to Anne’s neck, my beautiful girl snapping to consciousness again the instant it touched her skin. I kissed her deeply, but it was what happens next that gave me the most satisfaction.
Reaching deep into my body, I slammed a single powerful burst of magic straight into Lady White’s heart, using every bit of magic I could draw from the area around me.
She died instantly.
I smiled to myself, kissed Anne again, and decided that maybe this could really be a happily ever after.