“We’ve been waiting for you.” The man with the black hair said.
He looked like he was going to audition to be Pony Boy or Johnny Zucko. His hair was slicked back with grease, his faded jeans cuffed at the bottom, and his white tee shirt was smeared in places with oil. Folding his arms, I heard the leather jacket rub against itself and wondered if the black hole I fell through was actually a time warp.
“If this collective ‘we’ has been waiting for me, then why didn’t you send someone sooner?” I asked him with an air of superiority. It seemed obvious to me that they should be waiting on me, but I couldn’t really determine why I felt that way. “Did you honestly expect me to be able to find my way when you people plop me down in the middle of a freaking maze?”
“It’s not a maze ma’am.” He stuttered, revealing that I had some power over him. “It’s a protection gate. We installed it recently to honor your arrival. Should your ladyship wish, we can have it removed by Wednesday.”
“Is that soon?” I asked sharply. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t even know what today is.”
He began to say that it was soon, but that it could be removed even sooner if I wished when I silenced him.
“It’s fine. Leave it. It could become useful at some point.” I said and softened my tone. “It’s actually quite ingenious. I thought I had correctly deducted that this corridor would lead away from the center, not toward it.”
“I’m glad you approve ma’am. Would you care to be taken home now?” He asked, bowing before me.
A wave of exhaustion came sweeping over me and I closed my eyes momentarily. With them closed, I saw a million images flashing through my mind and I tried to determine which ones were real and which were a result of this new curse, but I couldn’t distinguish real from fake anymore. My mind was in a constant battle over the two realities. The man who stood before me was named Joshua, but I knew that I had never been introduced to him, that I had never actually been told his name. The disparities left me feeling confused and tired. Hoping that ‘home’ was a safe place for me to be, I nodded toward Joshua and let myself be led down one of the conduits on my left. My calculations of the gateway had been completely misguided.
“Joshua?” I asked as we walked along the pebbled walkway. The corridor had three walkways; one was pebble, one was brick, and one was stone. The walkways were separated by the natural rock and it covered the ground along the two walls.
“Oh!” He said suddenly and a smile spread across his face. “Her ladyship knows what I am called already. That is very flattering to hear.”
“You didn’t think…I…” I started, stuttering and confused. I knew some things – some details – that someone felt I should know, but who was determining when I got the different pieces of this puzzle? Was it Sikal’s decision?
“I have offended you?” His voice raised into a question. “I apologize. It is not my place to say such things to upset you.”
“No.” I stopped his rambling. “I was just surprised that you didn’t think yourself worthy enough for me to know your name. Obviously you underestimate your importance if your name was one of the things that I was told.”
“Thank you misses. That is very kind of you to say.” He stammered quietly and I thought it was probably best to drop the subject. Compliments seemed to make Joshua uncomfortable and I guessed that they probably weren’t handed out so commonly in these parts of the world.
“How would you describe my home?” I asked Joshua, still curious about the quarters that I would be spending the rest of my life in.
“Your home?” He echoed, staring ahead. “Oh, her ladyship’s home is most impressive. The caves are so tall that you almost feel like you could reach the ground. And the bottom makes you think you are in the clouds. I believe it was made, special order, just for you.”
I didn’t understand how caves could be made or special ordered, but I nodded and smiled in Joshua’s direction appreciatively. It was another moment when I felt like my thoughts and actions were disconnected. The only conclusion I could form was that it was all Sikal’s fault. His flaming sword had infected my body and the part of my brain that connect thoughts and actions. His sword had severed the connections that made me function on a day to day basis.
Joshua and I walked for a good length of time before he stopped suddenly. I turned toward him and then surveyed my surroundings. We were at another, smaller crossroads. The road we were on could continue, or we could turn left or right. I looked to Joshua for answers, but he just stood there like a statue without offering explanations. On a normal roadway, we might have been at a four way stop where I could glance down each road and see which looked more inviting, but, here, all I could see were three darks tunnels and the one which I had just been walking down.
“Is this another gateway?” I asked him suddenly. I thought it had been another epiphany, but, just like the last one, he shot it down.
“No. Just a place of transit.” He said and took a seat on a wooden chair that slid out of the rock behind him.
“What does that mean? Does that mean that we rest here and then continue on later?” I wanted to know as I glanced around, searching for my own chair to rest on. We had been walking a long time. My body had not moved so much in months from what I could recollect; my feet were tired and I was parched for thirst.
“This is where our,” Joshua pointed between him and myself, “journey ends my lady. Someone will be along to accompany you further in a short span of time.”
“And until then?” I needed to know what I was supposed to be doing as I waited.
“Until then, you may want to rest.” Joshua snapped his fingers and a daybed with golden linens appeared just right of where I was standing. “We shall wake you when it is time to continue on your way.”
“Thank you.” I said graciously and climbed onto the provided bed. Within minutes after stretching out and lying down, I felt my eyelids become heavy and I tried to resist the urge to drift off in slumber. As with most of my recent battles, this fight did not end with a victory on my part.
Anthromagic by Crystal and Pamela MacLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.