As she entered, a little bell tinkled. She moved into a small reception-like room, with a dusty counter set beside a door that no doubt lead to the actual shop. The counter was stacked with ancient-looking books, much like the one used for communication between her and Death. Apart from the counter, the first room was pretty much empty.
Nobody was at the counter. Emma opened the door beside it and entered a room larger than her entire school!
The room was stacked to the grand ceiling with books. There were books everywhere! It was a bookworm’s heaven.
Emma walked down the rows and columns of bookshelves, knowing perfectly well that she was going to get lost. Who cared? The place was filled to the brim with knowledge – and knowledge was power.
The room was lit by half-working lights all the way up on the ceiling, which could have been as tall as a building. Emma perused the shelves contentedly, trying to search for a book with its title on the spine. All of the books she had seen were completely blank.
Emma took out a book and checked the front and back covers for any titles or even a few words. There was nothing but hard, red leather. Emma took out another book and found the same.
She opened one and was relieved to see that the books weren’t blank, but they were in some sort of strange language that Emma couldn’t recognize at all. The symbols used as letters looked hand-written and there were smudge marks where the ink had been touched. There were also several drawings, too – drawings of the human body, but slightly deformed in the head and legs. They were bent and shaped in odd ways. Emma wanted to know what this book was about, but how could she when she didn’t even know what language it was written in?
She put the book back, walked down a few rows and randomly selected another book. This book had fairy tales written in some Asian language, with strange characters all over the place. Emma shook her head, walked ahead again and picked another book.
She flipped open the middle and exclaimed with triumph when the language it was written in was recognisable: French.
Emma had done quite a bit of French at school and she’d been to France four times. Therefore, she was able to get the gist of what the book was saying.
“Some spells are very dangerous when they are used in the wrong hands, because there are risks of something, something, something and something,” Emma translated as best as she could. “These spells can have fatal consequences if they are not used in a controlled environment with an experienced… sorcerer.”
Emma flipped to the next page, for a list of nonsense words followed (presumably spells).
“However, there are spells that have no or nearly no risk. The majority of these no-risk spells are used for revealing something objects. Below, one can find a list of spells used mostly for finding things.”
Emma scanned the list, interested. She realised that there were actually descriptions next to the nonsense words of what the particular spell did.
One caught her eye. It was a spell that revealed if there was magic in the room. Emma wanted to try it.
There was the slight possibility that it would work. After all, magic was inside of her, but Marcus had said something about training taking a year. But there was no harm in trying the spell, right?
“Ostonderus Absconditus Magus,” Emma muttered, waving her hands around in the air.
Sighing disappointedly, Emma started to return the book back in its original place but she saw that her arms were emanating a strange blue light. The spell worked!
But this was a very, very, very large room. Emma ran down the rows of bookshelves, swivelling her head left and right to look in as many places as she could in the maze of towering bookshelves. A few books glowed and interested Emma, but she wanted to see if there were any other magical objects in the room.
The wall to her left and glowed and Emma ran over to it. The wall seemed completely solid, but a blue rectangle of light was being radiated from the wall. It was a door.
Emma ran her fingers over the cold limestone. No cracks could be felt where the outline of the door should have been.
The door was magical, obviously. So Emma knew she needed to do something that would magically open it.
“Open sesame,” Emma tried flatly, highly doubting the chances of doubting of it working. As she had expected, the light and the wall stayed the same.
“Er, reveal your doorknob. Abracadabra. Password. One two three four. I’m magical.”
Emma frowned unhappily at the door. She folded her arms like a child.
“Listen up, door. Just tell me how I can make you appear and how I can enter!” Emma demanded of the blue wall angrily.
Writing began to appear on the wall, starting from the top left of the door to the bottom right, as though some invisible hand was writing this down for Emma.
She read what was written out loud.
“No less than four attempts, I give to you
Cherish each try and think it through
Use not your magic but your talent of reason
But you may stay here for many a season
Leave me alone and you may safely pass
To re-enter is to trespass
Solve these riddles and you may enter me
Fail and you may gain unexpected company.”
Emma paled at the last line. What was meant by that? What was the unexpected company? Emma was envisioning terrifying monsters greeting her after her fourth failed attempt. However, what she deduced from the poem was that she could stay there forever unharmed, so long as she didn’t fail four times. She read what was written below that.
“I weaken all men for hours each day
I show you strange visions while you are away
I take you by night, by day give you back
None suffer to have me, but do from my lack.”
Emma frowned. She hated riddles. Why was it always riddles that appeared on magical doors?
She peered at the words closely, separating each line and trying to figure out its meaning. Strange visions? What would that mean?
So, this thing, whatever it was, helped people but when they didn’t have it made them suffer. It took them for hours a time during the night – and it gave them strange visions.
Oh, how riddles irritated Emma so!
This one was just too hard. She couldn’t make any sense of it. So she took a wild guess and prayed that the next riddle would be easier.
“Uh, drugs,” Emma guessed.
The writing disappeared, replaced with a giant “NO”.
Then the answer was written underneath. Emma growled in frustration at the answer, wondering how on earth she hadn’t gotten the answer.
Of course, the strange visions were dreams!
New writing appeared; the next riddle.
“Only one colour, but not one size
Stuck at the bottom, yet easily flies
Present in the sun, but not in rain
Doing no harm, and feeling no pain.”
“Heat,” Emma answered at once, feeling slightly confident with her reply.
“Ugh!” Emma exclaimed angrily, stamping her foot on the floor. The sound echoed through the large room and reminded Emma just how lonely she was in this giant place.
“It sat upon a willow tree,
And sang softly unto me.
Easing my pain and sorrow with its song,
I wished to fly but tarried long.
And in my hard suffering,
The willow was like a cool clear spring.
What was it that helped me so
To spend my time in woe?”
Emma knew this song. She smiled as she remembered the days when she would sing this with her friends in primary school, dancing around the grass. She sang it and it filled up the room with its pretty melody, relaxing Emma and allowing her to think.
Sadly, she’d never learned the focus of the song. She hadn’t bothered to ask her mother what helped the singer so in their time of woe. All she had done was dance around, singing it all the time.
Sang softly unto me…
What kind of thing sat on willow trees and sung?
“A person,” Emma sighed, already regretting her quick and obviously wrong answer.
“NO. A bird.”
Emma shook her head, cursing at herself. This was her final attempt. She hadn’t bothered to think the previous riddles through properly, and now everything was resting on how well she did with the final riddle.
“You use a knife to slice my head
And weep beside me when I am dead.”
Emma sat down and closed her eyes, trying as hard as she could to think this one through.
The first line… You use a knife to slice my head. Well, killing any animals or people with a knife couldn’t be slicing because of the skull. It had to be something relatively soft that could be sliced.
The second line… And weep beside me when I am dead. What kind of soft object would you purposefully slice and then cry about? It was crazy. You slice something, and then cry with sadness about slicing it. So why slice it in the first place?
But, then again, the riddle didn’t say anything about the crying being because of sadness.
What if something made actually made your eyes water?
The answer came to Emma easily then. An onion! It fit the riddle perfectly. People sliced onions with kitchen knives and that made them cry.
Emma read the riddle once more. She had to be sure; this was her final attempt. Her success would determine whether she’d be able to satisfy her curiosity or greet some monsters (or whatever the unexpected company was).
“An onion,” Emma said resolutely, breathing deeply. Her nerves were everywhere. She was beginning to shake just like she had after the Drama trust exercise.
Emma wondered how Opal was doing. She was probably browsing records contentedly, not at all thinking that Emma might be facing a magical door that needed a solved riddle to open it inside a gigantic room filled with books in all different types of languages. Nope, Opal wouldn’t think that.
Emma breathed a sigh of relief. She leaned against the wall next to the light, relaxing her breathing. It was all right. She had done it. She solved the riddle.
Emma turned to the new writing that was forming.
“Congratulations, for you have proved that you won’t cower –
From logic; after all, knowledge is power.”
Emma stared at the door. Nothing new had happened. It was the same, flat wall, with blue light emanating from its cool surface.
After five minutes of complete silence, Emma reread the rhyme that had appeared. She found a mistake at once.
“But… knowledge is completely different to logic,” Emma muttered, and was surprised to see the writing disappear. The outline of a door began to form, along with the wood inside the lines. Emma watched the process in awe as the oak door materialised in front of her eyes.
Finally, a brass doorknob bloomed from the wood and Emma turned it happily. She was in!
Magic was beautiful.
Emma squinted in the darkness, trying to see the room she had just entered.
Goodness, this shop is big, Emma thought distractedly.
She fumbled along the wall for a switch and squealed when the door slammed loudly behind her. Now she was surrounded completely by darkness. Her heart thumping wildly in her chest, Emma kept feeling along the wall for some type of switch. Her breath was coming out rapidly and she felt rather scared of the dark; she just entered some random room, after all.
Emma felt something and flicked it up. Bright lights on the ceiling illuminated the whole room.
It was quite a small, stone room. The lights on the ceiling looked out of place in the rocky room. Nothing resided in the room, except for the lights and a small square cut into the ground.
Emma stepped onto it tentatively and exclaimed in surprise when it began to move downwards. She steadied her footing and waited until the square stopped floating downwards and hit another floor.
Luckily for Emma, lights were already on in this room. It was larger than the room she’d just been in, but with exactly the same stone walls. This one had a selection of musical instruments all lying pathetically on the ground, except for the drums and the grand piano, which could obviously stand by themselves.
Emma really didn’t want to get off the square. What if the square moved back up and she became trapped in the room forever?
Emma berated herself for such paranoid thoughts and forced herself to step off. To her immense relief, the square stayed in its place and she was left to examine the instruments.
They all looked fine and they sounded fine, too. Emma tapped the drums, played a piano key, blew in a clarinet and strummed a guitar. All sounded perfect.
The room had nothing else in it. Emma supposed that she was meant to play an instrument, and so she headed straight for the piano, which was her favourite instrument of all time (and also the only one she could play). She sat down on the piano seat and scrutinized the piano. Its black and white keys were dustless, as was the entire piano. It was as if it had just moved in the room a few minutes ago.
To Emma’s disappointment, she found no sheet music near her. Instead, she had to play a song she already knew. She thought about it for a moment and then decided on the piano version of the bird song that she’d seen earlier with the riddle door.
The melody and harmony filled the room with its beautiful sound and Emma knew that she was gaining some type of company, but she didn’t stop playing, for she was fearful of what the consequences of stopping would be.
Emma took a hesitant peek away from the piano and towards the rest of the room. There was a slowly growing crowd of women, but Emma knew they had to be magical, for they entered the room via portals that popped in and out of existence randomly. A woman would step through a portal and then the portal would contract until it disappeared. The portals were holes in space, a gateway from one place to another. Emma had a feeling that the place on the other side of the portal was another plane.
Her heart now thumping like a drum once again, Emma continued the song. She ended it with a held chord and then looked up at her audience apprehensively. They clapped and smiled, but that did nothing to reassure Emma.
“Who are you?” Emma demanded rudely.
A beautiful young adult with violet eyes and skin as pale as her snow-white hair spoke up. She gave off an ethereal light. The graceful, white dress helped her looked even more angelic and her voice was soothing and slightly deep.
“It is not ‘who’ you should ask, but ‘what’. We are the Glaces, from the Glace plane, and we cross over sometimes.”
“Are you really human?” Emma asked in barely a whisper.
“No,” said the angel-like woman. “Our true forms vary, but most of them are either of fairies, nymphs, pixies and mermaids.”
“What are you?”
“A Siren,” the fairy replied. “My name is May.”
Emma looked at all the faces staring up at her. They were curious, and slightly mischievous, kind of like the look Josh usually had on his face.
“How come you don’t look like fairies and nymphs and pixies and mermaids?”
“Because, in the Glace plane, we are taught from birth how to control and strengthen our magic, so much so that we know how to shift our form to appear like humans,” May explained, approaching Emma. She played a short sequence of sad chords on the piano and most Glaces giggled.
“May, stop it!” one of the Glaces who wasn’t laughing snapped. “There are no guys in here for you to ensnare.”
Another Glace explained to a very confused Emma. “Sirens are the femme fatales of the Glace plane. They use their enchanting music and sex appeal to lure men towards them, often resulting in the men getting tangled in dangerous situations or forever obeying the commands of the Siren in the hope of getting gratitude from her.”
Emma looked back up at May the Siren. Her smile was cheeky.
“Why are you here?” Emma asked.
“Your music attracted us. This is the weakest point on this plane between all of the planes; we could hear the music all the way over in our home plane. We haven’t heard music for a long time–”
“Actually,” a Glace interrupted, “we heard one a few moons ago but dear May seduced him and then killed him for fun.”
Emma looked up at May, horrified. She backed away.
“Relax,” said the Glace. “May only kills men. Not little girls.”
“Little?” Emma repeated indignantly.
“Back to my original point,” May continued, “we’re here because we liked your music and we think it’s time for a little visit to your plane in any case.”
“To wreak havoc on humans and cause unnecessary trouble,” a Glace with spiky hair elaborated.
“Just for fun,” a tall Glace added.
Emma looked at the intriguing group of magical creatures. They were all beautiful, but each in their own way.
“Aren’t fairies meant to be with goblins and elves and stuff?” Emma asked, suddenly remembering things she knew about fairies.
The tall Glace scoffed. “Goblins and elves? They’re from a different plane, but we’ve been at war with them for millennia. You’d have to see the damage to our land to believe it.”
The group murmured in agreement.
“Well, I think that’ll be all. We’d best be off. After all, we’ve got some exploring of your town to do,” May concluded abruptly. “Goodbye, child. May good fortune follow you wherever you go.”
“Wait! So, I entered this shop and found a magical door just so that I could attract you here with my piano music?”
“It’s not just that, dear,” May said condescendingly. “We are at the weakest point between this plane and all the other planes. And that’s really something. That’s why there was a lot of security, for the weak magical beings of this plane who want to travel to other planes would have to come here to do so.”
“Oh,” was all Emma said, dumbfounded.
The group rushed over to the square and Emma came with them, as she didn’t want to be left behind. However, Emma noticed a necklace lying in the middle of the floor and ran to grab it simply because it looked important. To her dismay, the square was already halfway up the room and Emma wouldn’t have been able to go up. The square went up, up, up, until it became a part of the ceiling again.
Emma let out a scream of both frustration and fright. Now she was trapped in a stone room with nothing but a load of musical instruments and a pretty necklace. But – wait. Was the room shrinking?
It was! The ceiling and walls were closing in. Emma screamed again as she realised that she was going to be crushed to death. Tears of fear fell freely from her eyes as she frantically screamed and panicked.
It was then that Emma realised there was a trapdoor on the floor. Without hesitation or any thought about what would await her, she wore the necklace around her neck, flung open the trapdoor and climbed down a ladder, making sure to close the trapdoor as she descended.
Her hands were shaking but they gripped the rungs tightly. The smell of a damp tunnel reached her nose and she kept climbing down. Once again, Emma thought about how casual Opal must have been feeling at that moment.
Her feet touched solid ground and she let go of the rungs. It was dark, but the pendant around Emma’s neck glowed a bright yellow and gave off a strong light. The tunnel ahead of Emma required her to crawl, so she got into that position and began what would turn out to be a long, perilous journey.
Minutes passed and Emma did nothing but crawl along the dark tunnel. The pendant’s light never dimmed and the sounds of Emma’s knees softly scraping the bottom of the tunnel bounced against the damp walls. She kept on crawling, despite the aching feeling her muscles were beginning to get.
The floor and walls were slick with water and filth. Emma’s hands and knees were rubbing all over the liquid mixture and the further she crawled, the more she wanted to barf.
The tunnel seemed to be getting narrower. When Emma’s head was scraping along the top of the tunnel as she crawled, she knew that the tunnel really was getting smaller as she moved further. Soon the tunnel forced her to bend her legs more and use her elbows rather than her hands. Her muscles were threatening to stop working and the smell of filth made her stomach stir.
“Gross,” Emma commented disgustedly as she passed the rotting corpse of a dead rat.
The tunnel continued to shrink and Emma had to keep changing positions. Eventually, the tunnel stopped changing its size but it was now so small that Emma had to drag herself along with her elbows, which were beginning to scratch and bleed from the rough floor of the tunnel. Her tired breaths echoed through the tunnel.
It seemed to stretch on forever. Emma just wanted this to end – she wanted to go home and curl up into bed after a hot shower. But for now, she had to keep pressing on, for that was the only option. There was no way that Emma would be able to turn back; she wouldn’t allow herself to waste all the effort she’d made getting to this point and it was physically impossible anyway.
The agony she was going through didn’t stop her from moving on. She needed to reach the end of this tunnel and everything would be fine again.
Her elbows hurt so much. The wounds and cuts were stinging badly and she knew that they would probably become infected thanks to all the filth and grime in the tunnel.
Minutes, or hours, or several dark days passed – Emma didn’t know which – before the tunnel suddenly widened into a small, square chamber. Emma’s arms protested as she stretched them out and stood up, inspecting the cuts on her elbows. They were absolutely covered in the dirty mixture of foul dirt and water, as Emma had expected.
She looked up. The chamber was probably twenty meters high. Emma could see the bright blue sky above her, but there were no ladders or anything to help her climb up!
She tried using the rocks. She gripped one with her hand and placed her foot on another but immediately slipped off because the rocks were slick. Near her, though, was a wooden wheel that Emma knew she had to turn to get out of here.
She held onto the wheel and turned it with all her might. At first, the wheel was resistant, but it gave way soon after and turned with ease. A loud rumbling noise filled Emma’s ears and she watched as some sort of a door blocked access back into the tunnel – not that Emma ever wanted to go back.
Water began to pour out from little holes in the walls that she hadn’t noticed before. Emma realised what was going to happen. The chamber would flood!
Luckily, she knew how to swim. Her plan was to stay afloat as the water rose.
The water pooled around her feet, drenching her school shoes. She took them off quickly and threw them anywhere, knowing that wearing them would hinder her as she tried to float. The water was rising quickly, and as it reached her knees, she could tell that the shoes would not float.
The water was very cold and made Emma shiver. It was pouring down mercilessly in torrents, drenching Emma and making her hair stick to her face like plaster. Her uniform became see-through and Emma knew she was lucky not to have any companions.
Up, up, up went the water as Emma did exercises to keep herself warm. The water was now at her elbows, making the wounds sting even more. Hopefully the water was at least a little clean, for it could clean Emma’s cuts.
The water kept on ascending. It passed her shoulders, then her chin, and then her nose. Emma lifted her face to the ceiling so that the water wouldn’t touch her face. But then, the water rose too much for her and she went under. She began to swim to stay near the surface of the rapidly rising water.
Her heart was in her throat. She was swimming with as little effort as possible, so as to not tire herself, but what if she didn’t last the whole twenty metres up? Then she would drown… Somehow, though, she would stay alive. The empty space in her soul where her Death Attraction should have been would help her survive.
Emma closed her eyes. She could hear the constant splashing of water against water and she could feel the icy grip of the water embracing her body. For the next ten or so minutes, Emma swam almost casually, rising as she did so.
Light suddenly flooded through her eyelids and she flicked them open. The water was spilling out onto the ground of an abandoned block. Emma quickly climbed out and stood up shakily, breathing in the wonderful scent of fresh air and watching a pair of birds in flight as the scraped the cloudless blue sky.
She was free again.