Moonrise on Jupiter

A Glimpse into the Thoughts & Imaginings of Vibeke Hiatt

The Forgotten King – Chapter 3, Part 3

Then, without warning, the silence was broken by a sound that reminded Neil of shattering glass, and the next second, a cylinder of green light sprinkled with glassy shards sprang out of the floor and engulfed Helen. It was almost impossible to see her inside of it. It was as though she was standing in wind as fierce as the wind outside. Her hair whipped around her face as she tried to turn and look at Neil, her eyes panicked and pleading. Calling her name, Neil rushed forward, but just as suddenly as it had appeared, the light dissolved, replaced with emptiness.

Neil reached the spot where it had been and stared at the floor, but all traces of Helen had disappeared with the cylinder. Dropping to his knees, he pressed his hands against the glistening stone. It was solid. There was no sign of a loose block or a trapdoor. As disbelief and numbness flooded his mind, he got to his feet and turned in circles, trying to find a door that he had missed the first time he surveyed the room. Trying to take everything in, Neil put his hands to his temples. He blinked his eyes repeatedly, hoping that he would open them and find himself standing back by the table, watching Helen—or, better yet, find himself lying in his own bed, waking up from a nightmare. But each time he opened his eyes, the scene remained the same. Helen was gone, and this shining room remained.

“Helen!” Neil called frantically, but only the echo, then silence, of the room answered. He called again, but knowing it was pointless. He went back to where Helen had been standing and retraced her steps, stopping at the point where she disappeared, and closed his eyes. The green light didn’t come back.

Softly, imperceptibly, the air in the room changed. It was like a current passed through the hall on a slight breeze, but nothing moved—not even the flames of the candles. Neil glanced around, but saw nothing. It felt like someone was moving behind him, but when he looked over his shoulder, he only saw the empty room. He strained his ears to hear the sound of footsteps, but heard none. Still, he listened.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something lying on the floor, a few feet away. He turned and saw Helen’s bag, and rushed towards it. Taking it in his hands, he stared at it. He cast his eyes around the room again, slowly standing. “Helen!” he called out, his voice shaking. “Helen, are you there?”

There was no answer, but Neil had hoped for more than expected one. He sank to the floor again. With his knees pulled to his chest, he folded his arms across them and buried his face, dropping Helen’s bag heavily. He thought back again, but this time to life in his cottage, before Helen had come. Life was simple, and that simplicity was comfortable. He understood the past two days as much as he understood what had happened just now. He was in a strange place, with no idea of what to do, and he was completely alone—again. How had he managed to get himself mixed up in this? He was on a journey to a place he didn’t believe in, experiencing situations that couldn’t possibly be real, with no home to go back to.

Again, the tingle of a breeze moved past his head and Neil jerked his head up, looking around. This time, he was sure he had heard a voice whispering to him, but he couldn’t tell what it said. Motionless, he sat on the floor, waiting for it to repeat itself. He had spent the last four years of his life mostly in silence, and he couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much now. He looked down at Helen’s bag, and remembered his grandfather’s book. Feeling agitated, he opened the bag and began to search through it.

Helen wasn’t carrying much with her, but Neil was still surprised by what he found. On top was a small crossbow with a bundle of arrows, not only reconfirming the fact that they were actually in danger, but also causing Neil to see that Helen was prepared to defend herself, something he hadn’t considered before. Under this were her scant supply of food, a change of clothes, and, at the very bottom, the book Neil had given her the night she had come to him. Carefully, he took the book out and set the bag back on the floor.

Neil hesitantly passed his hand over its cover, touching it with the tips of his fingers. Then, he opened it and began to turn the pages, handling only the edges. He skimmed through the stories, and his memory flooded with his grandfather’s voice, like a forgotten, yet still comforting and warm, blanket. He passed through stories of war and stories of peace. He read words used to teach, to bring shame and regret, and then hope and joy. The memories of the Zaric he had always imagined were enlivened, and Neil almost allowed himself to get lost in the words of this book.

A sharp flash of lightning and crack of thunder brought him back to the reality he was facing. He glanced around the room again, then turned the pages a little more quickly.

As though they were jumping out of the page, Neil soon found himself looking at the words, “the light room,” only a few pages before the end of the book. He stopped skimming and began to read. In great detail, the book described a long, empty chamber with a polished floor. On the walls of this chamber were many candelabra, which all looked exactly the same. The rest of the words on the page were smudged and nearly impossible to read. Neil squinted and pulled the book close to his face, but it was no use. There was only one sentence he could make out.

“Cast the true lights into the fire,” Neil muttered softly to himself. He felt it shiver through him, and he thought for a moment that he could hear the voice again. Over and over he read the words, trying to decipher those before them and those after them, hoping to make sense of this sentence. What true lights did it mean? What fire? He looked helplessly at the fireplace in the opposite wall, empty and cold.

“Cast the true lights into the fire,” he read aloud again, realizing now that the voice he thought he had heard before was really his own—an echo heard before the sound that made it.

Neil peered around the room, his eyes pausing in turn on the table by the door, the fireplace in the farthest wall, and the candelabra on the walls. He set the book down and got to his feet, wondering if this puzzle was the way to make sense of this situation. In long strides, he walked back to the table by the door and picked up the candlestick he had fumbled with before. He looked at it, but didn’t see it, instead thinking about the strange sentence. None of the lights in this hall seemed like true lights. They had lit themselves, and the light they cast could very easily be just an illusion. And it was also possible that this sentence had nothing to do with his problem at all. Frustrated, he threw the candlestick into the middle of the room. It hit hard, bouncing a few times, then rolling in a circle on its side, clanging and ringing. Neil walked to the middle of the room. Trying to slow his mind down and think clearly, he inhaled deeply and stared at one of the many candles as it flickered on the wall. He breathed out slowly, closed his eyes, and thought.

“Cast the true lights into the fire,” he said out loud, almost shouting. The reverberation of his voice was strong and encouraging, wiping away Neil’s frustration.

The answer was impossible, brilliant, and simple. He smiled to himself. With firm steps, he walked to the first candelabrum on the left wall, placed both hands around it, and pulled. The stone that held it crumbled almost instantly, releasing the candelabrum into Neil’s hands. His confidence didn’t waver as he walked to the fireplace, making sure none of the candles went out. He held the candelabrum in the fireplace, dropped it, then pulled his hand away. A small fire began to blaze and the candelabrum dissolved. Neil waited.

Nothing happened. Turning on his heels, Neil looked at everything within sight, but the room remained the same. A little less certainly, he walked to another candelabrum, reached up, and tried to grasp it as before. This time, instead of his fingers closing over metal, they went through the stem as if it wasn’t even there. Neil’s confidence drained away. A sigh of frustration escaped him. Hoping he had only imagined it, he reached up and tried again, and again his hand only passed through the candelabrum. He went to the next one and tried to grasp it, but it was just like the one before. Pressing his head with the palms of his hands, he turned and leaned against the wall. He wasn’t prone to hallucinations. The candelabra on these walls were real—or at least they appeared to be. How could he not touch something that was so obviously real?

Closing his eyes, Neil emptied his mind and listened to the room. As he did, he felt himself relaxing and his frustration disappearing. Through his closed lids, he thought he could see the room growing brighter. Opening his eyes, he peered around, focusing on each individual candelabrum. They still looked the same. He focused deeper.

This time, he noticed a slight change, a difference so small, no one could have noticed it without paying close attention. Five candelabra held candles that burned with flames somewhat whiter than the rest. This whiteness was merely an occasional flicker, but it occurred often enough for Neil to watch and see the pattern. As he focused on these, the rest seemed to disappear, or at least fade. His confidence returned and, one at a time, he went to each candelabrum, pulled it from the wall, and took it to the fireplace, throwing it into the fire. With each candelabrum the flames grew higher. After the last candelabrum melted away, Neil stood back and waited, staring into the flames.

For a few moments, the fire looked like any fire, its flames dancing erratically. Soon, though, a pattern developed in its flicker and the fire began to change, turning from orange to yellow, from yellow to blue, and then from blue to green. A small speck of light appeared in the middle of the flame, spinning steadily and growing into the shape of a sphere, light dancing over its surface. Then it stopped, hanging inside the flame. Curiosity compelled Neil to thrust his hand into the fire and touch this sphere. He followed his impulse, expecting the heat from the fire to singe his hand. But he felt no change in the temperature as his hand went into the flame and closed around the object. At that moment, the flames fell like water and the fire went out.

Neil pulled his hand out of the fireplace and opened it. The sphere was a perfectly round emerald, more beautiful than any stone he had ever seen before. He smiled as he looked down at it, wondering why something so small should matter so much.

Behind him, the remaining candelabra on the walls started to fade away. Afraid of being immersed in darkness again, Neil frantically looked for another source of light. Just as the last candle disappeared, he noticed the candlestick he had thrown before. A small flame rested on the wick, but the candle was still lying on its side. Neil slipped the green stone into his pocket and rushed to the center of the room, not wanting the light to go out. Gingerly, he raised the candlestick and held it in both of his hands.

And then, a sudden flash of blinding light illuminated the room. Neil turned his head, frightened, but his expression soon relaxed and he grinned. In the same spot where he had last seen her, Helen was lying, curled up on the floor.

“Helen!” he cried, setting the candle down gently and rushing to her. Dazed, she opened her eyes and stared up at him. Seeing his face, she smiled with relief. He felt her face to make sure she was real, but she brushed his hands away.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, pulling herself up to a sitting position. Then, without hesitation, she asked, “Did you find it?”

“Find what?” Neil asked in return.

“The key,” Helen stated.

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