The Gray Door
It’s at the top of the stairs on the first level of the Magician’s store. A locked door, by far the simplest out of all the extravagant looking doors in the store, he’s never entered.
And they’re back at it.
J hears the tools scratching at the knob. K screaming at V to move over and let her try to open it. Then he replies with several swears in different languages. If J could, he’ll lock both inside the room and never let them out. But, even if it’s him, he can’t open the gray door.
“You’re not doing it right!” Her voice carried all the way up to J’s room. “Move, carrot hands.”
V stopped. The tools clung as it fell at his feet. “What are you going to do? Negotiate? You do have the same level of intelligence.”
“At least I have some intelligence.”
“Yes, argue.” A was on the floor reading a book wider than his small frame. “Maybe you’ll annoy the door off its screws. I know since I’m almost at my end.”
“If your hands aren’t moving,” K snapped, “so should your mouth, A.”
“Then maybe you should take your advice as well, K.”
Heat flushed into hallway. And it’s not because someone left the desert door open.
However, as soon as they hear the click, everyone is suddenly jumping on their toes and exclaiming high praise. Even J, who had no interest on what’s behind the door, sped up in the hallway. He sacrificed the first minutes of waking up to watch these three fight over the door. So, he should at least get a glimpse of what’s behind it.
“You may sing praises and build my statues in 3…2…Oh,” V spots J. “Just in time, J. We’re about to—” He pushed the door, but then it clicks shut again. “Oh.”
When he got here, the first one he met was N. He met him while he was poking needles into the doorknob. He eventually gave up. But there were still moments, when N would pass by the door and he stopped to stare. Then there was V and K. They teamed up in this endeavor. After they’re done with a job, they’ll be at the door, using any tool that they brought back. Even A would sneak at it when he thought everyone is sleeping. J tried once during his first month. He kicked it down when he was walking by it. When K saw him, he told her that he tripped. And since then, they’ve become impatient and aggressive in their tactics when it comes to the gray door.
Then after this one moment, when they thought they’ve finally made it, they exploded far worse than ever.
V chucks the tools against the wall, screaming bloody and threatening the door as if it was his lifelong adversary. K threw down her blue coat then started kicking at it, throwing her weight against it, and almost bringing out the beast. A remained on the floor, nonchalant on his reddening face. He grips the edges, crippling around his fist.
If anyone had walked pass them now, with whatever expression on their face, just know they’re more than capable in overthrowing a country. And they won’t regret it if it relieves them of their irritation.
Then after a long hour of cursing at the door, they turn against each other.
“Brute force isn’t going to work on that,” J said. He wasn’t trying to tame the tension. He just couldn’t handle the screaming this early into his morning. “If the hordes of Fulgar The Rager couldn’t break a door here, what makes you think you three can?”
“Maybe it needs a blood sacrifice.” K had a vicious look in her eyes worsened by sleep deprivation. “They usually like virgins. V, why don’t you step up and bleed a little.”
“Maybe it needs something filthy?” he beamed. “And who’s viler than you? Snakes look up to become like you someday.”
“It should have cracked already from these two’s voices.” A whispered to himself.
But with their senses sensitive than others, A’s voice was clear. If A was right and the three of them keep arguing, the door might just fall off. J was beginning to lose his hair from their arguing.
They don’t fight when the Magician is downstairs doing whatever he does when he thinks they’re asleep. Especially when his mood changes at any point of the day. It’s not best to get him annoyed when he’s on his leave-me-alone time. Push him right to an edge and he—
“What are you doing?”
N comes down the hallway, hauling a heavy body bag dripping with slime. He scans them from their bare feet to the look on their face, all too familiar from spending time trying to break open the door.
“You should really give up on that thing.” Although, he didn’t seem convinced by his own advice. “It could be empty.”
“Has there ever been an empty room here?” K rolled her eyes at him. “Even in an enormous place such as this, we lack the rooms.”
“And if it’s empty,” V shakes the knob violently, “there’s no need to lock it. You might have given up. But we’re proudly stubborn.”
“You’re not stubborn. You’re bored. So, you stick to the same thing.” He kicks the body bag to the side. “If you’re bored, you could go out—”
All of them went silent when they heard the most unusual sound.
A laughed. “That’s not an advice anyone would take seriously if it’s coming from someone whose skin turned gray after staying inside for as long as you have.”
“Pale and gray is the color of someone well-read.” N raised his nose up to the air.
“The color is also boring.”
“The most ignored color in the XVI Publics,” K adds.
“Hence, you’re the most ignored person in the XVI Publics.” V concluded. “We live in the same tree, but I always forget you exist.”
N didn’t give them the satisfaction of fighting back. He crossed his lanky arms over his hallow and bony chest. He, in every confrontation, raise his chin up and looked down at them through his pointy nose, like setting up his aim.
“This is really annoying.” K sucked in a breath harsh through her teeth. She ties up her dark hair. The simple dark eyes turn terrifying crimson like wine held up against the moonlight. It’s difficult to control, but after decades it’s easy as changing socks. She doesn’t groan in agony anymore. Just roars as her ivory arms grow mossy green scales and then claws extend from the tips of her delicate—well, not anymore—fingers. “I’m going to break it down.”
“As I told you already,” J sighed. “Brute force is not going to work.”
No one heard him.
“Finally,” A exclaimed. He steps away from the door, moving to the safety of behind K. “Someone is using their head.”
“Go for it!” V cheered. He stays behind J, which is probably the safest place if K brings out the beast. “Make sure you only break the door. This would be completely pointless if you break the stuff inside as well.”
She releases a low growl. Black breath breezes out her lips. Then the scales recede back into her skin. The eyes, as she blinks, fade to its simplicity.
“What are you doing?” V tapped the center of the door, where K should focus her strength on. “Break the thing down.”
“I not sure about my strength,” she hissed. “I might break more than half. On the upside, V could perish.”
Well, not surprisingly, K and V spat venomous words at each other again. If it were anyone else, words would have killed them. V wasn’t the type to be open about his anger. Most of the time. Now, that he’s blown up, this fight wasn’t going to let up so easy. Unless someone steps in to stop them, they’ll be screaming at each throughout the week. But it’s too cumbersome to get between them.
A sat down, reading his book. While J, despite sleep lingering, stayed. If he can get the door open, the day where he can sleep in, almost seemed possible. N also stayed. He’s rubbing his stubby chin, trying to figure out words.
“I was supposed to say something,” N mumbles to himself. “I was going to the basement.” The place he spends most of his time. “But I ended up here because I have to say something.”
It’s surprising that someone who organize the books, weapons and all the other things can have such short memory. He’s looking at J as if he’s trying to recall who he is.
“You do remember that all I have to do is think of it.” A was dragged into the fight between K and V. Which always makes the end worse. “It’ll happen. Do you want me to think of you?’
“Go ahead. Think!” She provoked with a step closer to him. “Think of me exploding out of my skin, turning scaly and hard. Think of me ripping your throat out and feeding it to you.”
“I might be able to do anything my mind is set on,” he stated point blank. “But how can I eat my own throat if you rip it out? You should be like me and think from time to time.”
Although, he fills his head with other things just to stop from thinking.
“Someone who can bring out a beast has a brain of one.” V leaned against the wall. “I’ve always wondered if the insides of your body change when you bring out the beast. So, it’s not like that at all? You always have the brain of an animal even in human form.”
In three seconds, V was groaning on the floor. He cradles his body as if a breath can bring him apart. While A, with his arm guarded up, was half across the hall, bruised and with his glasses broken into his face.
“Oh,” N breathes, completely oblivious to the last seconds. “The Magician is looking for you.”
All eyes on J.
While he wasn’t sure who N was referring to. “Who? Did something happen downstairs?”
“Who else would the Magician be looking for?” K ebbs back into her innocent form.
“His favorite, of course.” V teased. “Go, go, slayer.”
He shot him a killing glare.
V’s shoulder raised, faking surprise and fear. “How can someone be a favorite with a look like that?”
“Go on, J.” A urged before another fight breaks out. He’s picking out K’s scales imbedded in his arms. “Go see what he wants. Also, check to make sure he doesn’t hear what we’re doing.”
He came down stairs, almost stealthily. He did nothing wrong, but it felt like he should stay out of the way. He wasn’t sure what the Magician would do if he found out they’re at the gray door.
He’s open and never looked like he cared much about anything. Unless it involves seconds and letters of someone else. If they ask, he might let them know what’s inside. But then again, he’s open. If it’s a door they’re allowed to go in to, it wouldn’t have been locked and J wouldn’t have to wake up to K and V trying to kill each other.
The Magician was mixing eel’s eyes, rat’s tail and leopard’s skin into a boiling pot of something that smells like coffee. He knows J’s in the room, but pretends not to see him. Preferring for J to call his attention first. But when J let the minute go on, he surrenders.
“Yes, J?” He offered him a drink. “It tastes like Valian water. You know what they say about the Valian water?”
He doubts mixing rat’s tail in it will make it taste like the best water in the world. “N told me you called for me.”
“Oh, yes. Can you open the door? I would do it, but the butterflies need my attention.” He grabs a jar of wild butterflies. He tilts it, letting white powder from its flapping wings sprinkle into his soup. He dips his pinkie, tasting it. “I think it needs more fairy dust. After you do that, can you go to the Fairy King’s forest? And maybe,” he tastes it again, “take a few of their cocoa dirt. And then—”
J marches up to the door. He lets the guest in, then abruptly turns on his feet to the staircase before the Magician can add more to the list. The last time he went grocery shopping for him; it took him three years to be done with it. He also spent most of it with V. Among the ones upstairs, he gets on J’s nerves the most.
“I love it when he leaves,” the Magician whispers. “Please come in, Architect.”
The lobby became heavier as he enters. The trinkets on the shelves topple to one side, edging to fall. The protection crystals, hanging from the ceiling, shake at his steps. It’s like bringing in a horde of giants.
“You really bring the house down as you enter, Architect.” He notes as something breaks behind him.
“I create countries out from my pockets,” he brushes his hand through his simple brown toga. “I should be able to do the opposite as well.”
“I doubt you can do it to my store.” He lets the steam from the pot float over their heads. Like storm clouds gathering. Maybe this wasn’t the right mix since it doesn’t rain in Valian. “So, how many years of your life are you giving me today?”
“Three hundred years,” he said, shaking off dust from his broad shoulders. He’s already traded all of his name, only leaving a useless yet glorious title. However, a person like him from the First Public, whose lifespans are only inferior to the immortal, three-hundred years are change in his pocket.
“What would you like today that’s worth three hundred years?”
“I need to achieve a goal.” He cleans underneath his fingernails, brushes his hands through the curls in his hair and checks at the loose threads of his sleeves. Everything seems unnecessary compared to his appearance. “I’m going to build the citadel. It has to be done before the war in the XII Public begin.”
“You’re alive during the XII Public’s first hour, right?” He didn’t need to ask since he already knows. “I love the first hour. How’s the Viscount of the North?”
“He’s walking to the execution block.” He remembers seeing the northern colors change to black and gray, the heat of the Memoire flame illuminating the sunset roads, and the Judge’s prayer echoing in the center city. It reminded him of a mural he commissioned for a palace in the VIII Public—A beautiful mourning by…he can’t remember the artist name. “I heard about an old castle I built is burning.”
“With blue flames,” he grinned. “Would you like to see it?” He reached for something under the desk, but stopped after thinking about it for a moment.
“I rather not see something I labored,” He shrugged and grinned sarcastically, “be destroyed.”
“I doubt anything you make can be destroyed.”
“Well, I hate anyone trying. It’s not funny.”
“Did you trade your humor to me?”
“What happened to the monarchs? Was it…the Elveran Kings?” He was trying to be subtle about it, but then when he remembered who he was speaking to, he can’t hide his anxiety over them.
He tapped his chest, knowingly. As if the Architect could understand what his gesture. “They’re safe. The Elverans are of the first generation. It’ll be a difficult task to kill them. Even if someone request it from me.” He waited for the longest breath of a moment, before turning his lip up and continued, “First generations are the hardest to kill. For now.”
But rather than letting his heart down, he was cleaning his nails. He didn’t hear the Magician. Retreating into himself with a laugh, he plans a visit to the new king. He needs to introduce himself. They might want him to commission another fortress. If he’s going to add more names to his client list, then who better than a descendant of the first generation.
The Elveran descendants have always been good customers. His greatest works—the one he’s fond of and not the ones he’s known for—Atlas Hold in Risen, the Dug in Wind’s Helm and Castle Clovis were his favorite.
The Magican was upset with himself that he couldn’t make him cry. His tears could have made the Valian water better.
“Give me a moment.” He moves a few jars behind him. He reveals the space between the shelves, adjacent to the stairs leading up to where J and the others are. “Sorry about my boys and girl upstairs,” he noticed the look on the Architect’s face as their voices sound like squeaking mice, “they love trying to get into my favorite room.”
“Then why not let them in?”
“Should someone, who builds impenetrable fortresses, say that? Oh, look” he imitates the Architect’s voice exact to the low somber key, “there are invaders. Perhaps I should give them the map to a secret entrance. You might lose names in your list?” He paused, with a heavy sigh. “Besides if I let them in, they’ll leave me. I dislike lonely.”
He pressed his hand on the wall, letting it fall with a thud that it shook the floor above. He hears J and K blame each other for making the sound.
“What did you do?” J hissed. “You broke something.”
“Me?” she scoffed. “I barely touched it.”
“Your finger,” V remarks coldly. “Of course, it might break. Might as well live outside before you bring the whole store down.”
A shushes them. “He might hear us.”
“Why don’t you think about it!”
Although, they don’t need to whisper. The Magician hears everything in the store. He just pretends to be blind, deaf and all knowing. The last part though depends on the day and the mood. He can be all knowing. He’s only stupid after eating spicy chicken soup.
The kids become silent, waiting for the Magician to march up to them.
“You should be more cautious when you’re revealing a secret door.”
“Why should I?” He grinned over his shoulder. “You might have built my wonderful treehouse, but you wouldn’t know anything about the secrets I put in here. Besides, you don’t have enough life in you to see the depths in my existence.”
About the gray door, it doesn’t open. It’s a wall with a knob and a breeze coming through the crevices. The Architect ran out of wood to use to cover up the hole.
But there is something behind the gray door. It’s a room that the Magician wouldn’t let his kids go in. He wasn’t exaggerating or being dramatic when he said J and the others would leave him. For everything they wanted, their desires that seemed difficult to acquire, the things they’ve lost and the ones they’re looking for, are all in the room.
He climbed the last step when the wind felt different. The gold room with everything that anyone could want—the weapon forged with lion’s fire and fangs of a vampire, the exceptional servant, an impenetrable castle, the cure to anything or even specific, up to the detail, goals like getting back a life you lost. Whatever they wanted are in the gold room.
All they needed was to add water.
He walks up to the other side of the gray door. He teases them a bit, letting the door creak as if it’s about to open. There are a few cheers. Until V pushed his weight against it and it didn’t open.
“IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO OPEN,” V pounds his fist, “DO NOT MAKE NOISES THAT MAKE IT SOUND LIKE YOU ARE.”
V, in every way, tries not to show the side of him he wouldn’t like people to see. He wouldn’t want anyone to know what he is. But only in moments like this, he turns as bloody as his race’s history.
The Magician hates not being able to see it. He’s struggling, with every hair and nerve of his body, not to break down the wall and see the face that is so like the bloody father.
And N, as the Magician hears him drag a body down to the basement, mumbles curses—never heard since before the Third Apocalypse—after he got excited for a few seconds about the door.
Then there’s A, who might be docile and cute because of his childlike appearance. Even the Magician gets fooled. Doubtless though, when he just appears in a room, he’s terrifying. Especially the thoughts he has.
Of course, if he was going to talk about his kids, he can never forget to mention K. J might be his favorite, but K takes all the Magician awe.
Finally, there’s his J. The youngest out of all of them. But he doesn’t need to talk much about him. If anyone wants to know more—his strengths, weakness and histories—read Re Ark’s Ninety-Nine Heroes.
Before he climbs down to the Architect, he checks on J’s crystal goal. He stares into its abyss and sees everything he needs to do to get what he wants. He weighs all the good and bad. He does get what he wants but its Pyrrhic victory. In the end, he’ll destroy himself.
And that’s when the fun really starts.