What Lies Beneath?

By Monika Volz (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Dim light filtered through grubby windows, dust danced in the air, and filth caked the floor as Lan hesitantly entered the structure. She tugged on her long, brown hair with increasing robustness as she observed the shack. A thick layer of dust blanketed every surface and long since abandoned spider webs decorated the corners. The single-roomed structure was filled with random junk every which way with no obvious sense of order. However, in this chaotic mess there it seemed like once it had a disposition: huge murky mirrors lined one wall, a series of old stuffed toys lined the shelves of another, and furniture was spaced in a way to leave room for wandering guests.

Supposedly the place was haunted, though Lan was sure that most of the urban legends were fiction. She couldn’t help but compare the shack to the stories. The place had an odd sort of elegance with a mysterious vibe that seemed to hang in the air, maybe because the shack was so far from her boarding school as deep in the forest as it was. Perhaps because there had been sightings of a glowing light inside when no one was present. As she contemplated her surroundings, she silently thanked the stars that no one dared approach the place. She preferred the silence to people.

She paused in front of one of the largest mirrors fastened to the wall. There were no distinct differences about the mirror compared to the others, nevertheless, she felt drawn to it. The mirror was displayed in a silver frame decorated with intricate patterns of stars, wings, and a vast full moon embellishing the top. The mirror itself was like a pool of pure reflection. Unfortunately, the majesty of the mirror was distracted by the sizeable amount of dust adorning the surface.

As Lan examined the mirror, she noticed that it seemed to reflect an oddly unobstructed area of the parallel wall. Allowing herself to be guided by pure intuition, she pressed her hand onto the mirror, leaving an impression in the dust. Directed by the same outlandish feeling, she turned to face the corresponding wall as if expecting to see a change. After peering at the same spot for a good seven minutes, she felt the premonition fade, and she clenched her hands. Lan mentally scolded herself; she was just too dang gullible! She stalked away in vexation, heading back to the school while cursing herself for believing the place was worth investigating, really just disappointed that she wasn’t special.

Deep into the night, Lan could not sleep. She tossed, turned, stretched, and even fluffed her pillow, but sleep refused to wrap her in its refreshing restoration. She stared at the ceiling, listening to the rhythmic breathing of her dormmates. Lan tried to clear her mind, but every time she closed her eyes, the image of the shack appeared as if it were ingrained in her eyelids. With a faint growl, she threw off her warm blankets to be hit with a surge of air causing her to shiver. Noiselessly, she turned on her tealight and opened her dresser drawer.

Shoving aside doubts and fears, she pressed on through a deep snow, desperate to relieve her mind. When the shack appeared in her vision, Lan drew in a sharp breath. The same intuition from earlier appeared again, providing courage and renewed spirit to investigate the dim golden light shining from a grubby window.

The moment Lan entered the shack, time seemed to stop. She stood frozen in the doorway, only to move after a swift draft of wind stirred dust into the air. Squinting, Lan struggled to make out anything. From her pocket, she slipped out her tealight, giving precious, though dim, light to the room. Following her footsteps from earlier, Lan stopped before the mirror. She barely gave it a second glance, too busy staring at a shiny trinket that had not been on a table before.

Her hands paused millimeters from the trinket when she realized that there was something different about the mirror. Slowly she turned back to it, her stomach twisting into knots.  She stepped back, raising her tealight. Starting from her handprint, she illuminated parts of the mirror until she laid eyes on another handprint.

Lan sucked in a stupified breath, staring at the imprint before her. It was about the size of a thumbnail, and Lan was sure that it had not been there before. For a few moments, she was convinced someone from her school was pranking her. She was sure this was fake, that once again, Lan had gullibly fallen for another trick, until she looked into her handprint to see a door in the wall behind her.

Lan whirled around and stared at the door waiting for it to disappear like a figment of her imagination. When she finally realized it was indeed real, she plodded forward. Her hand was about to pull the long branch serving as a doorknob when a golden ball of light burst from the metal grate in the middle of the door.

Lan turned following the ball of light with squinting eyes. When her sight eventually adjusted, she was rendered speechless. The entire shack was almost completely different. The walls were made of sparkling gray granite, the furniture was covered in shining silver and gold trinkets and instruments, and the ceiling had transformed into glass. Lan was transfixed at the sight of everything, but her gaze never left the ball of light hovering a few feet above her.

The longer Lan stared at the light, the more details she could make out. A tiny body with two translucent wings attached to it’s back, Lan instantly knew it was a fairy. She wore a leaf-green dress that cascaded down to her knees before turning into sparkles. Her hair, which was as golden as her light, was braided down her back.

The fairy floated down to Lan with a serene expression on her face. As she came face to face with Lan, a shadow seemed to fall across her face, only for a split second, but Lan was able to perceive a deep feeling of anxiety. The shadow was gone as soon as it appeared instantly replaced with a bright smile.

“Hi!” She chirped, her voice high. She eagerly stuck out a tiny hand, not at all put off by Lan’s silence. Stunned, Lan raised her hand to grasp the fairies in a handshake. A soft, slightly ticklish touch brushed Lan’s hand, causing her to giggle. The fairy’s smile brightened by a tenth-fold at Lan’s response.

“I am called One Who Weaves Light, but you can call me Li. What are you called?”

Lan’s mind, still slowly processing current events, was lucid enough to form a response. “I’m Lan, and you can just call me Lan.” She paused for a moment, allowing her scrambling mind to calm the questions raging within her, “Where did you come from? Are there more fairies? What happened to this shack? How did you get here? What’s behind the door? Is this real? Can you do magic? Why did you come to me?” Lan stared at the fairy. Li laughed and flew down to perch on Lan’s shoulder.

“Allow me to explain,” she said as she raised her hands, “ I came from the world of Energy. It is part of your world but works at a higher sound and energy frequency, so we cannot interact you world unless we pass through bridges or doors, such as the one there. There is indeed more fairies, in fact, there is an entire race! Though, we are not the only race that inhabits Energy. Anyway, this is indeed real. Furthermore, I do not do this ‘Magic’ that you speak of.” Lan deflated a little, the glow that appeared on her face dimming slightly.

“But,” Li continued, “I can bend energy and sound, every fairy can. I am trained to bend light energy, but others can bend heat, life, electricity, wind, water, and chemical energy.” Lan emitted a slight squeal, completely taken by every word.

“And as for the last question, l am here to take you to the Winter Ball in Energy.

Lan froze at Li’s last sentence. Excitement threatened to overwhelm her as she processed Li’s words.

“EEEEEEE!!!!” Lan emitted an ear-splitting screech as Li flew over to the door and opened it with a flick of her wrist. Lan felt thrilled as she watched the door open to reveal. . . nothing.

Absolute and utter nothing greeted Lan’s eager eyes. She felt as if her mind was melting as she stared.

“What is THAT!” Lan exclaimed, diverting her gaze. Li frowned for a moment as confusion splayed across her face before being replaced by understanding.

“You cannot see the energy and sound wave frequencies converging to create this doorway. Since you cannot see anything behind it because there’s nothing beyond, you literally see nothing.” Lan nodded her head, unable to get the searing image of nothing out of her brain. “Come,” Li called from next to the door, “Let us depart.” Lan cast one last brief glance at the mirror before following Li.

As Lan traveled through the tunnel, she felt pure energy melt into her skin, and a range of sound frequencies bounced in her brain. She felt like screaming and crying while laughing and smiling at the same time. Lan distantly heard Li’s laugh before she emerged in a huge courtyard.

Pillars of pure white stone framed a huge garden carpeted by plush gray-green grass. A large fountain depicting two humanoid figures stood in the center. For a moment, Lan wondered what was off with the scene when she realized that everything was colossal.

Lan turned to Li and asked, “Why is everything so big?”

“Because we live with many other creatures. The Winter Ball is of the Fairies but so popular that only the Giant’s castle is large enough to host it. Come, follow me. We must prepare.”

* * * * * *

Several hours later, Lan stood in a huge outdoor ballroom. The stone floor coated in ice reflected the glamour worn by guests. The walls were decorated with smooth pillars of pale blue ice that spiraled towards the sky. A sea of mythical creatures conversed, danced, and generally enjoyed themselves as the seven Fairy Leaders sat above them in their tiny floating thrones.

By Lan’s side was Li as well as two of Li’s friends: Mista, a nymph, and Juniper, a dryad. The three chatted as they walked about, leaving Lan to silently observe the ball.

Lan felt slightly unsettled, but as she twirled slightly causing her sparkling outfit to glimmer, she felt pleasure overwhelm her.  Lan wore the most beautiful dress she had ever seen: a simple, elegant, silver dress that brushed the ground as she strolled. Her hair was braided down her back and she wore a necklace made of real ice and snow. She was suddenly ripped from her thoughts as the seven Fairy Leaders flew down to address the crowd.

“Welcome,” announced the Fairy Leader of Electricity, “ to the Winter Ba-” she was suddenly cut off by a blood-curdling scream. The guests surrounding Lan scattered every which way. An innocent gnome groaned in agony as he clutched an arrow that was lodged in his calf.

Lan stood frozen as she stared across the riot, her eyes meeting those of a mysterious cloaked figure. Her eyes were bright with adrenaline and fear as she met his icy blue orbs. Her gaze dropped to the midnight bow clutched in his hand, an arrow pointed straight at her face.

“Let this human be an example of the fate that befalls those who do not belong in Energy. That humans are unworthy to roam these legendary lands.” his raspy voice called across the room. Without a hint of hesitation, he released the arrow. She watched dumbfounded and threw her hands up to protect her face. Unexpectedly, the mirror from the shack appeared in front of her, the glass rippling like water as the arrow entered another dimension.

The figure lowered his bow in shock, “You cannot-are not human.” Lan stalked forward, keeping the mirror in front of her. As she passed guests she caught snippets of whispers.

“…been replaced..”

“….new guardian . . . “

“ . . . mirror?”

“. . . . where is the guard?”

“. . . .who is she?“

She stood before him, her eyes boring into his. He seemed unable to move, muscles straining against an invisible power. With the force of her fury, Lan shoved the mirror into the man. She watched as he disappeared inside, appearing on the flipside pounding fists against a now-hard surface. Sweat dripped from her brow, and with a groan, her concentration broke, the mirror disappears.

For a single moment, the world was completely frozen before, with a mighty roar, the crowd advanced on her. Shouts and curses bounced through the air; Lan stumbled back. With a faint ‘poof!’ Li appeared on her shoulder.

“What the heck just happened?!” Lan yelled at Li, desperate to be heard over the crowd.

Lan felt Li pace on her shoulder and could feel her hands twisting as fast as Li’s racing mind.

“l think,” Li said directly into her ear, “l think that you are a-a Portal Keeper.” At Lan’s confused glace, Li continued, “A Portal Keeper is one who watches over a specific Portal or Gate into Energy. Usually, this is found by a ceremony, or a creature is drawn to a Portal.”

“Like l was drawn to the mirror in the shack?” questioned Lan.

“Exactly,” Li nodded, “And once bonded to a portal, there are specific, well, powers granted to the Keeper to protect themselves and the portal. You have bonded to Speculum, or the mirror in the shack, one of the most powerful portals there is. lt has been Keeper-less for over a decade.”

“Why, and what happened to the old Keeper?” asked Lan.

“He was decapitated. It was a rebel movement by the Trolls to keep the human world and Energy separate. Obviously, it failed, but no one has been able to pass through Speculum since. That is until you called on it. l was guarding Speculum when a human handprint appeared. When I pressed my hand to the mirror, a door appeared, and well. . . “ Li trailed off as Lan’s back hit an arch. She swirled her head back and forth desperately searching for an escape.

Just as the riot was about to reach her, a massive bolt of lightning split the sky. The crowd paused, cowering and silent, as the Fairy Leaders approached. To say the Leaders were impressive was an understatement. Each Fairy displayed their skill; Leader of Heat’s hair was fire, Life rode a massive eagle, Electricity had lightning spurt from her fingers, Wind’s hair blew in an invisible breeze, Water was wearing a dress of mist in an endless cascade, and Chemical’s skin changed color.

“It seems,” Wind’s voice boomed through the room, “that not only have we been blessed to enjoy the Winter Ball, but also the Return of Speculum Keeper!” The crowd cheered. The Leaders turned to Lan, beckoning her forward.

“What,” Wind asked smiling encouragingly, “are you called Keeper?”

“Lan.”

“Keeper Lan,” announced Wind as she turned to the crowd, “Welcome to Energy!!”

Li lightly patted Lan’s ear as she echoed, “Keeper Lan,” with a grin.

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