This was it; the moment of unlocking the Gates to Hell themselves. I glanced at my trusted tutor, who gave me a brief but confident nod. I turned to face the gate and brought the sword up to the palm of my hand. With a quick, light movement I drew a red line that cut through my pale skin. Blood quickly surfaced, stinging like poison, but I ignored it-I had what I needed. I raised the bloodied tip of my sword and touched it to the golden structure in front of me. Almost at the same time I let out a deep breath that clouded the metal I was facing. Royal blood on the knife and the blue-blood’s breath.
Unable to quell my curiosity, I glanced sideways to where Eliah was standing a few feet away from me, his palms flat against the golden gate and his head resting on the sturdy bars. He was speaking quietly, whispering into the surface words that I could not hear, words drowned by the loud ringing of the bells. The moment seemed to stretch on forever, trapping us in time, holding us prisoners. I closed my eyes, unable to keep looking at Eliah because of the pain I felt at the thought of him not having magic anymore.
The minute passed, and the bells fell silent once more; the only evidence they’d ever rung was the echo still audible in my head. I opened my eyes, surprised to see nothing had happened. I didn’t dare to take my sword away from the gate just in case I would interrupt the ritual, but nothing was going on anyways. Had we done something wrong? Just as I was going to call out a question to Eliah, I felt movement under my left hand-the hand that had not been holding the sword-which I held pressed against the gold. Before I knew what was going on, the gate started moving.
It was slow, at first, and then picking up speed as it opened for the first time since it had been created centuries ago. It swung outwards majestically, almost as if the gate itself were inviting us to walk with it, tempting us to step outside our protected homeland. For something so big the doors opened soundlessly, looking unbelievably light; I almost thought it could be the wind that was gently pushing them open. I dropped my hands back to my sides, but my eyes were unwilling to be drawn away from the spectacle in front of me. Foot by foot the huge gates made the space between them grow wider, opening up the doorway to the human world. My feet started leading me forward, although I have no recollection of making the decision to walk myself. I wanted to run. I wanted to sprint ahead and cross to the other side. I’d been to the human world hundreds of times, and yet it had never seemed as dangerous as it did now, when entering through the Gates to Hell. The danger made it all the more desirable, in a peculiar way.
As I walked through the gates slowly, unable to pick up my pace, I started hearing voices. The voices were singing, singing a familiar song in sweet, melodious tones, the Latin words as familiar to me as my own home. Porta ut Abyssus, semita ut Nex…I wasn’t imagining it, I was sure the voices were there. Tantum orbis of campana, quod puteulanus - cruor spiritus…It was the trees, the trees were whispering the words in the soft rustle of their leaves. Ianua ut vita, clavis ut cavea…The sound surrounded me, enfolded me in a blanket of soft voices I was unable to break out of. Regius cruor in novacula, quod verus veneficus adultus…
The singing was gone. It disappeared the moment I was fully outside Elsmeria, out of reach of the golden bars of the gate. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Turning around, I saw the gates swinging the opposite direction now, closing us out of the kingdom. I also saw Eliah, who was standing a few feet ahead of me, calmly observing the closing doors. He didn’t look any different than he had before we’d crossed the gates; he just looked like himself with his imposing blue eyes and neat short hair, as usual. I approached him tentatively, unsure what to say. What did you say, really, when someone had just lost something as vital to their being as their magic?
“Are you okay?” There. The three most original words I could muster.
“Yes, yes of course. Let’s go, Nicholas. We shouldn’t stay here, we’re still too close.” Just as he finished his sentence the gates closed with a noise that sounded like a relieved sigh, ready to rest for another few dozen centuries before they were disturbed again.
I looked at what was around us with mild curiosity; we were standing at the edge of a forest that seemed to have no end. There was nothing else in sight, just a forest spreading out in every direction for as far as I could see. Behind us only the gates were visible, which made them look quite out of place. The rest of Elsmeria-the houses, the towers, the city and the castle itself- was made invisible by the spells placed around the kingdom to keep it from human eyes. Anyone who happened to come across this place would only see more forest where there was really a whole civilization. I wondered what they thought the gates were doing there. Although I was aware it was just magic, that the kingdom was still in front of me, the apparent inexistence of Elsmeria made a shiver run up my spine.
We walked into the forest, but I knew we wouldn’t be traveling for long. We just needed to increase the distance between ourselves and Elsmeria enough to make it safe for us to rest for a while and to get our energy up. And then we’d teletransport, I knew, because whatever the invaders had done to make it so hard inside of the kingdom couldn’t possibly have affected the lands around Elsmeria too. As we trudged through the thick foliage my bullet wound started aching again-first numbly, but escalating quickly to an agonizing pain. Indeed, it wasn’t long before I had to stop, leaning against a tree trunk to steady myself. “Eliah,” I croaked. “Do you have any more of those leaves? The medicinal ones you gave me earlier?”
He wordlessly took some out of his pocket and handed them to me. I braced myself for the foul taste and gulped them down, trying not to gag.
“I think we’ve gone far enough,” Eliah declared, eyeing me worriedly. He sounded tired and I wondered if it had something to do with being stripped of his magic. Or maybe it was just the events of the whole night catching up to him now that the adrenaline was gone. Whatever the case, I agreed with what he was saying. We sat down in silence for a while-Eliah perched on a rock that jutted out of the ground near a tree and I simply sat on the damp grass. I knew I needed to rest at least for a few minutes, as I would be responsible for teletransporting us both to the human world briefly, but I couldn’t stop fidgeting. I could hardly be blamed either; my home had just been attacked, burnt to pieces by some mysterious invader army. I thought about my friends in Elsmeria. Granted I had more friends in the human world- in Virginia-than I had at home, but still the ones I did have in the kingdom were most probably dead by now. An image of Adelais flashed in my mind and I was suddenly overwhelmed with fear and despair. He was my best friend, and I’d left him behind to die. I wanted to think he had made it, that perhaps he and his family had managed to hide out and stay away from the bullets, but I knew that was only wishful thinking. Odds were Adelais was just one more corpse lying in some bloodied gutter by now. And what about my father? Eliah had said he had been the first to be taken to safety, but where was he?
I tore at the grass in front of me in anguish. Plucking the fresh and wild blades one by one, tearing them from the earth mercilessly. It wasn’t exactly relieving me from the tension, but it helped to have something to do. I continued moving my hands along the dirt, scavenging for more blades and ripping them apart, letting the destroyed shards fall back to the ground once I was done with them. It became an incessant pattern; reach, pluck, tear, drop, repeat. Reach. Pluck. Tear. Drop. Repeat. Before I knew it I felt salty tears dropping down my cheeks. I wiped them off with my filthy hands, not wanting Eliah to see me crying. But he already had.
He crouched down next to me and stopped my hands from continuing their ceaseless job of plucking and destroying. I stared at my hands; they were covered in blood, dirt and the fresh green stains of grass. Eliah didn’t say a word-he knew it was useless because, just like me, he understood that any words of comfort he could have given would have been lies. Lies, however, I thought, were often better than the truth.
I stood up, unable to continue not doing anything, and blinked the last tears back. The pain in my side had subsided to a numb ache again, which I was extremely grateful for; the healing properties in the leaves apparently worked fairly fast. “We have to get back to the human world now,” I said. “It’s pointless to stay here any longer.”
I grabbed Eliah’s arm so I could take him with me when I teletransported, seeing as he couldn’t do it himself anymore. I took a last gulp of fresh air and closed my eyes, concentrating. For the second time that evening I brought back the sights, smells and noises of Virginia, trying to remember them vividly in order to make teletransporting easier. I soon felt the expected twist in my gut that always came when I performed magic like this, and instinctively held my breath. The ground seemed to twist beneath my feet but I knew better than to fall for magic’s tricks. I refused to stumble or try to stable myself because previous experience had shown me that would completely ruin the whole thing. Continuing to envision my destination-our small house in Virginia, two stories high, with a red roof and an overgrown backyard-I clenched my teeth together for better focus and hoped it would work this time.
Soon I felt a sort of breeze rushing around me, the cool air tussling my short hair and numbing my face and hands. I was weightless, as if suspended in mid-air, high above the ground. Sounds reached my ears; a variety of voices, traffic, music, nature, water and a million other things that flashed by too fast for me to give them a name. I kept my eyes closed, remembering stories I’d heard about elves going blind when they opened their eyes during teletransportation- I certainly didn’t want that happening to me. Lights blinked against my eyelids, so bright that it felt like I really did have my eyes open. And then without warning, my feet were back on the ground, the air returning to my burning lungs and the warmth back in my body. My eyes flew open and there was our house, staring us down from across the deserted street. Eliah was there too, and I’ll have to admit I felt a tiny bit proud at that, since I’d never teletransported another person before.
I raised my eyebrows at my tutor, my silent question clear enough not to need words. He responded with a single nod, and then turned and walked across the narrow road over to our house. It was simple, really, nothing much to it. It was one more house camouflaged amongst the endless row of equally shaped houses that lined the street, all of them bearing the same monochrome paint, large squared windows and red tiled roofs. And yet, to me it was special. I had spent some of my best times in that small house, and had many great memories in there that I would surely treasure forever. In fact, I would’ve even dared to say this was more like home to me than the palace in Elsmeria. In a strange way, I felt much like a soldier returning home from war.