Fae and the Star sisters followed Selphine Miora to a side room in Eventide Archive, accessed through a sliding door that also functioned as a bookshelf. Inside, Selphine slid the door closed behind her and locked it.
“Please, sit,” she said, kneeling on a padded cushion at the head of a low table. The girls arranged themselves around it – Neptune adopted Selphine’s serene kneeling-sitting style, while Mercury just sat cross-legged, and Jupiter sprawled her legs out. Fae was the last to sit, trying the kneeling posture of Selphine and Neptune. Her knees immediately began interrogating Fae as to why she’d decided to sit on them, but it was too late to go back now.
“May I see your drawings?” Selphine asked. Fae nodded, sliding several sketchbooks across the table to Selphine. The Archivist looked through them slowly, spending several seconds on each page. She showed little emotion, but Fae was beginning to suspect that was how Selphine was. When Fae had explained why she’d come, Selphine had only shown the briefest look of sorrow before returning to a graceful, unreadable expression.
Silence stretched on, punctuated only by the sound of pages turning, and Jupiter. Jupiter was fidgety. She tapped her fingers against her legs, occasionally stopping to scratch an itch on the back of her neck, or above her eyebrow, or on her wrist. She yawned several times, and it took her quite a while to finally notice Mercury’s disapproving glare. A wordless exchange passed between them, one of facial expressions and gestures. Fae, having a great deal of experience with silent sister conversations, translated it as such:
Mercury: “You know what. Stop being rude.”
Jupiter: “Your face is being rude.”
Mercury: “We’re guests, show some respect.”
Jupiter: “I’m bored.”
Mercury: “That’s because you’re immature.”
Jupiter: “Your face is immature.”
Mercury: “You’re only proving my point.”
Jupiter: “Your face –”
Mercury: “OH MY GOSH SHUT UP.”
Jupiter: “WE’RE NOT EVEN TALKING.”
Mercury: “THEN HOW ARE YOU SO LOUD?”
Jupiter: “I don’t know what you mean. I can be just as graceful as anyone.”
As if to prove a point, Jupiter adopted the same sitting position as Selphine, but with a decidedly smug look on her face. Mercury watched her with half-lidded, unimpressed eyes. Their staring contest went on for several minutes, until finally Jupiter broke out of the kneeling style, sprawling her legs out and massaging her feet, which must have fallen asleep. Now Mercury was the one who looked smug.
Fae was glad for the distraction, since watching Selphine slowly go through her sketchbooks was nerve-wracking. There were three in total, and Selphine was just starting on the third. It wouldn’t be much longer, but her unreadable expression made the hair on the back of Fae’s neck stand on end.
That, and the ominous warning she’d given Fae when they’d met.
The journey that awaits you is unlikely to be a pleasant one.
Things had gone smoothly so far. Apparently, that luck was about to run out.
Fae wondered what that warning might mean. Gerick hadn’t been able to give her much information about the boy who had come before her. Most of it involved rumors, many of them relating to “Collapse,” the word with two meanings: one for a horrible disease of the mind that drove those infected obsessively towards the second meaning, an Intangible, a strange, unknown force that no one seemed able to explain.
Had the boy been infected by Collapse, or had something else happened to him? Judging by Selphine’s reaction, whatever had happened to the boy wasn’t good – and boded ill for anyone else with a similar story.
But why? Fae wondered. Is this destiny? Is anyone with magical artwork of the Enchanted Dominion inevitably drawn towards a painful end? Because that’s stupid.
There’s always hope. No two people are exactly the same. I don’t have to “follow in his footsteps” or whatever. I can forge my own path. All I want to know is why. Why are these drawings coming to me? I haven’t drawn anything really frightening or ominous – well, okay, I haven’t drawn much that’s frightening or ominous – so why does it bode ill for me? Why am I “unlikely” to have a pleasant time?
Well, she did use that word. “Unlikely.” So it isn’t set in stone. And if she knows that, then she’s sure to offer me hope, some kind of clue to avoid the fate of that boy.
Selphine closed the third sketchbook and placed it on the table, finally looking up once again at Fae. “Are these all of your drawings?” she asked.
“All of the magical ones?” Fae asked. Selphine nodded. “No. I have a lot drawn on scrap paper that’s gotten lost over the years, and sketchbooks that I filled when I was a kid – most of those are either lost somewhere in my parents’ attic, or have gotten thrown away by accident over time. But…” Fae nodded to the three sketchbooks on the table, “those are the ones that are the most recent, most vivid, and most detailed.”
“So they’re the ones that concern you the most,” Selphine said. Fae nodded. “I see. Well, there is quite a lot here, and what is here tells a story. Just like the boy who came before you –”
“What was his name?” Mercury asked. Selphine looked at her sharply. “Sorry, I just… everyone keeps calling him ‘the boy.’ He had a name, right?”
Selphine sighed, staring at the table. “Oliver,” she said, with a voice so mournful it made Fae’s heart ache.
“So Oliver’s drawings told a story,” Fae said.
Selphine nodded. “He drew less than you,” she said. “He came as a young boy, only ten years old, with a single half-filled sketchbook clutched in his hands.” Selphine took a deep breath, then let it out. Sliding Fae’s sketchbooks to the corner of the table, she tapped one finger on the center of the table. Its surface rippled, as if it were water, and transformed into an image.
Selphine was in the image, kneeling down in the entrance hall of Eventide Archive. Before her was a young boy, wearing drab, oversized clothing smudged with dirt. Despite this, beneath his curly blonde hair were bright blue eyes that sparkled with curiosity. He held out his sketchbook to Selphine, and she smiled as she took it.
“To this day, I don’t know how he reached the Enchanted Dominion, or why he ended up in my domain,” Selphine said. “But he was curious, and loved to learn.” The table-image faded from one image to the next, showing Oliver reading and writing and drawing with Selphine in the Archive. He was always smiling, as was Selphine. Just from her expressions in these pictures from the past, Fae could tell that Selphine loved Oliver like he was her own son.
“Over time, he…” Selphine said, trailing off as the images changed. Oliver grew into a teenager, and then a young adult. He was frequently shown leaving the Archive, with Selphine looking on in sadness. Oliver’s bright blue eyes had begun to dim, the easy smile of youth morphed into a stoic, determined glare. “The knowledge of the Archive wasn’t enough for him. He traveled the Enchanted Dominion, seeking out the answers that he couldn’t find here. What was originally simply a curiosity to him – ‘why is the Enchanted Dominion calling out to me?’ – became an obsession. He spoke with many sages, artists, historians, and more throughout the Dominion, and yet he never seemed closer to his goal. His returning to the Archive, I think, eventually became habit, like this was his home, a resting place between long, sleepless sojourns. We…” Selphine sighed. “We talked less and less.”
The images continued to change, showing drawings of Oliver’s. They weren’t as detailed as the ones in Fae’s three sketchbooks, nor as refined. Even the drawings from his childhood had manic, frenzied line-work, as if each drawing was born by Oliver being obsessed with an image in his head, one he was desperately trying to put to paper. It was difficult to see, as Fae’s own drawings of the Enchanted Dominion came from a place of serenity, of Fae giving in to what the magic asked of her. Oliver’s drawings looked like they came from someone who desperately wanted to be rid of the calling, who feverishly struggled in vain to silence the call of the Enchanted Dominion’s magic.
“Like your drawings, these told a story,” Selphine said. Drawings in the table-image began to loop, a series of seven. First was a place Fae recognized beyond the drawing, because she’d been there: the Cartographer’s Waystation. The second looked like an ancient Greek building, open to the air with tall columns, at the peak of a snowy mountain. The third was a small room, looking rather like a shoemaker’s workshop, with a desk covered in finished shoes, as well as laces, soles, buckles, and more. Fourth came an image of a long, winding trail along a river, cutting through wooded hills. After that was a well, all by itself against a field of empty whiteness. Sixth were three massive statues, so faded from time that they were only vaguely humanoid, with no defining features. And finally was a small island with a tiny hut on it, facing an endless horizon.
“Most every journey through the Enchanted Dominion must start at the Cartographer’s Waystation,” Selphine said. The drawings began to be replaced by moving images of Oliver, now a young adult, traveling to each place and talking to people. “From there, Oliver was drawn to the Silent Peak, and then to the workshop of Andre Belcharte in the City of Anguish. His journey took him along the Winding Road, to the Well of Steel, and from there, to the Three Watchers. And finally, Oliver was called to contemplation on the Sea of Tranquility.”
“What did he learn from all of this?” Fae asked.
“Not what he wanted,” Selphine said. The images focused in on Oliver’s conversations with people, and there was that spark of curiosity he had as a boy once again… but over time, it began to fade once more. “He learned much, and should have been delighted by his discoveries. But he was consumed by a singular question, one that, more and more, he began to suspect was unanswerable. And that only made him more angry.”
“He never found out why the Dominion called to him?” Fae asked.
Selphine shook her head. “I… I think he did,” she said, her voice wavering. “He never told me, but… one day…” The table-image rippled, changing to an Oliver in his forties, standing in the Eventide Archive, talking with Selphine. He had a strange look in his eyes, one that Fae could only describe as the gaze of one who had discovered something truly terrible, and couldn’t come to terms with his new knowledge. “He spoke to me of a place he must go – a place from which he would never return. He wouldn’t speak its name, and his voice had a hollow, empty tone. I feared for him, but he was determined. That was the moment I realized… I had lost him a long time before. He had attached himself to me like a boy to his mother, but that time passed all too quickly.”
“And you still don’t know where he went?” Neptune asked.
Selphine shook her head. The image on the table rippled to a series of landscapes that a frantic, distraught Selphine traveled through alone. “I searched for him for many years. There were many rumors circulating about Oliver… some said he had been infected with Collapse. I didn’t believe it. I have seen the signs of Collapse, and they were not apparent in him the last day I saw him, or any day before. But it was clear to me that Oliver did not simply travel directly to his destination when he left me the final time, but took a long, circuitous route. I traced his steps to the banks of Fate’s River, and there I lost all sign of him forever.” On the table, Selphine could be seen standing at the edge of a raging river in a rainstorm. The waters writhed and foamed as if they were a living being, a beast desperate to break free from a cage. “But one thing, a small thing that brought both hope and pain to my heart, became clear to me.” Selphine smiled. “Along Oliver’s final journey, he met with many of the people who had aided him in the past, and gave them gifts. It showed me that perhaps the kind boy dressed in rags wasn’t gone – and that, perhaps, Oliver knew this was his final journey, and he never intended to return.”
Silence stretched around the table as Selphine dismissed the table-images. Finally, Fae spoke up. “So what story do my drawings tell?” she asked. “And… well, more than that, I find it hard to see Oliver’s mindset as similar to my own. He was obsessed, while I just…” Fae sighed, feeling a dull ache in her heart. “I just want to know why I’m here. And if these drawings end up not meaning anything, that’s fine. Whatever the answer is, I just want to know if it’s important. I want to know if it’s…”
“You want to know if you’re important,” Selphine said. Fae stared at the woman, drawn in by her calm voice and kind eyes. “Clearly, art is important to you – perhaps the thing that gives your life meaning. And now there’s something bigger to it, something you can’t explain, and you want to know if there’s a greater calling for you.”
Fae nodded. “And I…” she said, trying to bring the intangible feelings she’d felt for so long into words. “I want to know where I belong, I guess. Where’s my place in the universe? Do I just keep doing what I’ve always done, or is the Enchanted Dominion calling me to something more important?”
“Those are questions that I cannot answer,” Selphine said. “But I can tell you this – your intentions give me hope. Your heart gives me hope. You are right in the differences between you and Oliver. And yet…” She sighed. “I worry what this journey will do to you. How it will change your heart. From the very beginning, Oliver had that obsessiveness you noticed. I wish I had noticed it when he first arrived.”
“What story do my pictures tell?” Fae asked. “Where should I go first? And where from there? Do I just… leave my home behind for a really long time? Do I travel for decades, like Oliver did?”
“I do not know how long this journey will take you,” Selphine said. “But I do know where you should start. And I can prepare you for it, better than I prepared Oliver. The curious thing about you is, well…” Selphine opened each of the three sketchbooks to their first drawing. “It appears that you have three possible paths to start on.”
“How do you gather that?” Fae asked.
“Yeah,” Mercury said. “Couldn’t the drawings be telling one long story across multiple books?”
Selphine pointed to the bottom right corner of each drawing, and Fae understood. In her first sketchbook, the largest of the three, the bottom corner was marked with a symbol like a fancy fusion of an F and a G. Fae had noticed that symbol a few years ago, and since then had adopted it as a sort of “signature” for her since it seemed formed of her initials.
The middle, spiral-bound book was marked in the corner with a hand, grasping for something but never reaching it. And the final book had in its bottom corner a spiraling circle overlaid on something that looked like a Nordic rune.
“These books don’t only contain drawings brought to you by the Enchanted Dominion,” Selphine said. “But each drawing that was brought to life by magic has this symbol. And each book has the same symbol on each drawing throughout.”
“What do they mean?” Fae asked.
“The first is the symbol of the Fates,” Selphine said, pointing to the strange F-G letter. “The second is the symbol of Intangibles. And the final is the emblem of the Spiral Dragons.”
Fae knew Intangibles from what little the Star sisters and Gerick had told her. But the rest… “Fates?” she asked. “Spiral Dragons?”
“Remember how the Enchanted Dominion is big on prophecy and destiny and all that stuff?” Jupiter asked. “That’s where the Fates come in.”
“The Fates are the three prophets of the Enchanted Dominion,” Selphine said. “All prophecy comes to them, and they write down what they see and hear, and pass it on to the Enchanted.”
“The Spiral Dragons are a group of, well, dragons,” Mercury said with a chuckle. “Their name stems from their movement patterns. Each exists in one of the three sectors in the Enchanted Dominion. They’re… pretty mysterious.”
“Indeed,” Selphine said. “To this day, no one truly knows what they are or why they do what they do. But the Fates created this symbol for them, so it’s a common understanding that the Spiral Dragons are incredibly significant, even if we don’t know why.”
“So these symbols are relevant to each story,” Fae said, receiving a nod from Selphine. “How do I choose which one to take?”
“By choosing,” Selphine said with a smile. “It is up to you. I will do my best to explain them to you, and we can look into the resources I have here in the Archive to further understand your path and prepare you well for whichever journey you choose. In the end, you are likely to require a journey down each of the three paths before finding the answers you seek.”
“So,” Fae said. “Where do we start?”