Continued from 21/366 – The Gallery (Cont.)
Behind Morn’s eyelids, he could see the light from every direction. The red tint made it more bearable, but it was still nearly too much for him to handle. He questioned for a moment if the price of his mother’s return would be his sight.
“There you are!” a voice said as the light vanished, leaving his closed eyes in the darkness. The sound was light and melodic. “It sure took you long enough.”
Morn opened his eyes to find himself in a well-decorated room of fine silks and pillows strewn around. The air smelled of a pungent, smoky flower that was both familiar to him and strange at the same time. He lay on a daybed next to a window overlooking a landscape he had never seen before.
“Over here, my boy,” they said.
Morn turned his head from the window to a small table sitting at the far end of the room. It was nearly enclosed by hanging fabric, but he could make out the silhouette of a figure seated at the table.
“Hello?” Morn said, sitting up.
“Come over here for something to eat. You must be famished.”
“Who are you?” Morn asked, rising from the bed. He walked carefully toward the fabrics blocking his view. “Where am I?”
“You found my doorway, yet don’t know my name. You broke my sculpture and haven’t an inkling as to who I am? You climbed into a magical rune-covered box willingly without knowing what would happen, and can’t begin to imagine who I could be?” they laughed.
“Are you the wizard that built the monastery?” Morn asked.
“Monastery? No. Never in a millennium would I ever consider building a monastery,” they said, “I am the ambitious arbitrator, the dignified dungeoneer, the glorious god catcher, the opulent onlooker, the-”
“I don’t understand,” Morn said.
“You are a bit rude, aren’t you? I wasn’t finished yet,” they said, still an amused tone to their speech. “I am Azariah, the knower of secrets, dimensions, and the gods.”
Morn stepped closer to the fabric, reaching out to move it slowly.
“You could test the patience of the patient one!” they said, flitting their hand in the air. The curtain suddenly lifted and floated across the room, folding itself before landing gently on a pillow. “Sit, child. I’m afraid we have to have a conversation.”
The person sitting at the table was slim with golden skin. A broad and welcoming smile on their face. Their eyes were something of a mystery, not containing any single color, but transitioning through a wide array. They moved to pour a drink into a small cup and placed a plate that filled with food on its own. Their movements were graceful and clearly thought out.
“Sit, sit, please. I’m not sure how long your friends can go with you here before they begin losing their minds,” Azariah said.
Morn sat at the opposite side and was immediately greeted by the smell of steaming seasoned meat and cheeses. Fresh rolls materialized in the center of the table with butter next to them. Morn’s stomach growled loudly in response.
“Why me?” Morn asked, ignoring the food as best he could.
“No conversation until you begin eating. This is more of a ‘you listen while I talk’ kind of discussion,” Azariah said with a smile, motioning to the food, “please.”
Morn picked up a roll and took a bite. It was delicate and delicious. Easily the best thing he had ever put in his mouth. He ate greedily of the roll before tasting the meat and the cheese. Each was ideal for his taste. There were seasonings he couldn’t place but didn’t care to think about it too much as his mouth watered while he chewed. He had never eaten a meal like this in his life.
“Easy, my boy. I don’t want you returning to your friends sick. Did you enjoy the present I gave you?” Azariah asked.
“Present?” Morn said through a mouthful of food before he thought to swallow.
“Your mother,” Azariah said, waving their hand over the side of the table. A crystal orb appeared and clearly showed the face of his mother. “I gave her to you as a gift.”
“Why me? Why am I,” he paused for a moment, “wherever here is?”
“Here is a tricky thing to describe. Here is the in-between, the mismatch, the distant, the peculiar. I call this place the Other Place,” Azariah said. “It’s a place of my creation. A place with many doors, and very few keys. A place of invitation and exclusivity.”
Morn put the food down, realizing that his stomach suddenly felt full.
“Why am I in the Other Place, though?” he asked.
“Because you caught my attention,” Azariah said. “You certainly are an odd specimen if I’ve ever seen one.”
“You broke something built eons ago, something hideous, abominable, dreadful, gruesome, horrid, nasty, and revolting. You broke something that I didn’t like. So I thought to reward you for your efforts and thank you in person,” Azariah said. “Is that not reason enough?”
“I don’t understand,” Morn said.
“You are young, I must remember to be patient,” Azariah said. “The gargoyle. The sculpture. It’s magic still clings to you slightly-speaking of which I apologize for any discomfort in your trip here, it’s not easy to cleanse that much of what you brought with you. Are you full now? Would you care for sweets now?”
Azariah waved their hand, and the table cleared, replacing the hot food with tarts, cakes, pies, cookies, and puddings stacked on glass racks.
“I think I may be too full to enjoy any more food. It was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, your cooking is wonderful,” Morn said.
“Very well,” Azariah said, waving their hand, once more clearing the table. They sounded almost defeated.
Morn shifted in his seat, uncomfortable after a few moments of Azariah staring expectantly at him with their full smile.
“I’m sorry, but are you waiting for something?” Morn asked, “I don’t mean to be rude.”
“The young are always rude, be it knowingly or unknowingly,” Azariah said. “I don’t blame you. Old people, such as I, are often very boring and ill-prepared for the energy and curiosity of youth. I’ll admit, it has been some time since I’ve conversed with anyone.”
“Let me see,” Azariah said, looking toward the ceiling, “I’d say, maybe twelve or thirteen centuries? After the fourth, it really gets tedious to keep track.”
“You’ve been alone that whole time?” Morn asked, “Why?”
“It started mostly because I was tired of dealing with the same kings and queens and gods all demanding things, as though they had the right. Then at some point, I think I forgot how to I suppose. It’s all a little fuzzy to me now,” Azariah said, producing a scroll from thin air. “Though it’s slowly coming back. I’ve decided to start cataloging my thoughts. It may come in handy the next time I forget something. Is there anything you need to know? Perhaps some great, revealing secret about the world? I know many things.”
“I think the only thing I can think of right now would be how to open the door blocking us from leaving the Gallery,” Morn said.
“Gallery? What Gallery?” Azariah said, releasing the quill that continued to write of its own accord.
“Where I was when you brought me here,” Morn said.
“Ah! That’s right-knock that off you problematic quill,” Azariah said, lifting the quill with lightning speed off the scroll, “the filthy bugger started writing insults about us on here.”
Azariah lifted the scroll to show Morn, it contained a surprisingly long list of insults, categorized by type from the way they dressed, through the individual strands of hair on their heads. Morn tried and failed to suppress a laugh with his hand.
“You think it’s funny?” Azariah asked, their smile broadening.
Morn nodded, “A little.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Azariah said, letting a musical laugh escape their lips. “It truly has been a pleasure having you here in my home.”
“Thank you for having me,” Morn said, bowing his head slightly.
“He has some manners,” Azariah said, cupping their free hand to the quill. “I think I’d like to have you back soon.”
“The door in the Gallery?” Morn said, a slight panic rising up in him. “How do we open it?”
“That’s right, the Star Sphere! Simply ask it,” Azariah said with a wink and waved their hand again.
Morn felt the room shift around him as though gravity were pulling and pushing in suddenly very different directions. The light from the window flashed, and he found himself standing on the platform back in the Gallery behind his mother and friends who were trying to open the box.
“He’s going to run out of air,” Jaque said.
“Can you hit it?” Celeste said, turning to Master Scaine. She froze when she spotted Morn out of the corner of her eye. “MORN!”
Everyone turned and rushed him except for Master Scaine, who walked calmly toward him.
“What happened? How’d you get out?” Celeste asked as Mrs. G’Lair ran her hands through his hair, checking him for injuries.
“You won’t believe me when I tell you,” he smiled. “I’m not sure I believe it.”
continued 23/366 – Azariah