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       Eldnium, p.23

           Enoch Pyle, Jr
 

  Tommy wanted to cross directly over the fields, walking on the tops of the frozen blades of grass as he did before, but Landon’s feet were too small for this to be efficient. His feet kept slipping, and he was afraid he might impale himself on one of the blades of grass, each sharp point taunting him as he stared over the field. So Landon told Tommy that he’d have to take the trail to The Fountains, and Tommy graciously accompanied him, though the cart route around the field was significantly longer than just using a shortcut.

  Still, they made it to The Fountains within the hour, and Landon approached the cobbled circumplex with a timid awe. He was delighted to see that the fountains were still flowing, but there was something else…Li’an had been correct. There was a power there, and even though the flow of time had been interrupted, the power Landon felt was strong and surging, as if inviting him to drink from the channels of the fountain.

  Standing at the edge of the circumplex, Tommy and Landon looked at each other, and Tommy asked, “What are you waiting for?”

  “I don’t know,” Landon answered. “I guess I’m nervous. I’m nervous that she won’t be able to give me any useful information…or that she’ll tell me my path is purposeless.”

  “That can’t happen,” Tommy said. “Everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason you’re not frozen. There’s a reason I’m here with you now. And there’s a reason you have waited until now to hear the Oracle.” He bent low and placed a giant hand on Landon’s back, giving a gentle push toward the nearest channel. “Go, and do what you’re meant to do, Landon.”

  Landon took a set of small and slow steps toward the channel nearest him and stopped at its edge. He kneeled next to it and bent over, cupping his hands and dipping them into the water. A cool and pleasant shock ran through his fingers, up his arms, and through his chest, where it spun and swirled. Slowly and cautiously, he brought his hands to his mouth and drank.

  There was a whirring of wind, the entire circumplex surrounded by a vortex of rushing wind, dust, and debris. It became a thick cloud, and Landon lost view of Tommy. The column of wind roared higher and higher into the sky, until it blotted out the sun, and Landon was trapped inside of the dark and swirling mass.

  Before him, the well at the center of the circumplex began pulsing a bluish-gray light and emitting a dull pounding noise that didn’t shake the ground but hit Landon in the chest with a mild force. It grew louder as the pulsing of the light increased in frequency, and just when the sound and the light was too loud, too bright, and too intense for Landon to take, the well erupted a column of water that soared into the sky as high as Landon could see, and then it crashed down, splattering into the circumplex with tremendous force, but not washing Landon away or drowning him with its volume. And as it receded back to the center of the well, it began to take the shape of a woman in a dress, with black and flowing hair that reached to the ground, and everything went silent.

  Still the vortex whirled around him, but he couldn’t hear it. Still the water bubbled from the well, but it made no noise. Still the light pulsed, but its pounding was secret. And Landon’s eyes were drawn, inescapably, to the woman standing in the water that boiled forth from the well.

  Finally, her voice a far away and distant echo, she spoke, “What are you?”

  It caught Landon horribly off guard. He had never imagined that the Oracle would open with her own question. Landon had imagined Oracles to be the ones with all the answers. And so he responded accordingly by saying, “I am just a boy in need of help.”

  The Oracle seemed to flicker in and out of view, splashed down into the well and then reformed herself again. “You are Landon of Pana.”

  “Yes,” he answered. Finally, he felt a little easier about her approach.

  She paused for what seemed to be a long time before saying, “You seek to save the one you love?”

  At first, he was embarrassed to respond, but he swallowed this and said, “Yes.”

  “You do not have the power, though the danger threatening her is real.” She flickered again.

  “Is there anything I can do?” Landon asked, growing hopeless. “What is my path?”

  “Your path is not why you have come. Your path is not why you’ll go. I speak only of prophecy.”

  “Will you prophesy to me? Is Li’an a part of my path?”

  “Listen, Landon of Pana,” she flickered, smashed into the ground, and reformed. “From world to world your shadow casts a blackness that forever lasts. Your fight and fire fades to dark the meaning of this cursed mark. You will die as breaths await the judgement at the final gate.”

  “I don’t know what that means,” Landon said. “I don’t know what that means! What am I supposed to do?”

  “What you are supposed to do and what you will do are not yet one,” she flickered. “To save the one you love, you must first save another.”

  “Who?”

  “He is captive on the other side of The Origin Gate, but he will be gone before long, returned to the Ether.”

  “How do I find him? What is The Origin Gate?”

  “Here,” the Oracle said, and she drifted to the side, gliding over the bubbles of the boiling water as if they were bearings. She held out her arm, presenting the mouth of the well. “Through this Gate lies the first of forty-nine realms where The Control have built the arms of the Apex. It is there that you will find him.”

  At that moment, the Oracle splashed back down into the well, the windstorm around the circumplex faded into a gentle breeze, and The Fountains returned to their original, peaceful state.

  The Oracle was gone.

  Landon turned back toward Tommy, who asked, “What is your prophecy?”

  “She said that there’s more for me to accomplish than just the prophecy.”

  “More?” Tommy looked startled. “She never says more. What did she say, exactly?”

  “Well,” Landon started as he walked to the edge of the well, Tommy catching up with him, “she said I have to jump in here.”

  “Really?”

  “Yes. She said there’s some kind of a gate down there, and that I have to save someone else before I can save Li’an. You can come with me, if you want.”

  Tommy looked at the well. “I don’t think I’ll fit in there,” he said. And Landon saw he was right. Tommy was much too big to fit down the well without completely destroying The Fountains…which was not an option.

  “So I’m on my own?”

  “I should stay anyway…to protect Li’an until you return. I’ll stand between her and the bullet, so that if you don’t make it back in time, I may be able to prevent it from killing her.”

  It was a brilliant idea. “That’s perfect,” Landon said. “You’re putting your life on the line, Tommy. You know that, right?”

  “That’s what heroes do.”

  “Maybe,” Landon said, “but you’re more than a hero. You’re a friend.”

  Landon had a brief moment of trying to decide if he should stock up on supplies before diving into the well, but it was just moments until he realized that everything was frozen. He’d have to go in with only the clothes on his back, and this made him hesitate. He didn’t even know if he would be able to return to the Sanctuary once he passed through the gate. But then he remembered standing on the top of the cliff at the oasis, and remembered Li’an’s words. He wanted to look back on this moment and remember it as the day he took the universe’s largest risk and gave himself to save a friend.

  “Good luck,” Tommy said, and he stuck out his enormous hand.

  Landon took it and shook it. “Thanks.” He looked into the sky and at the grass on the hill, and he realized that, in just a few short days, this place had become his home. Leaving it felt awkward. But he knew he had to go. So he turned to the well, put his toes on the edge, held his breath, and dropped into the darkness.

  Beneath The Fountains

 
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