CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 34 ♦ The Gates
Corvan realized he’d been doing things even before he was thinking of doing them. He was already very impulsive but he’d never been so defiant as to disregard his mother’s advices to stay in bed until he was truly well. His stubborn insistence on ‘feeling better’ did nothing to deter Saskia’s overwhelming concern. So, as a stubborn son, he did what he could do—he left without saying anything.
And now, he found himself standing before the humble doors of a tall man with salt and pepper hair, sitting on his porch with a distant look in his eyes. The cruelty of time was not evident on his face. Like fine wine; strength and color furthering with every passing moment.
While he looked every bit the ordinary person, Corvan knew better. He was a secret—not a very well-kept one but still worth keeping. A rare breed of Direct Controllers with the gift of space and balance.
“What brings you to my humble abode, young man?” he asked, stormy eyes shifting to meet his emerald ones. The man stood and took a step forward, his cane thumping under his right hand.
“I came to ask a question,” Corvan replied as he walked forward, stopping before the bottom step.
“I won’t start asking how you found the path,” the man told him. “But I reckon you’re a noble son in the literal way. Otherwise, how would you be here? Come in. I don’t have anything fancy to please your tongue. Since you came here on your own terms, you’ll have to make do with what I can offer you.”
Corvan followed the man with his eyes but his feet stayed rooted. “I won’t stay long,” he said.
The man sighed. “What can I help you with?”
“I need to go somewhere,” he said.
“Don’t you have the portal or your horse for that?” The man waved to the arch behind him.
Corvan glanced at the portals. “It’s not a simple trip. You manage the gates to the other worlds as well, don’t you? You must know where to go.”
The man’s brows shot up to his hairline and he gave Corvan a questioning glance. “Boy,” he began. “I’m the gatekeeper. I may hold some meager keys and make sure your ride is stable, but I am no tour guide.” He descended from the steps, making Corvan step back as he reached the bottom. “There is one other me you should know, why didn’t you go to him?”
“Lord Claude wasn’t of help.”
“Then why did you think I can help you?”
“I talked to him. He told me he didn’t know,” he reasoned. “You took another disciple.”
“I still taught him. He just isn’t gatekeeper material. While there may be things he isn’t aware of, he’s well aware of the essence of what we do. His power enables him to. It’s like having eyes. What you see is what you get,” the man replied. “There are many doors, yes, that is true. And having to watch all these doors took so much time, I didn’t know I got old.”
The first-ranker knew another frown had appeared on his face. The man walked past him with a cane he didn’t need. His legs were obviously fine.
“I don’t have all the keys. I know many doors that cannot be opened from the outside. You have to be let in.”
“So you cannot help me,” Corvan stated.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then how can I help you when you don’t know?” The gatekeeper laughed.
“That’s why I came to ask you.”
“Like I said, I’m a gatekeeper. Not a tour guide. I’m sure not even a tour guide can help. I can’t tell you where to go when you don’t know where you want to go. Besides, do you even want to leave?” His stormy eyes wrinkled on the corners as he pointed his cane at Corvan. “You? With your character, something so foolhardy is unlike you. In this world or any other world, nothing is worth leaving your name and position behind.”
Corvan remained silent, unable to reply. The man’s words left a dent on his mind—clear, deep, and disconcerting. He would probably keep on ruminating about it—going over what he said over and over again until he tired himself. His calloused hands fell on his sides, his chest expanding as he took a deep breath. The stinging pain from his wounds was unable to displace the troubled frown on his face.
“Unless it is,” the gatekeeper assumed, his cane tipping back into the soil. “Is it?”
The young lord lifted his gaze to meet the man’s just in time to see the bright, knowing smile revealing square teeth.
“It is.” The man nodded. “Oh, I can bet it is. I know that look in someone’s eyes. It’s that look that says you’re lost.”
Confusion riddled Corvan’s but he made no move to speak.
“You find your way out of a maze only to realize you left your soul behind. A maze which first takes the form of eyes. It captivates you, lets you go, and leaves you wandering back. Such a tricky thing, isn’t it?” The man guffawed, his walking stick hammering the ground. “Young one, you’re in a prison.”
Corvan’s mouth curled in displeasure. “This is nonsense.”
“Yes, it is. What you can’t understand, you label nonsense.” The gatekeeper wadded a finger at Corvan. “But everything about this prison is ridiculous and nonsensical, I tell you. It’s the worst kind of cage—the kind you want to stay in because you realize freedom isn’t quite as sweet. It holds you in place with nothing. You’re free but not quite. If it sets you free, you don’t leave completely. Because it takes a piece of you.”
“It turns out this trip was made in vain,” the young lord muttered. He made his way to the portal before the man could start another line. It would be rude to leave with him ranting so a hasty exit was in order.
“You making my day is not in vain, young man. Come by again, maybe I can help you with something else!” He roared with glee, stormy eyes latching onto the first-ranker’s back as it disappeared into the portals.
Corvan could hear the gatekeeper’s laughter reverberating in his skull despite having departed his abode. However, instead of the Ember Palace, he found himself faced with the Water Palace in Larkovia—tall walls with cascading, misty falls and long sentry bridges that flew over a broad, clear river. His unannounced arrival startled the stationed guards but they immediately recognized his face and clothes. He shot them a brief glance and went on his way. Their heads lowered as he passed.
He navigated the stone bridge that led into the palace and entered indifferently. The moment he stepped through the doors, he threw a glance at the servant who suddenly appeared by his side.
“I need to see Charles,” he said.
As was customary, he was directed to the lobby to wait for the Larkovian heir. Charles was reportedly attending to matters in his office. With nothing urgent in hand and the most important affairs handled by his father, it didn’t take long for him to arrive.
“And to what may I owe your visit, Your Excellency?” Charles’ arms opened wide with dapper as he stepped into the room, his eyes meeting Corvan’s. He wore a sapphire blue coat with his family’s emblem embroidered on his right arm, a rare smile that was not scheming in nature on his lips.
The first-ranker had made himself comfortable in a wingchair. Tea was served on a low table, hence, he was in the midst of quenching a thirst he never realized he had. He set down the steaming cup of tea and watched the fourth-ranker take the seat across him.
“You seem to be in high spirits,” Corvan commented.
“Yes, does it seem that way?” he replied.
“Forget the ‘seem.’ What happened?”
“As you know, I will be finishing up in the academy in two years,” Charles began, pouring himself some tea.
“I suppose plans for your ascension is under way.” Corvan leaned back, resting his ankles on his knees.
“Nothing goes past you,” the fourth-ranker stated as he drank from his cup. “I thought you came here to give your felicitations. It turns out you aren’t aware. It is a little bit early but father thinks King Bertram would fare better if his generation of titleholders start their terms as soon as they’re ready. He says the older generation will need to make way for the new one, perhaps come up with more bizarre ideas.”
“Unfortunately, with you being a conservative, I doubt much of this bizarreness will be put to practice.” He paused with a slow blink. “When?”
“Yes, it is early. You suppose you’ll be ready by then?”
“With all the trouble happening and the imbalances occurring day by day, this may be the most challenging phase Valemnia has gone through since the last four thousand years. And you must be aware that another war may happen in our lifetime,” Corvan stated.
“I am aware. More than anyone else. However, I recommend you say those words to Keelan,” Charles told him, fingers mechanically pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. The questioning glance thrown at him by the first-ranker prompted him to explain further. “What were you up to that you haven’t heard of the biggest news plaguing the entire nobility? Honestly, Lord Corvan.”
“Just tell me.”
“Eres withdrew his rights to the title of High Lord to give way to his marriage with Lady Manilla of Preluresia. This’ll even be bigger news when it’s delivered to the common folks,” he casually declared.
Corvan’s frown left ridges between his brows. “He will settle as a consort to the High Lady instead of becoming a High Lord himself?”
“He will be a High Lord, still,” Charles corrected with a small sweep of his hand. “He just won’t have as much power as he would’ve if he went for the Denovegasian title. His influence would be limited within the Preluresian circles but I heard he would serve as commander of Earthian Army instead of Keelan.”
“Who else would if Keelan is in the position and not Eres?” he said and was exasperatingly ignored.
“This is, admittedly, the power of love,” the fourth-ranker told him.
“This is nonsense,” Corvan found himself muttering for the umpteenth time that day.
“Unfortunately, this nonsense inspires people with everything to give up that everything for its nonsense—as ludicrous and laughable as it sounds. Apparently, it’s worth it. It is indeed hard to understand how their mind works. Driven with irrationality.”
The first-ranker nearly burst in flames with frustration. All this nonsense were getting on his nerves. He just wished he had all the solutions to his problems at hand. By the gods, why did everything have to be like this?
“Judging by the look in your face, you came here for something,” Charles said. “And you’re not happy.”
He glared at Charles.
“I assure you, Lord Corvan, you cannot burn down this palace. I suggest you just tell me what you came here for.”
Charles sighed deeply and impatiently gazed at Corvan. “We’ll play it this way, then. Let’s start with something obvious. I’ll do the talking since you apparently don’t want to speak. I do have several matters I need to discuss. Seeing as you were out of commission and I’ve been busy . . .” he trailed off. “I understand you’ve been looking into the matter that occurred in the caves in Aetheria. Whatever happened in there, it wounded you and you were left with a little trinket belonging to the person missing for a few weeks now. Even if you hide it under the cuffs of your sleeve, it still makes you look effeminate. Not that I’m judging,” he said.
Corvan threw his gaze elsewhere as he heaved an intolerant sigh. Why had he come to Larkovia when he knew Charles would pull out the information he wanted no matter what? Even ramble on about matters he didn’t want touching?
“Did this matter have anything to do with the blessing and the infection?” Charles inquired.
“Obviously,” the fourth-ranker muttered under his breath. “But what—”
Charles was abruptly cut off when the doors burst open for the second time.
“I heard Corvan’s in!” Tamara’s loud voice reverberated. “What brought you to—”
“I’ll be taking my leave,” he said. Corvan stood, unable to bear what would happen next if he continued staying. The suddenness of his decision to leave was no surprise to the fourth-ranker as he looked up at his sister in exasperation.
Tamara’s brows met. “Hey, I haven’t even—”
“I am in no mood for this nonsense,” the first-ranker stated.
Another hasty exit in order.