“…are you alright?”
I blinked my eyes. There was a silhouette surrounded by a bright light. A window with a person’s face in it.
“Val, are you alright? Val!”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. My head was a brick, dumb and heavy. There was a weird buzz in my ear that I couldn’t get rid of.
“Here, drink this,” said Sally as she passed a glass to Elenor.
Elenor tried to make me drink the water but I waved it away. I put my hands against the bed and lifted myself into a sitting position. I accepted the glass from Elenor’s hands and drank it.
“Were you having a bad dream?” asked Sally.
“I don’t know,” I said, putting the glass on the bedside table. “Maybe? I can’t remember.”
“Don’t sleep with your head in the pillows, my ma used to say that made you have bad dreams,” said Sally.
“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks,” I said.
Elenor backed up and faced the window. The sky was a lighter shade of blue than I had expected, dawn must’ve been right around the corner. We had planned to leave at the first sign of sunlight but I had probably messed up that plan despite having slept the longest.
“Ben and Jerome are downstairs having breakfast. We need to leave early to beat the crowds,” said Sally.
“How far is the city?” I asked.
“A little over an hour’s walk from here, which is why most people wait until there’s more light out.”
“You two go ahead, I’ll be down in a minute,” I said.
Sally nodded and left the room. Elenor didn’t budge from the window.
“I’m sorry,” said Elenor.
“For what?” I asked.
“This must have been because of me. I must have messed with your head when I tried to read you.”
“Nah, that wasn’t it. Besides, trying to read me hurt you more than it hurt me.”
She released a breath. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Go get some breakfast.” I stretched and yawned. “I’ll be down after I change.”
She didn’t reply but grabbed her walking stick. I heard metal hit wood as she descended the stairs. Whatever she had tried to do to me was still weighing on her conscience. I remembered her saying Moxy had read her too. Was that why she disliked it?
I looked out the window. I smiled in spite of my nightmare. I took a deep breath and told myself not to dive too deeply this time. Just the shelf. Think of the shelf.
It appeared in the back of my mind – rich mahogany with a thin layer of dust. Two books stood on it, their spines pointing towards me. I fought back a little nausea that had been creeping up my throat.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like, still seeing everything in front of you while also seeing a floating shelf in the back of your mind. It’s kind of like looking inside your own head. Very disorienting, and I never quite got used to it.
I focused on the books. The larger one was The Cannon with its flaky hardback cover. The smaller one was The Tempest, a faded leather tome with golden letters. I focused on The Cannon as if I was reaching for it even though my hands were still. I felt its coarse cover, and the heaviness of the animal hide pages, like I was holding it between mental fingers.
Something told me that opening its pages would cause something amazing to happen. That an ocean of light would burst forth, and rainbows would beam across the sky, fireworks would explode, and I would be able to do magic, magic so mystical it would make a white-bearded wizard go back to being grey.
I pictured the book turning over so the spine would face away. It opened straight down the middle, and pages flicked by, racing all the way till the end of the cover and Ave’s note. The back cover met the last page.
I’d opened the book but nothing happened. There were no lasers coming out of my eyes, my muscles weren’t any bigger, and I certainly didn’t feel like I could jump out the bedroom window unscathed.
Did I do something wrong? Was I supposed to do something else? Elenor said something about burning books. Was that it?
I imagined The Cannon bursting into flames. I imagined the fire’s tongues licking away at its spine, its pages wrinkling and shrinking into themselves as the fire consumed them, leaving ashes to fly with the wind before resting on the ground, unnoticed.
But nothing happened. There were no flames, no ashes. The Cannon hovered in front of my imaginary shelf, held aloft by my imaginary inner hand with no flames to lick it. It floated like an imaginary man. A blindfolded man made unaware of his surroundings, and certain of only one thing.
That he existed. In some form or another, he existed.
What a strange thought. A little out of the blue. Like someone else was speaking in my head instead of my own voice.
Curious. One would imagine having any voices in one’s head would be grounds for seeking medical assistance. Perhaps I could begin to diagnose my condition on my own. Let’s see…
Painful dream I can’t remember. Voices in the head. Ignoring all sense of time. Abandoning my cold breakfast downstairs. A severe case of self-delusion caused by an inability to be honest with myself which led to a wild-goose chase predicated on finding a needle in a haystack in a new world that already meets my needs and desires. Is that a sign of greed then? I could abandon the House and go around reading other books.
In my pursuit of a greater goal, am I rejecting a satisfactory situation? Perhaps that is the cause of my current mental anguish. No, that’s not right.
More symptoms include pathetic passivity, lack of caution, self-diagnosing oneself without being a licensed professional, and talking to oneself in the voice of a condescending scholar.
Conclusion: put back the book and go downstairs or Sally will drag you there herself.
I proceeded to listen to my own advice and put The Cannon back on my shelf. Nothing changed. I let the shelf fade away, and looked out the window. There was a little more light out, but it hadn’t been as long as I thought it had. I changed into a new set of clothes I’d bought in Sett, and slipped into the shoes Moxy had given me.
I went down the stairs, had breakfast, and prepared to leave the inn. We left way before the sun peeked out from behind the horizon, and barely saw any people on our way to Chart. Sally chased off some angry looking birds who had tried to dive at us with their pointed beaks, and Jerome scared away a pickpocket who had crept behind us, by showing off the sharp, rotating teeth that lined the mouths of his pockets.
Other than that, we faced no trouble on our way to Chart, and came up to the city just before the sun was completely out.