Part the First, A Door Found
Doors. They seldom lead nowhere.
My face wrinkled at the double negative. The professor grinned.
"Think it through, my boy," he added.
I did. And arrived at the conclusion that I'd mistakenly apprenticed to an old crackpot. I knew what it meant, a truth both literal and figurative, in the style of the old Jonoran monks. That the professor believed it so sincerely? Like we could waltz right through a door, unattached to anything real, to arrive somewhere -- a portal to places unknown? Well, no. Crackpot old fool.
I said none of this, of course. The professor, the Right Venerable Al-Nilam, commanded a legitimate waiting list of apprentices. And this final practicum would seal my degree in astrometry and asymmetry from the University of Azza.
-- fragment from the Epistle of Sh'diel, Entry 42, as published in "Secrets of the Jonoran Library," University of Azza Press
When the wispy-haired professor prattled off the old adage whilst meandering along Shadeside's back streets earlier in the morning, I knew my day would be at least grammatically entertaining.
Now, we stood by the Wall, the bonestone as the 'siders called it, and looked upward. It simply towered.
"What was that, my young man?"
"I didn't say anything, sir."
What I didn't say is that ever since I first saw it, I couldn't help but swallow and cower each time I walked up to the impregnable thing. The texts mentioned vague reasons for its existence, how it got built, and why. None of that mattered, to us of course. We worried with its connections, its fluidity in our reality and how it corresponded to all the comings and goings of the Azzine people. It formed an axis, of sorts, in life. I mean, it didn't matter who you were, you had a ritual that centered on the monstrosity - nailing flowers to it, sacrificing birds at its base, spray-painting handprints by the thousands. They say even the blacked-out mirrors here related. And we wanted to know, above all, why?
"P'rin, along with you. We have work."
I woke from my reverie, turned and followed. It only took a few minutes to reach it. A lone wooden frame. The door, brown-paneled, uniform edges, strafed by a few minutes of morning sun, the only sun it would ever see, simply stood. An invitation. A rectangular want, that waited. The professor drooled with excitement.
I started to speak. He held up a finger. We listened. Nothing. No wind, no birdsong, no sounds detectable. We remained silent. He walked up closer, leaned over to peer behind the door, took out a pencil and pad, started to scribble. I began unpacking gear I'd stowed earlier in the professor's aging rucksack - an astrolabe, reference charts and diagrams, a stethoscope, two stopwatches, two torches, wax and matches, and calipers, to which he soon pointed.
"Take them and gauge the gap, please."
I froze. Gap? Must've said it, too, because he added with an impatient grunt, "Between the door and the Wall."
I grabbed the worn metal instrument, hinged it open, and stepped closer and, sure enough, saw a faint line between the doorframe and the bonestone on which it leaned, or leaned toward. I took my time, careful to touch points only with the doorframe and the Wall, and read the resulting distance.
"Good, good!" The professor seemed downright giddy, which began to wear on my nerves. Shouldn't we just get it over with, and open it?
"We must be patient. Yes. These ... doors. They have appeared before, of course, yet accounts vary. I mean, I've seen a dozen myself."
This surprised me. He had never mentioned it. In all our lectures and excursions and painstaking artifact cataloging, we'd never really talked about the doors, until last week. When rumors reached the university of this particular one.
"Only one opened, of course."
"I'll show you," he said, and simply reached out his grizzled hand, turned the knob and pulled.
Dark, yet not dark. Just empty, an emptiness contained and defined not only by the door's shape, but something beyond. Something unknown in width and depth. Like staring into a dark home.
Then, a sudden flapping of wings. We looked up, startled, yet nothing but blue sky greeted our eyes. He noted that as well, then pocketed his notebook, exchanging it for a torch. The time had come. Without looking back, we stepped. Stepped again. Stepped a third time.
The bright world winked out of existence.