This is chapter 6 in the Farworld series, book 3, Air Keep. Previous chapters can be read here:
When Marcus was three or four, he’d dreamed of going to the ocean one day. Cold wind blowing in his face, waves crashing on the shore. He’d never made it to the ocean, but he thought he must be there now.
A rhythmic roaring filled his ears like waves pounding against a rocky beach, and a bitterly cold gray fog swirled around him. He shivered so hard the back of his head repeatedly knocked the icy ground.
“K-Kyja?” he groaned, opening his eyes. “Where are you?”
Where are you?
His words echoed back from all directions at once. Only they didn’t sound like his voice, more like someone repeating what he’d said. He tried pushing himself to a sitting position, but the smooth stone beneath him was so bitterly cold, it numbed his fingers as soon as he touched it.
He yanked his hand back and blew into his cupped palms, trying to warm them. Where was he? And how long had he been there? He could remember reaching for the mirror. The tug in his stomach. After that . . . he wasn’t sure. Kyja must have pulled him over to Farworld. If she did, though, where was she?
He tried to peer through the thick clouds swirling around him, and for a moment thought he caught a glimpse of blue eyes to his left. But the mist closed in again too quickly to be sure. “Hello?” he whispered, fear tightening like a belt across his stomach.
“A seeker,” a papery voice said from somewhere to his left.
A voice that sounded exactly the same spoke from his right. “A finder.”
The fog in front of Marcus danced, and he briefly caught sight of a face staring back him. It was hard to tell what the face looked like; the features were . . . fuzzy.
“A wise man.”
The voices came from all around him.
Marcus hugged his arms across his chest, trying to stave off the icy gray curtain leeching the heat from his body. His teeth chattered so violently, he could hardly speak. “W-who’s th-there?”
“I am a supplicant,” said the voice behind him.
“I am a prophet.”
“I am a stranger.”
“I am a friend.”
A terrifying thought occurred to him. What if this wasn’t Farworld at all? Could he somehow have launched himself into the realm of shadows? He tried to stand before realizing he’d left his staff in the E[AL1] lder’s room along with his wheelchair.
With each breath, clouds puffed from his mouth and nose; he was amazed to see tiny crystals of ice forming on the hairs of his arms. “I have to get out of here.”
Four different voices shouted at once. Or was it the same voice coming from four different directions? “Leave as you wish! You have been given a gift! Use it wisely! Spend it carefully!”
“What gift?” This was crazy. He had no idea where he was or who was talking to him. Something jingled in his hand. He looked down to see four gold coins in his palm. Where had they come from? He hadn’t been holding them before.
At the same time, the roaring stopped, and the mist cleared. Marcus looked up to see that he was in the bottom of a deep, round pit. The walls were solid ice, so high he could barely make out a small gray opening hundreds of feet overhead. A frigid wind whistled down on him as if he were in the middle of an arctic wilderness.
The walls looked like waterfalls had flowed down them once, but now they were frozen solid. The silence was so complete that he could still hear the roaring that had been cut off echoing in his ears.
No one else was in the pit with him, and he saw no way for anyone to get in or out. So whose were the voices he’d heard? Then he saw them. Trapped in the waterfalls were four old men, their penetrating blue eyes locked open behind clear ice. Each wore a long, gray robe and had beards to their waists. It was impossible to tell for sure, but from where he sat, they looked identical. It was if they had all stepped into the water right before it froze. They all stared at him.
Marcus ran his tongue across his upper lip, and the cold made it stick for a moment. He looked down at the coins. “What am I supposed to with these?”
None of the men said anything. How could they? They were obviously dead.
He turned the first coin over. Something was engraved in the center of it—two letters, I and S.
“Is?” he whispered.
At the sound of his voice, the waterfall to his left came to life. The previously frozen water crashed into a small pool at its base. Mist flowed from the pool. The roar of the falling water buffeted his eardrums. A hand reached through the mist, and before Marcus could think to pull away, it dragged him into the water.
* * *
Marcus was in his wheelchair again, sitting in Elder Ephraim’s room. Everything looked the same. The desk. The bed. The glassless mirror. His backpack lay in his lap as though he’d never been pulled into the mirror at all.
Had he? Or had it been an illusion caused by whatever magic had moved his things?
“Good choice,” a voice said.
Marcus spun around to see a boy about his own age, leaning against the wall by the door.
“The wisest people choose the IS,” the boy said with a smile.
“Who are you?” Marcus asked, wheeling his chair backward. “How did you get in here?”
The boy shook back a lock of blond hair and laughed, his amazingly blue eyes sparkling. “I’m your guide. You brought me here.”
Marcus stared at his own arms and legs. He wasn’t wet. And despite the fact that he could clearly remember almost freezing to death, he wasn’t cold. Could the boy have made him believe that he was in that place with the frozen old men? Marcus had nearly convinced himself he’d never gone through the mirror at all, when he realized he was still gripping the gold coins.
“I’ll take that,” the boy said, reaching out a hand.
Marcus looked at the four glittering circles. The one reading IS still lay on top of the others. “The IS,” he whispered. “You said the wisest people choose the IS.”
“Of course. No worry what might or might not happen down the road. No regrets over what took place before. The here and now is the best place, I think.”
Marcus didn’t understand, but he thought was beginning to. “Are we in the . . . IS?”
The boy laughed delightedly and nodded like a proud parent seeing a baby take its first steps.
Marcus looked around the room. It looked like Elder Ephraim’s quarters, but maybe that was part of the magic. “You said you were my guide. Did you bring me here?”
The boy laughed again, but this time shook his head. “No one can bring you to the IS. You’ve always been here. Once you pay me, I can make sure you stay forever.”
Now Marcus was confused all over again. “If I’ve been here all along, why would I have to pay you to stay?”
Footsteps sounded from outside in the hallway. “Marcus?” a voice called. They’d found him. Was Principle Teagarden here already?
He was trapped. He had no way to get to his motorcycle. No way to escape. He turned to the boy. “Can you get me out of here?” He jingled the coins in his hand. “I’ll pay you.”
The boy stretched out his fingers eagerly, and Marcus nearly handed him all the coins. But something in the boy’s eyes made him hesitate.
Someone pounded on the outside of the door. “Marcus,” a man’s voice called. “What are you doing? Come out of there at once.”
“Give me your gift. You must spend it,” the boy hissed. He seemed too eager to take the money, almost greedy.
“Get me away from here first,” Marcus said. “Then I’ll pay you.”
The doorknob jiggled, and Marcus heard someone whisper something about a key.
“Why would you want to leave?” asked the boy, his lower lip pushing out in a pout. “You can stay here forever. Never growing older. Never losing loved ones.” His eyes shined. “Never experiencing death.”
A key rattled in the lock. The knob started to turn.
“Give me your coin!” the boy cried, snatching at Marcus’s hand.
“No!” Marcus screamed. He threw the coin to the ground and felt something pull in his stomach.