“Remember the Sorcxistos I told you about?” Robb asked.
“I first met him there—in the warehouse.”
A century ago, Sorcxistos expedited the travelling between realms. They had a gift—the extraordinary ability to slow the rain and the rare sight of glimpsing the worlds within. It granted them the aptitude for collecting raindrops, of specific realms, while they tumbled from the sky. But when such a power became known, it changed the course of all mankind.
When the universe uncovered the possibilities of realm travelling, the Sorcxistos explored its means and invented portals—facilitating the travel from one realm to another. But the glory that came with being a Sorcxistos was short-lived. Power-hungry realms exploited the crossing of borders in hopes of conquering weaker worlds. And when their gift threatened the survival of all humanity, the Sorcxistos were banned from practicing their magical aptitude. As a minority of humankind, they returned to their former lives—never spoken of again.
When Robb met the man who claimed to be a Sorcxistos, Robb knew little about their history. He was a naïve twelve-year-old. He had only just learned about the existence of other realms—a fated rainy afternoon when the raindrops slowed before his very eyes. Thus, Robb trusted the stranger to send him to Tentazoa. But now older—having read a few history books from cover-to-cover—he questioned the man’s true intentions.
“It has been a while. I’m not sure if we’ll find anything,” Spion stated.
“I guess we’ll find out.”
“After you, Your Majesty.”
Vetus lane was as restful as it has always been. In its slumber, the concrete houses remained friendless of the living. There were no rustling of leaves to stir life. And the dead trees, long abandoned by their furry inhabitants, saw no means of resurrection. Vetus lane was forsaken, and was left forsaken for that very reason.
As a child, Robb found the place haunting. The wrapping silence ate away at his wandering mind—if he weren’t careful, he could be lost in it forever. But during his return, the emptiness was more welcoming than it was maleficent. The lane held memories of his past—the day he faced the rain and discovered magic for the first time. That itself—his first encounter with magic—made him hopeful.
Upon reaching the end of the lane, the pair was greeted by the defunct warehouse. It remained untouched over the years. The walls were blackened from a fire, and parts of the roof had caved in. As Robb stepped into the treacherous structure, he noticed the staircase that led to the metal platform of the upper floor—it had since fallen due to corrosion. The rest of the building, however, was as he last left it—rusted shelves scattered by the walls and a pile of metal scraps at the far corner.
“We need to get up there,” Robb said, pointing to the upper floor where an open door gave view to the office.
“What’s up there?” Spion asked.
“A secret passageway.”
Robb headed over and waved Spion to follow. As Spion stood beneath the metal platform, he cupped his hands and nodded ready. Robb took one step and boosted himself up. He could reach the landing. Alas, he didn’t trust its structural integrity to carry his weight.
“Sorry about this,” Robb said, as he took a step on Spion’s head.
“That’s... unnecessary,” Spion muttered.
Robb scrambled into the open office before turning to assist Spion up.
The upper office—once the centre of operations—was barren. The lone metal table and its accompanying chair, planted in the middle of the room, were both heavily laden with dust and rust. And the green metal cabinets lined against the wall, with their door hinges hanging loose, spotted reddish-brown. If Robb’s memory served him correctly, there would be a trap door beneath one of the cabinets. Unfortunately, the Sorcxistos didn’t tell him where the hidden lever was, to mechanically move the cabinets aside.
“Help me push,” Robb said, gesturing at the cabinets.
“It’s under there?” Spion asked.
“How did you know? You must be a genius, Sherlock.”
Spion chuckled and headed over. But instead of giving Robb a hand, he slammed his foot against the metal. Weakened from the oxidation, the derelict structure crumbled under the force. What Robb meant to be sarcastic proved true—feigning oblivious to Spion’s smirk as they swiftly removed the broken pieces. It didn’t take long before the trap door revealed itself.
As Spion yanked the trap door open, they found the narrow rabbit hole—wide enough to fit a single person. There was a ladder attached to the wall, descending into the foreboding darkness. Fearlessly, Robb reached for the metal bar. But just before he stepped down, Spion pulled him back.
“It looks dangerous,” Spion stated.
“It’s narrow. We don’t even need the ladder. We can scoot our way down,” Robb said. During his last visit, Robb was able to lean against the wall behind him. And, he was only a child. So how dangerous could it be?
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. But you have a poor assessment of danger,” Spion replied. “I can’t let you do this.”
“I have to,” Robb insisted. “What if the Sorcxistos knows something about my father?”
“There’s a high chance that he’s not down there.”
“But his things might be.”
“I doubt that.”
“It’s worth a look.”
“Your sister ordered me to bring you home in one piece.”
“My sister?” Robb frowned. “Oh, so now you take orders from her too?”
“I serve the crown, Your Majesty. Unfortunately, in your case, it’s a joint venture.”
“Very well. You mustn’t disobey her then. You must come down with me,” Robb said with a firm nod. When Spion grunted in reply, Robb threw a playful punch at Spion’s arm. “We’re on a mission, Spion. Some risks need to be taken.”
“I…” But instead of agreeing with the notion, Spion said, “Wait here.”
“Wait? For what?”
Spion left Robb hanging as he headed to the metal platform. Seemingly confident that the platform wouldn’t give way, Spion climbed off the edge, briefly hung on the ledge, before jumping off.
“That’s dangerous. And you should answer your king when he asks you a question,” Robb called out.
With no response, Spion gathered two long pieces of metal from the ground before rummaging the trash pile for cloth. With the scraps, Spion fashioned a couple of torches and tossed them up to Robb.
“You could’ve just said what you were doing,” Robb stated. “And please, be careful.”
“You shouldn’t be bothered with such trivial tasks, Your Majesty. And to be honest, you’re starting to sound like my mother,” Spion replied.
“I’m just being cautious.”
“Of course you are, Your Majesty.”
When Spion returned to Robb’s side, he insisted on descending the ladder first. Robb yielded but refused to accept Spion’s deduction of danger. Tossing one lit torch down the swallowing darkness, they began their descent. Surprisingly, as each step creaked, the ladder remained rooted to the wall. Once Robb touched solid ground, Spion lit the second torch and handed it to him.
Where blackness reigned, there was but one way ahead. Stretching their torches up front, they followed its trail. The concave wall—wet and musty—echoed their footsteps down the hollow. The ground—home to scurrying rats and puddles of stale water—formulated a nose-scrunching odour. And the cold draft, as though toying with them, tempted to snuff their light out more than once. After what felt like a considerably long journey, they came upon a metal caged elevator.
“Are we going in the right direction?” Spion asked.
“Well, there’s only one.” Robb shrugged.
“We might have missed a tunnel.”
“Nope, this is it.”
Robb entered the elevator and Spion followed suit. There were two buttons on the small, square operating panel. Robb pressed the one with the arrow pointing downward and silently prayed for it to work. He dreaded the thought of turning back when he had gone that far. And, as though someone had heard his mental chant of please work, please work, please work, the elevator rumbled into motion.
Incredibly, the old machinery made a smooth, jerk-less descent, though not without a few banshee-like screeches along the way. Still, it couldn’t rival his thumping heart. The nearer they were to the Sorcxistos’ lair, the louder it drummed. What did Robb expect to find in the secret hideout? He hoped that there would be at least one thing of use. If not a clue of his father’s whereabouts, then a sign that Robb didn’t imagine it all. The start of his childhood adventure often felt fictional—he sometimes wondered if it was the concoction of his overactive imagination. Thankfully, before his doubts could set in, the elevator screeched to a halt.
As Robb exited the cage, he entered into a large circular dome chamber. Spion was right—it had been cleared out. The bareness was disappointing though not surprising.
“He took everything,” Robb muttered.
“Can you remember what was in here?” Spion prompted.
“There was a table with items from other realms. And there was a portal too.”
The latter of his memory turned his disappointment into concern. The sizable ring-like machine, that once stood as the centrepiece of the room, was absent. At that very moment, the ringing question was where—where was the portal now?
“A portal?” Spion asked.
“An old one. You know, the one people used to travel through realms back in the day. Do we have such portals in Zeruko?”
“No. As far as I know, they were destroyed. Most realms destroyed their portals.”
“Well, that’s comforting,” Robb said, as he headed to where the portal once stood.
There was nothing in the room that required his attention. Gazing at the floor, Robb rubbed his shoes against the markings made by the bygone device—it was only then that he noticed the fine copper-like sand that layered the floor. And with that discovery, he unearthed a piece of paper.
Retrieving the hidden clue, Robb hastily brushed it clean against his pants. Then seeing what it was, his limbic system snapped to work. In his hand was the same flyer that was scattered on the streets of Tentazoa five years ago. The words, ‘The Royal Family Invites You to the Grand Opening of the Tentazoa History Museum,’ were accompanied with a picture of the royal family and young Myra, standing poised beside them.
“As we’ve suspected,” Spion said, leaning in for a closer look.
“King Daemon knew I was here,” Robb stated.
“That’s not a good sign.”
“So the Sorxcistos was a spy.”
“I’m starting to doubt this mission is a good idea, Your Majesty.”
Crumpling the flyer, Robb was done with the empty burrow.
The return trip was quicker than Robb had expected. They soon found themselves outside of the warehouse, just as the off-white sky dipped to pebble-grey. Scriptorium was a realm that rained three days a week. On those three days, it rained from dawn to midnight. It was a regular pattern, one no science or magic could alter. Yet, on that very day, the clouds threatened to pour out of schedule. And somehow, Robb failed to notice the abnormal cloud cover.
Not sticking around to be blessed with the heavenly showers, the pair headed to town. There was little to no development in Scriptorium and Robb found it to his advantage. Believing that they had time before the downpour, Robb made a stop outside of the orphanage where he spent twelve unfavourable years wishing to be accepted.
The pale brown brick walls, wooden-framed windows, and three-storey towers were hard to forget. The mansion could have been mistaken for a wealthy man’s home, if not for the shouts and cries of the children coming from inside.
“Is this where you lived?” Spion asked.
“Yes. Joyful place, isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen better.”
“I wonder... what would’ve happened if I was adopted,” Robb added.
He briefly imagined being chosen by a nice family, who loved him like their own and gave him everything he wanted. He would’ve had a different life. Though, not any less lonely. Robb would always be an outsider in Scriptorium, simply because his hair wasn’t golden and his eyes weren’t blue.
“Aren’t we glad you weren’t,” Spion replied.
“Oh, aren’t we glad.”
Glancing at the window of his former bedroom, Robb recalled the misery of his childhood. Appearing foreign to the other children, not having friends, never feeling like he mattered to anyone—those shouldn’t be the struggles of a child. It stung simply remembering the isolation. But in that memory, he was thankful. Robb was thankful that he found his sister and a home where he truly belonged. The only misfortune was not having his parents with him. Perhaps the quest to find his father was his attempt to fulfil this hope, or perhaps it was the closure he needed from his past. There was certainly more than one underlying cause to his drive. Alas, he had yet to uncover them all.
“I’m sorry we never found you earlier,” Spion said.
“Well, I’m glad you eventually did.”
Spion gave Robb’s shoulder a gentle squeeze in response.
“I’m done reminiscing. Come on, I want to show you something,” Robb said.
The next stop on Robb’s itinerary was the town library. The double-storey building, with pine-green vines scaling the brick walls and large sash windows overlooking the town, was where Robb had read about the magic in rain. As the sky overhead grumbled, Robb broke into a jog. And at that prompt, the clouds poured.
The library had provided shelter before—a predestined moment—and it did so again, on that very day. There was no hesitation as Robb pushed the double doors open and entered the warm haven. That afternoon, it was without a soul. There was once an elderly lady, seated by the reception counter, but she was presently absent. As Robb strode to the counter, he wondered where she’d gone to or if she was even still alive.
“Is this what you wanted to show me?” Spion asked. “Your sister would’ve liked it more.”
“Yes. And yes she definitely would.”
The home for books would make Myra squeal in delight. In its cosy embrace were neatly arranged tables and chairs in the centre of the ground floor, with a series of mahogany bookshelves lined by the walls. Toward the right of the hall, a wooden staircase curved upward—leading to the first floor, where more bookshelves ran along the handrail, looking over the reading space below.
“Did you come here often?” Spion asked.
“No. I only came here once. There was a lady who, I guess, looked after the place?” Robb shrugged.
“I see. Should we stay here while the rain subsides?”
“I don’t see why not. It’ll be awhile before the rain stops anyway.”
Robb edged around the counter and began browsing through the bookshelves. He wasn’t actually searching for a book to read—that would be unlike him. He simply wanted to empty his mind. Visiting Scriptorium toyed with his emotions more than his intellect. Robb concluded that there was nothing in that realm that would help him find his father. Mindlessly weaving around the bookshelves, he finally stopped at a peculiar find—a shelf dedicated to title-less books. But despite the oddity, it didn’t hold his attention for long.
That particular bookshelf was at the furthest corner of the floor. It stood a few feet from a wall with a closet door—a door that would’ve gone unnoticed, if not for the yellowish beam illuminating its frame. Curious, Robb pushed the door open. But instead of mops and brooms, there was a small reading area with more books on more bookshelves.
“Hello?” Robb called.
No one answered him from within the little nook. But there came a voice from behind him instead.
“No need to shout,” the soft, ghost-like voice said.
Turning around, Robb saw the elderly lady from his memories. Immediately, he pointed and exclaimed, “It’s you!”
“And it’s you,” the elderly lady replied with a thin smile.
“You remember me?”
“You’ve grown to be very tall.”
“You really do remember me?” Robb asked in genuine disbelief.
“People rarely visit this place, my dear.”
“Do you know why?”
“They... don’t like books?” Robb guessed.
“Oh, no. Who doesn’t like books? No. It’s because only the special find this place useful.”
“The special?” Robb raised a sceptical eyebrow.
The elderly lady brushed past him and hobbled to the door of the reading room. Instead of a response to his question, the elderly lady said, “It looks like you’ve found the special room.”
“I... didn’t notice it the last time,” Robb stated. He’d walked past every bookshelf during his former visit, but failed to spot any illuminating door.
“Would you like to go in?” the elderly lady asked. “The clouds will not stop pouring, you know that.”
Shrugging, Robb took her up on her offer. As the elderly lady followed after him, she gestured to the square table. Strangely, in a room with at least six bookshelves brimming with books, there was but one wooden table with an accompanying chair.
“Who uses this room?” Robb had to ask.
“The special,” the elderly lady replied.
“What’s this special you’re talking about?” Robb chuckled. “You make it sound so… exclusive.”
Robb stood by the table with a cynical smirk, as the elderly lady headed to a bookshelf to retrieve a leatherbound book.
“This book is special,” the elderly lady said.
Inching her way toward Robb, she gestured once more at the table and chair. Despite finding the series of events rather peculiar, Robb did as he was told. The elderly lady then placed the book before him. From the looks of it, the book was a journal—unlike the usual encyclopaedia or novel one would find in a library.
“What’s this book about?” Robb asked, wondering if he should mention his dislike for reading.
“It’s about a man who travelled to realms of the universe with the magic of raindrops,” the elderly lady said with excitement glistening in her eyes.
“It’s a storybook?”
“Oh, no. This man is real, my dear. Very real.”
The elderly lady was a believer—implying faith in the reality of magic. Such people didn’t exist in the countless realms of the universe. Such people shouldn’t exist in Scriptorium—Scriptorium had always been a realm of science, and magic only made its way into fairytales.
“Who is he?” Robb asked.
“Oh, I think you know him better than I do.”
“Read and you’ll find out,” the elderly lady prompted, before hobbling to the exit.
As the door closed behind her, Robb stared blankly ahead. There was something about their exchange that felt surreal. Her sudden appearance and talk about being special wasn’t common in the mundane and uneventful Scriptorium. Despite her faded golden locks and bright blue eyes, her words didn’t belong to this realm.
Hesitating, Robb dropped his gaze to the journal. In the moment of a possible discovery, he was afraid to hope. Eventually, he coaxed himself into ignoring the ‘what ifs’ and flipped the cover open. There, on the first page of the journal, he came upon the dedication—its very first line read, ‘To my dear children, Myra and Robb.’