The room was strange to see after so many days navigating dark, carved tunnels and sleeping on cold stone. There was no dust on the richly brocaded furniture or draperies, nor on the shelves laden with so many fine things. Oil lamps leapt to life eagerly at the touch of a flame and the room smelled of incense, not the stale must one would expect finding such a room embedded in a tunnel system deep within a mountain. Even so, Hatuk claimed that no one had been here for some time.
“I’d be able to smell them,” he explained. “This room was inhabited by a human, but not for a while now.”
It was nice to settle in to civilization after stumbling in the dark and I sank into a thickly cushioned armchair with a happy sigh. Mirna, who was sprawled across the wide bed, echoed it.
“This is much better,” she said, stretching and wriggling against the abundance of pillows. “Who’s still here?”
I glanced around. “Only Hatuk, as far as I can tell,” I said, peering through the dark opening at our many-legged tik’ha’she’tik guide. Hatuk was busy weaving webs at each of the openings to nearby tunnels. This had been a nightly routine, enabling our guides to listen to what was happening in the larger world while we rested.
“The others are collecting dinner,” called Hatuk.
“No,” frowned Mirna, sitting up and tilting her head, “there’s someone else here.”
“Maybe Tiktik’s out there helping Hatuk,” I guessed.
Mirna shook her head. “At the other door,” she said, pointing her face inward, toward the room.
“There’s only one door,” I said, though Mirna was rarely wrong about such things. In the absence of sight, her other senses combined in a way that made her far more observant than I was.
I walked the perimeter of the room, glancing behind the many tapestries and draped fabrics. There was no other opening.
“There,” she said suddenly. “You’re at the door.”
I felt the wall and found it solid. “No Mirna, there’s nothing here.”
Her brow creased. “You’re right next to it,” she insisted. “What is there?”
“Shelves,” I reported, “an empty wardrobe, and full length mirror and a writing desk.” I pushed against the walls of the wardrobe for good measure, though I could see behind it. The wood was solid.
“Bring me,” she said, holding out her hands. I led her across the overlapping layers of carpets. “It’s right in front of me,” she whispered.
“The mirror?” I mused. “It’s a smooth surface. Maybe it bounces sound differently. Everything else in here is wood or fabric and most of the stone is covered.”
“You don’t feel the draft?” she asked, reaching out a hand.
I inched her closer so her fingers would find the smooth surface. She jumped back when they did.
“I want to go sit down,” she whispered.
I led her to a chair and pulled up a thick cushion beside it. Mirna was trembling. “Whatever that is,” she said, “it has the feel of a world-shaper to it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
She was speaking quietly, confidentially almost, as if someone might hear us from across the room. I couldn’t help but match her volume. The hairs along the back of my neck had begun to prick to attention.
“Like the things my father makes,” she said. “Objects with extra… capabilities. Be careful of that mirror. Maybe it would be best to turn it around.”
“What would that do?”
She shrugged. “I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re being watched,” she said.
I needed no further urging. I turned the mirror to face the wall and threw a nearby cloth over it as well. The others returned then with a bountiful catch and we feasted that night on roasted rabbit and fresh water in the webbed-off chamber outside the room.
“We are near a human town,” reported Tiktik. “It is called Croevat.”
“I’ve heard of it,” said Mirna. “It’s a trading town at the edge of the Hoepian Desert, where the desert borders the mountains. We’re very near the southern coast.”
“We have found many other rooms such as these,” said Tiktik, gesturing toward our room. “The others are not so well appointed for human comforts, however. Most are stockpiles of treasure, with traps set around the entrances. This one has no traps, though it is also the farthest from the surface. Humans do not generally have the memory to navigate this deeply into our tunnels and find their way back.”
“I believe this room may belong to one of the world-shapers,” said Mirna. “One of the architects of the Council of Azminan.”
There was a general shifting of unease.
“Not Axbelis, I hope,” snarled Hatuk.
“I can’t say for certain,” said Mirna, “but it’s possible.
“Axbelis hunts for you,” said Tiktik in concern. “Perhaps we should stay somewhere else tonight.”
My throat ached and I realized I was clenching my jaw. As much as I feared being found by Axbelis, that large soft bed called to me. It would be so nice to spend just one night in comfort.
“We turned the mirror around and covered it up,” I argued. “Besides, if we’re worried that he’ll discover where we are, it’s too late for that. By now he knows. And you guys set up webs all the way to the surface. If he or any of his nasty followers come looking for us you’ll know right away, right? And for all we know, this room could belong to Mirna’s father, who’d finally know that we’re safe.”
“It could,” Mirna conceded.
I pounced on her indecision. “We could just get a few hours of rest on a real bed, and then keep going,” I suggested. “We won’t stay long.”
Mirna heaved a sigh. “Just a few hours,” she nodded.
I didn’t waste time. There was plenty of room for both of us, and once situated in a nest of deliciously soft pillows, I surrendered to sleep.
The mirror was calling my name, and it was a voice I knew. I could tell I hadn’t been asleep long because it was far too easy to awaken. It was my sister, Molly’s voice. I glanced over, and finding Mirna soundly asleep in her own nest of pillows, made my way quietly across the soft carpets to the mirror. The cloth I had draped over it had slid away and I watched my movements as I crossed the room. I was moving strangely. Not at all the way that my limbs felt like they were moving.
“I can get you home if you follow the dance,” Molly was saying. “Follow the dance.”
“Molly?” I whispered, reaching the mirror. I frowned. When had I turned the mirror back around? It had been facing the wall. My reflection smiled.
“Wake up!” Mirna was shouting. She was shaking my shoulders. I heard someone screaming, and then realized it was me. I opened my eyes to find Mirna flanked by our entire troupe of tik’ha’she’tik companions.
“What’s wrong?” I croaked. My throat felt raw.
Mirna sank back onto her heels. “You were having a nightmare,” she said, her hand sweeping my forehead like my mother used to do when I was ill.
I felt clammy and my nerves buzzed in alarm.
“The mirror,” I said, struggling to sit up and peer through the legs of the tik’ha’she’tik. “Is the mirror facing the wall?”
Our companions gazed around the room in confusion and I pointed a trembling finger. They parted so I could see. The mirror was exactly as it had been when we first entered the room, facing outward, the cloth I’d draped over it in a heap on the floor.
“Mirna, it’s time to go,” I whispered hoarsely.
I helped her to her feet, and froze. In the mirror, there was only me. Not Mirna, not our many tik’ha’she’tik friends; only me standing before the bed. My reflection lifted her hand above her head, as if dancing, and smiled.
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!