A pale grayish mist began swirling in the air. As it became thicker, it turned yellowish in color. Ember felt as though she had been walking alone for hours. She was bored and had begun talking to herself. Talking out stories of adventures she imagined she would encounter in the future, as well as people. She went through periods of storytelling and then periods of silence.
“Is this place ever going to end? I really need someone to talk to other than myself. Hmm, maybe I really am going crazy. They say if you talk to yourself, you might be crazy. But then if I am thinking I might be crazy because I realize I am talking to myself, then that would imply that I am sane.” Ember started laughing at the absurdity of her conversation with herself and after a few minutes fell silent again.
She watched the swirling yellow mist as it got denser. At first it seemed to creep along the ground, now she realized it had risen to her knees and was swirling higher. She kept walking but noticed that her legs felt stiffer and heavier. The mist continued to get thicker and swirl higher. By the time it had reached her waist, she realized it was making it harder for her to keep walking. She thought about stopping but her intuition told her, if she stopped it would paralyze her. She didn’t know where that thought had come from but she trusted it, so she trudged on. Still the mist rose. She purposely swung her arms as she walked. She wondered if this is what quick sand felt like.
By the time the mist reached her chin, Ember was starting to panic a little on the inside. She had begun to sweat from the exertion of continuing forward. “Just stay calm. This is only an illusion. You are fine. In a minute all of this is going to disappear and Perhluna will be here causing some mischief.”
She could not see in front of her. She held up her hand in front of her face and realized that she couldn’t see it. She touched her nose to reassure herself that her hand was really that close. The mist completely engulfed her. Instinctively, she held her breath and then realized she needed to breathe even if it meant inhaling the mist. She inhaled deeply through her nose. “There is no scent.” She inhaled again. She could actually feel the mist creeping into her body, filling her lungs. Her eyes, her nose, her throat – they had all started burning from the mist. She began to gasp for air, yet as much as she swallowed, she felt as if she took in no oxygen. Her skin began to itch uncontrollably. She wanted desperately to scratch it and that made her momentarily forget the panic that was rising over the lack of air. She no longer felt the concept of her limbs; she only felt the itching and the burning and the suffocation. The mist was consuming her and again she felt her panic rising. She was trying to gulp in air and none was there; only the damn mist. She thought to herself, “I’m going to die. This is dying.”
“I can’t die like this. I can’t. This can’t be happening. Why?” The more she tried to calm herself the more the panic overtook her. She couldn’t think yet she knew she had to. She had to focus.
She felt as if she was becoming the mist, that there was no hope of surviving this, and then a voice whispered in her mind, “Remember, you are not alone.”
“Elpis!” Ember didn’t know if she said this out loud or only in her mind. She was so disoriented and scared. She had her eyes closed, but she began to see images dancing before her. They were hazy and she couldn’t quite make the out.
“Elpis? I heard you. I think I heard you. Are you here?” Nothing but silence greeted her imploring, yet the images continued to float before her closed lids.
“Focus, Ember! You have to focus!” She admonished herself. She knew she had to get control of her panic. She wasn’t going to die this way. Not in this infernal mist. She had to understand what the images were, even if they were just part of her panic. Maybe Elpis’ voice was too, but it was what she needed to make herself concentrate. She willed every ounce of her being into understanding the images. They weren’t going to help her. They just looked like… fuzzy clouds! Her heart skipped as she realized she needed to think of them as clouds. Shapes in clouds, find the shapes in them.
She stopped trying to bring them into focus and instead just focused on the silhouettes. She imagined she saw a bear, a…. a bird, a, a, a fish! Wait, there was another shape, it seemed to scurry across her sight. What was it? It was so small. “Think, Ember, think. You can do this!” She did not even realize she was ordering herself to fulfill this task before her, now that her breathing had become normal again. As she studied the scurrying shape, the mist continued to engulf her and permeate her entire being. The burning and itching, she was still acutely aware of, but she continued to fight her mental battle and focus. Scurrying, scurrying…… a lizard. It was a lizard she realized. As the realization popped into her mind all the images disappeared.
“Ok, so a bear, a bird, a fish and a lizard. They mean something. It’s like a riddle. If I can figure this out…. if I figure this out, what? The mist will go away? I’ll wake up from this? I don’t understand what they mean!” The panic was starting to creep back up on her as she once again, became aware she couldn’t breathe.
“You can breathe. You can breathe. It just doesn’t feel like it. You are thinking, so you must still be breathing. Focus on the riddle, the test. I can do this.” Again, with a great deal of will power, Ember began to play the images over her mind. She heard Elpis’ voice right before the images, so this must be part of her journey. This was just a test. She always passed tests. She would beat this one. What had she learned? She saw a flame in her mind. “That’s right, I can create fire.” She tried to imagine a flame in her hand but she couldn’t feel her hands or focus on them. She felt disconnected from her body, except the itching and the burning. Her skin, she could feel her skin but the rest was merely a concept in her mind, she couldn’t make them work. “Ok, not fire. I can’t create the fire in this mist.”
She felt stumped. Knowing it must be something else. Again she thought of the images. They were all living creatures. “I am living. How does that help? It means, don’t panic, silly. You are alive.”
“What else have I learned? My family are witches? But I don’t know any spells. I can’t make the fire in this state. So… what?” She concentrated harder. Thinking of the images, she kept coming back to them. She knew there was a message there, but also that it had to be connected to what her parents had told her. She began to think of each, individually, focusing on their qualities. Other than being living she couldn’t figure out how they went together, so she decided to think about how they are different. She thought about the bear. It was big, had fur, walked around on land. The bird had feathers and spent it’s time in the sky. The fish was easy; it had scales and lived in water. But the lizard, well, it was a reptile, probably cold blooded, but not as different as the bear. The lizard stumped her, until an image of herself as a lizard flashed into her head.
“I’m the lizard? What..?” As the questions were beginning to form in her mind, it hit her. “Elements! They said we were Elementals. The animals must represent the elements. Bird is air, fish is water, and bear is…land? Earth! Bear is earth and the lizard must be fire, because I am fire!” she had no idea what her body was actually doing but in her mind she was jumping up and down with excitement at possibly having the answer.
“I am the fire,” she stated firmly before starting to imagine herself as the flame and then stopped, wondering if she would burn herself alive if she made herself the flame. She realized she must take chances, she must have faith. So she focused on the burning in her eyes and lungs and throat. She envisioned them growing and intensifying. She could feel the heat, and for a brief instant thought she might be making her own blood boil. The pain from the heat and burning was becoming distracting but she forced her mind to focus. She opened her eyes and she still saw the yellow mist but she could see through it and there were was nothing, no flames; but she could feeling the flames, hear the crackling of the fire.
She realized the flames were becoming out of control even though she could not see them. She knew she had to burn off the mist. She wasn’t sure she wouldn’t turn herself to a pile of ash, but she was determined to see this through. She closed her eyes and focused on burning the mist away. She ignored the heat, the waves of panic that still crept in. The more she focused the thicker the mist felt within. As if it was fighting back, as if it were a living entity.
After what seemed an eternity, she started to feel a coolness enveloping her. She took a deep breath and felt light headed as she realized the air was no longer choking her. The burning had stopped. The itching of her skin was only faint now. She began to try to move her limbs and was elated that she could feel and control them now. Still, she kept her eyes shut. She was afraid to open them. Afraid that if she did open them, she might see the mist hovering around her, waiting to attack again.
Ember inhaled deeply and realized she was surrounded by a floral scent. She listened and she heard birds chirping. Slowly she opened her eyes to discover she stood in the middle of a huge field of flowers and grass. She instantly looked down at herself to make sure she wasn’t a charred monster. She was still in her black tank and yoga pants with stars on them. She let out a relieved and triumphant laugh as she examined her arms and legs. Running her hands over her skin, she realized the mist had not eaten it and the fire had not burned her. Slowly, she looked up to assess her surroundings.
Before her, in the middle of the field, she saw doors standing. Each door was different and seemed to have just risen out of the ground. She turned around to see what was behind her, only to discover that she was in the middle of a ring of doors. She counted nine of them, each about nine feet away from each other. She looked past them and only saw endless fields. She knew that she was going to have to go through one of them.
“Really?! I couldn’t have just been plopped into some destination or other? Another test?”
She walked over to one of the doors and then peered around it. She waved her hand in the space behind one of them and then walked completely around it. She knew that she was going to have to choose one, so she started studying them.
The first one was wooden, natural with little ornamentation. It did not appear to have any stain or paint on it. It was about six feet in height, which was odd for a door and the top was roughly finished. It had a latch instead of a knob or a handle and it looked very old and roughly hewn.
She walked over to the second door. It appeared to be a normal height. It, too, was wooden, but this one was painted white and had a simple door knob. It looked like a door one would find inside any house.
The third door she came to was also normal height. This one seemed to be wood. It was a bright royal blue in color and completely smooth. It had no handle, latch or knob. Ember imagined she would have to simply push it to open it, but didn’t want to try that until she had examined the other doors first. She lightly placed her hand on the door to feel if she could determine the material, but quickly pulled her hand back when she discovered it was warm to the touch.
She moved on to door number four. This door was silver and looked to be metal. It had all kinds of swirly lines and shapes carved on it. They appeared to be symbols, but Ember didn’t recognize them. It had a long handle halfway down the right side. Smiling, Ember thought that it must be for a lefty. The really odd part of this door wasn’t the symbols or the placement of the handle, but the fact that it was perfectly square. It was about four feet tall and wide.
Door number five was round like a portal and seemed to hover just above the grass. It too was about four feet in diameter. It was made of wood and had large black hinges, black ornate door knob and placard and what looked like a peep hole with a black plate over it. Ember couldn’t resist the urge to take a look, but when she slid the black metal disc away, the hole only revealed more wood.
Approaching the sixth door, Ember felt as if she were walking up to a barn door. The door was stereotypically red wood with white painted edges on the bottom half and white edges and an “X” on the top half. Each half had a small silver handle on it.
As she approached door seven, she felt as though she had shrunk. She knew this was only an illusion, due to the door being so huge. It appeared to be several stories high and at least seven or eight feet wide. It was solid black with only a large brass knob that was several feet above her head. This door was ice cold when she touched it, which made her think it was metal, but she was not sure.
The eighth door looked as though it had been taken from a submarine. It was oblong and a gray metal. It had a round spoke wheel for a handle and was average in size.
Finally, she walked up to the ninth and final door. It was actually double doors of heavy wood intricately carved with vines and flowers. It had delicately designed, yet heavy metal latch handles and hinges. It reminded her of a door that might be on a castle or an estate. The doors gave off the impression that they were alive. Ember had the urge to place her hand in the upper center of one of them, and indeed, she could almost feel a heartbeat.
Slowly, she walked backwards to the center of the circle and turned, looking at each of the doors before sitting down, cross legged in the field. She knew she had to go through one of those doors, but what if she chose the wrong one. She needed to think about each one carefully before making her decision.
Where would each of them lead her? Were they to good places or bad?
Which one will she choose……..