The blue portal felt cool to the touch, silky but somehow intangible, too. As it let my hand pass through, I felt rather than heard a voice, a musical wave passing through my mind.
"Genevieve," it called. A warm, soothing feeling enveloped me, blossoming from the blue around my hand. It felt so good, I immediately trusted it. I took a step closer and saw Everett running toward me. I tried to tell him it was okay, but all I managed was a smile.
The last thing I heard before the portal swallowed me was him screaming my name. For a split second I wavered, my heart wrenched in two, but I was past the point of no return and found myself falling through an open sky.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The world I saw below me, looming ever nearer, was something out of a fairytale- colorful patches crossed the ground in every vibrant shade of the rainbow, the one I was falling toward a shocking turquoise. I was too stunned to scream as I fell, but as the details became clearer, hope filled me. The turquoise was from giant mushrooms, as big as houses, glowing and lighting up the place around them. Tucking myself into a ball, I prepared to land on one, praying they were soft enough to cushion my fall but not so soft as to let me pass through their spongey anatomy to the hard ground.
With a thump, I landed, denting the top of the mushroom cap into a basin. Standing carefully, I looked around, wondering how to get down.
"Hey, you, up there!" The voice calling to me down below was oddly familiar, very close to the one I heard in my head before falling.
On my hands and knees, I crawled carefully to the edge of the cap and peered over. A gangly old man was standing at the bottom of a twenty foot drop, leaning on a gnarled old walking stick and shading his eyes with his hands.
"Get down here, girl, I'm losing my patience" he hollered at me, waving his stick.
"How?" I yelled back. My hand slipped off the edge and I nearly fell, so I scooted back some before listening for his response.
"What do you mean, 'how?' Can't you fly?" he demanded.
"Are you crazy?"
He laughed out loud and then waved his stick at me. My body began floating and I scrabbled at the mushroom, trying to keep myself anchored, but the fungus just broke off into pieces in my hands. I tried not to scream as he gently lowered me to the deep purple earth and set me down on my feet, but I couldn't hold back a whimper.
"You're a sorry excuse for an omnia magus if you can't fly," he rumbled, his withered hand outstretched to shake.
I took it and looked around. The mushrooms here were incredible, but the trees were even more beautiful. Their silvery bark softly reflected the glow from the fungi, spreading the illumination to every corner of this strange forest. The leaves were shaped like arrowheads, with ivory veins and teal blades, fluttering gently down when disturbed by the local wildlife. Whatever was running around up there was fast. My eyes couldn't catch a glimpse of anything.
"Follow me, Genevieve," the elder said, one foot dragging slightly as he limped away through the trees and mushrooms.
"What's your name?" I asked. It probably wasn't the brightest idea to follow a strange man through the woods without at least knowing what to call him, right?
"I am the great wizard, Grimort Ecuber, and you are more trouble than you're worth," he replied as we trudged along. A little door fixed to a great tree came into view. I stumbled over a stray root and scrambled up after him as he disappeared behind it.
I flung it open and stopped myself before walking in. The door opened up to nothing- the tree was behind it, its smooth silvery bark shimmering gently where light struck it. I stood there, baffled, until a griseled old arm shot through and grabbed my hoodie, yanking me through what must have been a camouflaged portal of sorts.
My eyes widened at the scene before me. We were standing in a huge spacious room akin to what my imagination painted when I thought of DaVinci's workshop. Strange inventions hung from the ceiling. Shelves lined every wall, supporting jars and tools. Even the floor was littered with parts and mysterious objects, like a sphere that seemed to have a galaxy rotating inside and a mechanical cat that hiccuped glitter.
"Where are we?" Wonder had enveloped my mind, chasing away more important questions, for the moment.
"This is my creative space." Grimort rubbed his hands together and sat, then gestured for me to join him on his workbench. "I'm sure you have a million questions, so go ahead, let's get this part over with."
His abruptness focused me. "What's going on? Why am I here? Why would you open a portal in the sky? What if I died?"
"First of all, that portal's location was your fault- your particular aura makes you difficult to pinpoint. The portals go all, er, fuzzy, around you and your friends. You're not dead because I managed to direct your fall to that mushroom. It's all by design, dear." He paused to take a sip from a flask he pulled from his unkempt robes. "Second, you are here because the people of Earth need you. They've been kidnapped and enslaved and you and your friends are going to get them back. You're the only ones with old-world blood still active in your veins, so it is your responsibility."
I blinked for a moment. "So that's what happened. Something opened all those portals and took everyone for slaves- I was so afraid- when I tried to radio or call to find people, I heard the most horrible things-" My voice broke and offered me his flask, which I waved away. "I thought they'd been dragged to hell or something."
"Well, this isn't much better. But this is something you can fix."
"First, we need to get your friends here."
"How?" I repeated impatiently.
"You're going to write them a note. I'll open a small portal somewhere around the kitchen and you can drop it through. Hopefully they'll find it and be ready for the portal tomorrow, pop through, and get to saving the world and all that." He handed me a piece of paper, ink pot, and feather pen. "We'll go on," he said when I hesitated.
After four pieces of paper covered in splotchy illegible notes, I finally got the hang of the pen and managed to eek out the following:
Hey! It's Genevieve- I'm okay! I met this old guy and he knows what's up, so if you guys want to join me, I'm going to free humanity. Apparently they were enslaved, so we definitely need to "free the people." And I'm sure I'll need help, so...please? That's our family out there. Everyone we love, everyone we've ever met. If you're scared, I get it, but you can always go back. Grim can open portals, so it'll be fine.
I realize how crazy this sounds, but I'm counting on seeing you guys tomorrow, especially you, Everett. I'm sorry I tricked you. Well, I'm also not sorry, but I love you and I hope you'll forgive me.
P.S. Please bring supplies; the only thing this guy has offered me is a sip from his own flask, and I have a feeling we'll be spending a lot of time outdoors.
P.P.S. If you doubt it's really me writing this- I know what's in the second drawer of your nightstand, Phineas. Suck on that.