“Wait,” I said, “nowhere in my song does it say, ‘Shrinker of heads.’ I feel like it should rhyme with ‘beds,’ somehow as a salve to my sexual machismo, but you don’t see me in rap battles for a reason.”

“Lord Thomas warned us that you had a way of speech most confusing,” Rayya said. “Can you declare what you mean more plainly?”

I finished squeezing myself into the hole, humming a cover of, “White Rabbit” that was remarkably on-key, if I only had my own ears to prove it. I stopped in mid-note, staring at the Wonderland beneath us.

You know that Escher scene in Labyrinth where Bowie croons that emo lullaby to incarceration in the destructive tendencies of youth? That might not have been what it was about, but I haven’t seen it in a while. That’s what the staircase reminded me of immediately, its blue steps wandering upwards and downwards in a spiral deep beneath the hill. The blue deepened into violet, and then into red the deeper it went. I heard singing, screaming, laughing, the sounds of metal clanging, the ruffle of books as they were browsed, a smile, a frown, a chuckle forced from someone who didn’t want to let it out. The sounds of life. I heard the portal like a faint gong, like a wave of heat passing, the taste of the dregs of your jasmine tea at the cheap Chinese place.

I didn’t fall, but it was a close thing. I stumbled down a couple of steps and caught myself before I trampled Rayya. I made an animal noise, something drawn out of me by shock, and then caught my breathing.

Rayya smiled at me, the strange contours of her cheeks and lips curving in ways human mouths don’t. They practice this, you know, mimicking our expressions to better control us. On their own, they don’t smile, or laugh, or cry. Maybe they send their emotions out in scent glands or some kind of pitch we can’t hear, or they do it telepathically through eye contact. I don’t know. I remember Doloise once asking me to make faces at her, and watching her make her own in the mirror to get it just right. I hadn’t really remembered that until Rayya tried her smile on, like, what did she say? “Cheap tailoring.” Worse than Wednesday Addams, if you know what I mean. It looked dangerously amused, nevertheless.

I kind of got the feeling she didn’t like me.

I don’t like that feeling. I don’t think anyone does, but I just wish there was some way to correct it. I’m a nice person. If I don’t dislike you, let me at least be neutral in your worldview. Give me a chance, or tell me how to fix it, right? If I’m doing something wrong, I might be able to change. Except I don’t know, maybe I remind them of their ex-, or maybe they hate my haircut, or maybe they just don’t like me and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I took a moment to look at my feet and make sure I didn’t have any thorns or, I don’t know… weird things attached to them. I decided to try again with conversation, anyway. “Isn’t there some kind of magic you can use to tell the difference? If he’s crazy or not?” Magic ought to be useful like that. “I mean, it’s not the kind of stuff I do.”

“Your opinion is required by the Seven King,” is all she said.

Huh. Well, if you think about it, crazy and truthful are kind of like a Klein bottle. They wrap around – if you have too much truth, you go crazy, and if you’re crazy enough, you tell the truth. Is there a doorway to madness? Is there a doorway to truth? Those were both good questions, and I didn’t have answers. My gut feeling was that there was, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them, even if metaphorical.

“Follow,” Rayya said again, and she started leading me down the stairs. They were not…regular. Okay, even I had to chuckle at the use of the word, but this went for more definitions than usual. The space between the first step and the second was probably about four inches, and the second and the third was about nine inches, and then the third and the fourth… you get the picture. And they weren’t wobbly, but they weren’t straight. The first tilted left. So did the second. The third didn’t.

As we went down into the swirling staircase, the atmosphere got warmer, and some reddish light seemed to crawl up the sides of the walls, reminding me disturbingly of blood. Rayya was not so disturbed (well, I guess I was about to become the local expert on that) so I just gathered that it was a natural phenomenon as we ventured into the throat of the hill.

There were lights, so apparently the gnomes or kobolds or whatever Rayya and Wrecks’ people were didn’t rely on infravision. I made a mental note to argue that the next gaming session I made. There were all sorts of lights, though, varied and unusual from each other, like the steps. This one was a small brazier with a reddish flame. This next one was a tall one as bright as an LED, and made of silver coils. The third one was a low gold lamp out of one of Aladdin’s adventures. The fourth, a cage in which something small like a lit puffball floated. They illuminated the staircase in a way that was not consistent with the colors I’d seen from the spire above. It was a lesson, I think, that I could not rely on the presumptions of my senses.

Well, heck, yeah, I knew that going in… I mean, could there be a more obvious, “duh” moment? The problem is that knowing it intellectually, and knowing it in your gut isn’t the same thing. Sometimes you need to be literally hit in the gut, sometimes it just takes a little time to process. We rely on so much visual information to determine the world we live in that we are often unprepared for the worlds we don’t. Of course, this is another reason why that which is Beyond is not a good thing. Exciting, fun, dangerous, awesome, yes, all those things, but while it’s been said the crazy ones kiss better, is the rollercoaster worth your life? Your sanity? Your soul?

There were levels at the corners (as opposed to the rounds) and yes, they were all different. The first one had a set of double doors that wouldn’t have been outrageous in a Lord of the Rings film. The second was the jaws of something like a megalodon. The third was a bunch of silks waving in the wind with a faint music behind them. Some of them were more than doorways, or what I like to think of as “doorways plus.” You know, they had the potential to go to more than the next room.

Rayya moved me away from what I think was the fourteenth doorway with a bit of a push. “This is forbidden,” she said. The arch looked fine, outlined in writing that was squiggly and, well, I was presuming it was writing. It could be a whole bunch of Lovecraftian slime-guys hanging out with their weenuses showing. The tunnel went on through it, but curved pretty quickly so that I couldn’t see anything past it. She tip-toed or soft-shoe’d past it. (Wait, soft-shoe is a dance. But she wasn’t on the tips of her feet. Why are words so weird sometimes? She wore very soft slippers of white.) I didn’t feel anything weird past it, but maybe it was some kind of weird cultural taboo, like only people with purple tongues were allowed.

I did not trip down the next flight of stairs, but I did have to catch myself as we took the next exit. This one had two sets of stone doors. The first was huge, easily three times my height, and open to the sides. They were about two feet thick, at my glanced estimate. The second set was half that height, and closed. Sigils I didn’t recognize or understand marked the doors.

“If it continues to shrink in one of those Xeno’s paradox sort of ways, I won’t be able to get through,” I noted aloud.

Rayya ignored me. She went through the first set of doors, and I could feel tension, like the moment just before the bug zapper does its thing. I wanted to pause and maybe put a hand through first, wondering if the doorway was some kind of scanner. I stepped after her with a little jump, and felt nothing. The second set of doors remained closed.

Rayya stopped in front of them. I couldn’t really tell what she was thinking, but all the cues I could get from her manner suggested disappointment, or surprise, or some concern. She put her hands on the doors and some of the glyphs lit up. She brought her hands together and stepped back.

Nothing happened. She didn’t say anything, but I continued to have the feeling that something was not going as planned.

I reached out with my trick to kind of “feel” at the door.

It was Closed, alright. Closed with a capital “C.” I knew the feeling of it. When I Close things, if I’ve done it right, it fades into the fabric of what I think of as reality. Sometimes I can only Close doors so much that they can be Opened again under the right circumstances. You know, conjunctions, sacrifices, whatnot – some places simply can’t be closed permanently, just as some places may never be Opened. This was Closed, and shut down hard.

I said nothing for a few minutes as Rayya studied the door. I looked for handles, locks, hinges, torch sconces that you turn sideways… you know, all the usual stuff. “Edro!,” I said. “Mellon.” My elvish accent is atrocious, I know.

Rayya glanced at me, and I could read curiosity on her face. That was a definite fey emotion. Usually it was followed by the killing of a cat, and someone’s entrails being read, but it was at least something for which we had notes in common.

“It’s just something you say in front of closed doors. Like, ‘Open Sesame,'” I explained.

“Do doors listen to you?” she asked. The curiosity had faded, though, so while I had touched her, it hadn’t lasted. Oh well. Story of my love life.

“Sometimes,” I said, truthfully. I’ve caught myself apologizing to walls, too.

She made a kind of noise, a tick but not a tsk, if you understand the difference, and turned her attention back to the doors.

“Maybe the King decided on a long lunch?” I suggested. “Or one of these symbols means, ‘Gone Fishin’.'”

She ignored me, and placed her hands on different parts of the door. These items did not light up, which seemed to frustrate her because she pulled her hands back quickly and took a step away.

“They’re closed,” I said. “I mean really closed.”

“They should not be. We are expected. We are invited.” She was annoyed.

“I’m Door-closer,” I shrugged. “I don’t open them.”

“I am aware of your limitations,” she said. Yeah, she was definitely annoyed. “You are, however, ignorant of mine.”

She stood back, and I felt the gesture of her will. It was a kinetic force, a quick exhalation of breath, and then the stone doors shuddered. She gestured again, and her eyes were brighter, and the stone of the very earth shook once, twice, like a creature waking from a nap.

I guessed her knocking worked, because the Closure snapped. The doors slowly opened into a dark hall, lit by pale runes against columns that went up into the darkness of the ceiling.

“The Seven King awaits,” Rayya said, bowing.