I was able to get back into writing mode without too much trouble. It helped that I had been on a roll before eleven o’clock overtook us. I might have to come back later to re-read and edit that portion of writing, though, because I can’t guarantee that it was my best work. I just needed to keep writing for that last hour.
My glass of water was empty, I noticed when I looked up from the paragraph I’d just written. I glanced at the corner of my screen. Eleven fifty-six. I had time to get a refill before bed– or before my house turned magical and I followed an owl through a door to another world. I hit save on my file, shut down the computer, and left my office.
Like always, Chopin followed me from room to room. I had my phone in one pocket, the key in the other. I went into my own room and slid my toes into a pair of moccasin-like slippers; they at least looked a little like shoes. I’d secretly been debating whether to wear boots or sneakers when I went. But I’d feel silly if I put them on and then nothing happened. I could carry them with me, but what if I lost them somehow? So slippers were what I settled on– and not the kind that where no better than socks or practically plushies.
With my feet thusly clad, I headed downstairs. I stopped in front of the grandfather clock. Two minutes left. On to the kitchen. I drank a full glass of water, and was still thirsty, so I filled it again. The clock was chiming as I stepped back out.
I stood there with my cup, staring at the clock as it chimed out the hour. …Nine, ten, eleven, twelve. I hadn’t been in front of the clock the last couple of times I was awake this late and ended up visiting Tierney Ríocht, and I was curious as to whether it changed like the house did.
Chopin glided across the wide, open space of the main hall and landed on top of the grandfather clock. As the last echoes of the midnight chimes faded away, she hooted several times, and ruffled her feathers and cooed. I stepped closer to the clock, wanting to check whether the faint glimmers I saw among the gears were real or just reflections.
Golden light spiraled up the pendulum, then burst into sparks all across the face of the clock, like so many tiny fireworks. The gold spread, tracing the lines of the clock, spreading across the grain of the wood, moving faster and faster as it went. The clock face changed, the numbers melting into elegant, sweeping script instead of the rigidly formal numerals. The plain colors changed to a whimsical starscape with designs and constellations not completely familiar to me.
As I watched the golden sheen wash over the stairs, the smell of rain in the air increased. I glanced back to the kitchen to make sure the window was still properly closed; it was. Chopin hooted louder, glancing upwards.
“The storm is really picking up outside…” I whispered.
The air felt different, as though the wind and the trees and the rain had taken away any trace of civilization and industry. It smelled fresher and purer than just the difference between the city and the mountainside, nearly indescribably so. I couldn’t recall that difference that last couple of times the house had changed, but maybe I’d been too surprised to even notice.
“Okay, Chopin,” I said, taking a deep breath, “let’s go.”
I took one more drink, then set my glass on a nearby table before heading upstairs. Chopin followed me up each flight. I paused when I got to the third floor. I’d left the hallway lights on before going downstairs– something I hadn’t done the last two times. Now, instead of electric lighting, tiny flames flickered in each sconce.
“Interesting…” I breathed.
Chopin hooted and flew past me. I checked my pockets; key and phone present. I thought about going back to my room to change my shoes, but the owl was hooting louder and clawing at the handle of the door leading to the library.
“Oh, I know you can open it,” I told her.
Still, I stepped down the hall and turned the handle for her. Viola music poured into the library as soon as the door opened. Lightning flashed outside, and the thunder was not long behind. It boomed, and the air seemed to vibrate with the sound. Chopin had taken cover under a table, and was hooting as she hopped in frantic circles.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “This house has stood for this long… I doubt this is the worst storm it’s seen.”
Although, the truth is that I had to convince myself of that concept, too. I pressed on despite all that; there was no giving up and going to bed now. We headed for the next door, the blue almost seeming to glow, then took the spiral stairs up to the next level. The viola had started anew song, and this time it was joined by a harpsichord… and a horn of some kind; Killian could have named it right away, but I wasn’t certain.
Up the stairs… down the hall… through the double doors. Chopin hooted excitedly the closer we got. Once we were in the larger room, she flew circles around it, eventually landing on the harpsichord. I closed the double doors and stood in front of them, looking nervously at the men gathered in the room.
“I brought the key this time,” I murmured when Jean-Marc stopped playing and started to lower his viola. My voice was shaking, but I couldn’t say why I was nervous about saying that.
The wall to my left was almost all windows, covered by two layers of curtains: one of thin, gauzy white material, and the second velvety red with ties of golden rope. The thinner material did little to obscure the bright flash of light outside, the indication that it was storming here, too. The thunder was further off, thankfully, but it was followed by a tense silence. I looked back to the gentlemen, who had all stopped playing their music.
“My dear lady!” the only seated figure in the room exclaimed. He stood up from his armchair and approached me, then knelt a respectable distance in front of me.
“By all the music and magic of the realm,” another man said. I didn’t recognize him, but now that I saw his instrument, I could could safely say that it was a French horn “I daresay, Jean-Marc, you may be right that there is hope for us yet.”
There’s another thing I should mention: when he turned his head to look at Jean-Marc, I could see his profile. His cheekbones were high and graceful, and his ears were long and pointed. He was an elf, true as any I’d read about or seen in books and movies, and just like the ones I included in my very own stories.