This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Fior Deniev, 16 years old-
What awaited me on the other side of the door was… an abandoned building. Not what I had expected, since mine, Alistair’s, and Vell’s doors in Shibuya were all installed in buildings with plenty of foot traffic. I closed the door behind me and looked around the large room.
I guessed that nobody had set foot in the place in at least several years, judging by the mold on the roof as well as the grime on the brick walls. With just a little cleanup, it would be perfectly viable as a place for goods to be brought in and out of the Empire, though the size of the doorframe would mean downsizing the size of the crates we typically used to ship ingots. The fact that it hadn’t been touched in years meant that, hopefully, no curious passerby would be attracted by the noises of crates rumbling.
The only problem was that I didn’t know where I was - I couldn’t be in Shibuya, I thought, as the sight outside one of the windows showed no sight of the glass-and-metal skyscrapers. Thankfully, the buildings outside appeared to be that of a Tokyo residential district, but Tokyo was a massive city; if I was in one of the outer wards, shipping goods could be a hassle.
Examining the door that I had just come through, I noticed that it wasn’t actually installed in a door frame. Rather, the door was simply installed in the jamb, which leaned against the wall at an angle nearly vertical. On closer inspection, the jamb had been nailed to the wall and floor, and the nails used were rusting.
Someone must have set this door up a long time ago. But who?
As I backed up to look at the door from a distance, I felt my right foot slide on something. Before I could react, the world around me turned on its side, and I hit the ground with a loud thud.
“Ugh… Who put this cloth here?”
On the floor was a frayed sheet of black satin cloth, laying by the side of the door jamb. Strange, I thought, why would something as luxurious and expensive as satin be on the floor of an abandoned building?
Looking up and around only gave me more questions to ponder over - I hadn’t noticed it before due to the poor lighting of the room, but there were black satin cloths covering various size doors lining the walls. I quickly counted them; there were ten doors in all. One by one, I removed the cloths, set them aside, and sat down to plan my next move.
Obviously, these were doors to other worlds. There was nothing else they could be, since I had stepped through one myself to arrive here. This scenario had two possible outcomes: all ten of the doors lead to the world I came from, or some of the doors led to other worlds than mine or Japan.
If any of these doors lead to Redjuve or Chartreuse…
I had just crossed over, so not an hour had passed since 6. Surely, I had enough time to go through several of the doors and take some quick notes; I could ask Alistair and Vell if they recognized where the doors let me out. If all went well, all trade could be conducted solely through this room. The potential gain was too much to ignore - I had to try it.
My heart raced as I moved to open the first door on the left, thinking of all the possibilities. What could lay on the other side? Would I be lucky enough to quickly encounter any notable landmarks that Alistair and Vell would recognize? Would I see something that would shake my preconceptions? A worrying thought crossed my mind - what if the door opened into a busy place similar to the Shibuya 108, and I was arrested by the local guardsmen for looking suspicious?
However, I couldn’t hesitate this time - I knew all too well that hesitating had nearly brought me to the brink of ruin in the past, and I needed to change that. So, I opened the door and stepped through -
- Into a desert. From where I stood to the horizon, there was nothing but sand. No plants, no rocks, nothing. The fierce sunlight shone so harshly that I immediately stepped back through the door. With no landmarks to even mention, staying in there any longer would just leave me with sunburns and no benefit.
That’s fine. Not all of the ten doors were going to be successes. I’ll just jot down “lots of sand”.
The next door I opened placed me in the middle of a forest; again, as far as the eye could see, there was only one thing, this time being cherry blossom trees. As pretty as the rain of pink petals was, all I could write down on the back of my trade documents was “cherry blossom trees”. Yet another failure - which got me thinking. The door that I had passed through to get to the room was in an abandoned Vicet house, and these two doors had led to the middle of nowhere. Was it possible that the doors collected in that abandoned building were selected because they led to nowhere significant?
Returning to the abandoned building, I gathered my thoughts for a moment. There were eight doors left - if they were all duds, then my job would be easy; just a single line in my notes would suffice. Yet, wouldn’t it be a waste of time? Though the process would be quick, just ducking into each of the doors to observe whatever thing was in abundance, I still did not know where I was. Every second could be precious time, should I be wasting it on visiting unidentifiable, landmark-less lands? Just in case, I went through the third door; one more before I left couldn’t hurt.
I was met on the other side with the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life. In the middle of this large room, suspended in the air by thick black ropes, was a giant creature constructed out of metal. I had never seen anything man-made of this scale before; it stood taller than any building in the Empire, even the Imperial Castle was dwarfed by its size. Quickly, I whipped out my notes and began writing.
Brick walls… A giant creature made out of metal, hanging in the air by ropes… Loud ticking noises… Is that a clock?
“Hey! Who are you?!” shouted a high-pitched voice from my right.
My head snapped to face the source of the unexpected sound: a short boy with unruly black hair, wearing soot-stained clothes and holding some sort of metal tool.
“Are you a trespasser? This is a top-secret project, and you don’t look like one of our engineers! I’ll get the Chief Engineer, he’ll rough you up if you don’t leave!” he shrieked.
“W-wait! I swear, I’m not a trespasser!” I protested. What terrible luck I had; in marveling at the grand metal creature from my perch on the platform, I had completely overlooked the fact that the ground floor was swarming with workers, several of which were now looking up at me. If I got arrested here for accidentally walking into something confidential, it would be the end of everything.
“What’s with you, anyway? You don’t look like you’re from around here. I’ve certainly never seen blue hair; are you a spy from a country on the Continent?” The boy continued to press on, pointing the metal tool at me like it was a weapon. Just in case it was, I began to back up.
Behind me, a gruff voice spoke up. “He sure isn’t from Redjuve - no islander wears clothing like that in the summer.” I turned around to see an old man hobbling towards me, using a larger metal tool as a walking stick. “Who’re you, boy? Do I have to give you a good smackin’ with my wrench?”
Redjuve - that’s Alistair’s kingdom, isn’t it? What fortune - and only on the third door, too! This certainly increases the possibility that one of the remaining seven doors leads to-
My thoughts were cut short as the old man lunged forward, pointing his wrench at my throat. “How’d you get in here, boy? We don’t take kindly to intruders - talk and I’ll let you off lightly with only a couple of strikes from this here ol’ Tommy.”
“He came in through the Useless Door, Chief!” The boy chimed in, pointing at the door I had come here through.
Useless? I thought. What could it possibly be on other days that gave it such a designation?
The old man scoffed. “Yeah, right. You better not be lyin’, Denim, or this kid’s capable of flight.” Turning to me, he waved the wrench - presumably the “ol’ Tommy” - in my face. “You’ve got until I count to five ‘til I whack ya, so speak up!”
Heart racing, I tried to think of my options as the Chief Engineer began to count down.
“1…” Obviously, I couldn’t just run deeper into Redjuve…
“2…” My only option is to go back through the door…
“3…” But what then? They can just follow me through…
“4…” The door opens inwards… is there anything I can block the door with?
“5… Ready or not, here I come!” With unexpected ferocity, the old man swung the wrench at my head like a club.
Thankfully, my instincts honed through mandatory swordplay lessons kicked in, and my body ducked naturally. The heavy swing meant to hit me collided with the wall, sending small pieces of brick flying around the platform.
You call that a swing by an old man? What is he, a monster?
With no options left, all I could do was go through the door back into the abandoned room. Behind me I could hear the doorknob jiggling - they were going to follow me into Japan, and that was something I couldn’t let happen, since it was possible the existence of other worlds was a royal secret for Alistair to keep.
Quick - is there anything that I can use to keep the door from opening?
I checked the door for a lock, but there wasn’t one. However, there was a wooden plank on the floor, which I quickly dragged closer to me with my foot and jammed underneath the doorknob. Tentatively, I backed away, hoping that it would hold the door closed - which it did. The doorknob continued to jiggle for a couple moments, but when it became clear that the plank had effectively locked the door, the people on the other side gave up.
Now that I had time to take a breather, I paused for a moment to think about what the young boy had said; he had called it a “useless door”. The door certainly wasn’t in a useless place, since it spit me out into what seemed to be an engineering facility… So what made it useless?
Come to think of it, the Chief Engineer had said that to get through the door, I would have to be able to fly. Could that possibly mean that the door… opens out into the sky?
I shook my head at the ridiculous thought. After all, who would install a door that led nowhere but falling to one’s death? Surely, the engineers would have knocked it out of the wall and filled it in, right?
Now wasn’t the time to obsess over what had just happened in Redjuve, however. There were still seven doors to go through, and the fact that I had just visited Redjuve certainly made it more likely that one of the seven could lead to Chartreuse. The most convenient conditions for trade were in reach, and I would have to risk my neck again to see if I could attain them.
Cautiously, I opened the fourth door, which opened onto a wooden raft adrift at sea. Why there was a door attached to a raft in the middle of an ocean, I had no clue, so I returned to the abandoned building immediately.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh doors were much of the same: a lush green plains filled with buttercup flowers, and many butterflies flying about, painting a wonderful rainbow; a wintry forest with gigantic trees that resembled the Empire, yet there were no mountains, indicating that it was not of my world; and a tropical island overrun by vegetation. Only the seventh door had anything of note of the three; in the direction that the door opened to, there was a wooden dock lined by stone statues, although the planks were rotting and the statues were cracked. All the doors were probably forgotten by whoever had the sorcery to place them originally, and I doubted that using the Deniev Empire’s military might to conduct search expeditions for civilization would be worth the time - especially with the once-a-year, six-hours-that-day condition for the doors to be open.
Before I could go through the last three doors, I checked my pocket watch, only to be unpleasantly surprised by the time. 6:52 , eight minutes from the meeting time - had I really spent that much time going through the doors? Sure, I had trekked a short distance through the snow past the sixth door to a vantage point, just to check if there were any mountains nearby, but I didn’t think that the walk would take much time.
Hurriedly, I scrambled to exit the abandoned building, tripping on my robe in the process. I ran through the dilapidated hallway and down the staircase to the ground floor, ignoring all the rooms on the way that could potentially house more doors. With a click, the front door unlocked, and I exited the alley into the main street.
Noticing my fervent waving, a taxicab pulled up alongside me and let me in. “Where’re you going, sonny?” said the driver.
“Ah - can you drop me off at the Hachiko statue in Shibuya?” I asked, trying to catch my breath.
As the taxicab began to move, I suddenly remembered that I had no Japanese currency to pay the driver with; I fumbled around in the robe, hoping that the pockets sewn into the inside that I had noticed earlier contained anything, but only coming up with a ruby hair clip.
“Uhm, sir driver?”
“You don’t have to be that formal with me, kid.”
“I happened to forget my wallet at home, would you be willing to accept this as payment?” Behind my back, I crossed my fingers, hoping that he would be benevolent enough to let me get away with it.
“Kid, you’ve gotta be more mindful, you know? Can’t leave your wallet at home if you’re going to a festival - especially if you’re meeting up with a girl at the statue.” The driver turned around to see me, wearing the feminine robe that I had not had enough time to change out of, then amended his words. “Ah - times are changing after all - I hope that boy you’re meeting has money.”
“It’s not like that - I’m meeting with a couple of friends of mine.” I corrected him, and from the mirror above him, I could see his eyebrows raise.
“Okay, okay. Anyways, you’re in luck. I forgot to buy a birthday gift for my daughter, you see, and her birthday is tomorrow. Depending on what it is, I’ll be willing to let the payment slide.” He extended his arm back to the passenger seats, and I dropped the hair clip into his hands. When he saw it, his eyes widened.
“You sure you should be giving this to me, son? It looks really expensive - not worth the 730 yen to get from Ebisu to Shibuya,” he said nervously.
“It’s fine - I’m in a hurry.” I tried to act aloof, though I was pleasantly surprised by his words. The abandoned building was in Ebisu, within the bounds of the Shibuya ward; I would make it in time, though I could have just walked and been late by a couple minutes.
“O-ok, if you say so, dear customer.”
A minute later, the taxicab came to a stop, and the driver let me off at the Hachiko statue. “I guess it’s good fortune to have picked you up in Ebisu. Too bad there’s no place in Tokyo named after Daikokuten, or I’d be raking it in with my taxicab business,” he chuckled before he drove away.
The Seven Lucky Gods, huh? I guess I could say that they certainly helped me out today...