The crystal blade waited for him.
Andros did not know if this were dream or reality. He climbed the steps of the platform. The sword emitted a faint glow, the only light in the cavern except for a gray haze as if the moon looked in through a window far, far above. The sword sat upon an altar. It called to him. He lifted it. In his hand, it seemed to become an extension of his body. He swung it. It cut the air with a silver whisper.
“You have been chosen.”
Andros turned. Below, a hooded figure waited. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am the Doorkeeper. You could not have come here unless the sword had chosen you. You must have many questions, but time is short. The space between realms is thin here, and you are needed. Beyond the door you will find your people are in great need. Go to them.”
“The door that was hidden and is now revealed.”
“The door that was not there before. The magic one.”
“But which one?”
The Doorkeeper looked over his shoulder. Twelve doors stood unsupported in a line behind him. “Oh bother.” He rubbed his shadowed face. “There was only suppose to be the one.” He reached into one of his voluminous sleeves and pulled out a scroll. He opened it and ran his fingers down the rows. “Let’s see…the farmboy on the seventh day of the seventh month…. Are you an orphan?”
“No,” Andros answered.
“How many brothers and sisters?”
“I’m the youngest of three. My two brothers died in the king’s war.”
“Youngest…here we are…wait…maybe…. Are you of royal blood?”
Andros frowned. “No.”
“…not yet aware of…. Yes. Here it is. The metal one is yours.” The robed figure examined the doors. “That one, third from the end. Now, enter through it–and begin your quest!”
Andros stepped toward the door then stopped. “But what of the other doors?”
“They don’t concern you.”
“Where do they lead?”
“Other lands. Other planets. Other spaces. None of your concern.” He drew himself up. “Now enter your destiny!”
“Are there other people behind those doors?”
“What? Yes, of course. What else would there be? Well, for except this one.” The Doorkeeper tapped a rune-covered stone set in a rough frame. “This one leads to a mostly dead world. Just some mutant scavengers and lots of nasty creatures. That one needs brought to life. The Wellspring needs unplugged.”
Andros stared at the runes, considering solemnly. “I will go and unplug it.”
“No, no, no!” The Doorkeeper waved his arms. “That’s not your quest. Yours is behind this door. It’s a nice solid door. Behind it is a harrowing journey. You’ll learn how little separates you from your worst enemy. And other such lessons. Very edifying. Now go, go on! We’ve wasted enough time.” He pointed and declared, “Go, young savior!”
“But what about the dead world?”
“Someone will come along.”
“Are you certain?”
The Doorkeeper shrugged. “Prophecy’s more an art than a science. And sometimes the Wrong One wins.”
“Which is most urgent?” Andros demanded.
“Oh, your door, definitely. Ominous rumblings. Sign and portents everywhere. It’s all quite on the brink.”
“And the other doors?”
“What other doors?” the Doorkeeper asked innocently.
“Are any of their fates in the balance?”
“That airlock there? Yeah, the real future-y one. It’s getting a tad desperate. The sun’ll go supernova soon, and the insane wildcard is pretty darn close to unlocking the secret to harnessing cosmic power. But that’s not really your kind of place. You’d be very fish out of water.”
“Is there a man destined for that quest?”
“Oh, yeah, absolutely.”
“Where is he?”
“He’ll be around.”
“Um, soon? I’m not sure exactly, to be honest. Last I knew, there’d been some drinking and some dice and this woman…. He’s just a little sidetracked. He’ll come around.”
“I’ll go in his place.”
The Doorkeeper pushed back his hood, revealing a pale bald bespectacled head. “No. Absolutely not. What is it with you? Just go through the door already! We’re way past mysterious beginnings. Look, I know you’re trying to be heroic. That’s why you were chosen. But you weren’t supposed to see the other doors, right? You aren’t even supposed to know other worlds exist. That’s not your place.”
“Why not? Can I not aid them?”
“Why not?” The man gripped his scalp, exasperated. “Do you want to see the backlog we have here?” He pulled out a scroll, then another, then a thin rectangular disk, then a crystal, then a tapestry that floated in the air. “Here you go. All the upcoming cataclysms, upheavals, and end-of-an-age events. The ones we know about, anyway. You want to save them all? Do you?” He softened suddenly. “Look, you have a lot ahead of you. Raising that army and discovering your latent abilities is going to take all your concentration. You can’t afford to be distracted by an invasion of undying sentient avians in some corner of the cosmos you didn’t know existed five minutes ago. You need to focus on what you’ve been given. Slay your own dragon. Understand?”
Andros looked him in the eye. Slowly, he nodded. “I understand. My path is my own.”
“Yes! Yes! Now you’ve got it.”
Suddenly, they heard footsteps. A man in strange, disheveled clothes stumbled in, supported by a tall, half-clad woman. “We must have made a wrong turn,” he muttered. “Oh, my head.”
“Maybe if we–”
“I just need to lie down. I shouldn’t have had that seventh glass. That, that’s my room, I’m certain.”
They opened the metal door and walked through. The portal blinked out of existence.
The Doorkeeper and Andros stared at the empty space.
“Well,” the Doorkeeper said slowly, putting his arm around Andros, “let me give you a quick history of the hyperdrive….”