In Altador, the first snowflake is always special.
Winter is a blessed relief against the scorching Altador sun, and on the eve of Christmas, delicate dewdrops of snow twirl down to kiss the earth below. They quickly multiply into an entire flurry of winter’s delight, and then the sky is filled with them, translucent crystals twinkling in the pale light of winter.
Through the domed glass ceiling of the Altadorian Archives, I gaze dreamily at the falling flakes, wishing I were out there romping in the freshly fallen snow. But I’m not -- I’m working in the library.
“Holly! The tinsel!”
See, my mum’s crazy about Christmas, and when she learned that Finneus the librarian was spending Christmas all alone in his old library, she sent us all over to spread some ‘Christmas cheer’.
Finneus really helped us a lot when we first moved to Altador. We had such a hard time adjusting; everything from the blazing sunlight to the archaic buildings around us was so different from the high-end lifestyle we had led in Neopia Central. Mum is convinced that the library is too austere, and is a woman on a mission.
She already has my brother Christopher, the only one of us with wings, flying to the ceiling of the great domed library to drape garlands over the luminescent, crystal chandeliers. My little sister Mistletoe hangs her namesake on the top of every doorway -- and you wouldn’t believe how many doors there are in a library.
Mum loves Christmas so much, she even named us - my brother, my sister and I - after seasonal items. I myself am named Holly, after the bright red berries of Christmastime. And as soon as Halloween rolls past, Mum gets that manic glint in her eye and starts getting out the wrapping paper.
Don’t get me wrong - I like Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with presents, snow, and good gingerbread, but she’s always trying to get me to see the ‘deeper’ meaning of Christmas. Mum rallies us to participate in a snowload of charity events, like working at the Soup Kitchen or caroling to the elderly, and it drives me crazy. She’s always going on about how the greatest gift is to give, but I’m just not seeing it.
Not that I don’t want to help old Finneus or anything. Before I had learned to fit in, I had always come to the Altadorian Archives to immerse myself in books.
One thing that hadn’t changed despite the move was my love for books. In the Altadorian Archives, I pored over scrolls, tomes, and epic lays alike. I devoured novels and manuscripts, flew through classics and poems. Finneus was only too happy to help me - I knew he was lonely, since the Archives were almost always empty. It seemed a shame; the library was big and sweeping, grand and always permeated with a sense of wonder. It was a peaceful place, a sunny, happy place of contentment, and I would always be grateful to Finneus.
But Christmas Eve? In the library?
“Holly! The tinsel!” Mum barks again, balancing perilously on a gigantic ladder to decorate an equally gigantic Christmas tree; it almost scrapes the ceiling. I have no idea how she is going to get the star on top. It's bedecked in finery - sparkling ornaments, crystal angels, glass faeries, and everything else imaginable.
“Ah, Mum, why can’t Christopher get the tinsel?” I groan. I don’t mean to complain, but I’ve been lugging around huge boxes of ornaments from our house to the library all day long.
Obviously, Mum’s furious concentration limits her brain usage, because she seems to be able to speak only in fragments. Wrangling furiously with some lights, she yells: “Christopher - doing garlands! Tree - need to be finished - Christmas is tomorrow! Holly! Get that tinsel NOW!”
I sigh. Never mess with a hardcore Christmas freak.
I heave the 50-pound box of tinsel up onto the last step of the winding staircase, panting like I have just run a marathon. No, a triathlon would probably be more apt - do you know how many floors there are in the Archives?! Still wheezing, I topple over and rest on the marble floor, muscles aching.
And then I freeze.
In front of me is a door.
A door that has never been there before.
I know that door has never been there before, because this is where I used to sit and read, in the nook of the library. Clearly the Christmas overdose has driven me batty because I am seeing phantom doors. Has that door always been there? It is just like all the other doors in the Archives, the same dark, polished wood and golden doorknob. It's perfectly normal... except that it's a door, existing where a door has never lived before.
Squinting, I scrutinize The Door, which I am beginning to think of as The Master of All Doors. Clearly a door with the power to magically appear has some sort of leverage over other doors. Tracing my furry Lupe paw against the intricate engravings, I realize with a start that this is not like every other door in the Archives. While the other doors are etched with carvings of heroes like Marak the Wave and Sasha the Dancer, this door is adorned with... the Sleeper.
The Darkest Faerie.
Inexorably, a shudder runs through me, shaking me to the core. Something evil lies beyond that door, I know it. Suddenly trembling, I withdraw my paw, only to find that I cannot. I am drawn to the door; inside it lies a heart of secrets. Its evil charisma calls to me, power beckoning me forth and drawing me in.
Mesmerized, I turn the knob of The Door, and I plunge into the unknown.
Sights soar before my eyes. As I am caught in the colourful whirlwind of it all, the scenes blur into focus, shifting and settling before rocketing off again, as if there were no time left in the world to see all that needed to be seen.
It is clearly Christmastime - the snow in Neopia Central flurries heavy and thick. The houses are lit with a warm, cozy glow, with ornaments sparkling through the frosted windows. In the streets, a small Grundo trudges bleakly along, bundled in ragged clothes. Other Neopians bustle about, warm in their coats and scarves, but not one spares a single glance at the freezing Grundo; they don’t even notice him. The only one who does knocks him over, and then turns around to glare at him as if this were the Grundo’s fault.
A family of Ixi gathers around a rickety table, the feeble walls of their shack barely standing up against the winter blizzard. The littlest daughter stares raggedly at her mother, not knowing why they have nothing to eat. If it is Christmas, why is she so cold and hungry? The question is clear in her eyes.
A young Kyrii stumbles along the frozen, slick lanes of Neopia Central, his little sister clasped in his arms. Desperately, he pounds on the door of the first Neopian home, and as it opens, warmth rushes out. “Please, sir,” the Kyrii begs, “my sister is ill - I don’t have any money for medicine and -” The door is slammed in his face.
As this door slams close, I wrench myself away from the dismal scenes, staggering out of the door, clawing my way out. I collapse on a heap on the other side, tears blurring my eyes. It is the future I saw, and it is utterly hopeless.
Quick footsteps shuffle down the carpeted hallway, and Finneus appears around the corner of the stairs, his face graven and suddenly very old.
“Holly?” he says quietly. “What is this?”
I shake my head mutely. The silent horrors rage about my head like the snow rages outside; no longer soft and gentle, but harsh. I’m not sure I can ever enjoy the snow in Christmastime ever again. How can I? For me, it is the promise of hot chocolate and snowball fights and snow angels. For others, it could mean sickness and hunger.
“Is that the future of Neopia?” I ask, begging Finneus to prove me wrong. “No hope? No kindness? No love?”
“Holly,” he said firmly, his eyes revealing the deep wisdom that was in him. “That’s not an image of the future. It’s a reminder; a reminder of not what we will become, but what we can become.”
“Why is that door here?” I exclaim, glaring angrily at it. “I hate that thing. It’s dark magic, isn’t it; it has a carving of The Darkest Faerie on it! What is it doing here?”
“It is indeed from the Darkest Faerie,” Finneus replies calmly. “And it was intended as a gift. When the land of Altador was brought forth, each of its thirteen founders gave it a gift. The Darkest Faerie wrought an enchantment on this door, many years ago. It was meant as a tool of evil, to spread hopelessness and despair.” Finneus looks at me sharply from above his spectacles. “But King Altador left it here as a testament to hope.”
I can think of nothing to say.
“It reminds us,” Finneus continues urgently, trying to get me to understand. “It reminds us of what could be, and what must not be. Holly, you must listen to me, for this is very important. There can be no light without the darkness, and you cannot appreciate the silence unless there is first a storm.”
And suddenly, I can understand how King Altador thinks the door is a symbol of hope. Every generous act or simple message of hope and love that we share could offset the possibilities of a future like the one shown through the door. Simply by reminding us of the misery in the word, we are given the tools to counter it.
And after all, Christmas is the season of hope.
End’s Note: Warmest wishes to my beloved Omneons, who make life so enjoyable for me.