Luz tried everything to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Hammers, axes, magic, saws, more magic, fire, even more magic (and magic explosions). Still, the door refused her. Why? After all this time and effort, why wouldn’t the damn thing open?
Sure, it was an enchanted door that would open the path to a potentially catastrophic amount of magic pouring back into the universe, causing endless natural disasters that would drown or bury most cities from existence. But! There was an equally high chance that wouldn’t happen and that the magic had been sealed away by ignorant fools for nothing.
She had to believe there was a reason why she could tap into a sliver of the magic locked behind the door; that this was it, her singular life purpose: open the door, restore its magic back to everyone like it used to be in the stories, where anyone could use magic, for good or bad.
That had to be it, right? That had to be why she was standing here, in the door’s pocket dimension, on a small plot of earth large enough only for one person to stand in front of it, swearing at this void-black door with iridescent veins flowing along its surface like water, living, taunting her to just open it already.
So why was it so hard to swing the damn thing wide?
Somehow, she had shoved the door apart just a crack ages ago. A thin, wispy line of light seeped out of a seam down the center. Whenever she used teleportation magic (as she had decided to call it, since she didn’t know the correct term and hadn’t seen others use it before—probably because it was dangerous and required sliding through space and time, but who was counting), she tapped into that sliver of warmth and power to travel wherever she wished.
She’d managed that slight opening unthinking as a child, then never again. What was she doing wrong now?
Worse, what if she wasn’t doing anything wrong? What if this door wasn’t meant to open for her after all; what else could there be for her but this? After everything, after all that searching. What else could there be?
Before she’d learned of that door, another had stood in her way. It was a far more ordinary door. Just decaying wood and rusted metal. A simple, old door. She heard voices on the other side, muffled. But the door was, again, ordinary and thin and it was easy enough to lean on and listen through, even for a small child.
“Magic’s not as unheard of in her father’s people, you know,” her aunt, who had just come in for a visit, was saying. “But spontaneous fire is definitely... odd, even by that standard.”
“I think she was trying to mimic a simple fire-lighting spell her father used to do. A small trick he performed for fun,” her mother said. “Very benign, sister, I promise.”
“Quite.” Her aunt’s tone made it clear she did not agree.
“Her father always did many strange and magical things, I wish he were still alive to tell me if it were normal. Normal for them, that is.” Her mother’s voice, the longing and hurt in it, made Luz miss her father even more. “But I’m telling you, for all her strangeness, I think she has so much potential. And her father’s eyes and that beloved awkward charm,” her mother insisted, voice high and wavering.
“And your general appearance in every other way.” Her aunt meant the color of her skin, lighter than her father’s, but would never say it so boldly. They never did, and never would.
“Yes, that certainly helps.” Her mother’s voice held no hint of sarcasm. “If she only performed magic a little less, and managed to look people in the eye and behave, things might go a little easier for her. For us both.” Something in her mother’s voice changed, then, as it always did when speaking to family. As if she tucked away any curiosity and interest in anything but being “proper,” whatever that meant, and buried the rest deep in her mind. Luz had seen her do it many times.
“Leave her with me and my daughters for a season, dearest, and we’ll see what we can do to improve her manners and deter her from using magic,” her aunt said.
“Oh, I would be so grateful. I leave Lucy to you.”
Later, far later, at a different door, Luz would realize why this conversation had felt so awful, and she would bristle and rage at the wrongness of it; in hearing that name that wasn’t her name at all. But in that moment all she felt was shame in herself. She had bolted from the old door, tears streaming down her face, and found herself wanting to be anywhere but there.
That was when she found the void door.
She never figured out how or why her longing had brought her there. Later, far later, she theorized that maybe, when she’d thought of fleeing that conversation, of being anywhere and nowhere, it somehow had transported her there. She’d run headlong into the inky black doorframe. And then there it was, a small seam of light that glittered down the center of the door.
From then on, she harnessed that light, dipped her hands into it to travel wherever she pleased. She didn’t think about opening the door fully. Not yet.
Luz had smiled and vowed to learn more about herself, about magic and its history, about the crack in the void door she’d just made, everything. It had given her purpose. It had helped her survive her home until she was old enough to travel far, far away.
Her first real door to knowledge, acceptance, and understanding had been a university door in her father’s country. A country of magic, and people who weren’t afraid of using it. This door was stunning, an ornate door with gilded filigree and beautiful intricate carvings that danced across what she guessed was ancient mahogany.
Enter To Learn Truth, Wisdom, and Light, the door’s enchantment decried, a confident whisper in her mind. The carvings also whispered something else if you listened, though; a different version that made her wonder why it had been replaced: Enter And Learn Truth, Commit Yourself And Learn Light.
She asked her professor one day, and he seemed surprised. “Not many can hear the older enchantments under the newer ones, that’s most impressive! Sometimes, you know, magic is difficult to fully erase. In that door’s case, perhaps that is a good thing.”
“How so?” she asked.
He tilted his head, eyes as brown as her own showing his confusion. “Do your people not teach about it?”
How to untangle the feelings that simple phrase invoked?
They aren’t my people, she wanted to say. But that was untrue. She had been raised there, benefited from looking enough like them, spoke her father’s language with a foreigner’s accent.
You’re my people too, she wanted to say. But it was equally untrue. Her father hadn’t lived long enough to teach his customs outside of a few simple phrases of his language and some small enchantments—like holding a small flame in your palm to light a candle or creating a small breeze to cool down on a hot summer day—nothing more (for all she learned more and more on her own).
Where do I belong? she wanted to ask. But she knew, as always, there would be no answer. She wanted to run to the void door, to its space between spaces, since she felt between as well. Maybe that was why it called more and more to her. She felt its powerful pull on her mind grow stronger each day.
“Ah, what am I saying, of course they wouldn’t teach you about that.” Her professor gave a rueful chuckle, oblivious to her conflict. “Your people tried to colonize ours, once. Long ago. Well, I mean, we weren’t special in that. They tried to colonize everyone. Assholes. Nearly destroyed this university with their magic.”
That was new to her. She leaned forward, mind hungry and eager to learn truths blasphemous to her mother’s people. “But magic is forbidden. Even basic performance magic.” She knew this from personal experience.
He laughed. “That’ll happen when you almost create a massive dimensional rift right across your continent. But then, I can’t imagine they taught you about that either. That, they actually feel shame about.” For the first time, he seemed to truly look at her, and she wondered if he saw how desperate and eager she was. He smiled. “Would you care to hear the story?”
That was how her professor told her about that door, her void door, and about how magic had been sealed away by her mother’s people out of greed and fear. It was the first time she felt accepted; like she was in on the secret.
But Luz didn’t tell him she could access a hint of the power beyond the void door; that she could feel its call and could use it to travel anywhere. She didn’t tell him of her new aspirations: to open the void door and bring magic back. To unmake the space between spaces, to rip that door born of fear and greed off its inky black hinges.
Instead, she walked through that university door day after day and listened to its whispers about commitment and light for almost a decade, until she felt unsatisfied, full of knowledge and still with no better answers to her newfound questions. How could she open the void door?
Oh she knew much more about the void door. She knew its history, how a great mage had sealed most magic and locked it away, leaving only a lingering trace, then gone on to preach against its use lest some mage tear the world asunder again! Or something very dour and ridiculous like that. But nothing she had learned or read or overheard had helped her open the door.
It was time to take all she’d learned and try to force it open.
“This is ridiculous!” she yelled.
The void-black door gave no response. The door was framed in light—the light from the crack she had made long ago. The light emanating from it had grown stronger the more she used it, but she didn’t know why. Its platform was surrounded by water, and the sky was a glittering globe of nebulas and stars, perfectly reflected on the water’s surface. It wasn’t an unfamiliar place, but she had never lingered.
Out of curiosity, she dipped her hands in the water (which was not her smartest idea, but she decided long ago that risks were worth taking chances). The stars rippled, shimmering. Was she manipulating the matter of an entire other dimension? Or was this just the easiest way for the magic to allow her to parse her surroundings? Did it even matter?
No, all that mattered was light and truth and freeing magic and opening this damn door. Which was still not budging.
She swore in her father’s language (it always felt better) and splashed the door with the starry water, tears of frustration stinging her eyes. Now equally frustrated at herself, she spoke a very forbidden spell, summoned a blade made of the deepest shadow, and stabbed the door instead.
She laughed because, honestly, it was ridiculous. Throw the best and strongest and most forbidden magic at the forbidden magic door and see no results. She had just stabbed a damn door with a dagger made of unspeakable darkness and it didn’t even leave a mark. There was something she was missing, something important. She felt like a child again, lost, poorly muttering half-understood words in her father’s language until she’d nearly lit a tablecloth on fire.
So she fled, and decided to search for answers somewhere new, somewhere she hadn’t returned to in a long time.
Her teleportation magic made it a quick jump to her mother’s family library. The door to its forbidden section was so unremarkable that it was at odds with the lavish family portraits (none of which included her) above grand bookshelves. It opened easily, at least. She locked it behind her.
According to records at the university, her mother’s ancestors were once noted and powerful mages—and the family library held some rather fun and surprising magical secrets.
Maybe it would hold hidden secrets about the void door. After all, their people (her people? Did she claim them as hers?) were responsible for creating it.
And sure enough, in plain sight, there was a tall shelf full of weathered, magical books. She gave an incredulous scoff. Her family was more hypocritical about magic than she’d ever wanted to imagine.
Then her cousin Jeanette was knocking at the door. “Who’s in here?” The doorknob wiggled. “I heard you. I know someone’s in there. Come out, now!”
Luz didn’t know why she suddenly felt guilty for sneaking in. After all this time, she still felt obligated to her family. It made her feel helpless and small.
Then she was knocked over and showered in splinters. She almost reflexively apologized out of shame—as if she had accidentally broken the door (which wouldn’t have been the first time)—but then she saw what had happened.
Jeanette had used wind magic strong enough to break the library door?
A part of her wondered if she should feel ashamed at how satisfied she was at her cousin’s obvious self-revulsion from using magic, staring and shaking at the remnants of wood scattered everywhere.
“Careful! Magic’s forbidden, you know,” Luz taunted as she hoisted herself up, shaking her traveling cloak free of splinters. “Decent technique for a wind spell, even untrained. You’d make a decent mage.”
That made Jeanette’s pale face turn bright red, her anger and hate and fear of everything magic apparent. “Why can’t you leave things alone, Lucy?” she all but screamed. “Why do you always ask and push and demand answers to things that are so—so unsavory? Why can’t you just be happy here with us, instead of going off and learning mage things? Why can’t things be like they were when we were little?”
Her cousin cried. Obviously her cousin was crying for herself. She feared breaking the rules, being seen as one of those people that can use magic (never mind that anyone, literally anyone, had been able to use magic before it was sealed away). And it stung to hear her family nickname again, after so long. Some part of her, that child listening at the door, still wanted her cousin’s acceptance, and her family’s love.
The rest of her knew that would never happen.
“My name is Luz, you know. Luz.” But she knew her cousin would never call her that. It was too different. She decided this would be the last time they said anything to one another, so she said, “And I hated how things were when we were little. I hated being forced not to use magic. I hated being made to feel like an outsider, by someone I considered a sister. And I hated that you, never once, tried to get my name right before simply replacing it. ‘Luz’ is not that difficult, you know. It’s beautiful.”
The rest caught in her throat, her heart too full of exhaustion and hurt and rage.
There was no point in trying to explain. The painful truth, the truth that had made her run to the void door for the first time so long ago, was that her cousin didn’t have the empathy for anyone unlike herself; was too comfortable inside her own skin to understand or care, and never had to try. For all she had viewed Lucy as one of her own once, Luz now knew better. Being a mental exception, being seen as like the rest of the family enough not to look too hard at the rest of her didn’t make Luz accepted, not really.
She’d fought to be valued and loved for so long, and for what?
So she sighed, picked her way around the fragments of the door—around Jeanette, sobbing, slumped on the floor—and walked away, for good. She saw then that it was important to embrace herself, to ask herself what she truly wanted and make sense of her own belonging (even if it didn’t always feel like she belonged anywhere).
That was when it struck her.
There was one thing she hadn’t done to the void door yet: ask it a question.
And here she stood again, in the void dimension. Here was untold magic locked away (or untold catastrophe), and she hadn’t once thought to ask the void door anything about that. She’d been too caught up in proving herself—too reactive. Never caught her breath.
So she straightened her back, held her head high, inhaled deeply, and did nothing but count her breaths for several minutes.
“What do you want from me?” she finally asked, and the asking was an incantation all its own. A magical plea, a humble spell. A simple knock at the door.
In hindsight, maybe she should’ve started with that over trying to stab it.
Oh good, I’m glad you finally stopped applying explosives to my frame, it replied. Its voice buzzed in her mind, both high and low, a deep rumble and a high whispered echo all at once.
“Why won’t you open?” she asked.
Is that what you want? it replied.
“What? W-why would it matter what I want?”
Because you’ve come here, and you’re asking. And since you’ve come here, I respond to what you want.
Well, that wasn’t where she’d expected this conversation to go. Had she even expected to have a conversation with the door? After all these years, could she have just chit-chatted with it all along?
“I want... to know why. Why did you call to me? Why did you let me travel through you?”
Anyone can! All they had to do was find me and ask. And have enough learned magical understanding to hold all of that in their mind at once, but hey!
You could use teleportation magic, as your memories call it, by means of a small crack in my frame simply by being yourself and having luck and a lot of self-taught and frankly uncanny understanding of things. Good for you!
She was going to get a headache. “Okay... if it was that simple, then can you tell me why? Why—” she stopped short, aware her words, laced with magic, had untold power in a pocket dimension brimming with energy. But in her heart, she still felt the words: Why am I so broken? Why can’t I even do what I thought I was meant to do.
Come now, there’s nothing broken about you, it replied, because it heard her thoughts. And I don’t know what you’re meant to do. I’m just a magic door.
“Then why did you whisper to me? Why was I the one to find you? Are you not my purpose?”
I think that’s a lot of loaded questions. We could get into what ‘purpose’ even means, for eons—and time is irrelevant here, so that’s fun. But I don’t really know. Again, I’m just a magic door designed to thwart someone allowing all of magic back into the realm. That’s it.
She laughed, and it felt good. “It can’t be that simple.”
Why not? the door replied.
Well, why couldn’t the answer to all her questions simply be to stop trying to prove herself—stop trying to prove she wasn’t a broken or lesser person but a whole, wonderful being? Why not ask herself what she wanted instead of simply trying to do what she felt she must do? Why not go after things simply because she wanted to? For good or bad?
I certainly can’t define any of that for you. Good and bad are far beyond me. Your life is yours to define, Luz. Which feels incredibly complicated because humans and life are very complicated, so. Good luck with that.
Her life was her own. Not her mother’s, not her family’s, not this weird void door’s. Hers. No more doors trapped in pocket dimensions to give her life meaning. All of it was hers and hers alone. That was horrifying.
That was freeing.
“You know that what I want is chaotic, right? You know I want to bring back magic as it was, so everyone can use it, so that it can’t be restricted,” she said. “Which means that someone else could misuse magic again once it’s unleashed.”
What an interesting conundrum for someone who’s not a magic door with only a singular function to solve! Well? Will you embrace what you want?
And so, gently, Luz put a hand to the door, reveled in the brilliant beam of light that broke down the center, and pushed it open.