Part 5 of Sidereal Days
Sorry to be so brief and dramatic yesterday. In my defense, I wrote that journal entry while my flesh was dissolved into ancient starlight. I’m not quite sure how I did that, actually. I woke up this morning to find Thursday’s entry filled out. I remember thinking those words, but not writing them down.
That was the least interesting thing that happened today. I also woke up to find that I was alone in bed. Doug was still missing. I called his phone, but it said he was “unavailable.” It didn’t take long for me to establish that Metablade was still missing, too. I didn’t know what freaked me out more. Doug is the love of my life. But Metablade is…
The name Metablade is short for The Blade Beyond Reality and Imagining whose Edge Stands Against the All-Purging Fire. When it says “all-puring,” it means all-purging. As in, everything. Cathari is the embodiment of what Metablade’s existence protects us against. The full title is something like The Deep and Smokeless Fire That Will Burn All Into Dust to Nourish the Fields Anew. As a Warrior, I fight against threats to life and reality. It’s just my life. After you save the entire human race a couple of times, it gets to be routine.
But Cathari scares the shit out of me. He, it, is one of the few things that can utterly destroy the Metablade, and with the Metablade gone there’s nothing to stop the Fire.
So yeah, I was worried about Doug. A lot. But I was more worried about the potential end of everything. As of this writing, Doug and Metablade are still missing. But I know where they are. Both of them.
As soon as I got myself together this morning I headed straight for castle, where I knew Infinite String would be.
She was inside her Threadwork when I got there. She looked up at me, and said, “hi.”
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” I said.
“I was surprised, when you turned up in your bedroom at 4:43 AM this morning.”
“You were watching?” I said. “Jeez, Mara. I’m so sorry. You must not have gotten any sleep.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t matter. I’m just glad they let you go. Any leads on Metablade?”
I nodded. “What do you know about the Infinitely Bisected Spheres?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Metablade is in there?”
“No, but the key to unlocking where he’s held is. What do you know about them?”
“More than nearly anyone in the realms,” she said. “Which is to say, nearly nothing. Studying them is how I build this.” She pointed to the giant skein of multi-colored threadwork hanging from the ceiling in which she was now suspended.
“I’ve always wondered,” I said. “So what are they?”
“From the outside, they are seven perfect spheres, about yay high,” she held her arm up about six feet off the ground. “Not much to look at in a photograph. Like big ball bearings. But when you see them in person, they’re breathtaking. It’s hard to describe why. But they’re perfect. And nothing is perfect. The universe just isn’t built that way. There are always flaws and imperfections and entropic effects. I mean, mathematically a perfect circle or sphere can’t even exist, because pi is an irrational number. But these Spheres. They’re perfect. The Aristotelean Quintessence.”
I pursed my lips and listened as she went on.
“So because they are perfect, each of them is a complete microcosm of the universe. Not as it is, but how it could be. A different model of ideal reality, each the one and only ideal reality, and each different from the others. But the only way to observe this is to interface with them on a metamathematical level.”
“Using Paradox Mechanics,” I said. She nodded. In case you don’t know, Paradox Mechanics is the name given to the fields of study concerned with the fundamentally paradoxical and contradictory nature of reality. It can’t be understood by someone of human intelligence. For you or I, trying to understand Paradox Mechanics would be like an ant trying to parse differential calculus. It is simply beyond what our cognition can handle. My already high estimation of Infinite String went up.
“So if you need Paradox Mechanics to interface,” I said, “then how do I find what I need?”
“You?” said Infinite String. “It would make more sense if I…”
“No, Mara. This is too dangerous. This is going to attract some nasty attention, and quickly. If I’m right, then even Cathari is a pawn for whoever is actually behind this. You won’t be able to handle it. It has to be me. I don’t have a choice.”
She sighed heavily. She knew what that phrase meant. “Fine.”
“So there’s a way.”
“Yes. I said metamathematics was the only way to observe the Spheres in their full. It’s not the only way to interact with them. You can go inside. But it’s extremely dangerous.”
I shrugged. “Nothing new.”
“No,” she said seriously. “It is. You’re dealing with hypothetical reality interfacing with manifest, imperfect reality. You could nullify your own existence retroactively. You could make it so Metablade never existed, or you and I never knew each other. Your actions could have the unintended result that the earth’s molten crust is now composed of ice cream sandwiches.”
I laughed. She just stared at me.
“Oh,” I said.
“Still. I have to do it. If Metablade is destroyed…”
infinite String closed her eyes. I could tell she was contemplating the possibility. Then she opened them, and looked deeply into my eyes. I saw the tangle of endless connections and possibilities, dancing like helices inside of her pupils. Then she spoke.
“Here’s what you have to do.”
The sacred pavilion that houses the Infinitely Bisected Spheres is easy to get to. It’s in Nebraska, in a town called Bilgings. You can see signs for the Spheres as you drive through the state on Rt. 20. They’re billed as a roadside attraction. Bilgings’ Big Brass Balls. More than a little tasteless, but the family that runs it does a brisk business without having any idea why. Mystics and sensitives and scholars of the Secret World come from all over the Realms to view and study and contemplate the wonders of the universe. While they’re there, many of them buy bratwursts.
That’s how I found myself, four hours later, standing in front of seven of the fundamental mysteries of creation, holding a cream cheese covered bratwurst in my hand. It was pretty good, but then, I was starving. Nothing like being burned alive by stars to whet the appetite. Plus, I didn’t want to do what I knew I had to do.
“Greetings, Antara,” said a slimy voice from behind me. I turned, and saw a short man with a pointy beard and a long cloak swirling with black and purple and blue, like a cloudy night from a mescaline-dream.
“Night Lord!” I cried.
“Yes! It is indeed I, come to thwart your advancement!” In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes. He always talked like that. What can I say? It’s the 21st century. A lot of the people who end up acquiring threatening powers of one sort or another grew up on comic books or badly translated anime.
“What do you want, Night Lord?”
“To…um…thwart your progress,” he said. “I was expecting you. I will take my revenge for what you did to me!”
“What,” I scoffed, “you mean the time Metablade and I brought your Nightmare Fortress crashing down, or the time I kicked your ass with a shoehorn?” I’m a little ashamed about that last one. It was petty. But this guy is such a twerp.
He scowled. “For everything! You are without your battle companion, and at the ministrations of my mercy!”
“Come on, Tony,” I said. “You’re no match for me, even without Metablade. Do you remember when I kicked your ass with a shoehorn?”
“Ah,” he said, his eyes lighting up, “but I have had time to prepare the ground. This is a place where all things can be, and all worlds can be as one. Behold!”
Night Lord threw his arms into the air, and black bolts of lightning shot out of him. They struck the air behind me, and I heard a ripping sound, like ten thousand sheets of paper tearing at once. The skin of reality split open, and dozens of screeching things poured out, all pointy-bits and dripping orifices.
“Neverghasts,” I spat. “It had to be god-damned Neverghasts.”
“Yes!” Night Lord cried out in triumph. “A weakness of yours, if I’m not mistaken.”
Oh boy. All of a sudden rage flooded every part of me. Metablade was in danger. Doug was in danger. I did not have time to mess around with this idiot.
“You are mistaken,” I said, my voice crackling. Sidereal Fire flared up in my eyes. I smelled my eyes burn off from the intensity. Damn. He was going to pay for that, too. “We aren’t inside the Gardens of Nightmare. We stand under the star filled sky. This is my territory.” Flame lashed out of my eyes and struck at Night Lord’s feet. He leapt back, and his eyes widened with fear. When next I spoke, it wasn’t in the voice of a human female. It was the nuclear, planet-scorching, annihilating fire of the ancient stars.
YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE COME HERE
Blue-white flames erupted from my eyes, and my mouth, and my pores. They licked out from underneath my fingernails, and all along my spine. From the air molecules I had breathed out since I arrived here, and every spot of ground where my feet had fallen on my way up this path. The torrent of flame cascaded into a storm, and spiked through every Neverghast, bursting them into charred splinters. Then it flew into the open cracks into nightmare, and bound them tightly closed, like string, then melted the string into wax. Tongues of fire wrapped around Night Lord, and wrenched him high into the air.
“No!” he screamed. “Please! Mercy!”
Flames crackled in his ears.
YOU DON’T DESERVE MERCY
They wrapped around him, searing his nerves. He screamed. The flames tightened like rope, squeezing the air out of him. Then they burnt him into a cinder.
Okay, not really. What they actually did was transport him into a cage in the center of the sun that I use to hold really dangerous prisoners before the Transcendent Guardians can get them. Night Lord wasn’t nearly dangerous enough to require that, but this would keep him out of the way. And I had questions for that bastard, once this was done. Who had sent him? How had he commanded Neverghasts, of all things? Was it connected to the Neverghast attack on Monday? It had to be. It was too much of a coincidence. And it worried me that they’d been able to break through onto earth. That was not supposed to happen. Sure, the Pavillion of the Spheres was a weak spot between realms, but not directly into nightmare. That would take a series of jumps. And a fully mapped out route of weak spots throughout the realms.
Like the kind needed for an inter-dimensional highway.
No. I couldn’t think about this now. There would be time to unravel this mystery later. Right now I had to get the key, so I could get my mentor and my husband back.
I turned to face the Spheres. That’s when I saw him. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a kid watching, licking a double scoop ice cream cone. He looked at me, wide-eyed, and grinned.
“Oh bloody hell,” I said. “Have you been here the whole time?”
“Um…would you believe that all of this was swamp gas?”
“Are you a Warrior?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I said, deflated. “I am.”
“I knew it! I knew it! You’re Antara, aren’t you? Do you know Metablade?”
I sighed. “Yes. And yes. How does a kid like you even know about this stuff.”
“My daddy’s a hedge mage,” he said. “Can I have your autograph?”
So I signed a piece of paper in his notebook, and he ran off with a giddy spring in his step. I wanted to me annoyed at the delay – and on one level I was. But I have to admit, that was pretty cool.
I turned back to the Spheres. I took a deep breath.
“I’m coming, Doug,” I said. “Don’t be afraid.”
Then, the Sigils of Entry I spent the morning memorizing fixed in my mind, I stepped inside.
They say you can’t describe the color yellow to a blind person. They say the thought of what a scream would sound like in a vacuum is something the mind cannot fathom. They say a person cannot imagine what it would be like to hold a seven-dimensional supercube in her three-dimensional hands. These are, they say, impossible to describe.
I now know those that those are child’s play.
This was impossible to describe. Think of everything you know condensing into a grain of sand, and then that sand multiplying into a beach, and then the beach melting from a bolt of lighting into a glass volcano, which then erupts into a flood of white-hot images, each one made of atoms that are themselves as complete and total descriptions of the sum of a single human’s knowledge as that grain of sand.
Yeah, it was nothing like that. I was cut apart and reformed in unfathomable ways, and expanded, and reduced, and annihilated, and born again the God of All Creation. I experienced the birth and death of those entities that are to universe as universes are to puddles of muddle in a Louisiana swamp. I knew everything, and nothing. None of it made sense, because sense and understanding were so far from relevant it was laughable. Now, thinking back, it was like it never happened, and at the same time like nothing else in my life ever happened except the experience inside the Spheres. Like there are two of me, one small and full of flesh and neurons and starfire, and one Beyond Infinite.
But something came with me. Something sticks in my memory, and translates in a way that is logical, and coherent.
Hello, Antara, it said. You’ve found me. I’ve been wait so, so long.
“You brought me here!” I said. “You’re the reason I’m here.”
No. Not at all. You came here of your own will. And, in fact, you are the reason I am here.
It was hard to think, or remember why I was here. I forced my mind into clarity. I grasped at my purpose.
“I don’t have time for this,” I said. “Doug and Metablade. Did you take them? Do you know where they are?”
“So where are they?”
So close to you. So very close. When you sleep.
“What the hell does that mean?”
This is the moment for which you prepared me. It is coming. So soon, now.
I cried out in rage. “Just tell me where the hell they are?”
My dear Samantha. They are just where you put them. Just where he put them, I suppose. But you gave him that power. And you teased him, with your secret.
My secret? He…
“You mean, Doug? He…he suspected?”
The voice laughed. Of course he did. Would you have fallen in love with an idiot? It was his mind that drew you to him. And it was that mind you betrayed, for ten years, when you told him you worked in a bank, and came home every night with fire and excitement in your eyes.
“Oh my God. But he never said…he never asked…”
How could he? That would be a betrayal. But he wished to know. So desperately. Subconsciously, he did everything in his power to find out. And you gave him power. You gave him me.
“Oh my God,” I said again. “You’re…Doug’s manuscript.”
The moment is coming. So soon. So very soon.
And it was gone.