Sidereal Days — Friday

Perfect sphere

Part 5 of Sidereal Days

 

 

Part 1: Monday
Part 2: Tuesday
Part 3: Wednesday
Part 4: Thursday

Friday

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.

Together.

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.

“Yes.”

“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?”

He nodded.

“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.

The voice.

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?”

Of course.

“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.

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Sidereal Days — Thursday

Supernova Remnant Cassiopeia A (NASA, Chandra, 1/6/09)
Part 4 of Sidereal Days

Part 1: Monday
Part 2: Tuesday
Part 3: Wednesday

 

 

Thursday

Doug didn’t come home last night. He’s never done that before. I called him over and over the whole morning. They all went to voicemail.

But it got worse.

Metablade didn’t show up to the castle this morning. He’s never late. I mean, literally never. For the same reason he’s never struck in combat. Something about the edged hand of a clock that can slice through time. He’s never late and he never misses a meeting without telling me first. When he wasn’t already there when I arrived I knew something was very, very wrong.

I located Infinite String through the strand of starlight that connected us. She was in a shop in Burbank. I flew there as quickly as I could, even though it tears the air molecules apart. Metablade was in danger. I had no time to waste.

The shop turned out to be a fitness club. I saw her through the window, standing with a bunch of other women, in her civilian cloths. In the middle of a hot yoga class. I burst through the door and walked up to her.

“Mara,” I said. “We need to talk.” All of the women started at me. It was probably the urgency in my voice. And the fact that I wore sky-blue armor forged of starfire.

“Antara?” she stared at me. “Can it wait? I’m…”

“Metablade is missing.”

She nodded, and followed me outside. I grabbed her by the waist and leapt into the air. I flew back towards the castle. Quickly enough so as not to waste time, but not enough to suffocate her or tear the flesh off her bones.

We arrived, and she hooked into her network of threads and got to work. It was slow work, searching all of reality for a single person. I got antsier and antsier as time went by. Several times I interrupted to ask about progress, but she hushed me. An agonizing hour and a half later, she emerged.

“I can’t locate him,” she said. “He’s not anywhere within the Realms that’s uncloaked or unshielded.”

“So somewhere hidden, then,” I said.

“Sam,” she said. “There’s another possibility. He could be…”

Somewhere hidden, then,” I repeated.

She sighed. “It’s possible.”

“Can you find him?”

“Of course. But it will take time. A lot of time.”

“We don’t have time. He went to meet Cathari yesterday. Alone.”

“Shit,” she said.

“Yes. So what do I do?”

“You could appeal to the Guardians,” she said. “They could track him.”

I shook my head. “They won’t grant the boon without a Quest, and I don’t have time for that.”

“What about the Raven of the Stream?” asked Infinite String. “Aren’t you friends, or something?”

“I’m friends with Beverly,” I said. “But the Raven can’t have friends. It’s complicated.”

“Well I’ll start looking for him,” she said. “But it could take days.”

“Don’t bother,” I said. “I want you to work up a profile on Cathari. I might have to face him, and I’ll need any advantage I can get.”

“I’m on it.” She looked at me, and narrowed her eyes. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to Merge,” I said.

Her eyes widened. “Sam, are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I don’t have a choice!” I snapped. “Do you know what happens to this world if there’s no Metablade?”

She stared at me with a grave expression.

“Just get me that profile,” I said. “I’ll be back. Probably.”

I leapt up into the air before she could argue. I flew straight up, into the sky. I accelerated. Hydrogen split from oxygen around me, and burst into tiny pockets of flame. I kept going. Faster, and faster. Up, up, through the atmosphere, and out into space. I kept flying, until the earth was a pale blue dot behind me. Only then did I stop, and turn to face the universe. The universe full of stars.

As I’m sure you know, stars are giant balls of churning gas. Great nuclear reactors, where hydrogen mates with its brethren in a cataclysmic dances that spews atom fire into the cosmos. The fire heats worlds and sears flesh and breathes life and warmth into the cold universe. Sometimes the stars collapse and burst, and the flames they unleash forge heavy metals and incinerate worlds.

Those are the lesser stars. The dead stars. The bastard offspring of the True Stars, who are older than the universe and whose impossible light awakened the predecessors to the universe’s gods, stirred still molecules into life, and split the flat and even universe into the myriad Realms. They are Alive, in a way that makes our lives as candle flames next to supernovae. They watch all things, and keep all secrets. It is their Sidereal Fire that swims through my veins, granting me the power to do what I must do.

And they want me back.

I connected with them twice before. First when I first bonded with them, and I don’t like to think about that moment any more than I need to. The second time was when the Astrapedes, their parasites, burst forth to consume all of creation. The stars gave me the weapons I needed to fight them. But they did not want to let me go. Now here I was, prepared to do it again. Because my mentor was missing, and there was nothing more important in the entire universe than that I get him back.

I floated there, in the void of space, and called to them. I reached out with the fire inside of me and let it spread out into the reaching darkness. I grew cold. And then hot.

YOU HAVE RETURNED TO US, CHILD.

If you can imagine words spoke in the voice like a million hand grenades exploding in your ears, and written in front of you like a billion floodlights pointed straight at your retinas, then you still aren’t even close to the intensity of the utterings of stars.

“I seek knowledge,” I said. I couldn’t hear my voice at all. I could have said anything. “I see a boon.”

AND WHAT WOULD YOU GRANT US IN RETURN.

So I told them.

WE ACCEPT.

The world burst apart in front of my eyes. Everything went bright, bright gold.

And then black.

Sidereal Days — Wednesday

Obsidian

Part 3 of Sidereal Days

Part 1: Monday
Part 2: Tuesday

 

 

Wednesday

I did a press conference today!

Well, okay, it wasn’t really a press conference. But if I call it that it makes me feel like I’m finally putting my journalism degree to good use. Journalism was already starting to die out as a viable career option before I finished my coursework. Plus, it was around that time that I became bound to the boundless fire that burns in the souls of the stars that kindled the universe. That was probably a factor.

Technically Metablade was supposed to do the conference. But he passed the duty to me.

“It is an honor for which I believe you are ready,” he said as he handed me the torch that was the key to the Cavern of the Unspoken Whisper.

“Please,” I said. “You just don’t want to talk to the press.”

“The Chroniclers of the Unspoken are not the press.”

I shrugged. “Close enough. And why are they called the Unspoken, when all they seem to do is talk about stuff?”

“They are the scions of an ancient mystery tradition that dates back to before the Forging of the First Word.”

That was Metablade speak for “I don’t know.” I let it go. All of this was just an attempt on my part to hide how ridiculously excited I was. I thought Metablade would find my enthusiasm unseemly.

“What’s so important you have to foist this off on me?” I asked.

Metablade narrowed his eyes. “Cathari has requested a meeting.”

If I’d been drinking water, I would have spit it out.

“And you’re going?” I blurted out. “Alone?” He nodded. “Um…don’t you think that’s kind of…really really stupid?”

“I have no choice,” he said.

I sighed. Whenever Metablade says that, there’s no arguing with him. Even though he was totally wrong. Cathari, or should I said the Cathari, is the ancestral enemy of the Metablade. They were technically in a truce right now. But a truce between enemy forces of the universe isn’t worth the paper-thin skin of reality it’s written on. Metablade was a lot weaker without me, because he didn’t have my conceptual framework to draw on for additional weaponry.

“Fine,” I said. “But I don’t like it.”

“Then it is beneficial that it does not require your approval.”

So I took the torch with the dark-burning flames and stepped into the Cavern of the Unspoken Whisper with a distinctly sour taste in my mouth.

Blackness swallowed me. When it receded, I found myself in a cave of volcanic glass, sprinkled with points of light that shimmered like a night full of stars. Whispers filled my ears, and crept into the deepest parts of my mind. I heard my mother, telling me she loved me, and that is why she had to die. Metablade’s voice spoke, and told of everything he had sacrificed to teach me, and everything I would need to sacrifice, in the days to come. I heard Alanna’s voice, screaming as she was consumed by starfire.

I took a deep breath and stepped forward. I expected this. Metablade had warned me, and given me mental exercises to soften its edges. A breathing technique, and a rhyme to repeat in my head. It helped. That didn’t mean it was easy. I walked on.

I took exactly forty-seven steps to get through the cave, just as Metablade instructed me. That’s harder than it sounds. The whispers grew louder. No, not louder. More intense. More real. I breathed, and I rhymed, and I walked. Forty seven steps later, I stepped through an arch, wreathed in shimmering whispers. I felt myself lurch forward, and fall down and down and down. Finally I landed on my feet, sending a powerful jolt through my body. If I hadn’t been wearing my white armor, it probably would have broken my legs. I opened eyes I hadn’t realized were closed, and looked around. I was here. I was in the Cavern of Unspoken Whispers.

Damn if it didn’t look like a Denny’s.

“Welcome,” said a warm voice. “You are expected, and well met.”

I blinked, and I saw four people sitting at a table. They weren’t there before one of them spoke. At least, I hadn’t seen them. And what strange people they were. Even for someone like me, who pretty much sees strange things for a living.

The tall woman who only existed as an outline in purple flame had to be Chronicle. She was pretty famous. She’d been here from the beginning.

Next to her was a creature that looked like it was made out of airplane parts, randomly clanged together in the vague shape of wildebeast. I didn’t know its name.

Then there was a bottle floating just above the seat, pouring out dark liquid that spilled into the shape of a thin man. I recognized him, too. That was The Wet Whisper. I spent part of this morning’s preparation repeating that name over and over until it no longer forced a laugh out of me every time I said it. It nearly worked.

The last person was an overweight, middle-aged man in, sure enough, a Denny’s t-shirt. I guessed it was his turn to pick the venue. Or something. He would have looked like some random guy on the bus, except that he wore an elaborate brimmed hat covered in flowers, like the sort of thing my grandmother would war. And he had a strange, matronly expression on his face. It reminded me of, well, my grandmother. It was he that spoke.

“Don’t be nervous, dearie. Have a set, and we’ll get started.”

I sat down.

“What is the name of your birth?” said Flower Hat.

“Samantha Eldra Alanon,” I said.

“And with what name do you do battle?” It was Chronicle that spoke this time. Her voice crackled over me like fire, if fire was made of sweet wine.

“Antara,” I said, just as I rehearsed. “For the brightest star in the sign that heralded my birth. And to remind me, and those I fight against, that strength alone is never enough.”

“By what right,” said the Wet Whisper in a sinewy voice, “do you call yourself Warrior?”

“I weild the Sideral Fire,” I said. “As a weapon, and a thread to bind the fraying edges of reality, and to protect. It burns through my veins, and gain power through the sacrifice.”

“Very well,” said the airplane wildebeest, in a perfectly ordinary voice. “Let us begin.”

And so we did. It wasn’t as difficult as I fear it would be, but it was still intense. They asked about Metablade, and me, and all of the being’s we’d fought and secrets we’d uncovered since last time we were chronicled. Sometimes they took turns asking questions, and sometimes several of them asked at once, very quickly, and I was expected to answer. Sometimes they seemed friendly, and sometimes angry or hostile. I knew all of this was coming, but again, that didn’t make it easier.

“Why did Metablade kill the bearer of the Woven Pattern?” Flower Hat bellowed at me at one point. “That was foolish, and irresponsible. Answer!”

“We had no choice,” I said between gritted teeth. “The Pattern had seeped into the Stream, and the bearer was corrupted. She wanted to spread her insane vision out into the Stream, and infect everyone who drinks from its waters. Which means pretty much everyone on earth who thinks. The only way out change Bearers is for the last Bearer to die. What else could we do?”

The very next question, Flower Hat was all sweet and kind again. It went on like that for hours. A lot of the questions were probing, and some of them were very personal. They asked me about my sex life. Specifically, if Metablade and I were involved. I said we weren’t, but they kept asking for almost half an hour, until I wanted to stand up and wrap tendrils of starlight around every one of their necks. But I didn’t. I kept calm. And maybe that was the point.

“Very well,” said Chronicle, after she asked her final question. “The questioning is done. You have been Chronicled.”

I sighed with relief, and stood up.

“You did fine, dearie,” said Flower Hat. “Quite well, for your first time.”

“Yes,” said airplane parts. “Quite well. Better than average. When we questioned the first human Metablade, I do believe he urinated himself.”

Oh man. That made it all worth it.

After I left I tried to track down Metablade and talk to him about it. I really needed to decompress. And I wanted to know what the hell was up with the flower-hat guy. I knew for a fact there weren’t any human Chroniclers, so what was he?

But Metablade was nowhere to be found. He had cut off the string of starlight I keep tied around him so we can communicate. He did that sometimes. When he didn’t want to be found. I knew he could take care of himself. More than that. He was smart. Brilliant. He wouldn’t get involved with anything he couldn’t get himself out of. Except he’s not always so smart when Cathari is involved.

It left me nervous for the rest of the day. So I decided to go to Colcannon’s. It’s a Warrior’s bar. Actually it’s the Warrior’s bar. There aren’t that many of us, and even few places that would be comfortable housing more than a few of us in the same spot. I don’t often go there. Metablade doesn’t like crowds. And even though the Warriors are culled from all the beings of the Realms, there is an air of machismo that I don’t really did either. I suppose it’s inevitable that when a group of fighters get together, most of what they do is talk about past battles. But right now I needed company. And a strong drink.

Lucitan and Foxshroud were both there, so I ended up drinking with them. Lucitan is a bit intense, but she doesn’t speak much. And Foxshroud is a blast. Her Warrior style is less about swinging a weapon and more about doing the kind of things that would get you locked up in most Realms.

“Nothing like being able to leap between worlds to shorten your prison sentence, I always say,” she said after a round of resin.

Her stories were always hilarious. It took my mind off of Metablade. At least, until it was time to go home, and he still hadn’t contacted me. I thought about swinging by Infinite String’s place and seeing if she could find him. But that was just paranoid. And Doug would worry if I was home late. Plus, I was really looking forward to seeing him. No one eases my tension more than Doug.

But I was disappointed. Doug wasn’t home when I got there.

“Honey!” I called out. To no answer. When I got upstairs, I saw a note taped to the bedroom television. Doug never texts me or leaves me a voice mail when he’s going out. He leaves hand-written notes. It’s adorable.

I got a lead on a new client who wants me to write a bunch of copy for his new catalogue. Only he wanted a meeting straight away. I’ll call if I’m going to be back after 10. There’s some tomato sauce and chicken sausages in the Crock Pot. You’ll have to cook your own pasta. Or have a sandwich. You could also have a sandwich.

I love you,

Doug

I had a sandwich. And I watched TV. And I tried to read my book, which was Witches of Eastwick for the fiftieth time. But as time stretched out, I got more and more nervous. Metablade still hadn’t contacted me. It was almost 10, and Doug still hadn’t called. Plus I was mentally exhausted from this ridiculous day. That’s probably why I did it.

It was sitting right there. Right on the bedside table. Like it wanted me to read it. Doug doesn’t like me to read his manuscript. But then he shouldn’t have left it there. It was his fault, really.

Right.

I picked it up and began to read. My jaw dropped open immediately. I didn’t know what this was going to mean. What this was going to do. But there are some things you don’t want to see in a manuscript whose writer is unaware it is tied in to the fundamental laws of the universe.

Doug had decided to change the gender of the protagonist. He was a female, now. With a brand new name, of course. I had no idea where Doug had heard it, but it was familiar to me. So very familiar.

Her name was Antara.

Oh boy.

Sidereal Days — Tuesday

Crystalline

Part 2 of Sidereal Days.

 

 

Part 1: Monday

Tuesday

Not much to report today. Metablade and I spent most of the day trying to track down, get this, a real estate agent of all things. A real scumbag, too. Oh, look at me. Calling someone a scumbag. That’s never the sort of thing I would have done, a few years ago. It makes me sound like my old Uncle Randy. He was a cop, and he was always telling us kids stories about the criminals he used to chase down or get into shootouts with. Uncle Randy always called them scumbags, or dirtbags, or unkind epithets like that. A few times he used the word “shitbird,” which cause my mother to pull him into the kitchen and scold him about corrupting the children. I didn’t like that word, because I loved birds and that was a horrible image. It turned out most of Uncle Randy’s stories about the heroic things he did to scumbags were big old lies. Because Uncle Randy was kind of a scumbag.

So what were two Warriors –one of them Metablade, no less– doing spending their valuable time tracking down a real estate agent? It’s a tiny bit complicated. The first time I heard about how many of your dodgier real estate investors and developers were involved in otherworldly properties it blew my mind. This was about eight years ago, so it was after I spent those three weeks in Orc prison, and even after the Astrapede Invasion. Even with everything I’d seen, I was shocked to learn that rich moguls sank venture capital dollars into places like the Fields of Endless Blades or the Ten Thousand Planes of Purity.

It’s not strictly against the Echos of the Transcendent to do it, but it can be really dangerous if people aren’t careful. I don’t know about you, but when I think of dodgy real estate investors, “careful” isn’t the first word that springs to mind. For example, the Gardens of Verdant Weaponry used to be called the Gardens of Verdant Plenty. It was sort of the breadbasket of the Scattered Realms. Until some American prospector in the mid 19th century discovered it, and realized that anything you planted would grow there. So he started buying it up from the Dryads that ran the place. It’s not that they didn’t have a concept of property so much as that they loved opium. You’d think they could just grown their own opium, but I guess they didn’t think of it. Anyway, the prospector bought the whole place out, started planting weapons, and the rest is history.

This has been a problem forever, but it got worse after the housing bubble collapsed. It was bad enough when it was just a few greedy bastards here and there with access to a thaumaturge or a hula-hoop with dimensional transport powers. But in the last few years it’s turned into a whole industry, with Wall Street money and everything. It’s all run by a couple of agents with the right contacts or abilities. The worst of them is named Sebastian McGovern, also known as Whitecrest. Because his business card has a white crest on it. I said he was a scumbag; I didn’t say he was creative.

Anyway, for the last year or so Whitecrest has been buying up small pieces of land all over the Realms with seemingly no value connection to each other. Infinite String has been tracking it because…she’s Infinite String. That’s what she does. It turns out all of those pieces of land contain weak spots between Realms. All Whitecrest would have to do was blast through the weak spots, and he’d have the beginnings of a trans-dimensional roadway system that anyone could access and use. That is not a good idea.

So Metablade decided it was time to take him out. He didn’t want to be found. He wasn’t anywhere on earth, or Infinite String would have been able to find him. We chased leads to Ilginheim, the Single Point Forest, and the Gem Seas, where I managed to get Metablade to stop and have lunch. I had the most amazing lobster I’ve ever tasted, even if I needed to energize my teeth in order to bite through it.

Finally a sentient group-mind of corundum-sponges told us the Seas told them Whitecrest had passed through the cold south and off world into the Yceflows.

“I hate the Yceflows,” I told Metablade as we walked through the doorway. “They’re so cold.”

“The second coldest place in all the Realms,” Metablade said, pathologically didactic as usual, “after Wintervoid. Put on your red armor. And don’t let your guard down. A breach of your defenses like yesterday could lead to your instant death.”

I rolled my eyes, and did as he said.

We emerged into a vast plane of freezing whiteness. The Yceflows is exactly what it sounds like. A sunless world of ice and cold and nothing. There’s no ground, or sky, or anything. Just continents of glowing glaciers suspended in the frozen air. They have their own gravity, so each one is like a small planet of its own. There’s no way to get from one to the other, unless you have wings that cannot freeze.

Or you can propel yourself by starlight. That works for me.

We flew through the icy void for almost an hour before we found what we were looking for. A ten-mile diameter glacier, part of it carved into a huge fortress shaped like a familiar white crest. As we approached, I saw the ramparts and the roads leading up to the fortress were guarded, but hundreds and hundreds of…

“Frost trolls?” I scoffed. “Seriously? I didn’t think anyone used those things anymore. You’d think if McGovern could afford to have an entire glacier carved into a fortress he’d be able to buy himself some better bodyguards.”

“Don’t underestimate them,” said Metablade. “They are ideally suited for this environment. Even through your armor and my imagined protections, the cold hampers us.”

I rolled my eyes again. Then we landed, and got to work.

I’m not going to say it was an easy battle, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Neverghasts from yesterday. There were a lot of these trolls – I counted 567 – but none of them were a match for my Sidereal Fire or Metablade’s many katana. Like he said, the cold was more of a threat than the trolls. By the time we broke through to the inner sanctum – which of course was on the top floor of the stupid fortress – I could feel the chill biting into my skin.

We caught Whitecrest completely by surprise. I mean, he had watched the whole battle through a scrying glass, but he hadn’t expected anyone to be able to find him all the way out here. So he didn’t have an escape route. Pretty dumb, for someone running such an elaborate scheme. The thought tickled my mind as we dragged Whitecrest back out of the Yceflows and over to the Spheres of Incarceration. As we were leaving — after a drink with Tamael the Guardian, of course – something finally occurred to me.

“That was way too clever a plan for Whitecrest,” I said as we stepped back onto earth.

Metablade furrowed his brow. I wish my mask could do that. “He has engaged in complicated endeavors before. Do not forget he has developed his brand of development into a thriving industry, where once it was simply a collection of incidents.”

“He’s good with numbers,” I said. “And he’s fantastic with wheeling and dealing. But this takes serious lorecraft. A route through the Realms? I mean, nothing like that’s ever been done, right?”

“That is correct,” said Metablade. “You may be on to something.”

“Yeah,” I said. We talked about it for a few more minutes, but nothing came of it. Like I said, it was just an idea. And it was late. I really did need to get home.

As I walked up to the front door of my house, I mentally prepared myself to get ready to order more pizzas. When Doug gets into a funk – and nothing gets him funky like his manuscript being rejected again – it usually lasts for days. So I was wonderfully surprised when I stepped inside to the luscious aroma of sizzle beef.

“Sam, is that you?” Doug said from the kitchen.

“Yeah,” I called out.

“Excellent!” he slid into the dining room across the wood floor on his socks. He was wearing an oven mitt on each hand, and an apron that said “____ the cook.” He didn’t like his clothing to be too prescriptive.

“Taste this,” he said, and he put a wooden spoon to my mouth.

Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing.”

“Caramelized shallots, glace de viande, and a reduction made from that wine that was aged in clay.”

“But that wine was terrible,” I said.

He shrugged. “I found something to do with it.”

“Yeah you did.”

“Have a seat. The wine is already decanted. I cooked the beef sous-vide, now I have to sear it. I’ll be back!” He slid back into the kitchen.

We ate the dinner – which was exactly as good as it sounds – to the sound of violins. I asked Doug where all of this energy came from. He told me he started up again on the manuscript. He realized what was wrong with it, and he was going to rewrite the whole thing. He knew exactly what to do.

“It was so obvious,” he said, his eyes alight. “I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.”

“That’s fantasic, honey,” I said. And I smiled and kissed him and stroked the side of his face.

But inwardly, I cringed. I loved to see him this happy, but last time he rewrote the manuscript, things got…complicated. Maybe this time Metablade would realize what the manuscript really was, and what I had done. Or worse: one of the Guardians would realize it. Maybe this time I wouldn’t be able to hide it.

No. I can’t think like that. It’s unproductive. And besides, it doesn’t matter. Once Doug has changed the story in his head, it’s already different. Sure, nothing will happen until he gets the words down. But it’s inevitable. I don’t even want to think what would happen if I tried to stop it.

Doug’s energy lasted through dinner, into dessert, and…afterwards. But I’m not going to write down the details. There are some things between a husband and wife best not committed to words. I will say it was really nice, though. Slow, and passionate, and occasionally silly. As we lay there afterwards, my head resting on his chest, I thought maybe I wouldn’t mind how many times he rewrote the stupid manuscript, if this was the Doug I got in return.

Sidereal Days – Monday

Stars...

 

 

Part 1 of a seven part journal story called Sidereal Days.

 

 

Monday

Spent the whole morning fighting Neverghasts in the Shriveled Gardens of Nightmare. According to Metablade, some dumb horror movie opened this weekend to a really huge box office, and that weakened the border between life and dream. There’ve been rumors for awhile that the Neverghasts are under new leadership. Some wannabe oneiromancer or unfathomably alien lifeform who’s mind bled into human dreams, probably. The upshot is that the Ghasts took advantage of the weakness to try to break through.

It was a tough fight. It’s been a long time since I went up against a Neverghast. I forgot how hideous they are. All pointy-bits and dripping orifices. Two hours into the fight, one of them caught me off guard. It came at me with its scream-colored claws when I wasn’t concentrating. In these projection-realms your defenses are only as strong as your will. Usually that’s not a problem, but Doug and I went out last night and didn’t get back until late. We splurged on a good bottle of wine and I drank most of it. So I wasn’t concentrating, and the Neverghast’s claws penetrated my golden armor and sank into my shoulder. Do me a favor: if I’m taken out by a petty dream beast because I didn’t drink enough tomato juice to cancel out my wine hangover, don’t put it in my biography. Okay?

The wound hurt, but the worst of it was I knew Metablade would bitch me out afterwards.

He didn’t disappoint.

“You let your guard down,” he scolded me as he felled the last Ghast with his hypothetical scimitar.

“There were 67 of them!” I protested. “And one got through. Just barely. I’d hardly call that letting my guard down.”

“It violated the integrity of your armor,” he said.

I shrugged. “I’m still alive, aren’t?”

He scowled at me, and walked off to scan the bodies for evidence as to who or what is behind all of this. I knew he didn’t really mean it. He just thought it was job to criticize me. I can’t really blame him. The guy’s been doing this for I don’t know how many hundreds of years. At least, part of him has. Compared to that, my nearly-a-decade wielding my Sidereal Fire must make it seem like I just started yesterday.

After we finished with the scene Metablade took me out to lunch. A rare treat. I barely need any extra appendages to count the number of times I’ve seen him without his mask. I don’t know if I actually think he’s good looking, or if I’m attracted to him because he trained me and he’s Metablade. Daddy issues, maybe. I’d tell my therapist, if I could actually find a decent therapist.

We went to this great little bistro in a small village on the Orne river in Northeastern France. The food was good and the view over the water was beautiful, but damn if my shoulder didn’t hurt. I had hoped the dream-wound wouldn’t translate into my physical body. Sometimes they don’t. No such luck this time.

“I’m thinking of going to see Beverly this afternoon,” I said as we nibbled on cheese after the meal. “To get this wound healed.”

“The Raven of the Stream has priorities that go beyond curing your incidental battle wounds,” said Metablade. “It will heal. Perhaps it will scar, and teach you not to compromise your defenses.”

“She said ‘come by whenever you need to,’” I said. “And if Doug sees my shoulder all torn up like this he’ll freak.”

“It is frivolous,” said Metablade. “And there is another solution to the problem with your husband.”

“I do not want to talk about that.” I let my knife drop to my plate. “You know that. We’ve already discussed this.”

“A solution does not cease to be viable simply because it is ignored.”

“Can we talk about something else, please? Have you seen the latest Eastenders?”

“Of course I have.”

Metablade has this bizarre affection for British soap operas. Even though he can’t step foot on British soil because of some old contract with some being or other. So I keep up with them, just so I can distract him whenever I need to. It almost always worked.

But his comments about Doug left a bad taste in my mouth that the local pinot blanc couldn’t wash down.

I took a bottle when I went to see Beverly. Like I expected, she didn’t mind healing my shoulder one bit. Metablade thinks all of the Ascendent Guardians don’t have seconds in their day to do anything other than ascendantly guard things. Never mind that when I met him he was an Ascendent Guardian and he still had time to teach me to not die and all that.

Bev and I drank the wine and gossiped about other Warriors and had an embarrassingly girly time of it. I think most people just think of her as the Raven of the Stream, so she almost never gets to cut relax and have fun. It makes sense, I suppose. Her job is really important. She invited me to stay for dinner, but I told her Doug was cooking tonight and I really couldn’t miss that. So we hugged and said goodbye and I left.

I got home to find that Doug had not started dinner. Instead he was parked in front of the X-box in nothing but his ratty old Dalek t-shirt, a half eaten bag of Sunchips on the floor next to him. Not a good sign.

“Oh Doug,” I said as I walked into the bedroom. “What’s wrong?”

“I got a response on the manuscript,” he said without turning away from the screen. Something clenched in my chest.

“And?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

“What do you think?” he said. “It was rejected.”

I ran up to him and threw my arms around him. “I’m so sorry.”

“Of course it was rejected,” he said. “It’s crap.”

“No it isn’t,” I said. “It’s amazing. You shut the hell up about that.”

“I’m not saying anything that isn’t true, Samantha,” he scoffed.

“The manuscript is amazing. You know that. You’re just wallowing.”

“It’s not amazing. Otherwise it would be…”

“I said to shut the hell up about that!” I said.

“It’s just…”

“Are you going to shut the hell up about that?” I said. “Or am I going to have to get the riding crop out?”

The corner of his lips quirked.

“That’s not an answer,” I said. I pulled away from him. “I’m getting the crop.”

He threw his hands up in the air. “Fine, fine! You win! Don’t whip me; I can’t stand another thrashing.”

I laughed. “I’m going to go order a pizza,” I said.

He turned and looked into my eyes. “You’re amazing, you know that?”

“Yes,” I said. “Now put some pants on. You look like the elephant man.”

“I’m pretty sure the elephant man wore pants.”

“I know. I just couldn’t think of another insult.”

The pizza was lousy, but Doug and I sat in bed and scarfed it down like it was pate de foie gras. He promised to make dinner tomorrow, and slipped that he’d acquired some wagyu beef he was going to surprise me with. We talked about video games for almost an hour, and caught up on the last few episodes of Mythbusters. Then he put on some music by a new jazz pianist he’d just discovered, and we just lay there, entwined, until he fell asleep in my arms.

Metablade is right. As usual. I’m going to have to tell my husband that I spend my days fighting on the fraying edges of reality. I’m going to have to tell him that I have starlight in my veins instead of blood, and how desperately important that manuscript of his actually is.

But not today. Definitely not today.

Sidereal Days, Intro

The Pleiades on Ektachrome 100 film in 1986

It’s been 8 days since I last did a blog post. 8 is 1 more than 7. I’m here to explain these kinds of things. Mostly to myself.

8 days is far too long. In fact, it might be the longest I’ve ever gone without posting since I started the blog last November. I can’t confirm that, because that would require work. And if I have sufficient ennui and desiccated motivated that it’s been 8  days since a blog post, I’m certainly not capable of anything resembling work.

I’m going through a family crisis that involves frustration and stress and bodily fluids. I’ve already said too much about that, so I’ll leave it there.  I’ve lived the last week as a sort of mummified zombie ghost-knight. I know that sounds pretty cool, but it turns out the intersection of those three forms of undead effectively nullifies all of their useful or interested abilities. The only thing that is left is the feeling that I’m dead, drained of life and interest in anything, animated by nothing but necessity. And energy from the negative material plane, of course. The gist is that this experience has sapped my will.

And it’s bloody well time I took it back.

I’m starting a seven part story called Sidereal Days. It’s essentially the daily journal of a character for a single week, a sort of fantasy superheroy moments-in-the-life kind of thing. It will be posted in the form of one part per day over the next seven days. The parts won’t be very long. This is much less ambitions than the withering man, but I’m still not sure I can do it.

That being said, screw that. Of course I can do it. I know that because it’s already done. I’ve seen the whole thing, already finished. And I’ve seen that it’s a wedge to thrust under the door, so that I can kick it in and start caring about things again. Wallowing is so tempting when you’re inside of it. I’m lucky that eventually some part of me gets angry at my own weakness. I know not everyone has that trigger.

Okay, that’s enough biographical rambling about my problems. I specifically don’t like to use my blog for that, but in this instance I’m choosing to indulge, even though I’m going to feel like a schmuck about it later. But it’s only for four hundred words. I’ll get over it.

I’ll see all of you tomorrow.

Rhyme Lights, An Argument (in verse)

Name That Shakespeare Play!

Why is my brain producing so much poetry? It’s not deliberate, I promise!

 

 

Rhyme Lights, An Argument

It doesn’t take a whole lot of time
for the mind to produce a simple rhyme
The ones we’ve heard so often before
don’t really seem to require much more
brain power than something like petting a cat
or eating an orange, and I suspect that
is why simple rhymes don’t get that much credit
or take too much time to compose, or to edit.

And yet verse of compatible simplicity
is often accused of duplicity
or of feigning a true authenticity
if the syllables bear multiplicity
and hiding behind eccentricity
will not cease taunts of lyrical toxicity

Yet, if asked, I admit I suspect
that the rhymes themselves are not truly to blame
after all, Shakespeare’s verse is so often bedecked
with rhymes, yet the bloke is respected the same
and if you look closer I think you’ll detect
that doggerel tends to incite and inflame
because lack of images is its defect
verse laced with abstractions is tepid and tame
leaving rhyme’s reputation all tattered and wrecked
which I, for one, think is really a shame

Because verse that’s fermented, and aged like a spirit
can be sweet on the tongue to those with the taste
while those weaned on prose-milk will never go near it
as it must be sipped, and not gulped down in haste
and the careful addition of the nectar of rhyme
can honey the edges in the brew of pure verse
and awaken the palate, through tasting and time
of those who would otherwise never transverse
the barrier that separates poetry lovers
who drink in verse till they’re filled to the ears
from those who are scared and hide under their covers
whenever a sonnet or limerick nears

Images spin threads of verse into cloth
but there’s nothing like rhyme to turn words into song
they’re a beacon to emotion, like light to a moth
but folks still won’t read them if it all gets too long