Part 3 of Sidereal Days
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,
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.
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.