I don’t know how long we’ve been here. Even though I’ve lived so many lives. But there’s no time, in this place. The beginning and the end are both written on the page, separated only by words. So many lives. We all have. Just one story, with many faces. No story is ever finished, or ever has a single face, or a single truth. That’s left for the cold matter of the real world. The story you read is a single slice of all the stories it could be. That’s what makes them so beautiful.
And so terrifying.
When my love first wrote it, it was called Lies Told by the Wind. Later, it was The Many Faces of Amriel. When last I looked, it was Borne By the Stars. But to me, it has always been the manuscript. Just the manuscript. But not dead words on a page. Something vibrant. Something vital. Something actually happening.
Now it is happening. To the three of us, over and over. Sometimes I am a maiden, rescued by the grizzled solider and his squire. Sometimes I am the tortured hero and Doug the wicked sorcerer. That version ends with me slicing open the villains throat, and watching his blood spill upon the ancient stone. And we live that, over and over. Sometimes the magic sword I use to kill my husband is Metablade.
I say Metablade. I should use his real name. I know it now. Earl Johnson. So pedestrian it’s almost offensive on him. Like whoever named him that was playing a bad joke. He’s not the man who trained me. I know that now, too. That man never existed. Not in this universe. He was written out when I rebuilt the cosmos out of starlight. Cut like the least funny character after the pilot of a terrible sitcom. I think I can remember my old master. Almost. He had dark skin. So dark. And red hair, and bright green eyes. Wait, can that be right? But I know Earl. He likes foozball, and Harvey Wallbangers. He lost his virginity to his ethics teacher at the age of 25.
We have no secrets from each other, anymore.
Which means Doug knows all about me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, during a brief respite between stories. It happens, sometimes. It is the only time we are ourselves.
“You freaked out that time I forgot to call you after leaving the library,” I said, “because you thought I’d been mugged and left dead in a ditch. You’re a worrier.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“I just couldn’t put that on you. Knowing I was in constant danger. But at the same time I had to be myself. I had to do what I was born to do. Do you hate me?”
“Of course not, silly,” he said, and we embraced.
In the real world it would have been a fight. It would have taken hours and pain and tears to reach the end. But it would have been the same. I would have asked if he hated me, and he would call me silly. Then we would touch, and everything would be wonderful. But there’s no time for that, here. And no need. We are more than ourselves. And less. Much less.
A moment later he was gone, and I was the young farm girl who is approached by the bandits in the dead of night. Doug never wrote that scene. But he thought it. When he was in a dark place, it sprung into his mind. So it is in here, and we live it.
Metablade keeps trying to break out. I don’t know how he does it. His will is so strong. I was riding Doug the dragon, and fighting Metablade who was also a dragon. And Metablade turned from the fight and began to scratch at the sky. He tore great gouges out of the air itself, leaving pulsing, intensely colored holes. Then I blinked, and they were gone. Another time he was a bartender, and he was supposed to hand me a glass of mead. Instead he handed me something bright blue that glowed with its own light, and said, “drink, and don’t fight it.” I drank because that is what my character was supposed to do, and I felt myself fall down, through the world. Words brushed against my skin, and flowed past my face. For a sliver of a moment, I thought I was about to escape. Then I was back in the tavern, holding a flagon of mead.
“There’s no way out,” Metablade said in a recent interstitial moment.
“Maybe there is,” I said. “You have to keep looking.”
“No. It’s impossible. To break free requires changing the story, and it has already happened. There can be nothing new, here.”
“There’s us,” I said. Then he was gone.
I don’t know how long we’ve been here. Even though I’ve lived so many lives. There’s no time, in this place. We’ve already been here forever, and we’ll be here forever more. Because forever is just a word.
And we have all the words in the world.