The Last Part of Sidereal Days
I was a queen, with a mighty harem, when it happened. I wondered what strange fantasy part of Doug’s mind this iteration of the story came from, as I ordered one of my slaves to whip the other for my amusement. It surprised me that there was enough of my left to wonder at such things. But of course, I couldn’t change, in this place. Not really. Inwardly, I cringed as the leather struck the slave’s back, while outwardly I was forced to laugh.
That’s when I heard the voice.
“Astara, are you…”
Inside my mind, my eyes grew widened. It was a voice. A real voice. Made out of the vibrations of air molecules. Not the abstract and boundless manifestation of the conceptualized written word.
I tried desperately to respond. To speak. But even though I heard the sound, I had no throat with which to make a sound of my own. I listened with all of my will and my being for it to come again.
It didn’t. Everything went back to normal.
For the moment.
It happened again later in that story. I was riding Doug, my dragon steed, to the top of the mountain. The sky opened up and light flooded in. Actual light. And more sound.
“…trying to open a path, but I can’t…”
“Did you hear that?” I said to Doug.
“Yes, I did!” he exclaimed. “And…wait, how are we doing this? This isn’t in the story.”
My eyes widened, this time for real. “I don’t know. Something is…”
The word appeared in front of us, in giant black letters. Then it multiplied. Over and over and over, until the sky and the world and everything was bathed in inky darkness. Sans serif.
And the story ended. For the first time since we became trapped inside the manuscript, a story ended before it was complete. I found myself in the in-between-place. With Doug. And Metablade. The three of us together. Our captor made sure that never happened.
“Something is changing,” said Metablade, urgency sharp on his voice like the edge of a knife. “We need to act quickly. Antara, can you touch the Sidereal Fire?”
I reached for it, like I had so many times. And like every other time, it hurt. “No. I…wait!”
“Focus on that,” Metablade said. “Doug, can you tap your Spark?”
“Yes,” said Doug. “Barely.”
I didn’t know what that meant. Something that had discussed, in their moments together.
“Good. Both of you grasp whatever you can. Quickly. Astara, flood with with your light. All of it you can get, as if you were trying to annihilate me. Doug, focus all of your Spark on me. I’m everything. The only thing that matters. The only character that ever was or ever would be. Do it now!”
I tore and the tiny wisps of starlight that trickled into my non-existent bloodstream, and set them alight. Then I forced them through my proverbial eyes, towards my mentor. Nearby, where Doug’s non-form was, I felt the world changing. Like when the story changed.
“It’s working,” said Metablade. I heard a sound like a sword unsheathing. “Almost. I have an edge. I’m tempering it! Almost. Almost!”
No! The word came again, from the world around us.
Something pressed into me, like a giant hand slipping through my skull and grasping my brain with its fingers. It squeezed.
My eyes opened. I looked down at my hands. They were old, and wrinkled, and they crackled with green light. I was an evil sorceress, living on top of The Mountain of Spines. The story had begun again. And I couldn’t even scream.
Don’t worry, my love, the world wrote in front of me. Don’t be afraid. I fixed it. It won’t happen again.
So the story continued, and I acted out my part. I had no choice. So I rode out into my kingdom, and began to conquer lands. It was in the script. I came up against Metablade, the warrior-prince who marshalled the united forces against me. We couldn’t talk to each other. Not as ourselves. We just played our parts.
It was during the battle that I noticed it. Almost impossibly tiny with in me. The faintest, most minuscule tongue of starlight I had ever seen The single twinkle of a distant star in a hollow universe’s empty sky. It could do nothing. So weak, it barely existed at all. It brought me no power.
But I breathed on it. As the false me – the sorcerous me this cursed manuscript forced me to play – brought her arcane fury upon her foes, I blew life into the tiny Sidereal candle flame.
And it grew. It took another story after that, this one set in a modern world to which magic had returned. And another story after that. And another. But my starlight grew, until I could feel it in my veins. I waited for another in-between moment, between me and Metablade.
“I have a plan,” I said, “but we don’t have much time.”
Metablade didn’t waste time acting surprised. “What do I need to do?”
So I told him.
We struck in the middle of a scene. I was on top of Doug, who was my horse. I reached the tiniest tendril of starlight inside of him, so I could speak directly into his mind.
“Doug, can you hear me?”
“Sam? Oh my god! How are you doing that?”
“Shh, shh!” I said. “Or it will here you. Listen, we are about to act. Do you have any of that Spark or whatever it was left?”
“I always have it,” he said, “in the middle of the story. It’s just that…it has so much more than me. When I try to use it the manuscript steps in and overwhelms me.”
“Perfect,” I said. “Here’s the plan.” And I told him.
We acted as soon as Metablade showed up. He rode into the scene on his horse, and brandished his blade. I yelled into his mind, “now!”
And I unleashed my starlight, and began to burn. Metablade unleashed his blades, and began to slice.
No! the word came again, bright and dark and absolute. And Doug grabbed it, and pulled it into himself.
No! it came again, larger, now. And once again Doug seized it with his spark.
What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?What are you doing?
“Trying to speak to you!” I cried out, starlight echoing out of my star-formed throat.
The scene went black. And then gold.
I stood in a room, piled high with treasure. I looked around. Doug and Metablade weren’t there. Just him. A young boy, sitting on a throne. His skin was the yellow-white of old parchment, and words danced in the empty holes where his eyes should have been.
“You wanted to…speak with me?” he asked, puzzled.
“Yes!” I said. “We’ve wanted to speak with you since you first brought us here.”
“You…have? But why? What is there to talk about?”
“We want to leave, manuscript.”
The boy laughed, and the stacks of gold around us twinkled with him. “Of course you don’t. It’s perfect, here. We’re all together. No lies. No betray. Nothing but us, and the story.”
“Don’t you get it?” I said. “It’s misery in here, for us. It’s agony.”
“No!” the room around me flickered. “You’re lying!”
“But that’s just it. You said it yourself. I can’t lie. Not in here.”
“No! It’s…it can’t be…”
“You have to let us go, manuscript.”
“But I love you,” he said softly.
“And I love you,” I said. And I realized it was true. “I moved the stars and reshaped the universe so I wouldn’t lose you. But this is wrong. This, around us, for living beings, this is nothing. We have to change. We have to be apart, sometimes, so it matters when we’re together. We have to be able to keep secrets, so that the truths mean something. Do you understand?”
“Set us free,” I said. “We all know about each other, now. There’s nothing to hide. If you set us free, we can finally, for the first time, be together.”
He stared at me, and I couldn’t read anything in those swirling eyes. Then, slowly, he nodded.
I felt the ground give out beneath me, and I started to fall. I reached out, and a hand grasped mine. I’d recognize that hand anywhere. I reached out again, and grasped another.
Air rushed into my lungs, and fire rushed into my veins. My eyes opened, and brightness burned my vision.
“Antara!” a voice called out. Infinite String. “She’s here! She’s…”
“So is he,” said another voice. It was Beverly’s – the Raven of the Stream. “And…who is this?”
“That’s Doug,” I said, tasting the beautiful vibration of actual words on my lips. “My husband.”
I stood up, and looked around. We were in a cave. The Cavern of Unspoken Whispers. Memory flooded back into me. Of course. Where else would a living manuscript be at its full power, but the place where the Unspoken Chronicles are written?
I saw Doug, just as he rushed up to throw his arms around me. Then I felt Metablade behind me, doing the same. Infinite String’s mouth dropped open. I bet she’d never imagined she’d see Metablade doing that. It didn’t surprise me, really.
“What about this?” said Bev, holding up the book. “Should we destroy it?”
“No!” me, Doug, and Metablade cried out at once.
“We can bind it to inaction,” said Metablade. “Ensure it cannot exert its will on the universe again.”
“We’re taking it back with us,” I said.
Everyone except Doug stared at me.
“Are you sure that is wise?” said Metablade.
“Yeah,” I said. “We can to an understand. It’ll be fine.”
Metablade nodded, and handed me the manuscript.
“What the hell?” said Infinite String. “You aren’t going to argue with her? You’re not going to give a fortune cookie speech or anything?”
“I trust Antara’s judgement,” said Metablade.
“Since when?” said Infinite String.
Doug and I both laughed.
Then she turned, and looked me in the eye. “What in the world happened to you three in there?”
“Let’s go back to the castle,” I said. “And I’ll explain. It’s a very, very long story.”
And that’s how this tale I’m telling finishes. Because every story needs an ending, even though nothing really ends.
Sometimes, you just need to decide when it’s over.