The Sunlit World
The imaginary phone number on Crissy's business card no longer died in silence.
The first time she dialed it, a tinny automated voice said reassuringly: "Please hold while your party is contacted." Then the line dropped. Crissy held the phone handset uncertainly until the grating off-hook beep began to blare in her ear.
She hung up and looked around her room, but she was still alone. Thrown, she tried dialing it a second time. This time, the standard female recording entoned: "We're sorry, but that number has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Please check the number and try your call again."
Crissy did -- repeatedly, with no further change, and got progressively more antsy with each failure. She found herself tempted to go back to Kevin's -- but no, the Archon had given her some pretty specific directions. If you're not able to travel along with your friends, go home and wait in your room, and we'll talk further.
Finally, she gave up and opened her backpack for some schoolwork. She pulled out her American Government textbook, intending to work on the essay due Friday, but ended up distracted by Mrs. Henderson's brush.
Kevin's mysterious real-life video game had somehow brought forth Rosalind. Also inside was the Dragon Knight that David had met -- what was his name? Emile -- and thus presumably Dragon Legend 3's Lord Blue. Didn't that suggest that Reimi, the game's young angsty magical sketch artist, was also waiting to be discovered?
Maybe there was some real magic in the brush she had been given. The conversation with Mrs. Henderson, so soon before her lunchtime encounter, certainly didn't feel like coincidence.
Tentatively, Crissy picked up the brush and gestured through the air with it, the same way Reimi did in the game. Crissy didn't really expect anything to happen, and so it wasn't a shock that nothing did; but even so, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of disappointment.
She stared at the brush thoughtfully, then wiggled its tip up and down again. "Well, nobody ever said magic was easy."
But none of her experiments seemed to work -- not air-painting, not tracing letters, not geometric gesturing, not subtle motion. She even fished out one of the back issues of "Nintendo Power" that David had loaned her as a Dragon Legend art reference and started waving the brush to match one of its secret codes: Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right --
"Sorry," a voice said from behind her. "Earth doesn't let you stockpile extra lives."
Crissy turned. A college-aged man in a deliberately rumpled tieless suit was sitting on the corner of her bed. She would have described him as attractive yet forgettable, with a round, clean-shaven face whose lack of distinguishing features was itself almost notable.
"It's you again ... right?" Crissy asked, inwardly marveling at the calmness with which she was handling a complete stranger appearing in the middle of her bedroom. It had been, what, less than a month since the Changes and only a day since she had heard about Rosalind, and already she was taking all this in stride?
"Well-dressed," he said. "Yes. Sorry about the delay."
"It's alright, I guess," Crissy said. "It gave me time to fiddle with my new brush."
The Archon chuckled. "It's not going to do anything for you until you spend more time fiddling with what's in here." He gestured to his chest. "There's no magic in things except for what you threads put into them."
Crissy sighed. "I should have expected there would be some 'the power was inside you all along' moral. I -- wait. 'Threads'? Didn't you say that earlier, too? What are you talking about?"
"Yes. I -- hm. We do have a deal, right? It's easier to simply show you." The Archon reached out his hand.
"Yeah, okay." Crissy tentatively reached out to take it, and as her finger brushed his palm, the world exploded into light.
It was as if the substance had been scooped out of everything, leaving only the outlines -- squiggles of pretend-existence in a featureless white void. Her own arm was -- she was -- a single line, messy and sprawling but real, stretching out behind her to Kevin's house, to school, looping back around herself, stitching together the patterns of her life, weaving through the coils and kinks of her friends, her parents, her siblings off at college --
She saw all of them, then -- Dad at the wheel, enduring commute traffic back from the city; Mom annoyed at the poor quality of the grocery store's bell peppers; Sarah studying in the university library; Tom eating an early dinner in the dormitory -- and the thrashing knots of their own lines, the connections with yet more lines buzzing through, around, within the world like an anthill out to its own horizon, and in front of her, a billion tiny writhing threads, as if she was looking at the entire tapestry in a funhouse mirror --
She flinched backward, gasping, and the lines jerked and whirled back into familiar shapes, the room around her resolidifying. "You're --" she gasped.
And then he grabbed her hand again, squeezing her fingers, and somewhere in that sharp discomfort the command Watch -- then the explosion of lines, and as she flailed in fear, she felt her armlineself shift, guided, plucking Tom's line like a guitar string; and she watched him in a moment of distraction drop his fork.
Magic, another voice responded, her own, and she saw, and she knew.
Look at me, bade the voice from the tapestry -- from outside the tapestry? -- from the mirror, the billion threads guiding her own -- and she stared into the abyss of writhing humanity and saw -- and saw -- there, in the weave, a thread dancing loose from the center, its ends curling inward to form two spirals, orienting to face her, looking back at herself -- and the spirals blinked, and that broke the spell and the spirals resolved back into the eyes of Crissy staring into her face, and then she blinked again and it was the Archon, the servant, the jailer, and she knew that, she knew things, the taste of Tom's spaghetti and who the cop behind Dad was going to pull over and the cramp in the wing of the bird soaring down the block and what the "W" stood for.
She collapsed at his feet, trembling, wanting to cry but too overwhelmed, as all of the images and facts and possibilities in her head built up to a pressure beyond her contemplation, leaving only a shapeless and infinite awe and the knowledge of what she was capable of.
"I'm sorry," the Archon gently said, from both inside and outside her, and his voice pricked through her senses from two directions, and she thought she was going to burst into tears but instead just deflated.
The Archon -- the young man standing over her curled-up body -- cocked his head. "Sort of."
I do feel regret, Crissy mouthed, and "I do feel regret," the Archon said.
"Because I know you're about to feel betrayed," the Archon continued, pacing past her, "and that could complicate things."
But not guilt, Crissy felt herself say silently.
"But not guilt," the Archon said. "Because my duty is to the whole Weave."
Crissy shook her head, reasserted herself in her own skin, struggled for strength in trembling arms and pushed herself up to her elbows. "What the hell did you do to me?" she shouted, desperately clinging to her own voice.
"I fulfilled my end of the bargain: to help you find out for yourself what happened to your friends."
"What did you do?"
The Archon crouched down and tilted her chin up with his fingers. "I taught you magic."
Crissy flinched back. "No you didn't! I mean, you did, but that's not all you did."
Look, a voice in Crissy's head whispered, and the room blurred again, not disappearing but hiding behind the overlay of terrifying lines, and in the mirror of the Archon Crissy saw a tiny reflection of herself reflecting the reflection.
"You," Crissy said, losing a little ground in the fight to remember her body, words slurring, "you left a piece of yourself in me."
"No," the Archon said. "Cut bits of thread are useless. It's just a link -- an extension so that I can keep watch. The disorientation is already passing, and then you'll be all yourself again."
"Keep watch on what?" Crissy asked.
The Archon stood, turned his back and paced over to her bedroom window. "You know," he said, "teaching you magic was against my rules."
"Yeah," Crissy said, knowing that but already no longer able to remember how she knew.
"The singer" -- and an image of the Shadow King, the black unicorn, flashed into her head -- "reminded me of that." The Archon turned to face her. "He threw my first request back in my face ... and in so doing, showed me respect by deliberately pointing out something useful I'd overlooked. I'm still not sure how to feel about that."
Vertigo returned to Crissy. She staggered to her feet and lurched over to the wall. "Keep watch ... on the Shadow King," she said.
"And your friends, if you wish," the Archon said. "But I leave that up to you. They're just threads, after all."
Cut bits of thread are useless, the voice inside Crissy's head echoed, at the faint outer edge of her hearing.
Crissy's blood ran cold. "What," she asked slowly, "did you do to me?"
"I fulfilled our deal," the Archon said. "Then I found a violation of the tampering rules. I applied the standard punishment."
Crissy stared at him, speechless. Her memory flashed back to the first vision of herself: a single line, stretching backward but not forward --
And the last bits of her self fell back into place. Suddenly, the well-dressed young man was no longer there. He didn't vanish -- he was simply not there, hadn't been there for a minute or more. She had been talking to a reflection of the reflection of herself.
In a blind panic -- knowing, but desperately hoping she was wrong -- Crissy whirled and ran for her bedroom door.
She flung it open.
A warm blast of dusty air hit her in the face.
News: This act draws the Complications arc to a close. From here on out, it's into wild, uncharted territory ... as the last major character jumps on the plot train and the analogy speeds out of the station.
As for scheduling: Having reached the end of the immediate "story" (but not by any means the end of Legend of Hero!), it's time to pause and recharge before hurtling forward into Arc 5. There will be something here on Monday night -- probably a related TTU short story.
Also note that with BayCon coming up, I will be taking a convention break for the last two updates of May. Things will really get hopping the first week of June.