“A-alright. I’m sorry,” apologized the woman. “Um. I am… or I was an important person back on my original world–”
“A queen, or nearly so. And an oracle, of sorts,” interrupted the shadow. “Though I wonder… just where did your prophecy originate? Was it truly a likely possibility, or was it simply manipulation by an outside power?”
“That’s…” The woman hesitated, flustered.
“Never mind, never mind,” said the shadow soothingly. “It certainly doesn’t make a difference. It’s merely that prophecy more often than not, leads straight to Tragedy — and here you are. Interesting, isn’t it?”
The woman frowned and opened her mouth to argue, then changed her mind. Instead, she continued her story. “Well. I tried to keep my family safe, at least. But… I made a mistake.”
“Mm, I don’t know if I agree,” said the shadow contemplatively. “It’s not a mistake to trust, or to hope.”
“Ah, don’t mind me. Go on.”
The woman looked at the shadow oddly. “Alright… Anyway, in order to protect my family, I had to escape… no, I left my original world, and I ended up wandering around between many different worlds.”
“Indeeds. It happens more than you might expect,” said the shadow with a nod.
“…Really?” the woman asked skeptically.
“Of course, all the time. Various gods are often involved. Also trucks, for some reason.”
“…The gods are driving trucks between worlds?” puzzled the woman, trying to work out the logic.
“Even I don’t know for sure. I get some really weird second-hand reports, sometimes,” answered the shadow with a sigh.
“I… see. Um, anyway, I eventually ended up on a certain world — wait, why can’t I remember what that world was called?” Her eyes widened in a sudden panic. “No, why can’t I remember the name of my own world? Why can’t I…” She swallowed, and continued, “Why can’t I remember my daughter’s name? Or his name…”
“Calm down, little one,” soothed the shadow, gazing sympathetically at the teary-eyed woman. “I had hoped you wouldn’t notice, but this is another consequence of your being in this place. It’s not as bad as it could be, you know. You can still remember their faces, right?”
“Yes… yes, I can,” said the woman, feeling slightly relieved. “Does that mean…?”
“Indeed,” said the shadow. “The context between you and those you love has become vague — but your ties have not been severed.”
“Absolutely. So! You were telling me how you ended up on Armina– Oops! No names, no names… You ended up on a certain world, and then?”
“Oh… Yes, on that world, I learned — I was told, I mean, that I would never be able to return to my home if I just kept wandering around various worlds. I needed a guide.”
“Largely true, but unfortunately very misleading. You understand now, that the person who told you that had their own agenda?”
“I think I understood it then,” said the woman softly. “But… I didn’t have any choice. I want, I need, to go home…”
“And you became worried and afraid,” said the shadow with sympathy, “and you jumped at the first idea that seemed to give you what you needed.”
The woman sighed, and smiled bitterly. “The Book of Worlds: a legendary tome charting the paths between worlds. If I could only acquire it, returning home would be as simple as walking down the street.”
“Not that simple,” said the shadow with a chuckle. “But surely you learned that the Book of Worlds had likely been destroyed?”
“Yes. But I also heard rumors that parts of it could be found… well, here.” She looked up at the shadow, a mix of frustration and hope written across her face. “The scraps of paper I’ve been finding…”
“Indeed. The Book of Worlds was flawed on a conceptual level, and as such, could never survive in the environs of the Gate. The scraps you’ve been finding are exactly as they appear, useless fragments. Except,” said the shadow mysteriously, “for the particular piece you have tucked away in your pocket, there. That came from a much less powerful, but ultimately more interesting, volume of work.”
“This?” The woman pulled the page from her pocket and looked at it again. “Where is it from, then?”
“Oh, there was once a certain man who had the ability to wander the worlds much like yourself. He had a certain amount of status, but no ambition, and so he managed to survive where those greedier than himself often failed. He was quite the personable chap, too,” said the shadow fondly. “He wrote a number of books on his experiences. As to how that loose page got under that rock…”
The shadow pretended to cough, in a show of embarrassment. “I may have accidentally dropped it there. May I have it back, please? I should really put it back where it belongs…”
“Oh! I’m sorry, of course you may have it,” apologized the woman. She lifted the hand holding the page, but hesitated, unsure of how the shadow could grasp the piece of paper. Her eyes widened when the page was tugged from her hand by a force she could neither see nor sense, and watched carefully as the paper disappeared into the shadow.
“Thank you. He left a number of things in my care, and I regret that I have not been as careful as I should have been with them all. Now. To sum up, you lost your home, and when you went looking for it, you were tricked into entering a place you shouldn’t have entered, which didn’t have the item you were looking for anyway, and now you can’t get out. Am I correct?”
“…I guess,” replied the woman. “So… can you help me?”
- I always think I’m almost done, and then it turns out I still have more to write. Sigh… 😐
- I’m almost done. 😉
- I’m not sure if I’m almost done. J’Kell gives its advice, and then… 😛
- This is a short story to the end, damn it! 😀