The Writers of the Universe
Opening his eyes, Jeremy was confused when nothing changed in his eyesight. Darkness surrounded them so thick that he was sure he had died again. Shallow breathing behind him indicated Tal-sen had made the journey with him. They waited, standing still, for a long time hoping that some sort of light would fill their eyes and guide them out of the pervasive black.
“You hear?” Tal-sen whispered.
Jeremy turned his ears from side to side while shoving his quill deep into his pocket. Just as he was about to say no, he heard the faintest of rustling noises. It was far away but he instantly recognized it.
“That was been the noise from inside the machine. That is the noise Saesha followed and then was no more.”
“I know where we are. I’ve been here before,” Jeremy tugged on Tal-sen’s arm and led him forward.
They soon collided with a barrier of some kind. Jeremy knelt down and found what he was looking for. “It’s a step, about a foot high.”
Slowly they climbed, passing far beyond a thousand levels. Jeremy wondered why there were no writers in this area. Eventually, they collided with a wall. Jeremy felt up and down making sure they were not missing anything. Step-by-step they went in a rough circle with their hands on the wall, trying to find an opening.
The surface of the wall changed to a cold metal. Jeremy pushed against it but it did not budge. “I think this is a door,” he instructed Tal-sen. “But it won’t move!”
Jeremy slammed against it and only managed to hurt his shoulder.
“Bring inside,” Tal-sen spoke.
Unable to understand his friend’s broken speech, Jeremy pushed up against it with all his might, driving with his feet.
“Bring the door inside!” He yelled. The disturbance echoing throughout the vast room.
“Oh!” Jeremy face-palmed. “You mean pull.”
With a great heave, Jeremy pulled at the door and it creaked open. Dim light spilled into the room. It was amazing how little light was needed after having none at all for so long. The light spilled through the doorway and fell all the way down to the center of the room. At the center was a globe, but instead of the life-filled blues and greens of the earth, the globe was dull reddish-brown and appeared cracked in several places. The world Jeremy was looking at had been abandoned.
Tearing his eyes away from the diminished planet, he turned to look out the door. The light was coming from a flickering flame above the door. The large pillars reached up into the sky the same as they had the first time Jeremy had visited the planet.
Squinting past the pillars, he could see another flickering light far off in the distance. Tal-sen was the first to step through the door.
“Do you know where to go?”
“I don’t have a clue,” Jeremy answered.
“Ask the feather?” Tal-sen urged.
Jeremy pulled the quill out of his pocket. He wasn’t convinced that it would be able to show them where to go. He shrugged and figured if it could take them to different places in the universe, it must be able to do other things.
Bending over, he scrawled an arrow on the ground while telling it to guide them.
The feathers turned a bright orange from its resident darkened state and so did the etched dirt. The glow from the arrow was like sunrise breaking away the night. Jeremy turned his eyes away from it as they had gotten used to the low level of light.
The arrow spun in three circles before casting off, like a canoe down a stream, on an invisible path Jeremy knew he would never have taken. At seemingly irregular intervals, the arrow would change course and switch directions, zooming off toward another stretch of dark, towering pillars that looked exactly the same as the ones before. Jeremy wondered if they might be getting more lost than they already were.
Out from the deep shadows jumped a six-armed creature. The creature looked rabid; mixed with fury and fear, torn and shredded robes hung off of it as it lunged toward Tal-sen.
Tal-sen was quick enough to parlay the attack with a swift jab of one of the bony protrusions near his hand. The wooden bone sliced into the assailant’s arm as the wild monster flew past his opponent and landed in a heap of rags.
Wasting no time, Jeremy and Tal-sen were on top of the creature holding him down. It was not easy to fight a giant six-armed creature. As soon as Jeremy thought he had everything under control, a hand or foot would slip out and collide with him. Tal-sen was not faring much better as he grappled with an equally evasive set of appendages.
All the while the arrow hovered, waiting for the scuffle to be done so that it could continue on its mission.
Jeremy’s fist collided with the giant’s face, knocking its tattered rags out of the way. It was Noal, the one who had saved him and given him the quill.
Jeremy leaped off of him, pulling Tal-sen up with him. “It’s alright, he’s a friend.”
The venomous anger vanished from Tal-sen’s face and was replaced with a pleased smile. “Lucky, Germy.”
Lending the still stunned Noal a hand to pull himself up with, Jeremy replied. “Yeah, we are lucky. What are you doing out here?”
Coughing blood out of his mouth, Noal took a moment to breathe before responding. “I’ve been on the run ever since our paths crossed.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy needlessly apologized.
Noal frowned with a deep sadness. “For what reason would you be sorry Jeremy?”
“For causing you to lose everything. Every person that tries to help me always ends up hurt for some reason.”
Shaking his head wildly Noal expanded. “No, Jeremy. It is I who should be apologizing to you. I was the one who they instructed to write your story. A story so sad.”
“Wait.” Jeremy didn’t want to believe what he was hearing. “You’re telling me all that bad shit…never knowing my parents, moving all the time due to rotten foster homes, house fires, being sent to juvenile detention for crimes I didn’t commit, friends dying or moving away…that was all you.”
“You see why I had a moral dilemma and chose to become an active participant in the rest of your story.”
Jeremy sat on the arrow, putting his head between his knees. “Why?”
“I have no idea. We are taught from a young age to never develop feelings for those that we have the privilege to write for. I never thought to ask. And seeing as I will certainly face the director’s great wrath should they discover my whereabouts, I have not had the chance to ask since our great escape.”
“I need to know,” Jeremy said resolutely.
“I suspect that we are all on the path toward learning answers few know,” Noal spoke wistfully. “And who are you, my ugly friend?”
“Me am Tal-sen. We are on a mission.”
Noal eyed the creature with a suspiciously raised eyebrow. “I don’t know your kind. Where are you from?”
“The land of confusion. The Fifth world.”
A small yelp of surprised panic erupted out of Noal. “But that’s impossible!”
“None of this is possible. It’s all just happening like someone’s making it up as we go along,” Jeremy said ruefully from between his legs. “Get used to it.”
After recovering from his stammer, Noal responded. “I suppose you’re right. I just never expected you to hop from one plane of existence to another so quickly. Boy that must have been frightening. No matter, I suspect the directors will have more to fear than us.”
“Who are the directors?” Jeremy asked, finally standing up again.
“You met one of them the last time you were here.”
“The one that attacked you?”
Noal touched his strained face with his uppermost left hand. “The very same that left this nasty bruise, next to the one you made.”
“Sorry,” Jeremy apologized sheepishly.
“No matter. The directors are the ones who give us our duties and outlines of how a story should go. It is up to us, the writers of the universe, to influence events and make those outcomes possible. Different worlds require different amounts of detail and attention.”
“But why are you writing about people’s lives? You’re taking away all free will,” Jeremy shouted.
“Balance, order, these are the things of the universe we understand. We take a humble oath in hopes of preserving the universe that is, so that it may forever be. Without us behind the scenes, all would have been destroyed in chaos millennia ago.”
“That doesn’t explain why; that’s only a motive. There has to be a stronger reason than that,” he argued.
“It may seem a trifle to such an under-developed mind, but for the sake of hundreds of universes all with millions of worlds, we do what we must.”
Tal-sen interrupted their debate. “Saesha.”
He was right, Jeremy had lost track of his main objective. His questions would have to wait.
Noal nodded towards Half-face. “I assume you are here for our one and only prisoner.”
The human and the Fifth-worlder nodded.
“I can take you there. But I must return to this spot before sun up which is only an hour away. If I don’t, I will have no protections and will be discovered.”
“Let’s forward,” Jeremy echoed the dialect he had picked up from Crab-dog.
The arrow spun around three times and drifted in a new direction. Noal chuckled calmly when Jeremy asked what was so hilarious, Noal responded by saying. “It’s just that the way you’re currently headed is the long way.”
“You see these pillars, yes. They are all equidistant apart and laid out in a symmetrical pentagrid pattern. If you know where on the grid you need to go, any pole will transport you there. A wise one once told me, never let the quill make decisions for you. Make your own decisions and have the quill follow through with those instructions. They can only do so much as you ask of them, nothing more, nothing less.”
“You just shoved this thing into my hand and told me to run,” Jeremy argued.
Ignoring his statement, Noal turned to the pillar closest to him and stroked it with one of his thirty fingers. The same arcane blue light that had taken Jeremy in the middle of the night, shot up the pillar. It outlined ornate carvings that wound their way far up into the dark night sky.
The blue light turned to pure white “You should grab on.” Noal instructed.
The moment after Jeremy placed the tip of his finger on the pillar, the light flashed and turned off.
“We have arrived,” Noal stated.
Jeremy did not believe him, “But how? We never moved.”
A new voice joined their party of three. “So a thief, a traitor, and a freak enter a bar. Barman asks what they’re having to drink.”
“We need to leave right now,” Noal directed.
“Saesha,” Tal-sen shook his head.
“But we never moved,” Jeremy was still confounded about how fast they had traveled. Jeremy quickly turned around to face the same priestly-dressed giant that had attacked Noal. Now he was holding a long and slender knife pointed in their direction. Holding up a hand to silence them, the giant continued. “Let me finish; it’s important to hear the end. Barman asks what they’re having to drink. The freak responds, first asking the barman for something shocking.”
A bolt of white light exploded from the slender knife, slamming into Tal-sen. In an instant, his body was evaporated on the spot. Nothing more was left where he once stood.
“The traitor asks for a drink that will burn the whole way down.”
Noal had time to squeeze out a pathetic, ‘Oh dear,’ before being evaporated.
Jeremy stood shaking, knowing that his time would soon end. He thought that although the adventure had been short, he was glad because for a moment searching for the princess with Tal-sen had been the happiest he had ever felt.
“The thief tells the barman he doesn’t drink. Barman laughs and pours him a shot of his most expensive spirit. ‘Then you need this more than any of us.”
“Wait. That’s the punchline? That was terrible,” Jeremy barely finished before being hit in the chest with white light.
Though he had not moved any part of his body, except for a gigantic flinch to try and block the oncoming light, Jeremy collided with the solid ground.
Despite a cracked nose, Jeremy felt glad to be alive and seemingly well. He whipped around throwing up his fists, ready to fight.
There was nothing presenting an immediate danger. He was in some sort of dark courtyard. The light was new, spilling over the top of a mountain far away. He welcomed the light as he felt that his entire journey had been in places of darkness. The light illuminated his companions on the far side of the area. Jeremy smiled and waved at them.
They returned his wave but did not walk towards him. He took a step in their direction. A shout from his left stopped him in his tracks.
He turned to look at what had shouted at him, only to jump back a few feet. Standing only a foot away from him was a person covered in torn black robes. Jeremy was sure that the grim reaper had finally found him, though he wondered for a second why it would bother to come way out to an alien planet only to murder him.
“Don’t take another step,” the reaper croaked in a hoarse whisper.
Jeremy didn’t feel like listening. “Why not? I have to get to my friends over there and then we have a mission to complete.” He took a step forward and instinctively the reaper reached out a hand. “Stop.”
It quickly tore off a strand of robe and tossed it into the wind. Jeremy watched as a gust caught the rag and began taking it away. Suddenly, the rag hit something invisible as it burst into flames.
“Oh…uh…I see,” Jeremy conceded that he was wrong. He looked around. There were no markings on the courtyard or any indication at all that there was any sort of invisible fence.
“The incinerator unseen walks among us,” the reaper mentioned in what Jeremy felt was the most creepy voice possible.
Jeremy shivered despite the warm temperature. and renewed his observation of the surroundings.
“You’ll feel your hair sizzle, as if before a lightning strike. When that happens you must move or you will be obliterated.” The reaper explained to him.
“Then how do we escape?” Jeremy asked.
Silence returned as an answer to his question.
Tal-sen shouted from the far side as he dodged away from the invisible wall. It looked a bit comical from Jeremy’s point of view like a man was being attacked by a bee that no one could see. Jeremy regretted the sick smile that was forming on his face. Why in the middle of such danger did his mind turn to laughs, he would never understand.
Feeling outwitted and overwhelmed, Jeremy sat down on the spot. He tried to think of a way to escape the invisible prison but no solution seemed to be forthcoming. Sensing a sizzle to his right, Jeremy did a lazy half roll and tumbled into the mysterious prisoner.
The reaper fell backward, robes flying in every direction. Jeremy had time to jump to his feet and catch the falling reaper as the back of its robes erupted into flames.
It was shouting now in a much different voice, a rather feminine voice as it wrestled off the flaming robes before being consumed by the flame.
Jeremy was little more than a hindrance and at minimum was causing more difficulty by tripping the flaming woman. He watched, mouth agape, as the crust-black robes fell off revealing a very young woman.
The last of the smoldering bits of robes fell away as brilliant angel-like wings stretched out from the back of the beautiful creature. The wings were the same brilliant and moving shade of red that his quill took on when he was writing. What skin that was not clad in battle-worn leather, shimmered with a drop of light blue color as if fresh water pumped through her body. Blazing eyes, one electric blue, and the other orange, shone out from dark hair that spilled over her frantic face as she made quite certain no part of her had been burnt off.
Regaining her composure, she stood strong and ready for any challenge like the fictitious Amazonian warriors of legend.
Tal-sen hooted from the other side of the courtyard, “Saesha! It is you! We’ve search for so long.”
“You’re the princess?” Jeremy asked in total disbelief.
“I am,” She responded with pride behind a face that showed no emotion.
“But you’re not…” Jeremy felt that he should choose his words very carefully.
“Ugly?” She smirked showing the first bit of emotion. “Did you expect a lump or maybe something resembling a crustacean. No, I am the royal perfection, an original Fifth worlder. All my parts are 100% original. What you see after eons of near-eternal life and millenias of reprocessing is what poor Tal-sen has been cursed with.”
Jeremy did not know how to respond to what he felt was a threat to his life.
“We tried so hard to follow you, my princess,” Tal-sen groveled from afar.
She held up a thankful hand. “I would doubt no less. I made an impossible journey and what I discovered here has galactic repercussions. They locked me up, but not before I was able to sever their link to our world. We will have no masters!”
“That is an incorrect assumption,” Noal interrupted.
Saesha looked as if she wanted to spit at Noal. “What do you mean, writer?”
“Long ago it was decided to leave your universe to total random chance. The night you broke in was a mistake. We were just finishing closing all but the tiniest connections when one of the writers missed a line. This created a disturbance that you were able to notice and use to travel back into our world,” he explained.
“It is no matter how it happened. But I will not rest until it is impossible for your people to control my world,” Saesha championed.
“How long have you been here?” Jeremy asked quietly.
“I have lost track of the days and years, but I believe several lifetimes I have been a captive to this invisible labyrinth.”
Jeremy whistled a tiny single note to express his amazement at the idea that she had been wandering around all alone for centuries.
“Don’t think I’ve sat here pouting like a shriveled flower. I’ve tried everything to escape. As you can tell, there are no guards. I’ve tried to leap the fence, fly over it, everything. But each time I would nearly be obliterated.”
Feeling incredible sadness for the princess, Jeremy put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, made difficult by her beautiful wings. “Everyone needs rescuing at least once in a lifetime. Hell, I’ve been rescued so many times at this point I’ve lost count.”
Although he knew she would never allow tears to mar her stoic expression, he could tell that she truly appreciated his words. A moment passed between them before she rolled her shoulder out from under his touch. He was not sure if he saw distrust or disgust in her multicolored eyes.
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the quill. “I have this! I think it can get us out of here.”
All eyes turned to Jeremy.
Noal cupped his mouth and shouted across the rubble field. “We have to get together before we can use it to travel. Somewhat unfortunately and a little ironically, the quills have never been very precise at traveling so it would be unwise to use it in this prison. You have to understand, the quills were invented for creative purposes. That is what they do best. Creation, influence, nuance and above all else control.”
“Well, then, we have to move around this area until we can touch each other. Then we’ll get out of here,” Jeremy called back.
Turning to face Saesha, Jeremy instructed. “Stand close. If we get separated it’ll become even more difficult to get out of here.”
“I understand that already,” Saesha responded giving him a mistrustful eye over. Jeremy held out a hand for her to take, but in the moment of her hesitation, Jeremy felt a sizzle next to his fingertips. He pulled back as an invisible fence slid between the narrow distance separating them.
Leaping back from the unseen, Jeremy shouted. “You have to trust me or we will never get out of here.”
“Trust is something I have forgotten in my time here. You will have to forgive me. I have not looked upon another person in 10,000 years on this planet,” she responded, obviously frustrated with herself.
Not knowing why he felt the urge to do so when they were in such danger, Jeremy knelt down on one knee. “Princess Saesha, I hope, that in whatever time we have together, to remind you that trust can still exist in a universe run by the design of these quills.”
Nodding her head thankfully, she smiled for the first time. “You are a silly man. I am a princess by virtue of being the last of the royal perfection only. Fifth worlders have no ruling class as we are all free. That is why I hunt those who would try to control us. No creature under our two suns has ever bowed to me.”
Jeremy’s face reddened with embarrassment as he quickly switched subjects. “Well dang…uh…can you fly with those wings?”
“I tried that once in here and nearly lost my head. There seems to be a dome about 30 lengths above us.”
“What if it moves?” Jeremy questioned.
“I will try but I will be most unhappy to live this long only to fly into the fence like a night bug to the flame.” She spread out her wings which were the length of her entire body on each side. They reflected hues of burnt orange and rusty red, like fall foliage on Earth. Jeremy could feel the air around him rush inwards as she pulled her wings up and then downwards. He had never seen anything so beautiful as she lifted off the ground. He could tell flying was her natural state and what made her the happiest.
She slowly moved around in a circle, made difficult by the idea that the fence could be anywhere. Unable to open her wings to their full spread, she rose as far as she could. Feeling the all too familiar sizzle, she avoided rising higher. With a daring expression, she guided herself over Jeremy and shouted down. “I can’t go any higher, but the fence doesn’t seem to extend the whole way up. Maybe I can come down and grab you.”
Her slow descent was filled with pure nail-biting anticipation for Jeremy. He was scared that her feet would touch another fence and then she would explode into flames and it would be all his fault. When she landed next to him, he couldn’t help but clap his hands in amazement.
“That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” He exclaimed.
“I’ll show you more yet, now stand in front of me and turn around. I’m going to pick you up, do try and keep your feet together so they don’t get burnt off.” Saesha instructed.
Jeremy hurried to do so, but not before failing to wipe the wide smile off of his face. His stomach lurched in fantastic excitement for the chance to be flown through the air. When she pulled him into her arms, Jeremy felt a fleeting possibility of an emotion he had long ago decided would never be his.
He was surprised by how gently they lifted off. If she had not been holding onto his chest underneath his arms, he would have never noticed that they had left the ground.
They made it almost 20 feet before Saesha shouted, “Right above us is a wall. I can go no higher.”
She started going down but was soon cut off by a fence below their position. Cursing at their failing luck, she tried going forward but again was turned away. Panic rising in her voice, “I think we’re trapped.”
They spun around only to see the white-robbed director standing on the edge of the courtyard with a cruel smile on his face.
Jeremy could feel that he was weighing her down, and they would soon have to land. Shouting with all the authority he could muster, “Let us go!”
“No, thief! I’ll be taking back that quill before you can escape us.”
“Director Radfewx, I gave this human the quill. Punish me, but let him and his companions go. He is a free man!” Noal challenged.
“You are all guilty of one treason or another against the universal order. You shall all be punished for your crimes against the universe and then finally obliterated from existence.” Director Radfewx stepped out onto the courtyard towards Jeremy and Saesha. His white robes swishing and billowing of their own accord as there was no wind flowing through. He crossed the field without fear or hesitation of being obliterated by the invisible fence. Jeremy wondered if he had some special device that allowed him to walk through the clear divisions. Looking up, he met Saesha’s eyes and whispered. “Can you feel it?”
She shook her head no, “I bet he disabled it to get in here.”
At once, she took off and dove toward Tal-sen and Noal. Jeremy tore out of her grip, tumbling onto the ground. Without hesitation, he was up and writing on the ground.
Tal-sen and Noal had arrived at his spot. Jeremy looked around only to find Radfewx holding his slim knife up at a terrified Saesha. Her wings fluttered in the air, maintaining her frantic height. She was mere inches away from them, how fast would the quill take them home. Was it going to be fast enough to risk Saesha being hit with Radfewx’s white lightning?
“You anarchists disgust me. No order, no control! Your planet is burning to the ground as it was our greatest mistake to give you total freedom. I for one will be glad to see it go. Its destruction is scheduled and on the books. It just hasn’t happened yet. Give way to a new world, one better suited to a good story.” He ranted at Saesha, before turning to belittle Jeremy. “No matter where in the universe you go, Jeremy. I will hunt you down until your existence is null and void. Your entire creation was a flawed experiment that has ran so far past its expiration date, it needs to be ended. How many close calls have saved your life and hurt others. Do you want to bring an inter-galactic war to your earth, to your universe. For the good of all the universes, you must die.”
Half of Jeremy sat in captivated silence, listening to the giant six-armed creature spill out missing details for why his life had been so terrible. The other half was screaming with every fiber to jump up and grab the princess before anything else could happen. The later won out as he burst from his stunned state and grabbed a blue-tinged ankle before pulling down, and with a swipe of his other hand, finishing the letter e.
They were going home.
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2014 © Stew Stunes