Ink and Paper


The last three conscious life-forms in Subreality General stood staring down at a bed. Well, to be strictly technical about it, they were sitting, and trying very hard not to look at it.

"Well, what do we do?" Andri asked no one in particular, but obviously expecting an answer.

Lise glared at him. Tris found she didn't have the energy.

Tris was staring at the leather pouch in her hand as if she expected it to do something.

"What about this thing?" she asked. "What is it for? All that work, and we still don't know what the other half is."

Lise looked at her strangely, suddenly, and then snatched the pouch out of the Muse's hand.

"Lise? What is it?" asked Andri.

"It needs a child," she said, her voice changing and her eyes becoming distant. "That's the only source of true Faith." She seemed to be looking directly at Tris. "Someone not tarnished enough by life to lose it. That's who must wield this cure."

"But where do I find one, here? The children in Subreality are all angst-ridden!" Tris said, desperate.

"Not all," Lise replied, though it was evident now that she was not thinking the words, just speaking them. "There's at least one who's not seen enough to lose the Faith she was created with. Isolated."

"But who?" Tris asked, but at that moment, Lise shook her head, and stared.

"What just happened?" she asked.

"You started talking. You said something about the cure. What did you mean?" Andri asked.

"I don't know. I... something I heard. Or... felt. I don't know." She turned to the Muse and the fictive. "I remember saying them, but... Tris!"

"What?" Tris exclaimed, nearly jumping out of her skin with the loud exclamation.

"Ask her creator," Lise said vaguely, gesturing behind her, where Chandri lay, oblivious to the world.

"But she's..."

"Infected? Not quite. Not yet, anyway. Think about it, girl — where would you be, if she was?"

Tris stood, thinking, as the storm lashed and beat at the outside walls.

"How?" she finally said.

"You're her Muse."

Tris turned to her Writer, and re-opened the link between them that she'd been blocking since Chandri had lost consciousness. After acclimating to the rush of sound and pain, she touched her Writer's hand.

When she found herself floating, wingless, next to her Writer, she clutched Chandri's arm.

"How is this..."

"Possible?" Chandri smiled, thinly, and pointed downwards. Bricks and mortar, glass and metal swirled beneath them.

"A minute or two ago, that was a building, and I was sitting on it. I think it's eating up Gravity along with everything else. Interesting experience, being weightless. But anything that gets too close..."

Smack! She slapped her palms together, then laughed. The sound had a slightly manic quality about it, and Tris, frightened, shook Chandri's shoulder.

The Writer stilled, looking down.

"The others are down there, you know," she said, and Tris followed her gaze.

"It's coming from somewhere else. Something big and dark. Powerful. It occurred to me... that only the Writers out here were being infected... all the older Writers... they're at the House. Something's happening. I just don't know what, exactly. It's only a matter of time before I join them. I can't fight it forever."

"Chandri..." Tris said, unsure of what to say, " have to. There's people —"

"Depending on me? Big bloody deal!" Chandri exclaimed, interrupting her. "It's not as if I'm much help, am I? I can't even help myself. I can't even stop my own nightmares. I don't even know what they mean. The damn things just keep coming, and coming and coming..."

"Chandri..." Tris said loudly, squeezing Chandri's arm and getting no reaction. She said it louder, then, clenching her teeth, shouted: "Ari!" and issued her Writer a sound slap across the face.

The tirade stopped abruptly, replaced by the whooshing sound of the buildings below them slowly disassembling themselves.

Chandri blinked, her eyes wide, and stared at Tris. "I didn't even know you knew my real name. For that matter, I didn't think anybody but Lise did." She whispered.

"I need your help," Tris said into the demi-silence. "Lise said... she said there was a fictive you created... one that could constitute the other half of the cure. Somebody isolated."

"She did?" Chandri's eyes darted about, apparently searching the inside of her head. "I can't think of anybody," she finally said with a sigh.

"Neither could I," Tris was about to say, before the equivalent of a mental light-bulb appeared above her head.

"Waitaminute..." she said, turning her Writer to face her. "Chandri," she said, her tone grave, "Has Hailen ever left Crystallis?"

The Writer's eyes widened in realisation, and she slowly shook her head.

"No... she's been there since I was little. D'you think..."

"I'll tell you when I find out myself," Tris said. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I promise."

Chandri nodded, and the Muse vanished. She opened her eyes and found herself back in the hospital. Lise was asleep, — hopefully — and Andri was facing her across Chandri's bed.

"Did you..." he began.

"I hope so," Tris said, carefully slipping the thong of the leather pouch over her head.

"How much time is left?" she asked Andri.

The fictive was starting to look a little transparent. He checked his watch. "Four, five hours at the most," he said.

"I'll be back soon," Tris said, moving towards the door. "I hope."

Tris clutched the leather pouch to her chest, and ran. The thing in her hands was precious, crucial. It had to stay safe, until she found its other half. She stumbled over another tree root, swore, and ran on. Her goal was in sight now, she realised as the first drooping willow tree came into view. It was catching up with her. The disease. Burnout. She found herself getting tireder, and her thoughts drifting more and more — she could hardly hold onto them.

::The vial,:: she told herself sternly, tightening her fingers around it. ::Think about the vial — about Hope. Find the other half, and it will all be all right. Fail, and...:: she shuddered, pulled her commandeered jacket tighter around herself, and ran on.

::There.:: She was here. She skidded to a halt, reaching out a trembling hand to part the vines before her, and stepped through. She found herself in a clearing, a glen full of willow, and elanor, and water, and green; there was so much green here. Even in the Wood outside the clearing, the Burnout — the desolation's effects could be seen. Trees were dry and dying. Dead leaves carpeted the ground. Dry brown moss and lichen covered everything, hanging like flayed skin from the skeletal limbs of pines, cedars... and the sky: it looked as if someone had sliced it open with a dagger of black ink. Clouds roiled angrily over grey and black, threatening to rain death, any second now.

::Ink,:: she thought ironically, ::That's where it all started. Ink and paper. And words.::

Tris began to stumble down the stone steps, toward the still surface of the pool. Amazing, how it could be so tranquil here, with an apocalypse raging all around.

When she looked down into the pool, she was surprised by her own reflection.

"This is it..." she said, leaning forward to dip her fingers into the water. The water parted before her, the hole widening to reveal the stairs that led to the Northern Door.

Hailen's tree stood, as always, next to the cave mouth. Tris leant against the rock for a moment, panting.

::Practically immortal, my foot,:: Tris thought, staring through the tree branches, waiting for Hailen to appear. After a slightly longer period of time than usual, during which Tris had ample time to work herself into a panic, she did. The tree vanished and the child appeared in its place, stumbling a bit.

"What happened?" she asked immediately, seeing Tris's condition.

"There's... disease, in the City. Chandri..."

"That's what she meant!" Hailen exclaimed, her eyes suddenly brimming with tears.

"What are you talking about?" Tris asked, confused.

"She said..." Hailen held her small fists together before her, "...she might be gone a while, but she wouldn't tell me why, and I could tell something was wrong, and I... Oh, Tris!" she threw herself into the Muse's arms, and clutched her tunic. The Muse hesitantly held the child.

"I was right! I was right! We're all going to fade away, and..."

"Hailen! Hailen!" Tris said to the top of the child's head, "Calm down! There's a way to stop it!"

Hailen sniffed, and looked up. "There is? What?"

"You," Tris said.

The girl's eyes grew big as saucers. "Me?"

"Uh huh. Now come on." She closed her own hand around Hailen's, and tugged her towards the cave mouth.

"We've got to get to the City, while there's still time."

To her surprise, Hailen held back. Tris glanced over her shoulder at the child.

"Hailen! We've got to go!"

"You mean walk?" Hailen wrinkled her nose in distaste.

"Well, yes, that's essentially the only way to get there, since I'm the only one of us with wings, and they aren't working, and you can't fly..."

"Maybe not, but I know somebody else who can."

Hailen knelt down then and touched the earth at her feet, closing her eyes.

Within moments, the sound of bell-like hoof-beats reached their ears. It reminded Tris of the sound Companions made.

Not even a minute later, a creature that could have been a horse, but almost certainly wasn't, appeared before the Dryad and the Muse. Shaped like a horse but slightly larger and sleeker, it was cloud-white, and stood with a grace that made it seem impossible for this creature to be made of flesh and bone. Hailen stepped right up to it and petted its nose, while Tris observed the "horse" mock-critically.

"Fictive?" she asked the child, meeting the creature's intelligent gaze.

"Metaphor," Hailen said, pressing her cheek to the creature's nose.

"Really?" Tris cocked her head to one side. "For what?"

"Don't know --" Hailen gestured to the "horse" and it went down on its front knees so the child could climb to its back.

"-- but it's been here longer than me." She offered Tris a hand up. The Muse hesitantly approached the huge beast, pushing her satchel behind her as she took Hailen's hand and pulled herself up.

The Metaphor's back, Tris discovered, was very high from the ground. She held tightly to Hailen's waist.

"You sure this is safe?"

"Absolutely." Hailen patted the side of the animal's neck. The beast itself neighed, pranced, and eyed its riders as if to lend credence to the Dryad's assurances.

Then it leant its head down to the ground, and a glowing line of mist rose out of the ground, moving ahead of them like a road. Then it stepped onto the mist-walk, and broke into a gallop toward the City.

It seemed to the Muse and the child as if the City had shifted. The buildings and everything else seemed to be sliding, ever so slowly, toward Shantytown in the distance. Shantytown was fading, indistinct. Standing on a road of cloud, far above the edge of the City, they saw the hole had become a black hurricane, moving still so slowly that its movement could scarcely be seen.

Tris had felt the child stiffen instinctively.

"I know you've never seen the City before," Tris said, squeezing Hailen's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"That's the bad thing, isn't it?" Hailen asked her voice very small, and very young.

"Yep," Tris replied.

"It's hurting."

"It is," Tris agreed, worried that the child would be too afraid to go on, but was pleasantly surprised when Hailen kneed the Metaphor forward.

"We've got to help."

Unfortunately, the winds chose that moment to become too strong. The metaphor pushed forward, but the going was slow, and difficult.

"It's too stormy up here!" Hailen shouted over the noise, which was also getting worse. Tris nodded tiredly.

"You okay?" Hailen asked concernedly as the Metaphor neighed and made its way slowly along the now downward-sloping mist-walk.

"I think... Chandri..." Tris mumbled. "We don't have much time."

Chandri was starting to lose. She was getting farther and farther away.

::Soon,:: the medical, logical part of Tris's brain told her, ::You'll pass out from the shock...::

Tris shook her head, sternly telling that mental voice precisely what it could do with that presently useless information.

There was a series of four bell-like sounds as the Metaphor stepped onto the surface of the street, and the mist-walk vanished behind them.

There were a few moments of quiet muttering, as Tris got her bearings.

"That way!" She pointed down a side-street as her head drooped some more. She pinched herself.

::Wake up, idiot,:: she told herself. ::You can sleep later, when the world's not flipped upside-down...::

A few minutes earlier, a trio, composed of two Writers and one Muse, had also discovered that the winds did not facilitate flight; especially in certain types of hover-cars.

"You had to pick one that rides air-currents!" Rachel shouted over the sound of debris hitting the outside of the vehicle.

"You couldn't have Written a transporter, or an anti-grav cycle, or a luck dragon..."

"It was all I could think of... ack!" D^Knight replied as he navigated past a terrified-looking flock of flying toenail-clippers.

All three of them stared after the obstacle for a few seconds, before looking at each other, shrugging, and getting back to being afraid for their lives.

"D^Knight, I don't mean to insult your -- ack! -- Piloting abilities, but I think we're going to have to go the — ack! — rest of the way on foot."

"But I..." D^Knight began, before the sound of the engine sputtering and dying out made the decision for him.

"This is bad. Very bad," D^Knight quipped, before the hover-car plummeted like a stone.

D^Knight tried to steer, but Gravity simply wasn't co-operating. A few moments later, after a series of bumps, crunches, sounds of broken glass, skidding, sparks, and the sound of Rachel swearing loudly in at least two different languages, the hover-car had come to a stop, on fire and smoking a little, against the side of a building. The three occupants staggered out of the wreck quickly, a few seconds before it exploded.

D^Knight, Rachel and Isis stood, a little bruised and scraped but otherwise safe, watching the merrily burning heap of metal and plastic that had once been their hover-car.

"Well, that's that," Isis said, shrugging. "Next stop, Subreality General."

"One question..." D^Knight said, looking around, "Where are we?"

Isis turned a full circle. "I have no idea whatsoever," she said cheerfully.

Rachel frowned and whispered something into her Writer's ear. Isis couldn't hear what was said, only that the words "concussion" and "noxious fumes" featured prominently in the comment.

Isis glared.

Then she heard something; the sound of hooves approaching. D^Knight and Rachel heard it too. They didn't sound like horse-hooves, but had a ringing, bell-like quality to them. It was coming from behind them.

Isis and D^Knight both turned and reached for weapons that weren't there. Rachel grumbled, and stepped in front of the two Writers as the sound came nearer, and came into view.

It was indeed a horse, or something very much like a horse, though few would make the mistake of calling it one. The cloud-white animal bore two figures on its back, one small, sitting straight and holding the mane, and the other slumped.

"Isis?" cried the smaller figure as the animal came close enough for them to see its riders.

"Hailen!" Isis cried. The animal came to a stop, and Isis pushed past Rachel, going to stand beside the horse-like creature.

"Who's that?" D^Knight called, moving cautiously forward.

"It's Hailen," Isis said. "One of Chandri's fictives. She's the sentry to Subreality North. Hailen, what happened?"

Hailen, staring frantically down at the Writer, gestured at her fellow rider.

"Help her! I don't know what's wrong with her!"

"Who?" Isis asked, right before the other figure muttered something and slid off the creature's back.

"Tris!" D^Knight caught the Muse — or rather, broke her fall. The Muse stirred, opened her eyes, and passed out again. "What happened to her?"

"I don't know!" Hailen wailed, "She said something about Chandri, and then she just passed out!"

"Hailen, do you know how far we are from the hospital?"

Hailen shrugged, but the horse-like creature tossed its head.

"The Metaphor knows," Hailen said, patting its neck.

"Metaphor?" Isis looked extremely confused.

"We don't know what it is, either," Tris croaked, opening her eyes again, "But it's Chandri's. And it, at least, seems to know where it's going." She coughed. "I wasn't about to argue with a flying horse —"

The Metaphor snorted and stamped a hoof.

"Sorry. Metaphor. Not horse," Tris corrected herself. "We've got to hurry. We have to get Hailen to the hospital..."

"Hailen? Why?" Isis interrupted as Tris cast her eyes about her, looking progressively more worried. The Muse made a concentrated effort to sit up.

"She's the other half of the cure," Tris informed them. "With this." She held up the pouch containing the vial. "Come on."

Rachel and Isis pulled her to her feet, were she stood, steady for a few seconds, then wobbled alarmingly. Isis grabbed her arms before she went over, and shot a glance at D^Knight. D^Knight shook his head, snapping back to the moment. His thoughts were drifting.

::I wonder how long we've got before we're affected too...:: he thought.

"I think you'd better ride." Isis said. D^Knight helped her hoist the Muse back onto the Metaphor's back. "You sure you know where you're going?" D^Knight asked the Metaphor.

If a horse-like creature could nod, and wink amusedly, the Metaphor would have. D^Knight blinked. No one else had seen it but him, but for a second, he could have sworn to having seen something familiar in the creature's blue eyes. He reflected on this as the group of now two Writers, two Muses, one fictive and one Metaphor moved off down the street.

They did not know how long they'd been walking. Only that they'd suddenly turned a corner and seen the hospital before them. Isis had let out a cry of joy, and the Metaphor had quickened its pace. Now they stood before the doors to the emergency room. The bright red sign was out. From close up, the hospital seemed to be falling apart. It looked old, and abandoned, and the first thing they all noticed was the silence.

"It's so... quiet..." Isis said, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.

"It's like everyone's dead," said Rachel. "What?" she said to the three glaring faces.

Hailen climbed down from the Metaphor's back. D^Knight helped Tris down.

They all looked toward the doors, then all moved hesitantly forward, Rachel in the lead, sword in hand.

When the Metaphor didn't follow, Hailen stopped and looked back.

"Aren't you coming?" she asked. The Metaphor danced backward and tossed its head.

"You've got something else to do, don't you, beastie?" Tris asked. The creature fixed the Muse in its gaze, and a few seconds passed before the Metaphor neighed, reared up onto its hind legs, then turned about, and disappeared the way they'd all come.

"It is getting worse," said a blue shadow, standing before the curved table, his back to it. He faced the oblong screen that replaced a part of the wall. The screen showed the hole, now hurricane in Shantytown.

"We should help, Jareth," said the red shadow from behind the table. "We must do something. We will be destroyed, else."

"No," Jareth said firmly, not taking his eyes off the screen. "We must not interfere."

"Jareth..." began another shadow from next to the red one, one with greenish skin, silverish eyes, and purple hair in pigtails.

"The Rules are clear," Jareth said. "The Founders stated —"

"The Founders have repealed them!" the last voice said shrilly. An observer would have noticed at this point that she was a child, no more than twelve, but older in voice and mind.

"In case you haven't noticed, Jareth, the Founders aren't among us anymore! We — you — cast them out! If you'll bring up their words like defence, then remember that too!"

Jareth turned, then stood stock-still, his eyes on the child.

"Tressa, you are biased."

"I am nothing of the kind!" the girl exclaimed.

"You are the sibling of the First Oriole," Jareth countered.

"And you were her friend!" Tressa shouted. The whole Council fell silent, except for Jareth and Tressa.

"You are right," Jareth said at length. "As were we all. But the decision to cast the Founders out —"

"Was made when most of the Council was gone, dead or fled," Tressa finished. "We ran away. And you passed judgement with no one to counter you."

Jareth lowered his eyes, then raised them and held the eyes of each Council member in turn.

"What shall we do, then?" he asked.

There was a silence along the table, but for one voice from the doors.

"Ask the question you are shying from," it said. All eyes turned to its source. A kind of horse stood there, its nearly-luminous blue eyes piercing them all.

"Who are you?" Jareth asked, backing up half a step.

The creature responded by glowing brilliantly for a fraction of a second, then shifting, shrinking into the form of a little girl, clad in white breeches and a tunic. She was about seven or eight in age, and wore around her neck an egg-shaped blue stone on a silver chain. Her hair was long and dark, in two thick braids on her shoulders. Her eyes were dark green.

"Meghan," Jareth said, and the Council erupted into whispers behind him.

"Why are you here, Metaphor?" asked Jareth.

"I am helping," The child said, her words careful. "She forgot, but I remember. So here I am."

"What do you mean?"

"They all forgot," said Meghan. "They were all made to forget, by way of a wish. You remember."

"We were not allowed to forget," Jareth responded, after a short silence.

"It cannot stay this way," she went on. "Soon, it will no longer be this way."

"What? How?" a frantic voice called from the table.

"She is waking up. Soon, they will all remember, and I will be able to go home. All will be made right."

"Why are you telling us this?" Tressa hopped down from the table and stood a few feet from the younger girl. "Why do we need to know?"

"Because it means that you — this — can no longer be. It has to go away, at least for a while. Until it's safe again. You can't stay in the dark."

"Dissolve the Council," Jareth stated, partly resigned, partly disbelieving, and partly afraid.

The girl looked at him, her face expressionless. "Yes," she said simply.

"We cannot," Jareth began. "It is our duty —"

"Stop, Jareth," said the red shadow. "Just stop."

Jareth stopped, his eyes wide.

"It's over, Jareth."

"Maybe Meghan is right, Jareth," said Tressa, meeting eyes with the Metaphor. "Maybe it's time we got a little sun."


"But nothing," Tressa said tiredly. "We have a vote before us," she said to the Council. "Who says aye?"

One by one, every hand behind the table went up. Tressa raised her hand, and looked to Jareth.

"You are the leader of the Council, Jareth. Your vote decides."

Jareth looked back to those assembled. "Do we have consensus?"

The silence was affirmative. Jareth raised his hand.

"It is done."

"Thank you," Tressa said to Meghan. "You may have saved us all."

"You saved you," Meghan said. Tressa leaned down and embraced the girl. For the first time, Meghan smiled.

"Goodbye, Lily," she said.

"We're all out of time," Andri Kiln informed the two unconscious Writers. Neither answered.

"Kéman..." he swore, resting his head in one palm. "Why is it so cold?"

If Andri could have seen himself, he would have known. He was virtually transparent now, his form flickering in and out. He was fading.

In fact, he was tired, too. He felt his eyelids begin to droop, and would have surrendered to sleep, except —

"Andri!" The exclamation, joined by the sound of several pairs of rushing feet, jerked him awake.

"Isis? How did you... who're all of them?" The Healer tried to leap to his feet, but thought better of it when he found he could barely muster the energy to move.

"We found it. The other half of the cure," Tris whispered from between Rachel and D^Knight. The Writer and Muse lowered her to a chair next to Chandri's bed.

"You did? Where is it?"

Hailen stepped out from behind D^Knight, her hands clasped behind her back, her eyes wide. When she saw Chandri on the bed, she clasped her hands over her mouth and stumbled back a few steps until she bumped into Isis.

"She's it?" Andri asked.

"She is," Tris said.

Isis gently nudged the girl forward. Hailen bit her lip and walked up to Tris's chair. The Muse slipped the pouch off and pulled out the vial - the liquid gleamed faintly, lighting the darkened room. Solemnly, Hailen took it from her hand.

The ground shook, suddenly. The occupants of the room staggered to keep their balance as a beam from the ceiling on the other side of the room fell, scattering sparks in their direction. Hailen screamed.

"Hailen, now! Isis shouted, from her position on the floor. Hailen pulled the stopper out of the vial.

Floating above a swirling nothingness, Chandri was suddenly gripped by pain. She looked around, to see if something had stricken her, but nothing had. She looked down instead. The vortex was speeding up, reaching up tendrils toward her.

The hospital quaked, glass tinkling musically to the floors, pieces of wall and window and pillar crashing down all around. Hailen was the only one left standing in the hospital room. The Writers and Muses were unconscious heaps on the floor. Andri was unconscious. It was all up to her...

With an ear-splitting boom like thunder, a great crack appeared in the land below her. It glowed with white light, and spanned across the vortex as well, as if it were a crack in the glass covering a photograph. The crack widened quickly, seeping light into its surroundings. Chandri closed her eyes as something pulled her sharply downwards. Gravity was back; at just the wrong time. As she was surrounded by blinding white, she felt something, heard something, some many things, voices, sounds, images; all rush at her at once. After that, she could no longer see.

Hailen tipped the vial, and let one glowing drop fall onto the tip of her finger. She reached it out, and drew it across her Writer's forehead. "Please..." she whispered.

She was no longer falling.

Chandri looked up. The bleak and darkened surroundings were gone. The vortex was gone, the cold was gone. She stood on a walk of spotless cobblestones. It looked like a road, winding through flat meadows and rolling hills, lined with willow trees and silver birches, under a cloudless blue sky.

She got to her feet. Her clothes were clean, her injuries were healed. She no longer hurt.

::Am I dead?:: she wondered, then shook her head. ::Nah. That's too simple an explanation. And it's too... nice, here.::

Something touched her shoulder. She whirled about, and faced a huge, white horse.

::No...:: she thought, as it turned its head and something flickered on its forehead. ::Unicorn... but...::

The Unicorn flickered, and glowed, and was suddenly something else.

The small child before her smiled, her green eyes soft. "It's all right. You're in your mind. You're sort of... well. Dreaming, I suppose."

"How... who are you?"

"Look at me. You know who I am."

The voice was calm. Chandri looked down at the girl, clad in white, the amulet around her neck, and remembered something.

"That's right." The child said, nodding.

"How are you here? How am I? Where am I? More specifically, I mean?"

The child slowly raised an arm and pointed off to the side of the path. The shape of a house loomed in the distance. A round object of some sort hovered above it.

"The House Of Strange Dimensions? What does that have to do with anything?"

"It's where this all came from." The child said. "It was the source. The cause. Those trapped inside were seeing much the same things as those outside. You and the other Writers who don't live in the House were simply affected differently. This has been an upheaval. A... purge, of sorts."

"But what happened? Why all this? Hailen? And the cure?"

"You remember, don't you?" Green eyes fixed themselves upon her.

As if on cue, the Writer's eyes widened. "Remember?" she sputtered, her eyes focused elsewhere. "But I... how did I forget?" she choked, reeling from the feeling of having a mental veil ripped down. "What about the others? Was this the reason?"

"It was." The girl nodded. "Before, it was thought better for you not to know. Now, it's been decided otherwise. The disease was symbolic, as was its cure. That's done."

"So everyone remembers?"

"Yes. And those in the House... the House remembered too. It wasn't just the House that did this... but the force connected to it. Everything has a breaking point. Your memories — all of you, here -- had reached it."

"Why did she make us forget?"

"It was fear that made them choose that way. She was tired."

"And why remember now?"

"Because it's time."

The girl stepped forward, and touched the Writer's hand.

"I've been away too long. In pieces. Shut away. I want to go home."

Chandri nodded soundlessly. The child smiled. "Remember; There will be more anger, and some day, more horrible things, but this thing is over." She sighed happily. "It's all right now. It will be," she said with certainty, before the surroundings began to fade.

The Writer was suddenly alone, and kneeling in the street in front of the Solar Heart. Which was whole. She scrambled to her feet and looked around. There was not a sign of the destruction of the last few days on anything around her. Only people, fictives, Muses, and many, many Writers, mostly sitting or standing still, their eyes wide, looking confusedly around and at each other and their Muses as if they'd all just woken up from a terrible collective nightmare. In fact, they had.

Chandri rushed inside the Solar Heart, and looked around. It was empty of the usual crowd of patrons, but a small knot of people stood by the bar. Mike and Krissie were at the centre of it, and on the edges, Lise, D^Knight, Rachel, Isis, Fred, and...

"Tris!" Chandri cried. The Muse turned at the sound, and smiled hugely when she saw her Writer. Chandri could think of nothing to say, simply stood there, grinning foolishly.

"What in the nine hells happened?" she asked finally.

"We won, it seems," Isis said.

"But... what happened?"

"We don't know, exactly. The last thing any of us remember is the world flipping upside-down, and passing out." D^Knight said, shrugging. "And then this. Like it never happened. Maybe it didn't."

"It did," Chandri said with certainty. "Never forget that it did."

"It seems that everyone went through the same things. I had a dream..." Isis said, looking strangely at her Muse.

"We all did," said D^Knight.

Chandri's exhilaration was draining slowly away, once she was brought back to mind of those memories that had been cut loose inside her head. Something was niggling at the edge of conscious thought, but she couldn't pinpoint it.

"I remember," she said. "Do you?" she said it to them all, but looked at her cousin. Lise was silent.


Lise shook her head. "I do. But I don't know what it is I remember," she said quietly.

"Neither do I. I think... I need time to sort everything out in my head," Chandri said.

The Writers all nodded slowly, as the Muses, very discreetly, made themselves scarce. No one noticed.

Chandri turned and walked back out the door, and down the street of quiet people, back through Subreality City, which was as beautiful — and in places, as terrifying — as it had ever been. Things were back to abnormal, or at least, they would be. At the very least, it would be a nice day.

In a very dark back room in an SC somewhere, a door opened. It admitted a short, olive-skinned girl with chin-length black hair and dark eyes. She stepped inside, looking about. She was met with silence. Her eyes were greeted with the sight of an empty room. The curved table had no one behind it. The walls were solid black. A single row of fluorescent lights were on. An old, white-haired man in coveralls was pushing a broom from one side of the room to the other.

"Excuse me?" the girl said. The man looked up.


"Where are they?" she asked.


"The people who belong here."

The old man laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. "Here?" he chuckled. "Ain't been nobody here for years. Least if there has, I didn't know about it."

He finished sweeping a pile of dirt into a corner, and, slinging his broom over his shoulder, walked out past her. The girl was left to stare.

"They're gone." She said to herself. "They really left."

She stared some more, then moved to leave, but stopped, turning back to the room one last time. Her eyes seemed to gleam briefly amber in the dim light.

Disclaimers: Subreality concept discovered by Kielle, all hail. She gets auto-posting permission. Anybody else, ask.
Lise, D^Knight, Isis, and anybody I'm forgetting are Writers and belong to themselves... or so I would hope.
Tris, Rachel and Fred are Muses and therefore not mine.
Hailen is my fictive, but is public domain because she's sentry to Subreality North.
Andri is one of my original characters, from my original story titled "The Key to the Iyanil".
The House Of Strange Dimensions is definitely not mine. Do I really need to say it? Neither is Shantytown. Same thing. Sorta.
Tressa - or Lily - is my youngest sister's avatar. She wrote that part. Give her applause.
I think that's it. Anything I forgot, I'm sorry. Please don't beat me, or sue me. I have no money anyway.
All flames will be put out with a Very Large Fire Extinguisher and fed to my three dogs.

That's all, folks. I'm done this. My head hurts.
In case you hadn't all figured out, this ends the same time as the Fallen RR. If you don't know what that is, go read it. That other fic I posted, Demands, comes immediately after this. Yeah. The whole disease problem and the big hole was caused by that... thing.
I'm gonna go off and post silly Eco-Challenge now. This was too heavy.