“So, genius,” the commander said, his manner icy, “Where do you stand?”
“You talk about us like you’re an outsider, where do you stand?”
“Well,” Illarion said, dithering, “First of all I don’t think that’s entirely a fair question.”
“How, pray tell, would it not be?”
“I’m not exactly from around here.”
“That’s not relevant, the story’s the same everywhere. Either you stand with preservation, with having a chance, you stand with the lunatics who want to see it all fall apart, or you stand nowhere like most of the spineless masses.”
“Excuse me!” Mary shouted, “Spineless?”
The commander turned his glare onto her. “Frankly, I hadn’t pegged either of you as the neutral sort, but if you’re just going to sit back and ignore the world’s problems, then spineless is just what you are.”
“Brilliant.” Mary growled, “You’re insulting me before you even know my name.”
“Prove me wrong.”
“Fine.” She took a deep breath. “My name is Mary Shaw, and I finally worked out that the rifts weren’t just there when I was seven and my father fell into one in a drunken stupor. Like every kid I had a moment when I went from not understanding time to understanding it too well. And unlike you, whoever you are, I faced it. Every day I face that it might be the last day for our whole world. It probably won’t be, but who knows? Maybe it will happen tomorrow. And you know what? Life goes on. My life goes on, and everyone else’s life goes on without some crusade to try to change the world. So, unlike you, I’ve actually faced the facts and gotten past my childish fantasies, while you have the nerve to sit there and call me spineless for it. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Now who is being insulting?”
“Oh, come off it.” Illarion sighed, “Can’t we just get along and deal with what’s happening right now? I mean, look at this,” he snatched the scroll case and pulled the paper from it. “A map, unless I miss my mark, to the legendary Eye. A hundred years this world’s been falling apart, more or less, someone’s at least speculated its existence for what, fifty? All the resources of an entire world dedicated to finding it and after who knows how long of failure, you have! And that’s brilliant. I mean, I like to think I’m a genius, but if its right than whoever derived this map, well… I’d like to shake their hands, or hand if it wasn’t a team effort, and ask them just how they got it. Of course, that’s if it’s accurate.”
“If?” Silas asked, somewhere between intrigued and offended.
“Well, if one of your lot had actually been there, there wouldn’t be much need for a clandestine map being transported in the middle of the night, would there? I’m betting these directions are based on scholarship.”
“The best scholarship.” Silas insisted, “We’ve been looking for patterns in the rifts since the beginning, and we finally found not just any pattern, but the eye of the storm, so to speak.”
“Yes, yes, yes.” Illarion said, “But how do you know the magical eye that’s going to save your world is there unless you’ve actually seen it?”
“If you’re trying to convince us we’ll be let down when we go there, sir,” the commander growled, “Then you are wasting your time.”
“Let down?” he asked, “No, not at all… I just want to convince you to actually go and have a look!”
Mary, Silas, and the commander all stared at him as though he were a lunatic.
“Oh, I know you were already planning an expedition.” He sighed, “What else would this camp be for? I just wanted it to sound profound, and maybe insightful enough to get to see whatever’s there myself.”
“You still haven’t answered my question.” The commander growled, “Whose side are you on?”
“Now, if I sided with the Apostles, would I be honest about that?”
“I’d like to think I could tell if you were lying.”
“Well then, the fact is I know two things for sure. The first one, and I’m sorry to say it, is that the Apostles are dead right – not about what should happen, necessarily, but about the fact that this world coming apart at the seams is totally natural. That’s how things work, just the way of the world.” He shushed the start of several objections. “The second thing I know for sure is that the rest of your lot either live with it or try to fight it. Now, I think Mary here said enough about living with it, but fighting it? Holding off the forces of decay one inch at a time, fighting on even when you’re not sure there’s hope – especially when you’re not sure there’s hope – that ranks up there with the most brilliant things I’ve seen people do. As far as you know, the world could end tomorrow and instead of sitting back and waiting to die you live your lives out and some of you, the majority in this room I think, decide to try to take fate into your own hands. No more gods or destinies, just people standing up to the world, one way or another. Absolutely brilliant.”
The commander eyed him carefully. “You say these two saved you from Apostle attack, Silas?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Well then, they may be your bodyguards when we set out in the morning.”
“If I may,” Illarion interjected, “the morning might be a bit late, as we left your little enemy with a bad stomach ache, but quite fine in the long run.”
“Hm.” He growled, “I’ll take that under advisement, then. Now, would all three of you please leave me be?”
They walked out of the tent, following Silas. As soon as they were in the clear, he spoke.
“Sorry.” He said, “I should have known he’d be in a foul mood. Seekers usually are.”
“That so?” Mary asked, “I guess they must put their best foot forward when recruiters come to town.”
“Everyone does.” Illarion said, “Or they wouldn’t be very good recruiters. So, what are the chances we move tonight?”
“Good.” Silas said, “I’ve been the runner between him and the Archivists for a year now. He may be gruff, but he’s not an idiot.”
The wait wasn’t a long one, and the call came out for mobilization within what felt like an hour. As the camp started getting ready, Mary noticed Illarion gazing up at the sky.
“What’s so interesting?” she asked.
“It’s kind of funny.” He said, “No stars.”
“What’s a star?”
“Oh, no one really knows for sure, and I suspect it varies from plane to plane, but they all look the same: countless little points of light in the night sky. I’d like to ask Silas if there’s any record of them here, or if he simply didn’t bother with making night interesting.”
“I’ll explain when we get to the eye.” He said, “It’s complicated.”
“So you think we’ll find it?”
“I hope so. It would be interesting, and what’s a tourist about if not finding interesting places to look at?”
“I wouldn’t know.” She replied, “I haven’t met any tourists before. Or planeswalkers, for that matter.”
A moment later, Silas stepped up. “Couldn’t help but overhear.” He said.
“And what would that be?”
“Planeswalker. Most people have no idea what it means, but I’m a lorekeeper of the Eternal Guard.”
“And pray tell, what do you think it means.”
“First, it means you can leave whenever you want to.”
“That’s right, and second?”
“It means you’re only doing nothing because you’re choosing to.” He said, “You’re just sitting back and watching not because you can’t help, but because you won’t.”
“That’s not entirely fair…”
“Then it’s not unfair either.”
Illarion looked away. “We’d better get going.”
He started to walk forwards, and Mary Shaw watched. It had only been a few hours, as far as she was concerned, since she had started what seemed like a perfectly ordinary day. Now she was half a world away from home, marching towards something she never wanted to have any part in, was never interested in: the fate of her world. She looked around, and realized almost no one hat their eyes on her. Silas maybe, but no one else. It would be a long way back alone, and her mother would be worried sick by the time she got home, but if she went any further with this mess, she could get herself killed.
Then again, she reminded herself, she might not die if she kept on, or might die on the road, or the world could fall apart. It could always fall apart. What could it hurt to just go and see what was there, legendary eye or nothing?
Mary looked around again. Part of her wanted to go, leave all of this behind, but the rest couldn’t sleep without finding out the truth of what was at the end of their road, the end of the map. Mary knew that she could always turn back, technically, but realized that she couldn’t live with herself if she did.
She hurried to catch up with Illarion and Silas, marching ahead, instructions coming down. She was surprised at how few people assembled. Ten? Twenty? The rest were staying behind.
“Why so few?” she asked aloud.
“Distractions.” Silas answered, “Everyone staying behind is there so the Apostles don’t realize we’ve left.”
“Had a lot of trouble with them?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He answered. “I couldn’t believe it at first either, knowing everything about how their order started.”
The road was short, short enough that Mary suspected that they had been closing in on their destination for far longer than one night, spiraling in, avoiding small rifts, cracks in the world. Somehow, Mary thought, something was keeping them small. Perhaps the tales of the Eye weren’t for nothing.
“This isn’t going to be good.” She heard Illarion whisper, presumably to himself.
“Why not?” she whispered.
“You weren’t supposed to hear that bit.”
“But I did, so tell me.”
“We’re being followed.”
About then, someone in the front yelled that they’d found an entrance. Could it really be that easy? When she rounded the corner, Mary Shaw saw that it was: a circle of gleaming metal uncovered from the earth and stone. They descended inside.
The Eye of the Void didn’t look ancient, it looked ageless. Every part was perfectly pristine, but its lines and geometries had a quality about them that resonated, filling Mary with a strange sense of dread. She would have said it was too perfect, except there were points that didn’t match up with sinister geometry. After a moment, she turned to Illarion, who, as the group fanned out, looked to be examining a crystal on one wall.
“Hello old chap.” He said.
Mary looked. The crystal was hollow, a desiccated mummy inside. She put a hand over her mouth.
“Who is that?”
“A very, very old Planeswalker.” He said. “It makes sense with the timeline.”
“A long time ago, when this world was still whole, Planeswalkers weren’t just people. We were gods. Well, not me, it was before my time. Some planeswalkers made entire worlds, and some of them are still worshipped across the planes. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of Serra, but she’s rather big out there. Also dead, but that doesn’t stop people.”
Mary noticed what Illarion didn’t – his rambling was gaining an audience.
“Without constant maintenance,” he sighed, “The worlds they made always fell apart sooner or later. Like I said, what’s happening here is totally natural, an artificial world falling apart after someone or something stopped it being put back together.”
“So,” Silas said, “That’s it, the creator if the world?”
“Excuse me.” Illarion said, “I wasn’t really talking to you. But yes.”
“And he’s dead?”
“Time.” Illarion shrugged. “Gets everything sooner or later.”
The commander scoffed “Well, it won’t get us on my watch. There has to be something here that can be brought back on line.”
“It’s not that simple.” Illarion stopped, and a moment passed. “That would have been a really good time for someone to interrupt, you know. Anyway You don’t have an easy project. Power, knowledge, you’re trying to recreate thousands of years of fine tuning with a demigod for a battery as humans. You might not have the time.”
Another long moment past, then a shout from the door. One of the guards fell inward, and several robed men filled the space.
“Repent.” The one in the lead said, “For we will not allow you to defy fate!”
Illarion gave a frustrated sigh. “You’re late!” he exclaimed, “and have no sense for the dramatic, did you know that.”
“Oh, okay.” He growled, “I’m not supposed to be interfering anyway.”
“No.” Mary said, “No, it’s not okay.”
She cast a glance onto the husk in crystal, around the strange room, that was the Eye. She should have stayed home, should have turned back, should have stayed silent. It was hard to believe, but she found that she couldn’t. Most of a day, that was all that had changed, and she couldn’t turn away.
“So, you speak for these preserver defilers.”
“Not for a moment.” Mary replied, “I speak for me.” Her eyes darted around, and she moved carefully towards something that looked like it moved, “And I don’t like your attitude right now.”
“You can leave this place to us, then.”
“I don’t feel like it.” She said, “I rather like this place. You leave.”
The man laughed. “Why?”
“Is it fate you’re on about? If it can be stopped, is it really fate?”
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Do even the rest of you lot understand? Because when you came to town I didn’t here a thing about repenting or killing.”
“Is that it.”
“No. Because I don’t know if this can stop the world falling apart or not, but I do know it can stop you.” She grasped the first moving part she could see firmly. “If I pull this, you all meet the void a little early. Poof.” Her heart was racing. Where had she learned to scare people off with an outright lie?
“You’re wasting my time.”
“Do you want to bet on that?” she swallowed hard there wasn’t any room for error. Her hand twisted on the whatever-it-was… and sparks appeared! Crackling energy, around the invaders. Mary glanced quickly towards Illarion, who was leaning against the wall and smirking.
“Well?” Mary asked, “What do you say?”
They fled. The sparks vanished. Mary sighed, and a flurry of questions began, first directed at her and then at each other. Eventually, Illarion pulled her aside.
“I’ve got to say.” He said quietly, “That was brilliant.”
“You helped.” She said
“So,” he sighed, “I’m going to be getting going soon, I bet you want a ride home.”
“I was thinking about that.” She said
“Me too. You could come with me, you know.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“See the worlds out there, be a tourist.”
“Just a warning, though.” He said, “This is just about an ordinary day for me.”
“Interfering this much?”
“I’m trying to cut down. So, what do you say?”
“I’m going to pass.”
“Well, let’s… What?”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Mary replied, “But I want this to be an extraordinary day. I don’t know how many more I could take.”
Illarion smiled sadly “Well, then, trip home?”
“And then back here, if you don’t mind. I just want to tell my mom where I’m going to be.”
Two harrowing (though less harrowing than her first) travels later, she was standing outside the Eye of the Void.
“Sure you won’t change your mind?” Illarion asked.
“How about this,” she said, “Check in a month or two and see if I’m bored.”
“I don’t do dates.”
“You can do one.” She insisted.
“I can’t guarantee I’ll be on time.” He said, “So you might be bored for a while.”
“I’m sure I can entertain myself.” She smiled, “You just be sure to show up.”
Illarion looked away. “Well then, I’m not going to say goodbye.” He said, “I’ll be back.”
The planeswalker vanished. No muss, no fuss, no howling dark, and Mary Shaw was standing alone in the night. At least, she thought, she wouldn’t have to worry about having an ordinary day again.