Minnie set her jaw into a tight clench and forced herself onwards into the endless ache of Oblivion that lay before her. There was nothing ahead of her, but each step felt like she was wading through concrete.
“You never make things easy do you Nell,” she said, conjuring an image of her friend and holding it fiercely in her mind’s eye.
Minnie didn’t know how the Man-in-White had tricked Nell into jumping into Oblivion. In truth, Minnie didn’t know that Nell had actually ever existed. The passage into Oblivion wasn’t a matter of being destroyed. It was a matter of having never “been” at all. That totality of annihilation was what kept Minnie moving forward. Nell couldn’t have been swallowed by Oblivion. Not completely. If she had been, she would vanish from Minnie’s heart and mind.
“I know you’re out there,” Minnie said. “And I know we’re not lost to the world.”
“Not yet,” Jin said. “You are getting close though.”
Jin’s arrival hadn’t been heralded by any fanfare. No glowing lights, or bursts of power, but somehow it changed everything. Minnie felt the resistance that she was pressing through weaken. The path she was walking stretched out one step, two steps and then a dozen in front of her.
“What are you doing here?” Minnie asked.
“I can’t look after my friend?” Jin asked.
“You can do whatever you want last I heard.” Minnie said. She stopped walking forward and waited for Jin to catch up to her.
Jin had grown since Minnie had met her. In a lot of ways. From what Minnie had heard, she’d expected Jin to radiate an aura of awe and majesty, fit for the god-like powers that the young woman wielded. The girl who came strolling up to Minnie didn’t seem god-like though. She was wearing some kind of wizard robes with sneakers peeking out from underneath them. It gave her the look of a drama student trying out for a part in an extremely low budget Shakespeare play and was about as non-threatening and unimpressive an appearance as Minnie could imagine.
It also looked quite comfortable.
“If that was true, I would visit you folks more often,” Jin said.
“Whatever brings you here now, we’ve got to find Nell,” Minnie said. “You remember Nell? Don’t you?”
Minnie searched her friend’s face for a sign of recognition to the name. Part of her knew that it was possible the Man-in-White was correct. Her life hadn’t been pleasant. She’d had five years to move on from the trauma of the Faerie tortures that had turned her into a minotaur. Those five year had been good, but she’d never left the helplessness she’d felt before them completely behind her.
She hated those memories but she hated the thought of anyone else experiencing the same thing even more. That was part of what pushed her onwards into the empty dark of Oblivion.
Or, she was walking to her own destruction in order to escape those memories at last.
That was the problem with being hurt like Minnie had been. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust other people anymore. She didn’t trust herself. Not unless she was forced too and, in the face of complete destruction, it was hard not to question whether she might have snapped. If her memories of Nell really were the delusion that the Man-in-White claimed they were, then she had done nothing more than come up with an elaborate method of killing herself.
“Of course I remember Nell,” Jin said. “I’d be dragging you away from here if I didn’t.”
Minnie sighed in relief. She might still be crazy, but at least she wasn’t alone in being crazy.
“So how do we get her back?” Minnie asked.
“We meet her halfway,” Jin said and pointed farther down the path into Oblivion.
Minnie turned and saw that the path had continued to grow until it reached a small fountain. The stone circle was filled with leaping streams and its smooth stone surface glowed with veins of pale blue light which were etched into it.
“How did that get here?” Minnie asked.
“We’re not in Oblivion. You walked into it, but you carried your reality with you. This is a place that you made,” Jin said and started leading Minnie towards the fountain.
“I thought I was going to be destroyed,” Minnie said. “That’s what this place is, isn’t it? The End?”
“That’s what I was told too,” Jin said. “But I don’t think it’s right. This isn’t where we wind up. It’s where we began.”
“And I made this place?” Minnie asked. “How?”
“You know what I am?” Jin asked. “What I can do?”
“Yeah, you can do anything,” Minnie said. She’d always had a hard to reconciling the things that she’d seen and heard of Jin doing with the girl that she knew as her friend.
“I’m not anything special,” Jin said and quickly added. “I’m not being modest there. What I mean is everyone is like me, everyone can do what I can do. Or at least the potential is there.”
“Uh, I can’t crack planets in half,” Minnie said. “I’ve actually seen you do that.”
“Meh, destroying things is trivial. It’s creating stuff that takes work,” Jin said. “And that’s what we do. All of us. Like this place. You needed a place to meet Nell and so you made one. Step by step, even though you thought it might cost you everything.”
“It sounds nice when you say it like that, but let’s be honest, I’m just pretty bull headed,” Minnie said.
“And she’s a comedian too!” Jin said, sitting down beside the fountain.
“Cute.” Minnie said, smiling in spite of herself. “So how will Nell find us?”
“I guess I just keep looking until I stumble on you,” Nell said, as she dragged herself out of the shadows on the far side of the clearing the fountain rested in. In her arms she carried a young girl who clung to her and looked at Minnie and Jin with wide and amazed eyes.
Behind Nell a crowd of similar children began to emerge from the shadows. When the clearing around the fountain couldn’t contain them all, the shadows pulled back to reveal more room and more children.
“Who is this?” Jin asked.
“Do you remember when we first met?” Nell asked. “You found us in a faerie prison.”
“Yeah,” Minnie said. “The whole place burned. Oblivion fire you said. That’s why no one but us remembers it.”
“We weren’t the only ones there,” Nell said.
“You found them! The other people who’d been imprisoned by the Shadow Court!” Jin said, leaping to her feet. “I looked for them! It was one of the first things I asked Professor Haffrun about! But I could never…”
“No, you couldn’t,” Nell said. “You weren’t there long enough. You didn’t know what it was like. What we’d lost, or how to connect with them.”
“How did you…?” Jin asked.
“A friend led me here,” Nell said. “Well, maybe not a friend. I don’t know if he realized what he was doing when he told me what Oblivion is. He seemed to think it was a reason to give up on everything. Except, he was lying.”
“Lying?” Minnie asked.
“He found me when I was feeling kind of low. He told me that the other children had been lost to darkness and that’s why no one remembered them. That they’d been unmade by Oblivion and that they’d escaped the suffering of the world,” Nell said.
“But you didn’t believe him?” Jin asked.
“Well, what he told me was convincing so I was pretty sure he had most of it right except for two things,” Nell said.
“You remembered the children didn’t you?” Jin asked.
“I did. So they couldn’t have been unmade,” Nell said. “If they were still a part of me, then they still carried on.”
“What was the other thing he got wrong?” Minnie asked.
“He only talked about how miserable the world was,” Nell said. “Everything he saw was all through the same lens. He couldn’t see anything except himself.”
“You sound like you feel sorry for him?” Minnie said.
“I do,” Minnie said. “He’s wrapped up in himself, and he thinks he knows everything, but he can’t even see everything that he is, much less what the rest of reality is like.”
“My friend Pen, his twin brother I guess you could say, is having a few words with him,” Jin said. “I think they’ll be able to work things out.”
“So what will we do with all these folks?” Minnie asked.
“You should probably take them home.” a tall man said as he stepped out of the shadows. He wore a set of star strewn plate armor and held two of the children in his arms.
“They’re going to need some help re-adjusting.” a woman said, emerging from the dark, beside the man. She held the hands of two older children who brought up the rear of the small army of mislaid urchins that had been assembled in the fountain plaza.
“Who are they?” Minnie asked.
“My in-laws!” Jin exclaimed and bounced over to meet the two adults.
“Her what now?” Nell asked.
“She got married a little over a year ago,” Minnie said. “Apparently they’re still putting together the official event. I’m guessing that card she’s handing over to them is the invitation, so maybe we’ll be getting ours soon too?”
“How long have I been gone?” Nell asked.
“Much too long,” Minnie said. “So let’s see about getting you back home.”
“That’s impossible though isn’t it?” Nell asked.
“So are we,” Minnie answered with a smile and began walking the path that would bring them back to where they were meant to be.