Endings aren’t always fun. Sometimes they’re last chance we’ll have to do something. Sometimes they’re about saying goodbye to those we’d rather not be parted from. Even with being able to make the impossible real though, I had to bow to one greater reality: sooner or later everything needs to end.
For as much as I’d felt stifled by Earth Glass, as our time there came to a close I found myself feeling strangely wistful for it. ‘The Amazing Jin’ had to deal a world that was far more limiting than my own, but it still felt pretty cool being her. When I left Earth Glass for good, she’d disappear. She’d still be a part of me, but no matter how much people on Earth Glass looked for her, they’d never discover where she went. In a sense, that felt like a fitting legacy for her. One final, unsolvable mystery to spur the imagination of those who learned about her.
“We’re going to be landing in about a minute”, Way said over the intercom. “How are our passengers doing?”
“I don’t understand why they’re all still asleep?” Madelaine said as I opened my eyes and looked around the Brotherhood’s sacrifice chamber. She was referring to the members of the Brotherhood who were dozing soundly (though not particularly comfortably).
“What we’ll tell the police is that I used a slow acting knockout gas to disable them.” I said.
“But what really happened?” she asked.
“That’s a difficult and dangerous question to answer.” I said. Once we stepped off the airship, reality would reflect that they’d been disabled by a knockout gas that didn’t affect the abductees due to the presence of the cults other drugs that were in their system. Until then however, they were asleep because I said they were asleep.
Technically we’d succeeded in keeping Madelaine’s power in check. That meant explaining to her how the Dreamlit world worked was something the official auditors would have to decide on. In practice though, based on the surprise I had in store for her, I was pretty sure she’d be figuring things out herself if the auditors didn’t tell her first.
“I think I know something about answers like that.” Madelaine said with a laugh. “What does the society that you’re with call themselves?”
“Society?” I asked with a mischievous sparkle in my eye, clearly playing dumb. I hadn’t admitted that I knew she was part of the “Scribes”, or that I knew how much the documentation we had would help the Scribes in dismantling the Brotherhood’s world world organization. I had just told her of the contents of an interesting book I’d read that contained Smythe’s name and those of his associates. I explained that it was how we’d known where she was and what Smythe was up to. I also let her know that, since I didn’t have her address, I had the book delivered to Guy McIntyre’s apartment and that I was sure he’d have it for her the next time she saw him.
“Looks like there’s quite a crowd waiting for us.” Way said over the intercom.
“Who’s there?” Madelaine asked.
“Way radioed ahead to the police. It seems that there was a series of arson attempts which were instigated by Mr. Smythe. One of his men provided reams of testimony and evidence to that effect. Several of his associates are also wanted in conjunction with a number of felonies, including the near fatal shooting of a police officer.” I said. “And, I had her call your boss too, so he should be there as well.
“My boss?” she asked, confused as to who I could mean. She, and just a few others in her secret society, knew that her nominal boss, Guy McIntyre, didn’t really exist. He was a convenient fiction, who’d allowed her to operate outside the boundaries that had been placed on her by gender and age. He also served as another mask to hide her from the Brotherhood’s attentions. All in all a very handy gentleman to have around. That’s why I’d stolen him.
Any magician worth their spotlight can make someone disappear. The real trick was making them reappear somewhere no one expected.
As we landed and the police stormed on board, one additional fellow came with them. Dapper and surprisingly young for a multi-millionaire, Guy McIntyre greeted Madelaine Deckard with a warm hug and the sort of relieved joy that was entirely natural for someone discovering that their employee and friend had not come to an ugly and untimely end.
For her part, Madelaine was wide-eyed and speechless.
It took the better part of two hours to get things sorted out with the police, during which time “Guy” kept up a steady stream of pleasant small talk about his unexpected vacation to Switzerland and the discovery that the very airship we were sitting in had been purloined by the Brotherhood from one of his European companies.
Of course his paperwork on that matter was impeccable and, since they were inside a patch of reality I controlled, the police had no problem accepting it and graciously returning the good Mr. McIntyre’s stolen property to him on the spot.
Outside, I felt Earth Glass pitching a fit at how unrealistic that was. Happily, I was able to tell it to go stuff itself. The inside of the airship was my world, so it followed my rules. For a little while longer anyways.
“I don’t understand any of this! Who is he?” Madelaine asked after the police, the Brotherhood and the abductees had left the ship.
“Am I not the spitting image of your boss?” asked ‘Guy McIntyre’.
“Yes, but no. I mean, you look exactly as I’ve described him, but you’re not…I mean he’s not real.” Madelaine stammered.
“Neither am I. Though I’m hoping to change that with your help.” he said.
“Think of him as an actor whom I’ve hired to play the role of Guy McIntyre that you came up with. You’ll find he’s more or less a perfect match for what you had in mind for your boss.” I explained.
“But I don’t understand why?” Madelaine asked.
“Remember how I said I broke something that should never have been broken? Guy here happens to be an expert at fixing that sort of thing. You could say it’s how we met.” I said.
“Yes, well it’s a gift. I must say I find this role to be delightful too. So much better than being a monster under the bed.” Guy said.
“You’ll need to stay with the dirigible for a while I’m afraid.” I said.
“Yes, until things are mended. It shouldn’t take long though, and I expect the world will be happier if I don’t suddenly give up my reclusive ways as an immediate reaction to all this.” he said.
He surveyed the tiny area that was going to be the extent of his kingdom.
“What do you say Madelaine? Would you like to take a dirigible tour of the world with me? I could be a great deal of help to you.”
“This is madness.” she said, but there was a faint smile burbling up from within her.
“Sometimes you want to run from madness, other times its a good idea to embrace it. I’ll leave it to you two to decide which sort of occasion this is.” I said, as I turned to leave.
I paused at the door to the private chamber and turned back to look at the two of them. If she accepted him, Guy would be able to make sure that Madelaine’s powers as a dreamweaver didn’t have to be suppressed and wouldn’t endanger the world. On her part she’d be able to help him gradually become part of the reality of Earth Glass. How that all played out though was up to them.
“Mr. McIntyre.” I said before I left the room, “This ship is now yours. Sail her to good skies.”
And with that I let go of the fractured reality of Earth Glass and gave the burden over to the former monster-under-the-bed turned wealthy philanthropist.
Outside the ship, I found Way and Kari waiting for me.
“Your shoulder looks a lot better.” Kari noticed.
“Your head too.” Way observed.
“Yeah, turns out they were just flesh wounds that bled a lot. Nasty scratches but nothing serious.” I said. We all chuckled at Earth Glass’s annoyance at that. Healing myself while we were in the airship may have been a little out of line but I felt it was forgivable after everything I’d gone through.
“I got a call from a friend of ours.” Kari said, meaning Professor Haffrun. “I’ve got to go to meet with her. She said she needed an official report on what had happened as soon as I could manage it.”
“Do you need any backup?” I asked.
“No, she said she wanted to talk to me alone.” Kari replied.
Which meant we’d each be getting our own personal debriefing of the events of the past few days. That was sure to be fun.
“Did she have any messages for us?” Way asked.
“Yeah. She’ll talk to you later, but she wanted me to give you a heads up that the start times of your apprenticeships have been moved up. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad sign though?” she said.
I didn’t either.
On the one hand, we’d saved another world which was generally counted as a good thing. On the other hand the manner in which we’d saved it was sure to raise a few eyebrows. The accelerated date for our apprenticeships could be a sign that they wanted us under advanced supervision as fast as possible.
When I looked inside I couldn’t tell how I felt about that. Three weeks with Way had felt like far too little time. The prospect of that being even shorter left me feeling queasy. On the other hand, there couldn’t be much chance that they’d saddle us with mediocre mentors after this. If nothing else they’d have to be concerned about us corrupting our mentors if they weren’t our equals or better.
For myself, I didn’t care too much about the issue of who would be instructing me. I wanted a good teacher but I knew I could get by with whoever was assigned. For Way though, I wanted the best they had. She had so much promise as a guardian, it would be a crime to saddle her with someone who couldn’t help her develop. I called myself ‘The Amazing Jin’ here, but the truth was that she was the one was truly amazing.
“Want to head back to my home?” I asked her once Kari had left.
We were sitting on one of the piers near when the dirigible had landed, dangling our legs over the edge as we watched the sun slowly set.
“Not just yet.” Way said.
“Oh?” I asked, turned to look at her. She was facing the sunset but her eyes were closed.
“I have a question for you, but there are somethings I should say first.” she said.
“We can talk more easily back home can’t we?” I asked, missing the added layers of dream speech that would let me feel what she was feeling.
“We can. And I want to talk to you there too, but I want to do this here because all we have here is the words. Here, they’re as real as they can be and I want you to know that everything I say, every word, is real.” she said.
I looked at her silently. My own words were lost for the moment. I didn’t know what she was going to say, so I didn’t know how I could respond. I paused for a breath and searched inside for anything to hold onto and what I found was her.
I thought of my sister, I thought of the courage she’d shown. Whatever Way said, I knew it was going to change things between us. That terrified me, I didn’t want things to change. Or at least a part of me didn’t. Looking inside to whatever little spark of courage I could find, I found that I didn’t want to stay in stasis either. I wanted us to grow.
Everything needs to end, but the end of who we were offered the hope of becoming who we could be.
“Ok.” I breathed, accepting whatever was to come.
“I’ve been worried about the apprenticeship.” she began. “No, that’s not quite right. I’ve been worried about being away from you.”
I nodded, not wanting to interrupt her.
“You were there for me from the beginning. You pulled me back from becoming something truly awful. I am who I am today thanks to you.” she said. “We’ve been together since then, and in a sense that’s been my entire life, but it’s nowhere near long enough.”
I nodded again, feeling my throat growing tight.
“I want to spend so much more time with you, but at the same time, I can’t imagine keeping you all to myself. It scares me that I would, in a heartbeat, pass up everything else to settle into a life with just you. You can be the sun and the moon and the stars and everything beyond them and yet a part of me would keep you caged in my heart if it meant keeping you close to me.” she said.
I felt tears rolling down my cheeks and a laugh fighting its way free of my lips. I knew all too well what she meant, she was saying the words that had been chorusing in my heart for weeks.
“I wasn’t sure about even talking about this. I didn’t want to make you worry about me and I didn’t want to risk holding you back. I was dithering over it but then I talked with your mother and she told me I had to. So, there it is.” she said and went quiet, looking down at the waves below us.
I reached over and took her hands in mine. There were tears in her eyes as well as in mine.
“Everything you said, every word, I want to say back to you.” I told her. “Four years or a lifetime, I haven’t had nearly enough time with you. You’ve inspired me, you’ve supported me, you’ve kept me sane when I could have lost myself so many times now. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I want it to hold you, with me, forever.”
Way smiled and laughed like I had.
“But at the same time, I can’t bear the thought of you missing out on growing into the woman I see in you. You are so much more than the just the girl I want to spend all of my life with. You are fire and light and the storm and the new day dawning. I’m greedy. I want not just you as you are but you as all you can be too, and I know for that, I can’t ever hold you back.” I said.
We were silent for a long heart beat.
We’d never spoken like this before. We’d always just known that we were happy being with one another because of what we shared in dream speech. Way had been right though. Putting our thoughts into words made a difference. It made me think about what I’d been feeling for a long time. It made it real.
“I love you Jin.” Way said, looking as vulnerable and lost as I’d ever seen her.
“I love you too Way.” I replied and kissed her.
The sun had finished setting by the time we broke off the kiss and in the early evening light I looked on the person who would always hold the keys to my heart. I’d never seen and never would see anyone else as beautiful.
“You said you had a question for me too?” I asked after a moment more of drinking Way in with my eyes.
“I do.” Way said as she motioned for me to stand. I did so, and gave her a puzzled look. Most questions don’t require particular postures.
Then she went down on one knee and I remembered the one question that did have a traditional form.
“Even if we have to be separated for a while, I want a part of me to be with you always.” she said and drew her hands away from her chest to offer me a band of golden light. “Will you marry me?”
I couldn’t speak at first because I couldn’t breathe. Inside my head every voice I had screamed one word in unison, so loudly that I thought the Earth itself was going to ring with it.
I reached forward to touch the ring, a piece of her heart and soul, and forced my breaths into rapid inhalations so that I could manage to respond.
“Always and everywhere.”