Title - Nightfall
Author - trowacko
Rating - NC17 overall - this is just the beginning, baby
Warnings - NONE! You will get NONE! No, not even Sera!
Disclaimers - I do not own the Neverending Story entity, nor do I make a claim to. No profit, no harm done.
Many things had been born or created following the Nothing's defeat ages previous. For the human world, dreams became less troubled and a precarious equilibrium seemed to have been achieved. In Fantasia, the days were brighter than they remembered, full of work and song that narry a complaint crossed one's lips regardless of the task at hand. In the years following a single human's trespass into the sacred land, a tremble started to reverberate throughout the lands at dusk. Within time the people of Fantasia could no longer ignore it and found themselves ill at ease; their slumber troubled by a darkness that made the Nothing seem
like a passing storm.
From her perch high above the plains, the Child-like Empress watched everything. The great ruler had felt it all, and the pain of her people touched her deeply. Many a night she looked toward the stars, wondering if Bastian looked down upon them. Sometimes she could catch his glimpse amid the shadows of the sky, though his presence brought little comfort. Fantasia was troubled, yet now there were two strong enough to save it. She beckoned to the boy, not sure if he'd hear her plea, yet he would once he opened the book again.
---------------The darker hallway had always led to something more sinister. Even Bastian knew that when he passed by it every day. Before the sun went down, he always made sure he wouldn't have to leave his bedroom, that safe territory where the dark things dared not venture lest he open the door and invite them in. Things moved back there - things that defied description as much as they did recognition. They might have been people, but Bastian knew they weren't. When the last of the sun's rays kissed the land, it was time for the devils to come out and play. And play they did with greediness that put to shame the greed of men. The air remained fetid with their breath, unsuitable for mortals to live---
Bastian stopped writing and regarded his handiwork for a moment, a frown stuck to his face. That wasn't the direction he'd originally intended. Worse, he noticed with a cold shiver, he'd begun to sketch the Auryn in the margin of the paper. Seeing it there made him afraid in a way he couldn't pinpoint. It seemed sacrilegious to even think of Fantasia when he was writing anything at all. His hands shook as he reached up and carefully tore free the sacred icon, erasing its image before he crumpled up the paper and tossed it away. Re-reading his work, he guiltily looked around at his oblivious classmates before bending over a fresh sheet of paper.It was the water that always drew them in. The way the moon struck it sent ripples that seemed to invade the air and work out, beckoning those close by with the promise of being quenched by its sight alone.
Sighing heavily, he reached out to crumple up yet another piece of paper when a voice interrupted his movements.
"Young Bastian, it would seem you're either not taking this assignment very seriously, or you haven't bothered with the initial concept given last week; which would mean, by extension, that you're not taking this assignment very seriously."
The boy who was almost not a boy anymore let his hand fall heavily on the fourth - or was it fifth? - page he'd started.
"No, sir, I do take the assignment seriously. My concept was handed in and approved. It's just..."
"Yes?" A thin, balding man in his mid-forties shouldn't have seemed so stern, yet Mr. Berin had managed the feat somehow; perhaps it was due to the way he glared over the top of his glasses.
"I can't remember what was supposed to happen."
A sigh was his response, coupled with the predictable gleam over the glasses. "In that case, my only suggestion is to have it ready first thing in the morning, as you will be reading your project first."
Giggles erupted throughout the classroom, each an echo of an echo that only gave away the offender by the wide grins or daintily covered mouths.
Three hours later left Bastian staring at the same sheet of paper as if the words would magically appear on them. His pen remained perpetually stuck to the upper left corner and he simply waited. As twilight gave to night, he eventually collapsed on the bed, not wanting to care that his final was due in the morning. Grades no longer mattered when he was locked away in his room with a notebook before him and absolutely nothing to write in it.Bastian.
"Not now, I'm tired. I have things to do."
Barely raising his head, Bastian glanced toward the closet where the book rested, nestled in a quilt his mother had made him the same year she'd died. He had to write a fantasy, but it had to be a fantasy of his own making. He couldn't rely on Fantasia effectively cheating for him by showing him things he had only to commit to word alone.Show us.
"I can't," he pleaded tiredly. "Not what I have to write. I don't know how."
Weary beyond words, he got up and made his way to the bathroom, shedding his clothes as he went in a ritualistic pattern that had become ingrained over the years of schooling. The shirt fell first, landing with a whisper of cotton, accompanied a moment later by his trousers. By the time he turned the water on, his free hand precariously balanced him to remove the socks. All the while, he felt the phantom call of the book. Its urgency was lost to him, however. He, a boy yet growing in the real world, shouldn't be at the beck and call of a land kept alive by dreams such as his. As he showered, phrases ran through his mind, each examined and rejected for his project. He had never been a hero - wanting to write about one struck him as the very opposite of what he was. He wasn't as weak as he was in his younger years, yet neither had he attained a semblance of confidence to save himself. Why couldn't he just have someone strong who wouldn't be afraid to save him time and time again, yet someone he could save too? Where was it written that he had to save himself? Ah, but the strength of heroism was something he couldn't grasp for himself. Not yet. Maybe never. That's what he wanted, he realized with cold finality - not to write about a hero, but to have a hero for himself.Like Atreyu.
Bastian sucked in his breath. "I didn't mean that," he whispered, fearful someone had heard him despite being the only person in the bathroom. Silence was his only answer, and he finally let go of his breath in a loud whoosh. The shower helped ease away the restof his trepidation and by the time he'd pulled on his clothes to sleep, he was ready to do just that.
Except the closet door was flung open and the wrapped book lay in a haphazard heap as if tossed from its perch on the top shelf. The concern crept over Bastian once more as he made his way to the book. A quick glance around showed no one else in the room; why there would be was beyond him, but it was instinct to at least verify.
"I said I can't. Not now," he muttered at it.
Even from a few feet away, he could feel a faint heat emanating from it, beckoning him closer to pull back the last fold and reveal the Auryn on the cover. Defeated, he sat heavily against the wall, legs sprawled in front of him. He reached over and flicked the last bit of cloth out of the way, yet refused to look at the cover. It was how it always began and, yes, never seemed to end. When he'd watch the world of Fantasia for hours at a time, forgetting he had someplace to be, somewhere to go. Time had no meaning when he read the book, and while it was the way the world of Fantasia was by nature, it battled with his reality. Enough so that he'd taken to hiding it away like some dark secret.
For a few moments, he held his breath, exhaling it when the phantom call didn't return. Giving a shaky laugh, he moved to cover the book once more and secure it where it wouldn't somehow fall of its own accord and inexplicably manage to get the door open to land outside the closet. Yet the moment he accidentally touched the cover, it seemed as though thousands of voices set off in his mind, each one less discernable in its words than the one previous. In his hands, the cover of the book curled at the edges. Cracks spread out from the center with the faint crackle that sounded like fire. Bastian's eyes widened, his breath shortening while the fabled book appeared as if it were going to disenegrate in his hands.
"No," he whispered. The negation did nothing to halt the spreading damage. Fingers shaking, Bastian opened the cover, afraid he'd see the pages in the same state of decay. The edges were curled, but the pages otherwise the same as always. Relief swept through him at the same time his worry took on a higher spike. Something was very wrong in Fantasia.
"Atreyu--" Ah, but the warrior wouldn't have the answer.
Fantasia in trouble - it couldn't be, Bastian thought fervently. Closing his eyes, he touched both palms to the cool pages, calling for the Empress, reaching for her with his entire being.
"It's been a long time, Bastian."
The smile on Bastian's lips was tremulous at best, held together by the strength of the girl's voice rather than the hope that everything was fine. Bastian opened his eyes to find himself on his knees before the Child-like Empress, both his hands held in hers.
"Empress, what's wrong--"
The girl who wasn't a girl frowned, her clear blue eyes cast from Bastian's face to the floor. It was dark in the throne chamber, and even through the window that should have shown a vibrant night sky, only clouds seemed to hover, absorbing whatever light might have come from a moon that might not even be there any longer.
"These have become troubling times for us, Bastian. I would not know where to begin as to how this came to pass. Fantasia needs you, but I'm afraid even I don't know how just yet."
The Empress' hands shook and she pulled them away lest they impart more sorrow than she wanted to be conveyed. She stood, regal in her lumninescent clothing that seemed to have light of its own. Bastian rose and followed her out to the sprawling balcony where they could look over a land that should have shown in splendor and was instead masked with deep shadows. Even in the air, Bastian could sense the difference - a heaviness that was almost cloying, constricting his lungs to shorten his breath.
"Fantasia has always existed on a precarious balance that was dependant on the world of man." The Empress smiled kindly, one small hand grasping Bastian's to guide him toward the ledge of the balcony where they bore silent witness to the darkness that brooded. "Something's changed in your world that's affecting Fantasia. Very soon, all could be lost once more. All we see here might simply fade away."
Bastian shook his head. "But Fantasia is ageless! It's always existed!"
Pearly lips quirked into a sad smile. "This time, it won't be the Nothing that endangers us, but something darker." Her expression appeared lost for a moment before once more attaining the smooth grace she always exuded. "It's the balance that's in danger, Bastian. The light of Fantasia could turn to darkness. When that happens, even I will be gone."
Determination firmed Bastian's shoulders and he pulled the Empress into an embrace - highly improper, yet he didn't pull away.
"This is why you've called to me." And in his greed for his own life, had ignored for how long? "Tell me then. Tell me how we can restore the balance."
The Empress' laughter was light and airy, devoid of the despair that had been hidden under the surface. She suddenly seemed darker, older - different. Bastian blinked, but he was already gone, fading away with the phantom embrace and scent of flowers wrapped around him.
"It's you who must find a way to tell us."
Bastian turned over with a low groan at the headache that sprang when he opened his eyes. In his arms, the book was warmed by his body heat and he felt relief claim him when he saw the Auryn intact on a flawless cover. He got up and prepared to put it back in the closet and dismissing the dream - surely it had to be - until he caught sight of a crack at the top corner of the book. As many times as he'd stared at it before, he knew it hadn't been there previously. The conversation with the Empress struck him full force and he felt a cold shiver worm its way up his spine.
Find a balance, she'd said. Not much of a boy any longer, Bastian still felt fear creep through him at what a young man like himself could do to save Fantasia. He thought of the Empress, her doctor, Falcor, his mind finally resting on Atreyu. If the great land was in trouble, so was Atreyu. One way or another, Bastian intended to find a way.
*just because it comes from the mind of a wacko, doesn't necessasrily mean it's insane*