“It’s finished! Isn’t it…?”
Above the Stormrider a night sky of black silk dusted with silver stretched into the distance. Below it an ocean of soft white clouds bathed in shadow and moonlight drifted alongside the airship as it sailed alone on the sea at the top of the world. Once again her captain was awake and once again he found himself unable to think of something to write. This time it wasn’t what to write. Now, he struggled to find the right way to end it. Dartimen sprinkled a pinch of fine grain sand over his words making sure the ink was dry for the hundredth time; and for the hundredth time he lifted the sheet and read aloud the words that had been confounding him. It was finally done – almost.
“The End.” He said flatly, wondering to himself why they were the only words he had been able to write all night. He was happy to be finished but there was an uncomfortable heaviness to its ending.
The words sounded just as lifeless and dry as they looked. Dartimen stared blankly at the final page and rubbed his jaw in thought. Sitting on an old wine crate next to him, his entire life sat in a neat stack of paper weighted down by a rock.
“This would be easier if I was dead.” He huffed.
Dartimen propped his feet on the ships weather beaten railing and leaned back in his chair. If he was dead the burden of finding just the right words would fall on someone else’s shoulders instead of weighing down his own. He glanced at the rock. It felt heavier then it looked.
He grabbed the page littered with the words ‘The End’ scratched off dozens of times. His eyes scanned it in the naïve hope that there was some hidden message, a cipher that would tell him his entire life amounted to more than some words haphazardly scrawled on paper. Yet there they remained, with no more insight then there was the last time he checked. The End? That was it? That was the final thought to his collection of seemingly random encounters, foggy memories and outlandish embellishments? He returned the page to the stack on the crate, scowling at it in wary defiance.
“There’s… there’s more to it than this. I know there is! This isn’t the end!” He searched himself for a reason why but drew a painful blank. “It just can’t be.” He repeated meekly.
Below deck Cassandra was reading his final chapter. The more he wrote the more hesitant he became about letting her read it. She had patiently listened to his stories dozens of times, always claiming she “never heard that one before.” There were, however some stories he never brought up. He didn’t want to keep secrets but explaining his time with Andriel and the circumstances surrounding her death wasn’t the easiest subject for him to talk about. That part of his life was over and he decided that it was best to let the past remain there. However the more he wrote the more he knew their story needed to be told, but not if it meant hurting Cassandra.
By her insistence, there may be no avoiding that. A part of him would always treasure the old days that brought him here. The other lamented the decisions and consequences that kept rearing their ugly head.
With the sound of her footsteps hidden by the whistling breeze and the creaking of the great ships timbers Cassandra slowly emerged from below deck, pausing in the moonlight shadows to watch Dartimen balance a quill on the tip of his nose. She smiled, fanning the final chapter of his book over her lips. After all these years it seemed he was still full of surprises.
He spotted her and pulled the quill off his face. “Did you like it? Because I thought you might…” Before he could finish, she said the exact words that he’d dreaded hearing for so long.
“Did you love her?” Cassandra’s voice trailed off into a whisper.
Dartimen turned, hearing the waver in her voice. She stood there, staring at him; her eyes were puffy and tinged in red. She had never looked more lost and alone in all the time he’d known her. One arm hung limply at her side, holding the papers. The other grabbing her elbow, hugging herself.
Dartimen winced. It was exactly what he was afraid of. In all their years together, precious little had come between them. Now a few words scribbled on some paper – his idyllic memories of a love long dead could now forever pull him from the only one that would ever matter. It seemed they were both afraid of the answer.
There was no dodging the question and no way out of this without a fight at best or worse - tears. He had to do something. With a heavy sigh he said the first thing that came to mind. To his surprise, it was the truth. She deserved that much - they both did.
“Yes. I did.” His eyes shut, sensing Cassandra tremble.
Dartimen tried to brace himself for whatever was to come next. He turned away, unable and unwilling to look her in the eye. For a long time they were lost in silence. Then - from behind, Cassandra wrapped her arms around his shoulders, presenting him with the final chapter and a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“I know.” She whispered.
“You’re not mad.”
“No.” Cassandra purred, her voice hinting at some unnamed amusement.
“No?” he repeated.
Cassandra laughed in surprise as she spun herself into his lap. “If you had said no then I’d be mad.” She mused.
“If I had said no?” he wondered aloud, still trying to decode her logic.
She rested her forehead against his, staring into his stunned sapphire eyes with a still humored grin. “Figure that one out” she challenged.
He smirked and poked her belly. ”I don’t like puzzles... or you.” He reeled back and stuck his tongue out at her.
Cassandra ignored his displeased gesture and pulled him to his feet – feeling the need to dance despite the lack of music. Dartimen took her hand and allowed himself to be led across the deck.
As they danced to the sounds of the unseen orchestra he said nothing, presenting her only with an expectant, impish gaze.
“What’s that look?” she said coyly.
Still he said nothing, her only answer were his still waiting eyes. He slid his hands around her waist, lacing his fingers behind her back, pulling her closer.
“What? What is it?” she stumbled over her words and found herself drowning in his eyes. Draping her arms over his shoulders she leaned into him trying to provoke and answer.
Dartimen smiled and brushed away a bit of the black hair that had slid across her face. ”You know you never answered my question.”
Her eyes, wide and entranced gave her answer away. “I… I love…” she stammered.
He traced small circles with his thumbs against the small of her back, staring into her eyes as they closed. “You love…?” he repeated playfully, leaning into her.
“I love it.” She whispered.
Satisfied, Dartimen pulled her to him. They had kissed before, but never like this. His skin was warm, almost hot to the touch. She could feel his heart pound and his steady hands shake. There was something different there now. This wasn’t a kiss for her, it was for him. She let him take what he wanted, to find whatever he was looking for in that one infinite moment falling nearly limp in his arms. She opened her eyes and there he was. Different somehow, but still himself – still hers. With a relieved smile he continued their dance.
“It’s quite a story. I wish I could have been there.” She smiled at the thought. “Sounds like you needed someone to keep you out of trouble.”
“Trouble found me ok.” He said as he spun her once before lowering her into a dip. “It’s true I guess. It’s been quite a ride.”
“I would have loved to have seen the look on Summer’s face.”
Dartimen chuckled, shaking his head in disbelief. “It was worth the effort – and the headache.”
As they danced in silence, the wind whistled across the deck and brought with it the scents of the sea and tropics far below. Cassandra rested her head against his chest, wrapping her fingers with his. “…And I would have liked to have met Andriel.”
Dartimen froze for a moment. It felt so strange to hear Cassandra say her name. Even he hadn’t the courage to say it out loud in years. With a solemn nod, Dartimen squeezed her hand. “Yeah.” He said against a thoughtful sigh. “You would have hated each other.”
Cassandra giggled. “Is that so?”
“Well you did have one thing in common.” He began.
Cassandra looked up at him curiously. Dartimen glanced down at her, surprised she didn’t know the answer.
“Good taste.” He grinned
She raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Oh really?” she noted skeptically.
Dartimen breathed a heavy sigh as he scanned the multitude of stars around them. A perfect night extended in all directions. “It’s over.” He thought aloud.
She smiled with pride. “I know, you wrote it fast.”
He shook his head. “That’s not what I mean.” His voice was tainted by an uncharacteristic heaviness.
Cassandra halted their dance. “What is it? What’s over?”
He gestured to the stack of paper on the wine crate. “That’s it. My whole life is becoming a stack of paper. That’s me and now it’s over. I’m over.” He stared down at the manuscript in near panicked desperation.
Cassandra’s silver eyes widened in disbelief. Dartimen often came to strange conclusions when he was nervous or upset. This was just absurd.
“There’s more to you then a bunch of stories that change every time you tell them.” She jabbed trying to lighten his mood.
He turned away – the rock felt heavy again. “Well what else is there?” he muttered releasing Cassandra and dejectedly marching to the ships railing.
She grabbed his hand and let him pull her in tow. “I think you still have lots of stories to tell.”
“Name one.” He grunted over his shoulder.
Cassandra let him pout a moment as she scooped up his book then pounced on him from behind again presenting him with the stack of pages as she slowly fanned through them. “I’m not in this one.” She sighed playfully.
Dartimen smiled and rolled his eyes. “Name a better one.”
She swatted him in the face with the pages. “I’ll name four – Saren, Kayllia, Rhiven and Kyra.”
He nodded in agreement. “Better.”
Cassandra returned the pages to the crate and the stone which to Dartimen felt lighter by the moment. She wrapped her arms around his chest hugging him tightly. “The Blue Dawn, the Crusade, the Crystal Citadel.” She added.
Dartimen grabbed her hands, wrapping himself with her. She felt him relaxing. “I guess I have a few yarns left to spin.”
“As long as you’re around I think there’ll always be a story to tell.”
Dartimen smiled thoughtfully and spun her around taking her hands in his. Once again there were no words, only his brilliant blue eyes now lost in hers; shining silver in the moonlight and the crooked smile she had long ago fallen in love with looking back at her with a dangerous mix of longing and anticipation. It never failed. She often found herself helpless in the simple look. It was all he had to give her.
“And what if I run out of stories? You won’t get bored with me and leave will you?”
Still lost in his eyes, the hint of a smile found its way to her lips. He had his answer.
Dartimen gently cradled her face in his hands, kissing her with the same strange intensity as before. As if he knew everything would be alright. Her arms wrapped around him, returning every ounce of passion he met her with.
As they stood there, lost in a kiss, the ship descended through the veil of clouds revealing the shimmering Illusion Sea below. Amidst the swirling air that gently swayed the boat the stone that had weighed down his book and his thoughts blew off the crate and hit the deck with a barely audible clack before rolling away. A single sheet of paper caught the breeze and rose from the stack, dancing in the air before floating effortlessly off the back of the ship. The words ‘The End’ visible for only a moment before slipping from view and into the endless summer night.