“Everything begins – and I mean that quite literally – with the Light of Creation.”
They called the sky the heavens, as though only the vastness above them could contain such a being capable of molding the universe from the nothingness in which it began. She had always thought it a window, a wide looking glass through which, if they stared long enough, they could see the signs of their beginnings. The Light of Creation was one of those signs, the fingerprint of god, left on the side of the translucent dome separating them from their work. That was how she had always viewed it. The Light was a remnant, a signature at the bottom of the page that, were they only clever enough and smart enough to learn the language, would reveal the identity of the one whom they owed existence to. The video playing on the screen extolled it as a tool, a paintbrush with which their canvas was flooded with color. The mechanism around which the ever-turning time and tides of their landscape were run, like the gears in a clock which would never wear down. It could very well be that, and she had to admit that she liked the poetic imagery, but she felt that it was something else, as well.
A reminder that there was something greater than themselves. A gift of magnitude, revealing the true multitudes within the world, extending beyond their current comprehension. She found that…beautiful.
Lucretia’s heart fluttered with a rush of adrenaline as the video wound to a stop behind them, the lights on the stage blaring to life to illuminate them in stark heat. They were bright enough that they drowned out the people in the audience, who were roaring with approval now that the exploration team had been thrust into the focus of their attention. She couldn’t hear her own pulse any longer, even though she felt it thundering through her veins, for the exuberance of the people gathered to see them off overpowered everything else in the room. Lup and Taako, their arcanists, seemed to be perfectly at ease with the furor. Magnus, the security officer, didn’t so much as flinch at the attention. Merle, the physician and biologist, reveled in it so much that his great beard was quivering as he swiveled his head to try and look at each person individually. Barry, sporting a pair of denim pants beneath his robe, seemed bemused by the furor of the crowd but not unduly concerned.
Lucretia wanted to close her eyes, to wind her fingers together until her knuckles turned ashen as she reminded herself what it felt like to breathe. It was a silly thing to forget, something as mechanical and rote as the heartbeat betwixt her tightening lungs, but in moments of anxiety she always found that she couldn’t remember the base function. Had she just inhaled, or exhaled? Should she hold it in her chest, or release it right away? Was it normal for the air to feel so strange as it wound its way through her nasal passages? In, out, crashing through her like the poignant notes of a tuneless flute. She felt the familiar tingle at the edges of her consciousness that heralded panic, loud and abrasive, and she forced a large breath through her nose. She would not break down here. Not in this moment.
Today she was living the story, and she would not bear the shame of returning her pen to page later that evening only to recount how she had not been enough.
Davenport, his cheeks rosy with the joy that was pouring out of him in intangible waves, stepped up to the microphone. The reporters calmed themselves, their eyes full of expectation that brought to mind the glint in the gaze of hungry wolves, saliva dripping from fangs made of the judgmental audience waiting in their homes. The announcements put forth by the Institute of Planar Research and Exploration would be recorded, then turned into articles written by the rabid carnivores in front of them. Words in those articles would determine the tide of favor or discontent, turning the public for or against it by the clever distribution of adjectives. They could be deemed revolutionary or reckless. Boundary-breaking or redundant. Brave, or hapless fools. It would all depend on how this crowd of people felt about the way they presented their expedition.
She tried to tune out her nerves as Davenport started to speak, his voice lulling her into an ease that could have only come from acceptance. Lucretia didn’t care about how the public perceived what they were about to do. She knew that it was important to Davenport, as he was more involved in gathering the required funding that they had needed to get things rolling, but she let those troubles remain distant from her own worries. Whatever they wrote about it now would not matter, because that wasn’t the story. The story hadn’t happened yet. The story was still a glimmer in the heavens, a faint shimmer of dust clinging to that far off fingerprint for which they aimed.
Lucretia was, above all things, a storyteller. She did not dally in fiction as many others of her ilk might, however. While fantastical adventures and pursuits of the imagination were glorious, and certainly had their place in the world, she was more concerned with the amazing tales that occurred beneath their very noses. The lives of ordinary people, whom, upon further examination became extraordinary. People who made great discoveries, who committed great crimes, who led simple lives but left lasting impact. The most breathtaking narratives existed among them, kept secret in the heads of one another as they passed each other by, oblivious to the wonder inside such common shells. It was for this reason that she had become a biographer, telling the true stories of other people’s lives so that the world could know their splendor. She had written so many that she had long ago lost count, each one created and placed on her bookshelf to represent another piece of wonder she had been able to share with the world. She got great satisfaction thinking that she had been able to shine a light on something that may have been otherwise overlooked. Their stories would be told, and that was worth so much to her.
She always wanted to make sure that the important stories were told.
Movement out of the corner of her eye pulled her out of her reverie, and she watched as Barry lifted out of his seat and took the stage. She hadn’t realized that the reporters had already started asking questions, and they shifted in their chairs as they jotted down notes from what he was saying. Lup, a few chairs over with her lips spreading into a slow and ominous grin, elbowed her brother Taako in the chest. The twins, both blonde and resplendent in their uniforms like gilded butterflies that put the rest of them to shame, were looking at Barry as though he were a particularly delectable piece of candy.
Lup’s angular ears twitched forward as her smile widened. She lifted her arms, a collection of charmed bracelets jingling around her wrists as she cupped her hands around her mouth. “Nerd alert!”
Barry turned his gaze without swiveling all the way around, catching them all in the corner of his vision. His words only faltered for a moment, admirably moving forward with his answers even though his cheeks were fading into crimson dabs of color. Lup’s smile grew wider as she leaned back in her chair, eyes glittering with mischief. Lucretia watched the elf’s posture change in the chair as she noticed Barry’s attention as he finished his words and headed back to his place. The base of her spine arched forward so that she was poised at the edge of the seat like a peacock considering flight, glittering in an enchanted sunset to catch all the colors in the waves of light. Her long hair fanned out behind her, flowing from the base of her hat like a river of gold. She was preening, putting on a show for the world that was spread out at her feet, but Lucretia could see something smaller and shyer beneath it. It would be interesting to see if that part of her would emerge in the course of their journey.
“Oh, well, Lucretia is going to be serving as our chronicler during our journey.” Davenport’s use of her name cut through her observations like a knife, leaving her nerves as tattered ribbons that drifted to the floor as she turned to realize their captain had turned to look directly at her. “Hopefully she can get up here and sort of talk about what that means.” He held out his hand, and while the offer of the spotlight seemed simple and even needed, she saw the true question in his gaze. Could she get up and speak? Was she capable? She saw his doubt as plain as day, and it irked her even though she knew it was well-founded.
She would not fall short in her role. Not now and not ever.
She stood, adjusting the edges of her robes despite the fact that they had already settled into impeccable placement. The red of the uniform was lush against her dark skin, and she felt as though it brought full attention to the blush that was burning its way across the bridge of her nose. She knew, based on the science of colors and light and the extent of human notice, that the reporters would not see such a subtle hue, but she felt it all the same and it was akin to a bullhorn declaring her anxieties to the world at large.
She walked to the mic, taking strides that felt as though they were made with legs that didn’t belong to her. When she reached it she gripped the stand, the cold metal bracing on the heated stage. Her throat felt dry and sandy, but she resisted the urge to clear it, willing herself to be collected, to be brave enough to do this one thing.
“Well, hi. My name is Lucretia. I will be the chronicler on this journey, which means I’m going to write down everything that happens up there.” She looked at the blank faces in the audience, a crowd of people that did not register the significance of such a thing. To them, she was not a scientist pushing the boundaries of the known world. She was not a stalwart warrior protecting the expedition from possible harm. She was not a wizard of incredible skill and determination poised to transmute wonders from the every day. She was, to them, just the person writing about the important people, and it showed in the glaze of their bored eyes. She could not dissuade them of this notion, as she agreed with the large sum of it, but she could at least establish that she was the best candidate to play such a role. “I’m, uh, well I’m a biographer by trade. You wouldn’t know my name, but I’ve almost certainly ghost-written something that you’ve read, and this -” she gestured to the picture of the Starblaster sprawled across the screen behind them, at the six other people seated in matching uniforms ready to tackle the unknown. As she looked at them, she felt her heart fill with pride, her fingers itching to put pen to page and write down every detail that she could discern about them. Every freckle, every laugh, ever line of muscle that defined their shapes. Every thought and memory that they would deem worthy to share, and those that they didn’t which she could pick up by careful observation. They were, to her, a set of stars gleaming in the night sky, forming something perfect and powerful that would change the shape of things to come forever after. She smiled, turning back to the reporters without seeing them, her gaze on the future that would come. “This seems like a story worth telling well.”
She nodded her head, returning to her seat as a few cameras flashed, recording the moment for posterity. Her image would not make it into the articles, but she didn’t mind. She was not a star, that much was clear. She was content to be the astronomer, finding and recording their glory so that it was known. She smiled quietly to herself as the reporters asked more questions of the others, her nerves tingling with anticipation now rather than unease.
Lup was addressed by a reporter wishing to know about the length of their journey and her feelings on leaving, and she wasted no time at all standing and sauntering across the stage to the mic. Every step was as confident as the last, the elf entirely at home in the center of the spotlights. She tossed a wink back at the rest of them as she flipped her hair, cocking a hip to the side as she took her place before the audience.
“Well, I did this one already. I did this world and kind of crushed it,” she smiled as a ripple of laughter spread through the reporters, “so I guess I’m excited for opportunities to expand the old brand, as it were. So yeah, I’m pretty psyched to get off this stink planet and see what else is out there.” She spun, the edges of her robe flaring out around her as she started walking back to her seat. She passed by Magnus, who held up his massive hand without a word, and she slapped it with a high-five without so much as turning to look at him. She made it three more steps before she stopped, her eyes filling with that same light that seemed quite ominous to the rest of them. She swiveled on the bottom of her heel, turning and racing back to the mic so that Davenport had to step out of her way to give her space. She grabbed it, yanking it off the stand and pressing it to her lips so that the entire room was filled with the thud and hissing intake of her breath. “Also, Greg Grimaldis, you owe me fifteen dollars and I aim to collect. You better believe, Greg Grimaldis.” She snapped his name like a slur before she stood up straight, holding the hand grasping the mic straight out in front of her.
Davenport lurched forward, horror on his stricken face. “Please don’t drop the -”
Lup let go of the mic and it crashed into the stage, filling their ears with the cacophonous thunder as she flounced back to her seat, this time making it the whole way there. Davenport rubbed his hand across his face, muffling a rigid sigh into his palm before he walked over and picked up the abused sound equipment, checking it for damage with a brief grimace in Lup’s direction. The wizard didn’t notice as she fluttered her fingers towards the reporters in the front row, waving and winking as though she were a movie star.
Davenport returned the mic to the stand, clearing his throat.
“Well, that is our team. These brave individuals will be the heart and soul of our operation, boarding the Starblaster as she takes us into places none of us could have ever imagined. With the power of the bond engine and the incredible talents of this team, I’m confident that what we find will change…well, it will change everything.” He smiled, looking back at all of them with a fondness that went above and beyond that of a captain and his crew. This journey, this voyage that would take them into another plane, was Davenport’s baby. It was the dream that he had spent his entire life chasing, eschewing everything else so that he could pour all his effort into making it possible. He did not look at them as cohorts, but as children. As integral parts of his dream that held it aloft far higher than he could have dreamed. When he turned back to the reporters, his eyes were too bright with unshed moisture, his fingers trembling around the mic stand. “I want history to show that even before we began, even before we set off, I am proud of these…these adventurers. They are going where no one has gone before, and they are doing it in the name of furthering knowledge for all our kinds. That kind of boldness deserves our admiration, and I give it to each one of them freely.” His emotions were naked on his face, the wonder in his gaze drawing smiles out of the audience as they caught the edge of his mood. There were nods and sighs, eyes full of awe as the enormity of their mission set into their collective understanding because of Davenport’s unfiltered enthusiasm. “I hope that you’ll join me in wishing all of us good luck.”
He stepped away from the mic and bowed, and the reporters in front of them exploded into applause, standing from their seats to give them a sincere ovation. The adventurers, as Davenport had so aptly put it, stood, giving short bows before heading towards the stage exit. Lucretia sighed with relief as she left the lights and sound, shrinking behind the curtain where it was dark and muffled, the others trailing behind. The twins joined them last, Lup and Taako milking every possible drop of the attention before reaching the safety and quiet of the hallways beyond the public eye. They marched as one through the corridors, exiting through the back door into the dusky night air. The sky was a lush purple, the two suns just dipping below the horizon to bathe the world in rich, saturated splendor. They fanned out into a circle, looking at each other with excitement and energy passing between them, held in breathless giggles and silent grins.
“Well, crew.” Davenport addressed them with so much pride that Lucretia thought she would never be able to record it accurately on paper, no collection of words enough to explain the regard the captain had for his fledgling group of colleagues. “It’s our last night on this world for a long, long time. What should we do?”
As it happened with many ill-advised ventures and experiments that had befallen them in their preparation for the journey, this night too began with a simple thing that they should have learned long ago meant trouble. It seemed that it would take far longer than a mortal lifetime before they could identify the signs of disaster before it had fallen, because when it happened they did not flinch, taken with the flow of the tide as it dragged them along to their fates. There it would be, the sign of what was to come, and there they were oblivious to it, perhaps because they wanted to be. Nonetheless it happened, and they could only blame themselves for all that happened after.
Leering at them as she wrapped one arm around Taako and the other around Magnus, she lowered her voice to a pitch that carried a frenzy they could not help but echo. “Let’s get wrecked.”
And that was where it began.