Hyde sighed, leaning over the edge of his balcony to gaze out at the rest of the city. The night was getting older, the stars struggling to outshine the lights filling the streets of the modest metropolis. Every lamp along the cobblestone streets of Lucida was aglow as the pedestrians hustled and bustled towards the main square. The luminescence all the life given off made the city seem to take on a bronze hue.
Jackal gently floated up and situated himself right on the rail next to the young boy, who gently brushed some of his brown bangs out of his eyes, and checked the clock mounted on his wall. Ten minutes to midnight. The year was drawing to a close for the people of Magnanimum, and a new one was set to begin.
“I never understood the premise of New Year celebrations.” A cold, calculating voice said. Hyde looked over his shoulder back at the woman who had appeared at his door roughly a half hour before. Something about her gave off the idea that every aspect of her appearance was perfectly planned. The way her dress and hair flowed seemed perfect. Almost too natural to actually be natural. As if the very air around her was made to halt, or flow in the right way to disrupt her sleek dark clothing, so that it affected her image in only the most positive of ways.
This wasn’t to say that Hyde thought her beautiful. She was. But something about the way she carried herself, that utter perfection she had, made her look almost fake. It gave the impression that beneath the perfection, there were perhaps more flaws than she would like to admit.
“It’s a time to think about the year that’s passed,” Hyde said, gazing off at the square where all the people were headed. It was a long ways away from his home, but plainly visible by the large mound of clay which had been built up at its site, which was visible from almost every part of the city. “And to look forward to the year that’s coming.”
“There is no difference in doing such recollection at the end of the year than there is at any other time.” Lady Ink refuted, crossing her arms and looking at the large collection of clay in the distance with some odd mixture of annoyance and curiosity. “And furthermore, your customs seem far too foreign for my tastes.”
“I’d imagine.” A new voice chimed in. Jackal’s voice didn’t sound too much like you’d expect from a small animated stuffed animal. He sounded like a boy, roughly Hyde’s age. The little Jackal (aptly named) turned himself around to sit upon the balcony rail, to look directly at their inter-dimensional visitor. “From what you’ve told us, you’re much used to meaning being given to forms. Not the other way around.”
Hyde glanced back at the clock to double check the time till midnight, before turning back around to face the woman, looking up at her relatively emotionless expression.
“My life’s work is to provide the base of all stories,” She said dismally, not seeming to enjoy the concept of being spoken down to by an animated stuffed animal, “When I see that the product of my labor is suddenly not required it...”
“...makes you feel... useless?” Jackal commented slyly.
“...seems... meaningless?” Hyde added, smirking a bit.
There was a flash of annoyance in the woman's eyes as she glared down at the two of them, but the companions couldn’t help but be pleased with themselves.When she had arrived inside their home nearly an hour before, and introduced herself as the embodiment of structure, explaining the current state of the world, it wasn’t the odd predicament which fascinated them. The remarkable powers of Spark which Hyde had since birth had left his mind relatively open, leading him to believe most anything could be possible.
No, the idea that she was a being of only structure, as she insinuated, they far from believed. Hyde had read far too many books and had participated in far too many literary analyses and psych classes to know that anything with structure had a meaning and purpose. He wondered idly why this woman was hiding her emotions like that, or what had happened to make her so desensitized to things. But he didn’t feel like it was appropriate to dig that deep into someones past so soon after meeting them.
Lady Ink didn’t seem to have the same thought process.
“Bizarre customs aside, I require your help.” She said, regaining her composure “I’ve found that you have been set in a plot archetype that tends to produce people of importance. Young boy, born under some bizarre circumstance which gave you immense powers - in this case the alignment of your worlds, two moons, and the sun - living with your abilities in hiding...”
“H-hey wait!” Hyde demanded, a bit taken aback by how idly the lady had brought these facts up, Jackal falling over the balcony rail, floating quickly back up once he remembered he had that power “I’ve lived my whole life not knowing why I had so much spark. Th... that’s not something you just break to a person.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed, gazing out the window like he had previously been doing, over the countless rooftops towards the celebration grounds in the distance. The homes of people looked like ants when compared to the large, misshapen mound of clay which lay there.
“I’m not really interested in another discussion about ‘meaning’, or the lack thereof when people are simply given the facts.” She said coldly, moving towards the balcony with the two others, who turned to stare back at the center of the city as well. People were cheering, and the rancor of voices was rising. Less than a minute till midnight. “I need you to consider my proposal. If nothing is done, all my intricate structures, all my brother’s meanings, and all the stories of people like yourself, everything will vanish.”
Hyde regained himself and glanced back up at the women. She had gone back to seeming devoid of emotion, but he knew this was serious. He glanced back once again at his empty apartment. His wall of books. His shelves of belongings. It was a small place, but ever since he moved out of his dad’s, it had seemed so huge. So... empty. The idea of independence was still a bit new to him. However, something about this opportunity called to him. Jackal was looking up at him. He could sense it too. It was time to shed his stereotypical ‘lonely boy’ shell and try to be something a bit more.
“Ten, Nine, Eight...”
The voices of the city rang out, cheers of exuberance gaining in volume as Hyde’s attention fixated once again at the center of the celebrations. Jackal was busy looking back up at his friend. He could tell what he was thinking. Partly because he was made from his soul, but quite honestly, that meant little when compared to how much time they spent together. He would stick with Hyde regardless, not because the doll was his animation, but because they were friends.
“Seven, Six, Five...”
Lady Ink took a sideways glance at Hyde again. He was staring off at the celebration site in contemplation. For all his blathering about meanings and purpose, she knew he was full of tactfulness and wit. He didn’t look the type to blindly rush into a situation with the intention of things simply working themselves out. But he had heart, and perhaps some subconscious part of her knew she served something to gain from that.
“Four, Three, Two...”
Hyde gazed up at the sky and raised an arm, along with every other citizen in the city, and Lady Ink watched with intent. As everyone cheered “One,” what seemed to be electricity flowed up through the young mans arm, up to the tips of his fingers, until a single, gleaming spark floated off from them. Like a tiny speck of stardust floating away from his balcony, and towards the looming clay mountain. It was joined by many others. Twinkles of stardust rising from the streets, all over the metropolis.
An ocean of light soon was flowing through the sky, Hyde’s addition less than a drop by comparison. A person viewing the event could practically feel all the hopes, dreams, and aspirations as they moved across the skyline.
Hyde and Jackal had seen the event countless times before, yet it always seemed fascinating. There wasn’t anything quite like the complete unity that simply radiated down every street and alleyway as everyone in the city - no - in the world came together to cast forward their hopes for the future, and their memories of the past. He took another glance back at the woman in black. Still stern and serious. It seemed that little slip of emotion she had displayed earlier was too much by her standards. She wouldn’t be having any more of those anytime soon.
The ceremonial clay mound now seemed to be the center of this entire galaxy of emotions. The specks of light swirled around it, creating a mighty whirlpool as slowly the mass at its center absorbed the light. At first it seemed to sway gently from the waves of energy which flowed into it, but before long it began to convulse and lurch about violently, the formerly motionless mass gaining a life of its own from the citizens’ sparks.
The beginning seemed shockingly chaotic. From the clay emerged different figures which were quickly drawn back inside the now amorphous mass. Sharp and fearsome claws were drawn back to be replaced with an innocent pair of rabbit ears, which in turn vanished for a large pair of horns, and the cycle repeated.
Gradually a more distinct ‘face’ started to emerge from the mess of features, and from it, the shape became more defined. It rose up, mouth elongating into a sharp beak as an avian head began to take charge of the form. The edges of the clay mound rose up, becoming slender, slowly becoming a beautiful plumage as the emotions of the populace became the sculptors of the mighty form.
The view of the formation became obstructed as the ocean of light further condensed around it, swirling around, becoming too bright to look at directly. Hyde was forced to shield his eyes with a hand. Suddenly, a large gust of wind flew through the entire city, causing trees to shake violently and dust to be kicked up from the streets as the majestic bird flapped its wings. The wave could be felt miles away on the city’s rural outskirts, even .
When everything settled down again, Hyde grunted and slowly lowered his hands to stare at the finished product. There, floating above the city plaza was a majestic clay phoenix, gently flapping its wings to keep itself in place. The air around it glistened with the remnants of the flood of light, and the onlookers gasping in awe. The mighty creation gave another large flap of its wings as it began to circle the plaza, with the onlookers jumping and cheering as it passed them by and brought in the new year. Hyde couldn’t help but join in the enraptured gaze.
“...The avians are always the best.” Jackal commented, staring up modestly as well, paws behind his back respectfully “Last year was a lion. Crushed a few houses on its way out of the city by accident.”
Lady Ink didn’t respond. Unlike the rest of the people present, she seemed to be giving the massive phoenix a more analytical gaze. It was impossible to imagine just what she was thinking.
Hyde was smirking as he recalled the incident that Jackal had mentioned. It was funny... because nobody was upset. The owners of the houses were just out in the streets laughing at the whole thing. The next day neighbors from all over were helping repair the damage as if it was routine cleanup after a party.
It was his people’s way to look at the positives in life and not stress about what couldn’t be helped that the boy truly respected. His smile just seemed to widen as he watched the phoenix fly off towards the horizon. Hey, there wasn’t any use in him sulking about in his own world when he had the knowledge that he could make a world changing difference.
“...I’ll do it.” he announced triumphantly, the attention of his current two companions coming to focus on him. “No reason to sit here and do nothing anyway.”
Lady Ink turned and looked over the boy once again. His demeanor was different. She could sense the confidence he seemed to have gathered from watching the event, and nodded as his little stuffed animal companion floated up to hang off his shoulder, completing the picture.
“To aid you along the way I’m going to give you a bit of my power. A construct.” she said, reaching out one hand and holding it open. There was a faint glow within her palm, rising up into a sphere, and once it had disappeared, there remained what appeared to be a key. At least, an outline of one. It seemed about as two-dimensional as one could get in a four dimensional world, a black outline of what seemed to be a key. “A construct will gain its power from whatever meaning you bestow upon it. As long as it matches the form, of course.”
The boy reached out and took the item in his own hand, the outline shining, before it shifted from an outline and became a more defined, real-world key... sort of. Its handle was in the design of a worn copper gear, with the actual key being an extended end of one of the gears teeth. Hyde and Jackal both stared wondrously at the object, the boy turning it about in his hand some, as if to verify that it was real.
“So... it will open doors for us?” Jackal asked, looking back to the Lady.
“It will do whatever you believe it is meant to do.” she refuted, and waved her other hand, seeming to get their sendoff over with little fanfare. From the floor rose a large archway. An outline, much like his key had been, looking like a schematic for a structure, as opposed to one itself.
“Now, you merely need to will this arch to take you to the realm of stories, and it shall.” she informed the two, who were gazing at the large construct in the middle of Hyde’s bedroom intently. “Once you enter I won’t be able to aid you. I have to trust that you two will be able to figure out what to do on your own.”
Hyde looked to Jackal, who stared back at his friend confidently. He then turned his gaze to a picture frame next to his bed. The glare from the light of the city and the fireworks whizzing of in the sky blocked out the image of his mothers face. It had been thirteen years. When he thought about it, his whole situation was a rather typical one, story wise. In a way that worried him almost as much as the thought of the task he was about to undertake. If this world of stories really was becoming more of the same, he would have to be different somehow if he wanted to save it.
He shook his head, cleared his mind, and nodded. He was ready for this. He could hear the celebrations outside as the citizens rejoiced in the phoenix’s wake. The arch before him took shape as he willed it to form. A beautiful curve of bronze, like his key, adorned with intricate gears upon the top, and at either side what appeared to be a pair of steam engines, which promptly hummed to life. The gears atop whirred, and in the center, sparks of electricity flew from one end to the other, at first sporadically, but picking up pace as the hum of the mechanisms grew louder. It wasn’t long before the arch’s interior was a solid glowing white.
He took another look at Lady Ink, and then turned back to the gateway he had given meaning to. He stepped forwards confidently, spurred on by the joyous celebrations taking place outside his window, picturing that phoenix in his mind as he vanished inside that wall of energy, and vanished.