Red's state of being, as she was transferred from the incompetent hands of foolish gods to the confused and anxious hands of a troubled humanity, was noticeably vague. She was much less like herself and much more like the lifeless doll she usually reverted back to whenever her happiness or well-being was threatened. Her "threat" at that time was obviously the searching eyes of her comrades as they yearningly looked to her for answers.
"Why, Red; why?"
As time went on, however, and she became more comfortable in her position of unquestionable power, she became more and more at ease, and therefore more aware of her surroundings.
The vague veil that hid the world from her was slowly lifted--dramatically, like the red curtain at the theater.
William, of course, was already there to from the groping, grimy hands of ignorance, and he made sure that only those they knew before they were forced into a foreign world could enter their tent. The last thing they needed ("they" for even he was weary after their adventures) was to be chased by a sort of "paparazzi." Because of this, they were often in the company of Thomas and Riley, who shared both a desire to know about their frozen cousin world and also the wisdom that prevented them from demanding to know more.
But, one day, they were joined by the space-consuming Albert, whose thickly accented voice met them before he did.
"What are you doing here?" William demanded as soon as his paranoid ears caught the unwelcomed yet familiar voice.
"I'm just here to talk," Albert replied without anxiety, stepping into the tent before William could shut the thin canvas flap. "I thought I should, 's'all."
Red, who was gladly reading the first legible book she had gotten her hands on since they returned, looked up at Albert with cooled down hatred. "If you're here to explain to us why you sent us off to perpetual hell—it truly was hell, you know—then don't bother. Lorai—Sarah—already told us that she had never intended to harm us, and that you knew this when you decided to watch us plummet down the side of a mountain."
Albert sighed, and he disregarded her biting words for the sake of his moral comfort. "I'm not here to talk 'bout that, 'cause I figured you wouldn't hear what I had to say on that anyway."
"Then what do you want to talk about?" William responded, and it was unlikely that his agitation would let up enough for him to treat Albert with a scrap of decency.
"To express the curiosity of the common folk."
He shook his head. "You know as well as the 'common folk' do that we're not going to accommodate any of their questions with answers until we've got our own matters settled, Albert."
"Not to mention Riley and Thomas are in charge of that," Red pointed out. But, surprisingly enough, she put her book down and patiently told Albert, "If you aren't talking about that either, then you can go ahead and continue."
He smiled at her happily, his whiskers forming an expression too easily mistaken for a malicious one—his intent, however, was clear. He meant no harm. There wasn't any time, and there wasn't any room—not for that sort of foolery. "Thank you, Red, thank you.
"A few days before you guys came back, 'round the time that the specters stopped comin', we got word of buddin' nation only a couple hundred miles from here," he told them with a tone so sincere yet serious that it was hard to believe it was coming from him. He nervously took off his already crumbled hat (it was a dirty white to contrast against his graying black hair) and began to knead it with his large, powerful hands. "We didn't think much of it, 'cause lots of blokes like to make asses of themselves by startin' a new 'nation.'"
"Well, a lot of the folk have been talkin', and, since the specters are gone, we thought that it might be best to give this place a chance." He realized that he jumped to this conclusion, so he quickly went on to say: "Oh, now—don't think we made that decision just like that! We've heard a whole bunch 'bout it—nearly everyone has heard of it by now—and we talked it over for a long time."
Red folded her arms, her brow furrowed, and thought for a second. "Why are you telling us this, Albert?" she finally asked stormily. William was wondering just the same, so he nodded at Albert, urging him to answer the question in the most illuminating way possible.
Albert laughed in his loud, boisterous way. "Don't people usually consult the ones in charge 'fore they go off into the woods in the hope of joinin' a new nation?"
Red let out a sharp, panicked chuckle—just one. "What?"
"You guys are in charge," Albert reaffirmed. "We decided on it—just the guys out there in the tents—and we decided that we were sure enough to ask you."
William shook his head, his eyes narrowed with scrutiny, and stepped toward Albert. "What are you talking about? We're not in charge!"
"Not by title,
no, but you just saved the world, didn't you?" He folded his own
arms—it was hard to believe that they were able to reach across his
large, mighty chest—and gazed down at them with wisdom that often
hid in a body only meant for physical confrontation. "Who the hell
wouldn't consider you in charge after all of that?"
"We didn't save the world, Albert."
"No?" He motioned around them. "I haven't seen a single specter since you two came back—and I don't know a man who's seen one either—how is that not savin' the world, Red?"
Of course, "permission" was given to their Irish acquaintance. Who were they to say no? Besides, from what they had heard, there was a lot to that "budding nation" not but a few hundred miles from where they currently resided. There was neither reason nor logic in staying in that tented encampment—not when they had no real point or purpose—so it made sense enough for them to move on and find a new location.
It was strange though, to be consulted before a decision was made. They were, in their minds, the last people who needed to be consulted when it came to such serious matters. The lives of many were once again being placed in their hands, and their hands were tremulous and weak—liable to drop anything of any significant weight.
To them, it made little sense.
And yet they were so easily placed in a seat of importance—told that they were in charge when it came to all of the important stuff. What would happen if they made the wrong choice? What would happen if someone suddenly threw a new challenge at them?
Red and William were completely without magic—ever since they returned from the cold, harsh world that lied just next to them on the metaphorical chain.
So what use could they be?
Their story, of course, was soon told. Riley and Thomas could no longer endure—even Andy showed an active interest in their tale—and it was only inevitable that they explained all that had happened to them in their four weeks away from
Red and William became a sort of legend—spoke of by all and revered by many. While they never saw what they did as much of anything…
…Well, everyone else was impressed.
Time went by slowly yet pleasantly, and the hellish past—those few months when Earth was in peril—was easily forgotten. It was written off in the history books as "just another hiccup in human evolution," and it was spoke of with the same respect and awe that the American Revolution. It happened, but few could relate.
Simple—safe—peaceful. The panicked excitement faded from existence just as quickly as it came to be. The world repopulated, and governments were reestablished.
But that happened long after Red and William came to find comfort in their lives that would have otherwise been unremarkable had it not been for the arrogance of one single man. That was long before the amazing Beryl came to visit them—once her magic was restored to its appropriate level, she took to traveling all that she could.
"I want to change the concept of magic," she explained to them as she casually sat on a chair—she thought it strange that it did not move unless she physically forced it to—and spoke of the growing frustration in the world they had been in not long ago. "I want them to realize that magic cannot solve every problem—just like wishful thinkin' cannot—so that they find the true way to end all sufferin': to stop the root of the problem rather than medicatin' the symptoms."
Red, for she took much interest in the subject of a world she never planned to return to, asked her to continue. "But doesn't that make you a hypocrite?"
Beryl laughed—she realized that Red was referring to her constant use of magic—and quickly went to elaborate her motives. "No—what I'm talkin' 'bout is not the simple every-day magic. There is nothin' wrong with that, since it only makes life a bit easier. What I'm talkin 'bout is usin' magic for the really important stuff. If you get sick, and there is somethin' seriously wrong with you, you shouldn't simply mask that pain—you should go to a doctor."
"They have doctors in that world?" Red asked in alarm, for she had seen nothing close to modern medicine in that backwards nether region.
"Oh—no," Beryl said with a light chuckle, "it's not that world I speak of. I'm just sayin', you know. Anyway, that's why I'm leavin' that world—I doubt there is little I can do 'cause they're so far gone—and goin' to that yellow one." She pointed outside to the yellow streak in the sky that still remained.
They had taken the time to close the gap between both Earth and the colder world, but the torn wall between theirs and the yellow world had been left in ruins, so that it could stretch and strain into a huge and improbable gash.
"I know that that world is really somethin'—heard of it before, but I never got the chance. I was stopped down the chain by the irksome locals."
Red glanced around. "You're not going to stay in this world? Just going to skip it for the next?"
"Oh, I suppose I'll have to." Beryl sighed, not even bothering to look around. "There is no magic here—energy, yes—but not magic. This energy doesn't listen to the will of man—it just does whatever it pleases. So I'm really only hurtin' myself by stayin' here."
Red sadly looked down. "I see."
Beryl left them only a few short days after she arrived, taking with her the massive hole in the sky. Their worlds were sealed, and they were left alone without a single scrap of magic—without a single reminder of the life they had once lived.
William took a seat beside Red, trying his best not to disturb her. For the first time since they came back—it had been nearly a month—she was not reading. She was, in fact, writing, and he was surprised at how effortlessly the words passed from her fingers to the paper. For a whole minute (truly not that much time at all compared to the several instances when silence was forced from him for entire hours) he watched her without a word, and then, caring little for how he would disrupt the flow of her sentence, he asked, "What are you writing, Red?"
"Nothing, actually…" She picked up the sheet of paper and looked down at it. Somehow, throughout the writing of the passage, she had fluctuated three times between first person and third person. She wasn't sure what that mattered much, considering it was not even a story, but she felt that it reflected the unease inside of her—she was constantly switching between herself and the familiar creature of the land of bitterly cold magic.
She was no longer sure of herself, that is.
William glanced over the paper, full of scribbles and incoherent, broken language, and told her that he still wasn't sure what to make of anything either, even then.
"That's hard to believe," Red commented wryly, putting away the paper before he could see even more.
"That's only because you don't want to think you're the only one dealing with this."
She looked up at him, and he smiled at her once more, though it was a rather sorry expression of a joy that did not exist inside of him. "I do," she said defensively—he always insisted far too often that she was not yet comfortable in their home world. "You just don't believe me."
He shrugged. "Either way, Red… I'm glad that it happened."
"Where's that coming from?" Red asked humorously, finding his serious tone to be funnier than his not-so-serious expression.
"Well, you've been holed up in here since Beryl left, and I could tell that something was bothering you, so I thought I would tell you that I'm glad that I ended up going to that world with you," he explained. "I know that sometimes you think that I wish I hadn't been there, but, Red, I was happy as long as I knew that I could keep you safe even in some small way."
"It was more than a small way," Red told him, though she did not look up at him to express her gratitude completely. "I wouldn't have made it if it had not been for you. I'm too weak to get through something like that alone."
"I don't think so…"
"Why? Because of your disillusioned idea of me?" She laughed spitefully at her own question. But William was practically serene in his response. It was enough to silent all further discussion—to cement the truth inside of their hearts for all time.
"No," he told her, "it's because you're the strongest person I know."