A/N: I thank my beta reader, Dancing Jax, and my pal Chron, for giving me constant encouragement throughout Nanowrimo. The words that follow this note wouldn't have been possible with you guys.
Individual Fragments of Certain Stories
Prologue – The Beginnings
Darkness surrounded the boy and girl, accompanied by a million points of light.
"It's time again, isn't it?" said the girl. She appeared to be roughly nine or ten years old. Her long, white locks and pale skin looked ghostly against her one-piece black dress, giving her a slightly eerie appearance. In her hand was a minute white hourglass. A grain of sand slid smoothly into the lower half of the hourglass as she spoke. She eyed the hourglass watchfully even as yet another grain dropped through the tiny intersection, bringing the level of sand below a tenth of the upper chamber's maximum capacity.
"Yes, Elli," the boy replied. He looked to be about the same age as his counterpart, but that was where the similarities between the two ended. His wavy hair was short and dark and he was draped in an over-sized white cloak that covered his entire body below his head. He grinned as he stared into Elli's gray pupils that only served to accentuate her unnatural form.
She frowned. "You're taking this lightly, Dimio."
"Well, if you ask me, you're taking this too seriously, so let's leave it at that, shall we?"
Elli shook her head and sighed, "You never change." But despite her words, a smile crept onto her face as she turned away from him. The hourglass in her hand vanished in a blur of shadows as she closed her palm into a fist.
"It would be strange if I did change, don't you think?" Dimio laughed as he linked his hand with hers.
"I suppose you're right," conceded the girl. She opened her palm again, but in the hourglass's place was a shard of azure glass. If one looked closely, it was possible to see what seemed like two human figures within the small shard.
Dimio lowered his head and stared at it for a minute. "So that's the first world, is it?"
"Yes. The first world, and the first fragment."
He grinned once more. "It looks interesting. Lotho won't have anything to complain about this time, I reckon."
Elli was less convinced. She, too, looked at the fragment of glass before her, but unlike Dimio, her eyes were narrowed and her brows were knitted, turning her expression into more of an unhappy glare. "I tried to think of something better, but this was the best I could find, I'm afraid."
Dimio smiled and placed a hand upon her thin shoulder."Well, then that's that, isn't it? You've tried your best and we haven't got any more time. Let's get going."
"Time," Elli sighed. "Quite the troublesome issue, really. Very well, we should go. We have many more worlds to see and many more fragments to obtain after this one."
Once again, the little girl squeezed her hand shut. The shard shattered into small globules of azure light that expanded, enshrouding the pair. Their outlines grew faint before the encroaching bright light and gradually disappeared into nothingness.
"Oh, you're back already."
Elli and Dimio nodded simultaneously. "It's the time that we agreed upon, Lotho," the little boy said. They appeared to be floating on empty space, with nothing supporting their feet.
Lothonus-Cicen smirked as he raised one of his hands. His featureless face, like the rest of his body, was entirely shrouded in darkness, and his general form bore much resemblance to that of a silhouette's. However, the curves of his lips were visible and, apart from his voice, they were the only means of deciphering his emotions. The two children landed comfortably on his offered palm and bowed politely.
"There is no need for this formality, I think," he said. "Please, have a seat."
The two children accepted his offer and did just that. Dimio reached inside his cloak as he did so and pulled out a sizable sphere of crimson glass. He snapped his fingers and small cracks appeared on the globe before spreading and expanding. Only a moment later, the glass sphere entirely shattered, and the individual fragments split apart, forming a matrix around him.
"So these are the selected fragments?" asked Lothonus-Cicen with one could only assume to be interest. He inclined his giant head towards the pair. That small action alone was enough to block out the background and allow his visage to completely dominate their field of vision.
"Yes. I don't think much of it, but it was the best we could do, I'm afraid," Elli replied regretfully.
"Come now. This arrangement of ours has existed for a long period of time. You should know that I am not fussy."
"Thankfully," said Dimio. "It would be a big problem if that was not the case, really. We've brought a little under twenty, this time."
"A little under twenty. Well, that certainly makes me excited. I presume that they are all beginnings?"
"Of course," Elli replied. "We would certainly not make such a simple mistake. You know as well as we do, however, that there are no real beginnings and no real conclusions. The conclusion of one story is merely the beginning of another."
"Oh yes, of course. I am well aware of that. You are incorrect on one point, however. There is a definite conclusion that exists. I know that much better than you do, I am afraid." Lothonus-Cicen's voice grew soft, so soft that it was of the same magnitude as that of a normal-sized person's, instead of his usual echoing and booming speech. There was an edge to it that gave a feeling of uncertainty.
The girl nodded in agreement. "Yes, I believe you."
Dimio got to his feet and made a gesture with his right hand. One of the many red shards surrounding him drifted towards him, and he placed a finger upon it. The fragment began to shine with an intense light.
"Hey, enough of this serious talk. Let's get down to business already," he said.
"Very well," said Lothonus-Cicen. "Shall we begin with the first fragment, then?"
"Yes, let us begin," Elli said.
The trio waited patiently, but nothing happened. They all stared at the shard as it continued to hum and vibrate without any other effects.
"This is certainly taking long," Lothonus-Cicen commented.
"Ah, my bad. It's been a while since I've last did this. The first fragment will take awhile, but we shouldn't be experiencing any delays for the rest." Dimio rubbed the back of his head with his free hand. The other was resolutely pressed against the shard, as though to will it to go faster.
"I suppose that I've waited for a long time. Waiting slightly longer will not be a problem, but could you tell me a little about the contents of this fragment while we wait?" asked Lothonus-Cicen. "I believe this is what is known as a 'sneak peek' or 'preview'." His voice wavered a little and had a lack of confidence that sharply contrasted with his immense stature.
"You've been learning things from humans, eh, Lotho?" Dimio replied cheerfully.
"I've been observing them for such a long time that I am bound to learn some things."
"This fragment is a simple story, Lothonus. It's the story between a man and woman," said Elli, answering Lothonus-Cicen's original question.
The giant figure groaned. "So many stories start out that way, and they are never simple."
Elli's lips curved upwards as the glow of red light strengthened and intensified next to her. "Well, that's what makes it interesting, is it not?"
A brilliant blood-colored flash enveloped the scene, enshrouding everything within its illumination.