This is the place to be for the end of the world show.
Coraline knows it, in her heart of hearts. The throne there, the vast hall before it, the Voice speaking the interminable verdicts upon all the souls that pass through this place...
Except they are not truly his verdicts. He is, after all, only the voice of the god...
The gods gathered in the darkness, in the unnatural glow, in anticipation of the apocalypse.
Alyr there, the lady of temptation, goddess of cats, with spear at the ready... Kyrule there, lord of death, keeper of souls, waiting, always waiting... Nausica there, lord of the depths...
Eapherod saw them, and others, and smiled. Almost there. The plan, Coraline´s plan, would soon come to pass.
Darkness swirled in the depths of the abyss in which they stood.
This is not the beginning. There are no beginnings. Only places in which things happen, and places where events pass by...
Her name was Coraline Henderson. She was the dreamer behind the masks, the woman behind the dreams, the world before which it all took place. She was, all in all, quite utterly bonkers.
And she was a librarian.
Life is not always what it seems. Seen through the eyes of sobriety, seen through the bottom of a bottle, or seen through a particularly nice batch of weed, it will seem whatever it seems. We see it as we see it, and in due time, it passes us by.
Coraline was, as was her way, entirely sober. The words which faced her were another matter; they came as if from a dream, facing the world of the living and wakeful through a haze of something indistinct, something small but monolithic, like history itself... they were, indeed, the words depicting a great and massive battle. The were the words of the Angler, the Lady of Serpents, and those all who would stand against each other amistd the world known only as the Internet.
They were, of course, only words - words to take her heart away, words of a Ravenous Thing, words of a Dark Lord, and words that, no matter what she did, would stick with her all her life. And though they were only words, they had power - so that even now she returned to them, even now.
¨What just happened?¨ Corn asked.
¨Vardaman tried to turn her,¨ Kyrule said. ¨A rather unexpected move.¨
Eapherod had appeared beside him. ¨Did you see that?¨
¨Yes,¨ she said. It had flickered about Coraline´s form like smoke, visible only to those who knew what it was. And Kyrule was learning quickly.
Coraline looked up from her books. As fascinating as the history of organisational systems was, she just couldn´t keep at it any longer. She needed a breath of fresh air, but the bread was still baking.
Vardaman was not what we would call a typical doomguide. He was, in fact, not at all a typical doomguide. What he was, however, was a typical drunk.
He looked at his shalott. He drank his shalott. He sighed vaguely and stared off into space.
Space, of course, is very vast. Most folks know nothing of it; only on the larger worlds, where there has been more time, and more science, and more madness and depression, is anything indeed known of space.
And that is really not very much, generally speaking.
Coraline knew a bit. A thing or two. Enough to say with a fair amount of certainty that a star is indeed a star and a world is indeed a world. But that really wasn´t her field of expertise. Books were.
They called her the Librarian, and librarian she was. Degree in information technologies, truck full of books, and seven cats rendered her very much a librarian of lore, and she knew exactly what was where and where was what. It was her job, and it was who she was.
At least part of who she was.
There was, of course, a good deal more to it.
People often forget that the God of Death began his divine career as the God of Practical Jokes. They especially tend to forget that he never stopped.
Sherandris, of course, remembered. He remembered most everything, at least so long as he deemed it worth remembering, and since he wasn´t really sure about the bulk of it and erred on the side of caution, that really did mean everything. For the most part. There had, after all, been that time he had spent dead - he didn´t really remember that, of course. But he had been dead. Perfectly excusable, and as for the Duty, the Dark Sister would surely have seen to that.
Because Sherandris was the God of Death. He was not what most people expected, of course, but by the time it mattered, it really didn´t matter anymore anyway. They entered his realm, what he called his Room, in the space outside of space in the time outside of time, and everything faded away. The dead were laid out according to the customs of the soul, and he passed them on into whatever next life was appropriate. And that was that, as far as he was concerned.
This left plenty of time for meat.
Sherandris rather liked meat.
After 200-some years, Abearanoth was different. It still had the general vibes of myth and legend, and the strange, strange sensations of perfect normalcy, but it was, all in all, a different world. Technology and Progress had passed by, though as far as Coraline was concerned they were still well behind anything she was comfortable with, even outside of the Angler´s Internet realm of stolen Star Wars monikers. This, she supposed, was more... Victorian, perhaps? She wasn´t sure, something about having spent her recent History courses reading Discworld instead of actually paying attention to the lectures, but it was probably something along those lines.
Whatever the case, the world of Abearanoth had passed her by without actually catching up in the slightest. They had phones and such and magic and such and some semblance of industrialisation, but that was about it. It was still pretty damn backwater, really.
So Coraline was lost, standing on a steet-corner as carriages, horsemen, and pedestrians passing her by amidst the general hubbub of city life, where people came and went full of purpose (or at least direction), feeling like the entire thing was just some distant dream. Except she knew it wasn´t - this was real. This was the reality she had yearned for, the freedom of the real world, the world of the living, the world of change. The world where she had previously spent the bulk of her life utterly and unequivically drunk.
The Dream awoke in darkness.
She saw things around her, not from vision as much as general perception. She was in a room - large, vaulted, and somewhat run down, full of dust and skeletons and History, though it was meaningless to her. It was all quite meaningless to her.
So she lingered in this space, and observed the changelessness of Time.
Vardaman was drunk. A fourth round of 20-stone shalott will do that to you. In fact a single round of 20-stone shalott will probably do that to you, and even, just as likely, cause you to completely pass out from overkill already, but Vardaman had a very significant alcohol tolerance. He was, in fact, only reasonaly drunk, and was currently waiting on the next round of shalott to continue him down along the road to utter and complete inebriation.
This was Av Aril, a village on the eastern end of Kartheldrin, a country of hills, junipers, hills, more junipers, and even the occasional yucca, but mostly junipers. It was hot in the days and cold in the nights, which suited Vardaman fine - cold nights were perfect for passing out drunk, and though he was here for a reason, that could wait until the hangover wore off.
There was a smell of something burning. It lingered and disipated and then lingered some more until Coraline simply couldn´t ignore it any longer.
She checked the oven.
Damn, she thought. So much for that plan. Add an extra teaspoon of baking powder, and apparenty the pumpkin bread just overflows. A bit disappointing, really, but at least that explains what the baking powder is there for in the first place...
She closed the oven. No way were the loaves actually done at this point; that the overflow would burn is expected, but the loaves themselves still need to cook through. She glanced back at the clock - probably another 15 or so minutes - almost to the middle of the night. Doable, though. It was a holiday; no need to be up by any particular time.
And that left plenty of time for her books.
Time, of course, is an illusion - and it is a widely accepted fact that lunchtime is doubly so. That does, of couse, assume that you believe in lunchtime at all; if you´re the sort of person who gets up whenever and eats whatever whenever if you happen to be hungry, this doesn´t really apply.
Kylie Jacobs was one of these people, and her brother Jeremy was if anything more so. As it was, it was three in the afternoon and he was still passed out on his bed and Kylie was done waiting, plain and simple. She had gone to the trouble to come all the way to a colony in another galaxy, and gone through more stages of jet lag than she had even previously known were possible, and she had had it. She was done waiting.
She poured a bucket of whitewash on Jeremy´s head, not because this was normal or accepted behaviour, but simply because she´d always wanted to try it.
Flashes and lightning and flashes some more. This was the night of the desert, cold and stormy and silent, but only the smell of rain and the particularly bright flash made themselves known inside.
The burning smell was gone. The timer went off. Coraline sighed and went to check the bread.
Strangely enough, it was done. Toothpick came out clean, edges slightly blacked, hand mildly burned from running into the shelf when trying to get the toothpick in in the first place, no doubt about it. Done.
She took out the loaves, considered the overflow, and then scraped it off the bottom of the oven with a pancake turner. Some of it even appeared edible, so she tried it.
Not bad, really. Now if only her fingers would quit hurting.
Nothing for it but to wait, though. Coraline went back to her books.
There was a wall. It was not a particularly interesting wall, but it was there, in front of her, taunting her with is solidity, lingering, loitering, being a wall.
Rahah stared at it. Such a wall it was. A wall. Walls were everywhere, of course, but this one, here, was in front of her now, and now was the pressing point. She didn´t really understand the concept of ´now´, of course, but is was clearly important, and since this was it, she spent it staring, now, staring at the wall.
It really was quite the wall.
The end is simple. Everyone went home. Some people got terribly drunk. There was a fair amount of partying. Someone´s brother pulled someone´s hair and screamed ´Crivens!´.
The end isn´t particularly interesting.
The middle is madness.
Coraline woke up one morning, walked into her pub, and was immediately surprised to find that it was indeed a pub and not a library, though really the only significant difference in practice is that libraries tend to be more dangerous.
So it was going to be one of ´´those´´ days, was it? Fine, then.
This was, after all, very much her pub. The counter gleamed because she made it gleam; the busboy scurried because she made him scurry; the shelves were full because she kept them full. So she didn´t know all the mixes by heart; if someone wanted something special, they could either tell her what to do or suffer. She knew enough. The basics, at any rate. The usuals.
And she knew breakfast. Breakfast was what she had for lunch, and it usually involved an egg, some toast, a whop of coffee, and more brandy than she was likely to admit, and this she made now, munching her toast as one of the overnights came down burdened with a hangover. Wordlessly she passed him a coffee and moved onto a vague cleaning of a random glass. Barkeeps were always cleaning a random glass when someone else was around, so she did this too.
The overnight stared glumly at his coffee, disinclined to move.
¨Drink it,¨ she said. ¨It´ll help.¨ Not that she´d know. She had never had a hangover in her life. The odd headache waking up, yes, but when it was solved so simply as by drinking a glass of water, that hardly counted as a hangover, so far as Coraline was concerned. Hangovers were something else, something more mysterious, involving the aftereffects of alcohol killing various parts of bthe body, most assuredly. But these were the remedies, and so she administered them, good barkeep and innkeep that she was. Shuffled those too drunk into rooms for the night, administered to the hangovers in the morning, and wandered off into the day that was the afternoon.
It was a life, of sorts, though not what she would ever have expected. Coraline was a librarian in her heart of hearts, and she had trained to be a librarian. She even had a piece of paper attesting to this, though it was in another world in another language, where everyone had probably assumed her missing, and then, as the months and years went by, probably assumed her dead. But this wasn´t that world; here words were precious, and libraries were rare, so here she did what had a market, and that was booze. It was really the same sort of thing, just liquids instead of words. Strange that either one could be so very effective at passing others into the worlds of dreams, but that suited her fine.
¨Seriously, drink it.¨
The guy, dressed in the typical rural attire of the area, stared at his coffee as though it were some strange and foreign potion, then downed it in three solid gulps.
Well, that´ll do it, Coraline thought, absently wiping a random glass mug.
He stared at his own empty mug.
He seemed to stop.
Then he startled, twitched, stood up suddenly, and fell over.
Coraline peered over the counter, somewhat afraid of what she´d find, but the guy was already getting up. He shrugged himself off, looked at her suspiciously, and then asked, quietly, ¨Er, how much will that be?¨
¨Eight cela, including room and board. Breakfast is also on, if you want it.¨
¨Er,¨ he said, passing her the coins, ¨What´s breakfast?¨
¨I made toast.¨ Coraline was not known for her culinary expertise, something about how she usually didn´t bother since the ingredients on hand tended to be absolutely worthless anyway.
¨Okay,¨ he said.
Wordlessly she passed him a piece of toast. He wandered out, munching.
Some life, but it was a life, and a fairly stable one. Even the voices were passably quiet now, since so long as she kept at the booze they just faded to the general buzz of the background. And there was no lack of booze here. No lack at all.
She leaned on the counter. Some life, but she was alive, and that was what mattered. She had, after all, promised that.
The beginning was simply one among many. Everything is the beginning of something, the end of something else, and the middle of other things entirely. Such things, after all, entirely relative.