0044 – Gareth & Stem: Departure, Part 3

Evening was starting to set in now. Gareth had wanted his break in the pleasant clearing to be a short one, but it was looking increasingly like they would both be spending the night here.

Stem had intended to tell him only the relevant details of her lucky escape from Dark Hollow, but Gareth’s innate curiosity coupled with his complete lack of experience of Shrouder culture had necessitated a long, winding conversation.

In recognition of the fact that they would now be there for some time, Gareth had put the conversation on hold in order to gather firewood. Despite her weakened condition, Stem had insisted on helping him, and had proved an adept forager. In fact, she had gathered rather a lot more than him, with little difficulty. Skills like this, he realised, were simply part of getting through everyday life for her. The last time he’d had to do anything like this was as a teenager, and even then it had only been in fun.

In trying to remember the last time he had roughed it outside in any capacity, Gareth’s thoughts wandered to Pam. That day they had gone to see the expanse of wheat fields, and been caught in the rain. They had made love, he remembered, under the tree at the edge of the field, like a couple half their age. They’d had nothing with them, but she had wanted to stay out there all night, holding him in the open air.

He’d insisted on going back to the car.

Gareth cursed himself. Beyond his self-loathing, lurking at the back of his mind, was his understanding of where Pam was now and what she was enduring. He refused to look at it. Muttering under his breath about how stupid he had been in making one inconsequential decision, he drowned it out, bending down to add another couple of dry branches to the bundle in his arms.

Ultimately, it was Stem who had succeeded in getting the fire to actually light.

“So, how did you get into the armoury?” Gareth asked, eager to resume the story from where they had left off. His back was to her, his hands rummaging through his poorly organised pack. He knew he’d brought a little kettle somewhere, and some teabags. Certain standards.

“I don’t really know.” Stem’s voice was nonchalant. She poked at the fire with a long stick, shuffling the branches around in the flames. “I panicked. I felt like I really had to get in there, and I don’t even know why. I was shouting ‘Open! Open!’ at it, and it just opened.”

Realisation struck Gareth like a cold slap in the face.

He turned to her. “What?” He asked.

She turned her eyes up to him, her head unmoving. “Weird, isn’t it?” She said.

Stem was a good storyteller. She had kept the impending Regulan invasion out of the story thus far, intending to bring it in at the point when she’d discovered it herself, to shock him with it.

Gareth went back to his pack, searching for something else hurriedly. After a few frantic moments, he emerged with the flimsy book entitled “A Window That Opens On Command.

He thumbed through it. His face went pale. His eyes widened.

“Your village got invaded, didn’t it? After all this.” He asked, a mad expression on his face.

Stem backed away slightly, her features shocked. “How did you know that?”

“I… my gods, I… I think it was my fault.” He stammered.

“How could it be your fault?” She asked. “You weren’t even there. If you were, you’d have known about what it’s like where I’m from.”

“You’re right, I wasn’t, but…” Gareth trailed off, realising it would be easier to simply show her. He moved around to the other side of the fire, opening the little book to show her the contents.

“I can’t read that.” She told him.

So he translated.

Stem’s brow furrowed. She wasn’t shocked or hurt, merely confused. “So you wrote this yesterday? Before we even met?”

“That’s right.” He told her. “It’s Sermomancy. The book magic you were talking about, the one you said your friend used. I wrote it to get out of a… “ He paused. “A prison. Through the window.”

“And you think your writing it made the invasion happen?” She asked.

“Yes!” He exclaimed. “It makes sense, doesn’t it? Why you suddenly felt that panic, even though you were in no actual hurry to get into the armoury? It’s because I wrote you as panicked.”

“But all the things I’m telling you happened weeks ago.” Stem stated. “Maybe even months. You only wrote this yesterday.”

Gareth did what he always did when confronted with even the mildest problem, and consulted the book that served as his familiar. He didn’t let it speak first this time.

“Did you know about this?” He demanded. “Did you know that the content of the books affects the real world?”

“I’M NOT ACTUALLY SURE IT DOES. IT MIGHT BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND. I THINK IT’S POSSIBLE THAT WE MERELY DIVINE THE EVENTS WE WRITE ABOUT, MUCH LIKE YOU DIVINE THE TITLES IN A LANGUAGE YOU CAN’T SPEAK.”

“BUT YES, I KNEW.”

“You bastard!” Gareth shouted. “Why didn’t you warn me?”

“WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE? TRIED YOUR VERY BEST TO ONLY WRITE ABOUT NICE THINGS HAPPENING TO PEOPLE?”

“Yes!” Gareth exclaimed.

Stem was peering over his shoulder. The conversation, both spoken and written, was taking place in English, so she was completely lost.

“Why are you shouting at a book?” She asked.

“Because it deserves it!” Gareth retorted, in Portuguese.

Stem realised it wasn’t the best time.

“TRUST ME. IT’S POINTLESS. EVENTS IN THE BOOKS ECHO THOSE IN REAL LIFE, AND VICE VERSA. EVERY SERMOMANCER REALISES IT SOONER OR LATER. YOU JUST HAVE TO ACCEPT IT. SOMETIMES, THE KNOWLEDGE OF IT CAN ACTUALLY BE RATHER USEFUL.”

“Well, I’m not going to ruin any more lives.” Gareth resolved. “I’m not going to write any more books.”

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