She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Behind her, ten thousand volumes lay sealed in amber light, with ten thousand more having passed beneath her careful, white gloved hands.
As she might have expected, the bridge beneath the stars lay empty in this, her hour of despair.
Like her mood, both the bridge and the hour seemed to stretch forever, forlorn and cheerless in the night. Gaze downcast, she sulked at the mirrored path, at the reflection which served up an image of silken hair and of eyes bright as stars. Only her lips, indistinct in the dark, held perfect the mold of her disappointment.
Sometime later, for the night was long as lives are long, she noticed a star holding point above her right shoulder, and a warm breath that was not her own touched her cheek, brushing at the tear she had not even known was there.
“I have given up,” she said simply. “All those who went before me. All those who studied the ancient tomes. They were right.”
“There are none to chide you,” said the certainty from above, “and many to sing you songs of sustenance. You have even taken on their form so that you might understand. None could ask more of you.”
“It has done me no good. I cannot find where and why they determined to change.”
Sensing her resignation, the voice asked “May I walk beside you, pulse of my heart?”
“No,” she said, immediately regretting the tenor of the word. “I thought they would be everything. Our ancients, our forebearers. They were nothing! It was not even worth the trouble of learning to read.”
…they had no design for a world beyond the flesh, beyond pain: a world free from petty wants.
“Your studies have been long, and there is no shame in rest.” Though the voice held close, the presence behind it waited on high. “The Repository abides.”
“Yes, it does.” She said no more, humoring the conceit of the voice and of her own conscience, but certain in her heart the chamber was now closed to her forever.
She stopped, pausing to look beyond the embrace of the bridge and into the streams where time held sway. Once again her regrets took focus.
Those who formed the ancient words – in a thousand long dead tongues – they had no design for a world beyond the flesh, beyond pain: a world free from petty wants. They dreamed instead of fantasies beyond death and of bending the will of others to match their own.
How vile and base a beginning for all she held dear.
Neither page to page nor between the lines had she found the struggle she sought. The Valiant Struggle. The Ancestral Sacrifice. It eluded her, that guiding vision which must have (she once believed) led their hallowed ancestors from the darkness into the beauty of the night.
The starry, starry night.
There had been no vision! Those lost aboriginal souls were incapable, looking backward only and with such fierce determination. For them each affirmation of a lie, as long as it sprang from some previous antiquity, seemed a voice of authority unchallenged.
Confusing evil with proscribed behavior, morals with thoughtless consistency, love with graceless self aggrandizement… ah, the considerations all but made her swoon.
She staggered at the edge of time, ready to lose herself among the stars. But then he was there, he who could be a star and a voice and a conscience for the void, and for him it was nothing to become steady and strong, comforting almost without being seen.
She felt him now as a warmth about her shoulder and she sighed.
“I know,” he said. “None of the other seekers could find it either. That moment when the values of our world sprang from theirs. Yet we know there were always the few and the brave, the bearers of the light. They must have found a way to overcome the darker angels of their nature. That we exist, that we are here now, is this not the proof?”
“I suppose. It is what everyone believes.”
“Your scholarship is only half completed, and you are the best there has ever been. When you return to it, you’ll find the thread that led to us.”
“Yes, of course. When I return to it,” she lied.