The hero receives a certified letter. The sender’s address is written thus:
Inside, the letter reads as follows:
You are, I think, aware of the provenance of this tower, and of those of us who live here. And I am certain, if you have not visited us before now, that this is a matter of choice and not coincidence. Perhaps you resent us as an abomination, or perhaps your grief would cut too quick. Perhaps you have some other reason entirely.
I do not care.
You are summoned to the tower at the edge of the world. We must talk, you and I.
Transportation will be provided.
So the hero takes the Ogre Express past the edge of the world, and to the stage; and as he walks in, he sees the monster five seats away, and he goes still.
There’s a boy leaning against the wall. He looks about ten. His name is Martin. He smiles at the hero.
“You want to kill him?”
“What is he doing here?” the hero says. “What’s the point of any of this if she isn’t safe?”
“She’s never been safe,” Martin says. “He found her years and years ago.”
Martin gestures towards the door, and leads the hero to his room. It’s barren. It has nothing but a bed and some blankets. The room held a trove of rubies, once, but Martin doesn’t have any particular need for gemstones. He traded them back in November for a ham.
“How is she?” the hero asks.
Martin shrugs. “Dead,” he says. “But you knew that.”
“I was there.”
“He named her Jane,” Martin says. “I kept that.”
The hero smiles slightly. Martin flushes and fights down a snarl.
“It was better for her,” Martin says.
“You don’t have the right to judge.”
The hero shrugs.
“I just made her who she wants to be,” Martin says.
The hero leans his elbow against his side and his face against his hand. “Look,” he says, “it’s great. I’m glad she’s happy now. She died and went to live in spider-filled tunnels with a subway and a robotic Impressionist, and apparently even that wasn’t enough to keep the monsters and mockeries from warping her. But, well, there’s something of her left that’s happy. That’s the best outcome I can think of. So what do you want?”
The hero frowns. “That guy from the movie?”
“It means ‘Nameless’.” Martin hesitates. “I’m the smith,” he says. “I’m the test. I’m the maker. I’m the bridge between what is and what isn’t. And there’s more than one thing out there that I’m ready to make real.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Because creation requires understanding,” Martin says. “And there are things I don’t understand yet.” He thinks. “See, between anything real and anything unreal, there’s a question. There’s something unanswered. It’s the gateway between emptiness and the world. I have a lot of answers. Enough to create myself. Enough to make Jane anew. Enough for . . . almost anything. But I don’t have them all.”
“Why didn’t you save her?” Martin asks. “Why didn’t you come back? Why did you just leave her to rot?”
“She can’t rot,” the hero says. “She’s anentropic.”
“What would you have done?”
“Stayed with her,” Martin says. “Pushed her. Pushed her until she exceeded her limits and beat the monster back. Made her something better and stronger and wonderful. I wouldn’t have left.”
“And I made a grave for her, out behind my house, and I leave her flowers in the spring.”
Martin’s teeth clench.
The show has ended. There’s Jane at the door. She’s holding the monster’s hand to help him find his way. The hero looks over, and the monster smiles.
“Let go of her,” the hero says.
“Is there a problem?” the monster says.
Jane looks up at him. “No,” she says, and shakes her head.
“Jenna . . .”
Jane looks at the hero.
“What?” Martin says. “You’re wanting to change things, now?”
“I wouldn’t,” Martin says. “Wouldn’t it be funny if you became an isn’t and had to ask me to make you real?”
The hero looks at Martin. “It’s just, he’s so killable.”
Martin makes a wry face, and for a moment he’s practically the hero’s friend. “Yeah, he is, isn’t he?”
“I have a sword,” the hero points out. “All he has is a tie.”
The monster adjusts his shiny tie.
“You won’t kill him,” Jane says.
She looks up at the hero, and there’s a wind around her. “Why are you like this?” she says. “You make it so hard. Why didn’t you fix things? Why did you just leave? I can’t make anything work because I don’t understand the way people like you and him are. Why won’t you just help? Why won’t you just be good?”
“Is it that hard to understand, Jenna?” The hero shrugs. “People are bastards because of their wounds.”
The wind fades. Jane looks stricken.
“But wounds are power,” she says.
“I can feel everything he did to me,” she says. “It sits there in my core, and it does not go away. And it lets me be Jane.”
“People are different,” the hero says.
The monster threads his hand out of Jane’s, and looks the hero up and down. “See?” he says. “She’s mine. You could try to fight me, but then I’d just take you too.”
“Isn’t he a bit old for you?” Martin says.
“I’m not actually yours,” Jane says.
Martin’s question annoys the monster, but Jane’s words hit him like a bolt of lightning.
“Pardon?” the monster manages.
“If you trip over a dog and break your leg,” Jane explains, “the dog doesn’t own you.”
“That’s you,” Martin notes. “The dog, I mean.”
The monster hesitates. He surveys the gathering through narrowed eyes. The situation is proving unacceptable and disempowering for him, and there’s no easy retreat.
“Hell,” Martin says. “Jane, run.”
Jane isn’t scared, but she trusts Martin. She bolts.
The monster hesitates.
“Look,” Martin says, “See? Children, afraid. No need to go to unusual lengths to exert power.”
The monster smiles.
“What was that?” the hero asks.
Martin shrugs. The monster strolls away. After a while, Martin says, “Don’t challenge him.”
“He won’t lose,” Martin says. “I hadn’t thought of that. But he won’t lose. Not if he’s challenged with you or Jane around. If he’s pushed to the wall, he’ll use you against me.”
“So I’m supposed to leave him to you?”
But he doesn’t. That night, the hero finds the monster’s abattoir, and he breaks down the door; and the monster’s eyes, as he sits up in bed, are white with fear.
“It’s time, I think,” the hero says.
“Are you a god?”
“I don’t need to be,” the hero says. “I’ll kill you as Sebastien.”
“No,” the monster says. “You won’t.”
Then the monster is on his feet, and there’s a fire around him, and there’s a susurrus in the air and reflections in his eyes and Sebastien cannot think. “You are a filthy abhorrent beast that does not deserve to live,” the monster says.
Sebastien finds himself agreeing.
“What I’m doing to you,” the monster says, “is right, and just.”
There’s fear in his voice, but Sebastien does not hear. The monster is trembling, but Sebastien does not see. There’s a fire burning him from without and within, cutting and tearing at the monster’s soul, but Sebastien does not know.
“Surrender,” the monster says.
Sebastien teeters on the brink; for the twisting of the monster in his mind is right and it is just. Nor is he alone in his peril; for a great and terrible abyss yawns under the monster’s soul.
The wind changes.
There have been many confrontations over the years between the hero and the monster. There are many ways in which it can end, and all of them have been sad.
“I brought cookies,” notes a girl.
This one is called, on account of Jane.