This is the beginning.
This is (link: "how it's always been")[the beginning of the end.]
I used to think about (link-reveal: "all sorts of things")[, but now I just want to sleep.]
Here are some test phrases pulled from the wiki.
There is a small dish of water. (click: "dish")[Your finger gets wet.]
I don't know where to begin... |1)[The weird state of my birth] ...so for now I'll start with when we fell down the hole.
(link:"Where, indeed?")[(show:?1)]Once upon a time--
Are you okay with a story that takes place once upon a time?
It will all make sense [[soon|Introduction]].Once upon a time, there was a wonderful world, the kind you used to read about. The kind of world where "once upon a time" doesn't sound out of place. The kind with magic; the kind that needs a savior every now and then; the kind people only dream about, and only stop dreaming about once they've become too busy. (click-append:"wonderful")[, terrifying] (click-append:"terrifying")[, beautiful]
No, no, there's nothing wrong with that. We all get too busy for our dreams. It's bound to happen sometime. That doesn't mean we've given up. We've just prioritized a future we can see rather than one that only appears when our eyes close. The future we can talk about with our friends and family, not the feeling without a name that wraps its icy fingers around our hearts.
You might remember this story or one like it. A girl wanted so badly to go on a journey. A boy yearned for something exciting in his life. Their friends -- well, they were no less enthusiastic, it just took them a little more time to acclimate. They weren't the type to dream but they caught on quick. The stars shifted, and one day, [[the magic drew them in.|characters]]Count them: four.
(click: "four")[Two and two. Four cardinal directions. Four elements according to the west. Four suits of the Tarot. Four humors. It's a number that lends itself so well to these stories, don't you think? It's balanced. Balance is important.]
(click:"don't you think")[These children, these four points, were brought to a world where they were tested with magic and sword, wits and will and wishes coming together to assure their victory against the evil that threatened it.
Why were they chosen? Why is anybody chosen?]
(click:"Why is anybody chosen?")[Does it matter? They were there. They rose to the challenge. The world was saved. They were sent [[home.|character2]]]They were stripped of their memories. Could you imagine it? Waking up one day with the knowledge of being a savior and then realizing you've forgotten your math homework? School bullies stealing books out from under your nose, and the impotent twitching of fingers that once cast fireballs.
It's safer to forget. It's for the best you forget. For your own good. What a burden to live with! No, nobody grew up and shrunk back down: it was cut and dry, a few months at most, returned just moments after they left. No perceptible changes. Except that lump in the back of your throat, the words on the tip of your tongue...
[[Except...|Memories]]So they saved the world and only the world remembers. That's enough, isn't it? It's the right thing to do. When it's your destiny, you rise to the occasion, you pick up the sword, and you end the threat to those around you. The power of friendship saves the day. You all go home feeling warm inside-- warm, with a lump in the back of your throat, words on the tip of your tongue, something you meant to say, something you wanted...
Oh, if only you knew! But you've only read the [[stories]].It's the kind of morning where a dream lingers in the back of your mind, impossible to remember but leaving an impression that casts a premonition over the rest of the day. It //must// have been important, no matter how quick, because it felt like a warning.
Jade rolls out of bed. It's graduation day: a half-day of silly activities and a ceremony at night are all that stands between everyone and the sweet freedom of summer.
"I'm so proud of all of you," the principal lies through her radiant smile. "But before you young men and women move on to your exciting college lives, it's finally time to dig up the time capsules you buried in middle school with letters to your future selves." (click: "time capsules")[
She stands with a shovel, symbolically lifting the first load of dirt before passing it off to the gym teacher. It was no secret to be buried deep down; it's only minutes before the small box is unearthed.
"Please line up in alphabetical order." The students shuffle awkwardly, nobody awake, nobody particularly enthusiastic. "We'll be having an assembly at 10, so don't be late."
The feeling of that dream lingers. A shock seems to pass from the teacher's hand to Jade and she can only stare blankly at the envelope. Her name, childishly scrawled, stares back. //Don't open it. Don't, [[don't look back]]--//]Uncomfortable laughter fills the air as students are reminded of their old social circles, their ancient dreams of being dinosaur wranglers or astronauts, the celebrities they wanted to marry, the books they used to read.
"Are you doing okay?" Rhea asks, startling Jade out of her silent stupor. Her own letter, on a piece of black notebook paper, shines wherever the gel pen ink catches the light. "You were so excited to write yours."
Once upon a time.
"Come on. I won't even read it, but you have to take a look!"
Mumbling excuses, Jade tucks the envelope into her yearbook. Can't show it. Won't show it. The lump in her throat says //I'll cry if I read it, I'm not sharing it with anyone else//.
She doesn't remember the words but the sentiment rings loud and clear and true. She's never forgotten what she told herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the sun glint off the pinpricks of tears in Percy's eyes. His letter must be the same. They were always [[two of a kind]].She types three names in.
<tt>Can't sleep</tt>, she texts. <tt>Meet by the rock for old times' sake?</tt>
Regrets it as soon as she hits send, but puts her big girl pants on anyway. It's not sneaking out if everyone is asleep and you don't have school in the morning. She scrawls a note for the kitchen table, just in case. //Out with friends, see you in the morning.//
She wants to wait for answers but she can't look at her phone. A force is calling. Sirius bays, beckoning. The dream makes her uneasy. She tries not to think about it. Her phone buzzes. She keeps driving.
There's already a car in the school parking lot when she arrives. Maybe the dog star's howl was louder than she thought.
"I've been here," Percy says. "Only half an hour. But it seemed like the right thing to do. Weird, huh?"
"Weird." Jade nods.
She flashes her phone: the others have promised to show up too. Crickets keep the night from falling silent. Without a word between them, they walk [[into the woods]].She's never been so thankful for short attention spans. Rhea's already fluttered over to bug Tristan, another one of their merry band. They're laughing about some hockey team never winning the Cup, no matter how hard he wished and wished. No matter how many times he underlined //please//.
"Was this a letter to Santa or yourself?"
"Shut up. Yours is all about your imaginary boyfriend."
"Yes, but he's probably on a team that doesn't suck."
They banter. Percy physically recoils, edging back like a nervous dog. Jade looks more closely. If she pretends -- and she //does// pretend, you'd pretend too, it's simply more interesting that way -- there's an aura around him that reeks of fear, a cloud above his head [[ready to rain]].The dream comes back in a flash: the jagged edges of that awful colored paper you use for crafts, the way ink rolled down her fingers and spilled over the words so she couldn't read it anymore. The contract, the promise to be best friends forever.
That's what her letter is going to say. It's going to ask if she still has it. If they're still together.
They're graduating and going to different colleges. They're leaving home and setting out for somewhere new and exciting. They're going to move on with their lives. They're going to forget where it all started.
The graduation ceremony is unimpressive. Everyone is happy to have a diploma. Their parents beam with misplaced pride. They celebrate the [[end of an era]].They approach it reverently, even though it's an ordinary rock formation. Moss sneaks out of the cracks of its jagged planes. Striations of different colors mean something, but it isn't mother nature's majesty that makes them inhale sharply and then stop breathing.
It used to mean something. Maybe it still means something.
"Do you still go to that rock when you're feeling sad? Do you still think about saving the world?" Percy reads from his letter, voice cracking like it's puberty all over again.
"It was a fun game," Jade whispers, quoting her own even as she clutches it in one hand. If she were with anyone else, she'd feel ashamed for the lump in her throat. "Do you [[talk about it]] anymore?"
Footsteps behind them signal Rhea's approach, then Tristan's. Blue lights float from the rock like fireflies, expanding into flames. Percy's eyes shine. Tears stream down Jade's face. Rhea watches mouth agape as Tristan cups one in his hands without suffering even a burn.
"They-- They have faces!" he exclaims. He lifts his prize up to the group and it's like they never spent a day apart. "Look!"
Sure enough, a set of eyes flicker within. //Quickly!// it whispers in a voice that resonates telepathically. The flame leaps up and joins the others as they cover the rock, setting the moss ablaze with illumination that radiates static, not heat.
"I think we've done this before," Jade blurts out.(click: "I think we've done this before")[
She grabs Rhea's arm to keep from trembling. Stubbornly, Rhea pulls her even closer. Even though it should flood Jade with warmth and comfort, she feels numb.
The hairs on their arms all stand. Sirius pulses in time with the flickering flames; a headache takes hold and pounds along with the beat. There's only one thing to do. Only one place to go. //[[Inside]].//
That's what they did when they were younger, anyway.]Fever dreams. Every minute is worse than the one before. At first, there's nothing but darkness; then it begins to take shape. On a stage, shadow puppets act out the tragedies of old. Small children swing big swords and shoulder bigger burdens.
Flashes of light, of magic. Whispers. Louder and louder, to the same beat as her racing heart.
Once upon a time, we all knew how the story was going to end. It didn't. We were (link-reveal: "wrong.")[ Years of guilt and pain and suffering, all for what? It's so hard to [[wake up]]--]Interdimensional travel is instantaneous and painless.
The four teenagers find themselves walking into one rock wall and out of a cave, stepping into sunlight to the solemn surprise of a man who doesn't look familiar at all.
He's lost an eye now. Anyone can see the magic replacement darting around, a gorgeous emerald in contrast to his real brown. The years have not been kind to him, the one who summoned them.
But he's here now. And so are they.
"You've grown," he says quietly. "So much."
The cave behind them stops glowing. The doorway is [[closed]]."I'm so sorry." The man's mouth moves but doesn't match the words. Their hearts ache, aflame where the words resonate within. "Let me (link-reveal: "help.")[
He takes out a small ritual knife -- they recoil, //anyone// would recoil -- and pricks his lip with it. A single drop of blood falls to the ground in slow motion.
"Is that better?"
Their pain subsides. They can understand each other normally now.
[[As normal as this can be.]]]"Yes?" ventures Tristan, the first to step forward. Jade's wiping her tears on her sleeve and Percy's staring up at the sky with the wonder of a newborn.
"You were always a fast learner," the man says. His smile widens and the cut seems to have disappeared already. "Tell me, children--"
They haven't been children in years. He can see it in their faces as they all turn to him.
"Tell me. Do you [[remember]] anything?""No. But we..." Rhea's voice is devoid of its usual spirit, her gaze not quite meeting his. "We all remembered how to get here and you know who we are. So... we were all here once. Weren't we?"
"A long time ago." He nods. "Perhaps the rest will come back with time. This world never intends to bring anyone back. It's unprecedented. I wasn't sure the spell would work, myself, but you were the only ones I could turn to."
//[[Where have I heard that before?]]//"When a great evil fell across our land, a sorcerer that fancied himself a king set out to conquer what he could and destroy what he couldn't. No cabal of mages, no army of soldiers were any match for him. We needed innocence."
He still hasn't introduced himself. How strange.
"We needed the power only children can harness to drive back the darkness. We... what did you call it back then? We outsourced. We sent out a call to other worlds, asking for those with pure hearts to come to our aid. Many failed. They couldn't learn our spells or wouldn't take up the fight. But you four were [[different]]."His eye waters. "You four wanted to help, and you banished the dark king. We thought we were free, but he's returned. No heroes of our own can even reach his castle. There's something about the spells he's cast -- we knew we needed our original saviors."
"Us?" Percy finally speaks. He's pale. "You mean //us//?"
"Then why don't we remember any of this?" Jade's fist clenches in her pocket and she's not sure why. She chokes on her own questions. "Something so important? [[Forget magic?]] I... I can't even remember your name."//You toss and turn, crying in your sleep. It hurts so much, somewhere deep inside, pulsing, pulsing like a heartbeat.
When you wake up, you don't recognize your room.
The bookshelves look oppressive, like they're closing in on you.
[[This isn't where you're supposed to be]] and you know it.//He passes out treasures:
A dagger for Rhea.
A staff for Tristan.
A ring for Percy.
A sword for Jade.
"Let me take you somewhere that might help you remember," the old man offers. "It will make more sense there."
So they [[agree]].What a quaint little village! With a quaint little cottage in the woods, where a young man gazes into a quaint little stream. //We know you//, they murmur.
He does a double-take, scrambling to his feet; he's all limbs and no grace, about their age, calloused hands and the odd burn scar on his skin.
"Y- You're back," he blurts out before he trips into the water and has to spend his time sputtering and coughing.
A warm welcome by the fires -- this is the blacksmith's son, Lyle, an apprentice who wasn't ready to take over the business once darkness took his family. His younger brothers are soot-nosed and excited to hear about their saviors. His mother prepares a meal.
"What's there to say?"(click:"say")[ Jade tries to brush off the request to tell stories of their adventures.
"Well, then," Lyle says, "What's your world like?"
"It's... different," she answers, deliberately vague.
"What have you been doing since you were gone?"
"Please," she says, "[[I'd rather not talk about it.]]"
He apologizes.]//You were talking by the waterfall back then, too.
"What's your world like?" he asks.
"Boring," you answer.
"Bet you're real glad to be here, then."
"Yeah! Not that I'm glad the world is in danger, but I'm glad I can help."
He scoots a little closer. "Hey, do you have a sword?"
"No, I've been learning magic."
He's quiet. Thinking.
And then he smiles. "Want one?"
"Sword. My pa helped me make my first one and I'd be honored if you'd use it in your fight."
"I couldn't," you say, but [[your eyes glitter]] and he sees the excitement.//Jade pulls the sword at her hip out of its scabbard. "You made this," she says.
"You kept it."(click:"You kept it.")[
"Our mentor did. He gave it to me when I cam back. I don't think I was allowed to take it home."
He sounds disappointed. Silence burdens the tension between them.
"You know, I always--"
Jade stands and he stops speaking.
"What was it called?"(click:"What was it called?")[ she asks quietly. "The sword. I don't remember its name."
"It's not my fault," she says too harshly. "They took away our memories [[when we left this world]]."
Lyle's eyes widen.]]Jade and Percy linger behind, playing a silent game of chicken. Who'll go to sleep first? Who'll stay up practicing longer? But he's all fireballs and familiars and she's... still producing nothing.
Once even their teacher has retired, Percy stops his incantations and clasps her hand in his before she can think to move away. The firelight casts a strange glow on his face. He might be holding back tears.
"Stop trying." His voice is hoarse suddenly, words trying to escape a dry throat. "You don't want to remember."
"What are you talking about?"
"Trust me. Please. Don't."
"You're scaring me," Jade says as she dims her lights. They blink out.
"[[Nothing scares you]]," he says. "I'll see you in the morning."
And he disappears back into the darkness.//Now, come on, we don't have to do it like this,// a man's voice whispers.
//Yes, we do,// a girl's voice, shaking.
//If you want them to live, drop your sword. I won't hurt you, [[you have my word]].//The earth is dead all around the dark king's castle. The voices are so loud. There's nobody to stop their approach:(click: "approach")[ no evil army, no magical wards, not a single line of defense. Inside, the palace halls are empty.
Tristan mumbles a spell to detect magic; the enchanted compass leads them to a throne room with a single shadow of a figure.
Lacking substance or features, it remains motionless, a dark-translucent thing that radiates evil, and when she looks at it, Jade falls to the floor clutching her chest. It's the same feeling she gets from her dreams. Loneliness and pain, desire and hope and despair.
Before her eyes, it all flashes white. She [[screams]].]//Rhea is unconscious, bleeding from a head wound. Tristan is in even worse shape. Percy struggles to free himself from the dark coils that have him so tightly wrapped he might as well explode already. Jade--
Jade has the sword with the stone of light, and what once was bright is now beginning to dim. Her hands tremble. She cuts down a tendril of darkness that comes at her. Shouts an incantation that summons a bolt of magic the king dodges easily.
//How about a compromise?
Don't--// Percy chokes. His mouth shuts, magically bound.
Jade drops her sword.//
[["I'm listening."]]You remember everything.
//How about a compromise?// the dark king had asked with a smile, spreading his arms open wide and inviting. //It doesn't have to end like this. In fact, it doesn't have to end at all.//
//What do you mean?// you'd asked him right back, not sure if you should pick up your sword.
//You may still be standing, but your friends will die if you keep fighting,// he says. //Save them. Stop fighting. I'll leave. We'll pretend that you've won, everyone will celebrate, and you can go home and forget about all this.//
//You don't think you'll be allowed to remember defeating me, do you? What will you think about your normal life when you remember a world like this?//
//I'll think we did something great.//
//You'll think nothing. Just as you intend to seal me away in that stone, your memories will seal themselves away in your heart. It's only to protect you.//
//Nobody ever said anything--//
//Of course they didn't. Would you have agreed if you'd known?//
It's a long moment before you answer, //Of course! It's what we were called here for! [[It's our destiny to defeat you!]]//
//So why let that destiny end? Why leave it at this?//
//What do you mean?//
//I'll go to sleep for a while, and then I'll come back. He'll have no choice but to summon you again. You'll get to experience magic again for the first time. We'll have our little showdown. Maybe you'll remember our promise today.//
//And then what? You'll ask me the same question?//
//You don't want to forget again, do you?//
//I can't put this world in danger a second time.//
//You don't owe them anything. They'll owe you their lives. Isn't that worth a little uprising in ten years?//
//I can't put my friends in danger again.//
//You mean you'll [[doom them]] to forgetting, too?//
By now, Percy is openly sobbing, silent choked noises that you're glad you can't hear. The magic releases its hold and he says don't.
//Don't do it,// he pleads.
//You'll forget,// you tell him.(click:"You'll forget,")[ Tears stream down your face. //I can live with forgetting. But I can't live with you losing your memories of this world. You're the one who led us here. You're the one who wanted to be here more than any of us.//
//I'll live with it, he says.//
//[[I won't be able to.]]//]The dark king smiles. The tendrils holding Percy in place fall to the ground and dissipate. He runs to you and the two of you embrace. You hold him so tightly you might break him.
There's nobody who believed like Percy did. There's nobody else who would rather be dead than forget his adventure.
//I'll take your deal.//
You know you're projecting. In the guise of good faith, you make the decision that will affect countless lives.
The dark king picks up a knife and scores it across his hand, leaving a bloody trail in its wake. You do the same.
You take the offered knife and repeat the gesture.
The two of you press your palms together. A pact is sealed. Percy slumps to the ground, helpless, taking it all in. He doesn't speak.
//Until we meet again,// the dark king says as he begins to disappear.
//Until then,// you agree, watching until he's gone.
Percy has already started to cast [[healing spells]] on your fallen comrades. The day is won. You are the hero you were meant to be. You will be congratulated. You will go back to your world. [[You will forget.]]Jade stands up, eyes ablaze. The translucent figure smiles the way the dark king used to.
"Welcome home," it speaks in a tender voice. "Welcome back. Was it everything you hoped for?"
"You tricked me," she stammers.
"There were no tricks. I slumbered and I awoke. You got your memories back."
"Living like that was hell."(click:"hell")[
"I never said it wouldn't be."
"Coming back here was [[hell]]."]"You thought you could have the same experience you once had as a child? There's a reason that saviors never return."
"What are you talking about?" Tristan demands.
"What did you do?" Rhea asks at the same time.
"I tried to stop her," Percy says. "You have to believe me, I tried."
Jade goes on the defensive. "We stopped playing the fairy game. We almost stopped being friends. We're back together now. It was wrong, but it worked, didn't it?"
At what cost? Accusatory, disbelieving stares root her in place.
The king's shadow becomes more solid with each passing second, slowly turning the color of flesh. His robes fill out and billow behind him, bright spots of color against the gray walls.
[[The fight begins.]]It's the same as last time. Before long, your friends are fighting against constricting tendrils of shadow magic and you're the only one free. Even without your magic, your swordplay keeps you alive, safe.
"How did it feel to forget?" he asks you.(click:"forget")[
"I thought I was going to die," you answer. "I couldn't remember and it was killing me."
"Are you glad to be back?"
"[[I don't know.]]"]//The dark king's blood flows through you. You've been tainted. That's why your magic hasn't worked right. It hasn't been your heart at all. But just as he flows through you, your influence has kept him at bay all these years.
You have only two options:
[[Forgive yourself]] or [[don't]].//All of this is has happened before, but it won't happen again. The dark king's blood pulses—
It hurts, it hurts—
Not as much as the people of this world have suffered. Endure it. He's trying to sap your life force to revive himself.
This time, you push back. What's done is done, but you can still be the hero you were meant to be. Percy shouts but you can't make out the words.
You lift Lyle's sword. It feels perfectly weighted in your hands. You silently thank him, your mentor, the rest of the world.
Everything goes [[dark]].You were weak. Percy said no. Rhea and Tristan wouldn't have hesitated to do the right thing.
It was you. You were always the weak link, the one who never knew when to quit.
What else could you sacrifice? Who else could you doom to repeat the hell of the past?
The dark king's blood pulses – this is what he wanted. You let him return to full strength. He's sapping your life force and taking it to revive himself.
"Percy--" you plead, eyes falling to your sword.
"I told you," he says, shaking his head.
He picks it up. The dark king shouts but you can't make out the words.
Everything goes [[dark]].Magic is not gentle, magic is not kind. It does as it will.