Aurelia was having trouble sleeping that night. The city bustled and lived before her eyes, just beyond the glass of the window that built a barrier between herself and out there. She placed a hand against the cold glass, leaning closer against the window to better catch fleeting glances of other lives. People walked up and down the street below, drunken laughter or sober mirth filling the air. It was a Friday night and everybody was out late. She didn't like taking part in the lofty jollity of a Friday night on the town, but she liked to watch.
The young woman leaned back in her bed, back resting against her pillows, white blanket pulled up to her waist as she continued to watch the world framed by her window. From her attic bedroom she could see the more or less world famous Somnus City skyline, black against a navy blue sky. And there were the lights, of course. The lights that showed the whole city was alive. Alive and well. It reminded her off all those places far away, where people lived and lived and lived no matter what day it was. Or those places were people didn't live at all, and the sky was perpetually grey.
Both residents of the two floor apartment were very much night owls. The reasons behind staying up so late were different for the both of them, but it didn't matter much. It was each to his or her own when it got late at night. Aurelia often retreated to her room around eleven, finding comfort in the silence provided by a single living energy, walls of books and folders upon folders of sheet music. Her violin lay in its case next to the gargantuan stack of folders. Rarely did she play, though she would have liked to more often. When she did play, she played alone.
Having watched the city for what she deemed was long enough, she settled down into her bed. The lights would continue to flicker and glow even if she didn't watch, and the people would continue to dance and laugh through the night. Her blanket still lay around her waist, being too warm to bring up to her shoulders. The beginning of summer hung in the air of Somnus City, the trees long having opened their buds and the birds returned from their vacation in some hot, faraway place that Aurelia would have probably already visited. She missed all those places way out there, but she knew that if she went way out there, she'd miss the two floor apartment with the eccentric man who used to walk on clouds way back here.
Her thoughts could have manifested further, or she could've drifted off then. Whether she was lost in thought or dozing off, something invaded her mental state. It was a light tapping, three times before a pause, then another two. This pattern continued, then stopped just as she heard Reyes' far off voice. Aurelia squinted at the small clock lying on her desk across the room, sitting on top of the violin case. It was late, or technically it was early. Either way, there normally wouldn't be visitors around.
Aurelia lay quiet, staring at the blank ceiling as she caught bits and pieces of the conversation just down the old staircase. It didn't make much sense, the parts that she picked up at least. Reyes didn't sound like he was in any sort of distress, and the other two voices weren't loud. That ruled out robbers or roaring drunks, but what kind of sane person would randomly visit a stranger's apartment so late? She listened for a few more minutes before deciding that whatever it was, Reyes sounded like he was dealing with it fine.
It was one of the strange voices from downstairs. She couldn't tell if it was male or female, but she knew that the voice had said her name. If it had been a friend, she knew she would've recognized who it was. This voice was unfamiliar with an accent she couldn't quite pinpoint. Aurelia clearly picked out Reyes' upbeat, happy tone. The blank ceiling sucked up all the noise in her room as she listened.
"She's probably asleep, it's sorta late."
"We need to talk to her."
"We need to speak to the both of you."
The last voice was quieter, more collected, but Aurelia sensed an edge to it that she didn't feel completely comfortable with. There wasn't any further dialogue, though she heard the faint creek of the stairs as somebody made their way up. Aurelia sighed, pushing her blanket to the end of her bed as she got up. She pulled whatever shirt she could reach first in her closet over her head, changing into more presentable clothes. She met Reyes halfway down the second flight of stairs up to the attic. He was looking happy as usual, smiling wide as he told her they had guests. Has he ever seen these guys before? No. Then why'd he let them in? Because they were asking for some help.
Aurelia sighed again. Why did her housemate have to be such a child? He was thirty six years old, owned a house and had a very good job that made excessive amounts of money, yet he still picked worms off the sidewalk when it rained and loved you forever if you put a sticker on a piece of his work. She blamed it on his species. Though she had never met another Rainbow Weaver, if Reyes was any example, the species as a whole was pretty flamboyant.
There were two complete strangers in Reyes' living room.
One was a fairly young looking man, maybe early twenties if she had to guess. He wasn't wearing shoes and from the looks of his feet, probably never wore any. He carried a walking stick and a green bag, indicating that he was a traveler. His clothes were blue and far from fancy, borderline slovenly. Actually, the more Aurelia thought about it, the overalls and shirt were dirty looking, as if he worked hard in the fields. He sat on one of Reyes' driftwood chairs, casual and relaxed as if he belonged here. His green eyes were trained on her, as if he was expecting to give her a speech specifically. He was probably the one who asked for her first.
The woman was just about opposite. She sat in another chair, stoic and looking severely unimpressed at her surroundings. From the folds of her elegant dress to the angles of her face, Aurelia could have sworn she was drawn into the living room with a hard pencil. Surrounded by the organic, flowing shapes of Reyes' living room, she stuck out sorely. Her hair was long, almost cascading off the couch onto the wooden floor, and looked like it was drawn in with ink. The woman took a brief glance at Aurelia before training her sights back on Reyes, who was now happily bustling about to get some tea fixed.
"Sit down, please." The strange woman was now speaking to her. Though quiet, her voice commanded power. Aurelia, being rather prideful herself, was tempted to outright refuse her commands. For the sake of having peace in the night however, she sat down on the only empty seat available: the couch. Reyes had made almost all the furniture in the house himself. Chairs and tables were driftwood; the fireplace was stone from the quarry just out of city limits, the vases filled with flowers he grew in his own garden. Reyes was a man of creative skill, no doubt.
The air in the living room was tense, even if the strange man was sitting with his feet up on the seat just across from her. He didn't seem to care less. His eyes wandered, taking in the organic shapes and flowing lines of the living room. He seemed to take a particular interest in the tumble of dried flowers hanging right over the fireplace. After ten minutes of this tension, Reyes finally brought in the tea. He poured four cups, sat down next to Aurelia and sipped at his as if nothing at all was wrong in the world.
"Do you have a cigarette?"
She didn't even know his name, but he was asking for a cigarette. This was getting pretty weird. Though Reyes was completely oblivious to it, Aurelia wasn't feeling too comfortable in her seat. She nodded wordlessly and ran upstairs to grab her coat. Reyes didn't like smoking in the house, but somehow she felt that this guy wasn't going to be smoking them. Coming back down the stairs, Reyes was making small talk with the woman. Aurelia handed the man the pack.
"My name is Mudd," He finally introduced himself after she sat back down. He held the small paper carton in his hand. It was white and red with letters written in yellow across the front. "This is my sister, Lady Ink. We've come looking for a bit of help."
The two being siblings were extremely hard to believe, but Aurelia decided to just go with it.
"This will take a little explaining," Lady Ink spoke again, her voice mechanical as it was before. "But since you two are familiar with the more Magical aspects of this world, I think you'll understand well enough."
This was when Reyes looked up from his cup. He was still grinning, but a little less than usual. Reyes was a child at heart, but that didn't mean he didn't know how to keep an important secret. Both their less than human species was one of them. Aurelia's jaw clenched at the mention, knowing that neither of them had told anybody. How Lady Ink and Mudd came to find out was something she wanted to know.
"Reyes, you are a Rainbow Weaver, correct?" Lady Ink seemed to watch him like a hawk. Her eyes were dark, as if she had cut them out of the skyline itself. Reyes was looking a little uneasy at this point. Rainbow Weavers were something humans have never heard of. They weren't mentioned in books or movies or history records, but from what Reyes had told her, Aurelia had come to the knowledge that they were responsible for the rainbows. Reyes answered with a simply "yes", though the thought of his secret somehow getting out made him nervous.
"Is this where you came from?" Lady Ink, with a finger, drew a shape in the air. Only instead of nothing, what looked like a trail of ink came from her finger. The shape hung in the air, a swirl followed by a long tail. Whatever the shape resembled, Reyes' unease instantly vanished and his trademark smile returned once again.
Reyes reached out and wrapped his hand around the shape. It fell into his hand, as if invisible fingers had dropped it from the air. The shape was black, a perfect swirl in the palm of his hand. It was thin as paper, yet rigid with only a bit of flexibility to prevent it from snapping like a dry twig. Reyes seemed to be transfixed. "I came from the clouds." A pause as he examined the thin shape. "What is it?"
"What do you think it is?"
"Then that is what it is."
At that point, the shape grew and puffed out until it was what Reyes had said it was: a cloud. He held on to it, fascinated as he felt a rush of nostalgia. It had been a very long time since he could hold onto a cloud like this. It felt soft in his hand, sort of like cotton, though he knew that if he told Aurelia to hold it, the cloud would simply slip from between her fingers.
Aurelia glanced over at Mudd, wary and a little shaken. The green eyed man caught her gaze and held it, his smile coming easily unlike her own. He still held the small white and red carton in his hand, but it wasn't about to stay that way. From where his fingers touched, the paper began to turn brown and stained; spreading until the whole package looked worn and as if somebody spilled coffee on it. With a thumb, Mudd popped open the top of the package. The previously orange butts of the cigarettes had disappeared and now looked like they were made from crumpled paper.
She caught it when he threw it back at her. The words had vanished from the front, now replaced with the word 'distract'. Mudd spoke up, his voice warn and lively unlike his sister's. "It'll be useful, trust me."
"What is happening, exactly?"
"We need your help." Lady Ink's voice was stronger now, signaling she was speaking of something important. "There is a book. The Book of Stories. It contains every story, every dream, every thought and imagination of anything that has ever existed. But it's unraveling."
"It needs to be found and be built again," Mudd's voice came in right after Lady Ink finished. Or at least it seemed like she was finished, neither Reyes nor Aurelia was sure. "But we either no longer have the structure, or lack the structure to go in and rectify the situation ourselves. We can no longer walk in the realm of the Book."
"Pied Musicians and Rainbow Weavers like yourselves; goblins and faeries and humans, among other beings. Only you mortals have the balance to walk amongst the pages and words of the book." Lady Ink's voice now took on an undertone of urgency, as if the threat was very immediate. The surface of her voice, not to mention her expression, was still ice. "We need to send you there so you can at least help rebuild the book, as we can no longer do that."
"How are we at all affected by that?" Aurelia was skeptic of this traveling pair's tale. Even knowing that there were things out there stranger then her and Reyes, this was borderline insane. "We aren't in this Book, are we?"
"It exists everywhere and in all planes of existence, both past and present, otherworldly or not." Lady Ink replied quickly. "This world is connected to the Book, and it will begin to fade away if you do not help retrieve it. We will send you there, but once you are inside, we can no longer help you."
It sure answered her question, but now she looked at the small package in her hand. "And what is this?"
"It's a Function," She identified Mudd's accent now. It came from a warm, sunny place somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. "It associates itself with the word 'distract'. It will now do anything that associates with the word. Make sense?"
Aurelia wrapped her fingers a little tighter around the box, lending some time to consider it. Reyes had pulled his cloud down to the seat, now sitting atop of it like it was a cushion. He seemed perfectly comfortable with the familiar thing. Lady Ink now took it upon herself to explain to the man.
"What I have given you is a Construct. In a very basic sense, it will change into something related to this symbol. In your case, it has become a cloud." Lady Ink explained it rather simply.
"So This can become a shield?" Reyes sounded happy as usual, only his voice hinted at excitement now that he knew what the thin black thing the mysterious woman just gave him did.
"Yes. If you want it to."
"Or a needle in a compass?"
"If you'd like it to be."
"Yes." Lady Ink's voice was bordering on exasperation, but she was good at keeping it cool. Aurelia had to briefly wonder why the stoic woman decided to take on somebody like Reyes. Maybe she had lost a bet with her brother, or maybe she simply didn't call who she wanted fast enough. Now she turned to the both of them, eyes briefly wandering between the mismatched duo before speaking once again. "Get whatever you need. You'll be leaving soon."
Aurelia quite frankly didn't want to believe it, but she felt herself get up nonetheless. Reyes got off the couch too, already convinced to go, the cloud turning back into the little black curl that he slipped into his pocket. They both climbed the stairs to where most of their belongings were.
Reyes didn't need to think very much on what he would bring. He grabbed his messenger bag, olive green with brown patches and brass buckles, and decided to keep whatever was inside it. He hastily grabbed a few more things from his room that he thought he would need, among these things being his keys, a scarf and his pencils and notebook. A few more less important things were thrown in before he ran down the stairs two at a time.
As soon as Aurelia got to her attic room, she grabbed her machete. She brought it almost everywhere, especially now, when things seemed less then certain. She grabbed her long coat and sheathed her blade on her belt. A little too roughly, she shoved her Function into one of the many pockets, along with her wallet. Aurelia was about to head back downstairs when her violin caught her eye, the dusty case almost pleading with her. There was a brief pause, mentally calculating the advantages and disadvantages of bringing the instrument. Without her instrument, she may as well have been a normal, everyday human. With it, she was something else.
When she arrived downstairs, violin case bumping her thigh, she found Reyes already there. Lady Ink took a single glance up at her to make sure she was ready before the mysterious woman began to draw a shape in the air once again. An inky black trail followed her finger, creating several straight lines. Four lines in all and a circle to denote that it was indeed a door.
Mudd tipped the shape over, creating the outline of a door on the floor. It looked strange to have something like that in the middle of Reyes' living room, despite the other odd ends that decorated the space. Lady Ink took the doorknob and opened it, but instead of just seeing the hardwood floor on the other side, what was revealed was a black hole with no bottom in sight.
"Go on," Lady Ink reassured, gesturing gently down into the abyss. "This will lead you into the book."
"So do you just jump in?" Reyes questioned, standing on the very edge and peering in curiously. "Looks like we'll just keep falling."
"Don't worry, you'll land safely."
"I'm not sure if this is-" Aurelia didn't get the chance to finish. Maybe Lady Ink and Mudd felt that they had already wasted enough time, or maybe they felt like the two were backing out when they were in too deep already.
Next thing they knew, Reyes and Aurelia were falling.