The Voyage of Paul Twister
If you want to know what tomorrow will look like, look at yesterday. Average out the events of the last week, maybe even the last month or year, and 99 percent of the time you’ve got a good idea of what to expect, because people enjoy stability. One of the defining traits of civilization is putting a lot of time, effort and resources into making life predictable. Even when things change, they tend to change in predictable ways, with day and night and the four seasons all coming in their regularly-scheduled times.
Of course, there are still events of dramatic change, days that alter the whole course of your life. But even then, you usually try to be prepared for those, and the closer they come to happening on schedule, the better, even from the very beginning.
When you’re a tiny baby still hitching a ride inside Mommy’s tummy, she and the doctor have a good idea when you’re going to come out and join the rest of the world, and if that estimate turns out to be right, it’s a joyous occasion, but if you have the audacity to leave early, just watch all the grown-ups freak out! And it’s the same at the other end of the line: passing on after a full life isn’t such a bad thing, and in many cases it’s actually a relief, an end to suffering. But if someone dies early, that’s a tragedy.
There are plenty of milestone days like that in between. I’ve been through several, and they tend to follow the same pattern. Stuff I saw coming, like graduating high school and getting into college, were some of the high points of my life, whereas ones that came as a surprise, like getting abducted to another world for no better reason than that I happened to fulfill certain arcane conditions that would balance a magical equation, have been the worst experiences I’ve ever been subjected to.
Then again, there are always exceptions. I just didn’t expect this to be one of them! There are some milestones that there is really no good reason to not see coming, or at least you wouldn’t really think there was, because they’re things that you have to actually do yourself. Well, usually at least. Considering how blindsided I was by this one, you’d expect it to almost certainly have ended in a massive catastrophe, but looking back, it worked out surprisingly well.
Maybe the universe just realized it owed me a bit of happiness after dumping so much crap on my head? Who knows?
* * *
Ever since Aylwyn’s injury at the hands of Ken’tu Kel, I’d been spending a lot more time with her than usual. I guess it was obvious to anyone who cared to notice that I’d been infatuated with her, pretty much from the beginning. It was only recently, though, that her attitude towards my affections had shifted–quite abruptly, from my perspective at least–from “somewhat amused acceptance” to “reciprocation.”
Well, sort of. Grabbing me and kissing me to within an inch of my life… that was apparently a one-time thing, however much I may have wished otherwise. But she started opening up to me more, spending more time with me, and doing little things that expressed pleasure and contentment at being around me. She was reserved and hard to read more often than not, but I was getting better at it.
We traveled together some more over the next several months, seeking out any lore we could find on the mysterious Zassi, the supposed harbingers of catastrophe, to see if we could discover anything that might help us understand why one of them had appeared to me without actually warning me about anything or giving me any information that would be useful at all. We traveled all over the place together, even spending a week at one point with Gerald digging through the small mountain of books at the Treasury of Fate, trying to find anything of use, but to little avail.
So I was completely unprepared when, on a brief break to visit Sarah, Aylwyn started suggesting that we might not be right for each other.
“You enjoy my company a great deal,” she remarked at one point, sitting beside me on a couch in the front room, while Sarah was out of the room for a few moments.
“You’re just now realizing that?” I asked, unable to resist the urge to tease her a little.
She just smiled and reached over, taking my hand. “I enjoy yours as well. But Sarah does also. Have you considered that she might be a better choice?”
“No!” I said, immediately denying it, looking around to see if Sarah had returned. She was still gone. “Why?”
She gave me this intense look. “Tell me honestly. You’ve never considered it?”
“Well…” I squirmed a little under her scrutiny. “I’ve thought about it once or twice, sure. But when I consider the idea, I end up rejecting it.”
Now it was Aylwyn’s turn to ask why. “She is much more like yourself than I am. You both carry the chaotic power of the Void, whereas I am much more… orderly by nature.”
Was she trying to break up with me or something? “That’s why you and I work together so well,” I said. “We complement each other, shoring up each other’s weaknesses.”
“She is also more like you in other ways. She is an accomplished bard whose musical talents equal your own, whereas I, for all your flattering praise of my singing, am devoted to another path. And I have seen the way you talk. She shares an enthusiastic interest in the culture and lore of your world that I simply do not.”
“True,” I said, frowning a little. “But she clashes with me in other ways. She’s a fifth-level initiate of the Circle, and there are already rumors of her being considered for an Archmage position someday. I can’t even set foot within a tower without taking precautions. I can participate in your life, in your world, much more easily than hers.”
“My world,” Aylwyn said, with a bit of a sad smile, “is the Celestial Realm. You know that I am not truly like you in many ways. My body is different, at its core.”
That was certainly true; her bones were black, for one! My personal theory, though this world lacked the vocabulary to discuss it, was that they were made of something like carbon fiber, for lighter weight and greater strength over the calcium variety, which was always important for a flying creature.
“Why is that important?”
She looked pained. “An angel’s essence and a human’s have been combined before,” she said, “but it is rare and requires powerful and complex magic. With you… if you stayed with me, the only half-angel you will ever know is Sarah, on certain days.”
Wait, so first she thinks we should break up and now she’s talking about having kids?!? My head was well and truly spinning by this point. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing, but it wasn’t like either of us had the sort of stable lifestyle that’s conducive to child-rearing! But if it means a lot to her… “my people have learned a lot about the essence of life, and we’re learning to do things like that without magic. That means it can be done, so it’s just a matter of living long enough for this world to catch up.”
She gave me an inscrutable look. “How can such a thing be done with technology?”
“The same way my people have done everything else. We observed that there must exist some pattern that is exchanged between a man and a woman and combined to create children, we found what the substance is that carries that pattern, and we took it apart to see how it works.”
“They took apart life?” She looked horrified.
I shook my head. “The pattern for life. It’s the subject of very extensive research in my homeland right now, because the more we learn, the more we become able to deal with serious diseases, both to treat them and prevent them.”
Aylwyn frowned. “Sometimes it seems that you only see the advantages of such things. If diseases interact with this pattern of the essence of life, what is to stop an engineer from building a stronger disease?”
“We know of the idea, but it’s never actually been done, engineering a disease to use as a weapon.” Technically true; horrors of past ages, like smallpox-infested blankets, had used all-natural smallpox. “It’s one of only two classes of weapon that’s considered so horrible that it’s completely banned in every civilized nation throughout the world.”
“That is… somewhat reassuring,” she said slowly. “But what of you? Surely you would find it difficult to remain with me when my duties take me elsewhere? You could not easily follow everywhere I go, particularly if I have to return home for a time.”
OK, this conversation was just getting weirder and weirder. “I’ve been apart from you before. It’s always made me appreciate you more the next time.”
She actually looked frustrated, like I was saying something wrong. “You cannot tell me, in plain honesty, that you have no doubts at all about me.”
“What do you want me to say? Sarah’s a wonderful friend and companion, but she’s not you. I love you, Aylwyn.”
“I want you to say the truth,” she insisted. What did she even mean by that?
“What truth do you want to hear? That you’re not perfect? Who cares? Sure, you’re not perfect; you’re better! Can you even imagine how boring it would be, being around a perfect person? I love you, Aylwyn, because you’re you, and that’s all I need.”
She looked a bit taken aback by that. What I just said probably totally flew in the face of Celestial philosophy, (no pun intended,) but hey, in my defense, she did literally ask for it. Even so, I could tell that this seemed really important to her, so I figured I may as well play along, especially of she was actually looking to take what I said to heart. “But all right, if you want me to be completely honest, there is one thing that bothers me.”
“One?” She looked dubious.
I ignored it. “Sarah has always been openly affectionate towards me. She makes it clear that she’s happy to see me. More than once I’ve had to warn her not to hug me because it’s not safe to touch her. With you, I don’t have that problem… but I don’t have the affection either. You’re far more reserved. I know that you do feel for me; I just wish you would show it more often.”
“That is your one great doubt? Very well.”
“What do you mean by–” I wasn’t able to finish asking the question before she grabbed me and pushed me down onto the couch, laying atop me and pressing her mouth to mine, kissing me fiercely, passionately, like she was making up for all those months all at once! It felt way too good, and I squirmed beneath her, kissing back and losing myself in how wonderful it all felt.
So maybe it’s not a one-time thing afterall.
She pulled away right as my lungs were just starting to burn, looking just the tiniest bit smug at the sight of me, staring up at her wide-eyed as I gasped for breath.
But then I looked up and saw Sarah, on the other side of the room, upside-down in my lying-down vision, looking on with tears in her eyes, a look of shock on her face. I sat up quickly and turned to face her. “Sarah! …how much did you hear?”
After a moment of her not answering, seemingly unable to find the words, Aylwyn said, “She saw everything.” Or something like that; there was an odd formal overtone to the verb that I couldn’t quite grasp.
“Sarah, I’m sorry. She just confronted me with questions out of nowhere; I didn’t mean to–”
She cut me off with a shake of her head, reaching up to wipe at a tear as it leaked out of her eye and down her cheek. “That was beautiful, what you said to her!” she sniffled. “So romantic!”
Wait, so that wasn’t sadness she was overcome with? By this point I was about as confused as a NASCAR driver who turns right.
“You truly wish to be with me, then?” Aylwyn asked.
I gave Sarah an uncertain look; she just smiled tearfully and nodded. “Aylwyn, have I ever give you any reason to think I didn’t?”
She stood up and gestured for me to do the same. “Stand with me.” She ran her fingers through her hair, pulling a few loose hairs free and started doing something with them. As I stood up and stepped up beside her, I could see that she was tying them together. That was odd.
After a moment, she put an arm around my waist and pulled me in close. Like, intimate close. She took the tied-together hairs and looped them around her waist and my own, encircling both of us, then tying the ends off, forming a closed loop. “I truly wish to be with you too. Now we are bonded together.”
I couldn’t help it. “That’s really not much of a bond,” I pointed out. “The second either of us steps back, it’ll break.”
To my surprise, Aylwyn just nodded, as if that were the whole point. “There is wisdom in that. A marriage is not held together by any object, nor by words or symbols, but only by the love and devotion each has for the other.”
“Yeah, that’s a good point, but–wait, did you just say marriage?” My head spun as I suddenly realized what the word must have been that she used before. Sarah witnessed everything. I took a step back, snapping her hair-loop and looking up at her. “Aylwyn, did you… did you…” I stammered a little before finding the right words. “Did you just con me into a Celestial marriage ceremony?”
Behind me, Sarah laughed, and sniffled a little. “That was so beautiful! I’ve read about this, but I never thought I would actually see one! The Banishing of Doubt, the Proclamations of Devotion, the Simple Binding… Aylwyn, thank you so much for letting me be your witness!” She sniffled again and wiped at her tears.
I looked between the two women, not sure whether to find all this awesome or horrifying! “She was in on it?”
Aylwyn smiled. “I thought that one as devious as yourself would appreciate it.” She took my hand, her fingers running comfortably over mine, settling into place like they belonged there. “Come with me to my chamber, husband?” she murmured in a low tone I’d never heard her use before; it sent a shiver down my spine. “There are other customs to observe now, regarding what takes place after the ceremony. I think you will appreciate that as well!”
As I followed along behind her, a little bit in shock, I glanced over my shoulder at Sarah. She shook her head, and I turned away. Suddenly I heard her voice whispering right in my ear, a trick of bardic magic that she apparently had figured out how to pull off without the Twist screwing it up. “Go, enjoy yourself. I know it’s what you’ve always wanted. It’s all right… I had you first!”
I had to take care not to tense up or stumble at that. At any other time, being reminded of that would have completely ruined my mood. It was not as fond of a memory for me as it apparently was for her, for… complicated reasons. But right now, I had more urgent concerns to think about, and by the time the urgent concerns were resolved, I was way too relaxed and blissfully happy to care anymore.
And that’s how I completely unexpectedly became a married man.
Author’s Note: This is the next full story. I know I said there would be a shorter interlude story called The Job of Paul Twister, but every time I try to work on that I find I just can’t get into it, and I keep coming up with more and more ideas for this story, so I decided to put The Job of Paul Twister on hold for now. I still plan to write it eventually, though.