She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Behind her, a thousand volumes lay sealed in amber light, with a 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 resignation. 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 the 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. They were right.”
“There are none to chide you,” said the certainty from above, “and many to sing you songs of sustenance. May I walk beside you, pulse of my heart?”
“No,” she said, immediately regretting the tenor of the word. “They were nothing. I thought they would be everything. It was not even worth the trouble of learning to read.”
“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 sealed 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 them from the darkness into 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 something steady and strong, comforting almost without being seen. She felt his arm about her shoulder and sighed.
“I know,” he said. “None of the others could believe it either. That this world sprang from theirs. Yet 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.