“I’m not… your Rumpelstiltskin the Third?” the imp asked, the reaper’s unchanging expression doing nothing to clarify his absurd statement. Surrounded by strangers in lab coats, Rumpelstiltskin had hoped Sir Death’s arrival would have settled things and set the stage for a lunar adventure, but his oldest friend in the world was looking at the imp like he did not belong.
Since Sir Death was the main reason Rumpelstiltskin ever felt like he belonged, this was more than just disconcerting.
“That seems to be the case, child,” Sir Death answered, taking in a dismayed breath before looking around the control room for the base and finding Tom Bridgewell eyeing him as only a scientist could. “I am sure this is a rather odd experience for everyone, but I apologize, sir, for inconveniencing you or your personnel.”
“Two extra-dimensional visitors are less an inconvenience and more a… curiosity, Sir… Death,” Tom replied, earning a sly upward tick from the corner of the reaper’s mouth.
“Open-minded. I’m sure that is a useful trait in your line of work. You may call me Solomon, if it would make you more comfortable,” Sir Death commented before returning his attention to Rumpelstiltskin, whose bottom lip was quivering after all this personal upheaval. “And you may continue to call me Sir Death, child. Do not think I hold no affection for you.”
“But you say I am not your—”
“Temporally, no,” Sir Death interrupted, the bush having been beaten around more than enough. “I am the Sir Death from this time period, and my Rumpelstiltskin is currently running about New Zealand and refusing to leave the film set of a fantasy movie. He finds the little hovels quite charming, and to be fair, they are suited to his size.”
“New Zealand? Wait, you mean he’s—” Tom tried to ask a reasonable question, but Sir Death turned his grey gaze to him and the scientist assumed the reasonable answer.
“In any case, since the two actors in our long-lived relationship are accounted for, your arrival at a lunar base is somewhat… disconcerting, Rumpelstiltskin,” Sir Death paused, making the imp aware of the understatement. “Tell me, child, how you came to be here on the moon, of all places.”
“I… well, I,” Rumpelstiltskin lowered his eyes and stared at the grey tiles beneath him. Twisting his face as he tried to recall the important information, eventually Rumpelstiltskin looked back up to his mentor and shrugged. “I met a sorcerer at the top of a crumbling tower, and he was trying to open a… door into the Void.”
“Yes, I think he called it… I think he called it a neck point?” Rumpelstiltskin ventured, not entirely sure of its name but figuring Sir Death would be able to follow the line of thought. Thankfully, a small nod from the reaper let Rumpelstiltskin know he was on the right track.
“A nexus point. He was attempting to open the nexus? Harnessing the energies of the Void is common practice, but opening a portal would be…” Sir Death trailed off as he worked through the process, gripping his chin before looking back to the imp. “The fool did not live through the attempt, I’m assuming?”
“No…” Rumpelstiltskin muttered, remembering the man overwhelmed by blue light and falling to the roof as a burnt-out husk. The imp flinched at the memory, but he tried to remind himself the sorcerer was more monster than man. “He died halfway through the spell, before the moon was even eclipsed.”
“An eclipse…” Sir Death muttered this time, but then understanding filtered through the reaper’s wizened face. “I do recall your disappearance about seven centuries back, and how you came back with the strangest stories.”
“You did. I thought it the usual rambling, but it seems I overestimated your lunacy,” Sir Death surmised before turning back to Tom, who had been much more patient and resilient than his colleagues. The modern scientist was still standing by a computer terminal while his half-dozen employees were still trying to become part of the walls lining the back of the room.
“Since space travel is a bit too expensive for a practical joke from my employers at Catalytics, I’m going to assume you’re the real deal,” Tom ventured, his voice only shaking through a handful of the words. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“If you wish. I think you’ve earned the right to ask questions from your intruders.”
“Intruders seems like a strong choice of words, but I’ll take what I can get,” Tom started, looking hard at Rumpelstiltskin and Sir Death for a moment as he sorted his priorities. “He claimed he was Rumpelstiltskin—as in the fairy tale—and that you’re the Grim Reaper. Is there any truth to that?”
“No small amount,” Sir Death replied, rolling his index finger along the handle of his scythe. “You’ve not heard any tales of this particular imp, I’m afraid, and I am just one of the reapers. I know of one individual who has far more of a claim to a grim nature, but the general consensus is that he has earned it.”
“So the afterlife… Heaven and Hell, fairy tales and dragons and magic… all of that is real?”
“Oh, no, not all of it. Forget any such notion,” Sir Death waved off the absurdity with a flippant wave of his gaunt hand. “Indeed, Heaven and Hell are realms connected to this one, but they are not anything like the stories that have filtered through the generations. And while there have been dragons and fairies, the tales have outnumbered them to an extreme. Man has always been a creature of stories, and the more elaborate the details, the more enraptured the audience.”
“But this... creature truly came from the fourteenth century?”
“That seems to be the case, but there is no need for name-calling, Thomas.” Sir Death walked over to the befuddled imp and collected his shoulder with his free hand. “Rumpelstiltskin is very much a boy at heart, and a sort of magic is what keeps him in this state. I would appreciate it if you do not think of him poorly, even if he has interrupted your experiments.”
“I don’t think of him poorly,” Tom quickly clarified, even stepping forward and raising an open palm to ward off the accusation. “I wouldn’t have let him out of the Gate if I suspected… malice, I guess.”
“Rumpelstiltskin does have a way of making his distinct lack of malice evident,” Sir Death said before looking down at the imp and offering him a smile. Even then Rumpelstiltskin was lost and hurt, and Sir Death gripped his shoulder to give him solace. “Relax, child. Despite my initial wariness, you have nothing to fear from me.”
“I’m sorry…” Tom interrupted the tender moment, but neither Rumpelstiltskin nor Sir Death could blame him. “I’m just having trouble wrapping my brain around all of this. The Gate wasn’t intended to find… well, magical creatures from the past. I’m not sure anybody would believe my report no matter how well I write it.”
“I would not bother with the attempt, Thomas,” Sir Death said cryptically, and he sighed once Tom raised an eyebrow. “My… mystical nature has a way of disrupting modern surveillance. Rumpelstiltskin’s, as well. There are many reasons why we have yet to be discovered by human society, but this is the one that pertains to you the most.”
“Our video logs?”
“Will show white noise at best. Far more likely, some sort of magnetic resonance will have been in play or some other limiting factor which would make the memory banks of your machines all but useless,” Sir Death explained, but Tom was already tapping away at the keyboard on the glass table in front of him. By the time Sir Death has finished speaking, Tom was looking at blank, dark tiles in the holographic air where the last ten minutes of records should have been.
“That seems to be the case,” Tom muttered, sighing and dropping his head before looking at Sir Death out of the corner of his eye. “I do have half a dozen eye-witness testimonies.”
“Which you already know will be discarded as products of mass-hysteria. Your corporate masters will treat you as the pariah we all know you are not,” Sir Death provided, flicking his index finger away from his scythe as if to discard the idea. “It is best for you and your employees to keep this experience to yourselves.”
“And if I need to justify powering up the Gate and not having a record of those results?”
“You will tell your people at Catalytics that nothing happened except a corruption of data and a great deal of wasted effort,” Sir Death suggested. “And you will tell them that you will try again.”
“I could do that, certainly, but what if I pull another Rumpelstiltskin out of the Void?” Tom asked, forcing Sir Death to pause and reconsider the situation. “There’s a lot of money dumped into this place, Solomon, and I don’t imagine Catalytics will be excited when I don’t justify that investment. Now that we know it works, to a degree, I’m not inclined to see it succeed again.”
“Cautious. Another admirable trait, Thomas,” Sir Death stalled, going so far as to purse his lips. “You imagine that something more dangerous could come out of your gate. Something more threatening than an imp inclined to make friends.”
“That is my way of thinking, yes.”
“Then I feel like you should enlighten me. Just what are you attempting to do up here, Thomas?” Sir Death finally asked. “For Rumpelstiltskin to come through this gate as he has explained, this area must be connected to the Void. To a magician like myself, that means this is a nexus point. For a man of science, such a thing does not exist. Tell me, what is the desire of your corporate masters?”
“Truthfully, something more fiction than science,” Tom replied, reaching out with his hand to type some sort of code before a series of holographic windows opened up on top of each other. The visual spectacle was dazzling, and Rumpelstiltskin rushed out of Sir Death’s fatherly embrace and gripped the side of the center table below the display. Tom smiled at the childish antics, but soon returned his focus to a topographical sampling of the lunar surface and crossed his arms.
“With things looking so dismal on Earth as far as overpopulation and pollution, there are a few corporations finally catching on and Catalytics is one of them. They’re mostly known for pharmaceuticals, but the company has diversified quite a bit and has its hands in almost every industry, including space travel.”
“Mr. Musk has competition…”
“Hardly,” Tom scoffed at the idea, sweeping the topographical map a few feet to the side just to reveal another window showing blueprints for what Rumpelstiltskin could only assume was a palace for jesters and poets. “As far as engines and rockets, Catalytics came way too late to the game and outsources technology from other companies. We’re one of the few with bases on the moon, but that’s because most of those operate at a huge loss.”
“Then why create one?” Sir Death asked the relevant question, leaving Rumpelstiltskin to feel like he was eavesdropping on a conversation between philosophers.
“Because someone at Catalytics thinks the next big breakthrough in space travel has to be wormholes, and they’re high enough in the chain that Catalytics is actually moving on it,” Tom explained as he stepped back and sighed. “Even if no one back home knows what we’re doing.”
“That makes sense,” Sir Death murmured, earning a side-eyed glare from the scientist. Already, the reaper knew Tom’s question, but he was not keen on answering.
“Anything you’re willing to tell me?”
“Only that there are certain individuals in the upper levels of Catalytics who know exactly what nexus points are.” Sir Death had given a considerably-less cryptic answer than Rumpelstiltskin expected. With a low growl, Tom turned back to the topographical map and pointed a valley near the center.
“Well, that’s where they built the base. I’m not sure who decided the site, but someone chose our little valley and told us to create a singularity if it was the last thing we did.”
“Creating a singularity could very well be the last thing you could do.”
“We are well aware of that, and the exit clause in our contracts more than make up for it,” Tom replied, turning so he could square up to the reaper. “So what can you tell me about this? Did they choose a nexus point on purpose? Were we actually supposed to open a wormhole, or was this some big conspiracy to have us open a path to the Void?”
“To tell you the truth, Thomas, I have no clue what your employers intend,” Sir Death replied, clearing his throat before pointing at the screen with his free hand. “Do you have a thermal map of this area? I don’t know how easy it is to access your tech—”
“Of course, we have a thermal map,” Tom interrupted, merely swiping at the display while maintaining his staring contest with the side of Sir Death’s face. “It is the moon, though, so there’s not going to be anything special when it comes to—”
“You should look at the map,” Sir Death interrupted this time, and Tom was left to look at the thermal imaging of the landscape. While Rumpelstiltskin thought it looked very nice in dark blue tones, he could sympathize with Tom, who merely shrugged at the relative insignificance.
“I’m not seeing anything.”
“That is most certainly the point, Thomas,” Sir Death said before setting a skinny finger on a dark blue spot in the center of the valley. “It seems much colder right where we are standing.”
“It’s a valley. That’s expected.”
“A modern mind would certainly expect it,” Sir Death agreed, but he stepped back from the display, confident in what he had learned. “However, the modern times has been deprived of the truth you now encounter. A nexus point, by nature, is endothermic. It hungers for what it does not have, and just like any door or window, heat will pass through whether it is open or closed.”
“When the sorcerer opened up the Void on the tower, it tried to suck me in!” Rumpelstiltskin jumped into the conversation, overjoyed he was relevant once more. Sir Death smiled at his inclusion and patted the imp’s head.
“Yes, Rumpelstiltskin, that makes quite a bit of good sense.”
“But eventually it just shined there, waiting for me. I felt it… pulling me in a different way. Kinda like the portals you make, Sir Death.”
“I am not surprised. When I tear a rift through space—much like you think a wormhole should operate, Tom,” Sir Death added, turning to the scientist for the aside. “When I open up one of my portals, I resolve the other end in the same moment. In short, child, I make a tunnel and seal both ends so the Void cannot pull us in.”
“So you’re saying we could open a wormhole through this nexus point? Interstellar space travel could be possible?” Tom asked, academic excitement pervading his tone. Sir Death glowered before returning his focus to the scientist.
“A possibility, Thomas, but the Void is not some sort of interstellar plaything. It is… an existence beyond our dimensions, and a seasoned traveler is still no match for what lies in that maelstrom. My gifts lie in the supernatural and I have millennia of experience with them. Still, I would chance no more than to pass from one part of this planet to another, or to travel to one of our connected realms like Heaven or Hell. I have never once been tempted to reach another star, or even one of the other planets in our solar system.”
“You’re afraid of it? You? After all this time? Even as the embodiment of death?”
“It’s…” Rumpelstiltskin interrupted their scholarly conversation, earning their attention and feeling childish for it. Still, he had something to add, and the grown-ups would just have to deal with his perspective. “It’s not so easy as all that, Tom. Sir Death knows a whole lot. If he’s afraid of using it for anything more, I would trust him.”
“I understand that, Rumpelstiltskin, but the essence of humanity is to advance. If there is a trail to blaze, it is our duty—my duty—to hold the torch.” Tom tried for the poetic, but Rumpelstiltskin shook his head and rid them of artistic license.
“There are… things out there, Tom. I haven’t seen very much of the Void—not nearly as much as Sir Death—but I have seen beings in that distance that I wouldn’t want to see up close. I’ve felt very, very nice things when I’ve traveled through it—I’ll admit that—but there’s always this feeling when you stand in front of it. Like… like you’re looking at the end of things. It’s this sucker punch in your gut that makes it feel like a hundred snakes are wriggling inside you about to throw up.”
“I know that feeling,” Tom replied, but his eyes were full of determination. “But to me, that feeling is good. It means I’m on to something. It means that I’ve found something exciting, that I’ve found something worth chasing.”
“I am sure moths feel very much the same thing as they fly toward the flames,” Sir Death commented, earning a scowl from the scientist. “I assure you, Thomas, that I do not wish to quell that human spirit of yours. You have a bright future ahead of you, but only if it does not involve this gate.”
“But this is progress!”
“Toward the grave, in the most likely event,” Sir Death snapped back, going so far as to strike the handle of his scythe against the tiled floor. It threw the room into silence, and somehow the reaper seemed to grow taller, his voice seemed deeper and more declarative. “Do you realize how quickly your caution turned to reckless ambition?”
“You gave me cause to become ambitious.”
“I gave you a possibility, but what lies beyond that gate is what stoked the fire in your heart,” Sir Death said before pointing at the construct through the plexiglass behind them. “I told you how it hungers. It wants to be connected, to be opened, to show you what lies beyond.”
“And I want to see it!”
“Only because it has whispered sweet nothings into your ear. It will continue those musings, that cosmic poetry, only so it can devour you feet-first as you smile in childish wonder and thank it for the privilege,” Sir Death explained, breathing in deep so he could deal with this modern fool. “I admire your willingness to throw yourself upon the pyre of discovery for the sake of humanity, but this is not the way. You would open this dimension to something you could not comprehend, to complete a task beyond your technology, ingenuity, or, frankly, your lifetime. Rumpelstiltskin told us of the sorcerer who attempted to open a door in the past, and he was far more prepared.”
“It’s been seven centuries since then! We’ve advanced exponentially in those years,” Tom argued, frustrated, but losing steam.
“You would burn just the same,” Rumpelstiltskin added quickly, shocking the scientist into looking directly at him. “He knew what he was doing was dangerous, but he did everything he could to prepare himself. I only lived through the process because I can’t die, Tom. You can’t say the same thing.”
“I… Rumpelstiltskin, you don’t know what this could possibly mean to us,” Tom’s tone softened as he knelt down to look the imp in the eye. “Earth… humanity needs to move beyond it. This world is dying on us—and yeah, it’s our fault—but we need an exit strategy. We need somewhere to go when Earth can’t sustain us anymore. When our planet dies, a wormhole could be the way of getting us to a new planet.”
“So you can kill it the same way?” Rumpelstiltskin asked abruptly, throwing Tom’s face into a series of half-considered reactions. “I don’t know what you’ve done in the last seven hundred years, but you should take responsibility for it. Desperate moves like opening a way into the Void might only kill the planet faster.”
“It’s okay if you don’t listen to me—I’m no expert on anything—but if Sir Death says it’s a bad idea, you should trust that,” Rumpelstiltskin argued, looking up to the reaper with a frown before turning back to the pleading scientist. “He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met and he will let people do… well, pretty much whatever they want. Sir Death isn’t in the business of saving lives, he just gives guidance to souls who need it. If he’s scared of something and he warns you about it, it’s because it… because it will do more than just kill you.”
“I…” Tom attempted further argument, but the mystical danger of it had finally sunk in.
“The child is correct. There is far more at stake than just your biology, and I do not believe I am the first to warn you that your employers have no investment in your soul,” Sir Death commented, and that seemed to have the desired effect.
Tom stepped back and slumped against the center table, curling his fingers around the rounded edge
and supporting himself as much as a defeated man could. After a moment, the man let out a soft chuckle and wavered in place.
“If they’re aware of this, as you say, then it doesn’t matter if I personally stop,” he said, lifting his head so he could wave behind him at the frightened sheep in lab-coat clothing. “It doesn’t matter if they’re too frightened to go on. If the nexus point is that important to Catalytics, they’ll replace us as soon as we give them an inkling that we’re not trying to use the gate anymore.”
“That… is a quandary,” Sir Death admitted, rubbing his chin with his free hand before looking down at Rumpelstiltskin. The imp could provide him little more than a shrug and a conciliatory smile, but the reaper had expected nothing from him. Taking in a stale breath of recycled air, Sir Death turned back to the scientist. “Is there any way to falsify your results? Perhaps your employers could be misled?”
“They would know if the gate was activated, period. There’s too much automation and surveillance. The only reason there isn’t any log of this conversation is because of your mystical interference, but once we’re alone again, all bets are off,” Thomas explained, and this time Sir Death seemed frustrated. “It’s fortunate while we’re talking about conspiracies and magic, but you can’t stay here forever.”
“No, I most certainly cannot,” Sir Death muttered, and then both grownups were silent for a time. Sensing that they needed a reckless voice, Rumpelstiltskin puffed up his chest and then pointed at the gate.
“Then we just have to destroy it,” Rumpelstiltskin said, earning the skepticism of both academic minds. “Once you destroy the machines for the spell, there can’t be any spell.”
“That’s… all well and good, Rumpelstiltskin, but they’d just rebuild it.”
“Well, you said that Cata… Cata-whatsits has to go through other companies to make the lunar base, right?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, earning an obvious shrug from Tom.
“Well, if the whole base gets swallowed up in the Void, then it will take them a long time to make another one, right?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, drawing out a scoff from the man.
“Sure, but didn’t you just tell me never to open it up again?”
“You? Yes, but Sir Death could open it up, and the whole thing could be wiped off the map,” Rumpelstiltskin suggested, thinking he was very smart for the whole idea. Sir Death did not seem excited, but before Tom could naysay further, the reaper took a deep breath and leaned heavily on his scythe.
“It is certainly a proposition worth considering. Even if it would just be to delay further experiments, it might give me enough time to… persuade the individuals in Catalytics responsible for this venture.” Sir Death worked through the idea before looking back to Tom.
“Are there emergency procedures in place for the facility? Would you be able to reach safety without the help of your employers?”
“We… we could all pack in a rover and go to one of the neighboring bases,” Tom said half-heartedly. “They’re owned by different companies, but there are contracts in place for the preservation of human life.”
“Well, that certainly seems to be our aim, now doesn’t it?” Sir Death said, laughing through his dismay before standing up and waving toward the door. “I suggest you get packing. I will wait until you’re at a safe distance before trying to open a portal, but haste is required. Although I appreciate Rumpelstiltskin’s company, the nexus point will become more volatile now that a thread has been pulled from the fabric of space and time.”
“Al… right, but just so we’re clear, isn’t this exactly what you told me we shouldn’t do? You understand why I might not be pleased by this outcome?” Tom asked, so frustrated he audibly grit his teeth.
“I do understand, Thomas. Believe me, I have been in your place more than once, but there were times I wish I had someone like me to deny my exploration. Hate me if you wish, but know that I have your best interest at heart.”
“Does a man of your age and means even have a heart anymore, Solomon?” Tom asked, and Rumpelstiltskin felt a sympathetic shock to his own soul. However, Sir Death did not retaliate; he only pointed to the door once more.
“Truthfully, I believe Rumpelstiltskin is the only reason I do. Pack your things, Thomas Bridgewell. I wish you good fortune,” Sir Death stated, and it was not long before the scientists in the back of the room crawled along the wall and filtered out of the room only to break into frantic sprints and anguished cries.
Tom delayed, but only because he had the resigned fortitude of a man defeated by a world so far beyond his understanding. With a heavy sigh, the man walked to the door, only pausing by the doorway so he could look back at Rumpelstiltskin over his shoulder.
“It was nice to meet you, Rumpelstiltskin. Maybe I’ll meet the future version of you once I get back to Earth.”
“That—that would be fantastic!” Rumpelstiltskin beamed at him, having not considered the possibility until then. “I’ve never had friends in the future!”
“Well, now you do.” He gave the imp a smile before turning to Sir Death and transforming it into a scowl.
“Mortal,” Sir Death almost left it at that, but he dropped the façade and nodded. “Thomas Bridgewell, I will find some way to make this up to you.”
“Do you really think you can?”
“In some manner, yes. It is no small thing to have a reaper in your debt,” he said, Tom’s lips curling into a smile at the idea.
“I like that. Maybe I’ll use it,” Tom said before turning around and then starting off into a jog.
The room became oddly quiet after all that confrontation. Rumpelstiltskin did not think it was his place to speak, but once Sir Death looked down at him, he realized that he had little option.
“How long are you going to give them before opening the portal?”
“However long it takes them to become accommodated in their rover and clear a safe distance. I am not entirely certain how strong the nexus point will be once I open this end, but I would rather have that group out of eyesight.”
“What’s a rover?”
“A… vehicle. Like a carriage, except much faster,” Sir Death explained, pulling Rumpelstiltskin’s shoulder toward him and muttering a few words under his breath. The imp thought it odd, but then it seemed like the air around them had shifted from fall to spring, and he realized Sir Death was responsible.
“Stay close to me, Rumpelstiltskin. I have created a bubble of sorts that will keep us safe from harm when this facility collapses. It will be more than just convenient.”
“I’m sure,” Rumpelstiltskin said, wishing he could wander into the center room and look up at the stars through the giant circular hole in the ceiling. He even let out a wistful sigh at that, not intending for the reaper’s attention but earning it just the same.
“What is it you desire, child?”
“Just a view of different stars, Sir Death.”
“I see. You and Thomas have that in common, it seems.”
Rumpelstiltskin shook his head at that.
“I’d be content with the stars from here. Anything else might as well be a dream.”
“That is depressing, in a way.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad as that, Sir Death,” Rumpelstiltskin said, looking up at the reaper with a forced smile. “Dreams are a gift from somewhere else, and so it only makes sense for those stars to be from somewhere else. The way I feel when I dream, it’s very much like how I feel when you take me through those portals into the Void, or how I felt when I traveled here in the first place.”
“You think your dreams are gifts from the Void, child?”
“They have to come from somewhere,” Rumpelstiltskin said, stepping forward so he could lean against the glass. “It would be much more sad for them to come from nowhere, and I don’t want to believe that.”
“The world does not always act according to our beliefs, Rumpelstiltskin.”
“But sometimes it does, Sir Death. You know that better than anyone.”
“That’s… that is fair,” the reaper admitted, his voice soft as he surrendered to the perpetual child. They stood like that pressed against the glass, each looking at the gate machinery and seeing a different potential according to their perspectives. After a few moments, Rumpelstiltskin looked at Sir Death and sighed, which prompted the reaper to look at him out of his periphery.
“You told him to call you Solomon,” Rumpelstiltskin started, the reaper’s brow furrowing at the change of topic. “Is that your real name?”
“Sometimes, child. I have gone by many names through the ages. I was not aware you did not know it yet.”
“I guess that makes sense. Time travel must be confusing for everyone.”
“It is definitely not an easy concept, even for a well-versed reaper,” Sir Death said, his eye catching a vehicle kicking up dust through a window on the other side of the central room. “I can only imagine how you are processing this whole ordeal.”
“Pretty well, I think,” Rumpelstiltskin said, grinning up at his guardian. “Not being all there means I don’t have to really understand anything, you know. Most of the time, I just take life as it comes.”
“I am certainly well-acquainted with that facet of your life, child. It is… good to know that this is where you disappeared to, once upon a time,” Sir Death admitted, his shoulders slumping once he saw the last bits of lunar dust settling beyond the horizon. “It also makes me feel better for what it about to happen.”
“What is about to happen?” Rumpelstiltskin asked, and his spirits sank once he saw Sir Death become even more serious.
“There are tidings, Rumpelstiltskin, of some great catastrophe that threatens to envelop this entire world. I have heard whispers throughout the centuries, and they are only becoming more brazen, almost loud enough to hear in a room where the air has gone stale. Still, it is not enough to know, and others like me, who watch this world… we have all come to this understanding. Something is about to make itself known.”
“Sir Death, I… that scares me,” Rumpelstiltskin whispered, but Sir Death patted his shoulder and shook his head.
“It is not your time to be scared. This danger is a ways off yet, and you will be back in your own time soon enough. If you had witnessed it when you were here, I believe your current counterpart would have warned me, no matter the layers of lunacy that stand between the world and his soul,” Sir Death explained, taking in a sharp breath and straightening his posture. “That you return to your timeline also gives me confidence that our next task will be successful.”
“So you’re not scared?”
“Oh, child, I’m terrified.” Sir Death chuckled even as he held his scythe horizontal between open palms and held it toward the nexus point. “However, I am no stranger to terror, and I will not let it sway me from my duties.”
Then, before Rumpelstiltskin could say another word, blue energy pulsed out of Sir Death’s chest and then flowed along his arms until it could envelop his palms. It swirled around his hands for a moment, but after it flickered for the tenth time, it surged forward and then collected into a sphere that hovered in the space below the open gate. Rumpelstiltskin remembered appearing just there, and as the energy pulsed in that empty space, he felt that sensation of his guts acting like churning snakes on the verge of becoming sick.
The nexus point crackled from the ether, a vertical slit of white light immediately devouring the blue light Sir Death had offered. Rumpelstiltskin was scared by its sudden appearance, but even then he felt the overwhelming mental pull of the Void. It wanted to know Rumpelstiltskin inside and out, wanted the imp to become part of its collective, and Rumpelstiltskin felt little inclination not to satisfy that cosmic desire. Only the obvious mental and physical strain on Sir Death stayed the imp’s feet. With all of that grunting and that focus, Rumpelstiltskin was able to concentrate and know that yawning chasm of energy was the embodiment of danger.
Once he forced himself from the siren’s call, Rumpelstiltskin noticed how pieces of the paneling for the base were falling apart and heaving themselves into the Void as if they had wills of their own. As soon as one wall fell to pieces, another followed, and it wasn’t long before the frame of the base groaned and complained as it bent to the will of something beyond this dimension. Rumpelstiltskin did not know how he and Sir Death remained standing even behind layers of plexiglass, but he was grateful for whatever spell kept them in place.
No sooner had he made that realization then the base started to crumble in earnest, entire support beams getting ripped out of the wall like the bottom layer of a house of cards. The whole base seemed to implode once that first support beam snapped, and twin vacuums seemed to compete for who would claim the lunar base. The wall of windows in front of Rumpelstiltskin were pulled away like a sheet in the wind, and the imp could only watch as pens and papers and anything not cemented in place were buffeted about before getting sucked into the Void.
And just like that, the storm was over. The nonexistent atmosphere of the moon wanted nothing more from the ruins of Catalytic’s lunar base, but there was still that gentle breeze flowing into the nexus point, which stood as tall as the gate it had devoured in that maelstrom. The sight was enough to steal the breath from Rumpelstiltskin’s lungs, and he yet again felt fortunate that he did not need the air. Still, it was there for him if he needed it, and for that he had Sir Death to thank. He turned to the reaper to do just that, but what he saw made him feel anxious.
Sir Death was heaving, still holding his arms out while energy coursed along his arms and away from his hands. Rumpelstiltskin thought it odd that he was still engaged in the spell, but then he realized the reaper did not have a choice. The Void had noticed Sir Death by his life force, and now that it had a taste, it would not willingly let him go. Rumpelstiltskin was nervous and did not know what he could accomplish, if he should even speak to Sir Death, but as he considered his options, he looked up at the sky and saw something he had thought impossible only an hour ago.
There was a blue planet covered in a swirl of white clouds, and the imp was forced to take a moment and gaze at the Earth in all its glory. There was something dingy about it, something that made it feel less clean than he remembered, but it was still his home. A thousand years before that moment, Rumpelstiltskin had been born on that rock floating through space, but now—even as the Void threatened to swallow him whole along with a grim reaper—he was staring at it from the surface of the moon, a million twinkling stars acting as the tapestry presenting his world to him.
Words could never do justice to what he felt in that moment. Only the tears running down his overjoyed face could hope to capture it, and he made sure Sir Death saw them before placing his hands on the reaper’s scythe.
“Rest, Sir Death. The Void will not hurt me,” Rumpelstiltskin said, and he had already turned away before the reaper realized what he was about to do.
“Child… Rumpelstiltskin!” Sir Death shouted, but the imp was determined and already at the edge of the reaper’s conjured bubble of air. Another step and he would be in the vacuum of space, but he already felt something stronger pulling him toward that light. While he still had air to speak, Rumpelstiltskin turned and gave a big smile to his guardian from the future.
“I’ll be fine, Sir Death. You said it, yourself. I return to my own time.” Even though Rumpelstiltskin was frightened, this trip through the Void had already given him a memory reserved for dreamers. He would never forget that world among the stars, and even the infinite unknown on the other side of that portal would not steal that image from him.
So he took that step outside the reaper’s spell, and he was pulled into the light within seconds.
Rumpelstiltskin was torn from himself, reconstituted, remembered ordeals and events he would never remember in his normal, distracted state, but it was a swift journey through the ages. The Void had deposited him in that future for one purpose, to rid him of fear of what comes next, to know what was at stake, and the imp knew that was knowledge meant only for him. Even Sir Death would never understand what had filtered through the endless and into a cursed, immortal imp.
As he neared the end of his journey through the rift, Rumpelstiltskin was even aware that he would not retain that knowledge once he was on the other side. It would be buried within his subconscious, revealed only when necessary.
When Rumpelstiltskin awoke on the roof of a crumbling tower with a full moon above his head, he did not remember his adventures, the reaper’s name; he did not remember anything about Tom Bridgewell or Catalytics or the 21st century. He only remembered some vision of a great rock covered in blue, green and white against a backdrop of brilliant, shining stars in the distance. It was a wonderful sight reserved for dreams, and he persuaded himself that was exactly where it had originated. Perhaps, Rumpelstiltskin thought as he drifted back to sleep, he might have a chance to see something so beautiful in the real world.
And if not, perhaps he would see it again in his dreams.