“You took long enough.” Hermione complained.
“We’re almost there. You’ve still got your wand on you, right?” Binny said, and pushed forward.
“This looks like the hunting forests near King’s Landing.” Arya made a rare comment. Katniss and Michel were now carrying her and made no pretense that Arya had much to do with it. She wasn’t able to walk and was pale as the moon which had come out. The sun had set while Binny had spoken to Inanna.
“There.” Binny pointed. A structure in the dead center of the forest, stained glass windows dominated every facet of the building. A wooden door sat ensconced into the base of one of the walls. It was slightly ajar.
Binny walked up to the door, and looked back at the others, especially at Arya, who had been so brave, and was now paying for it. Binny took a breath and pulled the door open, not sure entirely what to expect.
A diminutive man called to Binny, “Are you in or are you out?” He was sitting at a desk, clacking away on a typewriter. He had a bushy mustache like the end of a broom and wild curly hair. Clack clack clack. “In or out. You’re letting in the cold.”
Binny stared at him typing. He was typing. No alarm bells were going off. No lecturing Keepers were arriving to slap him on the wrist. The man was typing. It took Binny a second to follow his instructions, get the others to join her, and finally close the door behind them.
Clack clack clack.
“I’ve decided to finally finish it. I mean, why not. I’ve got nothing better to do.” The man with the curly hair said.
“What are you finishing?” Binny asked.
The others were also slackjawed wondering where they were.
“It’s called If God Were Alive Today. And clearly, as you can tell from our predicament, he is most definitely not. But if he were…”
Clack clack clack.
“Mr. Vonnegut, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Katniss stuck out her hand. “I love your books.”
“You as well. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name. Who are you?”
“I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with your work. Please don’t think me rude.”
Clack clack clack.
“Oh, I haven’t written anything. I’m just a character.” Katniss explained. She was blushing a little as well.
The clacking stopped.
“You’re a what?” Vonnegut swiveled around in his chair.
“I’m a character.”
It was the most meek Binny had ever heard Katniss sound.
“Well that’s ridiculous. Characters can’t get in here. The Stain is strictly authors only.
“The Stain?” Binny spoke up.
“Yes. All the stained glass. The Stain. It’s Geoffrey’s invention. Colorful at least.” Vonnegut pointed to the story being told in the large panels of stained glass that lined the walls.
Vonnegut saw everyone looking at the windows and explained. “That’s Hector’s battle with Ajax. It’s a stalemate. Even after a full day of fighting. At the end, Hector gives him his sword, and Ajax kills himself with it. It’s quite dramatic.”
“Oh my, Hector.” Katniss turned back to Arya.
“Yes. Right. That’s why we came.” Binny said.
Michel had laid Arya down in a chair by the wall. She made a whistling sound when she breathed.
“You’re up Hermione. Do your thing.” Binny said.
“It’s not going to work you know.” Hermione insisted.
“Did you not see what he was doing?” Binny pointed at Vonnegut. “He was typing. He was writing a book. The rules don’t apply here.”
“The only rules that apply here are that none of us can leave.” Vonnegut said.
Binny said, “You can’t?”
Vonnegut nodded dolefully.
Hermione ignored them. “Of course the rules apply here. It’s probably all gibberish. Or the Keepers will be here soon to confiscate that thing.” Hermione said casually.
“Fine Hermione, just do it to humor me. Please.”
A moment passed between Binny and Hermione.
“Fine! Give me some room. I don’t want to make an even worse mess of things. There’s no Skele-Gro here. Right?”
“Ske-le-grow?” Vonnegut repeated trying to comprehend Hermione’s words.
“Never mind.” Hermione said.
“No, that’s good.” Vonnegut continued. “I like it a lot. May I use it?”
“Don’t ask me. Ask my author. She made it up.”
“Is your author here?”
“Hermione!” Katniss was growing impatient.
Hermione pulled her wand out from wherever she’d hidden it in her clothing.
Binny watched in sudden fascination. For all her stickler behavior and negativity over the last day, it was still Hermione Granger. And she was about to perform magic. Right in front of Binny. It was going to be even better than seeing Katniss use a bow and arrow. Binny tried to hide how excited she was to see this.
Hermione gave her wand a flick with her practiced wrist and carefully and clearly articulated “Brackium Emendo”.
All at once, Arya looked like a heavy weight had been pulled off her chest. Arya started gulping in air, like she’d almost asphyxiated. Almost immediately the color started returning to Arya’s ashen face.
“Thank you so much. Truly.” Arya thanked Hermione.
“Thank all of you really, for getting me here. I wasn’t excited to spend until tomorrow morning in this state.” Arya smiled a weak smile. “Or worse.”
“Very impressive.” Vonnegut was now standing behind them. He’d watched Hermione do her magic and it was clear from his face that the wheels of his mind were working.
And then suddenly, he said, “You’re that Potter girl aren’t you.”
Hermione looked dejected after the high of healing Arya and finally getting to use her magic for the very first time in the Stacks. “I suppose so.”
“She’s Hermione Granger. She’s not ‘that Potter girl’.” Binny was indignant.
“Yes, of course. Of course. That was quite a trick.” Vonnegut said, still staring.
“Is she here?” Hermione asked Vonnegut hopefully.
“Is who here?” He responded
“Oh. ‘Fraid not. I haven’t read her stuff mind you. But to the best of my knowledge, she wouldn’t be here.”
“How would you know?” Binny asked.
“I know because I don’t believe she ever put herself in her own book. That’s the only reason anyone is ever here.” Vonnegut explained to the group, and then added, “With the exception of course, of you five. So tell me, what exactly are you doing here?”
“Diyu.” Binny said in a low voice. Binny then explained everything that had led up to this point.
“So they were right.” Vonnegut said, scratching his chin.
“Who?” Binny asked.
Without another word, Kurt Vonnegut got up from his chair and left the room.
The group followed Vonnegut out of his little room. The structure opened up considerably on the inside. The center of the building was occupied with a micro-version of the main library. Books were stuffed everywhere. Bookcases rose several stories under the main gables.
Arya’s state had improved remarkably since Hermione’s spell. She was walking on her own and in good spirits as Vonnegut led them through the building. Little writing alcoves littered the edges of the many great rooms.
Each author had set up their own little spot to express themselves. Some, it seemed, had taken up other pursuits as well: painting, sculpture, or music. Others were typing away, or writing, or using whatever means they could to get down their thoughts. But for the most part, they were sleeping, reading, or eating. In fact, it seemed to Binny, that most of the people here were finding as many distractions as they could to avoid writing.
They had arrived at a small simple alcove. More stained glass windows sat above a stone table. Two tablets were piled on one side. But they looked like they were more for decoration than in active use. A pile of blank paper as well as a quill and some ink occupied most of the surface area.
A woman was sitting at the desk. She was short, with long dark hair, and large almond eyes. She wore a simple green shift, and no shoes. She looked melancholy. “Yes Kurt?”
“Maybe there is a why.”
The woman raised her eyebrows ever so slightly before responding. “Really?”
Vonnegut nodded to Binny who introduced herself, and the others. Binny recounted the adventures of the day to everyone’s satisfaction. And after she was finally done, Binny asked, “Can I ask a question now?”
“Of course.” Anna said.
“How did you end up in this place? Why are you all here?” Binny asked.
Anna took a deep breath. “Kurt says we are trapped in the amber of the moment. And that there is no why. But Kurt is young, and hasn’t seen what I have seen.” Anna stole a glance at Vonnegut and gave him a sly smile that Binny couldn’t entirely decipher.
Anna continued, “Just as Inanna told you, after the change creativity came to an end. And as Tiroas found out, being creative was the only way for characters to stay here once their books were forgotten.”
“But why are all of you are trapped here?” Binny said.
“We are being imprisoned because our creativity doesn’t depend on access to books. We can create books from nothing. In this place, we are in effect gods. The women couldn’t have gods walking around could they?”
“I have been feeling godlike today.” Kurt joked.
“May I ask a question?” Michel interrupted. Katniss, Hermione, Arya, and Binny all looked at him, surprised to see him interject himself into the conversation. “This place feels familiar to me. What is it?”
“Excellent question.” Vonnegut smiled. “It’s Geoffrey’s invention. It’s from the dream sequence in The Book of the Duchess. And now, it’s our home.
“I thought it seemed familiar.” Michel was grateful for the explanation.
Binny watched the interaction, the wheels in her head turning.
“This really is Diyu.” Binny said.
“Diyu? I certainly hope not.” A woman’s voice, elegant and articulate, came from behind.
Binny and the others spun around, only to see Two standing in front of them. An easy smile on her face. Binny’s heart sank.