“The sad truth I have discovered about the cure for Collapse is that it is real. And that reality is the sad truth of it, because the cure for Collapse is something I cannot obtain, no matter how hard I try.”
These words to close out Chapter Ten of Maxwell’s journal left Fae and Neptune stunned.
“Well what the heck is that supposed to mean?” Fae asked, surprised for a moment that she’d asked it out loud. She was frustrated not just at this seeming dead-end, but also at the cryptic nature of how Maxwell worded it. “Does that mean this is the end, or is it something that we might be able to obtain, even though he couldn’t?”
Neptune nodded. “I like where you’re going with that,” she said. She leaned back, arching her back as she stretched her arms overhead. “Let’s hope that’s the case. If he’s found a cure, even if he can’t obtain it, maybe there’s still a chance for us.”
“Yeah,” Fae said with a sigh as she copied Neptune, stretching. “My body says I should take a break, but after that cliffhanger, I want to just keep going.”
Neptune laughed softly. “I’m game if you are. Maybe we’ll find the full story about this cure before the others decide to come back.” She sighed. “Those two are useless for this kind of thing. Once we have somewhere to go again, they’ll be much more involved and enthusiastic.”
“It’s all right,” Fae said. “I don’t mind this lull in the action. After the Fates…”
Neptune nodded. “Yeah. It’s nice to be able to calm down.”
“And it would be extra calming if Maxwell would just explain things,” Fae said, glaring at the book in front of her as she turned the page to start Chapter Eleven: “Intangibles of the Lower-Case Variety.”
Neptune chuckled. “It’s nice to hear you openly complain,” she said. “I know it must be strange, traveling around a strange world with three sisters who are super close and touchy-feely and stuff.”
Fae was immediately embarrassed, but… she kind of liked hearing that from Neptune. In a way, it reminded her of her early interactions with her best friend, Madeline Crowley.
“It’s nice to see you complain openly,” Madeline had said. At the time, they were both in eighth grade, and Fae had just gone on a huge rant to Madeline about how their club president was a total jerk, power-hungry, demanding… and a lot more. Fae had ranted about that guy for hours.
“I…” Fae had stopped, suddenly aware of what she’d done. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean –”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Madeline had said, laughing. “I’m the same way. I don’t open up to people easily. But I’ve been thinking of you as a close friend, so… it’s nice to see you feel the same. Don’t feel like you need to hold stuff in around me, okay?”
Fae smiled as she started reading. It had crept up on her, but she did think it was nice that she’d started to feel more comfortable around the Star sisters. They could be annoying – particularly Mercury and Jupiter, who were far too energetic far too often – but who wasn’t annoying sometimes?
They were really good people, and Fae was glad to be on this journey with them.
“He is not following up that cliffhanger very well at all,” Neptune commented as she read.
Fae shook her head. “He loves doing that,” she said. “Say something big and meaningful, and then just ignore it for a few dozen pages.”
“Or a few hundred,” Neptune said with a laugh.
“The term ‘Intangible’ comes from the real word ‘intangible,’ with a lower-case ‘I’ (unless it is placed at the beginning of a sentence, of course). In a way, both terms are very similar – they are things that are hard to quantify, and often completely outside of our grasp. We can’t measure them, or hold them in our hands. They are untouchable. ‘Intangible.’ So the Intangibles that we know of, that are named and revealed by the Fates, are so classified because, in most cases, they cannot be touched. They certainly cannot be adequately or perfectly scientifically explained. They are similar to the intangibles of real life: hope, luck, compassion, wisdom, leadership, intuition, cleverness, inspiration, faith. They affect people, as do the Intangibles. Indomitable Will, for instance, is an Intangible that chooses a hero and resides within them throughout their life, giving them courage and determination completely unfathomable for ordinary people. The Dreamer’s Heart is another that resides within a singular person, instilling within them dreams that offer guidance and knowledge, and granting them a valuable role. If the worst were to come to pass, and the Endless Night did come, the bearer of the Dreamer’s Heart – the Dreamer – would be absolutely vital in turning back the tide of darkness.”
Fae rummaged in her bag, pulling out the mirror that was supposedly tied to the Dreamer’s Heart. She stared into it, but it just did what it did before, reflecting the corner around and behind her, but not showing her face or form at all.
“Interesting that he mentions an Intangible that’s on your list,” Neptune said, looking into the mirror. It didn’t reflect her face or form either.
“I just wish I understood how this works,” Fae said, putting the mirror back in her bag with a sigh. They continued reading, as Maxwell rambled on about lower-case intangibles, occasionally mentioning Intangibles in the Enchanted Dominion briefly here and there. After reading as long as she had, Fae knew that Maxwell was building to something, but she certainly wished he’d get on with it. Not that what he was talking about wasn’t interesting, but he’d left her in suspense, so she was anxious for the follow-through.
Naturally, it wasn’t until the last page of the chapter that they got proper explanations.
“As I’ve shown, some of the Intangibles are closely linked to intangibles. I hope I have not lost you after all this time. I’ve taken great care with my handwriting to differentiate between upper-case and lower-case I’s, and I won’t put the word ‘Intangible’ at the beginning of any sentence, in order to avoid confusion. But assuming I have not lost you, let me explain why I have taken such time to painstakingly explain both Intangibles and intangibles, how they’re connected, and what their importance is. You see, Collapse is a sickness that preys on the intangible elements of the spirit: the will, hope, dreams, faith, goodness, reason. The only Collapsed I have heard of or encountered all have the same early symptoms – they reach their lowest point before the sickness takes them. Those who are hopeful and true, kind and optimistic, happy and free, they will never become Collapsed. It is the downtrodden, the exhausted, the weary, the hopeless, the despairing, the enraged, the addicted… these are the ones who fall prey to such a dangerous sickness. And I have found what restored Richard, the former Collapsed I observed earlier, and what has restored a scant few Collapsed over the ages:
“It is hope that restores the spirit, hope that refreshes the soul, hope that brings back joy, and faith, and the will to not give up. And, unfortunately for me, though perhaps fortunately for you, that is the key to curing those infected with the disease. They must have the fire of hope rekindled within them. I say it is unfortunate for me, because I am woefully ill-equipped for such a task. I am not a bringer of hope, and I confess I don’t keep much hope within myself. I thrive on knowledge, on learning. I struggle to relate to other people, Enchanted or otherwise, and I can count on one hand the number of people I can dubiously call friends. I cannot cure the Collapsed. But I write that this truth may reach others, so that someone may take this cure to the Collapsed. Unfortunately, I do not know where this book will arrive, or who will even find it. But one day, may these truths arrive in the right hands, that healing may take place.
“My journey does not end here, though. I do not just seek the cure for the Collapsed – I seek the Intangible itself. Why do the Collapsed seek it? Where is it located? What other mysteries surround this construct of evil? These are what I shall devote the rest of this book to. For as long as Collapse exists, people will continue to be turned into the Collapsed, and the cycle will never end.”
Fae sat back after that, letting out a slow breath. She reached into her bag and pulled out the candlestick-bell made whole by Roland Soundingstone at the Crimson Docks.
“It was made as a response to an Intangible,” Roland had said. “Child’s Innocence. Innocence could also be called purity. And purity can be represented by a flame – flames destroy, but they can also be used to purify and refine.
“As for what the bell does… it can give you hope. It can pierce the darkness of any heart. When you are feeling hopeless, or when conventional magic offers no solution, perhaps this bell will be of use.”
Fae had been frustrated by Roland’s explanations at the time, but now she was beginning to understand.
“It’s the key,” Neptune said, staring at the bell.
Fae nodded. “Now it makes sense,” she said. “So I just… ring the bell? I can use this to cure the Collapsed? Even the Fates?”
Neptune shrugged. “I guess we won’t really know until you try. Unfortunately. But the way Roland talked about it – and the way Maxwell talks about hope – makes it sound like that’s exactly the way to do it.”
“That seems too easy,” Fae said, pursing her lips.
Neptune laughed. “Don’t forget what it took to get each part of that bell. And it’s your drawings and Selphine that helped point the way. It’s no wonder no one else has put the bell together before.”
Fae sighed. I guess that’s true. I came a long way to find each piece of this, and I had a lot of help along the way.
If ringing this bell can cure such a frightening illness, well… that’s the most amazing magic I’ve ever heard of. But then, it is supposed to be like an Intangible, and those things are tremendously special, one-of-a-kind.
She smiled. “I’m glad to have it,” she said. She looked at Maxwell’s journal. “Though… I guess we still have a lot more to read.”
“Your drawings gave you the symbol of Collapse, so I think, whatever the reason, it isn’t just so that you can cure people,” Neptune said. “Maybe… well, this sounds kind of lofty and wild, but… maybe you were given the symbol, and guided to this book, because it’s up to you to eliminate Collapse for good. End the cycle, like Maxwell said.”
Fae sat back, taking that in.
Am I… meant to be a hero?
That’s what this is, right? Going out into a strange world on a wild adventure, with the end goal being to destroy a thing that causes this horrible sickness in people. It’s the journey of a hero… right?
And that’s only one piece of my whole journey. There are four other Intangibles, and the three Spiral Dragons, and the Fates… well, at least the Fates are tied to Collapse. And now I know how to cure them, supposedly.
Fae couldn’t even put it into words in her mind. She’d followed these drawings in the hopes of understanding herself – her place in the universe. The idea that at least part of her purpose in life was to save people’s lives, to end a seemingly incurable disease, was huge. It was…
And Fae had no idea how to feel about it.