The Artist III – Nothing Awaits
"Why does Mr. Wingate have to save all his huge assignments for the end of the year? I'm never gonna get 'A Wrinkle In Time' read by this weekend!"
"Be quiet, Buzz. You've known since April that we had to read that and do a report on it."
"I don't like books. Not like you. I bet you read the whole thing weeks ago."
"Yeah, it's the report that's gonna kill me. I hate writing. My penmanship sucks."
"Can't you type it?"
"Mom and Dad won't let me touch the computer for another month. Not since I tried to download 'Episode III' and Dad caught me at it."
"Dude, that's illegal, Devon. And you could get a computer virus."
"I know, but they won't let me go to the theater to see it either 'cause they think it's too violent, so I'm kinda stuck."
The two boys made an odd pair – bulky, swarthy Buzz Myers in his designer clothes and spiked haircut next to gangly, freckled Devon Phillips in his faded jeans, General Grievous T-shirt, and Luke-Skywalker-style hair. But anyone who knew them could tell you they were unlikely friends, which was surprising seeing as only a year ago Buzz was a member of a gang of schoolyard thugs whose sole pleasure in life came from making Devon's life miserable.
But that had changed. The two boys now shared a close bond – and an unlikely secret.
"Going anywhere over the weekend?" asked Devon. "We get Monday off…"
"Nah, Mom has to work. We'll probably go to the cemetery on Memorial Day and put flowers on my grandpa's grave. What about you?"
"We were going to go to the lake, but my uncle's boat broke down, so we'll probably just stay home and barbecue… what's that?"
Devon pointed skyward. "Something up there kinda… flashed. Like glass."
"Probably an airplane…"
"There it is again!"
A sapphire-blue fleck moved against the paler blue of the sky, sunlight gleaming from its surface. From this distance it could have been an enormous bird, an oddly shaped plane, or a spacecraft. Whatever it was, it was circling high over the city… no, it was more over the woods close to Devon's house. The two boys kept staring at it as they headed to the forest, eager to see what exactly this thing was…
"Whatcha looking at, boys?"
Devon grimaced. "Go away, Tanya!"
"Why?" she demanded, jogging to catch up with them. She might think she looked adorable in that pink Princess T-shirt and flare-legged jeans, but Devon just thought she – and all other girls who imitated that look – looked weird. And lately she had been following Devon and Buzz constantly, begging to know what they were up to and why.
"You're always doing all this 'secret' stuff, and I want to know what it is!" she said. "I mean, come on, if it's just a boy club, can't girls be let in too?"
"You wouldn't understand," Buzz retorted.
Suddenly the blue object they had been studying jetted fire from its bow/mouth/front. The two boys gasped, and Tanya screamed.
"Did you see that?" exclaimed Buzz.
"I saw it! I saw it!" shrieked Tanya.
"It's a dragon!" breathed Devon.
"A dragon!" Tanya jumped up and down. "A dragon here in our town! This is so cool!"
"Doggone it, Tanya, leave us alone!" snapped Buzz.
"Both of you shut up," Devon ordered. "I want a closer look." He delved into his backpack and pulled out a macroscope – a gift from Luke Skywalker the last time he'd come out of his painting.
"Cool binoculars," Tanya told him.
"Thanks," Devon said vaguely, cueing the gadget up and gazing skyward.
Once he got the creature into focus, he had to admit it was decidedly dragonish. Deep blue with webbed wings and a regal expression on its reptilian face, it carried two riders – a handsome young man with a scarlet sword strapped to his waist, and a dark-haired, black-leather-clad woman. As Devon panned the scope to keep the beast in his line of sight, the woman reached back to absently brush her hair back…
"Whoa," he gasped, lowering the scope.
"What is it?" asked Buzz.
"What is it? What is it?" begged Tanya.
"Buzz, keep an eye on it," Devon ordered, thrusting the scope into his hands. "Don't lose it, whatever you do! I'm gonna go get the others."
"What others…" Buzz began, then realized what Devon was implying. "Why them?"
"They said if anything like this ever happened, they needed to know."
"What about the leech?" Buzz asked, nodding toward Tanya.
"I'm not a leech!" she snapped.
"Go home, Tanya, and don't tell anyone about this," Devon ordered.
"Why not?" she said indignantly. "And what makes you so special that you get to stay and see it? And who're these 'others' you two keep talking about?"
"Just go home, Tanya," Devon said pleadingly.
As Buzz kept the scope trained on the dragon and Tanya leaned against a tree, having clearly no intention of leaving, Devon jogged toward the Mos Espa Street Market, Mr. Makatzo's legacy to him. It had been a year since the Jedi Master had died, and though he still missed the quirky old man, he had by now accepted the enormous responsibility left to him by his friend – Keeper of the Paintings. Until their world was technologically ready to accept interstellar immigrants, it was his duty to ensure the precious portraits of the beings of the Star Wars galaxy stayed protected, ready for a second chance at life.
Mom was behind the counter of the Star-Wars-themed store, and she raised an eyebrow at Devon as he bolted for the back room.
"You're late," she reminded him.
"Something big's come up, Mom," Devon told her. "Sorry, I can't work after school today."
"What do you mean 'something big?'" she asked.
"Buzz is way behind on his book report," he told her. "He needs serious help." Okay, so that was the truth, if completely irrelevant. Let Mom draw her own conclusion from that information.
She sighed. "Okay, go help Buzz with his report. But I want your help closing the store tonight, okay?"
"Sure," he replied quickly. "Left my book in the basement, though."
"Lock the door after you're done down there!" she shouted as he charged downstairs.
The basement of the store was lit by a single light bulb, which meant the corners of the room were still drenched in darkness. Dust and cobwebs layered every surface, and the water pipes zigzagging over the ceiling kept the place in a permanent chill. Devon pushed past storage boxes and made his way to the paintings, which were kept in individual airtight plastic cases in the back to keep them safe from damage and time. By his own request, three of them were constantly kept separate from the others – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Yoda.
"Guys, I need your help," he murmured, snapping their cases open.
It took a few minutes to haul the heavy paintings from their cases and pull the canvases from the frames. He rolled each one up and tossed it into an old steel filing cabinet drawer, then pulled a lighter from his pocket and carefully lit the edges of each painting.
"Can you guys hear me?"
"Give us a minute," Luke advised as his outline began to take shape. As the paintings burned Luke's body materialized, then Yoda's, then Vader's, then those of Vader's stormtrooper bodyguards. When the three Jedi and six soldiers had fully emerged from the paintings and into the room, Devon yanked the fire extinguisher from one wall and hastily sprayed the flames.
"Trouble is there?" asked Yoda.
"Buzz and I saw something weird coming home from school," Devon explained. "I think it's a dragon."
"Krayt dragon?" asked a stormtrooper.
"No, a big blue flying dragon. It breathed fire, too, we saw."
Vader exchanged a look with Yoda, one heavy with meaning. "Explain further, Devon," he ordered. "Did you see anything else out of the ordinary? Was someone riding the dragon? Was there any accompanying unexplainable phenomena?"
"If that means anything else weird, yeah. There were two people on its neck – a guy, looked about sixteen, with a red sword. And a girl with black hair. I think… I think she's an elf."
"An elf?" repeated Luke.
"She had pointed ears, anyway," Devon replied.
Yoda nodded. "Thought at first a dragonrider of Pern this might be, but elves in Pern there are not…"
"Pern? You mean Pern's real too?"
"Remember what Harry told you, Devon?" Luke said. "There are many worlds, not just yours and that of Star Wars."
"You mean… for every book and movie out there… there's a world?"
"Pern it would not be, though," Yoda replied, shaking his head. "Always kept to themselves, they did. Never stirring for inter-world affairs, not even for a crisis."
"Could it be Xanth?" asked Luke. "There are dragons and elves there…"
"The dragons there tend to be vicious," Vader replied. "And most would not tolerate a rider."
"Know who they are we will not until meet them we do," Yoda replied. "Go see this dragon and its riders we must."
Devon opened the emergency exit, and the four of them slipped outside.
"Buzz's keeping tabs on it," Devon offered. "There's a girl with us, Tanya, and I can't get her to go away."
"Does she know?" asked Luke.
"You think I'm stupid enough to tell her?" Devon demanded.
"Hmmm," muttered Yoda, climbing up Vader's cloak and latching onto his shoulder like a koala. "Judge the girl we will when meet her we do. For now, see this dragon we must."
They climbed up a set of concrete stairs to the alley behind the store, then set off at a brisk run to the forest. It wasn't long before the dragon came into view again, still spiraling over Devon's house. Buzz was standing atop a boulder to get a better view, and Tanya was whining for a turn with the binoculars so she could see the dragon too.
"It's a lot lower than last time," Devon observed.
"Not from a world I recognize," Luke murmured. "We'll have to communicate with it and get it to land."
"And how do you propose to do that?" Vader inquired.
"Don't most dragons speak through telepathy?" Luke asked.
"Attempt it I can," Yoda replied, and he closed his eyes in concentration.
At that moment Tanya turned and spotted them. Her eyes grew wide, and Devon braced himself for hysterical shrieking. To his shock, she instead ran forward and threw her arms around Vader's waist.
"Oh my goodness, they're real!" she squealed. "Oh my goodness! I SO have to get your autographs! Is this the big secret you and Buzz were keeping?"
Luke burst into laughter while Vader managed to look quite uncomfortable through the mask.
"Um, Tanya?" Devon said. "You might wanna let go. He needs to be able to walk."
"Oh, sorry." She released him. "So where did you guys come from? What are you doing on our planet? Are you going to talk to the President and ask Earth to join the Rebellion… or the Empire… or whatever?"
"Time for questions there will be later," Yoda told her, opening his eyes. "Landing momentarily our friend Saphira is."
"Saphira?" asked Devon. "Oh, the dragon, right?"
"I didn't know there were dragons in Star Wars," Buzz said, lowering his scope.
"Saphira's not from Star Wars!" Tanya informed him with a hint of superiority in her voice. "She's from the book 'Eragon!' I got it from my grandma for Christmas!"
The dragon landed neatly at the edge of the forest, regarding their group with intelligent eyes. The young man on her back stared down at them from his seat, arcing an eyebrow.
"Master Yoda?" he asked. "Is that you?"
"The same," Yoda replied. "Help you how can we, Rider Eragon?"
Eragon waved toward the neighboring houses. "We need to talk to you immediately. But we need to do it where we can't be seen. We've already had to dodge this world's weaponry to get here."
"You were chased by the Air Force!" gaped Buzz.
"Into the woods," Vader advised. "There is a meadow suitable for our purposes – large enough for Saphira and sufficiently isolated."
"Devon, get something to refresh our guests, why don't you?" asked Yoda.
Devon stared up at Saphira. "I dunno…"
/I can always hunt in the forest/ the dragon assured him, nodding her head. /But my rider needs food and water, as does his guest Arya. They have had to use a lot of magic to escape the Air Force and get here, and they are exhausted and hungry./
"Okay," he replied. "Be right back!"
Everyone had arranged themselves in a neat circle in the grass of the meadow by the time Devon got back, carrying a bag of chips, four sandwiches, two bottles of water, and a bag of Oreos. Saphira took up a good half of the clearing, her jaws wrapped around a good-sized deer. Devon turned away and tried to ignore the dining dragon, handing the food to Eragon and Arya before taking a seat between Buzz and Vader.
"Many thanks, boy," Arya told him in richly accented English.
"We've just finished explaining things to Tanya," Luke told him. "Yoda judges her of sound enough character to keep this secret."
"Um… okay." He wasn't exactly fond of Tanya, but if Yoda could trust her, she must be all right.
Eragon ate quickly, then brushed crumbs from his lips and addressed Yoda. "We had come here to find Jedi Master Makatzo. I trust you know where he lives?"
"Master Makatzo died about a year ago," Vader informed him. "He suffered a heart attack."
"Oh." Eragon's face fell.
"He has chosen one to carry on in his footsteps," Vader went on, placing a hand on Devon's shoulder. "Devon Phillips, a trustworthy young man who shows maturity beyond his years. He is currently serving as the Keeper of the Paintings until Earth reaches a stage suitable for our settlement here."
Eragon looked at Devon skeptically, and Devon rolled his eyes. He could practically see the Dragon Rider's thoughts cross his face – how can this young boy take the place of a great Jedi?
/He is the same age Vader was when Vader helped defeat the Trade Federation/ Saphira told Eragon as if reading his thoughts – and maybe she was.
Eragon sighed. "Very well. Devon, you understand what led to the destruction of the Star Wars universe, don't you?"
He nodded. "Some kind of Sith spell, I hear. Something Emperor Palpatine found in the Sith Archives."
"What else do you know about it?" asked Arya. "We need all the information you and your friends have – how the destruction was started, how it works. And we need this information quickly."
"Why?" asked Buzz. "What's going on?"
Eragon gave the boy a serious look before speaking the words that would alter Devon's life and perception of the universe forever.
"Because whatever it is… it's spreading."
Mom was not happy to hear that Devon wanted to spend all Memorial Day exploring the woods with Buzz and Tanya instead of going to the graveyard with Mom, Dad, and Britney to visit their grandparents' graves. But she humored him, stipulating that he had to be back at the house by five o'clock so he didn't miss dinner. Packing plenty of food in his backpack and ensuring he had his sketchpad in case of emergency, he took off into the forest, in the direction Eragon had indicated he take.
"Dang, I thought Mom would never let me go," Buzz grumbled, joining Devon. "And I couldn't tell her it was to save the universe… I had to promise her that I'd clean the bathroom for a month…"
"My dad didn't have any problem letting me go," Tanya replied. "And hey, I brought flashlights. I bet you boys didn't think to bring flashlights."
"Yoda said we didn't have to worry about lights in the cave," Devon replied.
They came across a stony hillside, where a dark mouth of a cave opened up as if to swallow them. Vader was already there, awaiting their presence, and he motioned for them to go in.
"Representatives from every affected world are present," he informed them. "This cavern is the only place large and secluded enough for them to meet in secret."
"Just how many worlds are affected?" asked Devon.
"A full tally has yet to come in, but I estimate it to be over fifty," Vader replied. "It was agreed that, if there was ever a crisis that affected two or more worlds, every world would send three representatives. That means you three will be representing Earth."
They followed a chilly, damp tunnel for about seventy-five feet before emerging in a torch-lit chamber large enough to house a football field. Creatures of all kinds occupied this room, and Devon suppressed the urge to gape as he attempted to identify as many as possible – Frodo, Gandalf, and Legalos; Mario, Bowser, and Yoshi; Captain Kirk, Spock, and Scottie; the Good Magician, Jenny Elf, and Stanley Steamer; Eragon, Saphira, and Arya; the grownup Harry Potter (who winked at him when he caught his eye) and his now-adult friends Ron and Hermione; Violet, Klaus, and Sunny; Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey; Calvin, Hobbes, and Susie… and was that the T-rex from "Jurassic Park?" And there were many, many more that he couldn't have recognized for the life of him.
"Ah, arrived they have," Yoda noted from his perch atop a large stalagmite. "Begin this meeting we can."
"Those are the Earth representatives?" demanded a white-uniformed man on a white horse with a stunned expression. "I thought for sure they would be kings or presidents…"
"Trustworthy they are, Herald Talamir," Yoda replied. "If think you do that an appropriate choice they are not, free to seek others you are, though have time to locate them I doubt we do."
The Herald subsided.
"Gathered we have because begun an emergency has," Yoda addressed. "Know all of you do that destroyed our world was by the treachery of the Emperor. At the time, thought we did that isolated to our galaxy the destruction would be, but found we have that spread beyond our world it has. Affected all your worlds have been, and affected many more will be if act we do not."
"What is it, anyhow?" asked Ron. "It's… bizarre."
"What's bizarre?" asked Devon.
"The menace to our worlds," Harry told him quietly. "Greater than war, greater than conquest, greater than even total apocalypse, for worlds have been known to regenerate from all of those. But this… this is something no world has been able to recover from."
"But what is it?" demanded Tanya.
"It's… Nothing," Harry replied.
"Of course it has to be something if it's threatening your worlds!" Tanya exclaimed.
"No, young lady," Vader told her. "That is the menace. Nothingness. Nonexistence. When a world simply… vanishes, leaving no trace of its passing. That is what overtook our world – a great nothingness that engulfed entire planets until nothing remained."
"But how can it spread to other worlds?" asked Devon, still trying to comprehend the menace of a deadly but nonexistent enemy.
"Rips there are between worlds," Yoda replied. "Holes, fissures, portals, cracks. On occasion, pass through these rips objects and people can, though risky these crossovers can be for the uninitiated. Shared portals with many worlds Star Wars did, and now, through these portals, leaking out and gaining new ground Nothing is."
Devon shook his head in wonder. He knew about crossovers, of course. Crossover movies, novels, and comic books were rarely done well, though, and most Internet crossovers were beyond his reach now that his parents had banned him from the computer for trying to illegally download "Revenge of the Sith." But it had never occurred to him that there was a plausible way for crossovers to occur in real life… or for the means of crossing between worlds to put every world in dire peril.
"What-are-we-gonna-do-what-are-we-gonna-do?" whimpered Donkey, cowering behind the hulking green form of his ogre friend. "We're gonna die! We're gonna DIIIIEEEEEE!"
"Donkey, two words!" snarled Shrek in exasperation. "Shut – up!"
Devon took a deep breath. "Can I see one of the leaks?" he asked.
Yoda hesitated, then nodded. "Go with you some guards should. Something else going on there is."
"What else is going on?" Devon asked warily.
"Something is seeking to further the destruction of Nothing," Vader replied. "And it has servants."
"Servants?" Buzz whimpered.
"Servants," Vader replied. "We believe that, when the Emperor invoked the destruction in the first place, he inadvertently released the thinking, learning force behind the Nothing, and that it has placed beings from all worlds it touches under its thrall. These creatures live for one purpose only – to eliminate all who stand in the way of halting Nothing's progress."
Devon shivered. "What kind of creatures?"
"Some look like stormtroopers," Luke told him. "Others look like Koopas, or dragons, or orcs, or dementors, or goblins. They come from a mix of worlds. And some… some come from Earth."
"Oh boy," Devon moaned. "Don't tell me the military got mind-controlled by the Nothing force."
Vader shook his head. "Mostly low-level scum – gang members, drug dealers. That is why you will be escorted to the rift. We can't afford to lose you, Devon."
Devon pointed to Tanya and Buzz. "They should stay here."
"I wanna go with you!" whined Tanya.
"Me too!" Buzz shouted.
"This isn't a game," Devon told them. "This is serious. Please just stay here. Okay?"
They frowned but complied.
"All right, I'm set," Devon told Vader. "Let's go."
It was… different. Different from anything he'd ever seen.
Devon had used the word "different" many times before, only to learn now that nothing was so strange that he hadn't seen something slightly like it before. This was unlike anything he could ever comprehend.
The rift hung about five feet in the air over a small bramble patch, looking for all the world like someone had taken a knife to a painting and carved out a great gash in the canvas – except in this case the canvas was the world itself. He could even see the hanging flag of cosmic material dangling from the tear, flapping slightly in the breeze. A thick glutinous substance was slowly flowing from the hole, some of it creeping along the ground, some of it floating through the air, and all of it gradually erasing all it came into contact with. The stuff that made up Nothing didn't seem to be white, or black, or gray, or any color at all. It was a non-color, if such thing existed.
Devon stepped forward cautiously, with Vader, Luke, Harry, Eragon, Saphira, Mario, and a velociraptor keeping a watchful eye on him. Whatever this was, it didn't look dangerous…
"Don't touch it, Devon," warned Luke.
"I'm not gonna," he replied. All the same, he picked up a stick and carefully extended it toward the sludge, wondering if he could collect a sample.
As soon as the stick touched the substance, however, it vanished. It wasn't burned up, swallowed, or eaten as if by acid. It had just… disappeared. As if it had never been.
"Whoa," he breathed, backing away.
"You see the threat it causes now?" asked Harry.
"How can we stop it?" Devon asked. "How do you stop… nothing?"
"That's what we were planning on discussing," Luke replied. "If you have any suggestions…"
As if Luke's query had sparked it, an incredible idea burst to life in his head. Could it be… could he possibly… Mr. Makatzo had intended it be used for preservation… but could it be used for other things?
He delved into his pack, yanked out the sketchpad, and started drawing. He had to test this theory out!
"What's he doing?" the velociraptor growled – well, he didn't use the exact English words, but the tone of his snarl got his point across quite well.
"I think he's got a plan," Harry said, awed.
Devon concentrated on his sketch. It was difficult drawing Nothing, but he wouldn't let the challenge get in his way. Carefully he drew in the river of non-colored glop and the rift in space, praying this would work. When he'd finally laid down his pencil, he looked up.
"It's gone," he breathed.
Those gathered in the meadow gave a great cheer. The rift and the Nothing had vanished. In their place was a strangely blank area, as if someone had erased the ground and portions of the trees from view. The damage was done, but at least Devon had halted it.
"Protect that sketch, Devon," Eragon ordered. "If it's destroyed, this starts all over."
"Maybe not," Devon said, another idea springing to life. He raised his pencil again, turned it around, and began erasing the sketch.
"Hey, stop that!" Eragon ordered. "You'll bring it back!"
"He knows what he's doing!" Luke retorted.
/I hope so/ Devon thought. He erased the sketch thoroughly, leaving no trace of a mark. Then he took the paper in both hands and tore it in half.
The rift didn't reappear. Neither did the Nothing. Devon stared, awestruck. The preservation technique wasn't merely a means of keeping people and objects preserved – it could be used for destruction as well.
"Great, but there's a drawback," Mario pointed out. "It gets rid of the Nothing all right, but it also destroys the portals between worlds."
"New rifts are opening all the time," Harry reminded him. "And besides, no great loss if the rifts leading to a nonexistent world are shut."
Luke and Vader exchanged a look of melancholy. Devon longed to be able to comfort them – after all, they had lost a home to this menace – but how did you comfort someone who had lost everything?
Something stirred in the brush behind them. Everyone whirled to face the menace.
"Well done, young Devon," a sinister, oily voice crooned. "Well done indeed."
A figure stepped out of the woods, a familiar figure that nonetheless looked oddly… altered. He looked to have once been a stormtrooper, but there was a peculiar aura of darkness about the man, a hollowness to his voice and form, as if he were nothing more than an illusion. Even as he pointed a blaster at those assigned to protect the boy, his gaze never left Devon. The boy shivered – it was as if he were looking into the eyes of a demon.
"So," the shadow-stormtrooper murmured, "you have discovered a way to halt Nothing." He gave a flat, emotionless laugh. "Noble of you to try, young one, but all your little paper tricks will do is buy you time. Nothing succeeds in the end. It always does."
Devon raised his pencil. "Don't make me draw you, shadow-jerk."
"Go on and destroy us," cooed another silky voice as an orcish creature emerged from the bramble. "Our deaths are inconsequential. All that matters is that our master prevails."
More and more of the eerie, unreal beings slipped out of the forest to surround them, all looking more shadow than substance, all under the thrall of some stranger power. Devon's bodyguards formed a protective circle around the boy, with lightsabers, swords, wands, claws, fangs, or other weapons drawn in his defense. Devon tried to see what was going on around Saphira's bulky body, but she kept moving to block his view.
"Turn the boy over to us," purred a dementor, looking even more frightening than usual. "The rest of you will be spared to live a little while longer."
/We die before you get your paws on him/ declared Saphira.
"Everything dies," hissed a dragonish beast. "People, kingdoms, dynasties, religions, causes, worlds… everything is mortal, everything eventually fades away. Only Nothing is permanent. Only extinction. In the end, Nothing prevails. You fight a useless battle. Why not submit to the inevitable?"
"Because even Nothing isn't permanent," Luke retorted. "Sooner or later, there is rebirth. Sooner or later, there is renewal. Nothing remains dead forever. If anyone fights a useless battle, it's the Nothing. It seeks total destruction – a goal that can never be achieved."
"Oh yes it can," laughed a young woman in black leather hip-hop clothing. "Even now Nothing is expanding. Even now it's forming new rifts. With every passing moment it gains new ground. It's only a matter of time before all worlds are annihilated!"
Devon wanted to scream in fright. What could they do? These Nothing-servants were right – sooner or later Nothing would claim many more worlds, just as it had consumed the Star Wars universe. He had to do something…
Furiously he concentrated. There had to be something else he could do with the power Mr. Makatzo had taught him. Preservation, destruction… though how did one destroy something that didn't exist? No, it did exist. Even Nothing had some form. But it was spreading so fast…
Go for the heart, he thought suddenly, with thoughts that were his own and yet strangely were also the thoughts of a greater power. Go for the center, the core. Destroy the heart of Nothing.
Something weird was happening in his head. It was as if he were seeing two scenes at once – the scene of the confrontation with the servants of Nothing… and a scene of a vast sea of blankness, an unbroken expanse of non-color pulsing outward from a dark fountain of Nothing…
Byss. The heart of it all. The site of the Emperor's fortress – and the source of the destruction that the mad tyrant had maliciously unleashed upon all creation. That was where Nothing was coming from.
Devon crouched, ducking out of the line of fire just as the shadow-creatures attacked. Battle raged all around him, snarls and screams and the thrum of lightsabers and the sizzle of spells roaring in his ears. With incredible speed he sketched, forming a star on the paper, then a planet. An ellipse indicated the path of the planet's rotation; a few orbs represented moons.
Eragon shouted a word in some otherworldly language, and the shadow-stormtrooper burst into flames. Ignoring the screams, Devon kept drawing. Continents, oceans, swirls of cloud… it was as if an unseen hand guided his own, producing the scene for him.
"Stop him!" howled the shadow-dragon. "Stop the boy!"
Devon threw the pencil down, yanked the drawing out of the sketchpad, and tore it savagely down the middle.
The Nothing-servants began to scream. The scene in Devon's head rippled with unspeakable turmoil, as Nothing parted to admit the sudden appearance of substance – a star and its sole life-bearing planet. The image flashed, revealing scenes of dozens of other worlds, scenes of Nothing halting in its tracks as the source of the river of destruction was staunched.
When the vision finally ended, he looked up. The servants of the destructive force were all dead, destroyed by those that had accompanied Devon. All of them were now staring at him, bewildered.
"What just happened?" demanded Luke.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Call the police and tell them to call off the search for us. Buzz and Tanya will be coming home soon; Boba Fett promised to drop them off in the park this Saturday at noon. But I won't be with them.
It's a long story, and I doubt you'll believe it, but here goes. Mr. Makatzo was really a Jedi Knight, and he and a bunch of the people of the Star Wars worlds came to Earth years ago when the Emperor used something terrible called Nothing to destroy their galaxy. But now there's hope of restoring their homes… and they need me to do it.
I'm sorry, but I have to help them. After all, what happens in one world affects another. I've learned that in the past few weeks since I left. All worlds are connected, and they share much more than anyone could ever guess. I wish I could send you pictures – I've spent the last month going to worlds to fix up what Nothing did to them, and they're so incredible. Maybe someday I'll have to stop back home and tell you everything I saw.
Oh, and don't freak out about the missing paintings. We destroyed them. Sorry, but it had to be done for the Star Wars world. Mr. Makatzo knew that it had to be done someday.
I love you, Mom and Dad. I wish I could tell you goodbye face-to-face. Don't worry about the store – go ahead and sell it if you want. I'm sure Mr. Makatzo wouldn't mind.
Folding up the tear-smudged paper, Devon handed it to Boba Fett. "Promise me you'll deliver that."
"I will," the hunter replied, nodding respectfully.
Tanya threw her arms around Devon, sobbing. "You're so brave," she choked. "Doing this for them… you're my new hero, Dev."
"Tanya," he complained gently, pulling away carefully.
Buzz held out a hand. "Nice to know you, Devon. I'll miss you."
"Yeah," Devon replied, shaking the hand. "I'll miss you too, Buzz. Take care, okay?"
Buzz and Tanya waved goodbye, the latter blowing her nose loudly on the hem of her shirt, and they followed Fett to the portal.
Vader stepped forward and clasped Devon's shoulder sympathetically, at a profound loss for words. The Dark Lord could identify with part of the boy's decision – the decision to leave his family behind to join a greater cause. But to leave all he knew and loved, to leave the universe that had been his home all his life to live in a galaxy totally alien to him… the sacrifice was one even most adults couldn't have made. The galaxy was deeply indebted to him, and his courage would always be remembered and honored.
Devon smiled up at Vader. He'd abandoned his Earth clothes for Jedi robes, and the beginnings of a Padawan braid dangled behind one ear. After all, he was a Force user now, albeit a young one.
Together they looked up into the blank skies hanging over Byss. The planet was in the same state it had been before the destruction – even those who had inhabited the planet at the time of its disappearance had been restored, and to them it was as if nothing had changed. This was a sign of hope for those who had survived the destruction before. It meant that there was some hope of regaining their lives.
Devon sighed, somewhat daunted by the task that lay before him. The books and movies on Earth had detailed only a hundred or so of the worlds of Star Wars – when in reality there were millions of planets, moons, and stars to be resurrected, to be drawn and the drawings destroyed to bring them back to life. It would take years to finish the task, if not decades. It might even take Devon's entire life… or longer.
Vader at last found the words. "Thank you, Devon. We are all indebted to you."
Devon leaned against his favorite character. "Did you feel like this when you learned you were the Chosen One, supposed to balance the Force and destroy the Sith?"
"I was very overwhelmed," Vader replied, wrapping his arms comfortingly around the boy. "However, you have one advantage over me – you were not predestined to restore our world. You chose the responsibility yourself. You are doing this willingly. And for that reason, you will serve in your capacity all the better."
Devon smiled a little. "I just hope I don't do something to screw it all up now."
Vader chuckled. "I have faith in you, Devon." He took him by the shoulders and steered him toward the abandoned fortress that was serving as temporary headquarters for the restoration mission. "Get some rest, young man. We have a long day tomorrow."
In the "Books to Look For" column of the June 2005 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, book reviewer Charles De Lint said "I suppose every writer has an end-of-the-world novel in them (even if it's only that period of fatigue two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the writing when one often seems to hit a creative wall and just wants to type 'And they all died. The end.')"
I suppose that "The Artist" is my end-of-the-world story (not counting the multiple times I've experienced the nearly-apocalyptic writer's block detailed above). It's not my first story – it's my first to be published on FFN, but my fourth written story – but it's certainly the one closest to my heart. When I was a child, I would often wonder if all the characters from my favorite books and movies did, in fact, exist somewhere, and I suppose this story stems from that childhood fantasy.
I never intended for "The Artist" to be so bleak. When I received the inspiration for this story from a story titled "The Caldwurm," which told about a wizard who preserved such creatures as dragons and mermaids in paintings to survive the plague of technology and human advancement, I intended the story to be somewhat lighthearted. But the fic took its own course, and in the end, the finished product was a sadder but more mature version of what I had intended.
I also never intended for "The Artist" to actually have a message behind the fantastic elements, but I think it touches nicely on a number of issues – the acceptance of responsibility, the fragility of the world around us, the connection that exists between all things, and the remarkable ability of children to understand what goes right over most adults' heads.
Will Devon the Artist eventually accomplish his mission? I sure hope so. Will I detail his quest in a future chapter? I can't say. But if the answer is yes, you know right where to find it.