A/N/D: 'The Neverending Story' doesn't belong to me. I haven't watched it in several years, actually, so I must apologize for inaccuracies and such. I also don't remember much from the sequels, so elements from the sequels are only briefly mentioned. This story will, however, keep in mind the animated series on HBO Family. Dunno why, I just like it. It's also an excuse to get Bastian and the Childlike Empress together...which I figure has been done already, but so what? I don't read Neverending Story fics, to be honest. I just felt like writing one. And while there *might* be a NC-17-rated scene later in the story, there's nothing rated NC-17 in this chapter, despite what you may think from reading the title ^_^
For Mature Readers Only
A Neverending Story...story It was a
time of great evil. A time of war and
pestilence. It was a time of darkness
and despair. Yet the sun still shone
upon the people whose lives were involved so deeply with all of it raging
around them that they had begun to close their eyes to the world. The darkness was inside their hearts. The despair had become their breath. The war was with each other. And the evil was that no one cared. In that
time, there was a hero. But he was not
known as a hero, for no one knew what he had done. Not one cared, and not one had been changed by his efforts,
except the ones who had so desperately called upon him to save their
world. The hero remained in ruin,
himself, unchanged by his deeds. He
felt as though all were lost…
It was a time of great evil. A time of war and pestilence. It was a time of darkness and despair. Yet the sun still shone upon the people whose lives were involved so deeply with all of it raging around them that they had begun to close their eyes to the world. The darkness was inside their hearts. The despair had become their breath. The war was with each other. And the evil was that no one cared.
In that time, there was a hero. But he was not known as a hero, for no one knew what he had done. Not one cared, and not one had been changed by his efforts, except the ones who had so desperately called upon him to save their world. The hero remained in ruin, himself, unchanged by his deeds. He felt as though all were lost…
Bastian sighed, laying his pen down with a 'clink' on his desk, the dark circles under his eyes making them seem even more hollow and dark in the dim light of his lamp. Night was usually his best time to write, but tonight his mind was on other things. He read the words that he had just written, having wanted to start a new novel, and realized that it was the start of his own story. An autobiography.
He snorted softly, reading the word, 'hero'. "I'm no hero," he said to himself, suddenly wanting to crumple the piece of paper and toss it away. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. He wanted, instead, to lay his head down on the desk and cry. Unfortunately, all emotion seemed beyond him, having sobbed for countless hours in the last week. His eyes felt dry and stinging, as though the floodgates were about to be opened, but no tears would fall, not anymore.
He was useless. Or at least, he felt useless. His life was nothing like he'd imagined it to be when he was a child, so full of dreams and the vision of a brighter future. After all, he was the boy who had once saved the dreams and wishes of everyone on the planet, wasn't he? He restored memories to the people of Fantasia. He even rode a dragon. Not many children could have said that. He had felt special. Wanted. Heroic!
But he no longer felt heroic. It had been years since he'd picked up the Neverending Story and found his way back into that land of dreams, ready to conquer whatever obstacle came his way. He was no longer a boy in any respects. He now realized why adults lost their hopes and forgot their dreams. Reality was simply too hard to bear at times. Even when he had an escape merely a foot away from him, safely tucked in between his tattered, dog-eared copy of "The Lord of the Rings" and a hardback limited edition copy of Stephen King's "The Stand". The book blended in so nicely that he had forgotten it was there. Admittedly, he had forgotten about Fantasia completely, sometimes, only to be reminded of it at the most inopportune times.
It was amazing how often he was reminded of it, actually, now that he thought about it. He thought of the time that the little blond-haired girl with the dark green eyes had looked up at him in the grocery store and smiled at him with such an angelic smile, it had reminded him so sharply of the Childlike Empress that he'd had to blink…had there been tears in his eyes? And the time that he'd been absently flipping through his American History book during class and come across the picture of a handsome, dark-skinned warrior with shoulder-length black hair, sitting astride a beautiful white stallion. Bastian had, at the time, wondered what Atraiu was up to, and briefly pondered getting out the book to find out for himself.
But something had stopped him. Something that he still wasn't sure of…something that perhaps had something to do with the fact that his self-esteem had not increased, as it had after each of his adventures, but decreased with each realization that his life was going nowhere. His father was dying from cancer. His step-mother and step-sister were constantly at odds with Bastian about anything and everything, as though he was suddenly not good enough. His grades at college were slipping, and it was his fourth year. He was an aspiring fantasy writer, but his thoughts were too distracted to formulate any plots worth expanding on. His social life was, to say the least, non-existent. Sometimes he wondered if he still had on the Invisibility Belt.
On second thought, perhaps he was reminded of Fantasia when he most needed to be.
Which made him feel extremely guilty. Just as he sat there at his desk, thinking about a way to escape from his life, his father's life was drifting away at the hospital. Soon, Bastian would have one less person who truly understood him and accepted him the way he was. Shy, skinny, anti-social Bastian would be forced to remain with his loud, opinionated, popular sister and her doting mother. While Bastian never truly disliked either of them, he did somehow dislike the fact that Anna, his step-sister, sometimes did try very hard to impress him or at least bore him with her endless prattle about her endless problems at school, with her friends, or recent break-ups.
Bastian often withdrew into the world of writing to escape from the world around him, but apparently even that did little good anymore, as he found himself writing about…himself.
Evidently, a lack of self-esteem didn't stop one from dwelling on his own life.
Even college wasn't the heaven that he'd dreamed it would be. He smiled a little at the mention of dreams in his fleeting thoughts, but that thought was ruefully replaced by a grimace as he remembered that he had an Astronomy exam the next morning. He glanced at the clock. 3:00 am. Lovely, he thought. Just lovely. He had exactly five hours to study and perhaps get some sleep.
Two hours later, just as he was drifting off to sleep, thinking about how nice it would be to see the stars from the Ivory Tower, he thought he heard a soft voice whispering faintly in the distance. Groggily, he blinked and looked around. Nothing.
Perhaps on instinct, he looked over at the Book. It was glowing. Somehow that didn't surprise him, and in his exhausted state he briefly wished that it would stop and let him rest. He couldn't go now, he had an exam. No…he couldn't go. He had more important things to do…
But the voice, that soft voice that seemed to reach around him and caress the back of his head like a gentle massage, also seemed to penetrate his tired and fogged mind. He could barely make out the words…bits and pieces floating as if in a fragmented sentence.
"No," he mumbled, blinking his half-closed eyes, glaring at the Book as he tried desperately to keep his head up. "No…I can't go…"
"Please…need you…help us…"
"Can't help anymore," he mumbled, matching the garbled words with his own. He sleepily noted that this would be funny if he weren't so tired…having an argument with a book. Almost like old man Coreander, he thought, and a smile came to his lips.
But also, in the back of his mind, he knew that the Empress was calling to him, something she never did unless he was needed. She hadn't called for him in at least ten years…what could she possibly need now? Bastian sneered without realizing it, and briefly thought that if she hadn't needed him before, she wouldn't need him now. What could he, an adult, do for a land so clearly reserved for the innocence and blind faith of children? Did he even believe in Fantasia anymore?
But he could never ignore her voice. Not now, not ever, no matter how much he might deny it. And he could not ignore the note of desperation in her voice, even as faint as it was. Of course, all of this could be a dream, but if it were, surely he would not be afraid of going over and getting the book to make sure that she wasn't calling to him. Yawning, with much reluctance, he stood shakily to his feet and took only a few steps to the bookcase. He gingerly pulled the book out of its resting place and held it in his hands for a moment as an oddly mixed feeling of fear, euphoria, and even a sense of peace swept over him.
But much more was the feeling that he'd missed out on so much, and that it would take him a long time to catch up.
Suddenly shaking even more than before, he sat back down at his desk and, taking a deep breath, opened the book to exactly the right spot. Of course, the words were magically writing themselves on the half-blank page, and Bastian read with as much clarity as he could muster while still feeling exhausted and confused.
Reading aloud, he spoke, "The empress, not quite sure what to do, called upon the Child once more to help Fantasia in its dilemma. But what she did not know, or perhaps did not realize, was that the Child was no longer…"
He frowned, and yawned again, unable to read more as he laid his head down on the book. He sighed in frustration. "What do they mean, 'I'm no longer'?"
And he fell asleep.
Hands. Soft, gentle hands were touching his face, feeling much like a caress. Fingers rubbed in circles on his forehead, which was now pounding in a full-blown headache. He felt like he'd hit his head on a rock, and vaguely registered in his pain-filled mind that he was, in fact, lying on the ground. The rest of his body felt it, too…as though he'd been lying there for awhile. Some part of his mind also told him that he wasn't supposed to be lying on the ground; hadn't he fallen asleep at his desk?
Sighing, he refused to open his eyes, willing whoever was rubbing his aching head would continue, knowing that if he opened his eyes, he or she would stop. However, his surroundings were drilling more and more into his awareness, or lack thereof, and he began to notice a funny smell, almost like the chemistry lab at school, the air faintly smelling of medicines and chemicals. Odd…
And then, he heard a voice whisper, "Do you think he's awake?"
"Of course not. He's got a dreadful fever. Let him sleep!" another voice hissed. Bastian couldn't quite place those voices, and without knowing it, his eyebrows furrowed into a frown.
"Ah, look, he moved!" the first voice, genuinely female, whispered in an excited frenzy.
"Quiet, wench! It'll be best if I give him this shot while he's asleep…"
Bastian's eyes shot open, shocking his two observers into high-pitched squeals as they backed away. He winced, and sat up, trying not to faint as his vision swam. Once his eyes became focused, he could make out the two figures huddling together, staring at him in fear bordering on awe. They both were about a foot tall, and looked like two little old, ugly elves with pointy ears and graying white hair.
"Who are you?" Bastian asked through gritted teeth. "And where am I?"
"My dear young man, you don't know where you are?" the little man asked, and the two of them shared a worried glance. "You're…Bastian, aren't you? The…uh…Child?"
Bastian's eyes widened. "You mean…she brought me here? I'm back?"
The woman rolled her eyes as though he'd asked a particularly stupid question. "Of course you're back. We would have thought you'd at least recognize us." They shared another worried glance. "You…haven't forgotten us, have you?"
Bastian felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps he had forgotten more about Fantasia than he realized. "I'm sorry."
Now the little old man looked to be on the verge of tears. After a moment, he broke out into a loud wail. "He's forgotten us!" he cried, throwing his arms around his wife and sobbing. She patted him sympathetically, and rather looked like she was about to cry, as well.
"Now, now, I'm sure he'll remember shortly. It has been awhile since he's been here…"
But Bastian somehow felt a little indignant. "Wait a minute. I didn't come back on my own. I want to know why the Empress brought me here."
The two of them looked thoroughly surprised at him, and neither of them could speak for a moment. Finally the little man looked at his wife and said, "Well, at least he remembers the Empress..." She nodded, and the two of them resumed staring up at him, as though they had nothing else to say. Bastian didn't know how much more he could take of this.
And then, from behind him, a deep gentle voice broke the silence. "I would have thought you'd be happy to be back, Bastian."
The young man froze. He would know that voice anywhere, even if his memory were lost forever. Nothing on the face of the earth or in Fantasia could make him forget the voice of a luck dragon…
Whirling around, Bastian's confused frown broke into a wide grin as Falcor winked at him, a grin also on his fuzzy face. "Falcor!!" Bastian exclaimed, and rushed towards the luck dragon at full speed. Falcor beamed as Bastian embraced him around the neck; burying his face into pearly white scales as soft as feathers. If Falcor could have embraced Bastian, he would have. His ear twitched.
Bastian grinned and reached up to scratch the itching ear, winning a low, pleased groan from Falcor. "It's good to see you, my friend."
"It's good to see you," Falcor replied, his eyes shining with ages-old wisdom. "But disappointing, I must admit, that you don't seem to be happy to be here. Tell me, Bastian…why did you stay away so long?"
Bastian again buried his face into Falcor's soft scales, unable to look the luck dragon in the eyes. "I…I don't know…" he whispered. Suddenly, he was speaking in a torrent of words, having wanted for so long to explain to them why he never returned. "I grew up, Falcor. I'm no longer a child. I have responsibilities. I'm going to school still, in college you know. One day I'll have to get a job, get married, start a family of my own. My father…he needs me. There's nothing…nothing I can do for this world anymore…"
Falcor's eyes closed, as though he were in pain. "Indeed, Bastian, we all knew you would grow up one day," he said gently. "We even suspected that one day you would forget us without the help of a memory-stealer or any such magical thing…but on your own. It happens to adults as they grow older. Life consumes them, takes over, and they can think of nothing else. No time for fantasies and dreams."
Bastian mumbled without thinking, "None of my dreams came true…" He immediately regretted it, but Falcor merely smiled his same wise smile.
"It does seem that way, sometimes. Perhaps that is one reason the Empress chose to bring you back."
"I don't see how it will change my life when I return."
Falcor's smile never faltered, his warm brown eyes somehow comforting as he replied, "Your life may not change, but you can."
Bastian was silent, wondering to himself how Falcor knew him so well. The luck dragon had always been like that; always knowing the right thing to do and say. He was a genuine comfort, despite the turmoil within Bastian at the moment. The young man knew that he had been called for a more urgent reason than just a soul-searching psychotherapy session with the Empress. He had always been a case and would always be a case, no matter how hard she tried to help him. No, he had been called to Fantasia, pulled from his room and his seat at his desk to once again deliver Fantasia from some great evil.
Trying to pull his wits together, he braved another smile and asked, "So what is the problem now, Falcor? Why did she call me here? And to this place, of all places? Why not take me directly to the Ivory Tower?"
Falcor chuckled. "One question at a time, Bastian. One question at a time. To answer the first question, that is for the Oracle to explain to you. That, of course, answers your other questions."
Bastian gulped. "The…the Oracle? Surely not…"
"Indeed. The Empress sent you here because the Oracle herself requested you. She wishes to speak to you directly, to explain what you must do. For it is only She that truly understands the nature of our current crisis. Even I, myself, do not understand it…"
Bastian felt coldness settle in the pit of his stomach. "What is happening, Falcor?"
The luck dragon sighed tiredly, and Bastian suddenly realized with no small amount of worry that Falcor looked rather…aged.
"We're growing old, Bastian," Falcor replied. "All of us. It is not the same as before. We were immortal, Bastian. But now we…are not."
Bastian was confused. "What do you mean? Does no one die here?"
"Never. We grow old, yes, but it is not the same. We never feel our age. We are always young here, even the ones who look old." Falcor's gaze settled on the two little people, who had long forgotten Bastian and were now arguing over spilled potions, it seemed. Falcor smiled again, and continued. "It's also affecting the Empress…"
Bastian felt terror rise into his chest. "She's not…"
"No, she is not dying. But she is not…what she used to be…"
Falcor's voice trailed off, and as realization dawned, Bastian knew exactly what Falcor meant. And as if he couldn't surprise Falcor even more with his attitude, his face broke out into a grin.
End of chapter 1. Reviews welcome.