"Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction"
It was a surprisingly nice Tuesday for someone to commit a bank robbery.
The sun was shining, partially blocked by a few clouds lazily drifting past, letting a pleasant amount of dulled shade appear around the equally spaced trees on the sidewalk. The temperature was caught somewhere between the "just wear a t-shirt" and the "add a light, fashionable jacket" zones. On 51st Street, the only thing that broke up the peaceful scene were the shouts of several men with machine guns ordering men around inside the local bank.
Four men in pig masks were, at the moment, holding up the bank, three forcing the tellers to dump money into several large gym bags while a fourth stood guard towards the front of the door, making sure that no one entered or exited the building, as well as making sure that the temporary hostages didn't try to do something stupid. His back was to a wall, preventing him from seeing the ominous shadows that began to gather a few feet behind him.
As he was about to tell the rest of the guys to hurry up, he felt…something…latch on to his right leg and wrap around it. All he could do was give a brief shout before he was yanked into the darkness.
The other three men were startled by the scream, and confused as to where their partner had gone. When one of them finally pointed out the strange amount of darkness coming from a wall, they finally realized how much trouble they were about to be in.
From the darkness, something that could only be described as some strange and horrible black fire appeared. A human body, covered entirely by the shadows and darkness emerged, slowly began to appear, slightly hunched over, watching all three men with icy blue eyes.
Miss Shadow had just arrived to stop them. All three of them paused, knowing full well the rumors that surrounded her.
She smiled widely at them and said, in a childish, inquisitive voice, "Hi, guys! Whatcha doing?"
They all responded by opening fire on her.
The shadow woman ducked out of the way, laughing maniacally as she ran about. She took care to make sure no civilians got in the way, but still trying to land an attack in on one of them. Shadow took quick possession of the darkness underneath a small table in front of her and focusing on it, lifting it up like a giant fist right towards one of the gunmen. He went flying, with his entire body landing hard against a wall and knocking him senseless.
The other two decided to just cut their losses, grab whatever bags they could carry, and run for the getaway car. After clumsily trying to handle heavy bags of money in both hands, along with their guns, they burst out the front door and ran straight towards their get-away van. Miss Shadow only shook her head at their antics and went to check on the third gunman.
As the other two scrambled into the van, pulling off their masks in order to see better, they seemed to not notice the man in a red jumpsuit who had just flown down across the street from them. Both were just too distracted trying to make sure that neither of them had forgotten the keys. When they finally located them and started the car, the quickly began to pull out of their space, only to have the fan be flipped on its back by a sudden, unexplainable, and powerful gust of wind.
They had barely recovered when the driver turned, saw the red-suited man, and gave a resigned, exasperated sigh. The Element wasn't even based in Chicago! What was he doing here?
Miss Shadow suddenly popped into view, bending down so that she could look at the driver face-to-face. "Aw, why'd you have to run away?" she asked, continuing that slightly unstable sounding voice. "I thought we were having a lotta fun, but then you guys just up and left! That was really rude of you! But don't worry, I know some really nice people called "The Police" might want to meet you!"
"You're welcome, by the way," said The Element.
Miss Shadow looked at him and nodded, "Of course." She also walked up to him and muttered, "We need to talk. Up on that roof over there."
She immediately dissolved into the ground. The Element, after seeing the incoming ambulance and police cars, headed up to join her. As he landed, he could see that Jennifer Enburg was no longer masking herself as Miss Shadow, but instead simply standing there, looking at him very crossly.
"Something wrong, Jen?"
"Damn right, something's wrong. What the hell are you doing in Chicago?"
"Well…you see…I just happened to be on vacation, and travelling, and-"
"Come on, Jack. We both know you suck at lying, so either stop wasting my time and head back home or start being honest."
Jack paused, awkwardly trying to explain himself. "Well, it's just…I wanted to check up on you, and then I noticed the robbery going on, and I thought-"
"Ah, that explains it! You've always been bad at thinking before you do stuff." Jennifer walked up to him, uncomfortably close and intruding on his personal space. "What's going on, Jack?"
"Alright, alright." Jack backed up, trying to get some breathing room. He didn't want to be too close, otherwise she might get too angry and start swinging. "People back in Titan have just been getting worried about you, and they asked me to just come up and-"
"I've already told them three months ago, I'm clean now. Haven't fallen off the wagon. Can you guys not just leave me alone?"
"We HAVE left you alone," pleaded Jack. "No one's heard a single word from you in three months. All we see are the occasional news items about you. You've nearly dropped off of the radar! Your friends are worried about you! I just wanted to come on up and see how you were doing, as a friend! Stop being so irrational!"
Jennifer stayed silent for a small amount of time, sighed, and sat down. "I'm sorry, Jack," she said. "It's just…stuff's been hard. I mean, James has been supportive and all, but just quitting cold turkey takes a lot, ok? I've just been a bit more on edge."
"Yeah, I can see," replied Jack. He had only seen her this angry with him after….yeah, he had almost never seen her this angry. "Listen, Jen, I think I know what you might need."
"Yeah?" she asked sarcastically. "What do you have in mind?"
"First, A GREAT BIG FRIEND HUG!" Before Jennifer could reply, she was swept up into a bear hug. Jennifer struggled a bit, trying to break loose. She had forgotten how much he had done that. "And then, we need to get you on a vacation. Take a break! You're being way, way too hard on yourself, a break from all this will be just the thing you need!"
Jennifer only continued struggling. "Let…me…go…..can't….breathe…." Once she was finally free, she reluctantly replied, "Alright, alright. I guess I could use a break from….well, all this. What exactly did you have in mind?"
"If I might interrupt," said someone, "I think I've got a great idea."
Jennifer and Jack both jumped slightly, immediately going into stances prepared for a fight. The man had a dark and tanned skin complexion, dreadlocks, and was wearing overalls and carrying a large walking stick. He looked at the two of them with a polite smile, just observing both of them. "Sorry if I was interrupting a moment," he told them.
"Who are you?" asked Jack.
"How the hell did you get up here?" questioned Jennifer.
The man looked a bit puzzled by their questions. "Well, I walked up here. Took the stairs."
"The stairs are right behind me," replied Jennifer. "There's no way you could have gotten up here without us noticing. Even….The Element here would have noticed you!"
"Well, you can be unobservant sometimes. Remember when you forgot about that fourth dog and-"
"Alright! Alright! Anyway, yeah, what she said!"
The man didn't seem to have much to say to that. "Listen, just give us a minute to explain, and we'll tell you both-"
" 'Us'? What do you mean by 'us'?" Jennifer looked around and saw, to her surprise, a woman standing right behind them, next to the door leading to the stairs. She gave off the impression of someone with high class, with her long black hair and a formal white and black dress. She was also unusually tall, peering down at both Jennifer and Jack as if studying them through a magnifying glass.
"I hope my brother hasn't been TOO obnoxious. Forgive me, allow me to introduce myself. I am Lady Ink, and you have already met my brother, Mudd." Lady Ink gave a short, courteous bow. "We only wish to talk with you two for a short while, and then we'll be on our way."
Jennifer didn't like this at all. They were surprised and cornered by two people who could seemingly materialize out of thin air. They could both easily identify her, as well as possibly figure out who Jack really was. This was a major breach of security if either of them did anything, and she wasn't sure what to do.
Jack, on the other hand, simply relaxed, looked around, and asked, "What do you want to talk about?"
"We happened to see how you dealt with those thieves and thought you two might help us with something," replied Lady Ink. "You see, my brother and I maintain The Book of Stories. It contains every story that has been, is being, and potentially will be, told."
"But there's a problem," interrupted Mudd. "The Book recently disappeared."
"And you think it was stolen?" asked Jack.
"No…..no, that would be simple. The truth….the truth is…..well…..we have no idea what happened to it. It…vanished."
Jennifer watched Lady Ink very carefully as she explained how, one day, The Book had suddenly disappeared from her protection. She seemed to show no emotion, with only the faintest sense of embarrassment that this sort of thing could happen.
"In short," summarized Mudd, "we just need you two to go into The Book, and then we-"
"Ok, ok, wait, stop." Jennifer held up a hand trying to collect her thoughts. "You want us to go INTO this book? How?"
Mudd simply smiled and pulled two ordinary keys from his pocket. He threw one to both of them, saying "Use these on any door. They'll get you inside the book."
"And once you're in there," continued Lady Ink, "we need you to maintain the stories within it. Prevent their destruction and assimilation while we locate The Book and fix it from there."
"Assimilated?" asked Jack.
"Several stories are either disappearing entirely or just merging with one another. We don't…exactly know why, but should this occur, eventually all of the stories would become only one. By entering the book and maintaining their original identity, we will have more time to locate the book itself."
Once Lady Ink was finished, she waited for a response. Jack gave one, with an enthusiastic, "Alright, sure! We'll help!"
"Jack!" muttered Jennifer.
"Come on, Jen," he whispered back. "I was just saying that you needed a break, a change of scene. This could be just the thing. Besides, how hard could this thing be?"
"Awesome!" said Mudd, clasping his arms over Jack and Jennifer's shoulders and pulling all three of them together into a make-shift group hug. "Well, this is great! By the way, we've got some other people helping out, so just wanted to let you know so you didn't get too worried." He let go of the uncomfortable hug and walked over to the edge of the building. "See you guys later!" And then he hopped down, vaulting over the small barrier.
"That is my brother for you," said Lady Ink, after they had gone over and saw Mudd walking down the alley as if nothing had happened. "Once again, thank you for your help. Now could you direct me to the local library? I need to get back to work on finding The Book."
At a small but very well-furnished hotel room, the shadows and darkness of the room came together at a wall, creating an oval. Through it ran Jack, still in his "The Element" costume and covering his eyes, while Jennifer, once again covered up as Miss Shadow, apologizing profusely.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! You know how much trouble I have shadow-porting to places I've never been! It was an accident, I'm sorry!"
"My eyes, my eyes, my God, I CANNOT UNSEE THAT!" shouted Jack. "I thought I told you it was room 216!"
"You did! I'm sorry! It's not like it was my fault the room we ended up in first had-"
"NO! Please, just….no. I need to change into regular clothes and get OUT of this thing. Let's just forget that that had ever happened." As he began to strip down to his underwear, pulling out his suitcase to put normal clothes back on, Jennifer turned around, slightly embarrassed about the whole situation. She needed to bring up something else that would get both their minds off of her portal accident.
"So, uh, you seemed…very open to agreeing to help them, earlier," she finally said.
"Well, yeah. Why wouldn't we help them? They needed our help, and we couldn't just say no."
"But there's so much they didn't tell us! They didn't tell us why this book was self-destructing, or who else we might meet inside it! We don't even know if they were telling the truth!"
"Jen, you really need to work on your trust issues, you know that?"
"And you need to start asking more questions! Like with that Ink lady, for example. She might be hiding something. She might actually know why all of this is happening!"
"Jen, you are being paranoid. Look, can't you just be a little bit more trusting of people?" Jack had finished putting on street clothes and had packed new ones, as well as his costume, inside a backpack. "Come on," he said, pulling out his key, "let's just finish this up. It can't take that long, can it?"
Jennifer tried to make some sort of protest, but decided, this time, to remain quiet. "All right, fine," she said. "Go right ahead."
They walked up to the door to the hallway. Jack entered his key, opened the door, and they both walked through into the unknown.