The eyes of all assembled Writers met Oolian's eyes, registering her confusion, before reconnecting with their screens. Who had written her path here? Who among them betrayed them by giving a puppet the knowledge to enter their circle? Fingers tapped frantically to retrace the source of this subplot, the course of events that allowed such an egregious violation of the secrecy of this Writer's Guild.
Hesteen, eldest of the Writers, didn't waste an ounce of his tapping energy on searching. He merely observed the circle of bent heads before him. Only Resteel's head was still up, his eyes on Oolian, transfixed with a glaze that anyone would acknowledge as love. Red bars flashed their warnings above each Writer's screen. "Dear Gods!" Hesteen stood in anger. "Resteel, speak of this. You have written yourself into your story by bringing your reader here. You know the outcome. Your story must end. You and this puppet must stand dead to us."
"Yes, without Oolian, life is death. I understand what I have written." He stood and the tessellating tiles below him morphed silently until he stood before her. "In this moment, I live."
Oolian's eyes dilated further as she pulled the details of Resteel's image into her mind. She continued to gather information about her Writer as she looked at him. Touching him on his shoulder she said, "You are the path of my search."
"No!" Hesteen pounded so hard on his screen that the entire surface changed from white to red. "Death is now the only path for you." Jer, the newest writer, catching Hesteen's nod in his direction, understood the directive and tapped the change from Writer to puppet for Resteel. Resteel felt his new role come over his entire being with a wash of acceptance. In robotic rigidity, he pushed Oolian's hand off his shoulder before tearing off the silver emblem that marked him as a Writer. Neurons broke their connection. Puppet, he did not remember what had brought him to stand before this beautiful woman whose eyes of compassion were so compelling.
Dinenea took over the tapping that controlled Oolian. Oolian's eyes fell away from the Writer that she had been written to love. Her hands reached to cover her face as terror mixed with blood flowing from her eyes. Her throat gasped only one more breath before she slumped to the tiles that instantly shifted her along until a doorway opened and her body slid from view.
Resteel felt nothing as he watched her. He stood waiting while Jer decided what to do with him.
"Think not of his past alliance with us. He is but a puppet. Write his death," ordered Hesteen as he spread his fingers wide then touched his fingertips together, the sign of the Five Connecting Bars between Writers and their puppets.
Jer tapped and Resteel's body doubled over as his heart stopped. The cold tile was misted by the steam of his breath before it swept his body away. A slight odor of burning flesh made a few Writers pinch their noses as they went back to the paths their puppets should walk. Their stories must be told. The Cycle of Five must be honored. Jer, not feeling as composed as he tried to appear, looked to the top of his screen for reassurance. Five Connecting Bars, each a different color, endlessly scrolled their laws above his screen:
(blue) BAR ONE: Writers give life or death to worlds
(green) BAR TWO: worlds give life to or death to characters
(yellow) BAR THREE: characters give life or death to stories
(orange) BAR FOUR: stories give life or death to readers
(red) BAR FIVE: readers give life or death to Writers
Yes, all Five Bars glowed strong again around the circle of Writers. Jer sighed and bent his head. Where had he left his latest puppet? His fingers reached out to his screen, tapping me back on my path.
I looked back at my husband who was trying to move our heavy dresser. "What were you saying? Sorry. I guess I zoned out for a minute."
His reply was almost inaudible as he tapped his fingers on the wood, "You are bar none the most exasperating woman."
Dinenea left him standing there for a moment to send a playful smile to Jer across the circle, but he was too focused on his work to notice. His fingers tapped and so I asked again, "What were you saying?"