It's always the same here. It's always dark and it's always beautiful, the way that the deep blueness of space is just so sparked by the millions of stars that it's not so much brightened, more like accented. I'm floating gently home along this path here after a meeting I've had with my friend, ★✚$&. I know that's hard to pronounce, but he doesn't really have a different name.
Looking down below, I could see the Star Road if I squint my eyes just right. It's a little obscured because of some tricks it plays with the light, but I can still see it. Ever since it was broken apart some years ago, it's been harder to operate. It was a lot easier to make use of it when it was whole, but now that it's seven pieces we've tried to stick back together, it's been rough going.
I've never actually been on Star Road; it's not a place where we're supposed to go. Star Road kind of takes care of itself; wishes ascend there when they're strong enough to express, the cosmic spiritual energies turn it into a shooting star, and it falls down. No one is allowed to interfere with it; it's an incredibly delicate operation.
From where I watch, it can barely be seen; a star-shaped dark form against the blue emptiness. Little dots of pure white light constantly appear floating over the top of it and then zip away in all different directions, to all different worlds.
So it's still working alright, but I can notice some irregularities with it. The occasional wish fizzles out or doesn't get thrown at the speed it should and just falls down, like it tripped. Not every wish is granted now, sometimes it's granted the wrong way, or it goes to the wrong person. This doesn't happen too often and we're getting by pretty well, but it has made things harder.
Looking at the broken-up Road, I remember the day it shattered. The Star Road has many enemies, one being Smithy. Tensions between us and him were running hot, but we didn't expect him to do anything. Then, one ordinary day, this enormous sword plunged through our realm! Everyone was panicked as the sword continued to fall, causing intense damage, laughing evilly as it went, but none so much as when he hit the Star Road. It rests at the bottom of our realm, where it delivers wishes for many different worlds.
I was there when the sword went through. I looked on, horrified, stunned in disbelief that anything could break the Star Road. But there it was. With a terrifying crunch, the Road was fractured. That one whole, single, heavenly fixture, so essential to many of the good things in this universe... it was destroyed right before my eyes.
It was back now, I guess, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't the same. When the pieces of the Road first fell, they were all this pale gold colour, but when I went down to look for them, they were all different colours; everything from blue to red to green. Only the last piece, the central piece, was still the same colour. I'm not sure why that happened, but when they broke and fell to all different places around the world, they forgot that they were all one thing. They became their own things, and now that they were all mended again, they're like seven things trying their best to work together, and that can never work as well as one entity.
I don't know, maybe they were... disagreeing? Did each one have their own... personality?
Not best to think about these things, I told myself. That was years ago, and it was business as usual. I went the rest of the way home.
"Home" might be a misnomer in this case; we all live floating up in the void of space and don't really have buildings or houses, but there are particular small areas that we stay at the most. I'm not sure if that makes it a "home" or not, but I do keep many of my keepsakes there.
Things don't usually go wrong with the Star Road itself, but every so often, wishes get messed up in some of the worlds we go to. They can usually be taken care of from up here, but every so often, it requires the hands-on touch. I tend to volunteer for those kinds of missions; I like having a body.
This has happened a couple of times before, and for every one, I've kept a little memento of it. I picked up one of them. It was the oldest one I had.
It was a model of an old tree with bright blue leaves and gold flowers. I possessed a dead tree in a very primitive world where no one knew that they could ask for wishes. I couldn't move, but it felt really good to be breathing air and feeling the sun. I was able to make the old tree grow blue leaves and bright gold blooms, which was a big hit. I didn't bother telling them my name, they just knew me as the "Sky Tree". These people would come to see this talking tree telling them about stars and wishes and all other sorts of things. They worshipped me as a god for a while, I think, though I kept trying to tell them that I served a higher authority. Eventually, they started making wishes, and the tree was consecrated as the local Star Hill. Feeling very good about this, I went home.
Setting that down, the next memento I had was a little stuffed cat with black and white spots. Reminiscing about this one, I remembered it being pretty exciting, if a bit sad. In one particular world, the only wishes were coming from one person. Pretty confused by this, I eventually found out it was a small boy who had a stuffed cat doll. Deciding to get to the bottom of this, I borrowed the form of the cat. I gotta say, when he saw me talk and move around, I've never seen anyone both shocked and thrilled at the same time.
I found out that the boy's name was Toby. I had told him my real name, !, but he called me by the doll's name, "Spots". Toby was a slight lad, but I could feel a particular strength and gusto in him that rebelled against his size; I like that. Apparently the boy was wishing so hard and so long for just one thing that it backed up all the other wishes, so I gathered the best way to solve the problem was to help him.
His wish was to go to a place at the end of his world called the Charmed Fields, where local legend had it you could learn magic. He also heard that his mother was there, so all the better. So, fired up as we were, we went on an adventure! Toby and Spots, brave explorers!
I won't kid you, the journey was long and strange. I tried my best to keep up Toby's spirits; his frail body made adventuring difficult. We faced all kinds of wild enemies that also wanted to find the Charmed Fields, but we wouldn't let them stop us! We fought through 'em all, and I felt like I could see Toby grow up as we went.
Eventually, we found the Charmed Fields. We didn't find Toby's mother right away, but he pledged that he would keep searching the Fields; he loved it there. Wishes started to flow normally again from Toby's world, but that wasn't the goal I felt good about. Toby was so sad when I had to go back, and I suppose I was, too.
Setting down the little cat, the next thing was a tiny wooden doll with a stern face. He was dressed in a scruffy blue cape and cap, and had two ribbons of wood curling out from under the cap that looked like sprigs of hair. I remembered that his name was Geno.
This was my biggest adventure, no doubt. I took this form when the Star Road was broken, and the pieces of it had to be recovered. I could have gone a lot sooner, but there was so much panic after all this, we all pretty much wasted our time shouting at each other. It took time to hear what we had to do from the boss.
But maybe that was for the best. If I had gone sooner, maybe I wouldn't have been able to meet Mario.
We knew about him. Nearly all the wishes from his world were about him. Clearly he was a hero. Being a hero was never really my thing, but I think I wore it well...
This doll was a doll owned by some mushroom-headed kid named Gaz. He had four dolls, but this one looked the strongest; I mean, for heaven's sakes, it had firepower! That form was really fun!
Best of all, I got to take it to the Smithy Gang. They've been a thorn in our side for ages, and this was the breaking point! We don't oppose anyone or try to make waves, all we do is grant wishes, and he had to destroy that!
But I shouldn't get so worked up about it.
This was the most bizarre assignment I had. I was a bundle of nerves, being so instrumental to fixing something so important and sacred, but I kept a cool head. A lot of Mario's friends looked up to me, actually, which was cool. We came across a lot of truly weird stuff before finally having a go at Smithy, but he was eventually destroyed. It was so sweet!
I was sad to go. I helped so many people, made so many friends, saw some amazing sights... but the mission was done.
With some dismay, I put the little wooden doll back down. I swore I could see his stern eyes twinkle for a second. The last model I didn't even pick up. It was a little figurine of a lamp.
That's right, one time I was a lamp in some guy's living room. He was making really strange wishes that kept coming up the Road, but refused to be granted. They persisted despite our best efforts, so I was sent down there. I wanted to take the form of this wolf figurine in his bedroom, but regrettably, I knew the lamp would make more sense.
It was the most bored I've been in, like, 15 million years. I eventually found out he kept wishing that his wife would come home, even though she was dead. He didn't know that, so the wishes kept getting sent up, but they couldn't be granted, for obvious reasons. Through some magic, I arranged things so that he would get the paper with her obituary in it. Eventually, he accepted it, and I finally got to get out of that stupid lamp.
That was my last figurine. That mission was years ago. I hadn't been down in any worlds since. Just been up here, drifting around.
I've been many in my time. We can't take the forms of anything living since we can't push out an already-existing life or consciousness that was already inside that form, so we can only take the forms of things empty and lifeless. Still, just because they were inert doesn't mean they weren't alive. I feel like I've kept more than a little model of each thing that I've been. Everything I was changed me, in a way. The Sky Tree taught me the value of knowledge, Spots taught me that the best wishes are the ones you fulfill yourself, Geno showed me what it was like to be a hero and to help people, and the lamp... taught me the value of keeping busy, I guess. When I'm home, I don't have a form. I'm not even that sure I'm anything...
I was quickly stunned out of my thoughts when I heard a voice behind me.
"♥♪!?" the voice called. Looking behind me, I saw a small dot of pale, shimmering blue light drift towards me, the kind of pale blue you can only see in the stars.
"Hey, ★✚$&," I replied, "didn't I just see you?"
"You did," he agreed, "but I just got some news that the boss wants to see you. Didn't you hear?"
The boss? Finally, some action!
"Really? Fantastic!" I yelped. "What for?"
"I certainly don't know," ★✚$& replied, "you know how vague it is."
"Good point," I agreed, "I'd better go see what the news is!"
"♥♪!?, why does news from the higher authority get you so excited?" he asked, pretty suspicious. "Most of us don't look forward to this kind of thing."
The others found my enthusiasm a little off-putting, even more so because they knew I liked to take on forms. This made me more than a little annoyed.
"I like assignments, I guess," I tried to explain, "...it makes me feel important."
"...Important?" he said to himself, clearly confused, "Where did you pick up a word like that?"
I sighed. ★✚$& had never taken a form before, I knew. It was like trying to explain red to a blind person.
"Whatever," I dismissed.
"You're a pretty odd character, ♥♪!?," he told me, "manifesting so much has made you a little funny, I think. I mean, gracious, look at you! You've got a shape!"
A little surprised by that observation, I knew he was right. I was surprised when it happened; I knew that since we didn't have forms, we could pretty much look like anything we wanted, but the extent of that was maybe shining in a different way. It's not like I chose this shape, it had just... come to me.
I had taken the shape of a young man wearing a long, scruffy cape. My skin had this kind of wooden texture to it. Around my neck was a little collar with a little round bell on it. I still glowed that same bright blue like all the others, but it was more like I was a differently-shaped spot of light than them.
I took this shape after I returned home from my expedition as Geno; I was genuinely shocked to see it. I knew some other spirits had taken shapes of their own, but I never understood how or why.
"I don't mind telling you, ♥♪!?," ★✚$& went on, "it's not normal."
I glared at him.
"Normal?" I pried.
"You take forms down in other worlds so frequently," he advised, "it can't be healthy, being down there so often. Everyone thinks this kind of behaviour isn't becoming of a spirit. Most of the times you've gone there were quite unnecessary; they could have been taken care of up here."
"I don't think they could have," I reasoned, "they needed the hands-on approach to get done. Do you think we could have rebuilt the Star Road from way up here?"
"I'm sure if we weren't all panicking so much," he countered, "we could have thought of something. I recall you got too involved with the society down there; you joined a questing party, blast it all! People know who you are down there!"
★✚$& floated right up to my face, whispering something discreet.
"Why," he hissed, "I hear they even write perverse fabrications about the form you took! They make it seem like you were a little too, erm, involved with that cloud being you travelled with..."
Scowling, I brushed him away.
"Cut it out, ★✚$&," I snapped, "you're just trying to scare me."
"Worlds aren't for our kind to be trifled with," he warned, "we're beyond worlds."
I crossed my arms smartly. I'm sure if ★✚$& had eyebrows, he would have raised one of them.
"So what's 'our kind', then?" I asked. I didn't much like things described in vague terms.
"Irrelevant," he insisted, "we don't need to know these things."
He fluttered over to my models.
"I mean, look at all these," he remarked, "what are these? Containers. Transports. Temporary barracks to be pulled down after the mission is done. Why do you get so attached to this nonsense?"
My eyes widened.
"Nonsense?" I repeated.
"We're a higher form of existence," ★✚$& said, "too high to worry about what we are. We're just here."
"How existential of you," I jabbed.
"Existentia-what?" he asked, baffled. I shook my head.
"I know what I think isn't common or popular," I said, "but it's what I've come to see. I liked the sensation of being something, ★✚$&. When I'm here, I'm just an idea. An abstract. A premise. When I'm up here, I do nothing but think."
"♥♪!?, all this muddling about in so many forms has narrowed your perception," he responded, "petty grievances to lower forms of life. We're above life. We're force!"
"What you call narrowing," I snapped back, "I call definition. I like having a form; it's something I can look down at and know that it's me. You're just acting on good faith that you're you, ★✚$&."
Suddenly, I got an idea. I walked past ★✚$& and beckoned him to follow me. Hesitantly, he floated behind me.
Soon, we found ourselves near the Star Road, the wishes twinkling into existence and falling to their makers.
"Look down there," I told him.
"I know, isn't it beautiful?" he replied, "and we're a part of it. We're a part of this beauty. Isn't that enough for you, ♥♪!??"
"Not the way I see it," I said back, "Those wishes... they're more physical than we are. They start out like us, just as a figment or an idea, but it became something to go back down and fulfill its promise.
"And even as ideas, they have more substance than us. Think about how wishes usually start; 'I wish for', 'I want', 'I need', 'Please help me'... they're for people that want to help themselves, that want to help others, that want to help complete strangers... they're for things that are certain about what they are."
"Where are you going with this, ♥♪!??" he asked, becoming impatient.
"We can't wish for anything, can't we, ★✚$&?" I responded.
"What ever would we need to wish for, ♥♪!??" he said, "We need nothing."
"We had a wish once, that we didn't know was a wish," I explained, "and we had no idea how to grant it."
"...We had a wish?" ★✚$& asked, heavily doubtful. I nodded.
"When the Star Road was destroyed," I said, "we wanted it back. We wished for it to come back. Maybe I didn't know it at the time, but... that was the first time we ever had a wish.
"And I helped to grant it," I went on, "I and my group of friends that you'd have preferred me to brush off. I had to do it while stuck in a wooden doll, but I felt more powerful as that doll than I ever did up here, because I knew what I was, and that helped me do something not even the higher authority could do."
★✚$& was silent.
"An identity is so important, ★✚$&. I've had a lot in my time, and each one had its own limitations and abilities. When I'm like this, I'm maddeningly unclear. I'm a piece of sentient light. I try my best to recognize myself, but I don't know what that means.
"That's why I want to be something. Or better yet... someone."
"♥♪!?..." he replied, pitifully.
"With all that said, though, the boss still has to see me," I said excitedly, "I'd better get this show on the road!"