The room was all Hazel had known for the last three years. Eight by eight by eight feet. No windows, one door. One locked door.
The walls were no longer smooth, the drywall and plywood punched through in anger and desperation only to find there was no way out. Dust had accumulated on the concrete floor throughout the years where it was not disturbed by the room's sole inhabitant. A small safe was embedded in the floor, its metal surface gouged by nails and covered in dry blood from when the nails tore off and the fingers were worn to bone.
Through the door came food and water, and the artist, when he needed her. And need her he did. He would torture her, he would ravage her, he would abuse her. And there was no way out.
Every day he would open the door, and take from Hazel what she had once upon a time freely given. Every day, he would force from her what was not meant to be his.
Most artists honor and worship their muse. This man had enslaved her, forced his way inside her, and taken from her inspiration, and ideas, and life.
She examined herself. Her body had far depreciated from its original beauty; her ribs stretched the pale, unhealthy skin that uniformly covered her body. She thought, for a moment, that even if she were to be let out into the sunlight, she would burn and peel until nothing was left. Somehow the idea struck her as funny, but her laughter caught in her dry throat, which had been out of use for so long. Her fingers had healed back, somewhat, from her initial attempts to open the safe, but the tissue was scarred, the nails thin and brittle. She sighed, resigning herself to this image of destructed beauty. It was sad, yes. But she could handle the damage, and the abuse, so long as she had her mind.
She waited. Patience was a virtue she had learned over time. After all, for as long as the contents of the safe remained intact, she was immortal. And for as long as she was stuck here, naked and bruised, she was at the mercy of time.
And so she waited, and she thought. She thought about how the artist(she had stopped calling him by name for at least a year) had been so good to her before he imprisoned her. She contemplated how she became a muse, the pain, the fear, the final enlightenment. She reflected on how she had imprisoned herself through her own immortality. She considered her death, how close she had once been to it, and how she could no longer find a way to end her life.
If only she had let herself die all those years prior. The thought struck her and ran through her body like electricity. The thought was so ridiculous, so depressing, that the concept made her laugh. She had made the right choice in becoming a muse, had helped so many people since, and was now paying for her misdeeds during her life before. She deserved this.
She was laughing hysterically, her throat aching from the effort, when she heard footsteps, and she scrambled to the corner, realizing afterward that the footsteps were different than she had heard for the last three years. For one, the clicks with the steps indicated the presence of heels, which a majority of the time indicated a woman. Plus there was a heavy dragging of cloth over concrete floor, a sound that indicated a dress was worn by the new-comer, and not a dress normally worn in the current time era outside of a renaissance fair.
The door opened, and curious, Hazel looked up from her corner at the woman who stepped through the door.
The woman was tall and thin, her head held high, her hands, reaching out in front of her, thin and beautiful. Her movements seemed planned, careful, intentional, as if she thought to make each individual muscle move, contract, stretch torward its ultimate goal. The thought struck Hazel that this woman regulated everything in her mind, from the world around her, to her own heartbeat. She wondered what would happen if the woman lost control.
If she, as a muse, was the embodiment of inspiration, this woman was the embodiment of creation, planning, of logic. This woman was more than a muse. This woman was no less than a goddess.
The goddess's eyes perused the room, settling on the inhabited corner. She paused, mauling over her words before she spoke. "Good morning, Ms. Maddon."
Hazel gathered her voice, and her wits. "So it's morning?"
"It is currently 3:37 a.m. in this world."
"This world? So you are a goddess."
"Assume what you will. You may call me Lady Ink."
Hazel scrambled to her knees in front of the woman. "It's a pleasure, Lady Ink."
Lady Ink smiled a wry smile, the corners of her lips turning up just so, the emotion not reaching her eyes. "Stand, Hazel. I have a request of you."
Hazel stood, slowly, her legs bearing her frail body for the for the first time in a long while. "I wish I could help, but I-," she motioned to the safe in the floor, "I'm trapped."
The Lady remained silent for some time before she withdrew from a pocket of some sort (perhaps it was even from thin air) a thin square of metal. She handed it to Hazel, who stared at the gift. It was small, yes. It had a symbol painted into the surface, which appeared to be a key, yet the surface was smooth, almost as if the symbol was imbedded into the metal. Hazel looked up.
"What is it?"
"This, my dear Hazel, is a construct. It'll take any form you wish, so long as there is a key in it."
"...Any form I wish?" She was staring, dumbfounded at the construct. She had needed a key, a very specific key, all this time. A key to the safe that held her necklace. A key to the safe that held her soul.
She stepped over to the safe, and crouched on the floor, pleading the construct to do as she asked. It complied, molding in her hand from a square to a much smaller key. She almost dropped it.
With shaky hands, she inserted the key into the lock, feeling the mechanism clunk to the side. She hoisted the door up, and peered into the darkness. There it was. There she was. A small necklace, choker, really, with a small charm: a solid glass crescent the color of ruby. It'd been so lonely. She'd been so lonely. Her hand inched forward, and gingerly picked up the necklace.
Heat raced through her body, or at least the sensation of heat, warmth, life. In her eyes, the necklace pulsed with a hidden light. It wasn't magical, it was divine. It was her soul. It made her whole. It gave her freedom, and made her a slave. It was everything to her, good and bad. And they had been separated for so long.
She was gazing at the charm, mesmerized, when the Lady spoke. "You will fulfill my request." It wasn't a question.
Hazel fumbled with the clasp. "Of course. What do you need?"
Lady Ink smiled again, the same half-smile as before. "The worlds are unraveling. The Book of All Stories has been
damaged. We need you to go in and fix it."
Hazel took a deep breath. The Book of All Stories? There were legends of such a book, a book that wrote the worlds, but it had been just that: a legend. But then again, it was a goddess telling her of its existence. Still, gods lied. But it didn't matter. She owed the goddess her soul. "How do I do this?"
"Even I don't know, young one. But you are one of many
logical choices for this undertaking."
Hazel bit her lip, and nodded.
"Are you ready?"
"Does it matter?"
The Lady smiled her smile, and motioned to the door.
"The key will take you to the book. It will do so once, and only once, and then it will take the form of a regular construct."
Hazel nodded slowly, and bit her lip. "And how do I get back out?"
"There are many ways out of the Book, child. You simply have to look for them."
Hazel nodded, and stepped to through the open door. She turned to look back at her savior, but saw only the room behind her. She closed the door, and turned the key in the lock, first to lock the door, then to unlock and open it.
The world behind the door was bright, and she was almost blinded by the sudden exposure. She realized, for the first time in a long while, that she was naked, and it bothered her. But bothered or not, she would have to fulfill the request of Lady Ink. It was her duty.
And so she stepped out of her own world, and into the book, not knowing where she would end up, or who she would meet. She was going to do as the goddess asked, if it was the last thing she did. She would not give up, not surrender until the book was fixed, or her last breath was drawn. She just hoped it was the former.