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Stardust First

Once upon a time, the world felt heavy. The weight of it came not from an expansion, but from a shrinking that took its mass and pulled it in, tighter and more tense until it could scarcely bear it.

    And then it burst, scattering into stardust.

    Suddenly the world found its breath again.

    For in the infinite moment of a trillion particles suspended in the expansion of the universe, there was time and peace and space.

    A chance to begin again, when the universe shrunk and the world came back to itself.

    Always a chance to begin again. Even if there was stardust first.

    

The Herbs Remained

 When the magic faded, all gone after centuries, it was from the hands of a youngish woman. The glowing flame sunk into an ember, and then went out.     The sobs that came out of her throat were wretched.     When the aching flood had emptied out of her, she sat cross-legged in the middle of her garden, her elbows tucked into the soft sides of her knees, chin propped up in cupped hands.     She stared at the herbs.     They stared back at her.     A note struck, a timbre that resonated through the stark crevasses of her mind.      The herbs remained.     Magic had not abandoned the world completely, after all, the youngish woman thought.     Her hands threaded through several leaves. Though she could no longer feel the life within them, she knew it was there.     It was enough.

The Hermitess

 There is an island at the center of a different universe. On it lives a hermitess — one of the old sort. She has seen many things, though she has never left the island, for in her hut sits a scrying bowl. And she has looked down into its surface often.     It is a day that appears no more than any other when she casts ink over the placid surface of the bowl, shifts her gaze onto the ebony surface, and sees the thing that makes her weep. It is a child alone in an attic, hugging herself to her chest. It isn't the cheek pressed against knees that causes the hermitess' tears. It isn't the bruises or the dirty hair or the hollowed contours of the child's face. It is the too-quick tattoo of the heart and the haunted look that is only found in the face of the resigned. It speaks of horrors that lay below the attic.     The hermitess does not choose what she sees. She cannot do so. That has never been the gift. From time to time, she helps those she can, summoning small amount

The Ladies in the Sky

 Once upon a time there were three Ladies who lived in the sky. One was very old, one was very young, and one was the age that everyone thinks of when they think about their mother. There were three things to know about these Ladies. First, they were very wise. Second, they were very bossy. And third, they were very kind.     What they did in the sky all day was anybody's business. In fact, it was everybody's business, for the decisions that they made up there concerned the whole of everyone: for they decided when it was that a person was going to die.      Now, that might sound scary. But remember that third thing about the Ladies; they were very kind. How they went about a person dying, then, was done with kindness. For they knew, as do all of their sort, that death in this world is nothing more than a stepping stone to another adventure. To the Ladies, the age or the wealth or the impression of a person didn't matter so much, but each one of the people below them

The Fairy at the Rainbow's End

 There was once a little girl who waited for the rain with a quiet desperation. She waited, you see, because sometimes, very rarely, the sun would be there, too. That meant a rainbow. And that further meant that somewhere out there at the rainbow's end there might be a fairy.        She had heard the tales growing up, of the fairy who lived at the end of the rainbow. It had, quite naturally, made an impression on her.       But try as she might, she never seemed able to find the end of the rainbow.     One day, as she slogged through the rain, drenched and dripping, she made her way into a forest where it seemed the end of the rainbow might be found. Alas, when the little girl entered the forest, the whole of it was steeped in darkness. All light had vanished. And that meant that the rainbow had, too.     The little girl sat down, pulled her jacket tight around her, and tried very hard not to be too disappointed. She had been sure that this time she would find the rainbow's end