Mercury waves rise into sharp peaks before crashing down with a roar. The wind screams like a banshee. His boat is flung one way, and then another, completely at the mercy of a foul-tempered sea. He hangs onto the side of the boat, his knuckles white. Every muscle strains against the violence. The salty spray and the biting wind scrape at his skin, turning it red, but still he hangs on, his steel grey eyes fixed on the horizon.
The mists begin to rise from the water, turning an eerie green.
An outline appears in the distance, shaped like the back of a colossal sleeping dragon. He undoes the latches holding his oars in place and starts to direct his little boat. His arms keep working, even as his muscles begin to seize up, even as his hands become raw and bloodied.
The vessel topples against the shore like a flimsy paper boat. He drags himself out of the reach of the pulling waves, letting the sea take his only means of escape, and closes his eyes in exhaustion. Hours pass. The sun disappears and is replaced by a sliver of moon.
He wakes shivering, though there’s no wind. The sea is quiet, lapping gently at the shore, as if afraid to wake the sleeping island. He stands up, stretching out his aching back and neck. Hundreds of stars wink down at him from the sky, shining as brightly as lighthouse beams.
In his mind, he draws a map in the sky, linking stars and counting points.
His fingernails are black with dirt as he scrapes at the ground, tossing aside handfuls of damp earth. The soil is blessedly soft here. Still, the fine grains sting his battered hands, making there way inside blisters and under layers of damaged skin. He works for hours without pause, the starry sky his only light.
There are some things so important, they’re worth the sacrifice.
No matter how many hours, days, years are lost to it.
Finally his knuckles hit a smooth hard surface. He finds its edges and digs down the sides until the box comes loose from the ground’s tight grip. His fingers slide across the fine wood, still smooth despite centuries underground, and as perfect as though it had just been crafted.
He undoes the latch and pulls open the lid.
There’s a stack of papers inside, yellow with age and crumbling at the edges. He lifts them out, carefully, reverently. They shudder in his hands, rustling under the touch of the warm breeze which stirs the night air. Rising from his mud-encrusted knees, he walks the final part of his journey, clutching the papers to his heart the entire way.
When he reaches the highest peak of the mountain, he knows he must part with the words which even now are bleeding from the pages into his skin and burrowing into his soul. He braces himself for the parting. Drawing a quick sharp breath, he tosses the papers up as high as his exhausted arms will let him. They rise, and then they keep rising. The papers separate and spread, still flying upwards, moving faster the higher they get.
They begin to quiver with life.
The sheets swirl around one another, searching for a shape.
He watches the paper beast take the form of a bird with a long swishing tail and wings as wide as a jet. When it’s so high he can barely make it out in the night sky, a shooting star starts racing down from the crest of the Milky Way, speeding towards the bird, gaining momentum until it’s a fiery ball of destruction.
As it hits the bird, the paper ignites. Instead of crumbling to ash, the creature catches fire, transforming into a great firebird that dances across the sky. It looks down for a moment at its rescuer with glowing eyes before flying off into the world, reborn.
He had released fairy tales back into the world just as they had started to disappear forever. The world needs them now more than ever.
It was his fate to restore them.