For me, Martin Chatwin, the Cristalon was mostly silent. The talon-shaped crystal sat on my desk at Breakbills, under a glass dome with a walnut base. I could hear it singing from time to time. I’d discovered it as a child, hunting every nook and cranny of Fillory for my refuge, shining from the hollow base of a Fillorian Aspen tree against a lavender and pink sky. But from the time I’d knelt to pick it up to now, its secrets remained woven in its song, a hollow ring as beautiful and inaccessible as the universe itself. In all those years, it had uttered only two words – Quentin Coldwater.
Fanboy Quentin. Since arriving at Breakbills he had been at me for an interview, and I had let this drag on for months; rescheduling, delaying, then rescheduling again; allowing him to catch glimpses of me in the courtyard colonnade, then disappearing altogether. I waited until I knew I had him by a gift he’d sent; his prized first edition of Fillory and Further; complete with its rumpled dog-eared pages, annotated with Quentin’s observations and questions… his endless questions.
But my goal was singular: certainty that I could, once and for all, make Fillory mine. The way seemed to lie in the Cristalon itself. I had to be sure.
The boy appeared in my office, too tall for a person of his station and ability; slumped forward, unshaven, with that lank greasy hair, and that freshly-fucked-look first year students find so fashionable. He caught sight of me and beamed, eager to impress me with his fetishistic knowledge of Fillory, but more than that, his unalterable love for it. Like swordsmen, we bobbed, parried, and thrust our arguments about the entire saga; what could have been, might have been, should have been. I smiled my utmost, seeming to enjoy my Dante-esque tour of geekdom.
But, of course, in all the story’s details, Quentin had missed how populist fascism stole my parents, and as war destroyed hope and decency in Europe, pushed me into Plover’s shadow.
I offered him cognac, and watched him get sloppy, patiently biding my time until it happened.
The crystal dome rang, but it seemed only I could hear it. This drew my attention, and I saw the first cracks slowly web the glass, as Quentin spoke about Umber, dear Umber; horny, magical, and cruel for locking a boy so needy out of the one place he felt safe. Then the dome shattered, and Quentin jumped, totally aghast.
“What the???” Quentin white-knuckled the chair he was sitting in. All the blood left his face. His eyes locked on the glowing crystal, whose bird-like entity rose and hovered above my desk, a gleaming apparition which placed Quentin in its thrall. What transpired between them I could not see or hear, but I watched the boy transmogrified before my very eyes. I knew he had been given the key I was seeking.
“What did he tell you? Quentin??? Quentin??? Speak!”
The boy rattled in his chair and blinked as he reacquainted himself with my office. Certainly, I seemed little more than a hazy shadow edging his addled awareness.
“I have to go…” He stood, shaking, looking around the room as if he’d been hit with a lightning bolt. “I have to…”
Quentin faltered, and I leapt to bolster him. I stood him upright and looked in his eyes, where the crystal’s secrets swam in fire. “You go,” I said, “what’s happened here is very important. I want you to promise me you’ll go now and get some rest. And promise me you’ll tell no one about this, do you hear? Quentin?”
“Tell no one.” The boy shook free and nodded, still out of his mind, then hurriedly left.
Carrying the Cristalon in my pocket, I waited a day before pressing Penny into service, using the spectral knife from my collection. The swarthy Indian squirmed as the psychic pain of the knife tore down his studied Bronx persona, revealing his native Brahmin. He made useless threats, but soon we astral projected into Quentin’s room.
Quentin lay fetal, still reeling from his great encounter, as his beautiful Julia spooned him. Eliot sat on the edge of the bed, stroking Quentin’s hair, as puritanical Alice listened skeptically from the door. The tart, Margo, vainly twirled her bleached hair, barely comprehending a word of Quentin’s ramblings.
“Quantum Magic?” Alice shot from the gallery.
“I don’t understand,” Eliot quizzed, his dyed orange locks bobbing on his forehead, his brown eyes dancing and bemused, “isn’t all magic quantum?”
“Not this!” Quentin spat, disoriented, and his body racked with tremors.
“Shhh” Julia hissed, and pressed her palm warmly toward Quentin’s heart.
“Ok, buddy.” Eliot soothed. “Can you explain it?”
Quentin declared unsteadily, “There’s a singularity… a black hole… at the center of every atom in the universe. This magic empowers the wielder to control these …”
“Wormholes?” Good ole Eliot, in my childhood he’d be called names which would get him killed by a cockney fishmonger.
“Yes!” Quentin shook again, “and have almost absolute power over time and space.”
No one stirred as this news sunk in. But I immediately grasped its meaning; this magic linked quantum entanglement with gravity. It could unlock the secrets of the universe.
“Great! Just what everybody needs; a black hole-weilding Supergeek!” Margo drolly mused.
“But there’s more…” Quentin continued. “This magic guards a place… a… a desert… There’s another singularity – a big one… and this singularity makes…” His voice trailed off.
Eliot watched Quentin sink beneath the cataclysm swirling in his eyes.
“Quentin?” Eliot tapped the boy’s face with his fingertips. “What does the singularity make?” The group held its breath, waiting for the drowning lad.
Quentin inhaled as for the first time in his life. He pulled Eliot close and whispered, “He’s here.”
Before the Indian could shrug me, I twisted my knife in his midbrain, severing the link between his left and right hemispheres. Gripping the Cristalon, I exhaled firmly – breath of fire – and we materialized in Quentin’s room. Penny fell. His hefty bones rattled on the floor’s wooden planks.
Alice’s hands sprang from the corner of my eye. “Locutus est malum mors!” I heard her shout. But the spectral knife had other plans. Jamming in her larynx, it severed her spinal column and she toppled to a lifeless heap.
Behind Alice, Margo’s eyes grew wide. “Professor Chatwin!” She exclaimed before she choked horribly, slid down the wall and joined Alice and Penny.
I thrust the Cristalon forward. It beamed outward, pulling Quentin from the Bed. “Veniat ad me secreta!” I called. The walls moaned. The air howled. As I repeated my incantation, Quentin rose above the bed, bound and helpless, to meet the crystal burning through my hand. I screamed.
“Hold on!” Julia shouted at Eliot. And as the room faded from view I could see each of them clinging desperately to Quentin’s arms.
We arrived on a broad desert dune under a sweltering azure sky. Hurricane wind hurled sand grains, tearing our faces. And the air hummed as gods hum. The ground trembled, sloping toward a giant maelstrom. Its event horizon swirled beside us. Its blackness domed ominously above our heads.
The Cristalon had made a charred stump of my forearm, so determined it was to join with its rightful owner. I saw it mated to Quentin’s forehead.
Julia and Eliot propped him up. The boy was screaming as arcs of energy webbed his head and burned his eyes.
“What have you done to him?” Julia cried. “He trusted you!”
“You’ll never understand what happened to me! You’ll never know the monster Christopher Plover had become – what he did to me, to all of us! Fillory was my only refuge in a world tearing itself apart. When Umber shut me out, Plover took my innocence! With this new magic, I’ll make everything right! I must have that crystal!”
Quentin Coldwater roared, turning the air between us molten, and flinging me from my feet. Major Arcana spewed from my good hand. The trumps pulsed off Quentin; one drowned Eliot in sand, the other flung Julia toward the event horizon, where she dissolved into atoms.
The Quentin-Cristalon being rose high through luminous plasmic arcs, as the singularity hummed and pulsed, knocking me further and further until I was adrift between worlds. Looking back, I watched Quentin conjure a completely new world from the singularity. The spectacular globe beckoned me with its promises. I screamed, helpless, as Quentin Coldwater was subsumed by the vortex, taking his new world and all the Cristalon’s secrets forever beyond my reach.
Later, I held Umber’s throat steadfastly as I regaled him with my story. His eyes burned, knowingly. “The Cristalon has made you strong,” the Ram intoned, as his eyes began to dim.
“I may never get to that world, but you will give me this one.” I hissed. “And for that I promise I’ll let poor Ember live.”