The First Book of Elements

I had been struggling to complete my clockwork creation, but as I paused to catch my breath, the shadow of broad wings passed across the landscape, and I looked up to see a familiar form. “It’s about that time of year,” Inspiration said without preamble as she landed beside me and folded her creamy wings. “What’s the plan? Are you going to make the push to finish this darling?”

“I don’t think I have 50,000 pieces left to add,” I told her. “I was thinking of starting something new, but I’m not sure what.” My creation gave a creaky groan, and I patted its head. “Don’t worry, I’ll come right back to you in December.”

Inspiration had paid no mind to this exchange. “You should start That One,” she said with a decisive nod. “The one you keep putting off.”

I swallowed hard but didn’t try to pretend I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I’m not ready —”

“You’ll never be ready,” she said. “You’ve held it too close to your heart for too long. So start now.”

“But —”

She held up one talon. “I’ll make a challenge of it. Begin at the beginning. Each of them gets her own story. Keep them balanced.” She handed me a puzzle board divided into quarters, and a sack of cubes with pairs of symbols on their tops. “These will fit into the board however you like, but be sure to read all the rules, first.”

I scowled at her, but my hands were already reaching out for the puzzle pieces. I never could resist a good puzzle.

“Call it practice, if you must; you can always decide this is just backstory, and start the real series later. But you need to know how they met.”

I didn’t respond; I was already studying the pieces and rules she had given me.

November came and went, and I filled one quarter of the board and started the next, but the story was far from done. “I made a promise,” I said as I set the board in my vault. “I’ll come back to you next year.”

In truth, however, it was not the next year, but the one after that in which I returned to my puzzle board. With so much time away, I could see all too clearly the flaws in the pattern I had begun. But this was not an insurmountable obstacle, and I set out once more on this journey.

At the end of the month, the size of my puzzle had doubled, yet it was still not quite finished. “Come back to it later,” Dedication told me. “The other tomes you are working on are less than portable in their current states, so this will be a fine project for you to carry with you when you travel.” I nodded and placed the puzzle board once more on the shelf.