Nick Damon stood on the balcony and leaned against the stone railing, staring at the scattered flames that lit up the Hornblower skyline. His bare feet were cold against the polished marble, but a hot wind whipped at his hair and stung his eyes as it blew in from the crippled town. It was beautiful and depressing at the same time. It somehow seemed an appropriate aftermath to the most awesome concert of his life.
He lifted his gaze to the huge, white, intensely bright featureless disk that was the Salminerian moon. They regarded each other impassionately. A single white eye, alone in the clear black sky, without even a man‑in‑the moon face to give it a personality. A single heavy metal singer, alone in world where few understood him. He should feel elated. In fact, he had been exactly that until the adrenaline wore off a half hour ago. Now he felt empty and the muscles around his stomach kept quivering.
Except for the moon, the sky was empty. Just total blackness save for the blue gray smoke rising from the buildings that had been set on fire. It was quiet here; the castle was too far from the city to hear the roar of the fires or the wails of the dying. The music was over.
Kratia walked out onto the balcony beside him, and put her arms around his waist. “Beautiful, isn’t it? And peaceful,” she said softly. She squeezed his waist gently. “Romantic.”
Nick continued to stare at the sky a few seconds before answering. “Rather desolate, actually. I miss the stars.” He sighed. “Your moon is lonely in a too empty sky.”
Kratia let go and put her hands on the rail, also staring up at the sky. “Tell me about your sky, Nick.”
“Well, the moon needs to have some dark areas on it, and a few craters. But mostly the sky needs stars. Hundreds of them, like glitter across the sky.”
“There are advantages to being a magician.” Kratia closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The gold and white amulet around her neck glowed softly.
Nick felt the familiar tug of her mind inside his, routing through his memories, thoughts, and feelings. Making sure she got things so damn exactly right. She was such a damn perfectionist. He turned to tell her to get out of his head, but suddenly she was already out of it.
“Look up, lover!” Kratia said, her face beaming.
Nick looked up to a sky filled with blazing stars. There was the big dipper! The little one too! And other constellations whose shapes were familiar though he did not know their names.
“They’re beautiful, Kratia!” Nick whispered. Then he dropped his eyes to her and grew serious. “Are they real?”
“Does it matter?” Kratia replied. “You see them, you enjoy them; that’s enough.”
“Real stars are huge, bigger than a million Earths, and billions of miles away.” Nick looked up at the stars again. “Did you know that I did a report about stars in grammar school? Probably the last serious thing I did before I decided school was the pits and dropped out. One of the things I remember is that each star is really a sun, a ball of gas always swirling and exploding like millions of hydrogen bombs, but so big that gravity keeps it holding it all together. Totally awesome.”
Nick turned to Kratia, a heaviness in his eyes. “Real stars would take a lot of energy, Kratia.” Nick paused, then added slowly, “Ponce told me that wizards can’t create something that will contain more energy than they started with.”
“Ponce was wrong about a lot of things. That’s why he’s dead.” Kratia reached out, taking his hand in hers. “Just enjoy the stars.”
“Real stars have a real beauty. Like diamonds. Fake stars are like stage props. Just costume jewelry. Which are these, Kratia?”
“Be quiet, Nick. Enjoy your stars.”
“This isn’t home! This isn’t my sky!” He was trembling. “It isn’t real!” He turned away from her and found himself facing Hornblower again. His gut clenched up. “You killed people out there!”
“I did nothing more than encourage people to listen to your music. It was you that delivered the message, the meaning; if some people were too weak to understand or accept the truth of life, it’s nobody’s fault but their own! They killed themselves. We didn’t kill anyone.”
“And with all your vast power, you were helpless to save anyone. Shit, Kratia, you set them up. You set me up. Fuck.”
Kratia held her hand out to his face. There was a single white and yellow striped pill in it. “Take this. It’ll help you get control of yourself.”
“Magic. Drugs. Music. All the same. An escape from reality.” He took the pill. “What the hell. Reality sucks.”
“Don’t mock my power,” Kratia said softly. “Magic is the ultimate force in the universe. I can do anything with magic!”
He gestured at the sky. “Yea, like create stars.”
Kratia sighed. “Let’s go to bed. Forget the damn stars.”
The drug left a sweet taste in his mouth. It made him tingle, too. All the way to his crotch. Damn, Kratia was sexy. Magic and music might be escapes, but sex was real. It was physical. The reaching out of two people to each other; the closeness of joining, sharing. Sex, sex, and more sex. The more the better. Hell, that was why he got into music to begin with. Dire Straits put it best: money for nothing and your chicks for free. He glanced at the sky again. So what if they were illusions. So what? He didn’t feel the disappointment so keenly anymore. He just wanted to get laid.
Kratia looked into his eyes, smiled provocatively, and pulled her gown open, revealing firm breasts and erect nipples.
“You deserve a reward for a magnificent performance,” she said huskily. “And your reward is ready.” She turned and moved seductively back into the room, then stretched out across the bed. She touched herself, longing in her eyes.
Nick watched her, lust growing as more of the drug leached into his system, driving his desire to an intensity that shadowed his other feelings. He took one last look at the sky, but all the stars were gone.
Didn’t matter. He was horny.