Our hero once again found himself on his own among the expanses of book stacks, but the renewed fervor of hope burned within his heart, propelling him swiftly along his mapped route.
Despite the uniformity of the grid of shelves before him, the colorful genre labels above each aisle made it simple to follow the depiction Archie had provided Asher. The knight predominantly paid no heed to the array of persons that crossed his peripherals as he walked, but there were several characters which were so outlandish in appearance that they occasionally pulled even his own tenacious eyes from their task. It’s impolite to stare, he would remind himself in such situations as he trudged onward.
During the day, he had noticed, different types of characters mingled and explored outside of their own genre’s range, but he had to wonder if there were many others like himself who had yet to locate their own place of belonging. Where did these characters retire at night?
“You there! Knight!”
Asher’s head jolted away from his map and down the aisle from which the mysterious voice arose. His view focused upon a tall, stong-built man of about forty years, yet Asher felt he must be seeing double--no, triple-- for there was not one such man before him, but three, each of them identical down to the smallest detail. Each wore a loose-flowing cream shirt with rolled-up sleeves exposing various black-ink tattoos, a mahogany pegleg matching his skin tone, black knee breeches, and a scowl.
“We have a question for you, mate,” they barked the same words, though not synchronously.
“I’ll do my best to help,” Asher approached their imposing figures with caution, “but you see, I’m new here myself, so--”
“It’s not a matter of how long you’ve been here,” the one to the far right said. “It’s a matter of common sense.”
“Now wait just a minute, mate!” the man on the left objected.
“Just let him ask the gentleman,” the middle spoke.
Asher was far more curious about how three of the same character were present here than about what their actual question would be. Probably from the same fanfic faction, he speculated.
“Our names are Sawyer. We were wondering,” the one on the right began, “because each of us come from different drafts of the same story, it makes sense that I, the third and final draft, would be the very best Sawyer, correct?”
“Who’s to say the truly final draft wasn’t actually completed? Perhaps none of us are there yet,” the middle interjected.
“Well, who’s to say the drafts didn’t get progressively worse, seeing as none of them seemed worth writing to completion in the first place?” the presumably first-draft Sawyer posed from Asher’s left.
“Well? Don’t hold us in suspense, mate! What say you?” the third Sawyer insisted.
Three pairs of eyes beamed at our hero as if to pry the response from his mind before it left his mouth. “I, uh… I mean, exactly! You can’t know for sure who’s the best and who’s not with your limited information, so perhaps you can all just appreciate each others’ company. It’s likely a matter of personal preference, anyway.”
“That does make an awful lot of sense,” the middle draft said.
“I don’t like it. I’m Draft Number One, the original, so isn’t it obvious that I’m--”
“Well, you’re a person, mate! Tell us, which do you prefer?” the third draft asked Asher.
“Yeah! Which of us do you think is the best Sawyer?” the first goaded.
“I… look. What does it matter what I say? I’m not even a real person.” He wondered how many minutes of potential travel time he had forfeited for this encounter.
“Neither are we, mate,” the middle draft looked slowly downward, clearly dispirited by the unwelcome reminder.
Asher, catching a glimpse of his own existential turmoil in this Sawyer’s comment, forgot his rushed mentality for a moment. “If I had to pick,” Asher watched as the mid-draft’s eyes lifted to his, “I would say I prefer the middle Sawyer. It is truly admirable that you all wish to be the best versions of yourselves, but this Sawyer,” the knight rested his arm on the pirate of which he spoke, “does not think too highly of himself. You two others seem convinced that you’re the best there is, but not so with Second Sawyer. This is a man who wants to better himself; this is a wise and humble Sawyer, and if he had the means to improve rather than be trapped in these Forsaken Archives, I believe he would.”
Tears welled up in the middle draft’s eyes. “I… I always wanted to be the best version of myself, but… it’s hard to think of myself like that being caught in the middle of such great mates sometimes,” he looked to his counterparts and then back to Asher. “Thank you, sir.” To Asher’s surprise, all of the drafts seemed contented by his response. “Say, what’s your name, anyway, mate?”
“Sir Asher of the realm Gholaire. It’s been a pleasure, Sawyers, but I must find the genre to which I belong with haste!” He bade his farewell and returned to his previous track toward his medieval destination. Our hero found himself with an unexpected sensation of fulfillment from his detour in contrast to his initial irritation, but it was no wonder. After all, he thought, what’s a quest without a few good deeds along the way?