Starlights glittered in the air. They hung in lines in the sky, the threads flickering only in certain tricks of the darkness, captive and pinned in their existences. They wove in and out of the world, half-existing and half-not. Butterflies followed the half of the path that could be seen.
Cocona watched large white chunks of rocks float in the air. On one of them, a waterfall streamed upwards on it, falling up from a rock -- a mountain, its growth spanning the width of a moment.
Underneath her, the bottom of the world stretched out far below; she stood on another floating rock. Instead of an empty abyss waiting below, a forest of trees reached out, tall and distant. Only the tops of the trees waited in sight. The rest of them faded, too far away to be seen all the way to the trunks and roots.
Cocona took a step and tripped, her feet unable to move through the white thickness of snow. The lights twinkled; in one angle, they were snowflakes.
Cocona cupped her hands around her mouth. "Papika! Papika!"
Nothing returned her call. There weren't any echoes or silences; a low faint wind blew.
"What're you waiting for?" someone asked. Cocona turned and found a small blue-feathered bird perched on a small leafless bush that stood on the floating rock. It had a crisp clear voice, ageless without any wisdom.
"Jump." It hopped on its branch, angling its body slightly to face the nearest floating rock.
Cocona gawked. "I can't jump to that. It's too far."
The bird tilted its head. "Jump."
"No." Cocona crossed her arms. Anything that happened in Pure Illusion could affect the real world, and she didn't want to take any chances.
"What're you waiting for?"
Cocona stared at it.
"Is that all you can say?"
Cocona groaned and loosely clenched her hands into half-fists, pushing them into her face and covering her eyes. She lowered them after a moment, and then she sat down and stayed in place for a long numbing time, tempted to pull at her hair or scream. The air wasn't cold, but she was frozen.
Time stretched like its own bottomless infinity. The bird didn't say anything new, but it still tried to encourage her to move, tugging at her clothes, pecking gently, and repeating the same words. For a moment, some of the bird's feathers glittered red-orange.
The rock they were sitting on cracked at one of its edges. It started to shake, trembling in the threat of this world's gravity, and Cocona's face fell in horror. The bird lifted from its perch by flapping its wings.
"Jump," the little bird said. Cocona jumped.
She squeezed her eyes shut in the run into the jump, opened them, and leapt into a lurching surge onto the nearest floating rock. She landed on all fours, barely, scrambling onto the rock to make sure she wouldn't fall off. The bird landed in the snow next to her.
Cocona got to her knees and wiped her face of snow, her watery eyes blinking. The distance had been far, too far for a realistic jump, and the danger hadn't inspired her power or any transformation.
She spun to the bird. "Why am I doing this?"
The bird slowly tilted its head. "Go to the moon shrine."
Cocona crept forward on her knees and hands. "Where...where is it?"
"Follow the moon."
Cocona looked up at the sky. Starlights and butterflies glimmered at a humming blue, like a wave of rain frozen in blue amber, but there wasn't a singe moon above with them.
Cocona resigned herself to drifting endlessly from rock to rock. She gathered himself up and threw herself into each jump, the bird flitting in the air beside her.
When she stopped to take a break, she glanced down. The trees still stood, green and faraway, but she could also see large beasts among the tree tops, floating in between them, never rising above them.
"Those look really familiar." Cocona squinted at them. The wind blew.
"Follow the moon," the bird repeated.
Cocona looked out at the surrounding rocks floating around them. Some of them were white and covered in snow, and some weren't. They didn't form a deliberate path ahead or any recognizable pattern, but Cocona jumped onto them anyway.
Slowly she worked her way through the rocks, and a dot on the horizon drew nearer, only approaching when Cocona followed the specific rocks. Like the bird said, it was a shrine, a small wooden shrine, with simple sweeping designs and a raised stone platform.
Cocona landed on the large rock housing it in a heap. The small bird dipped into a bow and flew away.
Another bird approached her, its feathers a soft shade of blue with permanent red trim on its wings.
"Cocona. Are you Cocona?" it asked.
Cocona nodded. "Who're you? Can you actually talk?"
Instead of answering, the bird deflected its head to a slight angle, its eyes on both Cocona and the sky. "The moon has friends in the stars bright in the night sky, brighter than the moon," the bird said. "It watched everyone living on Earth. There were all sorts of people living below, living all sorts of lives, but the moon ignored them. The moon thought it was fine to be so distant when it was so far away.
"But it did get lonely. So the moon decided to listen to Earth. It was lovely to listen to, beautiful, including music."
Cocona then noticed the large round rock in the dark sky, the largest rock in this world. A moon. It flickered, like the starlights, or as if it was completely incorporeal instead of halfway. Several colors cycled through with the flickering, running from red to violet.
"Listening became too much, though. It made the moon overwhelmed with too many emotions. Humans were angry, greedy, murderous, and everything in between."
The moon swelled red, ready to burst. It drifted down in the sky and hung low. Cocona bristled.
It kept descending, and after a minute it loomed much closer, heavy and dangerous.
Cocona scrambled to escape. The rocks she had used earlier had already crumbled and fallen.
She swiveled to the bird. "Do something! What should I do?"
"Stop it, stop yourself." It flapped away.
Cocona reached out to catch it, but it slipped through the air faster than her fingers. Its wings then folded together and cloaked itself into darkness and disappeared, as seamless as a disappearing act in a puff of smoke, or a cloud swept away by wind. Faced with nowhere to go, Cocona threw her arms up over her head.
The moon didn't fall. Cocona opened her eyes and found Papika's hands holding it up, her arms straight and her palms underneath on the moon-boulder. Papika grunted under the effort of supporting it.
"'Could use some help," she rasped.
Cocona rushed into action and stepped beside her. They both strained under its weight.
"What do we do now?" Cocona asked. One of her eyes was squeezed shut from the force of the moon, and she wobbled.
"I, uh, I don't know." Papika shifted to a different angle and gave it her all in another shove.
Their bodies glowed for a faint second, the beginning of a transformation, but that was already enough. The moon rapidly went through a flurry of all of its colors, then stopped at blue and split apart, fragmenting into bits of pieces that floated in the air.
Cocona stared down at her hands. They were snow-white. Papika's were red.
"What's wrong with your hands?" Cocona asked.
Papika glanced down too, and then at the world below them. The trees were on fire.
"What's wrong with yours?" Papika wiped her hands on her clothes, and the redness came off like dust.
Cocona did the same and then brought her hand to her chin. "Why're we in Pure Illusion? Shouldn't we be done with this?"
"I don't know. Why do you think we'd be done with Pure Illusion?" Papika tilted her head.
Cocona didn't have an answer.
The bird from the shrine reappeared. It opened its beak to say, "The moon isn't any weaker than the sun, and the distance between them is less than it seems."