Over the next few days, I’m releasing the chapters in order, but if you can’t wait, please feel free to download the PDF, which has all five chapters and the afterword.
2 – The Prison Tree
Melissa the Rose arrived at her destination with an edge of annoyance working up her face as she walked toward the ruin. The King’s Temple, a building which had survived hundreds of years and more, was now a large pile of grey rubble laying under the cloudy sky. The large crown encrusted with jewels that had once sat atop its peak was nowhere to be seen, but she saw where it must have rolled off into the Mirror Forest. A straight line of trees lay broken and bent. Other trees had been sliced straight through as though an axe had fell them with a single swing. There were also ones that looked like a sledgehammer had tried to pulverize them into splinters and, for the most part, succeeded. These were spread out with little pattern. The results of a fight? It was hard to be certain with the thawing ice and snow mudding up the place before spring would make it bleed green.
But why would anyone fight here? Probably Seltios’ doing. Idiot. Neither here nor there, she told herself. Her own internal voice sounded as quick and sharp as a needle. That annoyed her, too. It shouldn’t have surprised her to find the place like this. It had been months since she’d last been here. A lot could happen in that time. Great. Just great.
Now she would have to dig. It was true that it wouldn’t exactly be hard for her to do, but Melissa couldn’t help but grit her teeth as the growing list of things that she had to do kept growing.
“This is for Kyros,” She said it aloud. Mostly to make sure her voice still worked, but she also liked hearing the name Kyros. She only did it when other people weren’t around her. Which was often. “For Kyros,” she repeated. It also helped lessen the annoyance she felt about the rubble in front of her. A little.
I didn’t rush all the way here from the Old World just to just stop here. I’ve got to find the entrance. This was the real reason she was annoyed. There was supposed to be a secret door on the side of the King’s Temple that led to a secret tunnel which would then lead to a secret door. And this was just one of the many secrets she’d found over the years, but this might have been the most helpful one. This would lead her to Elias the Timekeeper. She walked to where the north corner of the temple use to stand. The door should have been just to side of it, hidden in the stone. It’d been swallowed by the rubble. She took three side steps to the right and tapped her foot. Here, she guessed. She hoped Kyros would appreciate all the trouble she’d gone through once she found him.
Melissa reached below her dirt caked shirt, pulling out a necklace with a key on the end of it. The shirt had been cloud white just a few weeks ago. Now it was a gross mixture of sweat, filth, and dirt that had turned it so brown it now matched her pants. The pants had started brown and had continued being brown no matter what she had walked through. She guessed she looked like a walking pile of mud. It was certainly how she felt. She’d gotten used to the wet dog smell that clung to her like an aura. Ugh. This better be worth it.
Normally, there would have been time to change out of her soiled clothes, but there had hardly been enough time to make it all the way here from the Old World. The Old Worlders had locked the stupid continent, making it impossible to open a ShiftDoor. She’d barely had enough time to sleep. With no money, she had to work the ship while traveling the old way across the ocean. It had taken weeks. An annoying trip in itself, made more annoying with the constant reminders to hurry before the Timekeeper’s ShiftDoor disappeared from the King’s Temple.
And so here she was. He could have mentioned that the whole place had been destroyed. She knew it was unreasonable to be angry with him about that. He probably didn’t even know. The fact that he could contact her outside his prison wasn’t even supposed to be possible. The little messages he did send were usually helpful, but they weren’t much more than three or four words.
“Come. To. Me. Hurry.” That’s what the message had been this time. The messages tended to be clues which were meant to help find Kyros. Things like, “Spiral. Island. Stormcastle. Merchant,” or “Krees. Capital. Farmer.” She still didn’t understand how Elias found the information to pass along to her, but that wasn’t something she questioned because of how helpful it usually was. If Elias was asking her to visit, it must have meant the information on Kyros was too complicated to say in a mere three or four words. She hoped there was something concrete this time. Her last lead had proved to be a giant waste of time. Not to mention, she was quite certain that she was a wanted fugitive in the country of Krees now. The very idea of it made her eye twitch. It wasn’t her fault the bastard nobleman had gotten touchy.
She took a deep breath. Elias didn’t have to help her. She knew that. This was just a kindness and she vowed to repay him for it someday. And once she and Kyros were reunited, she knew Kyros would want to do the same.
The key had a thick layer of grime that matched the rest of her outfit. It served to freshly remind her of how disgusting she felt. She turned it a few times before returning it behind her shirt. Unlocking her BioDimension was simple for her, but it did leave a tingling exhaustion as the energy for it was sapped from her. Green vines with large thorns began sprouting out of the ground, twisting together and forming into a drill head which stood a foot taller than Melissa and triple her width. She tapped it twice with her knuckles, confirming that it had modified to be as hard as steel. A third tap began the spinning and it started drilling into the ground where she guessed the tunnel would be. It picked up speed, spinning like a green tornado as it sank. She didn’t use this technique often, but it had proved useful on more than one occasion. Especially where digging was concerned. Loud squishes and then steady grinding came from the hole as the drill dug deeper.
“Come. To. Me. Hurry.”
“Really?” Melissa rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t you say so before? Wait a second—you did! Only once or twice every ten seconds for the last month.” Elias had never been this repetitive with his messages before. Usually, they only repeated a handful of times. She honestly felt like she’d heard the message a million times over the last few weeks.
The grinding of the drill suddenly died out and the hole which it had dug, gasped for air.
“Good,” she said stepping toward the hole. She peered down, her eyes widening as she saw how deep the hole went. Looks like the secret entrance was much more of a ShiftDoor than I thought. Not a single wink of light reached lower than ten feet. There was no way to tell how deep the hole went or whether the drill had stopped. She guessed that it had by the lack of drilling sounds, but she wasn’t entirely certain. Maybe it’s too deep to hear?
Melissa brought her key out again. She twisted it a few more times and returned it to its place under her shirt. She huffed for air. The energy used for this small task was getting to be too much. She’d need to sleep soon. Vines grew from the ground again, forming into three green sticks that were roughly the length and width of her forearms. The top of them weaved into thick stringy bunches that would light easily. They wouldn’t burn long, but they’d be bright and one would be plenty enough for the trip. She had made three just to be safe.
She took out a lighter from one of her pockets, giving it a fond look as she did. It had been a gift from her father. The only memento of him she had left. You would have loved Kyros, Daddy. She wiped off some of the dirt from its smooth metal side. Under the soot, there was a black keyhole that looked like it had been painted on to it. Melissa knew better. A Keyhole Disruptor had been carefully engraved and locked with fire. With a practiced hand, she flicked it open and pressed a tiny key down like a button. A small flame instantly sprang to life.
Holding her torches away from her, she lit them all at once. The fire let out a small pleasant heat along with their lively light. She closed the lighter’s lid, snuffing out the lighter’s fire before sliding it back into her pocket. This should do it. She threw one of her torches into the hole, being careful to make sure it wouldn’t hit the sides of it on its descent. It fell forty-five feet and landed with an audible thud. Surprisingly, it did not shatter on impact.
“Good torch,” she cringed, realizing it sounded more like she was talking to a dog. I must be going crazy.
The fire at the bottom lit a small orb in the darkness, but Melissa was now reasonably certain it was the right tunnel. She jumped down without giving it another look. It wasn’t so far that she would hurt herself so long as she landed on her feet. She did, landing like a cat next to the burning torch. Not liking the darkness that now surrounded her on both sides, she immediately threw the second torch down the tunnel in front of her and the third in the other direction. The whole area of grey stone became dyed in a dim orange glow. It all looked mostly unremarkable. Except, along the walls, the floors, and even the ceilings there were engravings that read, Time Is Immortal over and over again.
Seeing a door just past the third torch, she knew that was the direction to go. She passed the now motionless drill that laid on its side, giving it a passing glance as it withered to dust now that it had completed its task. She wished it didn’t have to wither to dust. The tunnel had plenty of that already.
“Oh, so you want to make a wish for no dust!” a voice suddenly exploded from ahead.
Melissa almost jumped back. Damn, I forgot about this idiot.
“I’m the idiot?” asked the voice. His voice was a low, gruff snarl, like the inside of an earthquake had learned to talk. “Me? The one not going to see the sick bastard named Elias.”
Melissa was now near the torch she’d thrown that way. She kicked it past the door and it stopped when it hit the wall. The light revealed a black marble statue halfway sticking out of grey wall. It was in the shape of a dumpy man, bald with a thin slit that was only half a nose. Melissa guessed that part of it must have broken off many years ago. He, like the rest of the place, was decorated with countless Time Is Immortal etched onto his black stone skin. They were painted white, which made it look like he was covered in tattoos. His name was Wishbringer the Statue.
“You don’t see anyone,” Melissa said. “You stay here attached to your wall, never moving, never doing anything.”
“I see you,” said Wishbringer. It wasn’t exactly true that he didn’t move. His mouth moved when he spoke and he liked using his hands for rude gestures sometimes. “I see you for the idiot you are. You dumb goat. You smelly old bat. You…horse!” His mouth curved up at the corners as though he’d won some competition they’d been having.
“Name calling, that’s a new one,” Melissa rolled her eyes. “Can we just get his part over with? I’m in a hurry.”
“Yes, I know.” Wishbringer’s eyes glowed a disturbing yellow, like a predator staring at prey through the sinking darkness. “Come. To. Me. Hurry.”
Melissa tensed. She hated that her mind was completely exposed to him while she stood in this tunnel. Something about this hallway was a part of Wishbringer, giving him the power to use a high level MemoryBending on anyone inside. For all intent and purpose, it was as though this was his domain. Where her thoughts were concerned at least. As far as Melissa knew, there wasn’t much he was able to do beyond that which meant he wasn’t much of a threat. He did, however, control the door that led to the room she was trying to enter.
“Can’t you just open the door?”
“Melissa the Rose,” he smirked. “You wound me. You know it doesn’t work that way.”
“Why do we always have to go through this?” she grit her teeth. There was the one other special thing about Wishbringer. He could grant ‘wishes’…to an extent. And that was only if they followed certain rules.
“Rules are rules,” he answered with all the humor of a wall.
“I wish for you to open this door now, allowing me enough time to walk into the room beyond it without harming me in any way.” There you go, you bastard. One wish just the way you like it. The first rule: The wish had to be clearly stated, always using the words ‘I wish’ to begin it.
Wishbringer’s black teeth were exposed as he smiled from ear to ear. “I wish,” he always relished using the word, “for you to open your shirt now, allowing me enough time to properly gaze at the goods beyond it without you harming me in any way before hand, such as covering my eyes in dust.” The second rule: Wishbringer was allowed his own ‘wish’, which had to be of similar value.
Every. Freaking. Time. How can a statue be such a weird, little, gross, perverted, disg—
“Deal?” he asked, speaking louder in attempt to cut off her thoughts.
Disgusting. Pig! She finished, before saying, “Deal.” The third rule: Each party had to agree to the exchange of wishes.
The fourth and final rule was why this whole exchange could be dangerous. Once wishes were agreed upon, both had to fulfill their half of the bargain. If they did not, there would be consequences. Melissa still had no clue what those consequences might be. Wishbringer had never properly explained that part. She guessed that he didn’t have to. There was no doubt in her mind that it would be dangerous to her. She was sure it had something to do with the missing part of his nose, but any mention of his nose always led him to respond the same way, “He is unable to answer an impossible question.” There was never any bother to explain who “he” was, but she’d given up trying to figure it out. The important part of the rule was that she had to fulfill her part of the bargain. Once she agreed to it, there could be no backing out.
Wishbringer pointed a stubby finger at the door and it flew open. Melissa sighed, unbuttoning her mud caked shirt and ripping it open. Luckily, she wore a bra on this time. Unluckily, the bra was made of fabric was so worn and faded that it was hardly better than spider web. She should have caked mud over her chest beforehand, but the destroyed temple had distracted her. She stood there for half a minute feeling awkward as the statue gawked at her breast. For Kyros.
“It’s not fair, you know,” Wishbringer said. “You didn’t wear a bra last time.”
“Tsk,” Melissa closed her shirt, glaring daggers at the statue. “It’s too bad this whole temple couldn’t have fallen on your head.” She turned on her heels and walked straight for the door.”
“Gatekeepers, Melissa,” his words had all the satisfied jovialness of a laughing child. “When will you leave that meat bag, Kyros, for a real man like me? I’ll never leave you like he did, you know? I’ll just stay right here, always.” Wishbringer started laughing at his own joke. Melissa bit her lips, wanting nothing more than to turn around and stab him. It wouldn’t work, though. When anything solid got near him, Wishbringer’s stony exterior became like water, allowing things to simply sink into him. She’d lost a perfectly good blade that way. I really do wonder how he lost half of his nose. And who he lost it to… Melissa entered the room and the door slid closed behind her.
The room had a terribly bleak simplicity. That wasn’t surprising considering how long it’d been empty of any life. A long desk stretched from one wall to the other. Opposite of that was a pitifully flat bed with a blanket of dust on it. It was all lit by the light shining in through an open ShiftDoor. Melissa stopped when she saw the inside of a solid wooden door engraved with an encircled tree. Locked Forever was engraved just below it. She had expected to see that exact same engravings on the outside before she opened it. It wasn’t supposed to be opened now. How could it have been? It had to be opened from this side and so far as she knew, she was the only one that had ever been able to find this place. Except for Elias. It couldn’t have been him.
“Come. To. Me. Hurry.”
She took a deep breath. “For Kyros.” It saddened her to think about how much those words meant to her. How much braver they made her. What wouldn’t she do for him?
Melissa walked through the door, stepping out into the most beautiful place she’d ever been. Fields of soft blue grass spread around her for miles. Hundreds of different flowers decorated the plains. Their pedals, loosened by gentle apple-scented wind, took to the sky, gliding through the air like soaring birds. The sky was dressed in floating clouds and yellow light that dove between them. A giant weeping willow tree known as Athena the Willow Keeper, towered over everything like a keep over its castle. Her trunk stayed hidden behind a curtain of bright green low-hanging leaves that danced like a long skirt. Around the tree was a wide moat with sparkling blue water. Different types of trees, much smaller than the willow, were spread across the grounds. A lone simple wooden house stood near the moat. Melissa was sure Elias was in there tinkering with some new tool or invention or plan. And the whole area was enclosed by a giant transparent aura that rippled with every breath. Melissa stood just outside of it, not daring to enter past Athena’s aura.
Athena the Willow Keeper was more than just a tree. She was the ruler of this dimension. She stood unmoving, watching over the whole realm and the person inside her aura. She, along with the rest of this dimension, had been created for the sole purpose of keeping one individual imprisoned. Only one. Currently, it was Elias the Timekeeper. And that was how it had always been since this place had come into existence. Yet, all it would take for him to be free, was for another person to willingly trade places with him. He’d then be able to walk out, a free man. The other would stay. Maybe forever.
This, Melissa had been told, was all a part of his punishment. She pitied him. Not enough to grant him his freedom, but she did pity him. He had been trapped here for thousands of years. This place had somehow kept him alive or perhaps that was Elias’ doing. After all, he was the Timekeeper. It didn’t matter. He could live forever and it wouldn’t change that he was trapped. Not one single person had ever bothered to look for him, let alone give up their freedom in exchange for his. What did he do to deserve this? Melissa had only found him by chance and she had been looking for someone else. And why would anyone give him Athena in a prison?
Athena had the power to control and create anything within this dimension. Nothing was beyond her ability. Except granting their freedom. That, Athena would never do. Still, she puts Wishbringer to absolute shame. But they are similar. Mellisa had often wondered about that. It was almost as though Wishbringer was the first version, the prototype. Athena was the perfected, intended outcome.
Athena could and had made this place to be a paradise. And that made no absolutely no sense. A paradise and a prison? According to Elias, it was all just meant to be more insult to injury. The logic being, that even in exchange for paradise, no one would help him. Maybe it was true. Melissa didn’t know. She’d never been given many answers here. Only clues.
Melissa didn’t mind. She didn’t care that a tree had somehow become a fully sentient creature. More like a goddess! Athena had a talent at making earlier annoyances fade away like bad dreams. In fact, her goddess-like hospitality would make the rushed trip worth it. Information on Kyros would just be the icing on the cake.
“I will need a warm closed room,” she said loudly even though she knew Athena could have heard her whisper. “I will also need a large warm bath with flowing water, warm plush towels, warm clean clothes, and a meal large enough for three people. All outside the dome, please.” Melissa shook with anticipation. She’d be clean soon. And fed. When was the last time I had a decent meal? Elias could wait a little longer.
“Of course, Rose,” Athena replied. She only addressed Melissa and Elias by their titles. First names, even though she had one, seemed foreign when it came to things as small as humans. “Would you like the meal warm as well?”
Melissa smiled. Athena’s voice sounded young, song-like even. “Yes, please.”
A moment later, a giant roofless room popped in to existence around her. Melissa smiled, appreciating that the bright sunlight wouldn’t be blocked out. Lush fur carpet laid under foot. Intricate tapestries covered the newly formed stone walls. An enormous pool full of violet water took up half the room and filled the space with the heavy scent of lavender. Plump white towels sat near the edge of the pool along with different types of soaps and oils. At the opposite end of the room was a wooden table with every inch filled enough fruits, meats, breads, and rice to feed an entire squad of men. Rice! Melissa’s mouth watered. Next to the table was a large bed that looked indescribably comfy with its heavy blankets and plush pillows.
A stunning blue silk dress was in the corner of the room well away from the food and the bed. It was displayed on a wooden mannequin that Melissa knew was an exact copy of her figure. It hugged every curve, leaving a generous view of the chest with its low cutting top. The left leg was just as exposed with a slit that traveled nearly to her hip. It also had beautiful tail that would drag behind when walking. It was an outfit for a noblewoman. A rich one.
Athena had outdone herself as usual. Melissa appreciated it, but the dress was too much. No one, not even the gatekeepers themselves couldn’t make her wear that. Well, maybe Kyros could. She nearly blushed at the thought, making her feel childish. They’d had a child together. There was no reason to be getting red in the face over wearing something sexy. She sighed. It’s just been so long since I’ve seen him. She shook herself out of it.
“Appreciate the dress, Athena, but could you just get me some travel clothes?”
“Of course, Rose,” she sounded disappointed. “It will be done.” In a blink, the dress disappeared. In its place was an outfit similar to what she was wearing now, though green and much cleaner. There was also a matching green cloak made from a very durable material.
Melissa then decided three things in an instance. Bath, food, then sleep. Everything else could wait for a while.
Several hours later, Melissa lay fully dressed in her new clothes on the bed staring up at the clear night sky. She was rested, full, and blissfully clean. And if she was honest, she didn’t want to leave her roofless room. Maybe this is paradise. The night stars glittered, spread throughout the sky like they’d each been put there by some heavenly brush. Maybe they had. The same constellations she saw in the Endera sky were floating above her. There was Dolores the Cyclops, the ferocious titan who had lost her left eye. Then there was Luisa the Undone with three daggers in her back and her wicked grin. Sono the Song played his guitar for the hundreds of others. It was odd. Did it mean that this was part of Endera? Or did Athena just make it that way?
Her thoughts shifted to Kyros. They often did when looking at stars. He had taught her the constellations. She could never see them as clearly as he had, but then again, he was a Cosmic. A descendent of those who could read the stars like books. It’s more like they tell us what they’ve seen and lived and died for, she remembered him saying. Most of it is lies—just stories—but there is truth there, too. Many thought that the Cosmics were born with the gift of knowing the stars, but he had told her the truth. It was taught. Most of his life had been dedicated to learning all about the stars. That is what his life had been like on the secluded islands of the Galax Sea. Before he’d run away.
And met Melissa.
This was not paradise. It couldn’t be, not without Kyros. She had to find him. And until she did, no place would ever be good enough. And with him, it wouldn’t matter where they were, it would be perfect. It had been like that before and it would be again. I just have to find him.
“Athena,” Melissa stood up. “I’m ready to talk to him. Is he ready?”
“The Timekeeper is sitting at the edge of my aura waiting for you,” Athena answered.
“Good.” The room vanished as though it had never been there. “Thank you.” It almost seemed like a crime for such a place to just cease existing.
“Did you sleep well, Melissa?” Three lamps were set up against the aura, giving plenty of light to see a man with a wolfish grin. He sat cross legged on a comfy black leather couch sipping on a cup of something steaming. His hair was short on the sides, but long on the top where a mop of brown curls hung over his left ear. He had pale skin, oval eyes that were so dark brown they looked black, and strong cheek bones that outlined a wide jaw. The red pajamas made him look childish and small, but Melissa knew he was taller than she was. “I do hope that you did.”
Melissa rolled her eyes. “Don’t act like you’ve been waiting forever.”
“It certainly feels like I have been.” He had a deep, sweet voice. Like honey. “I hate to ask, but would like to join me? In the dome?”
“No,” Melissa answered. “As always, no.”
“Can’t fault me for trying,” Elias shrugged. “So, why are you here?”
The color drained from Melissa’s face. Had this all been for nothing? “You told me to come here. Come. To. Me. Hurry. You’ve been saying that to me non-stop for the last month and a half. Haven’t you?” She almost pleaded. She needed a clue—something, anything—to point her in the right direction.
“I didn’t,” Elias frowned, frustration building in his eyes as he thought out loud. “I’m very limited by what I can do here. You know that. Spending the energy to send you a message for a month and half. Even for me, that’s too much. If I was outside the aura, it’d be a different story, but…hmm. Who would be contacting you? Are they acting like they’re supposed to be me? They would have had to open the door from the other side. The door can only be opened by people with a spiral key or access to the temple. It’s possible something happened, that could have activated Wishbringer’s back up. Then without finding me in Endera, it contacted the only other person who has consistently been in the temple? That would take something quite destructive and the keys would have had to fuse with—impossible. My own backup key would have prevented—unless…”
Elias did this often. He talked and talked, having full conversations with himself. It was understandable considering how many years he’d lived with only a tree to talk to. Athena probably wasn’t the most interesting partner for conversations. Even if she was, they’d been together for hundreds of years. They’d likely run out of things to talk about by now. Melissa was his only visitor. And an infrequent one at best.
Melissa wanted to scream, “So you don’t have any help for me? Nothing?”
Elias gave her a toothy grin, “Well, I didn’t say that.” He stood up, tossing the cup behind him without a care for what would happen to it. It disappeared before it got too far. “I actually was going to call upon you very soon. Probably within the week actually.”
“You were?” Melissa didn’t believe it. “That’s seems awfully convenient.”
“You can think I’m the greatest conspirator that’s ever lived if you like,” Elias pulled out a pipe. “Athena, would you mind?” The pipe was lit a moment later and he happily began inhaling the smoke from it. “I’ve never cared if you trust me or not, Melissa. You’re free to believe what you’d like. I know you’re only here for you and I also know that I could continue my life of solitude never having said a thing that might help you in your search.”
Melissa grit her teeth. He was right. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m just frustrated. I’ve been searching so long and I still haven’t found him.”
“And I’ve been living here so long and no one has ever come found me…except you: a woman willing to burn the world, Old and the New, to find someone else. The irony there is disturbingly sad.” He exhaled a long stretch of grey smoke. It traveled straight through the aura without a hint of resistance.
“I know,” the smoke passed Melissa, leaving a tart sweetness in the air. “Sorry, okay. Athena, can I get couch like his?” A couch appeared just behind her and she sat down, hoping she might be swallowed by the cushions. “Will you tell me what you know?”
“I will,” he sat back down on his own couch. “I have questions, though.”
“You always do.”
This was true. Elias had a habit of interrogating Melissa in hopes of learning about the current news in Endera. The problem with this was that Melissa usually knew very little. She didn’t like paying attention to any of the politics or wars. She avoided those deadly topics at all cost, since they put her mission to find Kyros at risk. She couldn’t look for him if she was dead.
“Yes, and you always have very poor answers,” he said smugly. “Even though, I live in a prison, I tend to know more than you do.”
Melissa sighed. “I know and I’ll read up on all the gossip you want, once I find Kyros.”
Elias let out another long breath of smoke. “Everything for Kyros.” He said it with no contempt. It was more like he was stating a fact.
“I should know better,” he threw his pipe over his shoulder. “Let’s get to the questions then.”
Athena, dutiful as ever, made it disappear before it ever touched the ground. “I wish you’d stop doing that.”
“Of course, you do,” Elias took out a notebook and pen. He flipped through it until he landed on a blank page. “That’s why I keep doing it.”
Athena didn’t reply. Melissa waited for Elias to continue. He began scribbling and Melissa knew he wasn’t likely to stop until after they were done talking.
“Did you open the ShiftDoor to come here?” he asked.
“No.” Melissa liked keeping her answers quick and to the point.
“Did you ask Wishbringer to?”
“Good, good. What state was the King’s Temple in when you entered it?”
“Destroyed.” Melissa hated this. It felt like she was talking to a doctor.
Elias’ eyebrows shot up, “Completely? Describe it to me, please.”
Melissa did her best to describe exactly how it looked and how she’d gotten there. She left out the part about having to open her shirt for Wishbringer, but she thought Elias probably knew about it anyways.
“I see.” Elias took time, writing notes in a blur before continuing. “I take it you have no clue how it happened?”
“None whatsoever. It was just like that when I got there. I’m guessing Seltios probably had something to do with it. It’s on his land.”
“Seltios the King?”
“Yeah, we’ve talked about him before.”
“The one who led you to the Forgotten Realm.”
“Yes. He helped me find Kyros that time.”
“After putting him there in the first place, no?”
“Tha—that wasn’t—well, technically yes, but we didn’t know him then. I trust Seltios now.”
“Right. Well spending time in the Forgotten Realm is dangerous—especially dangerous for the mind. You must know that. It’s part of the reason I gave—”
“—I do know that,” Melissa hissed. “You’ve told me a million times.”
Elias rolled his eyes. “Let’s move on. Any big world events I should know about?”
“Not rea—” Melissa stopped. “There is actually. There is supposed to be a big tournament this year. Between the best academies of Dawn and Dusk. It’s a reintroduction of an old tournament. Everyone is talking about it. Old and New World, both.” She didn’t actively search for any news, but she wasn’t deaf. Nearly every person she’d come across had mentioned the tournament.
“The Lunar Tournament?” Elias raised a hand to his chin, running a finger along it thoughtfully.
“That’s the one,” Melissa wasn’t surprised he knew the name. He probably invented it or something.
“Dawn and Dusk,” Elias took pleasure in saying the names of the two major kingdoms of the New World. “Still struggling to play nice after all these years.” He shook his head. “I’m guessing they’re using this as a ploy to outmaneuver each other in some convoluted political move?”
“Who knows,” Melissa shrugged. “They’re getting kids to play in some events. I doubt it will do much politically.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Elias shook his head, again. “There’s more to it than that. Much more.”
“Well, I don’t really care,” Melissa said, firmly. “I just want the information you have to find Kyros. I think this is it. I think I’ll finally catch up to him.”
“Hmm, well I do hope you’re right,” Elias shut his notebook. “One last thing before we get to that.”
“I need your best guess,” his eyes showed no hint of playfulness. “What schools will be involved.”
He held up a hand to stop her, “It’s important.”
Melissa sighed, “There’s supposed to be three schools from each nation, right?”
“Then the Dawn and Dusk Academies will obviously be in,” Melissa rubbed her temples. She was trying to hold her annoyance at bay. “All the nobles will be dying for the chance to show off. Seltios will likely call for the Immortal Bridge Islands and Red Tusk Schools to join him on the Dawn side. I’ve heard they’re both good, but I don’t really know enough about them to be sure. For Dusk, Dragon Eye Academy is likely the best bet if they’ve kept their standards up over the years. They’ve never been much for fighting, but they use keys so well it might as well be magic. And then SoGA is the other obvious choice for Dusk. They’ve always been known as the best.”
“Soul Gate Academy,” Elias let the words roll out of him. “You and Kyros went there?”
“You know that we did,” Melissa crossed her arms, glaring hard enough at him that she hoped he would flinch. “Enough stalling. I answered your question. Your turn.”
“Of course,” Elias smiled. “I have good news.”
When Melissa didn’t react, he went on.
“I’ve finally learned to efficiently read time.”
“What?” Melissa eyes went wide. “What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you ever wondered how I was able to help you those times? Those were all my first attempts at reading. Well, they weren’t my first attempts. They were more like my first successes.” Elias stood from the couch, moving in a fluid motion to begin pacing around it with his hands crossed behind his back.
Melissa had wondered how Elias had helped her many times. Now, however, didn’t feel like the best time to quell her curiosity. “Does reading time,” Melissa didn’t even understand what that meant, “have anything to do with what you’re going to tell me this time? Because I honestly could care less about how you find the information you hand me. I only care that the information is accurate and helps me get closer to Kyros. It has in the past, so if you’ve got something I can use, you better stop trying to play up the drama of this little act and just tell me.”
“No appreciation for genius,” Elias huffed, indignation bleeding from his pores. “To make things simple enough for you, I’ve been reading time. It’s been incredibly difficult and for the most part impossible to clearly read with any real accuracy. Time is just so vast. Zeroing down to any specific moment isn’t even possible when looking at stream which stretches from before the beginning and goes on into infinity. It’s hard enough finding the correct century, let alone the decade. That’s why I’ve only been able to pass along small glimpses from what was supposed to by Kyros in this decade or perhaps the decade before that.”
Melissa still had no idea how any of this was even remotely possible, but she could follow the explanation. If Elias could only get little glances, it made sense that she was never there at the right time. She was arriving too late or too early. “And now what?” She tried her best to not sound so impatient.
“And now, I figured out how to read within a year. This year as a matter of fact.”
“So you know where he’ll be this year?” Melissa’s heart wanted to jump in joy. “Really?”
“Not exactly,” He grinned. “But I know who he’ll be with.”
“Who?” Melissa asked, desperately hoping it would be her.
“He will meet a young man in a fight or battle or perhaps even a spar.”
Melissa gulped, hanging on to his every word. “Who is he?” I’ll find him. This year. “What’s his name?”
“He was dressed in a uniform that was adorned with a Soul Gate Academy sigil.”
“Do you know his name?”
“I do,” Elias smiled. “But there is something more, Melissa.”
“What?” Melissa hissed. She could barely hold herself from jumping past the aura to beat the name out of him.
“I figured it out, Melissa,” Elias’ voice fell to just above a whisper. “I finally figured out how to go back.”
“Go back?” A chill ran down Melissa’s spine. She’d never seen Elias with such serious look behind his eyes. He’d shown it just for a moment, but there been absolute desire there. “What are you talking about?”
“I can turn back time,” he said slowly. “If I just get out of this place, I can do it. I know I can.”
Melissa’s mouth dropped open. She was stunned. There were things that were just supposed to be impossible. Turning back time was one of them. Does he really think he can do this? She stared into his eyes, looking for the hint of a joke, but it wasn’t there. Elias the Timekeeper was truly living up to his name and claiming without a shred of doubt that he could turn back time.
“No,” Melissa said after a tense moment at looking at him. “I don’t think you’re lying. In fact, I’m almost sure that you’re not. But I won’t risk anything that might prevent me from being with him. Turning back time would be a risk. I’m not saying I believe you can do it, but I won’t do or help you do anything that would risk me ending up with him. You must know that by now.”
“Well reasoned,” Elias nodded, his face falling. “Time is a finicky thing. It would be a risk. I don’t deny that. Still, won’t you reconsider?”
“No,” Melissa said. “I’m sorry.”
Elias shrugged, looking hurt, but trying not to show it, “I guessed as much.”
Melissa turned around, fully expecting that Elias would no longer want to give her the information on the young man. She would have like to have known his name. That would have helped narrowing the search, but knowing that he was a tyro at Soul Gate Academy. That could be worked with. It wouldn’t be impossible to surveil the academy and be there for the moment Kyros showed up. She could do this and there was no time to waste. She took a few steps, intending to open a ShiftDoor and leave.
“Don’t you want to know about the boy?” Elias asked. “I know a little more about him.”
Melissa stopped, her heart catching in her throat. “Please.”
“I’ve always been a sucker for beautiful women,” Elias sighed. “I get nothing in return for all my generosity, you know?”
“I—” Melissa shut her eyes. It was true, but she didn’t want to hear it. “I will pay you back for your help one day. I promise.”
“I believe you,” Elias whispered before turning back to his more jovial self. “That is why I will tell you more.”
Melissa turned around, letting her heart thump in her chest with all the fury of a hurricane. She’d find this kid and stay near him. Whatever it took, she’d be there for when Kyros would come.
“He has jet black hair, pale skin, and orange eyes,” Elias said. “Crimson orange, really. He’s got the look of someone who’s grown a lot in a short time. If I’m honest, he sort of looks like Kyros. Though, younger. Obviously. ”
Melissa’s mouth went dry. Black hair? Pale skin? Crimson orange eyes? Like Kyros? She’d known someone who looked like that. That’s impossible, unless Procu went and—but it hasn’t been that many years, has it? She blinked eyes stinging. It has. She suddenly realized what Elias was going to say before he said it.
“And here’s the best part,” Elias smiled wider than he ever had before as though none of what had passed between them earlier had happened. He knew. “His name is Kyle. Your—”
Kyle Demore and the Falling Moons – First Five Chapters
Copyrighted © 2017 by Samuel J. Vega
All rights reserved.