“I’ve had about enough war.” Paulin groaned. “What’s going on?”
While Zekerin spoke, Paulin turned and gazed out once more at the stars. There were so many of them, so many millions of points of light. Millions upon millions. And every single one of them contains a world like Calsin? Unbelievable! Simon always spoke of traveling across realms and between planets, but.. Was this what he meant?
“In short, there’s a nearby civilization known as the Empire of the Flame.” Zekerin’s voice drifted over Paulin, second to the glorious stars outside. “They occupy the star system nearest to ours, about two light-years from here. We’ve had some minor disputes over the years, but more recently things have been growing more aggressive. We’ve been at war for the last two years, and now, they’re on this craft.”
“Got you.” Paulin had to forcibly turn himself away from the starfield outside. “What do we need to do?”
“Well, you two have options.” Zekerin shrugged. “Option one is to hide. Chances are good that they’ll take the two of you prisoner instead of killing you outright, which gives you a bit more wiggle room. Option two is to come with me and try to re-take the ship.”
Paulin sighed and forced himself to his feet. “I say we help.”
Hesione scowled, not looking away from the stars. “It’s not our fight.”
Paulin reached out and grabbed her hand. She turned and glared up at him, and he shrugged.
“We need him if we’re going to get back to our time pod. If we get taken prisoner…” He let the thought trail off. “I’m just saying, it’s not a great situation.”
“I’m afraid I must agree.” Zekerin nodded. “Even if you could get to a transportation room, they have likely shut down all transportations outside the ship. You won’t be able to reach your pod.”
“Oh, fine.” Hesione climbed to her feet and pointed at Paulin. “This is still your fault. I hope you know that.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Paulin waved away the accusation, despite the fact that it was fairly accurate. “What do we need to do?”
“Come with me.” Zekerin turned and began jogging towards a door. “And hurry. If my conversation with my officers was intercepted, they’ll probably already have sent someone to deal with the problem.”
“Oh, now you tell us.” Paulin hurried after the commander. “If we’re going into battle, you wouldn’t happen to have any weapons, would you?”
“Nothing that I’m willing to give to someone who’s never shot a gun before.” Zekerin shook his head.
“I’ve done some shooting.” Paulin crossed his arms. “Admittedly not much, but-”
Ahead, the metal door slid aside, despite the fact that they were still much farther away from the door than it typically took to trigger whatever magic caused them to function. Zekerin dove out of the way almost instantly, crashing into a table and flipping it over to provide cover.
Paulin was left standing in the open as two creatures rushed in. He really wasn’t sure how to describe them, as… Well, they weren’t like anything he had ever seen before.
They were vaguely humanoid, though their limbs were far longer and slenderer than most species that Paulin had seen. Their skin was black and wrinkled, as if charred, their fingers were spindly and seemed to come to sharp points. Their faces were the worst, though, as their skin seemed almost fused with their skulls. They had no eyes to speak of, instead, they simply had large holes in their face that sank deep into their bodies.
Zekerin pulled a gun off his belt and fired it from his hip, shooting a hole straight through the table he was hiding behind. A beam of green energy slammed into the body of the first creature, throwing it backwards across the room. The second beam of energy sliced by the shoulder of the second monster, narrowly missing it. The creature spun and opened its bony mouth, releasing a swarm of what looked like insects. The tiny creatures roared across the distance, fast as any arrow Paulin had ever seen.
Quicker than Paulin’s eyes could follow, Zekerin fired a third time, hitting the creature in the head. It fell backwards as well, and the insects dissolved into a cloud of dust. Zekerin leapt forward, not pausing, as the first creature started to move again.
He shot it in the head, dropping it back to the ground. For a few seconds, he stood there breathing softly, then waved at the still-open door and called out something in his native language.
Paulin frowned, but ran to follow him. Hesione did the same, only for the commander to point his gun directly at them.
They both fell to the ground as a beam of the brilliant green energy sliced over their heads. Paulin turned to look at the translation golem melted into a rather spectacular pool of molten metal, cooling on the grated floor. Zekerin sighed, then spoke once more in his native tongue.
After a few seconds, he simply waved at the elves once more, then turned and charged through the door. Paulin followed as closely as he could, with Hesione pounding just behind him.
He didn’t really know what they were running into. It was a war that he wasn’t invested in, it was a situation that he didn’t understand. And yet, if he had a hope of surviving, it was a war that he needed to help with. If that wasn’t a discouraging set of odds, he didn’t really know what was.
Zekerin swore under his breath as they ran down the corridors of the ship. It had been a stroke of luck that he had noticed the confusion on Paulin’s face. Though neither of the two elves had noticed, the translation golem had suddenly started walking towards them, likely having been commandeered remotely from the conjuring laboratory.
What had the officer said? They had transported fifty Cursed onto the ship? That wasn’t many, but it was more than enough to do a great deal of harm. Ten officers were needed to run the bridge, which left forty Cursed to roam throughout the rest of the vessel. Possibly higher numbers if more Cursed were transported over from the freighter.
So what did they want with the ship anyway? That was the biggest question mark in his mind. He commanded a Tactical Scanning Vessel. It didn’t have a great deal of firepower, and it required a lot of manpower to keep running for a very long time at all. Sure, a bridge crew could successfully pilot it for a few minutes, but the engines would crash in extremely short order if not maintained almost constantly. It wasn’t fast, it had an extremely short jump range, and it had a tendency to leak plasma. The only true value that came of it was its enormous sensor range, which could cover up to one thousand clicks in all directions if push came to shove.
Oh, well. He could sort that out later. Ahead, he caught a glimpse of a weapons locker. It hung just behind a shimmering force field, next to a keypad. In that instant, several options presented themselves.
Option One: Give the newcomers weapons. Get shot in the back because they don’t understand how weapons work.
Option Two: Give the newcomers weapons. Get blown up because they accidentally shoot a plasma conduit.
Option Three: Give the newcomers weapons. Get sucked out a window after they accidentally shoot that.
Option Four: Give the newcomers weapons. Get massacred by the hoards of Cursed sent after them, because using his captain’s keycard would alert the bridge to his location.
Option Five: Ignore the weapons. Get cut down by Cursed because he didn’t have backup.
“You’d better actually be good for this.” He muttered softly and jogged up to the locker. He typed in his code and pressed enter, hoping that whoever was manning the bridge somehow missed the obnoxious red alarm that went off anytime the captain’s code was used literally anywhere on the ship.
“Alright, here.” He grabbed out two rifles and handed them to Hesione and Paulin, slamming the locker shut before they could see what else was inside. “Don’t shoot me or anything that looks dangerous. Okay?”
He knew that they didn’t understand, but as they took the weapons, they actually did manage to hold them properly. Or at least as properly as one might expect. He gave them a brief nod before turning and jogging down the hallway once more.
The expected attack came in the form of an elevator, which hissed open just down the hallway in front of them. Before anyone could step out and see him, he ducked into a doorway just to his left and motioned for Hesione and Paulin to join him. The three elves dove inside, standing in a small maintenance closet. The door remained open, though the three Cursed that ran past seemed fairly focused on simply running towards the cafeteria.
Zekerin leaned forward, glancing out into the hallway, before confirming that they were well on their way in the other direction. Satisfied, he jogged back out, hoping that the time travelers had enough presence of mind to follow him. He didn’t really know how he was going to manage them, but he needed extra hands for his plan to work.
Towards the front of the starship, quite a long distance from where the cafeteria, were a series of secondary bridges. They had multiple purposes, including remotely controlling other ships, manning the ship in the event that the bridge was destroyed, or taking back the ship from enemy invaders.
It was, naturally, the latter option that he was most looking forward to using the bridges for. The only question was how many Cursed they would have sent to guard it. There were plenty of other systems around the ship that he could use to try and regain temporary control, and it would make a great deal more tactical sense to try and access one of those rather than the one most likely to be guarded. It was a mind game, and one that he rather hoped the withered creatures were bad at. Especially since this type of scenario hadn’t been one that he had been exceptionally good at in training.
He quickly led the elves down several side corridors, trying to stay off the main hallways that the Cursed would be patrolling. Plasma shots echoed in the distance, bursts of gunfire resounding over the constant hum of the starship. It was impossible to discern anything from the shots, of course, most importantly how close they were.
It was just so hard to imagine that the Cursed would actually be trying to take over the ship. As word of the invasion spread, the operations of the ship would grind to a halt. Right? What other option was there?
He finally ran into a corridor that ran straight up to the secondary bridges. Or, rather, to the thoroughfare where the secondary bridges were located. He could just see the much larger hallway through the doorway at the end, noticing with frustration that the door itself seemed to have been fused open. Wires around the doorframe sparked as the systems tried to close the opening, but to no avail.
“Alright.” He drew to a stop and whispered to the elves. “Go slow.” He drew out the word in an attempt to convey its meaning. “Shoot the Cursed, and…”
Paulin closed his eyes and handed his plasma gun to Hesione, presumably not listening. Zekerin scowled at him, only to frown as he noticed the air around Paulin’s hands starting to shimmer. Magic? What magic could the elf possibly be working?
“Can you understand me?” Paulin’s voice echoed through the corridor an instant later. It was warbled and distorted, like noises traveling underwater, but it was there. Strangely enough, it was still very definitely in the old language that Paulin spoke, but now Zekerin could understand it quite well.
“Enough.” Zekerin hissed. “Keep your voice down.”
“Sorry.” Paulin whispered back. “This is kind of new to me.”
“It’s new to me too, believe me.” Zekerin spat back. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“It’s an ancient high elven technique. Lost to time.” Paulin flashed a small smile, keeping his eyes closed. “What are we walking into?”
“I don’t know.” Zekerin nodded at the open doorway, roughly fifty feet from their position. “My guess is that they’ve stationed between five and ten guards down there. When we get up there, stay flat against the wall. Combat here works by hiding, not by berserking out into a battlefield. Shoot what comes into view, as long as they’re Cursed. Make sense?”
“I think so.” Paulin’s face did not look like it made sense. “What then?”
“Just follow my lead and try not to shoot anything that isn’t our enemy.” Zekerin shrugged. “Alright, move!”
He turned and began moving down the hallway, jogging as quickly but as quietly as possible. As he reached the end, he slid up to the left side of the doorway, behind the roughly one foot of metal that framed the door on an ordinary day, and glanced out.
Sure enough, there were six Cursed standing in front of the doors to the secondary bridges. All told, there were four bridges there, all marked by red doorways that at that moment seemed to be locked. The hallway ran in both directions, though in both instances it curved out of the way as it continued its journey around the outer hull of the ship. From their position to the other side was about twenty feet, not far, but not enough to rush out and take them by surprise.
Paulin slid up to the other side, mirroring Zekerin’s actions. Hesione was just behind him, though she seemed significantly less satisfied with the arrangement than Paulin did. Zekerin gave Paulin a nod before aiming his pistol at the nearest Cursed and pulling the trigger.
A blast of plasma leapt from his pistol and struck the Cursed in the head, dropping him in an instant. The instant the shot left his weapon, he drew on his blood magic, satisfied as time slowed around him.
He readjusted his aim and pulled the trigger a second time, putting a shot through the second Cursed’s head. He was able to let off another shot, striking a third Cursed in the shoulder before his blood magic waned and he ducked back out of sight.
Paulin and Hesione both fired their weapons out into the hallway, though Zekerin couldn’t really see if they were hitting anything or not. Several flashing red lights shot back through the doorway, the Cursed returning fire with their own weapons. A buzz began to echo, indicating that at least one of them was attacking the old-fashioned way.
“Alright, then.” Zekerin pointed his pistol at the third Cursed he had shot, who was slowly climbing back to his feet. He squeezed the trigger and blew a hole through the man’s head before preparing himself for another attack. He drew on his magic once more, slowing time, and stepped out of cover into range of the other three Cursed.
Quite unfortunately, he stepped right into a swarm of cursedbreath. His blood magic broke, and he was blown backwards down the hall like a rag doll. The insects slammed into his body, grabbing his skin with their pinchers and lifting him up into the air, carrying him far away from the action.
“Shoot them!” Zekerin screamed, rather hoping that Paulin would understand the gist of his shout. Cursedbreath were nearly impossible to kill. They were tiny, they could withstand almost anything that could be thrown at them, and once they settled down for the kill, they could eat through bone into vital organs in a matter of seconds.
He struck the floor several moments later as the cursedbreath dissolved into dust, indicating that the Cursed who cast the spell had at least been wounded. Zekerin staggered back to his feet, blood dripping from his face down onto his uniform, and staggered back to meet the elves.
As he reached the end of the hallway, he tried once to draw upon his magic, but found it depleted in its entirety. Great. Gasping for air, he simply staggered out into the thoroughfare and fired at the closest target he saw. The Cursed dropped, a hole burnt through its chest. As it climbed back to its feet, he fired another shot through its shoulder, then finally put a plasma round through its head. The rest of the Cursed all lay dead, which was promising news.
“Alright.” Zekerin staggered up to the closest secondary bridge, typing in his captain’s code. The venom from the cursedbreath was beginning to take effect, a magical effect with no known physical chemical compound. It ensured that survivors of attacks would react slower to things in the future, making it ever harder to war against them. “Come on.”
The door hissed open a second later, and he stumbled inside. Paulin and Hesione followed him, and he slapped a large red button as hard as he could. The door hissed back shut, and he quickly typed in his captain’s code one more time. This locked the door tightly, sealing it off from the rest of the ship. At least until the Cursed decided to try to melt through or something.
The inside of the secondary bridge wasn’t large, and only had room for about five people at most. A commander’s chair sat in the center, while dozens of displays, consuls, and readouts filled the rest of the space. A small window sat at the front, letting them look out into the depths of space. The freighter could be seen off to the left, while the hull of the ship curved away above them.
Zekerin stumbled to the commander’s chair and sat down, which activated a holographic display in front of him. A keypad appeared, and he slowly lifted his hand. His arm trembled, shaking so violently that his hand simply couldn’t reach the numbers. He gasped deeply after several seconds, letting his arm fall back to his side.
“How can I help?” Paulin stepped up next to him, his voice once against distant but understandable.
“I need… I… Code.” Zekerin gasped. Great. Now it was getting hard to talk. He focused on the keypad and tried to discern the positions of the numbers. “Type… Upper left. Upper middle. Lower middle. Middle.”
He paused for a breath while Paulin reached over him, typing the code into the display. It took well over a minute to finish entering his code, by which point a loud banging was echoing through the room. He couldn’t turn his head at that point to look, but he was quite certain that the Cursed were banging on the door, begging to be let in. A buzz began to make the room vibrate, and he swore. Or at least he tried to. The Cursed were using their breath to cut through the metal. Fantastic. Thankfully, Paulin finally pressed enter, activating his control.
“Alright.” Zekerin took a deep breath as lights began to flicker around the room. The display in front of his changed, revealing a menu of command options. He once more tried to lift his arm, only to find it not working “Press that button in the middle left of the screen. No… No…” He inhaled deeply once more. Even that was getting more and more difficult. “The one that looks… Looks like a dome.”
Paulin finally found the right button and pressed it, activating voice control. Zekerin sighed and let his head flop backwards, where he stared up at the ceiling. His strained neck muscles thanked him. His mind, knowing how ridiculous he looked at that moment, did not.
“Emergency protocol fifty-one-B active. Jettisoning secondary bridge in 5 seconds.”
Paulin let out a yelp. Apparently he was still magically translating things. “Wait, what?”
The thrusters fired a second later, pushing Zekerin back in his chair. Hesione and Paulin both fell to the ground as the bridge was shot from the ship. From experience, Zekerin knew that the bridge would go into an orbital pattern around the tactical scanning vessel, where he could control the larger ship without fear of someone barging in. The hull zipped past for several seconds before vanishing as the thrusters began to navigate the bridge into position. The stars zipped past, swirling through the viewscreen, until…
The ship itself came into view. Zekerin flashed a smile at its design, amazed as always to see just exactly what he was working with. It was a large ship, several thousand feet long, shaped more or less like a giant rod. Massive sensor dishes extended off from the rod, though, almost giving the impression of insect legs or antenna. Off to the side floated the freighter, it’s blocky shape a stark contrast to the smooth corners of the tactical scanning vessel.
“Alright.” Zekerin took a deep breath once more. His body was almost completely immobilized now, which wasn’t fun in the slightest. “Activate translation matrix. Download… Download the language used… In the golem… That was most recently… Activated.” He had to force himself to breathe between words as his body fought to remain conscious.
“Language found. Translation matrix activated.”
“Good.” Zekerin flopped his head to the side to look at Paulin, who was still climbing back to his feet. “Can you understand me?”
Paulin frowned. “Yes.”
“Good.” Zekerin nodded. “Good good. Alright. I need… I need you and Hesione… To fly this ship.”
Paulin and Hesione both glanced at the commander. “How?” Paulin finally asked. He glanced at the countless displays. “None of this-”
“I’ll turn… I’ll turn on… A training program.” Zekerin forced himself to nod. “Just keep the ship here. Don’t let the… Cursed… Steal it. Do you… Understand?”
“Yes.” Paulin nodded, then bit his lip. “I think.”
While the computer acknowledged his words, he issued one final command.
“Begin broadcasting… Warning… Cursed on board. Resist at all costs.”
He let his head fall back once more, not having consciously raised it. With that, he allowed himself to fall into a meditative state. It would, after a time, heal his body and help bring him out from the effects of the cursedbreath. He would be quite vulnerable until he awoke, of course, and the two elves from the past would likely have absolutely no idea what in the galaxy they were doing. It was quite possible that they would just muck everything up, but he didn’t see that he had many options. He was impaired, which was just going to cause trouble whenever things got even worse.
And, quite unfortunately, he was certain that it would get worse.
“Well…” Paulin rubbed the back of his neck as Zekerin seemed to simply fall asleep. Lights flickered and pulsed under the blood elf’s skin, making Paulin assume that the commander was in some sort of meditative trance, but he may as well have just been sleeping.
“How do we do this?” Hesione stepped up to the front of the room, where she gazed out the window. Paulin frankly couldn’t blame her, the view was incredible. The object that hung in the distance, made from metal, fully and completely… Was that what they had just been inside? And now they were just in a smaller version? Floating in the void between worlds?
“I don’t know.” Paulin sighed. “He said he was turning on a training… A training book? Manual? There didn’t really seem to be a good translation of it.”
“Welcome, Paulin and Hesione.” A female voice suddenly echoed through the air. “I will assist you in your task. What would you like me to do?”
Paulin frowned and stroked his chin. What indeed?
“Zekerin told us to make sure that the ship doesn’t move.” He nodded at the strange star ship in the distance. “Can you do that?”
“Disabling primary and secondary engines. The Tactical Scanning Ship will not move anywhere.”
“Thank you.” Paulin dipped his head, then realized that he probably wasn’t actually talking to a real person. “Now… Huh.” He scratched his head. “Can you tell me anything about our enemy?”
“The ship has been invaded by Cursed. The Cursed are a race that originated on Calsin Prime on the continent of Fairn. They are a form of undead, and possess magic linked to the underworld.”
“Not what I meant.” Paulin shook his head, though the information was interesting. “How many of them are still on that ship?”
“There are forty-two Cursed still alive on the vessel.” There was a short pause. “Forty-three.”
“How are there more?” Paulin ran his hand through his hair.
“I am detecting active transports. It appears that more Cursed are being magically transported from the Nubierd cargo ship onto the scanning ship.”
“Great.” Paulin sighed. “Do we know what the Cursed are trying to do?”
There was another short pause, during which something in the corner beeped rather loudly. As the beeping stopped, the voice returned. “The attack patterns of the Cursed do not match any known attack parameters. It does not appear that they are trying to gain control of the vessel, nor do they seem intent on destroying it.”
“Alright, so what do you think they’re doing?” Paulin snapped.
“Per regulations on sentient artificial life, my parameters forbid me from speculating on such a subject.”
“I’ll pretend like I understood that.” Paulin sighed. He tapped his chin for a few moments, trying to figure out what was going on. Piracy was something he was familiar with from old Calsin, especially on the Inland Ocean. But… Pirates didn’t just climb on board enemy ships without trying to take it over or destroy it. What would the purpose be otherwise?
“What purpose does this vessel serve?” Hesione crossed her arms.
“This is a Tactical Scanning Vessel. It observes and makes reports on the nearby space, protecting the Lorital world and alerting the navy to threats.”
And, with that, something clicked in Paulin’s mind.
“So it’s a watchtower.”
“I suppose that such an analogy could be made, yes.”
Paulin nodded and spun to Hesione. “We’ve been looking at this wrong. If you want to send an invasion past a border undetected, you don’t make a scene. You take the watchtower out. Nothing dramatic that could be seen by other watchtowers, you just make sure that no one else can be alerted to the threat.” He stared out at the vessel, which just floated there, so innocuous.
“Is the vessel actively looking for threats right now?”
“No. All sensors have been turned off by the Cursed.”
“Then there’s our problem.” Paulin flashed a smile. “Turn the sensors back on.”
Once more, there was a pause interrupted by a loud beep. When the beep faded, the woman answered him once more. “I’m afraid that I cannot. It seems that the Cursed have damaged the internal systems of the ship. However, local sensors on this smaller ship are detecting other ships in the area.”
Paulin closed his eyes. He strongly suspected that the translator was simply substituting the word ship for basically everything that didn’t have a perfect translation, which was making things quite difficult. He took a deep breath and tried once more to think things through.
“Can we alert anyone else?”
“No. Communications have also been damaged on the scanning vessel, and the communicators on this ship do not have enough range.”
“Then let’s just fly over to someone.” Hesione pointed out the window. “How quickly can we do that?”
“It would take two hours to reach the closest platform. It is also unlikely that we would go undetected for so long. We would likely be attacked.”
“Great.” Paulin sighed and glanced at Hesione. He puffed out his cheeks and held up his hands. “Any ideas?”
Hesione shook her head, then paused. “What about the time pod?”
Paulin’s eyes snapped open, and he nodded. “Where is our time pod?”
This time, the beeps continued to echo for almost thirty seconds.
“There is a small vessel that seems to have a strong temporal signature attached to it. It is on the outside of the ship, near the engines.”
Paulin grinned. “Can you transport us in there?”
“No. The transportation networks have all been taken down.”
“Alright, then fly us over there.” Paulin pointed at the ship. “Please.”
“Proceeding as ordered.”
Paulin turned and flashed a small smile at Hesione. “All we’ll have to do once we get there is hop out, and then we’ll be good to go.”
“Please note that if you exit this ship without proper attire, you will be killed by space.”
“Of course we will.” Paulin closed his eyes. “Do we have the proper attire?”
“This craft was not fitted with space suits, no.”
“Well, it wasn’t fitted very well, was it?” Paulin muttered. Through the window, the view began to change as the scanning vessel grew larger. The floor hummed underneath of them, likely the work of the engines, whatever those truly were. “Alright, then. How long could we survive in space? Hypothetically?”
“Most elven races can survive for approximately two minutes before death. However, consciousness will be lost after approximately fifteen seconds.”
“Fifteen seconds.” Paulin scratched his head. “Is there any known high elven magic that can extend that?”
“There are certain combinations of elements that can, indeed, create protective force fields. However, none of these are available here.”
“Of course.” Paulin glanced at Hesione. “What are the odds that I can jump out of here, get into the time pod, and transport away in less than fifteen seconds?”
Hesione shrugged and began to fiddle nervously. “Not much.”
Paulin took a deep breath. “Do we have any other options?”
As she shook her head no, he sighed and nodded. “Alright, then. I’ll jump out and risk it. You stay here with Zekerin. Deal?”
“If the doors are opened, all pressure will be lost. All residents of the ship will be subject to the same death conditions.”
“Would you stop putting conditions on this?” Paulin snapped at the disembodied voice. As the noise vanished, he sighed. “Sorry. I just need to know how to win this.”
“Of course. Your plan is not a bad one. If I may make a suggestion: Take a can of emergency air. When you have reached your ship, simply press the button and you will be able to breathe once more. However, do not stay long before leaving, as the poison in this area is quite deadly.”
“I’m beginning to wonder why anyone ever bothered to venture into space.” Paulin muttered. He rubbed his hands together and continued to watch the scanning vessel grow closer. They had soon grown so close that they couldn’t really see it anymore, and could only really catch glimpses of the giant metal dishes that they flew past.
“It is indeed quite hostile to sentient life.”
“Yeah, really not what I need right now.” Paulin took a deep breath. “Alright, then. Where’s this canned air? And what other tips do you have for surviving this?”
Lights and colors swirled before Zekerin’s eyes. He was conscious, but in a distant, fogged sense of the word. Battle meditations were always a tricky business, and came with a wide variety of hallucinations, dreams, and other phenomena.
Without warning, all the air left his lungs in one single gasp. The temperature of the room plummeted, and for a brief moment, it felt like he became weightless.
In that instant, he came rushing back to full clarify, though his eyes were still closed. What in the universe was happening? It felt like his training when he had been exposed to a vacuum.
With that, his eyes snapped open fully, allowing him to see, quite clearly, that he was being drug across the outer hull of his ship by Hesione. The secondary bridge floated just above them, thrusters keeping it at a safe distance from the larger ship. What were the two time travelers thinking? They were going to get all three killed, and…
He was suddenly pulled up and into a tiny craft, barely large enough for the three of them. The side of the craft folded up and snapped shut, and with a resounding crash, lifegiving air flooded the small compartment.
“What was that?” Zekerin staggered to his feet, grateful at least that the Cursed venom seemed to have abated. His limbs still felt a bit woozy, but he could move again. “Where are we?”
Paulin smacked a white button on the wall of the craft just next to a primitive computer, and the craft began to rock softly, like it was a boat on a river. Both he and Hesione breathed a sigh of relief, and Paulin just grinned. He bent down and picked up a small can that Zekerin immediately recognized as pressurized oxygen. Quite useful for surviving decompression scenarios. He continued to frown in confusion until a single thought hit him.
“We’re in your time machine, aren’t we?”
Paulin frowned, then spoke to Hesione in the same ancient language that they typically conversed in. After a few seconds, he closed his eyes and began casting the translation spell again.
“Sorry about that. Uhh… Let me see if I can remember what that voice said. Your ship can no longer look for things, and there are lots of other ships in the area.”
Zekerin shook his head, then groaned loudly. “The Empire of the Flame is invading, aren’t they?”
“It would seem so.” Hesione nodded. “So… We came here.”
“We can go back in time slightly and warn someone else that the invasion is coming.” Paulin gestured vaguely at the computer. “Right now we’re outside of time. We just have to enter the right coordinates or fly there manually, and-”
“May I?” Zekerin stepped up to the computer. The keypad was written in what appeared to be an ancient dwarven text, but Paulin quickly pressed a nearby button that caused a translation matrix to appear on the screen. Of course, this was in yet another ancient script, but this one at least seemed to use the same basic alphabet that he was used to.
“What are you doing?” Hesione stepped up next to him as he began to slowly type a code into the machine.
“Figuring out the special coordinates for the nearest observation platform.” Zekerin bit his tongue as he tried to concentrate. “This pod may be old, but it uses the same system of coordinates that we’ve used since the end of the sixth era. I think… Ah ha! Here we go.” He pressed the enter button, which promptly caused a small burst of electricity across the surface of the hull. The rocking stopped, and he frowned. “Did I break it?”
“Nope.” Paulin reached over and pressed a small button, which caused the side of the craft to peel away. “We’re here.”
Zekerin stood up straight as the wall folded down to form stairs, leading to the floor of an office. An office that he recognized entirely too well.
He didn’t know the admiral who staffed it, but it was very clearly an admiral’s office. The open windows that wrapped around in three hundred sixty degrees, exposing the entirety of Lorital as well as the open stars. The lavish desk, the banners that hung from the ceiling. And, of course, the rather annoyed-looking blood elf standing behind said desk. At a glance, he seemed quite old, as his hair was a faded light-blue and his skin was creased with wrinkles.
“By the names of the gods and our great ancestor Lorital, who are you and what are you doing here?”
“I need the date and time.” Zekerin stepped down out of the time pod, remaining at attention. “Please.”
“Year fourteen thousand, three hundred sixty-eight, day one-thirty-six, tenth hour.”
“Looks like I went back farther than I thought.” Zekerin muttered before shrugging. “Next year, three hundred sixty-nine, day eighty-seven, the Tactical Scanning Vessel Unit nine-three-eight-two will be infiltrated by Cursed and overthrown. It will not be destroyed, but it willbe disabled, allowing a fleet of ships access to our planet unimpeded.”
“Do you have proof of that?” The admiral seemed unimpressed.
“Scan me. I think you’ll find that my biological signs are just a bit older than what the computer thinks I should be.” Zekerin crossed his arms. “Look, I just did an unprotected spacewalk and traveled through time to come tell you this. I’m trying to help.”
“Indeed, if you’re telling the truth, it would be quite an advantage.” The admiral sighed and glanced down at the floor. After a few seconds, he shrugged. “Would you care to make a full report? It sounds like you have plenty of time before you’ll be required back on active duty.”
Zekerin bowed his head. “Of course. I live to serve our Family.”
“If you’re telling the truth and the scans check out, you will gain much honor for your house.” The admiral flashed a small smile. After a few seconds, he nodded past Zekerin at the two other elves. “I presume the time machine belongs to them?”
“Indeed it does. Without their help, my ship would certainly have fallen.” Zekerin frowned. “Or certainly will fall. I don’t know. I’m confused.”
“Most people seem to have that response upon time traveling for the first time.” The admiral sighed and scratched his head. “Is there anything that we can do for them? Or would they simply like to go on their way?”
Zekerin crossed his arms, thinking for a few moments. At that exact moment, both elves were staring out at the view of the planet below, mesmerized by what it looked like from such a distance.
“I think there might be.” He shrugged. “Contact the Temporal Commission. I don’t think these two are associated with it just yet.” A small smile flickered across his face. “I do, however, think that they’ll be interested in meeting some of the people they have there.”
“So… What you’re saying is that you don’t have a cure?” Paulin held up his hands more than a bit confused. “In all the millennia that the universe apparently lives on, no one discovers a cure for vampirism?”
“Look…” The orc that they were talking with, a nearly ten-foot tall man named Trinkin, sighed deeply. They were walking down a glass-domed corridor that wrapped around a spider-like space station. The view outside was no less incredible than before, displaying what looked like an enormous cloud of gas and dust floating through the void of space. “I’m not saying that I don’t have a cure. What I’m saying is that I couldn’t give it to you even if I did. I couldn’t even tell you if I did.”
“But why?” Paulin turned to Trinkin, more than ready to plead his case. “What would be wrong with saving lives?”
“It’s complicated.” Trinkin mumbled, his voice deep and pained. “Officially, it’s called the Temporal Protection Act. In practice, it means that in order to protect the timeline, certain things like cures for diseases, magical techniques and theories, and other such bits of knowledge and artifacts cannot be transferred from one time or timeline to another.”
Paulin crossed his arms in frustration. “So I’m just supposed to give up, then?”
He was growing angrier and angrier with the whole situation. After crashing into the future in an attempt to destroy the pod, he had learned that safe time travel was indeed possible… And now he was being told that he wasn’t supposed to use it? When Zekerin had told him that the Temporal Commission was getting in touch with them, he had been overjoyed. When they had specifically brought in Trinkin as an expert in fourth-era Calsin, he had been sure that they would be walking away successful. And now… Now, what was he learning?
“I’m not saying that, no.” Trinkin sighed and stopped walking. He turned to stare out at the expanses of the stars, slowly reaching out and placing his hand against the glass. Paulin stepped up next to him, with Hesione stepping around to his other side. Trinkin sighed once more, deeply, before talking again.
“I truly am sorry for the confusion I must be providing right now. I must admit, my mind is scattered at the moment. I’m not used to being caught off-guard, so it was a bit of a shock to me when I was asked to travel nearly two thousand years into the future to speak with the world’s first recorded time travelers. Giving you council is to me the same as it would be to meet a young version of your own parents. They might be young and thus in need of council, and yet, they are still your parents. Does that make sense?”
“I think so.” Paulin took a deep breath. “You’re saying that we found this… Temporal Commission?”
“Not directly, no.” Trinkin sighed once more. “I only tell you this much because I don’t want you to assume that destiny will take you down a path that it never intended to do. However, you do indeed provide inspiration for the commission, and your legacy becomes one that countless generations of time travelers will look to in the future. Myself, certainly.”
“I see.” Paulin nodded slowly. “So… What do we do?”
“You and Hesione possess the ability to do nearly anything you want.” Trinkin shrugged. “If you do indeed find a cure for vampirism, you are under no obligation to the pacts and regulations mentioned earlier. No one who was born, raised, and entered into the practice of time travel before the fifth era is subject to such terms. However, as I am indeed bound by these practices, I cannot tell you anything that might aid you in that quest.”
Paulin closed his eyes and tried to think.
“Sorry, I’m just struggling with this.” Paulin managed to gasp out an explanation after a few seconds. “I just… I can’t give up on Kisidera. I won’t give up on her. I refuse to, but I also don’t want to hurt anyone else. We’ve already caused so much damage.”
“You saved Commander Zekerin from the Cursed.” Trinkin held up his hand. “He would most certainly have been killed if not for your assistance.”
“And how many Cursed died because of our actions?” Paulin held up his hands. “We got involved in a war that wasn’t our fight. I don’t know if we helped the good guys or the bad guys. I don’t know which one we should have helped. For all I know, the blood elves have been slaughtering the Cursed and that attack was just a response.”
Trinkin slowly tapped his foot on the floor before answering.
“You probably don’t want the answer to that question.”
“Exactly.” Paulin shrugged. “So what do I do? How do we do this?”
Trinkin groaned before shrugging. “Ahh, I’m going to get fired for this. Why not? It’s public access for everyone else here.” He turned to Paulin. “Your best bet is to check with various archives throughout space and time. If a cure for vampirism was discovered, it would most likely be stamped out quickly and quietly by the vampire community themselves. Thus, if you check with different libraries and collections throughout time and space, you just might come across a specific incident of a cure being discovered. I can give you space-time coordinates for some of the major ones that would be worth looking at.”
“That would be amazing, thank you.” Paulin flashed a smile up at the massive orc. “It’s much appreciated.”
“I’ll transfer the coordinates to your pod, they’ll appear in your computer’s navigation system.” Trinkin shrugged. “Safe travels, my friends. I truly do wish you all the best.”
With that, Trinkin turned and began to walk away. Paulin watched him go, curious as he vanished around the glass ring. As two humans appeared in the other direction, the same two humans who had met them upon their arrival and who would likely escort them back, Paulin turned to Hesione.
“Hey. We’ve got this.”
“I hope so.” Hesione took a deep, shuddering breath. “Oh, I hope so.”
Paulin frowned. “What makes you think otherwise?”
“Simple.” Hesione turned to look up at Paulin. “I’ve seen him before. He’s the one who took Ondernifam, back in Donenrot. When I saw them meet, I’m certain that Ondernifam knew who he was. They’d met before.”
Paulin stroked his chin, curious. “That’s a remarkable coincidence.”
“I agree. Or…” Hesione leaned forward. “Or it’s something more. Did you see him? The way he looked at us?”
Paulin shrugged. “Confused? A little uncertain?”
Hesione shook her head. “No.” She turned and cast one final glance out at the stars. “It was the same look that we had when we talked to a young Sam. He knows something about our future.” She shuddered, and Paulin wrapped his arms around her. “And it isn’t anything good.”
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