“I hate libraries of the future.” Hesione muttered as the two elves stalked from the massive building. “And just the future. This era in particular.”
Next to her, Paulin nodded idly but didn’t really say much more. Hesione sighed and just kept walking, hoping that her brother would come back down to the ground sometime soon.
After their meeting with Trinkin, the two elves had begun systematically visiting each and every archive on the list that they had been given. They had looked through shelves upon shelves of scrolls in the wizarding academy, hundreds of years before their birth. They had looked through the archives of Sintison, they had looked through libraries that sprang up on Fairn, Corinth, and other continents. Now… Well, now they had just left a particularly massive archive on Dararma.
Hesione did have to admit, the view was beyond impressive. It was the beginning of the seventh era, second epoc. The sphere that was Calsin hung in the sky above them, visible just as Dararma was visible on an ordinary night. Buildings of stone and metal rose from a dusty white ground, while a massive glass dome covered the small city where they stood. Outside the dome, several ships zipped back and forth, departing and leaving. Nearly all of them looked like birds in some fashion, with blazing blue engines mounted on enormous metal wings.
Of course, the relative beauty of it all didn’t reduce her frustration with the era. Upon arrival, both had immediately been tagged as unidentified citizens, shipped off to a local police station, given identification cards, and told to change out of their Lorital uniforms and into a pressed blue uniform that Hesione didn’t particularly care for. While Paulin got to wear pants, she had been forced to put on a dress. Except it didn’t let her actually do anything. It was such a tight dress, and went all the way down to her feet, forcing her to walk at a slow pace no faster than a crawl.
“I said, are you ready?” Paulin’s voice cut back into her thoughts. As she focused on him, he frowned. “You’re getting really bad about just daydreaming while we’re walking around.”
“Oh, I’m getting bad?” Hesione snapped. “Look in a mirror sometime.”
Paulin frowned, and Hesione crossed her arms. “I just want to get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
“You and me both.” Paulin sighed. “Well, since we might have a lead now, we shouldn’t have to do much more hopping around.”
Hesione just nodded and sighed. She straightened up and tried to look proper as several individuals walked out of a nearby bar, laughing and shouting. All of them wore the exact same outfit that she and Paulin were wearing, though theirs were all formatted for their specific species. She counted two high elves, a dark elf, an elf with silvery-white skin and blue eyes, and a creature that was as short as a dwarf but looked more or less like a brown-skinned elf.
“What is it with all these other species?” Hesione muttered. “I thought there were a lot of different races on Calsin in our time. Now my head is just spinning trying to keep track of it all.”
“You and me both, believe me.” Paulin sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Like I said, come on. I think I have a lead. Not that you were listening to me when I told you about it, but…”
Hesione started wagging her hand to mock him, and the two of them started to walk a bit faster. They soon enough arrived at the small gap between buildings where their pod had landed, hidden out of the way and more or less covered by a small tree. Hesione slid past the tree and pressed her hand against the surface of the pod, grateful as it popped open. She scrambled up inside in a heartbeat, and began typing coordinates into the computer the moment that she could reach it.
Paulin frowned as he stepped up inside as well, an odd look on his face as he pressed the button to seal the door. “You don’t even know what I found out.”
“I don’t need to know in order to go change out of these clothes.” Hesione frowned. As the door snapped shut, she dematerialized the pod and sent it back in time to their island. Paulin opened the door, and she stumbled out into their cave.
Towards the back was held their increasingly impressive stash of clothes. Paulin grabbed the futuristic Lorital uniforms out of the pod and walked over next to her, placing them near the pile of everything else. She took a deep breath, gazing across the available options. As they jumped around, reading archives, they had continued to increase their wardrobe. Soon enough, they would have enough clothes to cover any and every culture and time that they wanted to visit.
She stripped out of the confining dress as quickly as possible before realizing that she really didn’t know where they were going next. She turned and called out to Paulin, who was leaning against a wall of the cave facing out towards the rest of the island.
“Where are we going next?”
“Oh, so now you want to know?” He snorted. She glared at him, and he shrugged. “We’re headed back to the sixth era. Towards the end of it, there was a reported vampire who was cured quite publicly. From what I can tell, science was advanced enough at the time that it probably wasn’t a hoax. Only one way to find out, though.”
“Uh, huh.” Hesione frowned down at their stacks of clothes. “What continent?”
“Calsin. It actually happened near Gorktindin.” Paulin chuckled. “Ahh, the memories of that place.”
“You were only there for a few days.” Hesione snorted. She grabbed the clothes that she thought would most closely match the era: A sundress that was spotted with flowers and lace frills. They had picked it up on a different continent, but the time period was more or less the same. “I, on the other hand, made several rather distinct memories there. Including watching you die.”
“Oh yeah.” Paulin grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
“It hasn’t happened yet.” Hesione finished getting dressed and stomped back to the time pod. “Go get dressed. Even if this isn’t quite right, it shouldn’t stand out too terribly bad until we can find replacements.”
“You really don’t have to tell me.” Paulin sighed and walked to the rear of the cave, where he began changing into his corresponding outfit. Hesione glared in his direction before beginning to prepare the time coordinates. It still wasn’t the most convenient task, but she was learning which numbers cast the pod to different locations and times. She had sorted out about half the coordinates by the time Paulin showed back, and stepped out of the way as he began working on the second half.
As annoyed with him as she was in that moment, she had to stifle a chuckle at his attire. It was remarkably similar to her own, with large frills and brilliant colors that rather hurt to look at. When Paulin finished typing in the coordinates, Hesione sealed the door and waited for him to press the enter button.
She frowned as he placed his hand on the button. He had an odd look of concern on his face, and he seemed to hesitate. She slid around the wall to stand in front of him, trying not to bump the various buttons and switches there.
“I don’t know.” Paulin sighed. “Just… Everything. You know?”
Hesione held his gaze for a second before glancing down at the grated floor. Below her feet, pulsing with that soft green light, was the continual reminder of their incredibly strange existence.
“Yeah.” She scuffed her feet before looking back up at Paulin. “Sorry for being upset with you.”
“No, you have every right to be. I haven’t exactly been present.” Paulin shrugged. “You are my sister, and you’re along on this journey with me. Flying through space, getting chased by orcs, getting bugs spat at us…”
“Please don’t continue that list.” Hesione held up a hand.
Paulin just flashed a small smile. “Fair enough.” He took a deep breath. “Well, how about we do our best to violate a command that apparently we’re going to influence in the future or something?”
Hesione grinned back at him as he dematerialized the pod and sent them flying through time. The pod began to rock and ceased to do so in what seemed like the same breath. With that, Hesione opened the door, holding her breath as the door slowly folded down.
It was night, that much was immediately obvious. From what she could see, they had landed in an alley of some sort, with brick walls rising on both sides. Metal stairs rose up the left side of the alley, while at the end, several trash cans stood just in front of an open street. A car blew past an instant later, its brilliant lights shining the way through the darkness.
“Well, we’re here.” Hesione slowly stepped down onto the concrete. Her dress swirled in a soft breeze that blew through the alley, bringing with it a rather foul odor that made her wrinkle her nose. “Any idea where to go next?”
Paulin shook his head. “I think it said something about a statue, but I’m not for certain on that. The article was kind of confusing.”
Hesione sighed. “Well, let’s go check it out.” She began sliding down the alley. “Let’s just hope-”
Behind her, Paulin let out a loud yelp. She spun to see him sprawled on the ground in front of the time pod, blood pouring from his face. An elderly man stood over him, hissing softly. At a glance, he was almost certainly a vampire, his facial features twisted by age and the disease. That fact in and of itself was bad enough, but on top of it… He was standing on the top stairs of the time pod.
“Get down from there.” Hesione held up her hand as the man backed into the pod. “You don’t know what you’re doing. That thing is dangerous.”
“Oh, I know exactly how dangerous it is.” The vampire hissed. “You don’t even recognize me, do you? It’s probably been a matter of days for you, and you’ve already forgotten me. Well, I haven’t forgotten you.”
Hesione’s jaw dropped as a connection clicked in her mind. “Sam. You’re Sam Bricklayer.”
“You stole my life from me!” He snarled as Hesione took a step forward. He pulled a gun from his belt, a sleek black weapon, and pointed it down at Paulin’s body. “You told me that I was going to love my life. You promised me wealth and riches beyond my wildest imagination. I gave up a good life for you, and look what happened to me!”
Hesione felt a rush of emotion flow through her body. How was he still alive? Even vampires had measurable lifespans… Right? Had they truly done that much damage? They had known that they were condemning him to a life of vampirism, but… He himself had thanked them!
“We only did what you told us to do.” Hesione protested. “You said that you loved your life, that-”
“Shut up or I put a bullet through his head.” Sam hissed. “I left my family behind. Sixteen years old, and I left the only people who ever loved me. I lost both of my parents across the continent. I spent my entire life waiting for those riches, and I wound up getting eaten by a vampire for all my troubles.”
“So what are you going to do? Kill us?” Hesione felt a tear trickling down her cheek. “Please, don’t do this. We’re sorry, and we’ve been trying to undo the damage.”
“You can try all you want, but it won’t work.” Sam shook his head. “Now that I possess the ability to travel through time, I’m not going to bother killing you. You’re not worth the bullet it would take to strike you down. No…” He flashed a wicked grin. “I’m going to go back in time. I’m going to mess up your lives. I’ve spent my undead life figuring out who you are. I know where you were born. I know how you lived your young lives, and I know how you two were lovers before learning that you were siblings. I am going to ruin you, and I am going to take as much pleasure as possible while doing it.”
With that, he smacked the button to close the door. Hesione broke her stance and ran for the pod, and he fired a shot through the slowly-closing door. The bullet struck her in the foot, causing pain to lance up her leg. She fell to the ground, screaming, as the door clicked shut. An instant later, lightning burst across the pod. It faded from the world, leaving them alone.
“What…” Paulin stirred on the ground, slowly sitting up. “What happened? Who hit me?”
Hesione took a long, deep breath. “Sam came back.”
“Sam who?” Paulin frowned groggily. His eyes snapped open wide, and he shook his head. “Oh! Sam! Where is he?”
“He took the time pod.” Hesione drew a long and pained breath. “Until we can figure out something else… We’re stranded here.”
Two years later…
“I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t help you with that.” Hesione sighed as the customer on the end of the phone continued to prattle on. “We only sell canned foods, not fresh.”
“Then how am I supposed to follow my doctor’s orders?” The annoyed and rather high-pitched voice on the other end shouted back at her. “I have to eat a special diet of lettuce and fish!”
“Then I would suggest getting a different doctor.” Hesione glanced at her coworker, Darien, who seemed to be trying hard not to laugh.
“How dare you-”
“Look, we don’t sell fresh vegetables.” Hesione spoke slowly. “You are more than welcome to come into the store, but it won’t be here for you.”
“I’d like to speak to your manager!”
“So would I.” Hesione snorted and hung up the phone, then turned and rolled her eyes dramatically. “I hate customers.”
“You and me both.” Darien, a mottled elf just a few years younger than herself, smirked and went back to sweeping. They both stood behind the counter of a small grocery store, specializing in the canned goods produced by Seaside Canning International. “How long do you work today?”
Hesione glanced up at the clock, which hadn’t moved nearly as fast as she would have liked. “The fifth hour. What about you?”
“Same.” Darien nodded. After a few seconds, he glanced at the ground and started sweeping a bit faster. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in getting a bite to eat after we get done? There’s a place that opened up just down the street that I’d kinda like to check out.”
Hesione shrugged. Her and Paulin had a bit of extra money stored up that month, and Paulin wasn’t one to explore many of their handful of social connections. “Sure, why not? Just promise me it won’t be as bad as that ice cream you brought me last week.”
Darien turned away, but forced a laugh. “Don’t worry! It’s way better than that.”
Hesione chuckled, then walked around the counter and began to wander into the shelves. There were only a handful of customers there, but management was exceptionally picky about making sure that everything looked perfect.
She wandered along the rows upon rows of cans, adjusting the labels to face forward and pulling the rows of cans forward as needed. A few of the price tags had been slid to the side, which she readjusted.
It slightly boggled her mind, really. They sold canned vegetables, canned fruits, canned meats, and so much more. If it was edible, the good folks at Seaside Canning had probably dumped it into a vat of their patented syrup and crammed it into cans. Chicken, beef, minotaur, satyr, corn, turnips, nirtroot, moonflower, the list went on for an eternity. They even had meals in cans, where they had taken several different types of meats, vegetables, and fruits and just dumped them together to put every single course into one. Those in particular Hesione wasn’t a fan of, but their premade soups actually weren’t bad.
The rest of the afternoon passed as they all did: Slowly and painfully. She finished organizing all the cans, only for a family of aqahartis with young toddlers to wander in. Their shrieks as the parents failed to buy them canned candy caused a minor earthquake that knocked dozens of cans over, which she naturally had to go clean up. No sooner had she finished with that task than a human woman walked in wanting to know if she could use their canned minotaur meat to substitute for minotaur flesh needed for a sacrifice to her patron. On yet another occasion, a rather boisterous high elf walked inside, pulled out a knife, and began opening different cans wanting to try a sample of the different foods so he would know which one he wanted to buy.
By the time her shift ended, Hesione felt absolutely beaten. She punched the clock and stumbled to the door as Darien finished punching out his own time. They were both stepping out into the light of the slowly setting sun when Hesione caught a glimpse of their boss’s door swinging open.
“Run! Now!” She punched Darien in the shoulder and bolted down the sidewalk, her uniform apron flapping in the wind. Darien was right behind her, laughing as they raced down the street. Behind them, she heard the door swing open, but roundly ignored the dwarfish grumbles of discontent.
As they rounded the corner, Hesione laughed and drew to a stop, gasping for air. Darien did the same, coughing as he inhaled a small insect. He spat it out, and the two continued laughing. Hesione finally sighed and closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
“Another day done.” She opened her eyes and began untying the apron, allowing her to stand in the odd, mostly green clothes that seemed to be the fashion statement of their time. “Ahh. Ready to get down to the restaurant?”
“More than ready.” Darien flashed her a grin and pointed down the street. “I think you’re going to like it.”
Hesione held out her arm, which Darien took. “Lead the way, my prince.”
The two of them laughed once more and continued walking, down towards whatever Darien had planned. All around, the city seemed to buzz with life. It was a truly unique setting, and one that Hesione didn’t particularly mind being stuck in.
Most of the buildings were made from brick, though a few were made from hewn stone and metal. Wires were strung along massive poles that lined the street, delivering electricity for a price. Cars raced back and forth down asphalt roads, able to travel across the continent in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, an invention known as the “internet” allowed anyone with a computer to talk to people on other sides of the world without a need for travel at all. It was a wondrous time, filled with the chaos of the old world that she was used to while still providing the comforts of more advanced ages.
Ahead, a small building drew into view, a storefront that seemed made from wood instead of the red bricks around it. Smoke wafted from a chimney that equally seemed made from wood and mud, a far cry from their surroundings. A small line wound out the door and down the sidewalk, while the smell of fresh bread wafted through the air.
“What is this?” Hesione felt her heart leap.
“I think it’s called the drunken wolf.” Darien shrugged. “Just opened over the weekend. The internet says that it’s the place to be. Apparently they brought in historical experts to make sure all the food actually tastes like ancient Calsin did.”
Hesione couldn’t contain her excitement. It wasn’t time traveling, but it was close. “Oh, this is amazing!”
The two of them darted across the street, quickly standing in line. As more and more businesses closed and let out for the day, the line continued to grow. Hesione grinned widely, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet. She hadn’t had anything but canned foods in what felt like years. Realistically, it hadbeen right about two years at that point.
The two of them continued to engage in small talk, chatting about work and such, as the line moved forward. By the time they made it through the front door, the sun had set, and the stars were just starting to sparkle overhead. A dark elf waiter led them to a small table in the center of the room. There, they were given menus and a small plate of nectar rolls. Hesione picked up one of the rolls and bit into it, relishing the taste of sweet mountain flowers mixing with the bread and the butter. It was, if she was so bold, even a bit better than the rolls that she had been used to in her old life.
As she finished eating the roll, she glanced down at her menu. Over a dozen options stood out, everything from roasts to duck to salads. Before she could order, Darien reached out a hand and took the menu from her hand.
“Trust me.” He flashed her a small smile. “I think I know something you’ll like.”
She frowned, but nodded as the waiter came back over. Darien whispered something in his ear, and he nodded once before walking away. Several long minutes passed while others around them continued to eat on their own food, making Hesione’s stomach rumble loudly.
When the food finally came back out, Hesione’s heart skipped a beat. It was a large sandwich, steaming with a meat that looked like lamb, complete with a salad on the side and a goblet of moon ale. It was set in front of her while a large steak was set in front of Darien. He handed several gold coins to the waiter, who took them and vanished into the back. Hesione frowned and shook her head slightly.
“You don’t have to pay for me.”
“Come on.” Darien shrugged. “The guy always pays on the first date.”
Hesione froze as she reached for her food. She slowly looked up to meet Darien’s eyes, which had suddenly grown a good bit wider than they had previously been. He coughed once and looked down at his steak.
Hesione held the gaze for a few minutes longer before chuckling and picking up her sandwich to take a large bite. “Oh, you should see the look on your face.”
Darien nodded slowly, obviously not understanding her joke. “Uh, huh.”
“Darien.” Hesione swallowed the fantastically juicy bite of meat and raised an eyebrow. “Do you really think I haven’t noticed that you’ve had a crush on me for the last six months. I’ve just been waiting for you to finally ask me out.”
Darien chuckled and grabbed his knife and fork, sawing at the meat. “You gave me a rush there!”
“I’ve had to be this patient, I think I deserve a bit of fun.” Hesione chuckled. She took another bite of her meat before sighing deeply. “Now Paulin is going to have a bit more of an issue with things, but we can deal with him later.”
Darien frowned as he began to eat his own meal. “You really care what your brother thinks?”
Hesione shrugged and sighed. “I mean… He still thinks we’re going to be leaving this place. I’m just not convinced that we ever will. At this point, I’m not sure I want to.”
Darien flashed a small smile, then tapped his plate with his fork. “Alright, question time. I know that you come from a far away land, most likely the Elven Confederation, and that Paulin had a girlfriend back there who got turned into a vampire.” He leaned forward, a small frown on his face. “Is that really the whole story? It just always feels like there’s something more.” He puffed up his chest. “And, I think that if I’m going to be your boyfriend, I deserve to know.”
Hesione chuckled. That really didsound good, boyfriend and girlfriend. A bit childish, perhaps, to use such terms, but good nonetheless.
“Alright, but you’re going to have to keep it a secret.” Hesione leaned forward, running through the story that she and Paulin had rehearsed after deciding that they were, indeed, trapped. “You know that Paulin had a girl who was turned into a vampire. Well, what you don’t know is why that happened.” She breathed softly, trying to make it sound like a greater secret. “We were traveling through Donenrot when-”
Darien frowned in annoyance, and Hesione leaned back. “What?”
“Don’t play games with me.” Darien poked at his food. “If you don’t want to tell me yet, that’s fine, but please don’t just keep telling me lies. I can tell when you’re lying and when you’re not.”
“Well, thankfully enough, the police aren’t nearly as good about that as you are.” Hesione muttered.
After a few seconds, Darien shrugged. “Alright, then, I’ll go first. So, you know that I was born in lower Notirot but moved up here when I was thirty, right?”
Hesione nodded slowly. “Your dad died, right?”
“Yeah.” Darien shrugged. “He got caught up between a couple of rival gangs. Apparently it was a drug deal gone wrong. The police cleared him of any guilt, but he was still gone. My mom brought us up here since we have relatives that live here, but then she got caught in that Blight epidemic that swept through about twenty years ago. I’ve been on my own since then.” He flashed a small smile. “I mean, I know I’m not a forty-year-old anymore, but it still hurts to be alone, you know?”
“Yeah.” Hesione sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry to hear that.”
Darien puffed out his cheeks and nodded at her. “So how long have you and Paulin been here in Gorktindin?”
Hesione scratched her head. “I’ve lived here for awhile. About ten years ago, Paulin came down and brought me back up to Elsinor… The Confederation… And we lived there for about five years. Eventually we came back down here to Donisil again.” Hesione shrugged. “Really not much more to it than that.”
“Uh, huh.” Darien held up two fingers. “Two issues. First, if you’d actually lived here that long, you’d know that there wasn’t actually a Blight epidemic back then. You also can’t seem to remember that Donisil has been called ‘The Northern Province of Istinis’ for several hundred years.” Darien flashed a small grin. “I looked it up online when you kept throwing that name around. What are you, a time traveler or something?”
Hesione groaned. Paulin grilled her every night about the various aspects of the world that they now lived in, but she just didn't see the point. They were trapped there, she would learn as she went. Although, apparently, not fast enough.
“Look, I…” Hesione stammered. “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. That’s just the long and the short answer.”
“Try me.” Darien leaned forward, flashing a small grin. “Are you guys like secret corporate agents?”
“No, although that’s not the first time we’ve been accused of that.” Hesione sighed. “Look, we’re… Well, you already said it yourself. We’re time travelers.”
She sat back and took another bite of her sandwich while Darien continued to stare at her. Finally, he shrugged and leaned back as well.
“Alright, fine.” He took a deep breath. “This is obviously something really personal to you, I shouldn’t have asked on a first date.” He winced. “This will be a first date, right? Not an only date? I didn’t ruin it?”
Hesione laughed. “No, you didn’t ruin it.” She sighed and shrugged. Time to retreat back behind her cover story again. “I’m sorry, I truly am. This is hard for me to talk about. I promise I’ll give you all the answers you want, I just… I need to know you a little better first.”
“Then I shall endeavor to make that process as quick as possible!” Darien flashed a grin. “Was this a good restaurant, at least?”
“I haven’t eaten anything this good in years.” Hesione nodded. She flashed a small grin. “It reminds me of the old days. Back with…” A particular memory rose in her mind. Herself, Garn, Ondernifam, Sapphire, and Malah, all seated around a table eating and drinking together. It had been after they formed a group but before they got caught up in the Angel Incursion. She sighed down at the moon ale, wondering what had happened to all of them. “Sorry. Old memories.”
“Yeah.” Darien sighed and nodded slowly. After a few seconds, he shrugged and took another bite of food. “You really do remind me of my mom. The same spirit, the same adventurous gleam in your eye.”
“I think my brother thinks my adventurous spirit isn’t wild enough.” Hesione chuckled, then frowned. “What did happen to your mother?”
Darien grimaced. “Killed on the Inland Ocean. She bought a canoe and tried to paddle across the whole ocean. Thought it would be fun or something. A magical storm broke out while she was halfway across. I never saw her again.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that.” Hesione glanced down at the table. “That can’t have been easy.”
“It wasn’t.” Darien shrugged. “But… Time heals all wounds, right?” He flashed a pained smile at her. “What about your parents?”
Hesione closed her eyes. “I never knew my mom. My dad was married to Paulin’s mom, and then had an affair with my mom. She left me with him, and he raised me, more or less.”
“More or less?” Darien raised an eyebrow. “Which was it?”
“Well…” Hesione shrugged and chuckled. “I lived in his house, but I was actually being raised by an acquaintance of his. No one told me that he was my father until after Paulin and I had started dating.”
“Wow.” Darien laughed. “That sounds like something straight out of ancient royal families.”
“I told you: Time travelers.” Hesione flashed a smile. Darien just laughed back, and they both sighed deeply.
It wasn’t much longer before the waiters started asking if they were ready to go, and the two of them quickly snarfed down the last of their food, stood up, and walked back out onto the streets. Hesione inhaled deeply, grimacing a bit at the polluted smell of the air, but still enjoying the scent of fresh food behind her.
“Walk you back to your apartment?” Darien held out his hand.
Hesione took his hand in her own, and the two set off. As the stars sparkled down overhead, neither one of them spoke. Neither one of them had to, really. It was just so perfect. It had been so long since Hesione had felt that way, so long since she had been able to actually just… Have fun with someone.
As they walked, she tilted her head back to stare up at the night sky. The stars were there, so faint compared to what she knew they truly were. As always, it boggled her mind to think that each and every one contained other worlds. That Calsin was just a ball of stone, flying through space at incredible speeds, one of many millions that would eventually be colonized.
“Do you think we’ll ever get to the stars?” Darien finally asked. “I know we’ve slung a few satellites and sensors into orbit, but do you think we’ll actually get to the stars? Live on Dararma?”
“Yeah.” Hesione nodded. “Yeah, I do.”
“Really?” Darien frowned. “What makes you so confident? Don’t you dare say time travel.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Hesione shrugged. “Just seems to me that things always seem to progress beyond our wildest imaginations, you know.” She pointed at a car, racing down the road at speeds unattainable but for the fastest horses in ancient Calsin. “Just look at that thing. It isn’t even powered by magic. You can drive across all of Calsin in like thirty hours. Not even the dragons can fly that fast.”
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.” Darien chuckled. “Makes you wish that we lived in the future, then. Except once you get to a point in the future, you want to be even further in the future to get to the next technological achievement, and pretty soon you’re at the end of the universe itself.”
“You think the universe will end?” Hesione raised an eyebrow.
“It began, didn’t it?” Darien shrugged. “Some god came into this universe and gave life. Eventually, the gods will all leave, and the world will die. I mean, just look at what the angels have told us. Every universe meets its end at some point.”
Hesione frowned. “I’d rather not think about that, if you don’t mind.”
“You don’t have to convince me.” Darien nodded ahead of then. “This is your place, right?”
Hesione took a deep breath, surprised to realize that they were, indeed, already at her apartment building. The brick building rose half a dozen stories into the air, where close to a hundred small homes were stuck together like fish in the cans that she sold.
“Yeah, it is.” She turned to Darien and took his hands in her own. “This was really nice. Thank you.”
“I’d be good if we want to make this a weekly tradition.” Darien shrugged. “I think this is the only day where we get off at the same time. I can’t promise an equally fancy meal each week, but it might be a nice way to start.”
Hesione felt a flutter in her heart. “Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.”
Darien gave her hands a quick squeeze, then let go and turned away. “Best of luck with your brother!”
Hesione groaned, then flashed a smile, waved, and walked through the green, faded door into the building. From there, it was up three flights of narrow stairs and down an equally narrow hallway to the tiny apartment that she and Paulin shared.
She heard a thumping coming from behind the door as she walked up. A feeling of sickness settled in her stomach, and she took a deep breath. With as much confidence as she could muster, she turned the doorknob and stepped inside.
There, quite unsurprisingly, she found Paulin working at the one desk that had been wedged between their two beds. Dozens of drawings covered every open space in the room, doodles of what looked like the spaceships that they had seen in the seventh era. Hesione frowned and walked to the closet, where she started arranging to change into her nightclothes.
“Having fun there?” She cast a glance at her brother. “You look busy.”
“I am indeed.” Paulin didn’t look up from his work. “I, unlike some of my siblings, am doing my best to get us out of this trap.”
Hesione sighed as she pulled her robe over her head. “Come on, Paulin. We’re stuck here. We’ve been stuck in other places before. We’ll get out whenever we get out.”
“Or, just maybe, we get out because I actually manage to come up with a plan that works.” Paulin turned and scowled at her. “We don’t know where Sam was heading. We don’t know what he’s trying to do.”
“We know that the timeline can’t be changed.” Hesione shrugged and sat down on her bed, shuffling a few of the designs aside. “So we know he can’t cause any harm.”
“That’s no excuse to just sit idly by!” Paulin’s voice pitched higher. “We can’t just let him take over. You know that as well as I do.”
“I just don’t know what we can do!” Hesione protested.
“So why aren’t you fighting harder?” Paulin balled his fists. “If you don’t know what to do, why not look for a way to get out?”
“Because I don’t want to watch you die again!” Hesione shouted back.
Paulin blinked once, and Hesione sighed. “I saw you die. I watched the life just vanish from your body. I don’t want to have to go through that again.” She took a deep breath, her shoulders starting to shake. “Every single moment that we’ve been traveling through time, that instant has been hanging in front of me. Each and every time we’ve wound up separated from the time pod, I start to have hope that what I saw on that beach was just an illusion. A shapeshifted mimic, an angel who took your place, a magical conjuration. Oh, I don’t know, even one of those holograms from the future.” She felt her heart racing. “And then, every time, we find a way back into the time stream, and I’m forced to realize that no, it was you.”
Paulin sighed and looked down at the ground. “I fully understand that that must be hard, but it’s my life. If that’s what I wind up doing in the future, it’s my decision.”
“No, it’s not.” Hesione protested. “It’s the decision of everyone else around you. It’s the decision of the people you love.” She grabbed the drawings on her own bed and began wadding them up, crumbling the paper into shreds. “And I’m not letting you kill yourself.”
“Hey!” Paulin began to grab his drawings as well, holding them out of reach of Hesione’s grasping hands. “I’ve worked a long time on those!”
Hesione sighed and flopped onto her bed. She rolled away from him, facing the wall, and pulled the blankets up over her head. Light from the flickering lamp still filtered through the thin cloth, but it was something.
“Please, Paulin.” She shuddered. “I can’t stop you. I know that. Just… Think about us. I have a good life here. I don’t want to just give it up.”
Paulin gave no answer, but as she fell asleep, she could hear his pen scratching away at the paper. Tears began to flow, tears of knowledge that she was still going to lose him. Nothing she did, no matter how hard she tried, was going to change what was going to happen in the future.
Well, if that was the case… Then maybe she just didn’t need to be around to see it.
“Morning!” Darien waved as Hesione walked through the front door of the store. “And how is my lovely girl doing this morning?”
“Better now that I can see you.” Hesione batted her eyes at him, well aware of how annoyed she would have been to see such behavior in someone else. “Anything fun happen on the night shift?”
“Not unless you count the faun that came running in here claiming he saw a blood elf down the street.” Darien chuckled as he began preparing to head home. “I think he was drunk and was dared to try to get a reaction out of me.”
“Well, if there was one, we’ll see it on the news soon enough.” Hesione chuckled. “Have a good day! Any plans?”
Darien shrugged as he punched his timecard and started to walk towards the entrance of the shop. “Sleep. Maybe play some video games. Sandwar Publishing just released their new dungeon crawler, I need to go pick it up and try it out.”
“Best of luck!” Hesione waved. “Make sure not to beat it too quickly! I’ll take you on this weekend.”
“Deal!” Darien flashed her a thumbs-up, then vanished through the door.
Hesione watched him go, then grabbed an apron off the peg, draped it over her shoulders, and punched her timecard. She then positioned herself behind the register as her boss came stomping through the front door. Named Furoroc the Third, he had a proud lineage that hailed from the Dwarven Remnant. At least, that’s what he claimed. Hesione frankly doubted the claim a good deal, as mountain dwarfs simply weren’t nearly as tall or lanky as he was.
“Ahh, my favorite worker!” Furoroc waved at her as he stomped towards his office. “How have things been this morning?”
“In the thirty seconds since I’ve arrived, I’ve managed to run a tight ship.” Hesione shrugged. “You’re in a perky mood.”
“Of course I am!” Furoroc puffed out his chest. “I just secured an updated contract with Seaside Canning International! Business has been good enough that they’re going to be shipping their limited-run products to our store! Right here in Gorktindin!” He grinned toothily. “Of course, we need to get the store in order first. I’ll need you to rearrange the shelves. I don’t want to lose any of our current stock, but I need to free up two new shelves for the new products.”
“Uh, huh.” Hesione crossed her arms. “And all the outrage over rearranging the store?”
“I’m sure you’ll handle it well.” Furoroc shrugged. “As I said, you’re my best worker!”
“That’s because there’s no one else here.” Hesione frowned down at him, then shrugged. “Alright, then. Guess I won’t be bored today.”
“I knew I could count on you!” He stomped back into his office. “If this goes well, our store could even receive a pay raise!”
Hesione rolled her eyes. The pay raise in question would almost certainly go straight into Furoroc’s pockets without her ever catching so much as a glimpse of it. Oh, well. That was hardly unusual.
She subsequently spent the entire day rearranging the store, freeing up the two requested shelves and helping customers find the goods that they could no longer locate even when they were standing right in front of it. At the end of the day, she was subsequently rewarded by a series of loud swear words pouring from Furoroc’s mouth as he received a phone call stating that the new contract had, in fact, been a computer error. Hesione was given the task of putting the store back the way it had once been, but as she was in the process of punching her time card at that moment, she ignored the order and swept out to deal with it in the morning.
A warm, salty breeze blew in off the ocean. She inhaled deeply, letting the scent fill her lungs. It wasn’t a glamorous life, but it truly was a nice one. She began idly walking back towards her apartment, curious what Paulin would be trying to do that evening. By day he worked on a fishing boat, how he managed to find the time to concoct all his schemes was beyond Hesione’s understanding.
With a flash, lightning burst through the air just in front of her. She yelped loudly as a vehicle formed out of midair. It looked like a small spaceship, with a large engine mounted to the back of an angular and blocky wedge-shaped vehicle. The windows were tinted red, allowing her to only vaguely see Paulin within the craft, behind its controls.
With a hiss, one of the windows and the metal immediately surrounding it detached and slid back, revealing a seat just behind Paulin’s. Behind that seat was a cargo hold, where a tied-up human male thrashed back and forth.
“What have you done?” Hesione almost screamed at Paulin.
“I succeeded.” Paulin sighed and gestured at the craft. “I placed some drawings of spaceships in various archives around Calsin with hidden messages pointing to myself. Eventually a time agent showed up and tried to interrogate me. Now we’re home free to go figure out where Sam went.”
Hesione just shook her head. “You haven’t been around all of Calsin.”
“The Paulin that you’re living with hasn’t.” Paulin shrugged. “However, that Paulin is about to come to the conclusion that you mysteriously vanished, and proceed to redouble his efforts to regain time travel. Now it seems that I’m the one who takes you away from myself, ironically.”
Hesione just shook her head. “This is madness. You’re a kidnapper now? You’re doing the same thing that Sam did to us!”
“I’m going to let him go once we get to our destination.” Paulin sighed. “Look, this thing is crazy advanced. I already flew over to the point in time when our machine was stolen. I was able to analyze the energy signature of our time pod and determine where he was headed. We can land there just as he arrives. Get our own pod back, give this guy his own pod back, easy-peasy.”
“Paulin…” Hesione stammered. “This is insane.”
“Come on. Please.” Paulin pleaded with her. “Look, we’ll go stop Sam, prevent whatever chaos he has planned, and then we’ll come back here. You can live out your life with Darien. Or we can take him along with us. We try to put a lid on this vampirism cure once and for all, and that’ll be that.” He held up his hands. “Or, again, I can just go off by myself if that’s what you want. Just… Come with me. I’ve missed you so much this last year. We make a good team. Just one more mission, and then that’ll be that.”
Hesione groaned and ran her hands through her hair. “Oh… Fine. Whatever. Just promise me that we come back to this moment. Okay?”
“I swear it by Persphone and all that’s good.” Paulin nodded. “We’ll come back here.”
“Good.” Hesione sighed and nodded slowly. “Alright, then.”
She climbed up into the craft, settling into the seat. With a hiss, the door/window began to slide shut again, sealing her inside.
As it began to close, she glanced back out at the street. Standing there, only twenty feet away, was a rather awestruck Darien. His jaw was slack, the bundle of flowers in his right hand hung down by his side. She opened her mouth to yell at him, but was cut off as the window slammed shut. Lightning flickered across the craft, and the windows darkened fully as they dematerialized.
She swore and slammed a fist into the back of Paulin’s seat. In that moment, she made her own vow to make Paulin honor his.
She had a good thing. She had a steady relationship with someone she wasn’t related to. She wasn’t going to give that up, not by a long shot.
Not even if she had to get as extreme as Paulin.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.