Phase One - Mapping the Route

Memories from 1992-1996: Kingdom of Eleria

The forest was overgrown, teeming with luscious greens and vibrant flowers – each coated in the morning dew, creating shiny, reflective surfaces for the sun to dance on. Even the well-worn path that connected the remote farmsteads to Accord Village appeared under siege by the immense vines which slowly crept across the path. Calvin walked as quickly as his sleep-burdened body would allow. He ungracefully skipped over the occasional vine below and ducked under the ambitious branch above. He breathed in the moist air; the humidity lingered a moment in his nostrils with each breath. Overslept and carrying various goods to be sold to tourists at the festival in town, he dreaded each step and counted down the number remaining.

He rounded a wide bend, and ahead stood the fork in the path that marked halfway between his home and the village. To the left was his destination, the village and the annual spring festival - promised to be especially grand this year since it coincided with the king’s wedding – and to the right was the abandoned trail, which led to the old harbor that was relocated further up the coast. Realizing how far he still had yet to travel, he stopped and yawned loudly. He stretched his arms as wide as possible in hopes sleep would release its hold on him. The yawn slowly subsided as he reflexively tidied his unruly brown hair. As he opened his eyes and adjusted the pack on his back, he caught a flash of gold as it disappeared down the right path. He shook his head and tried to rub the possibly illusory image his eyes. Increasing his pace to a light jog, he made his way to the fork. Out of curiosity, he peered down the right path. No signs of movement. He held his breath, hoping to hear the echo of activity: a rustle of bushes, a series of footfalls, anything. His interest was met with silence. Aware that the path to the harbor had become dangerous due to the season’s rains, Calvin decided to make sure it wasn’t a hapless tourist who had gotten lost on the way to the festival. With a sigh, he gripped his pack and jogged down the trail.

For such an early part of the year, the air was heavy and warm. Calvin was thankful the path was completely shrouded by trees. However, the darkness was also intimidating as if he were wandering down a mysterious trail which lacked a set destination. He quickly found himself thrust out of drowsiness. Calvin was now more than alert as he jumped at every perceived movement or sound. The path was far more treacherous than the last, and his pace was slowed considerably as he ambled over foliage and through mud that seemed to draw his feet in. He sorely regretted not having eaten before he had left. As he wiped the first lines of sweat from his face, the prominent cheekbones and sharp jaw left him the impression that he must look downright gaunt (perhaps even malnourished).

Realizing that any person, tourist or local, would be forced to slog through the unwelcoming trail, he decided to call out as he or she couldn’t have gotten far.

“Is anyone there? The festival is the other way.”

Silence. He grunted through another few hundred feet until he entered a small clearing. He set the pack down to make sure nothing had fallen loose or snagged on a stray branch. As he rummaged through it, he repeated his call. He sighed at the silence and tried to convince himself it was probably a glint of sunlight his tired eyes mistook for movement and nothing more. As he reached for the arm of his pack so he could leave, Calvin heard a shifting sound from the underbrush behind him. He quickly quietened while the sound grew in intensity. He instinctively reached into his pack for something to defend himself. Armed with the “Book of Triune,” he stood ready for any attacker.

Suddenly a young woman with long, flowing blonde hair leapt out of the bushes and let out a primal yell. Calvin let out an equally primal yell, but instead of inspiring fear in its audience (as hers certainly did), his yell inspired only laughter with its high-pitched, lingering tone.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” She forced herself to stop laughing and raised her hands to show she meant no harm. “Okay, I did mean to, but I didn’t think it’d be so effective.”

Startled by his own screaming, Calvin was shamed into silence. He looked up at the girl who, despite the shadowed surroundings, was positively radiant. Her elfish figure, composed of slender, compact limbs, spoke of her natural agility and control over her own body. Her angular face featured a small pointed nose and steady, green eyes under bold, expressive eyebrows. Calvin was in awe. When she tilted her head in curiosity, he was surprised that he felt some quality of her expression was familiar.

“A book? What kind of weapon is that? Maybe if the book was a bit thicker or something, but that little thing would be worse than having nothing.” Her attempt to lighten the mood had failed. As he attempted a response, she paced around the clearing and lazily gazed down each direction of the path. She closed her eyes, spun around three times and came to a sudden stop. After wobbling in dizziness, she headed off in the direction she was facing. Content with her choice, she raised a hand in farewell over her shoulder.

“No. Stop. Not that way.” His voice was shaky, and the first words were nearly inaudible. Fortunately, hearing his own voice restored his strength. He tucked the book under his arm and tried to stand uncomfortably straight. “That way leads toward the harbor, what’s left of it anyway. The festival and the village is the other way.”

“How do you know I am headed toward the festival at all?”

“I…I don’t. However, I do know that if you continue down that path you’ll risk falling into a ravine or getting lost in the forest.”

“I am not so foolish as to get lost. Nor am I clumsy enough to ignore where I place my feet.”

“The rains have made this area dangerous. I’m sure you’d be fine otherwise.” He smiled, trying to convey his sincerity.

She took a moment to consider what he had said. Her eyes narrowed and Calvin met her stare. His wide hazel eyes were accompanied by the tell-tale wrinkles near his temples. A brief, long step toward the harbor caused his heart to sink, but she snapped back upright and turned to face him. “I’ve decided. You will lead me out of here, and it will be your honor to guide me, a visitor to your village, around the festival.”

Relieved that her life was no longer a threat to his conscience, he agreed and was starting to feel pleasantly content with his decision to follow her into the woods. He moved to return the book to his pack, but she snatched it from his hand. “What is this book about anyway? If not a weapon, it must at least be a compelling story.”

“It’s actually a part of a series, not of stories mind you, but of translations for an ancient language. To the right buyer, it is rather valuable.” He regretted having brandished it against his imaginary foe. He had been instructed to keep it in good condition by the interested shopkeeper in town, who claimed pieces of history are the only things worth protecting (well, other than family, he’d say).

“Hmm.” She flipped through a few pages and tossed it to him. Unfortunately, he was not prepared, and it sailed over his shoulder coming to a stop on the far side of the clearing. He threw her a look, which she returned with a nonchalant shrug. Calvin slid the pack over and reached down for the book. Beneath him the ground began to quietly rumble. He had enough time to toss the book and a worried expression to the girl who hopelessly looked on. An entire third of the path crumbled, and he was sent sliding down a steep decline - bouncing off trees and tumbling through bushes - until he finally came to a stop with a splash. Thoroughly discombobulated, he tried to shake the dirt off himself, but also not move too quickly in case of injury.

“Are you okay? If you die, you won’t get to show me around your village.”

“I’m fine.” He laughed that her primary concern was her guided tour. “Just stay back. I’d hate for you to fall as well.”

After a few deep breaths he stood up, checked his pack - minor damage, nothing lost - and stepped away from the hillside, afraid more debris could come down. He stood in a shallow pool of water, which had a consistent depth of two feet throughout. In every direction, he saw another pool and the network was joined by countless, trickling streams that appeared to flow in both directions. At the center of the pools was a larger body of water, though of equal depth. At the heart of this larger pool was a slender beam of light.

The girl continued to call out, her voice quieted by the distance. He approached the light and realized it was a reflection. The fixed column of light, embedded in a stone which emerged from the water and topped with a moss-covered hilt, shined in the darkness. A sword. It looked old, and dull, but Calvin felt drawn to it nonetheless. The girl must have said something unique because he turned in response and decided to leave the sword alone. After all, he reasoned, it would be better to leave before she falls too, than to waste time retrieving a sword he could return for later. But another voice made itself known to Calvin.

“Retrieve the sword. Wield the sword. Change the world. It must be done.”

The words echoed in his head. The voice contained both sincerity and authority, though Calvin could not identify if it was the voice of a man or a woman. Instead of instilling fear in him, the voice calmed him, and he felt as if he wanted the sword. No, he needed the sword. Without hesitation, he waded through the pool, grasped the hilt with both hands and pulled upward with all his might. The sword sprung out of the stone. It was old and certainly dull, but it certainly felt good to carry.

“If you do not come back soon, I will surely leave you.”

The girl’s tone was now impatient and lacked the casualness that made Calvin forgive her self-invitation. He trudged through the series of pools and affixed the sword to the side of his pack with some fishing net. Slowly, he climbed back up the decline only stopping to map out his path and adjust his pack, which wanted to shift with every step - perhaps more damaged than he initially thought. At the top of the hill, she sat waiting for him peacefully skimming through the book.

“There he is, can we get going then? The festival ends today, doesn’t it? Oh, and the name’s Amelia.”

“Calvin.”

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Arriving at the fair, Calvin tried to drop his pack off at his booth, but the organizers claimed it wasn’t ready for him yet which meant he could have slept in and avoided trudging through the forest with wet trousers. Amelia happily followed him to the village. While she never expressed concern verbally, she did offer to help carry some items from Calvin’s pack. He took her up on her generosity, but she saw it as permission to ask as many questions as she liked. He didn’t mind answering, though her questions were strangely pedestrian as if she didn’t understand village life at all. After they reached the fairgrounds, her questions stopped, and her animated demeanor shifted to a combination of contemplation and wonder. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do, but was excited by the unfamiliarity. The town square, a collection of shops and small buildings placed orderly along perpendicular streets, was adorned with ribbons and waving banners. Bicolored balloons bobbed and weaved between the crowds. Over the general commotion of the people, a lively song was being played by the band on the rear stage that made every smile a little brighter.

Calvin led her to the center of the square where a metal bell, stones at its feet indicating the four directions, stood resolute atop a pedestal of stone. “If memory serves, the shops should be circled around this bell, the games are to the east, and the food is to the west. Where did you want to go first?”

“You are the one leading me, remember? It all looks fantastic.”

Without any reason to decline, he guided her around the festival grounds. He was initially wary that his decisions could propel them too quickly along the festival proceedings, but that thought soon disappeared. He led her through the shops and pointed out the difference between tourist goods and worthwhile purchases. As she tried on some hats, Calvin delivered the book to the shopkeeper, who inquired as to how Calvin had managed to lure in such a girl as Amelia. Despite Calvin’s protests - stating nothing more than friendship - the old shopkeeper gave a sly wink and encouraged him to return to her side before she was swept up by another. She bought a few pieces of jewelry and a couple knick-knacks under Calvin’s learned eye. Calvin offered to stow them away in his pack, but she insisted she carry them herself.

They walked next to the banquet tables, which were lined with food from the different members of the community. Amelia tossed a few coins into a feathered hat at the front table and scampered off toward the desserts. Calvin placed some bread and a couple meat skewers on a plate as he asked some locals how the festival was turning out. Apparently, the newly married king and queen were going to stop by in the evening, but were forced to stop along the way for some type of emergency. Calvin asked the Three to give the royal family guidance and sat at the end of a long table to eat. Amelia seemed quite comfortable, and Calvin swore he saw her fighting off children as they motioned toward some cookies. She turned in time to see him smile at her antics.

“So, what’s next?” She called over the crowd. Her mouth was still full of sweets and crumbs came tumbling down her shirt. He stacked his plate with the rest in the corner to be washed as she strode over to him.

“I figure we ought to play a few games."

"Ooh! I know. Let’s go over there.” She raised her hand to point at the strength contest. He sighed. He always lost that game (and he was convinced it was unwinnable). Near the bell that never rung, a total number of entries was displayed in chalk. 187 had tried and failed. Running up with sugar and youthfulness coursing through her veins came number 188. She asked for the cost of a single game and gladly paid it. Amelia stretched out her arms and cracked a few knuckles before grabbing the hammer. She took a few practice swings and twisted her mouth to the side.

“I think you ought to go first. Show your guest how it’s done and all that.” Amelia extended the hammer toward Calvin, who took it without thinking. The point of the game was to smash down on the raised platform and hope the force was sufficient to send the metal pin up into the bell. It was simple. After placing his pack on the ground, he positioned himself a few feet behind the platform and prepared for the strike. Calvin couldn’t believe he was resorting to the childish run and jump technique for her. Before the embarrassment could sink in, he sprung into motion and came leaping down on the platform, the strain evident in his face. The pin shot upward and appeared to collide with the bell, but no satisfying ring accompanied it. Calvin looked back at Amelia who burst out laughing at his empty expression. She walked up near him and leaned in to whisper.

“This game is rigged. I saw the owner making his way to the ladder even before you hit the platform.”

“Really? I thought it was bugged. (Bugged?) What should we do about it?”

“Distract him, I have an idea.”

Calvin walked up to the owner, a large, pale man who was wiping away beads of sweat as he sat in the shade (no doubt from climbing the ladder to change the entry number so often).

“Tough break kid. You were close. I’ll give you that. Want to try again?”

“I swear I saw the pin hit the bell. Are you sure it isn’t jammed?”

“Of course.” The man casually leaned back in his chair; he furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you calling me dishonest?”

“No. No, of course not. I’m just trying to impress the girl.”

“What girl?” Calvin spun around to find himself alone and Amelia gone from his sight. Before he could process her disappearance, she flew back into view holding the bottom of her shirt up into a pouch, in which dark objects bounced with her every step. Calvin and the owner shared a speechless moment. Amelia came to a stop and reached into the makeshift pouch with her left hand. She reeled back and sent a stone flying toward the bell. It missed by a few feet and landed in the field behind the booth. The owner rushed out of his chair and leapt toward her while commanding her to stop. However, before he reached her, she managed to throw another stone. This one hit its mark. A muted thud halted the owner in his tracks. Amelia’s only reply was a cocky, knowing grin.

The owner tried to apologize, but Amelia stopped him midway through his second long-winded excuse. “I don’t need the money. Just fix the bell and make sure other people can win, okay?” The owner nodded and slid himself up the ladder to remove the various cloths that were tucked inside the bell.

“You’re sure you don’t want the winnings? We did win after all.”

“Come on, host. This day is about fun, not making money.”

Calvin walked away thoroughly confused. That game was supposed to be unwinnable, but not because the owner was cheating (or was it?). Before he could ponder it any longer, he was pulled onward to other games. Amelia won some tickets betting on a foot race, and Calvin gained some in a cider drinking contest. Satisfied, Calvin led her to the only booth they had yet to visit: the fortune teller. The fortune teller was located in an enormous tent in the eastern field and the other shopkeepers gave him a 100-foot courtesy. The citizens of Accord Village knew his predictions were ambiguous enough that they were bound to come true, but they enjoyed the mystery of it regardless. It didn’t hurt that the fortune teller, a broad chested, strong-jawed man named Sorel, always bowed before the eager women and kissed their hands like a proper gentleman.

“I’m having loads of fun, Calvin. I knew I picked a good host.”

“Well, sadly we are at the last stop. Worry not, though, I may have saved the best for last.” He opened the heavy flap into the tent and ushered her in. The inside was dark and the walls were barely visible. At the center of the room, a chandelier hung suspended in mid-air and hovered over a small square table with a pair of chairs. Atop the table sat three orbs, each colored in swirls of blue, red and green for the respective Gods of Three. Amelia seemed on edge, but Calvin coolly motioned her into a chair. The moment the two were firmly seated, the chandelier’s flames grew bolder and illuminated the tent. From behind the far wall, Sorel sauntered into view. His eyes were closed and he walked forward with his head tilted in a bow.

“Welcome to House of Sorel, home of the ethereal bender, the Gods-touched, the wisdom keeper and the last mage alive this side of the Falhoun Mountains. No doubt you have some questions. That is good, but let me lure you down an unfamiliar path. If you follow me, your answers will come. No, not to those questions, the questions that lie deep within your hearts and far into your futures. For the cost of all the tickets you carry, I will offer you a chilling and accurate prediction.”

Calvin yawned and unknowingly mouthed the last few words of Sorel’s pitch. Amelia rolled her eyes and didn’t bother stifling her unimpressed scoff. Sorel bowed deeper after his speech, awaiting input from his patrons.

“Is it worth it, Calvin? Or should we save our tickets for something else?”

“There isn’t anything else we can buy with the tickets, unless you want to trade it for coins.”

“Well, I did say fun and not money, didn’t I?” She shrugged and began to pull the tickets from within the pockets of her black trousers. Calvin repositioned the pack on his left, where it faced Sorel, and pulled his share out as well. “You’d better impress us, Sorel.” Amelia took an extra moment to stare him down before releasing the tickets into his hands.

“Good. Now prepare yourself for a prediction unlike any you have ever seen. First, I must pull on the limitless energy of the Ethereal Realm.” Sorel motioned his hands in front of his chest, palms outward, and began chanting in a language Calvin didn’t recognize. Sorel then raised his hands, joining his wrists so his fingers splayed out toward his shoulders, and looked upward.

His face suddenly jerked back down as he shot them both a bewildered look that quickly turned to dread. “This isn’t right. I have never been able to pull on the Ethereal this strongly before. It feels as if something is pulling me back.”

He tried to lower his arms but was unable to. Calvin could see him shaking with effort. Amelia screamed when his feet rose above the ground and his legs began flailing.

“Calvin, what is happening?”

“I don’t know. It isn’t supposed to happen this way.”

Sorel stopped kicking, his body had gone completely rigid, but his eyes searched wildly around the room. His gaze halted sharply on Calvin’s pack, and his eyes widened. “You. You did this. You have no idea what you have done.” Suddenly, a dark shadow emerged from above Sorel and it engulfed him in darkness. His screams were muted, and his existence was extinguished in a single moment. Sorel disappeared with the shadow.

Wasting no time, Calvin grabbed his pack and pulled Amelia out of the tent by her arm. Upon exit, the pair were stunned by the scene. The shops were ablaze, the fields trampled by enormous, clawed footprints, and scattered throughout the village square were the bodies of the attendees. Not a cloud was in sight. It was as if the sun itself had been banished from the sky. Amelia dropped her purchased goods and silently pointed toward the banquet tables where impish creatures danced and the tables and floors were streaked with blood. At the foot of one of the tables, exactly where Calvin had sat not mere hours ago, sat a behemoth of a creature. Above its immense furred body was a horned monstrosity of a face, which was covered in metal patchwork and smeared blood. Luckily, the monsters were gorging themselves on the dead and did not notice the young pair gawking at them in horror.

They ran toward the festival entrance, but found similar creatures positioned there. Some creatures with wings floated above the village gates. Calvin pulled Amelia back in the opposite direction, but they were ambushed by one of the small imps who spotted them running away. The imp clawed at Calvin, but he turned so his pack took the brunt of the damage. He loosened the pack from his back and shoved it forward knocking the imp unconscious. Without thinking, he grabbed the sword that was hidden in the netting - which received a surprised nod of approval from Amelia - and they continued away from the chaos. Hiding behind a stone wall near the square’s center, they felt a devastating heat pass over them and watched as a flame melted the metal bell as if it were made of clay. A sinister laugh echoed around them, but it faded as whatever controlled the flame headed in the other direction.

Pulling him up, Amelia pushed onward to where Calvin was ultimately headed. She weaved them through the burning shops and he tried to keep his eyes off the ground, but the smell could not be ignored. They made it up the stone steps to the amphitheater around the stage; it had yet to be attacked.

“Calvin, what in the world is happening? Where did these things come from?”

“No. I…this shouldn’t be happening. None of this is supposed to happen at the Spring Festival. The king should be making a toast to his new queen right now, on that very stage.”

“What do you mean? Why is that supposed to happen? I don’t understand what you are saying at all.”

“I don’t either. I just know things aren’t right. There shouldn’t be monsters here this early.”

“Well, they are here. We can debate whether it is right and wrong or later, but we need to find somewhere to hide until they leave.”

“Head to the stage. Yeah. There is a passageway behind the left staircase that leads into the woods.”

Amelia led the way down the stairs of the amphitheater taking two at a time and jumping down the final four. She expertly vaulted onto the stage and extended her hand in assistance. Grateful, Calvin took her hand and scrambled up the front of the stage. They dodged the various chairs and instruments that littered its surface, but were stopped at the stage’s center by a large, hooded figure. Calvin tucked the sword behind his back so the figure would hopefully see him as unarmed.

“There is no escape, humans.” His voice was cold and it sent chills down Calvin’s spine. “You are experiencing the dawn of a new era. No longer will we be bound to the Ethereal Realm where the Gods’ edicts still control us. This land is once again ours.”

“Ethereals? But that is not possible. The Gods’ separated the realms with an eternal key. The key that no one could break, not since the Gods have become stone. If you were Ethereals, the seal would have to be broken.”

The figure laughed a raspy, guttural laugh that reverberated off the hard stone surfaces and grew into a cacophony of nightmarish sounds. “I know not as to how the seal was broken, girl. But I know that without the Gods, it is near impossible for it to be restored.” The figure then lurched forward, extending its scaled, three-finger hands toward the duo. Without the prospect of escape, Calvin drew the sword and took a swipe at the exposed hand. He missed, but the figure jumped back several feet.

“Where did you find that blade?” Another laugh echoed around them. “Fool! That sword was the key to the Gods’ seal. Now that it has been removed from its place, the boundary between our realms has been destroyed. With the key within reach, I can assure the seal is never to be restored.”

Calvin took a step back and examined the sword more closely. The moss had fallen from the hilt and inscribed there was the language of the Gods. Embedded at the hilt’s base was a tri-colored gem cut into an ovoid cap.

“You have made a grave error, boy. You released us into this world and I will make sure you cannot undo your mistake.”

The figure raised its hands, which allowed its robe to slide down, and revealed the metallic skin that coated its arms. It completed a short chant in a language similar to Sorel’s and, though they could not see its face, Amelia and Calvin knew it smiled with delight. Between them and the figure, a twisting maw of shadow appeared which drew them in. They tried to run, to grab onto anything nearby, but the force was too great. Into the maw, they vanished.

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The floor was cold, its cobbled stones smooth, and Calvin brushed his hands along them slowly. His head was spinning. His stomach had taken up permanent residence in his throat. Each muscle ached down to the bone, and his breaths came as forced gasps.

“Where are we? Calvin, are you okay?” He uselessly nodded, and he felt her hands on his shoulders as she helped him upright. “Take a look at this place. Everything is stopped.”

Fighting his disorientation, Calvin tried to swallow down the nausea. He gazed out over the platform they occupied. He was unsure what Amelia meant, but it soon became startlingly clear. The blue clouds above them wound round the platform, static and unchanging. It reminded him of the cotton candy machine they passed at the fair. Various objects floated out of reach: a purple heart-shaped mask, a metallic ring lined with a net, a collection of things rolled into an orb, a shiny jigsaw piece. The number of objects was staggering. Amelia, less affected by the process the two had experienced, paced the platform with her eyes transfixed on the sky.

Calvin surveyed the surroundings (not yet sure if he could manage to stand). The platform was bordered by a wrought iron fence decorated by leaves and carefully sculpted roses. To his left, there was nothing but more of the frozen landscape, same behind and in front. To his right, a single staircase descended into a thick fog that obscured its landing. When Amelia finally decided to look elsewhere, her instinct was to investigate the opposite direction. Her body remained completely still while she beckoned Calvin to her side. Something in the emotionless gesture told Calvin he had to see it to understand. The nausea had subsided a little and he was able to gingerly walk to her.

He followed her gaze downward. The sight was inconceivable. Below, a great chasm was filled with a liquid metal which, in contrast to the rest of the surroundings, churned and roiled like smoke from an industrial factory.

“What? What is this place?” Calvin felt his head resume its spinning as he stared into the ocean of metal below.

“I don’t know. It feels like I’m watching my shadow move along a wall and having to guess what I’m feeling by referencing my behavior. Everything feels like it is happening all at once and yet not at all.”

Calvin stared at her. She was not the happy go-lucky girl who just came to visit the festival, was she? He agreed with everything she had said. It was as if his consciousness lagged behind his actions.

“You are remarkably close, Princess Alexandra Hale of 1994 C.E.”

Calvin quickly scanned the platform and made a quick movement to retrieve the sword from where he had been sitting. What the voice said didn’t even register until he was armed and standing between Amelia and the top of the staircase. He gave her a once over after the name sunk in. She was the daughter of the queen, now princess of Eleria since her mother married the king.

“The two of you have entered Time’s Knot, a place that exists outside past, present, and future.” Amelia and Calvin waited as the voice ascended the stairs. The fog parted as it neared. A metallic, silver being emerged. Its oval head sat atop a humanoid body of smooth metal plates, which were interrupted by dozens of wires and cables that wrapped around its limbs and connected various regions together. The cables glowed in a yellow hue, except for a cluster of black which entered the base of its head from within its chest. The face was featureless beyond a white, circular light at its center. Each step the being took was silent, and its effortless gait was somehow terrifying with its calm, repetitive rhythm.

“Time is a near endless array of parallel strings that run in tandem from an unknown source to a destination that has yet to exist. These strings occasionally cross when meaningful events transpire and powerful choices are made, but these crossings happen for only a moment. Fate does not usually dawdle. The destination that the two of you now find yourselves is a most interesting of anomaly. All the diverging strings of time have come together, an occurrence that has only ever taken place once before.” The being came to a stop at the top of the stairs and clasped its hands behind its back. “Please do lower the sword, Calvin Perowne.”

Amelia stepped out from behind Calvin and he let his sword hand fall limp. The mysterious being had captured their attention and, if it was to provide answers, Calvin decided he could let it continue without the threat of violence. “What exactly is this place?”

“It is called Time’s Knot, Alexandra, as I have already said.”

“How do you know that name? Who are you?”

“I know because it is my duty to know. I am Fallo, the last direct creation of the Gods of Three. I have been tasked with monitoring and recording time. Each event, every person and their every decision. I see all. I remember all.”

“How did we get here?” Calvin stepped forward as he asked.

“An ethereal by the name of Galreas attempted to send you back in time. He saw you wielded the key to the seal between realms and sought to banish you into the past where your actions could not affect him. Why did you end up here? I do not yet know. But I can see that in breaking the seal, you have bound the strings of time together. They will only come undone when the blade has either been restored or broken.”

“Restored? Without the Gods, could such a thing even be possible?” Amelia’s voice had a pleading, scared quality that made it almost unrecognizable to Calvin.

“Follow me below.”

The pair allowed Fallo to escort them down the stairs. The fog appeared to impede their progress - the steps a few feet ahead were hidden beneath it - but Fallo’s presence pushed it away before they arrived. The landing came into view, and, with a rapid sweeping motion of his hands, Fallo blew the fog from the platform which revealed a few floating islands connected by wooden bridges. At the center of this larger platform, Fallo turned around to face the pair.

“I have prepared since your arrival. On each of these islands, there is a portal that leads to another time, another world. In each, you will find a piece of the Gods’ power. Nothing more than a remnant. Their presence has all but been erased since their retreat those many eons ago. Even still, with these pieces in your possession you will be able to wield the sword in your hands and restore the seal.”

“So this is all my fault? The lives of the people at the fair? The countless others from other worlds? It falls to me to fix everything?”

“You are not alone to blame, Calvin. Perhaps you have been chosen for this task. It is not for me to say. All I can do is show you the path that must be taken if order is to conquer chaos. It is your choice to listen, just as it was your choice to draw the sword from its resting place.”

Amelia placed her hand on Calvin’s shoulder and nodded. “We can do this. I will help. I had been searching for an adventure this whole time, and I can’t rightly turn it away once it has found me, can I?” Calvin looked at the nearest portal and back at Fallo. With a single, solemn nod, Calvin agreed to continue.

“Where do we begin?”

Next Chapter: Office of Dr. Vincent