Bleak colors gone, the shamrock-grass of Paragon comes into focus. The scene before me brightens. Passed out in the field of Midnight Anemones, with her wrists still bleeding, is Caleiso. At her side, I sit crumpled. The tall flowers partially hide me from him.
Soren, clothed in a coat of white and black, takes hold of Jasper’s shoulders. Whirling round, he tosses the Greyvon Alpha into a circular prison-box appearing out of nowhere.
Stunned into a trance of terror, Paragonians and Vitiosyns stare at the commotion. Only Zymarc looks on, unfazed, as though Soren is one of his misbehaving Vitiosyns, such as Belzara.
When Jasper scrambles up to take hold of the iron bars, they seem to melt into the next bar. He pulls away. The prison flashes a solid black. It then goes clear. Jasper presses his palms against the invisible prison then smashes his fists on it before thrashing his body against it.
The prison refuses to crack.
Breaths ragged, Jasper calls out, “What is this? Another dimension?”
Reverberating, Soren laughs maniacally like the demon he is. “How does it feel? With no Great LanSoren to save any of you?”
“Jasper!” Rorka shouts, about to dash out from the frontline of Paragon.
Paragonian onlookers lose their trance of terror. They’re ready to follow Rorka onto the expanse of bloodstained grass.
Soren’s murderous grin ends. He rushes for the Paragonian line. “Not one step forward, little sunset.” He points my father’s sleeping-dagger at Rorka. “For the first to step is the first to die by my hands.”
One bound away from the formation, Soren slashes into the empty distance. Save for Talok and his guards standing strong, the Paragonians rebound. Behind Talok is Gemma, looking on in fear. She’s starting to tremble.
“Who shall it be?” queries Soren. “The first to step, and break my Rules of Engagement? Paragonians? I think not. Vitiosyns?” He gasps. Amusement in his eyes, his gaze locks on to Zymarc. “There! Zymarc. King of Vitiosus! It has been too long, little Onyx, since last I saw your face. The face of Vitiosus. Now covered by a special Geldryn mask, I see. Will he dare to approach?”
Soren holds the daggers at ease against his sides, and taunts Zymarc. His emerald gaze ridiculing, he beckons the Vitiosyn King to make the first move.
But Zymarc is undaunted. Relaxed, even. He still has his hands deeply buried inside his coat pockets. He takes three steps from his Vitiosyn line, saying, “I don’t have to dare, to approach a ghost. You are dead.” Waving one hand out, he continues, “You are an illusion. Though a good one.”
Soren gives a thump of the waking-dagger’s pommel to his chest. “After all these years, Zymarc, you think me an illusion? I am crushed.”
Zymarc’s free hand fiddles with his bronze mask. “You got your hands on one of the five unguarded Books of Time, most likely. Threatened a Metimora to teach you of its ways, I’m sure. But all Books of Time have limits. There can be no killing while you are using one. You know that, as well as I. So good ahead, Soren. Do your worst.”
A silent chuckle shakes Soren’s chest. He takes three long strides toward the Vitiosyn formation, and starts The Count of Despairion: “One, two, three.”
“Yes, yes!” Zymarc interrupts. “The count goes. Four, five, then six.” Zymarc rolls his free hand. Scoffing under his breath, he commands, “Continue.”
A bound away from the Vitiosyns at the front, Soren sings out the words, “Why stop there?”
Talok? Ryco? Can anyone hear me? I echo, but get nothing in return.
“Seven.” He strides, then drops the daggers.
When they hit the ground, my breath catches. It’s an odd sensation. Almost as if someone’s just jabbed me on the back. I look behind to Caleiso. She’s barely coming to.
I focus on Soren again, as he’s saying, “Eight.” He then stops to eye a Vitiosyn woman, from the top of her mud-crusted boots to the crown of her shaved head.
Avoiding his gaze, the Vitiosyn squirms in place.
“But nine,” says Soren, curiously lifting an eyebrow.
The woman meets his intent look. Her body quivers.
All curiosity fading, Soren smiles at her, saying the words, “Is best.” In an instant, he plunges his now-clawed hand into her chest and out through the other side.
He tears his bloodied hand free of her.
She falls dead.
Horrified surprise takes hold of the Paragonians. Noise erupts from EquiNeins and BlacKaidyns. Even Vitiosyns and Vitasadyns cannot hold back their cries of alarm.
Ripping his other hand free of the pocket, Zymarc bolts forward a few steps. His escaping yell resonates out through the mask. His chest heaves up and down.
Talok and his guards draw their weapons. But they hesitate to advance, when Siveyra Gyronawv quickly signals a warning.
As Soren’s occupied with studying his hand covered in dark Vitiosyn blood, Zymarc presses his palms together. One foot stepping forward, he briefly lowers his head. Then he waves his splayed-out hand toward his Vitiosyns, Gyron, and the Onyx Warriors. Wind rushes in front of them, tossing them to the safety of an expanse away from him. Away from the crazed Soren of the Monel, now licking blood off his fingertips.
He relishes the fear in Zymarc’s eyes, while admitting, “Never did prefer the taste of Vitiosyn blood. Oh, but those Geldryn were quite the delicacy. Regardless, I’ll take whatever I can get this day.” Soren sighs. Then laughs. Then yells, practically snarling, “Amazing what illusions can do these days, isn’t it? Zymarc of Vitiosus! Do you believe I’m here now?”
Zymarc rips his coat away, even as Soren is talking. It bursts into black-and-gray flames, shifting to frantic black doves trying to escape. They transform into a standing, lifeless, and dark figure.
Ignoring everything around him, Soren takes a white cloth from one of his coat pockets. He begins wiping the remaining blood off his hand.
Gyron rushes forward.
The Paragonians follow suit.
But Soren throws the bloodied cloth on the ground. Fire races from it, taking a vast, circular path. A wall of flames flares up, trapping Zymarc, Caleiso, and me. Jasper in his prison-box too. We’re stuck within this makeshift arena created by the crazed Soren. It all happens in an instant. There are shouts; sounds of magic and weapons hitting the wall of flames too. Then the sounds cease.
Zymarc’s now garbed as simply as an Onyx, with only two weapons strapped on his back—long-blades crossed in an X pattern. He casts a spell on the barrier, and it turns translucent. He then begins a tentative saunter toward Soren. Side-glancing at the Paragonian frontline, Zymarc speaks out: “King Talok of Paragon. Permission to hold the Rules of Engagement.” He pauses. “So that I may subdue, one Soren of the Monel?” He grips the hilts next to his head. Slowly, he unsheathes the blades, all while he glares at Soren.
Talok, his eyes unblinking and bulging, replies, “You’d be doing us all a favor, if you did.”
Ryco says something to Talok.
Then Talok is nodding frantically, shouting, “Yes! I release you of the rules, to subdue, even to kill the Withrasyn, Soren.”
Zymarc yells an unknown word, and swiftly lunges for Soren. He swings one of his blades.
Soren shrinks the claws of his killing hand back into something less animalistic, while saying, “Now, Paragon, there must be no interference from you.” Snapping his fingers, Soren summons the daggers to his grasp, and clangs one of them against Zymarc’s blades.
Prismatic colors dance over the clashing, metallic edges. Some spark out, as would fire and liquid metal. Bright and loud, it’s altogether powerful. The sounds travel in the air, before stopping to rattle inside my chest.
Zymarc’s footfalls are quick and dodging. Soren’s steps are smooth and planned. Rhythmic and sure, his forceful strikes push Zymarc back. It’s apparent that Soren is all confidence and technique. At first, Zymarc merely defends against Soren’s attacks. Then he begins his offense.
Soren doesn’t try dodging. He takes the blows on his arms, chest, and legs. His coat and pants are cut with each slash, and his blood splatters across the ground. Yet he refuses to lessen his violent swings at Zymarc. As they go on, Soren’s clothing weaves itself back together. Still, he bleeds. The fabric is thoroughly soaked with his blood, more adding to it by the minute.
With each scrape of their metal on metal, or Zymarc’s magic absorbed into my father’s daggers, my heart pounds harder in my chest. So hard, I barely hear anything but its beat. It seems to want to burst from my chest. It burns, then turns ice-cold.
Together, the Vitiosyn and Sorshrynak dance what appears to be a fight to the death. Slicing, stabbing, and kicking, they then burn or freeze the other.
Neither the victor yet, they heal their wounds in seconds.
More magic, they cast from their hands. They resort to lobbing chunks of the bloodstained ground at each other.
Still, I cannot move. I almost can’t think. I’m frozen in place. Only free to watch the horror of Zymarc’s stamina wavering at Soren’s hand.
Gyron pounds on the barrier. Looking furious, he demands, “Zymarc! Get me in there, before he cuts your head off.”
The lifeless form still stands where it was created.
Soren kicks Zymarc square on the ribs, and sends him hurling back. While Zymarc recovers his footing, Soren rushes for the form. He’s about to take a swing at it. Zymarc’s quick to sheathe both blades, and summon vines from the ground with magic seeping from his hands. Though Soren’s fast, he’s not swift enough to escape the entanglement of vines. Satisfied with his handiwork, Zymarc aims his hand, and speaks to the form: “Invitas-Gyronawv-el-Nyxane.”
As Gyron replaces the lifeless form within the barrier, Soren cuts himself free of the vines and then burns them away. Outside of the barrier, the lifeless form stands where Gyron once was.
Courage rises with Gyron’s presence. I stand up, to brush the loose dirt off my coat.
Zymarc catches sight of me. Alarm sinks into his crimson-red eyes.
Talok screams, “Tyler, what are you doing? Stay back! Let them handle it.”
Soren sees Zymarc’s distraction. He takes the opening, to swing the sleeping-dagger up toward Zymarc’s face.
Gyron’s too late, in knocking the King Vitiosyn out of the way.
The sleeping-dagger scrapes across Zymarc’s metal mask, slightly damaging it, before it finds skin. It rips open flesh. The skin of Zymarc’s forehead, to be exact.
Soren’s laughter is cut short by Gyron coming at him, commencing a duel.
Facedown, Zymarc writhes on the ground. He presses on the mask, and it releases its hold on him. Gasping in several breaths, he holds his hands to his face. His forehead heals, and black hair grows to cover the tattoos etched upon Zymarc’s scalp. Standing up, now taller than before, he turns around. His pale skin’s gone. Darkened to match Soren’s tone, he’s still some shades lighter than I am. Lastly, his gaze of crimson turns green.
Aside from their clothes, the two stand identical.
That’s when I think, What’s worse than seeing one Soren of the Monel? Zymarc of Vitiosus wearing his face.
Soren ends his sneer at Gyron, caught in his stranglehold, to gawk at Zymarc now resembling him.
“Zymarc!” Soren laughs, in surprise. “Your gifts astound even me. I must thank you. I’ve wondered a long time, what it would be like . . . to watch the light go out of my eyes as I die. Now I will know, when I snuff the life from you.” Soren throws Gyron down. Sprinting forward, he raises the sleeping-dagger above his shoulder. Menacing psychopath doesn’t begin to describe the mad figure of Soren running, in this moment.
Gyron scrambles out of the way, coughing. He tries to catch his breath. Zymarc, calm and calculated, curls his body forward. Head bowed, he crosses his arms in an X. Uncrossing them, he holds his hands slightly up, as if preparing to brace for impact.
Soren is five strides from him, when he slams into an invisible wall. Dazed, the Sorshrynak stumbles back but quickly regains composure. His rhythm matching the Arkivara’s rattling chorus of leaves, Soren begins stabbing Zymarc’s barrier one dagger at a time. Holes are left behind, looking like broken, untempered glass.
Glancing up at the Arkivara, I can’t help but wonder what I was supposed to remember. I look to Ryco, next to Talok, pummeling the wall with magic. Both Paragonians and Vitiosyns are attacking it, desperate to save those trapped within. I smile at their disregard for Soren’s command not to interfere. That’s when Ryco’s words start surfacing. Trust those daggers, Tyler. They were your father’s, after all.
Trust the daggers? I muse. How can I, when they’re in Soren’s grasp?
I snap my fingers, then hold out my left hand, trying to summon even one of the daggers into my grip. Nothing happens. Only more words come to mind. Zymarc’s words, regarding Awngeleik. What did LanSoren do to her? That she will not come to the call of her master?
Could it be that she can only have one master at a time? What if it’s the same way with the daggers?
I start walking forward, even though sweat runs down my back and sinks into the fabric of my diving armor. Probably my Sleeping Dragon coat too. My body’s telling me to turn and run. But I can’t. There’s nowhere to run to. Nowhere is safe.
Zymarc keeps his barrier in place with one hand, as his other draws four symbols in the air. The first lights to red. The second to blue. Then they are wrapping themselves around Zymarc and disappearing to nothing.
Soren momentarily stops his berating of the wall, to say, “Clever Zymarc. Fortifying yourself with Gendras. It won’t do. But go on. You’ve got time to finish.”
The third symbol lights to green. The last to bronze. Then they, too, fortify Zymarc.
Soren takes both daggers in one hand. He looks over to me, still tentatively making my way forward.
For a moment, time stills as I stare into his green eyes that look exactly like mine.
My wicked grin flickers across Soren’s face. But it’s gone, as he plunges the twin-daggers into the barrier at the same time.
No! It cannot be, I scream inside. He is not me.
Fighting my panic, I rush to help Gyron as he struggles back to his feet. Still kneeling, he grips one of my shoulders. “Tyler, I know you were gone from here for a moment. Don’t deny it. Just tell me what you saw.”
“I saw my dad.”
“And what did he tell you?” Gyron presses.
When his barrier shatters, Zymarc’s hand keeping it up is jerked back. Something slices down his arm. Then his other. Yet Soren’s still five strides from him.
“Many things.” I sigh.
“Was anything said that could help us now?” queries Gyron.
“I was supposed to remember something. Maybe something to do with the daggers. But I’m not sure what.”
Zymarc and Soren’s dance of death begins again. Zymarc, however, isn’t healing anymore.
Gyron’s gaze flits around. He’s obviously distressed. He keeps trying to speak, but decides against it.
“You’re magically bound not to say.” I smile weakly.
Gyron grins back. “I’m trying to find the words around it. It seems this is all I’m permitted to say. Stand up, Tyler, and walk toward the real threat of today. One of three.”
“One of three?” I’m confused, replying, “I only see two: Zymarc and Soren.”
“As I said. One of three. The choice is yours. I’ll work on reviving Caleiso. You should get going.” Gyron stands, and goes to Caleiso, who’s still mostly unconscious.
She should be faring better, given what she is. A Vitiosyn, and apprentice to Zymarc. But maybe Jasper’s wailing howl really did some damage to her Mazhrein. I look to where he sits trapped in the prison-box, drawing symbols on the walls, attempting, and failing, to free himself. It’s apparent that he’s no threat.
Not in his current state, anyway.
At that moment, I feel eyes on me. Menacing eyes. I glance to the frontline of Paragon. There, just outside of the wall, is Awngeleik taking her demon form. Nobody notices her, as she stands staring at me.
The real threat of the day? I muse. Maybe she is that. All this destruction and death did happen because of her being withheld from Zymarc’s grasp.
I decide that she’s the one Gyron means. I make my approach. Each of my steps on the shamrock-green is agony, during Zymarc and Soren’s pummeling of each other.
The pounding on the anvil of my chest throbs through me. Still, I move forward. To Awngeleik. Perhaps, to my own death.
Think quick! What was I supposed to remember?
Jasper searches around his prison, studying its physiology more. Then he seems to hear my footsteps, as I approach Awngeleik.
“Is someone there?” he queries.
“Can’t you hear what’s happening?” I ask. “Soren of the Monel is here. But we’re not sure what he wants. Except death to anyone who’s against him.”
“Sounds about right.” Pausing, Jasper states, “I don’t recognize your voice. But you sound young. What’s a boy doing, facing off with a Sorshrynak? A Withrasyn, at that.”
“I don’t have a choice. I’m trapped in here with him. With Gyronawv and Zymarc too.”
“Whoever you are,” he says, “you’re out of your league. Break me free from this prison, and I’ll help.”
“I’m Tyler Ravier, if that makes any difference to you. And I would free you, if I could. But I don’t know how.”
Jasper wards off a smile. “Tyler Ravier? You’re far too modest. And you can free me. With your father’s daggers, that is. Few barriers can withstand their edges. Their points? Even fewer.”
“About that . . .” I start.
“You do have them, don’t you?” queries Jasper.
“At the moment”—I pause, to watch Soren wearing Zymarc down to exhaustion, then finish saying—“Soren has them.”
“Oh.” Jasper’s expression sinks. “Well . . . that’s unfortunate.”
“I have an idea of how to get them back, though.”
“Well, get to it,” Jasper encourages, “before Soren starts creating real havoc.”
“I think we’re well past that,” I state, turning to face Awngeleik.
“Then he’s already cut symbols into his skin, and set himself on fire?” Jasper hides another grin.
Slowly, I reply, “No.”
Nodding, Jasper says, “Then you should hurry your idea along, before he reaches that point of fury.”
Taking a calming breath, which feels more like a choking wheeze, I face Awngeleik again. She’s disappeared. I whirl around, searching. I stop at the sight of her standing next to Azabahk, while he’s striking the wall with a great big war hammer. It has veins of glowing ruby forged into it. I shudder to imagine what it does to a body it hits.
My mind races, thinking, What’s she doing, standing there, of all places?
In my rush toward her, I trip and fall. Finding my footing again, I race forward. But she’s gone. My breaths strangle me further. I glance at Gyron, finishing up his healing of Caleiso. Just as I’m about to Mensa-div with him, an arrow whizzes past my ear. It continues on, and plunges straight through Gyron’s heart.
I shy to the side, almost falling.
Caleiso screams, and scrambles away on all fours.
Gyron’s body within the barrier wall lights on fire. Then that fire passes through the wall and seeps into the lifeless form outside. Awngeleik approaches the form, as Gyron’s body completes its transition. He gales in a giant breath, before sinking to his knees. Looking to me, he then glances up at Awngeleik standing beside him.
“You should hurry it along, Ravier,” he says.
“But I don’t know what to do,” I complain. “Can’t you tell me anything else?”
Sighing, Gyron says, “Your father commanded me not to tell you the words, but to let you feel them, instead. Forget the daggers, for a moment, and face the real threat of today. One of three.”
Frustrated, I scream, “I don’t know what that means!”
“Fine!” Gyron yells back, standing up. “Just remember the two!” His voice thick with sadness, he says, “No forgetting.”
Excitedly, I remember my father speaking those same words, before we said goodbye. “Despairing Marion,” I ask, “who is she? Do you know? Is she here?”
Looking away, Gyron whispers, “There’s nothing left I can say.”
It seems like days ago that I saw my father fading away. Yet here I am, not even an hour later, trying to remember his answer to my question about despairion. Then the two come to me.
Words for riches.
Kindling for thought.
Instead of giving me a third answer, he said, Forget it. It won’t do. Just remember the two. No forgetting. You’ll figure it out.
What do they mean? Kindling could be fire. Fire for thought? That makes no sense. Startling me from my thoughts, right then, are chunks of molten rocks headed straight for me.
Tired, Zymarc still manages to scramble between Soren and me, in time to block the molten rocks with vines growing up from the ground. The vines wrap around the metal in motion, then begin to burn. Rather than being reduced to ashes, they cool and harden into silver-like veins that pin the smoking rocks to the mangled ground.
Zymarc draws Soren away from me, with new attacks of ice spikes.
Calming slightly, I’m still desperate to remember. “Fire of the mind,” I muse out loud. “Maybe memory?”
Blue-fire contained in her hands, Caleiso pauses in aiming at Soren. Looking to me, she says, “That’s an allusion to Fire of the Soul. Fire of the mind? Same thing. It’s a metaphor for a specific Law of Magic. One of six. Although, here, it won’t help us much.” With that, she begins attacking Soren with the blue-fire.
Instead of expressing gratitude, Zymarc glares at her, then shouts, “Free the alpha from his prison, Caleiso!”
“You want me to do what?” she shrieks. “I just got done healing from his wailing howl.”
“Does it look like I can subdue Soren by myself?” queries Zymarc. “Do what I say, if you want out of here.”
Something about her mention of metaphor makes me remember the poem, while Soren—glancing every so often toward Jasper—is focused on the two making their exchange.
I take out the letter Rozeth gave me. My father’s last words, given to her in a dream. The complete despairion poem. Slipping the paper out, I start unfolding it.
“You’re not really reading a letter right now, are you?” Caleiso glowers.
“I’m trying to remember something. Now stand guard, and hush!”
She scoffs. “You think I can take a hit from that . . . thing? I don’t even know what to call him, except for a beast.”
“What? You’re afraid?” I mock. “But you’re the apprentice to Zymarc of Vitiosus, aren’t you?”
“Everyone here is afraid,” she replies. “Except for you, it seems, because you’re too dumb to feel fear. Only concerned with reading some stupid letter. If I didn’t think it might hold the answer to our way out, I’d burn it this very second.”
I sigh, pushing away the slight sting of her words. “I need to focus.”
Smirking again, she turns around to stand as my temporary guard.
I startle at the sound of Soren screaming out laughter. The letter crinkles in my grasp. I look up, and I’m sickened by the sight. His coat has disappeared, his vest too. He’s now carving symbols on his bare arms.
Zymarc collapses, in fatigue. Propping himself up, he watches Soren preparing his body for something. An act of terror, most likely.
I skim over the words of the letter.
You will find her, at dusk: my Despairing Marion. The miller of the woods. The tamer of the dyns. The first and last of her kind. Who is she? A foreigner or a warrior? A stranger or a friend?
Into the future, you must reverse the clock. Acknowledge the ever-present danger. The fading light of death’s gaze. You cannot escape them. Death and time. They wait. Then turn. And shift. Only at the solar-eclipse, will they flee.
Dance with Gendras. Race to the place of Mirrors. Only then can reflection tell all, but no more. –Rozeth, forever your friend and ally
Something about death and time resonate.
Waiting. Turning. Shifting, I muse. They perfectly describe Awngeleik in this moment. But what about fire of the mind? Caleiso said it’s an allusion to a metaphor.
I whisper, “Allusion? Sounds like illusion. Could Awngeleik be an illusion?” I fold the note. As I’m tucking it away, the face of my diver’s watch flickers to a solid mirror finish. Then it returns to normal.
Excitement rises. Quickly, it’s taken away.
Zymarc wearily watches, as additional symbols are cut into Soren’s bleeding arms. The Sorshrynak takes that moment to glance toward me. His creepy smile makes another appearance.
Trying to force down the fear creeping up, it sticks like a lump in my throat. I glance back to Awngeleik, looking like death in her demon form. Then I tap the watch face, the representation of time.
Do I have to pick only one? I wonder, before speaking more words. “She’s an illusion, but of which one? Quick. Pick one!”
The watch shifts to the mirror finish again, then back to its face ticking away time.
As I’m making my decision, the symbols on Soren’s arms ignite. Black marks are left behind. No more wounds. Just twisted tattoos. Twisted like the one wearing them. Although Zymarc wears the same face as Soren, in this moment, his is not a face of terror. Soren’s, and his alone, holds that description.
The razor strokes from a night ago are nothing compared to what I’m feeling now. Utter terror. A cold sweat sends me to trembling. I cannot speak even one word. Let alone the phrase I’ve chosen: illusion of time.
I spot Awngeleik, still in her demon form, waiting outside the wall near where Jasper’s held prisoner. I instinctually bolt, hoping to regain my voice along the way.
Soren is thirteen steps from me, when he snaps his fingers. Caleiso’s restrained. He then reaches out toward me. Seconds later, my legs are swept out from under me, and I’m dragged toward Soren. I dig my fingers into the grit of the ground, but I don’t stop sliding until Soren releases his invisible hold.
Five small steps separate us.
Grinning, Soren leisurely slips his bloodied white vest and coat back on. “I like games with my prey, Ravier,” he says, “So, here’s how it’s going to be. I command you to tell the truth, three times. Three times, you must answer with what you believe to be true deep down in your heart. Are you ready?”
I answer, “Why not?” But it’s not what I wanted to say. Then I shrug while still on the ground, even though this really doesn’t feel like a shrugging moment. If nothing else, it might throw Soren off his ‘prey’ game.
After Soren buckles his vest closed, he crouches down, and speaks words of, “What do you see, when you look at me?”
Instantly, I reply, “Death, disobedience, and destruction.”
“Oh, that was too quick.” Soren sneers, standing up. “A second time. But the actual truth this time. The one you feel deep in your heart. What do you see, Tyler Ravier, when you look at me?”
Refusing to answer, because what’s rising disturbs me, I clench my jaw tight. Almost to the point where my teeth feel as if they’re about to crack. But I can’t stop the thought from finishing its rise to my consciousness. “Me,” is my quiet, unsettled reply.
“Again, in case someone missed your quiet, little answer.” Soren smiles. “What do you see, Son of LanSoren, when you look at me?”
Unable to stop myself, I reply, “Me.” It’s just one word. Two letters. But it’s my horror turned into reality. Deep down, I think Soren and I are one and the same.
It cannot be. What if it’s true? If it is, he can’t kill me. Not in this moment where I’m the present one, living. And he’s the past, long dead. But how to get him back into his time?
With my right hand, I claw at the side of my face. Desperately, I try to force the phrase out.
Soren starts reaching for me.
I cannot move. I cannot speak. Nothing comes from me, except a few bitter tears. Staring at Soren, I might be looking right at my father’s killer. But I think he is me.
Did I kill him? Is it my fault my father’s dead? I just don’t remember doing the deed.
The last of my thoughts isn’t even a question. But, rather, a statement. And it kills me. My eyes sting more.
Breaking me from the torment of my thoughts is a crashing sound all around. Dozens of BlacKaidyns are flying up, breathing fire. They swirl around the barrier, flying among each other’s flames. Some claw at the clear obstruction. Others batter themselves against it.
Rising into view beyond the Paragonian’s frontline is Reign, lifting his head up high. Too weak to fly, probably too weak to roar too, he looks across the wide expanse to the Vitiosyn line, to the King Vitasadyn meeting his gaze.
The King Vitasadyn bows his head to Reign, as if in agreement on something. Then he lifts his bloodstained snout up to the sky, and begins a roar twice the volume of Reign’s.
Sound ripples through the barrier.
The ground trembles.
All fall to their knees, covering their ears.
Even the dragons, swirling above, scatter. Screeching, they land hard on the ground.
Only Soren remains standing, though he is struggling.
Then there’s Jasper, still in the prison-box, oblivious of all sound around him. Except for my voice, it seems.
“Tyler,” he says, “is everything all right? What’s happening? I hear some kind of odd buzzing.”
Soren, frozen in place, has his hand extended toward me. But he’s starting to shake. At last, he collapses to the ground on his hands and knees. Fresh blood stains his coat sleeves, and he cries out.
Whatever was paralyzing me to inaction fades away.
Lifting the watch up toward Muraine’s star, Rentwaramein, I center it on the watch face and speak the phrase: “Illusion of time.”
The watch crystal shifts to a mirror-finish, shining bright.
I hear the sound of cracking glass.
The watch face turns to an unreflecting black.
I only have to wait a moment, before something starts happening.