Somedays it feels like the whole world is crashing down on you. As I lay in the wreckage of a small forest I’d plowed through like a meteor, I knew that was the sort of day I was going to have. The worst part was, it wasn’t even my own world that was crashing down on me.
“Wonderful start to our vacation.” I moaned as I picked myself up out of the remains of a shattered tree. I’d hit the poor old thing like a cannonball. Fortunately for me I was a bit tougher than a cannonball. Vacation or no, I didn’t like traveling in bodies broke all that easily. Two years of the training in the Parliament of Time’s Diplomat Corp had drilled into me the dangers that lurked across the dimensions. My current body might be a quasi-magical construct but that didn’t mean it was fun when it got damaged. That’s why I’d cheated and made myself a little more durable than, technically speaking, was actually possible in this world.
Tough as I was though there were still limits to what I could sustain. My back ached as I stretched and my left knee twinged with the kind of pain that suggested walking was a bad idea. Neither of those were dangerous problems normally. Anywhere else I’d just fix up the injuries with a touch of dream magic.
Vale Septem, the world I’d crashed into, was a bit unusual though, and any kind of overt dream magic work carried a price I wasn’t willing to pay. At least not on the first day of what should have been a wonderful and relaxing vacation.
Looking around the damaged forest, I saw that I’d carved a path of destruction about a hundred yards long through the thick stand of evergreens. I could smell the heady scent of pine from the broken trees and felt a stickiness on my hands and face that, thankfully, turned out to be pine resin rather than blood.
The chirping of insects and the warble of songbirds slowly resumed in the wake of the ear shattering crash I’d made. Apart from the various bugs and birds though there wasn’t any sign of creatures stirring. From what I could tell, I was alone. The nearest humans wouldn’t have noticed anything more than distant shooting star when I fell.
“Way? Are you nearby?” I dream spoke. I was alone in the forest but that didn’t mean I was alone. As a dreamlord (Parliamentary slang for someone with the powers I had) one of my abilities let me speak with other “dream aware” people no matter the distance between us. It wasn’t telepathy, I couldn’t read their minds for example, but it had similar uses.
“Jin! Are you ok?” Way answered back immediately. Along with her answer I felt the worry she was holding back and saw a quick vision of where she was. Dream speech conveys more than just words. It’s sort of a meeting of minds that lets you see what the other person is feeling and imagining. With practice you can limit the extent of that greatly. Way and I had been drilled in dream speech to the point of near-perfect proficiency, but with each other we were free to let our barriers down.
“Mostly. A little banged up but nothing worth bailing out for.” I assured her and ‘heard’ her sigh of relaxation in response.
“I can find you.”, Way offered.
“I’ll be ok. How long have you been here?” I asked, guessing at the source of her anxiety.
“About six hours. I was out of it for a little after I landed.” she said.
“What did you hit?” I asked, surprise almost knocking me over. I’d cheated a little to make myself tougher than average in this world. It was the most I could do and have my body still count as “real” as far as Vale Septem was concerned. Way was much better at that sort of cheating than I was. She hide it well, but when it came down to it I’d seen her shrug off atomic blasts like someone was shining a flashlight on her.
“A mountain. I kind of broke it.” she said. She shared the picture of her landing site as she did. Where I’d had nice breakable trees to cushion my fall, she’d impacted onto solid granite. She, fortunately, hadn’t left a girl shaped hole in the mountain but the peak did look like something large had taken a bite out of it.
“Forget about me, are you ok?” I asked, it being my turn to worry.
“Yeah, just a little bruised and achy.” she said. She sent the sensation of her flexing her arm along with the words. The bones were solid but the muscles were sore.
“Any idea what hit us?” I asked. Transition from the semi-imaginary space of Dreamlit world to a world like Vale Septem was hard enough under normal circumstances. With our training, we would have been able to manage it just fine except that we’d encountered ‘resistance’ on stepping through the barrier. Resistance that had felt like getting punched by a fist the size of the moon.
“No. I was hoping you’d know.” she said.
“It was too fast.” I admitted.
“I was afraid of that, with the time flows being so crazy I only caught a glimpse of something reaching out for you. I tried to block it but I don’t know if I even got a basic shield in place before we were knocked apart.” Way said.
“Think whatever you saw could have been natural?” I asked.
“Doubt it.” she replied.
That boded poorly for our vacation.
In theory, Vale Septem was supposed to be the ideal getaway spot. It had the slight problem of being a temporal anomaly, but that was also part of its appeal.
The Parliament of Time is a “Hyper-dimensional organization of Class 4 civilizations”. In layman’s terms, it’s the club that civilizations join once they can start manipulating reality on a fundamental level. That included things like traveling to other dimensions and even creating nano-worlds on the edge of the Unreal. With that kind of capability finding or manufacturing a pleasant vacation spot was trivial. Vale Septem had a quality that was fairly rare though and difficult to construct.
In most dimensions, time ran at relatively the same pace. That meant that when I spent an hour in class on Gix, the nearest Parliamentary world to my version of “Earth”, about an hour would pass at home. Some worlds ran a little faster, some a little slower, but the great majority were within a narrow range of each other.
Vale Septem was one of the worlds where that wasn’t true. Time in Vale Septem ran much faster than the Pandimensional Standard Time that the Parliament worked in. It was like the dimension was shifted relativistically compared to the realities around it. I was due to take classes on what that meant next semester, but I understood the short version of it well enough. For each hour of Pandimensional time, one hundred years passed in Vale Septem.
Looking at it the other way and it meant that travellers like Way and I could afford to spend a few weeks on Vale Septem and when we returned home only a few seconds would have passed in Pandimensional time.
“Think we found the source of Vale’s anomaly?” I asked.
“It would fit but this time period is supposed to be cleared right?”, Way said.
That was the other special aspect to Vale Septem. Most of the dimensions that ran faster than normal were either dead, starless husks or home to ultra-advanced entities that required that level of chronal acceleration to survive. Neither of those qualities said “resort destination”. Vale was special because it was a world fragment.
Somehow a century of time and one solar system had been sliced away from some other reality and twisted into a time loop. For every hour of Pandimensional time, one hundred years passed on Vale Septem and with the next hour those same one hundred years passed again.
The Parliament was studying what events had occurred that caused Vale Septem to be cut off from Vale Prime, it’s base timeline. That was how Way and I had managed to finagle the “vacation” that we were supposed to be on.
“It was, but that was only via external scrying. No major wars or serious unrest anywhere near us, supposedly. On the other hand there’s a reason the Exploration Corp was willing to take a couple of D-Corp students on as extra helpers.”, I said.
“I thought Professor Haffrun had to put in a special requistion for that?”, Way said.
“She did, but that was to get us in before the end of the term. I guess a lot of students had the same idea we did about using Vale as the ultimate cram school.”
“Think any of them lost a week of class time averting an interdimensional war?” Way said, referring to the primary reason we were behind in studies. When it’s pass a test or keep a race of planet sized extra-dimensional squid from eating Earth, no one faulted us for choosing the latter, but we still had to take the exams sometime.
“With how big the Parliament is? Probably a few.” I said with a smile. We had some pretty amazing classmates in the Diplomatic Corp (or D-Corp) and I knew the Explorer’s Corp was no different. Giant space squids were on the tamer end of things that the D-Corp wound up having to deal with.
“So where do you want to go from here?” Way asked.
“You mean do we head back to the Dreamlit world?”
“Yes. Do we need to report this?”
I thought about that. As an “Initiate Guardian” and a “Junior Envoy”, Way and I were trained in dealing with worlds where the Parliament had already established relations. For this deployment though we were on loan to the Explorer’s Corp. That meant that our primary objective was investigation.
“I think we should stick it out, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.” I said.
“I want to hear your thoughts first.” Way said.
“Ok. First, we know that we hit something in the chronal turbulence that surrounds this world but we don’t have any sense of what it was yet. If we can unearth that we might find an important piece to the whole puzzle. Second, if we bail now this area may stay unexplored for hundreds of iterations through the time loop. It’s not a critical area, otherwise they wouldn’t entrust it to two D-Corp students like us. By the time our report gets read and processed whatever was in this time period and place may have been pushed somewhere and somewhen else by the time loop.” I said.
“Agreed. And I’m not certain about what hit us either. I don’t want to throw away our vacation over exceptionally choppy turbulence.” Way said.
“And if it turns out to be more than just chronal turbulence?” I asked.
“We leave. We still have the weekend. It’s not as much, but you need to get some rest.” Way insisted.
“Me? Rest?” I projected thoughts of innocent confusion that were entirely undermined by the fatigue that had built up over the last few years. Taking regular high school classes by day and then dreaming myself to Gix to spend the other half of the day taking Diplomat classes with Way meant I didn’t have a whole lot of downtime.
It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounded – my body was in it’s best health ever thanks to little dream magic touch ups and my mind was hanging in there thanks to some intense dream sessions that let it get caught up on the “sleep” that I was sort of skipping.
Way didn’t say anything, she just sent me silence and the sensation of her glare of disapproval.
“Ok, ok. I’ve been a little overworked lately.” I admitted.
“You’ve been overworking yourself for two years now.”
“Someone I know is hard to keep up with.” I said.
“Someone I know needs to find a different excuse. I’m not the one going to two schools at once and baby sitting at the same time.” Way replied.
“I’m not babysitting that often and anyways that helps me relax too.” I said, sending along the image of my baby sister May. It was true that babysitting for her was relaxing, at least compared to some of the stuff I had to deal with. A one year old baby took a lot of attention but the range of things I had to worry about doing for her was pretty limited.
“She’s still adorable, but my point stands. You need to rest before the semester exams.” Way insisted.
“You’re not wrong.”, I admitted, “Where do you want to meet up?”
“I’m in a little bungalow on the beach. A little goblin girl found me while I was out and brought some fisherman over to carry me back to their town. They thought I was injured in the earthquake the brought the mountain down.” Way said sending me an image of the room she was in.
It was a small house with a single room inside and a covered porch in front facing towards the ocean beyond. A fireplace and chimney were set into the wall that faced away from the ocean and, from way the roof was constructed, it looked like the bungalow was meant to be used year round. It was a cool enough spring day that someone had lit the fire and apparently left some food for Way as well. I could see the remains of breakfast on a table off to one side of the bed she still lay in.
“That looks nice and cozy! Give me a few minutes and I’ll see you there.” I said.
One of the other abilities I have is a sort of extra insight into what’s happening around me. It’s hard to describe but the closest metaphor I’ve come up with is to imagine there’s a script for what’s going on. I can read ahead a little and also see some of the “stage directions” in terms of who people really are and what’s actually happening. It’s not precognition, people aren’t tied into the following the script, but my ‘meta-awareness’ can tell me a lot about them even so.
Part of the training for my “Initiate Seer” certification from the Parliament had been learning how to work with that meta-awareness. Locating Way was particularly easy since that was one of the most basic exercises I did with it every day. I’d also learned to pay attention to the footnotes though (to extend the metaphor). That’s what helped me locate the man who’d been spying on me the whole time I’d been talking to Way.
He was covered by a veil of invisibility, one woven from the magic of Vale Septem and a strong one at that. Meta-awareness worked on a whole different level than the magics inherent to Vale though and with a slight change of focus I was able to see him clearly.
He was half again as tall as I was with bright red skin and coal black hair. A pair of black ram’s horns curled out from his temple. They’d been painted silver to match the highlights on the black plate mail that he wore. Across the tips of his fingers, a tiny blue flame danced back and forth the way a stage magician might make a coin dance when he was bored. As I looked at him, the flame slowed and then went out.
“How intriguing. But surely…” he began, speaking to himself.
I cut him off.
“Yes, I can see you. Would you like to tell me why you’re here?”
There was effectively zero chance that he hadn’t seen me land or that he was unconnected with my fall given the remoteness of the area I’d crashed in.
He smiled, showing chiseled metallic teeth as he dropped the invisibility spell.
“I don’t believe I would. But don’t worry. I’ll make sure my lord hears about your arrival immediately.”
With that he vanished in a cloud of sulphurous smoke.
I sighed. I’d been on the ground for less than ten minutes and already random devil-guys were scampering off to tell their master about me. Nothing was ever easy.