Chapter 1: The Gentleman Caller

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

In a city that doesn’t matter, in a country that’s made up - like all the rest - on a chair that wasn’t green or soft (but was supposed to be both) sat a sad, small woman. She wore a woolen coat and dress that were green (though they weren’t supposed to be) and shoes that were neither green nor not. (And who knew why or what they should have been?) Everything about her home was so old that, looking around, you may have guessed it was owned instead by the dust, who perhaps rented the space to her. The only thing in the whole place that wasn’t antique or decrepit - aside from the woman, who was in her middle years and hale - was the glittering silver chain that clipped to her coat on one end and tucked neatly into its pocket on the other.

Her big, wild hair shook about as she sat, cursing a piece of paper on which she wrote for not having been written on well enough. She was a professional adventurer, which was, in an imprecise and general way, the problem. She hated adventure, you see, and always had. She wanted nothing more than to sit in her boring home on her boring sofa and make pointless remarks as she read the day’s news from the paper. “Quite right” she’d say, or “Well it just goes to show…” How nice that would be, yes, but she was so terribly unlucky.

Not by most standards, of course. Most people thought she was probably the luckiest, most talented woman in the world - several worlds actually - for she had been to a few. Why, she was the famed Hero of the Anti-Wars! who solved the Crisis Myth! and single-handedly rediscovered Denmark! (It had been lost, you know.) The thing was, she hadn’t meant to do any of that, or any of the multitude other miraculous tasks she’d managed. In fact, she’d been trying very hard not to do most of it. That was just how her life went, the harder she tried to avoid something, the more spectacularly it smacked into her.


She absently tugged the chain as she murmured unrepeatable things at the paper. The watch on the chain’s end, slipped from her pocket, falling comfortably into her hand. She rolled it round her fingers as she rolled her thoughts round her mind, like she had done a million times before. “Perhaps if I try to persuade them I do need a sidekick,” she said aloud - to the dust, I suppose. Then, “No. That never works. It’s like the universe knows I’m trying to trick it.”

She looked at the closed watch for some confirmation. It no longer opened - she didn’t remember it ever opening. It was old and simply designed, but of her many great, spectacular treasures, this was by far her favorite. She’d had it as long as she could remember, except for all the times she’d lost it, of course. But unlike everything else she lost, the pocket watch seemed always to find its way back to her.

That’s how it felt. She’d turn over her entire home, entire street, entire world - and then she’d turn herself around and find it sitting on the stoop, or banister, or milk crate behind her. Once, she watched it fall from a hole in a young boy’s pocket, right as he walked past. She’d never seen him before or since in her life. Finding the watch - or letting it find her - was the one thing she’d always succeeded at whenever she’d tried, and for that she loved it more than the whole world.


Still, for all that love and loyalty, it gave her no advice now - just the steady tick tick of a machine that kept to itself and knew its place. She stared, letting her mind forget the Adventuring League and all their Bylaws and Trilaws and Prophecies and Profit Seas and whatever other reasons they kept throwing sidekicks and assistants at her.

They always died, because she always wanted them not to.

The world stopped around her. The trouble that teased her eased into the background. As she watched the watch and watched her watching from the dull reflection in its tarnished silver case, her heart synced to its ticking - or perhaps the other way round. All that was left was the tick tick of time - never running out of reach, nor slowing to a halt - just walking along with her, like two friends in the park. There was nowhere to be - no argument to make or continent to save or partner to let down - just her and her oldest, dearest friend basking together in the loving silence of contentment.

Some time later - there is no way to know, it’s not like she was staring at a clock - someone was yelling, or speaking very loudly. It was muffled but invasive, as if being screamed through a closed, but close window. She tried to excuse herself from her walk with time. What was being yelled? It sounded like EDNA. Edna. What sort of a word was that? Why would anyone yell Edna? Oh - her mind snapped back to the dusty office - because it was her name.

“Edna Star! It is imperative we speak at once!” a hearty, yet refined voice bellowed from her right, suddenly clearer. She turned to see a huffing man - dressed apparently for the opera - climbing into her now open window while setting aside a still smoking jetpack. “Edna Star,” he heaved a great breath, “I am Lord-Constable Duke Highmond Reffentrem, Twenty-Seventh Heir-In-Wait to the Council of Mim and Such Responsibilities There Entailed, Forever Shall they Weigh,” he forced another, smaller breath, “And we must speak, please.”

Edna Star glared at her home invader, or she tried to. Perhaps it came out as more of a genial half-nod. Luckily for her, the man called Lord… whatever it was - was too consumed by the seeming impossible task of getting his jetpack strap off over his cane to notice the subtleties of her head. She spoke as he hurumphed through his chore, “Well, they’re certainly persistent; I’ll begrudge them that.”

“Yes, very ur…” he trailed off stupidly, staring at her hands. The watch must have caught a glare, she suspected. She tucked it back into her pocket where it wouldn’t distract the poor buffoon. The jetpack slammed heavily on the wooden floor, snapping him out of it. He reattempted his sentence. “Yes, very…er, I’m sorry. Er, who?”

“Oh, splendid,” she said, though she did not seem to believe it. “They’ve sent me another brawny idiot.” If that sounds rude, it is, a bit. It’s also an official Adventurers’ League Classification of Adventurer! (CoA!): Idiot, Brawny. Still, bureaucracy mustn’t excuse poor taste.

Edna Star, it should be noted, was unclassified - being no Scientist, Mad; nor Princess, Warrior; nor Crusader, Caped; nor Detective, Damaged; nor anything between or beyond. Normally, this was a death sentence on an adventurer’s career. If you didn’t have a thing, how could you appeal to the huddled masses? Well, that’s exactly what she had hoped, but somehow it had made her even more famous. The Greatest Adventurer in the World, and she’s Just Like You. She hated it. Of course she wasn’t just like you, nobody is - and nobody was anything at all like her. She wished they had been - anyone - but try as she might, normalcy escaped Edna Star.

Whatever had distracted the poor man-who-broke-into-a-woman’s-study-because-he-believed-he-had-some-right-to-speak-to-her, was gone in an instant. “I beg your pardon, mum. I am no brawny idiot,” he declared, spitting the last words like poison from his mouth. “I am a gentleman scholar,” he bellowed, straightening his tuxedo. Now he had caught his breath, Edna Star feared he would prove incapable of speaking at any volume below a bellow.

Well, she thought, that is not at all better. “Well,” she said, “that is not at all better.” She often said what she thought.

“Why—“ he grunted in shocked bemusement, but she cut him off.

“And at any rate, I need no sidekick.”

“Sidek—” he began, confirming her fears for his volume control.

She cut him off again, “Nor assistant, nor secretary, valet, bodyguard, live-in attorney, personal priest, nurse, sherpa, schlepper, roadie, nor whatever other purpose the League has sent you here for.”

A smile crossed his still-reddened face, curling his mustache. “Ahh, I see the confusion. I have not come from your Adventurer’s League, Edna Star. I have come from another world.” He clearly relished saying this - and who can blame him? If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend saying it - but Edna’s face showed nothing.

“No,” she said flatly, and she stood up and walked out of the room.

“I—well—“ he stammered, chasing after her. He left his jetpack there on the ground, still smoking and sputtering flames now and then. “I assure you it is true,” he finally got out, trailing her down a flight of stairs. “I should have thought yo—“

“—Yes, I’m sure it is true,” she said not looking behind as she rounded the bottom of the staircase. “But next you’re going to ask me for help on a quest of some kind, and to that I say no.” She wound onto another set of stairs, onward and downward.

There was a blessed silence for a very short moment. Well, there was the creaking of the floor, the pounding of their steps, and the huffing and stammering of the Duke… something or other - but that’s about as silent as things got around him. Then suddenly he thought he understood, “Ah! Of course! Refusal of the Call! They say Edna Star doesn’t miss a trick! The absolute best, they say! A model adventurer!” They - the present they, not the royal one - had reached the bottom of the stairs now.

The Refusal of the Call is a time-honored tradition of adventurers. Any proper hero, the idea puts forth, will first say no when given a grand quest. If someone says yes right away, the notion is, you’d better hide the silver. Edna hated the stupid Refusal of the Call. In practice, most people didn’t bother with it anymore, but still everyone assumed when she said, “No, I would not like to go to Jupiter with you. I find Jupiter gassy,” that she was just living up to the legend she was.

Stepping from the final stair, she walked the few feet to the door and grabbed a leather bag from a hook nearby. Opening the door, she gestured for Mr. High…guy to exit.

“Equipment for the journey?” he asked.

“And rations, yes,” she smiled, handing the bag to him. He took it happily.

“Gear at the door, ready to go. I do say, very nice, very impressive indeed.” He beamed at her, making no more objections. Was this actually going to work? He spoke more as he was passing, but she paid no attention. He was pointing up at something in the sky, laughing. Eventually, outside now, he turned around and said, “Well? Shall we be off?”

Edna tried to smile at him and then said, as flatly as before, “No,” and slammed the door.

She turned around, sighed, took one step from the door, and then everything exploded.

***


There was no point when Edna Star awoke, only the gradual slipping in of pain through the cracks in the restful nothing that held her. The pain pulled Edna, piece by piece, through those cracks and reassembled her in the world of the waking - the world of tortoises. Why tortoises?

It was a delicate, thoughtful putting back together. If time was her old friend, what was pain? Certainly it was devoted to her, she thought. It hardly left her side - or her back, or face, or ribs. At that, she realized she was thinking, and had been for a few moments.

She was awake, then. It was all coming slowly, like a turtle - hmmm - but it was coming. A tuxedoed man. An explosion. A shell? Edna tried to open her eyes - tried to sit up - but the pain was there, cradling her, urging her to take her time.

There was almost always some point in an adventure - she feared she was on one now - when you awoke in total bodily pain. (The worst adventures being the ones that started this way.) This was one of many proofs, she claimed, that adventuring is dumb. If you know it’s going to make you miserable, why choose it?

She finally blinked her eyes open for the first time since her awareness had returned. The light of the bright room flooded in with blurry visions of someone - something - she couldn’t quite comprehend. That confirmed her fears. Adventures were home to the incomprehensible - where such things lived and worked and tried to kill you or befriend you or both.

Edna rubbed her eyes, despite protests from the pain. The lines of the incomprehensible thing sharpened, but made little more sense. Then she said, “Turtle,” for it looked like a turtle. Its green head hovered inches from her own, less green one. She thought she could see its massive, shelled body standing on the floor below, but it was too far away.

The head bobbed slightly as the room shook a little. The giant tortoise made no other acknowledgement of the tremor, but it did speak, so that’s not nothing. “Turtoid. How are you feeling?” The voice was male and natural-sounding and the mouth moved convincingly, but Edna Star has never taken a tortoise with a human voice as a given. (And she suggests you don’t, either.)

“Robot?” she asked, ignoring its question - of course she felt terrible.

“Turtoid,” the turtoid insisted. Robot, Edna confirmed in her mind. Then it added, “but I am called Pythagoras.”

“Of course you are,” she grunted, sitting up, “because who would call a robot - or turtoid - Craig or Tina.”

Pythagoras retracted his head from its spot near hers. It came to rest closer to his shell, where a real turtle’s head ought be. He - it, they - was silent for a moment. In Edna’s experience, robots didn’t do well with sarcasm. Not that she had a glut of experience, mind you. Robots weren’t common companions for adventurers - though certainly more so than for the non-adventuring class. For most, you’d only see one if you stumbled into the background of a particular type of adventure (or if the background stumbled onto you).

An army of drones might fly through your windmill while you hammered at it. (You tell me why. It’s your windmill.) You’d start to wobble and fall, but just in time a trailing hero would swoop by, set you right, say something dashing, and leave you with the bill. Or a metal man might rise from the sea while you were having a kiss on the beach, walking right between you and the (I don’t know) tailor’s apprentice, getting sand all over your grandmother’s quilt.

Edna pushed thoughts of robots aside to focus on her present. She realized she was sitting on a bed - a nice one. Her green-but-shouldn’t-be clothes were torn and stained, but they were holding together - and more importantly, still on her. She had woken under similar circumstances in hospital gowns or borrowed clothing, and she did not care for that. Bandages wrapped round her stomach and spots on her arms and legs. The pain in these places assured her it was investigating the matter.

With great effort, she swung her legs to the side, letting them dangle to the floor. She could feel a soft vibration through her feet. She was on a ship of some kind, she guessed, but what sort? This jerking was too rough and irregular for the water. Perhaps an airship? Either way, it was good. A ship can be turned around.

She took in the room for the first time. It was about the size of her study, but couldn’t have been more different. Well, it could have been a horse, but as rooms go it was a big change. It was mostly empty, but what was was all new and spotless and bright. Two huge windows on either side of the bed covered much of the walls. They were curtained over, but a bright, white light peeked around the edges, permeating the room.

Straight ahead was a door. A few feet from it stood a coat rack - a dusty, tailed tuxedo coat hanging from one rung, her leather bag opposing it on another. She suspected she knew what that meant, but she tried not to think about it.

Just then, a booming, but indistinct voice hurdled through the door from somewhere far off. There was no malice to its volume, nor any purpose she could judge. Its loudness was, it seemed, not a reaction, but a way of being. That confirmed the suspicions she was trying to ignore.

The room jerked again, then Pythagoras spoke, “I have notified the Captain you are awake. He insists that you rest.” Captain. She wondered if her home invader added that to his veritable grocery list of titles, or if he replaced them with it.

“TINA could be an acronym,” Pythagoras blurted, startling her from attempts to shove the word captain between the bits she remembered of the tuxedoed man’s name. Robots didn’t blurt.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Apology accepted. You asked who might call a robot Tina.”

Ah, he was still confused. “I was being—“ she began, but he cut her off. That never happened.

“—Facetious. I know. Nevertheless, I believe someone might call a robot TINA if it stood for something. ‘Turtoid Industrial Network Archivist’ perhaps.” He just stared at her then.

Edna stood, trying to ignore the sudden outburst of her pain, as she stared the turtoid back. “I was going to say ‘rude’, but yours is kinder, thank you.” She gave up her staring contest and continued speaking as she hobbled toward the window. “I owe you an apology, Pythagoras. I think I have misjudged you.” She reached the curtains, found their central part, and yanked them open.

They were flying through a cloud. An airplane, then. But no, for above there was a huge, sloping… thing. What could that be? The room shook again, her pain jolting through her side. You shouldn’t be standing! it screamed. She winced, grabbing the spot.

Her hand laid flat across a bandage-covered pocket. An empty bandage-covered pocket. Edna froze.

Her watch. Where was her watch?

Edna tried not to try not to panic. This was the one thing she cared about that she could always do. She was terrible at not adventuring. She was horrendous at staying home and being boring. When she tried to cook she burned things, when she tried to clean she broke them (and sometimes the other way round).

But this - this always worked. Her watch always came back.

She told herself all this, intentionally. She said it with words in her mind, rather than let it wash through in the subconscious wave of thoughts that she’d never be able to articulate or hold. Something had to surf that wave though. Panic put on its board shorts and gave it a go.

“Where is the captain?” fell from her mouth. She was vaguely aware that she had interrupted Pythagoras, probably from saying she ought to lie down or rest or, or…

“He is where captains belong,” the turtoid was patient, if unhelpful. “And you should be where people who have recently survived explosions belong.” Okay, turtle bot.

Edna straightened up and ran for the door. In fact, it was more of an awkward, sort of fast-hobble, but I’ve never encountered a word for that. Let’s call it balumping. She balumped to the door just as Pythagoras was adding, “I could let you speak to him from here, if you’d like.” She pushed through the door without a word.

She could hear Pythagoras plodding slowly behind, calling something else to her, as she entered a long, straight hall. It was barely wider than the doorway, with all the same light, wood walls. Passages identical to the one she’d just balumped through lined either side. Some were open, some closed - various sounds slipped through a handful of them into the hall. At the other end was a long, open room with windows at the front. There, silhouetted against white and grey clouds, she saw the Lord-Constable Whatever keeping steady a giant - and surely unnecessary - ship’s wheel. If she could get there, she could turn them around.

Almost as soon as Edna balumped into the hall, a door on the left, near the end, opened. A searing noise hissed out from inside, with it came… Pythagoras? Only he was wearing a chef’s hat now. Just an identical turtoid then; there must have been an assembly line somewhere. Then it spoke.

“Miss Star, please, come back to your quarters,” it began, which was an odd thing for a different turtoid - in another room - to say. “There is too much turbulence, you—“ by then she’d closed about half the distance to this new tortoise and a door much closer on her right had opened. Out of it poked another identical turtoid - with an apron hanging from its neck - who picked up the sentence without a beat. “—might hurt yourself further.”

She stared at this most recent turtoid as she passed by. “Pythagoras?” she asked.

“Yes. I can explain if you come back to the room.”

She kept going. Edna had already received all the confirmation she felt she needed. Pythagoras was one intelligence existing across multiple robotic turtle bodies, capable of acting independently in each. What more needed explaining?

It was all new and exciting, which of course, she hated - under most circumstances. Perhaps it was the all-consuming desire to turn the ship around and get back to her watch, but she found no room left in her to be annoyed at this novel robot. Unsure what to say, she ignored him some more, pressing on down the hall.

She came to the third Pythagoras (who had been the second, in the chef’s hat). Some savory scent filled the hall, from what she saw was a kitchen behind him. Edna realized she was starving, but that would have to wait.

Chef Pythagoras stepped fully into the hall, blocking her path, pleading still that she stop and rest. She used his left foreleg (on her right) as a stepping stool, trying to climb over him and into the long room ahead. There the - apparently oblivious - captain helmed the ship, hopefully ready to turn it around. But just as she pulled herself onto Pythagoras’s shell - her body turned, her right foot scrambling onto the wall - the ship shook again.

She tumbled forward, rolling off the turtoid and into the kitchen. By luck she landed on her feet, but her pain called out through her, suggesting she take the turtoid’s advice and have a lie down. She screamed in the agony of it as she turned back to the door. It was fully blocked by Pythagoras who was staring at her, his mouth open for some reason.

From his perspective - all three of them - she had just run up his leg and the wall, leapt somersaulting from his shell into the kitchen, landed on her feet, and let out a scream of awesome might. Nothing in his programming demanded that he stare in open wonder at her, but nothing prohibited it either. He thought an agape mouth the most appropriate way to exhibit this behavior.

Her original way blocked, Edna turned back to the kitchen in front of her. It was a small, galley affair. Chicken cooked in a pan on the stove while something green boiled on another eye. A pot of mashed potatoes sat to the side, already done.

The only other door was straight ahead of her. Through a small, oculus window she saw it led outside. Well, she wasn’t going that way, then. She stopped, breathing heavily, unsure what to do next. Then, from where Pythagoras stood in the doorway behind, a speaker blared out with the trademarked loud stammering of her new acquaintance.

“Er, ah, attention passengers! This is your captain speaking!” Edna turned and saw Pythagoras standing with his neck erect, mouth now open even wider as the captain’s voice rang out from it. Strangely, she couldn’t hear it booming down the hall as she had before, despite being so much closer to him now. “We are approaching, er, I suspect, the Storm’s Heart Crossing. I recommend finding a seat if you haven’t one. This could get bumpy - I say, it could!”

The Storm’s Heart Crossing. That was why they were flying through clouds. That was why the turbulence was worsening. She’d assumed when His Fanciness had told her he was from another world he’d meant another planet or even a different galaxy. She wouldn’t have been surprised if, halfway through the adventure, he’d unbuttoned his skin and admitted he was actually a sentient colony of pure hope who merely pretended at humanity so her feeble, human mind could cope with his existence. She always found that so condescending.

But no, he was perfectly human; he was even from Earth - just not her Earth.

Something was wrong in Edna’s memory of the Storm’s Heart Crossing. She couldn’t recall which parallel Earth it led to, but she was sure she’d been there - and done something impressive and uncomfortable, no doubt. Why else would her home invader have sought her out so desperately? But the list of other worlds where Edna Star had been impressive was too long to comb through at present.

Storm’s Heart was a difficult crossing, so she’d rather get turned around - and back to her life and watch - before they went through. It lives in a cloud - a big, white, fluffy one - that never dies. Wandering the whole world round, the cloud carries at its core a storm that beats across two worlds and the infinite gap of possibilities that separates them.

Edna sighed, grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes, shoved them into her mouth, and opened the door that led outside. The potatoes were warm and creamy and good. The outside was cold and wet and bad. The wind raged through the door as soon as she’d unlatched it. Her dress flapped madly behind her like it was trying to run away.

Edna stepped out into the wind and onto a narrow, metal walkway. She screamed, mashed potatoes falling from her mouth as she fell to her knees. The walkway was the sort of grated, spiky metal that was meant to grip the soles of your shoes so you wouldn’t fall. Her bare feet assured her they would not slip. Her pain called out a “told you so.”

She gripped the rail and stood, stumbling forward across the evil metal. Though almost blinded by the wind and cloud and pain, Edna could see more of the great curving up body of the ship now. It was green, with some pattern to it she couldn’t make out, but she did realize finally what sort of ship it was. She was on a blimp. (Well, almost.)

Edna marched in agony through the rushing gale, looking, feeling, hoping desperately to find a door. To her surprise, one opened just ahead. From inside, a monocled Pythagoras said something that was also silenced by the wind. She didn’t care what. She ran forward, diving in beside him - managing barely to keep on her feet. The turtoid shut and latched the door with its face.

“Edna Star!” The voice was loud as ever, but surprise ran through it. Edna looked over and saw Duke Something Or Other, his jacket and hat removed, his white shirtsleeves rolled to the elbows. He huffed worriedly toward her, and she could tell - by his continued existence, mostly - he was about to talk some more.

Hunched by the door, Edna choked on her own breath as she preempted him. “Turn around,” she managed to force out.

There was an instant of confusion in his eyes, before he spun on the spot, fists swinging into position. “What? Ha! Who goes there!” he grunted, hopping from one foot to the other.

“No,” Edna sighed, “the ship. Turn the blimp around. Take me back.” Dutiful Pythagoras started toward the controls.

Her gentleman captor dropped his fists and turned back round, embarrassed and confused. “I— the zeppelin—“ he began, then found a course, “but surely the adventure cannot be delay—“

“—I don’t care about the adventure,” Edna snapped. “I have had my home invaded. I have been kidnapped. I have been doctored by a turtoid. I have learned the word turtoid!” Pythagoras looked affronted - yet another thing robots shouldn’t be able to do - but Edna finished without a pause for the turtoid’s feelings. “And, worst of it all, I have lost my watch!”

She was growing accustomed to the sight of this man befuddled. He stood there, motionless but for his face - his eyes and mouth moving curiously. Then something set in them. With a look she didn’t understand, he reached into his pocket. “That wouldn’t be this watch, would it?” Of the many grievances she’d laid out, that was not the one she’d expected him to latch onto, but then he pulled a watch out of his pocket.

She crossed to him immediately, plucking it from his hand, but even before she held the thing she knew it was right - it was her watch. It was even a bit shinier than it had been that morning. “Did you clean it?” She asked, not looking away as she rolled the timepiece familiarly round her hand.

“Every, er, ah, every speck of it, yes.”

Pythagoras called from the too-large-to-be-purely-functional wheel, “Shall I still turn us around then?” The turbulence was getting rougher and more constant as they neared the storm. Lightning - ever the dramatist - flashed all around them.

Simultaneously, Edna and the Captain gave opposing answers. Pythagoras affected a sigh that neither noticed nor would have appreciated. Edna spoke again first, “I have not consented to this adventure, sir.”

“But you— I mean—,” he thought out loud, “No, I suppose not directly, but surely you meant— I mean, the Refusal!”

“My ‘Refusal’, as you put it, was quite literal, actually. No meaning no, and all that.” Edna tried to sound scornful but it came out as more of a gentle reproach.

“But The bag, for Second’s sake! You gave me a bag of equipment and supplies.”

Second’s sake. Edna realized now to which Earth this crossing led, though there was something still wrong about the idea. “I did. That was for you, to help you on your journey.” It was also for her, in case she ended up, well, where she was. She added, “I will admit I was intentional in letting you believe that I planned to come, so I won’t hold it against you.”

For a moment he held a solemn, thoughtful look, as the shaking of the ship increased. Edna steadied herself on a nearby instrument console. Finally he said, “I’m afraid we can’t take you back home.”

“Yes, I was afraid you’d be afraid of that. Still, I insist.”

“You don’t understand. There is no home to which we could take you.”

“I am aware of the explosion. I only mean that you take me to where my home was.” She had no special attachment to her house or the things in it. She had meant to create one, but had never got round to it - having been afforded little opportunity to actually live in the place (with all the adventuring, you know).

The Lord Whomever did not respond, only staring at her gravely for what she felt was too long. Edna furrowed her brow, or it furrowed itself. “You’re not suggesting,” she broke the silence, “that my entire home is gone, are you? My world, I mean.”

“Mm,” he offered sadly as he turned his grave stare to a condoling one.

She remembered then that the Storm’s Heart Crossing, while familiar to her, does not connect to her world. They were already on (or above) a parallel Earth then, and they were headed for another one. She took this in as best she could. Her parents. Her friends. Her mentors and teachers. A world of people she felt she had let down again and again, never quite being exactly who she thought they wanted her to be. Now she had found one final disappointment.

She tried to cry - to let herself feel it fully - but the tears wouldn’t come. It didn’t seem possible. She gripped the watch tightly. It was a small but welcome mercy that this had made it out with her.

Edna’s acquaintance could see her distress - though he didn’t understand it as he thought. The ship was shaking violently now, without respite, but over the noise (though in his gentlest voice) he said, “Fear not, Edna Star. I believe we can undo it all.”

“How?” was all she could say, staring at her warped reflection in the silver timepiece.

“That is the question to it all. That is why I have come for you - on behalf of my Adventuring League, my world, all of our worlds - for the threat spans across our entire reality.”

She finally looked at him again. “What threat!” she yelled, as much in anguish as necessity.

In that moment, the noise - and the turbulence that caused it - died. Silence ruled as they crossed into the Threshold between all worlds, but the Captain’s gaze did not waver from Edna Star as he broke this rule of silence.

“The Beast at the Center of Time.”

And as she took this in, standing there in the Threshold between realities - this place that is no place - where there is nowhere and nothing - they were attacked.

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