Secrets of the Timekeeper

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Thread: Secrets of the Timekeeper

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    Senile EmBreon's Avatar
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    Default Secrets of the Timekeeper

    READY FOR GRADING @_@









    Rain streaked across the evening sky as he, the one in a heavy black overcoat, trudged up Fifth Avenue. He carried himself with proud purpose, pleased to finally have an order to carry out. The streets were as barren as they usually were when he put himself in public, as people subconsciously retreated from his presence. Without knowing, they could sense the danger there. His boot lodged itself into a thick puddle, splashing all the way up his pant leg, but he strode on; his mission made him oblivious to the environment.

    The coffee shop on the corner of this street was near empty in the last hour of daylight, as he swung open the door with unnecessary strength. There was little use trying to be inconspicuous, his quarry would see him coming anyway.

    A single, dim lit chandelier hung from a worn ceiling that had needed painting for the past several years. It cast enough light to illuminate the entire vicinity while leaving the corners and edges in shadows. Tacky flower-patterned wallpaper lined the enclosure and did little help hiding the fact that the business here was low. One single customer sat at the bar. A middle-aged woman with hair wrapped in a tight bun was absent-mindedly stirring her caffeine concoction; but, she was unimportant. It was the man at the table in the very center of the room who he had come for.

    Wearing a dull gray sweater and reading glasses to decipher the newspaper that lay out before him, this man too seemed as mysterious as the one watching him. His lined face came with years of worry as opposed to worn with age. He fidgeted slightly, then without looking up, addressed the one who‘d come in from the rain, “You’re wasting your time, Byron.”

    At the sound of his name, Byron went to the table as if obeying a beckon. “I wouldn‘t be so sure of that,” he said casually.

    “You underestimate me, as you do all Shapers. I won’t help you, even if I did know where he is. And no, I don‘t care about your petty bribes or threats. If you want to make yourself feel badass, go terrorize some of your usual victims: Women…children…some elderl-”

    “Your pathetic ability amuses me, Abram,” he said, cutting him off. It was difficult trying to hide his annoyance of Abram knowing what he’d say before he said it. “How useless you must feel, only having power over a few seconds.”

    “I feel pretty cool, actually. Though, I can't say the same for you and your skills at being a giant douche bag.” And in a moment, knowing it would happen, Abram shot up his arm to block a blow that would have fractured his skull.

    The waitress who had been sweeping the floor only moments before screamed, and ran for the phone when she noticed the brawl that erupted in the once peaceful shop. But suddenly, she stopped in her tracks while still posing in a run. She resembled a camera snapshot - a moment frozen in time. Because now, that’s exactly what she was.

    Abram continued to block and counter every single one of Byron’s punches, and then managed to shove an elbow into his ribs. “It’s useless to waste your time fighting me,” Abram chided. His once neatened auburn hair lie irregularly across his forehead. “I would have thought you were smarter than that. Actually, I take that back. You’re just as dumb as I thought you were.”

    Wincing, Byron managed to let a hearty laugh burst from his lips. Then, he straightened and stared at his adversary. “Shame you can’t See multiple targets, you might have actually survived tonight,” he snarled.

    And though Abram knew what he would say before he had said it, it was still too late. An arm gripped his shoulder from behind and he immediately felt its effects. Abram’s heart beat faster and faster, his breathing went ragged, and his knees buckled as he slumped to the floor. If he could have seen himself in that moment, he would have seen his complexion change from a smooth beige to a blotchy shade of pale grey. Age spots and wrinkles engulfed every inch of skin, his amber hair went white, and rich brown irises dulled into a hue-less milky cataract. In one last surge of energy, he wheezed “You will still never find him…” And exhaling, the rest of his body fell to the floor.

    “Oh, but we will,” his murderer grinned, giving a nod of approval to Byron. “It is only a matter of time.”

    The now duo did not give Abram’s corpse a second glance as they walked casually from the building, leaving the waitress still in mid-run for a phone she would never reach.

    -x-


    Sophie Anderson was preparing for yet another day of her junior year in high school. Not many interesting things happened in the dull outskirts of Wisconsin, apart from the occasional stray cow. But today, she was in an unusually good mood. Had it been any day earlier, she would have simply groaned as she forced herself out of the cotton sanctuary her bed was at eight o’ clock in the morning, pushed a pair of plain black-rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose and roughly tied her tangled chestnut hair into a ponytail before stumbling down the stairs to catch the morning bus.

    But today was Friday. She had leapt from her sheets by seven thirty and made a straight dash for the cheesy kitten calendar hanging on her bedroom wall. Gotta love gifts from grandma… she rolled her eyes at the memory of receiving this sad excuse for a date tracker and wrote a giant red ‘X’ over the day’s date. It was the very last day before summer vacation. Before she could finally have the chance to spend the summer with her uncle in New York City. She still couldn’t even wrap her head around the idea that she was actually going to be leaving Wisconsin for a few months, and to the most exciting city in the country at that. It was in her opinion, at least.

    It had only been three months since she'd found out she would be going in the first place, but it had seemed much longer. Apparently, her grandparents thought it would be good for her to 'Explore her horizons!' and took it upon themselves to arrange her uncle to play the part of her babysitter while she was there. She never quite understood the worry that her gran often vocalized; sure, she'd rather coop up in her bedroom and listen to depressing music than go outside and be eaten alive by mosquitoes, but at least she wasn't in some random kid's basement getting high with the rest of her classmates. Sophie often shrugged it off, however. She wasn't going to argue with a free plane ticket, and the opportunity to see what was outside of Lakewood, Wisconsin.

    The first conversation with her uncle came as a surprise when Sophie's grandmother waved the phone in her face and urged her to take it. She hadn't spoken to the guy in years; she had pleasant memories of when he used to come visit from New York, but everything had faded away since puberty. His voice was low and familiar when he forced some awkward greetings into her ear, but Finn was known to jump straight to the point. Once he blurted out an invitation to the city, Sophie hadn’t listened to much of his words beyond that. Everything got drowned out by the silent girl screams shrieking inside her brain the moment she realized she’d be going away for the summer.

    And so, chipper and elated, she flung her wardrobe together and actually took a few minutes to comb that shaggy hair into soft waves. When she was satisfied by her appearance of a navy T-shirt, skinny jeans, and converse sneakers, she trudged down the staircase with a bit of hop in her step.

    “Well aren’t we looking just lovely today,” her grandmother said with slight surprise as Sophie rounded the corner into the kitchen where the woman was bent over the stove scrambling eggs. “I do wish you’d leave your hair down more often; it’s such a beautiful shade and you have lovely curls.”

    “It’s easier and less annoying to put it up, Gran. We’ve been over this.”

    “Yes, I suppose.” Her gran sighed. “Just a shame you downplay your appearance, you’d have boys swooning with ease.”

    “Gah," another old voice crackled from behind a newspaper at the table. This one was deeper, and hoarse from smoking several years' worth of cigars. "She’d better be kicking all those punks that come near her in the groin, or I best be gettin’ my rifle…”

    “Hershel!” the old woman gasped, smacking the man in the shoulder with the side of her spatula. Her husband simply chortled and turned the page.

    Sophie sat down across from her grandfather, plopping her backpack carelessly onto the floor while her grandmother placed a plate of yellow eggs in front of her. She started shoveling them into her mouth with blinding speed, only pausing to look up at her grandfather when she thought she heard him muttering something to her. “What?”

    Hershel craned his neck over the corner of the newspaper, arching an eyebrow. “Eh?”

    “I thought I heard you say something…” Sophie said absentmindedly.

    “No, but I was seconds from telling you that you’re going to get a hernia if you eat any faster. Calm yourself down, miss.” He smirked and disappeared behind his paper once again.

    “Psht, I have a stomach of steel.” She didn’t wait for a reply when she stood and placed her now empty dish into the sink, and turned around quickly to head for the door.

    “Have a wonderful day, dear,” came the voice of her female parent. Sophie swept up her backpack and pulled the door shut behind her.

    The countryside was still half-hidden in the shadows of the morning. Rolling hills in the distance disappeared beneath the wisps of thick fog where they would normally have stretched all the way to the edge of the horizon. In minutes, the violet shaded skyline transformed to a blend of yellow, orange and red like a hand-crafted finger painting of the sunrise. Ignoring this scene that she saw every morning for sixteen years, Sophie strode down the dirt road, past the picket fence enclosed yards and manure-ridden fields, and watched her feet as she went.

    It was twenty minutes before she finally reached the crossroad where the city bus would make its routine stop. Three other kids were already standing there waiting; one was in elementary school, and the other two in junior high. They smiled vaguely at her as she approached, and one waved, but that was the extent of the greeting as they were all merely friendly acquaintances.

    She’d barely been waiting a full minute before the sound of squeaking brakes broke in the distance. A dull white bus with a faded bronze stripe came barreling around the corner, leaving a trail of dust in its wake. All four of the pedestrians covered their ears as the vehicle came to halt before them, the brakes screeching like wails of a dying cat.

    The youngest of the group boarded first, muttering quickly with the driver and dropping some coins in the collection canister before the others followed suit. When Sophie climbed the steps, the driver told her “The town is making budget cuts. It’s a thirty-five cent service fee now, I’m afraid.”

    “Really? But I only have a quarter…”

    The driver didn’t respond. He just stared at her for a moment, completely still; the tension on his face was apparent as if he was about to say something else. There was a moment’s pause, and then finally, “The town is making budget cuts. It’s a thirty-five cent service fee now, I’m afraid.”

    Sophie squinted. “I know… I just told you I only have a quarter…”

    “Huh?”

    “What?”

    “You did? Hm, well just bring an extra dime for your next trip then. Carry on.” And he pulled the lever to close the doors after her.

    Sophie furrowed her eyebrows at the man in confusion, staring just a bit longer than what was probably polite, but then made her way to the back of the bus to find a seat. Sitting down, she pulled out a pair of headphones and lost the time in a medley of mainstream music.

    -x-


    “BOO!”

    A flinch and a stumble into her locker later, Sophie turned an annoyed face to the culprit. “Don’t do that, Annabelle. I’m going to end up bruising something again.”

    Her friend snickered into the stack of books clutched to her chest before replying, “I can’t help it, you’re such an amusing scaredy-cat.”

    Sophie rolled her eyes and smacked the stack of books her friend was holding just hard enough to send them scattering to the floor. “Oops,” she said as she made way to her first hour with a giant smirk on her face.

    “Oho, you’ll pay for that!” came Anabelle’s retort. It might have been slightly more threatening if she hadn’t been giggling to herself. But then again, any threat from this girl would be about as intimidating as a bunny with a water balloon, regardless of how serious she said it.

    Being the last day of school, it would be normal to assume that the teachers would go easy on you. Perhaps they would hand out cookies or play board games to pass the time, but no, not Mrs. Fitch. She insisted on packing every minute with intense equations and boring lessons. It made Sophie wish she had taken an art class in place of Calculus, and constantly had to remind herself of her college application.

    But then again, she always felt a bit sorry for Mrs. Fitch. Despite her habit of assigning ungodly workloads for homework, she was a good teacher. And it made Sophie feel somewhat guilty knowing people tended to replace the ‘F’ in her name with another, more obnoxious letter when discussing her behind her back.

    Sophie sat in the very last row of the classroom, daydreaming about New York City while Mrs. Fitch rambled on about either the pythagorean theorem or python serum; she wasn’t paying enough attention to decipher which it was, even if the answer was obvious.

    “…and so if we divide that by x to the second power and add 16, we are left with what? Sophie?” The teacher had managed to finish the equation with her back to the chalk board, and was apparently scoping the room for the student paying the least attention.

    “Huh, what? Oh." Sophie instantly regretted letting her mind wander. Mrs. Fitch had an uncanny ability to embarrass the slackers. "Uh…. 7?” The classroom erupted into laughter and an annoyed crease formed between Mrs. Fitch’s eyebrows.

    “No. The sum of this equation would be 32.” With a sigh, the instructor turned to face the board once more.

    Damn, there goes my A…

    And suddenly, whether for a minute or a second, it was impossible to tell, the room fell completely still. Not a breath, not a sigh, not a click of tapping keys from the emo kid hiding his cell phone in the darkest corner of the room: nothing. Sophie rubbed her forehead of what seemed to be another oncoming headache, and then…

    “…and so if we divide that by x to the second power and add 16, we are left with what? Sophie?”

    The teenager looked around to find all of her classmates staring at her. What the hell, she thought. “Is it…32?”

    “Yes it is, very well done.” Mrs. Fitch seemed pleasantly surprised. She twitched her pointy nose with a very slight hint of annoyance, then raddled on about more useless mathematical problems for the rest of the hour.

    Luckily, the other teachers were a bit more lenient when it came to the class schedule. Fifth hour English, which Sophie shared with Annabelle, the students were allowed to simply write a short story with a partner that needed to be no longer than one page.

    “One of my books that you SO NICELY abused, landed in like this really gross piece of gum. They’re totally going to make me pay a fine for that, you know.” Annabelle flipped a wisp of her bright blonde hair over her shoulder so prep-like that Sophie couldn’t hold back a bit of giggling.

    “Oh, please,” Sophie remarked. “That gum probably increased the value of that book.”

    “Do you have something against ‘Child Development for New Mothers’ ?”

    “Ana, you’re not a new mother, you just like playing with the dolls.” Sophie scribbled some more nonsense onto their ‘assignment’, that at the moment consisted of shopping items and movies to rent.

    “It’s a very educational experience!” her friend replied with a mocking tone.

    It was honestly kind of difficult to concentrate on their story with so much chattering happening around them. Sophie doubted that their English teacher even cared about its completion, considering the rest of the class was treating it about as seriously as they were. Not to mention, there were about three paper airplanes buzzing around. So, when Anabelle finally stopped talking about how much she learned from changing the diaper of her plastic baby and running over it with her car, Sophie asked, “Do you believe in déjà vu?”

    “Like feeling like you’ve done something before and junk? Yeah, it happens to me all the time,” Annabelle said as she admired her nails from five different angles. “ Once, when I was shopping at that cute salon in the mall, I found this pink nail polish and I was like ‘I KNOW I’ve bought this before.’ But I bought it anyway, in case I hadn’t actually bought it, but just thought I did.”

    “That’s..." Sophie arched an eyebrow. "Not exactly what I meant… but it was such an interesting story.”

    Ha. ha.” Ana faked a laugh and stuck out her tongue. “ I wish you would come shopping with me for once, you could be so pretty if you took those dork glasses off, and wore an outfit that didn’t look like you stole it from a little boy.”

    “Bah…I can’t stand the mall. You know that," Sophie replied to her, absentmindedly at first. "Hey! My outfits are awesome." The teenager glared at the other, trying to hide a smile.

    “Suit yourself, Soph. But I tell ya, you’re missing out.”

    The rest of the day seemed to fly by after that. Movies were watched, games were played, streamers and papers wound up scattered over the entire floor in every hallway, which reminded Sophie of how much it must suck to be the janitor.

    By the end of last period, she was making a mad dash for the bus as if she had somewhere very important to be, even though she didn’t. Just something about this school… the waxed floors, the walls plastered with mediocre artwork, the suffocating smells of both B.O. and perfume… she could never wait to leave it. Yet at the same time, when only a few weeks without it, she could never wait to return.

    But today she’d been paying absolutely zero attention to ninety percent of the goings-on, and failed to hear the random calls of her name for her to either sign a yearbook or make false goodbyes. Instead, she veered straight for the community bus, finding her grungy seat with folds of torn fabric located all the way in the back.

    -x-


    That weekend before her leave hadn’t been nearly as relaxing, nor as exciting as she had hoped and thought it would be. Stacks of her folded laundry that reeked of the old woman smell she was used to lay spread across her comforter, and there were books and gadgets strung over every other spare inch of her bedroom. She couldn’t decide what was important enough to bring, as she was sure that the very things she’d leave behind would be the only things she’d need.

    The passing hours were also filled with random migraines that would leave her dizzy and feeling like she would pass out. She was constantly dozing off, and by the time Sunday rolled around, she had packed a total of two T-shirts and an ipod.

    “My goodness child, what happened in here?” her grandmother said in awe as she came into the room bearing another basketful of laundry.

    “Ugh, don’t ask…” Sophie answered, rubbing her forehead.

    “Are you sure you are feeling all right? We could always delay your ticket for a few days.” The elderly woman set the load of clothes in the only place not littered with random odds and ends.

    “No, no. I’m fine, really. Just been having some wicked headaches lately. I’ll have this finished by tonight... it won’t take long.” The girl looked around the room with false confidence.

    “Well okay, dear. Just take some Tylenol and call for me if you need any help.”

    When her grandmother left, Sophie walked over to her floor-length mirror that hung on the back of the door, curious to get a look at her appearance. It soon became clear why her grandma had seemed worried. Her skin seemed about three shades paler than the cream color it was normally, making the soft freckles on her cheeks and nose much more prominent. Her green irises hid dully behind her drooping eyelids, but most notably, the posture of her shoulders dipped so low, it gave her an air of depression like she just watched someone flush her goldfish down the toilet.

    Disappointed, the girl returned to her suitcase and simply shoved enough clothes to last the summer into it, then threw in a single book and latched it up. She no longer cared what she was bringing; she’d be in New York, chances are she’d be too busy to care about her belongings or how she looked in her boyish outfits. She found the energy to re-organize the room by sluggishly putting everything back where it belonged then crashed once more into her mattress.

    She awoke the next morning to the smell of piped tobacco and maple syrup. Her headache seemed to have subsided during the night, so she lugged her baggage downstairs in a much more pleasant mood.

    Her grandfather was reading the newspaper yet again, though today, he sat in his rickety old recliner instead of the kitchen table. Rings of charcoal smoke puffed from a pipe he held in the corner of his mouth as he read. She wondered how he - or anyone - could find a paper so interesting, let alone one from their town. All it contained were the same needlessly long articles of local cheese recalls or new cases of the same teenage pranksters tipping cows.

    But she’d say none of this to him, of course. He’d probably just mutter something along the lines of “Kids these days only want to use the cyber web and talk like toddlers on those damn phones. I swore those things would be the damnation of the world. Back when I was a young lad…” anyway.

    Sitting down, she absentmindedly watched her grandmother approach her with a giant stack of pancakes drenched in syrup and butter. Sophie stared at the meal with wide eyes saying, “Are you trying to clog my arteries?”

    “Nonsense. Eat up, you’re skinny as a beanpole.”

    Sophie barely ate half of the feast before it felt like her stomach was on the verge of exploding. Her grandmother seemed satisfied enough and removed the plate, following with a chatter of small talk and silly questions.

    “…and you’re going to send us post cards?”

    “Of course I will, Gran. It’s only two months, I’ll be back before you know it.”

    “Leave the girl alone, Evelyn. She’s not going off to war,” came the voice of her grandfather from the other room, his eyes never leaving the columns of black text.

    Evelyn shot him an angry glare he didn’t see, and stood up from her seat. “Well anyway, we best be going before you miss your plane. Grab her bag, will you Hershel?”

    “Oh that’s all right, I can carry it…” the girl said, moving towards the suitcase.

    “Nonsense, your grandfather would be happy to make himself useful for a change.”

    Sophie simply smirked, so used to their bantering that she actually found it kind of humorous.


    It was kind of cramped in the back of the ancient Volkswagen with it being such a tiny car to begin with, but Sophie hardly noticed, excited as she was. The car window glared painfully into her eyes, as she almost pressed her face against it to watch her world go by. Adrenaline pumped softly at every passing minute where she moved farther and farther from that desolate town that felt like a giant sand trap.

    The scenery shifted from farms and cornfields, to suburbs and factories the closer they got to the nearest airport. Metal skyscrapers pumped toxic waste into the distant sky, clouding what would be a clear day with an unnatural haze. The streets grew more crowded with motor vehicles, all adding to the pollution and creating a smell similar to oven-baked paint. Horns honked a few cars ahead as two pedestrians walked mindlessly across the street. And the sun loomed directly overhead, casting angry heat waves on all who were below.

    An hour passed before the car sputtered into the drop-off section of the airport. With a few pops, a crack, and a bang, the family vehicle was lost in a cloud of jet black smoke.

    “Agh, son of St. Mary’s damned biscuit!” Hershel pulled a flannel cap off his head and waved it manically through the exhaust. “Complete piece ‘a garbage… Giant money bucket … If my father was alive he’d…”. Sophie could only catch bits of what the old man was saying now as he had buried his face into the engine beneath the hood.

    Just a small flush of embarrassment poured over Sophie as the small masses of people rushed by without forgetting to stare at the odd family in the smoking vehicle. But it soon passed; she was the type of person who cared very little about what people thought of her, most of the time at least. Grabbing her suitcase, she pushed open the side door and asked, “Would you like me to call a cab, Gran?”

    “Oh no, dearie. I highly doubt your grandfather will be moving from this spot until he repairs the thing himself.” She sighed with a huff of annoyed acceptance. “Now get a move on, your plane leaves in twenty-five minutes.”

    The young girl nodded and turned to leave, heaving the huge bag over her shoulder.

    “Oh, and Sophie?” called the kind voice from behind her.

    “Yea-” But her response was cut off as her small frame was squeezed into her grandmother’s pleasantly plump one. She almost choked on the intense perfume clinging to Evelyn’s flower-pattered silk dress, but managed to endure it without protest.

    Her make-shift parent then held her out at arm’s length and gave her a glance over before saying, “Your parents would be so proud of the young lady you’ve become…”

    Uh-oh, here it comes.

    Tears suddenly welled up in the old woman’s eyes, and through a set of quiet sniffles, she told her grandchild, “I l-love you s-s-s-so much, Sophie; d-d-don’t ever forget it.”

    “I love you too, Gran.” She patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. “I’ll see you in two months.”

    “Hershel! Come say goodbye to your granddaughter for G-God’s sake!”

    “DON’T HARP ME, WOMAN. LET THE GIRL GO ALREADY. Gah... I can’t get this dang flabbit hunka-junk to do nothing without poppin’ seven giskits son of a…” And gone he was again beneath the hood in a series of concentrated profanities.

    Sophie giggled and suggested they spend some more quality time together over the summer. “Maybe you two could take a knitting class or something.” She winked.

    “Such a rascal you are, now get going. Shoo!” She fanned the skirts of dress out at the girl like she was a pesky rodent.

    And finally the sixteen-year-old made her way from the scene with the large black bag in tow.

    -x-


    She had never been on a plane before. It was kind of nerve-wracking to see the earth so far below. As soon as they passed over Lake Michigan, she didn’t realize what she was looking at exactly. What she thought were parking lots packed with cars, were actually large subdivisions. She couldn’t help thinking of the ant farms she had as a girl when she watched the flea-sized vehicles crawling down what was sure to be a speedy highway.

    Luckily, not many people had boarded this plane. It was only about half-full of passengers, which was a good thing because Sophie was sure she would have gotten very claustrophobic. Apart from the toddler a few rows ahead who would randomly burst into crying fits, and the middle-aged man snoring two seats over, it had been a decently peaceful trip. But, once the clouds became too thick to see anything out the window, and the plane began vibrating with rough motions from side to side, Sophie thought she was going to be sick.

    A buzz cracked from the speakers. “We apologize for any inconvenience. We've hit a small patch of turbulence,” came the practiced voice of the pilot. “Nothing to worry about, we’ll be passing through in just a few moments.”

    Slightly relieved that she wasn’t spiraling to her doom, Sophie sighed. “Damn turbulence.”

    “Huh?” The man who had been dozing beside her, was now looking directly at her.

    “The turbulence,” she repeated. “It scared me.”

    “What turbulence?” He looked genuinely confused.

    She opened her mouth to reply, but the plane began jerking yet again in the same side-to-side motions as before.

    The intercom cracked once again. “We apologize for any inconvenience. We've hit a small patch of turbulence,” came the practiced voice of the pilot. “Nothing to worry about, we’ll be passing through in just a few moments.”

    Ugh, not this again…That turbulence, I guess.”

    The man was now looking at her as if she were the Antichrist, his face twisted into some combination of shock and horror.

    She pulled her glasses from her face, inspecting their every element and hoping they would magically be the cause of all of this distress. But finding nothing unusual on them, she placed them back in front of her eyes, pulled the iPod from her carry-on, and tried to ignore the man who was now leaning in his seat as far away from her as he could get.

    She must have fallen asleep at some point, because in what seemed to be a matter of minutes, she was looking out the window at a deep black sky. Thousands of tiny orbs of bright white lights emanated from the city below her. It somehow reminded her of a giant Light n’ Bright from this view. It was almost impossible to decipher anything in the city they were now descending upon. Without the sun’s help, and with the ridiculous amount of sparkling lit windows and street lamps below, everything else was cast in masses of lumpy dark shadow.

    But in moments, the plane glided into the city. And like a giant pop-up book, the buildings and scrapers she had been looking down at were now towering over her, too far up in the sky to see half their height through the plane window.

    The bell rang and the passengers were free to stand from their seats and exit the terminal. Sophie snatched her carry-on and flew past the man beside her who was rummaging in the storage bin. She was tired of being contained in this little cabin with all these people.

    Minutes later, she was scanning her flight’s Gate for that familiar family resemblance. A couple embraced in the corner whispering awkward “I love you” ‘s and then recycled each other’s saliva. The toddler who had been throwing tantrums on the trip hours earlier was now fast asleep in the arms of someone who Sophie assumed was his mother. They went to meet an elderly couple sitting peacefully in the lobby.

    It didn’t take much longer for her to weave through the crowd to the far wall, where she saw that traditional chestnut hair and green eyes peering through the mob in search of her.

    “Uncle Finn!” the girl couldn’t help squealing as she made a mad dash to the man leaning on the room’s wall.

    “Ah, there she is.” Her Uncle fixed his posture as she approached, tightening his broad shoulders and uncrossing a pair of bulky arms. If he hadn’t been wearing such nice clothing - a blue button-up and kaki pants - she could see him being a bouncer at a nightclub.

    Unable to hold back her inner five-year-old, Sophie launched herself into the older man’s arms, barely fazing his sturdy frame. “It’s so good to see you!” she exclaimed from the wrinkles of his cotton shirt.

    “Look at you, you must have grown five feet since I last saw you. How long has it been? Seven years?”

    “Eight,” she smirked and dislodged herself from her uncle’s embrace. “You clean up nice, Uncle Finn. What’s the occasion?”

    “Bah… distant relatives coming into town, gotta dress for success. You know how it goes.” He took his fist and playfully ruffled up her already messy hair, leaving it looking just the same as before.

    “Oh, I see. They must be some very important family members to get you out of that flannel," she teased.

    “Once a farm boy, always a farm boy.”

    Finn grabbed the luggage she was towing, and after a few slight protests, she let him have it. It differed more for a man in his late twenties to carry it than it had for one in his mid sixties.

    Somehow, the two of them made their way through the terminal in less than a half hour. Considering the massive amount of people commuting to and fro, and hallway after hallway of new and progressively confusing sets of directions, it was a pretty remarkable feat. Sophie could have easily lost herself in the maze of gateways and restaurants for days if she hadn’t had her guide.

    When they finally emerged from the automatic doors leading to another enormous parking lot, there was a running taxi awaiting them.

    “Well, that’s interesting,” said the girl, gesturing to the mustard yellow vehicle purring with the drone of the engine.

    “It is?” asked her companion, raising an eyebrow. He shoved her suitcase into the trunk like it was no heavier than a pillow, then rounded the machine’s rear to pull open the side door for his guest.

    “Yes, I’ve always thought it was near impossible to get a cab in New York City,” she answered. “I thought we were supposed to stand on a dark corner in front of a conveniently-placed puddle and wait for them to drive by and splash us.” She ducked into the car’s cabin and slid to the other side.

    “You watch too much TV, Soph,” he replied, ducking after her. “Besides, I happen to have a skill or two.” And closing the metal door, he gave directions to the cab driver then handed a thick pamphlet to his niece.

    With a roar of the engine and a faint screech of the tires, the taxi sped off into the heart of the city.

    It was difficult to read the text on the booklet she’d just received, as the only light came from the passing street lamps and towers of lit windows. So if someone had been waving a flashlight back and forth over her head, it would have a very similar light source as this. Even excluding the lack of proper illumination, the entire atmosphere was just too smothering for her to concentrate on silly text. The stuffiness of the cabin itself was enough to engulf anyone’s senses into a parade of a thousand cigarettes.

    “It’s just a brochure,” Finn reassured her. “Full of common tourist attractions that I figured a kid like you would want to visit during your time here.”

    “Oh!” With new-found interest she flipped briefly through the pamphlet, looking only at the pictures until the enthusiasm faded and she disguised her boredom with a look of tentative reading.

    And as if he could see right through her charade, he told her, “Just look at them later, you goofball. Keep it around in case of a rainy day.”

    Mildly embarrassed, she smiled briefly at him from the corner of her eye, and tucked the brochure safely into her hand bag.

    If there was one stereotype about New York City that was spot-on, it was the traffic. It had been ten minutes and they’d only passed one street corner since they’d hit a main roadway. The location of the journey was interesting enough to Sophie that she didn’t mind the delay, but Finn on the other hand, was not nearly as content.

    “Can we take Fourth Avenue instead of Fifth?” he asked the driver who was sure to be oblivious to this kind of cluttered traffic, as his daily life resided inside of that vehicle. “We could be able to weed out some of these cars.”

    “As soon as we pass this intersection, we should be fine,” the man reassured her uncle.

    The taxi sputtered to a stop as the hanging light above the street turned from yellow to red. Sophie rolled her eyes when she heard the base of the speakers from the car behind them come pumping into her ears. Faint car horns beeped a mile in every direction, and the light turned green once again.

    Then several things happened at once. The engine belched a grinding roar of protest as it forced itself back into motion. Finn gave an annoyed sigh, probably just now noticing the ridiculous rap music blaring from the other vehicle. Sophie returned her attention to the window - and in a moment that was over and beginning at the same time, she saw a pair of bright headlights searing towards the very spot where she sat.

    “SOPHIE!” a familiar voice screamed very far in the distance. Or maybe she just thought she heard a voice calling her name, because surely there weren’t enough seconds in the moment that the foreign vehicle collided into theirs to finish speaking an entire word.

    Noises like shattering glass and crunching aluminum erupted into the air all around her. She felt an odd feeling in the entire left side of her body. Was it tingling? Was it pain? Something must have spilled down her arm; she was sure she felt wetness there. She couldn’t tell which way was up. She forgot where she was and what was happening, and after a few more noisy seconds of sparking metal on asphalt, everything went black.

    I’m dead… I’m dead I’m dead I’m dead.

    A while passed before she conjured up the courage to open her eyes. Do we even have eyes in the afterlife? But what she saw when she opened them was not what she expected. No glowing white light to walk into, no entourage of loved ones waiting to greet her; what she saw was the inside of a perfectly intact taxi cabin, and an uncle staring at her with an arched eyebrow and a dumbfounded expression on his face.

    “Is something wrong, kiddo?”

    She didn’t answer. She was looking around wildly in every direction, trying to figure out what was going on.

    The car she hadn’t realized was moving came to a stop at an intersection. Sound waves pounded into their vehicle from the base of the car behind them. The light turned green. Finn sighed.

    “WAIT!” Sophie screamed, finally piecing everything together. The driver slammed into the brakes, more out of shock than obedience.

    “What? What’s wrong?” the cab driver asked, looking around the car, half-expecting either a wild animal or a robbery.

    The car behind them honked its horn angrily, probably agitated that they had to slam on their brakes as well. But Sophie wasn’t paying attention to this, she was staring at the road ahead of them, at the white Nissan blowing its red light and thundering across their view.

    “What a freaking moron,” the driver said, noticing it too. “He’s going to get someone killed.” He put his foot to the gas again when the speeding car had passed, not waiting for her permission since he apparently forgot she’d asked him to stop in the first place.

    Sophie let out a big exhale of breath, and slouched back into her seat. Blood flushed into her cheeks when she realized her uncle was still staring at her, except now, his confused look was accompanied by one of awe.

    “I’m just…tired,” she answered his question finally, keeping her gaze away from his. Something is definitely wrong, she thought the silent truth to herself. I just wish I knew what it was.

    “I’ll bet,” he said, and seemed to figure that her answer explained everything. “Let your mind wander out the window, it helps.”

    And she did.

    -x-



    It seemed that chance was not on the young girl’s side that day. When she was finally able to escape the smoke and cigar-laden seats of the taxi cab, she was staring up at a thirteen-story apartment building. Her uncle politely retrieved her luggage from the trunk, swiftly handed the driver a wad of bills, and lead her through the set of revolving doors to the entranceway.

    “Elevator’s broken.” He acknowledged the tall metallic frame on the far end of the lobby with a paper sign (that read: OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE THE STAIRS) taped to it.

    “Bummer…” she managed to mutter under her breath. She normally could care less about walking, but she was exhausted from the trip and could feel another headache coming on.

    They entered a hallway lined with black and white photographs and wooden wall trimming. She could see her reflection in the maroon-tinted marble tiles that seemed to furnish the flooring on the entire level. About halfway down the passage, Finn veered into a heavy pair of double doors, which revealed an ordinary spiral staircase.

    “Let me guess,” Sophie remarked, looking up as far as her gaze would allow. “Your apartment is on the thirteenth floor.”

    Her uncle grinned at that, showing her a set of sturdy teeth, then said “Not quite. We’re on eleven.” He turned and began trudging up the steps.

    “Ohhh,” she sighed sarcastically. “Well, thank goodness.” And like a toddler throwing a fit, she stomped up the steps after him.


    When, finally, they’d reached the last floor, Sophie was clutching the stitch in her side and gasping for air. She remembered all those terrible track practices in middle school. Boy, she could run when she wanted to, but she had the endurance of a butterfly.

    “Almost there, Soph.” Finn’s voice came from down the hall, snapping her out of her memory.

    Forcing a smile into her lips, the girl made a few exasperated motions down the rest of the hall before letting out a sigh of relief. “Thank heavens.”

    Finn was fiddling with his key ring when a look of complete horror crossed his face. He looked down and up at the doorknob, and down again.

    “What is it?” she asked, still panting from the journey up a thousand flights of stairs, or so it felt.

    “Seems I’ve forgotten the right key in the cab, we’re going to have to go back…”

    Sophie guessed that her face flushed with a combination of anger, shock, and exhaustion. That is, until her uncle burst into a cackling of laughter, clutching his arm to his gut like an old man particularly pleased with his latest joke.

    After a few more seconds of confusion and some thoughts doubting her uncle’s sanity, he finally managed to speak through an episode of quiet chortling. “I-I’m kidding. The look- on your face- BAhahaha…” And with a motion too fast to catch, or maybe she was simply to preoccupied glaring at Finn and planning his demise to notice, the door was unlocked and the apartment came into view.

    At first, just a soft glow emanated from the ceiling of the large room, hiding everything but large structures like a pair of twin couches and a dining room table in shadow. But as they walked down the very short hall to the common room, the lights flickered to life and everything was bright enough to compete with mid-day light.

    Startled by the fact that the light switches seemed to have a life of their own, Sophie asked, “Is someone here?”

    “No,” Finn said, his grin still stretching all the way to his eyes. “This main light is motion-sensitive.” He turned to the right and entered a quaint kitchen full of the most common appliances, a granite counter, and a sink piled with dirty dishes.

    “What? No maid?” Sophie teased, noticing what must be a week’s worth of build-up.

    “No, but you’d be welcome to the job if you want it,” he badgered back. Grabbing a soda from the fridge, he returned to her side and proceeded with the tour. “This,” he made a half-circular motion with his arm, gesturing to the space they were standing in, “is the living room.”

    Sophie gave a quick glance to the decently-spacious area around her. She could now see the figures of couches had turned into suede. A frequently used coffee table placed in between them was covered in moisture rings from where various cups had been sitting on it with no coaster. The carpet, surprisingly, was in fine shape. Or perhaps it just seemed so, as it was one of those brown shades that failed to show dirt. A slightly out-dated television was hidden in the corner of the room, layered in a thick coating of dust.

    “Not a TV watcher?” she asked, noticing it, and mildly curious why a man in his late twenties would not live in one of his couch cushions.

    “Not really, I never have the time. It’s mostly a bunch of garbage anyway.”

    His niece gave him a questioning look, but bit her lip and let him proceed.

    “Over here is the kitchen, which you’ve already seen my plate and cup collection in. And down here,” he moved from the common area and down another, slightly longer, hallway “is the bathroom.” He stopped at the first door on the right.

    The door was already ajar, revealing a completely normal bathroom with no distinguishing features besides a cracked mirror hanging over the sink and black-tiled floor.

    “The door on the left we passed is my bedroom, and this room up here,” he said, moving finally to the only space left at the end of the hallway, “is where you’ll be staying.”

    She pushed the door open and looked around what her uncle had obviously been using as a study. A bookshelf and a computer desk were scrunched into a corner to make way for a giant blow-up mattress that was layered with sheets and blankets; it took up the entire center of the bedroom.

    “Sweet,” she said, plopping her handbag on the bed and collapsed onto it.

    “I’ll let you sleep, Soph. You’re probably shot. If you need anything, I’ll be right in the other room.” And with a smile on his face, her uncle dimmed the light and left the room.

    Though it was a nice gesture, she hadn’t heard any of it, as she'd fallen asleep the moment she hit the covers.

    -x-



    New York City was full of commotion in the days that passed. Sophie couldn’t fathom that it would be like this year-round, as the massive amounts of tourists and kids running rampage through the city were enough to drive even the most patient person insane. Despite the fact that she was as lost as she would have been in a foreign country, the whole experience was incredibly exciting. The difference between her town and this was night and day. There was always something going on, always something happening. A robbery, a romance, a murder, a marriage, a kidnapping, a break-in; it was like a live version of her favorite soap opera (not that she'd ever admit to watching them).

    Finn seemed to be busy with his career in those first few days of summer; she was allowed to explore the city on her own while he was away. That is, as long as she was back before dusk. Despite the freedom, she was never brave enough to venture farther than a half mile from Finn’s apartment, as she was afraid she would get lost or abducted; it would be all too easy for someone to go missing in the crowds of a thousand faces.

    Only once did she progress just a bit further to test out a Starbuck’s that she’d heard so many conversations about. The menu might as well have been a foreign language, and when she finally ordered something at random, it ended up tasting like some mix of honey, dirt and foliage. She tossed the beverage into the trash bin and left the premises, never to return.

    It was on the fifth day that Finn finally had the time to spare to show his niece around the city.

    “So,” he said after she stumbled into the kitchen that morning. “What would you like to do today?”

    Her hair was a frizz explosion as she sat down at the table, readjusting her glasses over a pair of groggy eyes. “Erm…” she thought, yawning. “I was actually wanting to go that ‘Museum of Natural History’. Seemed the most interesting, I think.”

    “Indeed, it is,” he replied, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Want some?’ He lifted up the container full of amber-brown liquid.

    “No thanks, I’m not a fan of caffeine…”

    “Just like your mother.” Finn commented more to himself than to her. After a few minutes, several sips from his mug, and a weird silence, he finally said, “Well, whenever you’re ready, kid.”

    Half-excited but half-dreading the fact that she’d have to go out in public with her hair being the disaster that it was, the young girl fled to her bedroom.

    -x-



    After a long cab ride, and the scent of muggy alcohol officially taking refuge in her clothes, the pair stood before a large cement staircase leading to an intricately-designed stone building. Colorful banners hung from the main archway, showcasing marine life and fossil sculptures - all seemed much more vibrant than in actuality with the contrast of the building behind them.

    The broad man beside her sighed of…relief? Some kind of peaceful aura radiating from the man made Sophie turn questioningly at her tour guide, but he didn’t seem to notice. It was relief in his sigh. Was he actually looking forward to carting her around the city?

    She supposed he was, as without warning, he plunged up the stairs with a gleeful hop in his step. Following behind him as quickly as possible, Sophie barely managed to squeeze through the crowd he was barreling through. One of his strides equaling two of hers, she was finding it difficult to manage keeping pace with him.

    “Gah, slow down already! Is there a discount if we make it up the stairs in 30 seconds or something?” she breathed.

    “Ah, sorry midget. For old times sake?” He crouched low to the ground and gestured for her to climb upon his back.

    “I think those times are just a bit too old. Weirdo.” She gave an apologetic smile and proceeded up the stairs, and this time, Finn matched his pace with hers.

    In the revolving doors at the entrance, Sophie managed to catch a glimpse of her reflection in the glass panels. With a silent shriek at the sight of what the humidity had done to her hair, she pulled the hood from her thin navy jacket and thrust it over her head.

    “Fashion statement?” her uncle mentioned as he made his way towards the ticket booth.

    “Fashion crises,” she replied, following close behind him.

    Moments later, they were walking down another corridor with high walls and polished flooring. Fancy lining guided them through the exhibits of past, present, and future; some were interesting, the rest incredibly dull. The reincarnations of dinosaur bones were not as appealing as she had hoped. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but the sight of thousands of dusty bones glued or screwed together in the shape of a dinosaur was identical to what she’d already seen on television.

    It was the same with the reptile and marine exhibits. Beautiful creatures as they were, she was already familiar with the view of these animals from behind screened glass. But despite her slight let-down expectations, she smiled politely and ooohed and aahhhed at all the appropriate moments as her uncle proceeded to show her all of the things he enjoyed most about this museum that he’d apparently been to many times before.

    The scene shifted from a star and meteorite showroom, to a library, to an art gallery. Here, Sophie found herself most interested in her surroundings thus far. Art was always intriguing to her. Where one person saw hope, another despair; where an admirer saw a masterpiece, the other saw a massacre. The perceptiveness of art in general captivated her from painting to painting.

    Finn smiled at her newfound enthusiasm, pointing out which of the pieces were legitimate and which were mere copies of their original selves.

    It was the exhibit after this, however, where things truly turned alluring for the girl: an entire showroom dedicated to mythology. The subject had always been extremely engaging for Sophie. So many beliefs, so many different ideas involving magic and mystery, it was more entertainment to imagine a world where these things might have been true than any amount of hours in front of a TV.

    Hundreds of dim spotlights hung from the mural-covered ceiling, showcasing the large sculptures of half-naked angels playing harps or dancing. It could have just been dust in the air, but there was an effect in the studio that, combined with the golden light, created an eerie atmosphere. The beige walls supported detailed portraits of mystic battles and wars, of gods and servants, of clouds and kingdoms, adventures and sagas… it was the most realistic atmosphere she could imagine. It made her realize the power of just a picture.

    Most of the material showcased here were things Sophie was already very familiar with. She strode slowly around the room, reading descriptions of Zeus, angels, Odysseus and countless others she was interested in. But as she wandered towards the very back of the room, Sophie uncovered a type of mythology she had never heard of before. Oddly shaped statues lined the path to the main area of the section, where several novels rested atop a large glass case full of odd devices. Pulled out of her daydreams and into a new one, the young girl flipped the pages of the largest book on display.

    Images of strange creatures, and more magic than any of the other types of myths, swept across the pages. The stories were confusing, it seemed as though they were written originally in another language and translated poorly over to English.

    “Ah, Brute Mythology.” The voice of her uncle came abruptly behind her, causing the teenager to jump from his unexpected presence. He smirked before finishing, “My favorite.”

    “Really? I’ve never heard of this before…”

    “Few people have. There is so little material available on it, many consider it not worth learning. This small exhibit here is the largest in the country, probably the planet.” Finn moved to the spot beside her, opening the cover of a different book that he treated like his beloved.

    “Why aren’t there any people in this?” Sophie asked, just realizing the lack of homo sapiens amongst the mythological beasts.

    “Because in Brute Mythology, there weren’t any. At least not yet, not at the time these were written.” He paused only for a moment, then continued at the look of mild curiosity on his niece’s face. “According to this type, it’s believed that the earth was inhabited by these creatures long ago. Before humans. Perhaps in the time of the dinosaurs, or perhaps not. It may have even been these creatures that scientists discovered centuries later and labeled reptiles. Some of the fossils may have been so, but the majority weren’t; they were wrong in my opinion.” The man turned a worn page to another with a painting of a large brontosaurus-looking animal on it. The detail was incredible. Broad leaves hung down its back as if they were used for flight, but the thought of such a giant creature soaring through the air by way of plants was a bit unbelievable. Even if so-called scientists found relationships between dinosaurs and birds.

    Sophie didn’t interrupt her uncle, however, and let him continue.

    “But despite that, it’s believed by those familiar with it, that Brute Mythology is the root to all of the other types. See, these…beings, called Guardians in many of their references, had strange powers, each of them different from the other. Some, could control fire, others electricity. Some had flight, some aquatic and so on. As time passed and humans came into the picture, whether by time or something else, the stories changed. It’s a wonder if the other mythologies were actually about the Guardians but given human form instead, or if the creatures joined those special humans and served them with their abilities.

    An obvious example would be Helios, the sun god. You know of him, right? His chariot was drawn by ‘fire horses’, much like these here.” Finn flipped a few more pages until they fell upon a dark painting of two pale horses with flaming manes.

    “That’s... uncanny,” Sophie breathed, genuinely intrigued. These new stories were strange, but fascinating; she wished she could rent them out and take them home. A few minutes of silence passed, before she asked, “Why are these written so awkwardly? Like-”

    “Ah, yes, I know what you mean." Finn seemed slightly abashed now, as through getting excited about an interest were something to be ashamed of. He answered her question, however. "Supposedly these were written in a different language. Not different as in foreign, different as in…alien, at least to us. The translator did a very impressive job, considering.”

    “The translator?” she asked.

    “Yes, the man who wrote these novels.” Finn pointed a thick finger to the cover of the book she held in her hands.

    Sure enough, ground deep into the leather binding was written Darius Weaver.

    “Never heard of him,” she muttered absentmindedly.

    “No one has, unfortunately,” Finn said. “There’s no record of him ever existing to begin with.”

    “He’s not even a real person? Then why are these books classified as mythology and not fiction?”

    “Well, their age, for one. And how do you think mythology becomes so in the first place? Stories are just that, stories - passed down through the generations. Brute Mythology just has far less of a following.”

    “Hm.” Sophie stared at the worn letters. “It is still odd… reading something historic, written by no one.”

    “It’s believed he used a penname.”

    “It’s also odd how into this you are. You talk about all of this Brute stuff like it’s fact, Uncle Finn,” she teased, closing the book finally and turning to leave the area.

    Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him peer longingly into the case enclosing several objects that seemed vaguely similar to musical instruments. But the moment passed, and he turned swiftly to follow her while he said, “I guess you could say I’m a very big fan.”


    The rest of the tour involved a lot of walking. More boring shows tied in with a few more interesting ones, but it seemed the Mythology section of the museum would be the highlight of the trip.

    They had been there for three hours before Finn finally gave into his grumbling stomach, and asked if Sophie was ready to head out to a restaurant. She agreed, and the pair made their way to the exit.

    When they were only several feet from the door, Finn’s eyes widened as he glanced through the crowd of incoming guests. He took the girl swiftly by the arm and began to drag her in the opposite direction. “We should go this way,” he said under his breath.

    “Wha-” Sophie started to protest, but it was too late; whomever her uncle was attempting to avoid was not evaded easily.

    “Well if it isn’t the Finn Wiles,” a raspy, and oddly gleeful voice snarled close behind them.

    Finn stopped, defeated, and turned to address his pursuers. “Hello, Byron,” he spat with disdain.

    The strange man ran a hand through his greasy blond hair, and gave a nasty chuckle. “Impoliteness is very unbecoming of you, Shaper.” He glared at Finn with a pair of beady eyes.

    If Sophie wasn’t so distracted by his awkwardly large nose and skeletal face, she probably would have paid more attention to the fact that his wardrobe was incredibly gothic for a casual outing in public. A black overcoat hung all the way to his calves, leaving only the bottom of his knee-high leather boots visible beneath the cloth.

    Beside him, stood a shorter and much fatter man. His chubby face folded nauseatingly as he attempted to create a smile in his flubs of skin. The buttons on his black sweater strained at his girth, and the top part of his pants was completely hidden behind his overhanging potbelly.

    “What do you want?” Finn asked between gritted teeth.

    “Just wanted to have a chat with my old pal, you’d think you-” Byron never finished that sentence, as he just then noticed the thin girl waiting silently at Finn’s side. “Ahhhh, well isn’t this a special day! This must be the young Stag, eh?”

    “You have no interest in her, you useless piece of slime.” Finn’s voice quivered only for a second. Sophie was unsure if it was out of anger, fear, or both.

    Byron said nothing at first, but simply beamed a smile so disturbing that Sophie was reminded of those serial killing clowns. “Perhaps not,” he said finally. “Come along, Edger. Much to do today.” And with his minion waddling after him, Byron left them with a gust from his cloak.

    Finn immediately relaxed a bit at his departure, and continued to the exit as if nothing had just happened.

    “Who was that?” Sophie asked intently, struggling to keep up.

    “No one important, just a fool from…work,” he managed to reply.

    “What is it that you do, exactly?”

    “Research.” Finn clearly didn’t want to go into more detail. He was anxious, perhaps nervous? But Sophie couldn’t resist pursuing her curiosity more.

    “Why’d he call me a... what was it? Stag?”

    They pushed through the rest of the crowd until they reached the cool air of the outdoors and were descending down the flight of concrete steps.

    “Because,” Finn replied finally, with a heavy sigh. “It’s what you are.”

    “What?” Sophie stopped mid-step, more confused than before.

    “We need to pay a visit to a friend of mine before I say anything more.” He was acting like a completely different person than the family member she knew and loved. His care-free persona turned to one of despair. There was some dark cloud that suddenly seemed to appear over his head, and he was trying to get out of its rain. With a depressed sigh and glance of apology, her uncle held out his hand for a moment - and when she didn’t take it, he motioned for her to follow.

    “Uncle Finn, what the heck is going on? I thought we were going out to eat.” She crossed her arms like a stubborn child.

    “Please…” he pleaded, desperation in his tone. “It’s not safe here, they’re probably listening.”

    “Who?”

    “Come, I’ll explain later. And you seriously need to take my hand.”

    “You must be joking…” Sophie argued.

    “Just… trust me.” He held out his hand towards her once more, and with a huff and a roll of her eyes, she took it.

    All she could manage to say as he began to pull her awkwardly down the sidewalk path was, “Can we still get something to eat, I’m seriously starving.”

    The elder of the two forced a smile, and led the way.




    It was probably one of the most uncomfortable and odd walks she had ever had for two reasons. The first, being the fact that she hadn’t had to hold an adult’s hand while she crossed the street, or walked through a large crowd of people for about ten years.

    The second, was a bit hard to put into words. It was very unusual, their walk. Something… else was odd about it, but she couldn’t put a finger on it. It seemed as though their surroundings were moving slower than normal, and the two of them were moving faster. As if she were walking on one of those silly airport escalators and she was gliding by the people who chose to walk beside it. She figured she was just getting another massive headache from her confusion or just plain lack of interest, but it was still unsettling.

    Luckily, they didn’t need another cab to get to their destination this time. Sophie was getting sick of all the nasty smells she’d been experiencing in them, and sitting on a seat that was used by hundreds of people before her was always just a bit gross in her eyes anyway.

    Three blocks later, and just before the sky opened up to a downpour of rain, the building they were heading for came into view.

    “Here we are, youngin’” Finn said, sounding suddenly much more at ease.

    Sophie followed his gaze to the small structure across the street. Strange symbols of different sizes were painted across each of the windows. Mystical trinkets hung around the glass lining, lighted by several florescent lights. And finally she noticed the small sign over the door that read The Amazing Maverick: Palm Readings.

    “You’re taking me…to a psychic?” she asked as he began to cross the road, pulling her along.

    “Yes and no,” Finn answered her, and knocked on the door to the building once they had reached it. “He’s not a psychic, but he can see the future.”

    Sophie wondered if her uncle had a stash of drugs somewhere and randomly decided to bust into them today. Or was he pulling a prank on her? She didn’t have a chance to respond to him, because the door was opening and the bell nailed to it began to chime.

    Through the large crack created in the doorway, Sophie could see the face of a very old man with thin glasses and spiked white hair. It looked like he’d been electrocuted, and she wasn’t sure if he’d styled it that way on purpose.

    “Who is it?” his voice came, almost in song.

    “It’s Finn, Mav.”

    “Oh! Come in, come in!” The door swung open so quickly then, she thought it was going to bang against the wall. But it didn’t, it…slowed down somehow.

    Following her uncle into the dim lit room filled with smoke from incents, Sophie noticed the bright crystal ball on what appeared to be ‘the show table.’ Except, it wasn’t exactly crystal per say, but more of a glowing orb in shades of neon purple and green.

    “Nice effect you have there,” Sophie gestured toward the object, truly impressed.

    “That’s not an effect, young Shaper,” the old man replied from over his shoulder.

    This guy must be Finn’s supplier, then… she thought, a bit sarcastically, but even she couldn‘t tell.

    Finn, however, had turned a surprised glance at the old man. “Why did you call her a Shaper, Maverick?”

    The wrinkles in the elder’s skin remained unchanging as he walked, or staggered more like, over to his seat. It was then that Sophie noticed his twitching, similar to that of a person with autism, but… different.

    “I think you already know why, but I’m guessing she doesn't yet?”

    Finn didn’t seem to like the older man’s answer. His shoulders drooped, and the pent up air in his lungs came out in a hollow puff as he leaned against the inside of the building’s wall. “Her mother…”

    “Is not here, and was obviously not aware of what she gave birth to.” Maverick was not looking him in the eye, just staring blindly into his smoking fortune ball. He seemed possessed; while his sentences were coherent, his speech was mindless rambling. Whenever he finished a sentence, more words would come spewing out, but much more jumbled, much more confusing, much more… random.

    Sophie could have sworn she heard him shout “BACON!” in one of these, unsure if he just couldn’t keep his mind focused on one subject at a time.

    Shaking her head at their company’s twitching, she turned to her uncle, folded her arms, and asked “Please…just tell me? What about my mother?”

    “He can’t,” Maverick chimed in from his place behind the waxed oak table. “He gave his word.” He scratched his head casually and ran a caressing hand through the smoke of what seemed to be a very prized possession. A few mutterings and more incoherent babble later, he said “But he can tell you the story…if I tell you the truth. I’m guessing that’s why you came here, Finneus?”

    “That…” her uncle spoke again, shifting his weight. “And to ask what you saw.”

    “We’ve been over this. Cereal, a moment too late, stop following her, fireflies. You can’t understand what I saw. This river… a shipment of supplies, rows of wildflowers. But I can tell you that you won’t want to live through what happens if you don’t teach her. I see a Stag who can shape, that alone is enough to throw your promises out the window. Suck it up, princess.”

    Finn gave a soft chuckle and pushed himself away from his firm support once more to take a seat by Maverick, who was once again drifting into more sentences of randomness. “Come sit down, Sophie,” Finn called to her. “We’re going to be here a while.”

    The young girl, so lost in confusion, gave up on protesting what he asked of her for the day. It hurt her brain to try and make sense of any of this. So she obeyed, pulled out the third mahogany chair, and placed her rear upon it. Finn couldn’t see it, but she was rolling her eyes over and over again in her mind at the guarantee that they were going to reveal the practical joke very soon, with a 'GOTCHA!' and an eruption of laughter.

    “So,” Finn spoke again, “will you at least break the ice, Mav?”

    The whisperings of the old pale-skinned man ceased, and he shot his head back up into an intent expression. “Sure. Sophie, you are a descendant of a bloodline that can control and shape aspects of time.” Maverick grinned at the wide-eyes of both of his guests. “There. Ice-broken. Now if you’ll excuse me, it is time for my nap.”

    And with that, the oldest of the three brushed off his dull cotton shirt, grabbed his glowing ball of smoke, somehow tucked it under his arm, and hobbled as swiftly from the room as a man of that age could go.

    Well, that wasn’t weird at all…


    Finn gave another small laugh, mixed in with a sigh. The look on his face made it appear as though he was not surprised.

    “So,” Sophie said, looking over her shoulder and around their enclosure. “Where’s Ashton Kutcher?”

    “Huh?” Finn asked, lifting his gaze from his reflection on the table to her face.

    “Well, clearly I’m being Punk’d.” Her eyes darted from corner to corner, then satisfied there were no cameras recording their conversation, brought them back to rest on her uncle.

    “Ahaha, no kiddo, this isn’t a prank.” Finn forced a smirk to stretch up his right cheek. “It would be a very very bad one, if it were. I’d at least want it to be believable, right?” Another couple of soft chuckles snuck from his throat.

    “Then what,” Sophie asked, extremely un-amused, “is so funny?”

    “The irony, I suppose. The reason this could never be a prank, is because it’s so obviously improbable. But the fact is… it is probable. This is the truth, Sophie, I’m not playing games with you. You should know my sense of humor is a bit better than that.” And he winked at her.

    What is the truth?! You lost me the moment you, literally, dragged me from the museum to this run-down shack where a man with clear mental issues tells me I can control time.”

    “Not time itself, just a very small part of it.”

    “Ugh!” Sophie threw up her hands in frustration and slouched back against her seat.

    The mood of her uncle, however, remain unchanged: very calm, relaxed, and appearing as though he were preparing to tell a very long tale. A line of thought appeared between his dark brown eyebrows as he struggled to find the words. “The best person to convince you,” he said finally, “is yourself.”

    Sophie would have protested here, or laughed, or perhaps something else entirely - but the fact was, she already knew what he was referring to only seconds after he’d said it. Flashes of memories over the course of the past week drifted through her thoughts. Images of seeing things twice. The déjà vu. Her eyes darted very slightly around their sockets as the realization came to her one piece at a time. “…I can see the future?” she whispered, to no one.

    “Is that what you do? I assumed it was something similar when you somehow knew we were going to get pummeled in that taxi…” Finn gave her a proud grin.

    Blood flushed to her cheeks. Sophie just stared at the floor now, hoping she was going to wake up, but at the same time relishing in the fact that her life wasn’t quite as boring as she was led to believe. “The headaches…”

    “Ah,” Finn remarked, remembering old side-effects of his past. “We all got those. When it comes down to the science of it, you’re using a part of your brain that typically remains dormant the entire life of normal people. Think of it like a muscle: when you use it for the first time, or after you haven’t used it in a while, it gets sore very easily.”

    More moments of silence. Finn wasn’t rushing her, it was quite a bit to take in at once, and he was probably grateful he got to grow up into it as opposed to having this nuclear bomb dropped in his lap at sixteen.

    “’We?’” she asked finally.

    “Huh?” Finn looked up, snapped out of his daydream.

    “You said ‘We all got those.’ Who’s ‘We’?”

    “Oh. That would be the Shapers. It’s what we call our group of bloodlines.” Finn rested his elbows on the smooth surface of the table.

    “Oh nice, so the time-weirdos have gangs.”

    Finn smiled and began fiddling with a deck of normal playing cards that was stacked next to the large pillar-candles burning atop the table. “I suppose you could put it that way.”

    “So…you?-”

    Finn knew what she meant without her having to elaborate. But instead of a verbal response, he simply leaned a bit closer the table, and gave her a look that said “watch”.

    The cards shuffled swiftly through his fingers as the sound of cardboard smacking against itself echoed towards her. A professional card dealer at any casino couldn’t have done it any quicker. But then, as he split the deck in half and began to mix them back together again with the release of his thumbs, the cards…slowed. She would have thought they froze mid-shuffle had she been paying less attention, but they were certainly moving - only at a much slower rate. It was as if some invisible force field was preventing the cards that had already left the guide of his fingers from contacting the others: like a slow-motion scene of a movie, except the special effects left everything at normal speed besides the deck in his hands.

    She looked from his hands to his face. He was grinning.

    “You slow time?” she asked, amazed.

    “Only for a few seconds.” And almost on cue, the cards sprung back to life, and with a snap they were once again resting in a sorted pile. “But I can chain the time-intervals together for a short while, when necessary.”

    “The walk over here…” Sophie realized. “I thought I was losing my mind.”

    “Yes, sorry about that. But I did really need to hold your hand so I could warp you with me.” Finn wasn’t watching her anymore, satisfied she wasn’t going to make a break for it or pass out in shock, but instead gazed intently out the floor length window beside them.

    The sun had set to the lowermost part of the sky, casting the entire view of the street in shadow. Orange sun-flares managed to wrap their way up the horizon and in between the cracks separating city buildings. Then, in a few passing heartbeats, they were gone; all that was left was a dim road. The street lights flickered on.

    “And why did you,” Sophie captured his attention once again, “warp me with you.” She made a pair of quotes in the air with her fingers as she said this.

    Finn smiled, loving the fact that it now appeared no news could keep her mocking at bay. “Because I wanted to make sure we wouldn’t be followed.” He watched her expressionless face a few seconds before continuing, “Those men… are not good people, and they’re not my co-workers…not exactly.” He paused again, struggling to find the words, then raised a hefty hand to his face to scratch at some fresh stubble. “I’m not sure how to put this mildly, but to be frank, this is not the world you thought it was, Soph.

    There are more of our kind, and unfortunately not all of them chose good paths. If you think this is just some fun gene mutation we get to play around with, well... we don't really have the luxury. We have a duty, a purpose, and before I bring you into our world, before I tell you more, I’m giving you a choice.”

    Finn-turned-serious-Jedi was not what she expected. As he spoke she simply sat and listened; half-believing she was actually an X-Men and half-expecting to wake up from this really weird yet amusing dream.

    “I can send you home. You can live your life in peace with your grandparents as you have done since you were born.” He then modified the offering at the appalled look stretching across her face. “I know you hate the very thought of this, but please don’t take it for granted; you have no idea how lucky you really are…” his voice trailed off into a hint of regret. But then as swiftly as it had appeared, the spark in his eye reignited and he continued, “We’ll call this the blue pill.”

    “Matrix references… really?” She grinned at him anyway, despite his lame attempt at a joke.

    But the mood in the room was still heavy. Moments ago, Sophie had thought she was just your average Joe, and now… it was like being tossed into her favorite novel headfirst. A nerd’s dream, right? If this was what every human being wished would be cast upon them, why was she so scared? Why did she feel like she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life?

    This is just friggin’ messed up…

    More silence engulfed them as she stared down at her soft blue cotton hoodie, and picked at the lowest button. Her thoughts raced from what’s to if’s to all of the other derogatory words, before finally, she lifted her head to meet Finn’s calm but worried eyes.

    “Your other option,” he started again, “is to stay. But know that nothing will ever be the same after this. There’s no going back. Once you’re taught, once you learn…you become what was intended of you without even realizing it. And they’ll hunt you for it.” Finn seemed to stare right through her. His monotone speech sounded as if it was being recited from a memory. “You could never go home, Sophie… they’ll use them as tools to get to you.

    How cliché… she thought, wondering when he would tell her they had to attack the Death Star.

    Finn seemed to guess her thoughts.

    “I’m sure all of this sounds ridiculous to you. But…here we have our options, and you, your choice. I don’t expect you to make it tonight. However,” he said, rising from his chair and giving a fierce yawn as he stretched his arms as far from each other as they could go. “It’s late, and you should get some rest. We have to sleep here tonight.”

    He strode over to the archway in the back of the muggy room and gestured for her to follow. She felt as if she was trapped in a daze state where she was unable to speak. So, obediently again, she followed behind him as he pushed aside the curtain of crimson beads hiding the back half of the building.

    If there were ever a more opposite furnishing design than the one she had just been dwelling in, Sophie could not think of it. Where the front room housed ancient relics, effect lights and practices of the supernatural, this room was as plain and boring as a businessman’s cubicle.

    Bare white walls raced from every corner of the room, supporting two sofas, a refrigerator, full kitchen cupboards, and a sink; all of which were sporting what must be the simplest design that they came in.

    To her left was nothing but a closed wooden door that must have lead up to the actual living quarters, and some really intense cobwebs.

    “Front room’s just for show,” Finn said, smiling at her awe-struck expression before making his way to the smaller of the two pieces of furniture. “This one folds out into a bed.” He pulled the hidden lever and unfolded the mattress that came springing out, blankets and pillows already equipped. “There you are, Miss. I’ll be over on this longer couch.” And kicking off his boots, he flopped over onto it.

    Still lost in her own inner toils, it took a few seconds for Sophie to realize she hadn’t moved. But as soon as she came to, she lugged her limbs over to the bed Finn had set up for her and plopped upon it as dramatically as her uncle had his.

    -x-


    Sleep didn’t come. Lying on an incredibly soft mattress didn’t seem to matter much when your mind was pulling you in countless directions. Her brain started to take everything her uncle told her seriously. Images of her family and her future danced behind closed eyelids, but the fear she had been feeling hours before slipped away into her subconscious. So many questions she had… Questions she knew would never be answered if she went home, questions that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

    So why leave? Finn had made it sound like she would be in grave danger if she stayed, and she believed him, but what life worth living has no risk? Why hide your nose in a story when you could live it in real life? A whole new window of potential had unveiled itself to her, enticing her to submit to the temptation.

    The events of the day had been pretty erratic for her, she’d almost forgotten the most mind-boggling of them all.

    I can see the future…

    Even her thoughts did not believe it. Real life wasn’t science-fiction. Or was it? Did they get their ideas from truth? Trying to push the new wave of questions away, Sophie frustratingly tossed her body to its side. The squeaking protest of the futon echoed throughout the room, and at first she’d thought it had awoken Finn, but he simply gave a loud snore and drifted back into his slumber.

    So how do I do it? she thought, cautiously wrapping her mind around this new revelation. She winced and squeezed her eyes shut, thinking the harder she distorted her face, the closer she would come to making her ability work.

    It was several minutes later before she finally gave up on contorting her face like a constipated primate. She was as frustrated now as she was confused. Maybe this wasn’t something she could control at all; it seemed to react at the most random and spontaneous moments anyway.

    Somewhere between the swimming of her thoughts and Finn’s relentless snoring, Sophie fell asleep. For the rest of the city, it was a typical evening like any other; but for her, it was as if the sun had set on her life…as she knew it.
    Last edited by EmBreon; 21st May 2013 at 11:22 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper



    It was silence that awoke her the following morning. She pried her face from her pillow and winced as her pupils dilated from the sudden intake of sunlight. The room was empty. The couch Finn had occupied was vacant now, his pillow gone and the blanket he’d used folded carefully and placed atop it.

    “Ah, she lives.” The door to the front room burst open and a familiar old face came scurrying into view. Maverick held a TV tray that contained a single bowl, a cup, and a tea kettle. “Breakfast, kid,” he said indifferently as he placed the tray onto her lap.

    Now the scent of honey cinnamon oatmeal and hot sweet tea came wafting into her nostrils. “Cool, thanks.”

    “Meh.” Maverick turned with a twitch and a mumble, and began to head for the door.

    “Oh, um…Maverick?”

    The old man whispered a few incoherent words to himself before answering, “Yes?”

    “Where is Uncle Finn?”

    An uncomfortable silence passed as Maverick was clearly deciding how to word his response. “He had some work to do today.” And he proceeded from the room before stopping a final time and adding, “but you’re free to go out as you wish. Just stay relatively close.” Then he left.

    After she’d inhaled her food - almost literally, since the entire bowl of oatmeal had depleted in a few mouthfuls - she noticed her duffle bag draped over the shoulder of the futon she'd slept in. Finn must have gone back to his apartment to retrieve it, and brought it here for her. She rifled through it, and pulled a pair of jeans along with a plain T-shirt from inside. Sophie wadded the clothes up under her arm, and snuck into the cramped back bathroom to change.

    She mustered up the will to step outside the musky building a little while afterward, and soon Sophie was strolling down the sidewalk soaking up sun rays and reveling in her newfound discovery.

    Oddness seemed to follow her wherever she went - an unwanted stalker refusing to give her some space. She wanted to feel normal again, surprisingly, just for a few minutes. Maybe then she would finally be able to grasp her new reality; but, it was relentless. The strange aura wrapped itself around her constantly, giving her a paranoid feeling that someone was watching her.

    There were very few places to shop, or even go into on this street. Just rows and rows of apartment buildings and a warehouse. She quickened her pace, searching for something, anything, that could ease her distress and distract her with some mundane worldly issues. Funny how after wanting so bad to be unique, she craved for bit of normalcy.

    Finally, twenty minutes into her walk, a small grocery store appeared on the corner of the block. She didn’t know what she would buy, but she went in anyway due to the fact that she simply needed something to do other than stare at walls of brick and worry about the ominous presence following in her shadow.

    A bell chimed as she swung open the glass paneled door of the entrance and a plump woman working the cash register looked up to greet her.

    “Hello,” the woman said with a fake smile. “Welcome to Pam’s Market.”

    Sophie smiled in acknowledgement, and ducked in.

    The inside of the store seemed even smaller than it had on the outside. Only two isles of product resonated in the center of store, behind which was the refrigerated section - where she was headed. Not one customer besides herself was shopping there at that hour, and that was reflected by the fact the sole worker had multiple magazines spread open across the counter with her nose buried inside of them.

    Sophie peered through the frosted glass windows protecting the cool beverages from the humid atmosphere.

    Snapple…Pepsi…Gatorade…Oh! Here we are! she thought, as she reached behind the door to grab an iced tea.

    The bell rang again and a man in a deep black sweatshirt strode into the store. It was incredibly hot outside; a sweatshirt was heavy enough to make someone dehydrate in a small matter of time. The man clearly wasn't thinking about practicality when he dressed himself. His face was hidden behind the cotton hood of his clothing, and his arms were shoved tensely into the center pocket.

    “Hello, welcome to…” the woman at the register cut off.

    Curiously, Sophie stretched her neck over the row of potato chips to see her. The woman’s face was frozen with fear and her sun kissed skin had turned pale white.

    The man who had entered was hidden from her view now behind the shelves, but his arm was outstretched and aiming straight at the woman behind the counter. In his hand, was unmistakably a black revolver.

    Sophie felt her lungs collapse as a single bullet was fired and struck the poor woman in the chest. She didn’t have time to scream, and if she had, it would have muffled by the ear-splitting bang of the weapon. The woman's body disappeared behind the counter, and the hooded man ran to the register.

    He doesn’t know I’m here, Sophie thought, mouth agape. She couldn’t move even if she wanted to.

    The criminal stole all of the contents of the register and fled from the store in a matter of seconds… his efficiency made it appear as though had done this before.

    Sophie wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but snapping out of her daze, she ran to the front of the store to find the woman behind the counter. Her body jerked when she stopped abruptly as her eyes met the lifeless body on the floor, lying in a pool of blood.

    But then she blinked. And suddenly, she was back by the refrigerated section, holding the large glass container of tea. The woman at the counter was…reading her magazines once again. This time, it didn’t take Sophie a few seconds to realize what was going on; she knew immediately. And, gripping the bottle firmly in her hand, she crouched behind the isle beside the entrance.

    Right on cue, the man in the hoodie came through the door. He walked right past her hiding spot and towards the front counter.

    “Hello, Welc-”

    Sophie sprang. She launched herself into the air, and with all of her strength, brought the bottle down onto the back of the thug’s head. The glass shattered, and the brown liquid sprang from the container in a lemon-y shower. She watched as his knees buckled, and his body crumpled to the floor.

    Now she just stared, wide-eyed, at what she had just done. Her heart was pounding into her chest and she dropped the remains of her tea bottle.

    “What the hell are you doing?!”

    Startled, Sophie looked up at the woman behind the counter. Her thick face froze again, though this time in shock.

    “He…” Sophie whispered. “He had a gun…” she reached down and pulled the weapon from the thug's pocket.

    The worker stared, showing all the whites of her eyes. But suddenly they narrowed in scrutiny. “How did you know that?”

    “I…”

    “Uh-huh.” The woman’s unnaturally large chest jiggled as she picked up the store phone. “The police will settle this.”

    Now Sophie had a new dilemma, how could she possibly explain this to…anyone? She didn’t wait for a logical explanation to come to her; she panicked. She dropped the weapon back onto the unconscious man's body as though it were covered in anthrax. And at the shrieking protests of the cashier, she turned on her heel and ran out of the building. She sprinted back the way she came, and proceeded all the way back to Maverick’s as fast as her feet would carry her.

    -x-


    “Gone? What do you mean gone?”

    Maverick’s voice echoed frustratingly from the back room as Sophie slipped in through the front door, out of breath.

    “Why don’t you tell me, oh wise fortune teller?” came a second voice, this one layered in annoyance and most definitely Finn’s.

    “You’d think after twenty-eight years, you’d start to remember that my ability isn’t something you can just pop open like a greeting card!”

    “Yet somehow you can manage to tell tomorrow’s forecast, while being clueless to the fact that the entire base of Shifters disappeared?! They could be heading over here right now!”

    “Unlikely. They wouldn’t send the whole lot of them for that,” Maverick replied, unthreatened.

    “Then what is going on, Mav? You have to see something. Think they’ve realized our Stag is not exactly just a Stag after all?” Finn grew wary, placing a hand at the back of his neck as if to support his head.

    “Again, unlikely. She would have had to use in front of them.”

    “Would someone please,” Sophie said, stepping through the bead curtain and into the room of startled men, “tell me what a Stag is and why I keep being referred to as one?”

    Water dripped lightly from the faucet behind them, neither were eager to answer. Finn gave a soft chuckle before answering, “You know, I think Maverick would love to give you some insight on our family history. Wouldn’t you, Mav?” And without waiting for a response, he swept past Sophie and out the door, smirking the entire way.

    “Where is he go-?” she started, staring after where he’d left.

    “Who knows.” Maverick narrowed his eyes, somehow with pride. “Come, midget. It seems we do have some things to discuss.”

    She was too tired and emotionally drained to argue. The craziness that was happening all around her was already starting to feel like a normal part of her life. She accepted the fact that none of this was a dream; and if it was one, well, she’d just go along with it until her body decided to wake up. Deep down though, she knew it never would.

    Maverick lead her to the very couch her uncle had slept upon the night before, and sat down. It was odd here, in this room. This was the place where the new real world had come crashing down upon her. Where insanity whispered its presence. And now, she was casually sitting beside a strange man she had only met just yesterday. Alone.

    Should I tell him what happened at the grocery store?

    She stared at his worn face, trying to read him. He simply looked down at her with a warm grin.

    Does he already …know?

    She assumed her eyebrows furrowed funnily in thought, as he let out a pleasant chuckle and said, “Would you like to hear a story?”

    She wondered at the randomness of it, placing herself beside him and attempting to convey a “sure” message; but, she guessed she sent more of an eager kid one who was awaiting a bedtime tale. Anything to ease her mind was warmly welcomed. She’d just witnessed a murder, then self-righteously knocked out the culprit with a tea bottle before it ever happened on her first afternoon as a mutant. And now she was going to sit and listen to a goon tell her a story.

    Sounds about right.

    However, she wondered if he would even be able to tell a coherent story. His average speech consisted of one part audible and three parts ramble.

    Seeming pleased though, Maverick leaned back into the couch and inhaled a very large breath. “A long time ago,” he began, clear as glass, “there was a young man named Noah…”


    ~*~



    ~*~


    1308

    Dawn broke across a valley deep in South America some hundred years ago. Beyond the lush rainforest spotted with mammals lurking in shadows, and crisp water trickling slowly from the mountaintops, lie a small village. It wasn’t as remote as one would think, for a three day’s journey would lead any traveler to a large market district. Yet somehow, this village seemed to be the only of its kind to all who resided inside. It is here where an origin of our story began.

    The sun beamed down upon the houses littered around the area, as they opened their doors one by one to send workers into the fields to harvest and into the forest to collect wood. Clouds of dust arose in pockets as some housekeepers battered soiled rugs, while others rang out wet laundry from hung lines. It was a normal community for its time, just like any other, apart from one difference.

    A creature scurried from the confinement of a home in the lower-east corner of the village, its eyes sparked with excitement as it circled the vague outline of a child. Plump blue legs sprouted from a large seed resting atop its back. It was a wonder the thing could move at all, let alone hop around with such velocity.

    The child yawned and stretched, embracing the sunlight, and then reached down to stroke his small friend’s chin. Such a unique creature it was, resembling something of a frog and a plant at the same time. It grinned with delight and then sprang into the distance, heading for the forest surrounded by fresh greens on the outskirts of town.

    It was an entirely different world in this valley. The very air felt alien. Swarms of monstrous butterflies darted from their weed coverings as the child and his companion skipped into the trees. His laughter echoed throughout the area. More strange creatures were peeking their heads out with interest from tree branches and dirt holes in the ground. Most of which, would have frightened many of the people of the village. The animals of the forest were shy and withdrawn, and not entirely friendly, but they kept to themselves - and so the valley was kept at peace.

    The blue frog creature, however, was quite the opposite. It was only a baby for its species - wide-eyed and innocent. This land was nothing new to it. Vines stretched out somehow from the confinement of the leafy seed upon its back, and reached for the boys hands beside it. The child giggled and grasped the vines, and together they spun around and around until they collapsed on the damp ground beneath them, too dizzy to continue a moment longer.

    The elders would tell stories of these animal creatures. That they came from a far away land not long ago in search of something unknown. Yet they remained only in the forest, and communicated only amongst themselves. Secretive. Mysterious. Watching.

    The child never cared for the stories. They were always told with much hostility. He had wandered into the forest alone one day, despite the warnings, and stumbled upon the frog creature sleeping within the hollow of a tree trunk. It was innocence and curiosity that kept him from running in the other direction. And when the blue reptile awoke, it made no aggressive movement toward the human. Not a flinch, nor a baring of teeth - which the child had found out only later it had when the two played tug of war with a mossy stick.

    No, it was a harmonious meeting they had. The frog blinked sleep from its large, green eyes, and immediately began wagging its tail. Curiosity turned to happiness, happiness turned to play, and eventually the young boy and the young creature had become inseparable. The child called his trusted companion Bulbasaur.

    With their union, most of the other animals of the forest began to trust the humans as well. Including the creature’s mother, who would often join the pair on their imaginative adventures through the jungle.

    The humans however, were much more reluctant to accept the duo. Many even forbid the child’s presence near their homes while he was in the company of the strange alien.

    “From the unknown, comes fear,” the boy’s brother, Noah, had told him one day when he came running from an angry old woman shooing him and his pet away with her broom. “Do not fret, little brother. They will come around.” He reached down to pat his sibling’s friend atop its rubbery head. “Not even a field mouse should fear this creature.” He smiled and set off to the center of town to begin his day’s work.

    Time seemed to shorten whenever the boy entered the forest. Most especially when he was with his frog friend. A blink of an eye and the minutes had turned to hours, and the sun was already setting in the sky. The broad leaves of the trees turned pink and orange and the very forest seemed to change colors before their eyes. They raced home.

    Despite the flicker of peace between the depths of the forest and the inhabitants of the city, it was still unsafe to be wandering beneath the canopies at night. Not only was it impossible to have a sense of direction while the stars were hiding behind the trees, but not all animals were strange. Not all of them had this astounding capacity of intelligence and keen sense of morality. Many of them were simply brutes. Locals. Predators. Prey. The majority of them were kept at bay by the hunting habits of the carnivore alien creatures; this was a large reason why the village had prospered the most in this past year, as the herds of sheep and cattle had nothing to fear from the old threats in the forest.

    One would think that gratitude would replace the resentment that the humans had towards the foreign beasts after such favors. But, it seemed to only put them more on edge. The narrow-minded would figure that once the creatures were through with the forest, their village would be next. For, with one kind gesture, came another negative explanation.

    All humans were opinionated differently however, as the young boy had proved. Some, albeit very few, shared the insight that the creatures were not threatening to them. They would welcome the infant reptile into their homes and revel in astonishment at its behavior, its generosity, its innocence, and most of all, its brain. They would call it “Burlen Gin”, which to them, meant “Mute Child”. And in a way, they were quite right. The frog was only a child, and he could not speak… to them.

    With each nightfall, the frogplant named Bulbasaur would scamper back into its forest home and seek out its mother to tell her of the day’s events. She would nod and hum, and nudge her offspring into a bed of brush, then let it talk itself to sleep.

    Today was a special day, in contrary. Instead of returning to its own home after the pair had scrambled from the outskirts of the forest to the cornfield tracing the town, the tiny monster continued on with the child. It was allowed to join the boy this night. A sleepover. Three months of begging had finally paid off when the frogmother granted permission for it to sleep among the humans tonight.

    The boy and his companion hopped a fence and skipped among the stones lining the street before his house appeared before them. It was just a tiny hut only large enough for three bedrooms, and small ones at that. The straw roof hung limply over four white walls made of stone and held together with mud. Orange glowed from the sole window. A fire was lit.

    He cracked open the door only a fraction at first, flashing a grin to his mother who was bending over a pot hanging in the fireplace.

    “Come in, Otto,” she said to him. “And you know your friend is welcome too.” It always amazed Otto that his mother didn’t even have to look behind her to know which boy of hers it was. And though he couldn’t see her face, he knew she was smiling.

    He cracked the door wider, motioning the reptile to scurry in ahead of him, then watched as it waddle-hopped through his legs and into the den. He ruffled his own chestnut hair awkwardly and plopped himself onto a wooden stool beside a small table. His friend politely curled up at his feet and stared around the room with its wide eyes. It wasn’t the first time it had been in its human’s home. It came there often to fetch the boy and convince him to come out and play.

    “Keep your stupid pet out of my sight.” A voice came from the large chair beside the fireplace. A chair that Otto didn’t know was occupied, as it was facing the other direction, and its resident was smaller than the back of it.

    Noah, who had been leaning against the wall next to the chair and absentmindedly picking at his nails, reached out a hand and popped the person in the back of the head. “What harm is he to you, Kaine.” A statement, not a question.

    It was then that Kaine stretched his head out from the block of his seat and gave an angry glare to the two at the table. His eyes were ice blue and his face was hidden behind a sea of freckles. “I don’t care. It’s ugly.” Kaine’s smile was disturbing to Otto. He never saw him smile out of gladness, only malice. It was as if his only joy was to bring other people pain. It was the exact smile he gave to them now before his head disappeared once again behind the backrest of the chair.

    “Maybe it thinks the same about you,” Noah responded, not looking away from his hands this time.

    “That’s enough, boys,” the patient voice of their mother softly reached their ears. She’d filled two bowls of stew already and handed them to her oldest and her middle child beside her. Then filled two more and gave one to her youngest, Otto, and placed the last on the floor beside the blue creature beneath its great seed. “I’m not sure what you eat, dear,” she said to it, “but this is what I feed my own son.” And she turned away again to fill herself a bowl.

    It was a quiet dinner that ended in Kaine storming off to his room, or rather their room, as he shared one with Otto. Noah got his own, being the eldest, as did their mother. Kaine didn’t forget to send them another angry glance layered with hate as he strode past them and fled to his bed.

    Bulbasaur had tucked its stubby ears behind its head, frightened and timid. Otto was sure it could see the thoughts that hid behind his brother’s eyes.

    Noah was beside them now, crouching low to pat their guest. “It’s only envy he has of you,” he said more to the creature than to Otto. “What he can’t have, he hates.”

    Kaine had always had a very large distaste for his younger brother’s friend. More so than that of the rest of the villagers, or so it seemed. When Otto had first introduced Bulbasaur to his family, Kaine was the only of the three to not appreciate the animal for what it was. It began with general unconcern, which grew to dislike, and then finally turned to hatred.

    Kaine had ventured out into the forest on his own once, only to come back with several bite marks and bruises underneath a blanket of torn clothing. His explanation was that he’d been unjustly attacked by the forest savages. Otto knew better. He assumed Kaine had actually tried to force one of the tree-dwellers to become his own companion. Tried and failed. Either that or just plain provoked the animals out of pure rage and jealousy.

    Noah stood then, telling Otto to go to sleep as he assumed his lack of response was due to tiredness. He obeyed, and left Noah alone to stand beside the fire that was now reduced to ashes.

    Kaine was already asleep when Otto entered their room, the oversized frog in tow. There was only enough room for two beds in here. And only three feet to separate them. He curled up beneath a single blanket and the four-legged guest took his place beside the bed of his comrade. It was very easy for children to fall asleep.

    -x-


    Bulbasaur felt arms wrapped around its bloated stomach. A grip so unnecessarily tight that bruises would be left behind in the morning. Or was it morning already?

    He opened his eyes to see not the quaint innards of the human boy’s sleeping room, but the dark stretches of the forest. His home. The sky was not completely black. It was morning. Early enough in the morning that the sun had only faintly begun its ascend into the horizon. The rim of the earth was pink, but the sky directly above was so deep a blue that it looked black.

    The bobbing motion that his body was experiencing made him dizzy. He managed to rotate his head enough to look up into the face of the person carrying him, a feat near-impossible for one with no neck. And he saw there were freckles. And red hair. And lightning blue eyes. It was Kaine.

    Fear. Where was Otto? Where was he? Probably sleeping. Did he know this evil human had taken him? This human who wished him nothing but harm? Probably not. More Fear. He struggled and screamed. A sickening sound burst from his throat.

    “Shut up!” A fist sank into his right cheek, and the grasp around his middle tightened. If it was possible for blue to turn more blue, this is what happened to the side of Bulbasaur’s face. Blood vessels had burst beneath his thick skin. “We’re nearly there, regardless,” Kaine finished, his voice sharp and loathing.

    The thick brush of the undergrowth beneath the trees parted, and the sound of running water came upon them all at once. A tiny stream of mountain water led to a wide pool that collected here. It was shallow enough for a human to wade through, but deep enough for a small creature like Bulbasaur to drown in. Its tired eyes flashed open. Drown…

    Kaine didn’t wait for the animal’s realization, he was already thrusting him into the water and holding him down. The frog, who was so unlike a frog, so unlike a reptile even, flailed desperately as his head was forced again and again into the murky depths of the pond. He was just a baby then, in this time of desperation between life and death - when a life was only a life and nothing more or less.

    When his feet caught the shifting earth beneath the water and his claws grasped enough soil to propel him forward, a foot lodged itself fiercely into his side. Pain. A shattered rib. Adrenaline pulsed through his veins. He was dying.

    He arched himself around through the liquid and forced his teeth into the human leg that was now in the water. Blood. Lots of blood. He couldn’t see anything anymore. The hand holding his face beneath the surface let up then. Bulbasaur scrambled. He still couldn’t swim. The beautiful seed above him was filling with water and dragging him down. Somehow he managed to slide himself to the edge of pool and drag his heavy body onto the edge. Air filled his screaming lungs and he retched.

    He didn’t see the boy returning to the scene with a heavy branch. He didn’t remember the vital blow to his head and the blood spilling into a dark puddle beneath his body. He was already gone.

    -x-



    The sun was visibly in the east when Otto awoke. He noticed two things immediately: his brother’s bed was empty and Bulbasaur was missing. Assumption told him that his friend may already be awaiting him outside, too eager to wait in the house and too polite to wake him. He didn’t bother changing from his cloth pajamas. But, he slipped into his worn shoes and then slipped out the door.

    Bulbasaur was not there. He called for him through the streets, and looked for him by the bakeries where Otto would often find him sitting just to smell the rising yeast. It didn’t take the boy long to figure out his friend was not in the village, and he was wondering why it would run off without him or even telling him at all.

    His voice called out loudly as he strode through the forest now, cautiously wandering and keeping track of his progress. He was constantly getting turned around in this place, and this time he was without his guide. Dewdrops sprang from the leaves and onto his skin, leaving him soaked within minutes without a sign of rain. An hour passed.

    Otto had realized something was wrong even before the pool of mountain water came into view. A song was ringing throughout the forest now. So beautiful and sad. He closed his eyes and just listened to the voice that was rising and falling in harmony with massive vocal chords and turns of the wind. It was a whale trapped at the bottom of an ocean crying out to a loved one. It was a siren calling sailors ashore. It was an angel singing a soul into the afterlife. It was the single worst and greatest thing that Otto had ever heard. Depression, loss, and agony filled the notes as they hit his ears. And then he saw her.

    A towering presence lay beside a pond. The very make of Bulbasaur had he been seven hundred pounds heavier and six feet taller. Her great seed was a seed no longer, but a flower - something Otto had always assumed happened as the creatures aged. An enormous face, distorted with grief, was nuzzling what appeared to be…

    “Bulby?” Otto screeched, softly, just barely, when he saw the tiny frog-turtle. Limp, lifeless. The seed on its back, a fraction the size of its mother’s, was brown now. A colorless brown. A brown so unsaturated it was only a shadow of what used to be there in its place. The body, for it was no longer Bulbasaur, lie in the soil between the stocky fore-arms of its mother. Arms that moved now as they stood from the ground at the faint squeak of Otto’s voice.

    Fist-sized tears fell from her eyes. They were empty. Otto had always loved her eyes; saucers of colors and pride. When those eyes looked upon him now, there was nothing left to awe at. Nothing left at all. They went from grief to blame and he knew what she thought. It was his fault.

    The tears stopped then. A blind rage engulfed her and two impossibly long vines erupted from beneath the wide flower upon her back. They sprang to the boy and slapped across his chest with enough force to propel him into the nearest tree trunk. Then the vines, like ropes, twisted around his chest and lifted him from the earth.

    She looked through him now, nostrils flaring. A gaze that saw nothing. Her eyes were directed to his face, but it wasn’t her that was watching. Otto knew this, as he hung helplessly in her grasp, his feet dangling into open air. The massive lungs in her chest rasped for air in her fury. She roared.

    He may have been afraid in that moment. And if he was, he couldn’t tell. All he could tell was that his best friend lie dead on the floor of the forest behind her. Dead. And his only thought before she snapped his neck was, This is all my fault… I’m so sorry… I‘m so sorry, Bulbasaur. He sobbed silently for only a moments while his lip quivered uncontrollably. Then stopping abruptly, his corpse, too, fell to the ground.

    The mammoth reptile left the bodies behind her as she barreled through the forest away from them. The smaller trees shattered in her wake as she stampeded her way towards the village.

    -x-


    It sounded and seemed like an earthquake that day. The earth grumbled in protest beneath the feet of the elephant-sized alien creature as it stomped through fences and streets. She had gone mad. All that rested in her memories and her goals was destruction. And destroy she did.

    Houses rammed to the ground, fire set ablaze, children trampled in the streets. Only when a brave villager managed to force his spear into her chest did her revenge end. Her eyes widened, and she fell thunderously to her side.

    The people crowded around her huge carcass. Most had never seen an alien being from the jungle this size before, let alone any new creature at all. The child’s famous, or infamous, friend had been the only one brave enough to venture into their city. At least, some thought it bravery. The rest thought it naivety.

    The body commanded all attention now, however. From the thick, leathery indigo hide, to the immense plant blanketing the entire top of her body. The emerald leaves, now shimmering in the sunlight, began to fade. The plant was dying before their eyes. What would normally have taken days, took seconds, and a shadeless brown spread like a plague from the center of the tropical flower to the tip of the leaves beneath it. The plant could only survive on a living host.

    The initial shock of the alien faded. People were shouting now. Threatened, scared, and enraged at the intruder now lying dead before them.

    “See?!” shouted the man whose spear had brought the mammoth plant-being to her death. “These creatures do not wish peace with us! Alone, this vile savage has destroyed half of our village!”

    There were nods; the people were agreeing. Others were scurrying behind them to put out the fires licking the air and swallowing their homes. Women were crying. Many people were gravely injured.

    “He’s right,” another man agreed, much older than the others. “This one sought nothing but our doom. And it was only one. Imagine what a dozen of these would do to our homes and our families.”

    “We must strike back!” the first man shouted again. He raised his spear, dripping with the alien’s blood, into the sky. “We cannot sit by while they attack our city at will! We will fight! We’ll defend!”

    There was much shouting now. Fists were punching the air, and the crowd grew thicker. An army was being formed, and the man with his spear was their leader.

    In the days to come, a great chaos spread throughout the valley. Humans were massing into the forest, bringing any weapon they had and killing any life form they found. When a group of them stumbled across the bodies of Otto and his Bulbasaur, it only fueled their newfound hatred for the aliens and inspired more and more villagers to join their cause.

    When word of the boy’s death reached his family, his mother locked herself away in her room and Kaine became unusually quiet. He said nothing for days until Noah caught him crying silently in front of the fire place.

    “It’s all my fault, brother,” Kaine cried to the solemn figure that’d just entered the room behind him. “Otto… this army… It’s all my fault.” His hands flew to his face to hide the oncoming pour of tears.

    “Don’t blame yourself,” Noah responded, comfortingly. “It appears we put far too much trust in the forest creatures. No one could have foreseen this.”

    “No,” Kaine whispered now. “No, I… I killed that monster! I killed Otto’s friend, it was me!” He sobbed into his hands.

    Noah’s eyes narrowed now. His eyebrows furrowed in anger, shock, and grief. “Why?” He barely managed to say after a long moment’s pause.

    “Because… because… it wasn’t fair…” the pathetic excuse escaped his lips. Kaine tried to find better words. He tried to untangle this mess he had made in the hopes that he would be able to convey his sane and obvious reasoning. But he couldn’t. While he did not regret ending the innocent life of the child-monster, he was stricken by the result: his brother’s death. Sorrow was only a drop of how he now felt.

    “You…murdered that creature out of envy?” Noah breathed, unable to believe his own words. “You’ve single-handedly destroyed this family for greed?” He could only stare in bewilderment. A wave of emotions crashed down on him and soon he could not bear the sight of the younger boy a moment longer.

    When Kaine did not answer, but only continue to wallow in his own self-pity, Noah left his brother. He left his home and he left the village to venture into the rainforest beyond. He was unaware that he would never return.

    The army had hundreds in their flanks now. The creatures were slaughtered. The few that had the chance to fight back barely managed to leave a scratch in the massive numbers. There were few casualties. The humans were winning their invented war. A war with no opponent, only prey.

    A pack of wolf-like aliens had managed to fend off a group of ten soldiers, their orange fur flashing like fires between the trees. Teeth ripped into throats and legs and claws slashed into chests. But the small victory was short-lived; a string of archers came to the assist and dislodged arrows into every black-striped hide.

    There was little left on the edges of the forest now. The humans had cleared it entirely for well over a mile in. The creatures who’d survived fled into the deepest and darkest parts of the jungle. A place where they banded together and waited. Time was not on their side.

    Back in the village, alien furs and skins were being stretched and hung up on houses or fashioned into clothing. People rejoiced in the victories and the large supplies of fresh meat. They saw themselves as safe, having pushed back their imagined threat. They had no idea what was truly happening behind the bark enclosure of the forest.

    Noah walked, and kept walking. At first it was just indecision and purposelessness that sent him venturing obliviously into the mass of trees. He didn’t remember the first leg of the journey at all, most of it passed in a daze. He remembered seeing his youngest brother, hanging limply over the shoulder of a broad man as he carried the boy gravely to his family. A picture of his mother dropping to her knees in horror weaved its way into his memory. Her shaking hands reached to touch the body, hoping it wasn’t real, and liquid raced down her cheeks. He then remembered watching the men band together with pride and vengeance and return from the forest with baby alien corpses in their grasp and larger alien bodies dragging behind their carts. And most of all, he remembered not caring.

    Now, as he traveled blindly between the brush and tree trunks, he felt aware again. He had something left he could save. Otto would have defended these creatures with his life. Something that had been taken from him, rather than given. Noah would do all that he could for them then, he’d decided. He would do this for his brother. And so, instead of turning around at the sign of sunset and heading back to civilization, he walked deeper into the darkness of the trees.

    At first, as he passed the invisible barrier, nothing changed. He felt the faintest increase of air pressure, then it popped away again like a bubble. To him, it was just an odd passing breeze. But what he didn’t realize, was that he’d just stepped through the forcefield that was shielding this part of the forest from the outside world, and all who walked among it.

    The alien creatures nearby heard the rift. They approached him cautiously, watching him pass without ever leaving the safety of the shadows. Some would hop into his trail and follow his path from a safe distance.

    Noah felt all of the eyes watching him. He sensed their presence somehow, from the tiny mice-aliens to the large panther-like creatures gazing down upon him from the cliffs beside him. But he could also sense that none of them meant him any harm; the same feeling he reciprocated to each and every one of them.

    There was one presence in particular that drove him forward. It was what was giving him his directions. Imagine a planet with hundreds of tiny moons. This presence was the gravitational force pulling him towards itself like the planet, and the creatures were the moons. It was a network. And somehow he knew exactly why he was headed there, and why the presence was calling out to him. They needed each other’s help.

    Finally, the trees parted and Noah found himself in a small clearing. Clear, except for one very large tree growing in the exact center of it. Some kind of mystical aura emanated from the tree. The grass around it was greener and more overgrown, the air around it was cleaner and fresher, but the tree itself… was dying.

    The young man paused for a few moments, confused, but then he proceeded all the way up to the roots of tree and faced its wide trunk.

    “You…” he whispered.

    Silence.

    The wind picked up slightly then. It wound itself through the clearing and out into the surrounding forest. It passed through the leaves and the grass, it ruffled fur coats of the creatures, and then it made its way up into the sky, as if trying to harness the sun. Finally, after a symphony of wind-made noises, the breeze traveled back into the clearing and passed directly into the center of the tree-trunk.

    Some breath of life washed over the bark now. The decaying wood flickered with a flash of health. The browning leaves regained some color. But the true miracle was the face that was forming in the bark.

    It started with a pair of eyes that blinked into the surface of the tree. Black-rimmed, with deep blue irises. Then, the bark rippled somehow, then faded away. Either that, or became completely transparent. There was now a big hole in the place where the eyes were. They were attached to a body. A nymph was floating in the very hollow of the tree.

    A normal person might have come to the conclusion that they were hallucinating. But being exposed to the strange creatures in the valley for so long, Noah gathered that this one in particular was no different. He watched the odd little nymph as it floated in its lime-toned body. Noah opened his mouth to speak again, but then hesitated.

    I know you come here to help us. The sentence came rushing into his mind.

    It was not his thought, but he knew whose it was. This was something that scared him, finally. He was used to strange sights and sounds and behaviors. But none of them talked, let alone spoke through his own mind.

    Yes, I am unlike the others. The voice said again. Even though there was no sound, only a thought, he could feel the power and authority pulsing into his brain. I have allowed you to pass my barrier because I know your motives are pure.

    “H-how? Why…” Noah stumbled over his words, forgetting what he had to say.

    There is much to tell you, and little time to tell it, the wood-creature continued to push his thoughts into the man. We’ve come here from another world, not for the first time. We were here long before these lands had a name. We struck a deal with the earliest of your kind, a deal which was broken. I sent my followers back to our world to wait for me to return but... war stirs on the other side. I have been waiting many years for someone. One who will help us to save our own world. One who will uphold your end of the deal.

    It was time I did not foresee. The time it would take to find them. We have been waiting, and I presume we will be waiting much longer. It is this to which I require your help, Noah. It took much of my strength to bring everyone here, and my strength is fading. Soon there will be nothing left to take us home. I need to preserve myself, yet I need to keep searching. For this, I need your help.


    It was an information overload, only half of it making sense. Noah was still speechless. He wasn’t sure how to respond, and if he could, what would he say? Sure thing, I’ll save your world for you?

    It is selfish of me to put such a burden on one human being, the nymph spoke again, reading his thoughts. I would not make a request such as this under any other circumstance. I regret to tell you that it is not only my home that risks destruction, but yours as well.

    “What kind of destruction?” he managed to ask. “What..-”

    Time... we are all running out of it.

    Frustrated by the vagueness and the indisputable feeling that everything this creature was telling him was true, Noah asked, “What would I have to do?”

    I need you to be a host. I will pass onto you a part of me, and you must pass that onto your children. I need you to leave this valley. I need you to go into the world and be my eyes. I will send some of my companions with you, they will be your guides. You’ll know what you’re looking for.

    “But my…my family.”

    They are safe here. You will be missed, but your sacrifice will save more than you will know. I need you to go now, young friend. My temporary energy source is fading.

    As the creature said this, color began draining once again from the tree.

    “The people out there. They want war. They will come after you and kill you all…” Noah said, half with worry and half with shame.

    They won’t make it past the barrier unless I allow them passage. They will walk into it and emerge on the other side. They will think they have eliminated all of us. They have already gotten to all who could not return to this shelter in time. A sense of sorrow was webbed into this thought as it entered Noah’s mind. He felt what the loss of those creatures meant to the nymph.

    “Okay,” Noah decided, unsure how he could feel so positive he was meant for this task. “Okay, I will be your vessel.” Noah’s face turned stern. Purpose wove through his body and he felt pride and courage to follow through this request.

    The nymph reached out of the trunk now. When its tiny hand emerged from the hollow of the trunk and was hit by sunlight, the lively emerald skin turned pale. The hand faded and death seemed to creep up each of its fingers.

    Don’t be alarmed, young one, its thought said. This tree preserves my life form. It is a cocoon I created to preserve me for eons. All of my life has been put inside of it, but it can easily be taken out. Bring your forehead closer.

    And as Noah leaned in, the alien placed its hand upon his brow. At first, only a spark, but then an explosion of light passed from the hand and into the man. Energy stormed through his veins, a presence made its way through cells and then neurons, and then a small pop; the sound of a balloon bursting underwater. The light faded.

    You must go now. They will show you the way. The nymph nodded behind the man.

    Noah turned, slightly dizzy, and saw a horde of alien creatures behind him of all shapes and sizes. Some cat-shaped with lavender pelts, some the size of rhinoceros made of rock, others had no distinct body comparison with any natural animal of this planet. It was a most unusual group, especially for the eyes of a world outside of the valley.

    They will not see their true form, the nymph answered his thought again. The people beyond the valley walls. They will see only the animals native to their area.

    The creatures stirred, and began leading a path behind the tree. The earth below vibrated in the movement.

    Follow them, they will show you the way.

    Noah looked at the tree once again in time to see the bark reappearing in the hole where the nymph hovered. The tree had completely faded to the shade of its former, deathly self, and the nymph was shrouded once again in its embrace.

    “You never even told me your name…” Noah whispered sadly to the lonely tree.

    I have many names, the thought came only faintly to him as he’d turned to follow the pack of creatures into the other side of the forest and out of the valley. My first was Celebi. Some call me Forest Spirit. But most, call me the Timekeeper.

    ~*~



    “And so,” Maverick finished. “Noah ventured into our world to become the very first Time Shaper. He married, had children, and their children had children, and the gene was passed on through the decades.”

    Sophie let the silence surround her for a few moments. She loved listening to stories, and Maverick had such a way of telling them, everything felt so real. Real enough to scare her.

    “Are you saying this is a true story?” she asked.

    “Every word.”

    She gave him a look of uneasiness. “So those monster things…”

    “Not monsters, Guardians.” Maverick seemed slightly appalled by the mix-up - like it was a great insult to his deity.

    “Well, how do you know? I mean, if they are supposed to look like normal animals…”

    Maverick gave her a new look that suggested the answer should have been obvious. “They are camouflaged to those who don’t know of their existence. To those who do, well, they will look just as they are.”

    He gestured then for her to follow, and he stood and led her to the front room. Here, the odd trinkets hung from walls, and the intoxicating fumes swarmed the showroom. He walked to the table where his purple orb machine rested as it had the night she’d first come here. Except, it wasn’t a funny-looking toy anymore. It was… alive.

    A crazed face appeared in the smoke. She wasn’t sure, but it looked like it was trying to smile at her: a devious, menacing smile. Smoke billowed around its body, which was just a head - a giant purple smoking head on a podium.

    “Holy!” she screeched in shock at the sudden appearance of the face. The surprise made her jump backwards, and she tripped over her own foot and fell over.

    “Now now, my dear. Don’t scare him.” Maverick picked up the thing and cradled it in his arms like an infant.

    “What-is-that-thing” she huffed one word at a time as she pulled herself from the floor, wincing.

    “Well,” Maverick answered, “he is a spirit who put himself into some kind of tomb, so I call him Spiritomb.”

    “Genius.” Sophie couldn’t take her eyes off the creature long enough to catch Maverick’s glare as he placed it back on the table.

    “There there.” He stroked the smoke lovingly.

    “I saw some twisted show trick before, I thought I was supposed to see an animal as the camouflage.” Sophie looked to Maverick questioningly.

    “Over time, humans have become more civilized. There are less places for animals to live. And the Guardians, they stay by our sides; all of us descendants of Noah. But you wouldn’t think it was normal to watch a bear trudging down Main Street, or a zebra in a restaurant. They had to evolve to match our times. Some put their spirits in appliances even.”

    “Oh…” she breathed, unsure how to respond, then felt stupid for sounding like a moron. “Don’t they…die?”

    “They can, if injured badly enough.” A moment of sadness found itself in Maverick’s eyes, but it left quickly enough for Sophie to forget that it was ever there. “But, they don’t age. They are immortal to time.”

    She leaned against the wall, pondering this. She still didn’t feel comfortable enough to sit at the table with the odd glow-ball. Maverick was becoming oblivious to her presence when he placed himself upon a seat and made goo-goo eyes at the smoking orb.

    “Wait,” she said finally, after an odd moment had passed. “None of this explains my initial question. Why are people calling me Stag?”

    “Oh yes!” Maverick exclaimed with newfound excitement. “The gene. The presence passed down from Noah that lives in our blood. It skips a generation. Always. None of us are sure why. Perhaps it is the Timekeeper’s way of preventing an abundance of people with time powers. But nevertheless, a generation is always skipped. That generation is stagnant. We tend to call those in it, Stags.”

    “But then…”

    “Yes. Your generation should not have any manipulation of time. Your father was a Shaper, and his grandfather was not, and his father was a Shaper, and so forth. You should have been skipped, and your children should have had the active gene.”

    “So what does that mean?” Sophie asked, wondering if it was something bad or if she should be sorry.

    “I don’t know, midget. It means the presence decided to activate in you regardless. It means you’re very important to Him somehow. And it also means we must keep you a secret from them scoundrel Shifters. If they found out…”

    “Shifters?” The name sounded familiar to her.

    “Ah yes, you’ve yet to hear their story as well? Well, not all of us are good. It is common knowledge that the world is full of many different kinds of people. Some of us can’t handle what we are given. The Shifters are a group of ex-Shapers who branched off from us to seek their own ends.

    Over the years, as the bloodline spanned out and the pull of His presence became fainter, the small control over time overwhelmed many people. They saw strength and power through it, and they lost sight of the initial task. They use it for their own evil purposes, which even we do not know the full details of. Though, we know they are planning something.”

    He was twisting his finger through the violet smoke. Sophie was about to say something, but he continued.

    “A soul is a delicate thing. It hangs in a very impressionable balance, and those that fall to that side, well, then that is what you become.”

    Maverick was a strange, strange man, Sophie thought. One moment he was crazed goon, the other he seemed suspiciously wise. It was this thought that lead her to another, off-topic one.

    “Why aren’t you rambling?” She’d said it more bluntly than she intended. A more appropriate question would probably have been 'Why do you ramble?' but she became so accustomed to his random phrases between regular speech that it was odd to hear him speak uninterrupted.

    He grinned politely, slightly amused, and pointed to the swirling purple cloud. “Spiritomb calms my mind when he is near. Sometimes my thoughts are too wild to tame, but often, he succeeds. He can block out what I do not wish to see at times, but eventually, he tires. But it is possible.”

    “You can see the future like me?” she guessed.

    “I can see the future… But no, not like you. My visions come in pictures. Moments in time, months, and often years in advance. It is an ability far more useless than yours. I cannot harness it easily, as you’ve seen.”

    “So you pose as a fortune teller, but can actually tell fortunes.” She laughed a bit at the irony.

    He smiled proudly and said, “Something like that, yes.”

    Maverick told Sophie more details of her past, a past she never knew existed, and she listened politely as he droned for hours with the occasional mutterings that his Spiritomb failed to prevent. He told her more of the Shifters and their desire for self-preservation, and he told her of the Shapers and their desire for peace. But most importantly, he told her of the fate of the world. How the Guardians felt it dying beneath their feet. How there was something… else out there that was behind all of it. And he told her that was their ultimate goal; to find this savior the Timekeeper searched for and somehow save both worlds. He couldn't explain the feeling that drove him to dedicate his life to this cause, but he didn't have to. Sophie felt it too; it was almost some kind of...instinct.

    “And, my dear,” he finished with a long yawn. “You’re one of us now. I’m sorry if your uncle led you to believe you have a choice in the matter, but you do not. If you leave, they will eventually find out what you are, and kill you. Or worse…” His right eye twitched like he was trying to stare right down into her doubt. “Tomorrow you will meet the rest of us.” He left the table then and trotted up the stairs to his bunker.

    Kill me, or worse. Very comforting, gramps.

    Nothing seemed to surprise or worry her at this point. A meteor could fall from the sky and crash into her face, giving her telekinesis and super strength, and she wouldn’t find it absolutely preposterous like she would have three days ago. It was some kind of dream-like state she was living in. At first, she was just going along with most of the crazy to humor them, but… She knew it was real now; some powerful feeling was telling her this. But she also felt like the logical part of her brain was malfunctioning and being closed off from the rest.

    Hearing that she had no choice after all didn’t change her feelings in the slightest, though. She already knew she would stay, she’d decided that five seconds after Finn had asked her the question. She was mainly just delaying and pretending to consider it to appease the girl inside of her that screamed for rationality.

    She loved her grandparents and she knew they loved her, but she never truly felt like she belonged there. She felt like she was intruding on their perfect life in their perfect little world; and she was meant to be somewhere else far away from the endless sea of corn and crop. Somewhere just like this place. It wasn't rebellious teenager peeking through that led her to feel this way, it was simply that she herself had always felt like an alien. Maybe the fact that there was alien blood inside of her explained why.

    She fell asleep on her pull-out couch easily. Finn did not return.


    The following morning, she found herself being forced yet again into the hideous contraption people called a Taxi. This one looked like someone had been transporting a cougar to the asylum, and let it claw its jollies into the upholstery. A giant man was plopped in the driver’s seat, puffing on a cigar. A cigar that was smaller than every one of his sausage-like fingers.

    “Take us to the end of Thirteenth,” Maverick told him, waving a wad of dollars in his face.

    “There’s nothing down there but dumpsters,” a voice escaped from the far depths of the driver‘s throat.

    “So?”

    “Hmph,” the man grunted and dropped his fat foot on the gas pedal.


    When they arrived, several large piles of trash and rotting rat corpses were waiting to greet them. If a septic tank exploded inside a men’s locker room, it would still smell better than this.

    Sophie winced and pinched her nose and slammed her eyelids shut, following her leader only by the sound of his footsteps.

    Why would a group of … special people, have their base here?” Sophie gagged.

    “Who would come here looking for us?”

    “Good point,” she choked.

    Maverick laughed. Perhaps because of the hilarity of the sound of her distorted nose-plugged voice, or maybe because he was amused she hadn’t thought of it on her own. But regardless, Sophie didn’t care, she just wanted to be out of range of this putrid smell and she wanted to be out now.

    The sound of metal scraping metal convinced her to peek through the slit of an eye to see Maverick pushing back a door in the floor of the alley, a door she was sure hadn’t been there before. She didn’t dare think about what trash Maverick must have touched to uncover it.

    “Coming?” he asked her, as his head disappeared beneath the entranceway.

    Sophie swept to the open passageway, and bounded down the stairs after him.

    There was a hallway, long and dark - very original. The air smelled like musty and molded laundry. The girl followed Maverick all the way to the end of it, and then into the last and only door on the left. A strong light source flooded her vision as the old man pushed open the door, causing her pupils to painfully shrink.

    What she saw when she’d finished rubbing her eyelids and her vision cleared, was nothing short of extraordinary.

    It was an arena. Albeit, a quite small one - only the size of maybe two or three classrooms, but it was an arena. Underneath an alley… filled with dumpsters…

    Long rows of stadium lights hung somewhere high above the pure white, stone walls, making the whole area agonizingly bright. The effect was amplified by its reflection off the polished wood flooring, which was of the same style and making of a basketball court.

    “Why woul-” she started to ask, but stopped when she saw what was going on in it.

    There were two men standing on either side of the room, and in front of them were the strangest creatures she’d ever seen. Well, the strangest she’d seen before her reality did a front flip into the lake of lunacy.

    The first one was some combination of a sheep and a bumblebee. Its body was striped and rubbery with some sort of stinger for a tail, while its middle was fluffy and wooly like the typical barnyard sort. While she was staring at it, some kind of light bulb on the end of its tail started glowing and then sparks began spitting from its sides, until finally, a great burst of lightning went rocketing to the other side of the arena.

    “Stop! What are you doing?!” Sophie screamed at the man telling the bumblesheep what to do. She watched in horror as the lightning struck the poor creature on the other side clear in the face. She couldn’t see its figure quite clearly, but it was bulky and blue.

    “It’s ok, they are just practicing,” Maverick reassured her. “Besides, Marshtomp is immune to electricity.”

    “Marshwha?” she rubbed her forehead.

    Maverick only laughed and urged her to follow as he walked through the arena and out the other side, with the strange sounds of supernatural abilities echoing behind them. She could only follow reluctantly and sneak a few more glances at the scene before the door shut after her.

    The next room she went in was much less stressful and somewhat familiar. It resembled a small workshop, but what they were working on was hard to tell. Steel cabinets lined the cream colored walls, encircling classroom styled rows of desks. Each housed a single lamplight. Most of them were unoccupied, but the few heads that were buried behind projects or books looked up at the pair when they entered. And stared.

    A girl only a couple years older than Sophie‘s age stood up from somewhere in the middle of the room and walked over, wide-eyed. Her jet black hair was gelled up the center into a radical mohawk. She wore ripped jeans, and the closer she got, the clearer the logo read on her black T-shirt: Behind every great man, is a woman: rolling her eyes.

    “Is this the…?” the stranger asked.

    Maverick only nodded.

    “Nice to meet you!” she almost squealed, busting her hand out to shake Sophie’s. “I heard so much about you! I was waiting for them to finally bring you down here but-”

    “Calm down, Brinny.” Maverick grinned, patting the girl in the shoulder and ushering her away. “There’s plenty of time for that, I have some things to show her first.”

    “My name’s Brinny by the way! Can’t wait to show you the ropes, and then we’re going to be practicing, after that we’ve got some studying; you’ve missed quite a bit. Starting off so late too… we’ve got a lot of work to do! OKAY MAVERICK, I’M GOING.” The old man was shooing her from the room through some doorway in the back.

    “Heh.” Maverick rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly.

    Sophie grabbed her earlobe just as awkwardly. Everyone was still staring at her.

    “Now now, back to work. Nothing to see here.” Maverick let a few mutterings slip under his breath as he ushered Sophie from this room as well.

    They walked between two rows of desks with outdated computers and through the side door. In this next room, was something Sophie finally didn’t recognize at all. Or rather, somethings.

    It was laid out like a library, the room. The walls rose high above their heads, dozens of feet in the air. It made little sense that the ceilings hung at varying heights through each room they passed, but Sophie assumed that normal architectural protocols weren't followed when creating a secret base below the streets of a city.

    There were row after row of shelves. All old and worn, but still kept clean. A faint but familiar sent of Pine-sol wafted around her nostrils. And like a library, the shelves were arranged one after the other, but, instead of books spread out upon them, there were balls. Hundreds of them, in varying shades of primary colors, spread intricately across each plank. Six balls a shelf, four shelves a case, three cases a row, six rows a side. Two sides. Sophie tried to do the math in her head.

    “There’s almost a thousand of them,” she said mostly to herself.

    “Eight hundred and sixty-four,” Maverick replied.

    “What… are they?” she asked, looking around. She picked up one from a shelf near her and turned it around in her hand. It felt hollow.

    “Balls.” Maverick said.

    Sophie shot him a stare that said 'And?'.

    “And most of these are empty,” he continued, gesturing around to all the shelves and even the one in her hand. “But this one…” he reached into his pocket and pulled out another ball only a third of the size of the ones around them. At his touch, it enlarged, and at his command, it opened. A beam of transparent red light burst from the innards of the ball and fell to the floor between them.

    “is occupied,” he finished. And in a moment, his Spiritomb materialized at the end of the light’s path.

    “How in the..?” Sophie let slip after a gasp and a look of surprise left her face. But she didn’t bother finishing. This wasn’t the most unusual thing for her to see this week. She’d just add it to her list of crazy and move on.

    But, Maverick answered anyway. “Alien technology,” he said, as if this was a normal and scientific explanation. “We use these to transport them without drawing attention. It’s a way to stay together at all times, safely. Nelson is the head crafter; he’s been experimenting with the mechanics and thinks he’s invented a type that will contain even the sleeping guardians. HEY!” Maverick flicked Sophie in the ear.

    She was poking at the little button on the ball in her hand, entranced. “Ow!” she whined, and rubbed the stinging cartilage.

    “Pay attention, this is important,” he said sternly. “Put that down and come with me.” As if rewinding time, Maverick sucked his companion back into the hand-sized sphere the same way he had released it, and returned the device to his pocket. The nonchalant way these people acted around all of the weird was going to take Sophie some getting used to. She could attempt to refrain herself from constantly staring wide-eyed at the phenomena this new world contained, but she wasn't sure she'd be able to ever pretend it was normal. Ever.

    Her mind continued to wander as they walked through yet another room, and Sophie started becoming turned around. If they were to get separated, she felt she would be lost down in this crazy maze forever.

    “Guardians are not pets. They won’t roll over at your whim, they won’t depend on you for their livelihood,” Maverick spoke as they walked. “They are very much like people. Consider them soldiers who will fight by your side. That is… if you can prove yourself a worthy general.” He looked down at the girl through the corner of his eye. She looked confused. As usual. “Their loyalty is earned, not given. And the best way to earn it, is to prove your strength and wit - by defeating them. In battle.” Maverick watched the expression on Sophie’s face change from confusion to downright horror.

    “Whaaaat?” she breathed. “What on earth is the point in that?”

    Maverick chuckled. “Don’t worry, it’s not a fight to the death, youngin'.” He smiled as they found the end of a hallway and turned into another one. “More of a boxing match. The first to get knocked out, loses. It’s a custom from their world.”

    “I see…” Sophie said. Even though she didn’t see. At all.

    They found themselves finally in a completely normal room. The kitchen. Here was placed an ordinary oak table and chairs, a stove and microwave, a hideous orange refrigerator and a stainless steel sink.

    “Someone very special lives here,” Maverick said with a gleam in his eye.

    Sophie recoiled, looking desperately around for anything that resembled a mouse or rat.

    Maverick ignored her. “Someone very special to your father.”

    At this, the girl stopped, surprised. She looked around the room, wondering what friend of her father’s could possibly reside in the kitchen. Sophie was starting to get rather annoyed at all of the references people were making to her dead parents, as if she were supposed to know the memories of people she never met. People she only dreamt about her entire life. People she would never remember. But Sophie had long let go of self-pity; life was unforgiving. She'd learned to go with the flow and stop living for yesterday. Her easy-going personality shielded her from the common disappointments of the world, and in the end, left her with an open mind. There was no reason to fight when you had nothing to fight for, best to just go along with it. Which was why she was standing here today, awkwardly scanning a room at the command of an old fogey.

    “Go wake him up.” Maverick nodded his head ominously toward the puke-orange colored fridge.

    Ah, she thought. Secret doorway to the underground labyrinth and the magical hidden troll.

    Sophie tiptoed sarcastically to the side of the fridge, going along with the whims of her crazy old tour guide and gripped onto the back corner of it. She heaved the thing with all her might away from the wall, but it wouldn’t budge. After a few moments of fruitless struggling, Sophie let her foot vent out her frustrations into the side of the refrigerator.

    Then, something really weird happened. The fridge groaned. A stomach-churning moan of real discomfort. Sophie flinched and backed away from the appliance, eyes so wide they were almost bulging out of their sockets.

    She watched the fridge as it began to vibrate, and a pair of enraged eyes blinked to life. The massive Guardian bent over the teenager, only stopping an inch shy of head-butting her in the face, and angrily stared deep into her eyes.

    Sophie shook with terror, and she heard Maverick laughing hysterically in the background.




    The machine roared, pulsating both madness and electricity. A visible violet energy engulfed the appliance, creating a pair of arm-like structures at its sides. Sophie felt the air chilling around her as she stood frozen in place. Crisp frost was accumulating on the creature’s surface, and she was close enough to hear its hefty breathing.

    If you’ve never heard a refrigerator breathe before, it sounded like a fan blowing inside a running motor.

    The orange box, a foot taller than she was, straightened up again after it was satisfied with its assessment of the human. Its chest heaved up in one enormous inhale of air, and then it bellowed a scream directly at Sophie’s head.

    She felt the moist, icy spit slap her across the face and stick into strands of her hair. She also felt the electricity in the air. A faint presence that was strong enough to make her hair frizz out as though someone were rubbing it with a balloon.

    And during all of this, Maverick was simply hunched over, clutching his gut and losing himself in fits of laughter. Sophie might be worried something was mentally wrong with him if it weren’t for this gigantic demonic appliance towering before her, ready to store her organs inside of its freezer. She looked at the old man desperately, searching for any cue of how she was supposed to respond to the thing, but none came.

    Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sophie vaguely remembered what Maverick had been telling her on their way over here, something about honor duals. Her eyes darted wildly around the room, and fell upon a spatula resting atop the table directly behind her. She flailed her arm and clutched the cooking utensil tightly in her fist, then wielded it high over her head as if it were a powerful machete that was fatal to refrigerators.

    “O-o-okay,” Maverick finally spoke between his chortles. “Enough, enough. Bahaha, I can’t take it anymore.” He still hugged an arm around his middle and bent haggardly over it while he stumbled his way toward them. “What are you planning on doing with that?” He gestured toward the weapon choice she’d collected, still managing to let slip a few more cracks of laughter.

    If looks could kill, the glare Sophie gave the old man just then would have. She lowered her arms, and dropped the spatula back on the table with a soft clank. The fridge wasn’t making aggressive movements toward the pair, it simply watched while making frustrated grumbling noises from somewhere deep inside of it.

    Sophie was too appalled for words. Or maybe it was enraged. Or terrified…or annoyed. Some combination of all of these feelings were smashed into a ball and shoved into the back of her throat, preventing any speech from emerging.

    “Well, that’s not going to help you any,” Maverick referenced the cookware, picking up the spatula and inspecting it as if it were a serious weapon he’d never noticed before. “Haha, let’s move on. That was an amusing sight.”

    “A-amusing?!” Sophie finally spoke, but it came out in more of a squeak. Her eyes were still wide open in panic. “Th-thaat-that-that-that…-”

    “Wouldn’t have harmed you,” he cut off her stuttering. “Rotom’s bark is significantly worse than his bite. Just a little joke. Your father hated the thing, it was always spoiling his milk, melting his ice cream… He eventually stopped bringing lunch items that needed refrigeration. They always had a friendly rivalry, those two...” Maverick smiled at the memory, with a hint of sadness in his eyes.

    But Sophie didn’t notice it. She’d just found out that Guardians existed less than twenty-four hours ago, and already Maverick was setting her up as prank bait. She could have had a heart attack, or worse, wet herself.

    “I thought you were wanting me to fight it…” Sophie said so low it was almost a whisper.

    “Fight? Haha, you’re far from capable of fighting, kid. You don’t even know how the Guardians battle yet, let alone challenge one. No, I just wanted to introduce you two.”

    “Well I’m happy I could amuse you!” she yelled in sarcastic rage. She could hear the fridge’s motor behind her soften as they left the room, and suspected it willed itself back to sleep.

    “You could have just told me what it was, you know, instead of just letting me piss it off,” Sophie said minutes later, after she had calmed down. They were traveling to yet another destination that Maverick deemed of importance. This base seemed endless. She wondered how long it had taken to build.

    “Where’s the fun in that?” he responded, nonchalantly. And though it irritated her to be thrown into a world with such strangeness and then be the dolt of that world as well, she had to admit to herself: it probably was funny. It must be hard to be so serious all the time, and have this duty that the rest of world never knew existed. She supposed making someone laugh at her expense wasn’t so bad after all.

    Maverick seemed to read the expression on her face as they walked on. “Perhaps I should have waited a few days to pull that particular trick on you. It has been many years since we have gotten a new recruit. Needless to say, we‘re all a little…excited.” A faint smile spread his lips.

    Sophie couldn’t help mirroring it.

    Another door. The flooring turned from carpet to stone as they entered a room far more technologically advanced than the rest. There was a table with steel chairs here, but nothing else. Just the single largest television Sophie had ever seen in her life taking up the entire length of the wall. It seemed more of a holographic computer screen than a TV though, as the electronic device was pencil thin and didn’t have the grainy picture of the common household counterpart.

    Playing on the screen looked like a map of the world. The colors were bright and vivid, almost painful to look at. And on the map, were hundreds of glowing white dots.

    “What are those supposed to be?” the young girl asked, enthralled.

    Maverick didn’t answer, but walked closer to the colossal screen and began typing on what appeared to be a small keyboard positioned in front of it. She hadn’t noticed it was there before.

    “These are all of the Sleeping Guardians we have located and tagged,” Maverick said finally, his fingers floating across the keyboard as he spoke. Pictures of common animals like possum, bears, birds, dogs and fish flashed and disappeared again on the monitor. The old man was concentrating hard, and occasionally grabbed his forehead out of pain or frustration, then muttered under his breath.

    “Elaborate?” Sophie asked after a long awkward silence filled with nothing but clicking keys. This wasn’t the first time she’d heard the phrase ‘Sleeping Guardians’ today. She’d originally assumed it was referring simply to the alien creatures… sleeping. Getting rest. And so the boring assumption prevented her from pursuing the topic further. But now, she sensed there was more to it. Why would this base have a room dedicated entirely to watching the things sleep? Better yet, why would they all be sleeping at once?

    “Eh…” Maverick continued to speak gibberish for a few more moments before he stopped typing, and turned his head to look at her. “Guardians… you have a lot to learn…” he sighed while wiping sweat away from his brow with the back of his pale hand. “It has been a long time since they left the Timekeeper.”

    More silence filled the room, quiet enough for her to distinguish the soft thrumming of electricity powering the giant television. Sophie waited patiently for him to continue. She was starting to learn that asking questions only seemed to leave her wanting more answers.

    “A lot of them… lost themselves. They have been pretending to be something that they are not... I suppose they have been doing long enough that they've even begun to fool themselves. ” The man seemed more distressed than usual. His body quivered as he strained to find the words. Or rather, omit words that did not belong. “When they lose their memories and mind, they lose their, well, their magic.”

    Of course, Sophie’s skeptical and sarcastic thoughts bested her. It always comes back to magic… everything is magical.

    “Not magic as in wizardry,” Maverick spoke again in a slightly annoyed, but exhausted tone. She suspected he‘d noticed her arched eyebrow. “Think figuratively. Their magic, aura, essence, what makes them tick. They forget they have abilities far surpassing those of the creatures they replicate. They forget the cloaks that shield them from the unbelieving are in fact a facade. They simply become… animals.” He finished with a heavy droop of his shoulders. Simultaneously, Sophie heard an abnormally loud Pop! that echoed off the pale walls enclosing them.

    She startled, but noticed a ragged beam of crimson light speeding towards the floor beside him. The familiar purple smoky cloud shimmered into existence where the streak had landed. A soft howl, a sound similar to the wind whipping through a night forest, flowed into her ears. The ghost Guardian rippled like water, swirling the green orbs that hovered inside its cloud around and around as Maverick stared sad and defeated into them. The color twirled and flowed to a soft and non-existant melody. Sophie was as transfixed on the spirit as the old man was. Abrubtly, the dance stopped, and the hypnotic effect had faded from her. Another Pop! and the creature was gone again, leaving only a shimmering trail of the fluorescence behind it.

    Maverick’s eyes eased. His mind seemed to have been calmed. His posture straightened, and he turned to face the screen yet again. “So,” he breathed, like nothing had happened, “these are the ones we’ve found and tagged. We claim these Guardians to be ‘sleeping’, because it seems that’s what they are doing to themselves: hibernating. As I mentioned before, Nelson is working on a device to capture them… humanely of course. We tagged the ones we’ve discovered with a tracking device to be able to watch and locate them at all times, but that’s about all we’ve accomplished. The ultimate goal being to bring them in peacefully, and remind them of what they are. We’ll need all the help we can get, we are running out of time.” Ominous endings were beginning to become a specialty of his.

    Now Sophie’s head hurt. She groaned, and pressed her palm firmly to her temple. It hadn’t even been a day. She tried to be like a sponge, and absorb detail after detail and store all of it up in her brain for future usage, but at the moment she only felt like an engorged balloon ready to burst at any second. Soon information would just pass through one of her ears and out the other. She leaned her back to a wall and let herself slide to the ground, then crossed her legs and rested her chin on a hand.

    Sophie wondered if Maverick would be suspicious of her lack of comment or current lack of interest, but he seemed to be unbothered.

    “Sorry for having to baby-sit you so much today,” Maverick apologized emotionlessly, back still turned and typing once again on the keyboard. “Finneus had some work to do, won’t be back for another couple of hours.”

    Oh right, I have an uncle… Sophie’s eyes drooped. She didn’t realize how tired she was. Maverick paid her virtually no attention now as he stood focused on the million pixels before him. He can wake me up when it’s time to go then… The elder probably wouldn’t even notice if she fell asleep for a while anyway. Her vision darkened, then her heavy lids closed. She could still see the glowing dots of the Sleeping Guardians through the skin of her eyelids for a few more moments after.

    -x-


    “Sophie?”

    A hand squeezed her shoulder, firm but gentle.

    “Wake up, child.”

    “Ugh,” she groaned. Her vision went from black to blurred. She blinked a few times, collecting a clearer picture of the white haired, worn face before her.

    “You’ve been out for a while.” Maverick looked at her and smiled. But the smile seemed to be stemmed more towards him being pleased with himself than her.

    Sophie started to move lethargically from the ground, then looked down, confused, at the wool blanket draped over her.

    “Supply closet,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards a doorway. “You shiver when you sleep,” Maverick stated as though he had uncovered knowledge she was unaware of.

    “Oh,” Sophie mumbled, yawning and standing up. “Thanks.” She was surprised by the random act of kindness from the man who was still a semi-stranger to her. And to be honest, she wondered why she’d felt so comfortable around him. Sure he was crazy, and normally out of his mind, but for some reason, when she was around the old hoot she felt in an oddly good mood.

    The girl brushed the sleep from her eyes, and rubbed the sore spot on her right cheek that she was sure would be pink from the pressure of the floor.

    “Let’s get going, they are waiting for us.” Maverick held open the door of the exit-way for her as she groggily stumbled through.

    -x-


    At least a dozen faces were looking at her intently. She felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment, and she lowered her gaze to the ground.

    “Hi again, remember me?" a voice emerged from the small crowd. This was some kind of welcome gathering that Maverick had orchestrated; an awkward meet-and-greet that left Sophie feeling more drowned than before. "It’s Brinny, in case you forgot. Maverick said I’m going to be the one to initiate your training, he thinks you’ll learn best from someone your own age.” The other teenager smiled genuinely at Sophie, truly delighted to have the task. Rich brown eyes blinked their expectations.

    “Oh…uh… training? Ok…” she wasn’t sure what this other girl, Brinny, was expecting her to say, because she really didn’t even know what she was talking about. She could only smile half-heartedly and feign interest.

    But, the uncomfortable moment was removed by a young gentleman, who elbowed Brinny playfully out of the way and reached out a hand for Sophie to shake. “Hello, Sophie. I’m Nathan, and this is my brother Nelson.” Sophie politely shook the outstretched hand while looking beside its owner, at the other man with the same dark blonde hair, blue eyes, and lanky build that he did. “Yeah…we’re twins.” The two of them were quite on the thin side, and appeared to be somewhere in their early twenties.

    "Oh, nice to meet you...both," she'd tried to say casually, despite the slight panic that she was now starting to see double. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear.

    “I’m Rodger.” The assembly line continued, this man forcing himself up to meet her. “You saw me and Bob in the arena earlier. Sorry to spook you, Asha just needed to practice releasing her thunderbolts properly in a controlled environment.”

    “Uh…” Sophie started to become lost. “It’s okay…Asha?”

    The thick man chuckled, and tossed his silky black bang out of his eyes. “Aha, no. My name is Rodger… Asha is the Mareep, the Guardian who used the electricity?” he gave her a friendly smile. “It’s alright, you’ll know everyone here before you know it.” He winked and moved on.

    Sophie lost herself in a flurry of handshakes and strange faces. Some were old, some were young, some middle aged, some weak, strong, fat, red-haired, and every other custom feature known to present itself upon the human race... Many of them told her their time ability. Some she found hard to believe, such as Nelson's, who could apparently look at any object and see exactly how it was made. Or his twin brother Nathan's, who could in similarity look at any object, but see where it had been. It confused her at first, how these were time-based abilities, but after a long discussion and some unnecessary details, she saw it made sense after all. Together, they could see what time had done to any item they inspected.

    Sophie was also surprised to find out that a few others here were Stags. Or, people who married into this world or discovered it by other means, and did not possess the alien gene at all. She wished she’d brought a journal to keep notes.

    Maverick sat in a corner, eating a powdered jelly doughnut that dribbled all down his dark shirt. He watched happily as everyone mingled, a sly smile stretching up one side of his face, like a criminal observing his master plan.

    Pizza and cakes and pies that spread all the way down a long fold-out table were picked at as the hours passed. Sophie felt herself become more and more comfortable with these people. Because in reality, that’s all they were: people. People just like her. Also scattered scarcely around the room were a few of the Shapers’ Guardians. One of them looked like a creepily mutated golden rat, and it was helping itself to a piece of pepperoni pizza. Marinara sauce stained its white cheeks while it sat jollily atop the table.

    Others were much less familiar. She spotted a reddish-orange lizard with rubber-like skin and a flaming tail scurrying between people’s legs. And another, small bear-like creature with large innocent eyes and a beige half moon colored onto its brow. They were all so… comfortable with each other, the group. They seemed natural, and at ease, as if this was how the world belonged. The sight was intriguing for her to watch.

    Sophie asked a Shaper by the name of Bob for the time, then. A Shaper whose ability was that he always knew what time it was - without a watch or the sun to tell him.

    A sheen reflected off his mostly bald head as he raised his eyebrows slightly and answered, “10:43. Why?”

    Just wondering where Uncle Finn was…

    But before she verbalized her thought, the door to the room creaked open, and a shaded figure staggered from the darkness beyond.

    As if on cue, it was Finn.

    But something was wrong.

    The light slowly illuminated his face as he crept through the doorway. His eyes were dark and sunken, and he was leaning against the wall for support while he walked. Or rather, limped.

    Sophie’s eyes widened as she saw a moist stain of deep red fluid soaked all the way down the left side of his white button-up shirt. He cringed, holding that side of his waist, and the blood stuck thickly to his fingers before dripping to the floor. He fell, weak, to his knees.

    The room went silent for what felt like a painful eternity. Maverick dropped his doughnut, the powdered sugar and jelly splattering all over the floor, and rushed over toward his wounded comrade faster than the girl had seen him ever move before.

    Sophie was paralyzed; she couldn't move or speak, only watch helplessly at her uncle's body sway back and forth as he tried to hold himself together. The room was a blur. She wasn't sure what everyone else was doing, she wasn't even sure what she herself was doing. But, she did know her heart was beating its anxiety rapidly into her chest.

    “They…they,” Finn wheezed, and collapsed. He was fortunate that Maverick had been there to catch him. His elder held, almost cradled, Finn's brawny torso into the crook of his arm, and had his frail fingers wrapped around the other's jaw.

    "What is it, Finn?," Maverick asked with urgent concern, gently shaking the face in his hand back and forth - an attempt to keep the younger man on this side of reality.

    “They know… about her,” he said faintly from the embrace of Maverick’s arms just before he slipped into unconsciousness.

    The old man turned his head and looked at Sophie from all the way across the room. An undeniable expression of worry and dread resided behind a thin pair of spectacles.

    -x-


    The following week, Sophie found that she was spending most of her time beside Finn’s bed as he recovered. The wound had been grave, but not fatal. Teeth marks sunk deeply into the flesh of his left side; he was missing an entire chunk of skin from it. And while it was more likely to get infected, it couldn't be stitched until it started to heal as the gashes were too wide.

    Finn had told them some of what had happened to him, grudgingly, once Maverick informed him that Sophie was just as much a part of their world now as the rest of the Shapers. But he’d only share the facts about the creature that had attacked him while Sophie was around, and nothing more.

    Finn had sighed, and groaned, clearly hoping the girl would have decided to go home rather than stay.

    “I’m so sorry I brought you here,” Finn had winced, ghostly pale and sweating, the first time he had woken since he’d passed out. “I had no idea. I thought you were just a Stag…I should never have brought you.” After this, he’d faded away again.

    Sophie was left to feel the sting of his words for three days after.

    -x-


    “…and he just set the thing on me. I honestly don’t know how he did it. Not a command, not a sound, just that bloody remote control.” Finn’s voice softly hit her ears as Sophie entered the room at a later date. A room that reminded her a lot of the office of her school nurse. There was a single hospital bed, a desk, and a cabinet full of medical supplies.

    Maverick scratched his chin, pondering whatever information Finn had given him. The white-haired man started to respond, but stopped when he noticed the teenage girl entering the room. He was clearly respecting Finn’s wishes of keeping her in the dark about the whole event.

    This aggravated Sophie far beyond what she openly expressed. She hated feeling like everyone was talking about her behind her back, keeping secrets, telling only parts of the truth… She wasn't a four-year-old, despite being treated like one her entire life.



    The newest recruit spent most of her days studying in the time that passed. She found the Shaper library to be a sanctuary. A place where she could answer her own questions. The room arched up into a globe, similar to that of a cathedral, and spread out throughout the circular area were a number of bookshelves ranging somewhere in the double digits. But unlike the joint with all the ball devices she'd seen on her first day here, these shelves were actually occupied with books.

    There was one book in particular she would read like a bible. It was an encyclopedia filled with every known species of Guardian. It had their names, colorings, height, weight, diets, general personality types, and even included a picture for each. She learned that the descendants of the Timekeeper tended to nickname their closest Guardian friends, in order to treat them more like equals. Even though, a lot of the species names were merely invented by the people who discovered them first. And as she'd already begun to notice, some preferred species name, and others preferred nickname.

    Like Maverick’s Spiritomb, and Asha the Mareep…

    At another reading session, she discovered that the guardians understood human dialect but could not convey it back. Every small seed of intellect she gained about them, she planted in the garden of her brain. If she was going to be helpful, if she was going to even know what everyone was talking about half the time, she needed to become one of them. The easiest way she found to achieve this was to simply read until she could read no longer. She felt the world unfolding before her, and found the creatures were feeling less and less like aliens and more … familiar as time went on.

    A good portion of her spare hours, though, were spent training with Brinny. At first, she had no idea what she was going to be training for and assumed the other girl was just trying to politely tell her she was out of shape. But then, after the first five minutes of her ‘lesson’, she felt stupid for not understanding in the first place. Why hadn’t Maverick told her? She needed training to learn how to use her powers.

    Powers…heh. Move over, Nightcrawler! …lame.

    But then, she actually started practicing... and found that comics didn't portray the true frustrations of being a super mutant.

    “Gah! I can’t do it!” Sophie flung up her arms in frustration after another fruitless hour of teachings. Finn had been recovering for three weeks now.

    “You can, Sophie. You’re just trying too hard,” Brinny rested a hand on her hip, and pulled at her dark blue T-Shirt that this time read: Danger: High Voltage. Her brown eyes were lined with thin black make-up, and tips of her black mohawk were dyed pink.

    “And last time you told me I wasn’t trying hard enough.” Sophie now rested her elbows on her knees from her place at the table in the workshop, and looked up helplessly at the punk girl standing over her.

    “Because you weren’t. Look, Soph, you need to find yourself a happy medium. Concentrate, but don’t concentrate so hard that you give yourself a headache?”

    Sophie was due for another eye-roll. The lamps in the room glowed bright enough to irritate them. She could see the flecks of light reflecting off all of the dust particles around them, and it made her nose tingle just from knowing they were in the air.

    “Just try one more time,” Brinny pushed the book they were using closer to her on the desk. It accented her heavily-painted black fingernails. “Remember what I said: it’s like pulling saran wrap off your brain, you gotta find just the right spot.”

    “Fine,” Sophie huffed. Then, burrowed her eyes into the book before her. A fan was blowing the dust debris all around the room, she felt like it was tunneling up her nostrils. She sneezed. “Ugh, this is hopeless… I’m never going to learn how to do it on my own.”

    Sophie slumped and turned the page of the nursery rhyme book to the next, revealing a picture of a baby blue elephant that read: Blue is a color I’ve loved for years, and it looks best upon my ears.

    Silence.

    “Well, here’s another page I didn’t See.” Sophie sighed, giving up.

    “Huh?” Brinny asked, arms crossed, and stared intently at her student.

    Sophie sneezed.

    When she opened her eyes, they fell upon the children’s book again. But, the page wasn’t turned to the baby elephant, it was still on the monkey from the page before.

    “Uh…” Sophie turned a bewildered glance to Brinny, realizing what happened. “I think there’s an elephant on the next page…”

    Brinny’s eyes widened, and her hand darted to the book. “That’s right!” she exclaimed after flipping the page to see for herself. “You did it Sophie, you did it!” She flung her arms around the other teenager in excited glee.

    Sophie stood up, laughing along with her and awkwardly patting Brinny’s back. Power of the sneeze?

    “Your mother would be so proud!” Brinny cheered. “She’d have wanted you in our world if she knew you Soph, I know it!”

    Sophie’s arms dropped. “If she knew me?”

    “Yeah, after you were born. If she’d survived the birth-” but Brinny stopped, and a look of complete horror and guilt washed over her porcelain face. “You-you didn’t know?”

    Sophie didn’t answer, her face was emotionless. She turned on her heel and almost ran from the room, leaving Brinny to cry out after her.

    -x-


    “A car crash?! REALLY? That’s what you guys come up with?!” Sophie nearly screamed as she barged through the door of Finn’s recovery room.

    The injured man looked over and attempted to sit up out of concern, but winced at the tearing stitches that were recently sewn in and fell back down into his bed.

    “Why couldn’t you just tell me?! You all have been lying to me my entire life?!” Sophie boiled. Angry mostly at herself for not figuring it out sooner. Her mother wasn’t in any of the baby pictures she’d seen of herself with her father. It should have been obvious.

    “Soph…” Finn pleaded, directing a clear look of pain toward his niece. But she couldn’t tell if it was out of regret or of his wound. “Look... kiddo...”

    “Stop it! Just stop! I’m not a little girl anymore, Uncle Finn! I wish you all would stop acting like I was!” She didn’t wait for him to answer, she didn’t even wait to see his expression change from pain to sorrow. She was heated and she wanted to get away from everyone. It wasn't just her grandparents and Finn, either - all of them knew more about her life than even she did, and she found it enraging.

    She sped through rooms and hallways, the maze was a breeze to her now after the weeks spent inside. She bounded down the final cobblestone passageway at a near sprint and flipped open the trapdoor to the alley. She didn’t realize there were tears welling in her eyes until the cool night wind sent them trickling down her cheeks. This made her fume even more; she hated to cry.

    A freaking car crash... that’s what they told me and I believed it, Sophie’s thoughts whirled. The truth that it was her own birth that had killed her mother sank into her gut like a dagger. She was sure this tantrum was the outcome of all of this stress, but that didn't make her feel any calmer. She power-walked to no destination, hoping the exercise would ease the anger.

    The street of this part of the city was empty, and cold. Sophie sunk her fists into her pockets and pulled her sweater’s hood up over her head. It was unusually quiet as she passed under yet another overhanging light, unnoticing as she was drowning herself in her own self pity. Her emerald eyes stared angrily at her own shadow on the sidewalk, as though even it were mocking her. She kicked at it, and swore, and only when her legs ached of fatigue did she cease.

    Sophie walked on, unaware of the world around her, (the gloomy buildings she passed, the pockets of street-lamp light she walked under one after another...) only of the distinct echo of her footsteps.

    She was caught off guard when the muscled arm reached from the darkness and coiled around her neck. She felt her body lurch backward, hard, against another body much larger than hers. She writhed, and tried to scream, but a second arm was shoving a piece of cloth roughly into her face.

    She remembered the faint sweet scent of chloroform before her world went black.

    -x-
    Last edited by EmBreon; 21st May 2013 at 11:24 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper




    Sophie slammed the fridge door shut, holding up a cup of deflated Jell-O in front of her nose. “Come ooon, I thought we were buds now! I fixed your ice-maker and everything!”

    The refrigerator chuckled, creating a clanking noise of various produce, pop cans and containers from somewhere deep inside its stomach. The machine playfully swung back open a side door and bumped her in the hip.

    The girl sighed, aggravated, but couldn’t hide the slight smirk forming in her rosy lips. The Guardian had warmed up to her recently, once she had forced herself to stop being afraid of it. It took guts, courage, and a lot of nerve to barge into the Shapers’ kitchen and give the appliance a piece of her mind.

    After the fact, she’d discovered Rotom was in the mindset of a bratty toddler. It was used to getting whatever it wanted, and always having its way, so it settled for no less. This mindset would often lead to the treating of people like inferiors, because to it, that is all they were; it was all it had known them for. Only when someone asserts themselves as a superior, does obedience follow. It all comes down to respect.

    Sophie had pointed an accusing finger directly between the snotty eyes of the refrigerator. She furrowed her eyebrows, swept her chestnut hair business-like out of her eyes, and stood her ground as she let the fridge have it. “Listen, you-you… heartless piece of poo. I have done nothing to deserve this attitude of yours. I can’t set foot in this hellhole without you flinging ice cubes at me, leaking fluid onto the floor so I slip and fall, or shocking me with your stupid plug thing! So KNOCK IT OFF.” Sophie’s eyes narrowed and she shook her finger more aggressively at the machine. “I had to purchase these,” she held out a foot completely enclosed by a rubber shoe, “so I could walk in here without becoming your personal shish kabob. And I got this,” she held up a silver fork with her other hand, “to show you that I mean business.”

    At this, Rotom’s eyes widened. A look of utter terror swept over his metal face.

    “That’s right! And I’m not afraid to use it!” Sophie waved the eating utensil in front of the Guardian’s face. “One shove into the power outlet and KABLAMMY. No power-source for Rotom. No shocking, no freezing, no nothing! You’d just have to sit there and watch everything... quietly.” She lowered the fork and her assertive finger simultaneously.

    Rotom shook what was probably his head and waved his energy arms in front of his face as if to say 'No! No no no. Please, no!' A sincere apology crept from his eyes, and his worry seemed to elevate.

    “All right… you be nice to me, I be nice to you. Kapeesh?” her gaze was unmoving.

    The fridge nodded briskly and held out an electric hand.

    Reluctant at first, Sophie shook it. She let go after one solid, deal-making thrust, and was surprised to find herself unscathed. Not even a little spark transferred from the machine to her vulnerable skin. Surprised, she looked up at the guardian and gave him a heartwarming grin.

    The feeling was mutual.



    Bright light… it burned. The smell of rubbing alcohol and sterilized equipment… A masked figure wearing rubber gloves…



    “This is called the trigger.” Nelson took the sharp metal object in his dirty hand and tapped the circular button on the black orb.

    It popped open, and revealed a hollow compartment within the sphere. The two halves of the circle lie flat against the wooden surface of Nelson’s desk. The inside of the ball seemed to be holographic, and looking into it, it appeared that the compartment was much bigger than what it suggested to be on the outside. Even so, it was hard to believe that an entire Guardian could fit inside the device without breaking the laws of physics. Perhaps they were meant to be broken.

    “See this?” Nelson pointed to a small screen written in what looked like a foreign language, with the same metal utensil. “It’s a code. From their side, of course.” He gestured now to his notebook which sported hundreds of alien numbers and symbols on every page. “When a Guardian enters one of these,” he pointed again to the black sphere, “for the first time, its DNA is automatically entered into the device’s internal database. Consider it a permanent fingerprint. Once this happens, no other Guardian can use the capsule but the one that was first imprinted.”

    Nelson took an impossibly small screwdriver and starting twisting it into the ball’s hinges, separating each half from the other entirely. Then, wiping sweaty blonde hair from his brow, he held the bottom half of the ball up for Sophie to see more closely. “See it?” He pointed to the miniature computer screen, layering the bottom of the enclosure. Even dissected like this, it was still generating some kind of turquoise light source.

    “What you see when a Guardian passes into or out of one of these things is its genetic coding. Red is the base color that gets programmed into each orb, but I’ve figured out how to tweak the formula to change that. At the moment though, I’ve only been able to program colors from the red family, such as pink, orange…” Nelson seemed lost in thought for a moment, then continued, “After this, when the device closes once again with the Guardian inside, it sets off a chain reaction of commands. First, it scans the Guardian to ensure the imprint matches. Then, it transforms the creature into millions of microscopic particles, which are transferred from there to its own personal, registered headquarters. It’s a small area of space located on the hard rive, that to the Guardian, feels the size of an entire room.” Nelson turned his blue eyes from the material in his hands to the face of the lost teenager beside him. He grinned, and rephrased, “Think of it as the internet. The Guardian is scanned, then emailed to its own mailbox.”

    “Ahhh,” Sophie said finally, starting to understand. “And what is it called, anyway?” She looked down at another, unopened orb in her hand. This one was blue.

    “We call it a Compass.”



    Eyes slowly blinking open… A white light; a train in a dark tunnel… Stinging… Sharp pain, like a needle… Blackness.



    Apart from the library, the nursery was Sophie’s most favorite place of all. It was a beautiful garden somehow completely underground. Small trees lined the room, producing seeds, nuts, or fruit. Rich, thick ivy crawled along the walls, completely covering whatever material lay behind them. Flowers, vivid with both color and health scattered across the grass carpeting. And, Guardians romped, and slept and played here all throughout the day.

    “See that little bugger?” Brinny leaned against the low gate that acted as the door. She pointed off to the slight side, at a rubbery-orange lizard sticking a clawed finger up its nostril. “He’s mine.” She smiled and gave the creature a look of endearment.

    Her Guardian rolled lazily onto its back, whipping its flaming tail through the air to a voiceless beat. He kicked his stubby feet for a while before falling asleep, a bubble of snot expanding with each of his tiny reptilian breaths.

    There were dozens here. Dozens of Guardians - alien creatures that Sophie had only recently had come to know. She saw a blue turtle, three times the size of its earthly counterpart, a deep black fox, with glowing rings encircling its every extremity, and even an extremely hideous fish that could somehow survive out of water. Its unsaturated blue fins protruded from a body that looked like browned and molded cheese. Even it, though, seemed beautiful to the girl experiencing this world for the first time.

    She watched the creatures play happily with each other, each innocent and full of life. Not a single Guardian here ever showed even the slightest hint of unhappiness. Sophie always felt peace just watching them. Her thoughts would wander, and as the days passed, she felt herself becoming more and more attached.

    “Will I get one?” Sophie asked Brinny one day, when they were both eating their lunch at the nursery. It was becoming some kind of tradition for the two as their friendship grew stronger.

    “When you are ready,” Brinny said absentmindedly, and stared into the garden. “They kind of…choose you.”



    Another pierce of pain… veins flooded with chemicals… Thoughts, not hers… Thoughts….

    “No.” A determined male voice. Raspy, and low-pitched. “No, we need to go deeper…”




    A woman sewed string into Finn’s ravaged skin. He winced at every poke of the needle through his wound. It was apparent that he was making the extra effort to move his mind to a happy place; he refused to show weakness in front of his niece. The nurse gave him an apologetic glance every so often until she finally dropped her needle into a tin can and tied the end of the string. Lasty, she wiped a thin layer of antibiotic ointment over the freshly sewn skin with a clean cloth, gave her regards to her patient, and left the room.

    “C’mere, kiddo.” Finn nodded his head, beckoning the scrawny girl to his bedside. “It looks worse than it is, I swear.” He read her worried look plain as day.

    “Uncle Finn…” Sophie’s troubles came in multiples. There was never a single thing upsetting her. “Why won’t you guys tell me what’s going on? Am I not…did I do something wrong?” She wrung her hands.

    Finn’s eyes softened, and he sat (or attempted to sit) up. His complexion was still pale as a ghost, but at least he didn’t look like a man living inside of a corpse anymore. “Of course not, Soph…there’s just,” he sighed, struggling for words, and looked up at the ceiling. “There are a lot of things you don’t understand, not yet. Knowledge is dangerous. You… we are just trying to keep you safe. Someday you will understand everything.”

    It was the promise from an adult to a child. A promise of growing up. A promise of the future. A promise wrapped around a truth that was simply that she wasn’t ready or trusted for what there was to say.

    Sophie let herself slip into the seat of the cushioned mahogany chair beside Finn’s bed. She blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes and pouted into her hand. Ever since she had come here and learned of the world in which Finn belonged, she felt like the two of them were being split further and further apart. Who knew that being close to your family was actually what could tear you away?

    Finn always seemed to know her innermost feelings. He reached a weak hand to her head, and ruffled her hair. “You’ll always be my partner-in-crime, kiddo. No matter what.”



    Thin, ivory hands massaging her temples, uncovering her secrets… Memories leaked from the safety of her mind… Love, loss, rage… More poking… more prodding… more pain.

    “We still aren’t deep enough! Do your job, or rot with the others!”




    The city stretched across the earth. Or so it seemed. The buildings were endless, the skyscrapers many. The streets were an entire world of their own.

    Each day, she went for a walk outside of the Shaper base. With Finn injured and forced to stay in its infirmary, it was strongly suggested that she stay there as well. (In other words, she was told to). Often Brinny, or another Shaper would accompany her whenever she went out to get fresh air. They would say it was out of willingness, but Sophie had a hunch they were instructed to keep an eye on her now that the Shifters apparently knew of her presence. What this meant for her, she had no clue - Finn was still being stubborn about it and unhelpfully silent. But, she shrugged it off and pretended that she was just an abnormally fun person to be around.

    She was still learning the city, but her inner-map was finally starting to function. Today she was alone. Sophie walked casually down the smooth sidewalk, kicking the occasional piece of trash that emerged in her path. She turned right onto Thirteenth avenue, a place where even criminals would avoid. Dumpster after dumpster sent a vomit-inducing reek into the air. The girl was becoming immune to the toxin, however.

    She was here, finally. The place she’d been looking so hard for. Why was she trying so hard to find it though? She’d practically been living here over the previous weeks; it's location had become second nature. Why was this time so important?

    Her shoe scraped the litter around the trapdoor away, and she bent down to lift the handle.

    But then she stopped.

    What was she doing here? Sophie couldn’t even remember how she got to this place, or what she had been doing beforehand.


    Wires suction-cupped to her face… An omnipresent force instructing her like a marionette…

    “She’s realizing it’s not real, sir. We should abort. We will damage her.”

    “No. Just hurry up!”



    Something was telling her, urging her to open the door. She felt it was of dire importance. She wanted to obey. She felt her fingers wrap around the latch’s handle.

    And she felt how wrong it all was. She looked up around her. She saw there were no details in her surroundings. No bricks, windows, clouds…only masses of blurry color. She felt it. She could feel the dream. Feel it slipping away to somewhere beyond, almost as though it were being eaten…

    -x-


    Black.

    In the distance, there was the sound of a heart monitor blaring with a frenzy of beeps. A few scattered voices shouted in rage, frustration, and worry.

    THUMP

    A body (was it hers?) pulsed with electricity. The force of it aimed into the center of the heart.

    THUMP

    Pain. It was hers. She was being resuscitated. She could see it now. But why could she see it from above? There was her body, spread out on the operation table. A small creature with flowing white robes was being dragged away. She barely caught its depart from the corner of her eye as she gazed down upon the three men in the room. One typing rhythmically on a computer, the second fiddling with a series of medical tools, and the third was pressing a defibrillator into her chest.

    “Clear!”

    THUMP

    Her body jolted. She felt herself swirl down and down until she was once again inside of it. She felt her heart beat to life, the monitor in the back corner reflecting its normalcy.

    So much pain. But most of it resided in her head.

    She blinked.

    A man was dressed as a doctor. A white overcoat hung over his shoulder and graying hair was sleeked behind his ears. He stuck his beard-covered face directly in front of hers. A flashlight secured on his headband shown directly into her eyes.

    “What’s your name?” the man said with no emotion, as if questioning an android.

    She squinted. “S-Sophie…” she rasped. Her throat was painfully dry. “Wh-Where am I?”

    The assumed doctor ignored her question. “She’s still there,” he spoke to the man on the computer, who only nodded with his back still turned and typed even faster into the keyboard.

    Sophie tried to turn her head. She tried to look around and see where she was, but her body was so stiff. And even if it weren’t, she felt her arms and legs bound to the table with leather wraps.

    She panicked. Her heart was almost beating out of her chest.

    “G-get me out of here! Who are you?!” she yelled pathetically, her dry voice nowhere near the pitch of a yell.

    The doctor stood up, and was now out of her vision. But, at least his ridiculous lighted headband wasn’t burning her corneas anymore.

    She was seeing spots from the now sudden lack of light. Her eyes darted around, but all she could see was what lie directly in front of her. Some rolling cabinets covered in metal instruments, the man at his computer, and the wall.

    Sophie heard footsteps, the sound of boots on cement. Then the swish of a long coat. The third man was beside her now, she could feel him and see his shadow. Fingers wrapped around her jaw, and forced her face to turn with them. Her neck seared with pain; the muscles did not want to turn that way. They wanted to do exactly as they were told and stay frozen. But her gaze followed where her head turned and her eyes fell upon a skeletal face and a wry grin.

    “Hello, Sophie.” Horse teeth appeared in the malicious smile. The man stroked his greasy blonde hair. “Do you remember me? We met at the museum, do you remember?” Beady black eyes stared at her.

    Her memory ached and tried to recompose itself. She wracked her brain, but it was as though someone had set off a small bomb inside of it and the dust was still settling. Her current state of anxiety was not helping it clear.

    “My name is Byron, do you remember? You are a very special girl, do you know that?” His head tilted awkwardly to the side, as seemingly double-jointed as an owl’s.

    A bony finger stroked her cheek, and she furrowed her eyebrows. Hatred was bubbling up inside of her, a feeling that shouldn’t have developed, not yet.

    Yes, she remembered him.

    -x-



    An emaciated rodent traveled across the cracked and worn cement, searching for a sign of life, or better yet, food. Its whiskers twitched and its claws scratched at the surface earnestly. The darkness was no hindrance to the rat, as it took one old hole in the moss-covered wall to another. The inhabitants of this once abandoned building had long been asleep. Surely they left some unfinished crumbs behind…

    Another hole-pathway led to the room with the prisoner inside. The three jail cells stood side by side, with a sole occupant in the center one. Her head drooped, and her breathing was light. The rat scurried up to an empty plate lying just behind the barrier of iron bars. Not one crumb. It moved on with an annoyed squeak, its footsteps clattering after it.

    “H-hello?” the prisoner’s faint voice echoed from the depths of her cell. The darkness blinded her. She could barely see her hand, even when she held it right in front of her eyes. “Is anyone there?”

    Silence.

    Sophie couldn’t remember anything. One moment she was having a freak-out session on the sidewalks of the city, and the next she was locked in some kind of dungeon with really cold and uncomfortable floors. Her head was also pounding so loud, she could almost hear it reverberating off the walls. At least, she assumed walls were out there somewhere; she only guessed, since her vision was practically blind.

    A door cracked open to the right somewhere, and a beam of light poured in. She raised her forearm in front of her eyes to shield some of it from her screaming pupils, and noticed two figures coming in. One was a man in a lab coat that she did not recognize, and the other… was a wolf.

    A wolf? In the city?

    But, it wasn’t a wolf at all. It was grey-ish like one, and it had the general body shape of one, but it was significantly larger and had a strange two-layered coat that would probably be considered some kind of genetic defect of the species had it been seen by any scientist of the study. Deep black fur spread all the way down its back to the tip of its tail, and everywhere else was tinted a silvery-grey. They wouldn’t see what Sophie saw though, she knew she was looking at a Guardian.

    The creature appeared to be a companion of the man in the lab coat at first, but as they passed her cell - which she could now see clearly thanks to the stream of light from the room outside of this one pouring in - she noticed the man was holding some kind of taser to its throat and pushing it along. The wolf glanced at her as they passed, its bright yellow eyes gleaming through the half darkness, but was immediately punished by a snap of electricity, then promptly kicked into the cell beside hers.

    “And you,” the man said, turning to face the only other human in the room. “I wouldn’t try any funny business. Not that’d it would be effective, since they’ve dosed you with a solution that blocks any powers you may have." He accented the word as though it were something disgusting. "But I don’t want you injuring yourself, we aren’t through testing you yet.” He then quickly moved towards the exit, but not without slightly tripping over a loose cobblestone in the floor and then trying to cover it up with a flurry of his coat, then he slammed the door shut behind him.

    Darkness again.

    At least now she had somewhat of an idea where she was.

    Infamous lair of the Shifters, of course. How they heck did they even find me… and what is this guy doing here, she thought, thinking of the poor creature next to her.

    The room had three cells, and now only one was empty. There was only one way in or out, and it was through the door that she just watched shut the outside from her with a depressing thud. Nothing else was worth thinking about, not the slimy moss-covered walls, or even the cobweb-invested corners. Anxiety was emerging, but it wasn’t because of her surroundings, it was the people beyond them - on the other side of the door. What did they want with her?

    She'd learned so little about these people in the few weeks she'd spent officially as a Shaper. Sophie wished she had pursued the topic much more than she had, now that she was rotting away in their dungeon. It probably wouldn't have made a difference, though. Finn was determined to keep her out of it. Maybe this was why, but it didn't stop them from kidnapping her. She brushed her noise, feeling slightly violated while she remembered the cloth-full of chemicals that had been smashed into it.

    It seemed hours passed without a noise. She sometimes forgot there was another prisoner beside her; it required concentration to even hear it breathing. She wished it could answer her questions, or even speak at all. Company would have been welcome. But how do you start a conversation with a Guardian who could want nothing more than to snack on your jugular?

    The door opened again. There seemed to be less light leaking through this time. Or perhaps, less electrical light. Was it daytime? Another man walked in, this one definitely different from before. Same vague and shadowed middle-aged features, but this one wore no lab coat and was certainly shorter. She remained silent as he scurried to Sophie’s cell, and slid a plate in the small gap between the front bars and the floor, then left with out a word. She wasn't going to humor these people.

    Sophie was pretty sure there was some kind of food on it, but she obviously would rather starve to death than eat this strange rubbish. At least, she thought it was obvious.

    She slid the plate from her cell through the lower gap again of the bars that separated hers and the Guardian’s after feeling around in the darkness for it.

    At least someone should benefit.

    Time passed. How much of it exactly, she didn’t know. Nothing happened aside from that door opening and closing after long whiles, and someone bringing her a plate of food, then her dumping it to the wolf beside her. She saved a piece of stale bread or two for herself when she could hardly stand the hunger anymore. It was almost spite keeping her from eating - that they refused to give the Guardian any food at all, while apparently trying to fatten her up.

    Every once in a while, she could hear the animal whimper, or chew on whatever she dumped over there. The sounds of any life at all gave her comfort and kept her mind from falling into panic. She was comfortable being alone, but not like this. The wolf was keeping her sanity in check more than it knew.

    The door opened again, and this time two men walked through. One of them she recognized, it was Lab Coat Man.

    “I’ll take her, you need to move that one. It should have regenerated enough by now,” he said to the other man. He unlocked Sophie’s cell, and quickly grabbed her harshly by the arm.

    “Where are you taking him?” Sophie asked in a demanding tone of voice, surprised by herself. A more logical question would have been, ‘Where are you taking me?’

    “None of your business. Get moving,” Lab Coat Man ordered without even looking at her.

    Sophie was practically pushed through the infamous door she saw open and close so many times. And beyond it was…. Nothing. Just an empty room with a window and some lamps. It was just as decayed as the one she'd just left. She was then led through a hallway, and some more random rooms, and started to realize she was in some kind of abandoned building that these people were apparently squatting in. If she had to guess, she’d say it was an old jailhouse, or more likely, an old asylum.

    Suddenly, they stopped in front of a door with a glass window properly placed for looking in.

    “Wait here,” the man said, nodding to some guards that Sophie hadn’t even realized were in the room, then went inside.

    ‘Wait here?’, Really? She frustratingly folded her arms and glared at the men behind her, who were blocking off whatever exit she could apparently escape through. She turned back to the windowed-door, and stood on her tip-toes to peer inside.

    And she did a double-take. It looked like a hospital room. Except, instead of a bunch of sick people hooked up to IVs, there were Guardians- at least a dozen of them. She recognized a few of the breeds, including the tiny blue one with the giant head that ate a blue whale’s weight in food before it was full. There was an orange lizard similar to Brinny’s, just far more pale. In fact, all of them looked pale.

    It was then she noticed that they weren’t getting any medicine, they were getting their blood drawn - a ridiculous amount of blood. Enough blood to kill a human, had the same amount been drawn from one as they what appeared to be taking from the Guardians. Some kind of nurse was going around collecting the bags as they filled, then replacing them with new ones.

    There was a very strange looking Guardian that collapsed then. It had pink rubbery skin and a curled tail, but the really strange thing was that it had such an unnecessarily large tongue that it didn’t even fit in its face, it just hung out onto the floor.

    The nurse looked questioningly at a man crouched on small stool, who was no-doubtedly injecting himself with the blood they just harvested.

    What the bloody hell…

    He’d fastened a rubber band around his skeletal bicep, tapped a vein, and pierced it with a crimson liquid-filled syringe. When he was done, he acknowledged the nurse only by heaving a finger to the corner of the room, where a stack of small kennel crates lie.

    She scurried to that pink Guardian then, and dragged it into one of the kennels by its under arms. Then, continued about as if nothing had happened.

    Lab Coat Man, who had been waiting to the side for these few moments, finally addressed the hooligan who had just stuck himself with a needle of Guardian blood. He seemed to start a conversation by pointing to the door that Sophie currently stood behind, which caused the thin man to look in her direction.

    She couldn’t help the reflex to gasp and turn away. Even if she wasn’t doing anything wrong, what she saw was certainly very, very wrong.

    The door burst open beside her.

    “Well well well!” the hooligan spoke excitedly. “If it isn’t miss Sophie!” His smile was eerie, and the teeth it revealed were so large that she thought they may reach out and smack her in the face.

    She recognized him from somewhere, she was sure of it.

    “Aw, you don’t remember me?” He seemed genuinely hurt by it.

    “You were at the museum… you knew my Uncle…”

    “Ah yes! Good ‘ole Finny-boy! How is he? I heard he had a nasty accident.” Byron gave an exaggerated pout.

    Sophie glared.

    “That’s ok! You don’t have to share. We have more important things to do. Come, come!” he grabbed her hand and pulled her through the door she was just outside of, and into the room.

    It felt even gloomier than it looked inside of it as he pulled her along. There was the smell of rubber gloves and depression - if the feeling had a scent.

    “What are you doing with all of this blood….” she couldn’t help ask.

    “What am I- What am I doing with it?" Byron pondered this as if questioning the question itself. "Dear girl, how old do I look?”

    “What?”

    “If you had to guess, how old would you say that I am?”

    “Um..”

    “Mid-twenties, perhaps? That would be a good guess, but I am actually 94.”

    Sophie looked at him, even more confused.

    “And that,” he gestured back towards the room full of sick-looking Guardians as the two of them made their way through a passage in the back of it, “is why my body does not reflect it.”

    “What are you saying?”

    “IMMORTALITY!” Byron exclaimed. “We can achieve what they do, if we posses their blood! It unfortunately does not last long, so we must get lots and lots!” he clapped his hands together with excitement.

    She wasn’t sure if she believed him, but she wasn’t sure of anything these days if she was being totally honest with herself. Her ruby red slippers still hadn’t arrived, and there was no sign of Oz.

    “But what about them? It looks like half of them are about to pass out, let alone live while being sucked dry.” Sophie was nauseous.

    “Ah, yes… that is an… unfortunate expense.”

    ..Expense? Sophie felt the urge to punch this guy in the face. This kind of cruelty was appalling, but she wasn't in the position to do anything about it. She didn't know what Byron was truly capable of, and he was clearly insane.

    They were in the back room of the so-appearing infirmary now. It looked like an emergency room where one might go to have surgery done, with the wide table, fancy tools, and technology. And it seemed so familiar.

    The look of déjà vu on her face must have been obvious, because Byron said, “Having trouble remembering? Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen this time.” Then he winked at her.

    When she said nothing, he motioned for her to have a seat on the table; and for the simple reason of fear, she obeyed. Byron looked at her curiously. He twisted his head and squinted his beady eyes. “Why is it,” Byron stroked an appalling finger down the side of her cheek, “That you can bend time when you are stagnant?”

    Still quiet, Sophie could only sneer at his pasty skin and skeletal face as it examined her.

    Yet another man came through a different entrance than the one they just emerged from, followed by some kind of white troll. It appeared to be the size of an infant, but could walk on its own. The Guardian, for Sophie once again had no doubt that that is what it was, seemed to be wearing a white pantsuit and a green dome covered half of its head.

    “This is our wonderful friend, Ralts,” Byron stated, gesturing toward the creature. “We’re gonna see if we can find what we couldn’t get to last time.” He nodded.

    “Last time?”

    But her eyes went cloudy. Ralts was floating mid-air before her in an instant and pressing soft ivory hands into her temples. She was sent far away from the room she was actually in. A flurry of memories swept by, and she could do nothing but watch them go. It felt like something was blocking her off from herself, and trapping her in an invisible bubble.

    Sophie could feel the dream-like memories slipping away to somewhere that wasn’t back into her mind. She tried to resist, but there was no tread in the giant invisible bubble. She watched as Finn spoke of her family, as Maverick told her she was a Shaper, as she first learned of the Guardians…

    Stop it… stop

    There was the taxi, the first time to the base, the arena, the library, all of the people she had began to call friends… A dark tunnel swirled around her, guiding her to one destination. She was in the alleyway again, the one covered with litter and trash. She noticed this time however that the waste was not actual garbage. Random objects were scattered everywhere: an old blanket that very vaguely reminded her of one she dragged around as a child, a pink tricycle with sparkly streamers and a gimp wheel that seemed to be an exact replica of her first bike, a stained book that she remembered having read to her every night before bed... This alley seemed like a dump for all of her old memories.

    Her body strode forward against her will, towards that trap door that led to the Shapers' base. She had this intense feeling that what lie inside of it here, however, held an answer to an ominous question. A question, perhaps, that was not meant to be answered. Not yet. But she couldn't will herself to stop. Her limbs swung forward, her arms reached down to the latch, her fingers wrapped around the handle...

    “ENOUGH!” she yelled. Didn’t she? Was that throaty scream really coming from her tiny lungs?

    A heavy pulse of blue energy crashed through the room from the origin of her voice. The Ralts, was sent flying back against the wall, along with its Shifter comrades - its tap to her mind severed. The cart that held the small utensils flipped over in the wave, sending everything crashing loudly against the ceramic tiled floor. The two bodies of the Shifters and the little Ralts lie unconscious on the floor when the azure aura faded.

    Disoriented, Sophie looked around for any sign of the source of the blue energy. Had it really come from her? She didn’t formulate a plan, she didn’t really think at all, but she did leap from the table and run out of the room.

    On the other side of the door were all the Guardians. She stopped suddenly. They were all looking at her, albeit, weak and pale gazes, but they seemed expectant somehow. As if they knew something she didn’t. The nurse was nowhere to be found, and without thinking, Sophie raced around to all the tables and started pulling out IVs, untying restraints, and breaking buckles. Soon, the majority of them were freed and were scampering off to what Sophie hoped was safety.

    She then rest her eyes upon the final few still trapped. There was the strange-looking pink one with the long tongue still trapped in its kennel, and a lump of dull brown fur beside that crate which Sophie didn’t need to examine to confirm that whatever it had been had already passed on. And chained nearby to the wall…

    “Hey…” Sophie said softly, approaching the giant grey wolf. “When did you get here?” She kicked at the bolt connecting the chain around the Guardian to the wall, then realized it would probably be more effective to remove the collar it was attached to instead.

    Everything was made of metal, even the buckle. She shook it frustrated, forgetting the animal could be potentially dangerous, and threw her face in her hands. “I don’t know how to get this off. And I don’t even know how to get out of here even if I did… I don’t know jack.” The creature promptly perked its ears and tilted its head at her curiously. She felt like crying suddenly, this must stress couldn’t be healthy.

    “Who’s in there?! What’s going on?!” voices and hurried footsteps could be heard from the hall. Sophie wished she had ran when she had the chance.

    Three large men entered the twisted infirmary, all looking like night club bouncers with their tight black shirts and large pectorals that were bigger than even Sophie’s. The nurse she had seen earlier was cowering behind them, trying to angle herself to have a better view between the gaps in their towering tree-trunk bodies.

    The wolf started to growl.

    “You!” One of the bouncers yelled to the Guardian, his bald head reflecting light like a mirror. “Go round up the others.” He walked over, reached down, and snapped off the collar with a flip of his hand. Then, stuck the dog’s pelt with a taser that he must have gotten off of his belt. The creature yelped at the electricity frying its skin.

    The other two men were herding Sophie into a corner. She backed away slowly, eyes darting for any openings she could run through - there were none. The claustrophobic panic of having no escape began to set in, but it was interrupted by the other guard hollering in pain. The wolf had him by the arm and was sinking its teeth deeper with the man's every writhe.

    “JACK. RELEASE HIM AT ONCE,” one of the guards spoke, enraged. Both of Sophie’s pursuers turned away, distracted, and went to assist their colleague, whose arm was gradually turning into ground beef.

    She wanted to run the minute the opening came, but…

    Idoit, idiot, idiot… She regretted the decision before she ever made it.

    Sophie lunged at one of the men, grabbing him around the neck from behind with some kind of piggy-back maneuver, just as he was reaching to unclip his own taser from his belt. She was a chipmunk picking a fight with a rhinoceros, and resorted to gauging into his eye sockets with her fingers as he flailed about.

    “AAAGH! You little bitch!” He slammed his back into the closest wall, causing her to crumple and fall to the ground. She was certain she heard a crack somewhere in her ribcage when the guy squashed her between the two rock-hard surfaces. He immediately whirled around to face her body, winded and dazed on the ground, and shoved his taser into her shoulder.

    It felt like getting stabbed by a thousand nails simultaneously. Her eyes watered and she screamed.

    “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” It was Byron’s voice. He stumbled from the operation room, wincing and holding his head. “What is the matter with you?! Why would you use that on her, you will damage her memories!”

    “I- sorry, Sir.” The body guard lowered his weapon.

    Sophie kicked him in the shin.

    With a groan, she leapt up and whirled around to face the newest addition to the chaos, holding a hand in front of her as if that was somehow intimidating.

    “How- what did you do? You were given the serum, you can’t access your powers….” Byron seemed to be talking more to himself than her. He also kept blinking hysterically as though he could hardly see where he was.

    The wolf, whom Sophie assumed now was named Jack, was making quick work of his two-on-one scenario. The first victim was cowering on the ground, clutching his chewed up arm like it was about to fall off. And the second, had a large gash in his leg that was starting to seep blood into his jeans. He held out his taser warningly, but his eyes were wide, and he was clearly debating whether or not he should run away.

    Sophie grabbed a syringe off a counter a flung it at the guard, where it managed to lodge itself into the back of his neck. He screeched.

    It was all the distraction Jack needed. He tackled him to the ground and ripped into the side of his face.

    “Just run!” Sophie screamed at him. Byron was somehow on his knees now, still clutching his skull, even though he hadn’t been involved in the mauling. He must not have really recovered from the strange blue blast of energy that had first rendered him unconscious, even though he was now awake.

    Jack looked up at her at the sound of her voice, and started sprinting in her direction. Sophie was sure she was next in line for his attack.

    Oh crap.

    She had a moment to wince before she realized the wolf ran right past her and out the door. Then he stopped, as soon as he realized she wasn’t following. He tilted his huge head to the side again, questioning her as if to say ‘Aren’t you coming?’.

    Relieved, she smiled briefly at the animal. But first, she made a few quick strides to the kennel with the pink, tongue-y Guardian inside of it. Sophie pinched open the gate of it, and pulled the creature out. Its body was chubby and it clumsily tried to assist her efforts, but it seemed extremely dazed. She took it by the hand and drug it along after her as it waddled laboriously to keep up.

    Sophie ran after the wolf who was still waiting anxiously in the hallway. Nothing else crossed her mind other than escaping from this building. Distant voices were yelling as the girl and the two Guardians sprinted through several hallways and up a flight of stairs. She’d have never managed to find her way through the building without that wolf leading the way.

    The three of them were making quick work of the grungy hallways. The chaos that followed a dozen Guardians rampaging throughout the building was enough to provide a significantly effective distraction. They were only stopped once, by two more men. But, at least these looked average. No towering height, or buldging muscles - just two medium built guys with shaggy brown hair and casual clothing.

    Jack did something really weird to them, and he didn’t even stop running to do it. Everything in the area turned dim, and darkness was sucked into a tiny ball of energy forming inside of his mouth. It looked like he was collecting shadows… With a howl, he sent the orb flying towards the duo, and it knocked them back as easily as a pair of dominoes. He didn’t even pause to glance at the wreckage, he just leapt over them and continued his escape.

    Sophie was beginning to have a hard time keeping up. They had only been running for mere minutes, but it felt like someone was stabbing her lungs with every left stride. The fat pink creature now seemed in better shape than she was. She no longer guided its wobbly steps with her hand, it was running all on its own. She pushed herself now as hard as she could, and luckily, Jack smashed through a wooden paneled door that had been recently nailed over.

    Stars. They were outside. A crisp wind bit at her sweaty cheeks as it passed. She was so dizzy. She stumbled forward a few steps, trying to slow herself down after such fast running, but she was too fatigued and ended up collapsing onto the grass. Pure, un-cut grass. She wanted to fall asleep so badly.

    The chubby pink Guardian didn't wait for her to get back up, it continued jogging off into the night, dragging its massive tongue behind it.

    The distant voices were getting louder. Sophie knew she hadn’t escaped yet, but she couldn’t find the strength to pick herself back up. Hot breath touched the back of her neck, and she felt jaws grip the back of her shirt. Claws tread into the hard soil, and Jack drug Sophie’s exhausted body behind some brush and into a ditch behind a small thicket of trees. That’s all she could see of it at least.

    The voices were really loud now, as she lie uselessly in fetal position. She pressed into her side to dull the pain screaming from it. The voices were shouting to each other, and splitting up. But, suddenly, everything went quiet. Completely quiet. Not even the wind blew. She felt an ever so faint vibration coming form Jack, who was now crouched beside her, watching whatever was happening between the trees. It almost felt as if they were beneath a force field.

    She didn’t think about it at all, however. Because the moment she felt the slightest bit of safety, her body did not allow her to stay awake any longer.


    -x-



    The sunlight burned through her eyelids, when dawn broke. They were so accustomed to darkness that the world seemed too bright. Sophie startled awake. She rose to her feet and looked around.

    There was the building she’d just escaped from. It looked even older on the outside than it did on the inside. Windows were shattered or boarded up; bricks were worn and crumbled with age. And in fact, the look of abandonment was so thorough, it almost seemed staged. Not a person was in sight, and she’d never believe anyone was inside had she not just been there herself.

    She was standing about fifty yards from the very back of the building, and from there she could see only inches of the road it fell on. Whatever city this was, this must be the most ghetto part of it, because as she raised her hand to her brow to increase her line of vision, she noticed that this wasn’t the only building that looked like it hadn’t been inhabited for a good thirty years.

    A noise behind her made Sophie jump. She turned and saw Jack scratching behind his ear with his hind leg, and sitting in nearly the same exact spot as she remembered.

    “Still here, are you?” the thankful teenager asked. “Do you need help getting home?”

    The wolf seemed to sigh, the strands of his fur rising and falling with the depressed breath. He glanced towards the prison to which they just escaped from.

    Oh…

    Sophie knelt down, and hesitant for a moment, gave him a stroke on the head.

    Do they find being pet to be condescending? she wondered. But, the dog subtly pushed his head even farther into her hand.

    It took a few minutes to decide which direction to go, but Sophie wound up wading through the rest of the weedy brush behind the Shifter base and emerged on the other side of the block, with Jack loping behind her. This end didn’t look too well-off economically either, but at least the run-down houses on this end looked like they were lived in.

    They walked the sidewalk for a good quarter hour before finally spotting a taxi car cruising by. Sophie excitedly threw up her hand to get the driver’s attention. And instantly regretted it. The familiar pain seared down her side, and she buckled over.

    Luckily, the driver had spotted her regardless. He stopped and rolled down the rear window. “Are you alright, miss? Did you need a cab?”

    “Yes….” she groaned, slowly walking forward.

    “Wait,” the driver said, his face hidden beneath the canopy of the car’s hub. “It costs extra for pets.” He stared at Jack, who was waiting patiently beside her.

    “Ok. Whatever…” and she climbed inside, the canine following behind her.

    After she managed to pull the door shut, the driver asked, “So where are we headed?”

    Good question.

    “Er, where are we exactly?”

    The driver arched an eyebrow, and Sophie couldn’t blame him. She also just noticed what she looked like in the rear-view mirror. She had a massive bruise along her left cheek bone and her hair looked like it had been electrocuted. Then she remembered that it actually had.

    What the heck am I wearing?

    Some kind of white scrub shirt that was a size too big for her found itself on her torso, and she didn’t remember putting on these jean shorts that she was sure weren’t even in her wardrobe…

    “Staten Island.” The driver looked back toward the road ahead of him, his bronze skin catching bits of light as trees passed by overhead.

    Sophie gave him directions to Finn’s house, then changed them to Maverick’s shop, then changed them again to the end of Thirteenth street, where the entrance to the Shaper base lie. She knew she probably sounded like she belonged in a hospital, but she didn’t care. All she could think about was getting somewhere familiar.

    “So what kind of dog is that?” her latino driver asked, probably trying to force a conversation through the silence he may have deemed to be uncomfortable.

    “A Chihuahua."

    The man chuckled under his breath, then turned around for a brief glance at the animal. “Looks like a poodle to me," he said in a tone that was completely serious.

    Sophie turned to Jack, and mouthed ‘Really? A poodle?’, with an amused grin. She was sure her companion rolled his wolfy eyes. Did normal people really see a poodle when they looked at Jack? She couldn't help but laugh under breath that this menacing-looking Guardian appeared to be such a fruity breed to the world outside of time-bending.

    That’s when a newspaper left on the seat beside her caught her attention. At the very top of it, read: Monday, July 28th.

    I have been there for 13 days… It was almost double what she had originally been under the impression of.

    It took all of an hour to drive to the end of a certain alley way, where Sophie, followed by Jack, promptly jumped from the vehicle after promising to return with pay. She reveled in the familiar preposterous scent of puke and molded milk festering in a porta-John as she made her way to the trap door.

    Jack seemed to gallop after her as she scurried from one room to the other in the underground labyrinth.

    Where is everyone?

    Finally she made it to the recovery room she had last seen Finn in. Surely he would be there…

    And he was. The moment she entered, he spun around, expressing a dozen undecipherable emotions and immediately smothered her with a giant bear hug.

    “Ow…” she squeaked.

    “Are you okay?” he gave a look of deep concern, but didn’t wait for her to respond. “Where have you been? We have been looking everywhere for you! We thought you were-” it was then Finn noticed the giant wolf in the room.

    “That’s-” Sophie started to say.

    But Finn wasn’t listening. Rage glazed his eyes, and in a moment he flipped his pocket knife and was a half second from plunging it in the Guardian’s charcoal hide.

    “STOP.” Sophie threw herself in front of him. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

    “That thing is what attacked me!” Finn spat, his face red as a ripe tomato. “What on earth is it doing here?!” Flustered, he tried to shove his niece out of the way.

    “That thing saved my life!”

    Finn stopped abruptly, and suddenly, very calmly, asked, “What..?”

    “I think you should sit down,” Sophie suggested. Just now realizing how impressive it was that Finn was even walking. She could see the pattern of bandages pressing through his shirt, and slight fatigue betraying him in his eyes.

    For some reason, he obliged, and Sophie proceeded to tell him everything she remembered from the moment she saw him last.




    Finn said nothing for the entire time that Sophie relived her experience with Shifters, and most of the time, he didn’t even look at her. He folded his hands over his knees, slouching, and stared blankly at the floor. He did furrow his eyebrows when she told him about getting smashed into a wall and shocked by the taser-like weapon, then interrupted her entirely when she told him about not being able to hide without Jack’s help.

    “Wait, you are injured?” Finn asked, almost angrily.

    “I… I’m not sure,” she said, a bit confused after stopping her previous train of thought.

    “Let me see,” her uncle told her while he nodded once in her direction.

    Reluctantly, Sophie lifted her shirt just over the left half of her ribs. It was entirely black and blue, and there was a disturbing bulge where a rib should have been flat. It looked worse than she’d thought.

    Finn’s eyes widened, and he stood abruptly. “I’m getting the nurse.” And he left.

    While he was gone, Sophie watched Jack sleep. He was curled up like a kitten right beside her chair. Now that the adrenaline was beginning to wear off, she noticed that his grey and black fur was all matted and there were clumps of dried blood in various places, which made her wonder if it was his or if it was from one of the men he attacked. She hoped he wasn’t injured as well.

    A few minutes later, Sophie heard familiar sounds drawing near. Most notably was Finn’s, and the other were the strange ramblings of Maverick.

    “Ah, there she is,” Maverick sighed with relief, and held her face in his hands. He tilted it left a right, inspecting it, then mumbled some more incoherence under his breath.

    Sophie looked to Finn, puzzled.

    “He’s been watching the future for you.”

    Finn didn’t need to explain, Sophie understood how difficult it was for Maverick to access his abilities, and even then, they were almost impossible to organize. It was a wonder that Maverick hadn’t gone completely insane.

    The nurse, Mary, entered then. She wasn’t really a nurse, everyone just called her that because she was the only person in the base with any medical knowledge. She was actually just the wife of a Shaper named Charlie, and she dropped out of medical school when the two of them married and moved to New York.

    “Alright, let’s see what we have here.” Mary crouched beside Sophie and examined her abdomen. “Well, you’ve definitely broken a rib, possibly two, but I don’t think it’s any more serious than that. I’d suggest not doing too much for a few weeks. This looks pretty nasty.” She discussed some more details for a few minutes, before resetting the obvious broken bone. The pain for that split second of it getting re-placed was intense enough that Sophie tried not to remember it ever again.

    “What about Jack?” Sophie asked.

    “Who?” Then the nurse saw the dog lying beside them on the floor, who was now awake and watching the group intently. “Ah, well look what we have here! I’ve only seen one of these once before, and it was in Colorado.” She kneeled beside Jack, and stroked him admiringly along his spine.

    “What is he?” the young girl wondered aloud, holding her newly bandaged ribcage gently.

    “Well,” the nurse answered, examining the wolf’s bones with her hands while checking for lesions. “From what I have read, he is a Mightyena. Very loyal Guardians; they bond strongly and to usually only one companion - ever.” She held his massive head in both of her palms, and spread open his eyelids. “Well, he’s perfectly healthy. Whatever injuries he may have had are all healed up by now. Could probably use some food though…and a bath. Don’tcha, handsome?” she concluded happily, then ruffled his fur. Mary put her hands on her hips as if to ask 'anything else?', and when Finn simply thanked her, she left.

    “So what are we going to do?” Sophie asked a few moments later to the two men in the room.

    We aren’t going to do anything,” Finn responded. “You are going to go get some rest while we,” he pointed to himself and Maverick, “figure out what this means.”

    Sophie was annoyed, as usual, but this time she couldn’t argue. She was ridiculously tired, after all. “Fine…” was all she managed to reply.

    “Hey, where are your glasses?” Finn asked, just now noticing that Sophie wasn’t wearing any.

    Sophie felt her face. “I- I don’t know.” She hadn’t even realized they were missing, her vision was perfectly clear.

    “Hm,” Maverick looked puzzled as well. “When’s the last time you remember having them?”

    Sophie couldn’t quite remember this either. She realized they were probably gone the entire time she was being held captive. “I think the last time I was here actually…”

    “You can see clearly without them right now, can’t you.” Maverick seemed like he knew something she didn’t.

    “I’ve never heard of anyone regaining impaired senses when the gene activated,” Finn commented to Maverick.

    “We’ve never heard of a Stag Shaper either, have we now?” the old man puffed.

    "I told you some giant blue force thingy kaboom-ed out of me, and you guys are worried about my glasses?" Sophie narrowed an eyebrow.

    Finn didn‘t say anything, he only shrugged and looked at the eldest of the three curiously. “We need to go get word out to the others that you are safe,” he said back to Sophie after a minute. “Almost everyone has been out trying to find you. This-er…Jack… should follow us as well, they have food in the nursery.” And with that, Finn, Maverick and Jack started to leave too.

    "Wait," Sophie asked as Maverick, and then Jack had scampered through the door. "Uncle Finn, can I talk to you for one more minute?" Finn nodded at Maverick to go ahead without him, letting the old man escort Jack to the nursery by himself.

    Finn turned in the doorway, and headed a few more steps back towards his niece. "Sup, Soph?"

    "I have just been wondering something...about my father." She warily pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "He didn't die in a car crash either, did he..."

    "Ah," Finn said sympathetically with a small sigh, then moved to sit back down in a nearby chair. "No... he didn't"

    This information didn't surprise her. "Would you tell me what happened?"

    "I suppose it's unfair to you to continue to keep you in the dark, isn't it," Finn voiced in the tone of a statement. He nervously rubbed his forehead. "Abram...he was murdered. Only a few years after you were born."

    Sophie couldn't say anything even if she had the words pieced together inside of her mind. Murdered?

    "He was a stubborn, and iron-willed man. Your mother's death...it really shook him up, Soph. He had a hard time being around you even though he loved you more than anything in the world..." Finn trailed off, and stared into empty space for a moment. "He became obsessed with the Timekeeper. He researched and researched and scoured every source known on the planet and some that even we didn't even know about then... he thought if he found Him, he could convince Him to take him back in time to save her. But there was no saving her, Soph... it was no one's fault. It was just...life. No amount of reasoning could convince your father of that, though. Abram worked himself to the bone despite everything."

    Sophie sat herself down on a chair next to Finn's, and still said nothing. Blood seemed to drain from his face because it was becoming increasingly pale as he relived the memory.

    "The Shifters..." Finn said through gritted teeth. "They became aware of his mad obsession, and somehow came to the assumption that he knew where the Timekeeper was - in retrospect, I suppose now we know why they were so intrigued. They tried to get him to spill, and when he wouldn't, they killed him...Fucking weasel Byron distracted him while that leader of theirs aged him a hundred years..."

    "Byron?" Sophie blurted out in shock and rage. She had been inches away from the lunatic less than a day ago. Nausea plummeted into her stomach at the thought of that bastard cowering on the perverted excuse for an infirmary's floor. Oh how she wished she could go back in time, herself, and give him a hefty kick in the grown.

    Finn shared more about her father's past with Sophie before the day ended. She had never seen him so heated before; what happened those dozen years ago really affected him, and Sophie was empathetic to the fact that he lost his sister and his best friend over the course of a few years. The reasoning of it also made her feel guilty.

    Something about knowing the truth finally, however, gave the young girl peace. She'd believed their stories before, but the vagueness and inconsistencies of them always felt wrong and off. She wished more than anything that she had her parents here to guide her, and show her the ways of this new world she'd been exposed to, but at least in knowing the truth, it gave her drive and determination to make them proud.


    -x-


    Sophie healed relatively quickly. It was only a week before she could lift her arms above her head again, and in two, she felt almost unhindered entirely.

    It was a nice feeling finding out how much everyone was worried about her, but it made her feel guilty at the same time. Almost every person she had ever met since the time she'd found out she was a Shaper had come to visit her at least once during her recovery. Including Brinny, it was unusual of her if she didn’t stop by at least once every day.

    “So I hear you have your own Guardian now. Nice going, Champ!” Brinny had said the moment she’d entered Sophie’s room for the first time.

    Sophie almost choked on her Ramen noodles. “What?”

    “That Mightyena, who looks awfully out of place in the nursery. They say he’s yours.” Brinny had a huge grin on her face. “You know what this means? We can spar now!”

    “Spar? What- he’s not ‘mine’. He was just… a prisoner too. He helped me get out.”

    “Oh no, he is most definitely yours,” Brinny responded a soft giggle. “They’re having a hard time keeping them in there, he keeps breaking out trying to get to your room.”

    Sophie pondered this for a minute.

    “Though, in all honesty,” Brinny continued. “I think he thinks you are his, heh. Never seen one so attached, and definitely not this soon.”

    “I still don’t see how that- I thought I had to do some kind of dual with one before that could happen,” Sophie puzzled.

    “Guess he doesn’t care. So how are ya feeling?” Brinny sat at the foot of Sophie’s bed.

    “Ok…I guess.”

    “Well, finish your food, and hurry up with this getting-better thing. I’m bored out of my mind and could use a study buddy.”

    “Hah, well alright.”

    The girl patted Sophie’s shin once and got up to leave.

    “Brinny?”

    “Yeah?” she answered, turning around.

    “Thanks…”

    Brinny only smiled, then turned back to the hallway and disappeared into it.


    After a few days, Finn agreed to let them allow Jack into Sophie’s room while she healed. Half because he decided the wolf was not a real threat after all, and half because some of the caretakers were threatening to kick him out of the nursery because he was being so difficult. Sophie explained multiple times that the Shifters were controlling Jack with a shock collar, but she understood Finn’s hostility. After all, Sophie had witnessed how dangerous Jack could really be. She wondered why she wasn’t nervous around him herself, but for some reason, whenever Jack was nearby, she felt completely safe.

    It wasn’t long before Sophie felt well enough to venture the halls again, with the ever-present company of her wolfy companion.

    “Ah, Sophie!” Nelson called to her one day as she passed by his laboratory. “C’mere, I’ve made something for you.”

    The teenager arched an eyebrow and walked in.

    Nelson held a blue orb in his hand. He smirked as he buffed it with a worn rag and held it out. “I made this for you.”

    “You made me a Compass?!” Sophie said excitedly, genuinely touched, and took it from him.

    Nelson awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, with a warm smile on his face. “It took me a little a while to get Jack’s coding right, I’ve never made one for a Mightyena before.”

    “It’s beautiful!” The sphere was more blue than Nelson’s eyes, and there was a thick black stripe down the middle. “What do say? Wanna give it a try?” she knelt next to Jack, and held the Compass in front of him.

    At first, Jack only tilted his head to the side while he looked at it, but then he pressed a wet nose on the button and was swept inside in a quick flash of red light.

    “That is so cool,” Sophie remarked. “Do you think he likes it?”

    “Well, he hasn’t come back out yet. That’s a good sign.”

    Almost as if he just wanted to spite Nelson, Jack reappeared from the ball in a cherry flash, wagging his tail and almost grinning.

    “Haha, well, I guess he likes it out with you more.” Nelson gave the wolf-dog a happy pat on the head. “Welp, I’m off to lunch.”

    “Thanks again!” Sophie called after him, and watched him flick a wave with his hand as he rounded the corner of the doorway.


    Later that week, Sophie started practicing with her powers again. Whatever the Shifters had done to block them from her had long worn off, and she could actually feel them inside of her now that she knew what it felt like to be without them. When she concentrated hard enough, she almost felt like they were bubbling up inside her - like swallowed carbonated soda.

    She’d also finally gotten the hang of that ‘happy medium’ thing that Brinny had been harping her about: the state of mind where you are thinking about everything and nothing at the same. She often wondered if she would have ever found it at all, if she hadn’t found it on accident the first time that she saw the future on purpose.

    “Ace of hearts, two of clubs, Queen of spades, and eight of clubs,” Sophie said positively, and watched Brinny flip over the four face-down cards on the table between them.

    “Aaaand right again,” Brinny confirmed after the last card was revealed, unsurprised. “Seems you don’t even have to try anymore with these.”

    “It still takes a bit of effort.” Sophie smirked at her lie; Brinny was right.

    “Have you tried chaining yet?” Finn’s question startled the both of them. Neither had realized he’d even entered the kitchen where they sat doing these Sight drills.

    “You think she’s ready for that?” Brinny questioned, sticking her tongue out at Sophie.

    “Chaining?” Sophie asked, ignoring the friendly jibe. “You mean like, watch the future while watching the future?” She remembered Finn telling her about how he was able to slow time for a few moments while he was already slowing it, allowing him to extend how long he could keep the power going at once.

    “Yeah, I think you might be able to pull it off. That is, as long as you realize you are seeing the future at the time you are watching it.” Finn picked up the deck of cards. “How far do you go, Soph?”

    “I’m not exactly sure…I think it is around seven seconds.”

    “Okay. When you feel you are at the end of the vision, around the fifth or sixth second, try going in again. You will feel resistance, because its not a natural-given ability. Chaining is forcing your mind to expand what it already knows, and the longer you chain, the harder it becomes to hold.” Finn started flippin cards onto the table.

    Realizing what he was doing, Sophie pulled the plastic wrap off her brain and watched. He was now five cards in. Six. Seven. Eight. And now he was back at the beginning again. No chain. She tried a few more times, but before she knew it, Finn had finished flipping the cards. There was nothing to watch anymore.

    “It’s too short.” Sophie shook her head, defeated. “By the time I realize what I am seeing, and attempt to go farther, I am already back to the present.”

    “Well, I am sure it will take practice.” Finn gave her a reassuring smile. “Gives you something else to work on at least, now that these little games provide no stimulation anymore, eh?” Her uncle gave her a push on the shoulder.

    “I suppose.” Sophie grinned and sighed simultaneously.

    “Aww, come on! Really Rotom?!” Finn had opened the burnt-orange tinted refrigerator and held a soggy sandwich in his hand. The freezer portion appeared to be leaking water directly onto the area that his lunch was resting.

    The machine seemed to chuckle, then drooped as though feigning remorse.

    “Why don’t you ever mess up Sophie’s food?!” Finn questioned, half teasingly, before angrily shutting Rotom’s door and stomping out of the room.

    Sophie gave a wink of approval to the mechanical Guardian.


    -x-



    Now that he was allowed to roam around with Sophie almost whenever he pleased, Jack was beginning to enjoy himself whenever he was in the nursery. It was a strange experience for the wolf at first, and if Sophie admitted it, he did look exceptionally out of place. Most of the Guardians who resided there were the small sort. A little electric lamb, small lizards and rabbit-looking creatures, a lot of rodent-classed animals had they been native to our world, and even something that looked as though it were crafted from pink wood. Then there was Jack: a giant wolf-dog that stood almost three feet tall at the shoulders, with a scruffy dark coat and menacing eyes. He appeared as though any of the creatures in the nursery would be a daily part of his balanced diet.

    But, something interesting about Guardians was that appearances mattered so little; it was almost as though they didn't even possess the ability to judge. All of the animals started growing attached to Jack, and portrayed nothing to suggest that he looked any different from them at all.

    Sophie once spotted a Teddiursa (a tiny brown bear-like Guardian with a crescent moon shaped into its brow) perched upon Jack’s shoulders when he thought no one was watching. He promptly nudged the cub off his back with his muzzle, letting it fall with a thump to the soft grass of the nursery floor once he saw his human companion looking.

    The teenager laughed at the human-like personality of an obnoxious older brother, and called in to him. “Would you like to try out this training-thing with Brinny, you bully?”

    The wolf strode over to the girl with wide, flowing steps and leapt over the half-door at the nursery’s entrance. He was the only one in there able to perform the feat, or his bad example would have caused a lot of trouble for the caretakers.

    The pair of them made their way down the passageways to the arena right inside the entrance of the base. She’d passed through here many times before, but she hadn’t actually used it. The lights were so bright, they almost hurt her eyes, and the reflection of them off of the polished wood didn’t help much. But, at least the vision of the area they provided was almost flawless.

    Brinny sat on a bench beside the court waiting, and stood the moment she saw them enter. Her short black hair was swept to the side today, looking much calmer than it usually did.

    A sleek reptile stood clutched to her shin. It couldn’t be more than a foot tall, and its flaming tail waved back and forth with anticipation.

    “How about we take a bit to let your guy show us what he can do, huh?” Brinny suggested. She moved herself out of the way and nodded at Jack to concede.

    Jack sauntered to the middle of the arena, and stopped at the center. He tilted his head at Sophie. She was beginning to understand his head-tilts as if they were words.

    “Go ahead,” she said.

    The first thing Jack showed them was something Sophie had already seen before. The wolf narrowed his eyes and let his jaw hang agape, where a deep violet orb began growing inside. The lights of the room flickered and dimmed slightly, until suddenly, the orb went flying at the wall behind them where it burst.

    “I’ve seen this before…” Brinny commented, slightly surprised. “Maverick’s Spiritomb can perfom this as well. It’s called a Shadow Ball. It’s supposed to be pretty powerful.”

    “He used this when we were escaping from... it seemed much stronger then.” Sophie gave a fragmented remark.

    “Probably because it was,” Brinny said. “It absorbs shadows and darkness as energy. And as you can see, there is not much of that in here.”

    For the next few minutes, Jack displayed an assortment of dashes, lunges, tackles, and jumps that were far from the physics of this realm. Towards the end, he let out a howl so loud, Sophie could have sworn that even the walls were shaking. And lastly, he produced a wave of dark energy that turned the entire room black for a moment. They would come to discover that this was referred to as a Dark Pulse.

    “I never knew something like him could create these abilities. I had always assumed only the more ghostly paranormal types could pull them off, but there’s no arguing with proof. I suppose I should be spending more time in the library, huh?” Brinny elbowed Sophie playfully in the ribs. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” she added, realizing what she had just done.

    “Ah, hah, don’t worry about it. It doesn’t hurt at all anymore; I’m perfectly fine,” Sophie reassured her.

    “Well how about we spar a bit,” the darker haired girl stated, rather than asked.

    The two of them went to opposite sides of the arena with each of their other-worldly companions, and before Sophie had even processed a thought, a great blast of fire came barreling toward them.

    “Charmander! Let’s start off with a Flamethrower, girl!” Brinny had yelled.

    The cyclone of flames spiraled from the lizard‘s mouth. The room went hot and the red and orange hues lapped angrily. Jack seemed just as caught off guard as his partner was, because he took the entire force of the inferno to the face.

    Sophie’s heart dropped. Heat at that intensity would sear the skin right off his body. To her surprise, however, once the blast had ceased and the embers had settled, Jack was…perfectly intact. His fur was not singed and he stood as though the flames were only a mild disturbance.

    How…

    “Their abilities don’t physically harm one another,” Brinny called from across the way, as if reading her mind. “At least, no more than a mild punch would. They more or less sap each other’s energy until one of the two cannot continue.”

    For a while, the two Guardians traded blows - the Charmander spitting fire and the Mightyena using darkness. Then, the fight turned physical, and a series of scratches, bites, and tackles were thrown around.

    Sophie had originally thought the idea unfair, considering Brinny’s Charmander looked so quiet and harmless compared to Jack’s intimidating figure. But there the reptile was, digging her claws into her opponent’s hide and sending scalding hot breath into the wolf’s eyes. With a yelp, Jack somehow managed to twist his head far enough around to wrap his fangs around the Charmander’s tail, and launch her into the air. The smaller creature dropped with an unsatisfying clunk, and shook her head. Then, she sprung herself back at her dark nemesis with more motivation than before.

    The pair of them wrestled for what seemed like a long while before, exhausted, they eventually stopped picking themselves off of the wooden floor. Sophie only smiled at the heavy satisfied breaths they took, that must have been the other-world's version of a dog panting.

    Brinny came back over to Sophie’s side of the arena, looking pleased with herself. “I think they enjoyed that, yeah?”

    “Looks that way,” Sophie remarked as she gazed at the ruffled fur of Jack and the sweaty skin of Charmander lying side by side. The active scene she had been watching earlier was now reduced to the synchronized snoring of two very worn out Guardians.

    -x-


    "Ohhhh, no. No. No. NO."

    Sophie was in the nursery playing with Jack and some of the other Guardians when she heard Finn's voice coming from down the hallway. She quickly made her way around the door to see what was happening outside.

    Maverick was standing against the wall, clearly laughing, but hiding it with his hand. And Finn was... desperately trying to escape from a large pink, dumpy creature that was waddling after him with open arms.

    "What is this thing?! Why are you standing there watching?! Get it off of me, Mav!" Finn juked the thing with an impressive spin, and the motion forced it to trip over its own tongue - which hung out of its mouth and all the way down to the floor.

    Maverick laughed a little bit louder. "It's a Lickitung, and I think it likes you, boy."

    "A what? Where the heck did it even come from? It followed me down here when I came back from the apartment...UGH!" In the time it took him to say those first few sentences, the Lickitung had gotten up and happily wiped its large tongue all the way up the side of Finn's body. A thick coat of slobber was left behind in its place.

    Sophie couldn't help but laugh at this, herself. She made her way toward them, and said "I think...I think he is one of the Guardians that I set free when Jack and I broke out of the Shifters' place. It sure does look him."

    "YOU." Finn breathed at his niece, spinning wildly around to face her. Then, he looked at the Lickitung again. "See? She saved you. Go to her! Gooo. Go on." He tried to shoo the thing away like a baby, but it only answered him by wrapping its stubby arms around his leg. Finn tried to shake it off.

    Agitated at this rude response to the kind gesture, the Lickitung reached its tongue upwards and slapped Finn in the face with it. Drool goo-ed into his auburn hair, and made it slop awkwardly to the side.

    "Why you little..." Finn started, but then tackled the rosy Guardian to the cobble-stoned ground of the hallway. The two bodies rolled around for a while, wrestling and trying to get each other in a headlock. Until finally, Finn got the best of it, and finished the odd battle by sitting on its face. Maverick and Sophie cracked up the entire time. "Oh, you think this is funny, do you?" Finn glared at the both of them.

    "Kinda, yeah," Sophie giggled.

    Lickitung rolled himself out from underneath Finn's behind, and promptly gave the man a giant hug.

    "I think you just proved yourself worthy of its servitude, you dolt," Maverick spoke after a raspy chuckle as well. "Looks like you got yourself a Guardian."

    Finn looked down at the fat creature disgustingly, none too happy about his new-found companionship.

    -x-


    Two days later, Sophie was minding her own business by drawing graffiti on the entranceway walls. The stone passageway was just too welcoming for her chalk murals. She turned slimy dirt-covered stones into puffed clouds and then gouges and cracks along the bottom into a shallow river. She’d tried many times to create replications of the Guardians she had come to know along the walls, but her skills couldn’t turn that giant red blob into a dragon, nor could it make that black and grey disaster into Jack. So she kept herself to linear and inanimate objects while she swirled away at the stone.

    “Ah, there you are.” Maverick’s footsteps echoed on the walls.

    Sophie spun to face him, and quickly hid her hand that was grasping a piece of chalk behind her back. “Uh.. Hello!”

    “Oh please, Soph,” Finn rounded the corner as well behind the older Shaper. “You think we assumed these sketches just magically appeared? No one cares if you chalk them.”

    “Oh.” Sophie dropped her half-used purple piece into the box she had on the ground beside her. “Well, what’s up then?” she asked next, dusting the powder off of her hands, then awkwardly scratched behind her ear.

    “This is probably better discussed somewhere….not here,” Maverick answered, then walked away. Finn shrugged and followed him.

    Later, the three of them found themselves walking through the entrance of the library. Little was said apart from common casualties during the minute or so it took to get there. Clean stone walls arched into a dome, and a giant mahogany rug covered the majority of the floor.

    Finn stopped when he reach the first isle of books, and leaned against the thick wooden case. “So we’ve been trying to decide what our next course of action is,” he said, folding his broad arms over his chest.

    Maverick said nothing, but continued walking. He soon disappeared behind the fifth row of shelves.

    “And?” Sophie asked. She stopped herself at the place where Finn was.

    “Well, we’ve known about the Shifters using Guardian blood to prolong their life for some time now, and we think we’ve figured-”

    “Wait, you knew? Why haven’t you done anything?!” Sophie argued, cutting her uncle off.

    “Does it look like we’ve been sitting around eating doughnuts?” Finn responded, mildly annoyed. “Look around you, every day we are training, studying - we have a group scouring the city for their base of operations every day. Every time we find them, they move. It’s like they know we are coming.” Finn rubbed his face with a hand.

    “So what have you figured, then?” Sophie tried to move the topic to his original train of though. She felt a bit bratty for questioning him.

    “We think we’ve figured out what they are actually after.” Finn stopped leaning on the bookshelf and walked over to a small, square table near the entrance of the library then sat atop it. “See, Guardian blood only slows aging. By a massive amount, sure, but it doesn’t stop it altogether. They also have to constantly re-inject themselves with it because it wears off in less than 24 hours.”

    “And how do you know this?” Sophie said, then regretted it immediately. She hoped she didn’t sound accusatory.

    “We figured it out about twenty years ago. The Shifters hadn’t looked any different for decades. I’m honestly ashamed it took us as long to realize this as it had.” Finn stopped for a moment, appearing dazed, then continued. “But as I was saying, Maverick and I have come to the conclusion that they are after true immortality. And there is only one creature in this world that is truly immortal.”

    “The Timekeeper…” Sophie whispered.

    “Precisely.” Maverick had returned and plopped a thick leather book onto the table between them. “We need to find him before they do. At his weakened state, I’m not sure he could defend himself from an army of rabid Shifters and their mind-controlled pets.” The old man began to flip frantically through the pages of the book he had retrieved from the depths of the library.

    “And how do you expect we do that?” Sophie inquired. “Hasn’t nobody seen him in like a seven hundred years?”

    “No human has,” Finn added.

    The teenager put two and two together relatively quickly. “You think a Guardian will know?”

    “Not any Guardian. Most of them are mere descendants themselves, They were born on this earth just as you and I were. The Sleeping ones, however, they have been here since the beginning.” Finn stated.

    Sophie remembered Maverick showing her the room tracking these so-called Sleeping Guardians. She remembered they weren’t really sleeping at all, they had just forgotten what they were.

    The sound of ruffling pages stopped, and Maverick pushed the open book to the side of the table where Sophie stood. She peered down at it, and upon the marked page was a small inscription and a picture of a flute-like instrument.

    “A Pohkay Flute. An instrument invented by the late Darius Weaver. It is said to have musical properties so vivid, that it can awaken any Guardian within ear shot. Whether sleeping, or trapped outside of their own memories, the music made from this apparatus can return the mind of a Guardian to its pure, awakened state.”

    “You want to wake one of the Sleepers up with one of these?" she asked rhetorically. "Wait, I’ve seen this before…” Sophie commented, trying to jog her memory. The image was so familiar, even though it was sketched. The picture looked just like an average flute, but the music keys stuck out a little oddly. And the mouthpiece, instead of being a small slit at the head of it, more resembled a trumpet’s. It was a tiny protrusion that required pursed lips to get wind inside.

    Finn smirked a bit, and said, “You have. There is one on display in the Museum of Natural History.”

    “Okay… So what do I have to do with all of this?” Sophie asked bluntly.

    “Well,” Maverick snapped the book shut and placed it in the crook of his arm. “We need you to help us steal it.”



    The night of the theft came five days later. Sophie couldn’t help but feel giddy about being part of an actual heist. She annoyed everyone with James Bond quotes and puns the entire time they were suiting up.

    “Do we get guns too?” Sophie asked, pulling on a pair black spandex leggings.

    “Why- what the heck would we need guns for?” Finn bopped her on the back of the head. Then he stretched his hands into a pair of black leather gloves.

    “You are one strange kid.” Nelson shook his head at her. He gave her a coy grin while adjusting his watch.

    Maverick and Brinny, along with a couple of other Shapers - including Nelson’s twin brother Nathan - were bent over a table discussing the blueprints of the museum. They had devised a pretty convenient route through the museum, but were still working out some loose ends. Finn, Nelson, and Sophie, however, were the only three actually going on the mission.

    “Here, take these.” Finn handed Sophie a pair of plain black sunglasses. Nelson had already put a similar pair on.

    “Seriously? You realize it’s night time out there, right?” She looked at the glasses questioningly.

    “Precisely,” Nelson said. “Flashlights will draw too much attention.”

    Sophie, still confused, put the sunglasses on and realized that they weren’t sunglasses at all. They were low-profile night vision goggles with a heat-detection function. It was something you’d see in the military or the CIA.

    “Holy….how the-” she stammered.

    Finn laughed. “Yet another creation by our boy Nelson here.” He smiled and gave the man a single friendly pat on the shoulder.

    The three of them were about ready to go by then; all were dressed in black, with rubber boots and a utility belt.

    Maverick came over and gave Finn a few more notes on the blueprint they had been going over, then said, “Welp, if you need me, I’ll be taking a nap. So don’t need me.” The old man casually removed himself from the room before anyone had the chance to respond.

    A few more goodbye's and good luck's were given before the trio of Finn, Nelson, and Sophie left as well, but their destination was in the opposite direction.

    -x-


    Three bodies crouched high above the tall stone building on 79th street. The words ’Truth’, ’Knowledge’, and ’Vision’ were etched into the surface above the arched entranceway. There was little hustle and bustle coming from the streets. At three o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday, most of the city’s residents had already retired for the evening. Dark clouds shrouded the night sky above, blocking the stars’ view of the earth below. The only light that could be seen was the faint glow of the moon behind a thick layer of overcast.

    A light-haired man with faint freckles across his nose and warm skin crouched over a skylight on the roof. He felt along its seams and over the small glass frame.

    “Alarm won’t go off if you unhinge it, it’s only set to alert if the glass is broken.” Nelson stood, wiping his hands on his ebony cargo pants.

    “Alright, that’s easy then.” Finn took his turn crouching beside the window now, and worked at the hinge with a pair of pliers and a lock pick.

    “So do you get visions or anything, when you see how the things are made?” Sophie asked Nelson. She never fully understood how Nelson’s ability worked; it was so unlike everyone else’s in the fact that he didn’t manipulate time at all. He simply saw what happened when an object was built. He could see the components it took to create it.

    “I don’t really see anything,” Nelson responded and shoved his hands in his pockets. “I just touch it, and I kind of just… know.”

    “There we are!” Finn flipped the window latch and swung it open. Then he attached a grappling hook to the edge and dropped an armful of rope into the new opening.

    “Nathan sees images though,” Nelson finished, speaking of his twin brother who could, similarly, see wherever an item had been. “He always says it’s like watching a short film of the item’s ‘life’.” The young man attached a hook from his utility belt to the rope, and plunged through the window only a moment after the answer. Sophie could hear the soft hum of the zip line as he traveled quietly to the museum floor below.

    “You next, kiddo.” Finn gave her a soft nudge in the middle of her back.

    Sophie followed suit, and repeated the same few steps that Nelson had just done. When she felt properly latched, she looked to her uncle for reassurance.

    “Yep,” Finn nodded behind his pair of agent glasses, and fed some rope out of his hands.

    Sophie sat on the tiny ledge, held her breath, and jumped. She didn’t see much of anything until she felt her feet touch the ground, because the moment she felt herself dropping through the air, she slammed her eyes shut and tried to resist the urge to vomit. The girl had never been too fond of heights.

    The flooring was so smooth when she landed that she almost tripped and fell. The granite flooring was so thick with gloss, it must have just recently been waxed. She managed to steady herself and unclip the hook from her belt in a single motion, then she looked around to see Nelson was a few feet away from her. He was scanning the corridor ahead and checking the alarm systems.

    “Alright, let’s go,” Finn’s voice came from beside her suddenly. She hadn’t even realized he’d starting slipping down the line; he seemed to have appeared down beside her only a second after she’d arrived. “I have powers too, remember?” her uncle smiled at her confused face, then led the way from the prehistoric display they had all been standing in.

    Something about these bone statues and scene recreations seemed off to Sophie now. She hadn’t ever thought about it before, but looking at the fake carcass of a wooly mammoth fending off a group of Neanderthals made her feel like something was missing. Even the giant sculpture of fossilized bones that supposedly belonged to a dinosaur appeared inaccurate. Everything felt…staged.

    “Looks different know, huh?” Finn asked as the three of them quietly passed by. “We all got that feeling once.”

    The teenager was only half listening. She felt slightly entranced by these displays. They rounded a corner into a hallway, then found themselves passing through the section of the museum dedicated to American history. Roped off in the front corner was wreckage of a 1940's aircraft that had been pieced back together; Sophie was nearly certain it had fought against the attack on Pearl Harbor. Large ship models hung from the ceiling, and an enormous copper statue of George Washington rested in the room's center.

    “Quick!” Sophie pushed Finn and Nelson behind a large display case of miniature models of airplanes crafted by the Wright brothers. “Security guard patrolling in about six seconds.” The two older men crouched down beside her.

    In moments, a flashlight could be seen darting around the room, followed by a pair of heavy footsteps. There was a soft buzz, and then a “Clear.” Then the footsteps receded and the room went quiet again.

    “Nice watching, Soph.” Nelson stood back up, and gave her a hand.

    They made their way through a couple more sections of the museum before they reached the room they were looking for. Finn grasped the shoulders of the other two and sped them through sections that were monitored by security cameras. And one of the shrines was tripped with a laser alarm, that Nelson was forced to deactivate before they could continue any further.

    Approximately fifteen minutes was all it took for them to reach the mythology portion of the museum from the time they set foot inside the building. The collection of spotlights that hung from the ceiling were much dimmer now than what she had remembered from her tour during the daytime. The familiar paintings depicting ancient Greece still lined the walls, displaying vivid imagery of what was once believed to be true. The strange statues towards the far end of the open exhibit led the pathway to the display case with the unusual flute inside.

    Nelson simply stared at the large glass cabinet, then rested his palms on the top of it. “Cut in from the bottom. The glass is monitored, but not the wood,” he told Finn, referring to the base of the container that all of the objects inside were placed upon.

    “Keep watch, Soph,” Finn noted. Sophie smiled to herself at how this request was such a normal thing to say on a heist, but the double meaning made it abnormal.

    Finn removed a small, silver pocket knife from his belt. At least, Sophie assumed it had been a pocket knife. However, once Finn had bent down, flipped to his back, and pulled himself beneath the cabinet, a faint red glow was tracing a clear circle through the bottom of the display case.

    The knife-disguised laser connected with the beginning of its cut circle with a soft hum. Finn pulled the now loose piece of wood out of the structure, and reached inside.

    “To the left,” Sophie said, watching the hand grope around the other odd devices inside.

    Finn wrapped his fingers around the Pohkay flute and pulled it through the opening. In a flash, he was up and at their sides again. “Grab that book too, kiddo.” Finn pointed towards the old books atop the case as he snapped the flute safely into a pocket of his cargo pants.

    “Which one?”

    “The big one.”

    Sophie recognized it from before, it was the only one she had bother to skim. The girl picked it up with a grunt and severed the elastic band tying it to the table with her own pocket knife. For a moment, she was slightly jealous that she wasn’t actually given a laser as well.

    Oh well, at least I have these cool shades, she thought, smiling behind them with her eyes.

    The three Shapers, with their merchandise in tow, made their way back out of the museum with relative ease. They were aware of all the alarms now, and Finn could just push the two others through the path within a minute or two of actual time. The security in the museum was so minimal, that Sophie wondered how things weren’t stolen more often. She guessed most objects of any value to a common thief were either too large to conveniently remove or too known to be able to sell on the black market. Then again, she was also working with a couple of superhumans - an advantage not available to your common thief.

    Back up the zipline, and out the window, Nelson flipped the window back shut and re-latched the hinge. Apart from the obvious hole in the display case and the missing merchandise, it appeared as though nothing had been disturbed.

    -x-


    It was around five in the morning when Finn, Nelson, and Sophie trudged into the lobby of the Shaper base. It was here that Sophie remembered her first gathering - the long fold-up table was still up that she’d remembered from before. Except, now, only a few Shapers sat at it instead of the crowded mass that resided in this room the night Finn had been attacked.

    “Ah, right on time,” the bald Shaper named Bob spoke when he saw the trio enter. “I can go to bed now. Looks like I’ll only be getting four hours and thirty-seven minutes of sleep tonight,” he commented matter-of-factly. He ran a hand over a pair of groggy eyes, then onto his bald head.

    “Not sure what we’d do without our living alarm-clock,” Finn joked and gave the man a pat on the back. Bob smiled and stumbled out of the room.

    Nelson’s twin brother, Nathan, was also awaiting him at the emptying table of Shapers. The likeness of the two was uncanny. If Nelson had been wearing the same grey T-shirt and blue jeans as Nathan had, Sophie doubted she’d even be able to tell the two apart.

    “Looks like we’ve got a long night ahead of us, brother,” Nelson stated disappointedly, holding up the thick leather book that Sophie had filched from the mythology display herself. She'd given it to him at some point on their way back.

    Nathan stood and took the book into his hands. “Ah…” he sighed. “So we do.”

    The twins, too, walked from the lobby together, speaking in hushed voices.

    After the back-up plan of Shapers had all made their from the area (the group had been significantly large enough that Sophie wondered what could have possibly gone wrong to warrant all of them), all that was left was an excited Brinny and a crazy-looking old man with wild eyes.

    “Is it authentic?” Maverick asked, unenthused.

    “You tell me.” Finn removed the somewhat-small flute from his pocket and handed it to him.

    “Ooooooh. Let me see!” Brinny nearly squealed as she lunged for the instrument.

    “Back off, child!” Maverick spoke with a smile, then slapped her hand away. Brinny began to pout.

    “Does anyone even know how to play it?” Sophie questioned.

    Maverick didn’t respond at first. He ran his fingers along the silver-tinted brass and softly pressed the keys. He held the end of it up to his eye, and peered inside. After a minute, he said “Seems legit.” He then put the mouthpiece up to his lips, and blew.

    The sounds that emerged were not wind hitting brass, not muffled notes nor out of tune blaring like Sophie had anticipated. What she did hear was a harmonious symphony of crisp and pure music. The notes rose and fell as though they had come from the lungs of an angel. Her ears tingled at what sounded like the mixture of a harp and a piccolo, as joy and despair intertwined into what almost sounded like life itself.

    Unrelenting peace filled the entire room before Maverick stopped playing and licked his lips. “Yep, definitely legit,” he noted. The old man plopped the flute back into Finn’s shocked hands and trudged off to his room without another word, leaving three baffled Shapers to wonder what the hell had just happened.

    -x-


    Some days later, while Maverick was scoping his massive monitor for signs of the sleeping guardians, Sophie found herself rummaging through the library - yet again. She sighed heavily with her chin resting in her hand, and flipped the pages of the book she had read so many times before. Guardian after Guardian was depicted in a sketch and a small paragraph.

    “Whatchya got there, kiddo?” Finn asked over her shoulder. Sophie was beginning to get used to his abrupt entrances; she hardly flinched at all this time.

    “Nothing really… none of these books answer any of my questions.” She let her arm drop from her face and onto the thick oak table.

    “What kind of questions?” her uncle inquired innocently.

    Sophie glared. “I don’t know… maybe where the Guardians even come from? Why they are here? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown just as attached as you all have, but I’m just wondering what the big picture is.” She sighed again and ran her hand through a scalp of messy brown hair. She felt the same blind loyalty to the Timekeeper as everyone else did, but she summed it up to the fact that she had part of him coursing through her bloodstream. It didn’t mean she never wondered why.

    “Ah,” Finn answered. “I think we’d all like to know those answers.” He shrugged and walked deeper into the library.

    Sophie rolled her eyes, then rested them back onto the familiar page before her. There was the drawing of Jack, or rather, of a Mightyena. Its eyes were narrow and menacing, and its thick black fur stood on end. Detailed below was a few sentence summary: First discovered in 1917. Often found solo or with one companion. Believed to be a descendent of Zoroak.

    Finn had returned as she finished reading the paragraph another time, and dropped a small book in front of her. “It won’t answer everything, but it is important for you to know.” He said nothing else, and left the library.

    Sophie pulled it closer, examining the worn leather cover and aged latch. It wasn’t a book at all, but rather some kind of diary. She pulled it open easily. The binding was so buttery-soft that the pages were almost falling out. Her eyes flitted across the first page as the story began.



    I saw him appear that day. I was the only one watching as the sky tore and he fell to the earth. His small, elven hands cradled his head and he appeared to be in great pain. He looked around, confused about where he was. His wide, blue eyes blinked. He seemed to be surveying his surroundings.

    Then more came. Twelve more. I counted them as they emerged from the same tear in our sky that he had, one at a time. He spoke to them somehow, though I heard no words or sound emanate from his emerald lips. All of them gathered around him, nodding perhaps, or shaking their heads. Some eyes were wide in worry, others in fear. It appeared as if they were almost…lost.

    One of the more menacing appearing of the invaders looked agitated. It scowled at their leader and snarled. Where its hands should be, were long, silver blades. They went rigid as it appeared to argue.

    But the original was angry too. His delicate wings buzzed as they beat too fast to be visible to my human eye. He appeared in front of the bladed-one’s face before I had even realized he was moving. His black-rimmed eyes pierced into the dim eyes of the other. The blades relaxed, and the more inferior creature of the two looked ashamed, but not before a ripple of clear energy pulsed out of the orignial's body.

    I must have gasped, because as the ripple made its way through the trees and over my body as well, his head turned immediately and he stared right upon me.

    Who are you? A heavy, authoritative thought came bursting into my mind.

    I put a hand to my head, confused. Afraid and irrational, I ran. But, I had barely gone two strides before he appeared right in front of me. I could hear the soft hum of his wings, and see the intensity of his eyes. They seemed to do more than simply see me.

    Who. Are. You? The thought came again, this time louder and more dire.

    “I-I….” I dropped to my knees, and held my head in my hands. The pressure from the extra thoughts that were not my own disorientated me. My vision was getting blurry and I felt I was going blind.

    But the pressure eased, suddenly. He dropped down beside me. He tilted his head and watched me, curiously. Then, placed a child-sized hand on my shoulder.

    Where are we? What is this world? The questions came gentler this time. They were still apprehensive, but soft and understanding.

    I could not comprehend them enough to answer, however.

    His large eyes seemed to droop with disappointment. His hand left my shoulder.

    “Wait!” I reached out to grab it, hoping there was some knowledge I knew of that would help. Oh how I wanted to help, even though I was not sure why. But, the moment my hand touched his, I felt it disappear. Or rather, absorb into my own. I could see his eyes widen as his small, strange body was somehow merging with mine. In a moment, he was gone.

    But he was here, inside of me. I felt his mind grasp at my own, his power pulsing in my muscles, and his essence giving me life. It was almost intoxicating.

    Then, as soon as it had begun, it ended. I felt him tearing away. It must have looked like resurfacing from beneath a wave when he left me. I held my hands up in front of me and watched his pull out of them. His chest appeared from mine... his knees... his legs. He was stretched and contorted, but in an instant he was completely out and his body reverted back to normal.

    He looked at me, eyes still wide, and blinked.

    What are you? a question came flowing through my mind.

    I’m…human, I thought it.

    His head tilted to the side, pondering this. He looked at the others who had followed him to this world, and then back again at me. But whatever he had been thinking, he did not relate it to me. He simply beat his wings again, and lifted from the earth. Then returned to his companions and never looked back.

    I was the only one watching that day. Or so I thought.





    Sophie turned the page to reveal the next; the words began to blur together as she continued to read. The scene around her changed from that of a dusty underground library to the surface of another time as her imagination ran wild. The story unfolded before her eyes…


    ~*~
    Last edited by EmBreon; 21st May 2013 at 11:26 PM.
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  4. #4
    Senile EmBreon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper



    16th century BC, Greece


    What was that? a jade, humanoid creature asked, sharpening his swords upon themselves.

    Yeah, what just happened? Where did you go? The tiniest of the group was bouncing up and down, trying to see the Timekeeper between the gaps of the others.

    Relax, maggot, a deep brown owl jibed, then stretched out a wing for the fuzzy white worm the climb aboard.

    Celebi sighed, puzzled, and wiped a hand over his eyes. I didn’t go anywhere…

    Yeah huh! We saw you! You disappeared, you were gone!

    Calm down, Larvesta, or I’m dropping you. The owl ruffled its thick feathers in attempt to signify his threat.

    Celebi hovered down to the bed of grass below, and dropped to his feet. I…became him.

    You what? A large, electric bird spoke for the first time. He was the largest of them all, and towered over them from behind. A pair of sharp wings were tucked around his sides. He clicked his beak and stretched a broad neck around the others.

    I merged with him somehow, Zapdos. Celebi narrowed his eyes at the giant fowl. When he touched me, we somehow became one. I don’t know any more than you do… He looked back at the human who was still watching them, stunned. But at the sight of his gaze, the man turned and ran away deeper into the forest. But I was stronger. I felt my abilities increase ten-fold.

    No one said anything. The air went strangely quiet apart from the beats of a pair of avian wings.

    Celebi looked up at the sky. The sun was setting, and reds were beginning to leak through along the horizon. I can’t help feeling like I have been here before… he said, to himself.

    -x-


    A thick forest blanketed the base of Mount Olympus. The trees stretched high above the ground, narrow and empty. Barren cliffs hung out from the peaks above, as if to watch the decay of the woodland below. Snow and rain never fell here, and the sun was often hidden behind a swarm of dry clouds.

    Two siblings crouched upon a ridge that rested above a small grove. One had a bow and quiver strapped upon her back, and the other held a hatchet in his hand.

    “I have never seen creatures like those,” the male whispered, pointing to the horde of strange animals below.

    The female squinted, and pulled an arrow from her quiver. “That large bird could feed our entire village,” she muttered under her breath. She readied her bow and knocked the arrow, then aimed it at the yellow-feathered fowl beneath them.

    “Artemis, wait. Look.” Her brother put a hand on the carved arrow, and pushed it down gently.

    The group of strange animals were moving. They followed a small olive colored one with a pair of large insect wings. This wasn’t what made the two humans watching pause, however. It was what happened to the earth as they moved across it. The dim mint grass behind the beasts turned lush in their footsteps. Flowers began to bloom. The edge of the trees that faced them as they passed grew longer branches, and the bark turned a rich chocolate brown. The woods were coming to life.

    “What magic is this, Apollo?” his sister asked. Her eyes widened and she crouched lower to the overhanging rock they knelt on.

    “I-I don’t know…” Apollo's sandy hair whipped around slightly in a small breeze that passed.

    Artemis furrowed her eyebrows, then stood quietly. “Come, we must tell Zeus of this.”

    Apollo only nodded and stood as well, then the two of them slipped down the other side of the cliff and traveled back toward the tiny town of Litochoro.

    -x-


    We need to go back, Timekeeper, Zapdos said, ruffling his barb-like feathers in agitation.

    Celebi was walking slowly through the woods - watching, listening. The others followed him for a few hours until he’d stopped abruptly. I feel like this was not accident, coming here. The forest creature squinted his eyes and stared up at the sky. But something…is off.

    I think we have other things to worry about right now. A white bobcat lowered his head and nodded off towards the edge of the woods. His snowy pelt arched warily, and he dug his webbed claws into the soil.

    Almost in unison, the other twelve invaders turned to look as well. Hidden to a mortal eye, were a dozen humans sneaking their way towards them. They crept between the brush and hid behind trees. The stealth they exuberated was impressive, but the creatures watching were not from this world. Their alien senses were far more heightened and alert than an average tree-dwelling mammal's.

    More of them?! What do they want?! the small wormy member exclaimed, bouncing up and down again apprehensively.

    Celebi examined them from afar for a moment. Wait here, he ordered, then disappeared.

    He appeared again in the distance - right behind the twelve humans who were all watching the other direction. He floated slightly closer; none of them realized he was even there.

    Why are you following us? Celebi asked all of them at once, his voice lathered in authority.

    Each human startled, and several jerked around. Some felt to their knees, and held their heads. Others squinted in clear discomfort.

    Celebi hovered between a few cringing bodies until he was directly in front of the man at the lead. He brought his head inches from the eyes of the middle-aged ones of their leader and held his gaze.

    Human. What are you called?

    The man winced in clear distress. “My name,” he said, letting the pain of hearing Celebi’s words show on his face. “is Zeus.” He ran a hand through his dark beard, never dropping eye contact.

    Why have you lead these others here, Zeus? Do you mean us harm?

    “No,” Zeus lifted a brawny arm and gestured to the forest behind him. “Look around you. Our land is dying. Our people are starving. I don’t know what kind of demons you are, but I ask your help. We ask it.” He looked behind himself at his fellow people.

    Celebi blinked, and released his gaze. His stern face went soft and he looked at the group around him. On this second glance, he saw the worry and fear in all of their eyes. The desperation they felt was almost a color. But beneath the surface of all of the suffering, he could feel their hope. An idea ignited inside of his mind, and without a word, he returned to the other creatures who stood patiently watching nearby.

    W-wha-wha-whawhat do they want? A dark mole fidgeted with his claws. His nose wiggled and he blinked repeatedly.

    Help. Celebi scanned his small army, unsure if he really wanted to ask them to do what he was considering.

    Help? The jade creature with the blades built into his arms grunted. I doubt it.

    Me too, Scyther. I don’t like it, not one bit. Nope nope nope. Larvesta began bouncing again. Five red horns circled his chubby face, and they were all fanned out - something that happened when the larvae became stressed.

    We have mastery over their world that they, apparently, do not. Celebi said almost to himself.

    You can’t be seriously considering this… Zapdos pulled his head up, aghast.

    We don’t even know them! Larvesta squeaked, mid bounce.

    The group debated for a good amount of time, while Celebi listened. He addressed their concerns, and informed them of his plan. The ultimatum he expressed was significant enough to lure their consideration. Though still uneasy, they all had finally come to an agreement.

    Celebi led his companions over to the group of humans who all awaited across the grove. The people stood when they saw the nymph approach.

    We have agreed to help you, Celebi spoke into their thoughts. On one, nonnegotiable condition. Human faces had lit up, and then turned to confusion.

    “What is that condition?” Zeus asked, stepping forward. Celebi’s voice seemed to hardly impair him now.

    We will help save your land, if you in turn, help save ours.

    Zeus looked behind him at his own army. They were all thin and weak; tired and depressed - and these were some of the strongest citizens of their land. It was risky trusting these beings, but what else was there left to do? Ashamed at his failure as a leader, he bowed his head. Then said, “I believe we would already owe you that favor. Your terms are met with agreement.”

    Celebi nodded, and reached out a hand to touch the human Zeus’ forehead.

    No. Zapdos appeared at Celebi’s side. You remain yourself, Timekeeper. I will become this one. And not waiting for approval, Zapdos lifted a broad pair of golden wings, then wrapped them around the human that stood before them. The giant bird turned into a cloud of yellow smoke, and disappeared inside Zeus’ chest.

    The other eleven humans gasped and whispered amongst themselves. Zeus blinked, then held his hands in front of his eyes. A look of bewilderment and then joy swept across his face. He placed his palms together, as if in prayer, and then pulled them apart. Between them appeared a glowing, electric lighting bolt. He took it in one fist, leaned back, and threw it into the sky.

    A loud burst echoed throughout the mountains. The humans covered their ears, and watched in amazement as thunder boomed from the heavens. Clouds accumulated above them. It began to rain.

    A woman screamed in happiness. People were laughing and crying; some hugged each other, and others began dancing. Zeus turned to Celebi and smiled, the grin stretched his beard from ear to ear.

    “It is okay,” Zeus turned to the celebrating humans behind him. “They are true of heart.”

    I am still here, Timekeeper. He appears to wish us no harm, Zapdos spoke from the depths of Zeus’ mind. It was a thought no one else could hear.

    Artemis stepped forward shyly. Rain soaked her long, sandy hair and it hung in front of her eyes. She tied her hands in a knot below her abdomen and waited patiently.

    I will take this one. The snowy bobcat sauntered to the head of the group.

    The human girl stepped back, afraid. Her eyes betrayed fear at the sight of the animal's sharp claws and deep blue face.

    Absol is as noble as you are, young one, Celebi said inside of her mind, telling her what Absol could not. His gentleness might surprise you.

    Artemis seemed to relax slightly, but still appeared apprehensive. She closed her eyes, as if watching would be more dangerous. Absol trotted toward her and then leapt into the air. But, instead of knocking her over upon impact, he just melted inside of her. The human girl’s hair whipped up with the gust of wind from his passing. When it faded, she opened her eyes.

    Everyone watched as she, too, assured that everything was alright. Her shoulders relaxed and her entire aura shifted to one of peace. Following suit, her brother Apollo appeared at her side and watched the strange creatures expectantly.

    Me next! Me next! Larvesta bounced forward, then tripped over his own behind and fell to his side. Oops. He wiggled his way up somehow like a tipped over turtle and wagged the tip of his tail.

    “Uh…” Apollo watched the worm struggle, and arched an eyebrow. Artemis giggled from somewhere behind him.

    Don’t let his appearance fool you. With Larvesta, you will harness the power of the sun, Celebi thought to Apollo, then held out a hand to the fuzzy larva and beckoned him over.

    Squirming as fast as he could, Larvesta made his way over to the twin brother of Artemis, who had bent down to greet him. He slid up the outstretched arm, over the human shoulder, and then sunk into the human’s throat.

    Apollo coughed, and simultaneously, burst into flames.

    Somebody shrieked in the back of the crowd, but before the cry had even ended, the flames dispersed. Apollo shook soot out of his hair, then patted his completely unharmed body. “Cool…” was all he muttered, and then went to join his sister.

    The process continued as one by one, a creature joined a human. Scyther had entered the body of a tall, strong-looking man named Ares. Noctowl flew into the back of a wise woman whom they called Athena, and a strikingly beautiful mermaid creature joined forces with an equally attractive woman who called herself Aphrodite. Then, a silver pigeon, who was later known as Pidove, fell into the mind of a young boy named Hermes.

    An additional four more followed suit, until one single man remained. He wore a torn and tattered shirt, and his hair appeared as though there was more living inside of it than just dirt. He was half asleep when his friend Hephaestus, who had already allowed the mole named Drilbur to possess him, bopped him in the back.

    “Dionysus!” Hephaestus muttered between gritted teeth. “Go.

    “Huh? Er….wha? Oh.” The grimy man stumbled forward, appearing drunk.

    Celebi looked around, confused. There was still one creature unaccounted for. Munchlax! the Timekeeper called out to the wilderness around them.

    A bush nearby began to rustle, and a short, chubby creature waddled out. It held a handful of red berries in one hand, and a vine of grapes in the other. Red jam stained its mouth and its belly swayed back and forth as it made its way over. Then, after dumping the berries into its disproportionately large mouth, it belched.

    Celebi sighed, then nudged the fat and hairless cub over to the dirty human.

    Munchlax shrugged, finished his grapevine in another single bite, then plopped against the leg of Dionysus. He dissipated inside.

    -x-


    In the time to come, Celebi waited and watched as the humans - powered by his companions - reshaped a world that he learned was called Earth. The human with the whale inside of him brought oceans ashore. At some point, Poseidon, so at one with the aquatic beast named Wailmer, never left the sea himself. He adjusted the water's climate to warmer temperatures in some areas, and colder ones in others; the balance between the two allowed marine life to grow and flourish.

    Seasons appeared for the first time in Greece. Demeter, who united with the other-worlder called Castform, followed them as they came and went. She healed plants with rain and warmth, then killed plague with snow. The abundance of crops was more than the country had ever come to know. The everlasting drought had officially come to an end. Rainstorms had never been so welcome; Demeter sat up in the clouds and let her showers blanket the thirsty lands below.

    Apollo rose the sun hours earlier than the day had normally begun prior to his union with Larvesta. He forced the sunrise to waken with his fellow people, and sleep with them as well. Darkness would not descend upon them until the workday was done, the night never overwhelming the light. He spit fire from his hands to burn old and rotting land, reducing them to ash, and providing a fresh start for new life to grow. He guided lost travelers with his light, and warmed them when Demeter's snow was at its fiercest.

    In contrary, Apollo's twin sister, Artemis, embraced all that dwelled in the nighttime. She painted stars in the sky and brightened the moon, allowing its gleam to illuminate edges of the world. She induced rest and healing to the sleeping, so they could once again be prepared for the activities of the day. And most of all, she and her partner Absol, led the myriad of forest animals to a prosperous way of life. She united the species, and healed the sick, all beneath the power of the moon. Together, the Olympians created a harmonious balance.

    However, nothing lasted forever. Though happy to have lived comfortably for the least few months of their lives, the elderly passed on. The old and aged could at least join the afterlife peacefully with the help of Zeus’ older brother Hades and the ghostly Gastly that resided inside of him. The souls of the Underworld, though ridden with fear and worry of the unknown, would discover that the river of souls and death was only a gateway to the other side. Hades merely soothed their apprehension and guided them to eternal peace.

    Word spread of Mount Olympus and the village of Litochoro. People heard the tales of the mountain forests blooming with life, and the herds of wildlife migrating to the prosperous land. Soon, residents of Thessaly and Macedonia were venturing to the village as well to beg for assistance from the Olympians, who were becoming gods to the eye of all mankind.

    It wasn’t long before the stories of the twelve deities who reigned atop Mount Olympus spread like wildfire throughout all of Greece. Shrines were built and statues were raised in their honor, most popularly, was the one of the very broad and muscular Olympian named Ares. People consoled him for his skill and guidance of war. Legend later told of a bloody battle for their homeland, in which Ares single-handedly fought twenty men to one and emerged victorious. The Scyther inside of him amplified his cunning and craft with a blade. His swordsmanship was spoken of across the country, and armies begged for his fealty. Ares decided which side of the war would win, thus granting him immense power and loyalty of the people.

    But none could rival the following that was demanded of Zeus. The god of the gods, many would say. Often people spoke to him through prayer, unsure if their pleas were actually heard. Zeus reigned over the sky, deciding the fate of the world itself. His anger was more wrathful than the rest of the Olympians combined, and he vented his rage through thunderstorms and hurricanes. Fear kept the humans of Greece from opposing any god's authority.

    A year soon passed, and all was at peace despite minor disputes. Greece radiated wealth and happiness.

    Celebi floated through the bordering forest, leaving a trail of health and vitality in his wake. Between the trees he spotted Dionysus, now with a belly the size of three drunken men’s, gorging himself with grapes and cheese. It appeared as though Munchlax's presence only amplified the boundaries of his appetite. Dionysus was known to appear at every large celebration, inducing a gluttonous glee on all who attended it. The nymph only shook his head, and glided past him. He hovered up the side of the mountain, all the way to the highest peak, Mytikas. Clouds that appeared as white cotton from the earth below masked the top of Mount Olympus in a fluffy shroud of mist. The green creature only flew higher until he emerged un the upper side.

    Here, Hephaestus had built a castle exclusively for the gods. With Drilbur beating in his heart, he lifted walls and forged metal with ease. Their old town of Litochoro had become so overpopulated now, that they needed a residence that no mortal could ever reach. Here, the pair of them crafted weapons unlike anything the world had seen before. But most notably, the castle itself would have taken decades to build by a group of humans, but Hephaestus had risen it in a matter of months by hauling boulders up the mountain over his shoulder, as though they were merely balls of cotton.

    Large, stone arches lined the passageway to the towering building beyond. The Timekeeper observed the craftsmanship as he passed, and pushed open the wide, iron doors of the Olympian refuge.

    “You are not a king, Zeus! We are all equals!” Hades burst from the opposite end of the passageway. The long hall was lined with a crimson rug and granite walls.

    Zeus sat atop a single throne resting upon a small flight of stairs. “Everyone else seems to think so... and you, do not belong here.” Zeus replied. “Your work does not affect the life of the living. You belong below with the souls of the dead.”

    “I belong here, with all of you. We started this together!” Hades fumed, and clenched his hands into fist.

    “Leave Hades, you are needed here no longer.”

    “What happened to you, brother? When is it that you learned to loathe?”

    “Get OUT!” Thunder boomed above them as Zeus slammed his fist into the arm of his throne.

    Hades looked shocked, then defeated. He narrowed a pair of dull grey eyes, then turned to leave. His pale face and gaunt cheek bones made the God of Death look deceased himself. Deep black robes billowed behind him as he traveled down the hall and past the Timekeeper. Hades gave the creature a look of disappointment, then exited through the doors behind him.

    Help me, my friend, a soft thought came from faintly from somewhere very far away.

    “What do you want?” Zeus asked, annoyed, and not bothering to look upon the emerald visitor.

    Celebi flew closer. Your lands are thriving, he said.

    “So they are,” Zeus examined his nails, looking bored.

    So it is time for you to hold up your end of the agreement. We need to travel to our world now.

    Zeus shifted his gaze to the creature for the first time. “And what dos this requirement entail?”

    Humans…amplify our abilities. We are not this powerful on our side of the universe. With you, we stand a chance saving our planet.

    The God of Thunder scratched at his beard. His eyes went blank for a moment, and then he stood from his throne. “No.”

    Celebi looked bewildered at the man stepping down the stairs. No?

    “We will remain here. You are welcome to stay.” Zeus flipped a length of his white robe over his shoulder and turned his back on the Timekeeper, then began to walk away.

    Appalled, Celebi bent time to seemingly teleport in front of the Olympian. He said nothing at first, only stared at Zeus directly in the eye. A message echoed from deep within the human’s soul.

    Timekeeper… the thought was only a whisper. He is corrupted. My thoughts are not my own. Zapdos sounded weak. His voice was little more than a memory. I can feel my mind disappearing, soon there will be nothing left but his own. Please…take me out of here.

    Celebi’s eyelids widened, he wrapped his mind around the human’s and pulled.

    But nothing happened.

    The creature squinted and tried again. He located Zapdos’ energy and tried to lift it away, but it was like trying to pull skin off. It was too tightly bound. Too much time had passed with the creature’s essence inside; the two were on the verge of even inwardly becoming one.

    “What are you doing? Are you trying to separate us?” Zeus threw back his head and chuckled. “You foolish demon. I am more powerful than you.” As if to prove it, the man formed a ball of electric energy in his palm and punched it at Celebi’s chest.

    The nymph hurled backward and smashed into the iron doors of the building. He felt his bones shatter.

    “Now get out,” Zeus said over his shoulder as he walked deeper into the castle.

    The Timekeeper cringed, squinting one eye. He managed to get his wings beating and carried himself through the entrance. What have I done…

    -x-


    A green woodland creature rocketed through the forest at the base of Mount Olympus; he sucked life from the grass, the trees, the flowers... Only once every ounce of energy was sapped, did he sky-rocket towards the sun. The solar rays pierced his skin. He felt life and sustenance course through him. He absorbed its energy until he felt like he would burst.

    It was then when a great realization swept over him. The Timekeeper paused, and stared at the world before him. He observed the earth’s curve along the horizon, then closed his eyes as an immense wind blew past him. At the touch of the breeze, all of his doubt went with it: She was here.

    This changed everything. But, he regained his composure and focused upon the task at hand. He swept over the sea and pulled Wailmer from Poseidon as easily as picking a daisy from a garden. He ventured back into the forest and split Munchlax from Dionysus. Next, he stripped Pidove, Noctowl, and Absol from the host bodies of Hermes, Athena and Artemis. Then before the sun set, he had pulled Milotic from Aphrodite, Scyther from Ares, Larvesta from Apollo, Drilbur from Hephaestus, and Castform from Demeter; he commanded them to follow and regroup.

    Gathered at the base of the mountain, Celebi twirled open a portal with his finger. You all need to go back. Now. The nymph looked upon his friends with urgent eyes.

    What about Zapdos? The mildly brown owl asked, concerned.

    I will find a way to send him through. The Timekeeper tried to hide his worry from showing on his face.

    What about you? a small voice came from the fuzzy larva named Larvesta. He looked up at Celebi with watery eyes.

    I need to stay. She’s here.

    All of them went quiet at his words, then began speaking all at once.

    A-a-are-are you sure it is her? Drilbur asked, scratching his thick hide with a single claw.

    Where is she? Scyther glared, eyes narrow.

    How do you know? clicked the beak of the charcoal Pidove.

    Why is she here? Castform questioned behind his transparent helmet.

    Wailmer only rotated on his large circular head.

    Munchlax belched.

    Easy now, Celebi whispered softly, quieting them down. She is here, but we are in the wrong time.

    Then take us to the right one, Timekeeper! Larvesta squeaked, bouncing up and down yet again.

    I don’t know what the right time is… Celebi rubbed his shoulder, disappointed with himself. It could be tomorrow; it could be a thousand years from now. All I know is that I have to stay here, or she could live and die without us ever knowing.

    The mood shifted from anticipation to disappointment, and several of the creatures hung their heads. Though understanding, the Timekeeper’s words ripped at their hearts.

    The air turned sharp suddenly. It stung like an Antarctic breeze, but the area was warm. Static sparked across the skin and fur of the group of creatures, as well as over the blanket of grass at their feet.

    “What is going on here? Return at once!” Zeus fumed. He’d appeared from somewhere above. His body whisked through the air with ease, and he landed safely in the grove beside them. “How dare you?” The man bore his eyes at the Celebi standing beside the swirling alien portal.

    Your authoritve tone holds no weight upon me, Hu- A lightning bolt lashed through the space between them and pierced the Timekeeper’s shoulder. The force of it sent him soaring backwards, and pinned him to a wide tree behind him.

    The bolt sparked and fizzled at the impact. Celebi cringed at the voltage pouring into his body.

    “Get back to your masters!” Zeus turned his gaze to the ten creatures that had been gathered there, and pointed a finger towards the distant edge of the forest.

    At first, the majority of them only gaped at the incident that had just happened before them in the span of a single second. But then, shock quickly turn to rage. With little warning, Scyther tucked his bladed arms at his sides, and cannoned forward with the propelling aid of his sturdy wings. Zeus had managed to bend backwards quickly enough to avoid the devastating blow, but Scyther flicked his wrist fast enough to slice a nasty gash into the Olympian’s forearm.

    “You dare attack the god of Greece?” Zeus held a hand over his wound, appalled. The sizzling sound of burning flesh echoed from beneath it as he cauterized the gash.

    Gods do not bleed, Syther snarled. But all the Olympian heard was a growl between gritted teeth.

    Behind Zeus, the whale creature had collapsed into a ball. Its blue and beige halves blurred into a single color as it rolled towards the back of the assailant. But again, Zeus saw it coming. He whirled around, and sent a flurry of electric sparks into the face of Wailmer from the palm of his hand. It was enough to stop the aquatic beast in its tracks. The creatures eyes winced disturbingly, then went blank.

    That was when all hell broke loose. Scyther roared and lunged into Zeus’s side. The god flung him away effortlessly, but the jade warrior flung out his wings to slow the fall like a parachute. Noctowl and Pidove took flight, wisping around the human’s head and pecking at his eyes. Zeus threw his fist up into the air, and from it pulsed a dome of electricity. The electric wave expanded and rippled over the bodies of the two birds, immediately immobilizing them and sending them spiraling towards the earth. Absol, who had been mid-air in an effort to dig his claws through the man’s chest by way of a tackle was sent hurtling backward as well by the wave.

    Drilbur barreled through the earth below the commotion, he spun round and round, ripping the spoil apart with his claws. He spiraled through the surface of the forest floor and sprang onto the scene above - only to get gripped by the throat and thrown overhead in a half-circular arch.

    The downed animals found the strength to pull themselves off the ground, and charge at the enemy before them. Milotic slithered her way into the fight like an oversized king cobra; she swayed back and forth and sang a hypnotizing melody. But Zeus punched his fist into her vocal chords, cutting the sound short. Larvesta and Castform combined sun and flames into a massive inferno. The flames tornadoed towards the Olympian and slammed into his chest. For the first time, the human was caught off guard.

    Munchlax, while making tremendous effort to waddle his way into the battle, wheezed and tumbled over after only taking a few strides. His stomach puddled out beneath him like a giant marshmallow, and his arms and legs flailed through the air. He was stuck.

    His companions were all swarming the Olympian now. Zeus’ beard was singed, but other than this, he showed little sign of weakening. The creatures fought bravely, but they were losing willpower when hit by one electric blow after another. The reflexes and strength of the thunder god were enough to outmatch them even ten to one.

    Meanwhile, Celebi tugged at the lightning bolt pinning him to the tree. The electric heat seared his hand as he wrapped his fingers around the weapon. He gave one last tremendous pull, and finally managed to tear its grip through the bark behind him. He felt the skin from his fingers tearing off as he ripped lightning out of his shoulder. Once free, he fell to the ground, and threw the bolt away.

    The Timekeeper hurled himself into the chaos. Into the portal, all of you. Now! He yelled in desperation. And though several of them hated it, none could bring themselves to disobey. Celebi fluttered around Zeus, distracting his line of sight as Castform conjured a heavy mist. Once shrouded, the creatures snuck through to the universe beyond. The owl wrapped her talons around Munchlax’s stubby arms, and lifted him into the opening with her. And Milotic, with heavy eyes, wrapped Wailmer’s lifeless body in her tail, and followed the rest of her comrades through the portal.

    The nymph felt their consciousness disappear. Relieved, he turned his attention back to getting Zapdos free. Are you still in there, my friend. Celebi asked in a tone that was not a question. He felt a rock in his stomach. There was no reply. He furrowed his eyebrows and darted to the side as Zeus hurled a lightning bolt into the air. He felt the static in his fur as the energy whizzed past him, inches away. There was no presence found other than Zeus’ when Celebi scanned the depths of his mind. It was no longer as though Zapdos were a skin encasing the human’s soul, it was as though he simply did not exist. There was nothing to pull at; there was nothing at all.

    Celebi descended closer to the ground. His eyes blurred with a watery counterpart of human tears. This moment of unfocused attention gave Zeus a perfect opportunity. He’d crafted a third, razor sharp lightning bolt, and wielded it like a sword. He sliced it through the air in a ceremonious arc, and brought it down upon the Timekeeper’s head.

    But in just the moment before impact, a dark shadow swirled from beneath the surface of the earth. The darkness twisted around Celebi’s waist and pulled him to the side. Zeus’ weapon crashed through nothing and was lodged into the firm soil below.

    From the shadow, came more. The smoky grip it had on Celebi loosened and braced the ground like a giant hand. As if giving leverage, it pushed into the ground and lifted up a smoky silhouette in its place. The blackness twisted to and fro as it created a solid out of smoke. There formed the deathly presence that was Hades.

    “Brother…” came his eerie voice. The ruler of the underworld stepped silently towards his sibling. “Enough of this. Our home flourishes, just let them go back to their own.” He held out a skeletal hand.

    “No,” Zeus refused it. “This power is mine now.” He clenched a fist.

    “It is not yours,” Hades held open his arms and looked down at his chest. From there, a deep violet cloud emerged. Large, white eyes blinked open, and the Gastly grinned.

    The ghost floated out of its host as easily as it had entered.

    I was worried, the Timekeeper smiled at this very welcomed sight. I could not sense you.

    Good. That means you are not dead, my Timekeeper. Gastly smirked and winked. The living do not belong in the afterlife.

    Celebi let endearment show in his eyes as the ghost wisped effortlessly to the portal beside them.

    It should be known that some humans are good, Gastly said to his leader before he passed through the rift separating this side of reality from the other. That one never let me lose myself. He nodded toward Hades, then passed through.

    “The power is theirs,” Hades finished, unaware of the conversation that the two creatures just had.

    “Not anymore!” Zeus pulled his lightning sword out of the dirt, and swung it at Hades.

    But even without the ghost possessing him, Hades dodged swiftly and charged into his brother. The momentum of the grapple sent both people hurtling backwards. Zeus tried to spin off to the side, but if he had succeeded, it was too late. The two of them disappeared into the swirling shroud of the portal.

    The Timekeeper could not reach them in time. No…

    Nothing made a sound in the woods that evening. The nymph held a hand over his wounded shoulder while he willed himself to seal the portal shut. He hung his head when he finished, and sighed. Guilt weighed itself heavily upon him.

    The creature walked through the forest, alone. Defeat surrounded him as he moped onward. The night showed him no pity. All he knew was the darkness before him, and the sting in his shoulder and his pride. He felt someone watching him from somewhere beyond as he emerged from the forest’s edge. You again.. he said, emotionless. Is your timing intentional?

    ~*~



    I was heading home when I saw him that second time. I had branches and firewood bundled under my arm that I’d just finished collecting. Blood stained his emerald skin, I could see it even from a distance. But, he was already upon me before I had time to process it.

    He eyed me for a moment, using that gaze that did more than just look. Then said into my mind, This should not be forgotten. He reached a small hand to my heart, and pressed his palm onto it. I felt the rush of memories as though they were my own. Every thought, every desire, every heartache. His eyes went cloudy as he passed the information along, but soon after regained their cerulean hue. I may need you once again.

    He said nothing afterwards. He simply ascended into the air, and flew towards the horizon. I was left alone to ponder his thoughts and watch him disappear into the distance.



    Sophie flipped the book shut. She re-latched the covers, and tucked it into her arm, then stormed out of the library. Her footsteps fell with a noisy thud as she ventured down the hallway, passing room by room, then veered to the left along a narrow corridor that led to the room her uncle was staying in.

    She pounded her fist against the door with angst; she felt the vibrations backlashing into her hand, but did not cease.

    “What. What. Whaaaat.” Finn stumbled into the other side of the door, fumbling with the knob before finally twisting it open. His hair was angled up dramatically on the right side of his head. “Do you know…what time it is?” He squinted through sleepy eyes.

    “Is this for real?” Sophie asked quickly, her words sprinting from her lips. She held the journal up directly in front of his face.

    Finn yawned, and wiped his hand over the shoulder of his blue and white striped pajamas. “Yes, it’s for real. Now go to bed, you crazy person.” And he shut the door in Sophie’s face.

    Later that morning, Sophie sat at the kitchen table with a bottle of orange juice. Her knee bobbed up and down impatiently as she waited for the minutes to tick by. The leather book lie in front of her, but remained closed. And the demonic refrigerator sat in its corner behind her, humming Pop! Goes the Weasel.

    Finn stumbled in at about eight o’clock in the morning. His hair had been tidied, and his clothes changed. He made his way to the fridge at a very inopportune time, because Rotom had just finished an important part of its harmony. The man reached down for the handle just as the Guardian hummed Pop!, and the orange metallic door swung open and slammed against him. As Finn lost his balance and tumbled to the floor, the creature hummed the tune that coupled goes the weasel….

    Sophie giggled and averted her eyes.

    “Why you….. THAT DOES IT.” Finn was up from the tiled floor in a flash. He lodged a boot in the side of the refrigerator, but the Guardian was solid metal. Finn shrieked, as manly as a shriek could be, and clutched his toe while bouncing on the uninjured foot. He gave a glare of death to the Guardian, and limped out of the room.

    Sophie jumped from her chair with the book in tow, and followed after him.

    “Haha, uh…” she started to say when she caught up with her uncle. Finn looked livid. “About this book…”

    Finn looked down at the girl, who was keeping up with his stride, as though just noticing her for the first time. “Ah, right. You were insane enough to read this all in one go?”

    “I guess…” Sophie replied, as the two of them rounded a corner and passed Nelson’s laboratory. “Did this really happen? The gods of Olympus were really only mortals?”

    Finn opened the journal himself and flipped through the delicate pages. “Yes it did; the Timekeeper first appeared on the planet here.”

    “And Zeus betrayed him? I always thought he was a good guy. And now him and Hades are in the Guardians’ world. Or were… who knows if they died by now… how long ago was all this anyway? Several thousand years?” Sophie hadn’t realized the two of them had stopped walking.

    “Wait, where are you getting that from. I don’t recall anything about those two leaving this world…” Finn scanned a few more pages.

    “Um,” Sophie stood on her tiptoes and leaned over his arm. She sorted through a chapter or two, and until one of the final ones hung opened. “There,” she pointed.

    Finn looked at the page, confused. He squinted his eyes, and then moved them from the page to his niece’s face, then back to the page again. “Sophie, this chapter isn’t written in English. How do you know what it says?”

    “What?” Sophie squinted in confusion, then took the journal out of his arms. At first, she was about to call his bluff, but she glanced at the text for a moment longer and realized… he was right. There were no letters, no words: only symbols. And not symbols that she recognized like she knew existed overseas, but symbols that appeared as though they did not even belong on our planet. The symbols weren’t the surprising part though; what she really found unsettling was the fact that she could read the symbols perfectly. She understood them as clearly as if they were in her own language.

    Finn seemed to read the expression on her face. “Are you saying you can read this?” He gazed at her in disbelief. The attention made Sophie feel uncomfortable.

    “I… yes…” Sophie shoved her fingers into her eyes, rubbing dirt out that wasn’t there. Then, dramatically pulled the skin over her cheekbones downward to reveal the pink tissue beneath her eye sockets. “I’m going to bed,” she sighed, and let her hands plop lazily back down to her sides. The girl didn’t wait for her uncle to respond, or for his mouth to hang agape at this newest event in her comic book of life. She stumbled off to her room and pretended like nothing had just happened.





    The teenager slept for eleven hours. The entire day had gone by before she found herself stumbling down the hallways towards the nursery, with Jack at her heels. The dog had curled up on the foot of her bed the entire time, and she doubted he’d had anything to eat in a while. She stepped down a small flight of stairs, tracing the iron handrail delicately with her fingers, and rounded the corner past one of the workshops.

    Unsettled voices echoed from within. Sophie thought nothing of it until she heard her own name muttered somewhere in the conversation.

    “Go on ahead,” she told her Guardian, nodding in the direction of the nursery then quietly placing her back against the stone wall to eavesdrop. Jack’s claws hitting the passageway floor faded into the end of it as he obeyed her.

    “Are you sure?” Nelson’s voice was the first she actively distinguished. “How is that possible? Has anyone been teaching her?”

    “No.” It was Finn who spoke next. “I’ve been looking through this chapter myself, trying to decipher it…” Sophie assumed he held the journal she’d read the night before in his hand, because she distinctly heard the sound of a page turning. “I can’t translate half of this. A lot of these symbols don’t even have a meaning yet. There is no way she could have just been studying on her own; the material doesn’t exist.”

    “I don’t get it. Being a Stag Shaper was unusual on its own, but now she can read their language? Not to mention whatever it was she did to escape those pinheads…” Nathan chimed in. His voice was very similar to his brother’s, but it differed slightly by being slighter higher and more shrill.

    “This is very curious, yes. But untwist your panties, gentlemen. I doubt she is going to spontaneously combust. Though, that would be interesting, wouldn’t it…” Maverick trailed off slightly, as if seriously considering its plausibility.

    Sophie smiled to herself. The old guy was really growing on her. She decided there was little reason to keep hiding, and stepped away from the wall. “Should I be worried?” she asked half mockingly as she entered the room.

    The four men stood around a small work-table, which held a couple of old books on it - not including the one that Finn was currently holding in his hand. Nelson and Nathan both leaned onto the tabletop, focused on a specific book that Sophie could not see clearly. While Maverick, stood nonchalantly with his arms crossed, and popped a piece of bubble gum in his mouth.

    “Ah, here’s the little she-devil now.” Maverick arched an eyebrow at the girl as she came up to them.

    Sophie resisted the urge to elbow him in the ribs. While Maverick often acted like a teenager, he still looked as though a strong gust of wind would break him in half.

    “Hm, Sophie,” Nelson looked up from the tome he and his brother were scrutinizing over. “Tell me, can you read this?” He slid the book across the table to he side she now stood at.

    She scanned the page, and recognized it. This was the book they filched from the museum, the same one she had skimmed a few weeks ago. “Yes,” she said after a pause. “I can.” Sophie felt all eight eyes fall onto her. “But this is weird, because I’ve looked at this before. I couldn’t read it then.”

    Finn said nothing and looked quickly to Maverick with a worried expression in his glance. Whereas Maverick, seemed to be generally uninterested.

    “What? What is it?” Sophie asked at them. The unspoken conversations lately were starting to make her anxious, again.

    “That’s just it. We don’t know.” Maverick took the piece of gum out of his mouth and stuck it underneath the table. The others pretended not to watch, but Sophie was sure she saw Finn roll his eyes. “You have understanding of something you never learned. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to investigate this.” The old man stepped closer to Sophie. He pulled a pen-like instrument out of his shirt pocket and clicked it. A light appeared, and he held it in front of her left eye to watch her pupil dilate.

    “Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute.” Sophie pulled her head back and stepped away. “You want to study me?”

    “Well it’s not like I was going to inject you with chemicals or anything, sheesh.” Maverick clicked his pen again and put it back inside his pocked. “I was thinking more of hooking you up to a machine and monitoring your brainwaves. Maybe a blood sample or two…” He pondered, and pinched his chin in his hand.

    “Is that really necessary?” Nelson interjected over his shoulder.

    “You kids are no fun… Let me know when something exciting happens.” Maverick walked away.

    “Sophie, tell me what this says.” Nelson pointed to the book again, touching a specific paragraph with his index finger.

    “It says,” she started, preparing to translate, then realized something. “It… doesn’t say anything. These words don’t have a meaning in English. I can’t explain it.” She scratched at her cheek and tried to ignore the confused stares. “I read this, and I understand it. But it’s like watching images, not reading words.”

    “Tell us what you see then, kiddo.” Finn was standing right beside her now, with his hands shoved in his pockets.

    “It tells of the Timekeeper fleeing to Brazil after leaving Greece.” Sophie concentrated, and tried to piece it together. “He is cocooning himself inside of that tree, and the forest is expanding from it. I think this… Did he create the Amazon Rainforest?” Flabbergasted, she looked around and the men watching her. They seemed almost as surprised as she was. When none of them responded anything more that a slightly more wide-eyed expression, she continued. “A pathway from the other side was opened beside the tree, I can’t tell if it was by him or not… Guardians came through, by the dozens. They are saying something about…Titans?”

    “Wait, saying?” Nathan interrupted her. “You can understand their dialect?”

    The three adults exchanged glances.

    “I…” Sophie started, but didn’t finish. She sighed and leaned her elbows onto the countertop, putting her head in her hands. It never ends…

    “It’s no matter. Thank you for translating for us, we’ve been stumped on this section for a while.” Nelson pulled the novel back across the table to be directly in front of he and his brother. His greyish blue eyes went soft in apology.

    “How about we go get some grub, Soph,” Finn suggested cheerily, and draped his arm around his niece’s shoulder. “I say we go out for some Chinese. I refuse to store anything inside Rotom anymore.”

    Sophie smiled despite his obvious attempt at trying to cheer her up, and let him lead the way.

    -x-


    Despite being a time Shaper, Sophie found it increasingly agitating that she couldn‘t stop time from flying by. She cursed the Timekeeper for granting her sight of the future, and little ability to appreciate the present. The sun rose and fell from an invisible sky above the abandoned alleyway. And being underground the majority of the time, Sophie hardly knew the difference.

    It had been almost two months since she’d first landed in New York city, but it felt like that was years ago. She was just a student then, trying figure out how to drop Calculus, and now she was some kind of mutant warrior on a literal mission to save the world. She should be heading home by the end of the week to start up her senior year, but this went out the window the moment she started bending time. She wasn’t allowed to go home even if she’d wanted to.

    Home. She found it interesting that home isn’t a place at all, but a feeling. She was starting to feel like this was her home now. She cared for the Shapers dearly; they were all beginning to feel like family. It was at that awkward stage where people started to hug her goodbye, but it turned into some weird shoulder pat.

    “Are you even listening to me?” Maverick flicked Sophie in the forehead, forcing her out of her revelation.

    “Oh-uh. Yeah, something about….something something.” She flicked her finger in the air, as if emphasizing the ‘somethings’ would somehow give them more significance.

    The elder glared at her. His jaw rotated to the side in effort to chew on the inner-flesh of his cheek. “As I was saying,” he turned back to the large screen in front of them. “Sleeping Guardians are unpredictable. They are, metaphorically, rabid animals. I don’t know how long it takes for the song to set in, or even if it actually works. I suggest you bring your hound.”

    “Well, what about Spiritomb? And aren’t others coming with us?” Sophie asked.

    “Spiritomb is going to be busy keeping me sane, per usual. And no, it will be just you and I, pip. This one is small, and I’ve been around it before. I am the one who tagged it, after all.” Maverick typed a flurry of commands into the keyboard below the screen before it darkened, taking all the Sleeping Guardian dots with it. “Besides, a mass of people will scare it off.”

    “Well, alright. As long as it isn’t dangerous.”

    “I never said it wasn’t dangerous.” Maverick smiled slyly.

    -x-


    Tinton Falls, New Jersey. Sophie wondered if anyone had even heard of this place, because she sure hadn’t. But here it was, a quiet and peaceful stream hidden inside a massed wildwood, and nestled right beside a tiny town. The river curved through the forest, splashing delicately over a series of rocks and branches. An elderly man trudged along side it, holding a small GPS in the air.

    “Ugh, how much farther is it?” Sophie whined from behind him. The brush had left scratches all up and down her shins above a pair of ankle-high boots.

    Maverick grunted. “It says we’re close…” He squinted at the digital map on the tiny screen. He lifted his arm to push a thin tree branch out of his way, never taking his eyes of the device.

    Sophie had just stood back up from retying her shoe, and was promptly smacked in the face with the recoiling of the branch. “Ohp!” She lost her balance and fell back down to the moist soil behind her.

    “I think it’s right around this river bend up here.” Maverick looked away from his global positioning system for the first time, and turned around. There was an oblivious look on his wrinkled face as he noticed the young girl sprawled on the forest floor. “What are you doing down there?”

    “Oh, just,” she groaned and pulled herself to her feet once again. “Checking out the wildlife.” Sophie dusted off her denim shorts, which now had mud streaked up the side.

    “What happened to your face-?” Maverick was cut off by his GPS beeping rapidly. He turned it off, and squinted his eyes into the forest beside them.

    “What is it?”

    Maverick held up his index finger, and signaled her to be quiet.

    Several yards away, a twig broke. The sound of wood snapping was quiet, but audible. Leaves clattered, and almost instantly, a pint-sized black creature crept out from behind a large, moss covered rock. It snarled, lifting the corner of its lip to reveal a sharp set of white canines. Short whiskers sprouted from its furry black muzzle that twitched as the animal raised its nose in the air.

    At first, Sophie thought the thing was a Tasmanian Devil. Its stumpy ears and clawed paws made the two mammals appear almost identical. But, as it crept closer, she noticed that this one’s tail was almost nonexistent, and its body was much broader - almost hound-like.

    Maverick, very slowly, placed his pack on the ground, and pulled from it a smooth brass flute. The instrument caught the sunlight as he cautiously lifted it to his lips. The music Sophie remembered started softly. The notes, long and low, drifted from musician to the forest around him. He closed a pair of heavy eyelids behind his silver spectacles, and listened to the song that abided by his fingertips.

    It seemed to be working at first. The supposed Guardian was motionless, and his eyes were lazy. It appeared as mesmerized by the music as Sophie was when she had first heard the melody in the base’s lobby. The pitch was intoxicating, almost magical. And this warm-blooded creature was proving the power of that sound.

    However, when Maverick started playing the lift and the notes went higher, the Guardian’s body shifted from looking entranced, to enraged. It arched its spine, causing ebony fur to stand on end, and lowered its head to the ground. Growling deeply from its throat, the animal gripped the dirt beneath it and pushed itself forward. It was charging directly at the senile man transfixed by his own composition.

    Sophie felt her heart drop. “Jack!” she shrieked, almost reflexively. From the deep blue sphere within the satchel clutched in her fist, came a translucent beam of red light. It zigzagged through the air and down into the path of the animal dashing across the earth. Here, materialized a large wolf with a charcoal hide and intense eyes.

    Jack had barely developed before he, too, bared his teeth and lunged at the wild creature. The two Guardians fought nastily in a flurry of fur and claws. Jack barked and growled as he tried to grip his fangs into the smaller, and more agile of the two. Maverick, as if unnoticing, continued his symphony while the animals rolled across the ground. Sophie felt helpless and simply watched her companion defend Maverick; she trusted him to know what he was doing, but the vicious snapping and snarling was making her nervous for her friend.

    The musical rhythm sped up then, rising and falling more quickly than before. The tone was stronger, more vivid. And with a long and drawn out note, Maverick brought his song to an end. There was a sudden silence. The growling stopped.

    Sophie watched the Guardians with urgent eyes. The Sleeping one was motionless. Then, it was blinking repeatedly and shaking its head. Before her eyes, she saw the Sleeper's veil dissolve. Its once coarse fur pulled away like a blanket, revealing a much smoother surface below. Two bone protrusions grew onto the flat of its back, wrapping snuggly over it. Its muzzle faded from black to a deep orange, while more boned cartilage grew over its forehead like a helmet. The barbaric eyes it had been looking out of before softened. And mildly startled, it began to look around.

    Jack ventured back over to Sophie’s side and lied down. He crossed one heavy paw over the other casually, probably trying to gloat over his defensive skills.

    Maverick watched the Sleeper paw at the earth, and sniff the air. He placed the instrument back in his bag without ever taking his eyes off of the strange creature.

    The animal then let its eyes fall upon the two humans. It glanced over Sophie, then to Maverick, and then quickly back to Sophie again. Its eyes narrowed and it walked forward. The girl was concerned at first, but Jack still rested calmly by her side. She trusted he would alert her if the creature wished her harm. The Sleeping Guardian, who Sophie assumed was no longer sleeping, circled her. It rounded behind her and then stopped once it had circled back to her front side, eyeing her suspiciously.

    Familiar…you seem. The sound came from the creature’s throat. It was a low, deep grumble.

    Sophie dropped her bag.

    Do you…know I?

    The girl crouched down, not responding, and gaped. She heard the Guardian making the noises - sounds that resembled a drawn-out pronunciation of the letter R. But some kind of comprehension allowed her to give them meaning. “No,” she whispered to the creature, marveling at what she couldn’t possibly hear.

    Lost.

    Sophie let the empathy show on her face as she reached out a hand to give his chin a stroke with the top of her fingers.

    Maverick appeared beside her with a polished black Compass in his hand.

    “Is that one of the new ones?” Sophie asked, standing back up. She said nothing about her understanding the animal’s dialect.

    “Yes.” Maverick responded. “I don’t know if it will hold it, but Nelson’s been designing it for years. He thinks it will work on all of the Sleepers.”

    Sophie shrugged. Her eyes fell back down to the small Guardian below them. He only looked up at them expectantly.

    Maverick pressed the button on the ball’s shell and watched it spring open. A black beam burst from the confinement and absorbed the animal in front of them. In a flash, the light faded and the Compass snapped shut. It swayed back and forth in Maverick’s hand for a few moments, then ceased.

    “Well, would you look at that…” Maverick muttered, holding the orb in front of his face and inspecting it. “That dope actually did it.”

    Sophie grinned, and let out a short laugh. She bent down slightly to rub Jack’s head. Everything had gone according to plan. For once.

    -x-


    Everyone crowded around the creature sitting atop the metal lab table. Its knobby tail wagged anxiously, but not to the point of fear. Maverick was hooking up some electroencephalography wires around the Guardian’s head. He stuck several behind his ears as well, in case the electrical activity couldn’t be located through the boney cartilage covering the majority of its skull.

    Nervous, the animal noised from his throat, looking to the girl who was patting his back reassuringly.

    Sophie forced a tiny smile, relaxing her eyes. “It’s okay, Houndour.”

    The teenager came clean to Maverick and the rest of the Shapers about her ability to understand the Sleeper. Their reaction was similar to how they responded about her ability to read their language, even though she had already somewhat revealed that she could understand their speech within the imagery of it as well. Finn expressed his usual level of concern, the twins were fascinated, Maverick was genuinely unsurprised, and Brinny shrieked an ‘All riiiight!’ and tried to give her an air five.

    Some of the Shapers that she didn’t know as well, like Rodger and Bob, were entirely indifferent. But others whispered whenever she was around, or spoke openly about their paranoia when she wasn’t. It felt strange to her that she was the one that was feared or thought of as weird for being exceptionally supernatural, and not the other way around.

    “What did he say?” Finn asked from beside Sophie. He too gave a pat to the Guardian, but contrarily to the skin below its jaw.

    “He’s nervous,” Sophie said, ashamed. “For good reason, too. It looks like you guys are about to suck his brains out through these wires. Is this really necessary?”

    “We’ve never had an opportunity like this before. We have the potential to learn their language, with your aid. And his, of course.” Maverick had his back turned to the small collection of Shapers. He watched the monitor and fiddled with the other ends of the EEG’s. “Perhaps he’d feel more comfortable if it weren’t so crowded in here. Give us a bit of privacy, you moochers.” Maverick nodded his head towards the door without turning around.

    A dozen Shapers chattered and obliged. Sophie heard Brinny whisper “AWww” under her breath as she moped out of the room with the rest of them. Finn patted his niece’s shoulder, then he exited as well.

    “Why can I understand him and not any of the other Guardians?” Sophie questioned after everyone had left.

    “Probably because he is a Sleeper. An original. You understand their language, and he speaks it purely.” Maverick put down the cords and typed a few commands into the computer. “All the other Guardians are mere descendents of the ones that came with him. Their dialect has understandably been diluted from the centuries that have passed.” The screen Maverick watched began beeping, and showed brainwave patterns. “Ah, here we are.” He turned back around to face them. “Okay.”

    “Ok?”

    “Yes. I am going to question him now. And when he answers, tell me what you hear.” Maverick turned back to the computer, and quickly pressed a few more keys. “What is your name?”

    Sophie nodded at the test subject.

    Houndour, called. The Guardian bent his ears against his head.

    Sophie reiterated to Maverick, who wrote down a few notes beside the monitor, and pressed more keys.

    “How old are you?”

    Houndour was silent, and blinked. The he closed his eyes.

    I am. Have lived three thousand and six revolutions. Before memory lost. The hound’s throaty murmuring sounded sad.

    “He says he was three thousand and six years old,” Sophie translated, slightly awed. “He doesn’t know how long he was asleep after that.”

    Maverick pondered this for a moment, typically wrapping his chin in his hand, then continued typing on the keyboard. This process continued for almost two hours. Sophie slouched against the table by the forty-fifth minute, and stayed awake as best she could. Eventually, Maverick asked the question that brought the old Guardian here in the first place. But, it was after the machine had been shut off, and the wiring removed. The elder put everything away, and walked over to the creature, directly addressing him for the first time. “Can you tell us where to find the Timekeeper?”

    Houndour tilted his head slightly. His grumbles had no translation in English.

    Sophie watched him intently. “He can feel him. I see images, but no sense of direction. He’s somewhere in the Amazon, that we knew, but I don’t see an exact location.”

    I lead. You can follow. Houndour looked at her in the eye.

    “He is willing to lead us there,” Sophie interpreted.

    “Thank you, friend.” Maverick politely bowed his head at the Guardian. “I think that’s enough for the night, I-” he touched his forehead and muttered some incoherent babble. Then removed himself from the room without ever finish the thought.

    Sophie escorted Houndour to the nursery, where the Guardian was met with excitement and idolization from the other Guardians that were a mere fraction of his age. She left him to rest once she was assured enough that he was comfortable.

    The girl dragged her feet to the bedroom on the other side of the base. The one down three stone passageways and past the kitchen. She flung open the door, simultaneously kicking off her shoes and her pants. Sophie flopped onto the bed, and tucked herself beneath the covers. Then, almost instantly, fell asleep.


    Hours later, she awoke to the sound of running footsteps in the hallway. Jack lie curled up at the foot of her bed, seemingly unaware that his body took up half of it. He was awake as well. His ears were perked and he was watching the door. Sophie threw on the same pants as yesterday - mustard stain and all - then hopped into the hallway, zipping them up she went.

    She sprinted down the hallway, soon realizing that she had forgotten to put on a pair of shoes. She nimbled her way around areas with cobblestone, flinching and hopping at the occasional stray pebble. Jack bounded along by her side with ease. His tongue flopped out of his mouth, and his drool splashed against Sophie’s leg. “Heyyy, these are clean pa-” she breathed. “Oop, never mind.”

    They rounded the corner and entered the next hallway, following the swift bodies ahead of them. By the time the pair caught up with them, they had reached the apparent destination. A mass of people crowded around the entrance of the nursery. Sophie elbowed, as politely as possible, her way to the front of the group. She twisted her head around the wall and into the doorway, and looked inside.

    Deep gouges dug into the grassy carpeting. There were several claw marks scratched into the dirt, and in some places along the walls. Plants were smashed, some of the Guardians were battered and bruised, and the rosey-fleshed caterpillar called Wurmple cried softly in the corner. The tiny horn it once had on his head had been broken off.

    Sophie noticed Maverick kneeling inside the nursery, observing a scratch in the bark of the underground tree. “Maverick, what happened here?” she called in to him.

    The old man stood with a sigh, and made his way toward her.

    “Where’s...Houndour?” she asked additionally, seeing that he wasn't with the others.

    “Gone.” Maverick looked grim.

    “Did he do this?” Her eyes widened.

    “Mav!” Finn was worming his way towards them, muttering ‘excuse me’ under his breath in between the whispers of everyone who was present. “Mav, what’s going on?”

    Maverick wiped a hand over his eyes. “Someone has taken the Sleeper,” he said. But his tone didn’t portray a feeling of anger or worry, but rather disappointment.

    “What? What do you mean someone took him?” Sophie scanned the nursery, realizing what she saw wasn’t vandalism; it was self defense.

    “Who?” Finn asked.

    “There is one other Guardian missing,” Maverick responded with dismay.

    Sophie had just noticed that as well. The nursery was lacking a specific ruby reptilian beast with a flaming tail. “Brinny…” she whispered.

    Maverick nodded his head once, and stepped away from the crime scene. “And she took the Pohkay Flute.”





    *****


    1309

    A small village deep in a South American valley feasted on a bounty of alien meat for several months. The warriors rejoiced and shared their battle scars. The forest around them had been completely cleansed of any beast who dared to call this province their home. What the people didn’t expect, was the good health that spread over the entire town. Early signs of an old plague were cured before it had ever started, fevers faded, and no one got so much as a sniffle while they all gorged themselves upon the massive helpings of food.

    It wasn’t long before they discovered the source of the good fortune was the very meat they sliced from the carcasses of the slain animals. Soon, people were lining up to drain some of the blood from the corpses for themselves, so they could bottle it and store it away for safekeeping. The warriors were sent back into the jungle to scour it for any signs that there were beasts who still remained. Yet, they always returned empty-handed.

    A young boy who lived at a smaller house that lined the outskirts of the village was hoarding as much of the blood as he could scavenge. His mother, who at the loss of two of her three sons, had also lost her sanity. She rocked in her chair, back and forth, and twisted her fingers together while whispering a string of irrelevant thoughts under breath. The boy, the only to remain of the three, resented her. He craved her attention, and envied the love that she still held for his brothers. He should be the only one who mattered now.

    Madness jittered in his eyes as he snuck into stranger’s houses and stole their jars of alien blood for himself. It had been a year since the warriors returned home for good, victorious in slaughtering the alien enemies of the forest. Since then, this blood not only cured disease, it stopped aging. Unnoticeable in the adults, but not one child grew a single centimeter taller nor aged a day older.

    After the course of a second year, and the inventory of blood had run dry, the rest of the village rejoiced at their two years of health an happiness and continued living their lives as they had before; they were thankful for the fresh start.

    Kaine, however, the boy with the stash of twenty jars in his closet that he’d stolen from the unwary, did not accept this resolution. Immortality dwelled in the liquid of those jars. He wanted to live forever.

    He knew there were more aliens from the forest than what the warriors had carted here for the village; he had seen them himself. And that was just the creatures inhabiting this forest. Surely there were more out there. Kaine would find them and kill them himself if he had to, even if he had to scour the world to do it. If he used the blood sparingly, he could be ageless for a hundred years before it ran out.

    The boy, who had lived seventeen years but walked in the body aged to only fifteen of them, packed his jars in a wide sack, slung it over his shoulder, and left. He said goodbye to no one.

    Through the course of the century, Kaine became aware of the aliens who had left the valley. He could see them through their disguises that they cloaked themselves in, making them invisible to an eye that had not already seen them before. He plunged a dagger into a massive, blush-colored caterpillar that was cascading as a common mole. He harvested its blood for a week, keeping it just barely alive so its blood would replenish at a maximum rate.

    As time passed, Kaine became aware of something else, something related to the creatures he hunted in a way he couldn't explain - the time benders. It was 1662 and an alien he had been tracking was companion to a young blonde haired boy who could run faster than was humanly possible. Regretting it later, Kaine murdered the boy in sleep, smiling with malicious glee, and stole his alien that even beneath its veil resembled the appearance of a wolf pup. This one he kept alive and tethered; he could remove its blood at any convenience, then allow it to produce more.

    The time benders became more common. They popped up more frequently through the decades. The aliens were drawn to them, making them easy picking when their human companions were left vulnerable. Kaine needed to gain the loyalty of one of these time crafters; they possessed knowledge that he needed to know as well. All he had to do was wait to find one impressionable enough to bend to his will…

    *****



    A young woman strode up the sidewalk to a large townhouse sandwiched in between two others. Black panels lined the windows, and a brick and cast stone façade stretched up all four of its stories. The woman stepped up a miniscule staircase and jammed a finger into the doorbell.

    The door opened widely, as was needed to reveal the large body of the man behind it. His stomach overhung a pair of pants that appeared to be several sizes too small and a smile stretched into his greasy skin. “Ah, itsch Brinny,” he said with a slight lisp, his chin fat jiggling with every syllable.

    “Hello, Edger.” The girl stepped past him, not waiting to be invited in. She heard the door shut behind her as she made her way up the spiral staircase in the entranceway. Her shoes clanked against the hardwood flooring, and she rounded off at the third level. She traveled down a long hallway, decorated with portraits of various landscapes, then entered the last room on the left.

    A man of average build sat in the single desk at the far corner of the space. He wore a fine suit, and he rested his forehead in his hand.

    “Kaine,” Brinny said, fumbling into his quarters. “I’ve got it, I did it.”

    A pair of lightning blue eyes looked up at her from behind his bushy eyebrows. He drug his hand over an aged and faintly freckled face, then stood from his chair. “Let me see it,” he said emotionlessly, making his way toward her.

    Brinny reached into her purse and pulled out a silver brass instrument. The flute was flawless. It reflected the false lighting above them so efficiently, they could nearly see their reflections upon it.

    Kaine grabbed the device from her and held it in his calloused hand. “So they fell for it?” he sneered, twisting it in his fingers. “Byron and Edger informed me that Finn and his little … Stag were at the museum the day they planted this there.” The man ventured back over to his desk drawer and carelessly dropped the flute inside.

    “Yes, they did. I told you they are idiots,” Brinny‘s words came out cold as ice. “And you were right, the old bat knew how to play it. Here.” She reached into her bag a second tim, and pulled out a glossy black Compass. She held it out satisfactorily as the man returned to take this from her hand as well.

    “Ah…” Kaine held the sphere up to the light, seeming to admire the craftsmanship. “So he finally got one of these working, did he…” he muttered to himself. After a few moments, Kaine plopped the ball back into Brinny’s hand. “Go. Take it to Byron.” He gestured briefly toward the door, then moved to sit back down at his desk.

    “Er…What about my…” Brinny couldn’t bring herself to finish asking the question and regretted not immediately obeying her leader’s command.

    Kaine stared at her with venomous eyes. His posture tensed to one of malevolence. “Greedy little bitch, aren’t you?” He pulled open the topmost drawer, and retrieved a clear glass vile; deep crimson liquid swirled around inside of it. “Here, take it and get out.”

    Brinny scurried over and quickly snatched it from his outstretched palm, then fled from the room as fast as her legs would allow.

    When she had gone, Kaine retrieved a second vial from his drawer. He twisted off the cap in a single motion, then emptied the entire contents into his mouth. With a gulp, he threw the empty container into the trash beneath his desk, then folded his head in his hands.


    The Compass hurled through the air, and popped open mid-flight. A dark beam traveled to the ground and left a houndish Guardian there in its place. The creature narrowed its eyes into a look of animosity and pinned back its ears.

    “Well, look who we have here!” Byron clapped his hands together once, then folded them between his knees as he bent over to admire the Houndour more closely. The dog growled lowly, then snapped at the face hovering over him. “Oh! A feisty one!” The man flinched away, but never lost his wry grin.

    Beside him, stood a relatively short, infant-like Guardian. Its creamy skin glistened in the fluorescent illumination coming from the ceiling, and its helmet occupied a significant portion of its face. The creature was expressionless as it waited patiently beside its master, wringing its hands in anticipation. Byron nodded at his Guardian, giving him some silent cue, then crossed his arms and watched the scene unfold.

    Where is our Timekeeper? Ralts asked, with a soft and silent moo.

    You…betray. Why? Houndour growled, snapping his teeth with the question.

    My loyalties lie with this human. His desires, are mine. His wishes, are mine. His orders, are mine. Ralts spoke with an assurance that felt foreign to the hound who listened with utter bewilderment. Tell me. Where is he?

    Your allegiance…wrong. I will not tell. Houndour was beginning to feel more disappointment than anger.

    Then you leave me no choice. Ralts let his fall onto either side of Houndour's face, pressing them delicately into his rough skin and swirling them in circles. The consciousness of the hound drifted away, leaving a wide opening for the psychic creature to venture inside. He pulled apart memories and walked through dreams. The journey was a short one. Celebi’s location was wrapped conveniently in the center of the creature’s mind. He unlocked it swiftly, and fled back out.

    Houndour lie on the tiled floor, seemingly comatose, and did not awaken even when the psychic Guardian's presence had left his side.

    I have it. Ralts pushed the thought into Byron’s mind.

    “Excellent!” Byron exclaimed, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Brinny, go tell our lovely leader that we have a location, I’m going to…dispose of our friend here,” he told the girl who had been waiting by the doorway, and bent down to sweep the tiny pup into his arm.

    “Why didn’t Kaine want to see this himself? Seems it would have been easier than sending me back and forth like a carrier pigeon,” Brinny responded with unintended annoyance.

    Byron looked at her with warning eyes, then flushed them away and said, “I have never known him to have a taste for mind-readings.” The man seemed distant after mentioning this, as if recalling an old memory. He carried the once Sleeping Guardian out of the room by the loose skin on the back of its neck.

    *****


    1929

    A newspaper tumbled along a dirty sidewalk with a passing breeze. It wrinkled and folded in the wind until it connected to the crouching form of a young boy. He looked at it curiously, then tore it away, not watching it blow further down the street.

    He shoved a stick in the thin groove wedged between two slabs of concrete. He twisted it around and around until the dirt was loose enough to be pried out with his utensil. He wiped his hands off on his worn and holey pair of cotton shorts, then watched as a disturbed collection of ants scattered from their resting place. The boy removed a shard of glass gingerly from his pocket, and tried holding it at just the right angle so that the sun reflected through the shard and down to the sidewalk below.

    The child frowned as the insects scurried to and fro, around and away from the magnified sunlight. He hovered his other hand over the scene intently. Then, with a malicious smile, continued tilting his piece of glass. The ants had stopped moving; they had been frozen in place. And, one at a time, they were singed into soot as their exoskeletons fell prey to the harshness of the transfixed beam of light.

    From across the street, a man watched the boy giggle as he burnt another insect to a crisp. The child seemed to be somewhere between the age of ten and twelve years old, but it was tough to tell through the layers of dirt and grim smudged across his youthful face. The adult uncrossed his legs, and stood from the bench he sat on, then walked over to the boy with a confident stride.

    The boy scratched at his mop of dirty hair before a dark shadow loomed over his play area, then looked up at the large body blocking his path to the sunlight.

    “Hello, boy,” a deep voice came from the tall body. “What is your name?”

    “B-B-Byron,” the child said, standing, and shielding his eyes from the sun with his forearm.

    The man crouched, and reached down to a centipede that was now emerging from the disturbed crack in the sidewalk. He touched it with his finger and almost instantly the insect toppled over in death.

    The boy gasped. “Ar-Are you like me?” he asked in slight excitement.

    “No,” the man said in an emotionless tone. “I have lived for centuries. Every year I have lived is inside of me, and I can transfer that time onto another.”

    The boy’s eyes widened. “O-oh.” Fear fell onto his face, plain as day.

    “Where are your parents, Byron?”

    “I don’t have any.” The boy looked down with great sadness, then up towards the end of the street. A building lie there, aged and tattered, and a hanging sign that vaguely read ‘Orphanage’ swung back and forth in the wind.

    “Come with me, then. I have big plans for you, boy.” The taller of the two gripped the child’s shoulder and led him away from the forgotten road before anyone even realized he had been there.



    Three years passed. The man and his protégée ventured down an evening road cities away. Dressed in fine attire, each of them appeared significantly out of place compared to the general poorness of the area. Byron ran a hand through his slicked back hair and stopped suddenly as they passed a tiny shop sunk into the end of a building strip. Candles hung softly in a single, large frontal window which had ‘Madame Margaret’s Readings’ painted on the outer side.

    “Oh! I love these! Think this one is legit, Kaine?” Byron asked excitedly, then made his way inside. His comrade eyed him emotionlessly, but followed behind.

    The shop was small and crowded. Trinkets scattered across every bit of available counter space and several exotic-looking plants hung from the ceiling.

    “Who’s out there?” a woman’s voice sounded from within. It was hoarse and ragged, as though she had a significant amount of phlegm in her throat.

    “Customers!” Byron called to her, and took a seat at her service table. Kaine simply folded his arms and watched from the door.

    The woman, presumably Margaret, lumbered out to the front area, putting a thin pair of spectacles over her eyes. A dumpy dress fell unflatteringly over her thick figure. She sat at the table, opposite of the young teenage boy, and took his appearance in for the first time. “Ah, quite a young man to be interested in his fortune…” she wheezed.

    Byron said nothing, but gave her a wry grin and thrust his hand across the table, palm-side-up.

    “Let’s see here,” Margaret sighed and leaned over the young man’s hand. She let her eyes peer down through the gap between her spectacles and her cheekbones as she scrutinized the lines embedded in his skin. Byron watched her with an arched eyebrow and an interested expression on his face.

    “So? What do you see?” he asked impatiently.

    Margaret removed her glasses. “You come from a tragic past,” she responded, looking him directly in the eye. Byron turned to Kaine and gave him a conspicuous eye roll. “Parents died to the plague, that is quite unfortunate…” she continued, gazing back down at the hand before her.

    Byron whirled around, and watched her again. “H-How did you know that?”

    “You have gifts as well, amazing gifts…” Margaret ignored him at first, then looked up at him extremely surprised. “Gifts like…mine.”

    The teenager shifted in his seat. “Cool, I think that’s enough,” Byron said, slightly uncomfortable and pulling his hand away. He flicked a few pieces of change onto the table.

    Margaret took the coins and put them into an empty milk jar that sat on a shelf beside the table. She seemed slightly disturbed by Byron, but was not intrigued enough to pursue him any further. “Would you like a reading, sir?” Margaret then asked, referring to the solemn and older man lurking by the entrance. She brushed a piece of dull and graying hair behind her earlobe.

    “No.”

    “Aw, come on. Give it a try, Kaine. I think this one might be the real deal.” Byron softly nudged his elder on the small of his back.

    Kaine gave Byron a murderous glare, but sat at the table nonetheless and exposed the underside of his palm as well. Margaret took it in her hand, and observed after a few small smacks of her lips.

    “Ohh, you are not from these lands are you? You too have seen great tragedy…” Margaret had a sad look on her face, but it quickly turned to one of confusion. “But…it was by your own hand. You have been exposed to great evil for… many ye-” Margaret dropped his hand, and it fell to the table with a dull thud. Utter horror emanated from her eyes as she backed away from the table, knocking her chair over in the process. “Wh-What… are you?” she gasped, her back bumping into the wall behind her.

    “I’m sorry,” Kaine answered with no emotion. He moved toward her frantic body that fidgeted and twitched with fear as his figure towered over it. “I didn't really want my palm read.” He gripped her shoulder firmly, and looked deep into her eyes. Her body aged rapidly before him - her skin decayed and sagged, her eyes turned grey, and her hair went white. She wheezed one final time before he released her, then he turned away before her corpse plummeted to the hard floor below.

    “Aw, what did you do that for? I kind of liked her. She was a real one.” Byron’s tone was mildly upset, as though he’d only just dropped his popsicle in the dirt.

    “I dislike psychics.” Kaine moved past him and out of the shop. He didn’t look at his companion, nor did he ever look back as the younger of the two jogged to catch up. They continued down the street, now dim in the moonlight, towards a single, horse-drawn carriage. And only once the sun had completely descended below the horizon did the horse gallop off into the distance, towing the two men to the unaware cities beyond.

    *****


    A company of eight time-shifters stood in a circle. Among them was Byron, Edger, Brinny, and Kaine himself. In the center of this circle was a tiny, bipedal Guardian with flowing white flesh. It swayed from side to side, gripping an oversized green helmet that obscured the majority of its face with fingerless hands. The Shifters clasped each others shoulders until the entire circle was linked. The Ralts snapped its fingers, and the group of them disappeared into thin air.





    Sophie splashed a handful of water onto her face. It was ice cold and stung her skin, but the prickling was worth it. Something about cool water relaxed her senses and dulled the soreness that spread around her eyes. She groped for a hand towel that hung nearby on the wall of the base’s smallest lavatory. Her fingers found the soft cotton and pulled it to her face.

    “Hey.” Sophie startled slightly at the deep sound of her uncle’s voice. The bathroom door had been propped open, but she never heard him arrive. “We found something.”

    Sophie dropped the towel on the edge of the porcelain sink and looked up at Finn. The hair surrounding her face was damp and the darker shade of it made her face look even paler than it already was. “What kind of something?”

    Finn smiled at her, the kind of smile that wasn’t out of happiness, but rather out of effort to mask whatever emotion it was trying to hide. His eyes did soften, however, and he flicked his head towards the hallway as he said “C’mon.”

    Jack was lying on the cement flooring of the hallway, right outside of the bathroom. His ears were relaxed, but attentive. If anyone wanted to come down this way, they’d have to pass his judgment first. The Guardian stood swiftly as the two time benders emerged and began making their way towards Nelson’s laboratory. Jack let his tongue loll out of his mouth and paced along behind them.

    It was always quiet walking with Finn. Sophie was never positive if it was because he was just quiet, or somewhat shy. He seemed to only ever speak if he had something to say, and she liked that. The air never felt awkward between them, if anything, it was simply peaceful.

    Sophie hadn’t been paying attention to the hallways; she navigated them as easily as her high school these days. In what seemed to be only a moment, the man, the girl, and the wolf all strolled in to the room with shelves of tools, books, and other various objects that were scattered around. Standing around the same table they had been at days earlier when Sophie had listened to them talking about her alien-translation skills, were Nelson, Nathan, Maverick, and a woman that she had only spoken to twice. Her name was Alice and she had a photographic memory.

    The teenager didn’t recognize her at first, because the light blonde hair that was normally wrapped strictly in a tight bun was now hanging casually over her shoulders. Alice was a Shaper, despite her ability being something a non-descendant could possess. Her memory far exceeded anything Sophie had ever heard of, though. She could recall an event down to the second and describe an image with ease as though she were presently examining it.

    “Hello, Sophie,” Alice crooned in a smooth, almost mystical voice once the two had made their way inside.

    “Er, hey…you.” Sophie winced, embarrassed that Alice’s name had slipped her mind. Luckily, the woman was either not offended or not listening.

    Finn moved in between the twin brothers who stood typically side by side in the tight circle. His biceps were broad enough that he unintentionally forced them to adjust their postures in order to give him his proper personal space.

    “Thanks to Tweedledee and Tweedledum here, we think we have a lead.” Maverick spoke to Sophie, the only one not up to date on the latest discovery, and referring to the twins.

    Nelson and Nathan both grinned an identically fake smile at their latest nicknames.

    “Do you remember the name ‘Darius Weaver’, Sophie?” Finn asked, leaning against the table. Apparently, Shapers liked to gather around them, because she felt like she was always standing or sitting at a table when anyone spoke to her.

    “I, uh… that dude’s penname?”

    “’That dude’,” Maverick mocked her, silencing a snort.

    “This book you guys lifted has a location on it that I haven’t seen before,” Nathan chimed in. “The others all led to the same dead end in Greece, but this one…”

    “Parts of it were written in Brazil,” Nelson finished his brother’s train of thought.

    “Er…” Sophie muttered accidentally.

    “Not just written of Brazil, written in Brazil. And fairly recently, too. At least compared to the others we have,” Nelson added, flicking a finger off his nose to subtly scratch it.

    “Okay?” the young girl asked when no one added to that. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be understanding yet.

    “This name appears on or in every bit of knowledge we have ever come to possess about the Guardians. Some of the print was written a hundred years ago, and the youngest of them has existed less than a decade. Someone still has access to very elusive information and we want to know how.” Everyone was quiet as Finn continued to explain, “We’ve only run into the same end in Greece for every book that we’ve gotten. But this one,” he held up the Shapers newest, stolen addition, “This book was finished in Brazil, and we have a location. It’s worth checking out.” Finn finished the train of thought fluently, and in the time-frame of only a few seconds.

    “Ahhh,” Sophie finally cleared the smog from her head. If anyone knew where the Timekeeper was, it would be whomever was connected to this pen-name. Without a flute to awaken the Sleepers, and with poor Houndour now out of the picture, all of the Shapers seemed distinctively gloom. Years worth of work had been reversed with a single betrayal. Sophie couldn’t believe it was Brinny of all people.

    Finn had said that it made sense that someone had been spying for the Shifters for quite some time, because whenever he or his fellow Shapers would discover any tidbit of information about where the Shifters had been taking refuge, the location had always been long-vacated before they’d ever found it.

    “So you guys are going on a business trip?” Sophie added.

    “We were hoping you’d come too,” Nelson said to her in a slightly shy voice.

    “Me? Why?”

    “Why not?” Maverick interjected.

    “Your understanding of the language has proven quite useful, Sophie. You also have nearly mastered your ability in a matter of weeks, that’s far less than I can say for any of us,” Nathan spoke, then looked around with an expression on his face that appeared as though he was waiting for someone to back him up.

    Finn had this proud beam about him. He was smiling, but it was only noticeable by the wrinkles it caused to form in his cheeks. “What do you say, kid?”

    Sophie scanned the five faces in front of her. She bit at her cheek, pretending to consider it, then said, “Well duh…” It was humbling how included she felt in all of the plans lately in comparison to when she’d first gotten here. It sure didn’t take long to feel like a genuine member of their supernatural family.

    Everyone relaxed. She hadn’t realized they were all (barring Maverick) so tense until after they'd stopped being it. Finn’s boyish smile spread all the way up to his eyes.

    “So when do we leave?” she asked, anxious to do something productive. It annoyed her endlessly knowing that Houndour was being held captive against his will, enduring God knows what - and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. She had this sinking feeling that she was supposed to protect him; he had trusted her alone, and she failed him.

    “Well,” Finn started, an unsure air to his eyes. “Tomorrow…”

    “Great,” Sophie answered, sure of herself. “I’ll go pack my things.” Confidence was something she exuded without meaning to. Her fellow Shapers wore a slight look of shock on their faces as the girl held her head high and strode efficiently from the laboratory to continue whatever preparations they had been planning with her depart.


    Jack whimpered beside the foot of Sophie’s base bedroom while she flung a few pairs of clothing into an average-sized bag. His fuzzy lips curled into a tiny O shape as he groaned his disapproval.

    “What are you so upset about?” Sophie asked, and gave him a noogie as she passed by to grab a third shirt from the drawer of an old dresser. “You’re coming too.”

    At this, Jack’s hunched posture straightened into an alert one. His ears angled forward, and his tongue flopped out of his mouth - he appeared to be grinning. Suddenly, the wolf was all too keen to help Sophie pack. He stood, and grabbed a random shoe from the corner with his mouth, and dropped it in her bag as well, resulting in drool leaking onto all of the contents inside.

    “Great…” Sophie sighed. She zipped the duffle shut, with Jack’s contribution still inside, and flung it onto the bed. “Thanks…” the girl added half-heartedly, not wanting to hurt the Mightyena’s feelings. If her lie was transparent, Jack didn’t notice. He wagged his bushy black tail, very pleased with himself.

    -x-


    Airports. Sophie hated them, especially this one. It was a giant pen that herded hundreds of people like cattle. At least she didn’t have to do much paying attention, since the group of five Shapers in front of her were hard to miss.

    Nelson and Nathan were ahead of the group, arguing over a map of the airport that was being ripped from one pair of hands to the other. Finn was mindlessly following the two, walking and fiddling with a device that looked similar to a cell phone at the same time. Alice held compact mirror in front of her face, and powdered her nose - the coordination required to pull this off without walking face-first into a wall was impressive. And Maverick was….

    “Maverick?” Sophie looked around. She could have sworn he had been right in front of her a few moments ago.

    “Sir, you need to calm down.” Sophie caught the agitated voice of a security guard standing in the entrance of a nearby gift shop.

    Maverick was muttering some things that were inaudible from this distance. “…AND A BOX OF POTATOES,” the old man burst out suddenly.

    Sophie swiftly made her way across airport pathway over to them. Maverick was now waving his arms maniacally in the air, and the security guard was reaching for a walky-talky clipped to the back pocket of his navy uniform.

    “They are out there…listening,” Maverick leaned close to the guard and whispered this disrespectfully close to the man’s ear. “EVERYWHERE,” he belted out again, this time making the younger man flinch as some of Maverick’s spittle went splashing against his face.

    “Maverick…” Sophie said quietly when she’d made it to the spectacle and tugged on the old man’s sleeve.

    “Young lady, is this man with you?” the security guard asked, re-clipping the radio to his pants, unused.

    “I- Yeah.”

    “Try to keep a better eye on your grandfather in the future, would you, miss?”

    “Sorry,” she replied, partly amused. “Come on…er…gramps.”

    Sophie grabbed Maverick by the arm, and pulled him after her. He was still rambling about aliens and supermarket items by the time they caught up with the others.

    Finn pulled a large bag from his shoulder and unzipped it once the group had rounded a corner to a quieter, less bustling part of the airport. Almost immediately, a Compass from inside of the duffle broke open. The familiar ruby light flashed between them and dulled into the swirling smog of Maverick’s Spiritomb.

    Maverick’s eyes went glassy. The ghost puffed in and out in a dance of eerie hypnotism, until the old man’s posture eased to his wary and sane state. Pleased with its Calm Mind, a psychic ability that Sophie had learned the Guardian performed on Maverick to tame his wild visions of the future, the Spiritomb spun back into the confinement of its Compass in a blur of red data.

    The six of them proceeded to their flight with little more mishap and boarded the plane that set course for South America.

    -x-



    A muddy river twisted and turned across the continent, slicing a thick rainforest in half. The water was calm and quiet, only lapping at the surface if an animal came to drink, or a carnivore pursued its prey beneath the shadowy depths. A small boat, powered by a massive wind turbine, blew down this river. It sent slick waves crashing into the shore with its wake.

    Four men and two women sat on the airboat as it cruised easily along; the river parted underneath as it was propelled forward by the wind. The set of fair-haired twins resided behind the controls, one of them clutching the steering lever in his hand, and the other staring heavily at a paper map while trying desperately to keep it from blowing away. Alice sat right in front of them, completely dressed in a khaki short-outfit and leather vest that seemed stolen straight from Crocodile Dundee. She held her arms over her head to keep her plain beige baseball cap from flying off in the wind that blasted all of them harshly in the face.

    Finn, Maverick, and Sophie occupied the first row at the bow of the boat. Finn and Sophie were smiling variously and pointing off at things in the distance, while Maverick appeared asleep beside them. The noise of the fan rotating furiously made it impossible to hear anything besides it, even if someone screamed directly into another’s ear. Somehow the old man managed to drift off into a slumber despite this, though. And how he managed to pull it off, Sophie would never know.

    It took all of the day, from the time their plane landed in Brazil, to the trip on the smaller aircraft through the outskirts of a tiny Amazon village, to this several hour-long boat ride that left everyone’s ears aching, to finally reach the proper coordinates. Nelson, who was driving the contraption, steered the brig briskly to the shore in a sharp jerking motion that almost sent a sleeping Maverick toppling overboard. Being that his time ability allowed him to see how any object was made, piloting the airboat came as easily as a rusty memory.

    Nathan folded up his map after showing it to his brother and pointing at a discreet location, then placed it into the pocket of a hiking backpack that he then strapped to his back. The boat bumped the shore heavily, jolting everyone forwards with the impact. Finn hopped out first, then grabbed the lead rope from the bow and heaved the airboat further ashore. The rest filed out after him, including Sophie, who promptly tripped off the lip of the boat’s edge and fell shoulder-first into a mud-sogged shore.

    “Watch your stepp, kiddo,” Finn cautioned mockingly late, and gave his neice a hand.

    Sophie took it and stood up. “…Thanks.” She dusted off whatever sludge she could from her right shoulder, but the mud was caked all the way down her side.

    Barely got here and I already look like the swamp-thing…

    The sun was already beginning to set, and the group of Shapers were just starting their hike through the thick woodland somewhere in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

    The twins took the lead while conversing the best route to go in with each other. Since together, they were the ones who Saw the residence linked to the penname ‘Darius Weaver’ with their combined shaping talents - it was safest to let them take point. Nelson and Nathan had mapped out the coordinates for everyone, but here, when the towering trees all blurred together and the sunlight barely crept through the canopies, it was best to follow the men who have already seen this place before in their minds.

    Alice brought up the rear. Her sharp face moved slowly from side to side as her eyes scanned the forest around them. She memorized every tree, every shrub, and every stone they passed on the off chance that they’d get turned around and lost in the jungle.

    Complete darkness fell onto the forest before long. Finn pointed a massive flashlight ahead of them as they trudged through the woodland. Heat crashed over the group like a heavy blanket. Even without the sun beating overhead, the humidity in the treed cover was intense enough to bring a layer of sweat to skin pores, even if the exercise hadn’t already done so. The stray branches and debris that were scattered throughout the forest floor made walking hazardous, but luckily the time spent on foot was significantly shorter than the rest of their journey had been.

    The thick trees parted, and a quaint hut emerged in a small grove. A warm light beamed through its window and smoke billowed from a fragile chimney. It appeared to be made out of some combination of wood, straw and bamboo-like material. Here, the moon shown through a large gap in the forest and left the area gleaming in a silvery mist.

    Everyone slowed when the house came into view. The forest seemed to be quiet as well, but the faint croaking of frogs could be heard from somewhere in the distance.

    “What are you sissies standing around for?” Maverick said, his white hair standing on end so wildly that it looked like he had an afro.

    The old man trudged up to the house, not waiting for anyone’s permission, and knocked on its wooden door.

    “Mav, wai-” Finn started to say, but the door was already creaking open.

    “H-hello?” A man stood in the doorway, but was only half revealed. His body was hidden behind the frame, but his head was clearly visible. He had deep brown hair that was so dark it could have been confused for black and his face was resting behind a thick beard.

    “Hi,” Finn said, moving forward and kind of nudging Maverick to the side. “We… This is going to sound really strange, but have you ever heard of anyone by the name of Darius Weaver?”

    The bearded man widened his eyes. He fidgeted, and appeared flustered. “No, I-I-I- You have the wrong-” his eyes had been darting from face to face of the apparently unwelcome guests, but he paused when they fell upon the young auburn-haired and fair-skinned girl named Sophie.

    “You…” he whispered.

    Sophie looked behind herself, confused, even though she knew no one was there.

    “Is it really you?” The man swung open the door and took two short strides over to her. He clasped his hands on her shoulders and looked questioningly into her eyes. “My God…” he breathed to himself. “Come in! Come in! All of you!” He waved his arm towards his home.

    Sophie glanced to Finn and Maverick and gave them a look that said ‘What the?’. But Finn only shrugged and followed the guy in, whereas Maverick ignored her.


    Crowded around a fireplace, six Shapers waited for the Amazon man to finish sorting through a stack of worn papers.

    “I don’t mean to be rude… but, who are you?” Nelson asked in a shy and quiet voice.

    The man smiled, still lifting page after page and placing them into a separate pile. “Well, apparently you know me as Darius Weaver.” He scratched at his heavy black beard.

    “Well not the Darius Weaver, he would have died ages ago, even if he did actually exist,” Finn said as a statement.

    The man was still smiling, but said nothing.

    “What is your real name?” Nathan asked, almost accusatory.

    “Chronos,” he said, still rifling through papers.

    Maverick arched an eyebrow.

    “Is that a joke?” Sophie asked.

    “Am I missing something?” Alice crooned, her voice smooth as silk.

    “Chronos is,” Maverick spoke, “the God of Time…” he narrowed his grey eyes.

    “People embellish, I have little more manipulation than you folks do” the bearded man added. “And besides, all of you are completely aware who the real God of Time is.”

    Sophie wasn’t sure if she was supposed to laugh, but nobody else was. “So you are saying that you are Chronos. The Chronos? You realize that would make you like ten thousand years old?”

    “I am, both of those things.” Chronos still smiled behind the stack of papers. “Not quite ten thousand though, I have a few more centuries to go.”

    It became uncomfortably quiet.

    “You…were there. When they came here. It was you who the Timekeeper first merged into.” Sophie whispered her realization with half-skepticism.

    “That was me, yes. I don’t think he realized how much got left behind. I possess only a morsel of his craft, but I share his immortality.” Chronos stopped shuffling the pieces of paper. “Ah! Here we are!” Grasped in his hand was a single page. He stared at it for a few moments, then walked around the countertop and over to the confused Sophie. “This,” he said, handing it to her. “I was told to give to you, should you ever find me.”

    Sophie took the page from him. “Um?”

    But in her grasp, the letters came to life. Though, they weren’t letters at all, but rather symbols. The very symbols that she could comprehend without a guide or translation to show her. The symbols, scratched into the page with a black ink pen, glowed white. They grew larger and larger until they almost burst out of the page. But… then they did burst from it. One at a time, in single file and like a stream of keys, the symbols sprang from the piece of paper and into the air.

    Sophie thought she was going to pass out, surely she was hallucinating. But the elderly form of Maverick beside her was watching them too, mouth agape. Rather, everyone was watching them. No one was making a sound, not even to breathe.

    The symbols ever so vaguely resembled letters. And in place of a gap in each of them, there blinked a single eye. There were soon dozens of them floating in the air around them.

    Awesome…

    And as though they had read her thoughts, seven symbols that translated to the meanings of ‘A’, ‘W’, ‘E’, ‘S’, ‘O’, ‘M’, and ‘E’ drifted forward simultaneously and hovered side by side. Their eyes blinked at her expectantly.

    Immediately following this, however, the rest of the symbols started spiraling around the room faster and faster until it looked like the eye of a tornado. The letters blurred together into a shimmering wall, and upon it formed flickering images. Still faster the symbol-creatures spun, until finally, Sophie was watching through a window into another world…



    This dimension could only be compared to one thing: Hell on Earth. The planet’s crust was dry and hard as stone; no greenery sprouted from its surface. The sky overhead was tinted blood red and the sun was barely visible through a thick layer of smog. A massive volcano loomed in the horizon, lava spewing from it like molasses. And perched at the very top of the volcano was a colossal black dragon.

    The images flickered again, changing shape and color. The blur took form into a very familiar picture. There was now displayed a vision of California. The Golden Gate Bridge rose stoically over the waters. But this was not the California Sophie knew, thick clouds of smoke puffed from charred buildings. The bridge was snapped directly in half, cars were crashed all along it, and some had fallen into the ocean grave below. Dead bodies lined the streets - all human. The entire city was on fire. Overhead, there soared that same black dragon, its roar shaking the earth to its core.


    Sophie gasped.

    “Stop! Stop,” she pleaded. The symbol creatures slowed to a stop, ceasing their swirling around the room. With their stillness, the images faded, and the inside of that tiny Amazon hut came into view.

    “What’s wrong, Soph? Are you alright?” Finn asked concerned, and looked at her with worried eyes.

    “Yes…I just… don’t want to watch that anymore.” Sophie rubbed her forehead, she knew she had just seen a vision of the future. She'd seen enough of them by now to recognize the feeling, even if this Sight didn't originate with her. The thought sank into her stomach like a heavy boulder.

    “Watch what?” Maverick questioned, eyebrow raised.

    “The vision…that these symbols made.” Sophie pointed into the air above them, where dozens of letters were clearly hovering and blinking single alien eyes.

    “Huh?” Maverick grunted.

    “What?” Nelson and Nathan said at the same time.

    “What symbols?” Finn’s voice seemed almost condescending in the fact that his doubts for her sanity leaked through it. But Sophie knew he didn’t mean it that way.

    “They can’t see them.” Chronos seemed to suddenly appear beside of her, even though he had been standing there the whole time. “Only you and I can.”

    “But I thought…I could have sworn I saw you all looking at them…” The letters started filing behind her once again, and drifted back down to the page still clutched in her hand.

    No one said anything, they just all stared at her curiously. She was getting tired of these looks.

    “What did you show her?” Finn asked Chronos, mildly accusatory.

    “I didn’t show her anything,” Chronos responded. “The Unown showed her the present on the other side, and the future on ours.”

    “Unown?” Sophie wondered, but realized what he meant before she finished saying it.

    “The symbols.” Chronos gestured to the last few shrinking themselves on to the page in their designated order, until only one remained. It translated to the letter ‘S’ in English. The symbol smiled with its wide eye, and gave Sophie a butterfly kiss on the cheek. Then it, too, followed the others by fading into an ink scratching on the very old piece of paper.

    “I-I don’t understand.” Sophie’s head started to hurt, but at least this time she kind of knew why. “How come I can see them and no one else?”

    “Ah,” Chronos said with a heavy sigh. “That I cannot tell you.”

    Sophie pinched her eyebrows. Even complete strangers insisted on being vague with her.

    “Do you know where the Timekeeper is?” Finn blurted out. “We need to find him, he is in danger…”

    “I do, he is nearby.” Chronos was very matter-of-fact.

    “Can you take us to him then?”

    “I can, but it isn’t really necessary.” Chronos dropped his dark eyes on to Sophie. “She knows how to find him, too.”

    “What?” Sophie asked, sounding offended. But then, right when she was about to contradict him, an overwhelming presence poured into her brain - or from it. The simple thought of the possibility of her knowing felt like a box being unlocked that she never knew was up there. A magnetism was pulling at her mind, guiding her. She knew who that forced belonged to, and though she didn't know how or why, it was of the Timekeeper.

    There was a long silence that seemed to last more than it actually had.

    “He’s right…” Sophie breathed. “I feel it. I do know.” She leaned her forehead into her hand and slumped to the floor, resting on her knees. The pressure in her skull felt uncomfortably tight.

    Finn stood from the stool he was sitting on. “What do you mean ‘you know’?” One of his eyes was slightly squinted and he looked to Chronos like he was going to lunge at him. “What did you do to her?”

    “Nothing,” Chronos responded defensively. “She knows all on her own.”

    Maverick was staring at the floor, making some kind of grunting noise under his breath. Nathan and Nelson were sitting side by side on a bench, mouths agape, but not saying a word. Alice was standing in the corner, arms crossed, and seeming indifferent to the entire conversation. Sophie was glad at least someone thought everything was normal.

    “Tell me,” Chronos moved from them back to his messy countertop to place the page he’d taken back from Sophie in its proper resting place. The fire cackled in the background. “Have you ever wondered why she is active when she should be dormant?”

    “I-” Finn started to say something, but the pause afterwards was long enough to give Chronos the opportunity to continue.

    “You have learned she possesses skills that exceed the normal confinements of the bloodline, yes?” he said, his beard jutting out with the question, and had an unsurprised look on his face as though he could simply read their minds. “Have you not wondered why?”

    Finn looked at Maverick with his eyes narrowed, daring him to say something. The two of them knew more than they were sharing, and apparently it was Finn who was instructing the secrecy.

    Chronos watched them. “I think you have.” He then moved his eyes to Sophie. “And I think you should share your insight with the person most affected by it, since she appears to have no idea.”

    “What? What is he talking about?” Sophie straightened her body from the crouch she was in, and turned to Maverick, then to Finn. She wondered if Chronos could really read minds or if he was just really skilled at interpreting body language.

    Finn rubbed the back of his neck.

    “It’s you, pipsqueak,” Maverick stated bluntly. “He’s here for you.”

    “We don’t know that.” Finn shot Maverick an angry glare. “We don’t know that for sure.” Finn looked like he was going to be sick. Whatever was worrying him was heavy enough of a burden that his whole body reflected its weight. Sophie got the feeling that Finn didn’t really believe what he was saying.

    “What?” was all Sophie managed to say. Somehow that word always summed up everything.

    Alice and the twins looked down at the floor or off to the side, doing everything they could to avoid Sophie’s eye contact.

    “The Timekeeper is here for you. You’re the reason all of us even exist,” Maverick spread his arms out in a wide gesture as he said ‘all’. “The big kahuna. The top dog. The entire cake. The big cheese-”

    “Okay, Mav, I’m sure she gets it,” Finn interjected.

    “- the Heavyweight. The bigwig. The whole enchilada.”

    “MAV!”

    “We were all given the gene to search for you,” Maverick finished, seeming oblivious to Finn’s distress. “We all felt it when you got here. We feel it every time you use your abilities. It’s like an alarm clock buzzing in our brains. Quite annoying, actually…” Maverick’s fuzzy white hair flopped over as he looked down to the floor and rubbed one of his palms.

    “Sophie,” Finn moved over to her. “We don’t know this for sure, you’re…different, yeah. But we don’t know for sure. We don’t know.” Fear emanated from her uncle’s eyes.

    Sophie wasn’t sure what she should be more upset about. “Wh-why didn’t you just tell me?” the question itself came out, deciding for her. “This is what you guys have been all weird about? You could have just told me…” Resentment leaked from her voice. She wasn’t even that young, it made her wonder if they would have responded differently had she been a few years older.

    “Because we don’t know. We-I didn’t want to scare you. And your mother, she didn’t want you in this life at all; I can’t imagine what she’d-”

    “Stop talking about my mother!” it came out louder and more abruptly than she'd meant, but the amount of anger in her tone was correct. “I am not her, and she's not here. I never even knew her!”

    Finn was taken aback; surprise shown down his face.

    “I’m a person first. Daughter second. Niece third. Stop treating me the other way around.”

    Maverick smirked without lifting his eyes from the floor.

    “I…I’m sorry.” Finn’s face flushed. “I just wanted-”

    “to protect me, I know.” Sophie took the initiative to give her uncle a hug. The man seemed so boyish, sometimes it was hard to see him as her elder. They only differed in age by a little over ten years. “I’m a big kid now,” she said softly over his shoulder, then let go of the embrace.

    Finn’s broad body seemed to relax slightly, but he was no where near completely at ease.

    “Well,” Chronos spoke from the other side of the dusty room. Sophie just remembered that there were other people here and felt a bit awkward. “I suggest you folks sleep here tonight and head out in the morning. There are things out there in darkness that even a Guardian couldn’t save you from. I have sleeping bags in the closet.”

    Sophie meandered around in a daze while the other Shapers shuffled throughout the room, pushing furniture to the side of the hut to open a wide enough space up in the center of it. Finn and the twins thanked the heavily bearded Chronos for his hospitality, and eventually everyone restlessly made it to their blankets and tried to fall asleep.

    Anticipation for where they were headed next flooded her thoughts, leaving them incapable of sleep. Every time Sophie thought she had the hang of things, something through her for a loop. She wondered what was going to happen tomorrow; if Maverick was right, what would that mean for her? Everything she learned told her that the Timekeeper needed her to save his planet, but what that responsibility entailed, Sophie had no idea. She may have given her uncle a hard time about treating her like a child, but he was right about one thing: she was afraid.
    Last edited by EmBreon; 21st May 2013 at 11:28 PM.
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper



    The sun rose with the sounds of howling chimpanzees. The racket came from a far distance, but the screeching was so rigid that it echoed throughout the rainforest. Sophie hadn’t slept at all.

    The others were folding up their blankets and straightening hair that was stiff from sleep. Chronos emerged at some point during the preparations, and started brewing tea over the fire. The flames were only low embers, but the heat was already so overbearing, that the man-made fire only made it that much worse. No one wanted anything warm to drink, but Finn and Nelson showed him a bit of gratitude for the offer before making their way outside, following the rest of the group.

    Everyone thanked Chronos for his assistance, even Maverick, then started hiking out into the shadowy covering of woods once again. Chronos scratched at his thick dark beard with one hand, while waving goodbye to the group with the other. Only once they were out of sight did he return to the inside of his hut, to seclude himself in secrecy once again. Father Time let out a heavy sigh; his thick chest deflated with the exasperation. It wouldn’t be long before he could finally have eternal peace.

    The pack of six Shapers were wading through the jungle for a second journey. Though this time, it was Sophie at the lead. She was following some invisible force that was tugging her in a distinct direction. She couldn’t explain it to anyone because she, herself, didn’t understand it. Luckily, having time powers seemed to make people abnormally understanding, because nobody pressured for information. Nelson and Nathan seemed to be enjoying their break from navigation duty anyway. Alice still brought up the rear, memorizing their path as they went. Her hat hung around her neck now, the strings attached to it were tied at the middle. Little sunlight was bleeding through the canopies; there was a miniscule need for extra shading.

    Sophie followed the pull for at least two miles. While on land, this distance wouldn’t seem very daunting. But, in the jungle, two miles could take hours; there were thick stretches of mud to wade through, overturned trees and branches, and dense shrubbery that was often incased in thorns or prickly bits that slashed into their skin if they weren’t slow and careful enough when passing through it.

    It was midday before the pulling reached its maximum strength. Sophie could feel that they were close as she climbed over an enormous log and hopped to the other side. In front of her, the trees began to part. She heard the others rustling behind her, but as she took a few steps forward, the sound of them was muffled and she felt a slight increase in air pressure. Then, the pressure faded almost instantly. Her ears popped. She turned back around to face the others, who were slowly catching up, and as soon as they were a mere stride and a half away, she could distinguish the sounds of their clattering once again.

    No one but Finn and Maverick noticed the tightening and loosening of air pressure that Sophie did. She knew what it signified as well as soon as she saw the expressions on the two of their faces. They’d just passed through the Timekeeper’s barrier; the one that was impassible to outsiders who didn’t know of his location already, or were not granted passage by the Guardian himself.

    That’s when the whispering started, but it didn’t come from the five Shapers behind her. Off in the distance, hidden beneath the darkness of the trees, dozens of voices sounded from within. As they made their way deeper into the protection of the force field, the sounds became clearer. Some merely sounded like grunts or growls, but others…

    Is that her?

    I can’t believe it!

    She looks so different, are you sure?

    It must be, I can feel it.

    I can too.

    It’s definitely her. Definitely. Definitely.

    At long last, the Timekeeper finally did it. He found her.

    Tell the others. Hurry, go!

    The chatter softened slightly, but it could still be heard reverberating from the woods around them and the branches of the trees stretching out above. She knew she was the only one who understood those voices; for everyone else, they were merely vague calls of traditional wildlife. Sophie’s face fell a tiny bit. The worry about what they were about to walk into began to weigh in on it. Finn noticed.

    “Is everything alright, squirt?” he asked, draping an arm over her shoulder as they walked on. At least now, there was finally a dulled pathway to walk on. The obstacles they’d been hiking over or around for the last several hours seemed to finally be over.

    Sophie wanted to tell him she was scared to death, but she knew he’d use her fear as an excuse to immediately turn around an head back to the States. He wasn’t too keen on the Timekeeper’s prospects for his niece either. They all felt that drive, that loyalty to him that couldn’t really be explained. But real love was a different magnetism entirely. Even the foreign blood in their veins wasn’t enough to overpower family. So she lied. “I’m fine. Just tired is all.”

    “Ah, you can say that again,” Finn said cheerily. Behind them, Nelson and Nathan were so covered in mud and dirt, that they looked like they were covered in elephant dung. Alice’s make-up had long been sweated off, and her mascara now circled her eyes like a raccoon. And Maverick was trudging after them like a zombie; he appeared as though he’d topple over and fall asleep at any moment.

    Sophie smiled at the sight of them: a make-shift support group for time powers. Whether Finn had intended it or not, it did in fact cheer her up.

    As she turned back to face the path before her, the trees parted even wider. There was no longer a smooth path to follow of bedded down grass and scarce branches; it opened up into a wide grove. The sunlight poured down from the sky into the unobstructed view of it. Thick grass lined the forest flooring, and swayed back and forth in the breeze. And at the very center of the clearing…

    “I…don’t believe it,” Maverick whispered in awe. He voiced what Sophie was thinking. She felt like she was in a dream.

    A massive, ancient tree towered before them in the exact center of the grove. Its branches sprawled out like giant arms, almost reaching to opposite ends of the clearing. It was as thick around as a redwood, but the tree itself was dim and grey. It appeared to be dying. All of the Shapers knew why.

    Sophie took a few cautious steps towards it. The world seemed to become quiet, and the pull of that presence she had been following since dawn was so strong that it almost felt like gravity. She had a feeling that she couldn’t back away now even if she wanted to. The girl slowly lifted her hand and placed it on the trunk of the great tree. She expected to feel cold, harsh bark. But what she actually felt was warmth, and a pulsing that almost felt like a beating heart. She gasped and took her hand away, then took a reluctant step backwards. As she did this, at the edge of the grove, only yards away from where the rest of her fellow Shapers stood watching, a group of eight Shifters blinked into existence.

    At the center of them was a small, white Guardian. Sophie recognized it as a Ralts; it was one of the rarer forms that had Psychic abilities and was believed to possess the power to teleport. Apparently, that belief had been correct. And begrudgingly, she also recognized it as the creature that twice tried to tap into her brain under Byron’s command.

    The eight of them were all clasping each other’s shoulders, but dropped their hands as soon as the lot of them realized they were on firm ground with all of their organs in tact. Five of the Shifters Sophie did not recognize. But she did see within the crowd a crazed Byron, his obese lackey Edger, and…

    “Brinny…” Sophie whispered under her breath. She’d known the other young woman had betrayed them, but it sunk deeper to see it with her own eyes.

    Finn’s jawed was clenched.

    “Come to join the party, have you, dingbats?” Maverick chided, not making eye contact with Brinny. In fact, he was making a conscious effort to look at anything but the girl. His face was ridden with disappointment. Sophie had learned previously that Brinny was an apprentice of sorts to Maverick, even more so than Sophie was; he probably felt the most betrayed of all.

    Sophie couldn’t contain herself like the old man could, however. “Brinny…” she almost squeaked. “Why?” She couldn’t find the words to voice anything intellectual. It left her flustered knowing that someone she had considered to be a good friend could pull off this kind of treachery.

    “I was never on your side to begin with,” Brinny snapped. Beside her, Byron had a big stupid grin on his face. “You morons have nothing to offer. And you are incredibly annoying.” Something about her voice felt off, as if she wasn’t telling the entire truth.

    There was a faint popping sound, a flash of light, and then spiral of electricity blasted Brinny in the face. She shrieked, and buckled to her knees, covering her head.

    Sophie whirled around. A fancy-looking bumblebee in a hooded jacket was hovering next to Alice, sparks crackling in its antennae. Maverick gave her an accusatory glare. “What?” Alice asked defensively. “That chick’s a bitch.”

    The damage had already been done. However, Sophie doubted that, regardless of who dealt the first blow, the Shifters wouldn't have let the six Shapers escape unscathed. Not that any of them had any intention of running.

    Brinny’s Charmander appeared at her side, chomping its teeth and grumbling a gruesome growl. Ralts stepped forward, and three Compasses flew into the air unleashing a large brown termite, a dark bird, and a juvenile crocodile. Sophie realized that the Shapers weren’t the only ones with access to the strange, other worldly device. Nelson may not have invented it, but he could sure make a better Compass than any other human on the planet, and she was willing to bet on that. However, the quality of those enemy orbs were no matter to the fact that there were now five, snarling Guardians waiting for the Shifters’ command.

    Instinctively, Jack busted out of his ball like a rocket, planting himself directly in between the mass of Shifters, and the six Shapers behind him. His back arched into a rabid position while he pinned his ears and growled. The menace in his eyes showed the confidence that he planned to take all of them on by himself. His fellow Guardians had no intention of letting him go at it alone, despite his foolish bravery. Spiritomb appeared swirling at his side, and a dapper Lickitung meandered over as well as soon as it forced its way out of Finn’s Compass. Alice's Volbeat buzzed delightedly to the front lines behind them, and suddenly there was a battlefield of Guardians in the middle of two enemy groups of time benders.

    “It would be unwise to engage in a duel with us,” the tallest man of the group warned, standing distinctively off to the side. “We outnumber you by both human, and not,” he finished, gesturing a hand to the five creatures facing the Shapers’ four. His face wrinkled into a nasty grin, blurring freckles together. His eyes were ice blue and so familiar, that Sophie was sure she had seen them somewhere before…

    “We’re not just going to let you harvest the Timekeeper like some kind of pork roast, you sick bastard,” Finn spat. His nose was raised in a matter that suggested he’d just smelled something foul.

    “Unwise… Just like your little pal, Abram. Too naïve for your own good,” the man’s words punched Sophie in the chest. They were talking about her father, and she realized this was the man who killed him. The leader of the Shifters. The one to blame for everything. Kaine.

    Sophie looked to Maverick for reassurance, as if to ask ‘Is that really Kaine?’ with her eyes. The old man nodded a yes. It was strange to be considering Maverick as elderly when he wasn’t even a tenth of Kaine’s true age.

    “…and look where that got him,” Kaine nearly concluded, “festering in the dirt with maggots-” Sophie’s rage must have been so intense that even Jack could feel it, because at the last syllable of Kaine’s sentence, the wolf gave out such a throaty growl that it sounded like thunder. The Mightyena lunged into the air, planning to sink his claws into Kaine’s chest and wrap his jaws around his throat, but was close-lined in midair. The giant brown termite pierced one of its thorny horns into Jack’s side, sending him plummeting to the ground with a sickening yelp. Jack’s target was left unscathed.

    Sophie gasped and ran her Guardian's side. Blood was pouring out of the hole where the Pinsir’s horn had pierced him. Jack whimpered and breathed heavily, his wounded side heaving up and down in pain with each agonizing breath. Sophie pressed her palm firmly over the wound in an effort to stop the bleeding.

    Meanwhile, a fight had begun. Finn’s Lickitung had leapt onto the defense as soon as Jack had been incapacitated, and slapped the Pinsir across the face with its hand in a way that would have probably been humorous outside of a battle. It then wrapped its tongue around the termite’s massive head, and somehow lifted off the ground, then threw it over its shoulder in a heavy Slam.

    Volbeat and the dark bird Murkrow were in the air, buzzing and flapping around each other with erratic haste. Volbeat was trying to land a Thundershock on the more agile bird as it ducked and dodged everything, then fired off a dark beam of its own. Volbeat took the force of the blast to its abdomen, and spiraled off through the air.

    Spiritomb was swirling around maniacally, its green beads were but a blur. Ralts and the crocodile Sandile, its black striped skin course and dehydrated even in the rain forest humidity, were standing and staring at it, completely entranced.

    “Attack it, you idiot!” a man hollered from the crowd that was thinning and breaking off to fist fight the Shapers. Sophie assumed it was whomever that Sandile belonged to. But, the tiny crocodile did not move.

    Spiritomb spread a devious grin across its smoky face, pleased to have disabled two of them on its own.

    A fist fight, however, was not what had broke out. At least, not entirely. Finn was punching some brute in the face before the other man had even the time to think about lifting his arm. Another tried to come up behind him and hit him over the head with a sharp branch that he must have picked up from the ground, but her uncle blocked it with his arm, ripped it from the man’s grasp, and slammed him in the chest with it. As the Shifter fell to the ground, Finn busted the branch in half, then threw it down and crushed the sharp end of it with his foot. Sophie’s uncle hated weapons; it was the main reason he never wanted a Guardian.

    Alice had a can of pepper spray in her hands, and sprayed it directly into the eyes of a man who had his arm tightened around Nathan’s throat. While Nelson, was busy lugging almost motionlessly away from Byron, who must have frozen him in time. Something about time powers, they didn’t work as well on people with similar abilities in their blood. Nelson broke out of the invisible restraint, his face was flushed and sweated as though he’d just carted a heavy sack up a mountain, but he whirled and went to tackle Byron’s skeletal frame to the floor. But, yet again, Byron stopped him in time with barely a flick of his wrist. That’s when Finn appeared, almost out of nowhere, and punched Byron in the back of his skull so hard that he instantly knocked the man out.

    “Agh! God damn it!” Finn cursed, shaking his hand and squeezing it as Byron’s unconscious body slumped to the earth. He’d probably broken his knuckles in the blow.

    Sophie watched with a panic, never removing her hand’s pressure from Jack’s hide. There was a lump in her throat when she realized the wolf’s breathing was becoming faint. “Alice!” she called out desperately, then quickly changed her mind. “VOLBEAT!” she screeched in a panic. The insect heard her, but it was still being pursued by the dark Murkrow. It buzzed as quickly as it could over to her, taking fleeting pecks in its back from the bird who refused to let it escape unscathed.

    Sophie closed her eyes, and critically tried to calm herself down. She listened to her heart for three beats, then watched the future. She saw the Murkrow flapping through the air… left, right… left, down… right, left…

    Sophie stood and punched the bird in the beak right as it was about to pursue the bee past her, shoving the cartilage of its beak into its own skull. The Murkow shrieked and lost its balance. Its wings buckled and it flapped unsuccessfully in the other direction, then somehow managed to crash into a nearby tree.

    With its pursuer out of the picture, Volbeat buzzed down to her side. She kneeled back down next to Jack, and pressed her palm on his wound once again. In her distress, she had remembered something she’d seen done in before. “Volbeat,” she breathed, grateful the Guardian had come to her aid despite the fact that she wasn’t the human it belonged to. “Could you cauterize this? Don’t burn him too deep, just the surface.” Electricity could be used for healing.

    The insect nodded, brisk and proud. It rubbed its stubby hands together, igniting a hot spark and went to work. Sophie stood, and felt sick to her stomach leaving Jack there, but she knew Volbeat would do his best, and there was little use to sit watching while the rest of the Shapers were fighting for their lives. She patted the Volbeat once on his jacketed back, then sprinted off towards Finn who was trying to throw a punch at the obese Shifter named Edger who was running circles around him faster than humanly possible.

    Mid-stride, something caught her ankle, and it felt like a set of teeth because the sharp sensation sliced into her foot. Whatever it was cut off her momentum enough to make her trip over, and she had to use her elbows to painfully brace her fall. Sophie whirled onto her back and saw the familiar red reptile latched onto her leg with enough gumption to tear it off. She tried to used her other leg to kick it off, but it was like kicking a dead fish, it seemed completely unbothered by it.

    “Charmander, use Slash!” the femininely acidic voice came a few strides away. Brinny wore an icy smile as she moved closer.

    Though she moved to defend herself with her arm, the Guardian was too fast for her. It sent a heavy claw slicing through her abdomen. The pain sent tears to her eyes immediately. Sophie screamed.

    In the distance, Finn had just subdued his opponent with the help of his Lickitung. The creature had its tongue wrapped around the fat man’s leg, clearly having tripped him while he’d been sprinting circles around Finn, because there was a long skid mark dug into a dirt trail behind his unconscious body. At the sound of her scream, Finn dashed towards them. Brinny, being so entranced with her mutilation of Sophie’s helpless body, hadn’t noticed him lunge at her from behind. With a heavy thrust of his forearm to the back of her head, Finn had rendered this Shifter unconscious as well. His combat skills had clearly been underestimated, because Finn alone seemed to give the Shapers the number advantage now.

    Sophie’s vision was blurred from the water collecting in her eyes, but she could still make out Finn’s figure reaching down and prying the Charmander from her body, then tossing it into the air behind him. The reptile landed with a soft thud, and almost unbothered by the fall, scurried over to inspect its fallen owner.

    Finn propped an arm underneath Sophie’s back and lifted her from the ground, letting her steady herself on his sturdy frame and use his shoulder for balance. She felt dizzy and lightheaded, and regretted looking down at the lower half of her body because blood was leaking through her clothes, making her injuries look significantly worse than they probably were. She wanted to throw up.

    “You’re okay, Soph. You’re ok,” Finn reassured her, bracing her limp body that was about to collapse to the ground. Sophie would have believed him if it wasn’t for the massive worry embedded in his eyes.

    Suddenly, Finn went rigid. So focused was he on rescuing his niece, that he hadn’t been paying attention the conflict around them. His eyes went blank, and Sophie turned to him and noticed a metallic claw penetrating through his torso. It pulled back through with an unsettling wet noise and Finn’s body fell to the earth beneath them - a wide hole pierced through the center of his chest.

    Sophie staggered in place from the sudden absence of support. Her stomach dropped, and she fell down beside him. “Finn!” she called to him in a scream that sounded miles away. She desperately patted his face, surely he had just fainted even though his eyes were dead and wide open. “FINN!” Water leaked from her eyes, but this time it wasn’t from the pain penetrating her stomach.

    “Why must your family always get in the way…” a slick voice sounded behind Finn’s body. She didn’t look up, she was resting her head on her uncle’s pulse-less chest and willing him back to life. She didn’t watch the man and the Pinsir, whose fist was covered in her uncle's blood, make their way to their side. She didn’t acknowledge their existence until Kaine was crouched down next to and forced her wet face into his hands, then pried it towards him. “Such a shame, really.”

    Sophie glared into his eyes and spit into his face.

    Kaine let go of her and calmly wiped off the saliva as though it were his own sweat. He let out a breathy laugh. “Such a fireball. I can see why they had trouble with you.”

    Sophie eyed the man with more anger than she ever knew she had, and her eyes flicked from the large insect that caused her uncle’s demise to the human who was her father’s. Never before had she wanted to end someone’s life. There was a first time for everything.

    But, Kaine placed a palm on her shoulder and looked at her one final time. “I would have loved to figure you out,” the man said, running a finger through her hair. Sophie did nothing but wince with disdain as the almost thousand-year-old man gripped her shoulder tighter. And in the moment after, she felt her body immediately decay.

    A panicked, but steady heartbeat pounded a hundred beats a second. She felt it exploding inside her chest like a hive of bees in a jar, she was sure it was about to burst out of it. Her lungs wheezed for oxygen, they felt heavy and weak. From her roots, her hair blazed a shallow shade of grey and her skin wrinkled a hundred years worth of age. As the world around her faded and her eyes drooped shut, she managed to glance one last time over to the best friend she’d ever had.

    The wolf lie lifeless in the grass, his black coat now almost as pale as her. No more struggled breaths lifted his ribcage from the ground. Volbeat still sat loyally by his side with an unhinging look of utter defeat.

    Everything she loved was now gone, and the last feelings she felt before she died were emptiness and then regret.


    Often, the human race longs for the opportunity to turn back the clock. To go back in time and change a choice. To right a wrong. To tell someone how they felt while they’d still had a chance. But time is seamless, unending, and impenetrable. It exists outside of reality, keeping everything that is within in limbo.

    But what if, through chance, that seam was broken. If two realities from the same seam of time intertwined, and through this union came a new realm of probability. If time was merely a steady moving steam engine awaiting its conductor.

    Somewhere deep inside a forest spread wide across the continent of South America, a young girl boarded the train.

    A blur of sound and color swirled around her like wind in a turbine. She watched as her uncle came back to life in slow-motion as time rewound. The fighting un-clashed, the wounded un-injured, her Guardian un-dead. Sophie saw the chaos undo itself as though from behind a wall of clear glass. And only once the swirl of time brought her back to the moment ten minutes before did she start to believe her eyes.

    She was standing once again beside the vast tree that rested directly in the center of the jungle. Her hand was rested upon it, its bark beating into her palm. Behind her, the Shapers Finn, Maverick, Nelson, Nathan and Alice all stood at the clearing’s edge and watched her with a tentative eye.

    What she had just done wasn’t a simple glance into the future. She didn’t see it, or chain it, or watch it. She had been there, and back.

    I … I just…

    You just traveled through time, dear one.

    The voice startled her and she jumped, heart aflutter. Hovering beside her, a green woodland creature from fairy tale was staring at her with wide, black-rimmed eyes. Fur emblazoned its small body like blades of grass. She had the urge to reach out and touch it, wanting to verify that it was in fact real. The Guardian was of legend, and even though she’d only heard about him through stories, she recognized him instantly.

    “Timekeeper…” she gasped.

    Celebi bowed his head in a slow, distinct fashion.

    Sophie whirled around to glance back at her companions who’d come here with her, desperate to see their reactions. But as she peered off towards the edge of the clearing, to see that the Shifters had now just appeared there as well, something was wrong. Everyone was accounted for, but no one was moving. No blinking, talking, or even breathing. They all stood in place perfectly like a line of store display mannequins. She’d recognized the condition as something similar to what the skinny Shifter Byron was capable of, but he was afflicted by it too. Not to mention, he was never able to immobilize multiple victims at once.

    “Wha-what’s going on?” Sophie turned back to the nymph floating at her side.

    They are frozen in time, the Timekeeper responded through her thoughts, calm and casual. They are unharmed, and will remain that way while I speak to you. Sophie had an aghast look on her face. You have witnessed the future, yourself.

    The girl didn’t like forcing this kind of power onto her family, which is how she felt about all of the Shapers now. But the Guardian was right; nausea was creeping its way up her esophagus at the memory of what she’d been apart of just moments earlier - or moments to come.

    The forest itself seemed to pause with them. No wind leaked through the trees to ruffle any leaves; no sounds emerged from their branches. Only the soft falling of a few leaves and air debris passing through the beams of sunlight passed by.

    Do you know who you are? The thought pushed through her mind somewhat abruptly, bringing her focus back to the alien creature.

    “I’m…Sophie…”

    Celebi shook his heavy emerald head, closing his eyes and opening them in the process. Do you know who you are?

    A blank look spread across Sophie’s face, making her confusion completely transparent.

    Perhaps you are not supposed to know…yet.

    The Timekeeper’s guess fell off, leaving him to appear to be in deep thought.

    “What will you do with them?” Sophie asked the Guardian suddenly, changing the subject to a more immediate one. She looked off at the group off Shifters that looked incredibly sinister even when frozen in place. “They came to kill you…”

    Celebi emanated a bit of sadness before answering, I know… their abilities will be stripped when we leave. They all will.

    “Wait, ‘we’?”

    Sophie… the Timekeeper spoke to her in a way that made her feel warm. Do you feel that you belong here? If you can answer yes, without any trace of doubt, then I will not burden you with the task I have awaited thousands of years to ask of you.

    She did feel that she belonged here. She had family here, people that she loved. She wanted to shout out ‘Yes’ the very moment he asked her the question, but she hesitated. Fact was, she had always felt like she didn’t belong. It wasn’t because of some lack of parental guidance as a child or her obvious unpopularity through school. It was something that felt simple, and omnipresent. Like something miniscule was always out of place. Like chains were holding her down when she was supposed to be flying. Like the universe made a hiccup when it crafted her existence.

    The nymph nodded once, apparently understanding her thoughts before she ever said them. This world…is not yours. You are from mine. Your spirit is stronger than a mortal’s, it is why giving birth to you drained all of your mother’s life force.

    Sophie’s heart dropped... If this was true, it was entirely her fault that her mother was dead. She had murdered someone before she was ever born. Her eyebrows clenched together and she tried to contain the burning creeping back into her eyes.

    “H-how?” was all she managed to squeak as the back of her throat tightened. Nothing made sense anymore, not that it ever made sense to begin with. Did this mean she wasn't even human?

    All in time to come, dear one. You will know all you wonder. But, I have a heavy calling for you. Celebi hovered a little closer, holding her emotional gaze. You are aware of the peril our world is in, and we can’t save it without you.

    Sophie nodded her head in understanding, somehow accepting the fact that she never got an answer. She still had no idea what made her so special, but after everything that happened to her this summer, she was just going to follow the same path and go along with it, because doubt and disbelief only made her unprepared.

    Through you, my abilities are stronger. I think together we can save the planet…as well as this one in the process.

    “What do you need me to do?” she asked, diving right in. That hidden loyalty she had to the Timekeeper was present as ever.

    Be my host, and come with me.

    “Your host?” she asked, knowing the answer to the question already with the gods of Olympus settling in her mind. “But…you trust me?” The unfortunate part of merging souls with a Guardian was the fact that it left the Guardian vulnerable to the human’s will. She thought of Zeus and Hades, still trapped on the other side…

    The Timekeeper reached out a dainty hand and touched her shoulder. The feeling was soft as a feather. I trust you. With my life.

    The answer shocked the girl. Here was the origin of her entire lineage, and he trusted her almost immediately. It left her wondering what she really was, and why he needed her so much. But the urgency in his eyes forced that curiosity back. She held out her hand to welcome him, and he took it without hesitation.

    Being possessed by the Timekeeper felt like swallowing warm fog. It left her feeling weightless once the Guardian had transformed into mist as he merged into her. She felt her life force double - a feeling that she could only describe as obtaining infinite energy. Her muscles went from feeling weak and scrawny to fierce and powerful. She was sure she could life a truck with her bare hands if she wanted to.

    But the biggest change of all wasn’t physical. As another soul entered her, so did its knowledge. The Timekeeper’s memories were still his own, but everything he thought about while inside of her, she knew as well. She felt his confidence in her as their minds merged. Her doubt disappeared at his overwhelming peace, and suddenly that feeling of misplacement she had had for as long as she could remember was but a grain of sand in the very back of her mind.

    Sophie couldn’t see it, but as Celebi’s spirit settled beside her own, black rings formed around her eyes and a faint emerald sheen glossed through her auburn hair.

    “I-I can’t believe it! Is it really her, Timekeeper?! Is that you?!” A squeaky, child-like voice emerged from the wormy creature that was wiggling its way into the clearing, and it wasn’t alone. Through the dark openings between the trees, more strange animals began appearing behind it in various shapes and colors but all equally alien. The maggot squirmed desperately through the grass, its white fur scraping along the earth and its red neck spikes flapping in angst.

    Whispers erupted all around them, some toned in nervousness and others with excitement. The sounds began in a sudden, instantaneous fashion the moment Celebi’s consciousness nestled into place.

    “Oh, I missed you so, so, so, sooooooo much!” The worm was now rubbing its face along Sophie’s pant leg like an attention-deprived kitten, but rather than leaving behind a warm fuzzy feeling, it left behind a trail of mucus instead.

    I don’t understand. Does he know me? Sophie thought to herself. Or rather, to the other part of herself.

    Yes, the Timekeeper’s answer flooded her thoughts before she’d ever finished forming the question. They all do.

    Sophie knelt down and lifted the worm into her arms, cradling it like a baby. She ran a hand maternally down its spine and tickled its chin, and she had no idea why. It felt natural, instinctual, like a memory… she didn’t realize she was smiling.

    As more Guardians gathered around her, each more elated to see her than the last, Sophie realized something. Something that should have crossed her mind first, not last. She set the white maggot back down on the ground and let her eyes fall upon the group of figures behind the mass of Guardians.

    “Finn…” she whispered, walking over to the human Shapers frozen in time. She stopped at the broad figure of her uncle. His eyes were focused and warm; attentive and mild. Something she hadn’t seen when she’d looked back at him from the great tree - the tree where she had been standing when these eyes were awake - was the thin layer of gloss glazed over them. The layer just before tears fell… as though he knew some great burden that she had not.

    I won’t see him again, will I… Sophie’s heart felt like a lump of empty space. She didn’t want to hear the answer, even though she knew what it was.

    She felt a foreign calmness flow through her, more empathetic than consoling. You are of another time, and he belongs in this one. The Timekeeper’s thoughts paused. Sophie could feel his hesitation, his awareness of her emotions. She felt him piece together his response as meticulously as he could. He will not remember you once you have gone. He will not feel sadness, or longing. The timeline will heal the crack you caused to it when you took the place of the human who was supposed to be in your stead. He will live the life he had been meant to, but his memory is yours to keep.

    Sophie felt her throat tighten and ache even more. She felt her eyes become wet, yet again, in a time on another line. She lifted her hand to the frozen face of Finn, the man who had been her father, her brother, her friend… the one who had kept her grounded when her life turned inside out. The one who had made her feel at home for the first time in the few short months she’d had with him.

    She moved her eyes to Maverick who, even with his mask of senile indifference, held a gaze hidden with a similar emotion to Finn’s. One of slight worry and pride. His posture was tired and slanted, but he held his aged head high.

    She looked down to Nathan, and Nelson - siblings she’d always wished she had. To Alice - a friend she’d known too little. And even all the down to Jack, who even being a Guardian, was frozen in place as well. The answer came to her before she’d asked it: Jack was not an original. His lineage came from her time rupture, not from the natural flow.

    The girl bent down to the mighty wolf, who had his eyes focused narrowly into the distance and was emanating protectiveness. She stroked his coarse, heavy fur, letting the heavy brick of her stomach fall even lower into her abdomen. He existed only because she did, and with her departure, so would he.

    Standing back up, Sophie thought of her grandparents sitting back in Wisconsin, swaying back and forth in their rocking chairs and knitting scarves or reading the newspaper. She wondered if they missed her as bad as she did them, even though her mind had been preoccupied with everything from teen meltdowns to the supernatural. She thought of Annabelle, the only friend of her mundane life who stood beside her when it seemed the world would have no place for her. She wondered if all of them cared for her as she did them, even if she’d never showed it properly, even if she had not truly ever been their Sophie…

    You may not belong to them, the Timekeeper thought to her, soothing her doubt and easing her soul. But your spirit animates this body. It is you who brought them their joy and love for you. Not blood. Not duty. You.

    Sophie found herself smiling through tears she hadn’t felt falling. She couldn’t explain what she was feeling even to herself. Comprehending what would happen to everyone she loved once she had gone and time had righted itself felt like a vacuum to her mind. She clenched her eyes shut, willing herself to be unselfish, because as she had seen, their futures looked grim so long as she was in them.

    But then she thought of Jack, who would have no future…

    But he will, Celebi whispered the thought. It just won’t be this one.

    Even as she was swirling her palm in the air to formulate a portal through time and space - an ability of Celebi’s she now possessed - and even as she willed herself to step through it, carrying the essence of the Timekeeper himself inside of her and leading the way for the original Guardians of Earth to follow after them, she never felt ready to leave that world behind her, whether it was really her world or not. Because at her back, a dimension shifted to a reality where Guardians, Shapers, Shifters, and a girl named Sophie Anderson had never existed.




    Her footstep hit the ground with an ashy crunch. And suddenly, air that was pure and rich with oxygen was now thin and hard to inhale. A burning sensation spread down the back of her throat with the end of every breath. Red engulfed the sky like bloody water, and that hue was cast evenly onto the wasteland that stretched out beneath it.

    A chubby blue Guardian held Sophie’s hand, and in its other it cradled an armful of bananas that it had scavenged from the rainforest worlds away. It popped them into its mouth whole, peel and all, until nothing was left but a depressed frown on the creature’s face. Sophie led the Munchlax up a barren cliff, and was followed by dozens more of the alien creatures making their way through the portal. A fuzzy worm wiggled behind her footsteps with jubilation, as though the nearly unbreathable air and the dead planet were a happy sight.

    As Sophie came to the top of the cliff, she dropped Munchlax’s hand and gasped. What spread down below and to the edge of the earth was nothing but death and decay. The sight was worse than what she had seen in the Unown’s vision. Not only was there no sign of any kind of plant life whatsoever, but dead bodies of various Guardians scattered around the entire valley. Some were skeletons of the creatures that had long since left the world, but others were fresh emaciated corpses that had clearly recently died of either starvation or fatigue. Their ribcages protruded from their hides as profusely as the remains with no skin.

    Sadness rushed into Sophie’s mind, but the feeling was not her own.

    It has only been ten years on this side since I have left. This destruction…in such little time… Celebi thought through her. Oh Arceus, where are you…

    Who is Arceus? Sophie asked the consciousness that was sharing her body.

    He is the creator of our universe. The beginning of all existence. In your dimension, your people call him God.

    It surprised Sophie to hear how much this planet paralleled her own, well at least, the planet that used to be hers. And reminding herself of this only made her more aware of how empty and alone she really felt. There was not even a universe that she felt she could call home.

    No, dear one, the Timekeeper thought to her softly, reading her doubt. You belong in this one. You will see.

    When? What am I? Finally, Sophie had the clarity to ask the question that had been on the back of her mind. It had been mudded out by the severity of the more recent events; something had always been more pressing. Her mind was human, and she felt human, but humanity was but an idea. She believed Celebi when he told her she did not belong on the other Earth, because somewhere in her subconscious, something else was telling her it was true. Something else was inside of her, apart from the Guardian now sharing her soul. It was the same thing that pushed up her time manipulation when she needed it...it was the same thing that awakened abilities in her that no other bender of time possessed, abilities that originated in her and not with some side effect of an ancient bloodline... it was the same thing that made her felt lost...

    That…is something you must learn on your own. I am not sure what the result will be if I interfere with the natural flow of time. You are too important. And it is time that I learned my lesson.

    The girl sighed, letting her shoulders droop in defeat and vulnerability. What was she supposed to do if she didn’t know what she was here for? Her mind was becoming mush, and at the end of her adrenaline high, what would be left of herself when everything she had grown up believing was a lie. She needed direction, a purpose.

    That is something I can tell you, Celebi interrupted her mind again. This was going to take some getting used to. You have heard the tale of Mount Olympus and the ramifications of my mistake, but what you haven’t heard is the events that occurred in this world... and why I was so desperate for your race’s aid in the first place.

    Sophie let her mind relax, giving the Timekeeper the space to relive his story. Around her, the last of the Guardians were swarming at her side. It surprised her how at ease she felt surrounded by a horde of vicious looking monsters, but there was some invisible tether connecting her to them. And while she may not remember them, every single one of them from the brave soul of Scyther to the ominous spirit of Absol knew and remembered her. It was a frustrating comfort, but at least she wasn’t literally alone. There were bodies next to hers. Living ones that cared about her. She just ached to reciprocate those feelings.

    A sniffling mole had found its way to her ankle and was twitching its nose up and down her calf suspiciously. As though its doubt had been put to rest, the Drilbur then wrapped its claws gently around her leg and clung to her while the Timekeeper shared his tale.

    Though you wouldn’t believe it by the look of our world’s current state, this was once a beautiful region. Forests blanketed this valley, and a stream ran through the canyon for miles. Everything was harmonious and in perfect balance. Celebi's thoughts sounded dreamy. When Arceus crafted our universe, he also created a council of elders to lead our world and promote prosperity. Members of that council were called Titans. They are the strongest, wisest, and oldest of our kind.

    Each had a realm to guide in this universe. Much like your so-called Olympians, a Titan was assigned to oversee a particular element. The Sky, the Sea, the Mountains, the Stars, and I was protector of the Forests.

    Wait, YOU were a Titan? Sophie thought, flabbergasted, and interrupted the Timekeeper’s memory.

    I am a Titan.

    How old ARE you? the girl couldn't help rudely blurting the thought out. But learning that Celebi predated the first century on Earth as well as the beginning of the universe on this one was mind-boggling to say the least - especially considering the fact that apparently only ten years had passed here while Earth had lived nearly ten thousand.

    I…have no age. I exist outside of time.

    Oh… was all Sophie thought in response, feeling stupid. But the Timekeeper continued as though he’d never been disturbed.

    The Titans…though powerful, were not invincible. There was one of us who hated his realm, Zekrom. He was Darkness. Not only was that his province, but it was also his body and soul. It consumed him. He wanted to rule more than just the night, which was vacant and empty, and so he imprisoned every Titan in the council. None of us saw it coming, we had all been so happy… If we had known… Sophie could feel the dark thoughts that Celebi was thinking of as he tried to escape the memory he was reliving enough to finish his train of thought. In the chaos, I managed to slip away from the prison. Once inside, our abilities are neutralized. Most of the Titans fell in after falling for his disguise, and the few that remained were easily overpowered by him. His strength was remarkable… I realized what was happening a moment before his trap triggered, but by then every other Titan was already locked away in the planet’s core.

    I fled, and I gathered my most loyal followers from my province. We stood against Zekrom and his own in a final battle, but we were outmatched. I had twelve in my army and he had two hundred. We were crushed, until… something happened. I still am not entirely sure what, but we were ripped from this dimension and hurled into yours. It was as though I was being pulled, and they along with me. And when I found out how much the human race influenced our abilities, my desperation brought on the idea that with their aid, the thirteen of us could defeat Zekrom and release the Titans from their prison, but as you know… things went astray.

    Not only did we not receive any help, but Zeus destroyed my right hand. Using a vessel weakens our spirit, something I never knew until it was too late for him…

    Sophie felt her esophagus tighten empathetically; the feeling of loss the Timekeeper had was bleeding through into Sophie’s consciousness as well.

    I stayed behind to wait for you, and in my absence, our world fell into chaos. Zekrom enslaved our civilization. There was nowhere to live or go that wasn’t under his command, and those who rebelled were sentenced to death. From the cocoon of my tree, I would watch this reality whenever I could muster the strength to make a window, and with great effort I found a way to open a hidden pathway for whoever was brave enough to escape through, including ten of my original twelve.

    The story paused with more sorrow and regret.

    I was informed by one of the determined few who made it out that when Hades forced Zeus back through my portal, Zeus saw yet more power through Zekrom, and joined him - turning my attempt at salvation into a stronger seal of our fate. And when Zekrom learned of the amplification that the human body possessed, he sought out Hades, who had selflessly fallen to this dimension with his brother. Zekrom possessed him for a short time, by his life force over powered Hades and ripped his body apart.

    Everything I have done…has made matters worse. I do not deserve to be looked to for guidance; the loyalty they still have for me is the most valuable thing I possess, and I failed them.

    Sophie looked around at the beasts circling her. They could not hear the Timekeeper’s defeat, it was an emotion he wished to keep to himself. He would not take their hope from them, for that was all they had left. Each looked up to Sophie with attentive admiration in their eyes. Something about her made them believe in freedom again. The pressure weighed on her like Earth itself; she didn’t want to let them down. But if a Titan couldn’t succeed, what could she offer that was worthy of their devotion?

    This planet may not seem worth saving, but it is yours, and we are yours, and you are our only hope. Celebi’s words echoed in her thoughts as she stood alongside a small army of Guardians and watched the sun set into a dead horizon.

    -x-


    The dry surface of the earth’s crust held no change when dawn broke. Guardians were lumped into sleeping piles of the smaller creatures cuddling into the masses of the larger ones. Sophie opened her eyes to harsh solar rays and a heavy heat that felt unhindered by the ozone layer; she could feel her skin burning with its rise.

    They'll know we are here before long, if they haven’t learned of us already, Celebi thought to her as she stretched stagnant muscles that ached from a near sleepless night. ‘They’ being Zekrom and his minion Zeus, who carried Zapdos’ energy in the same way that Sophie carried Celebi’s.

    What is the plan? Sophie asked her guide. He was beginning to feel like a conscience.

    You are.I was not the answer she wanted.

    Timing. It was always off and out of order. Sophie wished she could make better use of it, because the helpless feeling she possessed was only heightened when a storm cloud hurdled swiftly in their direction. It sparked electricity from its black accumulation, and riding on top of it was a demented-looking Zeus.

    His arms were folded tightly over his chest and a long, glowing lightning bolt was pierced into the cloud’s surface like a spear. White hair frayed around his timeless face, making a pair of wild, maniac-looking eyes stand out even more than they would have already.

    “Ah, so we meet again, demon.” Zeus hopped off his cloud and it immediately evaporated with his depart. He’d lifted his lightning bolt from it and was now twirling it threateningly in his hand. “Shame it will have to be a short one.”

    Sophie tried to stifle a snort. The line was cheesy enough to come from a Bond movie. However, in the distance, a dismal black shadow was rocketing through sky like a fighter jet. Zeus merely smirked a haunting grin as the shadow quickly gained in mass and size. A booming echoed around the cliff as the figure surged closer, until the entire area was enveloped in its enormous shade. The creature beat a pair of heavy, metallic wings above them, and Sophie recognized the dragon from her futuristic nightmares.

    Many of the Guardians beside her cowered at the presence of the night deity, shrinking away behind the bravest of them. But a select few narrowed their eyes and held their heads just a bit higher than before, and dared the Zekrom to make an example out of them. Among them, the jade-skinned Scyther snarled into jagged teeth and sharpened his bladed arms – an act he often did out of agitation. Beneath him, the pint-sized Larvesta wiggled its way between the creature’s legs, hoping to have first dibs on the fight that was sure to follow.

    Zekrom stretched his wingspan a final time before he plummeted to the ground. It quaked beneath his feet with enough force to rip a long crack down its surface. “So you have brought usss another vessel to play with, have you Timekeeper?” Zekrom spoke the words, not thought them. Sophie’s recognition of this alien dialect surprised her, even if she had heard it before. “I’m curiousss…which of you is sssstronger?” The black dragon’s tone was throaty, but high pitched – like the shriek of a banshee or the hiss of a cobra. His eyes darted from Sophie to Zeus.

    Zeus sneered from beside Zekrom, still playing with his lightning bolt. Suddenly, in a movement that might have been faster than light itself, Zeus hurled the lightning bolt at Sophie and aimed directly for her heart.

    In a movement that wasn’t quite as fast, Sophie found herself dodging the projectile as it whizzed by, but not without it slicing a shallow wound through her right arm. She clutched it and winced. The Guardian companions that followed her from Earth erupted with outcries. They began to bustle into formation, honing claws and spewing fire as they prepared their onslaught to their leader's attacker... but Zekrom stomped a heavy foot, shaking the earth again and throwing each and every one of them off balance. He coupled the quake with a piercing scream directed at the group that was, even combined, much weaker than he. The Hyper Voice ripped at their ears and pinned them to the ground in an almost materialized barrier of sound.

    Zekrom chuckled, his metal throat clanking against his metal chest. “No interferencccce, winner gets to live.” He arched his neck over the inferior Guardians, glaring at them threateningly with crimson eyes. “Make a move, and you die.” Among them, Scyther twitched in fury, but painstakingly obliged.

    With you, I am stronger, Celebi thought. You just need to feel stronger with me. He was attempting to persuade Sophie to believe in herself as much as he did, but faith was not something that came to her easily.

    Putting aside as much uncertainty as she could allow, Sophie clenched her fists, and closed her eyes. She trusted the Timekeeper in a way that somehow sunk into her core, and she let him take the lead. Two entities traded places; a dormant one became active and a prominent one drifted to the sidelines to watch from behind a metaphoric window. When Sophie opened her eyes, green irises had turned blue and the consciousness in control of the young woman’s body was now the Timekeeper himself.

    Zeus was crafting another searing hot lightning bolt out of thin air, its neon yellow frame being formed by sun and spark. Celebi felt the blood pulsing through the body of his host, and somehow its flow gave him strength. He sunk his feet into the ravaged soil, and let his fist fall to his sides. Around him, boulders lifted from the ground like bowling balls out of quicksand and hung stoically in the air. He punched his fists forward, and simultaneously, the boulders followed. They shot in a rocky mass at the distracted Olympian, who was busy perfecting his petty weapon, and pummeled one at a time into his chest and sides. The Ancient Power sent him toppling over for the first time since Zapdos’ power had ever come into his possession.

    Zeus’ facial expression shifted directly from surprise to fury. He sprung to his feet and began snapping his fingers in synchronized loops, each of them ending in bursts of webbed lighting. The clusters came at the Timekeeper like bullets, and while he managed to avoid collision with the majority of them, a couple found their way onto the flesh of his delicate bodied vessel. The pain started out dull, but then intensified as the static spread across his feminine skin from its entry point like a plague.

    Celebi forced his mind into focus and shot a beam of psychic energy at his opponent at the precise moment an electric beam was propelling towards him. The energies collided in a heavy blast that sent debris ricocheting into the already diluted fog. But the Timekeeper wasn’t done; he brought green orbs into existence in the palms of his human hands and threw them at Zeus repeatedly until he had endured half a dozen Energy Ball grenades. Then, magnifying the sun like glass, he became a conduit for the most powerful Solar Beam he could muster. He channeled his rage and anger, his disappointment, his regret - he took all of his pride and tossed it into the glaring beacon that this wicked sun was pouring into his body, then angled it at the man who had stood in his way. The ability amplified by his human shell forced the body of Zeus into the planet’s unforgiving crust. His breath wheezed and his muscles lie motionless in defeat.

    Celebi walked a few steps closer to the incapacitated Olympian. “Please, don’t kill me,” Zeus pleaded and held his arm over his face in a pitiful surrender. The Timekeeper blinked, and began to honorably turn away. Mercy was his gravest mistake.

    Taking the moment of distracted vulnerability, Zeus had formed a final lightning bolt spear and launched it at Celebi’s back. The Timekeeper hadn’t the time to counter or even dodge the move when he realized what was propelling from behind him. Desperately, a moment before impact, the nymph ripped his consciousness from his vessel’s, letting his body separate from it fast enough and absorb the entire blow without letting any harm befall onto Sophie.

    The lightning weapon pierced his chest like a sword and didn’t slow until it had sliced almost half its length through. The nymph’s eyes widened, but in a counter propulsion, he hurled his own body into the fallen one of Zeus, and the collision resulted in a radiant explosion.

    When the blinding gleam of the eruption had faded and the dust had settled, all that remained of Zeus was a severed leg. The rest of his mangled body presumably had disintegrated in the blast with no Guardian life force to hold his mortal hide together. Sophie held a hand over her eyes, gasping and squinting into the smog, and when she spotted her guide, time seemed to stop.

    There, lying on the earth mangled and in a pool of his own blood, the Timekeeper rested with a glowing lightning bolt protruding from his chest. She heard no sounds as she ran over to aid him, not even her own footsteps. Not even her breath. She slouched to her knees, cradling the infant-sized nymph in her arms and ripped the bolt from his body. The heat of it seared her hand in the process, but she didn’t feel it, nor did she care. All she could do was stare at the Titan in her grasp and bear the nausea in her stomach.

    Celebi opened his eyes with enormous effort, and watched her blankly. An eerie smile slid onto his face.

    “I…tell me what to do. How do I help. What do I do?” she couldn’t mask the panic layered in her voice and her quivering chin. She wanted to sound like everything was going to be okay, but violet-red blood was spewing from the Guardian’s chest and down into her lap. He was losing pints of it, and no amount of pressure was going to stop it.

    “Just…” Celebi exhaled and then took a weak breath that would be his last, “be you.” The creature lifted a silky hand and briefly touched her cheek with one of his three fingers, and at the feeling of his skin on her own, a phenomenon occurred that no one in this universe was prepared for.

    Far away, locked in the deepest caverns of her consciousness, a door opened. Memories, long forgotten, came flooding through in a river spawned from the ocean of another lifetime…

    ~*~


    "My children," a deep voice lulled from the flowing silvery form of the maker of all creation. A smile spread onto his stoic face as he looked down upon two baby wyverns resting attentively at his feet. He ducked his long neck towards them, letting silvery hair fall from it like a sash. "Each of you will be the spirit of this world," he said to them in a tone so low and filled with pride. "My sweet Reshiram," the deity turned to the white wyvern pup and smiled with his eyes. "You will lift the world up; give them hope, see that they seek justice. You are a light that they will follow, even if they are not aware that you are its origin." Arceus turned then to the tiny black wyvern, his eyes fading slightly to less happiness and more severity. "And my bold Zekrom, you will keep the world grounded. For every beam of light, there must be a shadow. From every bout of courage, there must first be fear. Your duty will be a painful one, but know that all of the good in the world will exist because of you."

    The two wyvern puppies seemed to nod in understanding, even if understanding hadn't happened yet. A set of blue eyes and a set of red eyes blinked up at their father, innocent and naive in the tasks to soon follow.



    A brother and sister perched on top of a mountain. One dark and fierce, with eyes of despair – the other light and proud, breathing truth. Together, they watched the lush landscape billow outwards from the base of the mountain. The nation flourished, its citizens happy and healthy, and its land lively and growing. An ocean gleamed in the distance, reflecting the setting sunlight across its surface as orange and purple hues bled into the bright blue sky.

    “We will always have each other, right Reshiram?” Zekrom turned his dark head to look at his sister and watched her expectantly.

    “Right.” She smiled.



    Snowy wings beat light into the trees of the greatest forest ever known. Chlorophyll rippled through the leaves and blades of grass, leaving them even more impossibly emerald than before. Flowers bloomed double the size and length of their season here, and juicy fruit sprouted year round.

    “Reshiram, please,” Celebi sighed after a mocking laugh, “The forest is fine, I’m sure there are things that need your attention elsewhere.” He grinned and patted her broad shoulder.

    “Just - one - more - section,” she spoke in between heavy flaps of her wings, pathing the sunlight into grassy bed below and illuminating it from the shade.

    Celebi shook his head. “Are you putting something off again? You only get obsessive like this when you are trying to distract yourself.”

    Reshiram sighed. A sigh as powerful as a gust of wind. “It’s Zekrom…”

    “Isn’t it always?”

    “He’s been acting strange lately…”

    Celebi hovered up to the pearly dragon’s face. “Perhaps he just needs his sister, dear one. Avoiding him won’t make the strangeness go away.”

    “I suppose you’re right.” Another sigh billowed from her gargantuan lungs. Then Reshiram turned and added, “Thanks…”

    “That’s what best friends are for, you know,” the nymph called out to her as her draconic frame disappeared through the treetops.



    “Sissster, join me.” Zekrom hissed, eyes so red they appeared to be bleeding.

    “I can’t let you do this. You will throw the universe out of balance. It was designed for ALL of us Zekrom, not just you.” Reshiram pierced her gaze, hoping to unravel her sibling enough for him to see reason.

    “That is easy for you to say! You basssk in the sunlight and glory while I am banished to darknessss. We are more powerful than these sssilly obligations father has bestowed us. I won’t have it any longer. I thought you would underssstand.” Zekrom turned away.

    “Brother, no… don’t do this. They are our family too.” Reshiram ruffled her wings, nervous and disappointed. But the shade to her light had no ears for her; he continued to venture his way up to the peak of the volcano as though she hadn’t made a sound. The Titans were summoned up there for the annual conference. All of them trusted the yin and yang dragons, none of them would suspect that Zekrom had carved a tunnel from the peak of that mountain to the center of the earth. None of them would know that there was no way out of it once inside. Without the guidance of the Titans, civilization would soon perish.

    “Zekrom, no!” Reshiram reached out a clawed wing and gripped her counter’s shoulder. At her touch, the black dragon spun in a defensive circle and punched a metallic fist directly through her heart. The look of shock on Zekrom’s face was perhaps even more pronounce than the one spread across his sister’s. Red stained her perfectly white feathers, and as the Titan of Darkness removed his blade from her chest, her vibrant blue eyes dimmed to grey and her lifeless body fell to the jagged and rocky abyss at the base of the volcano.

    Even as Zekrom hung his head in shame, but then turned to continue his route to the landmark’s peak, death was somehow sweet.


    ~*~



    Sophie’s eyes focused back on the present. Everything poured into her mind as though it had never left it. Her knowledge, her memories, the experiences of two lifetimes...

    All of her doubt and frustration, longing and emptiness fled from her in an instant. This was why she existed. This was why her earthly abilities were so profound. This was why she could understand Guardian dialect as though it was her own language - because it was; she was a Guardian, herself.

    Celebi’s haunting smile still rested on his face. His body lie limp in her arms; his blood soaked into her lap. “My friend…” she whispered to him, forcing his eyelids shut with her fingers. “Thank you.”

    She placed his body back on the ground, coming to terms with the fact that he no longer resided inside of it, and stood on the balls of her feet. Everything made sense now. The world was clear as crystal and her task was clear as glass. She was Reshiram: a Titan. And in thinking it with her mind, her body reflected its truth.

    Her arms elongated and sprouted pure white feathers. Claws curled from her fingernails. Her legs grew tenfold into the stocky and towering shape of a dragon’s. Her spine spread from her tailbone and outwards several feet until it twirled in the mighty and powerful engine that her memory recalled. A human face angled sharply with the glory of an eagle and her hair sprouted pure white from its roots.

    No human occupied this dimension anymore, all that remained of the final one was a prodigious white dragon.

    “It … can’t be you. I killed you…” Zekrom hissed, his mouth agape. Behind him, the lesser Guardians burst into cheers.

    “It was true!”

    “The Timekeeper was right all along!”

    “He brought her home! He did it!”

    “SILENCE!” Zekrom howled, the sound waves screeching into the air like nails on a chalkboard.

    Reshiram roared. Its volume exceeded even her brother’s, and legend would later tell of it awakening Arceus himself. “You have no authority here, brother.” Her glare was malevolent and her voice threatening. She hadn’t the pitch of a little girl anymore; it was the passionate tone of a deity.

    Zekrom looked surprised for a moment, but then reduced himself back to his primitive state of evil. “I killed you once, I can do it again.” He lowered his jaw, and from it poured the wicked breath of a wyvern.

    Reshiram responded with an identical flame. The fiery pulses collided into one another and neither gave way. Seeing no leverage, Reshiram ceased her fire and rocketed though her brother’s blaze as though it were a mere nuisance and plummeted into his body. The momentum sent both dragons flying upwards into the air. They tumbled end over end in a yin and yang ball until Reshiram widened her wingspan and caught balance mid-air. Her brother rectified himself as well only half a moment after.

    Stories began of the great battle between light and darkness that unfolded in the skies above a region to be later called Unova. Some say it lasted for hours, others say it had for weeks. Most say, that it was like watching fire fight lighting. Each pure and powerful, but where one was quick and sharp, the other was steady and strong. Roars bellowed from the throats of arguably the mightiest Titans to have ever lived as they clashed into each other’s hides with tooth, claw, and flame. What were once two halves of a peaceful circle would be forever torn apart.

    In the end, it is believed that the human experience within Reshiram was what ultimately won her the battle that saved an entire dimension, and freed her fellow Titans from the prison built into the center of the planet. Her fear drove her forward, keeping her steady and keeping her wary, whereas her brother perceived himself as immortal. He didn’t expect the final maneuver the white beast made when she veered through his blind spot and up behind him to quickly snap his neck.

    It was clean. It was painless. But it still left an emptiness inside of Reshiram that she thought she would never fill. Darkness fell from existence alongside its leader. But Arceus created darkness for a reason. The Titan of Light did not feel victorious when the corpse of her brother fell back to the earth like a meteor. Only one emotion spread through her spirit at the memory of everything that had led her here, and it was sorrow.




    Present Day

    The wind bent beneath hardy wings with obedience as Reshiram carved her way through the sky. She rose and fell perfectly with every draft, ascending higher with the current, or lower with the breeze. One heavy flap sent her soaring for miles; only the slightest adjustment of her snowy feathers was needed to glide across her country.

    Beneath her mighty presence, a land was healing. Her cerulean eyes scanned the surface of it, relishing in its slow return to the world she’d remembered. Rivers flowed cautiously into the deep gaps that once housed the glory of their former selves. Plants sprouted up ever so slightly into the decayed soil that had been rotting away for years, and were now being tentatively cared for by the monstrous guardians of their kind. A flowery creature with petals for clothes and hair waved up happily at the deity soaring overhead, then sprinkled its magic into the young plants surrounding it, and watched them blossom instantly into adulthood.

    Reshiram smiled at the world below her, then arched to the side as her massive frame rounded a mountain.

    A wide forest spread before her. Its emerald leaves almost sparkled in the sunlight and the wind that was spreading like water through the trees. It was the healthiest place on earth. More life clung to a single blade of this forest’s grass than a thousand blades of it elsewhere. Rich color emanated so strongly from every plant, that they almost glowed. The dragon tucked her wings, and dove into the woodland’s embrace.

    A deep booming echoed from the forest floor as her body landed heavily on the ground. The wind - almost alive - followed her down, spiraling from her wingspan like a cyclone, only to calm after forcing the greenery to dance in place with its depart. Reshiram blinked and stretched an elegant neck curiously upward, as if to get a better view of her surroundings. Her imposing eyes stared into the depths of the trees beyond.

    At first, only a shimmer came from the distance. It was a faint glow that could be easily confused as a trick of the sunlight. But after a moment, the shimmer steadied. The glow took form like a flame, and then rippled into a ghostly existence. A nymph-like apparition appeared in its place, and the shimmer walked forward.

    “Timekeeper…” Reshiram breathed with both expectance and relief. She spread out an intimidating wing, and wrapped it around the glimmer.

    “I have missed you too, old friend,” Celebi said after putting his pair of fragile arms around the dragon’s broad neck.

    Reshiram’s eyes went glossy, and an enormous tear fell from the safety of one and plummeted to the grass below.

    “Hey, none of that now…” Celebi whispered softly, and placed a hand upon the cheek of the white wyvern. “Titans never truly die, you know that,” he added, trying to console her.

    “You could have turned into a shrub for all I knew.” Reshiram bent her head beneath one of her tucked wings, and wiped her eyes on the edge of it.

    “Me? A shrub? I don't think reincarnation is that cruel.”

    Reshiram smiled at the spirit, who had now taken it upon himself to float up to her eye level.

    “The wall is breaking, Timekeeper. It’s going to shatter any time now,” the ivory beast let her face go stern. “I worry for this world. And theirs.”

    “Why?” Celebi asked, completely unsurprised by the information. “It was no happy accident that you spawned there, and neither was it that I could pass between worlds.” The nymph looked wondrously into the air above them. “Something about that place…it’s as though it were designed to complete ours.”

    “You saw the cruelty of it, as did I. I was one of them." The memory of that life, albeit a short one, weighed onto her mind. She felt longing for the family she'd had in it, even if her judgement kept her grounded. "I don’t know if our side can handle such self-driven and reckless emotion.” Reshiram narrowed her piercing eyes.

    “I do,” the spirit spoke with certainty. “Maybe even, that is what our world needs.”

    “How can you be so sure we won’t fall into even more chaos than when my brother had his reign? How do you know their corrupt natures won’t get the best of them? We’re talking about the intertwining of billions.” The great white dragon slumped her head, almost in defeat.

    “Because,” Celebi placed a shimmering hand beneath the giant creature’s chin, somehow lifting it up despite not having any physical properties to do so. “They have you to guide them: the Titan of light and truth. You will be legendary, dearest friend.”

    Reshiram felt her eyes sting once again, as a sad happiness built up inside her.

    The Timekeeper smiled, and let his hand fall from her pale face. “I have been to that future and beyond.” The nymph’s spirit began to fade away before her, and soon only his voice emanated from the forest surrounding the giant dragon. “Have faith in yourself, and have faith in them, because when darkness envelopes this world again you will be needed to light the way.” The wind picked up with the deep retreating of his voice, carrying the sound with it.

    Reshiram felt alone.

    I will always be a part of you, dear one. The thought was pushed into her mind, with the same deep voice of wisdom as before. Your future will be bright, I have seen it come to pass.

    As she felt the Timekeeper’s presence truly fade away into the great forest around her, she spread her massive wings, and with a single beat, launched herself into the sky.

    Life was thriving once again in this corner of the galaxy. It was a place with the strangest, yet most loyal companions that existence would ever come to know. The veil between two-realities was about to crumble, but the two earths and the two civilizations would form an alliance more powerful than either could ever imagine. Great evil still loomed in the darkness, spreading envy, hate, and lies. But, humans now had a beacon of hope soaring through the sky. A symbol who had been a part of both worlds.

    And even when hope wasn’t enough, they would always have their Guardians - creatures destined to guide, serve and protect. For every human had the potential for greatness in their pocket, and that greatness would lie in the hearts of their Pocket Monsters.

    Reshiram couldn't help but let a smile spread into her fair lips. Apprehension still shrouded her view of the future, but deep down, she looked forward to the day when the wall between this dimension and the human one shattered. No one may remember her there, but she sure remembered them.

    ~~*~~



    To Catch (By Order of Appearance):
    • Spiritomb
    • Rotom-F
    • Ralts
    • Mightyena
    • Lickitung
    • Scyther
    • Larvesta
    • Absol
    • Drilbur
    • Munchlax
    • Wailmer
    • Castform
    • Gastly
    • Houndour
    • Unown x7 {Unown A, Unown W, Unown E, Unown S, Unown O, Unown M, Unown E}
    • Murkrow
    • Sandile

    (3 Demanding, 5 Complex, 4 Hard, 4 Medium, 7 Simple)

    Characters Recommended: 425,000
    Characters Written: 465,754
    Last edited by EmBreon; 21st May 2013 at 11:29 PM.
    TheProtobabe and Smiles like this.

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  6. #6
    Virbank Gym Leader WinterVines's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper

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  7. #7
    Head of Stories Princess Crow's Avatar
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    Default Re: Secrets of the Timekeeper

    @EmBreon ;

    With the consent of both Embreon and WinterVines, I've been asked to pick up this grade. Sorry it took so long for you to get a grade on this, but I've finally got it finished! If you need anything else done, don't be afraid to ask!


    ----------


    Introduction: An amazingly effective way for the author to almost instantly pull in their reader is to have a prologue filled with just enough clinchers and just enough questions to hook the reader. I feel like you utilized this to its fullest extent, as I could almost instantly tell that this story was going to be an insane ride. The waitress freezing in time, Abram aging almost instantaneously, and the overall tone of confusion filled this prologue with allure and fascination that keep the reader’s attention long enough for you to develop a real story.

    Now we’re getting into the real story. We’re introduced to Sophie Anderson, a teenager living in Wisconsin that soon finds out she’s not like others. She has astounding powers and is about to embark into a world she’d never even dreamed of. Already, this story and plot is exploding with potential. I honestly had no way of knowing where you were going to go with this story, which made it a surprise and a thrill-ride throughout the entire story, which was something that really defined this whole story.

    Just from this small sliver of this mammoth of a story, the reader is able to decipher several key things. For example, we can already tell the time-period, the location, that ‘pokemon don’t exist in this universe’ (at least to the human eye), and much more. You did a great job of communicating this information without lecturing it, so the reader subconsciously picks up on these small pieces of your story. It makes entering the actual story so much smoother and effective, and I commend you for successfully being able to pull this off.

    Soon after we’re introduced to Sophie and her life in Wisconsin, she gets uprooted for the summer to go live with her Uncle Finn in New York City. Right after we settle down and get used to this environment and begin to make assumptions about how this story will go, we get an entirely new scenario change, and the story can go anywhere from there. This was a clever tactic because it prevented us from making assumptions throughout most of your story, which was what made your story so special.

    Story/Plot: The overall plot amazes me. It’s been fleshed out so immensely into its own universe that uses the pokemon world as its base, rather than its focus. I can tell that a lot of time and effort went into constructing such a massive plot and story, and it really shines through in your writing. It’s incredibly unique, and it’s definitely something that I wouldn’t normally expect in a pokemon story, but it works well and creates a story I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.

    In a very compact and time-conservative nutshell, this story is about a long line of people with the power to weakly manipulate time. This line of people split in half due to varying ideals, and these two groups became the Shifters and Shapers. Sophie and her uncle, as well as the other main characters in the story, are a part of the Shaper faction, and they work to protect pokemon from the Shifter’s harmful ways. Sophie becomes interested in pokemon folklore and soon leads the Shapers to find Celebi, the one and only Timekeeper, who has much in store for Sophie. Obviously, I’m just scraping the tip of this iceberg here, but the general overarching plot remains the same. This is completely unique and unlike anything I’ve really ever read before, which is an accomplishment in itself. However, you make the story into something much more than just a unique plot. You make it a three-dimensional tale of Sophie’s relatively short life as a Shaper into a reality rather than just words on a computer screen. It takes an incredibly creative and imaginative mind to do such a thing, and you pull it off as the readers get sucked into this story’s dimension until they are spat out at the end.

    One thing I thought was interesting about this story is how you incorporated pokemon into a real world scenario. You made them show up as regular, real-life animals to those who didn’t know of their true existence, but as soon as the person actually knew of pokemon, these illusions vanished. It’s a clever way to explain how pokemon can exist yet not be known to everybody on Earth. It took a little bit to wrap my head around the concept (what would Lickitung look like to the untrained eye? Unown?) but after I grasped the idea firmly, it made perfect sense in your story.

    Going along with what I just said, the way you put pokemon into Greek Mythology was clever and very fun to read. I’m somewhat of a mythology buff, so reading about how pokemon played a hand into the myths was really enjoyable. It wasn’t just a gimmick alongside your story either, as it provided more evidence to your pokemon-based mythology. You made this believable too, as each pokemon that bonded with a soon-to-be god matched the god’s actual powers.

    THE TALE OF THE THREE BOYS. If there was only one thing I could have to keep from this story, it would be this sub-story. It was a perfect addition to your story, as it gave both backstory and answers to the things we needed most. It was filled with emotional turmoil and was one of the parts that actually had me completely and totally immersed, as it grabbed my brain and my heart (ignore how cliché that just sounded.) Not to say that this piece was the only place where I felt entirely absorbed -- trust me, there were plenty of others -- I just mean to say that I thought this part was exceptionally well-written.


    Climax: This was full of surprises, to say the very least. So much developed during the last few chapters that I classify as the climax, it was almost too much to comprehend. I don’t mean this in a bad way, as it really created an aura of suspense and action which is almost essential in these types of stories; I solely mean that we were thrusted into a situation that we were definitely not prepared for, which was completely awesome.

    I’m going to start when Sophie enters the pokemon world for the first time since her reincarnation on Earth. Her melancholy goodbye to all the people she had grown to love in the past few months was what really set it off for me. She no longer had any ties holding her back, but she didn’t have any people protecting her either. This was especially evident when Sophie said her final goodbye to Uncle Finn, as he played the role of her protector throughout most of the story. With Uncle Finn gone, I could almost instantly tell that this conclusion to your story was going to be filled with danger and suspense. And you definitely didn’t let my expectations down!

    This battle was action-packed, filled to the brim with intense description, powerful tales, and an overall sense of, for lack of a better word, complete epicness. It gives some answers to the story that the readers were in desperate need of, and it made the whole story come to a surprising finish that I can almost guarantee not too many people were expecting. However, I do feel like it was a bit rushed. I mean this by the last few paragraphs where we’re shifted into a present-tense perspective. I’m not asking you to go into depth with every facet of the battle, especially if it went on for upwards of weeks, but the transition was a little clunky. Perhaps you could have italicized the whole paragraph to explain the shift from past to present? At least this way the reader isn’t fooled or confused when they first read this paragraph. Though this doesn’t apply directly to the climax, I think that something as simple as separating text can go a long way and make the reading experience even better.

    Characters: These characters were certainly some of the best that I’ve ever read about in a work of fan-fiction. They were, for the most part, exceptionally believable, which is quite difficult when dealing with a universe where people aren’t supposed to be believable, considering that they have powers. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you made it believable that these people with powers beyond imagination were still human underneath, which is a really neat thing you did. So, let’s get into individual character analysis.

    Sophie Anderson: A teenage girl with a dry sense of humor and an incredibly relatable personality. Sophie is almost everything I look for in a main character. However, the keyword is almost. While Sophie is a great main character, she does seem to have her share of Mary Sue tendencies. She has powers like no other, she defies the odds by being a stag with powers, and we eventually find out she’s actually a legendary pokemon. Obviously, main characters should have some qualities about themselves that make them stand out from the others (they wouldn’t be a main character if they didn’t have these qualities!) but finding a balance between totally awesome girl and simple teenage girl is important. You were close to achieving this balance by giving us some small tips to her teenage girl side throughout the story, as well as giving her some personal struggle, but I feel that her good attributes outweighed her poor ones. Personality-wise, however, I feel like Sophie was a perfect hero. She was insecure of herself but had the courage to do what she felt insecure about, which makes her an idol in the story and an overall great main character.

    Uncle Finn: Sophie’s loving uncle that first introduces her into the secret world of pokemon. Uncle Finn is the fatherly figure of this story, and he plays the part well. He’s a bodyguard to Sophie as well, and finding out about his history was an interesting tangent from the actual story. I really liked how you made his character depressed, as it made your characters seem more human. It was a very emotional scene when Sophie said her goodbyes to Uncle Finn, and I feel like it actually fleshed out Finn’s character just as much as it did to Sophie. I didn’t really understand the full extent of his time-warping abilities besides the fact that he could speed himself up in time while everything else remained the same, but I still was able to assume that it was cool to match his personality. But yes, I felt Uncle Finn played the role of Sophie’s guardian very well.

    Maverick: The crazy old man that’s wise, psychotic, and lovable all at the same time. Maverick was probably my favorite character to read about due to his eccentric humor. He’s clever and witty as well, and I think of him as another, milder father figure to Sophie. Even though I felt he was only there for comic relief at times, you made him into an important character that was both funny and important, which is sometimes difficult to do. However, it certainly did Mav some justice and made the characters seem even more realistic. Plus, Maverick’s powers matched his personality perfectly and was actually really funny.

    Otto, Noah, and Kaine: Like I’ve expressed earlier, the tale of these three boys was definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire story. However, part of the reason why I liked it so much is the wonderful usage of symbolism. Otto symbolizes innocence and naivety, as well as a martyr that unintentionally ignites the war to come. Noah symbolizes the hero and standing up for what’s right, as is evident when he outcasts his oldest brother, Kaine, who symbolizes brutality and ambition. The symbolism is blatant, yet it’s poetic and artistic by telling it as a legend, which is what I think I liked most about this little sub-story. These characters who represent much larger causes are more than just some kids in the South American forest; they’re the largest concepts throughout this entire story. Awesome job.

    The Pokemon: This section doesn’t apply to the most significant of the pokemon (Zekrom, Reshiram, Celebi, Jack the Mightyena, etc.) but I do feel like it is important to bring this up. The pokemon definitely take a step back with their roles in this story. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it seems like the focus is primarily on the Shifters/Shapers throughout a majority of the story. Of course, pokemon have a massive role in this story, but it’s more as a concept rather than the individual. These pokemon supply a reason to the whole story rather than supplying character support like the other members of this story. As such, I could see this story being a non-pokemon piece and still being rather successful. Take that how you will.

    Description: Honestly, the description was one of the coolest parts of your story. The vocabulary choice throughout the entire story couldn’t have been done better, and images were painted in my imagination every time you wanted them to be. It takes a lot of skill to manipulate the description in a story to have it do exactly as the author wants it, but I feel like you’ve found a nice balance of giving direct information/description as well as leaving some of it up to the imagination. Again, it’s a sweet accomplishment when you’re able to find this balance, and you should be proud for finding it.

    As I feel like the pictures added to the description in the story, I’ll include them under this category as well. These pictures. Wow. It’s hard to believe that you were drawing them because of how skillfully crafted these were. Though your text-based description was definitely able to create the scenes in my mind, having a visual representation only confirmed and solidified my assumptions about the scenes. They were professionally drawn and definitely awesome pieces of artwork. I'm not even a particularly visual based person, but the pictures were still nice to have to set the mood for the upcoming chapter.

    Again, for lack of a better place, I’ll include the music to the story in this section as well. All the songs in the soundtrack seemed to fit perfectly with your story, and it almost seemed like an essential part of the story. It really helped set the mood (which I’ll go more in-depth with in the next section), and the reading experience would have been much different if the music wasn’t there to accompany the story. A minor thing that might have helped the reader piece together when/where the music was supposed to play during the stories duration would be to place a link to the piece where the music should be applied. Even though the reader can likely piece the music together on their own, it’s always nice to have a reminder or a note to explain where the songs apply, even if some of them are general theme songs to the story.

    Tone/Mood: This story had a multitude of tones, which is another thing that I really liked about this story. It had times of whole-hearted humor. It had times of bitter sadness. It had times of sheer anger and violence. You manipulate these different tones like it’s nothing, mixing and weaving different writing styles together seamlessly. I noticed that your vocabulary greatly impacted the tone of your story immensely, which, again, is something that takes a lot of skill and experience.

    However, while having the ability to change your tones frequently does come with its repercussions. There were times when the change was subtle enough that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or tear up with sadness at certain things simply due to the fact that the mood hadn’t changed quite enough for it to be detectable. There were times where Mav would crack a joke during a tough situation, and I wasn’t sure if that was an attempt to change the tone or to simply emphasize how bleak the other tone already was. It’s just a hazard that comes with the job, and the only major thing that can be done about it is to make the changes more abrupt/contrasting. I’m not saying you shouldn’t change the mood throughout your story as often as you did -- that would have made your story relatively monotonous in the way of action -- but I’m simply asking for you to think of it from a reader’s perspective. How is the reader going to react to each circumstance? This mindset is a great thing to have while writing stories, as you get to identify all the issues that others might be struggling with and can then correct them before they exist.

    Length: 465,754 characters. Definitely the longest story I’ve had to grade around these parts. This novella seemed just about the right length to me. It was long enough for this story to be told in a suitable fashion, but not too long as to bore the reader and stretch the plot too far. It was a good thing that you split this up into chapters as well, as it allowed for you to manipulate the time in your story (no pun intended) and show/emphasize certain scenes without deterring from the other parts of the story.

    Another thing that’s important to remember in the story is how long the actual story takes. In this case, the story spans a summer, which makes the rate at which Sophie becomes a member of this whole world she hadn’t know of become something much more fitting. She isn’t a master by the time she leaves her world, but she certainly is able to hold her own in this new society, which makes sense by the amount of time we see her in the story.

    Grammar/Conventions: DO I EVEN NEED THIS SECTION HERE?! In all honesty, however, your grammar and spelling/vocabulary is impeccable. There are only a handful of simple typing mistakes, and I understand completely why they’re there. Making a few minor typos isn’t something to be frowned upon, particularly in a story of this length. It reassures me that you’re human!

    I like to bring up proofreading in this section as well, but I feel like you did the best possible amount of proofreading. When I proofread extensively, I actually end up thinking there are errors in places that are actually correct, simply due to the fact that I’m over-analyzing. If this is true to you, you proofread just about the right amount to minimize errors. Nice job here.

    Overall Advice:

    1. Characters are one of the hardest things to balance in a story. You’ve done an awesome job here as it is, but there were some aspects of your characters that made them Mary Sue-ish that detracted from their believability. Main characters are supposed to be above the ordinary, but don't make it so that they're too perfect.

    2. Sometimes, the way your stories look can help your intended idea get across better than words can. It’s obvious you’ve grasped this by using pictures to your advantage, but don’t just leave it at that. Formatting your text in a way that the reader is able to detect ‘invisible’ changes in your story is a great way to seamlessly transition into a different part of your story. Utilizing this might seem somewhat gimmicky, but it can go a long way and take the reading experience even further.

    3. When writing your story, think of each piece from the author’s and the reader’s perspective. This will help minimize all forms of confusion the actual readers might have. Remember, a reader won’t be able to ask you questions necessarily, so try to explain everything that needs an explanation so they won’t need to.

    Outcome: You go ahead and claim all these pokemon - this story was fantastic. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if I found this in an actual published book, bar the pokemon references. The plot was captivating, the writing style was fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading this entire thing. The errors I found were minimal and everything else was definitely professional level. Your description and usage of other means of getting your story across was unique and only made this story even better.

    I’ve probably said this a thousand times, but you truly are an awesome writer, and this story is definitely something that you can and should be proud of. Round of applause, Emma, you’re an inspiration to all of us.
    Last edited by Princess Crow; 30th November 2012 at 12:42 AM.
    EmBreon and TheProtobabe like this.

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