Abandonment Party 2: Prologue – Chapter 2

Abandonment Party 2

 

The woman pushed through the crowd that swarmed the top of the hill. “Pinada––the hex door! It’s closed!”

“I know,” Pinada answered. He peered through the glass cube that encased his body, watching a blur in the night sky. “Sing will want you all to die with me.”

“Then let us into your armor; you can save some of us,” the woman pleaded. The comet above was fuzzy, its tail streaking across countless stars: smearing them with blue light. Pinada pressed his glasses to his face, turning to the woman.

“I’ll give you an armored case of your own,” he said.

Four rectangular glass sheets materialized at the woman’s front, back, and sides. She let out a gasp as they snapped together, forming a restrictive box. She let out a squeal that bled into laughter; her features vanishing in a blink to reveal a man with a haggard face and a long, woolen coat.

“Go ahead–trap me,” the man said. His eyes drooped as his smile curved. “I’m right where I wanna be: right here with all the people you’re going to let die.”

“Sing–it’s the traitor Sing,” several in the crowd muttered. The group spread out over the hilltop, backing away from him and Pinada.

“Look at your hero,” Sing shouted past the rim of the glass box. “Watch him as he hides, helpless!”

Pinada pressed a hand to the glass cube that encased him: one of the square sides broke away and slammed into the grass. The other sides of the cube unfolded away from his body, drawing more gasps and startled yelps from the crowd. A visible vapor fell away from Pinada’s heavy coat, rolling off him. His glasses fogged over and he wiped at the lenses with his long, turquoise scarf; his eyes never leaving the point of light above him.

“Pinada, what are you doing–stay in there!” an onlooker shouted.

“No;” Pinada answered, “I can’t stop the comet if I’m inside the case.” He spread him arms out, the tips of his fingers poking out from his long sleeves. “Magic and patterns extend past the atmosphere into space. If I can reach them: I can make the world my shield.”

Sing guffawed, showing brown teeth. “Oh, are you a god now? Going to command the heavens? I brought the comet down–if anyone deserves such high praise it’s me.”

The sky flashed and Pinada staggered to his knees; the comet’s glare widened and intensified. With a violent flare, its color blazed orange.

“Well, that didn’t work,” Pinada gasped. The trees on surrounding hilltops lit up; large, shelled creatures flew out of the swaying branches.

“It’s really coming,” someone said. Sing kept on smiling, the glare from above bright on the glass cage that held him.

“We’re all dead,” a boy uttered, and the crowd pushed at each other, running, swearing.

“Now that it’s here, I can see it’s path–” Pinada said, his eyes squinting at the blur raging above. “One structure won’t be enough––what was I thinking?––I’ll need more. Many. Thousands.”

He held up his hand and struggled to his feet; the wind rose to a strong gust, whipping the scarf at his neck. The foliage of the landscape swayed for miles around the tall hill, and the sky blazed brighter. A boom resounded and the ground shook; people fell flat on their stomachs and covered their heads. Pinada wobbled, dropping his arm. He doubled over, coughing.

“You’re exhausted,” Sing said. He strained at the glass and the four sheets fell away, breaking as they hit the ground. A woman screamed at him.

“Why would you do this!?”

Sing bellowed over the roar of the wind, watching as Pinada collapsed. “You people think he’s perfect. You think he can’t fail. I wanted to show you that he could.”

“You’re crazy,” the woman shouted back. “You’re dying too!”

Sing laughed as the world shone bright as day. “I won’t die here.”

“You’re right, Sing,” Pinada said. He rolled over onto his back and directed his arms straight up. Thousands of strings criss-crossed the sky and the comet grew dim, obscured by a web miles-long.

“That’s–that’s impossible,” Sing uttered. The blazing light was flickering out, and the massive, jagged form of the comet dipped into Pinada’s strands. The web held, flexed, frayed, and vanished; the crowd yelped in unison as the comet dropped. It fell atop a hill in the distance, shaking a shockwave of debris from the ground. It rolled down the incline, flattening every tree in its path. A delayed thud and numerous crackles echoed back through the valleys to the crowd’s ears. The comet rocked to a halt at last, settling in a mess of foliage and dust.

Cheers rose up from the crowd as they watched the gasses roiling out from the comet in a dense fog. Several went over to where Pinada lay, wrapping their arms around him and lifting him up.

“He shouldn’t have been able to do that,” Sing said. “No, no––this isn’t happening; he was powerless! You all saw!”

The crowd took notice of Sing again, gathering around him. One man knocked him down.

“He’s a devil; he’s not natural!” Sing gurgled as others joined the assault. “This isn’t right! No one–”

His body went limp as more blows landed upon it. Pinada, his hand at his bronze glasses, watched the sky.

 

1 – Re-opening

 

Mean sat at a table with her father, drinking lemonade beneath a large cafe banner. It read “RE-OPENING! WELCOME BACK!” A brilliant, yellow sundress hung off Mean’s shoulders, and she had her thin legs crossed beneath the skirt. The cafe was part of a small plaza that jutted out from the side of a sheer cliff, sandwiched in between the smooth rock and the vertical buildings that hung from re-enforced struts. The noon sun shone down on the city, and people, cars, and trams moved in steady flows through the numerous walkways and streets.

“Hey! Dark! Over here!” Mean called out. She stood and waved at two men walking toward them: a blond-haired one and another wearing black armor that wrapped around his thin body. Onlookers stared as Dark clanked past, and one little girl pointed and laughed at the long, trailing cape. An aged waitress reached the table at the same time the two men did, and she shot the pair a long look as she poured more lemonade in Mean’s glass.

“Mean––wow––I don’t think I’ve seen you in a dress,” Dark said.

Mean smiled. “Well, I can’t wear them while I’m on the other world, flying around.”

“It looks good; I like it,” Dark said. “Hello, Hatchel.”

Mean’s father scooted his chair aside to make room at the table. “Hey, Dark. Hey, Tome–what do you think? You’ve been to our planet, but this is your first time up in the city, right?”

“Yes, it’s nice, it’s nice,” Tome replied, scratching at the stubble on his chin. “And people aren’t staring at me, for once.”

“What’ll you have?” the waitress interjected.

“What?” Tome said. “Oh––right! It’s been so long since I’ve been to a restaurant. Goodness, ah, I’ll have the yellow drink there. The one she’s got.”

“Lemonade?” the waitress drawled. “And you?”

“Nothing for me, thanks;” Dark said, tapping his round helmet. “I don’t take my armor off.”

“Whatever,” the waitress said, leaving.

Mean chuckled, and Dark pulled a chair over: lifting his cape and draping it over the back as he clunked down.

“This cafe looks nice,” Tome said. He nodded at a wall covered in bright, fresh paint. “Is this the one you said was hit by Hellzoo’s attack? Everything seems to be in order. I can’t sense thoughts on your world, though; how is everyone in the city feeling?”

“They’re still a bit scared,” Hatchel said. “But Lord Ley Tecker’s been working to reassure everyone that it won’t happen again.”

“And if it does, you two can just fly at it in a jet again!” Mean added.

“One trip in one of those things is enough,” Hatchel laughed. “Anyway––I gotta get back to work. See you later, sweetie.”

“Bye, Dad,” Mean said, and Hatchel got up, brushing past a guy wearing a flowery shirt. “And hey, Darrow.”

“Hey, guys,” Darrow said, weaving around Hatchel, nodding, and taking his seat.

The waitress returned with Tome’s lemonade. “What’ll you have?” she asked Darrow. His eyes lit up.

“I’ll be making my own drinks, my good ma’am,” Darrow said. “Allow me to show you something amazing.” He positioned his palm over an empty space on the table. “Now, watch closely.”

Tome cleared his throat. “There’s no magic on this planet, remember?”

Darrow withdrew his arm. “Oh, whoops. Uh–nothing, I guess.”

That waitress sighed, plodding off into the bar again.

“So how is it?” Mean asked as Tome took a sip of the lemonade.

“Quite tart,” he answered, smacking his lips. “But much fresher than all of that preserved stuff we’ve been having.”

As Tome sampled some more, Darrow looked over at Dark. “Dude, are you wearing a cape now? Did you seriously think you didn’t look evil enough?”

“We went shopping for it,” Mean said. “He was always getting fingerprints on his armor and needed something to wipe it off with.”

“It comes in handy when I fall out of buildings,” Dark added. “A thick cape really scrubs the grime off.”

“Honestly,” Darrow muttered. “How are you getting fingerprints all over your armor, anyway?”

“Throngs of babes, Darrow,” Dark said.

“Kids think he’s a superhero,” Mean said. “They want to touch his armor.”

Darrow wrinkled his unibrow, then looked past Tome’s shoulder. Someone on the sidewalk was pointing to the sky, his hand shielding his eyes from the sun. “Hey, what are those guys looking at over there?”

Dark turned. “Oh, Hatchel was just saying that people are still a bit antsy since the attack: every cloud probably looks like a monster, I bet.”

“There is something up there,” Mean said. “It’s like a piece of glass. Something shiny.”

“There’s a guy up there!” someone at the next table shouted. The object descended, dropping into the plaza with a crack. It was a perfect, glass cube.

A man was inside and he wore a heavy, black coat. His knees buckled and he caught himself by placing an arm on one of the glass sides. The box shifted, scraping over the pavement and coming to rest next to Mean’s table; bringing the man, who stood up straight and pointed his finger at Tome.

“Hello, Sing,” he said. His voice was a hollow echo.

Tome gripped his glass with both hands; he pressed his back to the chair. The man stared back at him through bronze glasses. “Pin–Pinada–”

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you since then,” Pinada said. “Those people attacked you–can you believe that? But here you are! Different body–chatting with friends. I guess you’ve been through a lot, right?”

Tome’s shook his head, his wide eyes frozen. Mean reached over and touched his wool coat.

“That’s the guy from the museum, right? The hero?” she asked. Tome nodded.

Pinada dropped his arm and looked over at Mean. “Oh, you’ve heard of me? Did Sing tell you?”

“We know you stopped the comet the day he lost his body,” Mean said.

“And his name is Tome now,” Darrow broke in. “We’ve been through this with one guy already–what he did was years ago; he’s a good person now.”

Pinada scratched at his black hair. “Tome? Like the play?”

Tome stood up. He set his glass down and said with a trembling voice: “Pinada, why are you here? If you think that I was the one that caused our people’s extinction, you––well, you’d be right to suspect me. But I didn’t; I’ve been powerless ever since that night on the hill. I only got this new body recently; through the kindness and sacrifice of somebody else.”

“Oh, no, no,” Pinada said. “I know it wasn’t you; that is, to say, you would have showed up to gloat like you always did. No, I’m here to ask for your help: to find out what happened to our planet.” He ran his fingers over his turquoise scarf. “To stop it from happening.”

Mean looked at Dark and Darrow looked at Tome. Some people had gathered with cameras, yet they kept their distance. Pinada rose his eyebrow.

“Do you know what I’ve been doing all this time?” he asked. “I went exploring after everyone died–I survived, of course–and one day I noticed that certain places were losing power. I thought it might have been a malfunction in the grid, but it wasn’t–someone was diverting magical energy. I eventually tracked it down to Droldragia, that place where Hellzoo was sealed off. I found a ruined city, but no people. The construction wasn’t native to my world. Now that I’m here, I see that the city belonged to this planet.”

Mean adjusted her sundress strap. “Yeah, that was Hardpan city. There was a hex door between our two worlds there.”

“Yes, that’s how I got here,” Pinada went on. “Your people just finished fixing it. But while I was waiting, I decided to go into that mine Hellzoo first appeared in. And do you know what I found down there? A workshop. Not the usual mining stuff, either–machines built by King Technologies.”

“King?” Tome cried. “Why would he have put something down there?”

“Oh, he liked to keep his best secrets hidden,” Pinada told him. “And I found something quite rare.” He pointed at Mean through the glass. “Has Sing–ah–Tome taught you about the properties that magical patterns have? That they have bits of data that affect an object’s size, weight, temperature–well, every factor, really.”

Mean nodded and Pinada went on.

“Well, the device I found manipulates the bit of the pattern that even I have had problems changing: the part that influences the factor of time.”

“Time travel!” Darrow interjected. Pinada jumped, holding his scarf to his chest.

“Yes!” he laughed. “I might as well say it: yes, I want to go back and prevent the end of our world.”

“Pinada, that’s impossible,” Tome said. “The time factor changes too quickly for anyone to perceive or predict.”

“I seem to remember hearing you say that stopping a falling comet was impossible too,” Pinada said, grinning.

“Tome, what if he’s right?” Mean asked. “I didn’t think it was possible to use magic to fly. You didn’t think it was possible, either.”

Tome swiped his hand across the blond stubble at his chin, holding his fingers at his lips as he thought. Pinada drummed his fingers on his scarf.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have just dumped this on you,” Pinada said, gesturing at the table. “I saw that you had some friends now; I thought that maybe you had become more open to this sort of thing. You know what–I’m sorry. I should have known that you wouldn’t want to work with me. I can just go and try to use the machine on my own.”

“Why didn’t you?” Dark asked. “If you found a way to travel through time, why would you need us?” Pinada turned, studying the surface of Dark’s sleek armor.

“Everyone on my world knew who I was;” he said, “I can’t just appear in the past alongside my earlier self. But you”–he tapped on the glass, pointing at the others–”you’re all from this planet, correct? You could do all the field work, unnoticed.”

“We could be your spies!” Darrow said.

“Now wait, Darrow,” Tome expressed. “We don’t even know if this works yet. No one’s even tested it.”

“I have,” Pinada said. “It seems that King integrated it into his hex door system. While a normal hex door shifts the location of the space you stand in; this new one changes the time of the location as well. Perfectly safe.”

“Yeah, come on, Tome,” Darrow pleaded. “Can’t we go check it out?”

Mean reached over and touched Dark’s arm. “Dark, we could go back! We could save everyone!”

Drops of precipitation had formed on Tome’s lemonade glass, and he stared into the liquid. He sighed, glancing at the others before nodding over at Pinada. “We’ll go look at it,” he said. Darrow pumped his arm. “But first I want you to come out of that casing. I need to see that it’s really you.”

Pinada drew his hand to his scarf. “But you know I don’t like being exposed,” he said. “And there are so many people around.” He dipped his head sideways at the gawking crowd.

“Me, Mean, and Darrow are the only ones that have magic in us,” Tome said. “So you won’t be overwhelmed by their patterns; the people on this planet don’t have any. Isn’t that how you were able to zero in on me?”

Pinada chuckled, drawing his hand to his scarf. “You’re right; I did peek out of the case just a bit. You’re good–and that’s the kind of thorough investigation I’ll be counting on. Alright. Just for you.”

His box glided backwards, away from the tables; and the glass walls unfolded, swinging down along invisible hinges at the base. The top came along with one of the sides, and a mist spread out from within as the pieces settled. Pinada walked back towards the others, taking off his fogged glasses. He headed, squinting, around to where Tome sat, his black coat brushing against Mean’s chair. He wiped his scarf over his glasses’ lenses and put them back on his nose.

“So, can we work together on this one?” he asked in a clear, loud voice, standing at Tome’s side. There was a scrape as the chair slid back; Tome stood up and flattened his wool coat over his chest.

“We can–if it works,” he admitted, and held his arm out. They shook hands as several people around them continued to snap pictures.

“This is going to be great!” Mean said. “Oh–I need to call Trisk! And Dark, what about Vornis? Do you think he’d want to come?”

“Bring as many people as you can,” Pinada told her, walking back over to where his glass plates were. “I’m going back to my planet now. We’ll all meet at the mine, and I’ll lead you to the time chamber from there.”

He stood on the bottom plate, and the five others lifted to encase him again. He waved, knelt down, and the entire box shot up with a whoosh: drawing gasps and yelps from those watching. The glass glinted in the sun as it carried him away to the south.

Dark turned around; the aged waitress stood behind him, her mouth open and her pitcher dribbling lemonade onto his arm. He sighed, taking the hem of his cape to mop up the mess.

 

2 – Into the Pit

 

Darrow, Mean, and Dark walked through the sidewalks of condominium tower nine: a vertical building stacked with concrete floors and complete, double-decker houses. Cars rolled in and out of the structure through roads and glass tunnels, on their way to other towers or into the cliff.

“It’s over here,” Darrow announced, leading the group across a lawn of artificial, green grass. They rustled across and up to a porch. A plastic statuette on the step was there to greet them, holding a sign that read “The Hennings.” Darrow pressed the doorbell.

A cat leapt up to a nearby windowsill, mewing at Dark from inside. The doorknob rattled, and a middle-aged woman with short, curly hair opened the door.

“Darrow, hello!” she greeted. “Come in! Are these more of Trisk’s friends?”

“Hey, Mrs. Henning,” Darrow said. “Yeah, this is Dark––that’s Mean.”

Mrs. Henning stepped aside: her black hair framed her round cheeks as she smiled and nodded at each person stepping into the home. “Well, I’m so glad that you’ve finally come over. She’s up washing her hair now––I can get you some drinks while you wait.”

“I’ll go get her;” Darrow said, grasping a stair bannister, “you guys can wait here.” He bolted upstairs without waiting for a reply.

“Uh, okay then,” Mean said. She looked around the front parlor, finding a couch and sitting sideways on the cloth cushion. The white cat peeked out at Dark from behind a curtain as he followed Mean and sat beside her.

“So what will you have?” Mrs. Henning asked. “We’ve got––”

“Oh, just some water,” Mean said. “And Dark can’t drink anything.”

Mrs. Henning gave a polite nod. She left down a hall, disappearing into a kitchen at the end. Dark waited until he heard glasses clinking before speaking in a whisper: “Darrow met Trisk on the other world, didn’t he? How does Trisk’s mom know him? Has he been here?”

“I have no idea,” Mean answered, tucking her legs under her. She leaned over. “Trisk didn’t say anything about it to me.

Darrow walked into a small bedroom upstairs. Water was running behind a closed door, and he glanced over at it before meandering to a small desk in the corner. A dusty cork bulletin board hung on the wall over it. Darrow leaned in–seeing pictures of Trisk as a school girl, Trisk with her sisters–and he zeroed in on one: Trisk standing next to a man with a crutch. Darrow’s mouth hung open as he noticed the smile and dimple under his chin. The photo hung from a needle embedded in the cork; he flipped it up. The back read: “Love, Tyle.”

Darrow slapped the picture back in place, staring at the couple. Trisk held Tyle’s left arm; his other clutched the padded crutch, the skin tight and discolored over his bones. The doorknob turned and he spun around, fidgeting.

“What are you doing in my room?” Trisk asked. She pressed at her long, wet hair with a towel.

“Something happened,” Darrow spat out. “With Tome. Some guy. We had to come get you early.”

Trisk sighed, tossing the towel on the bed and walking over to another door. “So who else is here?”

“Just Mean and Dark,” Darrow said.

“Mean, come up here!” Trisk shouted. There was a clink downstairs, followed by a rapid patter.

“Trisk!” Mean cried, bounding in. She hopped on the bed, bobbing on her knees beside the wet towel. “Did Darrow tell you what happened? Wow, your room is nice. It’s way bigger than mine was when I lived with Dad.”

Trisk opened the door, revealing a closet where a large, worn punching bag was hanging. “Thanks. That’s a nice dress you’ve got on.”

“Guys, the time machine, remember?” Darrow pressed. Trisk turned.

Mean nodded. “He’s not making it up; this guy Tome used to know landed right next to the cafe and told us about it. He’s from the other world–Pinada, the guy with a statue in that museum with the comet. He wants to use it to save everyone.”

“What?” Trisk uttered, her hand at her temple. “Time machine? Like going back in time? Are you kidding?”

“Trisk, he explained it!” Darrow said. “Time has a pattern–it uses a hex door–he tested it; it works!”

“We’re going to meet him back where Hardpan was,” Mean explained. “Just to check it all out for ourselves.”

Trisk turned back to the closet, where a single sweater hung from a hanger. She took it down and stared at the mandala design on the front.

“I could meet Tenny,” she said.

“Well, I suppose,” Darrow coughed. Trisk ignored him, wriggling into the sweater: its hem hung mid-belly, next to the tank top she wore. She took her damp hair and whipped it out from the neckline, letting it fall over her back.

“Your mom did a good job repairing the frayed edges,” Mean said.

Trisk gave a single nod. “Yep. Now when do we go?”

“Right now I guess,” Mean said. “I have one of the hex doors Dad and I use.” She stood up from the bed and lead the way back downstairs. Dark still sat on the couch: the white cat was rubbing its face on his sleek, black boots.

“Mom, I’m going out with my friends,” Trisk called as the four stood together. Mrs. Henning came into the room moments later, jogging up to where her daughter stood. Trisk leaned down and kissed her forehead. Mean took out a tiny remote, fiddling with buttons as Dark tried to push the white cat away with his foot.

“No, no, you can’t come,” Dark said.

“Thanks for visiting,” Mrs. Henning said. “Where are you all going?”

“Back in time, on the other planet,” Trisk said. They all vanished with a pop. The cat scampered across the carpet and leapt into the drapes.

 

—–

 

Mean, Dark, Trisk, and Darrow re-appeared in a hall with a worn carpet and many open doors.

“Let me just grab a snack,” Mean said, walking out of the circle of six pillars that surrounded the group. Darrow watched as she entered a room at the opposite end of the hall.

“Why does she live in this hotel?” he whispered. “Why not find some empty mansion?”

“Darrow, why do you ask such ridiculous things?” Trisk said. “You’re the one that sleeps outside every night.”

“But I hate being cooped up,” Darrow whined. “If Mean wants to sleep in a building why not make it a luxurious one?”

Dark cleared his throat. “She didn’t want to stay anywhere that had been someone else’s home,” he said. “Respect for the dead. A hotel room never belonged to any one person.”

They were silent until Mean came back.

“Alright, you guys ready?” she asked. She slung a small backpack over her shoulders: it was marked with the zigzag insignia of Jesice. “Hex door, take us to Droldragia.”

The walls of the hotel vanished and a bright, yellow field unfurled around them. Blinking, Mean stepped out of the wooden gazebo they had appeared in. A path led from it and merged into a paved road: it stretched in a line to a far-off ruin. There, bulldozers and trucks moved great piles of debris; large cranes stood ready at the sides of skeletal steel framework.

A beast of a man strolled down the dusty road toward the group. Immense scales jingled at his chest and hip, and long, thin blades protruded from his sides. He wore ragged jeans that were split at the knees; a red shirt covered his arms and stomach, also torn where the pointed scales brushed it. The tall, yellow grass swayed at the sides of the street as he walked.

“Vornis!” Mean shouted, hoisting her pack and waving at him. The four paraded down the path and into the street to meet him.

“What the heck, man? Pants?” Darrow said. “You weren’t wearing clothes before.”

Vornis stretched to full height and slapped dust from the jeans. “Hadn’t seen people for years––what’d you expect? To find me in slippers and jammies when you broke in Parlay’s house?”

Mean chuckled. “So where’s Tome at? He told you what happened, right?”

“Yeah,” Vornis said. He nodded at where the road came to an abrupt end. “He went to check the mine while we waited for you. What about this Pinada guy? You all see him? Does his story seem legit?”

“He seemed friendly,” Mean said. “Really excited.”

Vornis let out a groan and bared his white teeth. “Wish I could have seen him; this smells like a scam.”

“Well you can check him out when we meet him at the mine,” Trisk said, turning off into the grass. “Let’s get going.”

The five pushed through the field, towards the blond-haired figure in the wool coat. The long stretch of road was soon lost from sight, with the messy ruins of Hardpan stark against the day sky. After a few minutes Tome waved, joining them.

“He’s not here yet–the mine is close though,” he explained. “And patterns, crazy patterns that I’ve never seen before are down there.”

“Geez, you can tell already?” Vornis said, the blades at his sides snipping off tops of feathery reeds as he walked.

Tome nodded, gesturing them along. “Patterns were all I had when I was bodiless. But this is something new.”

“Oh man, even you haven’t seen it before?” Darrow laughed. “Guys–this might actually be happening! We could go back!”

“Okay, so suppose it works,” Vornis said. “What then? What do we do? Warn people? We don’t know even know how they were killed.”

Mean held up a finger. “I’ve been thinking about that.” She pointed over to where the tops of the twisted, steel frames stood in the distance. “When Hellzoo had us in that cage before the city crashed, she said something to Parlay: she said that he could have stopped it.”

“That’s right,” Dark broke in, “you said that Hellzoo showed you Parlay’s memory.”

“Yeah,” Mean went on. “People in some kind of stadium seats–all being vaporized right out of their clothes. Parlay flipped out when he saw it. And–oh! She said something about the enemy being close.”

“Close to Parlay?” Vornis asked.

“I think so,” Mean said. She spit out an airborne seed that had blown into her mouth. “It might be a bit weird, but finding him could be our best chance.”

Vornis grumbled. “Parlay was hanging around King last I saw.”

Mean’s eyes opened wide. “Mm! Yeah! That guy was there, I think! In the vision! He wears a crown and stuff, right? Fancy clothes? Big beard?”

Darrow laughed. “He actually dressed like that?”

“You wore a crown too, dummy,” Trisk said.

“Well, I didn’t call myself a king!” Darrow shot back. Vornis groused.

“Ugh, that sounds like him. And that was his name, believe it or not. A pompous ‘entrepreneur’ from one of the wealthiest nations. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were involved in all this.”

A clink sounded against Dark’s boot, and he stumbled.

“What was that?” Mean asked, trotting up to him. Dark bent down.

“Probably some debris from when the city crashed,” he said. He picked up a jagged, clear piece of glass.

“There’s more over here; be careful,” Vornis warned, holding his spike out of the way of the others as he checked the ground.

“Glass,” Tome uttered. “That looks like–”

He leapt ahead, sweeping long stalks out of the way. Further on, the yellow grass was flattened down to the ground; a large, cracked sheet of glass sat upon it: its edges were square.

“This is Pinada’s,” Tome said. The group gathered around it.

“There’s a mark here,” Darrow noted, kneeling down.

“Stand back,” Mean instructed. As everyone backed away, she gestured at the glass, raising it up into the air. The sun flashed on the side and the mark became clear: it was a ‘K’ and a ‘F’ scratched into the surface.

“Why would he leave his glass out here?” Darrow wondered, looking off in every direction.

“Over here,” Vornis said, crouching down and springing up into the air. He landed in a small clearing with a thud, where the grass yielded to rock and the wind tossed a small bit of turquoise cloth. A large slab was sitting nearby, and bits of red chain were imbedded in its rough sides. The top of a rusted, metallic staircase was crushed beneath it, and the metal twisted out from a tiny crevice.

Mean broke out of the grass after him, skidding to a stop as she laid eyes on the massive boulder.

“This is it,” Tome said, pushing through. “This is the mine where Hellzoo trapped all those people.”

“There’s more,” Vornis said, circling the slab. The group took wary steps as they followed, walking out into the open. On the other side of the rock a circle of six pillars stood in shadow. A heavy coat was laid flat on the ground.

“This is your Pinada?” Vornis asked. Tome nodded, reaching down to touch the black coat. Other garments were scattered as well, along with a smashed pair of bronze glasses.

“Wasn’t this guy supposed to be tough?” Trisk asked.

“I don’t know what could have done this to him,” Tome said. “I didn’t even sense anything happen.”

Dark pointed at a panel on one of the pillars: a cavernous, half-lit room was on display on the monitor there. “It looks like this hex door leads down. So do we keep going?”

“Are you kidding?” Darrow cried. “We need to figure out what happened–”

“No,” Trisk snapped, grabbing Darrow by the sleeve. “We are not wussing out. We could save everyone if this works–we don’t need him, and being scared of some unknown thing won’t do us any good.” She released him and stepped between the six metal pillars. She let out a quick sigh. “Who’s coming?”

Tome dropped the coat and stepped up first, followed by the rest as they pressed together. Vornis held one blade down and the other see-sawed up; when they were both within the pillars’ border the group vanished with a pop. Mean trembled with a shiver as she reappeared in a dark place. A ripple echoed.

“Brrr–should’ve grabbed a sweater like you,” Mean said. She leaned against Trisk as they stared out at the cave. Floodlights high above shone down in beams through the damp air, illuminating concrete pillars and bare patches of smooth, white floor. A steady drip came from somewhere behind them. Tome was first to step off the metal plate.

“There’s a hole–maybe the machine is in here?” Dark said, walking over to a square passage. Pieces of rock were scattered over the floor, and his boots crunched over them as he went over.

The light from the main room illuminated a catwalk on the other side of the passage. Nothing could be seen beyond the metal railing. A sign with reflective, orange letters read “HALL ZONE.”

“Parlay called that giant hex door a hall,” Mean said, walking up next to Dark. She rubbed her arms. The catwalk railing extended to the left and right, fading out into blackness. “And Hellzoo said she needed a giant  pattern to latch on to. If that King person made a hall down here it must be how she appeared in this mine in the first place.”

“I think you’re right; this must be where Parlay got it,” Dark said. He pointed her to a gutted console: its casing torn open along with shattered remnants of blue vein. Some crude drawings were scrawled on the ground with chalk at the edge of the shadows.

“Let’s go back,” Mean said, shuddering again and walking into the main room–keeping as far away from the barricaded abyss as she could.

“Find anything?” Trisk asked.

“It’s just the stuff Parlay used for the giant hex door,” Mean replied, walking with Dark. “He would have used a time machine if he’d found one.”

“If only these lights were brighter,” Darrow said. At his words, more beams clicked on high above: filling in dark patches of the floor and towering walls.

“I’m so stupid; they just use thought patterns,” Tome groaned. “I’ve been a spirit too long–nice going Darrow.”

Darrow beamed. “Lights, lights, lights!” he cried, and he had to shield himself from the flash: the entire network of floodlights snapped on with a series of echoes; not a shadow remained in the cave as they all shone down at once.

“Over there!” Trisk cried, holding her arm across her forehead. “There is something here!”

The group hurried across the vast room. Their feet echoed, sometimes squeaking, as they went. Water pooled in spots on the floor, and slick streams flowed across many of the large support columns they passed. The six stopped, breathless, at what Trisk had lead them to: a raised platform inscribed with an ornate, clock face.

“I can’t believe it,” Vornis said. He circled around it, along with the others. A triangular, brass marker was set at the “2,” with another spaced every two numbers all the way to the “12.” Black hands were painted on the scarlet face, with the minute hand on the six and the hour hand pointing at four. Trisk set a foot on it and Mean leapt to drag her back.

“Trisk, we don’t even know how this works!” she said.

She snorted as Darrow rushed to her. “There’s a panel over here–come on,” he said, leading her away from the clock and over to an area where the concrete floors and walls met natural rock. A wide stalactite stood out, its tip meeting a fat stalagmite beneath it. A trail of rusty deposits ran down the gray rocks, coloring the bottom half with billowing swirls. A monitor and controls were set up in front of the colorful rocks, and Darrow set his hands on the knobs.

“Darrow, be careful,” Dark warned. Darrow flipped a button and the screen blinked to life.

“Week 922,” it read in flashing red letters. “Thursday, 2:51.” A second date was set above that, reading “Week 922 – Wednesday, 4:30” typed out in green. Three hexagons were placed on the screen as well, all with an “X” through them.

“This is going to take forever to figure out, isn’t it?” Trisk groaned.

“Well, hold on, let me mess with it a little,” Darrow said, twisting a knob. The flashing date remained, and the solid green one changed: reading Week 921, 920, and 919 as he flipped it. The day and time for the green letters always remained at Wednesday, 4:30.

“Looks like the flashing red date is the current time,” Darrow said, watching the red time tick over to 2:52. “The one I’m changing in green seems to be the destination date.”

“It looks like this machine has been scanning and storing the time pattern at the same time every week,” Tome said, coming closer. “And there are over nine hundred weeks–that goes back earlier than the day the comet fell.”

“So we’ve got time,” Mean said. “What about those hexagons?”

“Destination hex doors, I’m guessing,” Tome replied. “The X through them must mean the door is in use at that particular time. Darrow, can you go to”–he paused–”the date two hundred and thirty-four weeks before this one? It’s one week before the incident.”

Darrow nodded, spinning the knob and slowing as it reached “688.”

“Ooh, math boy,” Trisk said.

“It’s just about four and a half years ago,” Darrow told her. Three green, empty hexagons lit up the screen over the dates. “Look–the spots are open.”

“So this is it, then?” Mean asked. “This is the time we’re going to?”

Vornis grunted. “Wait a minute: if King made this then these hex doors are his. He had a security system set up so that whenever someone traveled through one an image was taken. If we really are going to use this–if it really does send us back–we can check the image library right now to see if it worked.”

“Holy crap, are you serious?” Mean cried. She ran forward to the controls. “Hey, show us the users of that first hex door there, at four thirty on week six eighty-eight!”

A smaller screen flickered on by the dials on the base: it depicted a small gazebo and a backdrop of purple fir trees. Vornis and Tome stood inside it.

“It works!?” Darrow shrieked. “It works!”

“Same date, next hex door over,” Mean asked. A gazebo with chipped paint appeared, with the same indigo-colored trees behind it. Darrow and Trisk stood in this one. “Same date, last hex door.”

She and Dark stood back-to-back in this wooden gazebo, with Dark’s hands at his face plate. The other gazebos could be seen behind them. Darrow laughed. “What are you guys doing?”

“Not sure,” Mean said. “I guess that settles it, though–punch in the settings or whatever you need to do, Darrow.”

Tome tore his eyes away from the images, blinking. “Now wait,” he said. “Shouldn’t we at least come up with a plan? Prepare? Something?”

“You can wait around if you want,” Trisk said. “I’m going right now.” She turned away from the console and marched back towards the clock.

“DESTINATION TIME SET; SET RETURN TIME,” a monotone voice commanded. Tome rushed after Trisk, standing in her way.

“I’m not letting any of you go first; I’ll test it,” he said. Darrow was twisting the knob again; the numbers shot up past nine hundred and Darrow called back to them.

“Guys, look at this–the numbers go higher!”

Trisk and Tome turned to look at the monitor: the solid green date read “Week 924.”

“That’s two weeks from now,” Tome uttered. “How does it know patterns for times that haven’t occurred yet?”

“Well, it’s a time machine, right?” Darrow offered. “Maybe it will scan those weeks in the future, then send the data back in time to itself.” He clicked on the dial. “That’s as far as it goes.”

“Well that’s good,” Dark said. “We can come back next week, and if we need to try again, we’ll still have one more week after that to come back to.”

“Great idea,” Mean said, watching him out of the corner of her eye. “It would be a pain to come back earlier and overlap with our past selves.”

“Ah, yes,” Dark coughed. “That would be quite bothersome.”

Vornis ignored them, stroking at the little tufts of hair on his head. “But why does it stop at week 924?” he asked.

“Maybe we destroy it after we’re done with it,” Tome said. “That’s what I’d do.”

Mean tugged at her dress strap. “Can we check?” she wondered. “Can we look at the hex door photos from the future?” She leaned over the console, twisting the knob back to week 923. “Show me the users of the first hex door at four-thirty on week nine twenty-three,” she asked.

“ERROR,” is all the voice said in reply.

“No, no, you’re asking wrong,” Darrow said. He cleared his throat. “Time machine, in one week run this command: send the data from that hex door back one week.”

At once the console screen flickered, and the gazebo appeared: the fir forest behind it was thicker, the paint was stripped, but Vornis and Tome were standing in it just as they had been in the previous picture.

“Well, it looks like it works,” Tome admitted, stepping over and onto the clock. “I guess it’s good to know we aren’t killed on the trip.” He stood for a moment, taking in a deep breath.

Darrow held his hand over the controls. “Alright, ready?” he asked. Tome nodded. Everyone watched him as set the return time to week 923. The mechanical voice spoke again:

“RETURN TIME SET––ERROR: OCCUPANT MISSING.”

“Uh, hm, hold on–” Darrow said, staring at the buttons.

Vornis stepped over to the clock, his hand on one of the blades sticking out from his side. “I guess we need to pair up like we were in those pictures.”

He hopped up next to Tome; as soon as he did a long, glass shaft fell from the ceiling. It clinked to the floor, containing the two. A low hum rumbled through the cavern and the lights overhead flickered. Mean cried out, taking hold of Dark’s arm as a sudden wail rose up and the lights shut off completely. The sharp noise faded to echoes as soon as it had begun, and the group stood still in the darkness. The sound of their breathing was the only noise in the silence that followed.

After a long moment, the floodlights above winked back on: Tome and Vornis were gone.

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