Until the End of Time Part 3, Chapter 5
Where Angels Lose Their Way
By Demon-Fighter Ash
August, 1016 AD
Guile glided through the air above the murky brown puddles while Sybil and Sneff clambered over the thick tree roots and leaped awkwardly from one muddy islet to another, clinging to the slender leafless tree-trunks as they hopped across the still waters. Sprigg bounced through the branches overhead, leaping eagerly like a frog from one tree to the next, and she finally somersaulted onto a swell of land in the middle of the desolate swamp.
"Careful with the water," Sprigg called out over her shoulder, "it's poisonous!"
Guile glided over the muddy waters and landed atop a curved tree-root while Sneff and Sybil climbed onto a small bare island, all of them a few feet from the beaming troll-woman and her patch of dry ground. They listened to the faint hum of distant flies breaking the silence, the whole swamp drab and lifeless except for bugs.
"Nuff," Sneff gasped, "why are we out here anyway? I just hope fere aren't hydras around..."
"Don't worry, the hydras are all extinct," Guile answered, "the last one was killed a few years ago. But I've heard stories that the wingapede has survived and still flies on cloudless sunny days like this one."
"Stop fat," Sneff said nervously, imagining the gigantic wormy insect swooping out of the sky with its huge dragonfly wings, "I hate bugs...really really hate fem..."
"This whole forest is dead," Sybil muttered sadly as she looked around at the dead trees and muddy pools of still water, "I can't feel anything here...not even birds..."
"Humans," Sprigg answered, "they hunted every livin' thing in this forest. They drove out the dwarves, stalked the hydras, chopped down the trees...but that's not why we're 'ere."
"Which brings us to Sneff's question," Guile said, "why are we out here?"
"It's time," Sprigg nodded to the shrouded psychic standing with Sneff, "tell them."
"Alright," Sybil nodded, "you know I can sense emotions, auras, destinies. But over the past few years the noise on the islands has grown much louder. It feels as though there's twice as many people in El Nido as there used to be, but I don't sense any more minds than there were before...and there aren't anymore people that I can see."
"But that's not all, is it" Sprigg prodded her pupil with a sly grin.
"No," Sybil sighed, hesitating a little, "I'm having more trouble than I used to. Sometimes I look at someone and see a completely different aura, like they've led another life. It's a little...embarrassing."
"Ready for some good news," Sprigg asked, "it's not you, Sybil. I've been tapping into the elements myself lately and found the same thing. There's another world just beyond the boundary of this one--a world that's almost exactly like this world, same people, same islands. And now it's becomin' linked to our world."
"You mean anoffer planet," Sneff asked, scratching his head.
"Nope," Sprigg answered, "same planet, different dimension. Maybe a different history too. It's all around us, but we can't see it and they can't see us."
"So I must be sensing echoes of that other history," Sybil said eagerly, still confused but relieved that her powers weren't failing her, "that's why it feels like there's so much noise sometimes."
"Why would our world be linked with it," Guile asked their teacher, "if there really are other timelines, then there must be millions of them, for every toss of the coin and roll of the dice. Why does Sybil feel only one of them?"
"I don't know why we're linked to that one alone," Sprigg answered, "but ya might have something to do with it, Guile. Sybil only started feelin' the other world about five years ago, when you arrived."
"Do you think I'm from this other world," Guile asked in surprise.
"Not at all," she cackled, "no, you belong in this one. But I do think that something ya got mixed up in led to this other world being joined with ours. But even that's just an old lady's hunch."
"Which keeps bringing us to the same question," Guile insisted as he looked up at the blue-white sky, then around at the drooping lifeless trees and red silt-clouded swamp, "why are we here?"
"Why are any of us 'ere," Sprigg laughed, then looked back to her three students with a snicker as they glared impatiently at her, "alright, alright...the three of us are in the Hydra Marshes because I've found a weakness in the boundaries here."
"You mean between the worlds," Sybil asked, tilting her head.
"Exactly," Sprigg clapped her hands, "something's linked them together, but the two worlds are still mostly separated by the fabric of space-time. There's a point 'ere, right where I'm standing, where the two worlds happen to draw close together and the boundary between them becomes pretty thin."
"I don't see anything," Sneff said as he stared intently at the small islet.
"Yer not supposed to," Sprigg snickered, "I said the boundary's weak, but it's still here. It'll take a lot energy to actually break through it, and still more to fly all the way to the other timeline."
"You want to go over there," Guile said slowly as he began to realize her plan, "why?"
"To try to figure out what's going on," she answered, "something linked our world with whatever timeline's over there, and I think it was done on purpose--and anything powerful enough to do that is powerful enough to be worth worrying about. There might be some clues over there to explain why this happened."
"What iff you don't make it all the way across," Sneff asked, worried.
"Good question," she scratched her sharp green chin, "I suppose I'd end up in a kind of limbo between the two worlds, a dimensional vortex where space and time don't work the same way, where centuries could pass within the span of a few years and reality itself seems to shift dependin' on who's lookin' at it."
The three stared at her in wide-eyed horror as flies buzzed around the burning sun-drenched air.
"Oh come on," she suddenly laughed out loud, "I just made all that up! I'm sure I'll get through the rift and if I can pull it off once, then I can make the trip back just as easily."
"You're going now," Guile asked, "aren't you? That's why you brought all of us here."
"Ya bet I am," she said, "I don't know how long I'll be gone--'owever long it takes to figure out what's so special about that world, or this one, and get back, I guess. So I wanted all of you to see me off."
"We'll come wiff you," Sneff said quickly, "we'll all go see this offer world."
"I wish ya could," Sprigg sighed, "but I don't 'ave nearly enough power to open a portal for all of us. It took more than a year just to come up with a spell to open it just for me, much less for three others."
"What about the records of fate," Sybil asked, exasperated, "did you at least check with them?"
"Bah," Sprigg waved her hand dismissively, "I've never used those things a day in my life. We make our own destiny, no matter what any island superstitions might say."
"You could have used my help," Guile said sullenly, "all of our help. Why keep this a secret?"
"It wasn't a secret, just a side-project" she protested, then sighed, "alright, ya got me. At first I wasn't sure how serious this was. When I figured it out, I realized that it'd take a lot of time and energy to work out a way to do this, and all of you have come so far, I didn't want to derail yer training with this kinda research."
"This could be serious," Sybil complained, "our training could've waited."
"And that kinda generosity," Sprigg replied, "is exactly why I didn't tell any of ya--none of ya would've focused on yer training if ya'd known. Come on, relax, it's not like it's the end of the world!"
"What should we do on fis side," Sneff asked with a resigned sigh.
"Keep doing the shows," she cackled, "and make sure ya keep those profits up! But more important, keep training, all of ya. All three of ya 'ave an incredible power."
"Alright," Guile said as Sneff and Sybil nodded silently.
"I'm not much for long good-byes," Sprigg suddenly said, stretching her thin arms out and closing her eyes, "so 'ere we go. Ya might need to cover yer eyes, I'm not really sure what it'll look like."
The cowl-draped troll-woman began chanting a long string of alien syllables, her head tilted up toward the bone-dry white sky and eyes closed tight as she focused the elemental energy of the swamp into her, channeling it through her body as she struggled to keep control of the dark power sweeping over her.
"Tandyr," her raspy voice called into the sky, "manaph mys-hasaan! Sobar...katra!"
The dried cracked mud beneath her pointed shoes began to ripple and shimmer as if it were a reflection in a pool of clear water, glowing emerald-green ripples rolling out from beneath her feet. The islet began to darken and glitter like an obsidian mirror and Sprigg suddenly seemed to be hovering over a gleaming hole in space, a whirling column of green energy twisting around her in a spiral. The black pit spread outward across the water, the space around her quivering, the horizon twisting up and down into pretzel-shapes behind her. Sprigg opened her eyes and looked at her three awed students, still hovering about the magical abyss.
"Wish me luck," she called out, "and no slacking--I'll be testing each of ya when I get back!"
She dropped through the pit and the glittering black opening folded back into itself, the trees and horizon rippling and twisting as though there were reflections in a churning pond. A flash of white light swept through the desolate swamp and Guile lowered his elbow to find the small island bare and empty, but otherwise intact.
"She's gone," he said blankly, still not quite believing it.
"Do you fink she made it," Sneff asked the group, gripping a sapling tightly with one hand.
"I don't know," Sybil said softly, "but I can't sense her anymore. What should we do?"
"Sprigg scheduled a three-night show in Guldove tonight," Guile answered, "which I'd guess is her way of saying she wants us to keep going without her until she gets back."
After a few silent minutes Guile hovered up into the air and waited, slowly bobbing up and down while Sneff and Sybil carefully hopped over the streams of poisoned swamp-water onto the muddy islands and tree-roots, the three magicians wordlessly making their way back to the caravan wagon.
Part 3, Chapter 6