With the final installment in The Wizard Time trilogy out next Tuesday (July 1st) I’m posting the first few chapters.
You can find the unpublished prologue and the first chapter at the following links:
The second chapter is below:
Chapter Two of The Edge of Eternity (The Wizard of Time – Book 3)
Even in the momentary darkness between moments, Gabriel sensed their movement backward by years and miles. When the white light signaling the end of their brief time travel journey faded, he and the others still crouched behind the parapet of the Great Wall of China. Ohin had used the monumental structure as a relic to guide them to a time and place along its path where no people might observe them.
Gabriel stood with the team, looking along the roadway atop the massive wall, admiring the construction of the stone barrier undulating over the rolling hills of the land to the west and back again, eastward toward the sea. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China, may have intended the earth-packed walls of 220 BCE to have a very practical purpose in keeping out the Mongol tribes to the north, but as the wall changed and grew over the centuries, particularly during the Ming Dynasty in the years from 1567 to 1570, the resulting edifice became as much a marvel of architecture and engineering as a defensive stone barricade.
“This is much better.” Marcus put his hands out and leaned against the edge of the wall. “No arrows.”
“And no people.” Sema turned to face Marcus. “I’m certain someone must have seen us.”
“I sensed no potential bifurcations in the Continuum,” Ohin said. “You did well. All of you.”
“How many more times will we need to do that?” Ling swung the strap of a canteen from her shoulder and unscrewed the cap to take short swig of water.
“A hundred and six.” Teresa gratefully accepted the canteen from Ling. “A hundred and five if we count the Great Barrier as the first anchor point.”
“I still don’t see how you can be so sure there are a hundred and eight anchor points in total.” Rajan briefly touched the amulet at his neck, his armor shimmering as it changed to reveal his true attire of a dark blue tunic and pants. The others, whether from conscious or unconscious mimicry, gradually did the same.
“A hundred and eight anchor points would make sense if it took a hundred and eight mages to create the Great Barrier,” Teresa said.
“We don’t even know where that legend of one hundred and eight mages creating the Barrier came from,” Rajan said.
“In the notebook, Elizabeth wrote that she thought it may have started with Vicaquirao.” Gabriel licked his lips in anticipation as Teresa passed him the canteen. He swallowed urgently at the cool water. He hadn’t realized how thirsty the events of the last few hours had left him.
“All mysteries lead back to Vicaquirao,” Marcus said.
“I can ask him about it next time I see him,” Gabriel said.
“You have plans to see Vicaquirao?” Ohin frowned in concern.
“No plans, but he has a way of turning up.” Gabriel frowned, as well. Thinking of Vicaquirao always elicited mixed emotions. Was he a friend or foe or somehow both? “The real question is whether the Apollyons haven’t attacked the Great Barrier yet because they haven’t created enough duplicates, or because they have and they’re not yet sure how to destroy it.” Gabriel took another drink from the canteen to cover the sudden uneasiness his question had evoked.
“What a pleasant puzzle.” Sema grimaced as she folded her arms.
“But why a hundred and eight?” Rajan gazed up into the blue sky as he thought out loud. “A hundred and eight turns up in Hinduism and Buddhism and a few other places as an important number, but why that number specifically? Why not a hundred and nine? That’s a prime number at least.”
“Look at you, mentioning prime numbers like you know what you’re talking about.” Teresa smiled at Rajan as though staring at a trained horse that had counted to ten.
“I’m with Akikane,” Ling said. “Some things are the way they are because that’s the way the universe works. The speed of light. The number Pi. Plank’s constant.”
“Have you two been taking math and science classes while I wasn’t paying attention?” Teresa blinked in amazement as she looked between Ling and Rajan.
“The real question isn’t how many anchor points there are or why.” Ohin stroked his chin. “The important question is whether, by discovering how the Great Barrier of Probability was created, we can learn how it might be destroyed. Once that secret is known, it will be imperative to keep that information from the Apollyons.”
“And we’ve been so successful keeping secrets from them in the past.” Ling snorted in disgust.
“Unless they are close to discovering the secret themselves.” Gabriel’s stomach clenched at the notion. “In which case, if we don’t know how it was created, we won’t be able to defend the Barrier against them.”
“A conundrum.” Marcus sighed and handed he canteen to Sema. “I hate conundrums.”
“Particularly when the entire Continuum hangs in the balance.” Sema took a sip from the canteen.
“Well I love conundrums.” Teresa smiled and threw her arm around Gabriel’s shoulder.
“Wait. What?” Gabriel scrunched his face in confusion and turned to Teresa. “Are you implying something?”
“No implications are necessary with you, I’m afraid.” Teresa laughed and kissed him quickly. The others laughed, as well.
“We should compare notes and be on our way,” Ohin said. He knew how to take advantage of a positive shift of mood within the group.
“Yes,” Teresa said. “Tell me everything you could sense.”
“Well, firstly, I think it was slightly larger than the last one.” Gabriel reached into his pants pocket and removed Elizabeth’s red leather notebook. Teresa handed him a pen as he flipped to the last page to begin recording the day’s discoveries in ancient Indus.
“It wasn’t significantly larger, but I agree.” Ohin said. “Maybe only a few feet.”
“But still a perfect sphere?” Teresa asked.
“Yes,” Gabriel replied. “And still thirty-seven seconds in duration.”
“Another repeating number we don’t understand.” Rajan leaned over to watch Gabriel scribbling across a blank page of the notebook.
“It’s possible that the nature of probability is somehow linked to the number thirty-seven,” Teresa said. “It takes thirty-seven hours for the latent probability of a bifurcation to collapse into reality, and these time bubbles, or anchor points, seem to nullify probability for thirty-seven seconds.”
“That makes sense because the anchor points feel like the inverse of a bifurcation.” Gabriel squinted at the page, then looked up to Teresa, an idea flittering at the edge of his mind like a butterfly strenuously avoiding the net of his concentration. As he looked at Teresa, his frustration froze, replaced by a chill along his neck, the reluctant idea fading away as alarm filled his mind.
“What is it?” Teresa asked.
“Someone’s coming.” Gabriel spun on his heels, shoving the notebook into his back pocket and reaching over his shoulder to draw the Sword of Unmaking from the sheath across his shoulders, grasping its imprints as he clasped its handle.
“Two groups on either side of the roadway,” Ohin shouted as a cluster of black-uniformed men and women appeared in an instant along the eastern road atop the Great Wall. “Gabriel, Teresa, and Rajan, to the east. Marcus, Sema, and Ling with me to the west.” Ohin whipped around as six more interlopers materialized in a clump in the middle of the western side of the road.
Gabriel stared at the six Dark Mages facing him, Teresa, and Rajan as he claimed the imprints of the seven linked concatenate crystals in the pouch at his belt. Their backs to one another, the members of the Chimera team formed a tight circle against their enemies.
Gabriel recognized the six faces sneering at him from across the ancient stones of the roadway atop the Great Wall. He had seen them recently — the Dark Mages who had tortured him daily for month after month in Kumaradevi’s private arena. Malik and his cohorts had found Gabriel and the Chimera team a week previous while investigating the other anchor point. They had defeated the Malignant Mages and made numerous time jumps to ensure they would not be found again. Apparently, Malik possessed considerably more skill at ghosting and tracking time trails than either Gabriel or Ohin had anticipated.
“You don’t look happy to see us.” Malik laughed. A string of seven concatenate crystals draped his shoulder like a bandolier glittering in the sun. “You’ll be even less happy when we’re through with you.”
Gabriel had a brilliant retort ready to shout at his adversary, but it died in silence as the air and stone around him exploded in lighting and a space-time seal fell in place around the Chimera team. Gabriel deflected the lightning and the other magics assailing him and the team as Teresa created a massive wall of flame between them and their attackers.
“Focus on the time mages,” Ohin shouted over the roar of the flames.
Gabriel sensed Ohin’s magic pressing against the space-time seal put in place by Malik and his fellow Dark Time Mage. The seal held firm. Gabriel assumed each of the seven concatenate crystals Malik possessed linked to seven more elsewhere. Even though the imprints they connected to originated in Kumaradevi’s evil alternate reality, and thus were weaker than imprints from the Primary Continuum, they still allowed for a formidable amount of magic.
While the Council had made finding positively imbued artifacts and creating concatenate crystals a priority, there were few available for teams in the field. Fortunately, the Chimera team’s expeditions took precedence in the distribution of imbued objects. Unfortunately, the crystals Gabriel held didn’t link to any others. Kumaradevi’s soldiers outmatched his team.
“I can’t see through the flames,” Rajan shouted in frustration.
“That was the point.” Teresa turned sideways, extending one hand in each direction, the wall of flame splitting into two enormous fireballs that engulfed each group of Dark Mages.
The Dark Fire Mages countered the flames, causing them to sputter out of existence. Gabriel used the distraction to focus all of his magical powers in attacking Malik. Ohin was right. If they disabled even one of the two Dark Time Mages, the team would be able to break the space-time seal and escape.
Malik sank to his knees under a crushing magical weight and clasped his head as Gabriel’s Soul Magic blazed in his mind. Lightning arced around Malik as a tornado of fire surrounded him. The other members of Malik’s unit broke off their attacks and focused their attention on defending their leader.
Gabriel knew only a moment remained for action. Even as he watched Teresa and Rajan mirror and multiply his attacks toward Malik, he reached out with his magic-sense and will, attempting to wrest control of the imprints the Dark Mage held. Gabriel struggled for control of the malignant imprints of the concatenate crystals in Malik’s possession. It was not as easy as Gabriel had hoped. He had used the same trick the week before to escape the Dark Mage. Malik came prepared this time. He managed to repel Gabriel’s attempt to usurp his mastery of the dark imprints in his power as his fellow Malignant Mages turned their attention to thwarting Gabriel’s magical attack.
“Not this time, boy,” Malik wheezed, his face contorted in concentration. “This time I kill you.”
A scream pierced the air behind Gabriel. He risked a glance over shoulder to see Sema collapsing to the ground, holding her side. Marcus wrapped an arm around her, guiding her to the ground even as he cast a flesh-eating curse against the Dark Fire Mage who had felled her.
Gabriel turned back to Malik, still struggling to take control of the man’s imprints. As he pressed on, Gabriel began to lose hope. They needed to flee as soon as possible. They could not allow themselves, or the notebook, to be captured. Unless he managed to claim hold of the malignant imprints at Malik’s command, or wounded the man with an attack, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to break the space-time seal around the Chimera team. They were trapped like an insect in amber.
Or, were they?
Gabriel and Ohin could not take the team through time or space, but that did not mean the team could not move at all. If they got far enough away, beyond Malik’s magical reach, they would be physically outside the space-time seal. Ling would not be happy, but it might work.
As Gabriel continued to joust for control of the imprints of Malik’s concatenate crystals and attack him and his companions with various magics, he reached out with Wind Magic, gently grasping Teresa, Rajan, and the other team members with an invisible hand.
“Goodbye.” Gabriel smiled at Malik as he and the entire Chimera team shot upward into the sky. He heard Ling cursing behind him as he pushed them through the air at incredible speed, out above the rolling hills north of the Great Wall. He sensed the space-time seal trying to expand to encompass them, and he rushed them forward even faster. Glancing back, he saw Malik and the other Dark Mages in the distance, still standing on the wall. If Malik and the other Dark Time Mage jumped through space and closed the distance between them and Gabriel, they could maintain the space-time seal.
Gabriel waved the Sword of Unmaking in the direction of the Dark Mages, copying Teresa’s earlier magic and creating a bubble-shaped barrier of sky-high flames in front of the Great Wall. A Time Mage could only jump through space to someplace they had been or could see directly.
“Flying and fire!” Teresa shouted. “That’s why I love you!”
Gabriel watched as Teresa added her Fire Magic to his own, the intensity of the blazing dome encircling Kumaradevi’s soldiers, flaring white-hot. The space-time seal faded and Gabriel thrust the Chimera team to the ground. He tried to guide their decent but they needed to land fast. A time travel jump while in motion could be unpredictable and dangerous. And Malik might reestablish the space-time seal at any moment.
They landed harder than Gabriel had hoped, everyone except himself and Ling falling to the ground. She had managed to wrap herself in a protective field of gravity at the last moment.
“This is why I hate flying!” Ling spat into the grass as she helped Ohin to his feet.
“Tend to Sema.” Ohin nodded to where Marcus knelt beside Sema, his hands held against her ribs, healing her.
Gabriel sensed Ohin warping the fabric of space-time and the blackness of a time jump begin to form. They were free and would be safe in moments. They had escaped death once more. However, they needed to be more careful in the future. And better armed with imprints.
Gabriel frowned as the blackness wavered and flickered and faded away as yet another space-time seal slid into place around the Chimera team. This seal appeared different than the last. Stronger. Tighter. More impenetrable.
Teresa gasped behind him. As he turned toward her, his stomach clenched and the air seemed to freeze in his lungs. He had expected to find that Malik and Kumaradevi’s other soldiers had breached the blazing dome to confront the Chimera team and restore the space-time seal.
Instead, he faced six black-clad Apollyons standing on the hillside above, their hatred-filled stares stabbing him like flaming swords.