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Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 21, 2198

In one of the other timelines, a bad Horace Reaver formulated a plan to capture Mateo Matic, whom he considered to be his archrival, once and for all. After years of trying to track his movements, he was finally sure of where Mateo would reappear in the timestream after an interim year, within a couple dozen meters. He was also in the right position to purchase the entire chunk of land, so when Mateo did come back, he would do so right in a trap. While his plan ultimately failed, due to a number of unforeseen traitors, Horace was confident he would be able to employ the same strategy again, but make it work this time. This he explained to Leona Matic, who was meant to be in a relationship with Mateo. But this was a new timeline, and something had happened that had somehow prevented Leona from remembering him. The name sounded familiar, like that of an actor you know you’ve seen in a number of films and series, but cannot identify a single one at the moment. His name elicited a response of love and connection that Leona could not explain. Someone had messed with reality, and her memories of it. Unfortunately, this was not the time to deal with it. Right now, they needed to put Ulinthra and her plans to rest, and Horace’s idea was exactly what she was hoping for. It had even worked.
Horace let Leona sleep after she came back in 2198, because there wasn’t anything they needed from her. Once she was awake, he proudly marched her into the interrogation room he had commissioned two months ago after he and the whole world had finally located Ulinthra’s whereabouts. Ulinthra came back a week before Leona did, showing that the time-skipping pattern was wearing off. “Don’t worry,” Horace said. “This is Round Two of today, and you did not speak with her the first time around. Everything you say to her now will be just as unpredictable for her as any normal human conversation.” He looked towards the glass, and flipped on the lights inside, which illuminated Ulinthra on the other side. She was not only in a different room, but also locked in another confinement chamber, as if Hannibal Lecter. “She has lost all of her leverage.”
“So you didn’t find what I described?” Leona asked him.
“They’re still looking. No one else knows what it can do.” His eyeballs fluttered to Ulinthra, then back to Leona. “Not even her, I presume.”
Leona took a breath. “I never told her. At least I have no memory of telling her.”
Horace nodded in understanding.
“I’m kind of surprised she’s still alive, though. Lots of people have it out for her, not the least of which is you.”
“It wasn’t hard to keep the radicals at bay. Capital punishment was outlawed everywhere decades ago, which surprises me, but it did make it easier to keep Ulinthra safe. I don’t want her dead. She’s the only one of my kind.”
“Yet, you..” Leona trailed off.
“...would do anything for you,” Horace completed her sentence for her. “I’m not like this Ace you told me about. “While I’m no longer the antagonist, I’m still a villain. If I weren’t going to die anyway, it would probably be in your best interests to kill me after her.”
“Why would you die at all? We have this figured out. Everything in the other time branch happened just as it did before. The Arborist was wrong; we didn’t create a paradox. You don’t have to go back.”
Horace smiled kindly. “That’s not it.” He was going to continue, but was accidentally interrupted.
“Is anyone going to come talk to me, or what?” Ulinthra asked from her cell. “Let’s get this enhanced interrogation party started!”
Horace scoff-laughed. “It’s nice to be on this side of a prison cube.”
“Yeah,” Leona smiled coyly. “I see you used a similar design. Maybe you need to talk to a professional about your hang-ups.” She gave him a wink.
“I love you,” Leona thought Horace whispered, but she couldn’t be certain. She decided to not embarrass him by pushing the issue. “I mean, I’ll be right here.”
Leona nodded. “Horace, if everything goes according to our absolutely insane plan, I’m going to need you more than ever. I won’t be able to help tomorrow.”
“I won’t let you down,” Horace said to her, wiping a tear from his cheek. “Not this time.”
“Thank you,” Leona said solemnly. Then she opened the door and went into the other room.
“Ah,”  Ulinthra said. “I thought it might be your day, but I lose track of time in here. They’ve got some system going. I know that my days are resetting, just like always, but they make it hard to see it. That’s a form of torture. Guiltless Leona of yesterday would not approve.”
“I wasn’t here yesterday,” Leona said, knowing full well that Ulinthra was using the term in a more general sense.
Ulinthra tried to hide a smile. “Funny. I do want to extend my congratulations. Clever recruiting Horace Reaver. I would have thought of that, but I wouldn’t think you would have thought of it. I’m impressed.”
“I appreciate your support. You know why I’m here?”
“For the first time in my life, I do not,” Ulinthra answered.
“You stole something from me, years ago. I want it back.”
Ulinthra tilted her head to think. “I stole many things. I stole a planet from its peoples. I stole the lives of people you loved. I stole the hearts of my loyalists. But I don’t think I stole anything that I could ever give back.”
“This was literal.”
Ulinthra thought some more. It didn’t seem like a game. She genuinely might not have known what Leona was talking about. “I’m afraid I legit don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“My family heirloom.”
“Oh, that sword thing? The glass sword?”
“It’s a dagger, and it means a great deal to me.”
“Okay...sorry? I don’t know what you want me to say. I tossed it a long time ago, I think in a swamp. I don’t really remember, it meant nothing to me.”
Leona studied Ulinthra’s face for a moment. “Nah, you didn’t throw it out. It intrigued you, and you could tell that it was special.”
“It is—I mean was? What does it do?”
Leona needed a lie that was believably interesting. Ulinthra needed to feel like it allowed her to maintain leverage over Leona, but still consider giving it up for the right price. It was a good thing that Leona and Vitalie had spent last night thinking of a good one. “It removes your time powers...or pattern, depending on what subspecies you are.”
It was working. Ulinthra leaned back to see if she believed it. “A stabby thing that takes away powers?”
“Think of it as...a prototype for The Warrior’s Sword of Assimilation,” Leona explained. “It can’t transfer powers, but it can take take ‘em out.”
“It does look old, like it could have been one of The Weaver’s early inventions.”
Leona nodded slightly, and consistently.
“But no, I’m not buyin’ it.”
Leona closed her eyes in exasperation. “I am tired. You may enjoy rewinding your days, but I can’t do that. I was blessed with suck, and I want it gone.”
“Why didn’t you use it before?” Ulinthra questioned. “It’s unlikely I stole it just after you received it.”
“Actually it wasn’t all that long after, but that wasn’t why I hadn’t tried it yet. First of all, it doesn’t work alone. It’s one of two ingredients,” Leona continued to lie. “The other is easy to come by, but I just hadn’t gotten a chance yet. I have what I need now.”
“And second of all?” Ulinthra waited.
“Secondly, it’s a dagger. I wasn’t relishing the idea of stabbing myself with it. It requires something bigger than a wee papercut, but not so damaging that I can’t heal. If I just wanted to kill myself to end it all, I would have used any other dagger.”
“I see.” Ulinthra definitely believed the lie now. “What’s the second ingredient; the thing that makes the dagger work?”
“I’m withholding that. You need to tell me where it is.”
“No,” Ulinthra said firmly. “I don’t need my powers gone, I don’t care what happens to yours, and as long as I’m stuck in here, I can’t use it to control my enemies.”
“This feels like a classic impasse,” Leona said. “I can’t let you go until you give me the dagger, and you can’t use the dagger unless I give the other ingredient. The difference between you and me, however, is this barrier between us, and who’s on which side of it. I also have time. You’ll rot in here for years before I get the hankering for Chinese food again. I can wait.”
Ulinthra laughed abruptly, and loudly. “You don’t even know why that’s funny, because you don’t remember—”
“Mateo Matic?” Leona took a guess.
“So you do remember.”
“I remember...” Leona paused for effect, “that I know people with powers. Your problem is that you relied too heavily on yourself. You didn’t make any friends. I don’t have that problem, so when I asked my mind-reader buddy for a favor, he just did it. I don’t even owe him one.” She looked over at the glass, on the other side of which no one was standing, but Horace Reaver. “He’s just standing over there, getting ready to tell me where the dagger is. All I needed was for you to think about it in your brain.” Leona tapped on her own temple, again for effect.
“What? No, you’re lying.”
Leona shrugged. “Maybe I am, but you’ll die in here, never knowing for sure.”
Suddenly, there was gunfire on the other side of the door. Leona jumped out of her chair, and slinked back in fear. Ulinthra was noticeably frightened as well, because she didn’t yet know if this was a good thing or not. The firefight stopped, replaced with a grinding sound as someone was cutting through the wall with a laser. Once they were all the way through, people with guns slipped inside. One of them raised his weapon, and shot Leona right in the stomach.
“Oh my God!” Ulinthra cried as she watched Leona fall to the floor.
Leona had experienced a lot of pain in her life. She had lost everyone she had ever cared about, and despite being a time traveler, she rarely ever saw them again. But this. This was pain unlike any other. She did not expect it to feel like this.
“Is it a trick?” Ulinthra asked. “It’s a trick.”
“Lord Arianrhod,” the man who shot Leona said. “We’ve come for you.”
“You shot her!” Ulinthra shouted at him.
“Ma’am,” he affirmed.
“I wasn’t done with her yet!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. What can I do?”
“You can shoot yourself in the head.”
Without hesitation, the man lifted his pistol, and did exactly as he was told. His dead body fell right next to Leona’s dying one. Their blood started intermingling as someone managed to unlock the prison cube. The last thing Leona felt before she died was Ulinthra’s warm fingers on her neck, checking for a pulse that would soon be gone.

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