Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: September 27, 2204

Something told Leona that they would want to get an early start next year, so she went to bed with enough to wake up by midnight. She dreamed again, but this time much more vividly. It started in the first timeline; the one where she was married to Horace Reaver, and working with a team to save lives day after day. Mateo Matic showed up, having been skipping each year on his own for awhile, having long left his family to go on without him. The reality ended when Mateo accidentally caused her death in a car accident. The timeline began again. She was meeting Mateo for the first time in a hospital, after drinking alcohol for the first and last time shortly before her sixteenth birthday. The years continued as Mateo tried to figure out his place in life, and Leona tried to help him through it. Years later, she fell onto his pattern, and they pressed on together. They fought Ulinthra, Reaver, The Rogue, and the Cleanser. Then Mateo went back in time to kill Adolf Hitler, and the second timeline collapsed.
She was now in the third timeline, meeting Mateo for the first time on a Texan battlefield. The Rogue was hurt, but slowly transforming back into a better person, thanks to Mateo’s help. She struggled against her fate, having been told of the other realities, but not wanting to suffer similar fates. Yet they caught up with her when Nerakali Preston forced her way into Meliora’s Sanctuary, and returned the conflicting memories to her mind. Armed with this knowledge, she and Mateo took her down, along with her brother. But their sister, Arcadia was not happy with this. She marooned them on an island on a planet millions of lightyears away from Earth. They worked to overcome further challenges, with friends at their side, until one by one they were erased from the timestream. In the end, they won, though not everyone had survived. In one final cruel twist, Mateo Matic himself was erased, leaving Leona to move on with her life having never known him.
She woke up at a minute to midnight, and ran out of the room. The others were sitting around, working or reading. “I remember him!” she shouted. “I remember everything! The astrolabe must have fixed my memories.”
“That’s great,” Vitalie encouraged. “What can you tell—”
“—us about him?” she finished one year later, without skipping a beat.
“He. Is the life of my life,” Leona said. “And Ennis was right, I was also in love with Serif. It was the three of us, but not for as long as I believed. Now I know what I have to do.” She pulled back her sleeve to show a glowing compass tattoo. “We’re going back to Durus to get them both.”

Of the four of them, only Kivi had never been to Durus, though there was every reason to believe some entirely separate version of her lived a whole life there. Getting to the rogue planet was set to be easier than the last time, when they had to fly through hazardous space. Still, it wasn’t the easiest thing ever, because the Compass of Disturbance didn’t just take a traveler right to where they wanted to go. It only exploited natural breaches in spacetime that were usually invisible, but even when accessed, only went to a second specific point. They didn’t always know when and where they were, but they rarely had to walk too far before the compass showed them an exit point. There were evidently a lot more breaches all around that no one ever even noticed. Or perhaps they impacted normal people’s lives on a regular basis, but since they had never been observed, no one attributed their feelings of behavior to them.
One of the first locations took them right to the door of someone Leona and Vitalie already knew. It was Dubravka, the woman with the ability to skip time at will. She was basically just like Leona and Serif, except she could control it. “What are you doing here?”
Leona looked down at her tattoo to double check the readings. “There is a tear in the spacetime continuum that will get us back to Durus.”
“Why in hell would you want to go back there?” Dubra questioned.
“We’re on a quest for several magical objects,” Kivi replied enthusiastically.
“I’m also hoping to get Serif back,” Leona added.
“You are? From the fourth pocket?”
“Yes, I believe we’ve found a way.”
“Then what are we waiting for? I’m sick of 2204 anyway.”
“It’s 2204?” Vitalie asked. “But you’re still so young.”
Dubra smirked. “I wasn’t always around; tried to skip over the boring parts. Let me pack a few things, then we can go. Come on in.”
Once Dubra was ready to go with them, they continued on with the mission, sometimes still around the turn of the 23rd century, but not always. They even once found themselves stepping out of the three main dimensions. They were walking through some kind of extradimensional tunnel. The only undarkened spot besides the exit looked like a window, through which they were witnessing a man keeping a woman chained up in a cabin. They tried to climb through the window, but were unable to. There was no way in. The woman managed to get her hands on her captor’s knife, and was attempting to cut him with it. He finally gave up trying to stop her, and just ran out of the cabin. In a final desperate move, she threw the knife towards him, a second too late, burying it not just in the door, but also in the trench coat hanging on it. From inside of the coat appeared The Maverick. The woman had stumbled upon Darrow’s cloak and dagger summoning protocol. “I should have rethought this,” he said as he was removing the knife from his back, and suspiciously looking in the direction of the magic window from which the travelers were watching. “Anyway, ‘tis all right, ladies. I will get her out of this. You may proceed to your next rift.”
They waited, unsure if he was for real.
“Who are you talking to?” the frightened woman asked.
“Go on,” Darrow urged. “I have no intention of harming her, I promise. I’ll help her find whoever did this to her.”
“Let’s go,” Hogarth said. “I believe him.”
“I don’t,” Vitalie disagreed, but she walked through the exit just the same.
“Do you know that guy?” Dubra asked them.
They faced the ground and blinked their eyes rapidly, trying to adjust to the abrupt bright light. Once Leona could see again, she looked up to get her bearings, thinking at first they were just somewhere on Earth, but it couldn’t be, because there were two suns.
Kivi was having the most trouble adjusting. “Are we here?”
Leona looked at her compass tattoo. “It’s dark. This is our final destination.”
“What year is it?” Hogarth asked.
“No idea.”
“It’s—” Hogarth gave up trying to explain it before she even started. She went over and looked at Leona’s arm. “September 27, 2204. Same day it’s supposed to be, that’s interesting.”
“Huh?”
“I’ll show you how to tell time on the compass later. We’re looking for the Rothko Torch, right? Well...where do we go?”
“You’re lookin’ for the Rothko Torch, eh?” A man was walking up to them.
Leona squinted. “Ludvig? Is that you?”
He tilted his head, and pointed at her. “Yeah, I remember you too. Leon, right?”
“Close enough.” She turned to the others. “You know Hokusai and Loa? Well this guy and Loa were—”
“We never labeled it,” Ludvig interrupted.
“How are you still so young?” Leona questioned.
Ludvig raised his arms to indicate the whole world. “This is paradise. Nobody dies here, not anymore. We fixed that whole established misogyny thing, both politically, and socially. Thank you for your part in that. The Warren was instrumental in showing us how foolish we were.”
“Why did you program two suns?” Leona asked.
Ludvig looked up. “Those aren’t temporal tricks. Those are our suns. We were picked up by a binary system last week. Well...to be honest, we were close to being picked up, so a group of powerful paramounts got excited, and sped up the process. Earthan scientists call it Luhman Sixteen. If you’re looking for the flashlight, you don’t have much time. It’s located smack dab in the middle of The Abyss, which the aforementioned suns are gradually destroying. If you’re here to get your time powers removed, you better hurry up.”
“We’re not,” Hogarth said. “We need the flashlight for something else.”
“Either way,” Ludvig said, turning around. “We better get going.” He started walking away.
We?” Leona asked.
“You don’t have time to find it yourself! Chop-chop, young ones!” he called back.
They followed Ludvig across the thicket, and over the plains, finally coming upon a hazy quiet storm a few hours later. A holographic guardsman appeared. “Travelers. You’ve reached The Abyss. By God’s two eyes in the sky, the darkness will soon be defeated. If you would like to pass, we urge you to wait a good week before proceeding.” He smiled warmly, but admonitorily.
“Ignore him, obviously,” Ludvig said as he walked forward. “It was a lot denser, even just yesterday. We should run, and no matter what you see, do not stop moving. I mean this. Don’t. Stop. For anything, or anybody, not even each other. Got it?”
“Understood,” Dubravka said while everyone else just nodded.
They started racing through the hazy odorless smoke. As they ran, they passed dozens of Vitalies, all astral projections. But there were also several Kivis, all of whom were solid, which Leona learned after accidentally shoulder-checking one. Hogarth was not able to run at all. Every time she took a step, she disappeared in a small explosion, and appeared in some random other spot. Leona also saw other people wandering the haze, recognizing a few of them. Lucius kept spontaneously disintegrating, and reintegrating, yet he kept moving. Curtis teleported around, seemingly uncontrollably. Missy Atterberry appeared frozen in one of her own time bubbles. Before too long, she could see a dilapidated farmhouse in the center. It was literally crumbling before her eyes, like a sandcastle, and would soon be gone. Dubravka had disappeared as soon as she stepped foot in the haze, and only now returned on the inner edge. It would seem that only Leona was getting through completely unharmed, except for that time she was clotheslined by a rope Missy and Dar’cy had tied around their waists, a mishap which severed it.
The six of them made it out of the haze at about the same time. Leona looked back to see it was already thinning even further. “Why didn’t it affect me?” Leona asked. “All those people, and nothing happened to me.”
“There weren’t any other people,” Ludvig explained. “If you saw others, it’s because you jumped back into the past. The haze reflects and refracts your powers.”
“Oh.” So it had affected her.
Ludvig jogged over to the farmhouse, and quickly lifted one of the vinyl panels to retrieve the flashlight just before that section of the house fell apart. He jogged back over to them. “Okay, we can go now.”
“That’s it?” Dubravka asked. “What about my—Serif? What about Serif?”
“If she’s where I think she is,” Ludvig said, “this flashlight will get you there, but there is no coming back. No one ever comes back.”
“We’ll risk it,” Dubra cried. “Just tell me what to do.”
He handed her the Rothko Torch, and pointed back towards the haze. “Shine it in that direction. Meanwhile, I’ma get the eff out.” He ran away as fast as he could.
Dubra switched on the light, and pointed it where the man said. Three people appeared, like translucent ghosts, fading in and out as Dubra moved the light around. This was clearly just a vision of the past since they totally ignored the witnesses. One of the women was dragging the other towards the house, as the victim seemed to beg the man for help, but he was not giving it. The flashlight didn’t have sound, though, so Leona couldn’t be sure what they were saying. The attacker passed energy into her victim, who ultimately succumbed to it, and died. The survivor took hold of her head, and appeared to be screaming in pain. She frantically gestured away from the house, prompting the man to flee in that direction. The power she had consumed was apparently too much. A wave exploded from her, and spread out in a large radius, before snapping back towards the center.
Leona could see Dubra struggling to keep the flashlight in hand as it attempted to fly back to its place in the wall, which no longer existed. As the energy around them intensified, there was a burst of light, and then it all stopped. Leona was on her hands and knees in the middle of a crowd. A few were human, but most...were Maramon.

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