Chapter 1: Familiar Faces, Different Places
In the sea of darkness, standing apart from the rest of time, exists the Chronopolis, a large complex that resembles a giant start fish. Its’ girth encompasses large cities, its’ height dwarves tall mountains. But there are no cities or mountains at the End of Time to compare it too, and instead most of those living inside just know it is very, very large, and leave it at that. The outside consists of thin solid sheets of titanium, supported by a large steel skeletal structure, with no noticeable windows or openings. In the middle, where all the legs of the building connect, is a giant bio-dome on the scale of which the world has never seen.
Inside the dome, beneath its’ hard metallic skin, lies earth duplicated on a much smaller scale. The whole area is 60 miles in diameter and reaches 4 miles at its’ highest while the edges of the dome are only 20 stories high. Huge mountains dominate the center, tapering out to jungles and plains and deserts, while the north and south ends of the dome are icy wastelands. Seasons play out much like on Earth, winter causing much of the environs to become cold and chilly while summer produces a sweltering heat, all while the artificial sun, stars, and moon simulate, almost perfectly, a day and night cycle. This main hub connects to the five legs via large moving walkways and serves as a recreation area for those residing within.
Each leg supports a different aspect of the Chronopolis; Operations department, living quarters, the time archives, recruit training, and the power-plants. Day to day operations in the Chronopolis consists of providing new data to the time archive, a database stretching from the beginning of the world to current day, where the new data is compared to the days’ previous for any deviations. If one is found it’s the Observers job to correct the deviation and repair the time line. A lofty goal to be sure, for who could really watch all of time, but the facility is staffed with enough Observers and dedicated scientists to fulfill its’ purpose. Since ferrying its’ employees back and forth through time whenever they go and come from work would tax the flow of time, it’s necessary to have them stay aboard instead.
Without a place to sleep and eat the station would not be able to function at the cease-less pace it did. Each staff receives a room to themselves, unless two volunteer to share a room for a salary increase, which are furnished with the basics of furniture, a small kitchenette, a restroom, and a bed. Meanwhile when a break was needed from the daily grind, the bio-dome could offer almost limitless possibilities of “outdoor” activities, and if that didn’t suit your tastes there are stores, internet café’s, and a variety of other shops lining the inner rim of the dome. Food and drink were free, as were a variety of activities, but the merchandise was not. While no one would brag about their salary, certainly not to any civilian back on earth, neither did they complain about a lack of money or things to spend that money on, except for maybe the trainee’s.
Before becoming Observers, candidates were required to spend 10 years being trained in everything an Observer would need to know to complete his or her job. The minimum age is 6 and there is no maximum age, though a thorough scan of the older applicants are conducted to ensure that they will, theoretically, live at least another twenty years. During this time the students are introduced to Magic, martial combat, the physics involved in time traveling, cause-and-effect scenarios, and a thorough study into the world’s history. Such a class of gifted students is currently on the final leg of their journey to becoming full-fledge Observers.
Spekkio, the self proclaimed master of war, looked at the assembled group of students, twenty six in total. This was their last day under his tutelage, today being the final exam, and he was eager to see their skills put to the test against one another. There was never a better test of skill than to pit two evenly matched opponents against each-other, or so Spekkio thought. His grubby little hands attached to his ungainly long arms, belonging to a small white round body, rubbed together in anticipation and he hopped back and forth on his stubby legs and feet. Thought his form changed automatically to reflect the strength of those he faced in battle, he could also change his shape at will and often liked to assume his current form, the weakest, to poke fun at the student’s lack of progress.
Normally students would be dressed in Chronopolis’ uniform, consisting of grey slacks and black shirt for the boys, and long grey skirts and cream colored shirts for the girls. Each uniform had a small yellow ‘C’, over the right breast, with two clock hands springing from the middle of the ‘C’ and pointing straight up. For his class though they were allowed to change into any type of clothing they wanted, the smart ones chose clothes that complimented their fighting style while those less intelligent just dressed in cool looking yet obtrusive outfits. He allowed them this privilege to observe just that.
Spekkio whirled around, laughing quietly to himself before he reassumed his serious posture and spun back to face his assembled students. Here stood the future Observers of the Chronopolis, men and woman charged with maintaining the time stream, and Spekkio beamed with pride as he looked over those assembled. Not since prior to the Fall of Zeal had he trained so many in the use of magic, though it wasn’t for everyone. A few in this group lacked the gift and so he taught those unique individuals how to most effectively deal with anyone that relied too much upon magic. These he named his Mage Hunters.
“Well you all look ready to get this over with and get back to that cheerful teacher of yours” laughed Spekkio, referring to Janus, the group’s teacher, who taught them everything except fighting. The students laughed in response, after all no one else would have the guts to call Janus anything except teacher. “Until then though, lets have some fun before old crabby pants gets back. First I want you to separate into two equal groups, and before you ask, I don’t care how you figure out who goes where just make em into two lines” Spekkio waited as the students shuffled about until two orderly lines, parallel to one another, emerged from the chaos.
“Ok now look across to the opposite line, the person directly across from you is your opponent” Spekkio announced. He could see them sizing one another up, trying to predict what sort of battle to expect and preparing a list of counters. When he was sure that they at least had the time to think briefly about, but not dwell upon, the upcoming battle he gave a shrill whistle to get their attention once again.
“LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!”
Lana Asimari quickly glanced at her opponent, he had short red hair, cut in a military fashion, and brown eyes. Apparently he noticed the quick once-over Lana had given him because he gave her a mischievous wink and a grin. Seemed he thought this was going to be an easy battle, here his opponent was standing at only 5 foot with a compact and lithe body and the inability to use magic. Meanwhile he stood at an impressive 6 foot something, his tank top displaying well-toned arms with a flaming serpent tattooes running down both, and a record among the class as being the top fire user. His name was Jake, if she could recall correctly.
Past the cursory glance Lana delved deeper, looking past the person’s physical self, to the spiritual aura that each person possessed. It was bright red, confirming he was in fact more fire attuned that any other element, and it spiked up and down frantically, betraying his unease and eagerness which he kept hidden on his physical surface. ‘Good, at least I’m not the only one with butterflies in my stomach’, Lana thought as she quickly glanced at the aura’s belonging to the rest of her class mates. The only calm aura around was Spekkio, but even his had ripples across the surface, signaling that while he was calm on the inside he was still anxiously awaiting something.
While Lana was a Mage Hunter, the few and far between that lacked the ability to use magic, she had the unique ability to look past the physical world and tune herself to the spiritual one. It was still highly un-documented, only a few unproven theories and books written about it, and most thought that all she could do was read aura’s and perhaps see ghosts or other spiritual beings. A fact known only to her was that she could also talk to the spirits of the elements and those of inanimate life whose element fell outside the magical spectrum.
The first group stepped into the battle arena, a box twenty feet wide and twenty feet across that was outlined by a dark red line on the floor, and readied whatever weapons they had decided to bring with them into the duel. The student from Lana’s line was a large wide shoulder lightning user, dressed with only thick blue pants, while his opponent was a short and skinny ice user, dressed in a skin tight black Kevlar outfit, with two short swords. The two bowed to each other, waited for Spekkio to give the go signal, and the battle began in earnest.
For these battles, students were free to choose whatever weapon they like, though no fire-arms with the exception of crossbows and bows, and there was even the option to not carry weapons at all if the student trusted in their magic that much. When dueling with the weapons there was no real risk of injury. Each weapon was enchanted to cause the body to behave as if it had been cut but without actually causing any physical damage to organs and what not. Magic was also muted somewhat by a field effect cast by Spekkio, but there were cases when the field had failed to dilute the spell sufficently, leaving some students with battle scars or worse.
The fight ended quickly, the lightning user getting an unexpectedly fast jab at the ice user and felling him in one blow. Several other battles took place, most taking a great deal longer than the quick first match, with Spekkio speaking to the pair of dueler’s after each fight was concluded to point out weaknesses and strengths. Soon enough it was Lana’s turn to try her luck, and her skill, against what she knew would be a challenging opponent.
While he was dressed in a black tank top with long black pants, flames painted on that reached up from the bottom, he carried no weapon except a pair of iron knuckles. Lana sported a tight form fitting tank top that hugged her modest curves and loose knee-length black shorts, a rope along the cuff of the legs tied the shorts off just above the knee to provide maximum mobility. Some of her weapons were stored in a small sack, containing throwing stars and a metal weight at the end of a length of silk rope, with a katana strapped diagonally across her back and a wakizashi attached horizontally to her belt and located on her backside as well. The choice of weapons was meant to counter the variety of spells that her opponent might be able to throw her way while still keeping her unencumbered and a small target.
The two reached the center of the dueling square, bowing first to Spekkio then to each other. “Began!” shouted Spekkio, signaling the beginning of the duel. Lana attacked first, quickly flicking a shuriken out of the pack at her waste towards Jake, who sidestepped to the left to avoid the small and sharp projectile. The distraction gave Lana the few seconds head-start she would need as Jake had recovered from the feint and was already gathering energy for a spell. As she ran, she quickly hurled two more shuriken, throwing them both in the same motion, intending to herd him further to the edge of the square. Instead he stayed his position, only one shuriken imbedding itself into his chest, and released a blast of fire at Lana as she charged him head on.
Lana rolled under the scorching blast, so close to the heat that a few strands of her light purple hair became singed, and was up and running immediately after recovering from her roll. Almost instantly she had to roll again, this time to the right, to avoid another blast of fire aimed at her. It seemed that Jake was just using the fire blasts to buy time, aiming only roughly in her direction just enough so she’d have to dodge to avoid damage, all the while it was just intended to wear her down.
Rolling again to dodge several more blast, Lana came up from the roll and launched the metal weight at Jake’s upper mass. He took the bait, attempting to block with his right arm, and Lana adjusted its’ path mid flight with a flick along the silk rope. Instead of knocking him upside the head, like Jake had expected, Lana yanked back on the rope once it flew over Jake’s blocking arm, wrapping the rope around the defending arm. She quickly took the rope in both hands, pulling with all her strength, while Jake pulled back. His well muscled arms were more than a match for Lana’s strength and he was instead pulling her.
Instead of continuing the tug-of-war Jake simply used the rope as a path to get to Lana, sending a large column of fire down the thin thread. Rather than throwing the line down, like a reasonable person, she ran full tilt into the column, an awful burning pain racked her body almost bringing her to her knees. Jake obviously thought the fight was over because he put up no defense as she jumped from the raging inferno to deliver a clean decapitation and chest wound with her Wakizashi and Katana. Her landing was un-graceful, and Lana rolled across the floor like a thrown rag doll.
She saw Jake collapse from his sudden “decapitation” but it was a hollow victory at the moment as her body felt like it was still on fire. In the background she could hear the cheers of the on-lookers as the fight concluded and Spekkio yelling for someone to send for a healer, but it seemed so far away and merited no attention from her. The last thought to race through her mind before blacking out was, ‘Gotcha Ya’.
“You what!” practically yelled a very angry Janus Zeal as he stared down at the much smaller rotund Spekkio. When Janus had come to pick his class up from Spekkio, the assumed competent instructor, he had been told that one of his students had been severely damaged, even with the magic muter in place. This had not made Janus happy, not one bit. It wasn’t as if he cared whether one of his brats, his name for the students, sustained an injury or not, but he didn’t need someone falling behind because Spekkio couldn’t, as Janus put it “Levitate his way out of a bucket”.
Janus, wearing his usual look that was somewhere between annoyed and angry, looked quite perturbed at Spekkio. While his glower was still menacing, it failed to achieve the same death glare that he had been famous for when adventuring with Crono and company, due in part to the many illusions cast around his being to hide his more prominent feature. It didn’t stop him from trying though. His pale skin was enchanted for a more earthly, brown look, his purple hair was turned black, and his large ears and fangs were shrunk down to normal human standards. The old dark wizard garb, cape and leather chest-piece, had been traded in for a Chronopolis instructors robe, grey with black edging, and he now usually carried around a laptop instead of a scythe. Still Spekkio could see Janus’ old likeness once in a while, especially at times like these when he was furious.
“Don’t worry, things like this happen sometimes. She’s a tough kid and there shouldn’t be anything permanent, just a few days in bed under healing magic and she’ll be fine” Spekkio reassured Janus, or tried to, as they both stood next to the floating medical bed in Sick Bay where Lana was being kept for the time being. She was currently wrapped head to toe, much like a mummy, in bandages with a healing salve applied underneath. Fortunately she was still asleep and in no pain.
“These things wouldn’t happensometimesif you knew how to set up a proper spell muter!” argued Janus back at Spekkio, pacing back and forth like an animal pouncing in for the kill. “This is what happens when you stick your ‘Mage Hunters’ against real mages”
“She did technically still win” argued Spekkio, reminding Janus that Jake had been the first one to black out.
“Does this look like winning to you?” asked Janus, pointing to Lana’s prone form “Jake left without a scratch on him while your precious hunter has second degree burns all over her body!”
“You’ve got a point” conceded Spekkio almost embarrassingly as he turned away.
“Whatever” sighed Janus “I Just need her ready before we take them to the field, I can’t afford to have any of my students miss that”
“You mean you can’t afford to have any more screw ups on your record” commented Spekkio, aloud rather than to himself as he had meant to do. Janus simply scowled back at him, the glare of death back in full force, and looked away promptly.
“I need her ready by then” demanded Janus quite forcefully “You better pray she is” Then he was gone leaving Spekkio in the white and red colored room, currently smelling too much of disinfectant, and the rest of the sick and injured of the Chronopolis. Spekkio chuckled softly to himself and looked proudly to Lana. Whether Janus agreed with him or or not, she was the winner in his book.
“Next time though kid, try something besides jumping into the large column of fire eh?” Spekkio asked Lana, a small inconspicuous smile creeping onto her face. Spekkio didn’t see it, after all she was covered in bandages, and so he left as well, going back to training the next class for the day.
Fire raged all around her, the walls, floor and roof were all alit like giant candles, as she crawled fearfully under the dark veil of smoke floating around the room. She didn’t know what happened, why their house was on fire, what to do during a fire, or even exactly why things caught on fire. All she knew was that the heat burned her body, and the smoke irritated her lungs and eyes so she stayed low to the ground. Still it caused her to stumble and fall, lost and alone, as the fire hungrily burned around her.
During the day the house was easily navigated, but now she wasn’t even sure what room she was in, the smoke and fire covering any recognizable markers. She crawled even faster on her small limbs, climbing over wooden remains still partially on fire, and at last bumped into something that was soft and fleshy. The two bodies belonged to her parent’s, even at her young age she was certain they were both dead, and more tears welded up in her already teary eyes.
Her mother and father had been her world, like most small children’s parents were, and the strength she had been running on before vanished. The fire still ragged about her, but she no longer cared, it had taken away all it could and she was ready to just give up. The smoke filled the whole room now, there was no safe heaven no matter how low you were, and her eyes became heavy as her lungs heaved and coughed. At last consciousness thankfully left her, leaving dreams of better places in its wake.
Awakening from the violent dream, Lana tried to move, to get out of the burning house. Only before remembering that she was safe and sound at the Chronopolis and recovering from her wounds in Sick Bay. Still, the faint smell of smoke still lingered in her nostrils and her body felt hot and burnt. It was due to the massive burns, she told herself, reasonable words pushing the dream, and the fear with it, to the back of her mind. The fire was a thing of the past, it couldn’t hurt her anymore.
Lana heard the sliding doors open and made out the soft sound of someone walking on padded feat. Turning her head and allowing her senses to slip into the ethereal spiritual world, she made out the calm blue aura of one of the nurses that worked here.
“Water…” begged Lana through her parched throat, surprised at the rough sound in her voice.
“Now, now, quite child” chided the nurse, her tone was jovial and her voice sounded elderly but still sweet. “You’ve had quite an injury, I’ll get you some water but you have to promise to let me give it to you slowly. Too much water at once isn’t good for you right now”
Lana watched the nurse walk over to her bedside, hearing the “thunk” of a glass being placed down, Lana guessing she had had it with her from the start. Then the nurse carefully removed a few bandages from around her mouth. It hurt, even with pain relievers she hoped they had given her, but feeling the air on even a small portion of her skin felt good. “Well, its looking better than it was but you still have a few days left here” evaluated the old women “Let me just cast another rejuvenation spell, it looks like the last one has worn out”.
With just a few words Lana felt cool relief spread through her body and sensed new repairs being made to her skin at a slow rate. Still it was better than waiting for it to naturally heal. “Thank you nurse” said Lana, the words hurting her haggard wind pipes. “Your quite welcome young lady, and you may call me Eva. Nurse is so formal”. “Thank you Eva” Lana repeated, the pain lesser but still great.
“Hush now” Eva spoke softly “I’m going to slowly give you some water, then we’ll change those wrappings of yours and get you some new ones”. As she promised Lana was allowed small sips of water, too small for her liking, but it was cool, not cold, and soothed her sore throat. After the glass was done, Eva taking five minutes to empty it, Lana decided she needed to know what was going on.
“Did I win?” asked Lana “The fight that is, our final exam was today”. Eva removed the bandages from Lana’s head first, and slowly, before answering the question. The veil pulled from her eyes, Lana saw an aged woman, covered in wrinkles, wearing the white Nurse robes, all white except for the red cross in the middle, and an equally white bun of frail hair atop her head. Her smile, and the light behind her two blue eyes, were that of a motherly nature as she responded “I’m not sure myself dear, but I had your two teachers in here arguing earlier, the sour puss and the white fur-ball, and it seemed that they had differing opinions. Both agreed that the boy, Jake was his name, was the first to lose consciousness”.
The news put a smile on Lana’s face, which put a frown on Eva’s. “Don’t take this the wrong way child, but was winning worth the burns. It was only a test, lose or win you could still pass. Now look at you, you look like a mummy”. Eva continued to slowly peel off the wrappings and Lana cringed and tensed in response to the pain. After the original layer had been removed, Eva allowed the skin to get some air and let Lana rest for a minute or two.
“Yes, the pain was worth winning” agreed Lana as she enjoyed the cool feeling of the air against her skin. Something seemed wrong though and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Almost as if something that was normally there, had vanished.
Eva sighed and began to brush Lana’s old skin off, the parts that had already been replaced anyway, taking care not to pop the still lingering blistering. “It’s just such a shame that it took your beautiful hair in the process” At that comment, Lana’s face blanched and a look of total shock replaced the contented smile.
“Such a shame, hair takes so long to grow back too”
Days passed for Janus as they normally did, to slow for his liking but at the same time too fast. It had been 2 days since he had left Lana in Sick Bay’s care and just now he was being told that she wouldn’t be ready for another two. Something along the lines of slowly working the body back to full hydration or some such none-sense. Thinking about it just put another scowl on his face as he looked at the one empty computer console, its’ hollowness sticking out like a sore thumb. Instead he decided to look at the rest of his students, though it didn’t do much to improve his mood, and he rose from his seat as if it were an onerous task.
Today was the start of his long break, a six month break, as the students went to various active Observers to study under them. It was the one and only reason he was glad he wasn’t active any more, though he would give anything to have his gate key re-instated. No, he decided, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Taking his anger and manifesting it in his gaze, he swept his eyes across the room to each student before speaking.
“Today you will all be assigned an active Observer to study under for the next six months” he announced with his usual dread-inducing tone “Giving me six months of peace and quiet. Don’t think I’ll be happy when you return so expect the worst. The Observer you are working under has been mailed to you and further instruction are there as well. I don’t expect there to be any questions”
In spite of this last announcement, or out of spite, a hand was raised none the less, belonging to none-other-than Jake. Janus had observed Jake’s behavior the past two days, he seemed to carry a burden around at the news of hearing he injured Lana, and the ex-Observer already knew what his latest inquiry was for. “I didn’t expect further questions, but It seems that doesn’t matter” acidly said Janus, looking directly at Jake “Yes, Mr. Owens?”
“Sir, will Lana be well in time to be assigned an Observer?” Jake tried to sound unconcerned, as if it were a topic of casual conversation, but he failed miserably. “Mr. Owens, Ms. Asimari’s condition is neither your concern, nor mine. Her well-being is for Sick Bay to worry about” Janus said as he turned his back to the class and began writing on the digi-board “But she will be bed ridden for two more days, hopefully that will keep you from inquiring further”. Janus finished his work on the digi-board, turning back around and stepping to the side for the class to see.
“On a similar topic, and thank you for the reminder Mr. Owens, we are going to review the basics of creating a “Spell Muter” before you go. As demonstrated by his failure, I do not quite trust that Spekkio taught you competently” Janus, without further prodding from his class, launched into his matter-of-fact mode, the tone of voice used when imparting precise and detailed information. The class didn’t moan at his announcement, they made scarcely a sound except to ready a text file for notes, the last time they had expressed displeasure about a topic Janus had simply refused to teach it. Least to say that test scores for that particular week weren’t good.
The day wore on, as it had for the past two that had preceded it, and at last Janus’ read the last of the facts. Class was dismissed, Janus was still annoyed and angry, and Jake had inquired about Lana once again. All in all, the day for Janus was a bad one, and when days went bad the bottles went up.
He wasn’t a heavy drinker, in fact before he worked at the Chronopolis he hadn’t had alcohol before, and still considered drinking to be for the weak minded. Still though, he had to admit that the weak minded had a good idea or two once in awhile. Where did an angry time teacher go when he need a good drink? Why, “The Bar at the End of Time” of course.
Everyone thought that before the Chronopolis existed at the “End of Time” that there had been nothing here before it. Of course that was un-true, Gasper having first claim and Spekkio having second, but no one else knew that. So it wasn’t a surprise that when Janus first arrived here, confused and intrigued, Gasper was already setting up shop. He had told Janus that it was his dream to run a bar, a new revelation to the warlock, and so he had set up shop in the Chronopolis. Being as how he had been here first, there hadn’t been much anyone could have said to stop him. Now one of the three great Gurus from Zeal, a mind that had devised what would still be considered marvels today, was running a seedy bar stuck between a pizza place and a bowling alley.
Of course that just furthered the illusion, thought Janus, of keeping everyone thinking they are anywhere but here. Spells and projections were set up in the hallway to make them resemble a tree lined neighborhood with brick and mortar houses. The Bio-dome gave residents a place like home, the shops and stores that lined the rim furthering the effect. Even the windows, windows with metal plates behind the glass, were enchanted, by technology or magic, to look out over a nameless city like you lived there. No, Janus decided, no-one really wanted to be here, not even Gasper.
Making record time, as usual, by taking the moving walkways that wound through the Chronopolis, Janus arrived at his destination in minutes rather than the hour walk it would have been. The sign was simple and black with white letterings, “The Bar at the End of Time”, that told anyone passing, or pausing to stare, that it was indeed a bar and they were indeed at the end of time. Few people came here due to its’ small size, the low amount of technological comforts, and the creepy Deja-vu that one experienced when here.
Gasper looked up from the bar he was tending as the bell rang to announce the arrival of another customer, a surprise visitor today. Janus took his usual seat at the bar, the same seat he took since the first day he imposed his presence in the bar, and it would be the same one he would take till he stopped coming. Just like the seat, Gasper knew the drinks he ordered and before Janus could voice Gasper’s thoughts, the drinks and shot glasses were set before him. “You need a new hobby old man” commented Janus at the fast and in-advance service. Taking a look around confirmed that indeed the same regulars that came here every day, and did the same thing every day, already occupied their predestined tables and chairs. Cheap cigar smoke drifted lazily in the air, carrying with it a variety of bar-only smells, and the talk of work, love, and life in general drifted about the room almost as lazily. It was another reason Janus favored this bar, it was relaxed and casual, he could be an ass, people would be an ass back, and both would just let the other slip. “So how’s she doing?” asked Gasper, waiting till Janus slammed down his first shot from his bottle ofLanguid Dreams.
Gasper looked much the same as he had when they’d first come to the End of Time. The big bolder hat cupped most of his head and the only hair one could see was the large grey bushy mustache that sat under his equally large nose. Gasper did trade in his tan robe for black dress trousers, suspenders, and a white dress shirt, but over everything he wore a bar-tenders smock. When business was slow he would lean back and sleep, as they’d always found him under the lamp post, snoring and making that strange bubble he always did.
“I find it hard to swallow that a bar-tender knows what befalls my students without me telling him” growled Janus, not quite sure why he was angry but that he was. “Spekkio was here two days ago, and told me what happened. He really seemed to feel bad about it, well as bad as Spekkio can feel anyways” explained Gasper as he turned around momentarily to serve another customer a drink.
“You two didn’t see enough of each other being stuck here the first time?” Janus expressed sarcastically “Well if you see if, tell him that he is going to cost her to miss the field training”. Janus looked befallen at that, and took another shot, before continuing the conversation. “And there goes my chance at getting re-instated”.
Gasper, like every good bartender, had served as an outlet for Janus’ sorrow whenever he became angry enough to come here and order a drink. The topic of conversation that was slowly being steered towards was not one Gasper relished hearing, in fact he did his damnedest to steer it in the opposite direction. “I’m sure they’ll overlook that, I wouldn’t worry too much. Things will work out” Gasper assured Janus, though he was pretty sure he was talking to a brick wall about now. “Nothing ever,works out, unless you force it too” solemnly spoke Janus, not angry or annoyed, but just tired. Another shot was gulped down.
“Janus don’t” Gasper commanded in a friendly manner but one that said he didn’t approve of where this was going.
“Oh come on, you know why they won’t re-instate me. It is because of her, they know I’ll just go after her again” Janus spoke freely but quietly “I would too, I owe her that much”.
“Janus you’ve got to stop beating yourself up about that, that happened tens of thousands of years ago” said Gasper, at the point where he was about to take the bottle from Janus to stop the self-pity party.
“Not to me it didn’t, It feels like yesterday” another shot went down “You were there, you should have, could have, stopped it”. Another road down memory lane was explored. Janus remember that day well, could still see the laughter on his mother’s face as Lavos struck them all down, it never faded, and he could still she the pain etched on Schala face at finally realizing the truth. That their mother was no more, and what was in front of them was just an empty shell. It was too late though, too late for her or anyone else.
“We did all we could, it isn’t anyone’s fault” Argued Gasper “Things sometimes just happen”
“Things seem tojust happena lot, don’t they?” Janus paused as he was lost in his own thoughts again “Everyone just stood by, and Schala would be alive if they hadn’t”
“STOP IT!” shouted Gasper, banging his hands on the table, and drawing a few quick glances from the other patrons. Janus fell silent, due to the outburst or just lost in his own thoughts again Gasper didn’t know, and another shot was quickly downed before the bottle was taken away.
“You going to tell her?” asked Gasper after several minutes of silence on both their parts. Janus took his time in answering, fighting his personal battles, and nodded. “I’m going to see her tomorrow morning. I’ll let her know then”
“Good, you may not like your students Janus but you need to be the teacher for them that you never had” Gasper encouraged his friend in the only way he knew would reach him, through his past. Janus was too far into his memories at the moment and missed the meaning behind Gaspar words, taking them only for another insulted hurled at him by the ancient bartender.
“Whatever” mumbled Janus as he slipped from his seat, angry and sullen, and left the bar. Gaspar may have taken the bottle away from him but there were fridges in the dormitories for a reason, and it wasn’t to keep the leftovers cold.
The door to the entrance of sick bay slid open, making the accommodating whoosh sound, and a visitor that Lana hadn’t expected to see walked in. Janus looked at the sickly in their beds, glanced at Eva as she changed the bandages on Lana’s injuries, and then locked eyes with Lana. He slowly walked to her bed, his steps measured and hesitant, and his eyes no longer focused on Lana but still locked on her. His gaze sent chills up her spine, much like it did to anyone who was at the receiving end, but she meet it and kept her gaze locked with his, starting an unspoken blinking contest.
“Hello there instructor, good to see you’ve decided to drop by” Eva smiled at him sincerely, berating Janus but in the motherly fashion that said she didn’t approve of his lateness but knowing that was just the way he was.
“Good morning Nurse” Janus said rather formerly and stiffly, something Janus never did.
As he approached closer Lana picked up the faint smell of alcohol and, delving into the spiritual ether, saw his normally solid black aura ripple and spike. An aura that had been as constant as day and night was Janus’, always a solid black ring around himself. At most times it looked like a shield surrounding him, trying to keep everything in and everyone out, but once in a long while she would catch him dropping his shield. It seemed from his spiking aura, crumpled robe, uncombed hair, and sweat glistening face that the past two days had not gone well for him.
“Good morning sir” greeted Lana as Janus reached her bedside. He looked around the room awkwardly, like a kid caught with his had in the cookie jar, before he turned back around to face Lana.
“How are you feeling?” Janus asked, his voice not exactly filled with concern. His eyes were roaming about the room again, seeking to impart the idea that he really didn’t care how see was feeling.
“It’s not too bad, just wish that I could get out of here already. All this sitting in bed is getting boring” responded Lana “Though I hadn’t thought about what all that fire would do to my hair” she frowned briefly and rubbed her hand over the purple stubble that was growing at a slightly faster rate due to the regeneration spells.
“Hmmm” grunted Janus, sweeping his gaze back to Lana, his nervousness gone at finding a topic he could discuss without embarrassment “It seems you failed to think about a great many of the things that would happen” In an instance his voice was its’ normal cold and criticizing tone. It was the voice he normally used and this time Lana was tired of being called down for doing something not up to Janus’ standards.
“I won didn’t I” stated Lana “Jake even stopped by to congratulate” She pointed to the flowers next to her bed with a card attached to them saying “Congratulations” and “Get Well Soon” in big bold lettering. “While you come by two days later, not even saying good job despite the fact that I won. Some concern you have for your students” accused Lana, anger building in her voice.
“I don’t congratulate weaklings” replied Janus matter-of-fact, meeting the fiery glare sent by Lana. Her eyes grew large at the remark and she launched another verbal assault.
“It’s because I’m a Mage hunter isn’t it, afraid that I can actually beat a great-and-powerful mage? Afraid that perhaps your precious magic doesn’t make you as powerful as you think you are?” Lana raised a finger up to stop Janus’ rebuttal and quickly launched into another speech “Let me tell you something mister high-and-mighty, you people rely on magic way too much. Your all to afraid to actually do something for yourself and get your hands dirty!”
Janus simply glared in response, a verbal response un-forthcoming to his lips, and his stoic demeanor remaining unchanged. He agreed, reluctantly, that most of the staff and students had come to rely on Magic, as well as technology, a bit too much. The peoples lust for magic, seeking comfort from manual labor, had been one of the reason’s Zeal had fallen, but he wasn’t about to tell her she was right. He was the teacher and she was the student, not the other way around, and arguing with students was like trying to argue with Spekkio, whether you lost or won you felt stupid regardless.
“Ms. Asimari” said Janus forebodingly “I came here to tell you that due to your reckless-ness, and your extended hospital stay as a result, all the available Observers in the field have already been assigned a student. There are no openings for you”
Lana felt her stomach fall, her mouth hang agape, and her eyes widen to large dishpans at this announcement. Missing the 6 months of study under an active Observer was something that was only reserved for those at the bottom of the class. Every year some had to be left behind, those with the highest grades were given first-in-line privilege and those that were found wanting ended up being left behind until the next cycle. It took a tremendous effort not to scream out loud or cry, she would not show weakness to HIM, and Lana slowly, but surely, resumed her composure with a frown. “I see” was all she said.
Eva seemed to suddenly appear out of thin air, though she had spent the whole conversation attending Lana’s wounds, and hearing her talk startled the normally rock-solid warlock. “My dear what about you?” she asked him “What do you do while the students are away?”
Janus saw where this line of questioning was leading, and he didn’t like it one bit. “I have other obligation” he commented, making a swift turn to get in position to leave. Though the fact that he was retreating from an 80-something year old nurse was not lost on him.
“None-sense Janus dear, I know you have the next six months off. Why don’t you take young Lana under your wing, show her those Observer things you and your friends do” Eva spoke and smiled, looking at Lana and urging her to do the same. Lana looked from Eva, to Janus, to Eva, and then back to Janus.
“Eva, it’s ok really. I’ll just study and practice until I get my chance, besides I wouldn’t want to impose on him” Lana shook her head and noticed Janus inched further away from the meddling Nurse, she silently urged him on.
“None sense, I’ll not have a bright young student like you left to rot away during the break. That just won’t do, won't do at all. I’ll recommend that you be left under his tutelage since you couldn’t get an observer in time, don’t worry I know someone that knows someone” Eva smiled, winked one eye at Lana, and turned to walk slowly back down the corridor of beds.
“I wouldn’t want to trouble you” said Janus through clenched teeth, this was not going well. He had things to do, not entirely official things, but never-the-less he had planned a strict training regime for himself. All these months of teaching were making him soft and if he did want to save his sister he’d need to be in his top performance to do so. Having Lana along would slow his pace drastically.
“Oh it’s no trouble dearie, consider it a favor to me” then she was gone, through the white sliding doors and out of their range. Janus turned slowly to regard Lana, her small exotic eyes measuring him up as well, and gave a final grunt before marching out the door to find the troublesome nurse.
Lana flopped back down into her bed, falling into the small Lana-shape imprint that had formed during her sojourn here, and gave a mocking grunt. How exactly a simple nurse was able to push around the most brooding and cold-hearted teacher of the school was beyond her understanding, clearly there was more going on that Lana knew.
Whether Eva actually had the pull to have her assigned under Janus was indifferent, these next six months were going to be long.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen” greeted Belthasar, standing at the head of the table. Those assembled, the council members of Chronopolis, were gathered at a large black opal table and filled in all ten seats except for the seat opposite of Belthasar. They were dressed in dark black robes, except for the medical councilor, and the different colored edgings of the robes told viewers the department the councilor was in charge of. Except Belthasar who was dressed in a dark blue robe with intricate gold patterns sewn around the edges, signifying that he was the head of the council and the one who made all the major decisions.
“I hope you are all doing well tonight” continued Belthasar as he lowered his aging joints into his seat. Deep wrinkles lined his smiling face and his scrawny hands, which moved slowly to tuck his long grey beard under the table and then sit passively back on the smooth black surface. He surveyed the group seated before him, a motley crew to be sure, but Belthasar trusted them to run the day to day operations of the Chronopolis.
“This marks the start of the Council of Time Observation on the 29th day of March of the year A.C. 20. Let us open up the floor with the last issue we were discussing before we ended last meeting” he spoke as stenographer off to the side typed up what was being said and a recording device, a black cone, that was placed in the middle of the table made audio records.
“If I remember right it has to deal with the overflow of students” he spoke as his eyes sought out Eva, the medical department’s councilor, and awaited her to continue where he had left off.
“It was the overflow of students coupled with the lack of teachers and observers that are available to send students to for their field trials. Last meeting we had a rather animated conversation where Mr. Beckam explained that there is a surge in recruiting because they think that by joining the Observers they get a chance to change the past” explained Eva, her motherly demeanor abandoned in this cut throat environment. John Beckam shuffled a handful of papers, directing everyone’s brief attention towards him, before addressing the front given to him.
“Ms. Moore must mean to say that our new commercials’, promoting the preservation of the past, has been taken at a slightly different perspective than we had thought. We make sure to have them read the contract, twice, so that they understand that, at no point in an Observers career, are they entitled a chance to change the past outside of the changes needed to preserve it” smoothly replied Beckam, placing down the stack of papers he had used to gain the council’s attention.
John was rotund individual, not necessarily fat but just chubby, with short curly brown hair and brown large eyes. Though no one considered him a coward it was known that he was always looking out for number one, himself, and everyone else was second. The edging on the robe was light green, signifying a new start, and that was because for those that signed up to become an Observer, it was a new start. So it was that he was in charge of Observer recruiting.
Two aged hands slowly rose up to stop any further comments from the two, and then slowly came back down once their were none. “Friends, let us not bicker amongst ourselves. The rules of the council must be followed John, please await your turn to address the topic and let Ms. Moore Finish her statement” Belthasar said calmly, quickly throwing water on what could have been a big fire. Eva had been correct, last meeting had been rather animated, and ended with John and Eva yelling back and forth at Eachother.
“I apologize, I spoke out of turn” John bowed his head slightly and motioned to Eva “Please continue Ms. Moore”
“I apologize for the slight I have thrown your way John, what I mean to say is that because these recruits think they get a chance to correct a mistake in the past they are signing up to join” a few heads nodded in agreements, John’s being one of them “I realize that having a high recruiting period is a god-send for a venture such as this, but we don’t have the staff and facility to handle the increase that was happening before this rumor, much less the current overflow. Ten years ago I would have agreed that we had all the staff we would need but starting five years ago we’ve had to pull more and more active observers in from the field for teaching positions, positions that we all thought would be temporary. This afternoon I think I might have accidentally stumbled on a solution, If you’ll hear me out” Eva paused and let the head councilor consider her proposal. Belthasar in turn swept his gaze across the other’s present to see the opinions on their faces. After a second or two he nodded and Eva continued.
“I suggest we re-instate observers that have been taken off the access list to so we can push more students through” some councilor’s gasped, others only nodded, and Eva looked at Belthasar for his opinion. Putting ex-Observers back on the gate access list was a big deal, they were taken off for a reason after all, and the topic was normally taboo.
“Hmm, I see the reasoning behind your suggestion. Any arguments against this?” the aged council head asked.
Henry Vose, the head of Security, raised his hand, almost like a child would in school, and Belthasar asked him to state his opinion. “Gents and ladies, I want students to get through without all this waiting about as well but being the head of Security I have to ask if what you suggest is smart. Think about it, we took their access away for a reason, old age and death aside, and I don’t think giving it back to people who might abuse it is a good idea” he paused as if to make another argument, but then let it drop “Just sayin is all” Henry shrugged and Belthasar looked across the table for any other arguments.
“Any rebuttal to this Ms. Moore?”
“I’m not suggesting we just give it back to them without any restrictions. Give them missions to time periods where they can’t change much to begin with. There are some prime examples where so much time travel has taken place prior to creation of the Chronopolis that not much can alter the time lines there permanently, they always seem to form back up on their own. Another options is to stick them where undoing any change they might create would be easy” she paused, feeling her old age in her joints and body, and the gave a last appeal “We’d have to give it great thought, I don’t recommend this lightly, but I feel that it would work until this rumor stops spreading and dies. This would buy us time to train more instructors and the students that we pass could replace the Observers that leave active status to teach” she ended her speech, sitting back in her heavily padded chair and waited.
“Any other further arguments?” asked Belthasar.
“How would we decide who is re-instated?” asked Atihai Serrano, head of the personal department. Keeping accurate and up-to-date records on Observers, staff, and recruits was handled there, kept in the same branch as the operations. Atihai was a small woman, dark tan skin, straight black hair, and small exotic eyes proclaiming she hailed from one of the smaller island regions, and her manner was all business and to the point. The black and white stripped edgings signified the paper work that her department dealt with, true or false, yes or no.
“I don’t know yet, it would have to be a decision the council makes if we decide to try it. Although I do have a test subject in mind if such a test could show us how much we could trust them” explained Eva, silently thanking Atihai for brining the topic forward. Her original fear was that it would just be “thought upon for later” and dropped like a number of other radical ideas like it. Now it seemed she had to finish convincing them.
“This grows interesting” commented Belthasar “Please do tell us of this test subject”
“Janus Zeal” bluntly spoke Eva, gasps coming from several of the councilors while other just shook their head in silent disagreement. Janus was a known, very well known, time trouble maker. The search for his sister, and his attempted rescue of, had cause quite a scene some years ago. Though Belthasar had allowed him to continue work at the Chronopolis, much to the dismay of his council, Janus’ access card to the time gates had been revoked. Many still remember the chaos that he had caused and would not easily forget it.
“I know that most here would disagree with me, but please hear me out before making your decision. It has been 8 years since his time violation and 8 years can greatly change a person” Eva sighed, regretting the need to tell them the next part “I have to admit that I have also taken a personal interest in this case. He’s a good teacher, a bit mean and bull-headed sometimes, but a good teacher. Having a student along with him during his missions should prevent him from any hasty actions” Eva stopped, still looking at unconvinced faces across the board, then added “I don’t think letting him stagnate in the Chronopolis is good for him or for this station”
Several disapproving glares, even hateful ones, were sent her way before Eva was finished and several still lingered even after she was done. The air was tense, every councilor there wanted to add their input to this discussion, but none would say anything until Belthasar gave them the floor. Unfortunately they had to wait in their tense silent, seconds ticking by, before he made his decision after quick, but thorough, consideration.
“Ms. Moore, I agree with you evaluation of the situation, and I also permit Janus Zeal to be re-instated as a part-time Observer” several councilor’s almost choked on their tongues at this point but most kept quiet “His access to the gate will only be for this field training period, and only if he is taking his assigned student with him. Also, as a precaution, I’m making the Zeal time period off limits to him. I expect an evaluation of his situation in three weeks, where we will see if changes need to be made or if the situation has become too risky to allow continuation” he stopped and turned to face Eva “I expect you to take full responsibility for this situation Ms. Moore as it is your idea. I hope your faith in him is not misplaced”
The rest of the meeting covered the usual topics, accounting, training progress, the status of security, a recounting of all the time fixes since last meeting, and then its’ conclusion. Eva left with a bad feeling in her gut, knowing it wasn’t caused by the venomous stares sent her way, but because she still felt unsure of her own plan. She had watched Janus Zeal over these past 8 years and his outlook hardly seemed to improve, a brooding lone wolf, and something needed to be done. Few teachers were as important to the survival of this facility as he, few teachers could harness the dark powers he could, and few knew the story of his life like Eva did. Hopefully, she thought, by providing him with something to keep his mind busy and forced human interaction he’d come out of that self made prison of his. Before everything else, Eva was a nurse first and foremost, and helping Janus was something that she’d needed to do for awhile, not only for his sake, but also for her own.
Janus walked quickly down the already quick moving walkway, saving only mere seconds of travel time in the process. Every second counted right now though, a thought that normally didn’t cross his mind, and he was hell bent on squeezing any extra time from his locomotion. His long purple hair, colored a dark brown to everyone else, spread out behind him like a cape as he pushed his way past other riders that he shared the moving walkway with. Some shouted insults, others just surprise, as he cut a line through the waiting throngs.
The final point of his destination was the Conference Room, serving as the council’s meeting room when they had their meetings and also as a room for various briefs. Not more than 5 minutes ago a Message-Bot had interrupted his ever-so-interesting conversation with Gasper, having something to do with a discussion of what exactly Spekkio was anyway, and had told him that the council was expecting to meet him in the Conference Room ASAP. Most days out of the week Janus would have taken a lengthy jaunt to make them wait as long as possible, but the message had made mention of possible gate-access reinstatement. For that Janus would move mountains and pushing people aside without concern was well within that tolerance.
At last he reached his destination, using a quick levitation spell to leap over the last small group of students, and stood before the small unassuming double doors with the words “Conference Room” spelled out above it in big, bold, block letter. Though the doors looked like any other doors you might find at Chronopolis, they represented a small light at the end of the long and dark tunnel Janus was constantly traveling through. He stopped a moment, smoothing out his robes and scattered hair, before walking through the gateway.
Exactly 30 minutes later Janus stepped from the room with a new goal. Though he had only been given restricted access to the gates, the council had implied that perhaps full access would be granted at a future time if his current performance was sustained. Now his knowledge and skill would be bared to train his assigned student as best as he could, a student that would thoroughly test the bounds of his patients and good will. Lana Asimari.