Timekeeper Pollistone looked up from his books and sighed. It had been a long time since he’d heard the chronometer—he wasn’t sure how long, of course—but he felt the same annoyance at his studies being interrupted every time. With great effort, he rolled his drooping eyes up over his bulging nose, and studied the ticking gears.
Click. Clack. Tick. Tock. Click. Someone was in the Corridor. Jingle-ling-ling-ling. Jingle-ling-ling-ling. And that someone was headed toward his chamber.
Timekeeper Pollistone swiveled around in his chair just in time to catch the small silver cylinder as it shot out the dusty telegram tube. He sneezed three times (he had always been very sensitive to dust), popped open the copper top, and pulled the scroll of parchment from the container.
Chamber 6, Moon Cycle 5, Set 714, Flarefield 13C
Charge Levels: High
“Hmmph,” he huffed, crumpling the paper and tossing it into the corner with the others. Another young magician tottering through the Corridor on some mission. High on energy, low on skill.
He turned back to his papers, but found it difficult to concentrate. For all his ages of study, he simply couldn’t understand why these magicians insisted on chasing each other through time…why this one was always trying to save the world from that one…why that one was always trying to thwart the efforts of this one. Of course, he had been there once, ages ago, but he preferred to leave his past in the past and focus on history.
Timekeeper Pollistone sat back in his chair and looked around at his books. They filled nearly every inch of the room, shoved into shelves at all angles, piled high against the furniture, and stacked in long, winding columns against the walls. They smelled a little musty, but they explained everything one could possibly need to know about the 13,000 moon cycles he was responsible for keeping—how to dress, how to speak, how to make pleasantries or march into battle. He had books on alchemy, geography, astronomy, and philosophy, and could recite the names of every emperor, king, minister, and president who had reigned in every region of the world for a thousand years!
Timekeeper Pollistone had always considered himself to be quite smart, quite important, and so he thought it was quite fitting that in his later years he should be recruited to work for the Intergalactic Society of Space Timekeepers. This very serious, very knowledgeable association of magi was charged with mapping the Corridor, and ensuring young, inexperienced magicians didn’t run amok all over the time-space continuum.
Of course, Timekeepers spent most of their time reading, but every now and again, a young magician would tumble into their vaults, looking quite a mess and saying the strangest things. Some were just a bit rattled from the fall, and all it took was a cup of warm pear cider and quick tune up (a tussle of hair or a sharp tug on the nose) before they were ready to proceed through the timegate.
It wasn’t always that simple though. Some of these magicians were so poorly trained he wondered how they had even managed to charge the flarefield! It was simply preposterous to think they should be set loose in a moon cycle when they couldn’t do something as basic as navigate a timeshaft or hypnotranslate for speakers of different languages.
It was the job of the Timekeeper to make sure nobody passed through the timegate unless they were prepared—for their own safety, of course—and Timekeeper Pollistone took that job very seriously, even if it meant taking time away from his studies to bring young magicians up to speed on all the things they should have learned before they set foot in the Corridor.
As annoying as they were, however, novice magicians weren’t the worst of his worries. On the other side of the magical spectrum were those know-it-all chrontercogs—always refusing his advice and starting fires in his study!
The last one had pushed his way through the timegate without so much as a nod in his direction. A discourteous fellow, but also old and powerful. The gears of the chronometer had started spinning wildly as soon as he entered the Corridor. The telegram hadn’t even reached the vault when the chrontercog glided, rather than tumbled, through the timechute—a sure sign he was an experienced time traveler. The cloaked man made his way straight for the timegate, and, with a wave of his skeletal hand, unlocked the cipher and disappeared through the blue blaze.
Timekeeper Pollistone had met many a chrontercog in his day, but never one so powerful. He was struck by the rush of electric energy that followed him through the vault, but his awe quickly turned to anger as he realized a small pile of papers next to his desk had caught fire. Stomping out the flames, he mumbled a few nasty words about the chrontercog (but not too loud in case he was still outside the timegate), and then returned to his studies.
Moments later, a telegram had come speeding through the tube, knocking his mug of cider all over his books. Timekeeper Pollistone said a few more nasty words as he popped the top off the canister and pulled out the parchment.
Chrontercog, was all it said.
Well no kidding!
Timekeeper Pollistone considered the mixed feelings he had about these powerful magi. On the one hand, they were insufferably rude. It was one thing to have achieved total mastery of the magical arts; it was quite another to go pushing your way through peoples’ personal vaults without so much as a hello. On the other hand, he envied the skill they possessed, especially in the area of mind magic, which Timekeeper Pollistone, despite his years of study, had been unable to fully master.
Timekeeper Pollistone remembered he had work to do. Shaking the memory of the chrontercog from his mind, he pointed his nose back down into his musty book and forced himself to concentrate.
Chapter 714: The Sun King’s Court
The great wars waged on. It seemed that nothing could stop the terror that had spread throughout the land. The soldiers took up arms against their brothers and sisters. The villagers revolted. The chateaus were burnt to the ground.
The violence continued for ages, until the passage of time united two unlikely heroes: Countess Celestine and Prince Ian.
Wait a minute. Timekeeper Pollistone rubbed his eyes. Where had that line come from? This wasn’t how he remembered it…
Click, clack, clang. BOOM!
“Oh for goodness sake!” he exclaimed angrily, glancing back up at the ticking gears of the chronometer. Had the girl managed to find the stardoor already?
Timekeeper Pollistone closed his book and swiveled around in his chair toward the enormous map that covered the wall behind his desk. He took a jangly set of keys from his pocket and inserted the long silver one into a matching lock fitted to the frame. He tried to turn, but the key wouldn’t budge.
“Shooting stars!” he puffed. “Wrong key…that always happens!”
He fumbled through the chain and found another silver key, inserted it into the lock, and gave it a sharp turn to the left.
Thousands of twisting spirals rushed from the map to meet him. Timekeeper Pollistone stepped into the hologram and turned around slowly until he found what he was looking for. He gave the little glowing ball a soft tap. All at once, the light was racing through the vortex.
He studied the blaze as it zipped back and forth across the map with remarkable speed, contorting into strange shapes and giving off powerful blasts of heat as it rounded the curves of the timechute.
Timekeeper Pollistone narrowed his eyes.
A young magician? he thought doubtfully. No possible way. The telegrapher must have got it wrong. This girl was clearly powerful. Dangerous, even. He glanced toward the pile of papers sitting on his desk and wondered whether he should pause her drop to ready the fire extinguisher, but he couldn’t seem to break himself from the dancing light.
He followed her down, down, down, through the spirals of time, transfixed by her strange movements and unexpected power, all the way to the holding chamber where she stopped suddenly, suspended in midair.
Timekeeper Pollistone stepped from the hologram and pulled the key from the lock. The map disappeared into the canvas. He returned to his desk, slipped the key back onto the crowded chain, and dropped the jangling mass into his pocket. Then he sat down in his chair and swiveled toward the mouth of the timechute. Drumming his fingers on the desk, he considered the situation.
Clearly, this wasn’t a chrontercog or she’d have slipped her way through the timegate by now. Chrontercogs didn’t need a push into the timechute, and they certainly didn’t stay pent up in holding chambers. But he had never seen a young magician with so much power. It was remarkable. He pulled a book from one of the stacks on his desk.
Curious, he thought some time later, as he leafed through the pages of a book on magical inheritances. Perhaps she had been charged.
“Heelllllloooooo!!!” he heard a small voice croak from the timechute. “Can somebody, like, let me through?”
Timekeeper Pollistone snapped his book shut. Goodness! He had almost forgotten she was there. That happened from time to time. He adjusted his glasses and straightened his bow tie. Then he slammed his hand down onto the glowing blue button at the edge of his desk, prepared to greet an advanced young magician as she glided gracefully into his vault.
Whoosh! Clang! Bang! BOOM!
Timekeeper Pollistone was knocked off his chair. He tumbled head over heels across the room until he landed with a thud against a bookshelf. Dozens of heavy volumes rained down on him, sending a tornado of papers into the air.
“Crashing comets!” he shouted angrily, scrambling to keep his notes in order.
“Ohhhhh,” came a moan from under a nearby pile of books.
Timekeeper Pollistone picked up a large volume on eighteenth century French cooking, and found himself staring face to face with a smelly old witch.
“Oh hello,” she said, rather dazed. “You must be the Tinker.”
Timekeeper Pollistone retrieved a second pair of glasses from his vest pocket. He looked hard at the witch.
“I take it you mean Timekeeper, madam,” he said severely, helping her to her feet. He removed a handkerchief and sneezed several times from the dust and the stench.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Mitch said. “I didn’t mean to—Whoa!”
She collapsed to her knees.
“Oh no!” Timekeeper Pollistone pleaded. “No—just wait—here I have a pail right…”
“Bluuuaaarrrrggghhh!” Mitch threw up into the volume on French cooking.
“Oh,” she said, wiping the spit from her mouth. “I’m so sorry—I actually like frog legs—see, I’m from Cajun Country—it’s just that I’m so…just so…”
“Noooo! Wait!” Timekeeper Pollistone cried. But it was too late.
“So sick,” Mitch finished weakly.
Timekeeper Pollistone lifted Mitch from her knees and led her to the sofa, careful to keep the pail close to her green face. When he was sure she had emptied herself out, he retreated to the stove and began mixing a strong batch of pear cider. The clean aroma of fruit and cinnamon filled the room.
“Here you go,” he said, placing the hot mug in her hands. “Drink up. It will make you feel better.”
Mitch nodded weakly, bringing the steaming draught to her lips. She took a deep gulp and sighed heavily. A terrible odor escaped her large, toothless grin.
Timekeeper Pollistone wrinkled his nose and turned back to his stove. He breathed in the steaming cider, but found the musk of the witch was still lingering.
“You just go ahead and let me know when you’re ready to continue,” he said, breathing through his mouth.
Mitch nodded but didn’t say a word for some time, holding onto her mug of cider and looking about the room. The ticking gears and clicking chutes—the maps and globes and green lamp shades—the feather pens and inkwells—it was all so—all so—
Timekeeper Pollistone broke the silence.
“Okay, I think that will do,” he said, taking the mug from her hands.
“Wait!” Mitch protested, but Timekeeper Pollistone hurried on.
“Now tell me about the time you’re headed off to.”
Mitch frowned, searching her memory.
“Well,” she started. “It’s cold.”
“Yes,” Timekeeper Pollistone nodded encouragingly. The sooner he could get her on her way, the sooner he could remove that awful smell from his vault.
“YES!” Timekeeper Pollistone shouted enthusiastically. “It’s kingly! See—you have it! Okay, now off you go.”
“Wait!” cried Mitch as she was being ushered toward the timegate. “I don’t think I’m ready quite yet!”
“Oh, sure you are dear,” Timekeeper Pollistone assured her. “In fact, you’re more than ready. You should have been out of here a long time ago. Okay, here we are. Just stand right there.”
Timekeeper Pollistone steadied the smelly witch in front of the timegate.
“Now hold on,” he said, fumbling in his pocket for the keys. He flipped them over quickly until he found the one he was looking for.
“Here we go! It’ll only be a minute now…”
“No buts, madam. You’re on a mission!”
He shoved the gold key into the matching lock and twisted it to the left. It didn’t budge.
“Shooting stars!” he puffed and then gagged.
“Wrong key,” he apologized, wiping his mouth. “That always seems to happen. Old Timekeeper’s memory. Stretched too thin—OH! See here? I have it!”
Timekeeper Pollistone pulled a second gold key from the chain and inserted it into the lock.
“Moon Cycle 5, Set 714, Flarefield 13C. There we go!” he cried, as the great gears began to turn.
Mitch watched in awe, still feeling a little sick, as the mechanical pieces slid and shifted. Bolts released and latches flew open, ticking and clicking down the length of the door. Finally, the last lock fell to the floor.
Mitch stood staring at the heap of metal.
“Whoa,” she said. “That’s some security system.”
Timekeeper Pollistone smiled weakly and waved a hand, clearing the pile of locks from the doorway.
“Now see,” Mitch started woozily. “I can’t do that just yet. Do you really think I’m ready to—”
“Yes!” Timekeeper Pollistone assured her, turning her to the door. “Now hold on, this might feel a little…weird…”
“Oh no,” Mitch moaned. “I don’t think I can—”
But before she could finish, Timekeeper Pollistone had raised the timegate. A roaring blue blaze shot up to the ceiling.
“Woo! That’s hot!” he said, stepping back. Catching sight of Mitch’s horrified expression, he laughed nervously. “I mean—exciting! Yes—very exciting! Okay now, off you go.”
Mitch was preparing to run right back up the timechute where she had come from, but Timekeeper Pollistone gave her a firm push.
“Whoooaaa!” she cried as she disappeared into the flame.
The timegate slammed shut, and Timekeeper Pollistone stumbled back to his desk and collapsed into his chair.
“Well!” he breathed heavily, dabbing the beads of sweat from his forehead. “What an unpleasant surprise.”
He considered the magician’s powerful energy field against the grimy package she had come in. Perhaps, after all, she was young and inexperienced, but that would mean he had failed his duty, which had never happened before. Surely then, that was no voyage vessel, but a very powerful, very smelly old magician.
Satisfied by the conclusion he had drawn, Timekeeper Pollistone fumbled through the pockets of his jacket until he found a small vile of expensive cologne. He poured a few drops into his handkerchief, breathed deeply, and sneezed three times. Then he pointed his nose back down into his book, and returned to his studies.