Ian tumbled forward as Mitch slammed into him.
Mitch eyed him queasily.
“I swear, Scarlett, if you puke on me—”
“That’s enough, children!” Timekeeper Pollistone cried. He pushed a mug into Mitch’s hands.
“Drink!” he commanded, wrinkling his nose at the thought of another mess.
Mitch took a sip from the steaming cup. Timekeeper Pollistone stared at her, clutching a pail. Mitch looked dazedly from her drink to Reece.
“I don’t think the Tinker likes me much,” she whispered loudly.
Reece’s face went red. “Don’t call him that!” he hissed.
Ian rolled his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Timekeeper Pollistone,” Izzie said with an apologetic smile. “You’ll have to excuse our friend. She’s not…uh…accustomed to time travel quite yet, and I think she’s a little…you know…” Izzie tapped her head.
Timekeeper Pollistone looked sternly at Mitch, who was swirling her finger in her cider.
“Time is like a whirlpool…” she muttered.
Izzie raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure she’ll be just fine. Now please, do continue. You were saying a chapter in your book had been altered? How fascinating your work must be!”
“Yes…” Timekeeper Pollistone pulled his worried gaze from the sick girl disguised as a soldier to the catlike eyes staring out at him from the face of a blacksmith.
“As I was saying…my book. It’s been changed. Something strange is afoot in the Corridor, and this chamber has been placed on high alert! Now if you please, sir—or uh, mademoiselle—state your purpose for passage.”
“We told you already,” Ian interrupted impatiently. “We’re here on behalf of the Collective.”
Timekeeper Pollistone eyed the young handmaid suspiciously.
“Yes,” he said. “But why? The Collective closed the Corridor, and they are concerned it has been reopened. That much I understand. But why are you here? What does the Collective want with the Sun King’s Court?”
“We don’t want anything with the Sun King’s Court!” Reece insisted.
“No?” Timekeeper Pollistone pressed, turning his gaze to the chubby cheesemaker. “Perhaps you’ve traveled through time and space to eat cheese then?”
“Timekeeper Pollistone,” Izzie said calmly. “We were sent here to test the Corridor. It’s been opened, and we need to understand why. We’ve conducted our research, and now we have to get back. This was the closest stardoor. We’ll go in and get out. You have my word.”
Izzie held out a calloused, coal-stained hand. Timekeeper Pollistone crinkled his nose.
“No need to shake on it, mademoiselle. Thank you for the explanation. By virtue of our contract with the Collective you are free to pass, but you will go in to use the flarefield and nothing more. If you linger, I will consider it a great breech of my trust. Do you understand?”
“Of course,” Izzie nodded.
“Very well.” Timekeeper Pollistone pulled a jangling mass of metal from his robe. He flipped through the keys until he found the one he was looking for, but when he tried to turn the lock, it wouldn’t budge.
“Shooting stars,” he grumbled. “That always seems to happen…okay, here we are…”
He pulled another gold key from the chain and inserted it into the lock. The gears started clicking and sliding up the length of the door. A great blast of hot air shot through the room as the timegate was pulled back.
“Well, off you go,” Timekeeper Pollistone said with a thin smile. “And please, do make sure to gather all your belongings.”
He nodded at Mitch, who was still swirling her finger in her cider.
Izzie smiled and grabbed Mitch by the arm.
“Oh!” Mitch cried, registering the burning blaze of the timegate. But before she could object, Izzie had pushed her through the flame.
“Thank you, Timekeeper Pollistone,” she said politely. “You’ve been a most gracious host.”
Timekeeper Pollistone nodded as Izzie, Ian, and Reece disappeared through the timegate. He removed the key from the lock, and the gates slammed shut.
Alone again, Timekeeper Pollistone turned frantically to his desk.
Where was it?
He pushed aside a mountain of papers, sending a flurry of dust into the air. He sneezed three times but continued his desperate search.
It has to be here. Where else could it be? Unless…
Timekeeper Pollistone ran his hand along the charred edge of his desk and remembered the chrontercog who had set fire to his papers. Was that yesterday? A month ago? A year? He couldn’t be sure. But he knew the atlas had been here, sitting on his desk, before the chrontercog had passed through his vault.
A great flood of panic washed over him. If the Society discovered their only Corridor Atlas had been stolen from his vault… No. It was inconceivable. It had to be here. He would find it. He must find it!
Mitch shook the sparks from her hair. “Whoa,” she said. “That’ll wake you up.”
“Sure will,” Izzie smiled. “Feeling better?”
“Better,” Mitch nodded. “But still pretty messed up.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” said Ian, shaking out his bonnet. “The timechute’s awesome! It’s like the coolest roller-coaster ever, but through actual space.”
Mitch glared at Ian. “You look cute in that dress, you know.”
“It’s a voyage vessel!” Ian snapped.
“Okay!” Izzie cut in. “We can argue about space-coasters and French fashion later. Come on people. We need to go! Ready?”
“Ready,” Ian agreed.
“Ready,” said Mitch.
“Reece?” Izzie asked, looking around in the dark. “Reece?”
“Guys!” came a voice from the other side of the flarefield. “What is that?”
Izzie, Ian, and Mitch came rushing to Reece’s side.
“Rainier!” Ian shouted. “You can’t wander off like that! Don’t you know how easy it is to get lost? Don’t you know what could have hap—”
His words fell from his mouth as he caught sight of what Reece was looking it.
“NO!” he cried. “No! It can’t be!”
A bright orange blaze flickered behind the tree line. Smoke poured into the sky. The Chateau du Soleil was on fire.
They watched in horror as the pointed turrets were engulfed in flames. BOOM! A cannonball crashed into one of the battlements, collapsing a large part of the wall and sending a shockwave through the air.
Mitch covered her head, and looked desperately at Ian.
“I don’t know!” shouted Ian. “I thought we stopped it!”
“Stopped what?” Izzie shrieked, ducking down as another cannonball made contact with the tower. The turret came crashing down.
“The revolt!” Ian screamed. “It was the marquis! He was the one behind it all! But we stopped him—we—”
BOOM! Another wall was blown to pieces.
“Come on!” Izzie cried. “We have to get out of here! NOW!” She grabbed Ian’s hand.
“But the Countess!” Ian objected. “She might be in danger! We have to help!” He made a move for the chateau, but Izzie pulled back hard.
“NO IAN!” she shouted. “Listen to me! The Countess, whoever she was, is already gone! She’s been gone for three hundred years! There’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“Ian—” Reece interrupted. “Izzie’s right. You can’t change the past. This is the marquis’ time—it’s his history. It doesn’t matter what you did to stop the living marquis. As soon as he leaves this moon cycle, the night will play out the same way it did the first time. This is a clash—an eternal conflict! It’ll never be anything else.”
“No!” Ian yelled, tears of rage springing to his eyes. “I’m telling you! It was different! I fought back. I changed things. I made it better!”
“Ian,” Izzie said, squeezing his hands. Her voice was firm. “We have to go.”
Ian looked desperately to the chateau, but the great palace had disappeared behind a sheet of flame and smoke. He looked to Mitch, who was also tearful.
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head.
Ian clenched his jaw and nodded. Izzie stomped her feet. Bright blue sparks shot from the ground. Ian stomped his too. The ring of flame stretched higher and higher into the blazing sky.
Reece grabbed Mitch’s hands.
“PRESENT!” they both shouted together, stomping their feet into the ground. “Flarefield 6D!”
Mitch squinted against the storm of flashing light. The last thing she saw before being launched into space was the smoldering towers of the Chateau du Soleil.
New chapters of The Secret Corridor will be published every Friday to CorridorCounty.com. Listen at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout.
Chapter photo created with the assistance of DALL·E 2.