Chapter 33: A New Mission

As the first rays of dawn broke through the clouds, the house at Ol’ Cypress came into view. The tired Collective pushed their way through the dewy garden and into the house through the back door. One by one, they collapsed into chairs at the kitchen table.

“I’ll light a fire,” Miki offered. “Just as soon as I can summon the strength to move.”

Oren sighed and reached into his pocket for a cigar.     

“I’ll make breakfast,” Dora said weakly. “In just a minute.” She crumpled into a heap on the table.

Miki shook his head. “Perhaps we should all get some sleep, and then think about fires and breakfast.”

“Agreed,” said Izzie. “All I want to do is take a hot bath and—”

“What’s that?” Mitch interrupted, pointing to a large black spot on the door leading down into the basement.

Izzie’s eyes widened. “Was there a fire?”

Oren rose from the table. Miki and Dora followed as Graham struggled to his feet.

“What is it?” he called as they approached the door.

“The lock!” Oren exclaimed. “It’s been blown off!”

He flung open the door and flew down the stairs. The rest of the Collective followed.

“Eliot!” Oren gasped as Miki flipped on the light.

The prisoner’s cell was empty.

“Where did he go?”

“How did this happen?”

“Do you think he could still be on the grounds?”

“We have to check! Miki, come with me! Graham and Dora, search the cellar! You four—” Oren said, pointing to Izzie, Ian, Reece, and Mitch. “Search every inch of this house! If he’s hiding somewhere, we have to find him!”

Miki and Oren ran up the stairs, and the others went to work scouring the house for any sign of Eliot. An hour later, they gathered back in the kitchen, empty handed. Eliot was gone, and even more alarming, so were the two Corridor Atlases. The Collective sat around the table, exhausted and on edge.

“How could he have escaped?” Dora asked. “We made sure the cellar was locked before we left.”

Izzie looked at the blast marks on the door where the lock had been. “Someone came for him,” she said. “That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“But who?”

“It could have been any of the viceroys.”

“No,” Miki said. “It couldn’t have. That lock was reinforced by powerful magic, and the atlases were protected by a diffusion spell. It would have been impossible for a viceroy to sense any energy coming from the books.”

“Then who was it?” Dora pressed.

“Zahlamaer himself.”

Oren let out a long whistle. “That’s quite a leap, Masamune.”

Miki shook his head. “No, Arlington, it certainly is not.”

“Don’t you think we would have known it if Zahlamaer had dropped down into 6D? We just spent the night in that infernal swamp!”

“I don’t believe he came through the flarefield at Rover Landing.”

“I have channels set up around every flarefield around the world. Believe me—if Zahlamaer had come back to the present, he would have been spotted. He’s a centuries-old chrontercog, for goodness sake! He doesn’t exactly blend in.”

“No,” Miki agreed. “He doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t here. We’ve known for some time now there has been a breach of security within your channels, and, if memory serves me, we haven’t yet identified the mole.”

“Oh, I think we have,” Graham grumbled.

“Graham, if you start up with this Vella business one more time—”

“Look,” Miki interrupted before the brothers could begin an argument. “Whoever she—or he—is, that person could have very well let Zahlamaer slip into the present without sounding the alarm. And once Zahlamaer was in, all he would have to do is take a timeshaft to Ol’ Cypress to release Eliot and steal the atlases. It is clear now he planted Eliot here to give us false intelligence.”

“And a false sense of security,” Dora added. “He knew we’d never suspect he’d actually sent a viceroy into Ol’ Cypress with a Corridor Atlas on him.”

“Right,” Miki nodded. “He wanted us to believe he was hiding in Carthage. He knew we’d go in after him. And while our agents were distracted, he would be free to set in motion his master plan.”

“His final leap,” Graham murmured, remembering the extraordinary story Mitch had told them on the way back from the flarefield. 

“If Mitch is right,” Miki continued, “and Zahlamaer has cracked the cipher to OneTime, he will want to make sure no one can ever follow him there, and to be sure, he will need to control the secrets of chronomagic once and for all.”

“Which explains why he’s after the atlases,” Graham said.

“And if Ian is right, and the Timekeepers have been employed, knowingly or not, to unlock the secrets of time travel, then Zahlamaer will undoubtedly see they are permanently relieved of their duties before he makes his final leap.”

“He’ll be after their atlas too,” Oren concluded.

“He may already have it,” Graham added gravely.

“Yes,” Miki nodded. “And now we must face another terrible truth. By closing the Corridor, we have played into Zahlamaer’s plan. We were trying to protect the people of this world by cutting them off from the conflict of the past, but all we did was buy our enemy time to organize. Our mission not only failed—it backfired.”

Graham shut his eyes as the full weight of Miki’s words sunk in. “I devoted my whole life to that cause,” he said miserably.

“As did I.”

“As did we all,” Oren interjected. “And I, for one, refuse to believe it’s lost. You’re right, Masamune, if Zahlamaer has cracked the cipher to OneTime, he’s going to do everything in his power to cut off the trail. That means moving his viceroys to the future, clearing the Timekeepers from the Corridor, and closing it for good. But to be sure the secrets of chronomagic are in his control, and his alone, he must possess all four atlases.”

“That’s right,” Graham nodded, his eyes growing wide. “Oren, you old fool, you just might be onto something.”

“Thank you?”

“He’s got two, maybe three, of ‘em now, but there’s one left.”

“We need to find it before Zahlamaer does.”

“That atlas has been lost for centuries!” Dora exclaimed. “It could be anywhere—buried in a cave at the end of the earth, at the bottom of the ocean—it might even be destroyed!”

“We don’t have the agent power for a mission like that,” Miki said, shaking his head.

“Sure we do!” Reece cried.

The four adults jumped, having almost forgotten the young agents were still in the room.

“That’s right!” Izzie agreed. 

“We’ll find it!” Mitch promised. “I’m sure of it.”

“Me too,” Ian said confidently.

“Well,” Oren said, surveying the eager faces of the young agents. “Looks like we got ourselves a search party.”

“We have to do this right,” Miki said cautiously. “Our efforts must be strategic and guided by reliable information of a precise and secretive nature.”

“My channels can help with that,” Oren declared.

“Indeed,” Miki agreed. “Though we must be careful to consult only the most trusted of your sources, Arlington. And we must redouble our efforts to identify the mole.”

Oren nodded stiffly. “You can be assured that is my highest priority, Masamune.”

“I hope so,” Graham added.

“I would invite your assistance brother,” Oren scowled. “But after last time…”

Graham’s lips went white.

“Anyhow,” Oren continued before Graham could explode. “I think your expertise might be put to better use. I take it there are several magicians we’ll want to speak to as part of our investigation, and there’s no doubt you’re quite skilled in the art of the interview.”

Graham relaxed. “Fine by me.”

“Well then,” Oren smiled. “We have a plan.”

The rest of the Collective nodded. 

“Now let’s get some sleep before we pack.”

“Pack?” Dora asked confused.

“Yes, pack,” said Oren rising from the table.

“What for?”

“Well, we can’t stay here can we? Our headquarters have been compromised. You want to risk another attack on Ol’ Cypress? We don’t have half the numbers the Rovers had, and they were blown to the winds. No—we have to get out of here—and quick. We sleep, and then we pack.”

“But I was going to make us a big holiday dinner,” Dora pouted. “It’s the first time we’ve all been together in so long!”

“We sleep and then pack,” Oren repeated firmly. He stubbed out his cigar and exited the room.

Graham and Miki exchanged glances.

“He’s right.”

“I know he is.”

“So then…we’re leaving?” Dora looked sadly around the kitchen. Her bottom lip started to quiver.

“Looks like it,” Graham said, rising from the table.

“We have to split up,” Miki agreed.

“But we just got back together!” Izzie objected, stealing a glance at Ian.

“I know kids,” Graham said. “But it’ll be okay.” He gave Mitch’s shoulder a squeeze as he left the room.

Reece gave Mitch a doleful look.

“It won’t be for long,” Miki promised, smiling sympathetically. “We will split up to throw Zahlamaer off the scent and reconvene once it is safe. In the meantime, we will gather as much intelligence as we can and come up with a plan to track down the lost atlas.”

He looked from the kids to Dora. “Does that sound okay?”

“Oh, I suppose,” Dora relented, wiping her eyes. The others nodded sullenly.

“Alright,” said Miki. “Now come. Let us get some sleep.”

“Okay, but I don’t care what that old grump, Arlington, says. I’m going to make us something for the road before we leave!”

“I’m sure we would all appreciate that, my dear,” Miki smiled tenderly. He helped his wife up from the table, and the two made their way upstairs.

“Wow,” Izzie said when they were alone. “I sure didn’t expect this.”

“Me neither,” Ian said. “All that time I was trapped in the past, I just kept thinking how good it was going to feel to be back home. I never lost hope someone was going to come for me.” He glanced at Mitch. “I guess I never said thanks for that.”

Mitch raised an eyebrow, surprised by the unexpected show of gratitude. “Oh—uh…you’re welcome.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Reece moaned. “Ol’ Cypress is the only home I’ve ever known.”

“You guys are the only friends I’ve ever had,” Mitch added sadly.

“You know,” said Izzie, her eyes twinkling with a sudden idea. “We might have to split up…” She lowered her voice. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t come for a visit every once in a while.” She shifted her gaze toward the window and nodded to the old outhouse.

“The timeshaft!” Ian whispered excitedly. “That’s right!”

“I say we plan a trip back once a month.”

“With all the intelligence we’re gathering, we’ll have to give each other updates!”

“And we can’t risk our letters being intercepted.”

Mitch and Reece smiled conspiratorially.

“We’re in!” they whispered together.

By moonrise, the Collective had gathered in the foyer, well-rested and carrying sacks of Dora’s famous honeybutter biscuits.

“It’s all I had time to whip up,” she said, casting an annoyed look in Oren’s direction. “But they’re made with love.”

“Thanks Dora,” Mitch said, giving her a hug. The rest of the Collective followed, even Oren. 

“Alright,” Oren said, once he was able to break free from Dora’s embrace. “Now let’s get down to business. Here’s the plan. Holtfield, you and I will go to Paris to connect with my channels. We’ll gather as much information as we can about who’s been using the flarefields since the Corridor opened and be ready to report back the next time we meet.”

“Got it,” Ian said. 

“Masamune and Rainier,”

“Yes sir!” Reece cried out, standing at attention.

Miki suppressed a smile.  

“You two are going to the lab,” Oren said matter-of-factly, unmoved by Reece’s enthusiasm.

“In Tokyo?” Reece’s eyes widened.

“Yes, Rainier. In Tokyo. There’s no finer lab in the world for time travel research. We need to figure out how the Corridor was opened in case Zahlamaer tries to close it again when he gets ready to make his final leap. Hopefully it won’t get that far, but if it does, we have to be able to go in after him.

“There’s a lot of work that can be done in the lab, but there’s also a good chance you’ll need to go back to the Sun King’s Court to do some field research. We know the blast came from there, and we need to understand why.”

“I know that moon cycle better than anyone,” Ian protested. “Why don’t I go with Miki?”

Oren gave Ian a knowing look. “Want to see that girl of yours, eh?”

“What?” Ian’s face reddened. “No—I just—”

“Sorry boy,” Oren cut in. “I need your help in Paris. Reece has been working in labs since he started walking. He’s better suited for the mission in Tokyo.”

“He’s right, Holtfield,” Miki agreed. “Reece has had extensive training in lab research.”

“And I can invent things too!” Reece added proudly.

Mitch smiled, thinking back to the first time she had met Reece, gadgety goggles and white lab coat covered in soot. “That’s right,” she said. “He’s an agent and an inventor.”  

Reece beamed.

“Fine,” Ian said crossing his arms. “It was just a suggestion anyway.”

“Sure was,” Oren smirked. “Now Bellefontaine and Cruz,” he said, turning to Dora and Izzie. “You two have important work to do. We need to look into this theory that the Timekeepers have been helping Zahlamaer map the way to OneTime. This is going to be tricky. Tinkers don’t leave the Corridor, but they do recruit. Every time they map out a new chamber of the Corridor, they have a new vault to fill.”

“And the millennium just turned,” Izzie said, catching on.

“Exactly,” said Oren. “So they would have recruited a new Tinker to keep guard over the new moon cycles that are starting to form.”

“But we can’t exactly go knocking on his vault to ask him questions,” Dora balked. “Especially when one of us has time anchors.” Dora gestured to her ankles as if there were cuffs chaining her to the floor.

“No, you can’t,” Oren agreed. “But you can take a timeshaft to Rio.”


“de Janeiro.”

In Brazil?

“That’s the one.”

“You’re telling me the new Tinker is in Rio de Janeiro?”

“No,” Oren replied patiently. “The new Tinker is in his vault…in the Corridor…where all the Timekeepers are.”

“Well, then what are you sending us to Rio for? Don’t get me wrong, Oren, I could use a beach vacation right about now, but—”

“You’re not going to Brazil for the beach either, Dora. You are going to visit a library.”

Dora blinked unbelievingly. “You’re sending us to Rio de Janeiro…to visit a library?”

“Not just any library,” Oren replied. “The Royal Cabinet, which just so happens to be a recruiting center for the Intergalactic Society of Space Timekeepers.”

“Ohhh,” Dora said, her eyes growing big.

“There are several all over the world,” Oren continued. “But I have reason to believe the last Timekeeper was recruited from this one. I need you to go to Rio and find out all you can about any magicians who might have connections to the library, especially if they’ve mysteriously disappeared from the area. It’ll be hard. Timekeepers are a secretive bunch, and they don’t usually leave many clues about their activities in the present. We’re going to have to make a few quick friends if we’re going to be able to gather any useful information from this mission, and if there’s anyone who can do that, Dora, it’s you.”

“Well thanks, Oren,” Dora said, patting her grey curls. “I suppose I can be quite charming when I want to be.”

“I didn’t do too bad with Timekeeper Pollistone,” Izzie added. 

“No Cruz, you did quite well in fact,” Oren said. “That was some quick thinking on your part down there in the vault, and that’s why you’re essential to this mission. Between the two of you, you’re going to find out everything you can about the world of the Timekeepers, and then you, Izzie, are going to pay another visit to your new Tinker friend. Remember, if Reece has to go into the Sun King’s Court he’s going to need a tracker to bring him back.”

“That’s right!” exclaimed Izzie. “And that means another chance to talk to Timekeeper Pollistone.”

“Exactly. And the more you know about his world, the better you’ll be at discovering any secrets he might be hiding.”

“Wow,” said Izzie, admiring Oren’s plan. “Alright—we’ll do it!”

Dora nodded enthusiastically. “I haven’t been this excited since my first time in a timechute!”

“Good,” Oren smiled. “Because this last part’s going to be a harder sell.” His smile faded as he turned to Graham and Mitch. “I’m afraid you’re not going to like this, brother.”

Graham shook his head. “I don’t like much that comes out of your mouth, Oren, so just lay it on me.”

“I want you to take Mitch to the Quarter.”

Graham’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“You know why.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.”

“You want me to take my grandbaby to see her?”

“Lela is the only hope we have of finding the lost atlas.”

“Who?” Mitch demanded, unable to wait for her granddaddy and Uncle Oren to finish the argument she knew was brewing.

“Lela,” Oren said, never taking his eyes from Graham’s. “Lela Chévreau.”

Mitch started at the name. “You don’t mean—” she said skeptically, “the Lela Chévreau? Like Madame Chévreau? The Crescent City Sorceress?”

“The very one,” Oren nodded.

“But she’s been dead for over a century! I saw her grave in St Louis No. 1.”

“No,” Oren replied slyly. “You saw her headstone.”


“There’s a stone, but no grave. Madame Chévreau is alive and well. She spends a great deal of time in the past to keep from growing too old, but my channels have just alerted me she’s returned to New Orleans.”

“Oren Arlington—if you think I’m taking my only granddaughter to see that woman—”

That woman, Graham, is the only one who might be able to help us track down the atlas.”

“She won’t do it.”

“She did it the first time.”

“And do you remember the price we had to pay?”

“Of course, I do.”

“And you want to risk another loss like that?”

“Evangeline isn’t dead,” Oren said.

Dora’s eyes flashed with pain at the mention of her little sister’s name.

“Arlington—” Miki warned.

“I’m sorry Masamune, but it’s true. We all miss her terribly, but she entered her contract willingly. Lela didn’t take anything from us we weren’t willing to give.”

I wasn’t willing to give her up!” Dora cried. “And I don’t believe for one minute Evangeline was willing to go! That evil woman put a hex on her!”

“And who’s to say she won’t put one on Mitch?” Graham added. “She’s always in need of new apprentices. I can’t believe you’d want to risk it, knowing how powerful Mitch is.”

“That’s precisely why we need her to do this, Graham. Don’t you see? You might be able to pull information from our old friends in the Quarter, but do you really think you’re good enough to see into Lela…alone?

Graham clenched his jaw.

“You know you’re not, Graham. But between the two of you,” he nodded at Mitch. “You just might be.”

“And what if she demands payment?”

“Give it to her.”

“Sell my grandbaby??!!”

“No—sell yourself.”

“What?” Mitch shrieked. “Uncle Oren, are you out of your—”

“Brother, you are dying!” Oren said sharply, ignoring Mitch. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. Enter into Lela’s service. She can restore the magic. She can halt the creep of death. And when you’re healed—” he added, glancing at Dora. “—find Evangeline. Convince her to come back. I know you can,” he said, looking Graham hard in the eyes.

Dora gasped. “Could you really?”

“No!…I mean…I don’t know! It’s crazy, Oren…this is crazy! There’s so much that could go wrong!”

“Don’t let it.”

Graham sighed heavily and let his eyes fall on Mitch who looked like she was about to burst into tears.

“It would mean a longer life to spend with your granddaughter.” Oren swallowed hard. “To spend with us all.”

Graham looked at his brother. Their amber eyes burned with the pain of the past.

“Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll do it.”

Mitch stifled a sob.

“It’ll be okay, baby girl,” Graham said, gathering her into a hug. “I promise.”

Mitch nodded, wiping away tears with the back of her sleeve. Reece patted her shoulder. 

“Okay then,” Oren said, clearing his throat. “Agents, you’ve been commissioned. Remember, the Collective does not fail. We are the greatest fighting force for good of all time!”

Of all time!” the others shouted.

One by one they filed out the door and into the purpley twilight. Oren was the last to exit. He looked around at the torn wallpaper and peeling paint. A chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling onto the cracked floor.  

“I always hated this place,” he muttered to himself, and slammed the door.

After taking their leave from the others, Mitch and Graham headed toward the timeshaft. Mitch crinkled her nose at the site of the old outhouse, but at least she wouldn’t have deal with another apple tornado on the way to St. Louis No. 1. As they made their way through the overgrown yard, careful not to slip on the slick mud and rotting leaves under their feet, Mitch’s mind drifted to that early autumn afternoon when her life as she knew it had changed more than she had ever thought possible. She thought back to the Corridor County Harvest Festival, how she had been rushing to get to the show, filled with excitement but also worry over how distracted her granddaddy had been in the weeks leading up. Now, of course, it all made sense. She remembered locking eyes with the strange man who had caught her from falling in the crowded street, the chill that ran down her spine when she saw him again staring at her from the stands, and the shock she felt when her granddaddy had confessed the man was no stranger at all, but her own great-uncle.

Of all the revelations that followed—the existence of seemingly impossible things like timeshafts and flarefields, a secret Corridor connecting the past, present, and future, and moon cycles where eternal wars were waged—the secret that had been the hardest for Mitch to forgive her granddaddy for keeping was that she had a family. She thought how different her life might have been if Reece, Izzie, Miki, Dora, and her Uncle Oren had been in it for the past seven years. She felt a lump in her throat thinking about Ian, and how he too knew what it was like to lose an entire family. She supposed everyone in the Collective had suffered loss, though, and her granddaddy was certainly no exception. She still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened to her grandmother or her father, but one thing was clear: Graham placed the blame entirely on Vella for breaking up his family. Mitch’s heart sank at the thought of her mother. Zahlamaer’s most trusted viceroy? An enchantress? A saboteur? Her granddaddy had seemed so certain, and the way the marquis had taken Mitch into his confidence confirmed that her mother had a strong connection to the Trust, but something inside her refused to believe that her mother could have committed such a terrible betrayal.      

Mitch wrapped her scarf twice around her neck to guard against the stinging winter chill. For most of the year, the swamp hummed noisily at night with the sounds of insects, frogs, and nocturnal birds, but tonight the air was so cold and still Mitch felt she could hear the vibrations of the twinkling stars. She looked up at the sky, wondering if her parents were still out there somewhere. And if they were, was there any chance they might return? Did they miss her? Would they ever come back for her? What would her granddaddy do if they did? She watched him walking a few paces ahead, his shoulders a little heavier than usual under the bulk of his black coat, and tears sprang to Mitch’s eyes once more as she realized it may not just be the lingering fatigue from the day weighing him down.

“Brother, you are dying!” Oren’s words rang loud in her ears as she remembered the terrifying jolts of blue light crackling under her granddaddy’s skin.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The future could be controlled and altered through magic—Mitch knew that now—and, if Ian was right, so might the past.

They reached the outhouse, which was leaning dangerously to one side. Graham stopped and turned to Mitch.

“Before we go in, there’s something I have to say.” He removed his hat and ran a hand through his stubbly hair.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to talk these last few weeks—what with your training and the mission and all. And there’s a lot of things I still haven’t got around to telling you.” He paused, glancing in the direction of the flarefield hidden behind the wall of black pines silhouetted against the night blue sky.

“But I want you to know that there’ll be time.” His eyes filled with resolve. “I plan to make sure of that. There’ll be time to talk about everything. I’m going to tell you everything, answer all your questions…in time.”

Mitch looked into her grandfather’s bright amber eyes, which were sparkling like fire behind their tired, heavy lids. She wanted to believe him.

“Okay,” she agreed with a nod, her voice quiet but firm. “There’ll be time.”

Graham pulled Mitch close. “Are you ready?” he said, looking down at her.

“Ready,” she said, taking his hand.

Together they stepped forward into the time shaft and disappeared.

This chapter concludes Book 1 of The Secret Corridor: A Tale from Time. All chapters in Book 1 are available for streaming at SpotifyApple Podcasts, or Buzzsprout. Thank you to everyone who has been reading or listening along and showing your support for this project. Book 2 is scheduled for release in Fall 2023.

Chapter photo created with the assistance of DALL·E 2.