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Reaching Backward into Time

                                  Jonathon Pierce

Iffley stared at Camille in disbelief. "You lost the Tiara?" He repeated himself, trying to force the story from her muddled mind. "You lost the Tiara? How could you do such a thing? I gave that Tiara for you to guard, not for you to lose!" He turned away from her tear-stained face. "I...I'm going out until I cool down--or I'm going to say something that I'm going to regret later." He raised the Sceptre, teleporting himself away from her pleading sobs. Obviously he was angry, for only during times of distress did he use contractions. He now realized that Camille did not belong in this time. He also realized that his only means of restoring her to natural time was gone.

He found himself in the stables. Quiffy was here, changed into a squat dog--it was improving every day, and soon would be at full ability. Quiffy was barking at the zebras, who were cowering in the stable's far corner. In spite of himself, Iffley laughed. Quiffy changed into a slender duck and waddled to Iffley. It then changed into a rusty spring and sprung itself on his shoulder.

Iffley still had to apologize to Bronson, only then would his conscience be at ease. He undulated the Sceptre, causing the pair to depart for Ranier. Iffley hoped that Bronson would forgive him, but his hatred, Iffley knew, was well deserved.

They appeared at the edge of Bronson's shield. Iffley was uncertain of the Sceptre's abilities to pass through the shield, so he decided to test its power. Spying a rock nearby, he threw it into the defensive device. The rock impacted and dissolved into tiny particles. The defensive system was obviously in operation. Next, he picked up a small buttercup and teleported it through the shield. It arrived unscathed. Bronson's shield had no effect on his Key--not that he had anything to worry about anyway.

Iffley and Quiffy continued onto the palace, the shield unable to halt their progress. They arrived directly in the dining room, where several people were eating dinner. Madison, recognizing the intruder, quickly dropped his crystal glass, spilling its contents on the lovely white tablecloth.

"Madison, I need to see Bronson." Iffley said. He noticed the wizard's clumsiness, and repaired the damage with his trusty Sceptre.

"I...I'm sorry, but he's out right now." Madison evidently did not trust Iffley after their last encounter.

A tall man, who was wearing a ten-gallon hat--how gauche, Iffley noted--turned to face the intruder. He had a black moustache which complemented his bushy eyebrows perfectly. He wore a red snap-shirt and jeans. His boots were soiled and scuffed. His drawl almost made Iffley want to throw up, "Well, whatch y'all doin' here? Come to see the Bossman? Let me introduce myself. I'm Texas Nimitz III, the wealthiest oilman in Ranier." He proffered his grubby hand, which Iffley took in his own. He winced slightly as the man's steel grip squashed his own. "This cowpoke ain't goinna help ya, but I will. The Boss is supposed to return soon. Cum on, I'll take ya to him."

The cowboy stood up and removed his bib from his shirt. He lumbered off down a smart corridor, motioning Iffley to follow. Abruptly, they reached the landing dock, which was situated upon one of the castle's towers. Moments later, a shuttle appeared. It dropped like a rock, and for a while, Iffley thought that it was going to crash. The shuttle suddenly slowed and landed with a dull thud. Its compartment opened and Bronson emerged, carrying the Tiara.

Iffley practically lept to his feet, the Tiara was in his grasp--again. No, he decided, he was here to reconstruct an alliance, not destroy one further. He met Bronson halfway at the landing dock. "Bronson, I want to apologize--"

Bronson shook his head, "There is no need, I heard about the trial. "

"But I stole your Belt. "

"That is an unfortunate consequence, but, as you can see, I have provided for myself. You have no onus to me." He was drawing on Madison's Verbosity Spell, it came in so handily at times.

"You have no cause to manumit me from my obligation." Bronson frowned, not only did Iffley figure out his word, but also returned his gesture. He waited for the spell to define the word.

"It is my pleasure." He said after several seconds of spell-defining.

"Alright, then. But I do have one favor to ask of you. I need to borrow the Tiara. I promise I shall return it."

"As you did the Belt. Do you think that I'm that credulous?" Bronson smiled broadly.

"I assure you that I am no ganef." Bronson's smile quickly faded again as he tried to interpret his meaning.

"I will need some ancillary object then. Your Sceptre?"

"Agreed." The Sceptre and the Tiara changed hands. Bronson seemed to think that he had gotten the best of the deal, and Iffley would have had to agree with him. "I will return before nightfall." Iffley promised, as Quiffy changed into a balloon.

"No need to hurry." Bronson shouted as he changed the shuttle into a jar of candid cherries.

*  *  Past Promises  *  *

Iffley guided the balloon to a spot on the now ashen City of Azzev. "Quiffy, I think that you had better stay here." The balloon changed back into original form and stepped away from him. Iffley concentrated, and, suddenly, he was standing in a massive crowd.

Iffley gazed at the most beautiful city in Alarius. The glass buildings rose to the sky, causing the sun's rays to reflect on their fragile surfaces. He turned down the block and entered the middle-class area of the city. He quickly reached his destination, his home.

He knocked on the white door, and heard a feeble 'come in.' He opened the door and walked inside. That door should be locked, he thought, forgetting about the zero percent crime rate in Azzev. He climbed the stairs and entered his mother's bedroom. "Mom, I'm home."

"Who's there? Suralio, is that you?"

"Yes, Mom." He sat down on her bed and stared deeply into her eyes. Cataracts had all but blocked her vision, but still her eyes twinkled. She was obviously growing weaker. Her emaciated body was only one of the external signs of the disease that destroyed her strength.

"I thought that you were in Furanose on a diplomatic mission."

"I was...but I couldn't stay away from your beautiful smile." Ephryre started to laugh, but it turned into a hacking cough. Iffley helped her sit up, which helped to alleviate her pain. "Could not," she corrected. "Dear, I am so glad that you could come before...before the end came."

"No, Mom, don't...do not talk like that. I am here. I am going to protect you. I can get some medicine, and..."

"Suralio, I know that this is hard for you, but you will have to understand. Soon I will be at peace. Soon I will be with your father. There is something that I must give to you." She began to fumble with a clasp around her neck, "It has been in our generation for years." She removed the locket and placed it in Iffley's hand.

He turned the object over in his hand, "It's our family crest." His mother nodded weakly. "Mom, there is something that I have to ask you. If you had to do something that hurt you very deeply but that you knew that you had to, would you do it?"

"You are rambling, dear, get to the point." She coughed again.

"I have to--"

"Suralio, I trust you implicitly, I know that you will make the right decision." She gasped in pain, "Suralio, I think it is time."

"Mom, no, I won't let you go." He embraced his mother, letting his tears fall freely. "Mom, say hello to Father for me."

"I will." She said, and became still. Iffley held her, unable to let her go. How, how could he have not been here before? How could he have let her die alone?

Iffley returned to the ashen wilderness. Quiffy immediately curled up beside him, but at the moment, Iffley did not want to be touched. Quiffy changed into a bi-plane, and they departed for Iffley's castle.

*  *  Past Excursions  *  *

Iffley immediately confronted Camille with his decision. "Camille, you have to go back. It was a mistake ever bringing you back."

"So, you're just going to put me back like a piece of unwanted pie."

"No, it won't be like that."

"I have lost you, haven't I?"

"I don't think that you ever had me to begin with."

"I know." She said as she began to cry again.

Camille agreed to return; no matter how hard she cried, things would not change. She realized that now. They ballooned to the tree, and Iffley used the Tiara to send them through the time corridor. They arrived at the tree, some years earlier.

The red hovercar zipped over the hill. The future-Iffley stopped the car and talked Camille into going with him. He started the car again, and the couple vanished.

"I won't...will not let you die. You can live your life out normally, only please do not see me again, because you could cause a paradox that might change history."

Camille nodded, "I won't see you again. Life without you is not life at all." Suddenly, she jumped in front of the hovercar. The car carried her to the tree, where it smashed her unrecognizably. The car exploded; history had repeated itself.

Iffley stared at the wreckage. He numbed inside, uncomprehending Camille's totally selfless act. Her love for him was as great as his own for Adena. He had been totally blind. He returned to the present and wept for Camille. She had sacrificed herself for him.

He re-exchanged Keys with Bronson, who was just as happy with one Key as another, and returned to his castle. Adena still had Toltec, Camille had not changed that. Now that she was gone, Iffley felt terribly alone. He stared up at the full moon. It shone brightly in the dark sky. It, too, was alone. It, too was all alone in the universe.

 © 1985, 

K. Blaire, L. Charles, D. Conrad, Enad the Great, A. Mann, J. Pierce, B. C. Randolf, and T. G. Taft

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