In the beginning, the Logos created the universe. It was a lonely place, empty and quiet, so the Logos brought forth three goddesses: the Past, the Present, and the Future. With them came nostalgia, audacity, and uncertainty. The three child goddesses gazed at their creator with expectation, for now that Time existed, so could life.
Robert stood in the center of the astral circle etched on the hardwood floor of his living room. His brow creased as he studied the ring of symbols. His fingertips tingled. The portal was ready, and no matter how much a small—yet insistent—part of him wished to put it off, he knew the time had come to open it. He closed his eyes and recited the first two verses.
As the words tumbled from the edge of his lips, a blast of air whirled around him. The wind’s fingers plucked at his clothes and buffeted his face, so he crouched and lowered his head. Just one more verse to go. He yelled the final words, raising his voice over the increasing howling of the wind.
The living room dissolved into gray and blue smudges. With a sickening lurch, Robert felt his body somersault through the air. His concentration vanished into the wind, and he rolled over himself, his stomach wadding into a knot.
“Abaddon,” he whispered, “my Keeper. Protect me.”
Only the gale answered.
Something was wrong. Why was it taking so long? Why hadn’t he practiced the chant one last time before rushing to open the portal? If he had made a mistake—even the tiniest of mistakes—in the runes or the chant, he was as good as dead.
He cupped a hand over his breast pocket and felt the capsule within.
He ground his teeth together. That isn’t the answer. He wasn’t ready to quit—not yet—and he refused to entertain that idea any further. He hadn’t worked for twenty years to end up swallowing a pill. My calculations are correct, he reminded himself as he weathered the storm. But the shrieks of the wind begged to differ.
Just when it seemed that his mission—and his life—had come to an end, the gale swept past him and vanished. Nonspace retreated, and Robert once more felt solid ground beneath him. He trembled from head to toe and waited for his stomach to stop shuddering before daring to open his eyes. Although he was gaining skill in the art of astral jumps—like learning to land on his feet—he hadn’t traveled to other planes often enough to suppress the wave of nausea that overwhelmed him after each trip.
He hesitantly opened one eye, and when he realized his calculations had been, in fact, correct, his heart skipped a beat. He was crouching on a barren white plane under a blazing white sky. He couldn’t distinguish a horizon, for there was none to see, only a tenuous mist a million miles away.
He narrowed his eyes and looked up at the goddess before him. She stood a few feet to the right, her slender, bare back turned to him. Her gleaming silver dress streamed from her shoulders to the spotless, featureless ground, where the fabric dissolved into ripples that flowed all the way to Robert’s feet. Her golden, waist-length curls spilled over her shoulder, and she twirled a lock between her fingers as she stared into the empty distance.
Robert pulled himself upright. He couldn’t bring himself to take that first step or utter that first word which would break the beautiful silence between them. He had so much to offer her…so much to gain from her.
The cream! His hand shot to his pocket. Nothing. His heart jumped in his throat. He patted his clothes and searched through his overcoat. Had he forgotten to take the cream along at the last moment? But that was impossible; he would never forget something so important.
He ran trembling hands over his entire body. Sweat dampened his armpits and clung in beads over his lip. He had read sufficient literature on nonspace to understand the dangers of traveling outside the boundaries of time and matter. Something supernatural inhabited those corners, and that something had sticky fingers.
But those creatures wouldn’t open my pockets—would they? He wiped the sweat from his face. Of course they would.
The wind had been prying at his clothes like an impatient child searching for candy, but Robert had hidden the tube of cream in his pocket and had zipped it closed. But now the cream was gone. Mugged in nonspace. A zipper. What was I thinking? Robert could flay himself for his stupidity. He glanced at the goddess, who stood in silence, either unaware of his arrival or uninterested. Just then, his hands came across something in one of the open pockets of his overcoat. He pulled out the white tube of cream and his jaw dropped open. Those tricksters. But now was not the time for revenge. He needed to concentrate on his mission.
As if sensing his rekindled determination, the goddess spoke. “What do you want?” Her lazy words wove their way across the emptiness toward him and wrapped themselves around him.
Robert cleared his throat. “Greetings, my Goddess. It is an honor to be in your presence.” His voice faltered and he swallowed. “My name is Robert Westbrook.” He bowed his head. A second flitted by. Another. He cautiously glanced up.
The woman standing before him had not stirred. The ripples in her dress gently swelled and receded.
Robert licked his lips. A pearl of sweat tickled as it ran down his temple. “I have dedicated my life to finding you. I am your humble servant.” He dropped to one knee.
“How interesting.” The woman’s sweet voice coiled tighter around him.
She turned, and Robert gasped for breath. Her eyes were two unsettling black pits speckled with stars—the cradle of the universe itself.
“Oh, my… I must say…” Finding words became more and more difficult. “Your beauty has no rival, my Goddess.”
The woman’s brow furrowed, and the corners of her mouth sank into an unflattering scowl. “Yes…beauty.” She lifted her chin. “That is why your kind represent me as an old man. With a beard and a scythe—and an hourglass. You call me Father?” She pointed at herself. “Look closely at me. Observe my brilliance! Now imagine me in a black cloak, lugging a useless hourglass and a scythe from one place to another!”
Without uttering a word, Robert settled his gaze on the ground. It was best not to infuriate her.
“Black is not my color!” she continued. “Have the Grim Reaper wear black if he so wishes. Not me! I am Time, overseer of the universe!”
Robert waited for her to finish with a bowed head, his lips pressed together.
“How did you arrive at my plane?” Time demanded. “For what reason do you dare interrupt my passage?”
Robert took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and in a smooth, unwavering voice, said, “I have dedicated my life to the summoning of Devourers and the travel from one astral plane to another. Years ago, the Devourer Abaddon, my Keeper, suggested I study your magnificence. Since then, I have spent my life honoring you and investigating how to contact you. Today, I have achieved my lifelong ambition. I am finally here, with you.” He smiled. Time did not look impressed. He swallowed and said softly, “Abaddon informed me of the state of the universe.”
Time awarded him a withering look. “So you know. Those beasts cannot hold their tongues.”
“We are living in interesting times.”
“And your prattle is boring me.” Time turned.
“No! Wait! My Goddess, I’m here to make a deal, if you would listen to what I have to offer.” Robert swallowed and his ears clicked. “I wish to buy a bit of time.”
Time gasped, and a cold breeze swept across Robert.
“Foolish little man! Buy a bit of me? How dare you insult me!” A purple mist rose from the ground, making Time’s dress flutter in bubbling waves and locks of her hair dance like serpents. She swelled into a fifteen-foot colossus, her silhouette overshadowing the white plane beneath her.
Robert clambered to his feet and braced himself.
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Genre – Science Fiction/Fantasy
Rating – Adult