Time slips in minds that drift unfocused. Something The Amanuensis frequently reminds me often from an ice prison far in the future. Long and long has the hibernation of written word escaped logic. Now is now, and the time to explore begins once more.
The perspective, Whittaker. A physician of the mind. A man of science, a sceptic of the supernatural, sorcery and ghosts. That was a long time ago now. Everything changed once he assembled the jigsaw arriving in his surgery. Again that was before his now. Age turns and time drifts across the years. Memories fail, re-written if you like, as the minutia blends or distorts.
Whitaker stared into the fog. It wrapped the path he walked in a screen. A bubble of reality that, for all his musing, might be the only one in existence. His sphere of vision ran with him in a radius. Eating where he’d just trod and opening before him. He knew the trail well, so he thought, but in the depths of winter the life of summer had long since bled out.
He could hear the crunch of stone underfoot. Part frozen and part overlaid in leaves not yet cleared. Branches silhouetted against lights lost in the haze beckoned his imagination. Not something he wished, given his past.
Ahead, another figure began to unravel from obscurity. Not his usual company. Not the shuffling man or girl on a swing that he often nodded to in some friendly greeting to faces met regularly during his walks. There was something comforting about those. None knew his backstory and, by similar consequence, theirs remained hidden from him. Didn’t stop him ruminating though. Few he encountered in the early morning walked hand in hand. Most, like girl on a swing, were alone. Same time, same places and all with a certain sad eye.
This figure was new and leant on the back of a memorial bench. One he had intended to sit upon, reflect and ponder who it might be that James was beloved by. He stopped where he was leaving the newcomer on the edge of his mist radius.
As he did so something caused his hackles to rise. A chill, not through the dank weather creating the mist, more a subconscious awareness things were not running true. He looked again, the newcomer seemed more solid. Instinct told him this was no chance meeting.
“You’re a physician yes?” The figure straightened, hands still holding the bench back rail.
“Not anymore,” Whitaker replied. He remained far enough away to keep the man shimmering in the edge of haze. Wise or not, it seemed the best option as his feet no longer crunched upon gravel.
The shadow laughed without enthusiasm. “I’ve heard that said many times until the damnation of war sucks you back.”
“War?” Whitaker was thinking this might be another escapee from Houghton’s past.
“Call it war if your vision creates madmen slaughtering each other in the name of some King or God. Call it being a pauper in a plague, or or farmer in drought. A women fighting childbirth or a child unable to defend itself.”
“You sound bitter.” Whitaker was edging backwards and getting nowhere fast. The frozen stone was now mud.
“Aye, they came and I ran. Do you know what it feels like to leave someone to a fate that you could avoid?”
Whitakers throat ran dry. At five his son told him about dreams that were nightmares. Later a woman asked who the photo on his desk was and he’d brushed guilt off.
“I do, and by my reckoning so do you.”
“Aye, a sleight of a girl. Morgan if names make it easier. For the listener at least.”
“As good as. Adopted is the word used in your world.”
Whitaker didn’t pursue semantics. It was obvious the girl meant as much to this man as his own son had to him.
The man looked through the haze. “The physician at work, I told you afore war brings us all back.”
“Except I’m not at war now.”
The quizzical edge was not missed. He didn’t bite back.
“Seems to me losses live eternal in hearts that care. If causes are natural one can blame the Gods. If they are not then can one truly forgive and forget? Easy words often belie what lies deep in the subconscious.”
“Who are you?” Whittaker was feeling uneasy. His familiar surrounds were no longer familiar. Even in the fog gloom the path was not the same. What few passers by there were had all merged into the haze and disappeared. It was as if they were all that remained in the world.
“A field surgeon,” the man began, “on the eve of war that was so one sided it was a massacre.”
Whitaker’s unease grew. War? He wasn’t aware of such in Houghton. Not in living memory. Templars he knew of way back in time, and a few oddities that came in during therapy during his dark days nurturing broken minds after a tragedy.
“You’ve buried it. Locked it up so tight it’s been excluded.”
“Locked what up?” Whitaker was edging backwards.
“Same thing I do. To avoid it burning you up. You’re a physician, things that vie from science lore tend not to rest well.”
Whitaker couldn’t argue with that. Supernatural haunted Houghton. Much of it black too. Black Marsh, Black House and the nightmare resting at the centre of the bog itself. What was it Ade had told him? “A black wyvern guards the black dragon stone.” Not, as this stranger alluded to, rational science. Myths and folklore maybe. Then again as a mind doctor that was he also knew two others that science failed to explain. The dead twins sister and her best friend walking planes of existence. Associative recall kicked in. Rose too resting between two worlds in a coma. Come to that it was her the carried the live twin, Emily, away from the crash site. All interconnected and locked up it seemed.
“Who are you?”
This time the man did laugh. “Suppose I said, to an elf witch and dwarf, I am known as Raz.” He sobered, “And Morgan was taken by a black horde. A war waged just to gain the chylde.”
Black again, thought Whitaker. He frowned. Was this Raz truthful or trying to be funny?
“Your paradox man. He left your time. Did you know that?”
“What, David Williams?” Whitaker could feel perspiration forming despite the cold. His heartbeat rose accordingly. The very man who the twins mum called Dad. Yet he was unwed and of similar age. Her own mum was ancient. An enigma he had been called by a certain publican who happened to have been Dave’s best friend. “He was listed as missing. One day he was there and the next gone. No trace ever found.”
“Like I said, the paradox man.”
That, Dave had been called before. Not that either had heard of the Amanuensis and fall of the keep.
“How do you know all this?” A genuine question so he thought.
“I run. And listen. Time is not linear. It stretches and contracts. In some places it merges showing ghosts and apparitions. In others it fluxes. I’m told Elder Mages harnessed it and could travel in both directions and even between worlds.”
Whitaker again had no real answers. If what Emily and Rebecca said were true then other worlds existed. Likewise Rose. Come to that Ade and Rowena alluded to it with dragon and a missing brother. Another house, or mansion, with a past history of disappearances. Another latch opened in his mind safe. All these things he’d once pieced together and concluded mass hysteria could only work if it was one big event. Singular hysteria over years with unconnected people was unlikely. What did that leave? Madness as science failed to present viable answers or… yes he had once believed it was all true.
He became aware of the fog once more. Still impenetrable outside his radius of vision. What he could see had changed. The path he knew well was now one he did not. Raz no longer leaned upon his bench either. It was a large carved rock.
Seeing confusion Raz continued, “Fogs are often associated with temporal distortion. An interface between worlds if that sits better. Or with the approach of the sanguisage.” That he added for his own amusement.
“A what?” Whitakers mind was distracted.
“To which one?”
“Both. I’m a physician trained in science not heresy.”
“A strong word that’s cost many a witch her life, warranted or not. I see your point though.” Raz stood up and stretched an aching back. Not quite right ever since the force wall had blown him out of his field tent leaving young Morgan unconscious for the horde. “A temporal distortion surrounds a point of transfer. Either in time or between worlds. All originate from Elder mages, or did before their civilisation collapsed.”
“You talk in riddles.” Was it his imagination or had the fog just thickened?
“Denial of truth is not wise my new friend. Our meeting is no accident this day. An old friend of mine currently holds this distortion field open. If it collapses then I rather think neither of us will escape. As it stands you hold information that might assist events that are currently transpiring in the future…” He paused reflecting if that were right, “…or past…”
“Utterly absurd.” An agitated Whitaker had decided enough was enough. The cold was seeping and he considered the fog was denser because time had flowed and the afternoon was waning. It was merely resetting after never really clearing properly. The mind playing tricks.
“As you will, I will wager you one thing.”
“And that is?” Whitaker’s mood was failing.
“You will not appear in the place you left.”
Whitaker did not feel internally reassured. The path he already knew had changed, rather like the bench which was now a rock. Houghton for you he thought. Not a place for reliable physics. Haunted with its own past and inherited in the social conscious. A good blend for the imagination to run wild.
“I would also suggest you follow me too,” added Raz.
“And why is that?”
“The old friend holding this distortion open is unlikely to take kindly to an unwilling subject.”
This time Whitaker bit. “Is that a threat?”
“No, advice. When I was cast aside and Morgan was taken I was warned by a sorceress. She was my friend. Might still be, but paths have not crossed since that day. However, her father did find me.” He paused as if talking too much might have consequences. “He is looking for his daughter too. A family dispute shall we say.”
“And that is a cause of concern to me why exactly?”
“He can create both temporal distortions and the mist of the sanguisage.”
“That’s twice you’ve mentioned that and I still have no idea what you mean.” Rather he did, but myths did not sit well. Then again his closed mind was reopening onto things he thought were long laid to rest.
“Nevertheless, I have to insist you follow me. This path has started and can no longer be undone. I can vouch you safe passage.”
Annoyance had turned to curiosity. Could he become part of something he’d spent his whole life observing from the outside? Then again curiosity had it own catch phrase. “Very well then, you seem to have a better sense of direction in this godforsaken mist than I.”
Raz chuckled internally. “I have an edge that’s all. The trick is to remain stationary. Allow the distortion to flow. Those creating it have a reference frame to hold focus.”
“The bench becomes stone.”
“Exactly, had you remained still, the gravel becomes mud becomes gravel. You and I part, time moves on and the distortion collapses.”
“It sounds somewhat sinister.”
“Aye, in another world they call this a conjurers trap. Think of that as a snare placed around a rabbit trail.”
“Or a spiders web,” mused Whitaker.
Raz nodded, “A good analogy given the Damphir’s father wishes an audience.”
More myths thought Whitaker. Why anyone would want to pick his brains was beyond him.
It’s not what you think you know fool, it’s what you don’t know but can’t retrieve.
Whitakers could feel his hackles rise. A cold flowed round him deeper than anything the fog had thrown at him. The voice was in his head, wrapping round his conscious. This must be the spider.
“Is there a way back Raz?” He resisted trying to sound desperate.
His new friend gave a knowing look. The physician had been touched by a powerful sender. It struck him this was where Yish had inherited that skill. Sufficient to throw him from the field tent all that time ago. Morgan drifted to mind. It always did. He ran and left her for dead. Empathy for Whitaker scythed through his mind.
“Yes. Don’t anger him and I will bring you back. Even if he refuses I will find a way.”
Whitaker nodded and found himself staring at the park bench. Raz was gone, although another stranger now sat upon it. In his mind a word formed.