The Curse of Time: Chapter 16
Everyone had forgotten the mysterious man by the time they made their way back to their base of operations. Still, he haunted Raven’s thoughts. She didn’t know why, but she knew him, and she felt she should trust him. And yet, he had foiled their plans on so many accounts, and he was nearly stalking her. In fact, he seemed to think that she should remember him.
It’s always the most important things that you forget first.
The others were more focused on the men in black who attacked them and the lack of clue. Raven had been so caught up in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even mentioned the markings on her hands yet. So she stood staring at the ceiling while they shakily washed to smoke off of their suits and discussing the attack.
Kaya, of course, was praised endlessly for her skills and was immediately told that she would always be going with them to other realities for security. Aaron commented that he needed lessons on self-defense and Kaya volunteered, with Emilia’s support. Emilia was pushing for answers as she had managed to fall behind and miss the entire fight. Cameron simply explained and murmured about the Company.
Raven stood in silence through it all, until the subject of the clue was brought up. Then she suddenly remembered where she was and spoke up.
“I have the clue.”
The silence that enveloped the room could have killed a shadow, had one dared to enter the bright room. Everyone stopped talking at once and just looked in unbelief at Raven.
“Sorry, I have the clue.”
“Yeah,” of course Cameron was the first to respond, “we got that. What we didn’t get, is you explanation for not telling us sooner.”
“Well, everything here is complicated. So uncomplicated it.”
Before she could even try to answer, they were all crowded around her, closely examining the markings on her hands. They stretched them out from her as they pushed, pulled, and stretched her hands while looking at them through magnifying glasses. They spent the rest of the day without speaking to her as they took pictures, drew sketches, copied letters, and took samples. She was lost, but it didn’t matter because she was at the mercy of a bunch of crazy adventurers/scientists.
There were three parts of the markings. These were: the opening, or the statement that this was the next clue, the exposition, seen in a drawing of a mirror with a few images visible, and the climax. The climax was what interested them the most, because it was a light that would occasionally appear through her skin and wipe out all of the markings until the next time it appeared. It was not extremely visible, as it was not very bright, but it did blot out the world as they saw it every time it shone. They could not figure out what could possibly be causing it, or what it was doing. It just kept appearing, disappearing, appearing, and disappearing again.
The exposition interested them, but also bored them. It was their understanding that the clues were supposed to be difficult, and this one was easy. Too easy. The mirror was one that they all immediately recognized. It was the swimming pool in the middle of the street. This one had been seen by all of them because it stretched nearly the length of the entire street and, for some reason, was clearer than any of the other mirrors.
Still, it was their only lead at that moment so, after resting up and packing some weapons, Raven, Kaya, and Cameron made their way through the looking glass. Aaron stayed behind to learn how to protect himself while Emilia stayed back to run some tests and try to figure out Raven’s new “flashlight”.
They had even less of an idea where to look than they had with the last clue. All they knew was that they were about to dive into swimming pool of uncertainty. Literally. So they waited until dark, took deep breaths, and dove through the mirror. They quickly found that it was fruitless to try and reorient themselves based on the orientation of the swimming pool before they went through as they simply ended up being oriented based on their original location. They floundered underwater as they tried to find the open air once more. Their timing ensured that there were no people around to see them magically appear in the swimming pool, but they were concerned about their return. As a result, they planned to make this trip the only one. If they did not find the clue right away, they would keep looking until they did or had no choice but to return.
So, as they exited the pool and shook the water off of themselves, they carefully began to scour the room for any signs or hints of a clue. They pounded on walls, scraped away gooey gum on the floors, dug through baskets of towels, and even un-bolted the lifeguard’s seat from the floor to examine every inch of it. They couldn’t find anything, but they weren’t ruling the swimming pool completely out of the range of possibility. Still, they couldn’t stay there for much longer without attracting unwanted attention, so they moved out. They nervously watched all the streets as the passed alleyways and storefronts. They weren’t just peeling their eyes until they bled for the sake of the clue; they were also keeping watch for the Company’s men. They were wary of another sneak attack and were determined never to be caught with their guards down again.
They didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, other than a few landmarks in the wrong places. Still, it was an alternate reality so a bit of change was reasonable to expect. Cameron classified it as a number 9 reality because it was one of the closest realities to their own. He would have classified it as a 10, but he said that there is no such thing as a perfect replica, so no reality could never be classified as a 10. It was sort of a ghost number that was thrown out there as a ground point, but never truly seen on the ground.
Because it was so close to their reality, they were very careful as they made their way around town not to run into themselves, which was possible if not likely. They watched their steps as they looked as close as possible at possible places to look for clues. They mental marked the locations, but didn’t examine them too closely because most were shops that were closed for the night. Instead, they found a hotel and settled into their rooms for the night. Cameron’s seemingly endless flow of cash helped them in this case.
In the morning, which was really only a few hours after they checked into their rooms, they woke themselves up, grabbed coffee, and went to work. Starting at the hotel and making their way back towards the swimming pool, they stopped in all the stores they had marked the night before and searched as thoroughly as possible for any signs of a clue. Still, nothing caught their eyes or proved at all fruitful for their search. So it was that they had nothing to show for their trip when they reached the pool, and they immediately turned around and went back through the town.
They got some odd looks for their outfits, but at least they had managed to successfully hide their weapons. Raven, however, did not notice any of the odd looks that were thrown her way. She was too focused on the itching. Trying not to show her discomfort, Raven sifted aimlessly through the stores and streets with her friends. She felt like her entire body was burning up with venom that coursed through her veins. The rubbing of the suit against her arms alleviated the itching momentarily, only to have it rise back with a fiery vengeance that surpassed the pain from before. She had no idea what was happening, but she didn’t want the others to know about it. Raven knew they would insist on going back if they knew.
So she went through the motions and pretended to look for clues, while the others searched in earnest. They made their way through every store on the street that day, but found nothing. As the stores began to close, they purchased a map of the area and went back to their hotel rooms. There they began to plan for the next day. Spreading the map out on a bed, Kaya and Cameron began to search it for likely locations of a clue while Raven lay down on the bed and tried not to touch her arms. The itching had become more of an annoyance, but it was still hard for her to concentrate.
There were three sections of the town in particular that Cameron and Kaya highlighted. The square was the most public and central place in the town, and the clues liked to hide in the open so it seemed likely to find it in one of the most obvious places in town. Ancient Alias was a section of town named for its history of thievery and such. And yet it was also known for its exquisite artifacts and pieces from other countries. The final place, the town hall, was neither an extremely public place, nor an extremely historic landmark. Kaya highlighted it because she suspected that one might find something of great value to the town inside its doors. Also, it was a place in which one was likely to find an artifact that could not be moved.
In the morning, they set out to the town square first. They knocked on every door, went in every store, and examined every inch of the area. Nothing in particular caught their interest, except for an inscription of the statue in the center of the square. The statue was of a man holding a compass and the inscription read “north leads here.” The inscription could have been a clue, so Cameron took a picture of it and they travelled to their next destination in case it was not the real clue.
Ancient Alias was exactly how it was describe. It was an odd mix of beauty and death. The gold vases, silver bowls, and porcelain elephants created a stark contrast with the old men sitting by the street with bones sticking through their clothes. Little boys ran past them, a little too close for comfort, and Cameron grinned as he showed them his empty wallet and whispered about the existence of a spare (insert sarcastic comment here). Doors were slammed shut as they walked by, but the smell of drugs still filled the air and mixed with the scent of death and human waste.
They weren’t overly eager to spend too much time examining this area, but they needed to know. Still, they didn’t search quite as thoroughly as they had before. They looked up and down the streets, looking at every artifact they could find and searching it for any sign of clues. They found nothing at first.
All this time, Raven’s itching had continuously gotten worse. Her skin burned and seemed to melt to her bones as she tried not to rub her arms and make it worse. And yet no amount of stillness could keep it from raging higher and higher like a fire until tingled from her arms up to her chin. Below her waist, she didn’t notice any itching. Still, she really didn’t notice much of anything but the itching she did feel. She didn’t even notice the artifacts she was picking up and putting down as they walked up and down the street.
Cameron and Kaya didn’t seem to notice anything wrong with Raven until she stood still for several minutes looking at the same spoon which seemed to be of little value or relevance. She herself was unaware even of where she was as she stared at the spoon and felt herself burst into flames that engulfed her body before suddenly flickering out and ending. She dropped the spoon and dropped herself as she fell into a faint.
Cameron caught her and picked her up. Kaya took that as her cue to direct them out of the AA and they wove their way through the streets, assuming Raven had simply been affected by the smell. They had been planning to go to the town hall that day, but even though Raven woke up quickly and felt fine they were afraid she would faint again and decided to take a break for the rest of the day. Instead, they sat at a McDonalds and talked about life. Strangely, the conversation covered everything but anything relating to alternate realities.
“So,” Cameron sipped a milkshake, “Kaya, do you go to school with Raven?”
Raven choked on her hamburger with laughter, but Kaya knew this question a bit too well and had developed quite the fun response.
“So, are you planning on going to college any time soon?”
“Got any plans for the future?”
“So, what do you want to do with your life?”
“Hm…” Kaya pretended to look like she was thinking hard, “Well, first I want to rob the pentagon, collect a huge payload, mock the president again, and then maybe break into your house and steal everything you own. Sounds like that’s quite a bit.”
Cameron grinned, obviously thinking Kaya was joking. “I’d like to see you try the last one. I have the best security ever invented. I should know- I invented it. Clever though.”
Kaya was not grinning, but Raven was trying really hard to hold back her giggles. “Nothing’s impossible, and nothing’s ever stopped me.”
“So, tell me, why so confident you could break into my home?”
“Which has better security- your house or the White House?”
“We’re probably pretty close for security, but maybe the White House by a fraction. I’m rarely at home, so I don’t need as much protection at the house as the President does.”
“I rest my case.” Kaya sat back in her seat, knowing she had won and argument only she and Raven knew was happening.
“I’m sorry?” Cameron was starting to look confused. He finally understood that he had missed something, he just wasn’t sure what.
“If the White House has better security than yours, then I can definitely break into it. In fact, you might even pay me to do it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“The President paid me to rob him, and I don’t do it without pay. Plus, you’ve got more cash than our glorious leader so I’ll want a bigger payload.”
Now Raven couldn’t hold back her laughter and Cameron couldn’t conceal his befuddlement. She took pity on him and explained.
“Kaya is a professional thief. She gets hired to break into people’s homes and banks and such to show them their faults in security and where they need to upgrade. She always gets paid a little too much, by her own request, and she always wins.”
“Ah, I think I see.” He obviously didn’t, but he refused to be laughed at any longer, so he switched topics. “Raven, what’s your favorite color?”
“It’s the color of an endless expanse called space. Thus, it is an endless color with endless possibilities, and only one outcome. It kind of reminds me of Christianity. We have thousands of temptations and opportunities to turn away from Christ, and yet we each will always return to one final conclusion- Christ or Satan.”
“Wow.” Cameron nodded with a sarcastic appreciation, “Way to make a simple question complex.”
“Hey!” Raven threw a french fry at him, “That was a well thought through and provocative answer to a simple question. That’s to be respected, not mocked!”
“As you wish, your highness.” Cameron fake bowed in her direction.
They all laughed and continued their conversation late into the night before finally returning to the hotel to get some sleep.