My first short fiction piece since Recover the Love Song, so about 7 months. I wrote this while procrastinating on the short story that I had to turn in for my creative writing class. It’s fantasy, so I’m not turning it in. This is in part a tribute to masterpiece Simoun and in part an objection to video games that use stylized clocks as graphical elements in time-flavored spells. Note: an expanded version of this is hitting my short fiction workshop soon.
Spellsight of the Time Mage
The tremors were growing stronger by the day and C was the only one who noticed.
At first it was little things. He’d notice that his stew had disappeared from the kitchen, that he felt full, though he had no recollection of eating, and though it was definitely not dinnertime yet. He kept a meticulous schedule. It helped him track the disturbances.
It was when C’s dead cat meowed one morning that he knew he was on a collision course with the end of days. The end of days. Not an armageddon, not a confluent bedlam of fire and brimstone and everything else unholy. Just the end of days. It was his own private term for the phenomenon. It made sense to him. He heard whispers from beyond graves, both graves present and graves future. The cemetery down the road flickered between lush meadow and crumbled mausoleums thrice daily. C stopped taking walks.
He lost the habit of opening his blinds in the morning. His schedule remained meticulous but became spare. He cut more out of his routine. He didn’t enjoy raising a goblet to his lips only to find that the brew was still in the bottle. He minimized his interactions with objects, avoided chairs after the first one tried to tuck itself back under his desk before he’d risen.
Sure, they had warned him that it would be a surreal journey, even for a mage.
But as the end of days approached, C grew resentful.
Maybe it was because as the tremors intensified he could see things he liked less than pouring a drink twice or never getting to taste it. His door opened itself one afternoon and he looked out across vast forests where the town should have been. Leaves rustled and monkeys cried and he shuddered. When the tremors first began he’d shelved his mirrors, not wanting to see himself filthy right after a bath, not wanting to see his beard two days longer than it should have been. But the morning his cat meowed, a morbid fascination gripped him and he unwrapped a small pocket mirror. A skeleton looked back at him, and when he blinked he saw himself at twelve, thick blond hair and bright green eyes, ruddy face and invincible smile. He snapped the mirror shut and threw it through the wall of his study, which was at the time conveniently not yet built.
That night, he blindfolded himself.
Two seconds passed between when C finished knotting the black cloth behind his head and when his vision returned. He understood immediately that his willpower was lacking. Within minutes he would remove the blindfold. So he did.
“So what’s it like seeing it coming?” asked Red one day as they sipped tea on the porch.
C didn’t answer.
“Not… not bad,” said C. “Just.” He shuddered.
“When we were kids, the Council said you’d get a real trip out of it. I remember being jealous. You were so important. Now we’re the Council and jealousy seems so trivial.”
As Red spoke, his teeth rotted and fell out. C shook his head and closed his eyes, but his eyelids were just another blindfold and he couldn’t look away for long.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is,” he said.
“It only matters if we care,” shrugged Red. “But I still care. Just for different reasons. You haven’t been eating enough. It’s clearly affecting you. Doing at least two per day?”
“I didn’t mean the two.”
“What’s a day, Red?” C watched his saucer shatter. “Time isn’t like fire. It’s not a thing. It’s not a primal force. You’re a fire mage. You weave fire, you see fire. Undy weaves water, she sees water. But I weave time—I don’t see anything. There aren’t a million clocks spinning in my spellsight. There’s no visual manifestation of seconds, or minutes. What’s a day, Red? What the fuck is a day?”
“You’re the time guy.”
“Yeah, I’m the time guy and all I see is chaos, Red. The old Council said I’m supposed to turn the clocks back, that I’m supposed to bring us back to Origin. Tell me, Red, when was Origin? How many years? How many days is that? And what, Red, what the fuck is a day.”
C, trembling, threw his saucer against the ground. It splintered into tiny pieces.
“Why’d you do that?” asked Red, reaching down to scoop up the fragments. “A perfectly fine piece of porcelain…”
“It was already broken,” said C.
“So this has made you a fatalist.”
“No,” he said. “It hasn’t made me anything.”
A few flickers of a future conversation floated into C’s sight. He and Red were sitting in his study, and Red was going over the etymology for various time units. A brief analysis explained the scene: Red would ask shortly to return the next day, and despite C’s protests—what is a day—the answer would ultimately be alright.
“See you tomorrow,” said C, standing and making for the front door.
As the fire mage nodded dumbly it occurred to C that Red hadn’t yet asked to come back. C closed the door, suddenly unsure of whether his old friend would have asked at all. Then the door was open, and Red was approaching his house, sauntering up the country road with his hat in his hand.
C looked down the gentle slope at his friend. He didn’t know if it was today or tomorrow. He slowly eased himself into a sitting position as the tears began to fall.
Despite his newfound distrust of days, C maintained a rigorous schedule. It was down to two items—one meal at midday, followed by a bath—but he stuck to it unfailingly.
His dedication didn’t ease the tremors. Time grew wobblier by the day. His cat curled up with him at night, warming the crook of his arm in half-hour bursts of existence. Red knocked at his door; dozens of other mages begged to be let in. They wanted to talk to him, to go over the final plans for the Reversal. C wanted none of it.
“Are you ready?” they would ask. “Do you need any help?”
“It’s inevitable,” he replied to their queries. “The Reversal has never failed to happen before, has it.”
Once Red admonished C for answering questions with questions. C noted that he hadn’t asked a question. At first Red laughed and clapped C on the back.
“Why do you use a question structure to make statements about the Reversal?”
“That’s the only topic you ever want to talk about, isn’t it.”
C half-heartedly inflected a question about the weather. Extratemporal lightning was striking trees in the nearby forest, and Red’s carefully-chosen words about sunshine were comforting. They just didn’t deserve a real question. C already knew them. It wasn’t only the Reversal that didn’t interest him enough to provoke inquiry. The future and past were laying themselves out for him. He had all the answers, so why would he ask genuine questions.
But Red was gone and the sun and moon shared a dark sky over the sleeping forest. C leaned back in his bed and his cat purred happily.
Mathematics scrolls covered C’s walls. Charts and graphs illustrating with scientific precision the specifics of time travel carpeted his floors, and the space under the desk in his study was occupied by stacks of books on tangential topics. His colleagues in the Council continued to provide him with the results of their research, calculations and theories which might aid him in orchestrating the Reversal.
“What’s the problem if it doesn’t work out,” he said when the end of days seemed just around the corner.
“We know the magic works,” said Red, “otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.”
“So why fret,” said C.
And that was that. C didn’t bother removing the scrolls, charts, graphs, or books. More than half the time, they were either not yet there or already gone. Ultimately, he knew, they wouldn’t matter. The cycle had been repeated at least a dozen times, and, along with it, two thousand years of human history. C would reset the world to Origin and mankind would proceed blindly down the road toward the next Reversal.
Artifacts of ancient cultures, pottery fragments and stone tablets, depicted an iconography of clocks. In an age that knew no timepiece more precise than a sundial, twelve hours and three pointing hands were already common. A few of these ancient representations of clocks resided in C’s study. They of all objects flickered the least as time thrashed about in its death throes. The end of days grew nearer. It reared its extratemporal head. The pottery fragments and stone tablets mostly remained constant. C understood that the relics must date back to around the Origin, and that was the only proof he needed to believe that the Reversal had occurred before.
Lethargy gripped C as his biological clock ground to a near halt. The tremors had ceased. The world was still. He slipped one of the pottery shards and a pocket watch into his belt pouch. Two scenes flashed before him—
He saw himself introducing machinery to a primitive civilization, the pocket watch becoming both a learning tool and an object of worship amongst his pupils.
And then he saw himself here again two thousand years later, standing in this study, wondering how the Council had discovered him in the first place, why he was special, why he was the time mage.
C closed his eyes.
Every story he’d ever heard as a child that mythified time ran through his head, along with every word he’d ever heard anyone speak in the past, present, or future. Or maybe that’s just what he told himself to make sense of the gibberish that suddenly inundated his consciousness. Pure chaos swept through his hut and reminded everything of its primordial forms. He could feel the magic of time flowing in and around him. It coursed in his veins, it throbbed in his temples, it echoed in his ears, it pricked his palms and elbows. The weaving began on its own. With eyes closed he saw it all, though he had no way of explaining it to himself in language.
C was sure of two things as his magic triggered the Reversal and the world sped backward toward the Origin.
One was that time had nothing to do with quantities.
The other was that the Reversal was not fated. Somewhere along the line it wouldn’t happen. A lush forest filled to the brim with raucous monkeys lurked on the other side of the two-thousandth year, waiting for humanity to miss the reset button and destroy itself.