Another gorgeous day had completely failed to dawn spectacularly on the land. As they usually were, the vibrant reds and lovely pinks of sunrise were sulking behind the not-so-lovely sullen grey fog that rolled in from the sea most mornings. A highly unusual strain of poetically minded and high-flying seagull might have remarked on the delicate fingers of dawn creeping across the land like a blooming rose or some such, but nobody else. And since seagulls rarely harbour poetic inclinations, the riot of colours went unnoticed.

Now, like an actress emerging from her dressing room several hours after the show has finished and the other actors have gone home, a few radiant beams burst dramatically through the clouds. Finding no breathless public anxiously awaiting their emergence, other than Evyn and Rehamonn, the sunbeams gloomily retreated behind the murk to make some nasty calls to their agent.

"Well, that was anticlimactic," remarked Evyn. Rehamonn said nothing. He cleared his throat.

"Trudged all the way up here to watch the sun rise and nothing happens."

Reha grunted moodily. Even sighed and got to the point.

"Any change this morning?" Finally, Rehamonn shook her head and looked at him.

"She was all cold and haughty at breakfast. I had hoped she would get over sulking if she had time to sleep on it, but…" she shrugged.

"Sheesh, talk about bipolar. Someone must've given this girl a brain transplant while we weren't looking."

"Ah, well, mood swings. You know how it is," Rehamonn said knowingly, tapping the side of her nose. Evyn looked blank.

"Er… do I?" he inquired timidly after a moment's contemplation.

"Ah, no, I guess you don't. Never mind, then," she said dismissively, leaving Evyn to ponder.

"Anyway, whatever that meant, I'm not sure we can just blame this on 'mood swings' and shrug it off," Evyn remarked.

"How do you mean?"

"I mean that everyone's got a point where his or her patience runs out. I think Bener reached hers last night."

"But… Bener doesn't lose her temper!" Rehamonn said helplessly, in the face of all evidence.

"Everyone has a breaking point," the man repeated insistently. "It's just taken us twenty years working under the assumption she didn't have one to find out she did."

"There you go again, insisting it's my fault!"

"Did I say that?"

"Well, when you said us, I could tell you really meant me."

"No comment."

"Your expression says otherwise. Evyn, you don't think she'll do something drastic, do you?" Reha asked, exhibiting her usual skill for changing subjects so fast Evyn swore he could hear gears clanking somewhere.

"If you mean she might be suicidal, no. Bener is just not that kind of person," Evyn responded, rallying to the situation and hoping she wasn't going to make another subject change before he could find his bearings. Otherwise, he might find himself saying something completely irrelevant.

"Ego SUM sapientor quam vacca!"

Reha blinked at Evyn. He blinked back.

"Um… what did you say?" she asked, nonplussed.

"I didn't say anything."

"Yes you did. Something about your ego."

"What, was that me? I thought it was you on one of your random tangents."

"No, I'm fairly certain I saw your mouth move."

Evyn shook his head and banged on his ear a couple times in the manner of one evicting an insect from a shoe. "Sorry. It's these thrice-curst cross-dimensional inspirations."

"Whazzama?"

"They're particles of random inspiration that travel through the multiverse. When one hits you, you have an idea." Evyn had always been highly susceptible to these particles, due to his enchanted gauntlet. The sorceress had made it for him when he had lost his left hand in an accident; it was controlled by his thoughts, so it was made of highly magic-conductive metal and linked directly to his brain. Unfortunately, the conduit was two-way, meaning anything of a supernatural nature passing through the vicinity tended to gravitate towards the magical sink made by the gauntlet and delivered a sucker-punch to his subconscious mind. It was often privately voiced that this didn't do anything to help the young lord's already shaky sanity.

Rehamonn, staring at the gauntlet, suddenly sat forward, mouth opening and closing and eyes shining. She appeared to have been struck by an inspiration herself.

"Gah! We're both idiots!"
"Hey, now, I'm fine with you coming to the realization but leave me out of this, all right?"

"The sorceress! The sorceress!" Reha leaped up and began dancing around gleefully, leaving Evyn quite bewildered. "Why didn't we think of asking her before?"

"Um… we did…" Evyn looked at her guiltily. The woman stopped in a shower of sand and whirled around. Evyn put up a hand weakly to shield himself from her dirty look.

"I'm sorry, but that was one of the first suggestions Bener and I put forward. We assumed you'd have thought of it too, so we didn't bring it up when you arrived."

"So why didn't you ask her anyway?" Bener screeched, clenching her fists. Evyn recognized the signs of an oncoming spaz attack and backed away discreetly.

"Well, picture the conversation. 'Oh, hello and good morning, Sorceress Hithunuwe! Can't stay for long, I'm afraid, just stopped by to tell you that we aren't exactly the same people you've known for your entire life. Where are they? Well, as best as we can figure out, we accidentally sent them to an alternate reality that we also just accidentally destroyed, along with many others. Don't suppose you could figure out a way to send us back, could you? No? Oh well, just a thought, never mind, good morning!'"

Rehamonn thought for a moment, pulling on her earring and biting her lip, then snapped her fingers.

"So, we don't tell her what actually happened!"

"Uh-huh. And how, pray, do you propose to get her to solve the problem, if she doesn't know what happened?"

Reha waved a hand impatiently. "We'll pose it to her as a rhetorical situation; we won't mention any of the people or places, just the essential details. You know she loves to work on problems like that. She eats up those logic puzzles we bring her and she spends most of her days trying to pick up riddles and problems from other worlds with that crystal ball of hers." Rehamonn grinned mischievously. "She'll be so wrapped up in the challenge, she won't even bother to question how we thought it up."

Evyn stared at her in apparent awe. "That's actually pretty smart."

"What? You sound surprised."

The sorceress listened intently all the way through the explanation of the "hypothetical situation." Then she shook her head.

"It's an interesting idea, but it would never happen. There are safeguards – guardians, rather – set on the flow of time to make sure nothing goes backwards, people or magic. That's why time-travel to the past never works."

Reha and Evyn looked at each other.

"Erm… tell us more about these guardians," Rehamonn requested.

"Well, there's not much known about them. There seems to be at least one for every ten-year stretch of the time tree. They don't exist as such, but they can be summoned into different timelines, though God only knows why you'd want to, and given a form, which depends on the manner of the summoning. They're immortal, too; you can destroy their forms, but that will just send them back out of the time flow, not kill them."

"Are they malignant to humans?"

"Oh, extremely. I remember one student in my class when I was just a student. He attempted to go back in time with a forbidden spell he had found. A few minutes later, his corpse was sent back – in pieces." She shuddered with recollection. "They see humans as clutter, messing up the clean and pure flow of time, making choices that fracture the timeline unnecessarily."

Evyn and Reha looked at each other. "All right, let's run with that," Reha said, rising to the occasion. "Let's say that, instead of a demon, it was one of these guardian things, summoned in such a way as to give it a demonic appearance; say, with the demon candle spell. If it was too busy trying to destroy its summoner, it would not be able to stop a large amount of magic traveling back to the beginning of its precinct."

The sorceress snapped her fingers. "Yes! That would be it, of course! A guardian would take any opportunity to kill a human. If a rift opened to let it into the flow of time, it certainly wouldn't think twice about abandoning its post. So we would need to know the nature of the rift and…"

They left her excitedly babbling to herself and scribbling down notes like it was going out of style.

"Well, that's put my mind at ease," Rehamonn commented as they hiked down the mountain. "Tellehni Hithunuwe has never failed to solve a problem. She obsesses until she finds the solution. And she never even asks how we thought up the situation!"

Their cheerfulness lasted all the way down the mountain until they met Karus, who hailed them with a grin, and Bener, who clung to his hand and hung back silently, avoiding their eyes.

"Ye two missed th' announcement! We hunted all over fer ye, but in th' end it couldn' wait." He drew his flushed and starry-eyed lady closer. "An' right happy news 'tis – don' mind sayin' it again, sure."

"What news?" Reha and Evyn asked together, trying to decipher Karus' confusing mode of speech, which was not so much an accent as just an inherent laziness and unwillingness to waste unnecessary consonants. Karus opened his mouth to answer, but Bener blurted it out first.

"We're getting married."

Shocked, Reha and Evyn turned to Karus for confirmation. His grin widened and he nodded vigorously.

"Ay, wonderful, innit?" he said, misinterpreting their stunned-lemur expressions. "We bin talkin' abou' it fer months, now. Wanted ye to be firs' t' hear, but turns out yer last. Sorry."

"Karus, shouldn't we be getting back now?" Bener cut in.

"Ah, sure, luv. So much to do!" Laughing, he whirled her around and planted a kiss on her cheek, then began leaping down the slope laughing, with Bener in tow and Evyn and Rehamonn murmuring their confused congratulations. When they were gone, Evyn turned to Reha.

"Are we still not worrying?" he asked.

"No, Evyn, we are not still not worrying. We are now worrying very much."

"Oh." He considered this. "Worry as in a vague kind of concern, or worry as it the-sky-is-falling-everybody-run-for-it?"

"The latter."

"Crud."


Phew. That's over with. Er... a thousand apologies for the long delay; I lost the rough copy, then there was more delay while I edited it. And I apologize again for the fact that chapter five will be long in coming as well, as I have only a vague idea of what I'm doing. While I wait for a brilliant flash of inspiration, expect some new updates on Treeworld, some one-shots, maybe even a new story. Thanks for your patience!