Well... here we are. The epilogue. We made it.
It's been a long five years. For me it's been eight years since I first came up with this idea. That's a third of my life almost. I don't regret that even if this is the only place it ever goes. I learned a lot writing and I'm proud of myself.
Thank you for reading. If you came in the beginning or are rushing to the end, thank you. I write for you guys.
I'm not sure what's going to happen next. I might start a new one to post online in 2020. I might focus on getting the novel I'm working on now published. Maybe I'll do both. I don't know. 2019 is going to be my year to decide. It's not over yet, though. I still have plenty of ideas that won't shut up.
Soundtrack for this last chapter was Good Riddens (Time of your life) by Green Day while writing, and One Last Time from Hamilton during editing. Give them a listen maybe to get how I was feeling.
So... time to wrap things up. Thank you again for coming along for the ride, but it's time to let it end. Later folks.
"And... well, that's where the story trails off. After this, it's impossible to tell what's original and what was added on later. Oral traditions are tricky like that."
Dust motes swirled in the quiet room as the guide's words died down. A room full of quiet high school children had been hanging on his every word for what felt like a lifetime. The clock on the wall knew different – only 15 minutes had passed.
The man in front of the small crowd smiled and leaned hard on his side. "Of course, it might not even be real. It could all just be a legend that we came up with to explain some oddities of nature and along the way, pulled local traditions to the larger region. But isn't it quite the story regardless?"
His shift in motion broke the spell on the room – quiet voices sprung to life as they digested the story. The shining sun reflected rocks and the pedestal, making it all seem real and fictional at the same time. This room in the museum had the ability to do that, like a magic all on its own. Or maybe it was just what was in there. The stones held their own life, even though the real magic was the story itself.
"Remember to thank the curator on the way out. Follow me, class. We have plenty more to discuss before it's time to leave."
A number of voices echoed thanks as they gradually emptied out of the small room, heading forward in time and space. Their guide was left alone to stare at the pedestal and the items that gleamed in the sunlight. It brought a smile to his face as he stood there, looking back at centuries of history that stood all around him.
"You know, it's an even better reproduction up close now that I get a good look at it."
The guide turned. He wasn't alone in the room – the young woman with the pink headphones had remained. At first she had just been looking at the glyphs on the wall, but now she had turned her attention to the pedestal.
A smile crossed his face as he nodded his head. "Well, of course they're reproductions. It's not like we can keep such priceless artifacts-"
She snorted and shook her head, almost jostling her headphones. "Says the guy with one under his shirt. You're about as subtle as a brick to the face, Falon."
Her footsteps echoed as she stepped up to evaluate the pedestal. Most would have guessed her about 19, maybe 20. The scar that cut through her eyebrow might have skewed it a bit, but that was the general range. They would have all been dead wrong, of course. After all, Mointz had been around for much longer.
Falon pouted in a playful matter as he watched. "Now, is that any way to treat your father?"
It evaporated into a smile as he evaluated his handiwork. "And honestly, I thought they were pretty good fakes. The museum thought so when we handed them over... what was it, thirty years ago?"
"Thirty? You're making me feel better, I thought it was fifty."
Though, for them twenty years either way didn't really matter much. Mointz reflected on that as she stretched out a soreness in her shoulders. The joints popped as she worked through it, making her sigh in relief and maybe a bit of exhaustion too. Whatever it was, she had been around for a very long time. How long, she wasn't sure. Science said time varied the older you got, and calendars kept changing. One society kept them one way, and another would come along an change it. She had really given up trying to keep track.
Besides, it wasn't like she aged. By her estimation of her aching joints, she had maybe aged a total of three or four years at best. Did that make her an immortal, or just someone who aged so slowly it was impossible to know she was doing it at all? Really it was all semantics at that point, and nothing more made her head ache. She let the matter drop, as she often did when it came to this. Thinking about it didn't help.
Though... Mointz flashed a sheepish grin as she turned to Falon. "Did I ever say I was sorry for accidentally making you kind of immortal?"
In response, he laughed. Falon's hand briefly went to his shirt, or rather to the slight bump in the fabric where the medallion underneath created a dent. All the years he had worn it created that bump in all his clothes. By now it was just part of him, as much as his wooden leg or the glimmer in his eyes that never really went away. He was a good sport about it, or as much as anyone could be. She was grateful for that.
"Oh, only about a half million times, but really who's counting?"
With that he shrugged and disturbed the coils of his hair held back with a strip of leather he had long since stopped counting the replacements. "Besides, how were you to know that giving it to me would do that?"
His smile turned a little sarcastic there. Falon reached over and nudged Mointz lightly in her side. They were turning on to an old joke that made her face heat up, an there was no way to avoid it. She deserved this one for sure.
"Come on, Falon, do we-"
"It's not like you set up a stable time loop that erased a lifetime of information."
Was it hot in there, or was it just her? Yep, her face was heating up at what by now had become an ancient barb that once, maybe, had held power. Now it was as old as she was. And yet at the same time she wasn't very old at all. Call her a true millennial and settle the difference.
Still, she looked away as the warmth leaked off her cheeks, one still bearing a faded blue mark that stood out against warm brown skin. "Better make that a half million and one then."
"I always do."
That made Mointz chuckle in a weird way as she walked away from Falon and the – very much a good reproduction, the best of maybe five tries that drove historians mad – pedestal that housed the fake items.
"Sorry." A half million and two. "But hey, I get half credit for not knowing that powering up the items gave their real purpose. Who would have known that they were like the world's worst GPS for space and time?"
"Oh, I don't know... you?"
Falon smiled as she groaned and resisted the urge to smack her hand to her forehead. Mointz had walked straight into that one for sure. Still, even she had to chuckle a little as she looked over the railing, past the entry way at a window over the large doors. Outside, it was a sunny day in a city she knew in her bones. A modern city that beat over land with an ancient heart, a steady thrum that had been taken over time and time again.
"Yeah, I guess I deserved that one." She looked back at him, a half smile playing across her features. "Though, we're pretty good at trial and error."
Indeed, half of what they knew about the items – the real ones, not the fakes – had come from centuries of basically screwing around with them as the modern age was wont to put it. Now they had a pretty decent handle, but it had come through blood, sweat, and plenty of near death experiences that now she could laugh about. Mostly.
Her adopted father looked her over, stopping at her waist. "And where is dear old Dull One, as my esteemed colleagues translate it?"
Mointz ignored the barb in favor of looked down at her bare hip. The sword wasn't there, but of course it wasn't. Now it was just weird to walk around with a weapon strapped to you. Even Spinner was kept at home now, safe from prying eyes. She kept the bracelet, though. Old habits died harder than she did.
"It's resting after somebody nearly got me killed by pointing me into a doomed timeline."
She shot Falon a blank look, the smile still on her face. Now it was his turn to look away as Mointz felt the heat leak off his cheeks. It was fun to tease him, even if she wasn't mad about it anymore .Mostly she was just tired.
He recovered eventually. "That... was partially my fault, yes. Though I'd like to remind you, I only find the particular spot in the timeline. Corabe and the orb find the place. You're the one who takes it and jumps through."
That was basically what they had worked out. The restored items functioned more as a set of coordinates that could be locked down in a particular timeline. Falon was the one to find a potential hot spot, then turned it over to the mage to figure a safe location. Once they were set, out came the sword. Though it couldn't slash through flesh, it had soaked up enough of the loops to cut through them just fine.
So, technically that last one was her bad too. But this was the hill she had chosen to... well, not die on. But she would certainly complain a little.
By now, it was clockwork. Mointz had lost count of dead timelines she had interrupted, searching for a hint that would take them to... well, they still weren't sure. Was it to where they had first messed up? A place past that to settle things? Even that was a matter of debate – they had eventually settled on a source of something that even their long forgotten tongue had never had words for. Just thinking of it brought up how far they had come just to get to that vague point. Centuries of work, millennia of effort, and some days it still felt like they were barely past step one. At times, all that history, that space and time, crushed down on her worse than gravity ever could. But she didn't fall, not for long. Up she went again, to try another universe.
Maybe the next one would be the last.
Mointz would have ruminated on that - a habit of her age – but she was distracted by the vibrations in her pocket. Falon shot her a blank look and pointed to a sign on the wall that reminded patrons to turn their phones off. She rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly as she dug it out, half expecting to see a familiar number. Instead...
Bat-pider has sent a new riddle. Will you rise to the occasion?
"Oh come on, you solved that already?" This time she really did slap her hand to her forehead. "It took me a week to come up with that one."
Why had she ever taught that damn bat to code an app?
Falon looked over her shoulder, chuckling. "It's good to at least have some small part of the world left. You know you love it."
She did. Mointz still frowned as she looked around at the museum. Everything in the city, even its oldest building, was far too new for her tastes. Everything was bright and electric and reminded her just how far removed from time she was. Those she had loved and cared about were long side dust, their ashes mingling with centuries of descendants that had come and gone never knowing. Even her village was long gone, no longer even a map dot. But it was still there, deep down.
Literally, it was deep down. The tree stump that had once marked the center of the village was where the museum now stood. It was no surprise she was as fond of the place as she was. Something about calling her home – who knew. She wasn't the theorist. That was Corabe's job.
Speaking of, though. Just as she was about to admit defeat, Mointz got another notification. This time, it was from the mage. It was a brief message, maybe only a few lines on a brightly lit screen. It reflected off a simple band of metal that wrapped around one of her fingers as she read the message, eyes darting quickly.
Whoever said old dogs couldn't learn new tricks had never watched Mointz text.
"She has another lead." A pause, with another message. "Sword's charged too. We're setting up at 8 tonight."
Falon nodded, hand going once again to the medallion under his shirt. "I'll be there once my shift wraps up."
Mointz's head was already buzzing with possibilities and plans as she put her phone back in her pocket and started to head for the door. However, her father stopped her. As always, his eyes gave him away – there was concern there, even after millennia. Maybe old dogs didn't learn new tricks after all.
"Be safe out there. I still don't get left hand traffic."
That got a snort of laughter from Mointz as she nodded and gave a brief wave. "Yeah, me neither."
With that she was gone, walking forward in time through the museum exhibits. Once, these had been more than preserved artifacts behind glass. They had been used by people who had names in tongues long silenced, brushed aside by space and time. She could remember seeing them rise and fall, much like any trend did. But could you call an era a trend? She was still arguing over that.
There was a lot she was still arguing over to herself. After all, even she knew that what remained was only part of history. Even Mointz didn't know the entire truth in some places. What people got out of it, herself included, was what they made of the bits and pieces. Sometimes it wasn't true, but... sometimes it was close enough.
And sometimes some asshole translated a perfectly good name meaning like 'pain in the ass' into Blister. What damn idiot had thought of that?
Mointz left her thoughts behind to step outside. The bright sun made her wince briefly and shield her sensitive eyes with her hand. Maybe it was reminding her it was still there, and would be there long after even she was gone – like the universe telling her not to get too cocky. She appreciate the reminder. Sometimes it was easy to forget.
She merged into the bustling noonday crowd, slipping her headphones over her ears to block out most of the noise. In the silence, she could feel the emptiness that was always there, had been since Voice had left. She still hadn't found them, not through the countless timelines she had traced. Yet she refused to give up. Perhaps one day, that silence would be filled again. Or if not, there would at least be closure. That was something she treasured, even after everything else.
Even through the busy crowd, she noticed the nearby poster in a bookstore window. It drew her over, though she didn't know why. Mointz wasn't exactly a fan of sci-fi; it was a little after her time. But there was something about the poster that called to her. Maybe it was the girl standing there, blue-skinned and holding a pendant with a similarly colored gem. It was marketing, she knew – but the damn thing seemed to look right through her in a way that gave her pause.
"Heh. I wonder if we could jump through those kinds of universes."
Mointz chuckled and left the shop behind, shaking her head at her own foolishness. Old age was making her sentimental and a little silly. At the same time, she treasured that too. After all, she deserved a little silliness. Her life was weird – the absurd was familiar. Maybe she would pick the book up later, just for a laugh.
Still, from somewhere deep beyond the veil of time, a long dead voice echoed. Four colors, four powers – pink, blue, red, and green. She was pink, and Voice had definitely been blue. Maybe it was a hint of where to go next. Or maybe it had just been bullshit as a cycle looped back on itself. But hell, why not?
Maybe it was best that it was with this thought in mind that Mointz disappeared into the crowd, heading for home and the hope of a successful jump. The last to fade from view was the bright pink of her headphones, like the flash of bright feathers on a small bird's underside. And then she was gone, off to another jump and the chance to find what she looked after. Even if she missed, it would be another story she could tell Voice one day when she found them.
No doubt it would be one hell of a story once it was finished. But it wasn't finished; she was still writing it with every step she took. So on the pages would turn, until maybe one day the chapters met up like she hoped. But that was a story for another day.