The Realm of Moments Passed
A short story by Theelix
The Value of Memory
The people who surrounded me told me it was going to rain again. I supposed it must have rained a lot in this land that I apparently grew up in.
The woman who sat to my left said her name was Eliza. I was told she was my wife; however, each time I looked at her, all I saw before me was a stranger. Beautiful though she was, I couldn't help but feel dissatisfied that she is the one I chose to marry. A few days prior, she showed me portraits of me and my family. I felt guilty as I watched her hold back her tears when I dispassionately looked at them as if they were casual pieces of artwork. The guilt truly set in when I walked right past a little girl that was supposed to be my daughter when she stood at the door to greet me. I thought she must have been another servant.
In the very few days that I can remember clearly, we wore lavish clothing and spent our leisure time in exquisite silks. We would stroll through a garden filled with foreign fauna. I must have been a fairly wealthy man to afford such things. My name and seal were clearly presented on the deed to the manor we slept in, but it did not feel like my home. Everywhere I went, I felt lost. Nothing felt familiar. Nothing felt truly safe. I was forced to trust that what people told me about myself was true, but I had no way of verifying anything that I heard. A constant state of paranoia flooded my every thought. I was certain those feelings continued for too much longer, I would go mad.
Our carriage came to a stop at the top of a hill deep in the woods.
“Where are we?” I asked Eliza.
She hesitatingly placed her hand on my knee causing me to reflexively flinch. The flinch frightened her and I could see she was visibly hurt by my response.
“We are south of Riverhill deep within the woods," she said as her voice slightly cracked. "This is where we will find the seer the alchemist told us about."
“The one who will cure my mind?” I asked.
The carriage driver tied down the horses and opened the carriage door. I couldn't help but notice how strong he was as he helped my wife down from the high mounted door.
“I apologize for the mud, my lady," he said. "I tried to find dry ground, but the spring rains have made that impossible."
“It's alright, Allister." Eliza said kindly. "I’ll manage.”
Up along this flat stone path was a dark hut made of mud bricks covered with a tall thatch roof. A strange blue smoke bellowed from the peak of the roof and trickled from the windows like a fog. Emerging from the tarped entrance was an old she-orc leaning on a cane.
The she-orc shuffled down the stone path carefully watching her steps to avoid losing her balance between each stone.
“Good afternoon, Sir Henry.” Her voice was old and rough. “My name is Katya Nebavakich. I’ve been expecting you." I tried to ask her how she knew my name, but she interrupted. "And before you ask, no. We have never been acquainted.”
“How do you know my name if you do not know me?” I asked.
“I know many things, my lord. It is my gift and curse to know things,” she said as we finally stand face to face on the stone path. “Come inside. I’ve already prepared the ritual.” Though she possessed a kyphotic hunch back, she still stood as tall as me. Orcs are truly a large species. I wondered if I knew any others.
Both Eliza and Allister followed close as the she-orc lead us up the path into her hut. A horrifically strong odor penetrated my nostrils. The closer we got, the stronger the stench became. She pulled back the curtain that acted as her front door letting out a large waft of smell straight into my face.
My left eye was beginning to burn with dryness as it had been as long as I could remember which wasn’t very long at all. This was a sign that I would soon be visited by another dreadful migraine. As I begin to rub my eye with my gloved hand, Allister pulled a handkerchief from his belt and whetted it with his water skin. He cupped my head in his hand and dabbed my eye gently. Surprisingly, I did not flinch in the slightest. A cold relief averted the burning, but I knew a migraine was soon to come either way.
The inside of the hut was about what I imagined it would be. In the center was a large cauldron boiling some kind of blue liquid. That must've been where the blue smoke was coming from. There were 3 skinned woodland creatures hanging from the roof above it; no doubt the source of the dreadful smell. On the right, a large ritualistic circle was drawn on the floor with incense burning at each of its vertices. On the left was a table with a crystal ball sitting on top. Katya motioned for us to have a seat around it. Allister did so without hesitation, but Eliza struggled as she tried in vain to find a clean place to sit. Katya placed herself at one end with her cane at her side.
“I know why you have come.” Katya’s gaze never left me. “The alchemist told you I may be able to restore Henry’s memory.”
“That’s right, Ms. Nebavakich,” Eliza mutters. “How did you…”
“I told you, child. I know many things," she interrupted again.
“The alchemist said he pieced Henry’s brain together perfectly after the duel and that he should make a full recovery with the occasional migraine. However, he had no way of restoring the memory Henry lost, and told us our only hope was you," Eliza said.
“The damage done goes far deeper than any dagger could pierce, and from the looks of it, even my conventional methods would not be enough to help your dear husband," Katya said.
Allister leaned over the table and took hold of Katya’s hands. “Please, Ms. Nebavakich, I’m begging you. Is there nothing that can be done to help my lord regain his memory?” He sure was a passionate servant. I could see why we kept him close.
“I can help Henry to help himself," Katya stated ominously. "Henry’s memory loss was not only caused by his physical injury, but also by damage to his very soul. It can be healed, but Henry must be willing to venture into dangerous territory.”
“I will go in his stead," Allister passionately exclaimed. "Tell me where I must go!”
“I’m afraid this venture must be Henry’s and Henry’s alone," Katya said shaking her head.
Allister retractted with a confused expression.
“Allow me to explain.” She leaned over the table and put her hands on her crystal ball. As we all gazed deep into its mirrored center, images began to appear within.
“I intend to send Henry to a dimension known as the Realm of Moments Passed. It is a place where every single second that has passed goes to die. Destiny is created in the Halls of Time in the form of infinitely many potential futures that have yet to happen. As these infinite rivers of time flow through our material world from their origin, only one river exits becoming what we understand as history. These past moments manifest themselves as a series of universes that exist merely as a shadow that follows the present universe as it continues along its destiny.”
I could barely believe what that woman was saying. At this point did it even matter if she is lying?
“These shadow universes look exactly like ours did in a past moment in time. Even living beings cast a shadow of their own called umbramorphs. These shadow beings feed off the experiences of the soul they are attached to and perfectly reenact the events that transpired in that specific moment. They see themselves and the world around them as the present and have no idea that they truly live in the past.”
I looked towards my shadow as it was cast upon the wall by the cauldron’s fire light. I moved my hand and watched as the shadow mimiced my movements. Its almost overwhelming to imagine our entire universe casting a shadow of its own.
“Using my gift, I can send Henry’s soul on a journey through these shadow universes. By witnessing the events of your upbringing first hand, the damage done to your soul will mend and your memories will quickly return to you.”
Judging by her somber tone, I could tell it wouldn't be as simple as it sounded.
“Will I be in any danger?” I asked
Katya closed her eyes and took a breath. “I will not lie to you, my lord. This ritual is not without its risks, for the Realm of Moments Passed is not only inhabited by umbramorphs." She looked behind herself as if something was there listening, but there was nothing there. She turned back with wide eyes and a faster breath. "As I said before, this realm is where past moments go to die. Older moments are devoured by god-like beings known as time-eaters.”
Eliza leaned forward. “That must be a metaphor right?”
Katya shook her head. “Time-eaters are true to their name. They literally devour everything in their path until there is nothing that remains of that moment in history. They take no prisoners. They show no mercy. They exist outside the bounds of time and can pursue you anywhere within the realm. You must avoid them at all costs.”
“How am I to avoid a god-like being?” I asked.
“Most time-eaters prefer the taste of older moments in history. Most of them will flock to the oldest moments they can find and devour that universe entirely before moving up the time-line. The further back into your past you go. The more time-eaters you risk running into. I would suggest you do not wander farther than 10 years in the past.”
I nodded. “Understood. How do we begin?”
Eliza grabbed hold of my arm causing me to flinch once more. “Wait, my love, perhaps we should reconsider. This sounds far too dangerous.”
“I would rather be eaten alive than continue living a life that does not feel like my own with people I feel no emotional connection with.” I turned my gaze to the she-orc. “Ms. Katya I will do whatever it takes.”
The seer smiled. “I knew that’s what you would say. The ritual is already prepared. First thing you need to do is lie in the center of the circle I’ve drawn for you there.”
Eliza yanked me into her embrace and squeezed me tight. “I cannot stop you if you truly wish to do this. Please return to us. You have a family waiting for you at home…” She held me sobbing into my coat. I felt nothing but annoyed that my coat was being stained by her make-up and guilty for being annoyed.
Before I could head to the ground, Allister embraced me himself, but unlike Eliza, I surprisingly found myself embracing him back.
“Be careful, my lord…” he whispered in my ear.
I struggled to find the words I wished to say and said only the first thing that came to mind. “I will, Allister. I have no intention of dying here today.” I patted him on the back and exited his embrace. I removed my coat and laid myself on the ground in the center of the circle.
Katya poured a bowl of the blue concoction she was brewing in the center of the room and blew on it to cool. “Drink this, Sir Henry. The whole thing.”
I did as she said. The concoction was revolting. I could feel small chunks of under-cooked meat slither down my throat as I struggled to keep it down. I dared not spit it out for I did not wish for that liquid torment to stain my palate any longer than it needed to. I felt like letting out a massive exhale in relief, but nothing was coming out. I saw the back of my own head for a brief moment before my vision grew blurry. A lingering sense of de ja vu flowed over me and did not seem to leave.
I felt paralyzed on the floor as my vision blackened. Katya stood over me as she recited some form of prayer in a Borivajian dialect. After she finished, she leaned over my body and spoke, “I must warn you, my lord. You will not experience time the same way ever again. You will always feel like a spectator of your own life even when you return to the present.” I could already see what she meant. I felt like I was floating behind myself with not real control of where I was going. I could only helplessly ride along as my soul drove me forward. I could not respond.
“Remember this. From your perspective, the events you are about to see have already happened, but from the perspectives of the umbramorphs that inhabit that shadow universe, they are living in the present. They have no way of knowing that they are living in a past moment doomed to be devoured by the time-eaters. Do not interfere with their dealings and they won’t even know you are there. Any disruptions to their paths will send ripples throughout the realm and draw the time-eaters.”
Katya caressed my forehead as my vision faded to black. I could hear only her voice whispering in my ear. “I will send you to the moment that led to your near demise first. Your memories will begin to return to you from there as you observe allowing you to navigate your past as you see fit. You will figure out how to do so quickly.”
I could hear Eliza try to say something to me, but her voice muffled more and more. The terror of what I was about to go through hit me all at once as I prepared to plunge head first into another dimension. There was no going back… or perhaps back was the only way to go.
Recent Memories. Henry’s Death
I awakened to find myself standing in the center of a list field where knightly duels were settled. The world looked... off. Everything seemed to be 2 shades too dark and there wasn’t so much as gentle breeze. The stillness was unnerving for it felt like the world beneath my feet had stopped turning. I felt like I was in a nightmare able to see the world around me but only able to see what was right in front of me with any form of clarity. It felt like I was trapped in a thick fog with no sense of direction.
I could hear solid voices coming from the stands unhindered by atmosphere, so I followed their sound and approached. I walked up a flight of wooden stairs into what looked like the observation stands where people would sit to watch trials by combat.
In the stands I saw crowds of darkly shaded people that matched their darkly shaded world. These must have been the umbramorphs Katya was talking about. These shadows looked similar to normal people, but their emotions seemed exaggerated as if they were amateur actors in a play about themselves. Their smoky bodies shifted drastically to portray specific reactions and emotions. They jerked about maniacally when they laughed or expressed excitement, but would sit almost perfectly still when conversing with one another. Anytime I honed in on one of their conversations, their voices boomed in my ears with heavy distortion, so I did my best to keep my distance and keep my focus on the matter at hand.
I took a seat in a clear spot among the stands and focused my attention towards the center of the list field as a bard stepped forth to introduce the men who would be fighting there.
“Greetings one and all! I welcome thee to witness a duel between two well known knights of our kingdom as they stand before Xobris, the god of justice, and lay their lives on the line so that He may choose who earns his favor.”
The crowd of umbramorphs spasm and contort as they chear.
“Today we have a unique pairing of enemies! A father defends his honor against his own son. Standing to the west, is the mighty Sir Cavil Wallace, the Butcher of the Green Vale!”
A chill ran down my spine at the mention of this knight. My first true memory in days finally races through my mind and all I can feel is rage, sadness, and most of all, dread. I knew this knight well. An image of his face appeared in my mind’s eye. This man was my father.
“Standing to the east, is his heir and oldest son, Sir Henry Wallace!”
My gaze quickly darted to the other end of the list field. There I stood as clear as day dressed head to toe in steel plate armor. There was no doubt that this was the umbramorph that was feeding off my experiences in this moment in history. He looked exactly like me in every way except his color was darker than mine as was the environment around him.
“Sir Henry Wallace stands in defense of his claim to his family name. His father came before the court demanding his son be stripped of his title and his inheritance removed. Since Sir Henry refused to settle this matter in a court of law, Sir Cavil Wallace is forced to take his matter before our god. As Xobris demands, the two will settle this matter in a trial by combat! Though the victor has already been chosen by the all knowing Qitos, it is through the throes of battle that Xobris will reveal the gods’ judgement! May his will flow through the victor as blood is spilled upon this field today!”
The crowd cheered in a spasmic frenzy from the stands. Their loud booming voices shook my very core nauseating me. I tried my best to turn my focus towards my umbramorph below, but the crowd’s noise was too much to ignore. After what felt like ages of horrific applause, the bard settles the crowd to a murmur.
The combatants took their positions, and the umbramorphs following them handed them their halberds. It was hard for me to see much from where I was sitting, but as the events continued to unfold, chunks of memories that led up to this battle flooded my mind in the form of visions.
The first vision was of my father. We were both in the great hall of my manor. He stepped forth and handed me a document. Though I could not read it, I could remember what it contained. He wished for me to sign it so that he may officially and legally remove me from the Wallace family for good and forfeit my inheritance to his newly born son. My half brother, Jonas. Judging by my demeanor and feelings of anger, I must have refused. If my father couldn’t convince me to leave my inheritance behind, it seemed like he was willing to fight me in a trial by combat to force me to abdicate. It appears I accepted his challenge.
Standing behind him was his wife holding their young son. Could that have been my mother? There was simply no way. She didn’t look a day older than me. If she was my young step mother, then what happened to my birth mother? What kind of woman was she? As I continued to ponder, more memories of her began to surface.
I couldn’t recall growing up with my birth mother. I obviously had to have one at some point in my life, but she must have died when I was young. My recovered memories felt more like scattered recollections in a blinding dust storm making it difficult to piece together any clear story surrounding her. From what I could gather, she was a shelter from my father. A lighthouse during a storm. A scene flashes forth of my mother teaching me to read. I seemed to love reading stories of epic heroes and terrifying monsters. I gathered all the information I could about my birth mother from the collection of memories I had recovered though I hungered for more.
The vision ended sending me back to my seat at the trial. I sat watching the fighters take a few practice swings as the bard grabbed the ceremonial staff and raised it overhead.
“Combatants! Salute the crown of which you serve!” The combatants bow to the duke who sat upon a shaded throne on the other side of the list field. “Salute the one whose favor you hold!” The combatants approached different umbramorphs who stood daintily on the edge of the arena and kissed their hands. Those must have been Eliza’s and my step mother’s umbramorphs.
A vision of Eliza shot through my mind. I could see her begging me not to do this, but I had no reason to think I would lose. My fencing instructors always told me how excellent my skills were in combat. They always boasted how their other students stood undefeated among their peers and how I was to be no different. My father was in his 40s and I was relatively young, so I was in far better shape. I could remember stepping into the list field with the upmost confidence that I would easily beat my father into submission.
As the memory ended, the bard lifted the ceremonial staff high into the air. “Combatants at the ready? Lay on!!”
As soon as the bard stepped back, I could practically feel myself standing in my umbramorph’s shoes as if I was reliving the fight. Even in armor, my father was as swift as a buck. I blinked only once and as my eyes opened, his halberd broke my guard and struck me so hard on the side of my helmet I nearly fell over from the force. Adrenaline filled rage flooded my every move as he followed through with one strike after another. I tried my best to execute the counter maneuvers taught to me by my fencing instructors, but none of them had any effect on a real opponent! I felt small and helpless next to this towering beast of a man as he grabbed hold of my pauldrons and threw me to the ground. The impact of the ground blasted the air from my lunges. I flailed about in a panic with tears rolling down my eyes as I pitifully tried to shove my father off of me. He kneeled over my helpless body with a heavy armored foot on my chest and drew his rondel dagger from his belt. He bent down and whispered something to me. No one in the crowd could hear it, but I vividly remember what he said to me that day.
“I should have done this long ago, you filthy abomination.”
I let out a scream of terror as I tried one last time to beg my father for mercy. “NO! WAIT, FATHER! PLEA-”
Before I could finish, my father plunges his dagger deep into my left eye. The last thing I could hear was Eliza wailing and the front of my skull cracking as the blade penetrated my brain. My father stood up and left his dagger plunged into my skull. My body laid there spasming giving off a loud horrifying low pitched moan with every breath. It was the only sign that I somehow still lived. Eliza’s umbramorph rushed to my body and held it in her arms as the bard declared my father the victor.
I sat in the stands petrified by what I just witnessed. How could it have come to this? What could I have done to deserve being murdered by my own father? I had to know more.
Suddenly I realized that I was floating above my seat. The foggy world around me grew further and further away as I floated upwards. I concentrated my hardest on stopping and I did just that. Next thing I knew I found myself flying through a grey vortex filled with windows that led to different points in my life. I’m not sure how I knew where it was taking me, but after reliving a near death experience, this strange self abduction felt tame.
I felt lost as I flew through the vortex that connected all of recent history, but at the same time, it felt like my soul knew exactly where I needed to go in order to restore the most of my memory.
I rifled through my own mind looking through all the memories that had just returned to me. I could recall most of the major events up to my daughter’s birth 4 years ago but there were still gaps that were left blank. It appeared that I lived such a bland life up to that point. My duel with Father was likely the most noteworthy thing to happen to me in my adult life.
As I looked back at the window I flew through, I pondered what the rest of my life could have been like. That was a horrific experience to live through, but surely the worst was behind me.
Coming of Age
The grey vortex felt overwhelming. It was a constant spinning thunder storm filled with these circular windows depicting different moments in history. There were literally hundreds of them appearing before me at once that I could've flown including events that happened only seconds before the event I had already just experienced. I wondered if there could be infinitely many of these portals leading to past moments, and if so, how would I ever find the ones I needed? Just I as floated there sorting through the dozens of moments, I felt a tug in the back of mind. I felt drawn deeper into the vortex as if a gentle mentor was nudging me along from the back.
Flying gently through the vortex, I could see its hue growing darker the deeper I went. Suddenly I heard a blood curdling scream come from behind me and felt a wet drop splatter upon my cheek. I quickly turned to see what made that sound, but there was nothing there. The scream flew by me so fast, that it was gone just as fast as it appeared. I wiped away the wet spot on my cheek and saw that it was a splatter of fresh glistening blood. Unlike everything else around me, the blood was not a dark tint. It was quite red and normal colored. I can not imagine why, but this sensation flooding my body is almost too uncomfortable to endure. I turn my gaze forward and recenter myself. I must press on.
I flew through the grey vortex for a few minutes peaking through each window that I flew past, but none seemed to catch my eye until I saw one from my pubescent years that shook me to my very core.
There I was. A young Henry no older than 14 winters being choked by my father. My body and soul felt drawn to this window in history much to my disdain. This must be another major moment in my life that will bring a flood of memories back to me just as the last one did. With no other options presenting themselves, I reluctantly flew through the window.
I was surprised to find myself in a barn rather than a manor. My teenage umbramorph sat upon a cow milking stool and appeared to be well groomed as if he was about to attend the king’s ball.
Memories of this experience once again filled me as they did earlier. I could recall feeling anxious. My palms practically dripped with sweat. Insecurity plagued me as I constantly checked the shape of my hair and wondered if it was more proper of me to have my coat on rather than off. My eyes darted to check the barn door every few seconds as I paced back and forth across the animal pens.
It became clear to me that I was expecting to meet someone here. Perhaps this was where I met Eliza for our first secret rendezvous.
I could remember waiting in that barn for the longest half hour I had ever experienced. Even my present self was beginning to wonder if anything would happen in this passed moment when the barn door finally opened. I focused my vision on the face of the person entering the barn, but to my surprise, it wasn’t Eliza. In fact it wasn’t a woman at all.
Approaching my pubescent umbramorph was what appeared to be a young man. As he came closer and closer, his form became far more clear and less foggy. His humble attire suggested he was of the common folk and the tools at his side indicated he must be a craftsman’s apprentice. He carried a strong stature with broad shoulders, yet a kind face that felt welcoming like a soft feathered pillow after a long day in court. Why was I thinking such things of a man?
My umbramorph stood with his fists closed in nervousness. I could recall fear, but of a much kinder nature. The boy’s approach accelerated as he grabbed me by the waste and pulled me close. To my surprise, my umbramorph embraced him back and gently grasped the back of his neck. Our lips met in a fiery spectacle of light that illuminated the barn. I could remember a feeling of warmth unlike anything I had felt in my life.
Roland. I could remember his name now. This was my young flame, Roland. I had thought that my physical aversion from Eliza was only a result of my lost memory and paranoia, but now it all began to make sense. The way Allister would look at me and tend to my every minor need since my injury was not because he was just my head servant. It was because.... he was my lover.
Tears flooded my eyes and my knees felt weak. It was everything I could do not to collapse in pure happiness. Blank spots in my memory began to return to me of Allister and I sharing tender moments in secret. Our occasional strolls through my gardens. Sharing a horse as we rode through the woods to our secret grove. A slew of memories like this appeared one by one as I sat watching my younger self express his true self for the first time.
My blissful state was suddenly met with a look of terror as the memory of this first sensual encounter began to play out in front of me. I heard a thundering voice echo through my entire body inspiring a feeling of absolute dread. A harrowing umbramorph of my father blasted through the door with several of his knights to his back. He extended his solid arm and ordered his men to seize my companion.
“Get that corrupting incubus away from my son!” he screamed in a foaming rage that nearly shattered my ears.
The guards grabbed Roland and slammed him into the ground.
“What are we to do with him, Lord Wallace?” the guard asked.
“Flog this abomination until nothing remains and then throw him among the pigs where disgusting sodomizers like him belong,” he said foaming at the mouth with rage.
They dragged Roland across the ground behind the barn. My younger self attempted to stop them only to be grabbed by my father.
“That boy has spoiled your mind and filled you with improper desires,” he said as the guards dragged my companion out of the barn. My younger self was a scrawny weak child compared to my broad monstrous father. He took a few swings at my father’s face. The towering umbramorph jittered violently expressing its rage as it slammed my younger umbramorph into the dirt with a single mighty blow. Flashbacks of our deadly duel kept flashing before my eyes as I watched hopelessly.
“PLEASE, FATHER! Spare him! He came here only because I summoned him!” my umbramorph yelled with a squeaking voice.
The towering shadow that was my father lifted my umbramorph from the ground and pulled him close as he screamed into his face with the voice of a thousand trumpets.
“I WARNED YOU WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. YOU ARE MY SOLE HEIR. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR INHERITING THE WALLACE ESTATE AND PASSING IT ON TO A DYNASTY THAT IS TO LAST THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I WILL NOT LET YOU PUT AN END TO OUR IMMORTAL NAME JUST SO YOU CAN RUN OFF AND BECOME A SODOMIZING MONSTER!”
His thundering voice was too much to bear, but it paled in comparison to the screams coming from outside the barn. Roland would let out a blood curdling screech with every swing of the rod the guards beat him with.
I lost control of myself. Between the overwhelming noise of my father screaming at my umbramorph and my anger towards the guards that would dare harm my Roland, all I could see was a dark shade of red. I ran out the back of the barn grabbing a pitch fork on my way out. Grasping it tight in both hands, I aggressively approached the guard holding the rod. Just as Katya said, the umbramorph of that guard didn’t even see me approach until I was right in his face. By then it was far too late as I rammed that pitchfork straight through his throat and pinned his disgraceful face into the dirt behind him.
The umbramorphs of both the other guard and of Roland turned to notice me with confused statures. The shadow under my boot contorted and twisted as it lay there reeling in a bewildered agony. It was a horrifying sight to look upon. The umbramorphs of my father and younger self slowly exited the barn to witness what had just happened as if they were not just screaming at each other. I took a few steps back grasping the pitchfork tightly. For the first time since I arrived, the umbramorphs noticed my presence.
They stopped walking as people do and began to slowly float towards me as their forms faded to pure black smoke. I thrusted the pitchfork at them trying to create space. They would jerk back to avoid my attacks but would seize every opportunity to close the distance between us. An anxious panic took over my body as I ran away. I dared not look back because I could hear the squealing of the umbramorphs close behind me. I tried to fly away as I did before, but my feet would not leave the ground. I pushed my legs with all my might to run as fast as I could away from my pursuers. Up ahead I saw the farm house with an open door. I ran inside and slammed the door behind me. The umbramorphs that chased me slammed into the door and battered it with their smoky fists. I knew I could not hold them back for long.
Inside the house, another umbramorph rose from behind the hearth. It skittered and spasmed as its form became shadow. I could do nothing to stop it as it slowly floated in front of me and extended its hand towards me. A streak of white light began to pull from chest. It felt like he was ripping my heart from my ribs. I screamed in pain as I continued to push my enemies back. I felt my vision getting blurry as the umbramorph before me radiated from the white light flowing from my sternum. This was going to be the moment I died.
Suddenly from out of nowhere, a rumbling sound startled the umbramorph in the house. It stopped its life sucking magic and reared up in fear looking towards the windows. The shadows from outside stopped pushing and their screeching uproar was silenced. I heard an unorthodox growl that I could only describe as a large collection of stones grinding and rubbing together. A blasting roar that sounded like an extremely low pitched horn bellowed through the area. The umbramorph in front of me swiftly flew through the window in fear. The others outside sounded like they were being thrown about. The grinding stone sound accelerated as the umbramorphs screeched in agony. It sounded like a tornado of stone was ripping them and the entire patio to pieces.
I maniacally crawled to the corner of the room opposite of the carnage outside and curled into a ball. I waited in terror for the sounds to stop. In a matter of seconds all I could hear was the sound of a breeze coming from outside as if I was sitting in a cave with a draft. Slowly, I creep up from my ball and shakily peak my head out of the window. Outside, I could see entire rows of the ground that simply looked erased.
I scanned the area to see if the beast that caused the umbramorphs to flee had gone. All I could see was the destruction it lay in its wake. I cautiously stepped outside through the battered door. Much of the patio was destroyed, but it seemed as if it was completely erased from existence for there was no trace of splintered wood or bricks anywhere. I walked to the edge of the carved ground where the beast must have came from and looked down. My mind could barely comprehend what I was looking at. It felt like I was looking at the infinite expanse of space as if I was staring into the night sky. I dropped a rock down the hole hoping to hear a thump. I waited for minutes without a single sound.
Waiting for the sound of the stone, I was startled by a crashing sound coming from back at the barn. I quietly returned to investigate. I peaked inside only for a brief moment, for what I saw inside nearly paralyzed me with fear. I saw a massive beast that had to be larger than an entire carriage. It looked to be made of rough crystals of many colors with smaller crystals that orbited around it. The beast slowly moved through the barn grinding everything in its path including the barn itself, the animals, and even the very earth beneath it. I couldn’t tell too much from the glimpse I caught of the beast, but I knew I had to escape before it destroyed me as well.
I carefully made my way into the maize fields in the distance before taking of into a sprint. I ran until my legs could no longer move and collapsed among the crop. I listened intently for the grinding sound of the beast or its low-pitched call but heard no such indication of its pursuit. I had escaped for now.
That beast must have been a time-eater. Katya warned me that if I interfered in the past events that it could attract them. Though this moment in history had already come to pass, it felt too real for me not to interfere when I could. I loved Roland dearly and it killed me to hear him being whipped senseless again. I lived through it once as a powerless young man. I wouldn’t allow myself to do so again.
With a moment to breath, I could finally sort out the memories granted to me by this passed moment. I could remember the few tender moments I shared with Roland when I paid a visit to his master’s shoe shop. This moment in the barn was to be our first romantic encounter, but instead it acted as the catalyst that would forever spin my life into a living hell. Memories of abuse from my father flooded my mind. I could remember him forcing me to kill animals to prove my manhood, sending guards with me on every excursion from the manor, and even demanding to witness my wedding night with Eliza to assure I would produce an heir for him.
So far every memory I have recovered has been nothing but a recollection of suffering. Why did my soul strive for me to see this? Had my life before my injury been nothing but escalating abuse from my bigoted father? Perhaps I would have been better off without my memory. I may have lived in anxiety and paranoia before, but now I was doomed to return to the present only to live a life of continued abuse from my father and deep depression. Without a single happy memory to escape to, was it even a life worth returning to? What was the point of living if I was only a collection of horrid memories?
Out of all the memories I recovered the only time I could remember being truly happy was when I was learning to read with my birth mother, but the memory was so weak that I almost felt as if I had made it up. When I focused on that memory, I noticed my feet lifting off the ground. It seemed like I had finally regained the ability to traverse the realm. Though Katya warned me not to go back in time too far, I knew that I had to. Even if it meant dying in the process, I could not bear to return home without at least some joyful memories to cling on to, for only through those memories will I find the will to carry on.
I flew into the air and re-entered the grey vortex as I did before. My soul guided me further and further back in time. The further I flew, the darker the vortex hued until eventually it reached absolute darkness. Up ahead, I saw a window to the past with me and Mother reading a book of epic poems. My soul craved this window, for it knew that only by venturing into the abyss would I find my memories of happiness once again.
As soon as I entered the moment, I appeared in the middle of the courtyard of the manor I grew up in, but it looked as if I had stepped into a nightmare. It was just before sundown. Entire swaths of the stars above the night sky were completely gone and replaced with a purely black void similar to the hole the time eater climbed out of. Half of the architecture of the keep was missing. No doubt it was eaten by time eaters. I could hear the grinding of their crystalline teeth in the distance and could see them flying overhead devouring the very sky itself. I knew I had to be quick.
A tiny candlelight barely shimmered in a window up on the second floor. That had to be my destination.
Surprisingly there were still many umbramorphs roaming the castle grounds. These must be the shadows of the servants and the Wallace family guard. I carefully and quietly made my way through the courtyard keeping my distance from any roaming shadows. I knew that a single collision that knocked them off their course would send an army of time eaters my way. I sidled along the outermost walls to try and give all the umbramorphs a wide berth. They paid me no mind as they continued to live out their false lives. I arrived at the entrance to the keep safely and reached for the door. Just as I leaned my weight into it, an umbramorph comes barreling through. It just barely missed bumping into me. It stops for a moment after its stumble and turns around. My heart stopped as I waited for it to turn into its shadow form and attack. Instead it speaks.
“Come now! We can’t be here anymore!” said the umbramorph.
A second one follows behind struggling to put on its boots.
“I know that! I’m hurrying!” the second replied.
I squeezed myself tightly into the wall behind the door as I watched them leave the keep. I peaked through the door to assure no others were coming and made my way inside.
Even with a gaping hole going through it, the great hall was a marvelous sight. A large hearth sat in the middle with burning coals just about ready to fizzle out. My family must have been quite wealthy to afford such exquisite rooms. The room was clear of umbramorphs since the staff would be going to bed for the night at this hour. I listened as I walked through the keep trying my best to avoid the paths of any shadow people I may run into.
Finally arriving at the source of the candlelight, I slowly squeeze my way through the door. The sight before my eyes instantly brought me to tears as I slid down the wall at the back of the room.
I saw myself as a child within the warm embrace of my beautiful mother. She held a book in her hands titled The Slaying of Kanraag, the Rise of Leon the Conqueror.
“Leon was… a … strong.. man, but…”my younger self struggled to read.
“Kanraag. Its alright that word is hard,” my mother said as she brushed my hair with her hand.
“Leon was a strong man, but Kanraag was a strong monster,” I read with a smile.
“Very good, Henry!” she kissed me on the forehead.
This was it. This was the moment that would give me back all the happy memories that were missing.
I could remember meeting Eliza. Though our marriage was strictly strategic for both our families, we would eventually become the best of friends. I could remember her finding out about my affair with Allister. She was not angry nor did she resent us. Instead she helped me keep it secret as long as she could while I let her pursue the man she truly loved. I believe his name was Trevor.
At last I could remember my daughter, Penelope, being born. No… it was only Eliza’s daughter. She had a child with Trevor, but we needed to keep appearances so I pretended to be her father. I could remember playing with her in her crib and rocking her to sleep during the late hours of the night. I would insist on doing it myself even though our nanny was more than happy to oblige. We would let Trevor see her in secret so that she may one day see him as a father.
All this time I imagined my marriage with Eliza must have been one dreadful moment after another, but in truth, she was… no… she is my best friend. I love her.
I lost track of how long I sat and watched my mother and my childhood umbramorph read the poems of Leon the Conqueror. I didn’t want this shower of all my happiest memories to end.
Suddenly, a towering beast comes bellowing through the door. My blasted father.
“Put that boy to sleep. He and I are to go hunting tomorrow,” my father said belligerently. He was clearly drunk.
“Go away, Cavil. Henry and I are reading,” my mother said with perfect regality. She did not fear him.
“There you go again pretending to be the head of this house… You don’t give ME orders!” he throws his glass of wine onto the ground.
My mother gently closes the book and tucks me into my bed. I was clearly terrified.
“I’m sorry, Henry. I will be back shortly,” she said.
My father stumbled out the door and my mother followed slamming it behind her.
This was as far as my memory could recall.
This was also the last time I saw my mother.
I had what I came for. I could even feel my feet being able to leave the ground and return from whence I came. There was nothing stopping me from escaping this nightmare world with my memory intact. But this would be the only chance I would have to witness what happened to my mother before this moment in history was lost to the time eaters forever.
With a heavy heart, I dashed through the hallways in flight until I found my parents in the great hall below. My father had grabbed my mother and shoved her against the wall. She didn’t even show an ounce of fear. “You have 3 seconds to let go of me, Cavil. If you harm me or Henry again, I will go to my father and he will strip you and your family of their titles.”
“You always have to say that don’t you? You have to remind me how the Wallace family are slaves to the Masons. You think your position makes you better than me?” he strikes her across the face. “Could your father stop that?!” he continues to beat her. She drops to the ground as he lets her go. Blood dripping from her nose and lips.
“That’s it, Cavil. You’ve sealed your fate!”
“You’re wrong, bitch. I received word that your father’s illness is taking a turn for the worse. I’ll be inheriting his estate soon. I don’t need you anymore.” He grabs the searing poker from the hearth.
I was told mother was killed in the night by assassins hired by enemies of the Mason family. I was about to witness her true murder.
My mother fled up the stairs of the keep. My father slowly followed her with the poker in hand. It took everything in my power not to shove that treacherous bastard down the stairs, but I knew interfering in this moment would bring the time eaters. I could have just left, but a part of me needed to see this through to the end. Even my soul beckoned me to watch.
I flew past my father and found my mother trying to barricade herself within the library. I so badly wished to comfort her and tell her it was going to be alright. I expected my father to come through the door at any moment. My mother reached for a book off the shelf titled The Justice of Xobris and began writing along its margins. I could not see what she was writing for I did not wish to risk interfering. She frantically ran to the desk where letters from our family were written and she began burning wax into the page. She slammed the book with the seal on her ring and placed it in a hidden compartment in a chest.
I recognized this chest. When I moved to the country with Eliza, she took this chest with us…
She backed away from the chest and braced her self for my father as he finally broke his way through the door.
“Listen to me, Cavil. You don’t need to do this!”
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” he screamed with a distorted umbramorph screech as he charged her.
He plunged the poker deep into her gut. She fell to her knees clutching her stomach trying to keep her insides from falling from the hole as she tried to crawl away.
At this point, all logic left me. This bastard just killed my mother.
I ripped a wooden leg off of a chair and approached my father from behind. He had no idea I was there. I clumsily swung the club as hard as I could right into the back of his head. The club split in two over his skull and cracked it. He spun around and grabbed his wound as blood flooded from under his hand. With a hefty kick, he went flying backwards onto the floor as his form began to spasm into its shadowy state. His limbs and body began to twist and melt into pure smoky darkness as the moment began to unravel. Before his shadow form could reach his face, I stomped my boot onto his chest and felt the ribs crack beneath my heel. With the broken club in hand, I gave my terrified father one last look before I plunged the splintered club into his eye. I felt the bone beneath his eyeball crack as I leaned my body weight into the club and shoved the stake into his brain. His shadow began to dissipate as he lay there motionless.
I quickly ran to my mother who was still crawling on the floor, but dared not approach. She began to take on her shadow form as well despite bleeding all over the floor. It was clear she meant to attack me. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not my real mother. My mother died here in this library. This was just her shadow.
Thundering bellows echoed in the distance like wolves howling. The time-eaters could sense the disruption to the passed moment and would be upon me soon. I so desperately wanted to read what my mother wrote in margins of that book, but I could hear the monsters’ low trumpeting approaching faster than a diving hawk. I have the chest she placed it in at my manor. I must return alive to read it.
I glided through the halls of the keep as fast as I could back to the great hall and flew straight up through the hole in the roof to try and find the entrance to the grey vortex. As my head peaked through the top, a time eater zoomed past nearly scalping me in the process. Its crystalline teeth circled around its tubular mouth grinding everything it came across to mulch. It tore through the tower next to me with ease. Before I could try to hide, another time eater spotted me and let out its uproar. Its arms grinded together with its body with every movement letting out an agonizing teeth gritting sound. Their bodies would shift between all colors of the rainbow at random and unlike everything else in the environment, they radiated a bright display of light like the sun beaming through a stained glass window.
With all the speed my astral projection could muster, I flew away. The window to the grey vortex opened before me and I flew through without hesitation. The vortex grew from a dark black to a dark grey as I moved myself further and further through the time line. I listened in terror as I heard the grinding of the time eaters pursuing me even through the grey vortex. They could fly faster than me, for their noises grew louder and louder no matter how fast I flew.
Up ahead at the end of the vortex was a white light that must have been the way out. Just as I was about to fly my way through, I felt the claw of one of the time eaters swipe me in the leg. Its attack knocked me into a spiral through the vortex sending me flying through another window.
Spinning through the air, I crashed down in the center of my trial by combat. Looking down towards my leg, I could see that the time-eater had only grazed me, but they were far from through with me. In the sky above, I could see them diving towards me. One slammed in the ground above my father crushing him to pieces in one brutal impact. The other trailed behind waiting for me to fly away again. The crashing time-eater struggled to regain its composure after its crash and shake off the blasted remains of my father’s corpse and armor from its vision. I quickly grabbed the halberd my father dropped and lunged at my pursuer. I swung the axe head with all my might at the creature’s arms, but it felt as if I was striking solid stone. The creature swung at me blindly with its claw and I just narrowly dodged. If I had been just an inch too slow, that blow would have split my spine in two. Grasping the halberd closer to its head, I stabbed forth towards the beast’s bright exposed eye crystal with the spear end of the halberd. The eye crystal cracked a bit sending the beast reeling backwards. I took this opportunity to flee as the second beast had decided to dive after me.
The umbramorphs in the stands scattered into the skies like a swarm of locusts as the illusion of their present moment had shattered the moment I came crashing in, the flying time eater began to chase after them as its teeth began to blend through dozens of shadows at a time. A combination of blood and shadow came raining from the skies as the second time eater blazed through the fleeing umbramorphs. I ran beneath the stands hoping the beast behind me was too big to fit between the planks. With my spear in hand I laid in wait for the beast to approach. The second his face became visible to me I stabbed forth once again with all my might aiming for his eyes. My attack landed true sending the beast back once again, but it refused to flee. It bared its crystal teeth as the massive mouth in the center of its body opened wide and began to spin like a hurricane. I tried to stab inside its mouth, but the halberd was quickly shattered and disintegrated into nothing. The beast slowly glided forward as the planks of the stands became mulch in its mouth. With nowhere left to run, I climbed and glided my way through the stands as fast as I could. The time eater followed me relentlessly keeping right on my heels since I needed to dodge planks and it only needed to move forward. The stands began the creak and crack as the supports beneath them were destroyed. I dived straight outward in an attempt to escape the impending doom as the stands came crashing down around the beast forcing its mouth closed and trapping it beneath the immense weight of the wood. With the other beast still occupied with the swarm of umbramorphs in the sky, I flew away as fast as I could through the vortex and didn’t look back.
Right up ahead, I saw the white light. My soul practically screamed at me to fly forward and escape this realm. It did not need to tell me twice.
The Return Home
I slowly awoke in dripping sweat.
My heart was racing though I did not have the energy to panic. I could hear voices calling to me and hands on my cheeks, but my ears were ringing so badly that I could not make out the words.
As my vision returned to me, I could see Allister kneeling next to Eliza who was holding my head in her lap. With every ounce of energy I could muster, I sat up and wrapped my arms around Allister’s broad shoulders. We kissed with a fiery passion as tears began to form in both our eyes.
“Henry! You remember!” I heard Eliza cry.
Allister helped me up and kept me standing with an arm over his shoulder.
“I remember everything, Eliza,” I said with a smile.
She hugged me tight. I did not flinch at all. “Thank the gods,” she said with tears flowing down her face.
Katya had a rough smirk on her face. At least I thought she did. It was difficult to tell when orcs were smiling.
“You’ve done will, Lord Henry. It seems your journey through the Realm of Moments Passed was a difficult one, yet you made it back in one piece,” she said. Though it seemed as if she was looking behind me though there was nothing there.
“Lady Katya, I cannot begin to thank you for this. The silver you requested does not seem enough. Ask anything of my family and I will do everything in my power to see it done.”
She beckoned me to lean in as if she wished to whisper something in my ear. “Keep your gaze to the future. Its much less painful that way,” she somberly whispered as her gaze continued to look at my shadow cast upon the ground. “Now I forsee that you and your family have much work to do and so do I. I’ll take my payment for now, Lord Henry. That is all I require,” she said out loud. “Go in peace.”
Before we leave, Eliza gives Katya one last hug and we begin walking down the stone path to our carriage. She stood just outside her curtain to see us off, but she had a focused stern look in her eyes. I was too exhausted to pay much mind to her strange looks.
As I slowly walked in Allister’s arms, I began to sort through my memories. Though the majority of what I had lived through had been torment at the hands of my father, I was grateful to have my memories back. Life is pain. It is only through this pain that we know that we exist as real people and not mere shadows of ourselves. Each and every trauma and blessing I went through made me who I am today. This was the person Allister fell in love with and the person I intended to be for the rest of my life.
With bliss and relief coursing through my body and soul I reach for Allister’s head intent on celebrating my newfound joy with a kiss.
Suddenly from the sky, I heard a low pitched trumpet bellow down upon us. Before I could even scream, a time-eater crashed down onto Allister and split his body in two before me with its massive claws. His arm and half his torso fell on me as I fell to the floor. Unable to move, all I could do was helplessly watch as the time eater stood up tall before me. It reared its chest back and opened its massive gaping mouth in the center of its body.
I screamed so loud that it felt as if my mouth would split open. I looked around frantically for Eliza but she was nowhere to be found.
“How is this possible?! How can you be here?!” I scream.
I try everything in my power to crawl away, but my body is too weak from my journey to get far. The beast grabs hold of my leg and begins scooping me feet first into its blending teeth. My legs are ground into a bloody heap of splintered bones and ripped muscles as I reel in agony. I punch at the beasts embrace around my chest weakly to no effect. The pain was indescribable.
Up ahead I see Katya staring directly at me. Another time-eater floats behind her and takes a massive bite out of her arm. She stands motionless as if it had no effect. With two fingers extended on her remaining arm, she points to both her eyes and then points forward. The beast still blending her body to pieces without a reaction.
I look in the direction she pointed and visions began to crowd my eyes. Up ahead I see Allister, Eliza, and I getting into the carriage and driving away. I see my daughter Penelope running to welcome us home as I meet her in a warm hug. Further forward, I could see myself in my own library digging through my mother’s old crate and finding the book she wrote in just before her death. Inside was a note telling others that it was my father who is murdering her using her seal to authenticate it. I see my father standing trial for her murder and being hung as my uncle seizes control of the estate. I see me and Allister being married in a secret location with Eliza and Trevor giving us away. Penelope looks so beautiful in her dress and Allister so handsome in his suit.
It is then that I realize what I am. I am not Henry Wallace. I am his shadow. I am the umbramorph feeding off his life as he lives it. Going on this journey has made me aware of what I am. Now it is time to accept my fate. As my vision grows dim, I feel no pain as I keep my gaze forward and take my last fill of Henry’s beautiful future.