The party, sullen and quiet, approached the one destination in the wilderness they had hoped to avoid. The death of the Old Man had left the companions stunned; the weight of their task bearing even more heavily on their minds.
However even as the putrid odor of brimstone assaulted their noses, the group’s chronomancer skipped towards Sulphur Springs. Katarine was excited. With his dying breath the Old Man had told them he had sent Hawkslayer ahead of them. The constant magical assault from Tarjan, and the effort of sending Hawkslayer across the dimensions so many times had finally taken its toll on the Old Man. Katarine mourned the death of the party’s mentor, but the prospect of seeing the man with whom she had fallen in love kept her spirits aloft. When the smell became overwhelming, Katarine stopped.
“Is this where we depart?” the monk asked. Katarine smiled despite her watering eyes.
“It’s the only place we haven’t visited,” the young chronomancer quipped a little too happily.
“Then please hurry,” the thief begged between dry heaves.
Katarine began the chant immediately, and her seven companions formed a circle around her. The chronomancer had heard the spell only once from the Old Man but had committed it to memory easily. The words were almost poison on her lips and spoke of dark omens and dread. Some in the party had heard the words before, but in the context of a curse or other dreadful spell. The trip to Malefia was something akin to summoning pure evil.
The bright sunshine of the wilderness outside of Skara Brae began to fade and was replaced by the dazzle of the heavens. The others never stopped gazing at the stars and swirls in wonder. They wondered what more of the universe they were unaware. At night in their home dimension they would see countless stars, but ever since their first trip they realized there was so much more. Swirling juggernauts of star clusters – brighter than their own sun – loomed overhead and underneath their feet. Clouds of colorful dust stretched for what seemed millions of leagues across their view. The party always felt small and insignificant each time Katarine led them to another dimension. Katarine however always kept her eyes shut when she teleported herself and her friends across the cosmos. The spell became a simple chant and her thoughts were able to drift to Hawkslayer.
He had been a seasoned warrior when she first met him alongside her companions in Arboria. She was nothing more than a virginal mage at the time. His familiarity had frightened her, but she soon became used to it. By the end of their adventures in the land of trees and forest, the two were stealing kisses when they thought the rest of the party was not watching. Katarine quickly realized that the two had traveled along different paths in time. Hawkslayer had already fallen in love with her long ago, but she had barely met him. Or had he not yet met her? she wondered.
No matter how much she learned of the art of time bending, her head always hurt when she tried to understand her relationship with Hawkslayer. When she had met him again in the land of the dwarves, Kinestia, he was young – and recently widowed. And he had lost a child. Hawkslayer had never mentioned his family even once to Katarine during their time in Arboria; she had to find out herself.
Katarine winced at the memory of the party’s discovery in Gelidia. The land had been plunged into an eternal winter in a final sacrifice by the defenders in order to vanquish the evil forces invading their land. A land that Hawkslayer himself had once defended. All that remained in the icy wasteland was a single tower housing murals depicting Hawkslayer’s heroism. However the tomb of Hawkslayer’s beloved Cala and an empty crib left nary a dry eye among the eight adventurers.
Katarine was particularly affected by the discovery. At first she wanted to confront Hawkslayer for his deceit, but by the time the party had retrieved the Belt of Alliria in Lucencia, the young chronomancer had come to terms with her beloved’s past. Katarine knew that by the time she had met him in Arboria, Hawkslayer had also moved on with his life.
It would make their time in Kinestia even more painful. The jovial, older man who had courted her before was now much younger but sullen. The fact that he did not recognize Katarine broke her heart. She quickly realized her affection was unwanted and inappropriate at this time in his life. Katarine resolved to be a friend and companion to the young Hawkslayer – and confidant if needed. Her spells kept him alive, and for that he was grateful. Her warm smile seemed to lift his spirit occasionally. And of course Hawkslayer saved Katarine’s life on numerous occasions. Katarine learned more about love when it was denied to her, and her beloved Hawk was becoming less cold towards her.
But now she could see him again. When they parted ways in Kinestia, Hawkslayer clasped Katarine’s hand formally – as comrades. Because they had been through so much trying to find and confront Urmech, and the anticlimax of the mechanical man’s surrender after waves of enemies had left them drained, Hawkslayer’s touch left her weak and wanting more. Before she stepped back into the circle of her companions to travel once more to Skara Brae, and before she released Hawkslayer’s hand, Katarine reached up and kissed her once and future lover on the cheek.
The young fighter was taken aback, but Katarine quickly broke away and entered the circle. She turned back to Hawkslayer with tears in her eyes.
“Don’t forget me,” she cried, but Hawkslayer simply stared dumbfounded. Katarine pushed back the sobs and began the spell to take them home. Hawkslayer stood up straight and saluted then placed his hand over his heart and nodded as Katarine and her companions disappeared.
In the present Katarine opened her eyes and saw only darkness.
“Are we there?” someone asked. A single syllable uttered by the archmage and their surroundings were illuminated. Black corridors with ceilings a hundred feet high greeted them.
“I guess so.”
“Let’s hurry and find…” Katarine had barely finished her words as she trotted a few yards ahead, stopped abruptly and uttered a tiny yelp. The rest of her companions caught up with the young mage and saw what had startled her.
There on the cold, black stone lay the flattened, desiccated corpse of their former traveling companion. Hawkslayer’s armor was unmistakable, and the Strifespear was still clutched in his skeletal hand.
Katarine felt her chest being crushed and stifled a cry with a hand to her mouth. The chronomancer staggered and fell to her knees reaching out with her other hand.
“Hawk?” she whispered. She looked back to her companions. Their faces bore sympathy, but none of them knew what to say. “I-I…” Katarine choked on her sobs and turned back to the body of her beloved.
“I’m too late.” The young mage broke down. “I must have made a mistake. Th-the spell…I did something wrong…” Katarine sobbed quietly while her friends looked on. But there was nothing she could have done; the spell had taken them to the exact place and time it was supposed to, and Katarine knew it. They had arrived perhaps millennia after Hawkslayer had been killed, just as fate demanded it.
When Katarine first considered the path of Chronomancy, both her master the archmage and the Old Man warned her that meddling with the fabric of time was not without its consequences. Time, it seemed, had a will of its own; it did not appreciate attempts to circumvent its will. The consequences were now becoming quite clear to the young chronomancer.
When the archmage felt the time was right, he approached and placed a comforting hand on his student’s shoulder.
“Katarine, we should…” but a sound cut him off. A rattle, or perhaps a growl, emanated from across the large room. It was primal; the sort of sound a beast would make when it knew its prey could not escape. The rest of the members of the party jumped in alarm and drew their weapons. The archmage redirected his light spell and revealed a horror beyond their imagination.
Dozens of beasts approached, each one crawling on four disfigured limbs, and growling at what they believed to be their next meal. Their tongues lashing out in menace from their grotesque maws, each beast was held back by a chain. The party looked beyond the beasts to see something they had never seen in all their travels. A fiery daemon twenty feet tall held the leashes of each of the monsters, and the daemon itself was flanked by several black apparitions.
“Oh god,” someone was heard praying. It looked like the fight of their lives, but Katarine simply stood up and approached the horde. Wiping the tears from her eyes and brandishing her staff the young chronomancer growled at the party’s opponents. When the archmage realized what she was doing, it was too late to stop her.
“Down!” the old mage yelled.
“Gött–!” Katarine had barely uttered the first syllable when all the air was sucked out of the room and with it all sound. A deathly silence enveloped the chamber and all eyes – both mortal and soon-to-be-mortal – were on the chronomancer and the last thing the monsters saw was the unbridled rage of a heartbroken young woman.
Katarine and her master, the archmage, had discovered the spell in the oldest texts of the wizard’s guild in the town of Black Scar. The spell’s nature mirrored that of the dimension where they had found it: Tenebrosia, the land of shadows and treachery. Always eager to learn, Katarine had gazed at the book’s mystic runes in wonder. However the archmage leveled dire warnings: not all magic was neutral and its outcome depending on its use; some magic was purely dark. He would not even speak the syllables of the spell, referring only to its common translation: Twilight of the Gods.
And he warned her never to use it in confined spaces.
The black stone of the walls glowed red and a wave of heat scorched everything in front of Katarine. The daemons howled in rage and a few succumbed to the invisible energy, but those that survived were met with something much worse.
As Katarine finished the last syllable of the single-word spell, a blast wave of unimaginable force exploded from her chest knocking the young woman to the ground. The beasts in front of her had the flesh rendered from their bones. The daemon leader was disintegrated into dust and the Black Slayers beside it shrieked as they were banished back to the netherworld. In less than a breath the fight was over, but at a cost. Emerging from their cover, the party members rushed to the prone Katarine.
“Make way, for god’s sake,” the archmage ordered as he kneeled down to inspect his student. Katarine was silent for an agonizing minute before she heaved and gasped for breath. Having learned to breathe again, she looked up to see her companions crowded around her and her master holding her hand. Then she remembered why and looked beside her to again see the remains of her beloved Hawkslayer. Still lying on the floor, Katarine wept and buried her face in her arm. The archmage sighed.
“You must learn control, child,” he said gently. Instinctually – from years of training under the archmage – Katarine nodded, but nothing could stop the tears.