A Knot in Time [Book 1 of the Shaladen Chronicles: Part of the Ring Realms Series]
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by Will Greenway
Description: Take a Kriar princess with time travelling powers, a vicious Myrmigyne queen, a scholar turned tournament champion and adventurer. Combine them with half human half Kriar twins with only one soul between them and add a 40,000 year old technomage dictator. Then stir in a power-mad mage named Meridian and Rakaar the unstoppable Baronian juggernaut and you have the recipe for a fantastic odyssey. The stew boils when the evil magic-user captures the injured princess and forces her to destroy the fabric of time. The good guys must overcome temporal anomalies, aliens, Meridian and even themselves before the timeline is restored. That's not the end though, the very foundations of time have been ripped open and only the ultimate sacrifice will finally make things right.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2001 Writers Exchange E-Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: September 2002
51 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [841 KB]
Reading time: 527-738 min.
For ten thousand millennia the Kriar worshipped the light and feared the dark. Ironically, it was the light that eventually abandoned the Kriar, and the dark that became the cradle of our continuance. Now, the void is our home, and the light of the stars has become our guide rather than our god.
--Supreme Counsel Vatraena Marna Solaris
* * * *
Dulcere Val'Saedra Starbinder phased back into real-time in a blaze of analogue energies. The discharge of chronal power crackled around her anomaly compensation field. Her twin hearts thundered, and she drew air with lungs that had been filled with nothing but the frigid cold of the void for far too long. Her gambit paid off--freedom! That despot Meridian would not again control her. Free she might be, but not in time to avert the cataclysm. Nothing remained for her now except to rectify the situation, or die in the attempt.
She dropped to her knees in exhaustion, rips and tears in her silver flight suit exposing gold skin turned pale by the icy dark. She blinked to clear the protective membrane from her eyes. The optical coating slid back with a gritty rasp that felt as if nails were being dragged across her cornea. Wincing, she brushed back her long hair and massaged her dried-out eyes with shaking fingers. She drew another aching breath and arched her back, stiffened muscles protesting as they pulled in their sheaths.
She sniffed the acrid odor of dry vegetation, and a breeze blew cool on her face. Night insects chirped and hummed. Cliffs rose ahead, the wind scoured and pitted abutment forming a jagged outline against a backdrop of purplish mountain crags. In the twilight, a moon loomed large, framed by russet mesas that stood like sentinels guarding a patchwork of scrub trees, rocks, and shallow valleys.
Dulcere fingered her lips, cheeks, and forehead, restoring circulation to numb flesh. She thumbed the red matrix jewel embedded in her forehead to ease the itch of dried skin around it. She examined the gem's two companion stones, one fixed in her sternum and the other below her waist. A dark hue clouded the center of the crystals, indicating their drained state and the damage they had sustained. That deterioration was what prompted the ill-planned landing here.
She'd awoken in transition space, flung there by Meridian after he no longer needed her. An analysis of her situation confronted her with a choice. She could either remain stranded in the transition realm and hope to be rescued before she died of neural and thermal attenuation, or take a gamble that a blind warp-jump wouldn't drop her in the heart of a star or some place equally inhospitable. Playing the waiting game was how she put herself in that predicament. She gambled.
Dulcere conducted a quick test, setting the brain matrix's internal timer to zero, she blinked her eyes twice. She knew from millennia of practice almost to the chronon how long it took to do that. One point zero revs? It should read about ninety percent of that to an accuracy of thirty-six decimal places. She shook her head, feeling a cold sensation in her stomach. A one rev time fix was so sloppy that eons of chronal-slip could have been introduced into that warp-jump.
The initial assessment looked bad. With her matrixes so damaged it was light's own luck that they still produced enough power to maintain the time-anomaly compensation field. Maybe she deserved to be ripped from existence for letting Meridian carry out his plans.
Pride had cost her. To the end, she clung to hope, thinking she might still stop Meridian. How many lives? Dulcere shuddered, remembering the psychic wails of a billion billion minds as the timeline diffracted out of existence. Did a way exist for her to repair a time-sequence this heavily damaged?
She shook herself. Focus. She needed to determine her location, and formulate a plan.
Dulcere pushed herself to a stand. The muscles in her legs twitched and it took effort to lock her knees. She scanned the shadowy desert terrain. Far off, an animal keened. The wind gusted, then calmed as though the world were breathing a sigh after a long day of work. This might be any of a thousand planets, scattered through millions of star systems. Her brow furrowed. Why did this place feel familiar?
Her hearts jumped as a blue-white flare radiated from a single point in the sky. Rings of ultra-violet spread out from the center. Several moments passed then a resonation, not quite audible, made her skin prickle. It grew in intensity until she could sense it through the soles of her feet. Finally, the air began to shudder as destructive forces reached down through the ionosphere.
The rumble and light must be a star-drive going critical. Flashes like reflections off a thousand mirrors winked in the sky--the results of debris breaking up in the atmosphere.
The realization gripped her chest like an icy hand. She'd jumped into her own past, back to event that created this nightmare! She now stood watching the destruction her ship, the Tiraka.
The wind moaned through the rocks again, kicking dust into eddies, and sending twigs and brush tumbling across the ground. The dry empty landscape echoed the desolation she felt inside. She clenched her fists in frustration. Trapped. Her matrixes might as well be dead. She couldn't time-dive a rev much less a hundred millennia downstream. The lingering turbulence caused by the timequake only made it harder.
Her attention was drawn back to the red and white blossom of burning gases and ionized plasma spreading its petals to embrace the heavens. At the heart of that mass, she knew the gutted remains of her ship, the Tiraka, were now tumbling toward oblivion, inexorably pulled by the planet's gravity to a fiery death.
Dulcere felt a hitch in her chest. At this instant, her ship was being torn apart by one of the Protectorate alpha eternals, humanoid monsters of flesh and blood that could survive naked in hard vacuum, shrug off cannon blasts, and tear through hull plates as if they were paper. The blue-skinned alpha, Garn, had appeared on their ship without warning. In moments, engineering was disabled and twelve of the crew dead. The devastation and slaughter continued as the creature moved through the ship destroying key systems. The Belkirin's duty was to command and defend. After donning the powerful Phalanx battlesuit, she hurried to confront the eternal and at least buy the crew time to evacuate.
They had faced off, but even using the best Kriar exo-skeleton ever built didn't put her on an equal footing with the creature. She remembered leaping and dodging through the wreckage, trading blows. The few strikes that she managed to land did little more than anger the creature. In moments, her arms and legs ached and blood pounded in her ears. Suit alarms warned of fast dropping power reserves. The conflict had mirrored the dozens before it, just another losing battle in an ongoing war with the Protectorate. When she decided to confront the creature, she had known little chance existed that she might defeat the eternal. She acted only to save lives--to buy time. As she sensed the command shuttle thrusting away from the ship, she knew it was time she had managed to purchase. She gritted her teeth and kept on. She had to ensure the eternal didn't pursue the crew. He would take her down, but she would do her best to take the beast with her...
Dulcere snapped out of her memories as something flashed on the planet's surface less than a dozen steps from her. Her matrixes chimed in her mind, warning of an incoming chronal flux. A few steps away, the ground dropped away to form a low jagged ridge. Sand and gravel crunching under her boots, she stumbled behind the waist-high wall of stone, crouched, and damped her energy signature.
Light shined from a pinprick in the air that unfolded into the shimmering reflective surface of a gate. Weapon poised, a Kriar woman floated out. She scanned the landscape, matrix jewels encrusting the left side of her face winking in the radiance. After hovering a moment, she settled to the ground and aimed back through the portal.
Dulcere caught her breath. That was Quasar Diliaysus, the rogue tarkath of the Kriar special forces. More flashes of falling debris ignited in the sky making Dulcere look up. Brushing back her waist-length dark hair, Quasar raised her head to look as well. The tarkath's attention went back to the opening as the edges of the gateway flickered and the air filled with a static hum. Another body flashed through the opening.
Dulcere under-heard a telepathic broadcast aimed at Quasar. [Close the gate!] She flinched at the volume of the communication, made sharper by the sending Kriar's distress.
Quasar slapped at a device on her wrist, and the gate snapped shut with a sizzling sound. Wiping at his narrow face, the newcomer stared into the space where the time door had been. The big Kriar's body trembled, his twitching muscles visible through the thin metallic cloth of his dark blue security uniform. The light from his iridescent blue eyes grew dim as if he had done something that troubled him. The crimson glow of a plasma blade withdrew into his clenched fist with a clap of imploding air. Clutching a wound on his shoulder, he staggered a step forward, reeled backward, and finally thudded onto his haunches with a gasp.
Dulcere tuned her mind to listen for their telepathic exchanges. She was both alarmed and intrigued by the intrusion of these two at this particular time and place. What could they want here?
Quasar let out a breath, her directed thought hot and stinging. [Damn you. What were you doing!] She holstered her weapon, and knelt in front of him. Brow furrowing and expression concerned she took his face in her hands. As the Kriar female raised his head, a curved silver tattoo flashed on his cheek.
Dulcere drew a breath in wonder--Eclipse Shargris, one of Homeworld's most decorated heroes. Both of these soldiers had been rumored dead. What were they doing here? Their energy signatures told Dulcere they had come at least as far back-time as herself. Obviously, they were here by design, not accident.
[Dark,] Quasar cursed, the feel of her thought echoing the concern in her expression. [You only needed to hold them a moment, not take on the whole platoon! We could have handled them together on this side if necessary.] She pulled a rod-shaped wound sealer from a medical kit on her side, and began treating the largest of the male's cuts.
Dulcere looked down to her own wounds. These two possessed what she needed to get healthy enough to time-dive again. In fact, without their help she wouldn't be leaving this time at all.
[Had to,] he gritted. [The fools almost destroyed the timeline trying to come through the gate unprotected.]
The ground shuddered, and both Kriar looked up. Secondary explosions lit the sky and streaks of fire sliced overhead.
[By the light,] Eclipse thought. [Has she already started fighting the battle? How much longer before she crashes?]
Quasar touched one of the many gems gleaming on her arm, narrowing her eyes at something she read on her wrist. [Only a few hectarevs now.]
The male studied the sky and the blossoming colors of the warship Tiraka's fiery disintegration. [I can still feel them battling one another. Her energy is dipping though. She's running out of strength. Can you believe she went hand-to-hand with an eternal--even for a short time?]
[Of course,] Quasar also raised her gaze to the sight above, the eruptions making rosy reflections on the shiny gold skin of her face. [Look who her mother is. She's pureblood. They wouldn't entrust a command or the Phalanx armor to a weakling.]
Dulcere's stomach tightened. They were discussing her. Then these two knew that Garn would win the fight and blast her out of the wreckage. She would slam planet-side and get buried beneath a cliff. Had they come from after the time-quake? If they did, then they would know she caused it. If they wanted to stop Meridian from taking her captive, this certainly wouldn't be the juncture to change the outcome of those events--this was too far back in history. What could they possibly be after then?
[We best take cover,] Eclipse remarked. He tried without success to rise a few times until Quasar caught his wrist, helped him up and supported him on her shoulder. The Kriar woman sighed and hugged her partner. [Eclipse, you know you are crazier than I am. You are half dead from taking on all those Daergoni.]
The Kriar male put his head on her shoulder. [Love the sun, and you are bound to get a few burns.]
[Oh hush--fool.] Quasar looked around, pointed to a large boulder, and the two of them hobbled together toward it. They had barely reached cover before a roar filled the night.
A lance of fire angled across the curve of sky, a meteor that she knew was the matrix shielded body of her earlier self re-entering the atmosphere. Dulcere clenched her fists. Her insides felt as though she'd been hollowed out. She gritted her teeth. This is how it felt to watch yourself die.
Dulcere winced, feeling the heat and shock as a body wrapped in a force field of concentrated matrix energies shrieked past their position to impact the cliff with a roar.
The detonation illuminated the plateau, flashing grotesque shadows from the twisted trees. Molten rock splattered outward as the speeding form cut into the landscape.
The hills went silent except for the crackle of wood smoldering. Clouds of smoke rose, backlit by a glow that cast amber shadows on the rocks.
Dulcere blinked. Her mind was numb with remembrances of the fear and pain of that moment. She survived when no Kriar should have. She lived through a direct confrontation an eternal that killed dozens of her brethren. Ironic, that after pulling through all that, she would awaken from stasis to be taken captive by that living canker, Meridian.
She swallowed the anger that flashed through her. She thought that the diffracted timeline was bad enough. These two Kriar being present at the time of her being entombed in the cliff, added new complexities to the situation.
Looking at one another, the two tarkaths rose from their cover and approached the impact area. Making sure her life force and mental emanations were dampened, Dulcere moved from shadow to shadow in the moon-light keeping the two other Kriar in sight.
The breeze dispersed the vapor, revealing a blackened crater of glassy stone. At the center lay a cocoon of pulsating colors that gradually grew dimmer.
A murmuring came from the depression.
Eclipse gripped Quasar's arm. [She survived.]
Dulcere shivered as her gaze took in the mangled mess of a body that lay naked and vulnerable to the night. Just remembering sent pain shooting through her arms and legs.
Quasar let out a growl. [By Hellion's light,] she snapped the thought. [She's not wearing the armor! All the risks and energy wasted. She ditched it before re-entry. Dark damned drone--she didn't break protocol to even save her own damn life!]
They were after the Phalanx armor. Why? They'd come back a hundred millennia at least, surely in all that time the Kriar must have developed technologies more advanced than the prototype she'd been field testing.
Eclipse growled, his thought hard and ringing. [Do not demean the girl for being a good soldier, simply because it inconveniences you. Look at her.] The male clenched his fists. [She is what Daergon Surr's arrogance bought us. Dead and suffering soldiers. Don't seek to emulate his poor example.]
Quasar was obviously taken aback by his intensity. She pushed her face into the curve of Eclipse's neck and ran hand across his chest. [My apologies, you are right, we would both do well to remember the ranks we rose through. We are so close though. I can taste the Genemar. That armor is the key to finding it, and--] She stopped. [Eclipse are you hearing me?]
[She's moving,] Eclipse's thought was quiet. [She's even managed to arm a distress marker. Wonder why she was never recovered.]
[Eclipse, we need to focus here.]
The Kriar male pushed her back, hands gripping her shoulders. [Have you no feelings, Quasar!? Can you not feel her pain?]
The rogue tarkath looked into the crater, glowing green eyes flashing. [She's a tough one--admirably so. What would you have me do, Eclipse? Cry? We're thousands of gigarevs in the past, we can't change what already is.]
The male's blue eyes brightened. [We can find out why our belkirin was not recovered. Perhaps she will tell you where the armor is.]
Quasar stared down into the crater, toying with the strands of her hair. [You want to rescue the girl. I want the armor. Those goals need not be at odds. I am curious as to what happens.]
She gets scared, Dulcere thought to herself. Concerned that Garn would come down here and finish the fight. She panicked and tried to use damaged matrix stones before they fully healed. She got herself into more trouble than she ever imagined.
She watched as a maimed female--herself--clawed her way out of the crater, pasty white blood oozing from a dozen wounds. She relived the pain of each agonizing reach and pull. Survive. Even after all those millennia of life, she did not wish to die; not alone on some uncharted rock.
[She's making for that cliff,] Eclipse remarked.
[That same cliff was collapsed when we examined it a megarev ago. Strange, didn't we see signs of recent excavation?]
[We did,] Eclipse remarked. [Someone must have dug her out, or our scans would have found her.]
Dulcere's jaw tightened. Meridian found her, curse the creature. That meant they came back-time prior to her diffracting the chronology. For whatever reason, Eclipse must never have gotten an opportunity to exercise his desire to free her. She warred with the idea of revealing herself to these two. Instinct said there was sinister purpose to their being here despite Eclipse's noble-seeming sentiments. Quasar wanted something called the Genemar. The rogue was by far one of the most dangerous Kriar alive. With her power and viciousness, little lay beyond her reach.
Once Dulcere was back in her origin reference and things set right, she could turn her attention to worrying about what these two were after. There might still be a chance that Corim and Beia survived. What a tangle this all was; so many acts to answer for, so many things she regretted.
Quasar growled. [Right now, I want to find her. Let's go. Eclipse, do you really want to stand here and watch this child get crushed?]
Eclipse studied Dulcere's crawling form for a moment, his head tilting up to see the cliff that would soon be collapsed on her by a combination of poor luck, bad planning, and desperation.
[No,] he finally determined. [I want to see her back with Marna. I'd like to see the Solaris motivated to do something besides sit.]
[Is that what this is about?] Quasar responded with a raised eyebrow. [You still have feelings for our lady?]
Eclipse frowned at the female. [I never stopped. She would never have understood you and I being together. That is all.]
Quasar shook her head. [All I understand about you and I, is us in a borehole surrounded by Lokori put there by Daergon Surr's foolishness.] She looked around. [Let's find a good spot to transition out of here. There's an unusual amount of chronal turbulence.]
The male's brow furrowed. [Yes. Something is definitely amiss in the continuum. We should check it out.]
[Eclipse ... Eclipse. Let the eternals clean up their own messes. We warned them there was a rogue time-diver. Remember, I even offered to track for them. They turned me down.] Quasar thumped Eclipse on the shoulder and pointed down the plateau. [Looks like a soft spot there.] She moved toward the location indicated.
Eclipse took a last look at Dulcere as she crawled toward the cliff. He followed his companion.
Dulcere glanced at the time-shadow of herself. The memories of those last moments of fear and pain pushed through her body with fingers of ice. She straightened. She needed to be ready. When the two elder Kriar gated out, she needed to ride their draft. She concentrated, listening for the signatures in their matrixes. With their guard relaxed, they didn't have all their usual shielding in place. She filed away their track identification, so if she needed to find them again she could.
[ ... You wanted compensation,] Eclipse was telling Quasar. [That's why the Protectorate turned you down.]
Quasar shrugged. [It is not as if I asked much. For the best time tracker living, my price was cheap. They passed. Their loss.] She paused, eyes narrowing. [Feels like that snarl is getting worse.]
[This is bad,] Eclipse said, brow furrowing. [Really bad.]
[Damn it,] Quasar grumbled. She punched some of the gems on her arm. A pinhole of light shined in front of her, then widened. [I hate working for free.]
Dulcere crouched, tensing to make her move.
Both commanders activated their analogue generators, and the sheen of phase variances surrounded their bodies. Quasar leaped into the gate. Eclipse paused, looking around as though he sensed something, then he too leaped for the portal.
Dulcere sprang up as the Kriar swung his body forward. She launched herself at the chronal threshold and a chance to put everything she'd destroyed back to rights.
Crossing the barrier into tween-space, her thoughts went to the boy Corim, the first victim of her foolishness. He had come so close to rescuing her. A fine way to repay his bravery. She shuddered, recalling the fear in his dark eyes as she warped him into the void...