The Time and The Nail

The kingdom of Bel had been at war with itself for living memory, at least now that old Wen had died.  Word was that he had told tales from his childhood of being able to travel to the next village by yourself and arrive with the same amount of limbs as when you departed.  Personally, Vex doubted this, as long as he’d been alive, leaving the safety of the villages sturdy wooden wall meant being set upon by any number of brigands, thieves, bandits, rogues or wandering adventurers.  He had grown up in a world where a growing lad giving a helping hand meant running barrels of arrows up to the rampart archers, bracing the gate against battering-rams and, once he was old enough, pouring boiling oil on the poor sods beneath the murder holes.  Such an upbringing had cured most of the population of his village (people didn’t even know what it was called anymore, so busy were they defending it) of any lingering vestige of empathy and cultivated in its place large amounts of cynicism and bitterness, as well as a fine appreciation a well crafted bow, the art of fletching and the spirited sport of war-hammering.  While all of this seemed perfectly natural to most of the inhabitants, Vex was beginning to notice troubling questions like ‘who does the cooking?’, ‘why do I know this is beef?’ and ‘what is a cow?’.  The fact that you could set your watch to the attacks on the village wall might seem odd to an outside observer, but it was as natural to Vex as breathing.

 

It was in just such an attack that Vex, a man grown to 25 raid cycles, was introduced to his own mortality.  He was assisting his friend, Hrun push off a siege ladder while enthusiastically and repeatedly introducing his mailed fist to an invaders face (as he did  every Fifthday around lunchtime, beef burgers which were served after the second ram was seen off) when something happened that had not happened before.  Vex slipped.  A patch of blood, which somebody was probably sorely missing, greased the wooden plank under his foot and caused him to overbalance and brace himself against the rampart while staring at the horde below, (Fifthday was outlanders from beyond the wastes, pests who stunk to high heaven, but nowhere near as bad as the beserkers on Third who, after decapitation still took a good minute to realize that they were dead and further two to settle down about it)  he had just enough time to take in the view and, unfortunately enough, the odor before registering the lopsided smirk of what was probably a man, but who was definitely holding a shortbow, the payload of which Vex had just enough time to register as a rapidly expanding black dot.

“Oh.”

And the world went black.

 

Just before the dulcet tones of the Sixthday dawn-raid horns roused him from his sleep.  What a dream.  Sleepily, Vex grabbed his leather armor and in motions as familiar as brushing your teeth donned it while collecting his broadsword, bow and quiver.  Rubbing his eyes, Vex  nodded to his fellow villagers as they reluctantly commuted to their positions on the wall.  Two more days till Eighth, they collectively thought, and a lie in with the later promise of the feast and its associated quaffing and wenching.  Where the wenches came from was another item that had been quietly calling for his attention amongst the crowd forming in his mind.  Too bad he’d died yesterday, a confused thought shouted from the throng before busying itself and disappearing amongst the crowd of questions in his head before Vex could examine it too closely.  He paused for a moment, concentrated on what was obviously a conflict, considering his current state of verticality, to find that the world seemed to thin out in front of him and he could, against all rationality, hear otherworldly  voices engaged in what appeared to be bickering.

“Look, I can fix this.”

“Like you fixed the last one? We were up to our eyes in tentacles for a week.”

“It’s hardly my fault if reality isn’t strong enough.”

“It bloody well is if you’re the one doing the tearing.”

“The theory is sound.  The method just needs a bit of refining.”

“A bit of refining? You turned a world inside out!”

Tilting his head slightly as he listened to the perplexing argument, Vex was only slightly aware of his fellow villagers  pushing past him as they went about the dull tedium of Sixthday (Knights from the shining order, silly bastards who thought that full plate armor in mud was a good idea, you honestly felt bad shooting them while they were sliding slowly on their backs towards the main gate).  Before the thinness of the moment passed, Vex took a step towards the voices, felt his leg and body go through the earth as the world rotated upwards ninety degrees and found himself face to face with two funny old men with white beards, bald heads and who were wearing  togas who appeared to be conducting heated argument over an extremely complicated looking hourglass, bits of which seemed to twist back onto themselves and into other dimensions.  If Vex had ever heard of the word ‘quantum’ it would have sprung to mind.  It was also evidently trying to rotate, but was tethered to a nail driven into what Vex supposed passed for ground wherever they were.

“Errr.  Pardon me.”

One of the advantage of having invaders trying to kill you every day turned into tedium via repetition is that stepping out of your universe could be a pleasant surprise rather than an existential nightmare, and besides, Vex was raised to be polite.  By who was a mystery though.  The twin philosophers jumped in surprise, before one said.

“Look, the bloody thing has torn already.”

“Temporal freezing is an experimental area, brother.  We can’t expect perfect results on the first, or even five-thousandth time.”

“The tether never works though, it always loops and where it loops it strains and where it strains it tears.”

“I got the loop down to eight days didn’t I?”

The exact mechanics of space and time looping were beyond Vex, who had a rather simple mind focused on just getting through the humdrum of the week until the Eighthday feast.  As were the cultural tendencies of historical memory to count the years via the amount of wars you’ve had.  He would have hated to think what would happen if you got the two mixed up.  All he understood were invaders and that tether stood out like a beacon.  Glancing at his sword, Vex shrugged, and over the yell of the twins separated time from the nail.

 

 

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