A New World
“Good morning, brother!” Kirielle screamed, her voice disgustedly shrill and cheerful. “Morning, morning, MORNING!!!”
Zorian sighed, stretching his arms and legs while Kirielle babbled on top of him. Another restart, another annoying wakeup call from Kirielle. He gave his little sister a silent, complex look, which caused her to hesitate for a second and ask him what’s wrong. Zorian didn’t answer. Instead he suddenly started shaking like a madman, taking advantage of that brief moment of indecision when she loosened her grip on him to push her off to the side. She fell on the floor with a soft thud and an indignant yell. She was back on her feet in a flash, though, annoying him with questions about the academy and requests to ‘show her some magic’.
In other words, she was still the same old Kirielle he had come to know over the restarts. He had thought about including her among the many people who gotten a temporary marker in the previous restart, but in the end he had decided bringing her into the time loop would be reckless and cruel. Unlike the others, Kirielle was just a child. Her personality had yet to fully form, and there was no telling how being stuck in a constantly repeating month would warp her thinking. She also couldn’t keep a secret to save her life and had no way to really contribute to their projects. Not to mention that if he failed to find the way to extend the temporary markers before the sixth restart was up, he would have to watch her forget six months’ worth of memories… that would be a hard pill to swallow.
No, the idea was definitely off-limits. While he would have appreciated a chance to have more meaningful interaction with Kirielle, it wasn’t worth inflicting existential dread on a nine-year-old and dragging down everyone’s chances of survival just for that.
After a few minutes, he finally coaxed Kirielle into leaving the room. He promptly locked the door and created a single simulacrum. It was a simple ectoplasmic copy. This early in the restart, he had neither the time nor the materials to create the golem bodies necessary for the improved mechanical simulacrums he usually liked to use. However, accessibility was more important than mana efficiency in this case. He needed the simulacrum now and not later.
The moment it popped into existence, the simulacrum gave him a silent nod and then teleported away. There was no need to explain anything. The simulacrum had a simple task, planned out all the way in the previous restart and now simply put into practice. His copy was to go to Cyoria and immediately hunt down and dismantle all four cranium rat swarms lurking in the city. It would doubtlessly alarm Quatach-Ichl if he did that, but it had to be done. With all these new time loopers walking around, the swarms were too much of a threat. They needed them gone, and the sooner it was done, the better.
After dispatching the simulacrum to his task, Zorian went down into the kitchen to eat something while waiting for Ilsa to arrive. He couldn’t help but be a little nervous. While Ilsa’s visit at the beginning of the restart had long since become repetitive and routine, meeting his invocations teacher should be different this time around. She was, after all, one of the people they placed a temporary marker on. If everything went well, she had retained her memories of the previous restart.
He shook his head, trying to collect his thoughts. He was kind of annoyed at himself for being so emotional over this. Previously, when he and Zach were considering going down this road, he had imagined himself facing this scenario with a stoic attitude and cool assurance borne out of years of experiences and conflicts in the time loop… but reality was cruel and his nerves were not as steely as he imagined them to be. Would the temporary markers work as advertised? Would they work at all? Would Ilsa be able to take first-hand experience of the time loop in good grace or would she flip out and start flinging spells at him, demanding answers? He couldn’t help but worry about questions such as this as minutes ticked by. What was taking her so long, anyway? He wasn’t sure, but he thought it didn’t usually take this much time before she–
There was a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it!” said Zorian quickly, rushing for the door. Mother looked amused at this kind of reaction, but said nothing as he ran past her.
He opened the door and found Ilsa standing there. She looked… no different than she usually did at the beginning of the restart. The same clothes, the same judging look, the same stack of documents held in her hands. However, that was only outward appearance. To his empathic senses, she was practically radiating uncertainty and apprehension.
They stared at each other in silence for a while.
“May I come in?” Ilsa eventually asked.
“Hmm? Oh!” said Zorian with a small laugh, wincing inwardly at his behavior. “I guess I spaced out a little. Forgive my manners, Miss Zileti. Come in, please.”
“Thank you, Mister Kazinski,” she said, stepping into the house.
Although his momentary brain freeze wasn’t the most flattering way to start a meeting like this, it seemed to have put Ilsa at ease somewhat, as he felt a lot of the tension drain out of her in the aftermath.
Like usual, Mother immediately left the house when she realized who had come, taking Kirielle with her. This left Zorian alone with Ilsa to ostensibly discuss his electives and whatnot. But, well…
“Same as the last time, I suppose?” Ilsa asked, waving the academy documents in front of her. When Zorian answered yes, she simply threw the stack to the side and sighed. “Of course. You probably heard this all a hundred times by now. I don’t even know why I brought these along with me.”
“Clinging to a sense of normalcy in light of a very bizarre situation,” Zorian guessed. “I was the same, back when I was first dragged into the time loop. I spent quite a few loops going through the motions.”
“You were a teenager who barely started learning magic, though. I am an experienced adult mage. I should be better than this,” Ilsa countered, frowning slightly. She was silent for a few seconds, tapping her fingers against the table as she considered what to say next. “So this is real? We really travelled back in time?”
“It’s a little more complex than that, but yes,” Zorian said. He didn’t want to get bogged down in details of how the time loop actually worked. “Did the marker we gave you work?”
“Obviously,” she scoffed. “How would we be having this conversation otherwise?”
“What I meant was… did you completely retain your magic and memories?” Zorian clarified. “Any holes in your recollection or difficulty in doing magic?”
“That’s a possibility?” she asked, surprised.
“It might be. As I said in the previous restart, this is the first time we have done something like this,” Zorian said.
She gave it a thought for a minute before shaking her head.
“I don’t feel there are any obvious blanks in my memories,” she said. “I did forget quite a few things, but I think that’s just me being forgetful as usual. My memory is hardly flawless. As for magic, well… I’m a grown mage that has reached most of her potential years ago and a month is not that long of a time. Plus, it wasn’t like I did any real training sessions in the span of this month.”
“In other words, any growth in shaping skills you may have experienced is so miniscule that you wouldn’t even notice if it was gone,” Zorian surmised.
“Yes, that,” Ilsa nodded. “I guess I can learn a new spell or two this time just to see if I retain them the next time the world… resets.”
“I can probably just ask Kael. The effect of even one month on his shaping skills and spell knowledge should be dramatic enough to tell,” pointed out Zorian.
“I suppose that’s true,” said Ilsa. “Plus, now that I think about it, I’m probably going to improve my shaping skills and learn quite a few new spells just by helping you out over time. Though you never did really explain what you wanted our help with…”
“Yes, we did not explain our plans and reasons too deeply in the previous restart,” admitted Zorian. “Partly because we didn’t want to overwhelm people with information, but also because we suspected you would only take us seriously after you witnessed the time loop with your own two eyes.”
“Ha. Well, you’re probably right about that,” Ilsa laughed. “Xvim tried to explain how the time loop worked when he was trying to convince me to accept a mysterious soul marker from my two teenage students. I confess I didn’t pay too much attention to it, since the whole idea was so crazy. I’d have probably been even less interested in what you and Zach had to say.”
Well, at least she was honest.
“Do you want me to explain now?” Zorian asked.
“No,” she said immediately. “I don’t think I could pay attention well enough at the moment. I’m still rather disturbed at reliving the same month all over again. You said this has been happening for a while now?”
“Yes. The time loop has repeated itself many, many times,” Zorian said. “This is just your first time remembering it.”
“So, before this I was just... obliviously reliving the same month over and over again? Repeated the jobs, taught the same classes and spoke the same conversations?”
“Well, sometimes me and Zach shook things up a bit and you reacted accordingly, reacting to the changes,” Zorian said. “But yes. Without a marker, people do not retain continuity across restarts.”
“I tried to talk to some of the people around me before coming here,” Ilsa admitted. “Just to check if they really don’t remember anything. I couldn’t resist. I don’t think I revealed anything crucial, but I feel it’s only fair to let you know.”
Zorian sighed. He suspected she wasn’t the only one to make such ‘discreet’ tests, and that there would be more of that stuff to deal with later… but that was okay. They kind of expected that.
“I understand the need for confirmation, but please try to be responsible about this,” he said. “It would be a disaster if the knowledge of the time loop reached certain people.”
“And now I’m being lectured by one of my teenage students,” Ilsa said, clacking her tongue. “How low the mighty have fallen. But fair enough, I do understand we have a mighty, millennia-old lich breathing down our necks. Your fight against him has left quite an impression on me, I must say…”
Zorian just made a slightly sour expression in response. Unsurprisingly, Quatach-Ichl had taken great offense at them trying to look through his memories and stealing his crown. While Zach and Zorian were placing temporary markers on people, Quatach-Ichl was burning down the Noveda estate and Imaya’s house as the first step of his revenge. Fortunately, all inhabitants of Imaya’s place had been evacuated to Koth by that point, and Zach couldn’t care less about the Noveda estate. The ancient lich remained quiet after that, probably because he couldn’t find them and still had an invasion to execute.
Then Zach and Zorian had the bright idea to bring the new loopers to Cyoria on invasion day, to show them how high the stakes really were. Despite being under a plethora of powerful divination wards and constantly moving, Quatach-Ichl somehow noticed them.
The resulting fight completely leveled the street they were fighting in.
“Though Quatach-Ichl is a huge danger, I’m pretty sure the Eldemarian government, the Triumvirate Church, powerful Noble Houses and other powers would also make problems for us if they knew,” Zorian said. “So please be careful.”
They spent the next half an hour discussing various things – the mechanics of the time loop, the way things usually developed if Zach and Zorian did not interfere with things, and the details behind the Ibasan invasion. Ilsa turned out to be just as interested in the invasion of Cyoria as she was in the time loop itself. Then again, that was probably not too unusual. They brought people to witness the attack for a reason.
“You don’t seem to care much for the suffering and devastation we witnessed,” Ilsa eventually said, a note of condemnation in her voice.
“I’m just a little numb to it all, that’s all. I’ve seen it happen too many times, sometimes from the memories of the invaders themselves,” Zorian said. “It’s impossible for me to have the same visceral reaction to it that you probably have.”
“You read their memories?” she asked, surprised.
“I had to,” he simply said.
“Of course you’ve dabbled in mind magic too,” she said in a strange tone.
“Dabbled?” Zorian huffed. “This annoys me more than it probably should. I did not ‘dabble’ in it – I’m a natural mind mage who spent years honing his skills.”
She seemed to be at a loss for words upon hearing that.
“This situation is endlessly bizarre and disturbing,” she finally said after a few seconds.
“Agreed,” Zorian nodded. “I’ve been stuck in this time loop for nearly eight years, not counting all the time dilation chambers, and I still think that.”
“Time dilation chambers?” Ilsa asked. She suddenly shook her head. “No, never mind that for now. Eight years is actually not as long as I thought it would be.”
“I got included rather late into this thing,” Zorian said. “Zach is the one who has spent decades inside the time loop.”
“Ugh. Every answer gives me five new questions,” Ilsa complained. “You know what? Let’s stop this for now. You are planning to take the train to Cyoria, right?”
“Yes, I’m taking Kirielle with me, so I need to pretend I’m somewhat normal. Of course, if you are willing to teleport us to Cyoria yourself…”
“No,” she said immediately. “I’m taking a train ride with you instead.”
Zorian was taken aback at the proclamation. He knew that things would be very much different now that other loopers were walking around, but he couldn’t help but get blindsided by things like this.
“Uh, why?” Zorian asked uncertainly.
“You might be used to it, but I’ve just watched the city get brutally invaded by hordes of monsters and undead,” she told him. “I’d like to stay away from Cyoria for a while, and this is a convenient excuse.”
“Oh,” he said lamely.
Come to think of it, it had only been a few hours at most since the invasion, at least from her perspective.
“You don’t mind, do you?” she asked him.
“Not at all,” he said, shaking his head. “Just watch out for Kirielle if you plan to ride in the same compartment as us. She has an intense interest in magic and anything related to it, and she’s probably going to find you absolutely fascinating.”
“I don’t see a problem with that,” Ilsa smiled. “It’s nice to see kids interested in my work.”
Zorian didn’t bother to clarify things.
Some things were better as a surprise.
* * *
Mother did not look very surprised when Ilsa informed her she would be accompanying them to the train station. It probably seemed entirely sensible to her that Ilsa would use a train to get back to Cyoria. The two of them got along pretty well with one another, and were soon happily chatting along as they waited on the station for the train to arrive. Zorian mostly ignored the conversation, as it sounded like your typical parent-teacher discussion. Kirielle was too excited about going to Cyoria to care about the teacher that had decided to stick around for a while longer, but Fortov did feel the need to approach the group and say hi after seeing Ilsa present. That was a little new.
“You didn’t include Fortov among those who received the marker,” Ilsa observed quietly.
“No,” Zorian whispered back. “He’s useless and I don’t like him.”
Ilsa had nothing to say in response to that, just giving him a guarded look in return.
Maybe he really was a little harsh towards Fortov. Still, he honestly couldn’t see any good reason to give the guy a temporary marker. Fortov was unreliable and had no work ethic, so including him in the time loop would be about as wise as including Kirielle.
Eventually they boarded the train and set off towards Cyoria. Kirielle became more wary of Ilsa when she realized the teacher was going to stay in the same compartment as them, but… well, it was Kirielle. Patience was never her strong suit. She barely lasted half an hour before she started bombarding Ilsa with questions.
Ilsa was a patient woman, but after an hour and a half of Kirielle’s chattiness, Zorian could feel she was starting to get rather exasperated with the whole situation. Thus, he decided to have mercy on her and distracted his little sister with a bunch of visually impressive illusions and stories.
Ilsa observed the illusionary scenes he conjured up with a surprising amount of interest. Try as he might, he just couldn’t figure out what she found so fascinating about those. Weren’t they just illusions? She was a mage at the continent’s best magical academy. Surely she had seen plenty of those in her life…
Eventually he decided to ask her. Since he didn’t want Kirielle to listen in on them, he established a mental link to her and spoke to her telepathically. She was badly startled at first, flinching at the sudden voice in her head, but she recovered quickly. Her response was swift and smooth, with no unintentional thoughts leaking through. It was clear that she had experience with this kind of communication.
[You can ignore the shaping disruption of the train wards,] Ilsa telepathically sent back through the link. [I mean, of course you can. For someone like you, doing that is a minor thing. I could do it too. However, casting such sophisticated illusions while being suppressed by the wards… that takes considerable skill. Did you say you were trying to pretend you are ‘somewhat normal’? How is this even remotely normal?]
[Err, well… it’s not like Kirielle can really tell how amazing this is,] he sent back lamely.
Truthfully, neither could he until this point. He learned these illusions pretty much solely to entertain Kirielle. They were just little tricks to him, and so was the ability to bypass the laughable disruption wards on the train. It completely slipped his mind that someone like Ilsa could figure out exactly what he was doing and how difficult it was and find it notable.
[So,] Ilsa sent. [You are good enough at combat magic to fight a thousand-year-old lich. You are a mind mage and an illusionist. You can teleport around with ease and open dimensional gates. You can create duplicates of yourself. You are an expert golem maker, with all that implies. You say you achieved all of that in, what, eight years?]
[Pretty much, yeah,] Zorian confirmed.
[Forgive me for being blunt here Mister Kazinski, but aren’t you a fairly average mage?] Ilsa asked curiously. [I never got an impression that you are some amazingly talented person from the information I was given. And trust me, people had looked into it. Whenever a world-class talent like Daimen appears, their family is always investigated in case their boons run in the blood.]
[Aside from being an innate mind mage, I am indeed pretty average,] Zorian said calmly. Ilsa’s comment might have infuriated him once, but these days he no longer cared. [I know what you’re thinking, and yes – my rapid growth as a mage is all due to the time loop. It doesn’t just give time, you know. It’s also given me nigh-limitless resources, access to restricted materials and plenty of normally unobtainable experience. It’s also put me under enormous pressure, keeping me constantly motivated in a way I otherwise wouldn’t be. I honestly think anyone could do what I did, if put in the same position. Well, provided they didn’t just break under the pressure…]
Ilsa stayed quiet for a while, but Zorian could practically feel the gears turning in her head. She was probably realizing for the first time the sort of amazing opportunity the time loop represented.
[I think I’m getting just a tiny bit jealous of you, Mister Kazinski,] Ilsa eventually concluded.
[Don’t envy me just yet,] he told her. [There is still a good chance that I will get erased in the end, and everything I have worked for will be for naught.]
[What?] she asked, startled. [What do you mean?]
With that, he started explaining the situation in detail to her. He told her about Red Robe, the uncertainty about whether they could even get out of the time loop, the problems he had to solve to survive the exit, and so on.
It took a while to go through everything. Strangely enough, Ilsa looked calmer and more reassured by the end, even though he had just told her there was a big chance they would all lose everything at the end. Then again, maybe it wasn’t so strange. She already knew that temporary markers like her own only lasted six months. Compared to that, a more distant deadline that would also destroy Zach and Zorian probably didn’t seem so intimidating. On the contrary, she may have found it reassuring that they also had the same fate waiting for them, if they failed.
[I was wondering why you decided to include so many people in this time loop, instead of just monopolizing the whole thing for yourself and Zach. Your situation is quite desperate,] she said, humming to herself audibly enough for Kirielle to hear her and give her funny looks.
[You don’t have to sound so happy about it,] Zorian groused. [But yes, we really do need your help badly.]
Ilsa was mostly included because of her connections. Though she acted a bit low key most of the time, she knew many people and was owed quite a few favors. Hopefully, she could help them convince people to go along with whatever crazy plans they came up with and smooth any ruffled feathers they caused along the way. Considering how few other members of their little conspiracy were diplomatically inclined or familiar with bureaucratic wrangling, this was a valuable skill.
Plus, she was a powerful alteration expert. Zorian wasn’t sure, but he felt she might be able to help him produce his golems faster. She couldn’t animate them, of course, but he was currently producing such a large number of them every restart that it took a while to simply create enough mechanical bodies for animation. If Ilsa was as good at alteration and material alchemy as Xvim claimed, she should be able to take over that part of the production process and free Zorian to do other things.
[Why not just hire someone to do that for you?] Ilsa asked when he told her that. [I hear from Xvim you’ve been doing that a lot already.]
[I can’t,] Zorian shook his head. [Anyone I contract will surely figure out what I intend to do with such a sophisticated metal doll, and making combat-capable golems is forbidden without a license.]
[Makes sense,] Ilsa said. [You don’t want to have random mages building themselves a private army of golems in their free time.]
[Exactly,] Zorian said. [I might be able to coax a person to build me a single puppet, but if I order a batch of twenty puppets, they’ll freak out. Nobody wants to get implicated in an attempted rebellion or whatever. I’d be lucky if they didn’t immediately report me to the government when they throw me out of the shop.]
Ilsa nodded. After some thought, she changed the subject. [You know, all this talk about golem and alteration is reminding me of something I thought of when you were explaining how the time loop works. Destroying the entire world and then recreating it out of nothing… it reminds me of a persistent ambition of mine…]
[Oh? You mean true creation?] Zorian guessed.
[You know about it?] Ilsa was surprised. [I don’t remember talking about it around you… I suppose one of my previous incarnations told you about it?]
[Yeah,] Zorian confirmed. [I sought you out quite often in the beginning to learn from you. You taught me much of what I know right now, or at least gave me a push in the right direction.]
[We’ll have to talk about that more on some other occasion,] Ilsa said with a smile. [It looks like you owe me and I don’t even know about it. How am I supposed to know to seek you out for favors if I don’t even know that I have leverage over you? But anyway, true creation… yes, in a way, the time loop is the ultimate expression of that desire of mine. A magic that creates an entire world, over and over again. Are you sure you have no idea how it is done?]
[No, sorry,] Zorian said apologetically. [That power is absolutely godlike in scope and mystery. Or rather, primordial, since the Sovereign Gate seems to be made out of one of those.]
[Considering the stories of mortal mages doing it in the past, and in light of the fact that there is a device that can repeatedly create an entire world, I am convinced it is easier than most people suspect. Maybe I’ll be able to figure something out by observing this constantly recreated world I’m in,] Ilsa said wistfully.
[Maybe,] Zorian said doubtfully. He doubted she would really get anywhere with that, but he wouldn’t stop her.
Eventually, Kirielle dozed off and the telepathic conversation died down a little, leaving both Zorian and Ilsa lost in their own thoughts.
The train continued its routine journey to Cyoria.
* * *
When Zorian, Kirielle and Ilsa arrived in Cyoria and disembarked, they found there were people already waiting for them. Zach being there was kind of expected, but he was also accompanied by Xvim, Kyron and Taiven. Most people did not react to this, of course, but Kirielle knew damn well that there was something fishy about that and kept giving everyone weird glances and got really quiet for a time. Zorian also noticed Fortov staring at him weirdly in the distance. He wasn’t sure how much his brother really knew about him, but he was probably aware that Zorian hadn’t had any real friends until recently, so having a bunch of people wait for him at the train station was beyond unusual. He did not make any move or approach, though, since nobody was attacking anyone and Zorian didn’t look like he needed help.
After dropping off Kirielle at Imaya’s place, the group found a secluded location and started talking. Kyron, their combat magic instructor, was included into the group due to his high combat skills and the fact he had connections to people in Eldemar’s military. He was the first to speak up.
“These temporary markers you placed on us to retain our memories… can they be revoked?” Kyron asked.
Of course the first thing they wanted to discuss was the markers. Zorian didn’t blame them. He knew he would have been the same if he were in their place. He was kind of mystified why they hadn’t just asked Zach about that while they were waiting instead of saving it until now, but maybe they had talked about other things, such as how the time loop worked. Or maybe they had just gathered together quite recently and hadn’t had the time to discuss anything. He knew that Zach hated waiting and had a habit of showing up late, so he probably hadn’t been at the train station for long.
“Yes,” Zorian told him bluntly.
“At will?” Kyron asked next.
“Well, we need the crown that is currently in Quatach-Ichl’s possession to do it,” Zorian said carefully. “So not really, no.”
“Also, removing the marker only prevents you from keeping your magic and memories when the world resets next,” Zach said. “It doesn’t wipe away what you achieved until that point.”
“Can the marker be reapplied once it runs out or is revoked?” Xvim asked.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Zach sighed. “Sadly, it’s not that easy. Yes, you can place a marker on the same person the second time, but only after twelve restarts have passed. You can’t just remove the marker and then reapply it to extend the time.”
“I imagined it was something like that,” Xvim admitted.
Zorian suddenly yelped in pain. After looking around, he realized Taiven had pinched his arm for no discernible reason.
“Why did you do that!?” he protested.
“I wanted to make sure your arm is really fine,” she said, frowning.
Zorian suddenly realized this was the same arm that ended up getting cut off by Quatach-Ichl in the previous restart. He had pretty much been a cripple the last time that she had seen him.
Still, how the hell was it okay for her to just pinch him like that!? Huffing with indignation, Zorian stepped away from Taiven and maneuvered himself to place Ilsa between the two of them. Ilsa gave him an amused look in response.
“So what’s the plan?” Kyron said.
“We are hoping we can figure out a way to adjust the temporary markers into lasting indefinitely,” Zorian said. “Admittedly, tampering with a piece of magic that probably had gods involved in its construction sounds hopeless… but we suspect that Red Robe entered the time loop through this very method. If so, it should be possible for us to do it as well.”
“Right, if Red Robe could have done it, surely all of us working together should be able to work something up,” Zach said.
“And if you fail?” Xvim insisted.
“We will hopefully gather the entire Key before all six restarts run out, at which point we will be able to unblock the exit,” Zorian said. “If we have an exit method also ready by then, we might be able to just get you out of the time loop at that point. At which point it doesn’t really matter that your marker will run out.”
“And what, you’re just going to continue in the time loop alone afterwards?” Taiven asked. “Or are you just going to create new temporary loopers once we’re gone? And then get them out too? I don’t know about the rest, but I think the world doesn’t need three different Taivens.”
“Actually, we would just exit the time loop with you,” Zach said. “We already got almost everything we could wish for out of the time loop. No need to risk everything by being greedy and cutting things close. If we can leave six months from now, we will.”
Silence greeted this proclamation. Zorian knew that the new loopers were worried about their motives, afraid that he and Zach were trying to make use of them as much as possible before discarding them. Not an unreasonable fear. Temporary markers were pretty much designed with that in mind. Presumably the controller would place these on people without ever informing them of the time limit, allowing them to reap all the benefits of having a person work with them for six months and then conveniently forgetting everything. However, Zach and Zorian did not intend to use the temporary markers just to get a convenient workforce. They got them into the mess and they would do their best to get them out of it. Maybe they would fail in the end, but it wouldn’t be for the lack of trying.
“Well,” Xvim eventually said, breaking the silence. “We’d best get to work, then.”
* * *
Days passed, and the effects of the many new loopers rapidly became evident. Kael arrived in Cyoria earlier, barely a day after Zorian did. Lukav and Alanic did not need to be saved from Sudomir’s machinations. Taiven no longer bothered hunting monsters with her team. Ilsa’s classes were completely different, since she decided she would shake things up a bit. The cranium rats had been completely wiped out by Zorian’s simulacrum on the very first day of the restart, with the exception of a handful of individuals the simulacrum had saved up for study. Their usual routine of convincing Xvim, Alanic and Silverlake that the time loop was real became unnecessary, freeing up a surprisingly substantial amount of time.
Finally, not having to gain the trust of the Silent Doorway Adepts before they could use their ability to operate the Bakora Gate network meant they could access distant places from the very start of the restart.
Thus, once Zach and Zorian had sorted out the situation in Cyoria for a bit, they used a Bakora Gate to reach Koth so they could pick up the imperial orb… and maybe get themselves a pet hydra.
Before they did that, though, they decided to visit the Taramatula estate to see if everything was fine there. Daimen had assured them that the people he had picked were reliable, but Zorian knew better than anyone that Daimen said a lot of things…
When they arrived, they found the whole estate to be a hive of activity, people constantly coming and going, and there were people already waiting for them. There was no need to justify themselves or try to get them to admit Daimen was present, like they usually did the first time they contacted them in the restart. Still, while not having to wait at the door was convenient, what came later was not. Just like the new loopers back in Cyoria, the new loopers in Koth also wanted their questions answered, and what was supposed to be just a short check-up ended up being a grueling question and answer session that lasted for most of the day.
“I really hope this is a one-time thing,” Zorian groused later to Daimen. “You were supposed to explain these sort of things to them, Daimen.”
“I did!” Daimen protested. “They just wanted to hear things from you, I guess. Can you blame them?”
“I guess not,” Zorian said. If Daimen had explained things fairly, then these people must surely know it wasn’t Daimen who was really in charge. It made sense that they wanted to talk to the people who are the source of the temporary markers and have first-hand information. “Anyway, did you get your team ready? Will the Taramatula really cooperate when you inform them you want to send their best trackers all the way to Blantyrre all of a sudden?”
This was the main reason he and Zach wanted Daimen’s cooperation, and why they allowed him to include so many people into the marked group. To put it bluntly, they needed these people to find the staff. They had managed to track down a Bakora Gate on Blantyrre in the previous restart, thanks to the help from that lizardman king, but that was just the first step. The next was to track down a tiny little staff on a giant, jungle-covered continent. To put it bluntly, this was something that he and Zach alone were utterly incapable of doing. Zorian would never say this out loud to Daimen, but he and his group were probably the most critical people to receive the temporary markers. Without them, they would probably never find the staff. This was one of the primary reasons they decided to go down this path to begin with.
“My team will listen to me, even if I tell them we’re going to Blantyrre through a dimensional gate opened up by my little brother,” Daimen said proudly. “Hell, they’d probably go along with it even if I alone received the marker, but they would complain more. With Torun, Kirma and other critical members of the team also on board, though, everyone will readily fall in line. As for the Taramatula… well, I’m not sure what level of support we can get out of them, but we will definitely get something. The main problem is that we’re being a bit unreasonable and pushing for full commitment to this project without the idea being even hinted at before now. That’s not how House Taramatula usually does things, to say the least, so some tension and incredulity are to be expected.”
“Will it help if I give you money and resources to throw at them?” Zorian asked. “I know House Taramatula is not poor, but I’m pretty sure me and Zach could gather enough money to finance a small state if we really try. Not to mention a large amount of priceless materials that cannot be bought on the open market.”
Daimen looked at him with a strange mixture of horror and joy, his face alternating between various unusual grimaces.
“I hate you,” he finally said. “You better plan to gift some of that money to your poor older brother when we get out.”
“Aren’t you pretty well off?” Zorian asked, arching his eyebrow at him. “You’re even marrying into nobility.”
“You can never have enough money,” Daimen said. “Never. And yes, please do send all that money here if you can. Trying to flat out bribe the Taramatula directly with it wouldn’t go well, but I’m sure they would look more favorably on the plan if we agreed to pay for all the equipment and mercenaries out of our own pockets. And some completely unrelated gifts would probably be appreciated.”
Zorian nodded and made a mental note to mention the matter to Zach.
And speaking of Zach, his fellow time traveler… well, one of his fellow time travelers, now… was already waiting for them at the front gate, humming to himself happily.
Zorian didn’t have to ask to know what the other boy was thinking of at the moment.
“Say,” Zorian asked Daimen. “Do you know what the legality of owning a giant, magically-enhanced hydra is in Eldemar? Just asking for a friend.”