Like the time before being born.
That’s how they would recall it. Of course, later, more came to them. Much more. But as of that moment, as the light returned to them, that was all they knew. All they felt. They knew simply that in the light, they were safe. They were safe with her. And they knew one more thing. They were more there, then they were here. There, in the brilliance of the portal, they had been more. Here, now, standing on the stones of wherever they had come, they were small. Tiny. So little.
Perhaps, even insignificant now that she was gone. Or was she?
They were back. The same chamber, just like that. Quiet. Nothing had changed. Four statues, a cold hard stone portal behind them. No light, no noise. Dust. Layers of dust.
“That’s it?” said Areia, spinning around. “Wow, that guy went on and on for nothing, I mean seriously. What a waste people! Let’s get out of this place. I’ll bet Sillanius will have the ship waiting for us guys, don’t you worry. He’ll not let Andril and Haryk leave, I know it. We’ll finish out of here and head down to the bay, and be gone before old red eyes Umani wakes up tonight!” She looked around, but they weren’t laughing. And they weren’t looking at her.
They were looking at Iricah, who was counting them. “Marcus, Frank, and Ulua are missing,” she said flatly.
“Ah, crap,” muttered the rogue. “Well, once we get to the ship we can figure something out. Right everyone?”
“Areia, I don’t think the ship is going to be waiting for us today,” replied the bard. Again, her voice was flat.
“Oh you don’t? Well Iricah, you weren’t really around when we saved Sillanius. I have to tell you my boy is quite loyal to me. I think we can depend on….” her voice trailed off. Iricah had fallen onto her knees. The others watched her as well, as she pulled things out of her satchels and bags and placed them on the dusty chamber floor.
“I know your new to the group Iricah, but you don’t need to beg. Seriously.”
“This isn’t a time for jokes,” gruffed Thrak. He had the rare squinty eyed look, and his teeth, normally held under his gums as he had been trained to do around Celns, slipped through and around the sides. This made him, naturally menacing. Something which he normally tried to hide. “It’s a time for thinking!”
“Well, that’s going to leave you out,” said Areia matter-of-factly. “Too bad old grumpy pants isn’t here. He could think for the lot of us.”
Zy’an sighed. “Abraxas warned us not to take the path without the wizard. Something feels wrong now. Iricah, what do you see?”
Iricah, stretched out on her hands and knees. She had taken a glass and put it to her eye. She was staring at the floor, and at first, she did not answer. She knew a few things were wrong, immediately after arriving.
She knew that the chamber had been spotless when they stepped into it just moments ago. She knew it because details like this never alluded a person in pursuit of these clues her entire life. She knew the dust was wrong. Once she knew that, she looked down and knew the other things that were wrong as well.
Lots of them. Like those of Thrak. Only many many more. She looked at him and he looked back at her.
As if to give proof he showed the bottom of his chicken like foot to the others. He was right. These tracks, of which there were many, were different than his. Similar, yet different.
Iricah got down on her hands and knees. Brushing away the dust a bit she found the tracks had been laid down over many years. More. She spoke to the others while she worked. An entire section of the floor had no tracks she discovered and brushed them aside so she could work there. Although a fine layer of dust had settled over that section, she was able to use her tools to find just beneath this layer, something else. She uncorked from her bag a small bottle and poured the substance over the area. It congealed and hardened, and in just a few seconds, imprints appeared, imprints of footprints that were hidden just moments before. There, under years of dust, were their own tracks. Those they had just left behind. Unmistakable. The tracks of Areia, and Ulua, the others. Their tracks, buried in the dust of time. There could be only one conclusion, and she didn’t know how to explain it to the others, or for that matter, to herself.
“Iricah?” said Zy’an. He was staring at his own footprint. His mouth hung open with the understanding of what he now saw. As disbelief washed away, reality sunk in. Like Iricah, he didn’t know what to think.
She looked up, she didn’t know how to say it either. “We’ve been gone. And now we’re back.”
“Well, I for one think this portal thing is broken,” said Areia. “We obviously didn’t go anywhere. And I don’t see any loot here either!”
“Areia,” interrupted Zy’an. “I think what Iricah means is that we went somewhere, just not as you may think.”
“Out with it man,” snarked Areia. “You’re as bad as Abraxas. I mean, if we didn’t go anywhere, then what’s the big deal. We have larger dragons to slay. Let’s get back to the ship. I can taste the ale already. I already have my coin spent, people!”
“Areia,” Iricah said simply. “We aren’t going back to any ship. Because we aren’t now here when the ship was.”
“What do you mean when the ship was?” Thrak snapped. He looked like he was thinking as hard as he could.
“We have so much to do,” said Zy’an. “Let’s to it,” and he crept to the stairwell, disturbing the many footprints which had come and gone since the last time he was in this place.
For him, just a few moments.
For those making the tracks, as they would all discover, some 10 years.