Friday, January 1, 2021

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions [A Short Story for the New Year]


A bit late, but I couldn't let the new year start without a New Year's Eve/New Year's Day story! Hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. As a note, I did finish writing this rather late, so it may be a little less polished than the stories I normally post are.

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions

Item 5224022: Gold locket embossed with design reminiscent of a vine-wound clockface. Contains a single miazin crystal, a lock of tightly curled black hair, and a miniature pencil sketch cut to fit the locket. Pencil sketch appears to show a man and woman sitting side by side, holding hands. Faces are obscured by creasing and water damage, but female appears to have dark, curly hair, and man is wearing a top hat. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4), via naturally-occurring dimensional funnel in northern Chania, +55:-06, probably made between 3426 and 3428 P.C..
Collection: 1-4 Artifacts (Jewelry). Item 5224023: Thin, round-bladed 3.5-in knife made of silver with no crossguard and a single carmelian stone for the pommel. Hilt resembles a stylized Type E dragon. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4). Specific coordinates unknown. Likely from pre-600 P.C.. Confiscated from stash of noted interworld thief Elihu Glas. Collection: 1-4 Weaponry (Bladed).
Another box finished, its contents tagged and sorted and recorded in the archive log. This was hardly how Tamison had expected to spend his Turning Eve, but he wasn't about to complain. His recent assignment to the Interworld Archive was the best thing to happen to him in years. Forget adventure! Forget making a name for himself that would go down in history! People who went down in history only did so by facing off against werecats and mad mages and bears or by being so unbelievably, unbearably brilliant that they made normal people look like babbling infants by comparison. Tamison was honest enough with himself to know he wasn't the latter, and he'd had his fill of the former without achieving any degree of fame except the kind that comes from being thoroughly embarrassed in front of people he desperately wanted to impress.
But no more! This new year, there would be no more skin-of-the-teeth adventures. He wouldn't even have think about them except when he needed a good story to share at a party or over coffee with the other archive workers . . . especially with that pretty research wizard — Willow, her name was — who took breaks from her work at nearly the same time Tamison did and who was always happy for a chat. She was studying the way in which similar cultures tended to develop across different worlds, she'd told him, and expected to be based at the Archive for at least five years. She always appreciated his harrowing accounts from the last few years, whether or not he polished them up, and she never made him feel like a fool or yelled at him for doing his job, unlike some people.
Yes. This would be a nice, quiet year. Perhaps the start of a nice, quiet life. No more chasing around after once-lost wizard prodigies. No more deadly encounters turned to daring escapes. No more putting his foot in his mouth in the situations where it would have the most deadly consequences. It was just what he needed.
Tamison returned to his work table and opened up the next box of items to be sorted. A mass of paper expanded with a noise like a rustling sigh as soon as he opened the lid, and several pieces slid off the top of the pile and floated down to rest on the table. He double-checked the box for a tag. Miscellaneous pictures and photos received by anonymous donation, was all it said. Well, that was all right. It would be tedious to work through everything, but at least people tended to write dates on pictures. When you were lucky, they wrote other things too. And if you weren't lucky, well, paper responded well to tracing magic. With the slightest satisfied flourish, Tamison gathered up a stack of pages from the box's overflow, readied his pen, and set to work.
Item 5224024: Pencil sketch on thick woven paper. Heavily creased with one horizontal fold and three vertical and torn along the edges. Sketch shows a section of a rocky mountain range as seen from a significant height. A Type B or C dragon flies above the peaks about three-quarters across the page. The signature in the corner appears to read "Tessa F." An inscription on the back reads "Apl 462. DR Mountains from dragonback with Aunt R." Origin: Berstru (1-5). Specific coordinates unknown. Created in Apula (4th month) in 462 L.R. or 2679 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224031: Photograph on glossy paper. Square composition with 0.5in white margin on top, left, and right side, 1.5in white margin on bottom. Photograph shows a rock carved with some form of carved letters or runes, partially entangled in vines. Cursive handwriting in bottom margin reads "Arrival at real rune-stone! Good to be home. Ish. 8/26/2013". Origin: Earth (1-3), +45.9476:-91.8330. Taken August 26, 2013 L.R. or 6015 P.C.. Collection: 1-3 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
The handwriting on the photo looked oddly familiar. Tamison picked up the photo to study it more carefully, holding it so his fingers touched only the thinnest edges of the paper. He couldn't quite place it. Perhaps it was the same as the handwriting on some of the letters he'd been sorting yesterday.
He slid the photo into its envelope and tagged it a bit more quickly than was strictly necessary. Once, he, like many others, had entertained a certain level of fascination with Earth, one of the few worlds with no natural access to magic of any kind except that which trickled in via portals. Now he couldn't think of the world without recalling that disastrous first meeting . . .
And, of course, she'd had to follow him here. She'd claimed it was unintentional and that she had to come here anyway to do what she believed she was meant to do. That it was just coincidence. Once upon a time in a daydream, he'd have thought she was secretly coming here because she wanted to be close to him. Now, he wouldn't be surprised if she secretly liked keeping him off-balance and on his toes. But she did have research to do, and it did make sense for her to do it here, so he had no grounds to ask her to leave.
Item 5224033: Replica of Morte Revenau's "Fall From the Tower". Oil on canvas. Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00149:-15.9847. Created in the sixth month of 3429 P.C., based on original painting from 3427 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Paintings, Masters Replicas)
. . .
Item 5224037: Colored pencil sketch on thick paper. Uncreased, minor tears on edges. Sketch shows the ruins of a stone building. A colonnade of Thetonic columns remains standing, leading to what was a large doorway that has fallen in. Tallest standing walls appear to be 20ft, but were clearly taller at one point. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "Remains of New Council Building. Clearly not so new now, LOL. Wonder what happened here?" Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
Tamison paused and traced his finger over the paper again in the pattern to reactivate the tracer. The same result appeared: this world, Darachan, some two thousand years in the future. Well, that wasn't entirely unheard of. Occasionally things slipped through the cracks of time as well as the gaps between worlds. But it was unusual for there to be a time-gap without a world-gap — unusual for items to fall back or forward in time without landing in another world as well.
He hesitated, glanced up towards the ceiling and the Archive towers and the laboratories and workshops in those towers, the ones reserved for those doing not just research but theoretical application, as many called it when they didn't want to acknowledge the risk of that application ripping non-mendable holes in reality or, at the least, killing the people doing it. Should he . . .?
No. She'd get along without it. They all would. He'd tell her later, if she asked. Or she could find it for herself in the archive record. He'd spent two years caught up in her life — initially thinking he would be her guide, her counsellor, and more, and gradually realizing his mistake — and he wasn't taking a risk on getting entangled again more than he already was. With a final shake of his head, he slid the sketch into a protective sleeve, tagged it, and placed it in the appropriate box.
Item 5224036: Black-and-white photograph. Grainy and marred by water damage. Photograph shows a person standing next to a Thetonic column, one of several in a row. The ruins of the New Council Building (see Item 5224035) can be seen in the background. Person is tall, relatively thin. Dressed in a Darachanian wizard's robe and an Earthan or Fuilan coat, hip length. Face/features too blurry to make out except for significant quantities of dark hair. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "By the ruins of the New Council Building." Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224043: Black-and-white photograph. Photograph shows a reception at the Chanian Royal Palace in Rivenford. The central figure of the photo is Prince Josiah Chambers, dressed in formal suit and crown, who speaks to a woman turned away from the camera. The woman is fair-haired and wears a wide-skirted dark ballgown and a crown or hair ornament with several points. Behind the prince, a short woman with equally short, curly hair walks away from the camera quickly enough that her figure is blurred. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads "Royal Crossings Night Ball, Rivenford." Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00143:-15.98467. Created in the fifth month of 3425 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224044: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows two nearly-identical people fighting with swords in a forest. Both persons are female, young adult or older teen, and have features suggestive of some of the Old Families of Berstru. Both wear travel-stained clothing, one in green and brown and one in black. A second figure in black is just barely visible in the trees in the background, her face obscured by shadows. Leaves intrude into the edges of the frame as if the photograph was taken through foliage. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +31.33:+23.43 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 439 L.R. or 2656 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
. . .
Item 5224057: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows a crowd running to the left away from some kind of flaming structures. A somewhat blurred, dark-haired woman in a torn green dress or robe stands with her hands raised in front of the flames. Armored figures bearing spears run towards her and the crowd. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +43.97034:+27.01562 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 445 L.R. or 2662 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
A sudden shock of magical overflow rippled through the air and jolted against Tamison's skin, prickling and tingling as if his whole body had been asleep and had just gained feeling again. He dropped his pen and shook out his suddenly-leaden hands, flexing his fingers until they could move properly again. The Archive was warded with eleven generations of wizards each adding their own protections, layered one on top of each other. Nothing remotely dangerous could get in without being let in by multiple people — for so much as a person to enter was immensely difficult. But magical backwash from the experiments in the towers was something else.
It was probably Carrie's fault. Tamison scowled at nothing in particular. That would be no surprise at all. He had only the vaguest sense what she was working on — she'd told him once, but he hadn't listened — but he knew it was something complicated with portals. And anything with portals took — and released — significant amounts of magical energy.
Still scowling, Tamison gathered the papers the burst of magic had scattered over the table and picked up his pen once more. Magic overflow or no magic overflow, he had work to do. And maybe if he finished early enough in the evening, Willow would agree to welcome the new year with him and some good, strong eggnog.
Item 5224057: "The Shadowwalker and Victory" by Iela Morrow. Oil on canvas. Painting portrays the parade celebrating the Aralan victory over Vtillus Terian's forces in the Black Morning war. Origin: Aralan (1-7), -33.4743:+69.3021. Painted Fellthen 12, 1869 L.R. or 3894 P.C.. Collection: 1-7 Artwork (Painting, Masters)
. . .
Item 5224060: Photograph on matte paper. Photo portrays
Tamison paused with his pen held poised on the page. Ink began to pool at the tip, but he barely noticed. The photo held his gaze locked on the central figures in the scene: a bride and groom in traditional Darachan wedding garb — the groom in deep blue robe and white shirt, the bride in palest pink and gold. They held each other close on a crowded dance floor, leaning in for a kiss. The bride was mostly turned away from the camera, but the groom was nearly facing it — and that was what Tamison couldn't look away from. Though the image was poorly lit and slightly blurred, he couldn't deny what he saw. The face of the groom — that was his face. A bit older than he currently was, but his all the same.
He flipped the photo and read the inscription. Mr. and Mrs. T. Quercus, at last. Took them long enough! May their life together be long and happy. 8.30.79.
Quercus. That was the name that would be his to take once he was married. It wasn't a common name, by any means. But how . . .?
The handwriting. It was the same as many of the other images he'd sorted. And now he was beginning to think where he'd seen it before.
The last of the backwash prickled on his skin. He glanced upward again. Then, working on a hunch. He set the photo carefully aside and returned to the previous items he'd sorted.
The woman standing in front of the flames couldn't be identified. But the hair was certainly dark and wild enough, and the green dress . . .
And there, in the background of the photo at the palace — a woman, dark-skinned and wearing a gown that could be a shade of green, with dark curls escaping from her updo. She was in the crowd in the painting of the parade, and the woman by the colonnade could certainly be her . . . Again and again, she appeared, always just a bit out of focus, a bit obscured, whether she was the subject or merely a face in a crowd.
Tamison turned to the box again, skimming through as quickly as he could while still searching. She wasn't in every picture. But she was in enough. And hadn't Carrie been asking for anything that had slipped through time?
Then he found the photos — two of them, partially stuck together where the coating on the bottom paper had softened. In the first, Carrie — years older but still recognizable — stood by a brick wall stained with weather and paint and mold, looking over her shoulder at the camera. On the flip side of the photo, an inscription read, Back where it all began. Remember this?
And then the second: sepia-toned, grainy, taken from behind and just to the left of the subject. Carrie stood in one of the tower labs, her hand outstretched, her curls falling out of their bun. Her face was just visible, strained with concentration. Her fingers were midway through some process that made the air before her shimmer just enough to be noticeable . . .
Tamison flipped the picture. I think I must've caused the burst when I popped in to snap this. Sorry. Tam, I don't know it now, but I'll need your help in not too long. Hurry up — Room 34 — and you'll be just in time.
Tamison stared at me message. No. He had what he wanted. He liked the Archive. He liked his work and Willow and the peace and quiet. He wasn't about to give that up. Not for her. Not to go on adventures once again.
But if she needed him . . .
He looked again at the wedding picture. That had to mean something, didn't it? It meant he survived. It meant he found someone. It meant Carrie cared enough sometime to preserve a memory of . . . well, of an event that hadn't happened yet. But would. Or perhaps wouldn't, if he didn't do this.
"Oh, confound it," he muttered under his breath. He packed the unsorted papers, all but one, back into their box and scribbled a quick note for someone to find later if the worst came to worst. Then he slid the photo in his pocket and rushed out the door. He'd pause at Willow's office. Maybe she'd be interested in doing some fieldwork. If nothing else, he'd tell her what he was doing so she'd know.
And after that . . . Well. He'd see what new world awaited him in this new year.


  1. Glad to hear from Tamison and Carrie again!
    I wouldn't mind roaming the Interworld Archives.

    1. I wouldn't either. It's a fascinating place. :D Glad you enjoyed the story!


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