Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Reason to Be Here [A New Year's Eve Short Story]

'Tis time for my annual New Year's Eve short story, and y'all, I actually finished this one well BEFORE midnight. In fact, it's 3:30 when I'm scheduling this, though it won't go up until the evening. As usual, this story should work on its own, but it's also a continuation of what we've seen in my previous New Year's Eve stories. Enjoy!

A Reason to Be Here

Why had he ever agreed to this?

Tamison sat with his back to a crumbling plaster wall, watching the doorway and listening as the coughing from the room behind this one mixed with the furor of shouts and shots and occasional crackling spells from the streets outside. Had they gotten louder in the last half-hour? Or was it just the squeezing pain in his head that made him think so?

He glanced across the room at Laelia, the one person in their group who hadn’t ended up sick within hours of stepping into this world. “Are you sure this place is safe?” The words scratched in his throat like sandpaper, and he wished for a drink — but the plumbing up here didn’t seem to work, and if he went downstairs to find a working pump or facet, he wasn’t sure he’d have the energy to make it back, assuming that he didn’t get killed by an errant shot or spell while he was there. Better to conserve what he and Laelia had managed to bring up earlier — better to save as much of it as possible for Carrie and Willow, both of whom were too sick even to sit up.

Laelia took several moments to respond, but at last her pen — scratching in her notebook like it always did whenever they had a few minutes to spare — stilled. She nodded once. “I told you already, I’m almost certain it’s the one I read about. It looks just like the pictures.”

Almost certain was not the reassurance Tamison had looked for, but he suspected it was the best he was going to get. To think that their entire safety relied on one fragile memory! The same fragile memory that had gotten them stuck here, for that matter.

Though, then again, that wasn’t entirely fair. True, it had been Laelia’s suggestion to come to this world, Cotirus. She’d recalled that it had been one of the last worlds to end trade and travel relations with Darachan. And from that memory had come the thought that it might hold information on what had caused the destruction of Darachan’s capital — a question that could have been solved with simple time portals except that no one wanted to get caught up in the event itself — and what had become of Xenoth’s Archive, a record of magical experiments and discoveries by a particularly long-lived and inventive, but secretive, wizard that Carrie wanted for research purposes. She’d even been the one to work out when the best time to find that information might be.

So, all this had been Laelia’s idea. But Carrie had been the one who decided to jump worlds and times in one portal instead of making two separate jumps like Tamison had wanted. She’d insisted that adjusting for two sets of coordinates would be no more difficult than one would be. She’d argued that one complex portal would be more magic-efficient than two simple ones, and hadn’t Tamison and Willow been harassing her about overdoing it?

And now here they were: in Cotirus, as intended, but half a century earlier than intended, at what Laelia thought was the tail end of a revolution so dramatic that a whole world changed their calendars over it, declaring the day after it ended the first day of a new year and new era. To make matters worse, there seemed to be a minor plague running rampant, one that primarily seemed to affect wizards, which made Tamison suspect that it was less a real plague and more a biological attack by one side of the revolution or the other. It had been sheer luck that they’d managed to find shelter here, in a house Laelia identified as having stood long enough to make it into history books as a monument. She’d said something about someone important having almost died and miraculously survived here, but Tamison had been too miserable to listen closely.

The clamor outside was definitely getting louder, and that meant the fighting was getting closer. Tamison groaned and pulled his knees up so he could rest his extended arms on them with his fingers held ready for a shielding spell. Assuming he could summon enough magic to do more than a bit of fizzing lights, that was. This sickness seemed to affect his magical reserves worse than any other part of him, which explained why Carrie and Willow — who’d been managing most of their travel — were so much sicker than he was. How any other wizards in this world had enough magic to do anything as dramatic as what he could hear outside was beyond him. Maybe they’d figured out how to store power outside themselves like the Chanian inventors did.

He glanced over at Laelia again. She’d gone back to writing in her notebook, scribbling as if the world would end if she didn’t write down every detail of everything that she’d seen and encountered since she joined their group. Sheer misery provided enough motivation to force words up his throat, “Why are you here?”

Her pen stopped faster this time. “What do you mean?”

“Why did you come?” Tamison let his head sink onto his arms, trusting his ears to give him enough warning if he needed to shield anything. “You didn’t have to. Willow didn’t have to. You had good lives back when and where you were. Why’d you leave?”

Laelia looked back down at her notebook. “I want to discover things. I want to do or find something that’ll matter. Why are you here?”

Good question. Why was he here? Why had he even accepted the assignment that led him to meet Carrie in the first place? He should have asked for anything else. Tentacle beasts from the Lost Realm would’ve been less difficult to deal with than all these years of getting dragged into her adventures. Even bears would’ve been preferable. Bears didn’t have revolutions, and they didn’t timeport you so the tower you were standing inside of suddenly became rubble some fifty feet down. It wasn’t as if he’d done anything particularly useful all this time, just argued with Carrie in an attempt to hold back some of her madness.

But on the other hand . . . he knew why he was here, and there was a photo in his pocket that told him why. He sighed, then coughed several times before answering, “I thought it would matter. Now I just think I’m fated to be caught up in all the trouble Carrie gets into.”

Further conversation was forestalled by the sound of raised voices and running footsteps downstairs, with a few shots here and there. Tamison tensed and raised his head, trying to make out words. He wished he still had Myrd with him; the pocket dragon was stealthy enough to do excellent reconnaissance even when they were in a world that didn’t naturally have dragons. But Myrd had elected to leave the adventuring life after a particularly harrowing brush with a flock of Netherpests early in Tamison’s acquaintance with Carrie, and now he lived comfortably with Tamison’s sister, her husband, and their children. Lucky dragon.

So, Tamison strained his ears and wished he could see through walls as the footsteps moved up the stairs and into the hall outside. A moment later, a figure in a knee-length blue coat and red cap burst into the room. The gold trim on his coat suggested he had been someone important, perhaps still was, but the dirt, gunsmoke, and blood smattering his face and clothes told a far clearer story.

The man glanced back where he’d come, where more footsteps and angry shouts still sounded. Then he looked frantically from Tamison to Laelia. “Are either of you wizards?”

Laelia blinked and shook her head, gaping at the man as if she wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Tamison kept his mouth shut, trying to think strategically through the pain squeezing his mind, wishing he knew how to tell friend from foe.

“Please —” The man took a step further inside. “I need to live. I’ve lost my weapon. If you can protect me, I’ll make it worth your while —”

The footsteps were getting closer. So were voices, most of them yelling about how the man should come out so they could kill him. Blast it! Tamison groaned. “Not sure I can help — I’m mostly drained.”

“Here.” The man was across the room before Tamison could warn him that he was sick. He thrust something into Tamison’s hand: a metal cylinder, like the flashlights that Darachan had occasionally imported from Earth, but with glass on both ends and what looked like dozens of tiny crystals behind the glass, all glowing faintly. “I took this from — from a friend of mine, after he died. He was a wizard; he said this held power. Can you use it?”

Could he? Tamison focused on the cylinder, feeling along its length. His fingers found a series of indents along the side, and as his fingertips settled into them, he felt the magic welling up within the device. Could he pull from it?

Lights sparkled above his hand as he discovered that he could. But there was no time to wonder how. Figures appeared in the doorway, guns in hand. One let out a shout as he spotted the stranger and aimed his weapon.

Tamison focused, flicking his fingers to summon a shield. It flashed over the door just in time to send the first bullets bouncing back at those who’d shot them. Then, with a practiced twist of his wrist, he multiplied the energy of the shield and sent it bursting down the hall and through the rest of the house. The attackers fell to the ground unmoving in its wake.

Tamison heaved a sigh and let his head drop back onto his arms. “They should be dead,” he mumbled. “The house is clear.” He extended the magic-holding device back towards the man. “Here.”

The floorboards creaked as the man stood. “Keep it. I can’t use it, and it’s fair payment for saving my life. Use it to try to get out of here, if you can.”

Could he? Tamison turned to blink up at the man. “What about you?”

“I still have work to do here.” It was the sort of line you’d hear from a hero in a play, but the man sounded like he meant what he’d said.  “Go. And thank you for your help.”

He headed back out the door before Tamison could protest. A few minutes after he’d gone, Laelia finally found her voice. “Do you know who that was?”

“No. How would I? We’re still in my future, even if it’s your past.” Technically speaking, Tamison was fairly certain he was long dead in his own world right now. Assuming he was going to survive long enough to make it back there.

“He’s going to end this revolution,” Laelia said. “In a month, this city gets renamed after him. Because you just saved his life.”

“Good for him.” At least something beneficial had come of this whole ordeal. Tamison looked again at the magic-holding device in his hand and then forced himself to his feet. “Come on.”

Laelia stood, tucking notebook and pen into an oversized jacket pocket. “What are you doing?”

“I may not be Carrie, but I can manage a portal. I’m taking us back to Darachan.” The words felt good in Tamison’s mouth, though they hurt coming up. “We’ll find somewhere there to recover, and then, if you and Carrie want, we can come back to this world — the right way.”


  1. Laelia is living the researcher's dream, and I'm a mite jealous.
    Also happy to see Tamison being epic!

    1. She really is! Firsthand experience with ALL the historical stuff! And yes, I'm glad I got a chance to show that there is a very good reason why Tamison is here, even if he's a bit miserable and doubting that. Glad you enjoyed the story!


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