Darkness cast a hush over the burial grounds. The teardrop moons of Chascadia shined more brightly as the sun faded. Shadows that stretched across the Healer’s grave melted away.
A woman with hair as white as snow stood at the foot of the stone. The skin around her eyes and lips crinkled, deepening wrinkles that had grown with age. She drew in a breath.
“I suppose you had to leave us sooner or later, Healer.”
She studied the glint of light reflecting off the crown of laurel and rose gold.
“I’d say nice crown if I knew it would have suited you. But rose gold?” Her lips quirked into a grin. “Overkill, really.”
A tear slipped from her eye.
“I will miss you.”
The woman, Ivory of Aboreal, brushed a hand across her cheek and stilled the trembling of her lips. The Healer’s wife and daughter had been absent from the ceremony. Both were Earth-born with shorter timelines. They’d passed on before him. A pang of loss twisted inside Ivory’s chest. It was the price of having friends from other worlds and time schemes.
Footsteps interrupted her thoughts.
A young man ambled forward, stopping when he reached the stone. His dark hair blended in with his robe, the black and gold funeral garb of Aboreal. Beneath the light of the moons, his eyes of purple ice shined warm and gray.
“Some event, wasn’t it, Sloe?”
He shrugged. “It was tolerable—for a funeral. Are you all right? You missed dinner.”
“I’m fine. Not hungry, that’s all.” She nudged him with an elbow. “Chascadian grub’s good though, isn’t it?”
He nodded and stared at the ground.
Ivory wrapped her hands around his shoulders. “Thank you for coming with me and putting up with all this. Let’s go home. There should be time left for you to meet up with Raven tonight.”
Sloe’s lips lifted at the corners. “Thanks, Mom.”
“You could have invited her to join us.” Ivory smacked herself in the head. “Why didn’t I think of that sooner? You could have had dinner together, and I wouldn’t feel so bad about leaving you at a table with strangers.”
At her son’s expression of horror, Ivory quickly added, “But who invites a girl to a funeral, right? Because that would be dumb, which is why I never should have suggested it.”
She frowned, trying to remember what dating was like at Sloe’s age, unsure whether he and Raven were a couple. Part of her wasn’t sure she wanted to know. Aborealian years were long, and memories of her adolescent years had begun to fade.
“It’s all right, Mom.” Sloe laughed. “Let’s just go.”
She smiled at her son, thankful he’d been born in a world with a timeline that was long like Aboreal’s. Sloe meant the worlds to her, and she was certain the Healer had felt that way about his own daughter, Calla. Ivory shrunk beneath the image burned in her mind—that of the pain in the Healer’s eyes at Calla’s funeral. His daughter’s lifetime had progressed rapidly compared to his own.
Ivory dropped her hands from Sloe’s shoulders and followed him to the back of the burial grounds. They passed through a gate and continued walking until they reached the center of two paths that crossed in the clearing.
Sloe reached out a hand and waved his arms through the air before pressing both palms to the ground.
Though Ivory couldn’t see the exit portal, Sloe had left a marking here, in this spot in Chascadia. She recognized the two scratches of dirt in the land that formed the letter x.
When Sloe lifted his hands again, Ivory’s ears filled with the buzzing and popping of electricity, the signal that the portal had been opened.
Like his father, Sloe was a Time Keeper with the ability to unlock portals between place and time. But the talent had advanced.
“It’s ready, Mom.”
Ivory caught her son’s outstretched hand and looped her arm through his. She narrowed her eyes. Waves of electric current traveled across her face and body, tingling her nerve endings and raising the hair at the nape of her neck.
The portal remained invisible and would remain unseen to passersby, to anyone without the Time Keeper talent. But colors flooded the crackling and popping of electricity that accompanied Ivory and Sloe home. Purples and deep blues swirled around them, pulling them along a tunnel of electric charge.
The last of the sparks faded beneath an amethyst sky.
“Home sweet home,” whispered Ivory. Her hands gripped twisted shapes that branched from a mangled tower of clockwork, gears, and timepieces. She huffed. “Well, as sweet and homelike as a Clock Tower can be.”
Sloe chuckled from a space beside her. “Come on, Mom, let’s ground.”
Freeing his hands, he pressed his feet to the tower and kicked, propelling his body backward. He soared into a double backflip before lithely landing on his feet.
“I wish you’d stop doing that. It scares me every time.”
“But it’s way faster than your route,” he called from the ground below. “You should try it.”
“Not a chance.”
Ivory groaned through gritted teeth before repositioning her hands and feet to grasp handholds and reach footholds, a task she repeated every step of the descent. As she scrambled down the tower, she passed clocks of all shapes and sizes—mantle clocks, digital clocks, and cuckoo clocks; some were simple watch faces or sundials. Before reaching the ground, she hopped over a gargantuan pocket watch set in silver.
“How’s that for sticking my landing?”
Sloe sniffed. He’d already pressed a hand and knee to the ground. Ivory knelt next to her son and did the same.
The ground rumbled, sending a wave of jolts up along the Clock Tower. Timepieces chimed from above, clanging and jingling as they bounced against each other and the tower.
When the rumblings subsided, Sloe rose and brushed dust from his knees. He caught Ivory squinting at a mound of raspberry blue metal piled in the distance, the ruined remains of a jet.
“Do you miss it?” he said. “Traveling by flight? Being a Chauffeur for the Time and Space Travel Agency?”
She jutted her chin and wrapped an arm around his neck. “Sometimes. I’d think about it less if we found somewhere to trash that heap of junk.”
“Don’t get old, kid. Your eyesight dulls, and suddenly no one needs you anymore.”
“But you still have your talent.”
Ivory chuckled darkly. “Yeah, well, it doesn’t do much good while in hiding.”
She exhaled and opened a door—not a portal, but a physical door—that led inside the Clock Tower.