Chapter XXVIII: Getting Bored

“Fuck!” 

Lorian tripped and fell onto the cold floor. They’d come back to the homeless shelter. It was deserted and dark, the room cold and strangely ghostly without the fireplaces and volunteers buzzing about. The chairs were sitting on the tables and the floors had been scrubbed of that soot circle Aida had created when they’d jumped. 

“Fuck!” 

Aida was on her hands and knees, screaming through her curses. She slammed her fists against the floorboards, then used her head to increase the pain. 

“Aida, stop.” 

Pushing him away, Aida rounded the corner, ran into a communal bathroom, and shut herself away from Lorian yet again. 

Lorian took a breath. He felt disconnected, like he wasn’t all there yet, but he wasn’t dying. He didn’t have a headache, he had all four limbs and five senses. He still felt the wet blood splatter the stadium stone and heard Eve screaming for that poor girl, her daughter. 

He held his heart for a different type of pain. They could’ve changed everything if they’d saved Eve, yet he was too wrapped up in his own misgivings about his heritage to listen to Aida and act. He’d wanted to be an officer. What officer acted this childish? How could he face Aida now? 

Lorian pulled himself up to the counter. Sitting on the edge was a key, a plate of cookies, and a letter written by Missus Sharma. Even in the dark, Lorian recognized her handwriting. She always wrote Lorian’s name, new and old, with a heart dotting the “i.

Dearest Lorian and Aida— 

I’m so sorry I’m not there with you. We all stayed there until closing hoping you’d both return. The owners promised that the building will be locked and secured for the night, but you can use this key to leave out the back should you return before morning. 

I hope you are alright, my loves, and are not in any pain. I don’t have the answers for how or why this’s happening, but I pray that you come back safe and unharmed. Please, please be careful, and Lorian, protect Aida. I worry so cautiously about her. I don’t want to see either of you getting hurt because of all this. 

If I don’t hear back from you, I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning to make sure you’re alright. I can’t wait to see you again, my loves. 

P.S. Here’re some cookies the owners gave us. 

Be safe, 

—Missus Sharma 

Lorian reread her letter, hearing her sweet, caring voice enter his head, and nibbled on one of the sugar cookies. He would do better. He couldn’t stay wrapped up in his own head while the world continued to ask more of him. For her sake, and Aida’s, he’d work on being his best possible self for them. 

“For what it’s worth, I think you’d make a great ruler.” 

He went for the bathroom door. It was locked. 

“Aida,” he whispered. “Please open the door. It’s like you said, we’ll always find each other. So don’t keep putting up barriers for me to break down. I don’t want to do it anymore.” 

The floorboards in the bathroom creaked. 

“Please, let me be here for you. Don’t handle this all on your own. Being alone…” He dropped his head on the wood. “Being alone is as suffocating as it is lonely. Please, let me in so we don’t have to feel that way anymore.” 

The door remained closed. He didn’t hear another sound come from the bathroom. 

Then the door wrenched open, sending him forwards and falling into her. 

Tears drenched her red cheeks. Her hair was a mess and her glasses were thrown near the sink, cracked near the top rim. 

“I can’t jump back,” she said. “I tried and I tried and I can’t do it. I-I tried hitting my head, I bit my hand, thinking it was mental. I tried imaging how far away we are from the Colosseum and tried to physically, I don’t know, force myself in there, but I-I—” 

Lorian took her into his arms. 

She took him in hers. “She’s dead.” 

He hugged her tighter, one hand petting the top of her head, the other pushing her into him. 

“She’s dead and I couldn’t fix it. I’m useless.” 

“You’re not useless.” 

“Look me in the eyes and tell me that, Lorian. I let her die twice. I could’ve moved. I could’ve done something, but I couldn’t.” She fully embraced him now in sobs, no longer trying to hide her sorrow. “History’s not changing, Lorian. She’s never coming back.” 

Lorian blinked back his tears as he steeled himself for her. “History cannot be made without losing the people we love.” 

“But I still don’t understand. One moment she’s a normal Visatorre, the next, she’s crisscrossing through time. I did it once and I can’t control it for shit.” She peeled her wet face off of him to look in the mirror. “Why didn’t I get my second Visatorre circle? You would’ve thought that after seeing that, I would’ve earned it.” 

“We should find Circa again.” 

With a touch of fear, Aida peeked out to an empty shelter. 

“That was her, I know it was. All of this must be her doing.” 

Aida looked like she’d throw up. He couldn’t imagine the pain of loving a God only to find out that they truly did not care how much you suffered. 

She put the balls of her hands into her eye sockets and stretched backwards. “Fuuuuck,” she drawled. 

“I know. You’ll figure this out.” 

“No, both of us better figure this out, because I don’t know what the fuck we’re gonna do next.” She started re-braiding her hair. “Eve’s gone, I have weird eyes, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t focus on any thought for more than a fraction of a second.” 

“Hey, at least you’re not writhing on the floor this time.” 

She went to argue with him, then closed her mouth. “Yeah. Yeah? I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.” 

“Count your blessings. We don’t get them very often.” 

“No,” a voice said, “we really don’t.” 

Lorian instinctively went for the absent rapier at his side. With the number of times his life was threatened, he should’ve had it sewn into his jacket. 

Future Aida, with her hands behind her back, grinned devilishly at him from the doorway. 

“I can help,” she said, “if ya’ll want me to.” 

Aida backed up into the counter and put on her glasses. “God damn it.” 

“Hi to you, too. I never know how to greet you two, but I’ve learned that being direct is the best way to get through to you. Me. Us.” She stuck out her tongue. “I’m here to help.” 

“Help with what?” Aida demanded. “You’re the most unhelpful person I’ve ever met. You’re the reason we’re getting fucked over like this. Why aren’t you helping us? Why did you let Eve die twice?” 

“Hey, whoa, who says I’m not helpful? I’m simply giving you hints on where you need to go.” 

“Bullshit.” 

“Hey, language. Now, come on, in, in.” She ushered Lorian into the bathroom and shut the door behind her. Lorian kept his distance. It was like she was a poisonous snake ready to lunge for her next meal. “Look, I know I don’t give you a lot of information. It kind of comes with the territory. But from what I remember from this time, neither of you are in a good headspace right now.” 

“What gave that away?” Aida asked. 

Future Aida held up her hands. “Hey, I’m not the best at picking up social cues. You know that. Give me a break.” 

“Why should I? Ever since you came into our lives, you’ve been nothing but a thorn in our sides. We’re criminals because of you. I lost my scholarship because of you. Eve’s dead because of you.” The look in Aida’s eyes changed. “How do we even know you’re really me?” 

Future Aida blinked. “I mean, does the face not give it away?” 

“How should I know? You could be a demon pretending to be me and fucking up the timeline so we’re both miserable and you get your kicks.” 

At that, Future Aida smiled, which only pissed off Aida more. 

“Tell me something,” Aida demanded, “something only I would know. Right now. Don’t hop and skip away like you always do with some cryptic, lyrical bullshit you pull out of your ass. Tell me or else we’re leaving and you don’t get to have your fun anymore.” 

Future Aida lifted her chin, staring her younger self down. While Lorian had confessed that the white pupils did make her prettier, this woman’s eyes and how wide she stared at him stirred something else inside of him, something sinister, like he’d do anything for her if she just asked, even murder. 

“Fine,” she said. “You think all of this will be easier if Lorian would just go back to the palace and reconcile with their family.” 

Aida didn’t move. 

“You think them taking back their title as princess would give you an easier path to the king and queen, who you wish to speak with to get the answers you’re looking for about Eve, but you wouldn’t dare ask them that because you know that going back home is the one thing they don’t want to do.” She looked up to the ceiling. “Well, part of their family is terrible. That’s an important note to make.” 

Lorian looked to Aida for confirmation, but she was staring dead-eyed at her future self. Had she really thought that? If Lorian went back, things would be easier. The hunt would end, Carmine wouldn’t be run ragged every day, his mother would be happier, and Beatrice wouldn’t act like his leaving was somehow her fault. His father would be calmer, too, something everyone in the palace would’ve wanted, and they’d probably get closer to finding out these answers they needed without the nonsense of their future selves. 

But to not even ask him, knowing that he couldn’t visit them right now due to his own safety and requests, if she’d done that, he didn’t know what to say. He’d only kiss her and thank Circa that he’d found his person. 

Aida crossed her arms. “What do you want from us?” 

“Oh, so you believe me now? Just from that? I could tell you more, like how you’re terrified of cows or that you like the way Lorian touches your—” 

Enough,” Aida said. “Answers. Now. Why’re you here?” 

“Currently? I’m bringing you to the palace, tonight.” She clapped her hands as if she were beckoning for a servant. “Let’s go. Pack your bags. It’s difficult to jump with one person, let alone two others.” 

“What?” Aida asked. “No, we’ll be thrown in jail, or killed.” 

“We won’t use the main entrance, silly, please. You’re talking to someone who’s broken into many homes and many Constable quarters. Have more faith in yourself.” She fished out a key from her dress pocket. It was silver and worn, with an emblem of a lion engraved on the top. 

“A Roman skeleton key,” Lorian said, touching the middle of his chest where his own key resided. “Where’d you get that?” 

“I have my ways,” she said. “How easy it is to break the law when the laws of the world don’t apply to you.” 

“She stole it,” Aida paraphrased. 

“I did not, I was gifted it, though you’d be surprised how few times the royal officers change the locks of the palace. Some are still the same from /Eve’s time.” 

Lorian nodded, following the truths she was saying. 

“Lorian, stop nodding,” Aida said. “Okay, what’s your plan, then, other than to get us killed?” 

“Look, if you didn’t already get it, you ain’t dying yet. You’re me. And let’s be honest here, this’s boring.” 

“Feeding the homeless?” Aida argued. “Watching Eve die, that’s boring to you?” 

“Yes! Well, not the first part, but we’re wasting too many pages of our lives wondering when or if or how when you should be doing more. I want things to pick up the pace, so I am nudging you to the place you are meant to be.” 

“But what if—” 

“Aida, I am not out here to hurt you, I’m not a masochist,” she said in a rush. “Stop being so distrustful of your own self. I am on your side. That is a promise.” She held out her hand, waiting for her to take it. “You’ve always wanted to change the world. Do you trust me in achieving it?” 

Aida didn’t take her eyes off of herself, glaring with a thousand questions on her sharp tongue. The two of them seemed to be having a conversation without words. He noticed that she did that at times, mentally organizing and rearranging her thoughts around the  person so she could create a new, well-thought-out opinion. 

Then she struck out her hand to Future Aida. 

Future Aida beamed. “There we are!” she said, and snatched it up. With her other free hand, she grabbed at Lorian and pulled the both of them in close. She must’ve known that she didn’t have to ask Lorian for his trust because Lorian would trust Aida in whatever version she was. 

 “Hang on!” she said, and the three of them jumped into brightness. 

— 

Lorian mentally praised himself for not landing on his face twice in two jumps. Future Aida brought them to a cobblestone road, but the unevenness of the ground actually worked in his favor. His boots caught on the stone and, while he tripped, he landed somewhat gracefully. 

Aida didn’t. Even with her cane, she stumbled into her future self and brought the two of them down. 

“Whoa!” Future Aida twirled and swung the two of them around, keeping both of them up. “Watch it. My leg’s already ruined badly enough.” 

When Lorian realized where he was, he gasped and stumbled back. They were at the front of the palace, right outside the iron-clad fence with a roaring lion carved into the bars. It must’ve been the same night. The crescent Moon was still high above the flags on the spires of his home. 

He hadn’t been so close to this place since he’d left on his wedding day. It was an ugly thing, blocky and made of sandy stone, with too many merlons for a city that hadn’t fought a war in close to a hundred years. The only part that stood out for him was the hidden flower garden in the center of the palace and the clock tower. Tall, with a clock face nearly ten meters across. It was surrounded by stained glass that sparkled both inside and out in a myriad of colors: his clock tower, his safe haven. 

He saw himself there, as a child: He’d be dancing on the wooden floor behind that clock, skipping over the colors reflected on the boards while the Carmine watched him and smiled. It’d be past his bedtime, but Carmine would only put a finger to his lips to keep it a secret between them. 

One night, the two of them had snuck off after a rather hard day. His father had scolded him for breaking a window with one of his toys. He’d hit him across the cheek and sent him into a screaming, kicking fit that’d upset her mother into her bedchamber for two days. 

While he was locked in his room, crying about how unfair life was, Carmine had come in. 

“Get out!” Lorian had screamed. “Leave me alone!” 

Instead of arguing back, Carmine had put a finger up to his lips. He had stubble he called a mustache and wore his hair in a long ponytail. It wasn’t suitable for normal officers, but Carmine had always been a good friend of his mother back before she’d been crowned queen. He got away with these things, even today. 

Carmine came in with that usual smile that melted his heart. “Hey, there, little spitfire.” 

“What do you want?” Lorian asked. 

“I found this lying around in the kitchens, and you know how I hate cakes, so…” He pulled out a plate from behind his back with a fork, a folded napkin, and a perfect piece of strawberry shortcake drizzled with sugar on it. “Will you finish this?” 

Lorian remembered his face brightening up despite the pain still infecting his cheek. He gobbled up the cake greedily and shared the topping strawberry with Carmine. 

“I hate daddy,” Lorian told him. “All the kings in my history books are nice and strong, but he’s just a jerk. You know he’s not a nice person, don’t you, Carmie? How come you can’t be king?” 

“Because I can’t be. You have to be born into nobility, just like your mother and you and your sister, and like your grandmother and grandfather before her.” 

“Then how come you can’t marry Mama?” 

“Your Highness.” Startled by the forwardness of a young child, Carmine patted Lorian’s head. “Why don’t we change the subject?” 

He pouted. “I don’t wanna.” 

“Fine.” He took his hand and sat him up. “Come with me.” 

“Where’re we going?” 

He smirked. “To break a few rules.” 

They snuck up all the way to the sixth story where only the clock tower resided. It rang by itself, so no one but Lorian would come up to bask in the architectural beauty. Him, and Carmine. 

He lifted his dress as he danced in a circle. The room was dusty and had the smell of mothballs baked into the wooden floors, but the room was all his own. No expensive dresses or gold jewelry passed on by his family that he was forced to wear. This was just a place for him to exist. 

He giggled and twirled in his white nightgown. “Dance with me, Carmie!” 

“I shouldn’t, Your Highness.” 

“I command you to! I’m gonna be king one day, so you have to follow what I say!” 

“You’re going to be queen, Your Highness, not king.” 

“Says who?” He grabbed his large hand and forced him into the center of the room, the moonlight their spotlight, the giant clock ticking to the song in Lorian’s head. 

Carmine laughed as he succumbed to his request, and the two of them danced for hours, singing and laughing about nothing. When Lorian got tired, he’d stand on Carmine’s boots, and he’d hold him until he was too tired to keep himself upright, and Carmine would carry him to bed like a baby. 

“Lorian.” 

Both Aidas had made it down the path and were waiting for him. His Aida was closer to him, refusing to move until he followed her. 

“Are you okay?” she asked. 

He nodded once. 

“Let’s go, lovebirds,” Future Aida said. “You both know what the officers will do to us if they find us this close to the castle.” 

Lorian knew, but what troubled him was that there were no officers patrolling this area. Normally, a handful of men would patrol this path at night, making sure the country’s fortress was secured, but he didn’t see a soul. Not even the lights of the main hall were lit. Were his parents out of town? 

“Why didn’t you jump us into the palace?” Aida asked as they walked. 

“Have you ever tried jumping with two people before? I didn’t want to get winded before we got there, and walking five kilometers to a place both of you are scared of isn’t something I wanted to do to you.” 

“I’m not scared,” Aida was quick to point out. 

“You—” 

“Anyway,” she continued, “before we get in, I need more answers from you. One: How can you jump forwards and backwards? How can you control it?” 

“It comes with age.” 

“But how can you do it? And why are my eyes different? Why haven’t I received my second circle?” 

“It comes with age.” 

She threw up her free hand. “Come on.” 

“A little information would help us figure out this task you want us to complete,” Lorian rephrased, “whatever that may be.” 

She opened the unlocked gate and allowed them entry like she was their butler. 

“They never leave this open,” Lorian said. 

“I opened it prior. I try to keep about twelve steps ahead of schedule at any given time.” 

“You’re avoiding my question,” Aida continued. “What am I missing?” 

“Okay, Little Aida, imagine, if you will, that when I came into your house, I’d told you that this blond-haired stranger that you didn’t really know because they kept all their feelings to themselves due to their royal upbringing was going to be your best friend.” She pointed at Lorian. “Try to work on that, by the way.” 

“You didn’t come into my house, you came into my dorm.” 

“Same difference. Anyway, if I told you that you and they were going to break into the Catacombs to unearth the true history of a dead queen you’ve never really known until this month while also trying to evade the Queen’s righthand man, would you have believed me, or would you’ve thought I was crazy?” 

Aida continued staring at her. 

And what if I told you that Eve was actually not a great person like you’ve built her up in your head for so many years who had more flaws than both our stepmom and Lorian’s mother—sorry, father—combined? If I told you that she was a power-hungry adulterer, would you have believed me?” 

 “If you would’ve explained yourself, I would’ve.” 

“No, you wouldn’t have. And if I didn’t get you in trouble with the law, you wouldn’t have found, uh, what’s her name…” She tapped her head. “Missus…Miss—” 

“Missus Sharma,” Lorian said impatiently. How could one forget her? 

“Right, right, Missus Sharma. You wouldn’t have found her nor would you have found that little book illustrating Eve and Julia holding hands, and then you wouldn’t have found Eve herself because you wouldn’t have had Lorian’s key to get into the Catacombs to discover her dead body because you never allowed yourself to trust him.” She read something written on her hand. “So, by leaving you without answers in your dorm room the first night we met, Lorian stayed with you, fell more in love with you, protected you, got you to Missus Sharma, got you to the Catacombs, got you to Eve. 

“You see where this’s going?” she said with a wave of her hand. “Time, it’s all annoyingly connected and the more you explain how life works, the more it makes your brain all fuzzy. The best thing you can do is simply roll the dice the Gods have given you and try not to die in the process. You know, I’ve always wanted you to hyperfocus on your memorization skills, but evidently, you haven’t.” 

Lorian waited for Aida to call her out or yell at her for talking down to her like that. He knew she hated people who questioned her intelligence without giving her the chance to find her own answer. 

Aida’s grip on Lorian doubled. “Evidently, I haven’t.” 

“Don’t take it too hard,” Lorian whispered, but Aida was slowing down and distancing themselves from Future Aida. 

“Come on, you two,” Future Aida said over her shoulder. “We’re almost there.” 

“You said ‘evidently’,” Aida said. “Why did you say that?” 

“Did you want another adverb? That’s what they’re called, right? Adjectives, adverbs. Ugh, they all get so confused in the old noggin.” 

“You’re trying to help us so we don’t ruin the past, but I’m you, so why does it matter?” 

“I just like sticking my head into business all about me.” She started humming to herself, tossing her head back and forth. Her swaying hair mesmerized Lorian until he realized what exactly Aida was getting at. Neither of them knew how this time travelling business worked, but what Aida was laying out was like a puzzle, the pieces beginning to fit in. 

“You’re my future self, but you’re more scatterbrained than I am,” Aida said. “You keep forgetting things and losing track of time.” 

Aida stopped walking. They were a handful of meters away from the entrance. “I thought we weren’t using the main doors.” 

Future Aida reached for the handle. She checked her hand again. It had notes written on it. “Huh. Seems like I forgot about that bit.” 

The doors slammed open. 

Dozens of officers barged out. They were armed like their forefathers were in the Colosseum, with rapiers and archaic bows and arrows and spears to kill them. 

Future Aida laughed and jumped to a third-story balcony overlooking the front doors. “Whoa! I guess that was gonna happen, huh?” 

“What is wrong with you!?” Aida snapped. “What were you thinking?” 

“I’m actually thinking quite a lot of things at any given—” 

Silence!” 

Lorian’s royal blood ran cold. He thought he’d never be subjugated to that horrible voice again. He’d run away for several reasons, all of which he tried to justify in his mind, but every reason—his fear of marriage, his fear of becoming a ruler, his fear of disappointing everyone—stemmed from him. 

Out from the front doors, guarded by Carmine and more armed officers, were his mother, his sister, Zaahir and Kadar, and his father. His parents were dressed in lavish blues and purples, proud and royal before the men they owned and the two young people they hated the most. 

Beatrice gasped at the sight of him and went to run out to see him, but their father struck out his hand in front of her, shocking her backwards. 

“It seems your plan backfired on you, you cursed woman,” his father said, looking up to where Future Aida was standing. “I overheard your conversation with this boy’s alleged ‘future self’. 

Future Aida peeked over her balcony, hair flopping over her face. 

“I heard your plans to infiltrate my home and bring these two deviants to my throne room. You thought you could so easily break into one of the most secure palaces without my knowing.” 

She tried holding back her laughter. “Oh, never,” she giggled. “Do you know how hard it would be for me to steal your keys and have access to every bathtub and parlor in this stinky place? Also, when were you listening to me? I could’ve sworn this didn’t happen. Lorian never reminded me about this.” 

Carmine tried to usher the queen back inside, but the king held up his hand. 

Lorian shuddered at the sight. He couldn’t even save himself, let alone the people he loved. He was about to give the order. To have them detained, whipped, tortured, executed, and he couldn’t do anything about it. Whatever his sister had done to betray them, whatever Future Aida was thinking, it didn’t matter. They were dead, because they couldn’t go against his father, otherwise they’d have to… 

They’d have to… 

“Run.” 

He looked down at Aida. 

“Run,” Aida whispered. “Get a head start. They’re angry with me, so the quicker you leave—” 

“I won’t leave you.” 

“You’re going to be taken away and married off because of her, of me.” Her grip tightened and tightened, her feelings betraying the words leaving her brain. “I’m sorry. I should’ve realized not to trust her. It all seems so obvious now.” 

“I’m never leaving you, Aida. You can tell me all you want, but I’m never leaving you.” 

She looked up at him, a fight on her tongue. Then she squeezed his hand back and huddled up close to his side. 

The officers surrounded them. Carmine had his eyes locked on Lorian. He wasn’t angry or bloodthirsty like his father. He held the same look at his mother, eyes wide, darting between them and the officers and the weapons trained on them. 

“Please wait a moment, Your Majesty.” Zaahir stepped between them. “Is this not what’ve wanted? Did you not want to speak with both women about their plans?” 

“Hey, you did?” Future Aida said. “Aw, that’s so sweet of you, Your Majesty.” 

“These two have been a disgrace to my kingdom and my men,” the king told Zaahir. “I shall see to it that neither have the chance to escape my custody again. You are in my kingdom, Prince Zaahir, so I suggest that you hold your tongue when speaking to your superiors and stay in line.” 

Zaahir’s thick eyebrows furrowed in rage. 

“Uh-oh, this’s getting tense,” Future Aida said, as if watching a drama from the best seats in the house and reacting to performances. Had she no sense of urgency? 

“Father,” Beatrice spoke up. 

“Be quiet, Beatrice. I am tired of—” 

“We are your children!” 

Half of the officers looked to their princess. 

The king turned to his only daughter. 

“Please, just listen to us,” Beatrice begged. “Hear them out. This’s what you’ve wanted, isn’t it? Why not listen to them?” 

“I don’t wish to hold a conversation with these people any longer, I want them dead.” 

Zaahir stepped up to the king, beside Beatrice. “Your Majesty, I have been on Roma’s side since the moment I was betrothed to your child as a toddler, when I had no choice to any part of my life except to serve this country, this world. Beatrice only wants what’s best for you and your kingdom. All we want is the best for both countries, and you seem to be holding the interests of your own pride over the interest of your own country.” 

As he raised his voice, the officers, protecting Durante unsheathed their swords, all but Carmine, who stepped back at what the two had just alluded to. 

“My!” Future Aida said. She jumped through a jump and landed in front of Aida and Lorian, clapping. “Well said, King and Queen! Brava! Brava!” 

Silence!” King Durante yelled. “Officers, capture her and these two. I don’t want to see them leaving my soil. Carmine, take Zaahir and Beatrice away. I’m tired of seeing their faces in my—” 

“You’re to capture us?” Future Aida asked. “Me? Now, how on Earth are you to do that?” 

An officer let the first arrow fly. 

Lorian heard Aida laugh before jumping out of the way and jumping straight near the king. 

Carmine, who should’ve been ready to protect his sovereign, went to Lorian’s mother instead, running her back into the safety of the palace. 

Leaving the king defenseless, Aida grabbed the back of his head and slammed it into her knee. 

That’s for hurting Lorian, you prick.” She spun into another jump, and when she landed back in the present, she was with another. 

Future Lorian stood by her side with Carmine’s rapier held firmly in his hand. He lost his footing for a moment as he took in the scene around him. “Really had to make him mad, didn’t you?” Lorian heard them mutter. 

“You know I had to,” she said, and the two of them charged. 

Pandemonium broke out on the main lawn. Future Lorian parried swords, Aida took on men half her size. She’d found a dagger between now and her jump and was disarming men with it. She jumped every other second, confusing her assailant long enough for her to shove them to the ground or make them fall into the officer next to them. Lorian’s family and Zaahir were brought back into the palace.  Amidst the fray, Carmine was battling on either joining his men in the fight or protecting Lorian’s family from a stray attack. 

“Listen to me, Lorian,” Future Aida called out while fighting. “Go to your secret spot in the woods, the place you haven’t been in years. You know the place, don’t you?” 

Lorian didn’t know what she was talking about. He was too focused on the stunned Carmine. He had his sword drawn now and was ready to attack Future Aida, but the girl paid him no mind. Instead of fighting him, she pulled something out of her dress pocket. It was an orb as small and black as a marble. 

When Carmine saw it, he scrambled back and hid behind the door. “Damn it, not again—!” 

She flicked the marble into the air, snatched it back into her clutches, then threw it at the ground as hard as she could. 

The grounds exploded with black smoke, thickly and quickly like a sudden storm of hungry locusts. Officers coughed and tried swatting the smoke away. It stained the air and left all of them aimless. 

Future Aida jumped high into the air, her grin never leaving her face. She pointed at the start of the dark forest behind the palace. “Go, and let the hunt begin!” 

Lorian’s brain locked into place. The woods. The hunt. Little clues, like breadcrumbs leading him to the right answer. It was the second-best place for them to be at the moment, excluding Missus Sharma’s cottage, and perhaps the middle of the ocean. 

Keeping hold of his Aida’s hand, Lorian followed his lover’s advice and ran for the dark tree line. 

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