1 Tinkering with Time

Here he was, hunched over the table as his hands busily worked the small hands of the clock and he wound it forward, observing the cogs as they all clicked synchronosly in place. It took him a moment to realize he was in a daze before he blinked, pulling his head up. He couldn't remember how it all started or where he was exactly for a moment but it confused him all the same.

"What?" His voice low as if the question escaped his lips in the moment. "W-Where am I?" All he could remember was that he had been hunched over a table while his hands hands had been busily tinkering with the cogs set in front of him. It seemed like another routine task, but it felt like things were out of place. Somehow, the pressure in his chest made him feel like he had been pressed for time at one point or another and it frustrated him even, though he wasn't sure why.

Snapping from his daze, he direction his head at the sound of the door swinging open and a man stepping in, but he looked young as if he had just barely grown into adulthood. What was worse than that was how distracted he was over the sound of the door squeaking when it opened.

"Cousin!" the man's voice called, sounding excited and giddy over something he was clutching close in hand. He couldn't help that his eyes trained on the object. Somehow these sequence of events felt familiar but at the same time, they also did not.

The man who named him cousin started to ramble, hardly noticing his cousin tightening his grip on the cog before he delicately removed it again from the machine and the clocked stopped moving. Slowly setting it down, he took in a deep breath and directed his attention to the stranger who had interrupted his activities.

Who was he? It took before the realization that everything was starting to feel foreign. The body he was in... The man talking... Where they all him?

Yes, this had to be so. This was him. I was him.

A moment of pause came from this man who named himself my cousin, and I finally felt like I could interject. I took in a calm breath, leaned back in my chair and with every ounce of energy I had - desire the nagging feeling to recluse myself - I turned to look at him sharply. "Keenan," my voice was rougher than I realized and I tried to clear it to see if maybe it was just because I'd been quiet for so long. He raised a brow at me, as if surprised I interrupted him. "I know you often forget but lest I remind you again that I hate being interrupted in the middle of a project. What is it now?"

"...'What is it now?' What do you mean by that?" 'Keenan' sounded irritated and oddly, I sort of sensed that he would be.

"What is it? Just show me what you have."

He looked down at the book under his arm and he nodded, quickly bringing it over to hand it to me and I held my hand up to stop him from getting any closer. "Folklore?" I raised a brow at my cousin, feeling a rising sense of irritation that this was what he was yammering on about the whole time.

"I don't have time for this," I put my hand to my head.

"You said you were having strange dreams and that things seemed out of place."

"When did I say that?" I felt suspicious of myself, but then again. I felt suspicious of this room. It looked nothing like I thought it should look like. Where had been my- My mind couldn't put a fine detail to it, but it felt like my tools were missing. That was the best word I could come up for it.

"Last night, you said your head was hurting. That things weren't going to end well and that you could hear voices and see faces, but recall none of their names. I think you're on to something. Those Gods... They have to be real."

"Gods?" I asked, laughing at him and his face looked like it had shriveled with the amount of disdain he had for my reaction. Almost as if to question who I was. That... I couldn't blame him for either. I wondered who I was too.

"Yes, the Gods. The wolves... They change the weather in the forest. The foxes make other feel pain, creating suffering and burning things as they like. Perhaps we aren't as unfortunate as we thought."

"Purely coincidence. The fact that we can even shift is probably just a way of defending ourselves from the humans. Our poison is gift enough."

"But you are not a snake. You're a dragon."

The words caught me. They hung in the air dreadfully painful and suddenly it all came back to me. Dragons? Snakes? These were things of the past. The place where humans and human-like creatures inhabited the world before the city was made. City? The realization hit me. "I need to go outside." I stood up abruptly, walking out the door.

Closing the door behind me, I felt an edging eeriness creep in at just how unfamiliar and archaically medieval everything felt. "Surely I'm dreaming," I stepped out, walking down a hallway that felt familiar yet wasn't entirely something I thought I knew and out into the courtyard.

My stomach clenched when I finally became more aware of the tightly carved snakes over the palace pillars. Their fangs sharp with glaring eyes that stared down over my hungrily. Fear overtook me when I turned my head, thinking I was in some strange cult land but the children playing in front of the pond near the well were dancing around one of their own.

The child twirled, laughing as her black hair spun around her, sharply disappearing in a dusty haze as a snake coiled in her place and swayed.

What hell was this? I turned my head sharply, feeling a gaze on me and dread filled me to see the very same excited man behind me I called cousin. His gaze was sharp, but mine felt weak and frail.

"You really are acting strange," he mused, reaching out but I flinched back quickly. It made his head tilt to the side, "Don't you recognize your own cousin? Me? Keenan Ali, Twenty-ninth Emperor of Armless men?"

I felt the world spin a bit and he watched me as I covered my face, shielding my eyes. "I-I guess the dream was so vivid. I feel out of place," I played off.

"You've been saying strange things the last few days." He looked concerned, but it was quickly replaced by a friendly hand reaching out. "Let's go eat lunch and drink a bit. Maybe you'll relax and regain your head a little."

"Sure," I told him, my stomach twisting. "We can do that." I took his hand to steady myself and nodded before getting a good idea of my feet beneath me. "S-Sorry," I attempted to rekindle that trust, hoping he'd tell me more.

"Of course. I know it can be a bit disorientating waking up from such a vivid dream." He stepped down the hall into the banquet room where the servants were setting up for lunch.

My eyes wandered over the food and a familiar hunger gnawed at my stomach when I spied a few eggs. Boiled eggs? I reached for one and he didn't question it, so it must have been fine. As I went to crack it, he made a face at me as the egg shell cracked and liquid seeped over the table.

"Haneul Tanwen," a female voice called. I turned my head quickly to catch sight of her. She was tall, slender and her voice was commanding but somehow my heart leapt from my chest as she walked closer to us. For a moment, I had hoped she was some sort of otherworldly wife of mine, but the hand she took was that of my 'cousin' and it made my heart sink seeing her.

She waited for my response and I forgot myself, staring at her ethereal beauty as she laughed at me. "Well, where have you been?"

"O-oh," I stammered, looking down, feeling caught unaware. "Sl-sleeping. I spent my time in my study for too long and I guessed I stayed up too many days." Not untrue of my usual habits.

She smirked at that, laughing as she covered her face. "You'll never find a wife acting like that Haneul," she told me.

So that was my name. Haneul.

"The Emperor tells me you were speaking of a place of metal, where chariots and palanquins didn't exist."

"I-I did?" I stammered, "O-oh, I wasn't aware he told you."

She laughed, covering her mouth again. "There isn't much my husband doesn't tell me."

Keenan smirked at me, his eyes aglow. "Did you find anything new to bring back from your dreams?"

I looked at him a little bewildered.

"That thing on your desk, you mentioned it was a clock..."

I leaned back in the cushion, staring at the two of them before shaking my head and laughing. "I guess I'm completely caught. Yeah," I breathed out. "I was building a clock. They're pretty common to the era. I mean, they're simple, easy to craft and-"

"Easy?" Keenan raised a brow. "How cocky. It took months to forge metal sheets small enough for that."

"R-Right, I mean in that dream." I continued, "I thought it might be handy since I hadn't seen any clocks around the place. Maybe it might help to delegate time more efficiently."

She looked surprised at my words and the two exchanged glances a moment before he looked back at me and nodded. "I had found a few texts, I had wondered if they were able to be deciphered but the sages say it will take time." He leaned against the table, propping his elbow against it before he looked down. "Do you remember more than last time?"

I swallowed the lump in my throat, wondering just what it meant to tell him. "I'm not sure, it usually fades the more I wake up."

"Maybe keeping a journal next time might not be such a bad idea." She interjected, turning to Keenan. "I know that it helps me to log my information for the doctors."

"True. Then they can understand it from the time you felt your pain or anything else you might forget later."

I thought about it a bit and wondered if 'I' had previously done this myself. "Hmm, I'm sure a journal won't hurt." I looked up at my cousin and then back down, deep in thought. "May I have a bit of time to eat and we can talk later?"

"Of course," Keenan told me, looking at my hand again. "You were cracking the egg on the counter though, so I'm not sure if you entirely have your wits about you though."

I looked at it and it dawned on me a little. "Ye-yeah, maybe not." I set it down on the counter as I watched his wife turn to pick another up and eat it whole. Dread overtook me as I looked at the rest of the table. Maybe a sandwich.... Oatmeal. My stomach clenched. Just small half-cooked chicks, eggs, what looked like raw strips of meat and a few other things.

"Anything cooked? My stomach isn't feeling right."

She raised a brow at her husband and could tell they were suspicious. "Um, sure," she told me. "I can call for a cook to lightly roast the meat for you."

"Great." I looked away, uncomfortable. "J-just till I feel a bit better. If not, maybe soup."

"I think they may have some of that." Keenan stood up, finally having enough. "Tahlia will call a cook over and I'll have the servants prepared to help you. You don't seem entirely alright today, Haneul." He looked concerned then and a bit disappointed. "Take it easy today. We can meet and talk more tomorrow."

I looked down at my hand, truly wondering what sort of world I had landed myself in. No mention of this place was in the history books. Had I... leapt through time?