(( Trigger warning: Infant death ))
“Where are we trying next?” Hethurin flicked an ear as he looked at the hourglass sitting on the table in the middle of Renner’s practice room.
“We’re going back to the portal in the kitchen. Do you remember trying to shift the vision to Silvermoon while we were there?”
“Yes, it didn’t work.”
“Because it was warded, and I’m sure it’s one of your wards, or one very similar to it. You’ve been practicing removing them?”
“I’ve been making slight variations and removing them. It depends how different it is.”
“Let’s find out.”
Hethurin nodded. He first cast the spell that would cloak both of them with an invisibility ward with a sound-dampening aura woven in. The sound-dampening was quite clever and actually relied on principles he had learned with chronomancy. Sound took time to travel distance. He managed to shorten the distance while keeping the time the same. He and Renner would be able to talk to each other, but no one would be able to hear them unless they yelled or they stood right next to them. He held the hourglass and turned it while casting the second spell.
The room changed the moment he finished uttering the spell. They were in the kitchen of the school in a timeline where it wasn’t a school. Tik was absent here. It looked exactly the same as they had seen it in the vision.
Renner whispered, perhaps unnecessarily, “Start your cast to take us to Silvermoon, but stop when you feel the ward’s resistance, then disable it.”
Hethurin nodded. He wasn’t very confident about this part of the plan, but decided to do his best. He started his cast. It was small at first, but as it grew in intensity, blocking his cast from the destination, he wove in one of his own spells to disable one of his own wards. He felt the ward snap, and his teleportation spell burst through to the location.
“That was a bit jolting.” Renner twitched an ear as he looked around at their new surroundings.
“It was my first try. It wasn’t that bad.” Hethurin replied in his own defense. He paused as he looked around as well. They were in the house he had grown up in with his family in Silvermoon. The first thing he did was inspect the walls. Every few years, his mother would commission a family portrait. He had learned from the visions of other realities that there were usually only two possibilities: A family with four children in which he was never born, or a family with six children like the one he had grown up with. It always depended on whether his brother lived or died as a baby. He saw neither possibility here. There was one with Vallindra and Lani when they were very young, then another of them with a baby brother, then nothing until they were grown, and it was only the two of them again. Hethurin had seen a wall like this once before.
“I see it too. We’ve been here before in a vision.”
“It wasn’t warded then. We had no problems viewing it.”
Renner looked at him, “No. It wasn’t then, but remember the past was. Perhaps when we attempted to go investigate the reason for the paintings, the ward triggered a warning to him? He might have come to ward more then. Anyway, I think you know our next stop.”
“The past in this timeline.”
“Yes,” Renner nodded, “Try to make it smoother this time.”
Hethurin took a deep breath and started to cast the spell to travel backwards along the timeline. He stopped sooner this time, recognizing the ward earlier. He cast smaller spells to gently unravel the ward. A new room took shape around them. It was dark, but Hethurin could make out a baby’s crib. He walked in and looked closer as his eyes adjusted to the low light. He saw the lifeless form of a baby tangled in his own blanket.
Hethurin looked at Renner, and was about to speak when Renner whispered, “Move back. Someone’s coming.”
They moved to the corner as another figure appeared in the room.
“That’s him. That’s my alternate self.” Hethurin said, confident that his sound-dampening spell was working.
It seemed that it was. His alternate self made no indication that he heard anything as he approached the crib. He picked up the baby and muttered with a sigh, “A few minutes too late.”
“Should we stop him?” Hethurin asked as his alternate self started to lean over to put the baby back.
Renner opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t get a chance as a woman’s scream pierced the quiet dark.
“My baby! What are you doing to my baby?” she continued screaming, “Isturon, wake up! There’s a strange man in the baby’s room!”
The alternate Hethurin, still holding the dead baby, began to cast a spell.
“Remember his spell. We’ll follow him.” Renner whispered.
Hethurin nodded, trying to concentrate on his alternate self’s spell cast, and ignore Verisna’s screams as the other elf disappeared with the baby.
“Now, make an adjustment to move the spell a few minutes earlier. We want to get there before him.” Renner paused and added, “Remember to take care of any wards.”
Hethurin nodded and started repeating the spell, making the necessary adjustments to allow for a few extra minutes. His mother’s hysterical screams continued, but he focused on finding the ward. He felt it, and began his spell casts to disable it as he heard his father’s voice asking Verisna to check on the girls while he went to get the guards. He carefully pried at the ward, picking it apart until the noise faded away.
They appeared to be in the same room, but a different timeline. It was slightly earlier in the night. It was still dark, but here, the sounds of a young baby struggling with his blanket came from the crib. The infant had learned how to roll over, and had managed to pull the blanket tight over his face. As he lacked the motor skills to do much more than kick, the blanket was winning.
“He’s going to die.”
“Don’t touch him.” Renner warned.
“I wasn’t going to. My alternate self will.”
“We’ll have to follow him again. Don’t touch anything here.”
Hethurin looked at Renner, puzzled, “Why should we wait, if we can prevent it from happening at all?”
“This is our timeline. Do not touch anything. Do I need to remind you that you are in your parents’ home before you exist?”
“No, but my alternate self isn’t going to care, is he?”
“We’ll watch. It’s already happened, and you’re still here. Don’t do anything to mess it up.”
They moved back to the corner as the baby continued to struggle with his blanket. The alternate Hethurin appeared seconds later, still holding the dead baby from the previous timeline. He briefly looked at it with disgust, but quickly turned his attention to the baby in the crib. He picked him up and unwrapped the blanket from his head. The baby started to cry. The alternate Hethurin wrapped the blanket around the dead baby’s head and placed him in the crib. He quickly cast a simple ward and teleported with the living baby.
“That spell… was it a time teleport?”
Renner frowned, “It sounded like gibberish to me. Was it the ward he cast first?”
Hethurin frowned, “It might have been. It wasn’t a very strong ward, but I’m unfamiliar with it, so maybe it did ward his spell cast. He would have had to return later to put the real ward that was here.”
“Try to get any teleportation dust from where he was standing before your mother wakes. I’d rather be out of here before she starts screaming again.”
Hethurin quickly found a cloth to wipe the floor where the other mage had stood while casting. “Renner?”
“Vaildor is my brother.”
“It appears so.”
“Not even an alternate brother. He’s my real brother.”
“Yes. This is our timeline.”
“Well, how do we take him back then?”
“I’m not sure that is possible now. He was supposed to die. If we took him back to where he should be, age-wise, and your parents believed it was him, you might not be born. More likely, your parents would reject him. I think there’s no other choice than to let him stay in our present. At least he’s back in the right timeline.”
Hethurin frowned as he cast the spell to take them back to their own present.