We collected Barnaby and Gracie, laying them out on the dining room table. They’d been dead less than a day by this point, and I thought my new ability to raise them may work. I just needed rest. The battle with Devil Pete had taken me to the brink of exhaustion. Before I collapsed, I wanted to see Phineas and Audrey.
We found them in the princess room where I’d barricaded myself once upon a time. The room looked the same, except for the occupants. Phineas lay on the bed, covered up to his chin in a faded pink chiffon bed spread. Audrey sat on the chair beside the bed, stroking his right arm and singing to him quietly.
She turned her head slightly when we came in, but did not move to her weapons. Old One Eye walked to the foot of the bed and stared at the portrait of Princess Pratheeba.
“Is this the woman you fought alongside?” he asked.
Audrey nodded and despite my exhaustion, I blurted out, “How?”
By now you know this whole island is a vortex of time anomalies, portals, and idiosyncrasies that would fill whole libraries in the University at Skyfell.
I, for one, found it fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. Now that the curse has been lifted, the sea gods temple restored, and Devil Pete has been banished once more, perhaps there can be some level of normalcy here.
I wasn’t holding my breath.
“Phineas opened a portal in time,” Audrey began, and we settled in to listen. “He desperately wanted to talk with Princess Pratheeba. We would send messages back and every now and again, if his opening of a vortex coincided with her own manipulation of time, she would send notes back. There was a book,” she reaches over and strokes the hair off his face. “Not a big book, though it was full of complicated formulas and coded notes that thrilled him. From the day it came through the nature of Phineas’s research shifted. Next thing I knew, we could open gates to different times with regularity. The main problem was that he could not go for very long. Someone had to be here to guide the spells, and while Gracie and Barnaby were amazing, they had little aptitude beyond turning dials and hour glasses. Anything else eluded their skill set.”
I noticed that tears rolled down her apple cheeks and we sat quietly until she wiped her eyes and continued.
“We could set the time sphere to open a portal, and we could go through, but someone needed to turn it every so often. Barnaby handled that. Sometimes the portals were so complicated Phineas was afraid to leave the mechanics to one of the servants, and he’d stay behind while I explored.
There used to be a great civilization here once, in the time of Pratheeba. The Nine and Sixty kingdoms, they were called, though her realm was not one of those. They were allied with the Purple Mountains dwarf clan, who were a major player in the alliance with the Bountiful Kingdom.”
I was thrilled to be hearing this. This was the way I understood the world, and to find another to independently corroborate the history was a relief beyond words. My dream quest was not brain damage, as Brother Durham claimed.
“When did you disappear?” I asked, and she turned her head to stare at me.
“I was gone nearly thirteen years, as far as I reckoned,” she said, her voice suddenly brisk. “It didn’t take long to realize I had stumbled upon the last days of Pratheeba, as her kingdom was reeling from the great cataclysm.” She grew quiet again, wringing her hands upon her lap. “The portal closed before I could return through and my long exile commenced. By this time, Pratheeba was quite mad. Despondent, really. Her lover, Gwendolyn had gone off on a mission of mercy to the Purple Mountain clan. There lands had once been a great mountainous peninsula which was swallowed whole by the sea. Only small islands remained. They were refugees, those that survived, and Gwendolyn had a heart bigger than her head. She and a fleet of ships went off to the Purple Mountain region to rescue any that managed to get out of their mountain stronghold, and she never returned.
“She made it to my people,” Old One Eye said. “She and hers took shiploads of my people to what remained of the mainland, leaving them with all the foodstuffs she had brought. Hundreds of thousands died in that initial cataclysm. Of the thousands that remained, nearly all were wiped out by plague,” he paused and looked at me. “demons, or worse.”
I nodded. He knew of my quest and had his own suppositions of my ancestry.
“Are there none of your people remaining?” I asked.
Bob spoke up for the first time. “My people searched for the Purple Mountain clan for many years. We were cousins on what you call the Forsaken Isle. Our kingdom was mostly destroyed and now lies at the bottom of the sea between the Forsaken Isle and Mazen. Of our once magnificent clan halls none remain, except in song.”
“It was hardest on my people,” Old One Eye said, his head bowed and his fingers interlaced across his chest. “But there is one hope.”
We all looked over at him, and Audrey spoke. “No, there is no hope.”
His face grew angry. “Why do you always deny me? Your lover can open a gate before and allow me to bring some of my people through. Do you not see?” His voice trailed off, broke and forlorn.
“You never remember,” she whispered, her face a mask of pity. “We have tried, over and over. Gwendolyn tried to bring them here to go through the gate, but each time we were met with another sea monster, another flying horror, another leviathan from the deep.” She leaned forward, putting her elbows on her knees. “Each time we tried, it cost both Pratheeba and Phineas a small bit of their mind. You know this. You’re a god.”
His shoulders slumped as recognition and abject sorrow colored his face.
“The last try was the great thunder lizard.” It wasn’t a question. He knew the facts.
Which explained how the land shark got here.
“How did Thunder Jack come here?” I asked.
Audrey looked at me, her face grim. “He martyred himself to save Gwendolyn,” she said.
Old One Eye growled. “He was the youngest son of the Purple Mountain’s Majesty. Last heir to a watery throne.”
Well, that explained the connection with She Who Rules the Waves.
And Devil Pete?” I asked.
Old One Eye spat. “Have you heard of the Man in White?”