Time’s thievish progress to eternity.”
— Shakespeare, Sonnet LXXVII
1 A New Home
swallowing the bitter-tasting remedy that would suppress my force field, I gathered
every scrap of my remaining bravado and painted it across my features like a
mask. I hoped it would last until I was alone. The one thing that could make today worse would be stepping into the Dimension Cell having shown my audience
how scared I really was. Xytovia only knew how it had come to this. I swallowed
again, willing my heart to stop beating so fast. The sensation of my magic
dissolving was like an icy fog swirling inside my head, so cold it made my
little more flourishing than was strictly necessary, Hilton Vierre, the senior
magician, adjusted his cuffs and prepared to create the necessary spell. He was
a pompous fool. The accuracy of the symbols was what mattered, not how stylish
his hand movements looked while he drew them. There were no reporters here. Who
was he trying to impress? I glanced at his deputy, Ava Pationne, a tall
dark-haired magician with refined features. Surely not.
his arms, and the symbols glowed purple and silver where they’d been engraved
at chest height on the bark of the largest tree. A shimmering doorway rose up
from the dark-blue earth. I averted my gaze. I knew what was on the other side.
The doorway led to an empty square chamber, ten feet wide by ten feet tall,
sustained by the living magic in the trees, and magically programmed to exist
in a never-ending time loop. It was the doorway to my future.
my family had remained in Vayl City. I was glad they weren’t permitted to make
the trip into the xyleander woods to see my sentence carried out. It was a lot
easier to hide my feelings now that I was alone with the six officiating
magicians. My mouth curled. Six. That was twice the number they needed. Even if
I put my mind to it, I couldn’t overpower more than two of them. No, they wanted
to dine out on the story of how they were here when I walked through that door.
I had no
false modesty about anything, and certainly not my magical ability or my notoriety.
This day, the day I was to be finally imprisoned, had been kept secret from the
citizens of Vayl because public opinion regarding my guilt remained divided, and
the vote to condemn me had been passed with a majority of just two. I’d spoken
passionately in my own defence, arguing that I was a victim of circumstance and
not a criminal. There had been calls for a recount. There had been a petition
signed by some very well-known citizens, magicians and cotidians alike. My face
and my name were everywhere: in newspapers, on flyers. I’d heard someone was planning
to write my biography.
recent likeness of me had been produced by Vayl City College a few months earlier
in readiness for my graduation. If I’d known what the likeness would eventually
be used for and how many people would see it, I would never have posed that way.
Even to my own eyes, I looked arrogant, but I’d received a lot of letters expressing
support. There had even been a few declarations of love.
rare moments we’d succeeded in ignoring the ongoing trial to talk about more ordinary
things, my brother had teased me about the love letters. I’d pretended to be flattered,
but in fact, I was more than a little annoyed. I hated being judged on the
basis of my looks and a few sensational newspaper articles.
yesterday’s editorial in the Vayl City Chronicle, a publication known for its exaggerated headlines,
I scowled. The reporters were not something I would miss. Kellan
Bavois, his dark eyes flashing with a defiance undiminished by the long legal process,
continues to protest his innocence. It is this reporter’s understanding that no
further interviews will be granted before his imprisonment, though the Board of
Mages refuses to confirm the date. Dare we hope that the authorities might listen
to reason and give this intriguing young man the benefit of the doubt? Watch this
I was all
out of hope. According to the laws of the land, a majority was a majority, no
matter how small, and the board was determined to uphold those laws. I was
going to be made an example of. My sentencing had been intentionally postponed
by a week. A week during which I’d turned seventeen years of age and become
eligible for the maximum one-hundred-year Dimension Cell term.
straighter and tried to ignore the disorientation inside my head. For the first
time in almost five years, I had no magic. I’d always used magic instinctively,
right from the day my spark had ignited, and its loss was jarring, impacting my
senses as if the world had gone dark or silent. When I tried to project my force
field, the stupid dizziness increased. I curled my toes inside my boots and
gritted my teeth, staring at the ground until my vision cleared.
the symbols stitched onto my shirt collar and cuffs had stopped glowing. My mother
had created a complicated and unique design made from all of the various symbols
that signified protection, ignoring me when I told her there was no point. Without
my magic, they were nothing more than embroidered shapes.
early morning. Fat drops of water glinted on the waxy surface of the xyleander
leaves, evidence of the overnight rainfall. There was a chill in the air and a pale
quality to the daylight. Autumn sunshine slanted through the trees’ branches,
highlighting their distinctive purple colour. Winter was a few weeks away.
be no seasons inside the cell, no colours, and no change in temperature. Each
day would be spent surrounded by four blank walls and only my thoughts for
company. Every morning I would be returned to the same moment. Over and over. Physically
unchanged. Whereas outside the cell, time would continue to pass. I looked at
the wet leaves, wondering if I would forget what purple looked like, or the way
my favourite drink tasted, or the crunch of frost underneath my boots on a cold
morning. What about my sister’s smile? My best friend’s terrible jokes? I
scowled again. Don’t get emotional. Sentiment won’t help anything.
shirt pocket,” said Hilton.
searched before we left,” I said. I pushed my black hair off my forehead. It
was too long. Scheduling a haircut hadn’t seemed important.
me,” said Hilton. He extended his hand, opening his fingers to reveal a small
polished crystal, round and flat and sparkling with magic. Layers of intricate symbols
had been carved into its centre, too many for me to decipher. His voice softened
in an imitation of sympathy, but his eyes remained cold. “This goes into your pocket. Had you forgotten?”
I had. I
stared at the Death Charm with sudden loathing.
wouldn’t mind,” added Hilton, meeting my gaze. The man’s anticipation was
almost palpable. He expected my resolve to crumble at the reminder of what I was
mind at all,” I said, holding out my hand. Hilton made a tiny magical cut in the
centre of my palm—enough to release one dark red drop of blood. He pressed the
crystal against it, and I watched with morbid fascination as the crystal changed
colour, giving off a steady hum of energy only I could feel. It set my teeth on
edge. It made my stomach clench.
drop of blood had been absorbed, I tucked the Death Charm into my pocket with careful
fingers. To my relief, I didn’t fumble the buttons, even though inside I was quaking.
When I spoke, I kept my voice level. “It’s not as if I ever plan to use it.”
see about that,” said Hilton.
I was so
annoyed, I barely heard Ava’s disapproving murmur. “Hilton.”
no way I was going to let him get the upper hand.
I said. I hid my anger behind a small smirk. “You won’t. Not unless you plan to live to the
age of…” I paused. “One hundred and seventy? Seventy-five?”
of red climbed from Hilton’s neck onto his cheeks. His iron-grey hair seemed to
bristle with indignation. “I’m forty-six,” he said.
to be shocked. “Excuse me. My mistake. Perhaps you’ve been working too hard.
The stress of the trial and all. You’ll still be dead long before you find out
what happens to me.”
care what happens to you!”
an eyebrow, I refrained from answering, choosing to let the man’s red face and
raised voice speak for him.
said Ava. “Kellan Bavois, in accordance with the laws of Vayl, you have been
tried and found guilty of the murder of your grandmother, Opal Bavois, and you
will serve one hundred years in this Dimension Cell as punishment. The board
grants you mercy in the form of a Death Charm. You may use the aforementioned charm
to escape the cell at any time.”
managed not to scoff. Mercy. Right. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
wish to make a final statement for the record?” she asked.
my head. You’ll be dead long before you find out what happens
to me seemed like a decent
enough parting shot. I was tempted to tell them I was innocent, but I’d said it
many times already. It would make no difference. I wanted it to be over. I wanted
to escape the semicircle of magicians with their curious eyes. This would be the
last moment for a very long time when I could still choose for myself. Suddenly,
it seemed important that I enter the cell of my own accord rather than at the
request of Hilton Vierre. I turned on my heel to face the shimmering doorway,
and after barely a second of hesitation, I walked through.
on the other side was quiet, unnaturally so. I huffed a quick breath, reassured
when the sound emerged as normal. My mouth lifted in a wry smile. At least I could
talk to myself.
I took a couple of steps, looking left and right and up and down. The walls were
uniformly beige except for a faint shadow indicating where they met the floor
and the ceiling. My neck and shoulders prickled as if I’d been touched by a
spell, and I spun around to find that the doorway had disappeared. They hadn’t
wasted any time.
out a hand. The wall was cool, smooth, and depressingly solid. It felt like stone.
It wasn’t, of course. It was magical energy that had been made to resemble stone,
and I wouldn’t have been able to punch my way out even if the wall had looked and
felt like tissue paper. But the stone ensured I would never mistake it for
anything but the prison it was. It was lucky I’d never been claustrophobic, but
even so, the lack of any visible exit was unnerving.
When I checked,
I discovered the entire cell was the same. The floor was just as solid as the walls.
Sleeping was going to be uncomfortable. I was dressed in a dark green shirt and
a pair of black trousers, and I had no coat or sweater I could use for a
pillow. I supposed I could choose to stay awake. After all, each morning the time
loop would reset to the moment I’d entered. I wouldn’t age. I wouldn’t die from
lack of sleep, or from thirst or starvation. I wouldn’t run out of air. My punishment
was complete isolation and the knowledge that everyone I cared about would carry
on living without me.
Cells were a new kind of magic. I was the third prisoner to have earned the rather
dubious honour of inhabiting one, and the youngest, and the one with the longest
sentence. Never let it be said that Kellan Bavois does anything
by halves. I shook my head
and pushed the thought away. I sounded like one of the newspaper editorials I
hated. I paced the cell, getting to know its dimensions while checking in vain
for weak spots with an occasional kick. The buckles on my boots clinked together.
I told myself I could do this. One day at a time.