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There's a Dragon in My Time Machine


The Furox


Chapter 1

What was that? I opened my eyes and lifted my head to look around but everything seemed OK. Sort of felt like the floor shook a bit. Guess I must have been dreaming. It was still early and I could see through my window that dawn was just beginning. Plenty of time to get more sleep, so I rolled over and shut my eyes.

After a few moments, I felt it again. OK, I wasn't dreaming it this time. The room really shook.

An earthquake? We didn't have earthquakes in Dragon City, at least not that I had ever heard of. Was it a group of dragons running by on Connor's practice track outside? He hadn't said anything about practice runs today and it was way too early besides.

Before I could figure out what was happening, an even larger jolt hit. Whatever was going on, it was getting worse.

I heard running footsteps approaching my room and Connor's voice calling out in near desperation.

"Beau! Beau! Are you there?" he yelled.

I could hear in his voice that he was deadly serious about something. I had known Connor all my life and one thing was certain: when Connor was serious about something, it was serious.

I leapt to my feet as the door to my stable slid open. Connor ran in carrying some sort of gear pack under his arm and a smaller unit in his other hand. The expression on his face and tone of his voice made it clear he was desperately worried about something but relieved to see me. He said, "Beau! Thank the Magna Draconis you're still here!"

Still here? Why wouldn't I be here? I cocked my head and said, "Huh?"

"Beau, we're all in grave danger. You especially. And we are literally out of time."

This wasn't starting out good at all.

"Those jolts you felt? Those were time-quakes," he said.

Time-quakes? What the heck was a time-quake?

"A time-quake is the shock wave caused by a change to our past," he said, having guessed that the questioning look on my face meant I didn't know what a time-quake was. Connor had raised me from a pup and knew me well enough that he could generally deduce what was on my mind. Plus he had gotten really good at reading my facial expressions. To be sure, this was a rather crude way to communicate, but it seemed to suffice. Most of the time, anyway.

Speaking quickly as though he had a lot to say and little time to say it, he continued, "When something alters the past, the present reality has to adjust to fit the new past and this generates a shock wave as the change ripples through time to our present. It's like throwing a stone into a pool of water. The magnitude of the shock wave corresponds to the degree of the change in the past. Minor changes generate only small tremors. Large changes, the kind that literally change the course of history, cause massive shock waves as reality adjusts to accommodate the change. Look here," he said as he held out the small device in his hand for me to see. It was a data pad of sorts with a display read-out that showed a pulsating circle moving towards the center portion of the grid. He continued urgently, "This ancient sensing device was given to me by the Dragon Priests. Among other things, it's capable of sensing temporal disturbances. This pulsating circle is a massive time-quake approaching our present time. When it hits, our entire reality and what we know as our history will change. After the shock wave passes, a new reality will be in place and no one will remember the previous one. It will be as if it never happened."

Believe it or not, this was making some sense to me. Artha and Lance both liked science-fiction movies and I had watched a couple with them that had involved time travel. The movies usually went along the lines of someone traveling into the past, changing something to suit their interests, then returning to the present to benefit from the change they had made. Unfortunately, I had devoted more of my attention to the bucket of popcorn Artha had given me than to the plot of the movie, and that's about all I could remember of the story. Sigh. I really must learn to stop thinking with my stomach. But how was I supposed to know that I'd have to understand time travel some day? They didn't exactly make it a point to teach quantum and temporal physics to dragons, you know.

"Only one person can be behind this," Connor said distastefully.

Let me guess, Word Paynn?

"Word Paynn. He must have found a way to travel into the past and is making changes so that he can rule the world in the present. Only one thing has ever stood in Word's way, and that would most certainly be his target in the past." Connor then looked at me with the grimmest expression I had ever seen on him."It's you, Beau. Only the gold dragon of legend can stop Word's plan for a dragon-human war and his domination of the world. Therefore, he must have planned to eliminate you by altering the past." Connor looked back at the data pad. "Whatever he's done, it's massive. He may have had me murdered before I could start the breeding program that lead to you, or perhaps he smashed your egg before you hatched. I'm afraid there's no way to know. When the time-quake gets here, you and I could both wink out of existence and Word will be free to carry out his plans and plunge the world into war."

These were pretty shocking thoughts. Connor was like a father to me and the thought of him dead or my egg being reduced to a pile of goo on the ground were both shocking and nauseating to me. How on earth could I do anything about this?

"This gear may be our only chance, Beau," he said as he pulled the gear pack out from under his arm. I could see it was made of gold draconium, which of course meant it must be ancient gear. I had never seen any gear like it before and I had no idea what it did.

"This is ancient defensive armor. It was used to make a dragon both invisible and impervious to any attack. None of the Dragon Priests who raised me knew exactly how it works since it can only be powered by gold draconium energy. And, as you've probably noticed, we don't have a whole lot of gold dragons around these days."

Tell me about it. I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

"During my studies with the Dragon Priests, the ancient texts I read made reference to the gear and talked about how it generates an isolation field by forming an independent pocket of space around the wearer. The pocket of space is then isolated from effects in normal space and anything inside it is therefore impervious to anything outside it. Or so the texts say. I'm hoping that the pocket will also isolate the wearer from the effects of time-quakes as well, but I can't be certain about that. Clearly, it would never have been designed with that in mind, but it's our only hope."

A faint rumbling could now be heard that was slowly growing. The time-quake must be very close to the present.

"We are quite literally out of time, Beau. Mag the gear and drive it with as much power as you can. Hopefully, the pocket it generates will be strong enough to protect you."

Just me? Worry and concern for Connor showed in my eyes.

"The gear only generates a field around the dragon using it. If you survive the time-quake, I'm afraid you'll be completely on your own. I wish I could help you more, but I will most likely cease to exist in the next few moments. Among other things, that means Artha and Lance will probably never have been born either."

I was in shock. The three people I cared the most for were about to become non-existent. If I could talk it wouldn't have mattered since I would have been speechless. There were about a thousand questions I wanted to ask right about now, but had no way to ask them and no time. Note to self: If I manage to survive this, I have to find a better way to communicate with humans. Maybe I can make some sort of arrangement with Propheci some day. I did save his tail once and he still owes me.

"And whatever you do, don't stop powering the gear until you have corrected whatever was done in the past. If the gear shuts down sooner than that, you'll be subject to the new reality. And if you aren't supposed to exist in that reality, then you will immediately vanish from existence and all will be lost. The outcome of this lies solely with you, Beau. Do whatever you have to do to restore the proper reality." The data pad in Connor's hand started beeping urgently. "We're out of time, Beau. Hurry!" he said as he held out the gear.

I quickly magged the gear to my forehead. From the shape of the gear, that looked like where it was meant to go, plus that was where my energy was the most concentrated. If I had fingers, I would have crossed them for luck the way the humans did. I took a deep breath and powered-up the gear with all the energy I had.


Chapter 2

The ancient gear activated immediately. That was the nice thing about ancient gear: it was built to last and functioned as well now as when it was made 3000 years ago. It was shaped more or less like green ramming gear except it was primarily gold in color with some black markings. These looked somewhat like my own black and gold markings. Like ramming gear, the armor opened up as it activated and spread itself out across my forehead and wrapped around the top of my head to form a helmet of sorts. It started emitting a whine that was quickly rising in pitch. Apparently, it had to build up a charge before the field could form.

I could see my reflection in the window and the gear had a row of small protrusions in a line down the center of my forehead. These were apparently emitters for the gear's field generator. It was probably no coincidence that these emitters were shaped to look just like the small horns on my snout. That was the funny thing about the ancient gear designers: they had a real sense of style. If they weren't making stun gear that looked like a ruby-studded artichoke, they were making defensive armor that looked downright stylish on a gold dragon. For some reason, they were always trying to make a fashion statement with their gear. Must have been a fad of the times.

The gear finished charging and I heard and felt a moderate "wump" sound all around me. I felt mild pressure all over my body as if I was being squeezed from all directions. Even my ears popped. This apparently was the field activating and forming a pocket of space around me. The pressure quickly equalized and felt more normal, though it still felt as though a layer of something was clinging to me. It seemed that the pocket of space the gear created was almost skin tight and it felt like it was somehow supported by and tied into my mag energy aura. Clever design. That would explain why this gear could only protect a dragon and not a rider as well.

I glanced over to the window again and my reflection was nowhere to be seen. The gear had done it's job and made me invisible. Now the question was would it isolate me from the time-quake as well.

Connor had a look of relief on his face as he saw that the gear was functioning as expected. His expression changed to quiet resignation as he bravely accepted the fact that the time-quake would most likely eliminate him from existence. He said simply, "Good luck, Beau." He placed all his faith in me and I was determined not to let him down.

What happened next is difficult to describe.


Chapter 3

The shock wave from the time-quake struck the present and immediately caused everything around me to suddenly move and shift. Parts of the room appeared to be receding while other parts appeared to be twisting and bending in odd and impossible ways. It wasn't long before the world around me looked like that famous drawing with the stairways going in every which direction. Reality was rearranging itself to conform to the new past and it was quickly becoming difficult to tell up from down, or what any direction was anymore for that matter. Despite all this, I felt no motion at all.

Connor was of course affected by this as well. Without warning, he suddenly appeared to quickly recede into the distance as if he was being pulled to some far away vanishing point. It was a strange and disturbing sight. He was moving away from me rapidly, as if he was falling in a horizontal direction, yet he somehow remained in sight and simply became smaller and smaller. At the speed at which he appeared to be moving, I shouldn't have been able to see him for this long. It didn't make any sense, but little of what I saw did at the moment.

Connor's hope that the gear would protect me from the time-quake seemed to be correct. Reality was in chaos all around me, but so far it was leaving me completely unaffected, even as things became more and more chaotic.

What was once my familiar stable was now a jumble of unidentifiable shapes moving and swirling in every possible direction at once. The sight became more disorienting and dizzying than I could handle and I had to shut my eyes. Instinctively, I tried to hold on by digging my claws into the floor. The only problem was that the floor didn't feel like it was quite there anymore. But it wasn't quite nothingness either. There was something there, but I couldn't quite manage to get my claws into it for some reason. The more I tried to grip it, the more it slid away from me. There didn't seem to be anything firm underneath me, but I didn't seem to be falling either. Nothing was making sense.

Then without warning, I suddenly felt something firm and solid beneath my feet again. I stood still for several long moments, hoping the ground would stay where it was. My eyes were still shut tight and I realized now my heart was pounding and my teeth were clenched. They called me the dragon of legend, but I wasn't ashamed to admit that I still felt fear. Given everything that I had been through, I think I've actually felt fear on more occasions than most dragons. But Connor had given me some key advice a long time ago: He said that only the insane didn't feel fear. What made a brave dragon brave was not being fearless, but instead being able to face the fear and having the will to act and to do what had to be done in spite of the fear. I never forgot that.

The ground had remained stable beneath my feet so far, and so I decided it was time to do what had to be done. I gathered up my courage to take a look. I unclenched my teeth and opened my eyes slowly, uncertain as to what I might see.


Chapter 4

I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw that reality was no longer in chaos. I found myself standing alone in the middle of a deserted, but otherwise ordinary looking drag-way somewhere in Dragon City. It was still dawn, and the early morning hour explained why the drag-way was empty. So even though the time-quake had changed reality, it apparently hadn't changed my position in time. It was still morning on the same day.

I wasn't sure where I was and so I looked around at my surroundings. After a few moments, I recognized a few of the buildings nearby. There were several newer buildings I didn't recognize, but the older buildings, the ones that had been there long before I had hatched, were very familiar: They were all buildings that had surrounded Penn Stables. In fact, judging by their position, Penn Stables should have been right where I was standing. But it was nowhere to be seen. In its place were several newer buildings and the drag-way I was standing on. As best I could figure, I was standing exactly where I was before the time-quake hit, except that Penn Stables wasn't here anymore. The time-quake had changed reality but had left me standing exactly where I was.

Connor had been right. Word had done something to eliminate him early in his life, before he had ever built Penn Stables. Not only was Penn Stables never built, but that meant that nothing he had done ever happened in this reality.

I suddenly felt very alone. The man who had cared for me and raised me from a hatchling, as well as Artha and Lance who were both like brothers to me, simply didn't exist here. No one in this reality would know anything about them. I was the only one who carried the memory of who they were and everything they had done. And the only reason I could remember them was that I was existing in my own little personal reality now, completely isolated from this new reality since I wasn't supposed to exist here either. I felt very alone.

Wait a minute. Completely isolated? This pocket of space was almost skin tight. How was I able to breath if I was isolated from the air outside the pocket?!

A wave of panic spread over me, sending shivers down my spine. Was I about to suffocate?

No, wait. I've got to calm down. Certainly the gear designer would have thought of that. The gear wouldn't be terribly useful if the dragon using it died, now would it. Let's see... Yes, the air smells OK. Not stuffy or stale at all.

It appeared that the gear was recycling the air here in my pocket of space. It was taking in the carbon dioxide I was exhaling, stripping the carbon and returning the oxygen to the air for me to breath again. Whew. That was a relief. Very clever design.

I guess the reason the gear makes me invisible is because this pocket of space basically doesn't exist as part of the space around me. So light traveling through the normal space just keeps on going like I'm not here. To an outside observer, there's nothing here to block or reflect the light, so they see nothing. Interesting.

But since air couldn't get into this pocket of space from the outside, that means I couldn't get food or water either. And I couldn't shut the gear off while I ate or drank because I would cease to exist myself. It looked like I would have to go hungry until this was over. I sighed. It figured that this would all happen before I had my morning breakfast. Oh, well. I could go several days without food if necessary. My stomach would complain, but I'd just have to live with that.

There was another problem: Directing my mag energy into the gear required conscious thought just like walking or any other activity. I had to be awake to do it. That means I couldn't sleep and power the gear at the same time. I'd have to stay awake. I didn't think I could do that for more than two days, so that limited my time even more.

But I had an even more pressing problem: I was running the gear at full power at the moment and my draconium energy was dropping too fast. I couldn't keep this up for more than an hour or two at best. If I used up my energy, the gear would shutdown and I'd vanish into non-existence. The only way to replenish my energy was to eat and get some sleep and those options were out. I sighed. I'd be a lot more powerful if Artha was here with the amulet and Dragon Booster suit, but that wasn't going to happen. Artha didn't exist in this reality and who knows where the amulet and Dragon Booster gauntlet were right now. So I was going to have to find a way to deal with this just as my little old red and blue self.

Scales, my life was complicated. At times I wished I could just be an ordinary dragon whose human was a little old lady who only rode her dragon to church on Sundays. Things would be so much easier. Yes, easier. And, quite dull. And no one would be here to stop Word Paynn, which means the world would be in the same mess as it is now. Sigh. OK, that was enough self-pity for one day. Back to the task at hand.

I didn't think there was any way I could possibly stop Word Paynn within the next two hours. That left me with only one choice. I had to hope that the gear didn't need to be run at full power now that the time-quake had passed. I had to reduce the amount energy I was sending to the gear and hope that the field that was maintaining my pocket of space would hold up. However, if I mistakenly reduced the energy too much, the field could collapse and I'd be a goner.

I summoned my courage and began to slowly back off on the amount of energy I was sending into the gear.


Chapter 5

I felt a little bit of relief as the gear continued to function properly. I continued to slowly reduce the power, dreading what would happen if the gear suddenly stopped working.

Luckily for me, I was able to reduce the power down to a level low enough that I felt I'd be able to power the gear for nearly a day. This would have to do since I didn't dare go any lower than that.

Now I had to find a way to set things right. But where to begin? The only place I could think to go was to Word's citadel. If there were any clues to be found about how to stop the dragon-human war he had planned and return things to the way they were, then that would be the place to find them. The question was: would the citadel still be where I remembered it being in the previous reality? The only way to find out would be to go there. Time was short and it would take awhile to get there, so I took off running.

As I set out, it finally dawned on me that I could still feel my weight on my feet. So that would mean that I was still being acted upon by gravity even though the gear was isolating me from normal space. That seemed reasonable since I had to still exist in the universe otherwise it would have violated the law of conservation of matter. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, so even though I was in my own little region of space, I was still in the universe itself, and so my matter existed. Matter always has mass, and having mass meant that gravity would still be acting on me and holding my feet to the ground, which was why I felt my normal weight.

Having mass also meant that I wouldn't be able to walk through walls and it explained why I didn't fall through the surface of the drag-way. So even though I couldn't be seen and nothing could touch me in here, I still had to use doorways and I could still fall. It was a good thing that Connor had taken the time to teach me some basic physics. I had no idea that would ever come in handy.

As I continued on, it wasn't long before I began to notice that things weren't right in the city. Even though it was still early in the morning, I should have passed someone by now, but I was all alone on the drag-way. No dragons or humans to be seen anywhere. What's more, the surrounding buildings were all dark. This was erie and strange.

After a time, I came into an area where it looked like a riot had occurred. There was extensive damage to the buildings which had broken windows and cracks in the walls. Debris littered the street. The whole area appeared to be deserted and the buildings all seemed empty. Something had clearly happened here. I found this to be unsettling and I picked up the pace.

The parts of the city I was passing through now were becoming more and more damaged the farther I went. And still no one was anywhere to be seen.

Farther on, I rounded a corner past some large buildings, and off in the distance ahead I could see frequent flashes lighting up the sky. So far, all the parts of the city I had been through were dark and seemed to be deserted, so I figured I'd better check this out. I turned in the direction of the lights and kept up the pace.

As I got closer, I began to feel deep periodic vibrations in the roadway. Then I began to hear it. The vibrations I had felt where caused by large impacts that I could now hear. Above this noise, I heard the sounds of commotion. As I approached, these became the sounds of chaos. It sounded as if some sort of demolition was underway, with explosions of varying intensities at different intervals. I saw smoke rising in the air. Then I could hear dragon and human voices. It was just crowd noise at first, then it more clearly became yelling and shouting; the sounds of panic and anger. The flashes of light were more distinguishable and more frequent now. I hurried on to get to a point where I could see what was happening.

I was nearly upon the scene now and the sounds of destruction and chaos were unmistakable. I reached a point in the roadway where it came to a crest that allowed a vantage point to look down on the scene below. What I saw caused an icy chill to spread over me and a knot to form in my stomach. My legs felt weak and my heart ached at the sight. It was something I never thought I'd ever see. Something I never wanted to see. Something that made me feel more shock and sorrow than I had every felt before.


Chapter 6

I stood there, staring down on the scene below in disbelief and horror. I saw thousands of them. Perhaps more. Dragons and humans both, spread out over a wide area below and stretching farther into the distance than I could see. The pandemonium was almost a blur. A scene of chaos and destruction. The dragons were entrenched on one side, the humans on the other. Bodies littered the area that were too numerous to count. They were engaged in intense, all out battle. Dragons and humans were at war.

The flashes of light I had seen was mag-fire from the dragons and the discharge of energy weapons used by the humans. Rubble and carnage filled the streets. As I watched, a building collapsed, crushing those that had tried to seek cover within. The destruction and violence was on a scale I had never seen before. Everything was in ruins. I could see signs of more battles happening off in the distance. There were probably even more happening on the lower levels of the city that were out of sight. The city appeared to have been largely abandoned while the battles played out. Except for the fighters, everyone else had probably fled the city to take refuge elsewhere.

It was urban warfare at its worst. The fighting was brutal with neither side showing any mercy. No one was taking prisoners. And above all the commotion were the screams of the dying.

I had to turn away from the sight and I hung my head as I was overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness and despair. I slowly walked away, my tail dragging on the ground behind me.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Dragons and humans were meant to unite in a peaceful partnership where each helped the other. We were to share this world and work together to make it better. I knew that to be true beyond any doubt. This wasn't supposed to happen.

Connor had tried so hard and taught me everything he thought I needed to know to prevent this, but despite all those efforts, the world was now at war. Dragons were killing humans and humans were killing dragons. Something that hadn't happened in Dragon City for 3000 years. And from the the veracity of the fighting below, it was clear the war would only escalate further. And Word Paynn would sit back and wait until both sides were sufficiently weakened and then take over.

Word had done something in the past that had incited both sides to act to this extreme. It was probably all based on a lie or deception he palmed off on both sides to manipulate them to this point and drive them to anger beyond all reason. But there was nothing to be done about it now. I was too late.

What could I do now? I couldn't stop a war all by myself. That would be impossible. And I could only power the gear that's keeping me here for less than a day. There just wasn't enough time to do anything. It was hopeless now. I had let everyone down.


Chapter 7

The world was engulfed in war and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Some dragon of legend I turned out to be. It was ironic: All this time I had to keep encouraging Artha because he doubted his potential to be the Dragon Booster, and here I was the one who couldn't fulfill my part of the prophecy to prevent the war. I had failed.

I couldn't help but wonder if I had missed an opportunity somewhere along the line. There must have been something I could have done to prevent things from getting to this point.

Should I perhaps have killed Word before things came to this? There had been several opportunities along the way where it would have been easy. And all those people and dragons wouldn't be suffering and dying right now. Should I have taken his life when I had the chance in order to save all the others? But the idea of murdering someone like that for any reason and the thought of human blood on my claws was something that was repugnant to me. Or was that to have been my burden to bear? Was there no other answer? Was this now my fault for not having acted in the past?

The thoughts of despair and self-doubt continued to swirl in my head. How could I have let this happen? Didn't the prophecy say I was supposed to be the one to prevent the war? Then how could the war be happening? Was the prophecy wrong? Or maybe I wasn't the one the prophecy spoke of. Maybe I'm not the dragon of legend afterall. The sadness and doubt was almost overwhelming. If only I had more time...


Time... Hmmmm, time...


Time! I jerked my head up and my eyes went wide as the thought occurred to me.

Yes, that's it! Time was the answer! Even though I knew no one could see me, I couldn't help but smile when the solution dawned on me.

This reality was no more set in stone than the previous one. If Word could travel back in time and alter the past, then so could I! If I could find Word's time machine and go back and prevent what he did, then this reality will never have occurred and the war would never have started. I didn't have to stop this war because I could prevent the war by changing the past so that it never starts! If I could do that, then none of the people or dragons down there would have died.

A wave of relief washed over me as if a great weight had been lifted off my back. The prophecy might be right afterall. Maybe this was the path destiny had laid out for me.

OK, so there were a few details to work out. First, I didn't know where Word's time machine was. Second, I didn't know how it worked. And third, I didn't know where to go in time or what to change. Well then, first things first. I couldn't do anything until I found the time machine. So I had to solve that problem first and hope the rest fell into place after that.

The only place I could think to look was Word Paynn's citadel. That seemed the most likely place where he would keep it. Time was short though, so I took off at a fast gallop. The realization that I had still a chance to set things right gave me the fortitude and renewed strength I needed to go on. I felt a strong sense of determination and purpose now, and this showed in my eyes. Maybe I was the dragon of legend fulfilling his destiny according to prophecy or maybe I wasn't. But either way, I was going to try my best. I couldn't let Connor down and I couldn't stand by while all those dragons and humans suffered so much in a war that wasn't meant to be.

It took me close to an hour to get into the vicinity of Word's citadel. I knew I was on the right track before I even got close. I saw only a few at first, then more as I got closer: Wraith dragons.


Chapter 8

I encountered wraith dragons more and more frequently as I got closer the citadel. They were spread out to form a wide buffer zone around Word's citadel and were clearly there to keep the fighting from the war away. And it had worked. The wraith dragons had established a very effective perimeter, no doubt having been instructed to attack any dragon or human approaching. As a result, this part of the city was completely untouched by the ravages of the war.

At the outer edges of the perimeter, there were only a few wraiths on patrol. But their numbers increased steadily as I got closer. Thanks to the gear I had, it was easy enough to slip past them since they had no idea I was here. It was a good thing, too. I could never have hoped to fight my way past this many dragons. Word had created a formidable army. Altogether, I'd say there were probably ten thousand or more wraith dragons in the area. Word never had this many wraiths before. He must have done something in the past that allowed him to build an army this big.

The area closest to the citadel was thick with wraith dragons standing guard. I weaved my way around all the sentries and made it to the main entrance of the citadel. Getting in would be easier than I thought. I observed that the wraith dragons were coming and going from the citadel at regular intervals. They still had to be fed of course, and so they were presumably being rotated through in shifts for feeding. It was easy enough to follow a group of wraiths in as they entered the citadel.

Once inside, I headed towards the upper levels. Thanks to Moordryd, I had been in here once before and knew the general layout. The higher levels were more secure since they could be easily defended from anyone breaking in from below, and I figured he'd want to keep the time machine in a very secure area. I slipped past all the security check points with ease. Overall, the security wasn't that tight. Word apparently assumed that no one would be able to get past the army of wraith dragons outside.

I reached the upper levels finally and began exploring. I didn't really know what a time machine would look like, so I was just looking for anything out of the ordinary. There was little activity up here and moving around was easy. Except for Word's personal staff, all the other dragons and humans serving Word were on the lower levels.

After a time I came upon a large room with a lot of equipment in it and two human technicians in lab coats. In the back corner of the room was a large spherical pod, perhaps 20 feet in diameter, with a ramp leading up to a door in the center. The pod was nearly all black and had the familiar look of black draconium gear. The surface of the sphere was studded with the usual spikes and sharp edges so common in black gear. This looked promising, so I entered the room to get a better look.

The technicians were occupied by their work and they couldn't see me anyway, so I simply walked past them. The aisle ways in the room were designed for human proportions and were a little tight for a dragon my size. I moved carefully, making sure not to bump into anything or knock anything over, and paying particular attention to keep my tail out of the way of anything.

I made my way up the ramp to the pod. The door was open, so I stuck my head inside to have a look. There was a metal floor spanning the center portion. On the side opposite from the door was a small control panel with a vid screen above it. The control panel had a few switches and indicators and one large lever in the center. It would be a little snug, but I could get inside it if I had to. That is, assuming this was the time machine.

I wondered how it worked. I also still hadn't figured out where, or rather when, I was supposed to go even if I could get it going. I sighed. I really wished Parmon was here right about now. Most of the time I thought that kid was a geek, but he'd have this thing figured out in no time. Of course, I had no way of knowing if he even existed in this reality. And even if he did, he wouldn't know me even I could show myself to him. I'd have to figure this out on my own.

Just then, I heard a voice from behind me. It was one of the technicians. "Hey, where did these dragon tracks come from?"

Dragon tracks?? Oh, scales.

Chapter 9

I swung my head around to look behind me. Sure enough, I had left some footprints on floor. There was a powder that looked like graphite on the floor over near the technician's workbench. I guess they were using it to clean or lubricate the gear they were working on and some had spilled on the floor. Without realizing it, I had walked right through it.

Scales, I could be such an idiot at times. I was so worried about knocking things over that I completely forgot about leaving footprints. Naturally, since I could feel my weight on my feet, that would mean that I'd leave footprints anywhere I might step. I sighed. Too bad that didn't dawn on me sooner. I was just no good at stealth. The problem was that dragons had always been the dominate predator on the planet. No other animal was faster than us nor more powerful. And nothing hunted us either. When our ancestors hunted for food, they could easily chase down and capture anything they wanted. Since there was never any need for a dragon to hide or lie in wait, we never developed an instinct for stealth. As such, our thinking was geared towards direct attacks and brute force. We were just no good at sneaking around.

The other technician had come over to look at the tracks I had left. He said, "Do you think the boss sent one of his wraith dragons through to check up on us?"

"I don't know," the first technician said. "He's never done that before. He hates to be bothered, but I think we should let him know about this."

"Right," the other said. He moved to a console nearby and hit a switch.

A few moments later, the impatient voice of Word Paynn answered, "What is it?"

"Mr. Paynn, sir," the technician said formerly. "We found some dragon tracks on the floor here, and we were wondering if one of your wraith dragons had been through here recently."

Sounding annoyed at having been disturbed, Word answered, "What are you fools blabbering about. You know the dragons don't come to the upper levels. Why are you wasting my..." His voice trailed off and was silent for a few seconds. "Those tracks: are they from a biped or a quadruped?"

"Looks like a quadruped, sir. With claws, not hooves. It looks to be a fairly large dragon by the size of the footprints."

There were a few seconds of silence as Word seemed to think this over. "Wait there. I'm coming down," he said sternly. "And remove the energy cells from the time machine and lock them away just in case."

"Just in case of what?" asked the technician.

"Don't ask questions. Just do it," Word ordered emphatically.

"Yes, sir," the technician responded. He turned off the com-link and said to the other, "Come'on. Let's get to it."

The technicians moved over to the pod. They opened a panel on the side of the pod below the ramp I was standing on. They released some catches and each of them drew out a large cylinder. One was black and the other red. As soon as they removed them, I noticed all the lights went out inside the pod. Great. Not only did I not know how to use the thing, but now it had no power either. Just what I needed: more complications. Well, at least I knew I was in the right place now. This was indeed the time machine.

The technicians carried the energy cells back to the other side of the room and placed them in a storage container. Then they closed the lid and locked it. They waited there for Word to show up.

A short time later, he strode into the room carrying a small scanner-like device in one hand and a larger piece of black draconium gear in the other. He walked over to where the technicians were standing and looked down to study the tracks I had left. He didn't look happy at all and he scowled as he looked at the footprints. All he said was, "Hmmm."

Still frowning, he raised the scanning unit that was in his right hand and began panning it around the room. When he pointed it in my direction, it started beeping. He stopped and studied the readout. This didn't look good.

His eyes narrowed and his frown changed to a sinister smile and, with a bit of sarcasm in his voice, he looked in my direction and said, "Well, well. It looks like my old friend Mortis had an ace up his sleeve. Ancient gold defensive armor. How lucky for you he had that gear. And how lucky it was that he got it to you in time." Then with a deadly serious look on his face and continuing with a more dire sound in his voice, "But I'm afraid this is where your luck runs out."

Chapter 10

So Word knew I was here. I should have known. In the art of war, for every weapon or tactic one side develops, the other side eventually comes up with a counter-measure. So it would seem that someone had come up with a way to detect the gear I was using and Word knew about it. This really wasn't my day. And what was that other piece of black draconium gear he was carrying? I didn't like the looks of that either.

"It looks like we have a visitor," Word said speaking to the two technicians. "You can't see him, but there's a dragon standing over there by the pod. He's using ancient gear to hide his presence. Unless of course, you know what to look for," he said indicating the scanner in his hand. Word then turned in my direction, lowered the scanner and said, "I must say, it was most clever of you to get this far. I don't imagine there are many dragons who could have figured all this out on their own."

Yeah, well they don't call me the dragon of legend for nothing. Though it looks like I wasn't quite clever enough.

"And you are the gold dragon, aren't you? No other dragon could power that gear."

You got that right.

"It's such a pity that this is where it will end for you," he said with mock sympathy. He continued more seriously and with some anger in his voice, "Do you realize how much trouble you've caused me? If it wasn't for you and that fool Connor trying to fulfill an ancient prophecy, I wouldn't have had to build this time machine in the first place. But you left me no choice. I had to alter history and arrange that unfortunate accident for Connor in his childhood to get you both out of my way. I do all that, and you still show up here and get in my way! If you had only chosen to work with me instead of against me, neither of us would have had to go through all this."

You tell me you went back in time and murdered the man who was like a father to me and you expect me to feel guilt? Eat my scales, Word. Even though I knew he couldn't see or hear me, I bared my teeth and growled anyway.

"So you thought you could use my time machine to undo what I had done, huh? Very clever." Word lightened up a little and started boasting, "You know, it isn't really a time machine per se. It's really a reverse entropy field generator. The fact that the pod travels through time is merely a side effect of the entropy field. It's based on an artifact I discovered from the ancient Red Draconium Empire. They were experts at forging raw draconium and had created a device to generate a field of increased entropy. As you know, everything decays over time and the decay is represented by an increase in entropy. The greater the entropy, the greater the state decay. The device the Red Draconium Empire made creates a field that increases entropy. They used this to help break down exceptionally hard pieces of raw draconium to make them more malleable for forging."

It was true enough that the ancient Red Draconium Empire was known for their ability to forge just about anything. In fact, they were good at just about anything to do with the use of heat. But how do you take a device that makes metal more easily forged by increasing entropy and turn it into a time machine?

"It took me a long time to develop, but I discovered that the artifact had an interesting effect when it was properly powered by black draconium energy. When done correctly, and by balancing the red and black draconium energies, the entropy field created by the device actually reverses. Instead of increasing entropy and causing things within the field to decay faster, it actually does the opposite. However, the second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system must increase over time. The laws of physics do not allow this rule to be broken, so when my modified device is activated and begins decreasing total entropy, the universe compensates for it by pushing anything within the field backwards in time. A state of decreased entropy could only have existed in the past and so anything in the field must move into the past. It's a rather indirect way to travel through time, but it works."

Word was clearly enjoying his chance to gloat. I guess killing Connor wasn't enough for him. He wanted to rub my snout in it as well.

"When the reverse entropy field is activated, it surrounds the entire pod and moves it and everything inside it backwards in time. When the field is shut off, the normal entropy within the pod is restored and it returns to the point in time from which it left. Quite simple really."

It did sound pretty simple.

"But you've got nowhere to go now. Without the energy cells, the time machine won't function. So I'm afraid you're stuck here now in this new reality I've created. And when you have no more energy to power the gear you're using, you will simply cease to exist and there will finally be nothing to stop me," Word said as he clenched his fist in the air. With a sinister grin, he added sarcastically, "How unfortunate for you."

Word did indeed like to gloat. But he said he achieved the time travel effect by mixing red and black draconium energies. Red and black: That was almost too much of a coincidence. Hmm, I wonder...

"You've been powering that gear all day, haven't you? I imagine you must be getting weak by now. And just in case you have any ideas of your own still, let's not prolong the inevitable."

Looking his most malevolent, Word then took out the black draconium gear he had brought in with him and held it in his left hand. It was saucer shaped: flat on the bottom and domed on top. It was about 14 inches across and was black with purple markings. He pressed a button in the center and it activated. A pair of short antennae-like projections unfolded and extended from the dome. Once extended, the gear began glowing with a purple black draconium aura and pulsated. As soon as that happened, the smooth subtle hum of the gold draconium gear on my forehead was interrupted. It started to sputter a bit and began to sound like machinery under strain. Oh, scales! Word had a counter-measure for my gear. The gear was still protecting me, so he couldn't attack me directly, but that black draconium gear was emitting something that was interfering with the operation of my gear. The straining sound my gear was emitting was getting worse, plus it was getting warm against my skin, like it was overloading. This wasn't good. The gear was clearly having trouble maintaining my isolated pocket of space. If this kept up, it would quit completely. And if that happened, I'd vanish into nothingness and this reality where dragons and humans were at war would become permanent. Word will have won.

I was out of time. I had only one last idea. I had only one last chance.

Chapter 11

Whatever Word's black gear was doing, it was certainly effective. My gear was straining and giving signs of cutting out completely. I drove more energy into it to bring it back to full power in hopes that would keep it going. That did seem to stabilize the gear, but I couldn't keep this up for long since my gold draconium energy was almost exhausted at this point. I had to act fast.

There was no time to try and get the energy cells out of the locked case and back into the time machine. Plus I feared that the effects of Word's counter-measure would increase if I got any closer to the black gear he was holding. Word seemed to know this as well and had positioned himself between me and the energy cells to block any attempt to get near them.

I had a desperate plan, but would it work?

I jumped down off the ramp to where the technicians had removed the energy cells from the pod. I took a look inside the receptacle that held them. In the back, I could see the red and black draconium contacts where the cells would normally engage. It was a long shot, but this might work.

It was uncanny: of all the possible color combinations of draconium, the time machine worked on red and black. That seemed like more than just a coincidence. In fact, it was downright creepy, and it gave me a bit of a chill just thinking about it. The thing that made it creepy was that, other than gold of course, red and black just happen to be the other two colors of draconium energy that I could generate in large quantities. Thanks to Moordryd, I had absorbed all of the intense red draconium energy from the bonemark of the Furox. And thanks to Word himself, I had also been forced to absorb the energy contained in the concentrated liquid black draconium he had gotten me to drink. The energy contained in those was so strong that they nearly drove me insane, but in both cases, Artha had helped me to regain control before it was too late. As a result, I could now use those energies at will.

That made me the only dragon on the planet who could both power this ancient gear with gold draconium energy and simultaneously be able to generate red and black energy which I could use to power the time machine. As such, I was the only living being, dragon or human, who could be here at this moment and do what had to be done. That was a chilling thought. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

The questions swirled in my head: Could my being here and now be part of the prophecy? Could everything that had happened to me up to now, including the trials of absorbing the bonemark of the Furox and the liquid black draconium, been to prepare me for this moment? Was this then all preordained? Was I walking the path of destiny my entire life? Did this mean I had no free will?

I would have liked to have had a thorough discussion of this topic with a dragon priest right about now, but that wasn't an option. But whether I was a slave to destiny or not, I still wanted to set things right. Perhaps that desire was just a side effect of not having free will, but if this was my destiny and I indeed had no choice in my life, then so be it. At least this was a destiny that had meaning and was worth fighting for. I could take solace in that if nothing else.

Time to get on with it.

It looked like there was enough draconium metal in the time machine that it would hold a charge even without the energy cells in place. I had to hope it would hold enough energy to take me back in time to where I needed to be.

There was only one way to find out.


Chapter 12

"It will all be over soon," Word gloated. "Once you're out of the way, there will be nothing to stop me from finally ruling the world!"

Not if I can help it.

It was time to see if I could power up the time machine myself. I decided to transfer my red draconium energy first. Any dragon could tell you that controlling more than one mag energy stream at a time took concentration, but my problems were further complicated since I had to keep the different energies separate. I had to keep powering the defensive armor with gold energy while simultaneously transferring my red energy into the time machine. My gear wouldn't run on red energy so I had to be careful not to let the energies mix or the gear might shut down on me.

Working under pressure was never fun, but I had gotten lots of experience at that ever since The Choosing had taken place. I did my best to clear my mind and focus on the energy within me. I made sure I could feel the different energies and then carefully directed my red energy into a mag stream and sent it into the red dracronium contact on the time machine where the energy cell used to be. I wasn't sure how much energy the time machine needed to operate, so I transferred as much energy as I thought I could spare.

Word saw the red mag energy stream and exclaimed, "WHAT?" as he stared in disbelief.

Ha, caught you by surprise, huh Word. You weren't ready for this, were you. Well, good. Even better: the time machine seemed to be holding the charge I had sent into it.

Now it was time to transfer the black energy. I focused again and let out another energy stream. After a few seconds, the time machine started to power up. The lights inside came back on and it looked like it did before the energy cells had been removed. I transfered a bit more energy to hopefully give it a sufficient charge.

Word was angry, and that was putting it mildly. "Impossible! It can't be!" Turning to his two technicians, he said, "Stop him you fools!"

The technicians looked back at Word. One of them just said, "How?"

Word had lost his patience by this point. He yelled, "The dragon can still see, you idiots! Grab some flash sticks and stun him!"

The technicians jumped at Word's order and scrambled to get the flash sticks. That was my cue to leave. I hurried back up the ramp towards the door of the time machine. Word took a guess where I was and threw the black interference gear he was holding at me. I saw it coming towards me and got in position. As it was about to hit me, I whipped my tail at it and batted it back towards Word as hard as I could. The look of shock on his face as he saw his gear hurtling back at him was priceless. He had to duck quickly to avoid being hit, and the gear impacted the wall behind him. Just like drag-ball. How I enjoyed that game.

The technicians were back how, flash sticks in hand, along with half a dozen guards. Word shouted at the guards, "There's a dragon in my time machine! Stop him!"

Time to get out of here. I squeezed my way through the door of the time machine. The door was human sized and I was a little too wide at the shoulders. One of the guards threw a flash stick at me as I managed to finally get my shoulders through the door. I pulled my tail in and used it to slam the door shut as I heard Word scream, "NOOOO!" I could hear the flash stick hit the door as it shut. That was close.

I was wedged in a bit tight, but fortunately my head ended up near the controls. I looked around to try and see how this thing worked. I had to think quickly. Fortunately, there weren't a whole lot of controls. That was one of the things the humans were really good at: computers and automation. Just about any kind of gear or equipment was so automated that it was pretty easy to operate it. As it was, there were only a few indicators, a few switches, and one large lever in the center. The indicators were all in the green, which seemed to indicate the time machine was properly powered up and ready. Odds were the lever would make it go.

The guards were at the door, trying to get in. No more time. The question was, had I transfered enough energy to make this thing actually travel through time. I held my breath and pushed the lever forward gently with my chin, uncertain as to what might happen.


Chapter 13

Something was happening, alright. The vid screen above the control panel showed a view of the room just outside the pod, and as soon as I pushed the lever, Word and the technicians started moving backwards. I found myself watching everything that had just happened outside, but in reverse. It was working. Thank the Magna Draconis. I was traveling back in time. I pushed forward further on the lever and things sped up. It was like watching a movie on rewind now.

Now that I had moved back in time, Word's black draconium gear was no longer interfering with my gold armor. I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly reduced the amount of energy I was feeding into my armor. I had to conserve my remaining gold energy for as long as possible. I would have really liked to have had a good meal and some rest right about now to replenish my energy, but that wasn't an option. Still, I felt better now that I didn't have to run the gear at full power anymore.

My relief was short lived, though. I still didn't know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do in the past in order to stop Word. Scales. Why couldn't these prophecies come with more detailed instructions. If my destiny was to serve the prophecy then why didn't they just write down what I was supposed to do and be done with it. Why do they always have to be so vague.

OK, let's see. Word said he had caused an "unfortunate accident" for Connor in his childhood. Assuming Connor's childhood period would be before he was age 10, that means I'd have to search through 10 years of Connor's life to find what Word did. I didn't see how that would be possible. Connor was an orphan raised by the priesthood, and nothing was known about his earliest years. I had no idea where to look for him. And even if I could find him, how do I know at what point in time Word decided to strike? If I had more time, I suppose I could find Connor and guard him until Word appeared, however that could take years and I didn't have enough energy to power the gear for that long. I was down to a matter of hours now at best. There had to be another way and I had better think of it quickly.

The vid screen was showing much activity in the room outside the pod. It looked like I had reached the point in the past when the technicians were building the time machine. In reverse, it looked like they were taking it apart. The equipment in the room decreased rapidly until the room was empty, save for a few workbenches and tools. I was now at the point in the past just before work began on the time machine.

Wait! What in the Magna Draconis is that? Two Word Paynns?

It was a weird sight, but the vid screen showed two Word Paynns talking to each other in the room outside the pod. The only way I could think this could happen would be if after the time machine had been built, Word traveled back in time to meet with his earlier self. If he did that, he must have had to tell his past self something important. This seemed like something I should check out. One of the Word's may reveal a clue about how I can fix things.

As I watched them, they walked out of the room backwards. Since I was moving backwards in time myself, this meant they had just come into the room. I figured this was as good a place as any to drop in on them, so I moved a little further back in time and then pulled the control lever back to the center position.

The room outside was empty, so this was a good time to step out and have a look. There wasn't enough room in the pod for me to turn around, so I pulled the door to the time machine open with my tail and backed myself out the door. As soon as I got my head out the door, I saw the another pod standing next to mine. That was the pod that the other Word Paynn from the future must have arrived in. It looked identical to the one I had traveled in, which made sense since it was in fact the very same pod, just from a different time period.

This was actually kind of interesting. The law of conversation of matter states that matter cannot be created or destroyed, yet here were two instances of the same object which was composed of the same matter existing at the same time. In a sense, the arrival of the time machine created matter where none had previously existed. Normally, this would be impossible, but apparently time travel allowed an exception to the rule. It would seem that the law of conservation allowed matter to be shifted in time just as it allowed matter to be shifted in space. Since the matter in the pod was here now and not presently existing in the future point in time from which it had left, then conversation of matter was still maintained. So multiple copies of the pod could exist at the same time, as long as they had all come from different points in the future. Very drac concept. And to think, I'm the only dragon in the world who knows this. I felt a bit of pride at having figured this out on my own and it helped lift my spirits a bit. If I managed to survive this ordeal, I promised myself I'd find a way to tell all this to Connor.

Now, time to find the two Word Paynns. I headed out of the room to look for them. I went down the hall and quickly heard their voices in a nearby room. This time I looked around on the floor and made sure I wasn't leaving tracks again. I wasn't going to make that mistake twice. Everything was clear and I entered the room where they were talking to listen in.


Chapter 14

I carefully made my way into the room to see what was going on. It was a large conference room with an oval table in the center. On the table was some type of red draconium gear. The two Word Paynns were there standing by the gear and having a conversation. The room was clearly designed for humans, but it was large enough for me to move around in without much trouble. Still, I stayed by the door to play it safe.

One of the Words handed a data pad to the other and said, "This contains all the specifications for the black draconium power regulator along with the assembly instructions. As you surmised, the careful application of black draconium energy to this red gear will reverse the entropy effect, and from there you can build a time machine. But the power regulator is the key element needed to do it safely."

"This is quite convenient," the other Word said. "As soon as I got the idea for using the red entropy gear to construct a time machine, I started wondering if I would see signs of time travel due to my using the machine in the future. Though I must admit, I didn't expect to be visited by myself," he said with a sly smile.

"I know," the other Word responded with an equally sly grin. "I was you not too long ago, so I remember standing where you are and having this conversation with my future self. By giving you the plans to construct the time machine, I'm avoiding the possibility that you might damage the gear beyond repair if you try to do it on your own."

Now there was a paradox if I ever saw one. Word gets the idea for building a time machine, then his future self arrives in the time machine and hands his younger self the plans for said time machine so that his younger self can build the time machine he arrived in. This was difficult to wrap your mind around, but I guess time travel by its very nature allowed such things to happen.

The Word from the future picked up a scanner and held it over the red gear. He pointed to the scanner display and said, "See here? This juncture between the main elements of the red gear is where the black draconium energy injector needs to be mounted. That way the black energy will flow smoothly and reverse the entropy effect. But whatever you do, do not connect a black draconium energy source to the injector directly. You must only connect it through the regulator in the plans I gave you. Without the regulator in the circuit, the black draconium energy could easily overload the gear and completely burn it out."

"I understand," the Word from the present said. "This will certainly make building the time machine a lot easier."

The Word from the future continued, "As you know, this is last remaining piece of red entropy gear left in the world. All precautions must be taken to avoid damaging it or you won't be able to build the time machine. That's why it was necessary for me to travel back in time and meet with you to warn you of this and give you the plans you will need. And remember, once you get the time machine built, you must travel back in time and meet with your past self as I am doing now or the cycle will be broken. If you don't warn your younger self, he may not figure out that a regulator is needed, and a black draconium overload could damage the gear beyond repair and ruin our plans to eliminate Connor and the gold dragon."

Well, you haven't quite gotten rid of the gold dragon yet. And this dragon had an idea. Since this is the last remaining piece of the red entropy gear, if I could destroy this gear here and now before the time machine gets built, then the time machine could never be built and Word would not be able to travel back in time to eliminate Connor. Connor would then live and reality should revert back to the way it was before Word starting changing things. At least, I think it would. This time travel stuff was complicated.

The future Word said a black draconium energy overload could destroy the red gear. I smiled. Well, that just happened to be something I could arrange. It sounded like a mag-burst was in order. Only one little problem: I had hardly any black draconium energy left. I had channeled just about all I had into the time machine in order to travel back to this point in time. Sure, I could still manage a feeble little black draconium mag-burst, but it wouldn't amount to more than a pretty light show at the moment. I just didn't have enough energy left to destroy the gear. However, I had an idea of how I might get some extra energy.

About then I noticed that the two Words had stopped talking. The Word from the future was looking at the scanner and frowning. The other Word said, "What is it?"

The future Word said, "I'm not sure. This is strange. The scanner is picking up something that shouldn't be here." He held the scanner out and panned it around the room. He stopped when it pointed in my direction. "There," he said and punched some buttons. "The scanner is reporting some sort of spatial anomaly in that part of the room."

"A spatial anomaly?" the other Word said. "How can that be?"

"I don't know." The future Word keyed various buttons on the scanner and studied the read-out. After many long seconds, he stopped and gaped at the display. Incredulous, he said, "I don't believe it. The scanner has picked up the signature of the ancient gold defensive armor!"

"But that gear can only be powered by a gold dragon. Which would mean..."

"That the gold dragon is here with us now!" The Word from the future just stared in disbelief, "This can't be happening. This didn't happen when I was you and experienced this the first time around." He pondered this for a few seconds. "That must mean the armor is allowing him to effect the time line independently of reality. This is a complication I hadn't anticipated."

Well, at least it looked like the gear was giving me a bit of an advantage. But I still had to destroy the red gear and I needed more black draconium energy to do it. I was pretty sure I knew where I could get some, so I started backing my way out the door.

"He's moving!" Word said, looking at the scanner. "Quickly! Seal off this section of the floor!"

It looked like I had worn out my welcome here. Time to go, and fast. I made my way out of the room and started heading down the hall back towards the lab where the time machines were. Unfortunately, I hardly got anywhere before a massive door slammed down and blocked off the hallway. Another slammed down at the other end of the hall.

The two Words had followed me out into the hall. The one holding the scanner said, "He's trapped over there."

The doors blocking the hall were massive. I was pretty strong as dragons went, but I wasn't strong enough to knock down these doors on my own. I had to figure some way out of here and quickly.

The Word from the future said, "Hurry, go get the black draconium interference pod and we'll overload his defensive armor. That should finish him off."

Oh, no. Not this again.

I felt a knot of fear form in my stomach and a chill went over me. I had only barely survived my last encounter with the black interference gear. And doing that had drained my gold draconium energy down to almost nothing. I couldn't power my armor for all that much longer as it was, and if Word got here with that gear, I'd be dead for sure this time around. I had better think of something, and fast, or it would be all over for me.


Chapter 15

I was in deep trouble. I was trapped and I was almost out of energy to run my armor. Time was running out rapidly for me. What could I do now?

My thoughts turned back to a subject I really didn't want to consider. There was indeed a way out, but I shuddered at the thought. As much as I hated to admit it, it looked like my only option left was to kill Word. If I killed him here before he traveled back in time to do the same to Connor, then Connor would live and at least that part of reality would be preserved. More importantly, the terrible war I had witnessed would then never happen. But the price...

No dragon has killed a human in 3000 years, and I certainly didn't want the distinction of being the first. Killing went against everything Connor had taught me and everything I had learned about the Dragon Priesthood. Their entire philosophy was based on dragons and humans living together in peace as equals. Committing murder to achieve that peace was counter to the whole concept. If a dragon would kill a human in the name of peace, then how could humans ever trust dragons? That could just motivate them to try and control dragons all the more.

But what other choice did I have? If I failed to act now, then the horrific war I saw would happen and an untold number of dragons and humans would die and suffer in terrible ways. Wasn't it better to kill one human to prevent all that?

I felt trapped with no way out. The knot of fear in my stomach only grew worse as my time ran out. More than anything else, I was becoming afraid of what I might have to do. I deeply wanted to save Connor and his sons and prevent the war, and killing Word seemed to be the only way to achieve that.

Is this what I was fated to do? My mouth was dry and I swallowed hard at that thought.

But was murder really my only option? I found it difficult to believe that I had managed to make it this far, only to have to resort to something as awful as that. And who would ever respect a so-called "dragon of legend" if that dragon took it into his own claws to decide who should die.

If I only had more time to work this out. Yet time was the one thing I didn't have. Word would soon be back with the black interference gear and then it would be all over.

It was ironic really. Here I was the first dragon to travel through time, yet I still constantly found myself out of time. I had a pretty good sense of humor, and under any other circumstances I would have laughed at the irony, but right now I just wished I had more time...

More time...


More time?

Wait a minute! Maybe I'm not going about this right. There was a time machine down the hall after all, even though I couldn't quite get to it at the moment. So let's say for the sake of argument that I somehow figure out a way out of my present predicament. And let's say that I get to the time machine and use it to travel a few minutes back into the past to the point in time before this door slams down. I could then be here in the hall with myself now. After all, if two Word Paynns could exist at the same time, then why could't two Beaus exist together. And just like Word, my future self could come back in time to assist me now.

OK, that seemed like a great idea, but with this armor making me invisible, how would I know I was here with myself?

I lowered my head in thought to ponder this and noticed something odd that I didn't see before. There was a single footprint on the floor in front of me. More specifically, it was a dragon's footprint. And not just any dragon's footprint, but it looked exactly like my footprint. In fact, it was the print of my left front foot. I quickly looked around my feet to see if I was leaving tracks, but there were no others to be seen. And I was certain I wasn't leaving tracks when I had first come in here since I had checked for that.

Well, I'll be scaled! I grinned as I realized what was happening. It looks like my idea actually worked. There was another me from the future here in the hall with me!

What a concept! I had managed to create a teammate to help me merely by thinking up the idea that in the future I would come back to assist myself now. My smile broadened. I was starting to like time travel.

More footprints were appearing on the floor ahead of me. Although I couldn't see him of course, my future self was apparently walking down the hall and going back to the conference room. I figured I had better follow along and watch what he did so I'd know what I'm supposed to do when it was my turn to be in his position. I guess that was another paradox, but what the heck. The universe didn't seem to mind. Also, Word hadn't said anything about detecting two spatial anomalies, so I hoped the scanner wasn't able to discern that there were really two of us here instead of one as long as we stayed close together. I closely followed the trail of my own tracks back into the conference room, anxious to see what was going to happen next.


Chapter 16

The Word from the future was still there in the hall with his scanner as I walked by him. He was tracking me with the scanner and had a very unhappy expression on his face, but he wasn't doing anything to interfere with me. Not that there was much he could do at the moment thanks to my gear. He had no choice but to wait for the other Word to get back with the black interference gear. That gave me and my future self a little breathing room.

He also didn't say or do anything that might indicate that he knew there were really two of me here. Hopefully, he hadn't figured that out yet either, which gave me and my other self another slight advantage.

My future self wasted no time at getting down to business. The trail of footprints he was leaving went straight to the conference table where the gear was and he immediately fired a highly concentrated and sustained black draconium mag-burst at the gear. In shock, Word screamed, "No! Stop!" as if my future self was really going to listen. With a scowl, Word looked back down the hall for his other self and said, "Where is he with that gear! We need it now!"

My future self was really pouring it on with the mag-energy. The intense mag-burst he was putting out continued. At the rate he was going, he wasn't just trying to overload and damage the gear, but it looked like he wanted to melt it down. So much the better, I thought. That will guarantee that Word will never be able to repair it. Though it looked like this was going to take awhile. That was the thing about ancient gear: it was really built to last. The draconium in it was nearly pure and it was forged with skills and techniques that had long been lost to history. It was really tough stuff and didn't break easily. Plus this was red gear which could withstand intense amounts of heat and energy to begin with.

I heard running footsteps out in the hall. Oh, scales. It looked like the other Word was coming back with the black gear. This wasn't good and I looked to see what my future self was going to do. To my surprise though, he wasn't doing anything about Word. He just continued the mag-burst. Could this be right? Surely, he knew the other Word was almost here with the gear. Wasn't he going to do something about it?

Word then ran into the room with the gear. It was the same black draconium pod I had encountered before that nearly shutdown my own gear and threatened to send me to oblivion. My future self just continued the mag-burst and seemed to ignore Word. I was getting nervous. Wasn't he going to do something?

Word pressed the activation button on the gear and the antennas on it began to extend.

Scales! This was bad. Then it dawned on me: maybe my future self wasn't doing anything about Word because I'm supposed to take care of him. I made the decision to act.

I jumped towards Word, landed in a crouch, spun around and tripped him with my tail. He emitted a very surprised, "Ahhh!" and fell over sideways, throwing the black gear up in the air as he tried to use his hands to break his fall. I continued the spin, and as I came around to face Word, I caught his gear in my mouth as it came down.

The other Word who was holding scanner screamed, "WHAT! Impossible!" He frantically studied the display on the scanner. "It can't be! There's TWO of them!"

The other word on the floor was trying to get back on his feet and said, "How can that be!? Connor only bred a single gold dragon!"

"The dragon must have used the time machine! He came back again from the future!"

"A dragon?! Using my time machine?!"

The two Words were angry beyond belief, but there wasn't much they could do. To emphasize the point, I bit down and crushed the interference gear with my jaws and spat it out at their feet. It clanged on the ground and rolled towards them. They both just looked at it in silence with a mixture of surprise and anger on their faces.

It looked like the two of me were safe for the moment. I just hoped Word didn't have another one of those pods nearby.

Throughout all this, my future self had continued his mag-burst. The red gear was glowing intensely from the buildup of energy. Heat waves were shimmering in the air.

Finally, the red gear slowly started to fall in on itself. It was beginning to melt. My future self continued directing his energy into the gear. He wasn't taking any chances that Word would somehow be able to salvage the gear. Thankfully, the draconium finally reached the critical temperature and became molten. It started oozing across the table and over the side. Only then did the mag-burst stop. There was nothing left of the gear but a pile of slag on the table and the floor.

One of the Words said, "We're ruined! How can we build a time machine now? That was the last remaining piece of red entropy gear. We'll never be able to repair it!"

"Maybe so, but it's not over yet," the other said in a cold and calculating way. "We have one last chance to eliminate the gold dragon."


Chapter 17

Word still had a chance to eliminate me? Scales, what now.

"It's simple, really," Word said with a cunning look. "The dragon of legend is attempting to prevent us from constructing the time machine in the first place by destroying the gear it's based on."

The other Word said, "Yes, but he's already done it. It's too late."

"Not yet it isn't. You see, there are two of dragons here and one is the future self of the other. That means the dragon was unable to destroy the gear on his own and needed his future self to help. That in turn means that one of two dragons here now is the past self that must proceed into the future in order to become that future self and come back in the time machine again. All we have to do is prevent that past self from leaving here. If he never leaves, he can never come back to help destroy the gear and this version of reality we just witnessed will be erased. It will be as if it never happened. The gear will not have been destroyed and we can again build the time machine as planned."

The other Word smiled and seemed to get the idea, "Yes, I see. And the dragon can only power his armor for a limited period of time. My guess is he's been running it for quite awhile as it is to have gotten this far. Therefore, time is on our side. Once he's out of energy, it will be all over for him."

"Exactly," the other said while clenching his fist in the air. "And the doors sealing us in here are strong enough to withstanding a dragon's strength, even the combined strength of two gold dragons. We have only to wait now. Before too long, their energy will run out. As long as the dragon can't get to the time machine before then, we will have won," he finished with a malevolent smile.

This was getting confusing. Didn't the presence of my future self mean that I had, or rather, will get out of here and travel back again? Or was that outcome only one possible future that could lie ahead of me?

Yes, I think that's it. What Word said seemed to make sense. After all, here I was disrupting the past myself. The Word who was here from the future said he hadn't encountered me when he originally experienced this portion of time. That seemed to imply that reality was fluid and subject to influence.

If that was true, then my future wasn't set. That would be both good news and bad news. It would be good news because it would mean I actually had free will and wasn't a complete slave to prophecy. It would mean I actually had a life of my own. But that would also be bad news because it would mean if I made the slightest mistake in my next actions here, everything I had done so far would unravel and the world would plunge into a dragon-human war and end up in the hands of Word Paynn.

I sighed. It was hard to know what to do. This almost made me wish that I had no free will so I wouldn't have to make these decisions. But then Connor never said being the dragon of legend would be easy. In fact, he said it would be the most difficult thing any dragon had done in 3000 years.

Whatever the case, one thing was certain: whatever happened in the next few moments would decide things forever. Either I'd get out of here and then attempt to complete what my future self did or it would all end here and now and Word will have won.

Standing here wasn't going to solve anything, so I moved back out into the hall to take another look at the door that was blocking my way back to the time machine. It was definitely solid. There was no way I could break it down or force it open, even with the help of my future self.

Just then I heard the sound of grating metal behind me.


Chapter 18

I spun around to look where the grating metal sound was coming from. On the side of the corridor, a large panel was being peeled back and pulled off the wall. There was no one to be seen there, so my future self must be up to something. With one final pull, the panel came loose and clanged loudly on the floor. Inside the wall I could see several conduits leading to a junction box. Without warning, a powerful red draconium mag burst flared out, directed straight into the junction box. It looked like my future self had a plan.

The junction box quickly started to glow red from the energy build-up. Smoke began to rise, and as the electronics inside began to overload, the box burst open in a shower of sparks and smoke. As soon as that happened, I heard a loud clunk around the door I was standing next to.

Another mag burst flared out from my future self, this time directed at the door. The door was heavy, but it slowly began to rise as the mag energy stream pushed it upwards. The junction box that just blew out must have controlled the locks on the door. Once the electronics were blown, the locks released themselves and that was the clunk I heard. Now it was just a matter of lifting the massive door. I had no draconium energy to spare, however I still had my strength. The door was just high enough now for me to crouch down and get my shoulder underneath it. I got under the door and gritted my teeth. I gave it all I had and pushed upwards with the door on my shoulders. Together, we were both able to slowly lift the door.

One of the two Words frantically shouted, "The dragons are escaping! What do we now?!"

The door was now high enough for me to walk under. My future kept pushing the door upwards and took the weight off my shoulders. I took that as the cue that I should go through, and I wasted no time.

The other Word said, "We have to get to the time machine ourselves and quickly! We have to go back in time and warn our past selves to expect all this. We can then be prepared to fight the two gold dragons when they arrive. But we have to hurry!"

I saw the energy stream from my future self follow me under the door, and once he was on my side, he stopped the stream and the door slammed down. The two Words were now trapped on the other side. I was sure there was another access way that Word could take to get back to the time machine, but it would slow them down. Hopefully, that would give me the time I needed.

I had an idea of how I might stop the two Words from traveling back in time to try and stop me, but I would have to get the time machine first. I had to bet that my future self could take of himself now and I raced back to the lab that housed the time machine. I ran in the door and as I suspected, there were now three time machines in the room. There was the one Word had arrived in from the future, the one I had arrived in and the one my future self had arrived in when he came back in time to help me. This was definitely getting bizarre: there were now three copies of the time machine, two Word Paynns and two of me all existing at the same time. I shook my head as I wondered how far this was going to go.

Be that as it may, I had a task to do and I had little time. I had to get back into the past and complete the cycle that I just witnessed and do what I saw my future self do. If Word got back in time ahead of me or if I made any mistakes, all would be lost. Plus my gold energy was getting ever lower. I had to make it through all this before it ran out completely.

I ran straight for the copy of the time machine I had arrived in and lunged through its door, slamming it shut with my tail. I jammed the lever to start the machine moving backwards in time and watched the vid screen carefully. I waited until I saw the third time machine vanish. There! That was it. The third time machine was the one my future self had come back in, so the fact that I just saw it disappear meant that this was the moment my future self had arrived in the past and therefore should be the moment I should arrive so that I could then become my future self.

I let go of the lever to stop the time machine, opened the door and got out. It was a little weird as I found myself now emerging from what I previously saw as the third time machine. The other two time machines were exactly where they were before. I was now a few minutes into the past from where I just was. So right now, my past self was heading down the hall to eavesdrop on the conversation the two Word Paynns were having. So far, so good. This meant I finally had a few minutes of breathing room before I had to make my appearance in front of my past self.

First things first. I needed to recharge my black draconium energy so I could destroy the gear. And it just so happened that I knew of a ready source of such energy: Word's time machine. Being a gold dragon meant that I could absorb draconium energy of any color. I could absorb energy contributed by another dragon, such as the time I drew energy from Wyldfyr, Fracshun and Cyrano to defeat the Furox, or I could absorb it directly out of an energy cell. As it happened, Word's time machine was powered by red and black energy cells, which was just what I needed. I figured the time machine Word had arrived in would have had a full charge, so I moved over to it and got in front of the access panel where the energy cells were located.

The fasteners holding the panel in place were designed to be turned and opened by human fingers. If Artha had been here, he could have had it opened in a matter of seconds. Oh well, I had my own methods. I took my front foot and dug my claws into the seam around the top edge of the panel. I pulled downward on it and the metal easily bent under my strength. I smiled as the panel popped off and banged on the floor. There. Who needs fingers.

I started a mag stream to begin drawing the energy out of the black draconium energy cell. I breathed a sigh of relief as I could now feel the cell had a full charge. That was good because I was going to need an awful lot of black energy to destroy the red entropy gear. I absorbed every last bit of energy in the cell.

I had seen my then future self use red energy to get the door open again, so I next absorbed the energy from the red power cell. It's a good thing I had seen myself use the red energy, otherwise I wouldn't have known I needed to recharge my red energy now. I found the thought of yet another paradox amusing at this point and I grinned. Funny how quickly you get used to things like this.

I must say having this extra energy was refreshing. It wasn't the same as gold energy of course, but I didn't feel as exhausted as I did before and I felt a bit of renewed strength.

Now that I had the energy I required to carry out my mission, I needed just one more thing. I headed over to the workbench along the side wall. I searched around the items on the bench. What I needed must be here somewhere. This had to be where my future self had gotten it.

Ah, yes. There's what I was looking for. I picked up a small cylindrical can in mouth. This would do.

Right about now, I figured Word was discovering the presence of my past self. It was just about time for me to make my appearance and complete the cycle I had previously witnessed. I had just better not make any mistakes. I didn't have enough gold energy to run my armor for much longer, so there was no possibility of going back in time to correct anything this time around. This made me feel a bit nervous, almost like stage-fright. I had the advantage of having seen what I was supposed to do, but unlike a performer on stage, a mistake here wouldn't merely be embarrassing. It would mean the end of everything I had known, the start of a dragon-human and Connor's death.

I also had the feeling I was living on borrowed time right now. If I failed to rescue my past self in the minutes that lay ahead, then I would most certainly cease to exist. I wasn't able to get past the locked door by myself, so if I failed to help my past self get back to the time machine now, then I would be erased from time when reality re-adjusted to take that into account. That's something I didn't really want to think about. I had to hope the prophecy was on my side.

I took a deep breath and did my best to suppress my trepidation as I headed out of the room and down the hall to assist my past self and face whatever destiny had in store for me.


Chapter 19

I proceeded down the hall towards the conference room and passed under the door that had sealed me in before. I was close enough now to hear the voices of both Word Paynn's talking in the room beyond. My past self should be in there listening right now.

Let's see... This looked like about the right spot. I bit down gently on the end of the can in my mouth that I had picked up off the workbench back in the lab. The can cracked open and I tilted my head to pour out a bit of the contents. Black graphite powder sprinkled down on the floor. That looked like enough. I then put my left front foot down on the powder and lifted it back up to make a nice clean footprint. There. That looked just like how I remembered it. That should clue in my past self that I was here.

I moved back against the side wall to stand out of the way. I had a moment or two to wait until things would start to happen, and I reflected back on everything that had happened to me so far today. It was hard to believe all this had only started this morning, from my point of view, when Connor had come running into my room at the stables. Since then, I had experienced a massive time-quake and reality change, witnessed the dragon-human war, broke into Word's wraith dragon protected citadel, narrowly survived an encounter with Word and his black interference gear, commandeered his time machine, traveled back in time, narrowly escaped another encounter with Word and traveled back in time again to help my past self now. It felt like I had lived a lifetime since this had started, yet it had only been about eight hours of elapsed time for me. It was hard to believe that all this could unfold in such a short period of time. I had never had to make so many decisions all at once by myself before.

I also realized that this was the longest period of time I had ever been on my own before as well. When I was growing up, Connor was always with me or somewhere nearby. Then later, his sons and Fracshun were always somewhere about the stables doing chores or just playing. Whenever there was free time, the four of us would play mag-ball quite a bit: Artha and Lance would try to keep a ball away from me and Fracshun by running and throwing it back and forth between them while we chased them and tried to mag the ball out of the air as they threw it. It was fun and good practice for me. It wasn't as easy to aim a mag energy stream and grab a moving object out of the air as you might think. And of course after I chose Artha to be my rider, he was with me on an almost constant basis.

As I thought about those times, I suddenly felt very alone. I would have felt a lot better if Artha could be here with me now, but Artha didn't exist in this reality. And all those times I remembered with him and his family never happened in this reality either. I lowered my head and my tail drooped as I sighed at the loneliness I felt.

This was the critical point. I had to succeed in the minutes ahead and set things right. I couldn't allow Word to rule in a reality that wasn't meant to be, and I couldn't bear the thought of dragons and humans killing each other in war. Plus I couldn't deny that I wanted to see Connor and his sons again.

I lifted my head and focused my resolve on the task ahead of me. I was ready to do what I must.

Just then, the door behind me slammed down and blocked the hall. Word had discovered the presence of my past self and was sealing him in just like I remembered. And of course, I was now trapped here as well.

OK. This is where the fun begins.


Chapter 20

The two Word Paynns came out of the conference room down the hall from me and looked in my direction. The one holding the scanner said, "He's trapped over there."

This was just as I remembered it. Right now, my past self should be standing here in the hall almost right next me.

Word said, "Hurry, go get the black draconium interference pod and we'll overload his defensive armor. That should finish him off." The other Word took off to get the gear.

My past self should be pondering what to do right now just like I had. I waited a short time to let him figure it out.

As best as I could estimate, he should be looking down at my footprint on the floor right about now and realizing I was here. If that was correct, then it was time for me to make my next move.

I tilted my head to sprinkle out some more of the graphite powder on the floor and starting walking back to the conference room where the red entropy gear was. I made sure to step in the powder so my past self could see where I was going. I couldn't see him of course, so I had to hope he was following me just as I had done when I was him.

And just as I remembered, Word tracked us with the scanner and followed us back into the room. So far so good. Word didn't yet know there were two of me here which gave me the advantage. I walked straight over to the table where the red gear was. OK, time to get this over with and destroy this gear. I channeled my black draconium energy into a mag stream and aimed it straight into the gear. This shouldn't take very long. Everything looked ---

Hold on. What's happening?

The red gear: it was activating!

I must have inadvertently triggered it. Scales, this wasn't what I wanted. I didn't remember this happening before, but I was standing farther away then and I couldn't see the gear clearly.

This wasn't good. Connor had cautioned me about activating any ancient gear that I wasn't familiar with and didn't know how to control. Ancient gear was extremely powerful and therefore extremely dangerous if not handled correctly. This particular piece of gear increased entropy and it could also be used to travel through time. So this had to be extremely powerful gear indeed. And unfortunately, I had no idea how to control it.

The gear would no doubt do what it was designed to do and start generating a field of increased entropy around it. Increased entropy represented an increased state of decay or disorder, which is basically another way of saying destruction. Word said the gear was used to make draconium metal more malleable, but it would undoubtedly affect everything else. Draconium was one of the hardest metals on the planet, so if the gear could affect that, then that meant it could destroy just about anything. I was certain my gold defensive armor would protect me and my past self from harm, but this gear had the potential of destroying everything else. And I had no idea what kind of range it had. It might destroy everything on this floor or even the entire citadel. Even if it didn't do all that, it might damage the time machines down the hall. If that happened, then my past self wouldn't be able to travel back in time to become me, and it would be all over for me at that point.

I had to act fast to make sure the gear didn't damage anything. I made a quick decision. I hoped it was the right one.

I closed my eyes and concentrated. I took a deep breath and summoned all the black draconium energy within me and channeled it into the most intensely focused mag stream I could handle and shot it directly into the red gear. The energy surged out of me in an intense mag burst and I focused all my attention on maintaining the energy flow. I had to overload and destroy the red gear quickly before the entropy field it was generating did any damage.

I was oblivious to everything else around me as I continued the mag burst. It took all my concentration to control and focus that much energy all at once. It wasn't long before I could feel my energy starting to run out, but I gritted my teeth and dug down and summoned every last bit of the black draconium energy I had and continued the mag burst.

My energy finally started to ebb and the mag stream began to taper off. Straining, I continued it for as long as I could.

When my energy dropped below the threshold required to maintain an energy stream, I ended the mag burst. I felt a wave of dizziness from the sudden energy drain I had just experienced. I lowered my head and took a moment to breath deeply. I quickly felt better and I opened my eyes to see what had happened. Thankfully, the mag burst had reduced the red gear to a pile of slag on the table, just as I remembered it. It looked like I had managed to destroy it before it had done any damage.

I looked around the room and saw that my past self had done his part and had disarmed Word when he came back with his black interference gear in the meantime. The black gear was lying crushed on the floor right where I had spat it out before. Now things made better sense. When I experienced this the first time around, my future self seemed to be completely ignoring Word and the black gear, and had instead maintained an intense mag burst on the red gear. I didn't understand why at the time, but now I knew this was because I had to race to destroy the red gear before it could damage anything. I hadn't seen my future self do anything about Word because it had taken all my concentration to destroy the red gear.

It turned out I was a lucky dragon. I hadn't anticipated the red gear activating, but so far everything had ended up the way I remembered it. Now to help get my past self back to the time machine so he could become me and complete the cycle. I hoped there would be no more surprises.


Chapter 21

It was time to get the door open so my past self could get to the time machine and travel back in time to take my place. Just as I recalled from before, Word was giving his little speech about trapping me here. He finished it up with the same words I remembered:

"And the doors sealing us in here are strong enough to withstanding a dragon's strength, even the combined strength of two gold dragons. We have only to wait now. Before too long, their energy will run out. As long as the dragon can't get to the time machine before then, we will have won."

I smiled. That's what you think, Word. Fortunately, I knew of a way out. About now, my past self should have moved out into the hall to look over the door that was blocking the hall, trying to find a way out. That was my next cue.

I moved out into the hall myself and found the wall panel I had seen my then future self, which I guess was really me now, pull off the wall. The panel was fairly large and the top of it was a few feet above my head, so I reared up on my hind legs so I could get my paws on it. I dug all my front claws into the seam at the top of the panel and pulled down. The panel was on there pretty good, but not so solid that I couldn't get it off with a little effort. I pulled down as hard as I could and the metal started bend. There was a grating sound as the bolts holding it in place tore and broke off one by one.

The doors in this hallway may have been designed to withstand a dragon's strength, but things like this panel weren't. No one besides Word would really have known that the junction box that controlled the locks was behind this particular panel, so there was no real need to reinforce it that much. So much the better for me. It was a good thing I had observed myself pulling it off before or else I wouldn't have known the junction box was here. I decided to just add that to the list of paradoxes for the day and not worry about it further.

I continued pulling down on the panel, and as the last bolt broke off, the panel fell to the floor and banged loudly. The junction box was right there where I remembered it. OK, time to toast it. I focused my red draconium energy into a mag stream and aimed it straight into the box housing the electronics. Unlike the red gear I had destroyed a few minutes ago, the junction box wasn't designed to handle this much draconium energy and it quickly began to glow red. A few moments later, the box burst open in a shower of sparks and I heard the locks on the door release themselves.

I breathed a happy sigh of relief. That turned out to be easy. Something had actually gone right for a change. Considering the kind of day I had been having so far, it was about time.

It had taken hardly any energy at all to overload the electronics, which meant I had plenty of red energy left with which to open the door. I moved over to stand in front of the door and started another mag burst. I focused the energy stream on the door and pushed upwards. The door was pretty heavy, so I adjusted my footing to stabilize myself and dug my claws into the floor. It took some effort, but the door slowly began to rise. After it was a few feet off the ground, it suddenly became a bit easier to lift. That meant my past self had gotten his shoulders underneath and was helping me as I had done before.

The door was now high enough for me to easily walk under and I assumed my past self had already done so. I continued the mag burst and walked under the door myself. As soon as I was on the other side, I ended the mag stream and let the door slam back done. There, that should hold Word for a while.

My past self should be racing back to the lab and getting into the time machine about now. In just a few more minutes, he would be returning to the past to take my place which will complete this cycle of time. Hopefully, everything would go ---

Uh-oh. I heard voices. It was both Word Paynns coming from the other end of the hall. Scales, this was happening much faster than I thought it would. I was sure Word would have another way to get out of there, but I wasn't expecting it so soon. If Word managed to travel back in time and warn his past self about me, then that would disrupt everything I had just done.

I ran back to the lab and arrived just after both Words had entered. My past self must have just left since there were only two time machines there now. Both Words were over by the time machine that the Word from the future had arrived in. One of them was by the door about to get in when the other noticed that the panel I had removed to get at the energy cells was lying on the floor. He quickly went over to examine the cells. While he did that, I ran over to the time machine I had arrived in and skidded to a halt in front of the door.

The Word by the door of time machine asked, "What is it?" as he gestured towards the panel the other was looking at.

"The energy cells... They've been completely drained!"

"It must be the gold dragon," the other said with a snarl. "That's how he got all that energy to destroy the gear. He stole it from our time machine!"

"We'll never get the cells recharged in time. Can we use the other time machine over there?"

The other Word took out his scanner and scanned the area. A look of anger and dismay came over his face. "We can't," he spat out with a sigh. "The gold dragon is blocking the door. We'll never get passed him in time." He clenched his fists and shouted with disgust, "All our plans are ruined!"

I had done it! I had freed my past self and gotten him safely back into the past to become me. I had destroyed the gear Word's time machine was based on, and I had managed to stop Word from using his time machine again so he couldn't further interfere with time! I could hardly believe I had accomplished it all. I felt proud.

Like most dragons, I never tried to hide my emotions the way the humans did so frequently. So even though I knew no one could see me, I couldn't help but stand tall with my head held high and chest out. I beamed a proud smile for my accomplishments to no one in particular. Maybe I really was destined to be the Dragon of Legend after all! Maybe the prophecies were all true. Maybe I ---


What was that?

My smile quickly faded as I felt and heard a distant rumbling. It seemed like it was coming from all directions at once. A feeling of dread and foreboding spread over me just then. We dragons didn't turn pale like humans did when we felt fear, but I could still feel the blood draining from my face. My heart raced and there was a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. My mind flashed back to when this all started this morning when Connor came running into my room at the stables. I had felt this before. The rumbling could only mean one thing...

Oh, scales!



Chapter 22

Scales, I could be such a dumb dragon at times! I should have known this would happen.

The moment I destroyed the red entropy gear that had made time travel possible and had successfully freed my past self so that he in turn could destroy the gear and complete the cycle, it triggered a time-quake to re-adjust reality. Without the red gear, Word could never have built the time machine. He had said that was last remaining piece of that type of gear, and after I had melted it down, there was no way he could ever repair it. That meant he could never have traveled back into the past to kill Connor and prevent me from being hatched. That also meant I couldn't have traveled back in time to be here now. As a result, reality was now resetting itself to be the way it was in the absence of all this time travel. That meant a time-quake had to happen. And by the sound of it, it was a big one!

Now that I thought about it, it was obvious this would happen given all the tampering with time that Word and I had done. The problem was I so busy trying to set everything right that I never stopped to think about the consequences.

Right now, I wasn't where I belonged in time and the reality I was in was about to be erased. I couldn't power my armor for much longer and I had no idea what would happen to me if it shut down while I was here. And I really didn't want to find out.

I only had one thought in my head: get back to where I belonged!

I wasn't really sure if that was the right thing to do, but my instincts told me it was and I was out of ideas, and out of time.

Like the time-quake I had experienced this morning, I guessed that this time-quake emanated from the past. It probably started from the farthest point back in time that Word had traveled to since everything he had done to affect reality from that point forward now had to change.

The time machine was still standing before me. I figured it would continue to exist until the time-quake reached this point in time. Once it arrived here, the time machine would no doubt vanish from existence.

Time-quakes seemed to propagate through time at a finite speed since the reality change from the time-quake I experienced this morning didn't happen instantaneously. This seemed to make sense since even light traveled at a finite speed. If the speed of light was limited when traveling through space, then a time-quake could be similarly limited as it traveled along the time line.

If that was true, then I had a chance to get home. The time-quake was almost upon me. I had to hope the time machine could travel forward in time at least as fast the time-quake so it couldn't catch up to me before I got home.

No time left. Only one way to find out.

I sprang through the door of the time machine and kicked the door shut with my hind foot as soon as I got my tail inside. I quickly jammed the control lever in the opposite direction I had used before in order to get the time machine moving forward in time as fast as possible. The vid screen showed the beginning of the chaos of a reality adjustment just as the time machine started moving in time. This was cutting things way too close.

The view on the vid screen was like watching a movie on fast forward. I was just ahead of the time quake, so I saw all the activity in the lab that had taken place during the construction of the time machine. It was the same activity I had watched in reverse when I had originally traveled back in time. This part of time was still unaffected by the time-quake. Luckily, that meant that I was keeping ahead of the time-quake.

After a few moments the time machine stopped. On the vid screen I saw Word, the two techicians and the guards that had all been there at the moment I had originally left for the past. Word had said that the time machine would return to its point of departure. The reverse entropy field would of course only make the time machine move backwards in time from its origin point, so it couldn't go forward in time beyond that since that was the point where the entropy would equalize. That meant I was now right back at the point in time where I should be.

The time-quake was no doubt right on my heels. When it got here, it should erase the time machine from existence. I definitely did not want to be inside the time machine when that happened, so I pulled the door open with my tail and backed my way out as quickly as I could.

Word was looking at his scanner as he shouted to the guards, "The dragon is getting out of the time machine! Get him!"

Scales, I had forgotten they were close to getting me with the flash sticks just before I had left. I spun around to face the guards, squatted down and then sprang forward, jumping over their heads. I landed on the other side of the lab and knocked over several racks of equipment as I skidded to a halt. I wasn't worried about being subtle at this point.

Word shouted, "He's over there now!" pointing in my direction.

The guards turned to face me. Two of them raised their flash sticks to the ready. Oh, scales. Instinctively, I crouched and bared my teeth, ready to rush them first.

Before anything else could happen, the room became engulfed in the chaos of a reality change. The time-quake had arrived in the present. As before, it started slowly but quickly intensified.

With all the tampering I had just done with time, I didn't know what the time-quake would do to me if the armor wasn't protecting me. With the red gear destroyed in the past, I never could have traveled back in time to do all the things I had just done. Would that mean the time-quake would erase me from time now?

I had hardly any gold energy left at this point, but I quickly decided I should drive the gear back to full power to make sure I was completely isolated from the effects of the time-quake. It had protected me before, so hopefully it would work again. The question was: would I have enough energy?

I had to hope I did. I took a deep breath and powered the gear up to maximum and braced myself for what might come.


Chapter 23

The full chaos of the reality change was upon me in no time. It was just like the one I had experienced this morning: Everything in the room was twisting and rearranging itself around me. One by one, things were disappearing from sight. It started slowly at first, just one or two things vanishing at a time, but the pace quickly picked up. Now entire racks of equipment were disappearing. The humans were disappearing as well. First the guards vanished one by one, then the technicians, then finally Word himself was gone.

The last thing I could clearly see vanish was the time machine itself. It appeared to fold into itself, as if it was collapsing into an infinitely small point at its center. I was glad I wasn't inside it anymore. After that, the whole room was such a confusing mess of shapes that were twisting and turning in impossible directions that I couldn't make any sense out of it. As before, even the floor didn't feel right beneath my feet.

My energy was running very low. I didn't know how much longer I could power the gear and I didn't know how much longer this time-quake was going to last. I noticed my heart was racing and found myself breathing in short breaths. I couldn't let the apprehension overwhelm me and distract me from powering my gear. With my energy this low, powering the gear was difficult enough as it was. I closed my eyes and concentrated on just maintaining the energy flow. I did my best to block out everything else. I tried to steady my breathing as I dug down deep to summon all my remaining gold energy. One thing was certain, I couldn't keep this up much longer. Desperately, I focused my mind on the energy flow to the exclusion of all else.

Then suddenly, I felt solid ground beneath my feet again. I quickly opened my eyes to see what had happened.

I found myself still standing in the lab, but the room was completely empty. No equipment, no humans and no time machine. It looked like the time-quake was over and this was the new reality. And not a moment too soon for me.

Now that the time-quake was over, I quickly reduced the amount of energy I was sending into the gear, but I didn't shut it down completely. I hoped I was back in a reality where time machines didn't exist and where there was no dragon-human war. And just as importantly for me, I hoped this was a reality where both myself and my human family existed. Connor had said that if I turned the gear off while I was in a reality where I wasn't supposed to exist, then I'd immediately disappear from existence. I suppose it would be painless, but that didn't make me feel any better.

I had to hope I had done everything right, but I still felt some doubt. If I had made any mistakes while I was in the past, no matter how slight, then who knows what effect they might have had as they rippled through time. I wouldn't know until I got back outside and had a look around. Assuming I had done everything right, then I still had one problem left: I didn't dare let Word see me wandering about in his citadel.

The citadel was still here, so that meant that Word was here somewhere in this reality. Because the time machine appeared to not exist anymore, he never would have come in here to try and stop me from using it. That reality was gone, but he was no doubt elsewhere in the citadel right now.

Word hadn't yet figured out that I was both Artha's red and blue racing dragon and the black and gold dragon. Luckily, he didn't know I could change colors. That had given me and Artha a strong advantage, even though I knew Word would eventually figure it out. But there was no reason to make it any easier for him. I was presently in my red and blue form and if Word suddenly saw what he knew as Artha's racing dragon wandering around alone in his citadel, it probably wouldn't take him very long to put two and two together. Plus I was so weak right now that he could capture me with little effort. Because of this, I couldn't afford to let Word see me now.

I had to get out of the citadel and fast. I had a little bit of energy left, and it was just enough to keep the armor going which would keep me invisible. I wasted no time and made a mad dash out of the lab and back down to the entrance of the citadel below.

I made it down to the ground floor as quickly as I could, and when I got there I breathed a sigh of relief: no wraith dragons anywhere. The huge army of wraith dragons I had to pass on the way in was no where to be seen. Hopefully, that army didn't exist in this reality. So far so good.

I bolted out of the door of the citadel into the late afternoon light. No one was around. My energy was nearly depleted and I was exhausted, but I kept running anyway. Fear can be a powerful motivator at times. I wanted to get out of sight of Word's citadel while I was still cloaked. I gritted my teeth and strained to keep the gear running for just a little bit longer.

I made it down the long avenue that led away from the citadel and rounded a corner. Just as I did so, my energy dropped below the threshold the gear needed to operate. I skidded to halt and desperately hoped I'd still exist a few moments from now. Despite the sheer exhaustion I felt, all I could think of was Connor, Artha and Lance and if I'd ever see them again.

The gentle sound the gear made while it was operating faded away as it powered down. The isolation field that had created an independent pocket of space and had safely protected me through two time-quakes and all the other hazards I had faced this day was dissipating. As it did so, I heard and felt a "fump" sound all around me. I felt the air pressure change around my body, causing my ears to pop again. I held my breath and clenched my teeth. My whole body tensed up as I waited to see what would happen to me.


Chapter 24

A moment passed.

Then another.

Then quietly, the gear that had opened up and spread itself out across the top of my head to form a helmet of sorts when I had activated it early this morning closed itself back up into the nice neat little gear pod it was when I had magged it on. It was completely deactivated now.

I suddenly realized I hadn't breathed in a long while. I took a breath. The familiar smells of Dragon City filled my nostrils. My breathing was somewhat erratic, mostly from the apprehension and exhaustion I was feeling right now, but also because I had been holding my breath. I tried to relax and steady my breathing and looked around at myself. I looked down and saw my feet. I looked back and saw my own tail.

Well, I'll be scaled! I still exist!

That meant that this was a reality that I belonged in. I let out a huge sigh of relief and smiled. Thank the Magna Draconis!

If I existed, would that then guarantee that Connor and his sons existed as well? What if something had changed in the past and someone else had raised me? Is it possible I'd have a different family now? What if something else had happened and that caused Artha to have never been born? Could other things have changed? There seem to be an infinite number of possible changes from the reality I had known before. Is it possible Word had found some other way to start the dragon-human war in the meantime?

I had to know. I was physically exhausted and my energy was lower than I could ever remember it being, but I had to know! That desire was so strong in me that it gave me the strength to continue on.

I started walking in the direction of Penn Stables, or at least where I remembered it being. The first few steps were difficult as my muscles felt so weak, but the determination drove me on. That somehow helped me find the strength I needed. Sheer determination showed in my eyes. I picked up the pace and walked more quickly. After a short time, I rounded another corner and encountered --

People! And dragons! The humans were riding and interacting with their dragons. It was a normal street scene on a normal day in Dragon City. The horrible war I had witnessed and the uncountable number of dead I had seen did not exist here in this reality. Thank goodness!

I smiled broadly and the feeling of elation I got from this sight gave me even more strength to go on. I sped up to a full gallop and made my way through the city streets towards Penn Stables as quickly as I could.

I had a good deal of ground to cover since Word's citadel and Penn Stables were far apart. Along the entire way, I saw nothing except the ordinary life of humans and dragons in the city. Thankfully, that meant that Word hadn't yet managed to come up with a new plan for war in this reality. That meant that Artha and I still had a chance to stop him, that is if Artha existed in this reality. I would know soon now.


Chapter 25

I continued on towards home, following drag-way after drag-way. I managed to maintain a steady gallop despite how tired I was. I wasn't exactly sure where I was getting the strength to keep running, but I guess my will to be home again gave me the energy I needed.

I was getting a lot of stares from the people and dragons I was passing. Like myself, most dragons preferred to be with their humans and we generally didn't wander around the city on our own that much. And when we did, we usually weren't in this much of a hurry to get somewhere. Oh, well. Let them stare.

I pressed onwards, and now in the distance up ahead I could make out some of the tall buildings that had surrounded my home. It was easy to spot them since I had been looking at them from the stables my whole life. I was getting close. Finally, a turn in the drag-way allowed me to see around one of the larger buildings.

I breathed a sigh of relief as it came into view. There it was! Penn Stables was up ahead just the way I remembered it. But would Connor and his sons be there? I was anxious and ran faster.

I rounded the corner into the stables and I felt a great relief. There they were! I saw all three of them standing there in the courtyard. I let out a roar to get their attention. They all turned to look and I beamed a big smile at them as I bounded towards them with exaggerated movements to show how happy I was to see them.

Artha came running over to me first and I skidded to a halt in front of him with a huge smile on my face. He said, "Oh, Beau! Thank goodness you're back!" I nuzzled him as he stroked my head. "We were looking all over for you. We thought the worst might have happened." It was a relief to be with him again and I could feel my energy coming back just from being near him. I let a soft purr express my feelings. "Where have you been all day, Beau?"

Now that's interesting. From their point of view, it seemed that I was simply gone all day. I guess that's how it worked given that the armor was isolating me from the reality changes. When I activated the armor early this morning, I simply disappeared from their view. I was busily off fighting Word in another reality, but when the last time-quake reset everything, it was like I was simply absent from this reality for that same amount of time.

This was almost too good to be true. It seemed that destroying Word's red entropy gear had been exactly the right thing to do to restore reality to the way it was before. Well, almost the way it was: the red gear no longer existed in this reality. Thankfully, that meant no more time travel.

Lance came running over to me next and I lowered my head down to his level to greet him with a big smile. As he approached he gleefully said, "Beau! We were so worried about you." I thought he was just going to give me a friendly pat the way he usually did, but to my surprise he wrapped his arms around my snout and gave me a big hug instead. I couldn't help but chuckle out loud at this, and so did Artha and Connor. He was such a cute kid. A bit unpredictable, but definitely cute. I liked him.

When Lance finally released me from his grip, I turned to greet Connor and pressed my head against him gently to show I was glad to see him. He stroked my neck and patted me on the shoulder and said in a kind voice, "It's good to have you back." Then he noticed the gear magged to my forehead. He gave me an inquisitive look and said, "Beau, what's that gear you have? Can I see it, please?" I magged the gear off and placed it in his hands. He examined it and said, "Why this is some of the ancient gear I keep locked in the vault down in the temple. How on earth did you get hold of this?"

I just gave him a big chessy smile in return. A look of playful intrigue showed in my eyes.

Connor looked at me out of the corner of his eyes, and with a sly smile and a bit of sarcastic humor in his voice he said, "Beau, is there something I should know?"

It seemed I was the only one who could remember what had happened. I guess that made sense. When I destroyed the red gear, it created a time-quake that reset everything back the way it was before all this happened. Since Word never built the time machine and had never traveled through time, it was as if the first time-quake that started all this never happened. Therefore Connor wouldn't remember coming into my room early this morning and giving me the gear because, well, it never happened from his point of view. And the only reason I could remember it all was because the gear had isolated me from the effects of the time-quakes.

Magna Draconis, have I got a story to tell them! I said, "Uh-huh! Uh-huh!" and nodded vigorously at Connor to answer his question. I gave him a gentle nudge with my snout along with a hopeful look to let him know that I wanted to tell him something.

"Well, then," Connor began as he smiled at me, "you look hungry. So let's get you fed and then we'll see if we can figure out what you've been up to all day."

Food! Now you're talking. I hadn't eaten in nearly a day and I was starving at this point. Connor always knew what I wanted, though I suppose the fact that my stomach was growling louder than an angry hydrag probably gave that away. I happily walked alongside Connor and his sons as we made our way back to my room in the stable area.

It was great to be home with my family again. And to think I managed to accomplish all this on my own. Even more so, throughout it all I never had to fight or hurt anyone, let alone kill anyone. This gave me renewed confidence that the Dragon Priests and the prophecy were right. And if I could do all this on my own, then just imagine what Artha and I could accomplish together. I wondered if maybe destiny was trying to show me that.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I could see a way through all the conflicts that were no doubt on the path ahead of us. More than ever, I felt confident that Artha and I were doing the right thing and we could reach our goal of a world without the threat war. A world where dragons and humans could live together in peace.

Now, to get to work on finding a better way to communicate with humans so I can tell them what happened. If I had to, I'd scratch the words out on the ground with my claws one at a time. Who knows, maybe my story will even get written down somewhere for others to read some day. That made me smile.

-- As told by Beau, the Gold Dragon of Legend

The End

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