6. Family Reunion
Mad Jack let out an evil cackle that swiftly sent him into a coughing fit. "Did you miss me, dear nephew? It's been a while since our little spat in Scotland."
"Little spat? You nearly killed me!" Joe clenched his fists and glared at his demented uncle.
"Unfortunately, I didn't succeed, but I can quickly fix that if you'd prefer." Mad Jack let his hourglass staff light up and pointed it directly at Joe and Sydney. "It would only take a few seconds. Of course, there is an alternative."
"Let me guess." Joe crossed his arms, a scowl appearing on his face. "My only other option is to hand over The Book? Nice try, but no. I'll beat you here just like I did back in Scotland."
Mad Jack laughed again. "For once, I'm afraid I'm not here for The Book, boy. I'm here for your friend. Finding you here with her was just a bonus. Now, if you would kindly step out of the way, I can grab her and be out of your hair in no time at all."
Sydney, who had been watching the exchange with a mix of curiosity and fear, stiffened as the focus of the conversation switched to her. She was suddenly grateful that Joe was standing between her and their crazy intruder. "Me?"
Joe glanced over his shoulder at Sydney. One look at her confused expression and he could tell that she knew as much as he did about why Mad Jack wanted her, which was very little. "What do you want with her?"
"That's a secret." Mad Jack sneered, revealing yellow teeth. "But your friend here is very powerful, and very useful to me. I'm prepared to offer her a highly lucrative and desirable deal, and in return, all she has to do is come with me and become my new assistant. What do you say, sweetheart?" He held his bony hand out for her to take.
"Don't trust anything he says, Sydney." Joe kept his eyes trained on Mad Jack, ready for any sort of attack.
"Stay out this, warp runt. This doesn't concern you." Seeing that Sydney wasn't going to take his offer right away, Mad Jack dropped his hand. "Very well then. I was hoping to do this the easy way, but the hard way is going to be much more fun."
He re-aimed his staff and a green ball shot out at them.
Joe barely had enough time to react. "Look out!" He spun around, wrapped his arms over Sydney's waist, and threw them both to the ground. They landed on the hard ground with a painful oomph, their limbs all tangled up in each other.
They had scarcely managed to extricate themselves from one another just as Mad Jack turned his cane into a sword and swung down toward them. It sliced into the ground between Joe and Sydney, effectively keeping them apart. Mad Jack wrenched the glowing green sword out of the ground and raised it above his head. "I was hoping to bring you back unharmed, but if I have to chop off your legs to keep you from getting away from me, so be it."
Mad Jack swung his sword at her legs. Sydney screamed and threw up her hands in a pitiful attempt to protect herself. "No! Stop!"
An eerie green glow came over Mad Jack and he froze mid-swing. Sydney's eyes widened and her breathing quickened. She scrambled to her feet, nearly falling over herself in the process, and took off toward the beach.
"Sydney, wait!" Joe was just as freaked out as she was. He stared at Mad Jack, who was still frozen. What did she just do? How did she do it? Joe stood up as quickly as Sydney had and tried to see where she had run off to. He heard a groan and saw that Mad Jack was slowly starting to move again. Joe didn't want to wait around for him to thaw all the way. He sprinted to the beach after Sydney.
The water was even more gorgeous up close. It dazzled in the afternoon sunlight, resembling thousands of diamonds. The blue of the sea reflected the clear sky above. The sand on the beach was whiter than pearls. A single trail of footsteps led down the shore in front of Joe. He assumed they were Sydney's and followed them without question.
The path of foot imprints led him to an alcove hidden behind an exotic flower bush and under the overhang of a cliff. He spotted Sydney sitting down with her back against the rock wall and her face buried in her knees. She had her arms enveloped tightly around her legs and when Joe listened carefully he could pick up the sound of her talking to herself. He was too far to hear exactly what she was saying, though he guessed she was trying to calm down.
"Sydney?" Joe took a tentative step forward. "Are you okay?" He felt stupid the moment the words left his mouth. Of course she wasn't okay. In the past hour alone, she had learned that time travel was possible, been attacked by an insane old man, and somehow managed to freeze that same man with a single word.
Sydney's head snapped up and at Joe. He could see the shock and panic in her eyes. She scurried away on her hands and knees, but only got a few feet away before she bumped into another rock barrier. "Stay away from me!" She crossed her hands and held them up in front of her. Then, as she remembered what had happened last time she did that, she rapidly dropped them back down to her sides.
Joe frowned and scrunched his brow. This wasn't the reaction he had expected. He was puzzled by her unforeseen terror and anxiety. Did she think he was Mad Jack? "It's all right. It's just me, Joe."
"I know who you are," Sydney spat out through gritted teeth. Her voice carried sudden anger, armoured with steel. "I said, stay away from me!"
"But why? What did I do?" Joe stepped closer to her. "I'm sorry about my uncle. I didn't know that he was going to show up out of the blue like that. We call him mad for a reason and I had no idea that he'd be so interested in you."
"This isn't about him!" Sydney clenched her fists, her jaw tightening. "I mean, it is, but it's also about everything else that has happened to me ever since you showed up. Before you came into my life, everything was normal. I like normal! Normal is good. Normal is safe. This outrageous life you lead is not normal! Time travel shouldn't be possible. I shouldn't get accosted by random men wanting me for God knows what! And I sure as hell should not be able to suspend their entire being just by yelling stop! This is insane! Do you realize that? I want to go home, Joe. Now. I want to return to my normal, happy life without any of this nonsense involved. And I don't want to see you ever again. Understood?"
Sydney's words cut like knives. Joe blinked, stumbled backward, and tried to process what she had just said. She was blaming him for all this? Joe shook his head. None of this was his fault. He attempted to understand where she was coming from. She was just freaking out. She didn't really mean anything she said. Joe should have expected this response. He opened his mouth to console her.
"Did you really think I would let you get away that easily?"
Joe jumped and turned on his heel. Mad Jack was standing behind him, blocking their only exit from the hidden nook. Joe groaned. This wasn't going to make things any better.
"I have to say, that little time magic trick was impressive. You're going to turn into quite the time goddess." Mad Jack clutched his cane and the hourglass began to gleam. "Let's try this again, shall we? Either come with me willingly or I'll drag you away kicking and screaming."
Without hesitating, he shoved Joe out of his way and onto the ground. He lunged at Sydney and effectively grasped onto her wrist. With a hard yank, he dragged her out of the alcove kicking and screaming like he promised.
"You're coming with me whether you like it or not." Mad Jack continued to tow her away. His grip on her wrist was so tight, Sydney's hand was starting to turn blue.
She struggled against him, desperately trying to pull away. "Let me go!" She flung her free hand at him. A green glow built up in her fist the closer it got to his face. By the time she hit him, it was blinding if you looked directly at it. Sydney's fist connected with Mad Jack's jaw. With a shriek of pain, Mad Jack was forced to let go of Sydney as he went flying across the beach, landing a hundred yards away from them. His body remained unmoving.
Sydney gaped at her hand and rapidly wiped it on her jeans, as if that would get rid of whatever was happening to her. Joe clambered to his feet and bolted to her. He skidded to a stop a few feet away from her, not wanting to get too close. He told himself it was because she might not want him near her yet, but deep down he was also developing an intense fear of her.
"He didn't hurt you too bad, did he?" Joe observed Sydney from a safe distance.
Sydney glanced at her wrist that Mad Jack had seized. Small bruises were starting to form and her hand tingled as blood returned after being cut off for so long. She groaned and collapsed backward into the sand. "What is happening to me?"
Joe cautiously stepped closer to her and sat down on the beach. "How did you do that? I've never seen anything like it before."
"Do I look like I know how I did that?" Sydney snapped. She rubbed the heels of her palms against her eyes. "This isn't right. Does this sort of thing usually happen when you time travel?"
Joe shook his head, then realizing she couldn't see him answered, "No, but I'm sure there's someone out there who can explain what's going on with you." Probably not the answer she was hoping for, but at least she was talking to him normally again. The sting from her previous words was still fresh. "Mad Jack called you a time goddess, whatever that means. There's bound to be at least one other person in the world that knows what that is."
"Perhaps I can be of service," a sudden unfamiliar feminine voice spoke up.
Joe and Sydney tensed and turned to see who the voice belonged to, both hoping it wasn't another attacker who wanted to take Sydney away. A woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties stood behind them. She wore a pleasant smile on her tanned face that reached her pale green eyes. Joe paused and peered closer at the woman's face. Even from this distance he could see a neon green ring surrounding her iris, just like in Sydney's eyes.
The woman bowed her head, her bobbed blonde hair falling over her face. "My apologies for the intrusion, but I'm afraid I had no choice but to step in." Her voice was soft and sincere. She tilted her head back up and focused on Sydney. "You are in grave danger and we need to take you somewhere safe. He may be unconscious for now, but he won't stay that way for long." She gestured to Mad Jack, who was still motionless on the other end of the waterfront.
"I'm not exactly keen on going anywhere with strangers right now." Sydney crossed her arms and glanced at Joe. "Another friend of yours I presume?"
"No, I've never seen her before." Joe studied the newcomer. "Who are you?"
The woman sighed and shook her head, as if she knew this was bound to happen but didn't want it to. "Currently, I go by Kayla, and I am a time goddess like you. I hate to have to do this, but it's necessary to ensure you're safety. We are going to have to warp to Draylon immediately."
Joe and Sydney didn't get any time to protest and ask for clarification. Kayla snapped her fingers and green mist hurriedly wrapped around them. In an instant, they were sucked away from Corfu and soon found themselves in an entirely new scene.