“Sir, it is imperative that we leave immediately!” The burly over-large grillion was standing beside an arch that had magically appeared just inside Lord Aimsley’s front door a moment before. The almost five foot tall winged blue-green lizard was holding the now confiscated thief bag that the Lord had been trying to fill with all of the family’s worldly possessions from the Manor.
In times past the rather smallish dragon-like creatures who called themselves grillions were simply the pets of the cholga: the sentient race of Escellion. The name ‘Cholga’ in grillion speech translated loosely into ‘The Beloved Race.’ Most adult grillions were only four feet tall, with a wingspan of about seven feet. Normal cholga males stood about fifteen feet tall. The females were almost as large, reaching heights of around thirteen and one half feet tall. Silky hair lightly covered most of their bodies, both male and female; but the cholga were modest and slightly vain. They wore beautiful garments of intricately woven fabrics. The males wore their hair loosely curled all over their heads and braided their beards decorated with beads down to their necks. The females had much lighter facial hair, so they twisted their hair into delicate beaded braids that ran down their shoulders from their heads. Cholga hair beads were usually magical artifacts. Each was used to do some rudimentary and simple mundane spell. Cholga women wore long ornate gowns. The males wore richly embroidered suits with flowing capes that fastened at the neck with an ascot embellished with a stick pin of some incantation or another. The shoes they wore were made of the softest hides from the underbellies of the bora boras.
That all changed forever; when a comet’s tail brushed the atmosphere of Escellion. Fiery ice rained down on the planet with devastating ferocity. Large chunks of falling debris destroyed cities off the face of Escellion; killing millions instantly and leaving in their wake an unknown element that mutated metals and living creatures. Only the plants seemed to thrive in the new biosphere. The gasses escaping from the melting ice poisoned the environment. The wildlife changed almost instantly, sometimes within a few days. Some became telepathic, some would now cast spells, and all of them were more deadly than they had ever been before. The war for the survival of the fittest among the creatures of Escellion soon narrowed down the ecology. Most of the smaller and less aggressive creatures quickly became extinct except in captivity. If they could not hide effectively, they did not live.
Of the mammalians, only the cholga appeared to survive. The cholga were doomed to die if they remained on the planet. The chemical in the environment was doing horrible things to their incredibly advanced minds; turning the urbane and sophisticated population of Afton into uncivilized killer beasts of enormous size and strength. After the insanity set in deeply; each unfortunate victim would die a slow and painful death, or an instant and violent one; depending on the circumstances. The star-borne chemical had made the less mentally advanced grillions, who wore no clothing at all; capable of speech, moderate spell casting and sentient thought. Roles reversed as the grillion community frantically tried to rescue the last of the surviving cholga population on the planet.
It was a daring plan. Before the comet’s arrival, the cholga had planned a flight to another planet on the other side of the solar system. Rocket ships had been developed and built for this purpose. A fleet had been readied in case negotiations went well with the inhabitants of the blue jewel that spun on the opposite side of the Sun from Escellion. Previous flights away from the solar system had been less promising.
The nearest solar system to Escellion was more than twelve years away at top interplanetary speeds. It was dangerous and uninhabitable. The explorers who ventured there narrowly escaped with their lives from an enormous dark star with a strong gravity well. Other stellar explorers left Escellion for the vast deep darkness of space, never to return. Here in the local solar system; the small almost hairless inhabitants called a neighboring planet Earth. The creatures that lived on that planet were scientifically undeveloped. They were only slightly larger than the pet grillions who perched across the shoulders of the cholga on specially made harnesses. The Humans, as they called themselves, were capable of building cities and some interesting tetrahedron structures they called Pyramids. It was hoped that the Escellion explorers could perhaps tap into the rather backwards minds of the population of Earth. They wanted to help them to understand science and most importantly astrophysics. The dense nickel core of the blue planet served as a magic barrier, so these ‘humans’ would never experience the genuine effects of spell casting unless they left Earth, possibly to come to Escellion.
Escellion and Earth shared the same rotation; each trapped in its course around the Sun on opposite sides. The simplest way to reach Earth was to leave the gravity of Escellion, and wait stationary for six months for the Earth to come to the ship. Now that the comet’s tail had changed everything; emergency evacuations were underway. Teams of loyal grillions were attempting to maneuver the ships built for cholga pilots. In the cataclysm all of the actively working space pilots died. Only the pilot’s little grillion pets were left who knew how the ship’s controls worked.
The Aimsley family had been relocated to the spaceport for safety just after the collision with the comet. All of the outlying areas had a portal system set up to bring the survivors directly into the structure, and there were a few clans that managed to come to safety. It was suspected that many more were trapped in portal space because dozens of the portal medallions had been damaged from falling ice. The comet left massive chunks of debris behind in degenerating flight paths. Huge chunks of ice systematically fell on the cities of the planet daily.
Afton was protected by ‘Blue Branches’ throughout the city and in the official buildings. The branches made it impossible to see the actual city from deep space or even orbit. Somehow most of the ice fell onto other parts of the planet and usually missed the buildings of Afton. The only completely undamaged structure on Escellion was the Queasedac Mountain, or as the grillions called it, the Hive.
The branches had been developed by Tolsend Reif, a scientist and artificer of incredible talent. He suspected that the comet could cause difficulties a month before the incident when he noticed it was on a near collision course with Escellion. He had implemented emergency drills in case of disaster. He trained most of the local population of Afton, and their pet grillions, on what to do in case of emergency. He created the com links the grillions were using today. The portal system was another of his creations.
By the time this last ship was leaving for Earth, all of the cities of the planet had been devastated and mostly destroyed by the ice falling out of decaying orbits. Chunks of soil, rock and debris had filled the cholga cut channels making travel by water vehicle almost impossible. Most of the vehicles were destroyed when the cities were devastated, so they were not an option anyway. A newly introduced chemical destroyed metal, morphing it into an odd type of mold. Any exposed metals in engines were almost instantly turned into a colorful mold.
The little afgar lizards that prowled the beaches looking for fish grew to enormous size. They now had hinged jaws, and had developed an organ inside their bodies along their spine that produced deadly electric shocks. Even if the intended prey could outrun them, the electric charge would pull down the victim by stunning it, or killing it making the unfortunate target vulnerable to their attacks. The little whisker fish, or targans grew larger and developed venom sacks in their barbels. The venom would freeze the victim slowly and painfully until they were a solid mass that the fish could now climb up onto the muddy soil to take back into the water. These fish cast a spell with their tail that could destroy a wall on contact if they heard the sounds of a fleeing prey behind it. The snaftons, or land crabs, grew to enormous size, and could hear the dreams of their victims telepathically with the long hair that now grew all over a thin hide covering their bodies. Hunting at night, they would make a meal off the unsuspecting victim, slicing them open with their massive tail and poisoning them for good measure.
Without some way to fly high above the water, there was no escape from the ruined islands except the portal systems. The environment of the swamps was deadly enough on their own with hidden quicksand and quagmires that could suck you into the deep mud never to be found if you made a misstep onto what looked like solid ground. The small creatures that once scampered lightly across the muddy terrain morphed into no one knew what, because they disappeared into invisibility. Now that the larger animals had morphed into something so deadly, there was not much likelihood of survival if anyone tried to just stay on the islands. The grillion mining labyrinth was too small for all but the youngest cholga to crawl through. Without lights, it would be easy to be forever lost in the catacombs. Who knew what kind of creatures were in there now? It was certain that any creature that had been there before was now infinitely more dangerous.
There were few if any of the remaining cholga now that the grillions trusted to be unaffected by the stardust. Most of the residual cholga waiting to leave were politely escorted by the grillions everywhere they went. Lord Aimsley had slipped away from his escort and escaped the spaceport through a portal to his manor left behind by a grillion defense team earlier in the day.
Lord Aimsley had secreted a newly developed thief bag before he left the complex. The small bag was about the size of a bead pouch. It could magically expand inside impossibly large to hold several large objects. The governor of Afton was attempting to load everything he owned into a small pouch that looked from the outside dimensions like it was just big enough for him to insert one finger into it halfway. While loading the thief bag with most of the manor’s goods; Lord Aimsley had quickly searched to find and pocket every artifact, hair bead and amulet left in the house. One was still missing. He had to hope the Lady had it, because it was the most important of all.
Now that the Lord had been found and rescued; the leader of the grillion squad quickly examined the contents of the bag. Aimsley apparently did not understand that overloading the tiny bag could very well cause an explosion once the ship reached Earth’s non-magical energy field. Although it had enough magic to hold a few things; the contents of an entire manor would have been more than the little artifact could hold unassisted by Escellion’s sentient magic.
The emergency evacuation squad soon roughly removed all of the furniture, statues, household goods, and most of the clothing from the bag. The only things left in the bag were emergency supplies and all of the untainted food from the kitchen. Those would be removed and stowed on board the ship leaving for Earth in fifteen minutes.
Earlier in the day, when the Lord had raided the developmental artifice cabinet, he found an ear bud with the thief pouch. These were developmental articles being made from the newly evolved animals on the planet. The thief pouch was made of afgar hide that was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside. The ear bud was a magical item shaped like a small bead with a loop of string on one side. Powered by a tightly coiled hair of a snafton; it allows the wearer to listen to another’s private thoughts without having the natural ability to do so. The bead told Aimsley to meekly cooperate. These grillions meant to have things done their way regardless of the force it would take to do it. Lord Aimsley stepped into the swirling mists of the newly formed arch and found himself deep in the space port with all of the remaining cholga destined to leave on this, the last ship leaving Escellion.
There was only a small handful of cholga that the grillions trusted as completely sane and able to be left unsupervised. The first and foremost of these was Chancellor Tolsend-Reif, the cholga caretaker. Unlike other cholga males, Tolsend was not interested in fine clothing and delicate beads woven into his hair. Chancellor Tolsend was magic and science personified. He needed no trinkets to perform any spell he wanted to. His beard hung unbraided in soft loose curls under his chin. He typically wore a soft blue-grey jumpsuit made out of finely spun blue under-bark bark fibers of the teren trees. It was a fabric that he developed and created using a combination of magic and science to protect him on his forays in portal space. His only adornment was a small and simple pin that helped him to traverse in and out of portal space safely. It was usually fastened to his jumpsuit. Not today however.
That morning he had quietly cast a private portal to secretly release the pair of mammalian tree rodents he had kept as companions and recorders back to the forest of azure blue and violet pink teren trees they loved so dearly. He closed up the portal quickly as soon as his small friends had hopped through. As far as Reif knew, they were the last of their kind, and the only animals left on the planet that had live births. They had been with him in portal space when the comet hit Escellion. He hoped they could survive, now that the worst of the comet event was over. He was not certain of what kind of evolution the tiny animals would undergo. He hoped it would be enough to protect them and keep them healthy and happy. He had done all that he could to assure their chances. They would not survive the trip to Earth unattended for half of the Sun’s rotation. Since they did not hibernate, they would have starved to death in deep space.
Tolsend had single-handedly created a portal network during the year before the collision. Once the collision happened, the system had been used to rescue most of the surviving cholga from around the world. All the other ships had been loaded and launched from their respective cities giving the last few of his race a chance to survive in the wilds of planet Earth. His clan left on an earlier ship, with the Oshlan clan, but some close family members had opted to go with him on this ship. Once the ships were launched, there would be no chance of clans meeting each other on Earth, but leaving him forever was not an option. The last of the Tolsend clan members were already on board the ship waiting to leave. He came to the Afton spaceport to oversee and fly the last and largest ship to leave Escellion. He had been in the time warp; working on the portal system; when the comet did its worst damage to Escellion. He was the only surviving cholga pilot. A grillion team had been trained in case of an emergency, but at least one ship would find certain safety and refuge on Earth.
He stood nearby holding a couple of books, calmly watching the Governor of Afton appear. “Sir, the cloaking shield has been activated. No one from space or sky can see Afton or the spaceport entrance now. The branch we installed in your manor this morning will make it impossible to take a direct hit should an attack take place. We do not expect trouble, but we have no idea what happened to the former space explorers; nor do we know if the comet was actually an interstellar attack. We are not taking any chances. Your grillion said that you needed me; I await your instructions,” he said bowing. Lord Aimsley thought to himself for a moment. He might need the caretaker’s help at that. “Stay here out of sight for a few minutes while I check with my wife, Lady Aimsley, about a matter of grave importance,” he said. “So I may need you after all for the safety of the colony once we land.” With that Lord Aimsley turned and walked briskly towards the enormous ship being loaded for departure that was embedded in the mountain. Tolsend followed him warily at a distance, intending to make him stay on board.
Finding Lady Aimsley as she helped to strap in one of the more unfortunate cholga that the chemical from the comet’s tail had driven insane, the Lord asked her quietly, “Do you have the amulet?”
She whispered urgently, “No I don’t!” Lady Aimsley looked at him with concern. “Somehow you must go back for it, but I haven’t a clue how right now.”
“I have a plan; I will be here soon,” he said kissing her hand. He left the ship at a dead run before the unbelievably busy grillions could ask him where he was going. Finding Chancellor Tolsend he said, “I need to back into the recent past and retrieve something vitally important!”
Tolsend looked at him oddly. “Sir, there isn’t time, literally. I cannot take you back because time before today does not exist now. The gas from the comet’s tail magically erases it. I can take you back to a few minutes ago, an hour maybe two, but yesterday is gone except in our memories.”
“Take me back as far as you can caretaker! I must retrieve something from the manor. I must, even if it endangers both of our lives doing it!” Lord Aimsley was frantically wringing his hands and pacing back and forth.
Sir Tolsend had never seen Lord Aimsley so oddly agitated. “Sire I cannot take you outside the realm of the spaceport,” he said. “The stardust has blocked all of the exits. Travel outside this location is certain death by insanity for any cholga. Even if I could bridge the gap between here and the manor; I could take you back to when you landed here, but that is all I can do now. Farther back in time might lock you between dimensions. It isn’t safe sir. You would still be here at the spaceport while you were at the manor too.”
“Do it!” Lord Aimsley hissed.
Chancellor Tolsend asked, “Sire why not send your grillion Watersom? He is here overseeing the evacuation committee.”
“You don’t understand! There isn’t time for that! Watersom is deep in the bowels of the mountain right now. The grillion guard squad would never let me go to him, much less let the departure wait for him to return.”
Lord Aimsley roughly pushed Tolsend’s shoulder with the heel of his hand. “Take me now!” Aimsley commanded him using a powerful impelling charm he secretly carried.
Chancellor Tolsend, fury in his eyes, grabbed Lord Aimsley’s hand and took him to a side room deeper into the cavernous Hive. He opened a notebook and chanted words he had scribbled there.
The two of them started slipping between times just as a passing grillion guard saw them and grasped the caretaker’s arm to stop them. The action caused Sir Tolsend to drop his books; and pulled him back into here and now of the present. His mind was torn from the incident. He did not know anything; not even his own name. Everything that made Sir Tolsend who he was had vanished. Somehow his memories were now inside of a book outside of time. Lord Aimsley was nowhere to be found.