The mugger is watching me.
Or perhaps I should refer to him as the would-be mugger. He did mug me, once, but he hasn’t yet.
Time travel is confusing.
I tread out of the alleyway, fear pouncing onto my heart. Out of the corner of my eye, the shadows shift. The mugger’s movements play out in my mind. He’ll wrap both arms around me from behind, restricting my movements.
Back then, I had no training. Now, my two months at the Academy have taught me well. I’ll buckle one knee, grab his arm, and twist it hard. Judging by his height and size, it shouldn’t be a difficult task.
First, I must find my dog, Bruiser. He’ll try to save me from my attacker but then get injured badly. The events flutter in my head. They feel surreal, like a dream.
I look down at my cleaner’s gray outfit. Once, I went to the Luminus Academy, the most prestigious institution in Althuria. And wasn’t I just in the Queen’s castle? These events are burnt into my memory, yet erased from reality. Like I’ve made them up.
My last memory is of my sister hanging from chains bolted to the wall in the dungeons. The Queen ordered Cyrus to kill her, and I watched helplessly as he slit her throat. Grief clouded my senses—even now I can hardly breathe, recalling the image—so I screamed and dived into the void without a second thought. I had no idea what to do. I only wanted Althea back and to get out of that cursed castle.
And then I landed in the dark streets of Althuria, staring up at Mrs. Turner’s bakery. When my would-be mugger started following me and picked up his pace, I realized what I’d done.
How else could I remember this entire event—the mugging, the vanishing gate, Bruiser’s injuries? All of it happened in the past, yet I’m experiencing it now. The only possible explanation is that I turned back time.
There was no other choice, I tell myself. My friends were doomed, my power diminished, and my sister…dead. My void magic—the most powerful type of dark magic there is—pulled through and allowed me to turn back time to save them.
The only solid proof that any of it happened is the mark on my ankle. It stings slightly, and I’m pretty sure it’s more than proof of my royal blood. Somehow, it stayed branded onto my skin even after I turned back time.
I have the chance not to repeat my mistakes. But I have so much to do and so little time to do it. I won’t have this opportunity again.
Memories flash by of the Queen coughing up blood, splatters covering her gown. Another flash permeates my mind of a short, elderly woman drawing symbols on my arm in blood. The Queen latching on to my life energy, drawing it out of me in the void. The Queen…
Stolen void magic made her sick, and she needed me to turn back her time to her youthful, healthy self. She needed to stay alive long enough to wage war against our neighboring kingdom, Lanthany, and gain control over their Edin tower. When I refused to help, she hunted me.
Behind me, slight shuffling sounds echo down the street, followed by a muffled curse. After enduring so much under the Queen, the mugger is the least of my problems.
“Bruiser!” I call.
A passerby looks up, and the shadow in my peripheral vision shrinks. Good.
But where is Bruiser? I swear that darned fleabag has selective hearing. If I had a few crumbs or treats in my hand, he’d be bouncing to my side from miles away. But when I used to call him out after discovering another pair of bitten, ragged socks, he’d be nowhere to be found.
This time, I won’t let him get hurt. Not again.
A small bundle scrambles toward me. I recognize his floppy ears, spotty fur, and lazy gait. A rumble vibrates in his throat as I pick him up and sprint out of the alleyway.
I reach the train station’s gate. But of course, it swings shut just as I reach it, and the lock falls into place. My would-be mugger’s air manipulation ability sure is handy.
With one hand, I shake the gate violently. My first instinct is to call upon my void magic, shield Bruiser and myself, and pass through the gate as if it were nothing.
Bruiser whines, his little paws scratching at the air. I look back to find that the mugger is gaining on me, moving fast, despite his limp. His figure outlined by the moonlight is lopsided as he gains on me.
Now that I’m stuck near the gate, is it safe to use the void to shield myself? No matter how much I scour my mind for answers, I can’t find any. Panic swells, and I struggle to bring my void magic out. I practically beg it to help me, but it refuses to answer.
I don’t blame it. My emotions are getting out of hand, and it must be getting confused. I’ve changed my mind, I want to cry out. But the void stays stubbornly silent. Go figure.
The man is close now, so close the rustle of his trench coat whistles past my ears and the stench from his body wafts around me.
I turn around, defiant. He grins, the moonlight illuminating his yellowed teeth. In a blur, he takes out a wicked knife and aims it at me.
The memory from my past flashes in my mind. No matter how I dodge, he’ll try to redirect the knife to plunge it into me. While I lie helpless, he’ll steal my weekly pay.
The knife whizzes toward my face. Time slows, and my only thought is that I never got to see my sister again. I never got to stop the Queen.
I close my eyes, waiting for the end. Disappointment, rather than fear, sinks into my heart. I never got the chance to fight the Queen, to prevent her from causing so much suffering. I never got the chance to warn people about the Queen’s plans.
The knife never strikes.
Did he miss on purpose? Is he using his air magic to strike when it suits him? Dread oozes through my veins.
A loud curse finally convinces me to crack one eye open. Confused, I see the knife lying at my feet. The man is stumbling backward, swatting at a…raven?
The bird violently flaps near his head. I flinch as its claws almost scrape the man’s eye. Somehow, the action encourages my magic to flow through my body, and it seeps out of my hands.
The void swirls around my hands, urging me to use my power and disintegrate the twisted metal before me so I can escape. Black smoke clings to my sleeves as the void’s excitement skyrockets and my adrenaline surges.
But I squash the impulse. This is the place where the Queen caught her first glance of me. A figure of a girl who had access to void magic and disintegrated the gate. Cyrus, my former jailor and tormentor, is patrolling this area, watching for this very moment.
There’s no time. So instead, I wrap the void magic around me like a cloak and walk right through the train station gate. This is the advantage of the void—when it shields me, I can walk right through walls, and no one ever sees me.
Only when I’ve emerged on the other side of the gate do I realize Bruiser isn’t by my side. Frantic, I look around, but he’s nowhere to be found. By now, the man’s rushing away, shielding his head and flailing around. One of his swats connects with the raven’s wing. The raven falters, turns, then dives straight at me as if it can see through the void’s veil.
I instinctively duck, and another memory flashes in my mind. As it flies overhead, shaking from its injury, I note the strange white pattern on its wing. It’s the same one Bruiser has on his fur.
When Professor Salone trapped me in the Academy basement, a similar raven led Lex and Zaniyah deep underground to save me. Without the raven, I would’ve died.
When we were hunting through the abandoned warehouse behind the Arena, looking for illegal rune books, the raven appeared again.
And when I was fighting a horde of Lykros in the forest, a wolf with dark fur and the same white pattern as the raven came to our rescue.
Bruiser must be a shapeshifter, I’m certain of it. There’s so much proof, yet I’ve never actually seen him shift. So how do I confirm it?
As if on cue, he comes trotting down the alleyway and squeezes between the bars of the gate. I blink, confused. How I wish he could explain what I’d just seen. I know my theory is improbable, but if I’ve learned anything in these past two months…
Improbable is not impossible.
A small, pitiful yelp escapes him. He’s injured. When this happened the first time, his ear was nicked by the mugger’s knife. I hope it hasn’t happened again.
He stumbles straight to me, as if he can see through the void’s veil. Clever dog. It bothers me that even after resetting time, he ended up with an injury. It doesn’t seem as bad as before, but worry settles in my stomach.
I hold him tight to my chest and board the train. A slight change of the timeline can make huge differences in the future. A different choice leads to a different path, weaving through other paths.
Now, I have to change Althea’s path.
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