Shakaran was, and is, a world of the familiar sort. Its air is mostly nitrogen with a nice minority of oxygen; its plants are green, its waters pure, its cats and dogs quadrupedal and its humans in charge of nature and including the usual proportions of saints and buttheads. Shakaran, technically Shakaran-4, the fourth planet out from a golden star in the middle of its ten billion year lifetime, was a planet of sun and rain, summer and winter, jungle and taiga.
Of course, technically, that golden star had first shed light perhaps a thousand years ago in its own chronology. Anyone trying to time travel back before then to witness its formation from a cloud of dust would have been disappointed: here as elsewhere, there was a sort of wall at a certain point in the past. And Shakaran, the planet, had been born, not with molten lava and planetoids crashing from space, but with dragons and goblins and people in medieval armor who lived in castles and quested in dungeons. The same was true of Padva and Olvar and, of course, the ultimate, the Primary, Groria-2, usually known as just plain Groria, usually known as just plain “The World” to its original humanoid populations, who had no idea that it was actually a sphere.
But wisdom comes to all at some point, and wisdom includes self-knowledge. Now Shargay, the capital of Shakaran-4, was a city of twenty thousand, and its institute employed people who studied the astronomical dynamics of the planet and its solar system, its natural and magical history, and the nature of time. They had just hired a young fellow who was interested in the philosophical ramifications of the Temporal Barrier.
“I dated him a couple times,” said Annelise.
“You were working here in this time period?” asked Rob.
They were standing on the plaza before the Shakaran Institute. Three stout marble buildings faced them, each five stories at least even given a vaulting first floor. More buildings behind were being built. Behind them, the market drew a crowd to a square half a kilometer on a side: across from the Institute stood the palace of the Prince of Shargay, flanked by a cathedral and a Temple of Aphrodite. Around the sides, buildings housed alchemists’ shops, clothiers, armorers, book-sellers and bankers; a House of Healing stood tall behind in pale pink granite. Flags and banners hung from all sorts of things: the Black Stag on White of the Prince, the Black Dragon on White of the World of Shakaran, the Book and Pen of the Shakaran Institute, and the pennants of the various guilds, from blacksmiths to plumbers to bookbinders to insurance agents. A broiling summer sun shone down on all, while a sea breeze cooled the streets and filled out the banners.
“No,” she scoffed. “We’re both time travelers, silly.”
“Well, how did you get to know him?” Rob asked.
“Case,” said Annelise. “His name is Tim. Timotheo Daxus. Hey, he was the first person on the planet to actually ask those questions. Why was the Barrier even there? What did it mean?”
“So he studied the Temporal Barrier?”
“What was his conclusion?” asked Lilah, scanning the buildings.
“It’s not a construct within this cosmos,” said Annelise. “I can’t remember how he proved it. He’s kind of a doofus, actually.” She smiled at Lilah, then said, just as Lilah was about to, “But that’s not who we’re here to find.”
“Bingo. So this place is suddenly expanding a lot? We’re at that point in history?”
“I guess so,” said Annelise. “We’re about 150 years upstream of where I worked when I worked for Shakaran security.”
“Think they’ve invented building directories yet?”
“I bet so.”
Lilah guessed the building on the left. It turned out to house the Faculty of Liquid Alchemy, the Division of Undead Study, the Department of Magical Attack and Defense, and several programs in chemical alchemy and ritual. They came out on the other side, turned to the right and tried the furthest building. It had beautiful marble doors and colored magic lanterns in the great first floor hall, and the second floor was where the programs in animal and plant alchemy had their offices and classes.
“None of these is Parkavan, though,” said Rob as the three of them stood in the vast first floor hall, scanning the directory of the animal alchemy program.
“There’s no Parkavan under plant alchemy either,” said Annelise.
“Where are those offices?” asked Lilah. “The animal alchemists?”
“Let’s see. 217, 219, 221, 222, 223? And let’s see—!”
“Ah, I know where we’re going,” said Lilah, setting off for the nearby stairs.
Up the marble stairs, past closed offices and closed classrooms and an open lab, and they were in the 220s. Rob and Annelise stood before doors on opposite sides of the hall. They looked at each other. “Knock?” asked Rob.
“Of course,” said Annelise. But before she knocked, she looked back up the hall. Lilah was standing outside Lab 222, watching intently.
Annelise and Rob drifted back to Lilah. Inside they could see the professor, a man of middle age and smallish build, with bushy brown hair and a rather young mustache. Class was just starting and he was making sure the students in the lab knew what they were doing well enough not to blow anything up.
“Oh goodness,” said Rob. “I’ve seen him before.”
“Yeah, you have,” said Lilah. “That’s Professor Salagon of early Olvar. The guy who supposedly helped Lucy when she couldn’t find Endweith. That’s him.”