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I Only Meant To Stay A While

by NonAnalogue

NonAnalogue I gave you time to steal my mind away from me.
I only meant to stay a while…

"Indivar! What is it? What'd you find?"

"I…" Blue started. His eyes were locked on the figure hanging in the air in front of him.

"Come on, Indivar! Report!" The voice, a sharp one belonging to a woman speaking in clipped tones, echoed down through the cave to the chamber that Blue stood in. The words bounced off the craggy walls until they died away, barely registering in Blue's mind. The object in front of him hung about six feet off the ground, and it was more or less his size. It seemed attached to the cave's far wall in a way that wasn't immediately obvious.


About half a day earlier, a duo of adventurers descended into a small cave opening, just barely visible against the layer of permafrost and scraggy shrubs. Taking point was a tall man, standing a head above the other of the two, wearing an ensemble of blue. He stood out for the wings growing out of his back and the mask across his face, a combination that guaranteed him odd looks no matter where he went. He carried nothing except for a satchel across one shoulder, and he wore a pair of brass knuckles. The second person was a bulky woman – not bulky from, say, a lifetime of excesses, but bulky from a lifetime of hardy work. Her silky black hair was tied close against her head, and she was loaded down with a knapsack, a pickaxe, a lantern, and multiple bags strapped across her waist.

"This will be your final test for entrance into our school, Indivar," the woman said coolly.
"There's one branch of this cave we've never been able to explore; the creatures roaming through it are far too strong for us to plow through."

"You've got the right guy," Blue said. He pushed aside a boulder roughly half his size, clearing a path. An assortment of bats fluttered past his head, squeaking, but he didn't flinch. "I'll take care of your monster problem."

The woman continued past Blue, holding the lantern out in front of her and casting a light on the cavern that stretched out beyond them. "This is, admittedly, an odd test for entrance into a school of archaeology, but we're at our wits' ends here. Here are your ground rules. If I tell you to do something, you do it."


"That's it. That should cover everything."

Blue blinked. "That should be easy." A bipedal lizard, only reaching up to his knee, scuttled up to him and hissed, but all it took was a flash of the knuckledusters to send it screeching away. "Miss Nejem," he said, a question occurring to him, "what exactly are you expecting to find here?"

Nejem shook her head. "I have no clue. We haven't been able to get a read on this place, and it's been puzzling us for ages. Even my retrocognition wasn't any use for digging up any hints."

"So this could be anything."

"That's correct. It could also be nothing."

"I claim a fifty percent finder's fee, just in case."

Nejem broke out into a staccato laugh. "That's funny, that you think you can do that."


The cave had proven easy to traverse. The monsters guarding the last unexplored section of cave were, Blue found, incredibly simple to dispatch. Several of them, the smaller reptiles, fled as he approached, but some of the bigger ones, the trolls and the kobolds and the giant spiders, challenged him. A few haymakers were all it took to send them fleeing, with the exception of a particularly stubborn lich that seemed to come out of nowhere, but a quick bolt of electricity channeled through the brass knuckles made quick work of it.

The monsters got scarcer as the duo progressed. A slight decline as they walked told them that they were descending further underground, but the lantern stayed lit, shining its flickering glow against the walls, stretching shadows from the stalagmites away from them.
Blue stopped. There, hidden in the shadows… was that an entranceway carved into the stone? It looked a bit too neat to be a regular formation… He ducked inside as Nejem and her lantern bobbed further away. He turned his head back, to call to her, but a voice in the back of his head spoke up. Just go ahead on, it said. You can catch back up. How far could she get? This line of logic seemed to appeal to him, and he kept going. The entranceway ended at a small chamber, somehow lit up despite all odds. Blue stepped inside.

A figure hung from the wall in front of him. He stared at it, entranced, as Nejem's call completely failed to get his attention.

The figure was him.


Time has a funny way of working. Especially in a world such as Blue's, where the laws of physics are looked at, declared utterly uncool, and promptly discarded like yesterday's newspaper, time more or less does its own thing. Skilled mages can bend time to their will, and as any god can tell you, the fabric of reality really doesn't like that.

This goes a long way towards explaining why there was a second Blue bound to the wall of the cave, but at the same time, it really doesn't explain anything at all.


I only meant to stay a while… The thought popped up fully-formed in Blue's head, which wouldn't have been odd if he had actually thought it. The other Blue had lifted his head, and had locked eyes with him. The two Blues looked the same age down to the last detail, except for one small thing – the eyes. The Blue on the wall… his eyes looked sunken, with dark rings under them, as if he had been awake for, say, the last twenty years. I only meant to stay a while.

"What are you getting at?" Blue asked. His normal fiery temperament, which certainly would have popped up with such a question, tempered itself somewhat at being confronted with himself.

The other Blue didn't answer; instead he just dropped his head. Blue ran at him and flapped into the air, grabbing his counterpart's collar. "Hey! I'm talking to you!"

There was no response. The other Blue just moved limply with Blue's motions.

"Answer me!" Blue growled, tightening his grip.

"INDIVAR!" The yell made him start, and he flew backwards about a foot, letting go. He turned to see Nejem standing in the entrance. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"I'm, uh." Blue gestured weakly, trying to somehow explain that he was trying to interrogate himself. It turned out to be a non-issue; when he turned his head back around, the other him was completely gone, with no evidence that he had ever been there. "Um," Blue added helpfully.

"Look, you get some kudos for stumbling across this room. I wouldn't have found it if you hadn't disappeared. And you cleared out the guards here really well." Nejem rubbed her forehead. "You're going to get accepted, let me just say this. But if you go off on your own again, it's going to get you hurt one of these days. You understand? That's an official order. Don't strike off on your own while you're on an expedition for us."

"Yes, ma'am," Blue said, stunned. There wasn't really much else he could say.

"Let's go. It's a dead end the other way too, so it looks like there's nothing here." Nejem turned and left, and with her lantern went the odd omnipresent glow that had been lighting up the room.

Blue floated in the darkness for a moment before following her.