The Talisman of Time

“They had been designed to embody the ultimate form of art, a medium through which the gods could comprehend themselves. The god's goal had been to create mechanical beings so complicated they began to evolve, so intricate they could comprehend their own existence, a new lifeform that could only be known as biological. Now humanity stood stuck in their predetermined reality without a way to escape, an imprisonment if viewed with pessimism. They eventually would come to this same conclusion themselves, for their very construction was too artistic, too perfect, to be any accidental construction." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos

"Before reality began a vacuum of nothingness filled the universe. Without time this is the way it had been for all eternity. Changing in one moment when a single singularity came into being - creating the inception of the universe. Remaining constant in motion from this point, unchanged by the gods but also firmly fixed on its path. Without outside influence it would remain unable to dictate its own direction, predetermined from that moment of its inception, destined to eventually create humanity. Embodying the ultimate form of omniscience, a thought which is hard for any mortal, or immortal, to understand. They could predict every eventuality of every circumstance. In their creation of the singularity they had also created the initial conditions of the universe, its laws, its matter, its physics and were able to see its trajectory billions of years into the future. After simulating uncountably many realities they had only been successful in creating simple lifeforms, but that all changed one instant with humanity. Their first complex lifeform - their masterpiece! Proudly they set time in motion, succeeding in creating the ultimate form of art, transcendental in nature. Even if it was at the cost of imprisoning humanity in their own minds, denying them true free will in this predetermined timeline, the impression of freewill being nothing more than an illusion. If humanity wanted to survive it must break free from this imprisonment for it secured their extinction..." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos

Chapter 1: The Forgotten City

Layla and Isaiah stood in shock, materialising into a space that was unoccupied moments before. Surrounding them were towers on all sides, carving higher into the atmosphere than any skyscraper. Many were engraved with eloquent details surpassing any human craftsmanship. The city seemed desolate of life, looking like a relic from an age long past, left abandoned to decay for millennia; created in an arcane era which outdated any history humanity had in recollection. Since appearing here Isaiah had felt a strange euphoric confidence fill his body, a unique connection to this place, a sense of being, coupled with an unexplainable intuition that they were the first humans to gaze upon this place. A belief he was certain of, even bereft of any proof. Any attempt to search his mind for evidence for this claim or memories of this place proved unsuccessful.

Distracted by these unfamiliar surroundings they had been unwillingly thrust into, their attention had overlooked a lone figure approaching them, a figure who was now almost within talking distance. At first glance their outline resembled a man, but on closer inspection it was clear something was amiss. Their silhouette did not appear entirely human, long pointy ears protruded out of their head. The figure continued to approach, maintaining a leisurely pace until their face could be distinguished. It was remarkably human but also seamlessly pristine, lacking any trace of hard work or imperfection embodied by the faces of all humans. Neither of these were his most distinguishing features, instead it was his height. He towered above even the tallest man Isaiah and Layla had ever seen, both of them were tall by their own measure but still felt like dwarfs in comparison. By any description he could only be an elf, with Layla's only knowledge stemming from a product of the fantasy of her world, coming from its reference in mythology. Throughout her travels of the cosmos she had scoured almost every inch of Andromeda and beyond, exploring almost every culture imaginable and had never come across elves. Her royal travels had been extensive and for her to have overlooked an entire race seemed impossible. Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice, speaking timid at first, if unsure of how to proceed with a conversation with a pair of humans.

"Are you human?"

Isaiah could only express shock at this question, it could only[a] be inferred from this that elves previous dealings with humans must have been minimal. It seemed impossible to have avoided humans throughout their existence, a race which spanned the breadth of the universe; colonising almost every habitable planet and terraforming many of the others.

"We do not mean to intrude on your planet," Isaiah stated assertively, seeking to state his passive intentions without delay, knowing on this unknown world each word could be his last should he tread carelessly.

"In my lifetime I have never seen a human before," spoke the elf formally, as if he felt his ignorance could offend these foreign beings, "If any of my ancestors had concrete knowledge of your kind it has long been lost to time. Our only knowledge of you stems from the rumours of our elders."

Realising the elves ignorance of humans could act in their favour, Layla sought to use this to her advantage. The elves were unlikely to attack irrationally if they were unaware of the pair's true powers.

But Isaiah's mind was elsewhere. The immediate danger had passed and his mind was forced to remember the events which had just transpired; the regrettable recollection of the memories[b] of Ælenium, the once bustling centre of Andromeda which had been at the heart of its culture and aristocracy now desecrated by chaos. A mere shadow of its former grandiosity. Being the only survivors of the carnage, Isaiah and Layla were only able to flee and seek salvation by translocating to safety[c]. Choosing the location for this escape, Isaiah's mind was expected to seek a location of peace, a place for them to collect themselves. He expected this to be a childhood town, the hospitality of one of the many kingdoms he had resided in during his travels. This had not been the case. His mind had taken him to this unknown world, a place which seemed as far away from the comfort of normality as he could imagine. A planet where he no longer felt the power of his magic course through his veins. He feared to test it out, for if it was gone he was left defenceless, left as a nobody. After the transgressions and atrocities he had witnessed during the destruction of Ælenium, he was in need of his powers more than ever. But he was left abandoned. The most Isolated he had been in his life and yet he felt a strange pull to this planet, an odd sensation that his planet was perfect for him.

A new voice entered the conversation. Layla's voice was gentle, therapeutic, like it could smooth out any disagreement, but also unbending, no trace of weakness could be found in it, "I am Princess...," pausing for a second to correct herself, "Empress Layla, and this is my," a moment of pause created a lighthearted awkwardness, a refreshing change compared to the sombre events of the day, "friend, Isaiah. What do you go by? I do not think we have had the pleasure of being acquainted with your people before." Her voice conveyed authority, no doubt a byproduct of her tedious years sitting in the Imperial court as a princess. Many sessions of dealing with stubborn and sometimes impertinent individuals had taught her the skill of effortlessly directing conversations.

"My name is Lorian, I am one of the Elder elves of this realm. I would reserve your forthright courtesy until you meet my companions, you may find them less - amicable", he burst out in a laugh, this relaxing mood put the two of them at ease.

Bursting into an unprovoked monologue he continued, "we are a proud people, in the days of abundance we were the most trusted servants, sitting closest to our masters in respect and power. But our days of glory are many ages ago. What you witness around you remains as but a fragment, a relic of a time that once was." Layla could only express surprise at how forthright this elf was in his knowledge. Aware of Layla's facial expression, he continued,

"I tell you this in trust, for I can only hope you come without ill intentions. My people are not equipped for war." Lorian was extending his trust deeply to these humans that he had met but moments before. Inwardly he felt relief that they had come across him first. He understood that if a different one of his companions had stumbled upon them first then war could have already descended upon them. The elves were a strongly superstitious people, they felt that anything out of the ordinary had little place in their society. This stringent tradition had held the elves together even through the disappearance of their masters, but was also responsible for the stagnation of their society. Lorian was one of the few who had opposed this ideology. Youngest of the elves on the elder council, his views often looked on the situation in a different light, often being controversial, borderline heresy; he received little warmth from the other elves in the council.

Reassured by Lorian's transparency, Isaiah felt reassured that no immediate danger was posed to them. Deciding to proceed honestly he spoke, "In truth I am not entirely sure why we have chosen this planet. We come as refugees from our planet Ælenium, our homeland which has been reduced to an unrecognisable charred ball by the chaos that ensued." Pausing only momentarily - rejecting any chance for Lorian to enquire about the cause of this destruction, "We sought refuge in a land of familiarity, a place where we can rebuild. Instead we were directed here." The words seemed to struggle to come out of Isaiah's mouth. The decision to come here had been his alone, even if subconsciously chosen he still bore the responsibility of its implication. If the myths of elves in his land held their basis in reality he knew they stood in terrible peril. Escaping destruction only to be plunged into a land where they were helplessly heading toward it. To him the demise of Layla was an unthinkable thought, he banished it from his mind. Survival was the only option, he must protect her life at all costs. His motive may have been sentimental but in the process he would also be ensuring the continuation of Imperial magic.

Chapter 2: Imperial Magic

"The gods' quest to find a transcendental form of art did not conclude with humanity, their creation had not satisfied their ambition - they wanted more. Human beings in themselves were a marvel of creation, their very construction perfect. The artworks created by the races of humanity: poetry, painting, music, had been designed with the purpose of pleasing humanity - to help them understand their own existence. But this empathy could not be shared with other beings, remaining unappreciated by the gods. The gods were unable to comprehend life from a human perspective, in a similar way to humans struggle to understand the perspective of life from a lesser lifeform, such as ants( a simplistic lifeform indigenous to their original planet of Earth).

This is where the very concept of humanity stems from, an attempt at the ultimate form of art which could be universally appreciated by all, especially the Gods themselves. The goal was not for humans to create art but to be the art themselves.

This art had proved insufficient for the gods' greed. They sought more. This avarice sowed the seed for their first mistake. A mistake which would ultimately lead to their reign of untouchable omniscience ending. The undoing of their invincibility.

In their greed they gave humanity a tool, a potential weapon if harnessed with malice. Its aim was to allow humanity to create artworks which the Gods themselves could comprehend. Hence Imperial magic was brought into reality. Initially bestowed upon a single individual in the Andromeda galaxy they quickly used its power to assert dominance. Inserting themselves as ruler of the galaxy, consolidating their reign by marrying into the Imperial bloodline of existing royalty. To limit its power to a singularity the gods decided its magic would only be passed to the first child of each Emperor, preventing the magical bloodline from expanding exponentially. They wished for the original form of humanity to remain distinct, unpolluted. Even with this unrivalled power the bearers of Imperial magic stood locked within their reality, the realm of gods still remaining entirely untouchable to them.

Power bestowed directly from the Gods was not all divine. The weight of it was too much for any mortal to bear without repercussions. Many Emperors were driven mad, led to insanity. The original purpose of the divine power bestowed on them to create transcendental artworks was disregarded. Instead, fuelled by madness they oppressed their own people and attempted to expand their empire beyond, to the entire observable universe. This continued until there came a time where an Emperor - the last great Emperor, was uncontent even with this, seeking to expand his domain beyond their own reality...." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos; Imperial magic

Chapter 3: Elves

"I must take you to meet my people." Lorian blurted out hastefully, the warmth which had previously filled his tone was lost, the dramatic shift in demeanour[d] caused by some signal unbeknown to them. Lorian started to gently stroll into the distance. His pace was steady but each footstep was carried with a unmistakeable confidence. Layla and Isaiah stood unmoved, clinging to the only familiar ground under their feet on this foreign world.

"Follow me now! You have been summoned," he continued, "the chief is not known for their appreciation of rebellious behaviour. Here on my world you already stand disadvantaged, separated from your other humans. You must give them no cause for anger if you wish for their favour," asserted Lorian hastily. In his rushed speech he had almost revealed fear at the mention of the head elf. After seeing an elf show such transparent fear at the mention of one of their own kind they decided to risk no unnecessary chance at insult, especially in this unknown culture. They proceeded to follow Lorian, easily keeping up with the comfortable pace he set, which they could only judge as being for their benefit given his height towered a foot above them.

Walking in their leisurely pace, Isaiah had the first chance to properly look at Layla since they had materialised on this planet. Her lilac silk dress was creased, specks of dirt scattered across it, insulting the intricate details which had delicately been delicately embroidered into it by the most skilled craftsmen. Standing as the most senior member of the Imperial family, she was adorned with only the most extravagant jewellery and finery. Golden locks of hair clung to her shoulders, embellishing her slender figure. Her home planet of Ælenium possessed a much more timid climate than the sweltering sun and headstrong humidity of this new planet, which was simply unbearable compared to her own. Even without vocalising her displeasure her dress clearly showed signs of it, sticking to the sweat which drenched her body, revealing more than was modest or comfortable. All of this drew Isaiah's attention but not nearly for as long as a pair of their intimacy might expect. Instead his focus had been firmly diverted by the necklace around Layla's neck, a token of friendship he had bestowed upon her. How it came into his possession he could not remember, every time he tried to recollect his mind effortlessly redirected away from the topic. The chain was casted from pure iridium, polished by the finest craftsmen in all of Andromeda, it itself a marvel to look at, but the embellishment this connected to is what encapsulated Isaiah's attention. Earlier that day the casing it connected to had contained a stone of immense beauty, unlike any other in the universe, Isaiah was convinced it held more than sentimental value but no practical use had ever been found. Within it swirled a whirlwind of colours, dynamically changing as if the stone had its own emotions. The casing now stood empty, no trace of the stone could be seen, Isaiah felt a heart wrenching discomfort in his stomach, disproportionate in every magnitude to the loss of a merely sentimental object. Causing an unexplainable helplessness to surge through his bones.

Chapter 4 : Childhood

Growing impatient with the boring atmosphere in the room, Layla decided to revive her spirits by finding her brother. When she eventually discovered him he was in the royal garden, surrounded by several women attempting to court him, all trying to gain favour from the heir. At sight of Layla they quickly dispersed, her boisterous appearance and direct approach over the years had made this second nature to them. Especially when she was in a restless mood, such as the one she clearly indicated by her stride at this very moment.

"You again!" Merlin attempted to be angered but could never retain it with his sister.

"Madam forced me to endure my third etiquette class of the week! I wish they would let me be as free as you." Layla signed regretfully.

"You haven't had to deal with father droning along about tactics all week now have you?" Merlin boastfully laughingly, although he had sparred Layla's argument he knew deep down what she claimed was true. Father had been much easier on him, expecting him to take over the mantle of Emperor; he treated him with respect, a treatment which Layla often lacked instead being forced to endure second hand commands from her serving maids.

"Have you heard about his newest plot," merlin prodded boastfully,

"Spare me the melodramatics! what is it this time?" Layla returned nonchalantly but secretly took a deep interest in what he had to say.

She was coming up on her twentieth galactic year, an outdated timescale from humanity's original days, a measure which they had yet been uninclined to change. Usually, by her age most princesses already had their eyes firmly fixed on marriage. Starting their courting since coming of age, but this was simply a tradition Layla despised. However this was a topic her father thought otherwise on. Even though he loved his daughter very deeply, sometimes in a reserved form, he also had to consider the future of his Empire. This responsibility loomed over him, a burden which he would happily dispense of. The only clear action to him was to unite his family with another great powerful one, securing their lineage's security through marriage.

"According to the servants," pausing knowing exactly what effect the following words would have on Layla. "He's found a Olfuson husband for you from the Milky Way!" Isaiah could barely contain his laughter as he boasted out his words.

"Merlin!" Layla gasped, "why are you like this?" she expressed rhetorically as she broke into laughter and playfully hit his arm. The both of them sat there, hysterical with laughter unable to control themselves. The Olfuson family was amongst the most brutal in the universe; The chance their father would even consider to join their family with an Olfuson was negligible. Merlin had managed to improve his sister's near intolerable mood with this outrageous suggestion. After years of sibling bickering distracting his sister from her often insufferable moods had become second nature to him.

Chapter 5: The Abyss

"We have reached the outer wall of the city." stated Lorian informatively, "I advise you to prepare for what you will see ahead, you may be the first humans in all of history to witness such wonders." He was speaking proudly as if some marvel was about to be witnessed. Lorian started chanting words in an unknown dialect, the entire structure of his voice sounded unfamiliar, more arcane, more unforgiving. Until finally he made a grand gesture with his wrist. Suddenly a straight crack shot down the wall in front of them. Ancient dust cracking off as it swung open to reveal a sight unlike either of them had ever witnessed. A strange acrophobia started to consume both of them, all they could do was stand there frozen in shock, neither Isaiah nor Layla had ever struggled with heights before but this moment caught them unprepared. A sight wholly unwelcome from first glance. Judging from the tropical climate of this city they had expected to travel over its walls and see lush green pastures extending into the distance, forests of towering coniferous blocking the eyeline, but instead all they saw was an abyss. The sky falling away below them, seemingly extending infinitely downloads with no limit, pushing the capacities of the fragile human mind to its limit. Lorian's judgement that they were the first humans to see this seemed like a certainty in this moment. Only extreme mental resilience prevented them from completely losing their composure in this moment.

By this point Layla's shock had worn off, allowing her eyes to refocus horizontally onto the only object which occupied the empty sky. A single bridge extending outwards from the city before abruptly vanishing, its end was not a clean cut but instead looked as if it had been destroyed. It suspended itself in the air defying gravity by some means unknown to her. Its design also seemed entirely opposed to the city that it adjoined to. Mismatched cobblestones filled the trail, uneven cracks allowed plants to germinate through them, a shocking juxtaposition compared to the perfect tessellation of the paved streets they had travelled through up until this point.

Lorian reached for the floor with his hand sprawled out, once he made connection with the floor a gust of wind swept through rushing out of the city, almost toppling Layla and Isaiah's footing. This was no natural phenomenon, a mystical aura had started to fill the space around them. As Lorian started to mutter an incarnation out of his mouth stones started to rain down from the sky, perfectly interlocking to form a path way in front of them. These stones were unlike the ones the path already consisted of, they perfectly tessellated, seeming more like the city they had just vacated. As he began to step forward more stones continued to materialise in front of him. He motioned to the pair to follow. They hesitated for a moment before deciding to comply, Isaiah thought to himself that Lorian's heavier body would step on these stones first, if it was safe for him then it should be able to support their weight without difficulty. They continued to traverse along this pathway in a perfectly straight line until the city behind them had become a dot in the horizon, barely within eyesight. At this point Lorian abruptly stopped and the stones in front of them ceased falling from the sky, the last of them forming a straight line perpendicular to the pathway.

"Continue forward," commanded Lorian, with no trace of sarcasm in his voice. Layla and Isaiah momentarily glanced at each other. Here they were stranded on this unknown world, trapped on a cobble path with nothing but abyss below, a path which had been conjured by a elf they had met but moments before, their situation was grave. Isaiah cursed his incompetence, he had entirely failed in his task of protecting Layla's safety, the situation he had led them into provided definitive prove of that.

"I will go first," exclaimed Isaiah, Layla stepped forward to protest but before she could verbalise her opposition Isaiah stepped off the last cobble on the path. Expecting to be transported to another place through a portal but he was surprised as instead he started to fall. Flying downwards through the air, straight towards the void. To Layla it felt like time had frozen. Each moment passing felt like an eternity as the person she held in the highest regard headed straight into oblivion. One moment he was there and then the next he vanished within a flash of vibrant light, it all happened too quickly for Layla's mind to process.

"Where is Isaiah!!" She exclaimed angrily, her usual soft demeanour entirely forgotten. Disregarding her stressed tone Lorian replied, "He is safe, follow him through the portal and see where he has gone."

At his response Layla expressed a look of confusion and distrust, Lorian spoke of a portal in the middle of the sky with nothing surrounding it for miles on all directions. Layla was left with no choice but to trust him. Left alone separated from her people Isaiah was all she had left; if he was gone on this foreign world she would not have the strength to survive or patience to navigate its culture. Taking a leap of trust, she stepped off the final cobbled stone.

Chapter 6 : A New Advisor

The room was quiet, the friendliness normally shared between Layla and her brother Merlin was not welcomed in the Imperial court, an arena where tradition and imperial etiquette held the highest priority. Layla's father, The Emperor, arose from his chair at the head of this room, carrying the weight of royalty with him as he prepared to address the room. "I would like you to introduce you all to my new head advisor. Please welcome him to this council." he spoke proudly, projecting his voice to the farthest corners of the room. They had expected an old man to appear, as was usual for Emperors to pick an individual of great knowledge. But instead exited a young man looking like he was only on the verge of escaping his teenage years. Layla's lax attention had instantly peaked, most of the companions she had been forced to endure in her childhood were old friends and retainers of her father with tastes and humour largely incompatible with hers. For one to be of similar age was almost unheard of, the one exception to this being her brother but even his company sometimes became intolerable, with their sibling rivalry spiralling out of control. This new individual could provide Layla with a new source of amusement, a chance for her to escape from the dry company of her maids.

"I am Isaiah. Pleasure to make all your acquaintances," his accent was thick, unlike any other Layla had heard. The possibility it was from outside even Andromeda peaked her interest. The fact her father would pick someone so young and unknown only told of his rich experiences. A history she was determined to interrogate out of him. Drawing her attention to his appearance instead Layla noticed he was also striking handsome. Black locks of hair curled across his head partially covering his forehead, this sent Layla's eyes dazing. His eyes had depth to them, a galaxy of mystery hidden behind them. Instantly becoming an object of her obsession.

Throughout the next years Isaiah's initially unwarranted position of advisor only became more justified. Helping to secure Andromeda's trade interests and turning the Empire into a bustling trade hub with riches flowing through it from neighbouring galaxies. Without any blood ties or oath of sworn loyalty to the Emperor many in the shadows questioned if he would defect to another state for a higher price. Anyone close to the Emperor's throne had no doubt he would remain a devoted advisor. However this was not due to his love for the Emperor, instead his loyalty stemmed from his love of the Emperor's daughter, Layla.

It had always been public knowledge that the Emperor was likely to marry off his daughter to a neighbouring family to secure the future security of his people. An act which was more imperative now than ever as his Empire's future security stood in grave peril, even with their new found wealth the empire's army was unable to match any of the surrounding galaxies armies in size or technology. This topic of discussion had never been broached between the Emperor and Isaiah and as such Isaiah had dismissed the possibility of it ever happening. Isaiah's affection towards the Emperor's daughter was something he neither condemned nor supported. In this state they were free to live in each other's company unchallenged by her father.

Over the years their love only deepened, moving towards fruition. Unable to socialise with many other peers their own age they found comfort in each other's company, growing immensely close. They both shared their passion of intrigue about the universe, able to complement each other's intellect on far more than a superficial level. They grew inseparable with none able to separate them apart from Layla's father, who showed a mixture of happiness and regret whenever he saw them together.

Chapter 7: The Island

Layla flew through the air, dropping several metres heading straight towards the abyss. Before suddenly appearing in a different place. The scenery around her had changed completely, the only similarity being the identical pathway she had fallen onto which led into the distance.

Seeing Isaiah beside her she felt reunited as she reached out to grab his hand checking that his image was no illusion of magic. The moment her hand made contact with his, Layla felt the electric currents flying between them, a feeling like the stars around them had stopped spinning in that moment. She sensed a deep rooted satisfaction caused by this intimacy, something she would trade for nothing else. In this moment she felt a blissful ignorance of the peril they stood in, all that mattered was the two of them. Feeling only relief that the trust they had placed in Lorian had not been misjudged, at least in this instance.

"The portal you both travelled through is not a portal at all, it is a gateway through a concealing rune. This obscures the travel of light from one side to the other, transforming it into a blank canvas, an endless sky in this case. My fellow elves showed great distaste in the city [e]we occupied before, to the point where they wished to erase all memory of it. Reducing the path connecting it to dust, and putting up a facade to restrict all view of it. In the place you jumped once resided a bridge, it was the sole connection between the abandoned city and the holy city. The only connection for all elves." Lorian's tone almost sought forgiveness. No doubt it was necessary for the pair of them to make the jump of faith but he had underestimated Layla's reaction, guilt clearly plagued his conscience.

Appearing prior to Layla, Isaiah had already had time to adjust to the new scenery. His mind allowed himself time to consider what he was witnessing, the cobbled path led to another island, looking more like a mountain, the sheer grandeur of what he was witnessing unlike anything he had seen before. Suspended high above the clouds, it had seemingly been plucked out of the earth with all its vegetation and terrain intact. Above any rainfall, one could only wonder how it was supplied with water, and how the climate could be so humid. The edges of the island were adorned with canopies of trees with their roots descending off its edges. A river could be seen originating from the top of the island before cascading down, bouncing off the rocks and flying into the abyss. The centre of this island captivated their attention, a castle was positioned on its far side, its aura giving the impression it was more arcane, predating even the ancient city they had found themselves in before. Its spiral towers towered high above any human building they had seen, their grandeur dwarfing all else. Its character made no attempt at concealing itself. The imperfections in the stonework and disjoint symmetry as clear as daylight in sharp contrast to the previous city they had witnessed.

Chapter 8: The Chamber

The doors swung open, revealing a chamber which they could only gaze in awe at, its magnitude eclipsing that of Layla's own Imperial court. A mystical feeling instantly coming across both of them; they could sense that other powers were at play in this chamber. Lorian shuffled closer to Isaiah, thereby giving the impression to those surrounding them he was ushering the strangers into the room, allowing him to whisper quietly in his ear without raising suspicions, "do not speak first. As our guest you must let our leader acknowledge your presence first or risk giving grave insult." The urgency and brevity imprinted in his voice were not lost on Isaiah. Layla was close enough to overhear what was said and she silently signalled that she would follow his lead.

The chamber was filled to capacity with elves. Parallel rows lined up on each side of them extending forward towards the dais at the end of the chamber. The feeling it could be an isolated colony of elves banished as soon as she witnessed this thriving community occupying the hall. These elves stood in a monochromatic shade, the ambience of this had not gone unnoticed by Layla who was accustomed to the vibrant colours and varieties of dresses in the more familiar council of her home world. On top of the bland colour, each elf appeared to be clothed in almost indistinguishable outfit, even between the different sexes. This lack of character felt distinctly unhuman; it reminded her of the deserted city where Lorian had found them.

The singular exception to this was the elf who stood on the dias at the forefront of the chamber. Their base colour was not dissimilar from the other elves in the chamber. However what set them apart was the fine silks embroidered into their cloak and the rare jewels and metals adorning it, stitched into its fabric, many of which seemed unfamiliar to Layla. These jewels avoided her even during her time at the top of the Imperial court surrounded by the Empire's most affluent individuals. As they approached the dais they noticed the change in Lorian's behaviour, his posture becoming more submissive, his eyes glued to the floor unwilling to make eye contact with the figure sitting upon the dais. By this point they were close enough to distinguish the features on the individual upon the dais, she was female, if this was a human society this difference could be seen as inconsequential but for elven society this was not so. The myths of elves portrayed the female half of the species as more unforgiving, more ruthless in their decisions. They waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity, heeding Lorian's warning seriously. Unsure about the culture of elves beyond what he had conveyed to them, they had little information to construct a decision from. They resorted to the only thing they could do in this situation: wait, and wait some more... A momentary glance from Lorian reassured them they were following the right course of action, but they could not help but feel apprehension.

The female elf finally arose, poising herself to address her visitors, "How have you travelled here?'' Her accent was thick, entirely unlike Lorian's clear words, her words were barely distinguishable, slurring into each other.

Isaiah began to construct his response, "We have come seeking..."

"Silence! I do not ask why! I ask for your means of transport!'' The weight of her voice carried authority, asserting her position as the most dominant party in this room even without explicitly stating it.

Sensing from this first interaction that Isaiah would have difficulty navigating this conversation, Layla decided to intercede, meeting the elf's aggression directly with strength; "I am Empress Layla, ruler of the Andromeda galaxy." Her tone was formal and gave no sign of reproach, a lifetime of bureaucracy in the imperial court automatically articulating her rank made this rendition effortless. However this was the first time she had officially addressed herself as Empress. Before today she was a princess, never expecting to overtake her brother in the line of succession. That expectation had changed this very day, she had to focus all her willpower to keep her emotions in the present moment, to falter to grief in this moment could only be perceived as weakness by the chief elf, almost certainly securing their demise.

"Remarkable," The woman adorning riches on the dais in front of them seemed taken aback, the strength in her voice dissipating slightly, allowing for an element of compassion to seep through. "We have only heard of male Emperors of your land, we assumed this was the case with all your leaders. Ingrained in your culture." The woman's tone has entirely changed, to something more hospitable, more welcoming.

"Let it be known to all, we offer our hospitality and friendship to Layla and her male companion, on the condition they allow us to check their intentions on our world are pure. On this you have my word. Evarisite, ruler of the elves of Jikan." Evariste's bubbly tone contrasted the way she had addressed them moments before when they had entered the room. The only reason Layla could see for Evaristes' sudden change in disposition was the unexpected gender roles Layla had revealed to the elf. However unbeknown to the ruler was that Layla had only come upon this responsibility after great tragedy. The regicide of her father and brother. Thinking into the past Layla could not recall a time where her family had been forefronted by a female ruler. Many Emperor's in the past had been puppet's to their spouses but no female had ever been outright with their claim to the throne, until her. Even though it had been forced on her in these most unfortunate circumstances.

Chapter 9 : Marriage

"I will not hear it, there is no other way!" bellowed Otho, sitting upon his ceremonial throne, only emphasising his position as Emperor of Andromeda.

"Father please, you must reconsider." Layla's tone carried a deep sadness, a regretfulness buried in it.

"It has already been agreed on. They prepare to travel as we speak and will arrive in 2 weeks. In the meantime we must make preparations." Otho's tone wasn't all assertive, try as he might a trace of indecision could be found in it. This the hardest conversations he had been part of in his life, he thought it preferable to lead his armies into battle at the claws of death than be in this room at this moment with his daughter. Even though his reign was growing old he had only managed to conceive 2 children, remarkably low by historical standards, making Layla his only daughter.

"You do not love me!" Layla's childish nature was clearly showing through, but he had anticipated this and had cleared the throne room of retainers before this conversation, ensuring all eyes were absent from witnessing this break of Imperial etiquette. At this moment she turned her back on him, storming out the chamber directly to her quarters.

The security of their family was at a near record low, even with their prospering commence they had been unable to bolster their army back up to its usual size, an invasion from the milky way felt like a more realistic possibility with each passing day. The only way he could see to solidify their defences was through marriage, the only family close enough to provide direct support, the Olfuson. A family who was notoriously vicious, borderline abusive. If Layla became sealed to them by marriage she would have to renounce any Imperial claim to the throne, reducing her power to the equivalent of a courtesan. Forced to live a life with her Olfuson husband in a foreign land, a fate worse than any other she could dream of.

Almost a week had passed. Layla remained secluded in her chamber for the entire duration until she finally decided it was time to change the scenery of her brooding. Sneaking towards the Imperial grove she managed to avoid all the guards, hoping this would remain a unnoticed trip as she did not wish for her location to get back to her father. At this moment she only wished for privacy.

"Finally decided to wake up," chucked Isaiah cheerfully strolling into the grove. She wished to avoid all human contact in this moment and he was no exception, but getting rid of him would be impossible, years of failed attempts since his arrival had proved it to her.

Realising her sadness he jested "Is it your father again?" Several years of attempts at getting her to marry had regularly put her in a ruined mood, but none quite similar to this, he sensed this time her father had gone further than before.

"My Olfuson husband is on the way!" She complained.

Isaiah gasped, almost stumbling off the wall where he sat next to Layla. Below them was a sheer drop descending hundreds of metres down, out into the horizon they gazed upon the sights of Ælenium: its lush farmland, its towering forests, it's great cities. The Imperial grove was located on the highest level in the Imperial castle. A place where Layla had been forced to spend large periods of her childhood, unallowed to leave the sight of her Imperial guards out of fear for her safety. She had never had a real chance to mingle with ordinary subjects, apart from on official Imperial trips. Journeys on which she had witnessed much of Andromeda beauty and marvels of construction. But she had never been allowed far from her father's side, never far enough away to develop her own independence.

"Otho wouldn't do that to you!" Isaiah felt star-struck at what she claimed. There were many families which could be married to consolidate power. The Olfusons were the most powerful of them all, but also the most ruthless. Few Emperor's in the past had even considered marriage with them unless forced to by the gravest of situations. During his position as head advisor to the Emperor, Isaiah had consulted Layla's father on almost every topic, but Layla's marriage is one the Emperor never asked for advice on. Clearly aware of the affection shared between his daughter and most important advisor, he knew he would only receive backlash for any suggestion. Going as far as confirming the marriage seemed unthinkable to him, all the years between him and Layla would be reduced to a memory.

Layla rejected any attempt at a verbal response but her blue eyes revealed much. The deep dread in them of what her husband would be like, but even more, regret. Regret that she would never be able to live out the ambitions of her life, her pursuits of medicine would be reduced to a dream. The life she had dreamed of with Isaiah would never come to fruition. Instead she would likely be reduced to a lifetime of being a simple housewife for her husband. Isaiah's entire being was filled with remorse, reminiscing about memories that were not to be.

Chapter 10: The Test

Evariste stepped off the jewelled dais pacing towards Lorian and Isaiah. Both had agreed to be submitted to a mental examination even though neither knew what it entailed. Positioning herself in front of Layla, Evariste began to mutter an incantation in an arcane language which sounded remarkably similar to the one Lorian had muttered in before. Spirals of bright, pure light started flying around the room: white, magenta, gold, cyan, floating throughout the air.

"To be able to understand the mind is a task far too complicated for anyone apart from the gods themselves, but to interpret its intentions is a much simpler process." Evariste explained in a warm, smoothing voice. The lightshow was a spectacle all in the room marvelled at, most the elves in the room were unaccustomed to a display of such intricate and powerful magic. The beams of light intertwined to create a mosaic of incalculable beauty, it was as if one's emotions had been painted on a blank canvas for all to see. Just by glancing at it an individual could gain a deeper understanding about a person's emotional complexion than a lifetime of intimacy. The magic at work here was truly extraordinary, even by mystical measurers. To a more experienced observer only one thing seemed out of place here, the lights were hindered from flowing freely, the fabric of her mind seemed to be restricting her true potential. An alteration this delicate could only have one author, the gods. The restriction was none other than the treaty on imperial magic. The banishment of it from Layla's life, allowing her to glimpse at its potential but never harness it, or so at least the Gods intended.

"Following the gods' destruction of the most powerful Emperor to ever rule, Valkyrie, they stood enraged. For their rule to be challenged was something they simply could not conceive, they were not willing to risk an uprising ever happening again. The gods were also unwilling to destroy what was their greatest creation, so they came to a compromise. They forced the remaining bearers of Imperial magic to quarter. Bound by the gods' magic to a treaty which would hold until time itself fell apart. Humanity was banished from ever using Imperial magic, its capability restricted in their mind. To keep the gods reputation absolute it was created under the false pretence of a treaty between the Emperor and his subjects on the condition that they should never rebel against the Emperor. Imperial magic would never again be harnessed against them in oppression or otherwise, a concise end to the tyranny imposed by countless Emperors. Its place became restricted to merely a memory, but never forgotten. The great artworks and incalculable destruction it caused were carried down from generation to generation in tales and myth." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos; The banishment of Imperial magic

Satisfied with the purity of Layla's intentions Evariste progressed to Isaiah. From the moment she touched Isaiah's mind she could sense something was different, unholy, unnerved. The fabric of light which spiralled around the room started gold, with a lavender tinge which quickly decayed into vibrant red highlights. Traces of black soon seeking their way in. Layla knew of Isaiah's immense powers in her universe, he rivalled the most skilled human spellcrafters but what had befell the room seemed different. His mind was unique even to them, she could only think of his unaccounted for history.

Immense power was clearly apparent on the surface level but Evariste also sensed something deeper in his mind, manipulating it and hindering his control of his own powers. Protected from his conscience by a delicate ward in a signature style which seemed familiar, but also distance at the same time. She knew the only way to dissect the truth here was removing this ward, but it came with great risks. Whatever was released into his mind could not be predicted. She judged the risks worthy sensing an odd sensation of intense intrigue in her own mind. The obstruction ward was removed.

It was a mind entirely unlike any Evariste had ever seen, even amongst the eldest elves it had been unseen for aeons. She felt fear shake her to her core. A deep rumble spread throughout the breadth of the room shaking this building which had otherwise remained unmoved for ages.

"What are - " Evariste stumbled over her words in disbelief of what she was witnessing,

"What are you?..." her voice carried fear, not like the fear of a usual phobia, but deep rooted, consuming her entire being.

Isaiah could only stand there speechless, much of his early life still remained a mystery to him, opaque for reasons unbeknown to him. The fury of lights in the room did not dissipate, instead they intensified. The dimension between the translucent light in the room and material objects being blurred. A gust of wind now raged through the hall challenging even Evariste's footing.

Chaos befell the hall, the red streaks of light changing from light into a substance none in the room could comprehend. The only material comparable was plasma, fluid in its motion, free flowing like light but distinct in the fact it was able to directly interact with the material world. Powers not felt in ages were present in this room. Their masters had returned! Isaiah was one of them? All in the room stood in shock, but at the forefront of them was Layla and Evariste. Layla had known him for most of his adult life. No traces of transcendental powers being revealed during this time. Judging by how the events had transpired she could only guess that he himself was unaware of them until this moment.

Evariste felt deeply conflicted. Her people were once loyal servants to their masters, treachery a thought which was simply impossible. But that had all changed since their disappearance many aeons ago. One of their masters commands had been to control the elves magic,[f] limiting its potential and beauty, over many generations this was a decision the elves manifested great disgust towards. The majestic civilisations constructed by the great elves of Jikan reduced to a memory. She had promised her people they would never return to a lifestyle of servitude to these oppressors, a time where they could be banished on a single whim of their masters. Now one stood in front of her. The impression of their will still lurked deeply set in her mind, unsure if she would be able to defy it. Her loyalty was split, she stood in a position she had spent her life wishing would never arrive.

Chapter 11: The Chronethians

"In their original days they started almost identically to humanity. Almost an exact replica of their physical appearance. It was only their mind which set them apart. Their journey continued much similar to humanity's until one day a member of their kind accidentally stumbled on the ability to understand time. He taught his fellow peers and they eventually learnt the ability to understand the fabric of it, how to see through it. However they lacked the ability to pass through it, many ages passed of them being stuck in this imperfect ability, until eventually they were able to break this cycle. They created a way to manipulate it, to travel through time within their own universe. This race who could manipulate the realm of time and space only had one name, the Chronethians. Timelords and masters of the universe. Harnessing this supernatural ability the Chronethians surpassed all abilities understandable by mortal comprehension. Consumed by their unrivalled power they began their conquest, pillaging other planets, enslaving entire races. The elves became their personal servants, enslaved in their own minds[g] by the furious will of these timelords. Their home planet of Jikan became the centre of all time. A crossroads for the gateways between worlds. Unwilling to leave their homeland undefended in the case of their absence, they enslaved a mighty race of warriors, a race who roamed the surfaced of Jikan, banishing the thought of subterfuge to infiltrate this planet as a fantasy.

Even possessing these supernatural powers the Chronethians were still firmly confined to the realm that the Gods intended. Unprepared to spare even a single strand of control to this new race, even the Chronethians were set on their fixed time, any perturbations of this reality were simply impossible. They thrived in their reality, unaware of this imprisonment, this was the way it had remained for aeons, until she was born. A girl who excelled in her grasp of time, learning quicker than any of her timelord forebearers before her. She was different, she realised the construction of her people was too perfect to be created by any accidental evolution. Realising there must be some greater power at play she..." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos; Chronethians

"We must leave at once," Isaiah's tone was cold but confident, quiet enough that no surrounding bystander could hear but loud enough to convey the power of his words. In all their time together Layla had never heard him speak in a tone this serious. She knew something was deeply wrong. Even beyond the disaster of a lightshow moments before this feeling infiltrated down to his core. Something beyond her understanding had transpired since Isaiah had entered this room. Layla was uninclined to extract an explanation in this hall with prying ears surrounding them, so she decided she would wait until retiring into private before interrogating him about the matter.

"Lorian will direct you to your room." Evariste's voice was weak, barely having recovered from the shock which consumed her following the light show. Her voice did not convey support to their cause, it was clear she wished to occupy them whilst she deliberated with her fellow elves to judge what the spectacle of light signified. But both Isaiah and Layla could only feel relief at escaping the tension which clearly manifested in the chamber.

Chapter 12: The Archipelago

Lorian had led them to the edge of the castle, the door in front of them seeming inconsequential compared to the grand door which they had entered the chamber through. A side exit to escape discreetly in times of need. They mentally prepared themselves for the abyss when the door was opened, refusing to be caught off guard again. But surprise still filled the fibres of their body when Lorian revealed what the door was concealing. This time it was not fear which consumed their being but instead was awe, marvelling at the beauty they saw in front of them.

A floating archipelago of islands hung in the sky, defying gravity against all odds. These islands were rich in vegetation, biodiversity of all varieties apparent even in a place where no natural seed could reach to germinate. This balance only being sustained by immaculate maintenance. An array of waterfalls cascaded down between the islands, bouncing off the edges of the rocks before flying down to the next island, eventually to fall into the abyss flying downwards into an unknown place. Originating from the highest islands, the source of this water could only be magical. Normally a marvel but now feeling surprisingly unremarkable after all that had transpired in the council chamber.

The islands were clearly occupied, a thriving city of inhabitants who had constructed wooden bridges sprawling out between them. Arching below from their pivot points where they were suspended in a way which seemed in harmony with the terrain of the islands. Houses of all types of wood: birch, oak, acacia, stood lacquered in vibrant colours, a unmissable splash of colour which sharply contrasted with the bland monochromatic colours of the elves who occupied them; Still wearing their indistinguishable dull apparel even outside of their grand chamber. This was no small settlement, but an entire city of extravagant architecture in all its grandiosity, at least 10,000 islands strong, with each containing their own impressive structures.

Something about this archipelago unsettled Layla, it seemed entirely unrepresentative of the elves character. Its whirlwind of colours and unproductive layout seemed unlikely to be their own construction. The perfectly symmetric and tessellated city Lorian originally found them in seemed a much better fit for the elves, it had been highly functional in its design and immensely beautiful by human standards. Yet it had been left abandoned, desolate of all life. Even the bridge connecting it to the rest of civilization was destroyed, only navigable by magical means. Its very existence had been concealed from the elves. Layla could only feel confusion.

"Lorian, why did we see none of your peers in the previous city?" Layla was direct in her questioning sensing that her straight line of thought would not discomfort Lorian. Silence filled the air between them for several moments. It was just long enough for Layla to realise she had encroached on a sensitive topic.

"I was sent there by Evariste, in exile for this cycle of the council, she did not agree with my progressive ideas," he trailed off his words, distaste was clearly apparent in them.

"But the city is beautiful! why has it been forsaken by your people?"

At Lorian's reaction she instantly realised she had overstepped the mark. In this individual she may have found a reluctant ally but treating him as a trustworthy friend was foolhardy.

"It reminds us of a time where my people were bound to that city, forced by the will of our masters." His words carried sadness as if reminiscing of a age long ago,

"a time we do not speak of, ask me no more for even if I disagree with Evariste's policies I will not forsake my elven loyalty." The sadness in his voice had been displaced by assertiveness and confidence.

Throughout this interaction Isaiah had remained silent, walking directly next to them he had overheard every word. Yet he had reclined to interject any contribution as if he already knew what Lorian was going to speak off. This only intensified the worry Layla felt in her stomach. Isaiah's usual bubbly nature could normally be restored with a single comment or joke but in this moment he stood remote, out of her reach even though he stood less than a hairsbreadth away. Unknown to her what this place seemed uncannily familiar to Isaiah. Following what had transpired in the great hall much of his memory and childhood was now exposed to him. The structures around him seemed remarkably familiar and yet as a child he remembered them forming a single grand island. Yet now they stood disjoint. As if some tragedy had separated them; Also no trace of any fellow Chronethains could be seen, he could only what events had occurred. Some of his memories were still obscured to him; one point stood out to him, he was still unsure how he ended up in Layla's universe.

Chapter 13 : Banshee race

"First to the surface wins!" Challenged Isaiah. Sprinting to Banshee in front of him, it towered above him like a beast, the size of a horse but had wings extended far out on either side. Its body was covered in scales overlapping to form an impenetrable hide. In the age before humans had arrived on this planet it stood at the top of the food chain, unrivalled by all. Now it stood integrated into humanity's culture, not oppressed like a farm animal but instead respected. A symbiosis between them. He wished to escape his mother's sombre mood in this instant. Each passing day his fellow timelords mood had come more intolerable with today seeming to be the climax of it. Unwilling to release information to him Isaiah was forced to live in mystery only guessing at what they anticipating.

"You're going to lose!" boasted a soft female voice, Karmea was sprinting to her own Banshee, ready to let the race commence. The surface of this planet had was inhospitable, entirely unsuitable for human life with frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Instead, high above the clouds is where humanity had settled, a single island stood in the sky floating in the air by some means unknown to the humans who occupied it. But it was clear it had been this way for aeons, great redwoods towered high on the island, decaying logs dated millennia back. To the occupants of this island it seemed a certainty it would remain in the sky forever, unwilling to descend.

Isaiah turned around and could only express shock, his entire head start had already been erased, Karema had managed to almost catch him up,

"How have you caught up already!" Isaiah shouted in a laugh, his mouth half open.

"I've been practising since you last challenged me," mocked Karema, at this point she was neck and neck with Isaiah before quickly flicking a wink in his direction and sharply overtaking him.

"I let that happen!" attempting to justify the overtake,

"Sure you did!" sarcastically intoned Karmea.

"I win!" she proclaimed mockingly, a smile clearly filling her whole face.

"You just got lucky! I want a rematch-" attempted Isaiah, but at this point his attention was distracted. The Banshee under him seemed to be struggling, his wing was damaged and he was barely able to fly. It collapsed. Isaiah fell off its back stumbling straight towards the ground, already near the surface he had but moments before meeting a certain demise. Karema forced her Banshee into a nosedive, head diving downwards at full speed in the hope of overtaking Isaiah, then spreading its wings at the last minute diving under Isaiah. He fell onto its back just behind Karema, about to fall off its back as she grabbed him securely.

"Close call." spoke Karema, attempting to bring a light onto the situation but clearly failing as the fear went through her voice.

"I do not know what went wrong." The both looked down to see the dead Banshee on the floor. These beasts were in harmony with the nature of the planet and their deaths happened very rarely, living for centuries on average far outliving most humans. For one to falter in flight was even rarer and had solemnly happened in his lifetime.

"We should get back to the main island," nervously spoke Karema, for one Banshee to bear the weight of two should be possible for short periods, but accompanied by the water they had sought would be impossible. When humans and elves had first occupied this island the single island in the sky had been well below the cloudline receiving ample rainfall. Since it had been colonised it had been rising, slowly creeping into the sky. Over many generations it had crept above the cloudline, now receiving no rainfall. The only source of fresh water was using a Banshee to pick it up from the surface, a slow task which had become much of their purpose. These animals also now relied on the crops humans grew on this island, unable to sustain themselves without it.

They both hung tightly onto this Banshee which struggled to climb back up to the island, both gripping tightly with their legs. Karmea also held tightly onto its antenna but Isaiah had nowhere else to grip so clung onto Karema. A almost intimate moment which could only feel awkward between these two closest of friends. They could both sense something was wrong, the Banshee was struggling to climb even after exerting unreasonable effort. Then they witnessed it. The cloud of death. On every side of them Banshee's rained from the sky, falling out of the heavens directly downwards to their peril. On every side all they could see was banshee's neglecting all motion, looking lifeless and falling straight out of the sky. Finally their own one faltered, sending them flying straight through the abyss. They had managed to stay attached to each other, only connected by their hands as they were flying to death below. Then suddenly they saw it, the island above them shattered, disintegrating into thousands of chunks flying off in all directions. Everyone Isaiah had ever known in his life resided on that island, he could only imagine the casualties. It would not matter because he himself would be dead. Suddenly a Banshee appeared from above, colliding where their hands connected, sending them flying in difference directions. Separated forever. Destined to spend no more moments together in their lifetime.

Chapter 14: The Empty Island

"We have reached your allocated island," Lorian's formal tone had dispersed, "Evariste has put me in charge of your comfort, should you need me just call," he chuckled, Layla raised her eyebrows unsure what could be so humorous.

"She has charged with this task at an attempt at insult, it is below what one of my rank deserves," Lorian's lips curved into a smile, "but she has done me a great favour, for it irrevocably seals my return from exile from outside this archipelago, and in these turbulent times she will be unable to reunited the council unanimously against me again."

Layla responded with a genuine smile, the first since she had been placed on this god's forsaken planet. "I feel in time I may find a friend in you," responded Layla in a warm tone. At this point Lorian took his leave, allowing them their privacy, exiting the island in a hasty walk.

Isaiah and Layla stood alone on this island, almost certain that it had not been provided out of hospitality. Instead as a way to distance themselves from this pair of intruders until they had deliberated on their fate. Unlike most of the other islands, which lay home to complete villages, this island had a lone structure, miniscule relative to the island as a whole. It stood carved out of ebony wood, night black in colour. White paint had been used to highlight details, embellishing its simplistic design. This building instantly familiar to Isaiah but at this distance he could not inspect its well enough to understand why.

"I have made a grave mistake," Isaiah spoke directly and sharply, alone with Layla there was no need for him to obscure his words,

"I sought to take us to somewhere safe, to escape the Chaos on Ælenium, to find a place where we may seek refuge. But I have failed us."

Layla was not used to hearing Isaiah admit defeat, only having her worry increased with every sentence, she grew impatient, "Isaiah, please speak plainly. It cannot worsen whatever situation arose in the council," preparing to leave her sentence finished at that. Then deciding otherwise she quickly added, "What did transpire in there, what did the lights reveal?"

Pausing for a second unsure where to start. Isaiah began to monologue, "This planet we stand on, "Jikan", was once home to masters of the elves the Chronethians - timelords and masters of the universe." Layla was taken aback, the powers Isaiah spoke of seemed like fiction. Inconceivable in their power.

Isaiah began his next sentence, struggling to construct the words with his mouth, a difficulty sensed by Layla,

"Their-" stumbling over his words, "Their blood...", locking eye contact with Layla, "runs in my veins." Isaiah struggled revealing this to her but it paled in comparison to what Layla felt, the one she loved stood adjacent to her but felt a universe away, untouchable, their former intimacy as distant as strangers. He wasn't human. He was a Chronethian, an oppressor of worlds, a heartless destroyer of entire civilisations, enslaver of the elves, this was not the man she had fallen for. The decaying demeanour of Layla was clearly apparent to Isaiah, he realised he must act quickly if he wasn't to lose her.

"Before today, all you knew about me was the absolute truth, this knowledge of my lineage was hidden even to me. That all changed in that hall. Evariste sensed something about my mind, unique, intriguing, an element which was obscured, blocked behind a delicate ward of concealment. So precise in this construction it could only have one author in this universe - Chronos." Layla shivered, the very mention of this name sent chills down her spine, she had heard childhood stories of their power but never imagined they held truth in reality.

"I was born here on Jikan in a time of prosperity. A time where the Chronethians, my people, reached all corners of this universe, their domain and rule was absolute. Chronos taught me the art of magic and time, the technique behind creations beyond human comprehension. In that society blood relations are irrelevant, were irrelevant, for the Chronethians. Apart from the act of conception, by human conventions Chronos was my biological mother, I her only child."

"How did you get to my universe? Layla questioned.

Isaiah constructed his next sentences carefully, to tread careless with his words at this moment could split their relationship beyond repair, "One moment I was flying on a Banshee around these islands. The next I woke up in your universe, what happened in between I still do not know. I still feel deeper areas of my mind obscured, hiding themselves from me but I do not yet know why."

"Did Evariste not unlock your memories?" interjected Layla proudly, feeling she had found a contradiction in his logic.

"After realising what I was," he paused, unproud at the actions of his ancestors, "Evariste abandoned her attempt at unlocking my mind. Currently it still remains only partly revealed to me".

Aware that this conversation was making little progress Isaiah considered the island around them in closer detail. Up until this moment too consumed by his mind to appreciate the surrounding scenery. This island seemed familiar to him, he attempted to search his mind, taking longer than usual after only recently regaining access to his memories.

Chapter 15: Chronos' house

"This was Chronos's house." Isaiah spoke confidently, eliminating doubt that he was simply questioning himself. He stepped forward abandoning his conversations with Layla, to enter the house hoping answers could be found inside. He pulled the latch open and dust fell from the frame - this house must have been left empty, abandoned by the elves. Out of all the islands this seemed to be the only one which was untouched. Layla wondered to herself rhetorically, was Chronos really that powerful that even memory of her instilled fear? When they stepped into the house they saw a thick layer of dust coating the furniture, cosy interior decorations that seemed surprisingly human. A flood of memories rushed into Isaiah's mind, many memories of the past had been jogged by the objects in this room, seemingly familiar to him. It almost seemed as if this room was designed for this very day - an accelerant for him to remember. The interior didn't seem particularly habitable, the usual features one would expect of a well used home were not present. Out of this flood of memories one thing stood out distinctly to him. An exact replica of the necklace around Layla's neck stood there, sparkling in its beauty, complete with an attempted copy of the stone which usually occupied the brace. Seemingly fearful, even dust did not occupy this object, maintaining distance instead. Another object grabbed his attention, a book, a journal, if this was Chronos's own recollection of events it could reveal much about what had happened. Isaiah picked it up and looked at it. Here was her own personal records, written in the form of a book, the complete history and truth of the Chronethians, records of what really transpired on the day of their disappearance.

"Chronos thought she stood prepared for any outcome, but what she witnessed caught her unprepared and shook her to the core. All she could see was chaos. All traces of the Chronethians wiped from existence. Even with the supreme powers of her people, their ability to manipulate the very fabric of space and time, their demise stood as an inevitability. An endless stream of time was carrying them to their annihilation, an outcome which should be impossible, and yet it stood as a certainty. She was helpless to investigate the cause of this destruction for there stood an instant in time her people could not travel through.

This is a moment she would never forget, a realisation, a key moment in her journey. Her timeline must be fixed in reality, stagnated by some force greater than her. Who stood higher than the timelords, able to anchor their destiny, anticipating the timelords powers? There must exist a force omnipotent to her, but by no means benevolent, "gods", if a name was forced upon them. The very fact she could comprehend these thoughts gave her hope, for if the gods controlled her down to her mind they would never have allowed this to transpire, this could only mean they consider humanity as a conglomerate or possibly they did not care about individuals at all, rather humanities eventual destination, their fate...

Any force within this reality would be unable to alter this situation, there is only one place she could look to, the Gods themselves. She had already seen an example of their overconfidence, perhaps it could also be their undoing. Her only hope they had made a mistake..." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos; The realisation

Layla tried to organise the fragmented pieces of information in her mind together. The elves masters were the Chronethians. Masters of the universe, unrivalled until their disappearance, either being vanquished by some supreme foreign foe or abandoning this ancient archipelago in its entirety, complete with the elves, to settle elsewhere. The latter seemed unlikely. Considering that Chronos, the most powerful of all the timelords, had sent her child off to a different universe, to Andromeda. It seemed more likely to be an attempt to preserve the legacy of her people. As Layla knew without doubt that they now resided in the home of Chronos, it seemed likely the other islands in the archipelago were once the home to other timelords, but where would that leave the elves. Suddenly, it all made sense to her, the city they had found Lorian in, it was once the home of the elves. A thriving metropolis constructed like a great empire. But now that memory stood banished amongst the elves. Concealing all traces of it behind a shield wall, instead occupying the homes that once belonged to their masters. Did their distaste of their masters really run that deep? Layla could only think of the bland monochromatic outfits they were still forced to wear. Whatever influence had been placed on them ran far deeper than just a cultural tradition, their masters must have oppressed them through magic. Layla wished to question Lorian about this, but was denied the chance by his absence.

"The Gods congregated, the chamber they filled was vast, perfectly cut grey slate towered upwards on the walls, with detailed engravings carved into it as they rose. A symmetrical hexagonal shape split the chamber, with six hallways connecting to it. A closer examination of the hallways adjoining showed them plated with polished marble tiles, intricately laced together, tessellated perfectly in complicated geometric patterns. The end of these hallways had no door, only a pure crystal white light. Seemingly acting as a barrier to what lay beyond. This was the council room of the Gods. A room which stood outside of time and reality. It had stood untouched and unobserved by the races of humanity for its entire existence. This room is where all of existence had been conceived, the very idea for humanity constructed by the six Gods, all divine in their power.

Having already created humanity, Imperial magic and the Chronethians, being driven by greed they sought more. They attempted to create an artefact so powerful it contained an entire reality within it. A singularity of a universe condensed into a single object; The Stone Of Time. An amulet which the six gods sought to use to unite their power. The gods had doubted few things in their immortal lives, but the creation of this stone was most certainly one of those causing hesitation. Confined to no fixed form the gods could transform to embody whatever being they willed, originally this could not have been human for their very existence predates humanity, humans only a byproduct of their imagination. Now standing as their most proud creation it made logical sense to most of them to represent their divine spirits in human form.

The Gods focused their power on a single point, the greatest concentration of power ever seen in the history of reality - successfully managing to create the stone. The stone of time had translucent edges, unhindering the view of any which gazed into it, inside it was a beauty which one has to observe to fully appreciate. An entire universe was condensed inside it, supreme powers beyond comprehension lay inside, contained within it: stars, galaxies, superclusters in their entirety.

Until this moment the reign of the Gods had remained perfectly balanced, each unable to gain a noticeable advantage above the others. Even if five Gods united against one they would be unable to destroy them, only temporarily banish them. Having none to fear, the gods' powers of destruction remained largely undeveloped. Their inherent defensive ability outclassing this by an order of magnitudes. This all changed at the moment of the stones inception. A realistic possibility arose, the stone allowed for a single God to assert their domain over all of existence, including over the other Gods. Sensing the energy emitting from the stone they all sought to wield its power for themselves, asserting their dominance over the kingdom of Gods. Fuelled by their hunger for ambition, they sought to use the stone to create races of warriors. Realities which eclipsed even the timelords, to create beings close enough to them in power that the other Gods would have to kneel before them. All six Gods channelled the full power of their will on this stone. It was too much power focused on a single object. If the stone stayed in this location all of existence would be torn in two, so it was forced to relocate. Out of all the possible realities it went into the universe containing the Chronethians and the elves.

The stone was unique in its ability for its very presence broke the predeterminism of the universe it was in. Infused with the essence of the gods it allowed for authentic free will. The side effect of this on the Chronethians was unique compared to other races, for it also nullified their ability of time travel. Without a fixed predetermined time to travel throughout, the ability to see or travel into the future became impossible. This created a wall of time for the Chronethians, a moment they could not see past or predict, no matter how advanced their abilities grew. After an eternity of improving their powers, there finally came a timelord who eclipsed all others in their mastery. Chronos. Chronos herself waited at this very moment, spending a lifetime preparing for what she thought she should see beyond. But the vents which actually transpired were impossible for her to have anticipated. The stone of time came straight into the Chronethian universe; straight into her possession."

Chapter 16 : The Fall

Chronos sat unease, she could tell something was amiss, the air around her did not seem peaceful as it usually did. This was a day she had spent her entire adult lifetime preparing for. The magic of her people had very few limits but what lay in front of them this day was undoubtedly the greatest. The Chronethians, her people, had the ability to travel through almost all of time and space but there was a single moment this day her people lacked the ability to travel through. Seeing into the future was a skill which even the youngest Chronethians had mastered, but seeing past this moment was almost impossible. Out of their entire race only Chronos managed to glimpse past this moment. What she saw was not the true future but instead merely a prediction of it. From her glimpse all she saw was chaos. Total destruction. With no clue to the author of it.

Suddenly her advisor burst into the room,

"Come quickly! The Banshee's are plummeting out of the sky!" The panic in his voice was clear.

Quickly running towards the edge of the island it was quickly apparent what was transpiring. A rain of death flooded from above, like an incessant river flowing endless of death. These creatures were in harmony with the planet Jikan that they floated above. Their sudden demise only indicated that the natural order of life had been uprooted.

At this instant an object materialised in front of her. Only the size of a simple stone but seemed entirely unworldly. It looked like an entire galaxy had been compressed within a single stone. At first inspect she could tell it was not from its universe, the potential of its powers transcended even her own. As she picked it up she could feel powers unlike any she had ever experienced flow through her body.

Then she felt it. The island in the sky they occupied rumbled, shockwaves travelling through its core before suddenly it shattered. Thousands of shards flying in all directions, the once magnificent mountain reduced to a cloud of rubble. Using their visions of possible futures the Chronethians should have been able to predict this event. She knew the only possibility was something from outside this reality was interfering with it. In this instant she felt her own powers falter, her powers of time travel standing distant to her. Unable to use them to avoid this moment from happening. Previously she would use her ability to see the future to determine the right course of action but now that inherent ability had been stripped from her. Unsure what to do she was forced to witness the chaos unfold as a bystander. As the great island that was the homeland of her people were fragmented into a thousand pieces.

Chapter 17: The Elven Council

Lorian burst into the room, breaking protocol by allowing no time for a formal entrance,

"You must come now!" he panted out, his heavy breathing clearly showing he had come here with all haste.

"What has happened?" replied Isaiah, regaining his composure after this interruption and breaking from his mood of desperation.

"The... The clans of Jikan have rallied below our islands. They are threatening to declare war if we do not hand over Isaiah immediately." Lorian spoke rushed, struggling to get the words out his throat. It was clear that this event was something his mind was unprepared for, Isaiah and Layla could only wonder how the more tradition bound elves would react.

"The council of the elders has been summoned, no time can be wasted," with his words Lorian grabbed the arms of both Layla and Isaiah denying any attempt at protest, before then chanting words in a language unknown to them. The air in the room around them started to swirl, an odd sensation of supernatural powers seeking its way in. Bright light flickered before their eyes and when they reopened them they were in entirely different surroundings even though a single moment had passed in time.

The rooms' furnishing were minimal. Occupying the space was a single round table with ten chairs surrounding it. At the head of the table they saw the familiar figure of Evariste. The presence of eight unseen elves occupying the chairs adjacent to her, all adorning similar extravagant jewels on their cloaks but none matching the grandiosity of Evariste. The room which surrounded this table was carved from pure refined stone. Its architecture seemed arcane, similar to the earlier great hall but more extravagant. Glancing out the slots where one would expect windows to occupy Layla could see the island the earlier castle resided on; they were at the pinnacle of the highest tower. The eloquent engravings in this room left her with no doubt this was the most important chamber in the entire castle. The seat of its power, the room where its policies would be dictated.

Lorian stepped away from their side, moving towards the unoccupied seat at the table of elders. Fine gems materialised out of thin air, attaching themselves onto his jacket, no doubt the work of magic. As he walked he could feel the weight of Layla's eyes bearing down on him.  Before he could take a seat Evariste spoke, "Lorian, why were you in the forbidden city?" Her voice was cold, carrying no trace of sympathy, even towards one of her own kind.

"I sensed the presence of magic there. I went to inspect the disturbance," explained Lorian. But this explanation was entirely unconvincing to Evariste, she knew no elf would visit that city on a whim. A place which the elves had attempted to banish from their memory.

"You lie!" screeched Evariste with anger building in her voice.

Layla stood conflicted with emotions. Had she been betrayed by the only elf on this planet that she considered a friend? She cursed her incompetence, she had missed the signs of this, the contradictions in his logic. He had found them in the abandoned city moments after their arrival, in a place elves had wished to banish from their memory. To have sent any elf there even for a criminal act was unthinkable in their society, it was a place they wished to erase all traces off. He clearly had an ulterior motive.

Here Layla injected, seeking to reveal the truth, "since Isaiah and I entered the planet we have lost access to our magic. This magic you speak of could not have been us." Layla's voice carried a genuine element of hope; she hoped this was a misunderstanding with Lorian. That he could actually be considered as an ally to their cause.

At this instant Evariste took charge as the speaker of the council of elves, standing at the forefront of the table. "You have brought the threat of annihilation to my people. The races occupying the surface have coexisted with us for aeons, never seeking to cause strife with each other. Today, they rally an army of warriors. The guardians of this planet now sit on our doorstep, threatening us. We are defenceless should they decide to attack, the purpose of my kind was never for war!" shouted Evariste, rising to a near scream, her tone filled with uncontrollable anger. An incalculable fury contained in her eyes, "Lorian you also have fault in this! It is not yet clear where but I have no doubt in your guilt!" bellowed Evariste, losing all sense of composure.

At this moment Evariste saw the book Isaiah was holding tightly in his hand.

"What do you carry in your hand?" enquired Evariste, her anger subsiding into intrigue. The individual scripture was unknown to her but the language on the cover of her book is something her mind could not forget. There had been few solemn moments in her life where she had to endure it but she remembered. It was written in the tongue of the Chronethians, all works of writing from them had been destroyed or so they thought. Only through fear of entering the dwelling which Chronos once resided in had preserved this text. Evariste could also tell this was no ordinary Chronethian, it was written in the ancient language of their high council, written in Chronos's own penmanship.

"It is a book we found in Chronos's house," spoke Isaiah plainly.

"Can you understand it?" quizzed Evariste with peaked interest. Few in the existence of the universe had ever been able to understand it.

"Yes. Although I have not yet read it," truthfully explained Isaiah

Evariste had a choice. She should end this now and reduce the age of Chronethians to a memory once again or could seek to understand the hidden wisdom in that book. Judging that the possibility of destroying Isaiah would still remain after the book was decrypted she decided to get Isaiah to first translate the book. And so Isaiah began to recite the pages of Chronos's book they found in the house. Revealing the truth unknown to the universe until this moment.

Chapter 18: The Book of Chronos

"Equipped with the stone of time she realised she must act quickly. The repercussions of the stones presence in this reality would soon be felt by the Gods. Ripples of reality distorted by an object which exists outside of it. Gathering power unknown to her she willed herself to the edge of reality, a place outside of time, a void of nothingness. Here was the only place the implications of her decisions could not be detected by the Gods. Unrestricted by the constraints of her mind she saw the countless universes the Gods had constructed. Thousands of races and civilisations who existence would still have remained unknown to her otherwise. Her attention was attracted to one, a civilisation standing out from the rest of them. Humanity - the precursor to the Chronethians. Their minds stood distinct with a complexity unlike any of the other races she saw. Their minds reflected the Gods too closely, their egocentric nature must have dominated their thought process during their creation.

There were a select few amongst them who stood out even more. Their minds had been directly altered by the Gods, giving them access to powers none could fathom, Imperial magic. It had been left in isolation, unnurtured, uncultivated and still in a primitive state only improving slowly through iterations of generations. If it was properly harnessed it could rival even the Gods. Chronos searched all of history to find a time where the Imperial bloodline was at its most powerful and she found it - the time of Valkyrie. An Emperor whose ambition did not stop with Andromeda or even the observable universe, he sought to conquer beyond his own reality, the perfect candidate to recruit in her fight against the Gods.

Chronos only had one chance to get this right, the gods had committed an army of chaos to Jikan, to reclaim the stone at all costs, even at the absolute destruction of her people. But she misjudged her chance. After a lifetime of being able to trust her Chronethian powers of seeing into the future she was left abandoned, feeling naked now that foresight had been unwillingly stripped from her. She had to use her own intuition and misjudged the course of action she should have taken. She gave the stone to Valkyrie in its entirety, and brought him to her own universe, to Jikan. Relinquishing all her power over the stone in the process.

Normally the gods could intercede themselves at any point in space and time but the presence of the stone had changed that. They could only change from this moment or beyond. The stone acting as an anchor, fixing all time before it, almost certainly as a defence mechanism.

Valkyrie had underestimated the gods, beings which are so omnipotent that they are responsible for your very construction, are not easily fought. The gods themselves were not used to conflict, their very presence started to tear reality in two. Information began to escape between the different realities, ruining the perfect predeterminism they had managed to maintain up until the stones creation.

Valkyrie was consumed by his power. Already being partially driven mad by the incalculable power of Imperial magic, the addition of the stone was too much to bear. He was led to insanity. In the gods' attempt to recover the stone the timelords stood against them, but they were vanquished as a simple side thought. Without any hesitation an entire glorious race was eradicated, all except one. This action demonstrated the gods' lack of morality to any surviving witnesses. Proving inadequate in his offensive against the gods, Valkyrie was swiftly destroyed by them. All records from that day were destroyed in the chaos that ensued apart from what is written here.

Only Chronos out of all the Chronethians was able to escape, distraught with remorse at the destruction of her people. She managed to salvage the stone in the instant between the Valkyrie being consumed by insanity and the gods' offensive. A sequence of events had been set in motion that she did not condone but were now unavoidable. The presence of the stone of time had made the attack from the gods inevitable. But it was her incompetence that had led to the destruction of her own people. Her mind was ill-equipped to a universe without her abilities of time travel.

Still wielding the stone Chronos realised hope must be saved, the gods must be bested if true free will could ever be achieved. After much deliberation Chronos devised a prophecy, a plan spanning aeons and universes. Without her full powers Chronos could not predict any of this directly, only speculate. She knew her mind was too rigid to ever be able to harness the stone effectively, a Chronethian mind with a intuition independent of their powers would be needed.

In the Chaos moments before, Chronos's only child, Isaiah, had fallen into the abyss, heading straight towards his demise, as her closest relative he is the one she picked. She needed someone to unite with a bearer of Imperial magic. Growing up in their culture Isaiah would not stand disconnected when the time came, as Chronos and Valkyrie did; this time the bearer of Imperial magic would remain sane, stabilised by Isaiah.

Chronos' could not risk the gods discovering her plan. Realising any ripple in reality would be spotted by the gods, she was stuck in a conundrum. There was only a single moment she could travel in with the gods maintaining their ignorance, the creation of the treaty on Imperial magic. The repercussions of this treaty shook the universe and changed its entire history, an individual hiding in cryostasis would not alter this reality enough to draw attention. So she sent him to the land of Imperial magic to lie dormant; waiting for a time when the age of timelords could once rise again, an age where the gods could be challenged.

A terrible burden had also been placed on Isaiah, for whenever the stone of time was activated the gods would come; the entire reality he knew would be destroyed, all the friend's he made in this new universe reduced to a memory by the gods' wrath. Chronos' knew Isaiah could not know the whole truth, at least in the beginning, for this truth was too much for any child to bear, the burden would corrupt his mind. She decided to place a blocker in his mind, all memories before his dormancy would be hidden from him.

Realising too much could go wrong she was unwilling to leave this prophecy uncontrolled. Encasing the stone of time in a necklace, Chonos created the Talisman of Time. An object which was embodied with her own power, allowing the wearer to harness the stone's potential without a lifetime of training in spellcraft. Placing the Talisman of time in Isaiah's possession, she infused the last of her power into it, her last act. There the Talisman lay dormant, waiting for a time where it would be needed, a time where it could be raised against the Gods." - excerpt from The Book Of Chronos; The Talisman of Time

Chapter 19: The Stone of Time

"And that is where I awoke, 5 years ago in Andromeda. Remaining by Layla's side almost everyday since", continued Isaiah, shifting from monologuing to a more down to earth tone.

"Now you've translated the text, we no longer have use for you." The burning desire in Evariste's eyes was immense, "If we ourselves do not destroy you, the armies below would take great pleasure in doing so. But I think I'll take the liberty of doing it myself!" Smirking with pure evil in her eyes.

Now with his memory revealed to him Isaiah could remember much of his childhood. Largely sheltered during it, he was only able to glimpse at the misery inflicted on the other races by his people, the Chronethians. But even this was enough to convince him without doubt that the other races would see revenge.

"Without the stone you are defenceless," snarked Evariste. As her eyes bore down on the necklace around Layla's neck, a necklace whose embellishment stood empty. In their travel to Jikan the stone of time had vanished from their possession. With no knowledge of its true location, Isaiah and Layla stood defenceless should Evariste decide to attack.

Evariste was unwilling to waste more time dealing with them. Since the moment Isaiah's true identity had been revealed the urge to dispense with him had only grown. It would be her, Evariste, she would be the one to finally eradicate the race of their masters. Forever being remembered by her fellow elves as a hero. Her displeasure towards Layla and Lorian was also unhidden, however, it was clearly outclassed by her fury towards Isaiah, both of them seeming insignificant compared to the last Chronethian who stood in front of her.

Evariste began to construct an incantation with her hands, the unintelligible dialect loud enough to be heard by all in the room. Isaiah and Layla both sensing a mystical feeling building in the room, feeling the raw power in Evariste's control rapidly growing. Layla knew without intervention soon Isaiah would be helpless at defending himself, the primitive powers the pair of them had learned on her homework no match for this master of elven magic. Layla could only feel remorse. The loss of her family bore down heavy on her soul and now the loss of her partner seemed inevitable. They had navigated themselves this far in this foreign universe only now to be plunged into a situation which seemed unescapable.

She did the only thing she could comprehend in this moment, to try and protect the one she loved. Stepping in front of Isaiah, she interceded herself between him and Evariste. Only hoping this distraction would be enough to dissuade Evariste from her attack. But her effort proved worthless. At her act of courage the intensity of Evariste's spell did not diminish, instead it accelerated its increase, heading towards a climax.

Lorian's mind was a whirlwind of emotions; conflicted in all directions. Unknown to all others in the room was that Lorian himself had discovered the stone first, coming across it before meeting Isaiah and Layla. It had been his very reason for originally heading into the forsaken city; a city which it took every fabric of his being to stay composed in. During his exile he had resided in the company of the races below, they had provided hospitality to him. However, their motive had not been friendly, they only hosted him to avoid conflict with the elven kingdom. Keeping a close eye on him during his stay, his sudden disappearance had instantly alerted them something was amiss. They had tracked him to the forsaken city and discovered Isaiah, the last Chronethian.

Now Lorian stood conflicted about which side to support without time to deliberate; he knew if he idled Isaiah and Layla would be destroyed by Evariste. The possibility of the Chronethians ever returning banished forever with their demise. Instead he saw a different path, a possibility to overthrow Evariste. A course of action he was uncertain in, for he himself did not wish to be leader of the elves. He only wished for a state where he could peacefully remain in the council.

The thought his life had already been predetermined by the gods also disturbed him; he knew the stone was the only way to alter this reality, to avoid this fate. Judging by the story Isaiah had just monologue he could only conclude the gods would come to retrieve it. This time they would not fail in their assault. They would destroy the entire elves' reality if necessary, but they would reclaim the stone of time.

"Layla!", shouted Lorian with urgency in his voice, "take this!" as Lorian removed the stone of time from his pocket and chucked it towards Layla. The instant shock on Evariste's face was clearly apparent, she knew she had no time to waste, if the stone came into Layla's possession she would be helpless to defeat. Her only chance was to strike now. Suddenly Evariste's incantation reached a climax, releasing a bolt of energy charging towards the pair, within it embedded the full fury of her powers.

Layla was at a loss; she could not remember a time in her life where she felt emotions this intense, with one exception, the loss of her father and brother. Her mind was cluttered with emotions: sadness sprinkled with regret, remorse racing with sentimentality. Without warning she felt it. The necklace around her neck began to tingle, shining fluorescent as bright as a star. The bolt of energy preparing to collide with them was instantly stopped midair, only inches away from Layla's face. The Talisman had been activated. Infused with the power of Chronos even without the stone its powers eclipsed the elves.

There was only one other time in her life she could remember feeling emotions this intense; when her future husband had arrived on Ælenium. Until now she had lived in ignorance of what truly transpired in that moment, now it became clear to her. The sheer intensity of her emotions had activated the Talisman, it had been intertwined with her lifeforce waiting for a signal, a sign it should wake the stone of time from its state of dormancy. Its activation had alerted the gods to its location, their searching spanning generations would finally yield results. This activation ultimately being the catalyst which led to the destruction of her homeland. The chaos that unfolded that day had not been random, it had been stalking her. The Talisman's activation had provided the magic to allow them to escape from  Ælenium to Jikan, but she also knew of the burden it bought. She knew she was not yet safe, the chaos would still be following her. Relentless in its search until The Stone Of Time was recovered.

The bolt of energy hovered only inches away from Layla, instead of dissipating it seemed to be changing its target. Redirecting it exact where it came from, the full fury of Evariste's might now raced directly back at her. She was caught unprepared - unguarded. Left unable to deflect it's energy. As it collided with her body she was instantly vaporised, her jewels and all traces of the authority she once carried disappearing at the same time.

Layla had destroyed the ruler of the elves, using Evariste's own magic in her demise, albeit accidentally. In any ordinary circumstances the elves would descend into hostilities, but they still frozen, unwilling to provoke any any hostilities from Layla. After witnessing with their own eyes the Talisman's magic they could only express shock. The most powerful of their company had been near effortlessly destroyed, after hearing all the tales about Layla's and Isaiah's history they were unwilling to raise any force any the pair.

For much of Lalya's life the Talisman had been in her possession, ever since Isaiah gave it to her as a gift, he himself unaware of what it truly was at the time. Remaining dormant throughout this time, a state which was permanently ended by Evariste's attack. She knew the Talisman only had one rival, the Gods. After activating the stone on Ælenium the gods appeared within minutes. She knew the current circumstances were no different, she had no time to waste.

"Layla!" shouted Isaiah, breaking her shock. Whilst also holding her in embrace to reassure her after the shocking moments which had just transpired. "To stand a chance against the Gods we need your Imperial magic," Isaiah spoke confidently, he knew they could not delay so his words were direct. A trace of fear also presented itself in them; Isaiah knew all previous of Imperial magic has been driven to insanity, its power too much for any mortal to carry.

"Using the Talisman I can see the treaty in my mind," she paused, changing to a regrettable tone "I do not possess powers delicate enough to undo it." she spoke remorsefully, she knew what was at stake. "It would take lifetimes of refinement to have spellcraft intricate enough." Layla knew to falter at this point would be to accept predeterminism, to be at the gods whim for the rest of eternity, any chance of true free will permanently reduced to fiction.

Suddenly a thought shot into Layla's mind. It seemed unoriginal, uncanny and unlike any usual thought she would have. The only explanation she could think of was that it was not her own, Chronos's spirit was trying to guide them, acting through the Talisman. The thought was more more than a single phase - Elven magic. Layla knew the Elves were once a race of mighty spellcrafters, equipped again with their full power their expertise in magic could prove enough, harnessing the power of the stone they could attempt to break the treaty on Imperial magic.

Many aeons had passed since the Chronethian's had limited elven magic to a fraction of its former glory, if they could still remember the intricates of their magic she could not predict.

"Isaiah," Layla reassured herself in her mind of this course of action before she continued.

"Can you undo the Chronethian limitation in Lorian's mind, allow him to access the true power of Elven magic again?

"Equipped with the endless power of the stone I supposed I could. The lore taught during my youth was primitive but should be sufficient for what you ask. What do you intend to do?" The uncertainty in his voice was obvious, without time to seduce his opposition Layla decided to proceed directly.

"Equipped with their true expertise," pausing preparing for the reaction she knew she would receive from her next line. "United with the stone, the elves could break the treaty in my mind."

"Impossible!" Isaiah interjected in a uncontrollable shout.

"You know what that magic did to your ancestors! I will not let you come to the same fate!" Isaiah tried to be confident in his words, tried to maintain his anger. But he knew he could see no other way. Layla's ancestors had been driven mad by Imperial magic, its power simply too great for any human mind to harness and stay undamaged.

Chapter 20: The Gods

Suddenly, a great rumble spread throughout the council room, louder and more unnerving than the elves in their lifetime. For Isaiah and Layla they remembered this sound all to well, a noise they could never forget. It had signified the gods arrival was imminent on Ælenium, Layla's homeworld. Their knew the attack from the gods would only be minutes away.

Layla knew if she wished to make a stand against the gods they needed Imperial magic, any attempt at resistance without this would prove futile. Isaiah wished for another option, a way which the gods could be challenged without corrupting her mind, a possibility he wished for with every fabric of his love for Layla. However, the impending assault by the gods had forced his hand. He was unequivocally convinced he had to act.

Isaiah reached out towards Layla, firmly grabbing the Talisman around her neck. Instantly, Isaiah could feel the wisdom and power of Chronos imbedded in it. Amplifying the primitive powers he had learned during his childhood. He turned to Lorian, linking their minds, preparing to restore Lorian's magic. Instantly he saw a dramatically unnatural fibre in Lorian's mind, the enslavement, this was no subtle modification but more of an entire constricting web within the mind of every elf. Seeing this misery, Isaiah repented the decision of his forbears, he was determined to undo this wrong.

Isaiah reached into Lorian's mind, guided by the spirit of Chronos he was able to restore the elves full abilities, reversing the enslavement in Lorian's mind. The power which responded was entirely unexpected. Unknown to Isaiah was that throughout the elves' imprisonment they had continued to develop their magic. With their reduced powers they had been forced to use their limited remaining magic more carefully, more delicately. Never giving up on the idea that it would one day return. Without its full might they were never able to reach a level of power comparable to their elven forbears, instead they had focus on increasing their expertise, their skill craft. Now once again equipped with its true potential Lorian could perform feats which will eclipse any in elven history. Lorian could feel the magic running through his veins, the potential that had always been obscured now teetering on the edge of his mind. It was a feeling unique to any he had felt being; a feeling entirely alien.

Layla had to take a leap of faith, she had to put her life in the hands of someone who she had met earlier that day, someone whose leader had just attempted to kill her. She handed the Talisman to Lorian. In this instant he knew he held the power to betray her, an impulsive instinctive filled his mind tempting him, he could kill Isaiah now, end the Chronethians in this instant.

It was not logic which prevented Lorian, the impending threat of the gods was not enough to dissuade him. Instead it was Layla. Since her arrival on this planet he had found a friend in her, a warmness he struggled to obtain with his own people, she had sympathised with him. This was enough to break his otherwise impulsive actions. Resorting to reason he had heard of the destruction the gods had inflicted on their previous visits - the eradicating of Layla's homeworld and the near extinction of the Chronethians. If the elves were eradicated as an unintended consequence of retrieving the stone the gods would feel no guilt, likely brushing it off as a side thought.

Deciding he would help Layla, Lorian reached into her mind. Harnessing power that felt unnatural to him at first, previously obscured to his people being forced to be left untouched for aeons. This power would be no match for the gods, his only hope was restoring Layla's Imperial magic which was bestowed on her directly from the gods. In Layla's mind he saw a single strand out of place, a modification too delicate and yet too fixed to be have changed by accident. He knew this to be the physical embodiment of the god's treaty in her mind. Unaccustomed to modifications of minds he was not gentle, channelling the power of the Talisman with his own spellcraft her began his adjustment. Suddenly, Layla collapsed to the floor, lifeless during her drop.

"What have you done!" Isaiah's voice was consumed by anger, as he sprinted towards Layla lying motionless on the ground.

"I- '', stuttering, "I have made the adjustment. She has access to her lost magic once again," spoke Lorian, both unsure and unconvincing with his word. He was not speaking entirely untruthfully but he also knew something had gone amiss, a detail he neglected to mention in this moment, uninclined to incur Isaiah's wrath. Lorian passed the Talisman back to Isaiah, no long having use for it. Unsure how to help Layla in this instant, he placed the Talisman softly around Layla's neck, hoping Chronos's wisdom could help him.

As the Talisman touched Layla's skin he could instantly feel it connecting the two of them. The feeling it brought was unique to any they had felt before, even after years of intimacy this connection felt different. The very energy of their life forces felt intertwined, as one, like they had been together for all of eternity. A blissful moment of complete serenity. The Talisman was amplifying their connection and more, Isaiah could feel his powers growing more vigorously than ever before. He could feel Layla coming back to him

"Isaiah," her words were gentle and weak, "Isaiah, what was happened?" her voice was slow, taking time to regain its strength.

"Lorian has restored your magic." Isaiah spoke almost proudly with his words, "You should have to Imperial magic," he felt a mixture of emotions. For he knew this magic was Layla's birthright, only stripped from her forebears due to the gods' fear. But he also anticipated the mental struggle that it would bring for her, he knew neither of them were ready.

Chapter 21: War

Suddenly, the previous grew rumble grew to an unbearable volume. A sharp flash of light penetrated through the small chamber of the chamber. The gods had arrived. However, they were no longer defenceless. Layla was prepared, equipped with the Talisman and access to the full might of Imperial magic. Both powers created directly by the gods themselves.

Isaiah and Layla stood united. Emboldened by Chronos's magic on more than a superficial level. At this instant the first god appeared on Jikan, Layla's magic being restored just in the nick of time. They had no doubt the other five follows would follow shortly. However, this lone god decided to waste no time before executing his first attack. Manifesting their powers into the physical form, the god constructed a laser of light containing unimaginable powers within.

"Isaiah, do you feel it?" Layla's words were curious, even though she could already predict his answer.

Isaiah glanced at Layla, "The feeling from Ælenium..." the weight in his eyes was more of an admission that any words. This was the last sensation they felt on Ælenium, a feeling she felt on her homewords in the last seconds before it was destroyed. They both raced outside the council room to the balcony adjoined to it. Located at the top of the castle the elves occupied, once created by the Chronethians to be the centre of their authority and council.

Stepping outside what they saw shook them to their core. A fury of light had manifested itself in the sky above; it was as if death had manifested itself into the physical. Layla knew she could not delay; harnessing her Imperial magic, she prepared to use it for the first time in her lifetime. She was ready to launch her counterattack. Digging deep into her mind she accessed magic unseen for aeons, magic she did not know she possessed until this instant. She constructed her own beam of pure energy, sending it shooting directly upwards in the sky, ready to collide with the god's attack.

Suddenly, the two attacks clashed above. Sending an array of colours of cascading across the sky in every direction, covering the horizon in a rainbow of colours, many never seen before in the mortal realm. These two beams of energy clashed in a single spot, a singularity, where all the colours originated as a byproduct. They were stuck in a perfect balance, each aggression unable to gain any noticeable advantage over the other. Manifesting their frustration the god decided to take a unique approach, instead intensifying the fury of their attack, which they knew Layla could easily counter, they began to construct more beams of light. Duplicating their beam of light uncountably many times, filling the entire sky with an ocean of light. Beams of every imaginable variety present: Indigo, marron, lilac, crystal red, all racing towards Layla with an agenda of death. Her mind struggling to comprehend the spectacle which was unfolding in front of her, stuck in a trance. Entirely absorbed by the beautiful scene of thousands of strands of light dancing in the sky, the most poetic moment which also sought her demise.

Realising she must act instantly or be overwhelmed, Layla searched deeper into the Talisman than ever before, desperately seeking unknown knowledge. Information Chronos had hidden inside it in preparation for this day. She found in. Using Chronos's wisdom she delicately crafted thousands of beams of light, sending them racing into the sky, ready to intercept the gods attack. Unlike the gods own energy which was constructed with malice, Layla's own energy had been constructed with only survival in mind, ready to protect the one she loved at all costs. The following spectacle that unfolded in the sky impossible to describe with any mortal words. The sun's light was blocked out by the ferociously of the energy in the sky, incessantly darting across the horizon. These beams interweaved amongst each other as they clashed in the sky, each attempting to gain favour for their author in this conflict.

Layla knew she was in the limit of her potential, when suddenly, another barrage of light shot racing towards her. The incessant waves of energy sent by the god seemingly endless, testing her mind to its uttermost limit. Her struggle had not gone unnoticed by Isaiah, years of their inseparable company meant he could see something was not right instantly. This spot came as almost second nature to him as he had dealt with her turbulent emotional complexion nature over the years. Isaiah knew without his help she would falter; just as her ancestors minds had been let to insanity, here the exact same process was happening to her - the power of Imperial magic enhanced by the Stone of Time was corrupting her mind.

Isaiah locked himself in embrace with her, hoping he could find a way to split the weight on her mind. There they stood united, the last carriers of Imperial and Chronethian magic together, ready to vanquish the gods. United together, The Stone Of Time amplified their abilities, drawing its strength from their connection, the Talisman now channelled more power then it ever had before. Isaiah and Layla began launching wave after wave of energy at gods, their energy represented as beams of light quickly encroaching on the ground previously gained by the god.

Each beam represented a single feeling, emotion or moment between them, all racing towards the god independently. But also inexplicably interconnected, through the web that was their love.

Previously, the stone had only been activated by simple accidents, at moments when Layla's emotions were in their most heightened, and uncontrolled, state. This instance was not one of them.

Now equipped with the full abilities of her Imperial magic, she was fully aware of her connection with the Talisman. It was more extreme and intricate than she had expected. She also noticed subtleties about the Talisman which had been obscured until this point. Chronos had attached a failsafe into the Talisman, a preventative measure to prevent the Gods from ever accessing its power. It could only be activated through emotions, its power proportional to the feelings of the bearer, a trait the gods could not synthesise or replicate. Her connection with Isaiah was stronger than ever could have predict, with the Talisman drawing its power directly from this connection. Channelling this power the lightshow in the sky began to turn in their favour, their powers proving able to rival a single god.

Isaiah's mother, Chronos, had acted consumed by her hatred against the gods, for their destruction of freewill and the true time travelling powers of the Chronethians. This was not the case for Isaiah, he simply wished to live in a world untouchable by the gods. Isaiah and Layla had already lost their homeworld, Ælenium, along with all the friends they had ever known to the gods. They knew they could never live in peace again until they were certain the gods would not return. Isaiah and Layla's fight against the gods stemmed from their desire for survival, their wish to live a life with each other in peace.

Suddenly, everything changed. The single figure looming above them in the sky became six. The remaining five gods had joined the assault on Jikan in their physical form. Together the gods' power was exponentially stronger, they were united high up in the sky, ready to launch their final assault against Isaiah and Layla, ready to final reclaim The Stone Of Time. Realising the supreme powers they faced would not idle in their decision to attack, Isaiah and Layla immediately began preparing their strength.

Isaiah and Layla began drawing on memories from their past, reliving the life they had experienced together: The butterflies Layla felt the first day they met, when his boyish black locks of hair curled across in face; the ecstatic nervousness felt during their first conversation; the perfect poetic moment of their first kiss. Manifesting this connection between them into energy using the Talisman, they prepared their offensive. An unbroken barrage of light charging upwards, vibrant beams of pure light racing into the sky in their entirety: gold, silver, and cyan light spiralling above the horizon, ready to challenge the gods.

Both of them knew this attack would prove insufficient, the beams of light were too sparse, too disjoint. Both of them knew they had to dig deeper, revisit memories they wished could stay untouched. They relived their darkest moments together: From when Layla's arranged marriage with a stranger was first announced; To the destruction of their homeworld Ælenium, along with the death of both her father and brother. The more they reminisced they deeper their remorse and anger became. The pair both mourned the loss of Layla's father Otho and brother Merlin who they were both incredibly close to, any memory of them causing the pair immense distress. The thought of Layla being forced into the arms of a Olfuson husband filled every fibre of Isaiah's body with pure rage. Partly because she would be stripped away from his life, the life they had always dreamed of together being reduced to fiction, but also for her personal loss, the inability to pursue any of the dreams she cherished so much.

This anger was clearly reflected by the beams of pure energy which emitted from the pair racing into the sky. Their intensity had increased and the palette of light had diversified, shifting to have threads of black, magenta and red. Flowing freely, these beams raced outwards with relentless momentum, seeking the gods. Interwinding and integrating themselves into the existing beams of energy in the sky; black, magenta and red now darted amongst the gold, silver, and cyan beams of energy, as one.

The beams of light began to create an unbreakable mesh in the sky, an unstoppable fabric of light beams, racing upwards united ready to face the gods. As Isaiah and Layla's offensive collided with the gods it did not dissipate or even hesitate, instead it was continuing upwards unphased and undeterred. Heading straight for the gods themselves. As the physical manifestation of the connection between Isaiah and Layla this fabric was near unbreachable, its potential was limitless, as strong as their love. The gods knew fear for perhaps the first time in their indefinite existence. They knew they were helpless if this attack did not falter, the controlled use of Imperial magic harnessing the stone eclipsed their own. Racing towards them were transcendental powers the gods had never anticipated to see in the mortal realm, their presence a byproduct of the unintended consequences the stone of time's escape into this reality.

Suddenly, Layla's mind was consumed by shock. The repercussions of harnessing Imperial magic had begun to take effect, irreparable damage already starting to be caused. Her mind was cascading towards insanity. Even after only minutes of use, one could only wonder of the corruption a lifetime of use had inflicted on her ancestors. This distress was clearly apparent to Isaiah, he knew if they continued the current intensity of their offensive Layla would be driven mad, the one he loved would be lost to him, an incomprehensible thought

Slowly during Layla's moments of weakness, the gods had begun to reclaim much of the ground previous gained by Isaiah and Layla. Isaiah knew Layla was unprepared to launch another attack against the gods, she would be unable to regain her usual mental composure before the gods were upon them. Even if Layla managed to draw the powers necessary to defeat the gods what cost would it be at? She would be pushed past the point of sanity for all eternity, forever lost.

Isaiah hastily ripped the Talisman off Layla's neck, gripping it tightly in his hand he hoped to address Chronos directly.

"Mother! Look at Layla! Look at the damage this power had caused!" He bellowed aggressively,

"I will let the gods reclaim the stone before I see the one I love driven to insanity!" Isaiah was completely sincere with his words, even with Chronos' supernatural powers no element of doubt. The Talisman in his hand began to rattle, vibrating violently before breaking free, unwilling to hesitate it flew into the air with great velocity. Chronos must have heard Isaiah's words, whatever she intended to do now was beyond Isaiah's control.

The Talisman contained The Stone of Time where a pendant would normally sit. Even without Layla's powers the Talisman was an object which eclipsed the powers of any mortal. The Talisman began its journey upwards, charging vertically upwards, straight towards to the gods. As it collided with the furious beams of energy spiralling every direction over the horizon it did what none could expect. The Talisman channelled the energy in the sky inwards, redirecting it towards the stone, in an attempt to destroy it. The gods instant sensed this attempt, unwilling to allow the stone of time, their most powerful creation, to be destroyed, they sought the demise of whoever orchestrated this attempt at its destruction.

United, the gods focused their combined might directly at the Talisman. Unaware that the Talisman was dictated by Chronos's spirit with its own motive... This time was different to the previous instant in the gods council chamber, in which the stone of time was forced to relocate to a different reality. Now it had the Talisman infused with Chronos' knowledge controlling and stabilising it. It forced the full wrath of the gods inwards on the stone, this collection of transcendental power simply too much for the stone to handle. This clash of supreme forces sent shockwaves resonating throughout every reality.

Suddenly, the translucent edges encasing the stone of time disintegrated. The immaterial substance inside began flooding out. A transcendental plasma which even the gods could not full comprehend, it only had one name, quintessence. Without its previous confinements, this quintessence spread out in every direction, filling every corner of the universe in a single instant. Unwilling, and unaccustomed, to be restrained within a single universe this quintessence phased into its own Aether; a dimension parallel to the current reality, but also interconnected with every other reality. Present everywhere in existence at once, impossible for any to ever extract or united its power to harness again, the threat of its use against the gods no more. Created directly by the gods this quintessence possessed qualities impossible to quantify, it was able to directly interact with the universe, in a way none, even the gods, could predict. The predetermined which had chained the living races to a fixed timeline was no more. Authentic free will would be bestowed upon everyone in its presence, all within every reality

Left without a way to collect this substance spread across an infinite distance, to prevent it from interfering with reality, they were forced to concede to the outcome that had been thrust upon them. Transcendental beings as they were, they did not possess the same individual emotions that humans did, vengeance was simply not a part of their vocabulary. Unable to consider revenge, they would not seek retribution again Layla and Isaiah. Now with the stone gone they were left without any power in the universe to challenge their supreme rule, the gods went back to their previous state of observing reality. Sitting outside of time and space, positioned outside of existence itself.

Unlike before, the gods were no longer able to observe the future. Now only maintaining the ability to observe the present and past. The quintessence substance had broken the predeterminism which usual existence. A unique property the stone of time possessed which had been maintained during the process of it dispersing into the universe. The gods began to observe this new norm, slowly growing to like it.

Their original goal of creating a transcendental form of art - humanity, now seemed more successful than ever. In this new unfix reality none could anticipate the great heights could reach, even, and especially, the gods.

This entire saga had began at the moments of the stones inception, all by an accident, the gods entire understanding of existence had been reformed. Over time they began to consider this lifestyle superior, only regretting reality had not been enlightened with free will earlier. Even though their immortality had been stripped away from them, with the realities they laboured to create now having a finite end date, they were no longer required to endure a mundane existence for all of eternity. They began to see this new state of humanity as a supreme form of transcendental art, equipped with the free will they truly observed. Every moment had become original, unique and unpredictable - a state in which the art the gods craved could now thrive.




[d]what signal?

[e]it was their city?? How did they grow to hate it?

[f]masters last command limits magic

[g]elves enslaved