Gods of Time by Luke Beling


Drea tip-toed onto the overlook. The clouds moved like ghosts. She stared at the violent water of Dragon River.

"Two days in a row. Up before me. Looking into that river again." Abir placed his hand on his daughter's shoulder and smiled.

"It's pulling me stronger. Sometimes when I look long enough, I think I can see her." Drea wriggled up into her father's grip.

Abir walked to the edge, surveying the world below as though wishing to find color, the dark green limbs or a yellow-billed chough. "I miss her too. But now you have the privilege of carrying her mantle."

Drea's bony shivering arms wrapped around her knees. "Like I needed the reminder. What happens if I end up like her?"

Abir bent to meet her eyes. "You're a time traveler, Drea, keeper of the golden coin. Your mother knew that sacrifice. For the good of our people."

Drea rose and ambled back into the hollow of the cave. She stopped and gazed coldly at her father. "You've never cared what happened to her. Or what happens to me. Just so long as there's some fool fighting the hands of time. Perhaps the Larkins are right."

Abir's voice boomed. "Don't say that! Do you know how many times I've risked my life protecting the coin? Protecting our people's future?"

Drea turned her back on her father and sunk into her animal-skinned bed of warmth. She picked up the family scroll and held it in her fingers. She wanted to rip it into pieces as she reread it for the thousandth time.

*

In the village of Omid, thousands of feet below, townspeople burnt incense. They pointed their prayers towards the Cave of Unknowing. "Drea Alepha, your time has come. Consider us your people," a woman on her knees shouted, a chorus of cheering following her petition.

"Save us from the great fire that burned our fields!" another voice screamed.

Another, "Tell us what comes next! Bring us the fortune of tomorrow!"

Nobody in the village had raised a hand to till the ground or fill the water troughs for weeks. Animals showed bones tight against their skin, and babes drank only once a day at their mothers' breasts.

Annabelle Larkin climbed to the top of a tree next to a fountain, then turned to the crowd. "A day is coming when time will no longer be the god in your minds!" The townspeople hurled insults and began shaking the trunk of the tree. Annabelle leapt from the branch and disappeared into the mob of angry faces.

*

Up in the clouds, Drea breathed a great weight of air.

Abir's feet made a heavy sound upon the rock surface. He stood, a giant of a man, watching his daughter rest.

"I know you're there, Father."

Abir looked at Drea with fondness." There isn't a minute I don't think about your mother. And while I'll never know what happened to her, I trust her final words."

Abir brushed strands of Drea's hair behind her ear. "Now, my child, you must find your own path."

"What happens if I don't? If I refuse?"

Abir moved his hand to Drea's shoulder. "When the time comes, you'll know what to do."

Visions of a woman consumed Drea's mind that night. She'd never seen Nadetta. But now half-awake, Drea allowed herself to drift into the world of unknowing. This must be her, she thought. The woman in her dreams had Drea's dark green eyes, beautiful olive skin, and soft, subtle cheekbones.

"Is it you, Mother?" Drea whispered. Drea heard nothing but felt a warmth in her stomach until the morning.

When Abir presented the golden coin at dawn, the dim flames of the woman had grown into a raging fire. "I saw her, Father!"

Abir held the coin on the tray of his palms, set it on the ground, and stared into its shimmering form. "Perhaps this is the beginning."

Drea jumped into Abir's arms. Her tears wet his skin. "Please, Father. I don't want to leave. Tell the townspeople the coin lost its power."

Abir lifted Drea off his neck and stared into her gaunt face. A single tear welled up in one of his eyes. "This is your destiny."

The sunlight burst into the Cave of Unknowing, lighting the rock walls with incandescent beauty. The coin looked dull as Drea placed it in her palm.

"Goodbye." Abir kissed her forehead.

Drea closed her eyes, clasping the coin. The face of the woman grew more detailed. Drea could see a string of brown freckles dotting the woman's cheeks. They looked like trailing stars in the night. The woman's skin became softer. Drea felt that she could reach out and touch her. Then, opening her eyes, Drea realized she wasn't in the same cave anymore.

"Drea," Nadetta said.

"Mother. Is it really you?"

Nadetta ran her palm up and down Drea's cheek. "Look at you. You're more beautiful than I could have ever imagined."

Nadetta moved backwards on the bed. "The coin brought you here."

Drea felt her mother's warmth. "Yes. It was the coin. How old are you?"

The cover of bearskin slid below Nadetta's waist to reveal her swollen stomach.

"You're pregnant!" Drea's voice echoed through the cave.

"With you."

Squinting, Drea squeezed the top of her forehead.

"I know. It's all very confusing. Such is the nature of time travel."

"Perhaps the coin has brought me here to save you!" Drea's face glistened. But Nadetta quickly looked away and began rubbing her stomach.

"No. That's not why you're here."

"How can you be sure?"

Nadetta spoke with a cracked voice. "Because I die giving birth to you."

Drea gazed at Nadetta's stomach. "I don't understand."

"You died in my womb. The healer told your father that you and I would both die if I gave birth to you. But years later, I found out that one of us would have always survived. I was only seventeen when I became pregnant with you. The healer lied to me so that I'd be able to time-travel for our people on my eighteen birthday."

Face pale and forlorn, Drea turned from Nadetta.

Nadetta raised her voice. "I couldn't live with myself. For thirty years, I waited day and night to travel back, to save you."

Tears streamed down Drea's cheeks. "But how did the coin allow it? How did it bring you back?"

"I don't know. It wanted me to save you. Just like it wanted you here."

"I have no idea why I'm here." Drea's face sharpened. She wiped her tears. "All I've ever wanted was to live in the present. I always believed that would've saved you. But now I see I was wrong."

Nadetta reached her hand and placed it on Drea's knee. "What's most important is that you are here now. For a purpose. Apart from your longing for me, what weighs heavy on your heart? The coin has been speaking to you."

Before Drea could speak, a young Abir entered the cave. "Nadetta, I must go! The Larkins! They've found the location of the coin! They intend to destroy it!" His face narrowed with confusion as he looked at Drea, but then he quickly hurried to Nadetta, put his hand in hers, and kissed her, whispering something in her ear.

Abir fled the cave before Drea could say a word to him.

"He was handsome before he lost all his hair." Drea smiled, watching her father flee the cave until he disappeared.

"And smart too." Nadetta held the bright golden coin between her fingers.

"How do they intend to destroy it?"

Nadetta looked surprised. "He never told you?"

"No."

"The Dragon River. The properties in the water will cause the coin to crumble."

Drea walked to the overlook, watched the river she loved, then returned to her mother. "Do you trust me, Mother?"

"Of course."

Drea stood tall. Her voice carried a serious tone. Her eyebrows lifting into her forehead made ruts on her skin. "I know why I'm here." Drea placed her hand on her mother's head. "Give me the golden coin."

Nadetta gave her the coin. "What do you plan on doing with it?"

Turning to the little light that slipped into the cave, Drea spoke with her back turned to Nadetta. "Our entire existence revolves around this coin. We give up today for the promise of what the future might bring. We let our present moments drift by in favor of correcting our mistakes and fixing the past. But what have we truly gained by this toiling with time? We are nothing if we cannot find peace in the present."

Drea placed the golden coin in her pocket and stared into Nadetta’s kind eyes. “Goodbye, mother.” She embraced Nadetta and kissed her. "I will never forget you and the gift of life you've given me.

"But where are you going, Drea?"

"To Dragon River.”

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