“Presumably, this timeline’s Lady Vashj’s failure to reach Illidan will lead to heavy repercussions when this timeline reaches our upcoming future. Lady Vashj still being present underneath the ocean will heavily influence the timeline. Although so far, the timeline seems nearly identical to ours, barring that one simple fact, it will have to diverge rather significantly when Nazjatar fails to rise from the sea floor…”
Rise? Or raise? Tarakan’s pen hung above the paper as he started thinking about this. Common wasn’t his first language. No, it had to be “rise” here.
His thought was interrupted when he heard someone entering his office. It was Anachronos, in his humanoid form, looking expectant. Tarakan put the pen away and straightened himself to talk.
“Lord Anachronos,” he opened with a slight bow.
“Greetings, Tarakan,” Anachronos responded, coming closer. “So I heard there was this re-weaving project you were spearheading. To help us deal with the damage caused by temporal refugees in the Prime timeline.”
Tarakan continued to sit there, without the slightest change in his mannerisms. “We already talked about this. You were supposed to begin exper-”
“Stop!” Anachronos said, suddenly raising his hand. “I haven’t talked about this. The version of me you talked to must have been from my future. I’ll wait until then.”
Tarakan just nodded, sighing impatiently. “I’ve been waiting for your future self’s response regarding that for months now.”
“You realize this is just because of a time differential. I don’t doubt my future self went with the results to you fairly quickly.”
“Yes, yes,” Tarakan said, waving his hand dismissively, “I know. Still doesn’t make the wait any less frustrating.”
Anachronos quickly turned around and went towards the doorway. “I better get going, before I cause any more temporal accidents.”
He left, but it felt like he disappeared right behind the door. He could have actually disappeared, so Tarakan didn’t pay much attention to it and continued his work. Squawk, so is it rise or raise? But then, he heard a noise in the corner. He quickly turned his beak to the source, but didn’t see anything there. Then it happened again, from another corner, and this time it sounded like a cackle of a shrunken goblin. What is happening? Tarakan rose from his seat and looked around carefully, but he still wasn’t seeing anything. He decided he’d check his Vision of Time for temporal disturbances and to his surprise, it was turned off. With all due haste, he snapped its parts around to turn it on, only to see it flashing bright red, as if he was in the epicenter of the temporal equivalent of an earthquake. That was troubling.
Tarakan quickly left his room, but stopped right outside. As he passed the threshold, almost the entire scenery changed in the blink of an eye. Anachronos was still there, just outside the door, talking to a blood elf. Tarakan approached him and patted him on the shoulder.
“Lord Anachronos, something strange just happened,” Tarakan said.
The dragon just looked at him surprised. “And who are you?”
In one of the rooms of the Caverns of Time, Agam was standing in her quarters, with a book lying on a drawer in front of her. She was pointing her hand at the book, concentrating. With a flash, the book’s cover changed color. Weaving was such a strange magic. So powerful, so natural and yet so alien at the same time. Learning even the basics of it required a complete change of mindset. No object was what it seemed to be anymore. Every book’s cover had all possible colors, including a complete lack of a cover. Every cat was alive and dead at the same time. Most mortal minds don’t perceive it to try to cope with the infinite scope of the universe and realization of every possibility being real somewhere was just too much for most to comprehend. But Agam was proud to know she was not one of those people. She was chosen exactly because of her potential to understand the true scope of their work without going mad. And even though she was able to, it still wasn’t easy. That book was green just a moment ago. No. It still was green, but it was yellow as well. She just perceived another variant of it now.
Her study and exercise was interrupted by a strange cackle nearby. She turned around quickly, wondering what could be making it. Back on her native world, she met a small, cackling lizard called a babaca. They would cackle if you stepped to close to what they considered their territory. But as far as she knew, they went extinct after their habitats were chopped down by the Illidari for a military base. Or… did they survive in one timeline? Did she, in one possible timeline, somehow take one with her as a pet to Azeroth and it manifested here? No, the cackle kept moving whenever she looked towards it. Babacas did not move that fast. Something was inside Caverns of Time and she thought it was better to report it now. Better to be cautious than sorry.
But when she left her chambers and looked at the central room of the Caverns, she saw something strange. There was very few dragons left, and the giant, central hourglass was in a state of heavy disrepair. Has she moved in time? But no, it wasn’t supposed to happen within the Caverns themselves. The core was always your native time, she should not be seeing its future. Concerned, she quickly descended the ramps and looked for someone familiar. There it was – an arakkoa standing before some kind of console. It must have been Tarakan.
She approached that arakkoa, and spoke up. “Tarakan, good to see you. What’s happening? Why does the hourglass look like this?”
“What do you mean?” the arakkoa said, turning around. “It has been like this since… Agam?” Tarakan looked at her, but he looked much older. He always looked old, but this time he looked over a 100 years old.
“It’s been like this since when?”
Tarakan couldn’t take his eyes off her. “You look so…” He stopped for a moment. He didn’t want to say things he shouldn’t. “…young.”
“What were you trying to say?” She responded.
“Never mind. How are you here?” the bird said, just waving his hand dismissively.
“You better tell me why does this place look like fifty years have passed.”
Tarakan scratched his face briefly, thinking of the best way to say it. “Because they did. It’s been about fifty years since you… since we’ve last seen you.”
Meanwhile, Tarakan – our Tarakan – was being drilled by three angry dragons staring at him. Anachronos, Kairozdormu and Morozdormu were all looking at him suspiciously. Kairoz’s presence was especially disconcerting. Things like these were not supposed to happen in the Caverns of Time. They were deliberately designed to avoid this. You do not want to stare into the eyes of someone you know will betray your cause.
“Tell me,” Moros said, “Why would we need ‘Timewalkers’ to serve us?”
“It’s a future development, you know I can’t tell you that.” Tarakan tried to dismiss them.
“It’s a ridiculous future development,” Kairoz responded, “We have a nearly god-like power over time. Mortals have no capacity to understand even the most basic tenets of our work.”
“That’s what you thought once, yes,” Tarakan said, “But it’s not true. In fact, Moros should be right now testing the minds of certain individuals who proved time sensitive.”
“That is a complete bogus,” Moros scoffed. “Not the testing part, I am doing that. The whole idea that you would be in the past of the Caverns of Time. It’s impossible. This chamber is time-locked. The time streams of everyone within it always pass in a linear fashion.”
“That’s why something must have went wrong. I need to find what it is. I bet Llore’s bible has something that would help.”
“Whose?” Anachronos scowled at the strange name.
Kairoz responded. “It’s allegedly a nickname used by one of these Timewalkers. I checked his real name, he’s some kind of a harvest wizard from Gilneas. Not particularly important nor meant for great things. He spends his life healing foolhardy adventurers and getting blamed for deaths he didn’t cause.”
“Ugh,” Tarakan gruntled, covering his face with his palm. “You idiot, he’s one of the most time-sensitive mortals to ever walk Azeroth. In the span of a few months of his personal timeline, he collected a number of disparate time-keeping books into one lore bible that he can use to check almost any timeline’s detailed information.”
“That many timelines,” Moros said, skeptically, “in one book?”
“It’s bigger on the inside,” Tarakan responded nonchalantly.
“Enough!” Anachronos yelled. “You are insulting bronze dragons within the Caverns of Time. Why should we listen to anything you say?”
“Because I’m saying things no mortals should know.” Tarakan looked between their shoulders and spotted someone. “And because that man behind you…” Anachronos and Kairoz turned around. “has already become the Epoch-Hunter by this point in your timeline. He should not be here.” Even Moros turned around on these worlds and opened his eyes wide with surprise.
“Och crap!” he yelled out with a dwarven accent. “The bird is right. Something strange is happening.”
“But how do we find this Llore and his bible,” Kairoz responded, “if he’s not working for us yet?”
“The same way I’m here.” Tarakan responded. “He might be here somewhere. Or have been, at some point.”
Agam and Future Tarakan were walking down a corridor near the central chamber. Everything looked… faded. There was definitely less sand and the rock was slowly eroding. No drakonids patrolled the paths. Few dragons flew above them. Fifty years? It looked more like five hundred years.
“What happened here?” Agam asked, looking around.
Tarakan raised an eyebrow. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
“I mean, even in general? Come on, I have to know something.”
“Well,” Tarakan said before taking a short break. He leaned on his walking stick, and took the breathing stop to think what he can tell her. “You know already dragons are a dying breed. That’s the main reason they started teaching mortals, such as you or me, to police the timeways. They lost their great powers. They even became infertile. And this is the result. Many dragons have perished, some in the battles with the expanding Infinite Chaos. Some simply died.”
“Infinite Chaos?” Agam was sure she never heard that term before.
“We didn’t use that name in your time yet, but we knew of the risk… I’m sorry, I already said too much.”
“Come on!” the girl shouted, throwing her hands up. “I remember Moros lecturing me how future is not set in stone. How there are many possible futures and they cannot truly affect our present. From my point of view, this hasn’t happened yet. This is just a potential. Even if I somehow prevent it from happening, it will not have been the one, true way yet.”
Tarakan was visibly reluctant, but after a short silence he decided to finally tell her more. “The Infinite Chaos is the name we gave to the concept of several collapsed timelines… merging. Usually, most of the timelines the Infinites managed to collapse were far between. But soon after your time… two timelines next to one another collapsed. That meant the gap of temporal chaos became wider. And it collapsed upon itself and began devouring timelines next to it.”
Agam was nodding, realizing the severity of the situation. “So the Infinites no longer had to collapse the timelines by delicate manipulation… The chaos expanded on its own.”
Tarakan nodded. “It devoured many timelines… including your own.”
“So I… no longer exist.”
“That’s why I was so surprised!” Tarakan exclaimed, and immediately grabbed his throat. “You shouldn’t be here,” he continued with a much more hoarse voice. “Once timelines collapse, it’s like they have never existed at all. Everything they produced, ceases to be. It should be impossible for someone to come back from ‘the time where that timeline was still intact’. When a timeline is erased, it’s erased completely. Its past, its present, its future…”
“Then how can I be here?” She said, perplexed.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “This is something even Nozdormu would not understand, if he was still around.”
Suddenly, they heard a faint cackle.
“What was that?” Future Tarakan said, looking after it.
“I don’t know, but I heard it just before this started… and I have a strange feeling it’s not a coincidence.”
Present Tarakan was walking around one of the side chambers, looking in every quarter, looking for personal items that would prove Llore’s presence here. So far all four of them were drawing a blank. Tarakan entered one of the rooms and just sat down, trying to rest. Anachronos and Moros entered the room, looking at the furniture.
“Did you find anything?” Anachronos asked.
“No,” Tarakan said. “I’m just… What if we don’t have to find him?”
Moros spoke up. “You said it yourself, he has that one book.”
“But it wasn’t made in void,” Tarakan replied. “It must have been made on the basis of some pre-existing sources. Llore himself was just a worgen…”
“A worgen?” said surprised Kairoz, entering the room. “Like one of those monsters?”
“Not that kind of worgen. What I mean is, he wasn’t a dragon. He wouldn’t have the power to gather this kind of knowledge on his own. You have to have the books he used to compile his own. The information we need is probably inside of these older books.”
Anachronos shook his head. “These books are too often mutually contradictory. Sometimes even locations shift between them.”
“Still,” Tarakan said, “It’s better than nothing.”
“I agree,” Moros responded, “The cause must be universal enough to be contained within.” Everyone else nodded and the group gathered and left the room.
But suddenly, just outside, Kairoz squinted and looked at a shadowed corner of the corridor. “Wait, there’s something there.”
“What is it?” said Morozdormu, approaching him. He looked into the same place, but couldn’t see anything. “You see something?”
“Barely…” Kairoz responded. “It’s like… it’s not fully there. Like it was in a coterminous plane.”
“But what is it?” Tarakan inquired.
Kairoz clutched his head in pain. “I don’t know. Just looking at it makes my head hurt. It’s like… some kind of goblin?”
“Goblin?” Anachronos said. “No goblin has that kind of power.”
“It might just look like one,” Moros explained.
“Or that’s the tip of the iceberg we can perceive from our dimension,” Tarakan said, pulling his crossbow. “It’s right there?” he said, pointing the weapon. Kairoz nodded in confirmation. The arakkoa loosed a bolt, but it landed in the wall without hitting anything.
“No,” Kairoz said, “Only magic can reach it.” The blood elven form reached out its hands and began channeling a spell. A loud screech echoed across the walls of the corridor. “I think I’ve got it,” he said and continued firing. “The screech continued to echo, as the dragon was straining himself more and more. Finally, his nose started bleeding and he dropped the spell, grabbing his nose. “This hurt,” he said. “Not as much as having Hellscream slash me with a piece of glass, but…”
The two remaining dragons looked at Kairoz with surprise. What did he just say?
Kairoz looked back equally surprised. “Wait a moment. This never happened. I’m not here.” He said with equal parts shock and fear. “I died. I became Infinite… and was then shattered again.” The three people looked at each other, trying to comprehend what was happening. When they looked back at Kairoz, he was gone. A moment of silence followed as even bronze dragons needed a moment to piece together this one.
Tarakan grabbed his head. “Oh no,” he exclaimed, “I know what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, Agam was talking to Future Tarakan, sitting in the same corridor Present Tarakan was.
Tarakan looked at her. “Maybe you’re not real.”
She opened her serpent eyes wide. “I beg your pardon?”
“Maybe you’re some kind of vision from my psyche,” he continued. “A remainder of my past… my un-past, trying to resurface. The Curse of Sethe has been slowly seeping onto my mind, even with the best Timewalker magic.”
“I assure you,” she said shaking her head. “I am quite real.” She looked away, just in time to see a barely visible form of a creature, dancing in the corner. “What is that?”
Future Tarakan turned towards it. The creature began to whimper and curl in its corner, as if it was being attacked. “I have no idea. What’s it doing?”
“Looks like it’s being attacked. But by whom?” Agam replied.
“Nothing on this plane or timeline. But we’re in Caverns of Time, there are no other planes intersecting them, or other timelines here.”
She frowned, thinking hard. Suddenly, a realization crossed her mind. “Oh, I’m real.” She looked back at Future Tarakan. “You’re the one who’s not real.”
“You’re not real,” Tarakan said to the dragons. “That’s why you can’t really affect the creature.”
“I feel quite real, boy!” Moros responded. Tarakan may be an old man, but to a dragon he’s still young.
“That’s because you were made from a torn-out piece of real Morozdormu’s timeline. You are an exact copy of him at this point in his personal timeline. When Kairoz fueled all that temporal energy into the creature…”
Anachronos interrupted. “…It bounced back, because the creature was outside his time stream. It bounced back and made him realize he wasn’t real. That realization made him disappear.” Nozdormu’s heir thought in silence for a moment more. “Wait… I’m not real?” And just like that, he disappeared.
Moros yelled out in shock. “What’s happening? Are we all going to disappear?”
Tarakan shrugged. “I don’t know everything about this. I don’t know how many of us are real. Maybe even I…” He stopped to consider this for a moment. Then, he looked at Moros. “I didn’t disappear. That means I must be real.”
“So what do we do?” Moros said, confused.
“We can’t do anything. I can’t affect it with mundane weapons. You can’t affect it because you’re from within this… bubble. We need someone to use magic from within the bubble.” Tarakan grabbed his head again. If he’s the only real here and he can’t use magic, is he doomed? Little did he know…
“This isn’t funny,” Future Tarakan said to Agam. “I am as real as you.”
“No, you’re not. I think I know what’s happening. I read about a creature a Watcher once encountered outside the timeways. Some sort of… gremlin, or a parasite. It existed outside of normal time and was capable of creating time-space bubbles containing small copies of a short span of time in a small space.”
“I’m not a Weaver,” Tarakan replied, “Slow down.”
“Okay. I don’t know how to explain this better. A team must have accidentally brought one of these time gremlins back to Caverns of Time. It saw all the temporal energy within and to feed on it, it enclosed me in a time bubble to feed on my potential futures, while I’d live out my years within the bubble.”
“How do you want to stop it?” Tarakan asked.
“Simple. I just need to fire the weaving spell I just learned to disturb the bubble it created and take it to normal time-space. Stupid creature. It chose the wrong time to take me out.”
Present Tarakan was looking at the wispy outline of the time gremlin in his own bubble. Suddenly, it started becoming more and more tangible.
“Look,” he said to the illusionary Moros, “Something is happening! Someone real is fighting it!”
Agam in her reality was channeling a spell straight into the gremlin. It was convulsing in a corner, trying to contain its field, but it felt all of its precious realities slipping out. Future Tarakan turned into some kind of clawed monsters that began menacing Agam, apparently in some last ditch effort to maintain the illusion… which only burst it further.
Then, a flash.
Tarakan and Agam looked at each other. The Weaver raised her hand. “Are you… real?”
“Of course. Are you?” asked Tarakan, still confused.
Then, they heard a grunt. The real Moros, Llore and Anachronos were standing there, next to an unconscious gremlin. A drakonid was putting a glowing cage on top of it.
“Good job,” Moros said, “We thought we’d never get you out of there.” The drakonid carried the creature away.
“You saw everything?” Agam said.
“Yes,” Anachronos nodded. “We couldn’t do anything from here. Once it created its time bubble, it was immune to anything coming from the normal time-space.”
Moros continued. “We needed someone specifically within to burst it there. Luckily, Agam was not powerful enough yet to be detected as a danger, but powerful enough to disrupt its spell.”
“And then,” Llore interrupted, “when the creature became tangible here, we simply knocked it out. That disrupted the bubble for good.”
“Well,” Tarakan said, putting his crossbow away and walking off, “I’m glad this is over. I have paperwork to finish.”
The dragons prepared to leave too, but Agam grabbed Moros’s shoulder. Both he and Anachronos remained. “Wait,” she said, “The realities we experienced… were they in any way real?”
“In a way,” Anachronos replied, “They started as copies of a still moment taken somewhere from our timeline. You probably thought you were thousands of years in the past.”
“Quite to the contrary,” Agam said. “I experienced a future. Some kind of a future. Is the future I saw in any way… certain?”
Moros looked worried. “That’s strange. We never heard of these gremlins ever taking someone to experience the future. It might have taken a piece of the future we are currently on the course for.”
“If that is so,” the Weaver responded. “Then you need to know something.”
“No, no!” Anachronos waved his hands. “Do not tell us the future!”
“That future is one you might want to hear about.”