After accidentally taking a whole night’s rest, we set out into the town in the morning, starting by the foot of the tower. The plaza we’re apparently in is bustling with activity. Swiping my eyes over our surrounding, I notice many non-human beings around amongst the crowds, which seems odd, considering the awful, supremacist approach of the royal family. Are they here clandestinely? Surprisingly, Pepper is the most disoriented of us both.
“So much has changed in three hundred years…” She mutters, looking around and hugging my plush effigy.
“I dunno, I stayed right where I was and I don’t feel like I know this place any better.” I reply dryly.
My friend giggles. “I think we both had enough time shenanigans for a lifetime.”
Walking further, we stumble upon a large notice board covered in posters and smaller, loose pieces of paper. I still don’t know how to read obviously, so I rely on Pepper to sleuth its purpose.
She leans forward in curiosity as she reads. “Oh, how interesting! Looks like this is a list of all the labor required around the town. Some tasks small, some big. I do not see any rewards listed...”
Another interrogation comes to my thoughts. “Why write it all down? Do they really think that many people can read?”
We approach the person that seems to be in charge.
“Oh, hey Pepper, hey Cherry! What will it be today?” the stranger greets, to our confusion.
We exchange a glance before hightailing it and retreating to the tower.
“That was weird, right?” I ask Pepper, while panting to regain my breath.
“By which infernal rules does time travel work!?” Pepper shouts, visibly frustrated. “Urgh. Did they mistake us for the us from this timeline? Are we at risk of encountering our doppelgangers?”
“I hadn’t even thought about it…” We sit down at the kitchen table. I look around and take note of the much more decorated and less rickety-looking cupboards the room is equipped with this time around. Instead of a bronze pot over a flame, there is a strange metal box with a small door on the front. I eye it curiously. “What’s this?”
Pepper shrugs. “No idea.”
A yawn and the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs makes me turn my head around. I see a certain carrot-topped knight wearing pajamas making her way towards Pepper. “Morning sweetheart,” Ashen says while planting a quick kiss on the witch’s cheek, prompting her to grow red as a tomato. “Yesterday’s experiment go okay?”
“sdfdsfsngfgdfd,” Pepper eloquently replies, squeezing my plushie so hard it threatens to make its head pop off.
Ashen self-satisfiedly giggles, before turning her head in my direction. “Hey Cherry, taking breakfast with us today?”
“Uh… Sure!” I say, faking a smile.
Ashen raises an eyebrow, but eventually heads for the metal box. “Were you girls waiting for me? You could’ve at least turned on the stove.” Opening the trap door on the front, she snaps her fingers and produces magical fire, which she then sets inside the box’s chamber before closing the door. She goes to sit next to Pepper who still hasn’t recovered.
I awkwardly tap my fingers on the table, my gaze unable to focus anywhere.
Ashen finally breaks the silence. “Okay, what’s going on? You two have guilty written all over your faces. Did you make something explode?”
“Oh, where to start…” Pepper mutters, finally back from her trip to cloud nine. “I narrowly escaped a death sentence by travelling three hundred years to the past and completely changing the course of History?”
The knight blinks a few times in confusion, then explodes into roracious laughter. “You’ve taught me to expect chaos with you sweetheart, but that’s on another level altogether! Alright, what exactly did you change?”
Pepper glanced away. “I might have caused the creation of this entire town for one...”
Ashen frowned. “If that’s the case, oh gods I do not want to know what world you come from. Without this city the royal family still wouldn’t be toppled for one.”
Pepper gawked straight at Ashen.
A lengthy explanation later, everybody in the room was on about the same page. Turns out the kingdom had been replaced with free, independant communes connected by a wide web of trading routes.
In this timeline apparently, my family are travelling traders instead of farmers, but when my familiar powers manifested at twelve while we were crossing this town, we settled down for a few years as I needed to stay under the care of Pepper, who in this world is a savant in magic, as well as a well loved doctor around the town.
When I was old enough to not need the nearby presence of my family, my mom and sis took to the roads again with the promise to come pass by again every six months, which they have yet to break.
Pepper on her end, unlike our world where her gender had been changed by magical interference, she had held in her heart the desire to turn into a woman from the moment of her birth. That’s what had pushed her into magical studies, and why she met Ashen at the ancestral magical school of Oxward, known for its excellent courses on transmutation. They’d moved in this town just a year before meeting me.
And apparently, I’ve struck a deal with Pepper as her familiar, and she has been teaching me how to read for the past two years in exchange for a companionship that “truly understands how her mind works” (Ashen assured us she was quoting the terms of the pact Pepper came up with on that).
Meanwhile, Ashen got to hear of our tale of the old timeline, and we both got the abridged version of Pepper’s misadventure in the past.
She had indeed reverted into the warlock, but in a turn of fate, that only meant she no longer had her magically propped up empathy, but she had retained the lessons her time with me had taught her. She fumbled her words a lot at first, often having to rely on asking herself what she would’ve done and how she would’ve said it had she still been her 'better self'.
She befriended Amelia, my human ancestor, over teaching her to get over the permanent consequences that staying under the warlock’s curse for so long had given her (“You know, the ears, the tail, and, uh… something else,” Pepper had unsubtly said).
Along with the other time travelers they set to improving the town from a doomed hamlet to a technologically advanced, sprawling farming community.
Then, Pepper summoned my other ancestor, the familiar one, Devei. Their pact was a complicated mess of intentionally not finishing the deal so it could get lodged into my ancestral memory. And, of course, the element they had left open was turning her body female. That’s why, when I’d changed her eyes, her body changed as well and our connection closed off - that connection’s existence was thanks to the old pact. I would never have been able to penetrate her soul in the first place without the combination of both that open pact and my accidental transformation into pure magic.
Obviously, Amelia and Devei got together, or I wouldn’t exist as I do. From there, it was only a matter of Pepper collecting the ingredients she needed to open a new time portal, and she found herself into this new and improved present time.
“So in this other world, we’d barely met and weren’t together yet?” Ashen asks Pepper at the end of her explanations.
“Yes?” she replies. “I am surprised this is the element you are focusing on out of this whole story.”
Standing up suddenly, Ashen lifts Pepper out of her chair and brings her into a deep and long kiss. She smugly smiles as the witch melts into her embrace once more. “Consider that our new first kiss then, sweetheart.”
“Gfdngfgnfnd,” Pepper attempts to retort, twisting the plushie in a new shape again.
Ashen lets her sit back down, then goes to prepare breakfast, filling a pan with milk and putting it on top of the stove.
“Most importantly, the fact that here, my magical gender change came from natural causes instead of never happening, as would have been a more direct fix, tells me there is a conscious will behind the way time repairs itself after paradoxes.” Pepper looks up at the ceiling - no, beyond it, even. “I wonder which of the gods we owe this adventure to…”
My reply is much more pragmatic. “Well, I, myself, am glad it’s over. I’ll take not having to worry about the draft and not living in a rubbish cottage in nowhere-village, thanks. How’s the breakfast coming along, Ashen?”
“I think you girls will like what I’m cooking up,” Pepper’s spouse replies with a smile, adding a sweet smelling brown powder to the milk.
There was a room somewhere in the middle of a sprawling unknown. A plaque affixed on the door read “Bureau of the Mad God, God of Madness, Rehabilitator of Evil Souls, Guardian of Gender Crossers, His Friends May Call Him Mad King, He/Him”.
From this room came a booming laugh.
In front of a crystal ball sat two men. Tytan, god of familiars, was a hulking individual, with skin the color of magma and two large ram horns on his head. His stance wide and his arms crossed, he was the source of the ear shattering rumble.
Next to him, the Mad God, as was his name, looked worn and tired, his chair wobbling along with him.
Tytan’s laugh finally came to an end. He nudged his colleague on the shoulder. “Not so easy graduating from competently meddling mortal to god, is it?”
“I didn’t think she’d go for time travel…” The Mad God slurred out, his head almost touching the ground as the backrest of his chair bent like putty under his weight. “Why did it even cross her mind?”
“Yeah, when we gods mess up, the universe has a way of putting that idea in the mortals’ brains.” Tytan offered a wide smile. “Don’t worry, every deity creates a time paradox or two when starting out. I guess not even someone as clever as you could avoid it!”
“I… I don’t think I’m cut out for punishing evildoers. I’ll stick to helping those that start off in need of a new body in the first place.” On the plaque at the door, the words ‘Rehabilitator of Evil Souls’ crossed themselves out, before disappearing altogether. The rest of the letters shifted to make the newly opened space disappear. “Plus, I still need to help them adapt to the new timeline they created… Urgh, I’ll just… make them experience moments of their new past during their dreams over the next week or something.”
Tytan chuckled. “Not exactly subtle… Still, I can’t say the way you found to make things sort themselves out was half bad. You’re certainly talented when you’re not exhausted to the end of your wits. You’ll get the hang of it in no time, I’m sure.” He grabbed the ball, which slowly dimmed in his hand until it turned back into marble. He stood up. “Come on, let’s go show Alicinee. She loves hearing about the troubles of the new deities almost half as much as me.”
The Mad God rubbed his hands on his face. “Yeah, just… give me five seconds first. Go ahead, I’ll join back with you.”
“Sure! Take your time, Mad God.” Tytan started bouncing the ball in his hand. “You still did good today, newbie. Even if it wasn’t the smoothest of rides.” He opened the door, heading towards Alicinee’s cantina.
The Mad God let out the slightest of smiles, before sighing deeply and straightening himself up. He stretched, counted five seconds, then followed Tytan not too far behind.