Nikola studied the metal wall before him. Gray and smooth—it wasn't shiny, but it did mirror enough that he could see a spectral reflection looking back—nearly hidden as though it were in a heavy fog. His gaze drifted from his reflection and focused on the small numbers stamped on the metal. 1894. He had hammered each number into the metal using his stamp kit to mark the year of the experiment for history's sake. He had considered putting the month and maybe even the day, but decided to leave them off in case he had to postpone the event due to complications. If things went well, he might go back later and add them.
"You ready Nik?" A muffled voice came from outside the closet-sized chamber.
He opened his mouth, but no words formed. Nikola cleared his throat and tried again. "I'm good to go, Sam. Throw the switch."
He stroked his black mustache a couple of times for luck. A habit he often caught himself doing when he was nervous. The sound of metal making contact with metal told him the large circuit switch had been pushed into the up position. After a moment of silence a hum started. As it grew louder, electrical sparks ran up and down the walls like miniature lightning bolts jumping back and forth between the four walls of his small room. One of the sparks jumped from the metal to his arm. "Ouch!" Nikola grabbed his elbow.
"You okay in there?" Sam sounded worried.
"I'm alright. It's just—Ow!" He jumped as another bolt hit him. "Mensch, that smarts."
"Ow, ow, ow—" Several more streams of electricity popped his body.
"You want me to shut it down?" His friend asked almost as though it were a statement.
"No. Not—ow—yet. Let's give it a chance—ow—to work. I'll—ow—let you know if things become too painful. Ow!"
He heard an unhappy grunt from outside. Samuel was a good friend. He was also a writer, not a scientist. Nikola was concerned Sam might shut the experiment down to save his friend even if it were against his wishes. "I'm good, Sam!" He held in a cry of pain to avoid negating his words. "Honest—I'll let you know if there's a problem."
"Alrighty then. I'll make sure your tombstone says He said 'I'm good' when they ask me what to put on it!"
Nikola managed a grin despite the increasing pain.
The pain stopped even though the bolts of electricity continued to arch throughout the chamber. He realized they were traveling though him without making any contact. He smiled.
The chamber vanished. For just a moment he saw a blurred lab around him and then it vanished. The air swirled around him like a gentle breeze, though not enough to mess up his well-groomed, wavy black hair. Gravity released him for a moment and he floated several inches off the ground. Then it returned with the force of a fast moving stagecoach coming to a quick stop.
He lost his balance and fell to the ground. He was lying in a field of tall grass. He squinted to allow his eyes to adjust to the sun, flexed his arms and legs a bit to make sure nothing was injured and then stood. He was on top of a hill looking over a large meadow with trees lining the distant horizon. Exiting those woods was what appeared to be a small group of soldiers. He dropped to his knees to let the grass hide him. It didn't appear he had been noticed. The group—seven men—walked toward him, but not directly. He wasn't their destination. He was sure they would pass well to his left.
He held his flat hand above his eyes to block the sunlight and focused on the soldiers. Elves! His thoughts almost spoken before he stopped the sound from revealing himself. My God! They're elves! He repeated several times in his mind.
Something grabbed Nikola and dragged him several feet across the grass on his back. He sat up quickly and looked around. Nothing. He was pulled a second time, this time with more force and some pain.
He was pulled again. He watched in both fascination and horror as his clothing and all possessions on him became intangible, moved through him and fell to the ground. This time he was being pulled with such force it felt as though he were wrapped in chains and being pulled in multiple directions. The meadow and the soldiers were gone. The world again a blur.
His body slammed hard—nude—to the wooden floor of his lab. He struggled to breath. At least one rib must be broken. As he moved to get up his shoulder gave way to pain. It too was broken. He looked up to see Sam's stunned face.
Samuel Clemens stared at the strange device sitting before him. Jules Verne couldn't have imagined a more fascinating contraption. A large metal box covered in lights and switches—rounded, riveted corners—with bundles of cables and hoses running to massive generators with electricity jumping back and forth between tall metal rods above them. Inside the box—beyond the thick metal door with a large metal handle reminiscent of a ships steering wheel—was another metal box. Inside that inner chamber was the most brilliant idiot he'd ever know. Only a fool would risk his life this way in the name of science.
He watched in horror as his friend Nikola Tesla materialized magically several feet above the floor in front of him and slammed to the ground like a dead fish being tossed to a cutting board. He was certain Nik was inside his metal contraption just moments earlier. Several seconds passed before Samuel's mind registered that his friend was naked. Only when the body began to move did he find the strength to approach Nikola.
"Good God, boy—what the hell happened!" He pulled off his jacket, rushed to his friend and tossed the cover over Nikola's shoulders as he helped him to his feet.
"Ow!" Nikola fell as he tried to stand. "Perhaps I should sit a moment before I get up." He looked up at his friend smiling. "I'm going to need some help getting from the lab to the cart. I think I have a few broken bones."
"Why the hell are you smiling?" Sam helped Nik to a sitting position. "You could have gotten yourself killed!"
His smile grew. "It worked. I traveled to the past... I think."
His large grin diminished to barely a smile. "I swear," he looked Sam directly in the eyes, "I think I saw elves."
Liam stretched his arms nearly to their breaking point and locked a hand on each side of the large rock. With his feet strategically placed under him, he lifted. Despite the strength of his magically mutated body, he struggled to stand. With a second effort he managed to get the rock to an acceptable height, take a step to his right and drop the heavy thing onto the wagon.
A smile formed under the trunk that hung over his mouth, between the two large tusks that stretched forward—one on each side of his face. His bulky gray skinned left hand wiped the sweat from his face as his right hand brushed back the long red, orange and yellow hair that blew in the breeze looking almost like a fire burning on top of his head.
He looked across the area he had just finished clearing and his smile grew. The vegetables growing in the garden next to where he had been working were flowering and would soon produce fruit. The wheat that would grow in this new garden would feed the few animals he planned to get and make bread for him to enjoy through the winter. He wasn't a farmer—a warrior most of his life—but he was looking forward to being a farmer. His neighbors—all farmers—were a library of information and a treasure of help. With their support, he was well on his way to a successful farm.
The ground began to shake. He steadied himself—planting his large rounded feet firmly to the ground. His brow furrowed as he focused his attention on movement in the center of his vegetable garden. Liam staggered several steps backward as a massive light blue crystal pushed its way through the soil. When it finally stopped rising, the crystal—at least ten feet across—stood nearly twenty foot tall.
The large gnome—he still considered himself a gnome even though he stood nearly seven feet tall and was built more like a warhorse—pulled his cloth shirt off and tossed it to the ground in frustration. Nearly half his garden had just been destroyed before his eyes. Wearing only his laced cloth pants with his muscular gray chest glistening in the sunlight, he walked across the damaged rows of vegetables and gathered the plants that had been torn from the soil in hope he might save a few of them.
Nikola sat in his library chair and studied the schematics of the time chamber. He wasn't interested in the ink and paper copy in his lab. The newest design was still being perfected in his mind. He wouldn't commit the work to paper until every detail had been worked out.
Wood—probably cedar—would replace the metal walls that created the inner chamber. As an organic material, he hoped it would absorb the energy created by the machine instead of transferring it to the contents of the chamber (especially if he were the contents again).
Tests that followed his less than perfect trip to the past—if that is where he was (elves!)—had shown that everything but organic matter traveled back with no problems. Organic matter on the other hand always returned violently back to its proper time. Nikola was convinced that living things were more strongly tied to time than stone and metal. Even wood and cloth eventually returned when sent back, but much slower. And when the material was soaked in a chemical bath to better destroy the cells of the once living animal or plant, it would take much longer for it to return. In fact, some wooden trinkets were still unreturned several weeks after sending them. He had hopes they would stay gone.
He was beginning to believe time travel by people—other than very short jumps—might be impossible. Nature apparently didn't like it when things weren't where they were supposed to be. It quickly returned them where they belonged and did so with enough force to let you know not to try again.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud popping noise from outside his house. At first he thought it might be gunfire or fireworks, but quickly realized the sound was too rhythmic—coming from some form of machine.
He tenderly rose and made his way to look out the library's window. His arm and leg were no longer in casts and he was healing well, but he was still quite sore from the trauma of his journey through time. He shook his head when he saw the horseless carriage approaching the house. On one side was his friend Sam with his wild red and white-gray hair waving above his head and under his nose (his mustache nearly hiding his mouth), on the other—steering with the buggy's tiller—was Theresa—her reddish brown curls bouncing around her ears and neck, tamed only slightly by the leather strap of the goggles she wore. Theresa had a knack for collecting unusual things. This motorized cart was most likely her latest find. He limped to the front door to greet them.
He waited for Theresa to turn off the vehicle before speaking. "You have a new toy."
She smiled as she lowered the goggles from her face—letting them hang by their strap around her neck. "It's a 'Ladies Phaeton' I managed to wrangle from Frank Duryea in Massachusetts." She untied a leather satchel she had secured to the side of the car and went to greet Nikola. Sam followed her. "They'll replace the horse and carriage."
"Maybe." He studied the vehicle from the front porch. "But not before someone improves them a good bit." He waved to his writer friend. "Hi Sam."
Sam smiled and nodded. "Nik." He then turned to Theresa. "Our historian friend here has found something very interesting." He looked at Nikola. "I'm pretty sure you're going to want to see what the young lady has to show you."
She opened the pouch and pulled out a skull. "As you know, I dabble in archaeology." She presented it to Nikola and sat on one of the four wooden rocking chairs lining the front porch. "A friend found this while digging for fossils in Africa."
Nikola examined the skull. At first it looked human, but on a closer inspection, something seemed different. It was longer and narrower than a normal skull. The eye sockets appeared oddly shaped and slightly closer to each other than they should be. He was sure there was more that wasn't quite right about the skull, but with a cursory look that's all he noticed.
"There were several skeletons of different shapes and sizes in the buried chamber they found—no two alike and none quite human." She looked at Sam and back to Nikola. "I know this'll sound crazy, but he thinks they're gnomes and elves."
Nikola turned quickly to Sam. His mind raced with visions of the elves he had seen. "Elves."
"If that's not crazy enough for you, the art, tools and weapons that were unearthed there are reminiscent to items found about 2500 BC, but they estimate these date back to between 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. At least 60,000 years earlier than any real art or tools should exist—if they were human." She shook her head. "There's evidence of a civilization that predates Mesopotamia—what we thought was the first civilization to exist—by tens of thousands of years!"
Nikola watched Theresa. She had the glow of a child opening presents on Christmas morning. Her hands moved as though they were trying to tell the story her words couldn't. They stopped long enough to reach back into the leather satchel and remove several light blue crystals.
She handed the largest crystal to Nikola. "These were there, too."
He held the crystal. In the sunlight the thing almost seemed to glow. He cupped his hands around the crystal and held it close to his face. "It's glowing!"
"I know." She handed the remaining crystals to Nikola. "That's why I brought them here. I figured you were the closest thing to an expert I knew." She looked at Sam. "Sam seemed to think you'd be more interested in the bones."
He smiled. "I'm quite interested in both."
Liam walked carefully along the bank of the large lake that sat in the center of Froghaven—stepping over and between the small light blue crystals scattered across the sand and grass. He occasionally adjusted the leather straps holding the massive battle axe he had secured to his back to make carrying the burden a little easier. He didn't anticipate needing the weapon, but figured he'd rather be foolishly cautious than expectantly unarmed.
Before the large crystal destroyed his garden, this was the only place Liam knew the crystals existed. Larger ones like the one in his garden would be found at the foot of the mountain that overlooked the jungle-like woods. He hoped to find answers to why the crystals were no longer confined to Froghaven—and if the why presented a danger.
To his knowledge the crystals at the base of the mountain grew very slowly—taking years to rise even a few feet. There were many theories about what caused the crystals to be pushed up through the earth. The most accepted thought was they were somehow reacting to the magic that permeated all of Froghaven. As they absorbed the energies they expanded. But no one knew for sure. Liam was fairly certain it was very uncommon for the crystals to spring up through the ground the way the one did in his garden. If he were going to find answers, they were likely to be here.
He felt the ground trembling and heard a cracking sound from somewhere ahead. He quickened his pace to investigate. Passing through a tall row of shrubs he arrived in time to witness several large crystals rising and pushing against other crystals surrounding the mountain. As they met, the crystals were breaking. Crystal shards littered the ground around the larger crystals—fragments of the collisions.
* * *
Above Froghaven—near the edge of the cliff that overlooked its massive trees—Crissins examined several large crystals that had recently appeared around Sanctuary Point—the gnome fortress that rested at the top of the mountain. With her were Talla, the court historian, and Talla's daughter, Dhayli. This was Dhayli's first time accompanying her mother on official business. Talla felt the eight-year-old was ready for more than lectures and simple field trips. Plus, being near Sanctuary Point, the trip promised to be safer than most ventures outside of the kingdom.
"So these things are just springing up everywhere?" Talla asked as she watched over Crissins' shoulder. The wizard was crouched—studying the soil where the crystal broke through the ground.
"Quite fascinating, isn't it? In a scary sort of way, that is." She stood and turned to Talla. "There are twice as many of these huge things at the base of the mountain in Froghaven than there were just a month ago. And they're growing much faster than I've ever heard of them doing before." She swept her hand toward the distant valley below. "A few of these crystals have been found as far as twenty miles from Froghaven." She looked back at the crystal next to them. "And of course these are all around the fortress and the outer sanctuary. It's only a matter of time until they start tearing apart the walls and buildings. Thankfully no one has been harmed—yet."
"Have you found anything?" A voice called from the nearby trees.
The three looked to see the elves V'rellis—captain of Sanctuary Point's guard—and Rein—his daughter—exiting the forest and moving toward them. If their lack of leather armor (which they typically wore) didn't indicate they were not on patrol for the fortress, the three rabbits V'rellis carried and the deer Rein had over her shoulder clearly indicated they had been hunting. They dropped their game to the ground a few yards away from Crissins, Talla and Dhayli and joined them around the crystal.
V'rellis pointed to the woods. "We encounter several more while hunting. More crystals are appearing every day."
"I know." Crissins nodded. "And there doesn't seem to be any pattern to where they appear or how frequently they form." She put her hands on her hips. "Quite frankly, I'm at my wit's end." She looked at Talla. "Our historian, however, did have an interesting thought on the matter."
Talla walked toward the mountain's cliff—making sure she was far enough away from the edge to look safely at the forest below. The small group followed.
"The old legends tell of a time before Froghaven existed and the crystals were only found below the ground." She pointed toward the ruins—barely visible from their viewpoint. "Tunnels—crystal mines—protected by the wizard's keep were said to run for miles underground." She turned back to the group. "They're just rumors and legend. I've never heard of anything that collaborated the story."
"If we find the mines," Crissins shrugged, "we might find some answers."
The ground shook. A large crystal broke through the ground below Dhayli's feet and pushed her back. She staggered toward the cliff.
"No!" Talla screamed as they helplessly watched the child fall from the edge. By the time they reached the edge she had disappeared below the thin layer of clouds that clung to the mountain side.
* * *
Liam heard a scream and looked up to see a small gnome child falling toward the large crystals surrounding the mountain. If he didn't act quickly she would die.
The axe's strap was held in place by a leather cord secured with a slipknot. He pulled the end of the cord and the axe fell to the ground. Running as fast as he could toward the closest crystal he jumped and planted his foot directly on one of its flat surfaces. From there he pushed himself toward a nearby crystal and continued to another—using the large crystals like giant steps to climb up to the falling child. Once he was near her, he jumped to intercept her.
His huge right hand grabbed the girl and he pulled her to his chest. From there he turned their decent to the ground from a plummet to a calculated dance from crystal to crystal until he managed to stop—holding onto a crystal with his free hand and his feet firmly resting on its flat surfaces. Still several yards above the ground he looked for a clear area below them and dropped. Holding the child with both arms now, he landed with both feet squarely on the sandy soil and gently lowered the girl to her feet.
He readied himself for screaming and crying when she looked up at the monster before her. Instead, she smiled. "You're Liam, aren't you?"
"Now how could you possibly know that?" Liam's brow furrowed and his trunk scrunched.
"My mama told me about you."
"Yep. She's the court historian."
Liam looked at the child for a moment. "Tearjon's kid?"
Her eyes widened. "Yeah, he was my grandfather." She studied his arms and legs. Though he was mostly covered in chainmail, there were a few places near his hands and lower legs that showed his skin. "Are those scars from the mimic vines?"
He turned away from her and went to retrieve his axe. That was a part of his past he had tried very hard to forget—or at least ignore enough to be able to live with himself. He picked up the axe and secured the strap across his chest. "Where's your mother?" He looked up toward the mountain. "Was she up there with you?"
Dhayli nodded. "Yes sir. And my Aunt Crissins and Uncle V'rellis. Oh, and Rein." She looked up past Liam to where he was looking. "We were looking at the big crystals."
"The wizard, historian and captain of the guard." He nodded and sat on the ground. "Very well, we'll wait here for them. I'm sure they'll be along shortly."
* * *
"Dhayli!" Talla called out running to and grabbing the girl. Tears ran down the historian's face—she shook as she held her daughter. "I thought I'd lost you." She looked at Liam who was standing nearby. "Thank you."
He nodded and turned to the rest of the group as they approached. He nodded his greeting to each of them and addressed Crissins. "The child said you were studying the crystals. Have you found anything?"
"No, but we think we might have an idea where to look." She smiled. "We'd love to have you join us."
Theresa and Samuel stood next to Nikola facing the forest. Nikola opened the wooden box in the back of the horse drawn cart they had ridden there. He removed a pistol-like object. It was constructed of shiny silver metal with small copper looking boxes and tubes afixed to various places along its body. In the front—where the barrel should be—was the largest of the crystals Theresa had given him wrapped in a gold coil. Surrounding the front of the crystal barrel, suspended by thinner silver coils, were smaller slivers of the crystal.
"Okay, why are we here and what the devil is that?" Theresa asked.
Nikola smiled. "The crystals you brought me were amazing—in many ways." He held up the gun. "Let me start with this. I found the crystal reacts to silver and gold—gold more than silver, but both." He pointed to the gold coil around the large crystal. "Using gold I was able to tap into the crystal's energy. The silver and crystal slivers help me control and direct that energy." He pointed the gun at a nearby tree. "With this I can generate a beam from the crystal's energy, directing the ray wherever I wish." He squeezed the gun's trigger. The end of the crystal along with all the slivers created a bright flash. At the same time a flash formed on the tree where the gun pointed. The two-foot diameter trunk snapped like a twig and the upper part of the tree fell to the ground. The newly formed stump and the fallen tree top both smoldered at their scorched broken ends.
Nikola's smile grew with the gasps he heard behind him. "Oh, it gets better."
He twisted the coil around the large crystal and the small slivers suspended around it moved tighter in front of the larger crystal.
"I can control the width of the beam. By tightening the focus, I can use the beam to cut." He pointed at the stump he had just created and pulled the trigger. The crystals glowed and the stump began to smoke. A small flame appeared and a black line traced several inches from the top of the stump. In a few seconds the line covered the width of the stump. Nikola walked to the stump and removed the thin section he had just cut loose and held the flat chunk of circular wood to show to his audience of two. "It's a cutting tool. And it'll cut through pretty much anything just as easily as this wood."
He walked back to Samuel and Theresa again twisting the coil—this time opening the end. "When I open it up all the way, it's less intense, but just as impressive." He pointed the gun at the top of the tree laying on the ground. Its leaves burst into flames. A moment later the leaves on several nearby trees shriveled and fell to the ground. Nikola released the trigger. "A little longer and the woods would be on fire. I didn't think you two would want me to demonstrate that."
He looked at the writer and historian. They stood silently gaping at the trees.
"There's still more." He tossed a small crystal a few yards from them and pointed the gun at it. "If I push this button and pull the trigger, I send a signal to the crystal. Since the crystals all have the same frequency, the target—" The crystal flashed. The once blue crystal was a darker grey sitting in a circle of scorched grass. "It releases all of its energy."
Theresa walked to the crystal, bent down and carefully touched the grey crystal—then picked it up. "It's cool." She stood and turned to Nikola. "I'd have expected it to be hot. I can feel the heat from the burnt grass."
"The crystals naturally absorb energy." Nikola pulled a small crystal from his pocket and held it up. "Fully charged they're light blue. As they deplete they change slowly to red and finally black—or rather grey. Because they are always drawing energy back into themselves—I can only speculate where this energy is coming from—you never have to recharge them. In about an hour this crystal will be full of energy again."
Samuel stepped toward Theresa and Nikola. "You made a weapon out of the crystals." He reached out his hand and Nikola handed him the charged crystal. "An endless supply of power." The writer studied the crystal. "The benefits for man are immeasurable—limited only by your nearly infinite imagination." He looked at Nikola, sighed and shook his head. "And you made a weapon out of it."
"Yes." Nikola nodded. "I guess I did." He took the crystal back as Samuel returned it. "But that's not the first thing I did." He smiled. "I was saving the best for last."
* * *
A short time after Nikola's demonstration in the woods, the three stood in his lab facing the time machine. He pointed to its side. The remaining three crystals—all just slightly smaller than the main crystal used in the gun—were all wrapped in gold coils and affixed to the outer wall of the machine.
"Everything that's amazing about these crystals—" he held the gun sideways, displaying it to his friends, "everything I've shown you so far—" He walked over to the large power switch and snapped in into the on position. "It all pales in comparison to this."
The generators in the room began to hum. Sparks of electricity danced across the metal rods suspended above several devices throughout the room. Lights and buttons lit up—some blinking—on the machine. The three crystals started glowing.
"I've been able to locate what I believe is the timestamp in all objects." He waved his hand slowly to the room. "Everything here—everything everywhere has a timestamp. All things resonate at a specific frequency. All frequencies fall within a specific timestamp. Your frequency—your timestamp—determines where you are located in the timeline." He held up a crystal. "The frequency of these crystals fall outside of any other timestamp I've encountered. In fact, they're so far removed from other frequencies that I question whether or not the crystals actually have a timestamp." He lifted the crystal slightly higher to better showcase it to Theresa and Samuel. "I believe these crystals are timeless."
He waited a moment to let the information sink into their minds. His friends' widening eyes and open mouths told him they were ready. "By gently bathing objects in the crystal's blue energy and broadcasting a frequency of my choosing into the chamber, I've been able to alter the objects' timestamps." He waited again. "I think we're ready to send a man back in time—this time for an extended stay."
Theresa stepped toward the time machine and gazed at it for several seconds. "Does it have to be a man?"