The only thing that Millien could hear when he hopped onto the sand was the lap-lap-lapping of the waves against the shore. The thunk of prosthetic hands on wood as he tossed the oars into the rowboat and hauled it further up the beach were drowned out by the thoughts racing in his head. This is important, this is needed, I need to be able to face up to this if I want to keep moving forward. With a final sigh, Millien set off further inland; he already had a first spot in mind.
The cave was exactly how he remembered it: damp and claustrophobic, with a steep drop just a few steps in. He remembered jokingly asking his wife if she was worried he would be pinched by a crab. Oh, how Millien wished that was the worst thing that happened in there. There was no word or sequence of words in any language that could adequately describe the depth and intensity of his hatred for what he did find in that place. The Cube, that thing that stole his time and his mind and his home.
He gracefully hopped his way down the slope, in contrast to his rather unceremonious tumble 200 years prior. The pool of water was untouched and pristine like before; Millien briefly wondered if the reason for that was because the Cube’s presence had killed any microorganisms in the water. Regardless, everything was just as he recalled it. There is nothing to be found in this place, Millien thought, and a quick twist of his will warped him out of the dark and into the sun.
The path up the cliffside was unchanged as well. From the little information he was able to get out of the locals and sailors in the port he set off from, the island appeared to be stuck in a sort of limbo. No attempt at resettlement had been made, no animals had been observed in the area, and everyone, be they sentient or not, had redone things like shipping and migration routes to steer as far away from the place as possible. From Millien’s own observations, that even extended to the topography and geography: there were no signs of the natural weathering or erosion that should have happened during his 200 year-long absence. The island was identical to when he left all those years ago.
Note to self, ask Amalia about natural erosion. Amalia was one of his children, not by blood, but by choice. All of his blood family was long dead, either from that damnable flood or just from the inexorable march of time. His old college friends had died at his own hands, and what he did with them afterwards was not something he wanted to think about at the moment. But that was the past, and now he had a new family, one he had slowly come to adopt over the nine years since his final defeat, or maybe they adopted him? It didn’t really matter anyway.
The dark, angular shape of his old house stood in contrast to everything else; it was the only sign that civilization had existed on the island in the first place besides… that. Millien remembered his desperate deranged hopeful words when he cast that final spell: “It’s time… to go home”. Well, now he had come home, just… not the way he had meant. And in another sense, he had already gone home; it was just different to the one he originally had in mind. A new home, in a new place, and filled with new people. A new co-parent, FIVE new children, and more recently, two grandchildren. Both a second chance at being a father, and the entirely new experience of being a grandfather. Millien wouldn’t trade that for anything.
The front door was still ajar; he touched the doorknob gingerly, half-expecting it to crumble away upon contact. But it and the rest of the door held firm, and the hinges screamed as Millien pulled it open. The interior matched the rest of the island: everything was coated in dust and grime, but all the wooden furniture was still intact, no signs of rot or termites or other such things to be found.
He slowly and methodically checked every drawer, nook, and cranny to see if there was anything worth taking back home. There were a few spare cogs that were lost in a corner, trapped in a thick layer of cobwebs. A spanner hidden in the back of a drawer, severely outdated and outclassed compared to the tools he had now. The low salary of a freelance watchmaker, combined with being the sole breadwinner for a family of five plus a dog, didn’t leave much in the budget for upgrades. Of course, now that he was working for the Sadida government with a matching paycheck, combined with the money he earned doing commissions and repairs, there was plenty in the bank for him to buy new tools and still have a good amount left over.
Millien’s heart stopped for a beat when his eyes hit upon something peculiar: an old picture frame, still resting on top of a bookshelf. He slowly walked over, absently noting how strange it was to be taller than it. The Eliacube, among several other physical changes, had caused him to start growing again; before he found it, he had been six-foot-nothing, respectable, but nothing absurd. After a few years of constant exposure, however, he had gone from that to a ridiculous seven-foot-six. Thankfully, the ceiling was just barely high enough that he didn’t have to slouch to fit, though it was a pain to have to keep bending down to go through doors and open things that were clearly made for someone shorter. Regardless, Millien reached out to pick up the frame, before opening his backpack to grab a cleaning cloth.
He took his time clearing the muck off the glass, already knowing what was under it: a family photo, the last one taken before he found the Cube. Right in the center was Igole, still a puppy, still sane. He was sitting on the head of Pulsar, his youngest. He was always wearing that little helmet, always carrying around that fake knife, always ready for adventure and discovery. To his right was Aiguille, the middle child. She had always been the closest to Igole, had always had a way with animals. To Pulsar’s left was Quartz, the oldest. He was the brains of the three, always making sure that his siblings weren’t getting into trouble when their parents couldn’t tend to them.
In the upper left was… Galanthe. His wife. Beautiful, clever, loving Galanthe. They had met at a state fair that he was showcasing at. He hadn’t been able to attract the attention of any investors, but he didn’t care, he had just met the woman of his dreams. She was the first person outside of his college buddies that was able to keep up with his ramblings and info-dumps about whatever invention he was working on or the latest gadget that had caught his eye. More than that, she was interested in what he was talking about; asking questions and responding to his inquiries, even giving a few insights of her own. About a year later, they were wed and had moved to that house on the beach, and in another year, they were welcoming their firstborn into the world.
In the upper right was… himself. Noximillien Coxen, Nox, the Mad Xelor, the Drinker and a hundred other names that he had collected over his long life. He was many things: father, grandfather, inventor, murderer, spy, warrior, wizard. Something he had learned early in his recovery was that he was many things; he contained multitudes, and that he was and could be all of those things at once. He had many names, and all of them were equally true.
He had changed so much, and yet had stayed the same. He used to have blond hair, now it was white. He used to have dark-brown eyes, now they were red. He used to be 100% flesh, now his forearms and major joints were prosthetics. He used to be a father, and he was a father now. He was always an inventor, a mechanic, an engineer; from the moment he cracked open his first technical manual he was in love.
And yet, this place has not changed at all. Millien gently placed the photo in his backpack before pursuing that thought further. 200 years, and this place is identical to when I left. Why? A vantage point. He needed to be able to see as much of the area as possible. He needed to see as much information as possible. And so, Millien turned around, and walked out the way he came; he already had a spot in mind.
He remembered what happened here so clearly. The pawnbroker telling him of what happened, and the vision telling him that it was all true. His screams as the earth shook and the sea raged and the sky wept with him. A pillar came out of the ground as a great fortress of gears and steel rose up behind him. And on that rock, he swore a two-part oath to himself: to surpass the god of time, and to bring back his family. And in that endeavor, he would not cease, he would not cease, he would not cease. Nothing would stop him; he vowed as such. His children called him “Daddy”, but there were no children to call him that anymore. His wife called him “Millien”, but he had no wife to say that name anymore. “Millien” died with her, and so he took a new name: From this instant, the world will learn to call me… NOX.
The view confirmed his suspicions: the island and the surrounding waters were anomalous compared to rest of the world. The pattern of the waves near the shore didn’t match the pattern of the waves closer to the horizon. Something was very, VERY wrong with this place.
He knew that his magic responded to his emotions as much as it responded to his will: he teleported when startled, clocks spun out of control when he was angry, he started floating when he was happy. So it logically followed that in the moment of his greatest anguish, his magic had reacted to that feeling in some way. The question was HOW it reacted.
Millien closed his eyes, and began to focus; breathing exercises were the thing that worked for him the best. In, 1 2 3, out, 1 2 3, in, 1 2 3, out, 1 2 3. The first step when trying to see the way magic flowed in a place was to center one’s self, feel the way their own energy moved throughout their body. He could sense the connections in his arms, the way they linked to his energy pathways so that he could move them with the same dexterity and power he had with his organic arms. In, 1 2 3, out, 1 2 3. The next was to slowly (that was the key word, slowly) open the mind to the surroundings, to be able to perceive the self both on its own and as part of the bigger picture. He could see the way energy flowed through each blade of grass, through the waves and the fish, through the clouds in the sky. In, 1 2 3, out, 1 2 3.
Now that he could see the bigger picture, it was clear that something was off about it. Namely, the flow of energy was incredibly slow, practically imperceptible to the untrained eye. And then everything clicked together in Millien’s head: the island had been placed under a very powerful time-stop spell, and he knew exactly when it had been cast. And he knew that he was the caster.
The spell had been cast at some moment during his breakdown, Millien could guess that much. He was the only person even capable of doing something with such a high power requirement, much less keeping it active for 200 years without constant maintenance. It was slowly wearing off, but if 200 years had passed and this little progress had been made, it would likely take thousands more for the spell to end naturally. And, of course, there was the matter of the emotion that fueled the spell. Millien had thought and felt a massive array of things during those moments — rage, grief, self-loathing, — and one thing he distinctly remembered was the desire for everything to just stop. For time to stop moving, for him to stop feeling, for the whole world to stop existing. And that was the desire his magic had acted upon: the island and the surrounding waters were frozen in time; out of sync with the rest of the world, never able to move forward. Just like him.
But now he was moving forward, and it was only appropriate for this place to have that same chance. Millien, distantly aware of his hands going through the motions of disassembling a clock and his hair softly floating around him, inspected his spell. It was a complicated thing, like all spells of this magnitude, but he was used to working with complicated things. So he went and gently pulled apart the threads that bound the spell together, the threads that bound it to this place, and the threads of his mind that fueled it. And when that was done, he cleaned all the parts, cleaned them of his madness and his grief, before slowly putting everything back together. Just like cleaning a watch.
When he finished, there was an immediate shift, like long-neglected gears suddenly turning again. It would take many years for everything to get back up to full speed, but that was fine; it was unreasonable to expect everything to instantly become okay.
Despite everything, Millien had a smile on his face as he headed back down to the rowboat. He had done it, he had faced the past, faced himself. Then he had a thought: I should tell them, and he agreed, though he quickly addended it: there is no ‘should’; I want to tell them.
Yugo, the boy in the blue hat, the sous chef of the Emelka Inn. Adamai, the dragon of water, brother of Yugo. Percy, keeper of a demon sword, apprentice to a demigod. Amalia, princess of the Sadida, master botanist. Eva, the keen eye, bodyguard to royalty. Ruel, bounty hunter, and a fellow father. Those were the people he had come to call family, the ones he wished to tell his story to. And Millien knew that it would be one of the hardest things he would ever do, harder than fighting a dragon, or singlehandedly waging war against an entire nation. But he had gotten through those things, he had gotten through the ultimate failure of his plan, and he could get through this.
Just as he was about to start pushing the boat back out to sea, a sound caught his attention, drowning out the noise of the waves against the shore: seagulls. He could see them in the distance, flying towards the mainland. While they did not make any moves to come near the island, they did not veer off-course to avoid it. They too, realized that something had changed here.
And so Millien pushed his boat into the chop, jumped inside, and grabbed the oars. He set his course with one goal in mind: it’s time to go home.