Time’s Secret Prologue

The Battle Has Not Yet Begun

There was not much time left.

Cilcourt had been sealed into its protective dome. The glistening white and gold structure had nestled peacefully in the valley of the Cilshyre Mountains for many centuries, its presence a beacon, its creators, Xylea and Arden, welcoming to all who came. From the great Laleh of Menicor to Akhenaton of Earth, scienticians from all over the galaxy had traveled to Cilcourt to marvel at its beauty and bask in its glory. However, Xylea and Arden were long gone and the peace that had enwrapped the valley was gone, too. The keepers of Cilcourt had done their best to beat back the darkness, but now the only safety lay in flight.

Jinn Kudral stood outside Cilcourt feverishly etching a symbol into the center of the circle on the dome. Although the child was not yet grown, she knew what he would be, what his destiny must be. She had done her best to ensure his safety. The rest was up to fate and Alrick.

However, only she could empower the child’s symbol. Jinn could not tell anyone, not even Alrick, what the child’s greater destiny was. It would be safer if everyone believed the child was merely a tool to be used to free the Cadian solar system.

Her eyes lifted to the dark sky. A multitude of stars twinkled, innocent and unknowing. She knew she was condemning the galaxy to a century of searching and the turmoil and violence that would accompany the quest for the Origin Stone. That, however, was better than the alternative. Better turmoil and violence than the complete destruction that would follow if Xerxes claimed the Stone.

She turned her attention once more to the carving. The dragon stood with outstretched wings, flame issuing from its mouth. Jinn touched the etching and concentrated. The dull metal shimmered and turned gold, and she eyed it with satisfaction. It was the Golden Dragon of myth and legend, shrouded in mystery, hidden in the shadows of time.

It was time to go. She had just enough time to hide the Origin Stone before returning to Cilcourt. She would then whisk the other baby away to what promised to be a hostile life on a primitive planet. Jinn sighed but knew there was no better hiding place. The people of that distant planet would never recognize her or the child. That civilization was still in the early stages of development, unseeing, unbelieving, unenlightened.

Jinn turned from the dome and came to a sudden stop. A dark-haired man stood before her, his gray eyes smoldering with a barely suppressed triumph.

“Hello, Jinn,” he drawled, his voice deep and amused. “I thought I might find you here.”

“Xerxes!” Jinn spat his name out. Thank goodness the dome had already been sealed!

“So you chose Cilcourt as the hiding place of the Stone,” Xerxes smiled. “A little unimaginative but then imagination was never one of your strengths.”

“You must think me a fool as well as unimaginative if you believe I’ve hidden the Origin Stone here,” Jinn replied coldly. Zonliann had been right, she thought. Kashar, one of the trusted keepers of Cilcourt, was in league with Xerxes.

“You wouldn’t be here if the Stone wasn’t also here. I already know your plans.”

“I doubt that.” Jinn was thinking furiously. Now that Xerxes was here, she would have to alter her original scheme.

“I have discovered you are going to hide the Stone in Cilcourt and then wrap the building in a void for one thousand years,” Xerxes continued. He cast his eyes over the giant metal dome that now encased the complex. “A foolish move on your part. Did you really think you could create a void I couldn’t tear apart?”

Jinn smiled slightly. “Yes, I believe I have figured out how to do that.”

Xerxes snorted. “You’re not more powerful than I am. No one in the entire galaxy is more powerful than I am. You have lost this battle.”

“The battle has not yet begun,” Jinn retorted, her smile broadening. She knew Xerxes well, his strengths and his weaknesses. She must play on his weakness even though she knew what the outcome would be.

Xerxes laughed at her challenge. “Are you referring to the prophecy about the Golden Dragon?” His gaze roved over her golden hair and frosty eyes. “That is a very simple prophecy to defeat. If you’re dead, you can’t fight me for possession of the Origin Stone. However, if you give me the Stone, I’ll consider letting you live.”

“I am not the Golden Dragon, and I’ve already hidden the Origin Stone.”

Xerxes’ eyes narrowed. “You lie.”

Jinn looked at him contemptuously. “I would never have hidden the Stone in so obvious a place. The Stone is safe from you. And as for the Golden Dragon…” She smiled grimly, her light blue eyes turning to ice. “The dragon lies waiting. Wherever you go, whomever you encounter, remember the dragon waits for you.”

“Enough!” Xerxes shouted. “Tell me where the Stone is, or I will kill you right now.”

Jinn laughed. “You’ll kill me anyway. Why should I tell you anything?”

“I’ll let you live if you tell me where the Stone is hidden.”

“What a liar you are, Xerxes,” Jinn observed coolly. She saw anger darken his face. It was nearly time. If she was going to provoke his temper, she must do it now. “You know if you dare to seize the Origin Stone, all the other scienticians will unite against you. Even you can’t fight all of them. You lack the allies. You lack the courage.”

“Then die now,” Xerxes snarled. “I will find the Stone anyway.”

It was then Jinn saw a ghostlike image of a young woman standing behind Xerxes. She had dark hair and turquoise eyes like Zonliann, but she was not Zonliann. The eyes of the two met for an instant before Xerxes thrust his hands toward Jinn. Jinn’s eyes snapped back to him. She hoped she had judged him correctly. If he tried to drain her instead of blowing her to pieces…

The explosion scorched the side of the dome. Xerxes looked with fierce satisfaction at the blackened metal. No trace of Jinn’s body remained. With a smile, he turned toward the dome and sent a surge of power forward to dissolve it. The dome remained in place. Xerxes frowned and sent another wave of power toward the building. The stones on the ground by the dome shattered, but the gray panels remained untouched. Furious, he vented the full force of his power on the structure. Two large boulders that flanked the dome split apart, and a nearby tree shivered into pieces and crumbled. Still, the dome remained intact.

Irate, Xerxes strode forward and kicked the building.

“I will find a way in,” he yelled at the metal panels of the dome. “You can’t keep me out forever!” He turned and shook both fists at the sky. “I swear by the stars I will get in!”

In the sky above him, the Cadian solar system began to vanish. Xerxes watched unbelievingly as one by one each planet disappeared, and, finally, the sun was extinguished.

In that moment, he realized his error. Jinn had not hidden the Origin Stone in Cilcourt. It was somewhere in her home system, and she had served as bait while the other scienticians had cloaked the system in a void dimension. Jinn had been correct, damn her. Not even he could destroy such a large void created by so many.

With the speechless frustration of rage, Xerxes turned and beat his fists upon the dome that hid Cilcourt. Then he spotted the golden dragon that had been etched into the gray panels. He became still and his rage evaporated. No. It could not be. He was so sure that if he destroyed Jinn, the menace of this hidden dragon would be negated. Had she also told the truth when she said the dragon already lay in wait for him?

Drawing his cloak swiftly around him, Xerxes waved a hand. A shimmering black doorway opened, and he stepped toward it. He had much to do. He must find the Origin Stone and then use it to defeat the Golden Dragon.

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