They were led back to the Oracle’s dome, avoiding the more crowded areas they could see in the distance. That was where the closest shopping areas were.
A message appeared when they were halfway back to the dome.
|You have been visiting this world for one hour, out of your allowed three. Would you like to stay or exit?|
Error, location locked. Exit from entry portal unavailable. Please find a secondary portal soon.
It looked like their time on other worlds was affected by the same limit as the portals. They could stay inside the portals three times as long as others from Aperra. The time limit for other worlds held true as well.
They would need to figure out how their people traveled between dimensions and worlds before they would truly be free of Aperra.
“Why was the cafeteria so empty?” Zack asked them as they climbed the steps to the dome.
“That eating area is primarily for the healers learning under the Oracle and others living in the area. At the moment, all of those healers have been deployed to the portal to heal the incoming wounded. Some of them were those who worked on the two of you.”
The diminutive Oracle was waiting for them inside with a fresh pot of tea. “Thank you, girls, for everything you have done. I will uphold my end of the bargain as agreed.” She glanced away regretfully. “I would suggest you move along now. The only one who can help them get home quickly enough is Skye.”
Jay and Jade stopped walking and turned to look at each other.
“Are they talking with their minds?” Zara whispered.
“Remember what I said before about their minds being too closely intertwined?”
They nodded in the affirmative.
“This could be considered one of its strengths. It is how they were able to heal Zack so flawlessly. Anyone else would have required many more hours of effort, and the finished product would not have been nearly so perfect.”
“Who is Skye? Do they not like each other?” Zack wondered as they waited for the twins to finish their internal conversation.
“It is not that Skye does not like them, rather it is the reverse. Skye likes everyone a little too much. I was told that Alastair flirted with Jean. Well, Skye will flirt with Jean, Edith, you both, that suit puppet, little Zelda, anything, and everything. She has an exhausting personality frankly.”
“Does it ever go beyond merely flirting?” Zara grabbed Zelda protectively.
“At times. She has her own rules, and as long as she is on the job, you will be safe.”
“Will they be safe in her care?” The twins asked, suddenly finishing their shared internal conversation. “She has speed, but little actual strength.”
“The portal and route I have planned for them should have little need for it. If needed, Jean has some strength, and I wouldn’t underestimate the magic either of these two wields despite their low levels.” The Oracle waved the two girls forward. “They’ll be fine. Now say your goodbyes. Who can say when you will see them again?” She winked and went back to sipping her tea.
The twins hugged them both and patted the three bears on their heads. They had only known each other for a few short hours, but it felt longer and the emotional bond they now shared was one of old friends. Unfortunately, what the old woman had said was true.
Who could say when they would see each other again? They weren’t even supposed to have met this time. Wasn’t that how most stories went? The people you were never supposed to meet almost always ended up becoming some of your dearest friends.
Neither side was prepared to say that was the case here. Too short of an amount of time had passed for that to be possible. It was undeniable that they had left their marks on each other, and they would be remembered fondly. From there, it was only a matter of time and additional meetings.
The door clicked shut behind the twins, and Zara wiped at her eyes. Zack was feeling more than a little emotional himself and could feel his eyes growing hot. They had fixed him, even more than that they had understood him and Zara. There had been no judgment.
He knew that understanding would fade as the memories they had seen inside his astral form faded. That was fine. It spoke volumes about their character and the people they were.
He sniffed, and sat down across from the Oracle, placing the spellbook on a cushion at his side. “So, they said you had something we might be interested in?”
“I do, to be more specific. I have a proposal you might be interested in instead of an item. I looked and unfortunately, I could not find anything of appropriate value that you would be able to bring back with you.” She set her cup to the side. “I admit, my proposal will not sound fair to you right off hand. Think about it for a minute before saying anything.”
Intrigued, Zack and Zara agreed to her simple request.
“You must realize that this will not be your last time getting stuck inside a portal. With the Great Change approaching, it is likely that Aperra will be the last world Changed before it occurs. All the future portals that undergo their own Changes will center around Aperra. It stands to reason that the two of you will be involved in at least one or two. All portals are continually evolving, making themselves bigger, more valuable, closer to a World Fragment.” She revealed in a whisper.
“Wait, so the world fragments we’ve heard mentioned before. They were once portal dimensions?” Zara asked, her eyes shining in wonder.
“Long, long ago. None have made the transition in over a dozen millennia. Several of the portals are close, now. The monsters and beasts inside would be strong, and the territory vast.”
“What about the rings around the portals? Aren’t those supposed to tell you how strong the monsters inside are?” Zara interrupted her, searching for more information.
“Is that what the people of Aperra think? They have so much to learn about how the portal work if that is the case. Those rings, the ones that turn black, are simply an indicator of how close the portal is to its change.” She stopped to think. “I suppose, in a primitive fashion, it can also tell you how strong the monsters and beasts are going to be. The closer the portal is to its Change, the stronger the beings inside it will become after all.”
Zack tapped the table. “You were saying something about a proposal that will help us the next time this happens. Something that I agree sounds likely to occur again from your description.”
He couldn’t help but remember the words of the message when the portal locked behind them. It had begun its Change early because of him and Zara appearing. The odds of that happening again were high if the power bands were anywhere close to complete.
Hopefully, they could avoid those. They might not always have a choice in the matter. He could already think of two portals back home that fit that description. The school one was getting close, and the research facility portal. He and Zara might be able to avoid going through the school portal for a while. The Major would force them through the research portal no matter what they tried.
“My offer is simple, any time a portal dimension undergoes its change from here on out, the ruler class beings, Snow Elf or otherwise, will swing by the Aperra portal. If they see you or Zara, then they will bring you back and help you get back to Aperra.”
Normally, they avoided the gate from Aperra. Since as an unchanged world, one that was unable to use magical energy natively on their world, they held little value. There were rules for interacting with them, and it was easier to pretend that they simply didn’t exist.
What she was proposing would make their lives infinitely easier the next time this happened.
“What do you think?” Zack asked Zara, already knowing what his opinion of it was.
“I think this could turn out to be more valuable than an item we can use now. The Changing of Aperra is coming soon in any case, and that is going to change everything. Unless the king and queen and everyone else in charge are prepared for what is to come, it is going to be total anarchy. Especially, when they discover the equalizing.” Zara grabbed Aisha as she was the closest bear and hugged her tight as she thought everything over.
Aisha was ecstatic at finally being the one chosen instead of Zelda or George. Sometimes it sucked being the biggest bear. It made her less cuddly and readily grabbable than the other two.
“Since Aperra is so close to its Change, I would think that their portal will start being monitored fairly soon in any case. We might not get much use out of this deal, only one or two at worst. Of course, even after the Change being able to be brought back quickly would be a rather nice convenience.” She nodded after sneaking a quick glance at her brother for his opinion. She extended Aisha’s paw across the tea table to the Oracle. “We accept your proposal.”
The Oracle laughed at the absurd action but shook the bear’s paw, nonetheless. “Good, now, Zack, I suggest you use this time to read that spellbook. You won’t have another chance otherwise, and I do not believe you want to show up on Aperra with such a valuable book in tow.”