Past Mistakes

Written during Flash Fiction Month 2019 as a challenge entry, ending up as another entry for Prose-ject‘s Little Prose. It used the flashback prompt from OnLinedPaper (from 2016): A boy’s science fair project calls down a lightning bolt.

The challenge requirements were:

  1. The story must be set at least two centuries in the past.
  2. The story must include something that was previously dead.
  3. There must be two well-defined choices and only one of them can be answered verbally.
  4. Bonus: Include the ending of the story (whether the characters get back to their original timeline or not).

Bereth groaned. His head throbbed as he sat up. Someone had knocked him out. If he only remembered what he had been doing…

He looked at the heavy object on his index finger. It was the ring that belonged to his mentor.

At the very sight of that, memories started to come back to him.

Once the ashes had cooled and everyone else had left, Bereth dug out the ring none of the heirs had agreed to surrender. In the stalemate of everyone wanting it, they had ended up settling on Bereth’s idea: If any of you cannot have it without a fight ensuing, none of you will have it. Let’s burn it with her.

Bereth was glad for that stalemate and the fact that they had agreed to burn the ring with their mother. While it was valuable for its gold, the heirs had no idea of just how valuable it was.

Of course. There had been a battle between the undead and the magicians, and Bereth’s mentor had died. But why was he wearing the ring? Bereth dug deeper into his memories.

“Bereth, if I fall in this battle, will you take my ring and make things right? I want to tell my sons that I love them one more time.”

“I will, Master. I promise you that.”

That was it. The ring meant everything to his mentor for its powers to make things right, although Bereth did not know how it worked. He was starting to remember everything: when he had found the ring from the ash, he had cleaned and hidden it, then slouched back to the inn. There, he had gathered everything he might need and taken his leave “to clean his mentor’s workspace”.

The truth was that the workspace was already clean when he had gone there. It just was the one place where his prolonged presence would not be suspicious and where he would not be disturbed.

The pain started to come back, so Bereth closed his eyes, allowing his mind to remind him of what had happened.

Once Bereth had locked himself inside the workspace after seeing a boy’s science fair project call down a lightning bolt, he took a deep breath, taking in the surreal look of the empty workspace. There was nothing left of the orderly chaos his mentor had loved – and which he had learned to love once he had learned its ins and outs.

The mere thought of it made tears burn his throat in a way no internally sustained Dragonfire ever could.

Banishing the tears, Bereth took the ring and stared at it. He would make things right. He had made that promise.

Bereth slipped the ring to his index finger and concentrated on whatever had to be done.

Then he had been knocked out. Only now Bereth dared to look around himself: he was in a livelier but less chaotic version of the workspace. The walls were not as blackened as he remembered but the place was in use. Confused, he stood up, faltering. The freshest notes were certainly written in his mentor’s handwriting, but they were dated – Bereth nearly fainted when he realized it – two centuries earlier. As he read them, he knew for certain that these were indeed the old notes he had once read.

Bereth looked at the ring. Was its power to make things right… time travel?

Out of all the things, Bereth’s mentor had warned against messing with time the most. It was the most fragile thing there was – capable of wiping whole galaxies into oblivion if messed with – and she had still worn something capable of time travel?

Perhaps that was why she had been so insistent on warning about it. She knew the risks, she must have. Yes, that made sense to Bereth. She would have never used those powers if not absolutely necessary.

Bereth looked around himself, trying to fathom the situation he was in. Panic was starting to set in; he had traveled far too deep into the past!

Hopefully, his mentor in this era would know how to direct him to the days before the fatal battle.

Meeker than back in the first days of his apprenticeship, Bereth walked to the potion lab. And there she was, just like in the pictures from the days gone by…

His mentor looked straight into his eyes from a potion and paled.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I…” Bereth started, then decided against telling his name. It could mess everything up. “I’m a friend.”

“How did you get in? I locked the door!” his mentor hissed.

“I… I believe I’ve traveled in time,” Bereth told and showed the ring. His mentor’s eyes widened as she recognized it. “I believe I have ended up two centuries too far in the past. Can you help me reach the right time?”

“The ring doesn’t answer to such commands. It directs you straight to the time when whatever has to be changed happens.”

“But…” Bereth did not understand it. “What happened at this time?”

“I don’t know. I was hoping that you’d know, but apparently you don’t either.”

“You… In the future, you directed me to use the ring to make things right. You said that you want to tell your sons that you love them one more time.”

“Why?”

“Are you sure you want to know why?”

“I haven’t told them… they’re leaving…” Bereth’s mentor was talking to herself, ignoring her future apprentice’s presence. “Are you sure about this?”

“I know what I’ve been told. It’s up to you to decide whether you act upon it or not.”

“If the ring sent you here, there has to be a reason.” Bereth’s mentor extinguished the fire under the potion and rushed outside, leaving the man all alone.

Bereth was knocked out again. He woke up in an empty workspace.

Tears escaped his eyes. His mentor was still dead.

If anything, that trip in time had twisted the knife in the wound of grief.

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