Eddie found a leather coat in the master bedroom. It hung almost to his knees and provided adequate warmth to fight the biting cold outside.
A leather hat hung on a hook by the door, nearly identical to the one he'd worn in Cavaheim. He turned to face the others. "We haven't much time," he said. "We've got to..."
He paused. Ruby stared at him, eyes wide, her mouth hanging open.
"What is it?" Eddie asked.
"I... I don't understand. Did you... were you..."
"What is it?" he repeated.
"Any more coats where you got that?" Bryce asked.
Eddie nodded, still looking at Ruby. "Sure. Plenty. The closets are full."
As Bryce went to find a suitable coat, Ruby stepped closer to Eddie. "I've seen that coat before. And that hat."
"I wore an almost identical hat in Cavaheim. You've seen me with it."
"What is it?"
"I think I've seen you... I mean, I think you rescued me from a wolf-boar.... out in the woods, weeks ago."
"I don't think so."
"Maybe it wasn't you, but the person I saw wore an identical coat and hat, and..." she frowned. "And he was missing two fingers."
Eddie stared at her. "It must have been... well, anyone who traveled the way I did... they would have lost fingers like me. It can't be that unusual."
"Did he look like me?"
"I never saw his face."
Bryce returned, wearing a black leather jacket. "What do you think? Do I look like Fonzie?"
"Exactly like Fonzie," Ruby said.
"Sweet." He pulled a stocking cap on. "Now, I'm ready. Anyone want to do the dishes before we go?"
"We can always come back," Eddie said. "If the world doesn't end."
They climbed into the car. Eddie took the back seat, cradling his arm against his stomach.
As they left, Ruby turned to him. "Where are we going?"
"You said you knew where Tim's cocoon was."
"Yeah, back at the Lincoln Apartments."
"That would be a good place to start."
Ruby gave Bryce rough directions. He nodded and pulled back on the steering wheel. They flew inland.
"And why are we in a hurry?" Bryce asked. "You got all spooked when Ruby mentioned Gretchen Atwater."
"If Tim knows about her, then there's no reason to keep secrets any longer. If he has Gretchen Atwater, then the world could end any minute."
"Tim could create another time portal. If he repeats the experiment, not only could he destroy the world, he could destroy the entire universe. He'd be the only consciousness left in existence."
Bryce looked back, surprised. "Oh-kayyy. And why in the hell would he want to do that?"
"Because he's crazy. Because the only way to bring his wife back to life is to become God. And if he becomes God, then the whole universe will start over."
"So, the big bang? All that?"
"And how do you know all this?"
"Because Gretchen Atwater told me."
Over the next few hours, Eddie explained what Gretchen had told him and shown him. He still didn't understand the relationship between the projected universe and the implicate universe, and he struggled to describe it to the others.
"So, we're all part of the consciousness of God?" Ruby asked.
"Not here. Here, you're Ruby, I'm Eddie. That's the main point Gretchen was trying to make. In this reality, things are exactly as they seem. But there's a deeper reality where we're all tied together. Everything is. Gretchen called the entity she found there 'The One'. I can't say I understand it, but in that place, there's no time. There's no... crap, I don't know how to say it.
"And that's not the point. The point is, Tim's time experiment was so disruptive to the projected universe that he tore a hole in reality itself, and he was able to... I don't know... see the deeper reality. Others have had a similar experienced, but Tim went in with one desire... bring his wife back to life. He didn't get the answers he wanted from The One, so he somehow used the experience to become the greatest sorcerer ever... the greatest anyone could possibly be."
"How?" Bryce asked.
"I don't know how. Gretchen couldn't explain it. I don't think she knows. But Tim only has power over physical reality. He's limited around those things that defy physics. That includes me, this car, the observatory. And he has no power to return to the implicate reality."
"Except he does," Bryce said. "He's going to find another volunteer to walk through the time portal."
"It doesn't have to be a volunteer," Eddie said. "I was too freaked out to go through, so Tim pushed me."
Ruby's eyes widened. "But that means none of this is your fault. You didn't do this to the world."
"It's small comfort. If I'd been paying attention, I could have stopped him. Once I stood at that portal and saw the other side, it was obvious that going through was a bad idea."
Eddie sighed and turned to stare out the window. They flew over mountains, skirting the south side of the Cavaheim Caldera. Once past it, they turned north, and Ruby looked for landmarks. Night fell, and it became impossible to proceed. A blanket of clouds hid the stars, and they were forced to stop, hanging above the earth in a black void.
With the first light of gray dawn, Bryce landed in a clearing in a valley. "I am so ready for a pee break," he muttered. He threw his door open and ran into the trees.
Eddie stirred. "What's going on?"
"Pitstop," Ruby explained as she climbed out.
Eddie sat and stared at out the window. The gray morning matched his mood.
Something in his pocket vibrated. He pulled his phone out, wondering if Bryce had set some sort of alarm when he'd been using it. Instead, Eddie found a waiting text message.
It's almost over. When the time comes, remember, YOU ALREADY DID.
Eddie stared at the message. You already did. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Why did all of Winnie's texts have to be so damn cryptic? Eddie sent a text back, asking for clarification. Instead of an explanation, Winnie added only one comment.
One other thing. If you see Montrose, bring her. She may be the only one who can rescue a person worth saving.
After that, Winnie wouldn't respond to any of Eddie's texts.
Eddie and the others breakfasted on Mountain Sunrise and pork jerky, then continued their journey north. It soon became clear that Skylar, who stood on the dashboard, was much better at identifying landmarks than Ruby was. "Turn west twenty degrees."
Bryce banked the car left.
"That's seventeen degrees," Skylar corrected.
He turned the car a little more.
"Now you've gone too far."
"I'm not a goddamn robot. How should I know how much twenty degrees is?"
"Just turn back four degrees."
"Do you want to drive?"
"Yes, but I'd have make modifications to your vehicle to properly—"
"Not going to happen," Bryce interrupted.
"I doesn't matter. Ahead three miles, you'll see the smoke."
As they passed over the low forested hills beyond the mountains, Eddie spotted the trails of smoke rising from a clearing far below. Small structures stood around a fire pit. "What is that place?" he asked.
"That's where Ruby named me."
"The Vayna village," Ruby said. She stared down with wonder.
"You want to go down there?" Bryce asked.
"I don't think they want to see me. They probably don't know what happened to Devick and their warriors yet."
"And you don't want to tell them?"
"They won't want to hear it from me."
"So, where to now?"
"Mostly west. Stay north of the mountains."
The car soared at top speed, a range of imposing mountains on their left.
"We wandered these woods for three weeks," Ruby said, gazing down. "And now we will get back to the beginning in less than—"
"Holy shit," Bryce said.
Eddie and Ruby's eyes shot up. Ahead, a mountain spiked up from the valley floor. It was similar to one of the titan spires behind them, but smaller and all black. At its top, A black castle stood with imposing towers and jagged battlements.
"That wasn't there before," Ruby whispered.