"This is that moment when the hero of a story should say something profound to inspire his men as he leads them into battle.", Quentin Coldwater said out loud, although he was mostly talking to himself. He'd been doing that a lot more lately since Julia was gone. They had lost her back in the Neitherlands. She had died protecting them as they escaped through the fountain. At least, they assumed she'd died. She never followed them through.
He stared anxiously at the underwhelming dilapidated shack that supposedly housed the Wellspring of All Magic; it was...less epic than anticipated. Much like myself., he thought disparagingly. He'd never forgive himself for losing his best friend.
"Don't die. How's that for inspirational?", Penny Adiyodi quipped sarcastically, crossing his arms.
"You wear eloquence as well as you do scarves.", Eliot Waugh smirked. He gave Margo Hanson's hand a tight squeeze; not because she was nervous (she was savage) but because he was and she was the only one he'd allow to know that.
"Here's a pep talk for you.", Margo interjected, flaunting the personal strength she knew Eliot put his faith in. "When you three are finished comparing wand sizes maybe we can actually go inside and finish this shit."
"Bambi's right.", Eliot stood up a little straighter, either to show his own resolve or to prove that he'd win the wand size thing. "We're wasting time."
The last word was practically drowned out by the sound of hundreds of fluttering wings. That's when Quentin realized that all of the other normal forest sounds had ceased. There were no insect chirps, no hoots of nocturnal creatures, even the air held still and silent. It was as though time had stopped save for themselves and the harsh ominous sound of blue luna moths joining them to form a humanoid shape.
"Time.", the figure said as it finally took its true form. Martin Chatwin. "Is an illusion. Did they not teach you that at your little wizard school? Time is the greatest magician of all. And it continues to work against you."
Quentin and his friends huddled together, hands at the ready to cast their battle magic.
"You're wrong.", Alice Quinn's tiny voice bravely dared to defy him. "If we fail—and we won't; but if we do, we'll get another chance. So, time is on our side."
"Jesus!", Margo rolled her eyes with irritation. "Are we seriously just going to stand around making puns all night? Screw that."
She pulled out the gun that she had hidden away and, aiming at the Beast's head, shot the remaining bullets. Her friends were more startled than Martin was. As the bullets met their target, his head exploded into a hundred frantic moths and then instantly reformed again.
"Did you really bring a gun to a magic fight?", Martin tsked and raised his gruesome overly digited hands. Realizing what was about to transpire and seeing that Margo wouldn't have the time to defend herself, as she was still clutching her weapon, Penny quickly cast a counter spell to block the deadly hit she was about to take.
Margo dropped the empty gun and prepared to defend herself just as the two spells collided and counteracted one another, fizzling out.
Quentin lost count of the number of spells that went off immediately after that point. Everyone began casting like their lives depended on it. Because they did. An onslaught of magic missiles and flaming energy orbs pelted the space where the Beast had just stood. In the back of Quentin's mind, he wondered if the Fillorian trees would turn on them if they accidentally started a forest fire. But before anything caught flame, Martin was gone. They hadn't even noticed him disappear.
"Tick tock, tick tock.", a singsong voice rang out behind them. They all pivoted around just in time to see Martin standing there, swaying eerily side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. "I'm a little-"
Before he could finish, Penny transported himself directly beside him and attempted an up close barrage of battle magic directly to his heart. Quentin wondered if he even still had one...
"Cuckoo!", Martin screeched and magically sliced through Penny's arms, chopping off his hands before he could finish his spell. Penny cried out in anguished pain and fell to his knees.
Another manic round of battle magic was fired off. Margo even shapeshifted into a lioness and pounced on Martin. But nothing seemed to affect him. Then Quentin's worst fear came true. He saw his friends falling to their deaths one by one around him. First Penny, then Margo, then Eliot... Alice reached for the dagger at her hip, finally within arms length of Martin. She might have been able to attack him with it too if Quentin had of blocked the Beast's next spell. But he was too slow. Too unprepared. Too traumatized by Eliot's lifeless eyes staring back at him from the forest floor.
When Alice fell limp to the ground, the shock of it all made Quentin feel as though he were frozen. This was it. They had failed. His friends were all dead and now he would be too. He'd have to unknowingly live through all of his life's worst moments again just to arrive back in this same spot. How many times? Fear gripped him but it was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of helplessness and inadequacy. How many times? How many times would he have to watch his friends die because he couldn't get his shit together quick enough to save them? Time is an illusion. Maybe none of this was real. He could still be the hero. Some other time.
"Wake up, Quentin.", his voice trembled as he pleaded to himself to do something, anything, that might save him. After all, he'd played this game before.
At Brakebills, the clock in Dean Fogg's office struck 12:12 and the glass cracked down the center. Fogg's expression was hollow. He didn't have to see it to know what had happened.
"I suppose we expected it wouldn't be this time.", he finally said with empty resignation.
"The twelfth time? No.", Jane Chatwin (known to most as Eliza) agreed solemnly. She sat in the chair across from him. "As much as magic favors numerology, it also despises predictability."
"Reset it then.", Dean Fogg nodded for her to go through the motions that they'd become far too familiar with.
"Thirteen?", Jane frowned at the obviously unlucky number.
Dean Fogg shrugged, "You did say magic doesn't like to be predictable. Perhaps in this timeline Quentin won't bring up that goddamn Bill Murray movie. He actually thinks he's being clever. Every time... Maybe that's the key. Maybe we need a timeline where 80s comedies don't become cult classics."
"Would an existence like that even be worth saving?", Jane jested. Humor was their last refuge of sanity in these dark times.
"No. I suppose not.", Dean Fogg smiled lightly. He let out a heavy sigh and leaned back in his seat.
Jane reset her timepiece.
* * *
Quentin sat quietly in the waiting room of his doctor's office.
He did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.
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The Illusion of Time #BattleTheBeastFanfiction
Entry for Syfy's #BattleTheBeast contest for 'The Magicians'. --- Quentin Coldwater and his fellow Brakebills peers battle the Beast for the twelfth time.