Ben woke up to the sound of the wind rattling through the leaves. Feeling far in advance of his already far-too-advanced years. He placed his hand on one knee and groaned to his feet. Where the hell was he?
He remembered the Time Elemental. How he hated those bastards.
He knew they were just protecting their territory. He knew that, along with the rest of DCM, he was the intruder here, but couldn't they leave him alone for a minute or two? I mean, we're only trying to fix-
Wait a minute... Where were the others?
Ben looked around.
The first thing that struck him was that he didn't recall how he'd gotten under a large maple tree. Golden orange leaves were falling on him now, stirred by a breeze that slowly rocked a tire swing to and fro.
The second thing that struck him was that 'Pirelli' tires most certainly hadn't been invented yet.
He turned and looked behind him. A path wound up a leaf-strewn hill to a large and careworn house at the top of a gentle ridge. The house was silhouetted against the clear blue sky behind it, making it look a little darker than it actually was. He thought he could almost see a figure in one of the upstairs windows. It looked like someone was watching him.
Ben looked around for alternatives, but between an autumnal forest, a small family cemetery and the rusted out remains of an Alfa Romeo 4C GTA, there wasn't much hope.
"Well, it's up the path then," he muttered to himself. "I hope the lady of the house is at home."
Ben picked his way through the susurrating leaves to the porch, where a grayed and worn swing swayed creakily in the breeze. He pulled open the screen door and knocked on a heavy wooden door that shed lichen-colored flakes of paint as he knocked.
He peered though the thin lace curtains, anticipating the lady of the house making her way down the stairs to answer the door. What he didn't anticipate was...
The two regarded each other for some time, confusion buzzing around their heads like a cloud of very small flies. Time Flies, as it turned out.
"Have you been playing in Temporal Traffic again, Benjamin?" Ben shook off the confusion and the mild reproach to hurriedly push past the old woman. He looked about the interior of the house, frenetically looking for a clue, an anchor.
"No time for formalities, Mother - when is it that we are? And where is your - aha!"
Ben found what he was looking for on the floor between an old, overstuffed chaise lounge and a Gottlieb's "King Kool" pinball machine. It was an old, elaborate, hand-carved barometer.
"You don't have anything to do with this... this... phenomenon, do you?" Mrs. Dominique Galatea Firenze gestured towards the barometer. Ben groaned as he went to one knee and peered at the cloudy dial.
The elaborately scrolled needle pointed to a tiny blue square at the bottom of the dial. It was upside-down, so Ben had to turn his head as far as he could around to read it. It said:
"This is not good," Ben muttered as he stood to his feet. It was clear to him that this was a bigger problem than he'd originally thought. Not only was the Time Storm getting bigger, it was spreading as well. He turned to regard his mother, but she was gone. In her place was a man who was standing and watching him. The man was stooped over, fully a head shorter than himself, and backlit to the point of being almost perfectly silhouetted.
Except, Ben noted, that there was no real light source behind him.
"You and your associates have caused me a great deal of inconvenience," hissed the man. The man moved, crablike, slowly around Ben as he talked. "Your meddlings in the Temple are causing havoc with my plans. Too many timelines - too many possibilities. The Future doesn't like the Past to change it's mind. You above all should know that."
Ben offered a hand by way of introducing himself. His other hand moved slowly to the pocket of his waistcoat. Imperceptibly, or so he hoped, he felt for the jade figurine that he had hidden there.
"I don't believe we met. Ben. Ben Firenze. And you are..?"
The man stepped back from Ben's hand as if he feared being touched.
"I know of you, Firenze. AND of the company you keep. I would advise you to reign them in and put things back in their place. It would be unwise to continue to treat Time like a plaything." These last few words were spat out in a way that gave Ben the impression that the man did not approve of Ben's vocational choices.
How did the man know him? How could he possibly know what DCM had been up to? You had to be into some pretty occult stuff to notice what had been happening for the last few days. Fish didn't know they were in water. Flowers weren't aware of the garden...
Ben's hand reached the figuring in his pocket just as the man spoke again. As the jade warmed up to Ben's hand, the man's features came into focus, lightened, and for the first time Ben beheld the man's face.
"Return to the world, Firenze. Return and heal the breach that threatens-" Suddenly the light from the man's face grew, and Ben staggered back as it grew brighter, and almost painfully so.
The phrase "realization dawned on him" shot through his mind as he reeled back, back, crashing into the pinball machine, back, back through the wall, through Time...
Ben opened his eyes.
It was dark.
A warm breeze washed over his face.
He could smell smoke.
The temple, it would appear, was on fire again.