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“Some people have defined Life as negative entropy because it evolves; i.e. develops greater and greater complexities of pattern.”
May 20th, 1985
Carl was jerked out of his reverie by a painful bite on the ear.
“Oww!”  He exclaimed, rubbing at his hurt ear gingerly.  He opened his eyes... then shut them immediately against the too-bright-light of day.  
“Wha?  What’s going on?!”  He finally asked dazedly after a few minutes of sitting there numbly.  The words came out scratchy, his mouth and throat dry.
Next he tried sitting up...
That didn’t work out as planned either.
Head spinning, he felt faint and fell back onto the couch.  Even thinking about moving anymore made him ill.  There was also a buzzing in his ears and it was growing louder.
But then the thought of Tom, once again, snapped him back to reality and slowly—not gracefully—he rose up off the dent he’d made on the couch. 
His knees buckled and he shook like a leaf when he stood but, after a minute or so, he regained his bearings and was back steady on his feet, ready for...  
Ready for...
What exactly? 
He didn’t know. 
He didn’t know.
But had he ever known in the first place?
For a moment he didn’t even know who he really was.  He was having a hard time reconciling the memories he had just regained and separating them from who he was now. 
He was different somehow.  Recollecting those memories from the dream, replacing the ones where he and Tom met in college, were roommates, and just stayed roommates—those were fading fast.   
No, now everything between him and Tom was much closer, much more... intimate. 
Tom had known this, had known about this, all along. 
Why hadn’t he said anything?!
It took Carl a few more minutes to realize that somebody else was in the room with him.   
He stiffened.
            At first he sensed rather than witnessed the intruder. 
            But when he whirled around he saw...
            He saw...
            His younger self. 
            The self he’d been dreaming of...
...was he still in the dream then?
            “What is real?!”  He found himself demanding aloud, not expecting an answer.
            He didn’t know, he sincerely didn’t know anymore, which memories were true and which were false...
            “They’re all real.”  Peach spoke up, squawking and waving her wings as she alighted on his shoulder.
            “You’re... you’re that bird!”  His younger self stammered, more than a little afraid Carl surmised.
            “Her name is Machu Picchu,” Carl found himself responding automatically.  “But we call her ‘Peach.’” 
            “We?”  The other Carl asked tentatively.
            “Tom and I...”  Carl let slip without thinking. 
            His younger self’s eyes widened to an impossible extent.  “So he was here?  Tom was here too?!  His essence must be...I don’t know precisely where yet but you must be the memories I have to gain...”  He trailed off after catching himself saying all that aloud.
            For a long time he and his younger self just stared at each other, neither knowing what to do next. 
            “It’s time.”  Peach cleared her throat, breaking the silence.
And those words were enough to snap the two Carls back to attention. 
“Time for what?”  His younger self asked, still hopelessly confused.  “I mean Tom was here, wasn’t he?”
“What do we have to do?”  Carl demanded, perhaps too harshly, of the macaw on his shoulder.
Peach looked at him incredulously. “What do you think?  Open the door!”
            “What door?”  Both Carls asked simultaneously.
            If Peach were human she’d be rolling her eyes right about now, Carl suspected. 
Instead she just let out an impatient huff, giving each of them withering looks, before bobbing her head in a direction behind them.
            “That door,” she squawked impatiently.
            There was a pause in which both Carls turned to look at one another again, then the door. 
It was a door alright—as solid gold in color as it was in make—and it was hovering a foot off the ground in the middle of the room.
            And with that the two Carls charged towards it in sync and without hesitation.
            But when they reached the door there was a problem. 
            For unlike before, there was no inscription on the handle.
            And what’s more, it wouldn’t open. 
            “Wha—?”  They both turned simultaneously to confront the parrot on Carl’s shoulder. 
            “It’s not obvious?” She said and, not for the first time, Carl wanted to knock the moodiness right out the bird.
            He barely restrained himself.
            “Tell us, oh Enlightened One...” he implored instead.
            Just for that, Peach began preening her feathers in an oblivious manner.
            “Peach...” Carl warned, now showing his fist. 
            Peach cowered.
            “Don’t be so hard on her.”  The younger Carl said, extending his arm.  Peach hopped onto in gratefully. 
            “You don’t know her as well as I do.”  Carl retorted.
            “I will one day... hopefully.”  Younger Carl replied quietly. 
Neither one mentioned that he might not get the chance... 
            That there may or may not be a tomorrow.
It was still up in the air.
            “Okay,” Carl said, clearing his throat.  His voice had cracked again, but this time for a different reason... and he refused to acknowledge why.
            His younger self rubbed at his eyes quickly, trying to be inconspicuous about it as well.
            “What do we do now Peach?” Carl asked at last when he was sure he could complete a coherent sentence. 
            “Braw, answer the question!” 
            “The question,” Carl ruminated for a moment and then remembered when Tom first vanished...
            “Where is Tom?”
“Ask the question!”
            “How do I find him?”
            “Ask the question!”
            “What do I have to do?”
            “Ask the question!”
            “The question?  What is the question?  What’s the answer?”
            The questions floored him and brought Carl back to reality with a chill up and down his spine.  Eerily, the words that ghosted his own were not his anymore, but his younger self’s. 
            “The answer,” Carl started explaining to this other version of himself, “is me... or rather us.  The question is this: ‘Tom, what did you do?  Why did you do it?’”
            “Us,” younger Carl pondered and frowned.  “But doesn’t that only answer part of the question?  I mean, the second part makes sense, he did it for me...us.”  And his voice wavered on the last bit, but he cleared his throat and began anew.
            “What did he do?”  Younger Carl finished softly.
            Carl thought back to all he’d seen in the last who knows how long.
            And even now he still couldn’t explain it. 
            “What’s the answer to that Peach?”  Carl demanded of the bird.
            The look she gave him was no longer sardonic; instead it was saddened and full of pity. 
            “Open the door,” she rasped in a most un-birdlike conduct, using full commandments.  “It’ll take you to Tom.”
            “But how can we open it?” Carl’s younger self spoke up again in frustration.  “There are no words; there is no Oath to take...”
            “You must make up your own.”
            Both Carls were startled by this, looking at Peach then at each other, in case they’d misheard.
            “Tom is the poet.”  Carl protested weakly.  “He’s the writer, not me...”
            “You’d be surprised,” Peach cut him off.  “Inspiration comes to everyone in its own way.” 
            Carl looked down, unable to meet her gaze any longer.  He was most likely the exception...
            There was silence and, when Carl looked up again, he found the two of them watching him.
            Carl thought hard, taking it all in stride, before relenting. 
            “How do we start?”
            “Well, what would you say to Tom if he were here?”  Peach finished with a should-be-obvious air.
            “You’re stalling.” 
            And Peach was right, Carl decided.  Now was the time for action, not debating on whether or not to use rhyme or haiku in making their Oath.
            “Alright,” he faced his younger self.  “We’ll do this line by line and hope for the best.  I’ll start...”  Carl turned to the door, closed his eyes, and after some thought, spoke in a loud, clear voice:
From the moment you disappeared,
Was when my journey to find you started...
            His younger self nodded, affirming its truth, and then began with:  
We said goodbye but it was not the end...
            Carl gulped at the words before adding in his part hastily:
            No matter how far away you are,
Your place will always be here... 
He blinked in surprise, not too bad so far.  Though he had no idea where all this was coming from...
I have found the one I want to protect...
Younger Carl said with conviction.
We'll be brought together by fate many times over...
Carl opened his misty eyes—not remembering when he closed them—to see his younger self fighting off tears.  He saw Peach nuzzling him, trying to provide a modicum of comfort.  He felt like crying himself but he dared not, not until the spell was over.  He only hoped his younger self would last that long...
His younger self cleared his throat roughly before going on:
Just being able to be in the same time with you, I’d...
            Carl himself choked at that.  It was true.  If only Tom would return, he’d...
...what would he do? 
Carl shook himself out of it.  They were close to losing themselves in the Oath and that was very dangerous.
It was time to end this before anything more got out of hand.  He understood now that the Oath was purely intended to ready them for what lay ahead.  To well up the emotions that was required to do any Spell in Wizardry.  To bring to face and confirm the Purpose that was theirs alone.
I will travel to the eternal place, the never-ending dream...
            Carl blinked.  So that’s where they were going.  He finally knew that.   That’s where he had been and where Tom still was. 
            It wasn’t Timeheart though. 
            No, Timeheart was a place of beginnings and endings and reincarnations—Reality working through the One’s Plan, always moving, always fluid, always happening.

            The place where he had been, the place where they would find Tom—though endless as well—was stuck in one place over all Time. 
In my dream we were together...
His younger self was looking at him expectantly now.  Letting him have the last say.  Letting him know that his Tom meant as much to him as Tom meant to Carl.
Carl acknowledged that with a nod.  And then, after a deep breath, he searched for the words in his soul...
From this dream,
I will take you away,
For a moment Carl feared his hesitation had interrupted the spell, but the poignant pause must have conveyed his emotions more than words could for with a slight creak the door into the Void opened.