It is with great hesitancy that I date this page. The trouble with time travel is that time itself becomes utterly irrelevant. Questions like, “What is today’s date?” and “How old are you?” are now, well… ridiculous. Time that I experienced as nine years in the Dreamlands and two in the twenty-first century was experienced here — or now, rather — by my Caledonian cohorts as a matter of weeks. I am not entirely clear on the particulars, but I believe my friends have missed me for somewhere between six and eight weeks. My birthday passed while I was away. It passed once for my friends. But for me? Eleven times. So am I twenty, or am I thirty-one? God only knows.
Things at home are not at all as I left them. I’m not entirely certain that my travels through time did not disrupt some sort of mystical force. How else is it possible that the world to which I returned is so very different from that which I left? Indeed, my beloved family home is gone, burnt to a mere scorched spot on the ground. Family and friends are scattered, Austral having suffered a cataclysm of its own and sunk into the sea. My uncle writes to tell me that he is abroad on a mission for his queen, but my dear Mary is nowhere to be seen. Danyell has relocated his pack to Dee. Michael now makes his home in Winterfell Absinthe. This world appears almost as though I never tread upon it.
Forgive me for my maudlin tone, old friend. After all that has happened, words cannot describe the relief I feel at being back in the Caledon of – if not my time, exactly, then a familiar one. People here know the value of civility. Their manners and dress belie a quiet dignity punctuated by raucous, rollicking good times. Would that the twenty-first century knew – knows? will come to know? – the pleasure of mixing burlesque with literary debate, as we did during my return to the Blue Mermaid. Toga parties, black balls, building… and all without the slightest hint of vulgarity or indecency. I have missed the active, innocent social life afforded by my beloved Steamlands.
I also missed Gordon, to whom I am so gratefully obliged for coming to my rescue. How he did it, I cannot fathom. He mentioned something about star ports or the like. With time for once on my side, Gordon arrived just as I escaped with an unfortunate guard in tow. We three traveled by sea, steam carriage, and finally by foot until we reached the aforementioned star port. Gordon called it forth by means I understood not, and then we stepped through out of the 21st century and into the 19th. I dragged the protesting Sgt. Mixemup against his will, unwilling that he should be able to lead his fellow law enforcement officials to the portal. Leaving aside the metaphysical question of what might occur should a bevy of 21st century police track a criminal through time, I simply did not wish to unleash the evils that are Fineshit and Capalini on an unsuspecting Steamland. The twenty-first century, I have determined, must be altered lest the complete cultural and moral bankruptcy that I witnessed actually comes to pass.
But I digress. I can change the future later. For now, I must continue my narrative. Gordon spirited the sergeant and myself to Miss Ember’s house, where we have now taken shelter. Our hostage drinks and grumbles, but is otherwise manageable. I suspect he knows too much of my prowess with firearms to dare a confrontation. Besides, we hope to return him to his proper time as soon as we can manage it without causing irreparable harm to, well, time. In gratitude to my savior, I offered Gordon whatever thanks it is in my power to give. I should have thought twice. He begged the opportunity to serve me until the end of his days. Bound by my word, I could not but accept him. And so I suppose I am a slaver now. And a murderer. Oh dear.
Oh, diary, I am so many things. I fear none of them are good.
I don’t yet know quite how to commit to paper the things that befell me while I was away. I am certain that I will, in time. Time! Hah! And here we are at that, again. Only the Dame Sans Merci, to whom I owe as much as Gordon for her kind instruction, knows that I spent nine years traveling the Dreamlands in her company. And only Gordon and the Sgt. know that I spent two years incarcerated. I don’t know if anyone will ever know the full truth. I only know that my experience has awakened in me something quite primal and – I daresay – evil. Gone is the bucolic virgin of days past. In her place is an urbane vixen poised to strike.
–Miss Palabra Puddlegum–