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Carved in Time

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For the umpteenth time, the woman was in the Time Engraver's atelier, and he was chiseling crow's feet to her face. Trying to, at the very least – the crow's feet kept disappearing the moment he lifted his tool.

He pulled up a chair and sat on it with a sigh. "Don't you know that wrinkles are beautiful?" he asked the woman.

She didn't answer. Like everyone else under his spell, she was frozen in place.

He sighed again. Of course she couldn't answer.

Maybe the fault was in his tools? He looked at the clock. Not that much longer until the time engravers would gather to engrave time on each other's faces. They acquired the grey hair and wrinkles their human wards did, then went off to spread them. Gradually they aged, and occasionally the eldest of their lot would return replaced by a youth. The Time Engraver had seen it happen once, knew in his bones it was the way of life. Much like the Time Engraver, that youth had known instinctively what to do at the gatherings.

"I'll engrave your face, just you wait," the Time Engraver said to the woman, then snapped his fingers. Time ticked on – and he had a backlog of time to engrave on people's faces.

 

It was a bit under a week later when the Time Engraver next summoned the woman who resisted his tools. She'd stayed late at work with some report or other.

"You should take better care of yourself," he chided, like he always did. Engraving laugh lines and the general signs of age was an enjoyable process of celebration for the person under his tools having come this far. Signs of neglecting the self – well, he'd rather his humans didn't, even if the bags under their eyes enhanced their faces by telling tales of lives lived.

Again, the woman's skin erased his work. He carved the dark bags and crow's feet again and again without result. Finally, he had to admit defeat and send her back to her reports.

Was it his tools, or how he used them? It was almost time for the time engravers to gather. Perhaps he needed to refresh his skills?

No. From the first – day – since he'd awoken, lo those centuries ago, he'd known how to shape people's faces. It was no fault of his, though he would have to work past it.

 

The woman lived well the next few weeks. The Time Engraver attended to his other humans while thinking about how to deal with her case. A larger chisel? Perseverance? If all else failed, he could ask the other time engravers.

 

He got his chance soon enough. She was late at work again, squinting at her screen. With a snap of his fingers, he summoned her to his atelier. Time to test his ideas.

The larger chisel was next. He considered his options – usually, he'd use the smallest or second-smallest for a face of this size. He'd start with the middle size and then the largest if that didn't work.

He breathed in deeply as he brought the chisel to the corner of her eyes. He tapped. The effect really was quite ugly-

-and the line was erased nonetheless. He didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved.

The larger chisels had similar stories. Nothing stayed, no matter how deep or unsightly the line engraved may be. Time for the other tactic.

The Time Engraver went back to the chisel of appropriate size for the woman's face. He engraved a line at the corner of her eyes. It disappeared, of course, but while his first strategy had been power, this one was perseverance. He engraved the line again.

He was Time. He had all the time in the world.

By the twentieth time he engraved the line, the disappearance started slowing down. By the fiftieth, it came at a noticeable delay. On the hundredth attempt, it stayed.

The Time Engraver smiled. "No-one can defeat the hands of time," he said, then went to repeat the process for the other side. After all, it wouldn't do to make his humans asymmetric out of sloppiness.

After he'd finished, he took a look at her. Both eyes now had small crow's feet. They were perhaps a bit smaller than he'd have given her otherwise, but that he could fix at later appointments once he saw how these stayed on her face.

"Don't worry, wrinkles are beautiful, too," he said. With a snap of his fingers, she went back to her life and he summoned the next person to his atelier.