Chapter 35:

A Fortification

A Tour of the World Between Worlds

We filled Pythagoras in and spent the next few days building a fence around the camp. A frown accompanied his yellow-orange face as we worked; likely, he wanted to finish tinkering with his machine, but Pythagoras didn’t complain.

The group had some posts which could be nailed down into the grey ground and a loose metal weaving with barbed ends. It went up easily enough, but the defense seemed lacking. Nevertheless, we wrapped the fence around the camp, leaving only a small opening for an entrance and exit.

After finishing, I sat down to relax on one of the tree stumps and looked at our handiwork. It stood maybe as high as my waist. The poles were uneven, and the weaved metal sagged in several spots. To say it was done poorly or ugly would be an understatement.

By the entrance, Lerato and Pythagoras were tinkering with a small box hooked to the fence with wires.

“Clever.” Azul mused from my shoulder. He had been largely silent during the heavy work, I suppose construction was not his forte, or perhaps he was to upset by the bad job we were doing to comment? Either way, what there were doing now interested him.

I made my way over to the duo and looked at the box. It was made from wood and poorly nailed together. Inside the box sat a stone of some kind. The other ends of the wires attached to the fence were glued on the rock.

“What is this?” I asked.

“The final touches!” Lerato answered as Pythagoras finished attaching the wires to the fence. He took a few steps back and motioned me to do so. I obliged but kept my eyes trained on the stone.

Lerato put a hand on the stone. Glowing armor appeared on his body as he activated his power. At the same time, the stone glowed a bright silver. Lerato’s armor disappeared, and in the next second, the fence began to change.

The weak wires were replaced with a towering smooth wall that glowed the same color as Lerato’s armor. Each grew in a section like a stiff monolith jumping out of the ground. The transformation happened in a circular motion, moving away from where we stood around the perimeter.

As the change was completed on the other side of the entrance, a large door seemed to fall in between. It was as if a castle wall was built in an instant.

Lerato let go of the stone and smiled.

“It's magic, you see!” the hero explained.

Pythagoras rolled his eyes.

“It’s nothing impressive!” he shouted back.

I looked back and forth between the two. Lerato seemed to shake his head and chuckle as if he recalled something amusing. Pythagoras’ face wore a frown. He wiggled his claws like he was trying to drum them on a flat surface.

“Forgive our goblin friend; he doesn’t like to discuss magical things.”

“I’m telling you, it’s nothing special; I just haven’t cracked the code yet!”

Pythagoras pointed to the box with the rock. Like the rest of the fence, the box had transformed so that the stone looked like it was placed on a pedestal.

Perhaps seeing confusion in my expression, Lerato elaborated:

“We once had a wizard of sorts come through and show us how to use this type of stone. Had some magical mumbo jumbo to cover how it worked, but it can transform my power as long as there is a base to build upon!”

I nodded, but Lerato’s explanation still felt lacking. Based on his expressions as he tried to explain the stone, I suspected he didn’t understand thoroughly enough to articulate any better.

“And that’s the thing!” Pythagoras butted in. “Your power is not magic! It has an understanding to it! I will solve it!”

Lerato laughed. I did not see what was so funny.

“Excuse him; he doesn’t like mystery all that much. I think that’s the only reason he hangs around.”

“Of course! If I wasn’t studying, your people’s crazy theories would be unchallenged!”

The conversation seemed to be shifting.

“How else do you explain this world?” Lerato asked.

“I’ve gone over this with you so many times!”

They seemed like they were arguing. Pythagoras, at least, was getting energetic and throwing his arms around as he spoke. Lerato stood stiff like a statue. He smiled as he crossed his arms. Though, it didn’t look like either resented the other at the moment. A simultaneous friendly and unfriendly banter between friends? It was an odd thing to watch, and I kept my mouth shut.

Or, at least, I would have if Lerato did not speak to me next.

“What about you, Kiko? What do you think this world is?”

That was quite a question. I stared blankly as both waited for an answer.

“Shall I tell you what to say? I imagine anything I provided would be shocking to both,” Azul asked from my shoulder with a devious chuckle

I resisted the urge to tell him to be quiet; the others would only be confused if they didn’t see or hear the blue dragon slung over my shoulders and around my neck.

“It’s, uh, a grey world that takes you to other worlds. And whatever happens here affects the other places.” I gave my answer with an awkward tone. After finishing, Pythagoras confidently put his hands on his hips.

“See, just like I said!”

“Grey world?... Anyway, that’s not quite what you say.” Lerato replied. Why he repeated the grey part was overlooked by the goblin. Though I could not tell what was special about it.

“Close enough!” the goblin shot back. Perhaps seeing my confusion, Pythagoras went into more depth. “You see, I have a theory that this world acts as the gears in a clock might. We are in the mechanics that run the other worlds, and once I crack the code, we will be free from the constraints!”

“Free to do what?” I asked, but a shrug was the only reply I was given.

“I don’t know; we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!”

Lerato shook his head.

“He’s got it all wrong, though. This place is closer to a dream.” I could see they were not aligned on this as Lerato spoke. “Everything we see here is different from one another; if we chat long enough, we find differences with what we see. Uh. We need to interpret it like a dream to discover ourselves.”

He spoke ineloquently, and I suspected he was repeating someone else’s thoughts. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about with the dream idea but mentioning everything we see here as being different was something interesting. As if to further expound on the concept, Lerato continued. “For example, Kiko, what does Cherry look like to you.”

“A fire in the shape of a human,” I replied while thinking of the strange guard on the staircase.

“Exactly! I see him as a bird, but whatever happened in the past makes it so we can only see him a certain way.”

“Bah, nonsense!” Pythagoras chimed in. He pointed to a grey tree trapped in our newly created fortress. “What is that?’ he asked me.

“A tree,” I replied.

“Exactly, and Lerato, what do you see?”

“A tree,” Lerato answered with a chuckle.

“So, we all see it as a tree. And we all see the houses as houses. And grass as grass. And so on. Just because Cherry is an odd being doesn’t mean we can ascribe your dream-like theory to the whole world.”

“I could say the same about your idea as well. You came up with it after looking at the dam-ed world, but we have no idea what is happening inside.”

From my shoulder, I heard Azul chuckle. What he meant by the laugh was beyond me. It sounded like one that might be made when watching a baby play with simple toys. Was one idea correct, both incorrect, or perhaps one or both were close. I couldn’t tell, nor could I ask the dragon invisible to the others.

They bickered a while longer, but in the end, it seemed like a truce was made on the principle that they would agree to disagree. Afterward, the discussion quickly switched to casual banter about some food I had never eaten, and we carried on with readying supplies to stay in our base for a long time. It seemed we were making sure we had enough to last winter, which I hoped wouldn’t be the case.