A Tour of the World Between Worlds
The next day and a half were focused on gathering supplies and scouting. I found it oddly comforting to jump through trees and hide in shadows as I quickly made my way around the world. It was likely due to training; whatever that had been like was severe enough to become ingrained without memory.
The creature did not appear again, and I could not tell if that made the other two more or less nervous. Lerato joked that it must be too scared to return, but on the second day, he hauled some of his supposed ‘training equipment’ to the camp and began spending his free time moving the odd machines. Pythagoras spent most of his free time couped up in his cabin working on his project. If the bags around his yellow eyes were any indication, I don’t think he slept at all, but I didn’t see much of it since we would quickly part ways to continue working.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lerato said upon my asking. “He’ll rest when he’s done; there’s nothing we can say to change his mind until then.”
I wasn’t reassured. Having a tired ally would be detrimental in any upcoming battle, but my attempts to speak to the short goblin were brushed off as he remained in his own little world.
As the end of the day approached, I made my way into my cabin and fell on the grey bed. It was exhausting, to say the least, and I had no idea why I was working so hard.
“Good work today!” Azul said. He had it lucky to be able to ride wherever I went. For my part, my shoulders felt stiffer than they ought to have; I must have been working too hard.
I mainly had ignored Azul the last few days; at first, it was due to his secretness about this grey world. As I was away from the others, I asked about their theories, but he chuckled and said, ‘it was more fun to watch us spin our wheels’ or something to that extent. After that, we began working on our fortress, and I became too busy to even notice he was there.
“Shut up and let me sleep,” I groaned.
“I don’t think you will get as much time to rest as you would like… that aside, I wanted to return to the topic from several days ago, of the nature of this world.”
“What brought this up?”
“Nothing of importance. I just wanted to clarify that I will tell you all I can once we find the keys.”
I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Was he trying to pique my curiosity to get me searching? Or perhaps, there was some sort of constraint on when he could tell me.
“So you won’t say anything until then?”
“A little bit of won’t. A little bit of can’t. The devil is in the details, or so they say.”
“So, where are the keys?”
Azul smiled with a sharp toothy grin. As he did, there was a knock at the door. I pushed myself off the bed and opened it just enough to peak out. Pythagoras was standing in front. A large sack, at least two times his size, was tied to his back. He tapped his foot impatiently until he noticed I had opened the door.
“Kiko! I need you to come with me!” he said quickly. Getting sleep tonight would only be a dream.
“What is it?” I asked, making no effort to hide my disinterest. My eyes squinted, and my voice was the least bit friendly as I leaned on the doorframe. My expression, tone, and posture were ignored or simply went over the short goblin's head.
“The mines! I’m ready to go, but I need some help!”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Why don’t you just ask Lerato?”
“He’s asleep, and nothing will wake him for at least three more hours!”
“Can it wait?”
“Of course not! The inspiration will be lost!”
“You ought to go,” Azul added.
After my short reply, Pythagoras led the way into the dark and dense woods. Whatever light the world used had already faded, and we needed the orange glow of a torch to light our way.
We emerged from the trees in front of a steep rock face. It would be mistaken to call it a mountain since it was much too short to be labeled as such. Still, the rocky terrain was not of an unimpressive size.
A large opening had been smoothed unnaturally in the side, and a grey wooden structure had been placed around the edges, making it look like a gate. As we entered, Pythagoras used our torch to light a series of lanterns that guided the path. They were hung low and seemed much newer than the mines themselves. Likely he had added them when he discovered the place.
We stopped at every torch to light it while moving deeper into the dark depths.
It took some time, but we eventually reached the end to the dark tunnel. Pythagoras set the torch near the wall, and a plume of fire suddenly began running around a large cavern's perimeter. As I looked into the space, my eyes took a minute to adjust to the new sight. We stood at the top of a staircase that descended into the site.
What Pythagoras lit was a long stony shelf that now held up a fire. It was an unnatural addition about halfway up the cave wall. Down below, all manners of tools and materials were laid out and scattered around a giant metal skeleton.
Pythagoras ran down the steps to the large form much quicker than I would have expected his short stature to allow. He pressed a clawed hand to the arm, which must have been 50 times the size of his own, and smiled.
“I’m back!” he said to the metal structure. Did talking to it help? I certainly wasn’t going to say anything.
The short goblin began to climb up on the arm and to the chest of the giant form. A hatch opened, and he lowered the large sack onto the machine. “Ah, Kiko, I’ll be working here for a while. Just stand a little further back, and if something blows up, run and get help!” he said before disappearing into the inside of the skeleton.
I took several steps back. His words did not do much to instill confidence in me. How was I supposed to get help when only, apparently unwakeable, Lerato was waiting at the camp? It was also frustrating to think I came all this way to stand around. I wasn’t sure what I could do, but he could have at least tried to make it seem like I had a more substantial role.
I let out a sigh and looked around the cavern. Other than the metal skeleton and equipment that Pythagoras had obviously brought at one time or another, the place was empty. Above me, at the top, it looked like there was a small crack in the grey sky above. If it was busted through, one might be able to escape that way.
Several more openings were littered around the cavern’s outmost wall. I walked up to the closest one and looked down into the tunnel. It was not smoothed out like the mines we entered; the rough walls seemed to sway back and forth into a zigzag, preventing me from seeing just how far it went.
“Not that opening, Kiko,” Azul chimed in from my shoulders. “Go down the path to the left of this one.”
“Why?” I asked. Despite my words, I began to walk to the spot.
“There is a key in these mines!” the blue dragon explained. His voice had a tiny bit of inflection like he was having trouble containing his excitement. I peered around the wall into the dark opening. The cave curved down, making it impossible to tell what might be below. Still, I pressed on and began to descend into the darkness.
My vision was quickly lost, and if the path hadn’t been so narrow that I could feel both sides simultaneously, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I fumbled around in the dark for a while, with the occasional comment from Azul to go right or left when we reached a fork. The longer it went on, the more I felt like something was slipping away. It was like I wanted to shout with all my might but felt I couldn’t. I shook my head and continued to keep my mind on the task at hand.
We emerged from the dark pathway into a dimly lit space. I blinked several times as I waited for my eyes to adjust to the sudden burst of light. The shapes came in fuzzy for a moment, but there appeared to be something painted on the wall and a floor of glowing objects.
Eventually, it became clear the light was coming from some plants on the ground—something between moss and vines that glowed with an eerie blue light.
The mural on the wall faded over time, and the ambiance did not do much to clear anything up. All I could make out was the dark shapes of a serpent wrapped around a ball. What appeared to be people were pointing spears at it with poses somewhere between defensive and aggressive.
I stepped forward and put my hand on the mural. In an instant, I felt a rumbling. Either the cave was shaking, or I was. I stepped back and looked around, but the sensation did not fade. It took at least three minutes before things seemed to calm down.
The painting began to make noise after, and a clawed hand from the serpent started to stretch off the wall. Between two clawed fingers sat a black metal key. I hesitated a moment, then approached and accepted the object. It weighed more than I expected and felt cold in my hands. When I looked back up, the painting was normal; nothing was out of the ordinary except for the new key I possessed.
My left arm immediately felt heavy, and I quickly took notice of a weaved string, around my wrist, with an additional key hanging on it. I brought the new one close, and threads suddenly jumped around the head. They tied themselves in a knot I suspect would be difficult to undo.
The new key fell free from my hand and rang as it hit the first one. An instant later and they were gone. I blinked several times before I was sure I had seen things right.
The experience had been different from the first time. I could not tell if there was a reason behind it. Was it due to thinking of the object as keys that I saw them that way? Or would each one be a little different? I didn’t have much more time to think before Azul spoke.
“Excellent, Kiko! We are on a good trajectory.”
“If you say so,” I replied as I began to go back through the narrow and dark path.
“Oh, I know so! There are much happier days coming soon!”
I didn’t answer and continued my way through the dark pathway. I ended up returning before Pythagoras ever left the metal body. After some time of standing, I found a comfortable patch of wall—what made it more comfortable than the rest of the stone, I could not tell—and fell asleep.
Pythagoras eventually woke me in the morning, and we headed back.