Keya Ces kept apace behind the broad shoulders of her new Master. He was not as she envisioned a mage or nobility to be, neither frail from tireless study nor buxom from excessive feasting. Instead, kinship with silly childhood fables was all her mind could muster. He was decidedly not that! Nay, he need only speak, and such fancies were shattered. The queer accent and his baffling turns of phrase fit amongst no folk she knew. When he was not acting the court fool, however, his gaze spoke of discernment and acumen. And his miraculous feats belied more than foolery could ever obfuscate.
As the sun pulled shadows from nearby trees lancing across the earthen path, they traipsed from Ravis Village and out of the valley. Master and neophyte kept a brisk pace. About a mile down the road, Jon abruptly turned off the pass heading for the mottled orange autumnal trees. Where they entered the underbrush, it showed absolutely no indication of any tracks or marker. Having spent much time surveying in the forest near her home, Keya’s keen Elven eyes were sure of this.
“Master Kel, where are we heading?”
“Nowhere in particular; I just need a spot out of sight is all.”
“To what end?”
Roughly three hundred yards further as they climbed over fallen trees and trudged through detritus, the ground levelled off near a jagged decaying stump.
“This’ll do just fine,” he said, producing the same black orb Keya had seen before. Ascertaining a soft, rotted part of the stump, he wedged it in.
“What use is that trinket? You seem to place it everywhere.”
“It’s an extra eye, for both me and Evy.” He touched his temple. “Can see in ways and directions I cannot. Sight by sound and heat are some of its features. If we have been followed, it will give us fair warning.”
“Is it a trophy from a magical beast or a ritual artefact?”
“Neither Keya, none of the tools I use are magical. It is all technology devised following the most basic natural laws of the multiverse. It is called science.”
“But I have seen you perform feats only mages could manage, nay even the greatest spell weavers of legend may fall short. This ‘science’ is surely just magic of a different sort.”
He huffed a kindly sigh. “It’ll take you a while to fully grasp even some of what you will see in the coming days; you have no framework to build on. Just sit back and enjoy the ride for now.” Retrieving a foot-long black stake from his pack, he passed it to her. “This you might grasp sooner. Please describe it and what you can infer from its design.”
She delicately held it at arm's length. It may well be dangerous; my new Master is nothing if not capricious.
“It's harmless.” He chuckled.
“Oh,” she said, relaxing. “Please give such assurance beforehand, if you would be so kind. No ‘framework’, as you say.” Weighing and flicking it with a finger it produced a dull clack, with next to no repercussion. Sniffing it indicated some novel scents, but Keya was no goblin.
“Good! You’ve got an inquisitive knack,” said Master while nodding.
“Too light to be metal, even hollowed, which it is.” She indicated the tightly packed folds of dull green and brown fabric protruding from the open end. “Is it painted ivory or lacquered wood? The sheen of the surface feels and looks similar.”
“It’s not wood or bone, but you’re spot on with the density. It’s a material your world has not invented yet: plastic.”
“‘Plasstick.’” Keya repeated, trying the word herself.
“An extremely versatile material. The carapaces of insects and shellfish are probably your closest analogues. Ninety per cent of my ‘artefacts’ will contain parts made with it. A miracle material if you will, but not the only one. Of the forms ‘Earth’ or solids can take, your world knows very few.”
“A ‘miracle material’ you say. How does that differ from a magical one?”
“A figure of speech.” Jon smiled. “Continue, apprentice.”
She sent her weak aura into the hollowed horn. “My limited magic sense confirms the esoteric nature of this Earth.”
“Using magic diagnostically?! Very cool.”
Keya continued. “Inside, I divine mostly thin folds of cloth and string of some kind. There also appears to be something odd at the bottom within the pointed tip.”
“That’s amazing, Kay, colour me impressed! I don’t have the friggin X-Ray sense you do, but having assembled and repaired tons these things I can confirm it.”
“Your praise is unearned Master; my Earth sense is meagre as previously stated. I can barely encompass the entirety of this item. I am also none the wiser as to its function.”
“Well, stick it in the ground and see! Embed it all the way in, flush with the surface,” said Jon.
Finding another spot on the ground, she glanced up to confirm.
“There will work, make it as vertical as possible,” then added, “for your sake.”
She punched the foot long black stake into the damp soil, checked orientation and stepped back.
“Evy, deploy the rift.” A hiss abruptly bellowed from the horn. “That odd thing you sensed inside the bottom pointy end is an air valve, a Rift air value. The air is basically being pumped across universes. The thing emerging is a slim tyre tube: a sack in the shape of a hoop. Instead of it being a water sack, it holds air. The tube is ejected and erected as it inflates, as you can see.”
The fabric spewed out the top and continued to unfurl. It took about 30 counts to expand fully. Keya scrutinised it, slack-jawed and enraptured. Was there anything to which it could compare? “It… grows, like a plant.”
“Scraping the bottom of the barrel with metaphors, I see,” Jon commented. “Technically, the last part was a simile, but still.”
A vertical, six-foot ring rose from the ground, ever stiffer as the hiss, now softer, continued. Mottled earthen colours covered most of its surface save for a thin metallic ring on the inner arc. Inspecting the glinting strip, it was, in fact, finely braided silver threads that produced a supple cord. Was it metal or fabric? She could not tell, and she dared not touch it. The cord was half-sunken into the flesh of the expanded hoop. The rest of the dappled ring was clothed in a bizarrely decorative matte fabric. Fully formed, the artifice cast a long elliptical shadow off the last rays of sunlight as the smaller sister moons, Yil and Yen, took ascendancy.
The hoop was unobstructed. Keya could step through if she wished; she verily did not wish to. Rather, she stood dumbly rigid like a babe seeing the world for the first time, which is precisely how she felt.
Master Kel waited patiently, hands behind his back, not so uncaring as to rush before she regained composure. At long last, she turned to him.
“Now you might be thinking why go to all that effort? Why not just use the other ring from earlier?”
Keya vigorously shook her head. Nought but the spectacle before her occupied her stupefied thoughts.
“No? Well, I’m gonna tell ya anyway. Manual setup uses minimal equipment, is cheap, and disposable.” Listing them on his fingers. “But what happens if I’m not here to set it up because I’m on the other end? Remote deployment and redeployment has several benefits that will become apparent in time.”
His convoluted scheming made little sense to her, but the absorbed commentary did accommodate her mental fugue. “Why the haphazard colours?”
“It’s camouflage. Even inflated, it would be hard to spot this far off with the surrounding plant life. Deflation and inflation can be controlled remotely.”
For the explanation of control, ‘by magic’ would have to suffice. Albeit, upon re-examination of the colours, she fathomed his rationale. It would surely be trying to espy this hoop from further off, even for her eyes.
“How will we find it then?”
His lips spread with a disarming smile: a look Grandpa had often given as he tutored her. What do you see in me inscrutable human? “A discussion for another time. Evy, connect to the rift room.”
And before her eyes, the interior soundlessly blinked to elsewhere. Light beamed out from a room beyond. She stalked to the other side of the ring and saw another hole in the air.
The walls inside were all stony grey and perfectly flat. That artisans would spend so much time on smoothing walls alone was untenable.
“You can go through either side; it leads to the same room but on opposite event horizons.”
“I’m not sure if I can…” said Keya. Her feet wanted to go backwards rather than forward.
“Take my hand; I will lead.” He raised an arm toward her. “The first leap can be nerve-wracking for some. Come this side; we’ll go together.”
First assuring that Gavin's shortsword was belted to her waist, she reluctantly approached him and grabbed hold. Keya was no trained warrior, but she knew where the sharp end went, and Grandpa had drilled some rudimentary swordplay into her over the years.
Master Kelly moved forward with her in tow and gradually traversed the hoop, pulling her along. She squeezed his hand desperately despite herself.
A heartbeat later, they were on the other side, and the rear circle showing the forest blinked away. On the other... end? the ring was a far more robust and glided affair: a permanent fixture supported atop a greystone ramp. It was centred in a square room of the same demure colour, with an outlandish door at one end, and long dazzling illuminating poles on the roof. They were not roof slats as she had assumed from brief glances at his magical larder. No, these were bars affixed to the ceiling suffused with a heatless glow as bright a the sun.
Awe and curiosity overwhelmed her as she caught sight of the wry smile on Jon’s face.
“Welcome to the Bunker; you can let go of my hand now.” Realising, she detached herself swiftly.
“Where are we?” Her voiced hushed in wonder.
“We’re deep underground, about 300 metres down. But more importantly, we are not in your world anymore. Follow me.”
He cranked a silver metal wheel on the door at the one end of the room. A series of levers and pins released and the door pulled outwards creaking a little on sturdy hinges. Beyond was a series of rooms and areas one more opulent than the next.
Master Kelly mentioned them each casually as they briefly moved through; she barely listened.
“…it’s one circular floor; this curved corridor runs a circuit right around. If you get lost just stick to it until you come back around…”
Pristine halls spanned the abode. All the walls were uniform and illuminated. Profusely colourful art was plastered and hung casually, often carelessly and haphazardly ajar, even on the ceiling. The thin gleaming canvases were rectangular or contoured to the intricate and vibrant paintings they portrayed. Most of it was unframed and glued to the walls, like mere vandalism. A few were directly painted on the paper-smooth stone. ‘Painted’ was a dubious description for she saw no brush marks, anywhere. Perhaps the workmanship was so fine such that the painter's hand was invisible. Here and there more familiar framed art was also displayed. But, much to her chagrin, they too depicted scenes more bizarre and fantastical than the next. Beasts and vistas beyond her wildest fancies, or darkest nightmares. Men and women, mostly human, clothed in outlandish garb engaged, or sat, in scenes of which she could not make head or tail.
Jonathan Kelly strode past all of it with paltry disregard, and yet every image was a masterful art piece. She imagined a noble might dally on this depiction or that, boasting of its beauty and significance, in so doing demonstrate his learned wealth. Master Kelly did not even slow; it was nothing to him.
Scintillating and eclectic trinkets of all shapes and sizes were bestrewn haphazardly, as if garbage on every surface. As they moved further in, the walls became less cluttered, with the majesty of the rooms themselves seizing her attention.
One room was only walled shelves full of books up to the cornice; the rainbow of colours from their spines alone would make a dye merchant faint. The kitchen was twice the size of her cabin, and gleaming mosaic counters and cupboards reflected the dazzling light on every surface.
Strange artefacts big and small were everywhere, one more bizarre than the next. And glass was everywhere: smooth flat panes so flawless, not even the tiniest of gemstones were so immaculate. Room upon room was novel and opulent in yet another preposterous way. Keya could comprehend maybe a tenth of what she saw. Even so, kings and emperors would wage war for the treasures stowed here.
It is too much; I cannot… Feet faltered drawing her to a stop. With hand reaching for the wall, she steadied herself as a bout of dizziness broke upon her.
“Oi, you okay there?” Master’s voice echoed, as if from afar.
“I didn’t give that pill for nothing, you know.”
That was right! The warding ‘red pill’, how could she forget. So this had been why! Fathoming an affliction worse than hers currently, was unconcionable. Just as quickly as the dizziness waxed, it waned, and her bearings returned. Mostly.
“What dynasty do you hail from to have such wealth?” She peered up. “Is all this yours alone?”
“Dynasty?! Nah, juffrou I’m just a boy from Jozi. Aint no royal blood in these veins. But ja, I’ve done pretty well for myself over the last few years. I’ve managed to prospect the Witwatersrand gold vein a few times. The commission was pretty good. Plus a few other income streams. Kimberly was fair game too, but diamonds ain't what they used to be.
“I don’t own absolutely everything here, but the Bunker is mine. Let’s leave finances for later, or perhaps never. Are you ready to move again?”
“I think so.” Her feet resumed their gallant shuffle, feeling moderately recovered.
“Good, there’s plenty to do. We’ll start with induction in the VR and Training room. VR means Virtual Reality FYI; It’s often dubbed the Dream Room by newcomers.”
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Bio: I didn't know what a true passion was until I started writing, and didn't know what true gratitude was until others started reading it. I would do it for free, I would pay in fact. I have, I do, but maybe one day I won't. I'll never stop regardless.