The space Tip found herself in was dark, but it wasn’t quiet.
She took a couple of blind steps forward into the blackness and stopped, listening. Muffled machinery sounds grew louder and then quieter. Voices were coming from somewhere close, and then a loud blast of something that sounded like a hunting horn. Tip jumped.
“What is this place?” Val climbed out of the hole behind her and looked around.
Tip realised she could see Val, and that the darkness wasn’t total. Cracks of light shone from one side of the room. She could see now that it was a room. She went closer to the light and found it was a window that had been boarded over. Tip pressed her face to one of the cracks.
Outside was a city street. It was night time and the street was bathed in amber light emitting from oddly shaped lanterns at the tops of metal poles spaced at regular intervals down the street. On the other side of the broad street were buildings that she supposed mirrored the one she was in. The sides of the buildings looked very smooth as if they had been planed flat. The ground surface was also very smooth and even. A few human shapes were visible further down the street. Those must have been the voices she’d heard.
“Tip?” Kerrick touched her shoulder.
“It’s a city,” she said. “Must be a rich one. The buildings are huge.” While the others crowded to the window to peer out, Tip went looking for a way out of the room, feeling along the walls for any sign of a door. She found a set of doors on the wall opposite the window, but they only led into an empty closet. She had more luck with the wall to the left of the window. There was a stout wooden door that opened when she turned the handle.
Outside was a dim passageway. Light came from her right, spilling through an opaque glass window in a door that led outside. She went closer. There was no handle on the door. However, a metal locking mechanism opened smoothly when she twisted a knob at eye height. Tip stepped out into the street.
The door clicked shut behind her. She turned to look at it. No knob on this side. Only a tiny jagged slit where you could insert a key. If you had a key. Tip did not have a key. Turning back to the street, she regarded the scene. Everything was so startlingly straight and uniform. The buildings were rectangular boxes containing smaller rectangles of windows and doors. The street was made up of flat, square stones that interlocked in a uniform pattern. It was a far cry from the uneven cobbles of Winstell - the only town she’d ever seen outside of Grevick Settlement.
“Tip!” the faint yell came from inside the building. She knocked on the glass of the door to let the others know where she was.
“She’s outside,” came Kerrick’s muffled voice, followed by a few moments of discussion while the others worked out how to unlock the door. While that was going on, a man passed along the street on the other side from Tip. When he glanced at Tip, she nodded a greeting. But instead of nodding back the man glared and looked pointedly away. Had she offended him?
The door opened and Tip darted inside, crowding the others back into the dark passageway.
“Tip, you idiot,” exclaimed Kerrick. “Don’t just disappear through locked doors like that. We need to stick together!”
“If we go out of that door, we can’t get back in,” Tip announced.
“That’s what I mean,” exclaimed Kerrick, “What if there had been something bad waiting for you-“
“Tip, did you see any place we can get food out there?” interrupted Sol.
“Not directly outside,” Tip told him. “We might have to go a bit further from the Underrun this time.”
“Is that safe?” Val asked anxiously.
Tip shrugged. “There weren’t any armed bandits waiting to kill me when I stepped outside.”
“No, but seriously-“
“It looks like a prosperous city,” Tip said. “They must have marketplaces and such.”
“Not ones that are open in the middle of the night, surely,” Kerrick said.
“Besides, we have no money to buy from a market,” pointed out Val. “They’re not going to take kindly to us trying to steal it.”
“So what’s your plan?” Tip asked. “Sit around in here and wait for food to appear out of thin air?”
“I was only saying,” Val retorted.
Kerrick said, “Let’s go out there together,” he shot a meaningful glance at Tip, “and look around. In the worst case, if we can’t find any food or it’s too expensive, we can go home.”
“Without any food?” asked Sol, shocked. “But the children!”
“I’m sure we’ll find something,” Tip assured him.
From outside there came the muffled noise of machinery. It got louder and louder. Then with a swish, it passed by and was gone.
“What was that?” asked Val in a scared voice.
“I don’t know but I heard it before at the start when I climbed out of the trap door,” said Tip.
“It was a vehicle.” Kerrick was staring at the opaque glass of the door. “Like a mining cart, except closed in.”
“But there aren’t any tracks out there for it to run on,” Tip said, confused.
However Val was staring at Kerrick, her face a sickly yellow in the light filtering through the glass. “Kerrick?” she said. “How do you know what it was?”
Tip realised what Val was getting at. The glass in the top half of the door was completely opaque. It allowed light through. If people had been passing on the other side of it, they might have been able to see dark shapes going past, but not enough detail to identify objects in the distance like Kerrick just had. She turned to Kerrick. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“I saw it,” Kerrick said, a note of discomfort in his voice. “You know the other day when I said I could see through things? That’s still happening.”
There was silence for a long moment while they all digested Kerrick’s words.
“I thought you were imagining things,” said Val.
“So you can see everything through that glass?” asked Tip. “See clearly? As if it’s normal glass?”
“Yes,” he said. “I can’t explain how. I can tell that the glass is opaque and logically I know I shouldn’t be able to see through it. But I can.”
“Kerrick,” exclaimed Sol. “You’ve got super sight!”
“Can you see through the wall as well or just the window?” Tip demanded.
“Just the glass,” said Kerrick. “The wall is too solid. When we were at home I could see through the curtains and the trees to the path, but not through the walls of the house. I think it has to be something that already lets light through.”
“Still counts as super sight,” Sol assured him.
“Super sight or not, it ought to come in handy,” said Tip. “If you can see through things, we’ll have an easier time finding food.”
“Speaking of which,” said Val. “Marit and the children are waiting…”
They hunted for a key to the outside door but didn’t find one. There were other doors in the dark corridor, but they were all locked and didn’t respond to Tip’s attempts to pick them.
After spending time fiddling with the mechanism that locked the outside door, Kerrick figured out how to fasten it into an unlocked position. They would have to pull the door closed and take the chance that no one else came through and locked it again. They debated leaving someone behind to guard it, but it felt safer to stay together, even if they risked a locked door between them and the boats. As Kerrick pointed out. They could always break the window and get in that way. It would be more difficult to recover a lost member of the group.
When they arrived on the street, Tip pointed at a plaque on the wall near the door. “Look. The doors have numbers. We should make a note of this one so we can find the right door again. Number 1162.”
“That seems like a very high number,” said Val. “Surely there aren’t so many houses in the city?”
“Which way?” asked Kerrick
“Left,” said Tip confidently. She chose the direction purely because it was the opposite direction to the way the glaring man had been going. She didn’t fancy meeting him again.
Before they had gone more than two steps away from Door 1162, another of the loud vehicles went past. It was moving so fast Tip hardly had time to see anything more than a glint of metallic yellow before it was gone. “Those things are so loud,” exclaimed Val, who had darted behind Kerrick at the first sign of the noise.
“I wonder how they move,” said Sol. “Maybe they have a steam engine inside?”
“I imagine it must be something like that to allow it to move so fast,” mused Kerrick.
“It smelled bad,” said Tip wrinkling her nose. “Give me a mining cart any day.”
They walked for a while along the street, which remained as empty and as uniform as ever. Eventually, they came to an intersection where another street crossed theirs at right angles. Kerrick made everyone wait while he checked for danger with his super sight before they raced across and continued in the same direction.
At the next intersection of streets, there was a broad plaza covered in white rectangular markings. On the far side of the plaza stood a brightly-lit building whose front side appeared to be made mostly of glass. It bore a sign with words written in a script too elaborate for them to decipher. Next to the sign was a circular plaque bearing the numbers 2 and 4.
“Could this be a marketplace?” asked Val sweeping her gaze over the space. “Maybe those markings are to show where the stalls are to go.”
“It’s very empty,”said Tip doubtfully. “Where are all the trestles and awnings and everything?”
“Maybe they’re stored in the building,” Val said.
Kerrick was squinting at the bright building. “We’re in the right place,” he said. “I don’t know whether this space is a marketplace, but I’m pretty sure that building a store.”
“That’s what I just said,” Val said crossly. “It’s where they store the market stuff.”
“No!” exclaimed Kerrick. “It’s a store. Like Oakham’s General in Grevick. An indoor market where you can buy things.”
They all turned to look. The store’s brightly-lit windows practically invited you to look inside. Now that she knew what to look for, Tip could make out strips of colour that she was 80% sure were shelves filled with items.
“But if it’s like Oakham’s General doesn’t that mean we need money?” said Sol. “We don’t have any, do we?”
“No we don’t, Tip told him. To the others, she said, “Shall we go in?”
“Let’s wait out here and watch for a while longer,” said Kerrick. “We don’t know what the rules are in the store. We won’t know how to act.”
“What’s so difficult about it?” asked Tip. “We’ve all bought stuff at Oakham’s. You just go in and ask the proprietor for the items you want and he gives them to you.”
“Tip, we don’t know if things work the same way here,” said Kerrick. “Besides, even if things work the same way, what about the part where we have to pay for the items? Let’s come up with a plan first.”
A roaring noise sounded in the distance, getting gradually closer and closer. The four of them huddled close to the nearest wall as one of the loud vehicles came into view. This time, instead of driving by as all the others had done, it slowed almost to a stop, then turned onto the plaza and headed straight for the store.
- Graz, Austria
I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website: victoriakellywrites.com
I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.