Before we went anywhere, I stopped. “Wait. We uhh, should probably make sure we’re not about to be trapped in here the second we touch anything. Not that you’re bad company to have, but I’m pretty sure neither of us wants to play a thousand bottles of beer on the wall until we kill each other.”
She reflexively flinched even at that minor of a comment. Then she frowned, lifting her head to squint at me with a curious look. “You’re… really not afraid of me, are you? I’m related to a vampire, I’m part-vampire myself, and you’re still making jokes about us killing each other from boredom. Jokes.”
Obviously, helping Shiori cope with this was going to take more than just a pep talk or two.
I shrugged back at her. “Like I said, Asenath is my friend. She’s a full vampire. Why would I be afraid of you? You’ve never given me any reason to think you want to do anything bad. Now come on.”
“Wait.” Her hand caught my arm and squeezed a little. She gave me a grateful look, opening her mouth to say something before it caught in her throat. It looked like she was lost on finding the actual words.
Rather than make the other girl figure out the right thing to say all by herself, I caught her hand and interlaced our fingers briefly while squeezing. “I know,” I teased with a wink. “I’m pretty damn cool, huh? You’re gonna have to wait for autographs though, I seem to have misplaced my pen.”
Her response was a disbelieving snort that turned into a cute giggle. “Okay, okay, I get it. No more evil vampire dwelling.” She glanced at me mischievously. “Unless this is an evil vampire dwelling.”
“Evil vampire dwe–” I couldn’t help it, the laugh escaped me before I could cover my mouth while staring at her with a bit of disbelief. “Word play, Shiori? If I didn’t like you already, I sure do now.”
The smile she gave me in return was, for once, not hidden or worried, and it wasn’t followed immediately by a look of intense guilt. It was just a smile, the kind she must have had all the time before coming to Crossroads and being told that she was an evil monster that should be killed.
Moving back to the entrance, I gave it a quick look over. Sure enough, there was about an inch wide gap near the top of the doorway. When I moved Herbie closer and squinted, I could just barely make out a the edge of a slab of stone set just a little above the gap. Clearly, the entrance could be blocked by dropping that slab down across the doorway. If that happened, we’d be trapped inside this place.
“How much do you think that statue weighs?” I asked, gesturing toward the nearest figure while walking that way. As I glanced toward Shiori, my hand slipped the staff up and out of its container.
Shiori frowned thoughtfully before shrugging. “Eight hundred pounds, maybe? I’m not a statue-expert.”
Walking around the back of the statue, I pressed my still-charging staff point up against it and considered. “Let’s see. This should do it.” Taking a step back, I swung, smacking the statue with the staff. The resulting blow lifted the statue off the floor and sent it flying a good six or seven feet before it crashed down to the floor on its side with a terrifyingly loud bang that echoed through the chamber.
“Well,” Shiori cracked once the final echo of the crash had finally died away a few seconds later. “At least if there is anyone else still left in this place that could’ve heard that, we’ll know pretty soon.”
Flushing at that, I shrugged. “Sorry. Precautions.” Aiming my staff at the fallen statue, I used another charged burst to knock the heavy thing across the floor and toward the doorway. It was like golfing, if you replaced the ball with, well, a statue that probably weighed pretty close to a thousand pounds.
After a couple more shots like that, I had the statue positioned just under the doorway. It was wide enough that, even if that slab came falling down, there would still be enough of a gap to squeeze out.
“There,” I announced once it was set up. “Now we can check out the rest of this place.”
We investigated the throne first, of course. Up close, I realized that it was larger than I’d thought it was when we were still all the way on the other end of the enormous room. From the looks of it, the elaborate seat had been made with someone almost twice the size of a normal human in mind. Which, come to think of it, kind of matched the general size of the statues we were seeing all over the place. They were all around nine feet tall on average, give or take. I’d thought that was just an impressive statue sort of thing, but maybe that was just the general scale of the people who had built this place?
Crouching down beside the throne, I ran my hand along the bottom of it while moving Herbie closer to get a better look with the light that the helpful little guy was giving off. I was searching for any crack or seam that would indicate that it could be tipped backward, slid away, or otherwise moved. Yeah, maybe I’ve seen too many movies or whatever, but hey, I was practically living one by this point. It wouldn’t be that surprising if there was some kind of secret passage under the throne. Or at least a treasure chest.
But no, at least as far as I could tell, the throne wasn’t hiding any kind of surprise under it. Straightening up, I looked toward Shiori, who was standing on the opposite side of the throne, running her hand along the stupidly large diamond that was embedded in the back. The gem, which was about as big as a softball, was still glowing. From here, it almost looked like a tiny, very faint light bulb that was almost dead, and when I peered closer with the help of Herbie’s own light, I could see what looked like a tiny glowing gem that was right in the middle of the larger diamond. That’s what was glowing.
Shiori opened her mouth to say something, then blanched in the middle of it. “I kinda wish we could–” She stopped talking abruptly and looked away while a shamed expression crossed her face.
“Take it with us?” I finished for her easily, coughing when she looked at me. “Dude, that’s not some evil vampire impulse whispering in the back of your head. It’s a completely understandable impulse. Look at the size of that thing and how pretty it is. If you weren’t tempted to take it, that’d be weird.”
The guilty look turned contemplative for a moment before the girl shrugged. “It still feels wrong.”
“Let’s look around a bit more.” I glanced toward the diamond, starting to turn away from the throne before something else on it caught my eye. “Wait, here, look down at this part.” Moving Herbie lower, toward the nearest armrest, I showed Shiori where there seemed to be five small indentations. A tentative, curious press of my finger against one of them showed that they could be pushed down further, almost like buttons. Five buttons made for whoever was sitting in the throne. Pushing that single button didn’t seem to do anything from what I could tell, but there were five of them…
“They’re a little too big to be for human fingers,” I said slowly. “But they’d fit someone as tall as those statues. Just like the rest of this massive thing. What about over there, are there more on that side?”
Shiori glanced down before nodding. “Uhh, yeah. Why does it matter? It’s probably just decorative.”
“This is why I get to be Indy,” I informed her before pressing my fingers into the provided spaces. Gesturing for Shiori to do the same on her side, I added, “On three, push down. One, two, three.”
We pushed all ten buttons together, and there was an immediate reaction. The diamond in the back of the throne began to glow a bit brighter, and abruptly shot what looked like a laser into the middle of the room. Both of us yelped and fell backwards. Well, I fell. Shiori did this spring backwards motion with her hand on one of her weapons as she landed in a crouch. It looked pretty cool while I was sprawling.
Luckily for my less than graceful reaction, the light from the diamond wasn’t an attack or anything. Instead, as the two of us stared, the point where the light had stopped gradually expanded into a large holographic image of Earth that slowly rotated around. Or at least, it was mostly Earth. The landmasses looked a little weird. North America was fatter than it should have been, with room for a couple more states about where Florida should have been that left the former beach state completely landlocked. Australia was also missing entirely, replaced by a collection of islands. Where most of Russia should have been, there was more ocean, like it had completely sunk or something. Finally, Africa was turned almost ninety degrees from the position it should have had, like it had been put on the map wrong.
Below the steadily rotating globe, there were words. At least, I assumed they were words. It was all written in some alien language. From the way they kept changing while the globe rotated, I was betting that they were some kind of information about what we were seeing. Too bad we couldn’t read it.
“Why would aliens have a globe of Earth?” Shiori asked, brow furrowed uncertainly. “And why would it be a wrong globe?” She looked at me. “Maybe they’ve got faulty information or something?”
Frowning, I shook my head. “I’m not sure. Something seems wrong, like we’re missing something obvious.” Continuing to squint at the hologram for a moment, I coughed. “What if it’s not Earth? I mean, not our Earth. What if it’s this planet? What if, instead of just being an alien world, this is like… Earth in another reality or something? Another dimension. An alternate Earth that happens to have two moons, different land masses, and a race of people that are twice as tall as the humans we know.”
For a moment, the other girl looked a bit stunned by that before slowly nodding. “I guess it’s not any more impossible than anything else. But what does that mean? We still don’t know how we got here.”
Before I could say anything in response to that, some of the words on the hologram began to flash red.
“What—what does that mean?” Shiori stepped closer, pointing to the flashing words a bit worriedly.
“I’m not–” That was all I was able to get out before the hologram abruptly vanished. The laser that had been projected from the diamond disappeared too, and as I looked back, the tiny light that had been in the gem faded entirely, like a dying light-bulb. “I’m guessing those words meant ‘out of batteries.’”
Shiori winced. “Can we, umm, replace it or something?”
Shaking my head while giving the now-dull diamond another quick glance, I admitted, “I’m not sure. Let’s look around and find out.” I turned to look at the three different doorways that were spread around the chamber. There was one toward the back of the left side, one in the center behind the throne, and one around the middle of the right wall. “Which one do you think we should take first?”
“Ummm….” Shiori looked uncertain, glancing from one doorway for a few seconds to the next before pointing to the center door. “Almighty God Moe of the Eenie Meenie pantheon says we go that way.”
“Good enough,” I replied before tugging my phone out. “One sec. Even if we can’t get service,” I spoke while holding the phone up in front of the throne. “That doesn’t mean the camera doesn’t work.”
I took several pictures of the throne from all sides, as well as one of the pillars, the diamond up close, and a few of the statues. I wanted to record as much of this place as possible, just in case we needed it. And because, damn it, I was on an alien world (or an alien dimension), I wanted to take some pictures!
After that, the two of us went to the center doorway. The corridor beyond was, just like the rest of this place, oversized. Even then, it looked like it would still be a bit of a cramped fit for the people the size of those statues. Not impassably so or anything, but still, this corridor was clearly not built for comfort.
It was also dark. I started to hold up Herbie, then paused and took the time to redo the spell. Better to do it now than run out of light down there in the middle of the dark corridor full of who knew what.
After that, I turned toward the far end of the room and pointed at a pile of sand that had collected near the entrance. I could just barely make it out in the moonslight there. A moment after I stretched my hand out, a pile of large sand came floating obediently over to us. I let most of it fall, then shaped the rest into a miniature version of the actual throne, adding a slight hole that Herbie fit into snugly.
“There,” I announced while letting go of it and stepping away. The sand throne floated there with the steadily glowing Herbie surveying his domain. “Now that’s what I call a once and future king.”
Shiori snickered a little bit, reaching a hand up to brush over the throne. “Nice craftsmanship.”
“Whoa.” I blinked, tilting my head. “Do that again. Wait, don’t.” I turned away from the sand throne while focusing on making it continue floating. “Touch it, but don’t tell me when you’re going to.”
After a few seconds, I felt it again. A sort of… minor pressure from that direction. “Whoa,” I repeated. “I felt that. Well, not really felt so much as just knew you were touching it. Try pressing different fingers against it, but don’t tell me how many you’re gonna use.” Waiting another moment, I felt the distant pressure again, and closed my eyes to focus on it. “Two… no wait, three fingers. One near the top and the other two on the bottom.” The pressure changed. “Now just the two on the bottom. Right?”
“Holy crap, Flick,” Shiori was shaking her head at me when I looked back, lowering her hands away from Herbie’s throne. “So you don’t just move sand, you can actually feel stuff through it?”
Shrugging, I nodded. “Guess so. Pretty cool, huh?” Gesturing with one hand, I made more sand rise off the floor and added little wings to Herbie’s throne. “Let’s see if we can find another diamond battery.”
We started down the corridor then, and I brought along the rest of the sand I’d grabbed, just in case. When we got home, I was going to see if I could get another extra-dimensional storage container like the one for my staff, just so I could fill it with as much sand as possible. It never hurt to be prepared.
The corridor went on for about three hundred feet. Every hundred feet or so, there was an open doorway on the left and right sides, and each of the rooms beyond looked identical. There were four statues in each, along with what looked like an array of weaponry set against the walls. Mostly oversized rifles, but there was the occasional gigantic sword or spear as well.
“I’m getting a weird feeling,” Shiori confided after we’d looked at the sixth such room. “Why would they have this place set up like this? So many statues… are you sure it’s not like, a Medusa thing or something?”
I winced at the thought. “Uhh, I hope not, considering how much I smacked that statue by the entrance around.”
“That’s why you hope it’s not true?” she asked, disbelieving. “Not the part where there’s a monster running around that’ll turn us to stone if we look at it?”
“Actually, that part pretty much terrifies me,” I admitted before shrugging. “But if there is, we’ll just have to deal with it when the time comes. It’s obviously not anywhere near here, or it would’ve come running by now.”
We moved on to the end of the corridor then. It was a T junction, the way curving left and right. I looked both ways, then held my hand up and sent some of my sand flying down the left corridor, focusing on making it continue to fly even after it left my sight. It took a lot more concentration that way, and I was glad that Shiori was around to watch my back.
“Done,” I announced a few seconds later. “I think that hall’s about half the size of this one.” After quick repeat of the same motion to the right I added, “And that one’s twice as long. Best guess.”
“Short one first?” Shiori suggested.
“Short one first,” I agreed before starting that way. Herbie continued to float alongside us on his new throne, his light casting away the darkness like the proud and powerful champion that he was.
The short corridor was even narrower than the first. Someone the size of those statues would almost have to squeeze to get through it. There were no doorways until the very end, when we finally found one that led into a remarkably modern looking room. Actually, scratch modern, this place looked downright futuristic. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all this pale blue metal, perfectly smooth. There was an odd, ongoing humming throughout the room. There were what looked like computer monitors all along the far wall with more of that alien script running across them.
Plus, the moment we stepped into the room, lights along the edges of the ceiling lit up, illuminating the whole room for us, was another stone figure. This one, however, was much smaller than the others. Smaller than Shiori and I were, actually. It looked like the statue of a young boy, maybe twelve years old.
While Shiori investigated the small statue, I stepped over to the row of computer monitors. There was an icon in the middle of one of the screens. It was a glowing purple symbol that looked a bit like a four-leaf clover with a thick stem in the middle. One at a time, each of the four ‘leafs’ pulsed a little brighter than the others.
“I’m about to do something that might be stupid,” I informed Shiori. “Keep an eye on the doorway, okay?”
With that, I reached up to touch the screen. When I pressed my fingers against one of the leafs in the symbol, the pulsing stopped and the symbol itself seemed to grow a little bit larger, attaching itself to my finger. I pulled it up and away, and that part of the ‘clover’ vanished.
I repeated that three more times, dismissing each of the four leaves. Then the purple stem in the middle turned blue. I touched that and it seemed to be able to slide upward, so I did just that, pushing it up and away.
The monitors went black. A moment later, there was a rumble throughout the entire building.
“Uhhhh,” Shiori looked back at me from the entrance. “What’s going on?”
“I wish I knew,” I admitted, stepping over to join her. “Maybe we should head back to the front and see if–”
“A-are you Joselyn?”
The voice was coming from behind us. Shiori and I spun around, hands going for our weapons.
It was the boy. He was standing there, blinking a bit sleepily. The stone was gone entirely, leaving him looking like… well like an ordinary human kid. He had blonde hair and a sweet, cherubic face that I might have cooed over before my experience with Ammon.
Then I remembered what he’d said. “Joselyn?”
The boy started to nod, before another voice spoke up from the corridor where we had just been. “No, Friend-Tristan,” the voice rumbled loudly. “They are neither Friend-Joselyn Atherby.”
Turning slowly, I stared up at the nine-foot tall gray haired man who held a rifle pointed at us. He was flanked by four more of his friends, and I could see more in the corridor.
“So why has our emergency alert beacon brought you to us instead, Unknown-Humans?”