As we traveled deeper into the cavern, I couldn’t help bring reminded just how out of my league I was here. I knew nothing about this world, and judging by the size of the underground area, I had only seen a small fraction of what existed. There weren’t any rules or common sense I could follow when any moment I might stumble across a new magic creature or bizarre lapse in the laws of physics. Even my own body was unfamiliar with my newfound abilities. All I wanted was someone to sit me down and explain just what was going on. Somehow I didn’t get the sense it would be that easy.
The masked figure silently led us through the intricate maze of tunnels, following an unmarked path it had clearly been on before. It was just my luck that the one person I met who could probably give me guidance apparently happened to be a mute.
The further we went along the path, the more signs of civilization began popping up. We passed by what looked like a small mining outpost, a pile of pickaxes stowed away in a corner. Were these tunnels man-made? The thought was staggering. Even with a machine it would have taken years, if not decades, given the sprawling network I had only seen a fraction of. The figure walked over to a stone container and took out a mask and robe. I glanced at them warily.
“No offense, but it’s not really my style.”
The figure pushed the clothing into my hands and stared at me. It didn’t feel threatening, just…expectant.
“I guess we’re not going anywhere until I put these on, huh?”
I sighed. No use arguing with someone who wasn’t going to argue back. Not to mention that I’d be lost on my own.
The robe draped over my clothes, but was a bit too large, dragging slightly against the ground just enough that I would have to be careful not to step on it. It wasn’t too bad though, just kind of ugly.
I hesitantly took the light-bulb helmet-mask and looked inside. Although the outside was completely opaque, the inside was transparent, like a one-way mirror. Well, that explained how the figure wasn’t tripping over rocks. I placed it over my head and had a brief moment of claustrophobic panic as the glass-like material enveloped my head. There were small notches in the bottom rim that hung over my shoulders, giving the whole awkward thing some form of balance, and I noticed that I could still breath easily thanks to tiny holes near the bottom. On a technical scale, it was fairly impressive. I just felt like an idiot wearing it. Seemingly satisfied, the figure led us on.
A few minutes later, we passed someone else. Like my companion, this person also wore the featureless mask and robe. It made me wonder…was it some sort of uniform? A cult? Just a bizarre fashion trend for people who had spent too long underground? The person waved at us as we walked by, as If nothing was weird about this whole thing.
More and more people began popping up the further we walked. The landscape became more refined, with stone structures and doorways carved into the side of the rock. Everyone was going about their day like normal. Kids chased each other down the tunnel. Workers carried buckets of gravel from other passageways. Families sat in their homes, relaxing. It was almost relieving to see everyday life going on, even if everyone was completely silent and dressed in freakish helmets.
We stepped through an archway, and suddenly we weren’t in a cramped tunnel but a giant chamber, the walls expanding out in all directions. Hundreds of masked people hurried about the area, going to and from a variety of buildings and branching exits.
“Oh my god,” I said, almost overwhelmed. It was an entire city. A few people turned to stare at me, and I reminded myself to keep quiet. What would these people do if they knew there was an outsider in their midst? My “friend” didn’t seem to mind, but I didn’t feel like taking any chances. Luckily, a large crowd passed by and the strangers turned away.
As the crowd cleared, I realized I had lost track of the figure. I glanced around, but, naturally, everyone looked exactly the same.
Well, that’s not good.
I stood frozen in the middle of the hub, not sure where to go next. I thought about going back the way we came, but there wasn’t much out there besides millions of branching pathways. Even if I managed to make it back to where I fell in, what then? It wasn’t like I could climb back to the surface.
A hand grabbed me and pulled me out of the crowd. I couldn’t tell if the person leading me was “my” person, but I didn’t have any other option. We walked towards the back of the chamber, where a gigantic archway stood, towering over the whole area. As we passed through, an odd tingling sensation ran through my body like electricity, as if the air itself was charged. It didn’t hurt, but it definitely didn’t feel normal.
The archway led to another section of the city, although it seemed sparser than outside. A few people were milling about, although to my surprise, they weren’t wearing their helmets. In fact, they looked like normal humans.
“This is sacred ground, we don’t need to cover ourselves anymore, ” said a male voice behind me.
I turned around to see the figure who had led me here taking off his helmet. When I had heard him speak, I couldn’t believe my ears, but there was no mistaking it now, as impossible as it seemed.
“After saving your life, I figure you owe me some information,” said Patrick. “First of all, who exactly are you?”