First Circle: Gates
He couldn’t remember how old he was when he first saw the gates. Young enough to not realize how strange the holes that formed floating just above the ground, really were. No, at first he thought that everyone could see them. But then he asked his mom what they were one day and she just gave him a confused look, like she didn’t understand. She really didn’t understand of course. But he didn’t know that adults had a strange tendency to keep secrets. It made perfect sense to him that she just didn’t want to tell him.
So he decided that the next time he saw one of the strange holes form he would jump through and figure out what was on the other side himself. And so that’s what he did, the next time he saw a hole, he jumped.
He found his way back, of course, this would be a very short story if he hadn’t. But when he came back he had something with him. A strange black and white cat with a tail made of bone. And at the end of the tail that was built link by link, was a sharp-looking blade. As though someone had glued a knife to the end of the cats already odd tail.
All adults knew what the creature was. That night his mother spent a lot of time talking on the phone. He listened while his new cat friend slept on his bed.
“I tried to scare it away but it wouldn’t leave, and then my son got angry at me,” then silence for a bit. “I know, it’s just, he’s so young. I don’t think it would be right.” Then more silence. “I know–I know. I’ll register him tomorrow, maybe someone at the government building will have some options for us.” She hung up the phone and let out a sigh.
He didn’t really understand what the issue was. But his mother sat down on her chair and fell asleep before he could ask her. So with nothing else to do he curled up with his new monster friend under his blankets and fell asleep.
When his mother woke him up instead of taking him to the school bus stop they got into a strange car with a driver that he didn’t recognize. They took the monster cat with them. He had decided to name the cat Chain after it’s chain-like bone tail. The little guy (he was fairly certain it was a guy–but he didn’t really know how to check) seemed to like the name, he responded to it as well without much difficulty.
They made their way to a strange black building, that was next to the courthouse. He only knew that it was the courthouse because he had seen a building like it on TV. And they lived in a small town anyways so not many places had that government building look. But the black building next to it was something else entirely–no windows and only one door. It was a fire hazard to be sure. And then the building stretched fairly far into the sky, it was probably the tallest building in the small town they lived in.
“Mom, what kind of building is this?” he asked, unafraid of the answer, as always.
“It’s the hunters guild,” the word guild seemed odd to him, he had only ever heard it used in video games. So he figured it was a work only used in fiction. But there it was, being used by his mom to describe the strange black windowless building they were about to walk into.
He wasn’t really afraid–and a quick look down at his new friend chain revealed that he wasn’t either. The cat monster just sniffed the air with the same curious but unconcerned attitude that made cats seem cat-like.
But thinking back on it, he probably should have been more worried….
The strange black building looked like an ordinary office building inside, with a tiled floor that had all kinds of strange pictures on it. His mother took him to an office somewhere near the center of the building. She told him to wait in a chair outside of an office somewhere in the center of the building and then went inside to talk to someone, leaving him alone with Chain.
The center of the building was a round room with offices lining the walls of the circler area. The tiled floor was decorated with some kind of picture. It was so large that he couldn’t tell what it was at first. So Chain and he got out of the chair and started to walk around the room.
The bottom of the picture, near where they had walked in from, had small green trees painted onto the floor. They looked small next to the rest of the picture as though they were trying to give a sense of scale. Then there were a bunch of small people standing above and around the trees. He could barely tell they were supposed to be people as there was almost no detail put into them at all. They were just slightly more detailed then stick figures. And for some reason, they all had black sticks that they were holding up and pointing up at something.
Then the silver and gold paint that took up most of the floor was the last thing he looked at. It was so large even depicted on the tile of the office that he had to stare at it for a moment before he could figure out what it was. It had silver and gold skin, a square jaw, horns, and red fire leaping out of its mouth.
“A dragon,” he said finally realizing what it was. “But why are all these people pointing these black sticks at?”
“Meow,” was the only response that Chain gave, though she seemed to understand what he was saying.
The sound of clicking shoes interrupted him, and he quickly returned to the chair his mother had told him to wait in. The pair of shoes that clicked down the hallways belonged to a woman with a large black purse, and a strange long knife sheathed at her left side. She was tall with long black hair and high heels. He didn’t really notice the suit she wore as he was to busy staring at the long knife that she so boldly wore openly.
She must not have noticed him at first because she started when she looked in his direction. Her hand went for her knife, but she didn’t draw it. Something seemed to occur to her and she stopped herself, she slowly withdrew her hand from her knife as he stared at her even more intently than before.
“Excuse me, young man,” she said, the whole time she spoke her eyes were not on the boy but on Chain that cat monster. “But what are you doing here?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “Ask my mom, she’s in that office.” He pointed back to the office his mom was still in. He couldn’t hear anyone talking inside, but that didn’t mean anything.
The woman stared at the office for a little bit, as though she was contemplating something. The boy didn’t really understand what the issue was but the women decided to walk into the office, she didn’t knock or anything.
And then there was a lot of yelling for a long time. There were three voices one was his mom, one was the women who just walked in, and one was a third womens voice who he didn’t recognize.
“Why is there a Cryptcat here?” the women who just walked in yelled.
“With all do respect commander,” that was the third voice he didn’t recognize. “This is the Linker registration process. And the last thing we want to do is scare people away so they don’t register.”
“We don’t need to register them we need to get rid of them.”
“That is my son you’re talking about,” his mom yelled.
“Oh please, you can have another kid Linkers are not worth your anger.”
“What was that,” his mom yelled.
“Both of you sit down and shut up,” the third voice snapped. It must have been effective because silence fell for a bit.
“Commander, by barging in here you’ve made this more complicated then this needs to be. This isn’t like the old days where you can point your blade at a Linker and threaten them. We promise that, if they register, and stay honest with us they can live their lives how they want. And she brought her son in here the day after he awakened no questions asked. And then you barge in here demanding—what exactly?”
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment where nobody said anything. If the commander had something to say it wasn’t loud enough to hear through the door.
“Now since you came bargaing in here, threatening him at the top of your lungs I’m going to have to move them as far away from you as I can—to Cedarium.”
He had never heard of the Cedarium before, and it sounded rather ominous when it was spoken out loud. But once they were away from the strange black building his mother assured him that it was nothing to be concerned about. It just meant they had to move–of course he didn’t want to move, he hated change. But he always seemed to be alone on that point. So he did his best not to think about it as he packed up all his things–and said goodbye to the scant few friends he had made in Steamford. And that was it, just like that he was in a moving van driving across Clunux.
It was a beautiful state, with forests, and lots of rivers and lakes. He had only seen deserts on TV, and even then they seemed like something that existed more in fiction then in real life. He had always loved green trees, and he liked water too–he was a particularly good swimmer for his age. Everyone complained that they were too close to Elvin territory, but all the political drama with the elves had happened before he was born, so he had no reason to worry about that.
He stared out the window and the scenery as it flew by, daydreaming as he always did. They had managed to get Chain into a carrier that was sitting at his feet in the van. Cryptix couldn’t be loose in moving vehicles–or at least that’s what his mom had said.
“Poem,” his mother said, he looked away from the window and twordes her, she didn’t look back at him though since she was busy driving the van. “I just wanted to tell you that you didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know,” that was just the way Varis was. Understanding other people and how they felt was hard for him. Even with everything he had heard at the Government building he still didn’t fully understand why they were being forced to move, or why the women with the sword seemed so angry. But that was okay, because there were lots of things that he knew that his mom and the other adults could only dream of.
“What kind of place is the Cedarium?” he asked looking back to the window again.
“It’s a place for Linkers and their families to live–it’s–well–we’re just about there….”
There was that strange word again–Linker–everyone had been really obsessed with saying that lately. He had gathered that he was somehow a Linker now, and people had started calling him that as soon as he jumped through the strange hole and into the other world beyond it. He had come back with Chain and everyone seemed really scared of the cat Cryptix, or at least nervous around it. And he didn’t really understand why. It did have a sharp looking, knife like bone tail, but it had never once tried to hurt anyone.
As the kept driving he noticed something looming in the distance. At first it was nothing more than a shimmer on the horizon. Then he saw it, a city sitting inside of a glass dome, like a summer snow globe, glistening in the bright sunlight. Skyscrapers towered near the top of the globe. But as they got closer he could see many smaller buildings and houses scattered about as well.
“Is that–Cedarium?” he asked–even though he already knew the answer.
They pulled up to the front gate, a simple building built only on the outside of the black dome. Then there was a fancy looking mechanical gate with all sorts of gears and chains on it, as though the city was being protected by added complexity. From the looks of it they would barely be able to get the moving truck though the gate.
A man walked out of the building and up to the driver side window of the moving van. He had one of those strange swords that Poem had been seeing so much of lately. His mom twisted the handle to roll down the window.
“Good afternoon Sir Hunter,” if the hunter was impressed by his mom’s level of politeness he didn’t show.
“Do you have your documentation?” His mom nodded and reached into a folder that she had been careful to make sure she had, she had triple checked, and several times through their ride she had reached to the folder as though she was afraid it might have not been there anymore. She handed the whole folder to him, and the man looked it over carefully.
“Where is the Cryptix?” he asked.
His mom nodded to Poem and the boy grabbed the carrier by his feat to hand to his mom, and she handed it to the hunter. He looked into the box and a look of abject horror worked its way onto his face like a slow creeping realization. Poem rolled his eyes at the ridiculousness of a full grown man with a sword being afraid of a tiny cat.
The man double checked the paper work quite a few more times before he seemed satisfied that everything was in order. He reluctantly handed the carrier back and his mom quickly handed it back to him.
“Alright, there will be a car waiting for you on the other side of the gate,” the man explained. “Leave the moving truck here and we’ll move things to your new apartment. For now just take the Cryptix with you.”
So the two of them got out of the truck, with only the carrier in tow. The hunter waved to someone in the building and in a moment the fears and chains started to move, and the gate slowly opened. It felt like they were being let into some sort of medieval castle. He half expected to see knights on the other side. But the people on the other side of the gate were just as ordinary as they were–whatever that meant.
There was a simple black car waiting for them on the other side. The driver held open the door for his mother, Poem just let himself into the car. After they were buckled in. The driver started the car and looked back at them through the rear view mirror.
“I’ve been instructed to take you to the Albern apartments near the center of the dome,” the man didn’t wait for either of them to ask any questions before putting the car into drive and heading off.
As they drove he looked around trying to take in the strange domed city. But it wasn’t odd at all as far as cities go. They drove through outlying suburbs with cookie cutter houses, a river side area with medium sized buildings that were built between the Clunux river. And large ten story buildings clustered near the center of the city, almost as though the city was designed all at once. Then they passed all the tall buildings and onto the other part of the city where the Clunux river originated from High Gate Lake. And near that lake was a small apartment building that was their destination.
Gates, Other Worlds
The apartment building wasn’t much to look at. It was made of simple multicolored bricks. Four stories tall and ten windows across. There was a playground behind the building, and near the playground was two strange courts of some sort. They weren’t basketball courts, he could tell because there were no baskets anywhere to be seen, and they weren’t tennis courts since there wasn’t a net dividing the courts down the center. But there were no other kids out playing to give him some kind of hint as to what they were for. So all he could do was shrug and add it to the constantly growing list of things he didn’t understand.
The building where they would apparently be living from that point on was connected to another building by an atrium, the second building had a fenced off playground that was somehow different from the one that was behind the building they would be staying at. It didn’t look like there was a way to get into that fenced off area either.
“Why don’t you stay here and play with Chain for a little bit,” his mom said once the car had dropped them off. “I have a few things to take care of.”
“We can let her out of the carrier now?” he asked, looking up at her.
“Chain can wander around as much as she wants as long as the two of you are in the Cedarium dome,” she explained.
So he set down the carrier and opened the door, the strange cat poked her head out cautiously at first. Then when it was clear that nothing was going to harm her, she jumped out all and once and started to sniff the grass nearby.
“I’ll be back,” his mom said simply before heading into the building’s atrium.
There were no other kids around, but he wasn’t really in the mood to play with other kids anyways. But he did notice something interesting. The strange courts that he had noticed earlier had a third sibling. And the third one was made out of sand. So he took off his shoes, and ran around in the sand with Chain. He didn’t really know why, but he liked the feeling of sand between his toes.
He hummed to himself as Chain ran around burning off some of the extra energy that he had built up from being trapped in the carrier all day. He wasn’t really aware of time passing at all. And then something happened–another hole opened up near by where he was standing. He remembered the first hole he had jumped into, where he had met Chain. And he had no reason to think he wouldn’t be able to get back before his mom was done with whatever she was doing.
So he jumped through–and on the other side of the strange hole in reality–was a strange multicolored beach. Red, green, orange, blue, purple indigo, and violet, those were the colors of the sand, formed in waves across the beach. Vividly colored crystals sprang up from the ground in hague columns all around the beach, and some of them even sprouted out of the red colored water that the beach lead to. He had never seen anything quite like it, and few ever would.
“What do you think, Chain?”
“Meow…” the cat monster said.
“Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Cryptix swam around in the water, fins and frills of various kinds move around just below the surface. There was a strange cat like monster that was colored like a goldfish with the tail of a mermaid. A strange finned pixy monster that was barely a foot tall, strange mice with scales and gills. A turtle like creature swam out of the water, and kept swimming–through the air.
“Poem!” he wanted to stay, but he heard his mother calling from the other side of the hole that had stayed open behind him. And so he turned around and stepped back through to the normal world.