((88 — Phendrana Drifts))
July 3rd, 802 AT.
“It’s just up ahead,” Delissa said, looking back over her shoulder at Owl and Spider.
The two refugees were following her through the streets of the city, on their way to the entrance to the Deepana Caverns. They had meant to get an early start, but had all wound up sleeping in, and it was midmorning by the time they got moving. The night before, after checking on Kiara, Spider had split off from the Talons and shared Owl’s room for the night. They’d stayed up late catching each other up on their various exploits since parting ways a month earlier.
The alleyway suddenly opened up into what at first looked like a large courtyard. The ground was made of massive metal sheets, instead of the usual ground-down crystal of the rest of the city. In the center sat a small kiosk, with a single door.
Delissa frowned. “Usually there would be guards, but I guess they’re all busy dealing with the riots…”
Spider touched off the ground, letting herself fall towards the building. “Then let’s head inside!”
Owl jogged after, Delissa close on her heels. Their footsteps rang loudly on the metal, making it quite clear that there was nothing but air beneath the panel. They reached the door to find Spider frowning at the large padlock hanging conspicuously on the handle.
“Won’t open,” the teenager said. “I could hit it.”
Delissa shook her head. “It’s probably magically reinforced, knowing security around her. Crystals inside the lock. I guess we’ll have to come back another time.”
Owl stepped forward. “I think I can do something about it, actually.” Smiling, she rested her hand on the padlock. The pattern of words flowed off of her skin, surrounding and describing the lock. Owl focused, and her mouth moved just slightly, lips shaping out words. The writing on the padlock changed, and the lock changed with it. With a click, it popped open.
Delissa just stared. “I… it just…”
“Yeah. It’s… useful, sometimes.”
The younger librarian nodded. “I read about it in your journals, but it’s… it’s something else entirely to see it for real.” She looked at Owl, who smiled sheepishly. “You’re absolutely incredible.”
Owl blushed. “No, I’m just… I do what I can with what I have, and it’s not…” She trailed off as a loud clanging came from within the kiosk. She turned to see Spider already inside and halfway down a ladder.
Spider looked back at her. “What? I got bored. Come on!”
The crystal caves turned out to be much like the ones they had explored on Face, only scaled up a dozen times. They came complete with strange shadow-filled cracks and long-desiccated corpses impaled on crystal spires.
After the fourth or fifth set of corpses they passed, Delissa stopped, tugging on Owl’s sleeve. “We should turn back.”
Owl frowned at her. “Why?”
The girl swallowed, looking down. “We’ll end up like those people we passed… we’ll get impaled!”
Owl shook her head. “I don’t think so. The shadows—the things in the crystals—seem to acknowledge that we’re on their side now. They made contact with us, back when all this was starting.”
Delissa nodded. “I know. I read about it. It still… it feels uncomfortable here.”
“We’ll be fine,” Owl said. “Spider and I have been through much darker situations than this, I assure you. A little spelunking is, you know, easy as falling for us now!” She laughed awkwardly, and Delissa laughed with her, but Owl didn’t think her half-hearted joke had done much to cheer the librarian.
Sighing, they followed after their gravity-defying companion.
After what felt like at least four or five hours of wandering through the crystal catacombs, Spider stopped them abruptly.
Owl raised a questioning eyebrow. “What is it?”
Spider scowled at the floor, looking at it from where she stood on the ceiling. “Gravity goes all weird, right under us. It feels funny.”
“What do you mean?”
“I dunno, but I don’t like it. Something’s messing with it.”
“Something alive?” Delissa asked, voice small.
Spider shook her head. “I don’t think so. It’s like… there’s a hole, where gravity suddenly goes all flippy, like a ledge or something. I can’t really describe it.”
“Do you think you lead us to it?” Owl asked.
Spider nodded sharply. “Absolutely.”
It took them almost another hour of exploration before they found the source of the strange gravity. The orange light came into view first, flickering strangely in the otherwise white-lite tunnel. They rounded the corner to it, bringing it fully into view.
In the floor of the tunnel was a large crack, at least three meters long and half a meter wide. Its edge was lined with glowing orange lettering, that drifted along the length of the crack, phasing gently in and out of itself.
Owl walked slowly to the edge, staring down at the letters, studying them, trying to read them.
“What is it?” Delissa asked quietly.
“And can you read it?” Spider asked, hovering over her shoulder.
Owl shook her head. “I can read the words, but the grammar doesn’t make any sense. It’s all just strings of numbers and descriptive language… Maybe I could decipher it eventually, but it just looks like gibberish to me.” She let out a frustrated sigh.
Spider fell to the ceiling, inverting in mid-air to land on her feet. She stood over the hole, looking straight down through it. “It’s all just white in there!”
“What do you mean?” Owl followed her gaze, and saw only empty whiteness within. A burst of cold air came out, prompting her to pull her arms against her sides.
“The other gaps all had shadows in them, filling them in. This one isn’t even a crack! It’s just white!”
Owl started to answer, but Spider cut her off. “I’m gonna go check it out!” Owl watched as the teenager detached from the ceiling, and let herself fall through the portal.
Delissa frowned after her. “Will she be alright?”
Owl nodded. “She can take care of herself.” She crouched next to the gap, and touched her hand to the words. Rather than flow off of her, the words on the back of her hand took on the orange tint of the writing on the ground. “Oh!” She exclaimed quietly.
“What is it?” Delissa asked worriedly.
“It’s… I can kind of feel how it makes sense now! It’s like the portal is explaining itself to me…”
Spider came rocketing back up through the gap, a whirlwind of cold following her. She landed again on the ceiling, her head and shoulders now covered with a strange dusting of white. She grinned gleefully at her two companions. “Owl! Owl! There’s a whole WORLD in there!”