II. A Void in the Shape of a House
rating: +4+x
« Previous Part Next Part »

Whenever the château moved through the dimensions, there was always a certain tension in the air at first, like before a thunderstorm. And then, like in a thunderstorm, the entablature and woodwork creaked and cracked moments later, as a barely audible hum echoed through all the corridors. The Observer lifted his eyes from the papers he was bending over on the conference table at the first creak. There was nothing unusual about the noises themselves. What was unusual, though, was that he knew nothing about a pending jump.

The aging man looked toward the large, triangular window behind his desk. The starry sky began to blur and waft as if trying to play hide-and-seek. The lights began to flicker. Without further ado, the Observer took a lantern from a sideboard, lit it with well-practiced fingers, and left his office to descend the stairs to the first floor. His firm footsteps mingled with the groaning of the building.

Hector waited at the bottom of the stairs as if he had been expecting him - and perhaps he had indeed. Making brief eye contact, the pair turned to the right and followed the paneled corridor into the center of the château.

The observatory constituted the operational heart of the house. With its domed roof of black steel beams and glass, the cylindrical, high chamber was modest in comparison to the rest of the house. There were only a few sofas and side tables along the walls and the only decoration comprised of large paintings on the walls depicting ever-changing constellations and dots, golden lines on a black background.

On a large, mamorous pedestal with golden inserts sat a heavy, central apparatus made of brass. The Observer and the butler halted in front of it. The thick and thin metal rings, grids, and shields spun and circled around the black, mirror-smooth sphere inside. These were deliberate and intricate movements and neither of them had initiated them.

Then, all at once, the machine came to rest and the soft squeaking of oiled hinges ebbed away. The château uttered its final sounds of relief and began to settle down in its new position.

Then, it was almost silent.

"Hector." said the Observer quietly. "Check the outside…"

With that, he turned on the spot and marched down the corridor they came from, halting at a small, plain door and opening it. A dark basement staircase lay behind it. Hector had followed his employer and the two of them peered down. Not a sound came up from the pitch blackness. They exchanged another look before Hector turned and walked on.

The Observer adjusted his vest and rolled up his sleeves. Then he lifted the lantern and descended.


The bricks to the right glided by in the light. Although it was completely dark, the man squinted his eyes and stared into the blackness. A thud went through the air. He paused. Someone was moving on the first floor, probably one of the patrons. The Observer continued on his way and finally arrived at the bottom.

Slowly he stepped over the firmly tamped clay soil. A stool appeared in the circle of light, on which he placed the lantern. The building's ancient heating systems spread out before him, pipes, pistons, and boilers, a complex web. The Observer folded both hands behind his back. He stared down the darkness following the individual pipes with his eyes. His displeasure was most certainly unmistakable. And he knew it had been noticed.

The darkness remained silent.

His gray-blue eyes began to adjust to the half-light, impatiently scanning the ceiling, then the floor, and the pipes again. By now, he must have been radiating impatience. Scowling, the man approached the large cauldron and swiftly bent left and right to inspect it, tapping a valve or two, before pacing the wall, sliding one finger over a pipe.



"Tch." he mumbled, staring into the dark room over his shoulder with utmost irritation. But still, he didn't hear nor see or sense any reaction.

Finally, the Observer grabbed the lantern and began to climb the stairs back up. Schemes and timetables were beginning to fight for attention in his mind. The charts in the observatory hadn't provided any recognizable location and after his short visit in the cellar, he was none the wiser. That unscheduled jump could pose a disruption to the châteaus operation. Cold anger filled the man's chest as he gripped his lantern's handle tighter.

"We have a deal…" he murmured between his gritted teeth.

Back on the first floor, the Observer closed the door and locked it once again. It did not escape his attention that Šefčovič was standing in an intersection a few meters away, gazing absent-mindedly at the high ceiling, as if listening intently to the rumblings of the settling house. When the door closed, he looked over and approached. He was still in his black justaucorps and culottes with white puttees. From a distance, this apparel easily could have been mistaken for full plumage.

"What was that?", the Anthro asked, not fully able to suppress the hint of fright in his voice and eyes. "Where have you been?"

"Checking on something." The Observer extinguished the lamp. "And it would appear we have jumped."

"That wasn't planned." His voice went up slightly as if it was a question.

"So much for the obvious. Where are the other Patrons?"

"In their chambers, I think. Anubis left a few hours ago."

The Observer strokes his clean-shaven, haggard cheeks. "Fetch them." he decided then. But before the raven could dutifully rush off, he held him by the sleeve, looking up at Šefčovič with darting eyes. "And hand out the weapons."

With that, he turned and walked back into the observatory. The château had a good hundred entities serving as patrons, some fifty of which were somewhat reliable and returned frequently. Twenty-six of them were currently pursuing active assignments across the multiverse, with Anubis assuming the most recent one. The Observer marched around the central apparatus and approached a small side door. A sound like a backward click was audible as he touched the doorknob. The cubbyhole beyond housed a single secretary whose tabletop was overgrown with tubes and pipes, all of which were connected to a central device, not entirely unlike an hourglass. Golden light emanated from the tubule. The Observer gently nudged the glass with the fingernail of his left index finger, causing it to clink softly.

After this inspection, he left the room again just as Hector entered the hall. The butler approached him as if he didn't even have to look around to find his employer.

"We have arrived in a no man's land. I do not recall having seen this landscape before. The light corresponds to a humanoid midday equivalent. But it is quite foggy. If my senses do not betray me, there is a meso-alpine forest nearby, but no conscious entities."

The Observer nodded, whilst studying the unfamiliar constellations and lines on the grand marble wall plates. Hector's sense would never betray him, he thought to himself. Unlike someone else.

Of course, that thought didn't provoke a reaction either.

"We are here for a reason."

Hector frowned his usual frown. "A logical conclusion."

The Observer perked up his head. "Is Før still outside?"

"I do not know. I went out the front door…"

They immediately started moving and took the fastest way across the northeast wing to the garden.

The Kreyan dragon was already visible from the gallery. He sat upright on its hind legs, wings folded, looking into the distance. Hector had not exaggerated; it was exceedingly foggy outside, and when the Observer opened one of the porch doors, he was met by cold, damp air, the kind that quickly chills one's nose and cheeks. This sensation made him pause for a moment. Something stirred in him that he sometimes tended to neglect with all the work he was constantly engaged in. He really didn't get out of his office often enough.

"I have never complained about my working conditions or the accommodations here!" Før said as he turned his head toward them. "But being catapulted through interphases out in the open without warning is an absolutely atrocious treatment!"

"That is deplorable to be sure, but we did not instigate that."

The Observer halted at the dragon's flank, trying to find any shapes in the grey mist.

Før stared down at him in confusion. "Then who did?"

"Can you perceive anything with your six senses?"

Reluctantly, the dragon turned back to the clouds of mist. His leathery auricles stood up and he seemed to taste the air.

"We are at an elevated altitude. These are clouds, consisting of universal-baseline water. I smell forests around us and I hear animal life…" He tilted his head to one side.

"What is it?"

"I don't know. There is something out there. I cannot tell whether it is a presence or some other phenomenon…"

"We're at a distinct disadvantage out here." Hector remarked.

"I think it is stationary… For now." Før looked at the other two. "Where the hell are we?"

"Excellent question."

Venturing out into an unknown universe without any further information deserved to be called either an epic adventure or foolishness. The only law of the road was that there was no possible way of knowing what to expect. An ordinary landscape could abruptly transition into hell completely incomprehensible to humanoid beings, and hell could suddenly morph into heaven itself. In the multiverse, both had their merits and dangers.

With each additional step the Observer took on the dry foliage, he allowed himself to believe that his hunch was on the mark. He held his energy musket loosely with one hand tucked under one arm as he strode between the trees, heading the triangle made up of him, Šefčovič, and Før. So far, nothing had attacked or stopped them. In fact, the forest was fairly quiet. Despite the rich, healthy odor of wet earth and the greening trees, nature seemed to hold its breath behind the fog.

Something was definitely in the air, and by now, he felt it too.

The group was by now a good kilometer or more from the château, always following their intuition, with Før adjusting their direction every now and then. They might have advanced faster if the dragon had gone ahead, but with all the moisture and muffled sounds, most of his senses weren't much more use than humanoid ones, and he would have taken more field of vision away from the other two.

Not that there was much to be seen anyhow. The Observer narrowed his eyes. Or was there? Raising his arm, he motioned his companions to halt. A silhouette loomed between the trees a few hundred meters ahead… Perhaps. The Observer turned to Šefčovič, but he simply shrugged. His clawed hand moved from the musket to his belt, to where a small, empty glass bottle was fastened. The Observer glanced at it briefly before catching the anthro's nervous look. Før, too, silently signaled that he didn't know more with a quick glimpse at the shape.

The Human nodded and started to climb a small slope towards the thing. When he took the first step, the strange feeling in his stomach that he had blamed on stress grew stronger.


That they found nothing but a dilapidated little forest cottage, in spite of the ever-increasing tension in the air, struck all three of them as anti-climactic. Gingerly they approached the cottage in an arc. It was a half-timbered house covered with sedge. However, the white of the coated walls had faded, the wood was rotten and the roof had collapsed in parts. The building had no upper floor and may have been large enough for one, or at most two humanoids. It stood there, silent, painted in the greys of the fog.

Før was the one to break the silence. "How did we find this?" The others turned to him and he continued: "This thing looks abandoned. We didn't know it was here. And yet we walked almost straight towards it, no questions asked."

"Well, you felt it.", remarked Šefčovič. He was still clutching the glass bottle.

"We all felt it." The Observer stepped closer, attempting to peer through a dark window. "But there is nothing here."

Før looked seemingly randomly in one direction and seemed to concentrate. "Yet…" The dragon started moving and seemed to probe the air and ground with his nostrils.

"Maybe we should go back," Šefčovič suggested.

The Observer shook his head. "I want to know why we're here."

"You speak as if we were sent here." The raven came up to him. "At all, you haven't explained to me how we actually ended up here. I thought you were running the system."

The human pressed his lips together.

"How long have I been working for you as an assistant now? Don't you think you owe me an explanation?"

"We should talk about this when we're back."

"No, I want to understand what is going on here."

The Observer first looked him in the eye and then at the glass bottle. "If you keep clutching it like that, it will crack," he remarked.

Caught in the act, Šefčovič let go.

The Human put a hand on his shoulder, with a determined grip: "Don't worry."

"Guys." Før's head appeared from behind a corner of the house. "You should see this."

Not without a snappy sideways glance-eye, Šefčovič moved and went to the dragon. When the Observer also went past Før, he heard him muttering "I would certainly be interested in hearing that explanation as well." sternly into his ear.

What the dragon found was a part of the northern wall of the house that had collapsed. Some of the rubble had already sunken into the ground and was covered with leaves. But the living room behind it was still relatively well intact. Frayed furniture stood around and the wooden planks were covered in moss but still complete. An old coffee table between a sofa and an armchair had collapsed under its age. A narrow corridor on the right led into the entrance hallway next door. Ivy had crawled up the roof through a window.

What puzzled the Observer most about this scene was how completely unremarkable it was.

The trio stood in front of the open space and stared into it as if it were a wound one might want to look away from but couldn't.

"What is this?" Šefčovič almost whispered.

"It is a living room…"

The raven frowned at his human companion.

"It is a living room.", echoed Før. "But it is also…"

"Utterly unremarkable." Carefully, the Observer approached. He gently set one foot in the room. Nothing happened and he stepped all the way in. After taking one look around, he turned to the other two, who looked at him with anticipation. "I have never quite felt something like this… it is…"

Før had crouched down and now stuck his head into the room. "It is as if insignificance is forced upon you. I can't ascribe any meaning to this room, even if I try strenuously. It is and remains meaningless." He winced. "This is very unpleasant."

The Human nodded and turned. "Šefčovič?"

The raven looked questioningly at the Observer, understood, and grimaced. Then, however, he too entered hesitantly and raised both claws as if he were scooping water with a generous gesture. The blue glow of his eyes intensified and a symbol of the same color made of light flared up in the air in front of his head, a vertical eye. Then it suddenly flickered several times and disappeared again.

Šefčovič blinked in disbelief. "I… It doesn't work! I can't see anything about this place!" He backed away.

The Observer walked past Før's head and approached the couch. A collection of papers had caught his attention, still lying on the broken table. Swiftly, the Observer produced a handkerchief and picked up one of the papers therewith. It was soaked with moisture. The human furrowed his brows.

"What is it?", demanded Før.

The Observer turned around, still staring at the paper. Then he held it up for the others to see.

"I cannot read it."

Šefčovič came closer again. "It's probably written in some…" He stared. Then he stared longer. "What the fuck?"

"It is unreadable." Før concluded. "Universally unreadable. The letters are clear and distinct, but they are so meaningless, you cannot wring meaning out of them."

"Let's not jump to any conclusions." The Observer began carefully collecting the paperwork. "There are hardly any universal constants in a Multiverse. I have to examine this."

"I've seen some things, but I've never seen anything like this." Šefčovič anxiously looked around. "What happened here?"

Før snorted. "Something… wholly unremarkable."

After closer examination, nothing remarkable indeed was found in the dilapidated little house, and the group started to retreat to the Château. As they walked in silence, each of them felt that the tension of the universe around them - which almost seemed to attempt and fill the house-shaped void of meaning - followed them longer than it had done on the way there.

« Previous Part Next Part »
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License