Chapter Three: A Message from the Void
He blinked away his stupor, even the darkness seeming overwhelmingly bright. His head throbbed, and even in his muddled state, he considered how different it felt waking up from that trip than from the comfortable bed earlier that morning.
When Rhys sat up, he was overcome with a sense of vertigo. He gnashed his teeth together, and shoved the heel of his hand into his temple.
“This isn’t good,” he muttered. When his vision steadied, he realized that he was no longer at the entrance of the dungeon. He hadn’t tumbled down the steps, as far as he could tell, either. Walls closed in around him except for a solitary opened door on the opposite side of the room.
Grumbling, the man climbed to his feet, and braced against the wall closest to him. “This really isn’t good,” he adjusted.
Rhys leaned against the walls leading out to that door until he arrived before it. Looking down the long corridor that was just outside of it, the uneven feeling came back to him. It stretched further than the main road that went through Verna, he supposed, and more doors were situated across from each other at even intervals.
The traveler steadied himself in the doorway, taking a breath before proceeding down that strange corridor. He winced when the first pair of doors shut beside him upon reaching them. Growling, he was able to at least commend himself for not tumbling backward once more.
As he proceeded further, each of those doors slammed shut on their own, even as he sped his gait. That journey down the corridor led him to one final door on the far end of the hallway, which remained open. Even from afar, he was able to see the odd presence inside—a familiar, ominous sight.
“The Void,” he whispered.
Black and violet mist roiled in the next chamber, static electricity illuminating the floor. That miasma stopped at the open door, as though it had struck glass and rolled back over itself.
Rhys was reminded of how his tragic journey began. Desperation guided his hand back then—or what it forward in time? He couldn’t begin to make sense of any of it, except for the regret that stung more than ever in that moment. If he had been willing to let the past remain untouched, he would have been in his own time, able to protect his people, instead of cast out into the world of Tellest like a vagrant with no concept of where or when he was.
Without realizing it, he drew away from that frightening chamber.
Before he could draw too far, though, the mist separated just enough for him to see another familiar face. On the other side of that room, Virgil had his hood pulled down. Without any of the villagers there to see his face, there was no reason to hide.
Rhys growled, knowing that he couldn’t allow his friend to encounter the Void alone. Against all of his instincts, he rushed into that room, leaping over the plume of otherworldly mist, and setting his powers at work. He hovered in that room and the miasma filtered around the attuned field of gravity.
“Stay over there, Virgil,” he bade.
The golem did as told, but Rhys learned that he had no choice in the matter. A pane of glass did exist in that room, separating the chamber into halves. Virgil leaned up against that glass, and though his mouth moved, no sound was heard.
“What’s wrong, Virgil?”
“He cannot hear you,” a vaguely familiar voice echoed within the chamber.
Rhys froze as he considered where he had last heard that ethereal voice. It was otherworldly, caught somewhere between soothing and frightening. He adjusted his hold on gravity so that he could spin about.
She was even more haunting than he could remember.
“Nyrshia,” he said. “What’s the matter? Couldn’t send your henchman to come after me this time?”
The churning miasma flowed back toward that divine being, wrapping around her from the bottom of her robe to the top of her feathered headdress. The smoke made those amber eyes glow all the brighter, and she gazed at him with a look that he was not expecting from her.
Was it sympathy?
“This is beyond Vedas,” the Keeper of the Void spoke. “He wouldn’t have been able to find this place if he tried.”
“This place?” Rhys echoed. “So you know where we are.”
“Indeed,” Nyrshia said. “This dungeon is fueled by the same thing as the Void: the essence of time and space. When you neglected to travel through the portal, the dungeon seized that opportunity, and came through instead.”
“How was I supposed to know?” he grumbled.
“You couldn’t have,” she conceded. “Even I couldn’t have been. This dungeon—and the one who controls it—lie out of my purview. I’ve long known about this place, but I’ve never seen it. It’s always remained shielded from me.”
Rhys arched his eyebrow. “Then how are you able to be here now?”
“The fragments of the orb that are in your possession,” she reasoned. “They represent a strong enough thread in the loom of time. Had you not been here, I might not be either.”
“Wait a minute,” he uttered. “If this place also travels through time, could we use it to get me back to my time?”
Nyrshia sent a disarming smile his way. “I don’t presume to know much about this place. I know that it is unpredictable, vast, and evil.”
“Then it’s beyond time that we escape from this place. We’ll get out, and let the people of Verna know that it’s no longer safe in their village.”
“That won’t be necessary,” the deity said. “Once you and Virgil arrived here, it continued its journey to another time.”
A visage of understanding washed over Rhys. “We were brought to the time the portal would have brought us to,” he surmised.
“And now, as always, you have a task to unravel before you can move on and complete the repairs to the orb.”
“Right,” he said. “I’ll go fetch Vir…”
It didn’t take long for Rhys to notice that his companion was no longer on the other side of that glass. He moved along to the right side of the room. For the first time since they arrived there, the traveler noticed that a passageway had been opened. Virgil’s natural curiosity already had him moving in that direction.
“Virgil, what are you doing?” Rhys asked as he followed along the glass in that direction.
He kept moving along until that corridor grew wider, and opened up into a large, circular room. The glass still halved the room, but something existed between the two halves: a large, swirling portal, like the one Rhys should have stepped through, pulsed on both sides of that room.
“It’s the portal,” the traveler said. “We can move along just like you said.”
“That is no portal,” Nyrshia protested. “At least, not in the way you describe it. That thing is the engine to this place, the arcane magic that is letting it travel through time.”
“So why can’t we use it?” Rhys asked.
“That thing would rip you apart if you tried to use it to travel through time. Do not approach it. There must be some way for you to escape this crypt.”
Rhys found himself nodding in agreement. Perhaps if he’d considered Nyrshia during their previous encounter, he wouldn’t be lost in time.
He was reminded that when he was in the Void, it was a spur of the moment choice that sent him barreling through different points in Tellest’s history, and across the vastness of the planet. It wasn’t a choice, he recalled, but a necessity.
That same necessity drove him again when he saw his companion, the infinitely curious golem, drawing nearer to that churning portal—the engine that powered the dungeon, as Nyrshia said.
“Virgil!” he cried. “Stay away from that thing!”
Just as before, his words were lost beyond that glass. The golem didn’t acknowledge him in any way, and Rhys found himself sidling along his half of the room in an effort to gain his friend’s attention.
“Rhys,” Nyrshia warned.
He didn’t need her caution in order to understand how hazardous the situation was. He could feel the pull of that vortex, and heard the pulsing wind thrumming in his ears.
“Rhys, the orb fragment,” the Keeper of the Void said.
He looked down and noticed that the pouch he kept on his hip was lifting from its secure spot on his belt. A violet glow was visible through the leather material, and it was only by happenstance that the traveler brought his hand down before it tore through that pouch. The fragment of the orb shined as brightly as he had ever seen, and it pushed toward that vortex hard enough for Rhys to feel it cut into his palm.
“Get away from there,” the deity said, though her voice sounded so distant then.
Even if she was right beside him, he wouldn’t have been able to focus on her. When cracks started forming on that fused shard of the orb, he couldn’t pay attention to anything else.
“Not again,” he muttered. “I can’t do this all again!”
Another bright light glowed from the other half of the room. Virgil still drew nearer to that vortex, though it seemed he struggled against its grasp. He held his iron hands against his head, shielding that shard of the orb of time in his metal skull.
Rhys looked again to the piece of the orb in his own hand.
“No, Rhys,” Nyrshia spoke. She was already aware of his thoughts before he had the time to consider them.
“If I do nothing, Virgil will die,” he said.
“Time will be shattered more than it is now!” Nyrshia shouted.
That loud urgency was not lost to Rhys, but he couldn’t let anything happen to Virgil. For the first time since he discovered the golem, he saw something he did not expect: fear. Virgil understood that he was unsafe.
Despite the risks, and the dangers, and the very chance that he had at finding a way home, Rhys flung himself into the vortex to save his companion.
The portal pulsed with tremendous power, and ripped the fused fragment of the orb into pieces. The portal expanded at a tremendous rate, then, engulfing Rhys, Virgil, and even Nyrshia.
Rhys felt that terrible sensation that he hoped he never would again.
He was being ripped apart and put back together again.