Chapter Five, con't

The panic attack of a day ago threatened to resurface. The ghost—the elf, Amber reminded herself—stilled it with a word. “Be calm, Dear Heart. I’ll not leave ya, I won’t. I’ll get ya safe ta me, I swear.”

Feeling apprehensive yet clear headed, Amber said, “I’m going back for my stuff.” She headed back the way she came. The wispy apparition floated along with her.

In a few minutes, Amber was dressed and packed up. “How do I get out of here?”

“There’s only one way ta go. ‘Tis not a pleasant one, I fear.”

“Is there no Portal?”

“Aye, there is.”

Amber expected something more. “Can’t I use it?”

“Ye’ll havta. It’s not a Portal like yer used ta, though.”

“What’s different about it?”

“It’s th’ very first one. Th’ only one, really.”

“I don’t understand.” That slapping noise again.

“Follow me quickly now. I’ll tell ya on th’ way, I will.”

And so, Amber got a crash course in the engineering of the Portal system while she trotted—at times having trouble keeping up—behind the ghost.

There were no apparent artefacts or machines forming the Portals. They seemed to be just there, where they were supposed to be, opening with the right mental images and key words or phrases. Everyone speculated, though very few had any idea, how they operated, or whether they had been made or just were.

The truth was that there was only one Portal, a meta-Portal that was made and operated outside of the Thirty Aions. The space that Amber was in, the place where the meta-Portal was, was “In-Between.”

At least, that’s what the ghost said the word “Mittelmarche” meant. All the Portals of the Thirty Aions were projections managed by the arcane mechanics of devices built here by the Templars thousands of centuries previous.

“So I’m going to use the meta-Portal. What makes it so bad?”

“‘Tis haunted, it is.”

“By what?”

“I can’t describe it. Ye’ll havta see it yerself, ya will.”

They moved for a long time in the dark. The blackness began to fade shortly after the bright net of the Portal network had retreated to a fuzzy dot far behind them.

“Where does the meta-Portal go?” Amber’s voice echoed and re-echoed, something it hadn’t done before now.

Between one step and the next, she was in a stone corridor lit by the same flat, colourless light that had greeted her as first she descended the long stair down.

She looked around, but her guide seemed to have vanished. “Hello? -ello? -llo? -o? Did you hear me? -me? -me? -e? Are you still there? -ere? -ere? -ere? -re? -re?”

Nothing. Again, Amber fought a rising dread. She barely held it down.

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