Chapter Six

Shivering, Amber realized she was on her own. Behind her, there was a blank wall; only one way to go, then. Hiking up her pack, she set off, hiking staff clacking and echoing ahead of her.

The hall was square in cross-section, about four yards on a side, and without decoration. It went straight on without the slightest deviation to the vanishing point. That meant it was miles long.

At least.

Amber trudged along it, trying to avoid looking at the point where the lines converged. To do so for more than a moment was to feel dizzy and faint. She settled for scanning a moving spot six feet ahead of her. That worked, mostly.

Her staff echoed and echoed again as she walked. It sounded like she was being followed. Despite her best effort, she would look up and back at intervals, expecting sinister figures to be walking before—or behind. Panic again threatened to defeat her.

Once, when she looked up, the passage was not there. In its place—just for a second—was a wall of something twisty and shiny. In an eye-blink, the flat stone was back; the edges still flying straight and true to their meeting in the infinite distance.

Taking a deep breath, Amber carried on, the stuttering reflections of sound surrounding her with phantom minders.

The flash of machinery happened again, an indeterminate time later.

The third time, she was expecting it and got a better look.

Just for a moment, she was walking on a catwalk through a massive tangle of metal pipes and wires, shining in a brilliant white light.

Every few glances at the meeting of walls, floor, and ceiling ahead of her, she would see it again. Eventually, she was able to use these glimpses to mark her progress through it.

The texture of the sound her staff made would change during those brief transitions as well, for the catwalk was textured and full of diamond-shaped holes that caused a different kind of echo. Straight ahead was a dark circle, getting closer each time she could snatch a look at it. It’s circumference was greyish and ill-defined.

The majority of her visual panorama was the same dull corridor that never showed signs of changing or ending. Amber was now convinced that it was unreal. She was walking through the bowels of the machine that made the Portals possible. The image of the hall shielded her from realizing where she really was, though not with perfect efficiency.

Amber stopped walking and, obeying a sudden impulse, took two steps sideways and reached out to the wall to her right. Her hand brushed smooth stone. Taking another half step, she leaned her weight on it. It gave about as much as a thick stone wall would; which was to say, not at all.

If that black hole in the distance ahead was the meta-Portal, then she might be in for a bit of trouble. If she couldn’t physically escape this tunnel, she wouldn’t be able to go through it.

She carried on, testing strategies for leaping from the illusion she was trapped in.

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