Unsure of where he was, or what was going on, as everything around him appeared to be made of the same grey-green stone from floor to ceiling. The floors, even the walls, of the dim hallway were dark and glossy, like polished marble, with sections of symbols carved into the walls. The corridor itself stretching in both directions into an indeterminate greenish haze.
He whistled under his breath, having no words for what he was witnessing.
Perhaps the gas that just wafted through here was making him hallucinate. Or perhaps he had finally lost it. Either way, he couldn’t shake the troubling feeling they were no longer where they used to be only a moment ago.
Max was the next to open his eyes and look around. His stunned, perplexed, look was enough to tell Justin that his friend was also seeing things he clearly didn’t expect to see.
“What… is this?” Max finally managed. He recalled the faint smell of sulfur and smoke, the air quivering while the ground remained constant.
“I don’t know,” Justin replied, a trifle relieved to know he wasn’t just conjuring this up all on his own, “but I’m glad I’m not the only one seeing it.”
“Me, too,” Max confided, testing his footing to find, as glossy as the stone looked, it at least wasn’t slippery.
“What are you doing…” Shades trailed off, apparently having finally opened his eyes, as well, staring around for a moment, then asking, “So, any of you know what the hell’s goin’ on?”
“Nope.” Justin and Max both shook their heads.
“Is it safe to open my eyes?” Maximilian asked shakily. Gazing around the hallway, he asked, “Are you guys seeing the same thing I am?”
Bandit’s incredulity seemed the final confirmation that they were all indeed sharing the same experience.
“I think that makes it official,” Shades remarked as he walked up to the nearest wall, reaching out to find it not only substantial, but smooth to the touch. “If this is any sort of hallucination, we all seem to be having the same bad trip.”
What he quickly noticed, the more he examined it, was that the stonework was all of one piece. No cracks, seams or bricks. As if the entire place was carved out of the same impossibly colossal block of stone.
The whole thing raised more questions than answers.
“But what the fuck was that?” Justin demanded. “You’re the ‘expert’ on paranormal shit.”
“Yeah, but most of the shit I read back on Earth was all hypothetical, at best,” Shades countered, “whereas, so far everything we’ve run into in this world is real.” Pausing for a moment, he added, “There is one thing I can think of, though I’m not sure you’re gonna like it. Remember any of those Bermuda Triangle stories I told you?”
“I’m sorry I asked…” Justin groaned.
“It gets worse,” Shades continued, “because it’s connected to the only phenomenon we have any corroboration for. Remember the ship’s log? About the yellow fog that transported the Maximum to this world in the first place?”
“Wait just a damn minute!” Justin snapped. “You’re not saying we just got lost in another dimension?”
“Another dimension?” Maximilian gasped. “What are you talking about?”
“Well, it’s hard to explain,” Shades told him, “but I’m not originally from the same world as you, or them. I’m from the same world— I think— as our ship came from. According to the ship’s log, the previous crew went through some kind of space-time anomaly that involved glowing fog, like what we just encountered.”
“So you mean we’re in another world?” Justin muttered.
“Most likely.” Shades shrugged.
“Maybe that was what those underdwellers were scared of…” Maximilian mused. “They did seem to know what it was they were running from.”
“Guys…” Max called out to them.
“Perhaps,” Shades said, “but at least this doesn’t look to be where they’re coming from.”
“Don’t even think it,” Justin warned him.
“Hey guys!” Max piped up again. “Check this out!”
They turned to see him standing next to one of the lines of text inscribed in the wall, holding his medallion up to it.
“What’s up?” Shades asked, hungry for any insight into their situation. Taking a closer look at the symbols, he stopped in his tracks. “No way…”
Even as he drew near enough to examine them closely, he could already make out matching characters, all the way down to their proportions and styling.
“You’re shittin’ me…” Justin breathed. “Here, of all places?”
“You see it, too, don’t you?” Max pressed. “Take off your Tri-Medal and take a look!”
“Tri-Medal?” Maximilian cocked his head.
“Where to begin…” Shades so abruptly found himself having to switch gears in this strange place, he was having trouble sorting this thoughts. “You see, we were sorta already involved in a treasure hunt of our own before we came to Alta…”
“Not that we’ve ever found much of anything,” Justin grumbled, “mind you.”
“Until now,” Max pointed out. “Aside from Kato’s Tri-Medal, this is the only thing we’ve ever found that looks like it’s even got anything to do with them.”
“So,” Shades asked Maximilian, “does that mean the treasure this Edric fellow found was part of the same treasure we’re looking for?”
“But that means…” Justin muttered, already hearing that old pirate Rude Bones’ jovial laughter from their first night at Bankshot, “Someone else got it first?”
“Maybe,” Maximilian reminded them, “but don’t forget, even Edric didn’t think he found everything down here, so there might still be treasure to be found.” He paused for a moment, a stern look on his face. “There has to be. I refuse to let my father die for nothing. As the last of the Vandenberg bloodline, I swear, if there is anything of worth to be found down here, I’m going to be the one to do it.”
There was a long, awkward moment of silence before anyone else spoke.
“Now I remember…” Shades brought up, surprised he had, given all that had happened in the past day or so. “This ceiling, it’s just like the one from that dream I had yesterday.”
“I hate it when you say things like that,” Justin muttered.
“Well,” Shades shrugged, “as long as there are no ghost ships, or guys without faces, I suppose I can handle this…”
“Don’t go there.”
“What’s he talking about?” Maximilian asked.
“Don’t ask.” Wanting to change the subject, Justin instead said, “Guys, I’m all for finding treasure and all, but I think we might want to give some thought to how the hell we’re gonna get out of here.”
“You’ve got a point,” Shades admitted. “Now that I think about it, how we ended up here doesn’t offer any clue about how we get back out…”
“And we only have enough food and water for four or five days,” Max added.
“And since I don’t see that fog anywhere on this side,” Shades noted, “it might well be a one-way phenomenon.”
“Then it looks like we might just have to explore,” Max concluded.
“If this is where Edric got the artifact from,” Maximilian proposed, “then there must surely be a way back out of here.”
“If we have no choice,” Justin said, whipping out his laser staff and stepping up to the wall, “then we shouldn’t wander around blindly. Back in Tranz-D, I marked all the paths I could like—”
But when he put the tip to the wall to carve his mark, the energy blade ran right up against the wall.
“What the hell!?” Justin checked his weapon in consternation, making sure it wasn’t in stun or solid mode, then swung at the wall, getting the same result.
As if seeking to confirm this, Max fired up his teal blade, swinging at the wall with all his might. Just as with Justin’s, the blade stopped right at the wall, even at full cutting power. A closer inspection of the stone betrayed not a single scratch.
“Mysterious…” Shades commented, reaching into one of his many pockets, whipping out a marker and attempting to scribble on the wall.
Despite having a wide tip, the ink just seemed to bead and congeal, like trying to write on oiled or wax paper, it just wouldn’t take.
Without warning, Maximilian whipped out his power rifle and fired at the far wall. Three rounds failed to put a mark on it, as well.
“Watch it!” cried Justin.
“At least it didn’t ricochet…” Shades mumbled.
“So how are we supposed to mark it?” Max wondered aloud, folding his arms.
“Y’know,” Shades remarked, “maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, we still don’t know what happened to Freedan’s men.”
“With any luck, those damn lizards ate ’em!” Justin suggested.
“Have we ever been that lucky?” Shades intoned.
“Still,” Justin conceded, “I’m pretty sure that bastard NK-525 was following my marks back in Tranz-D…”
“Since there’s no exit around here anyway,” Maximilian recommended, “maybe there’s no need to mark this place.”
“Short of leaving our stuff behind like a trail of breadcrumbs,” Shades pondered, “it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to mark anything anyway.”
“Well, I don’t see how we can get any more lost than we already are,” Max declared, “so we may as well explore and see what there is to see.”