As you enter the home of your grandfather, the cold hard lump in your chest grows heavier. How long had it been? 4 years?
He was a very secretive man and would often sneak off, but he always came back. A Key had come to you in a small white box with a note; your name written on it in his usual scrawl. The key, heavy in your hand, feels like your last chance to get to know the man who always had a wild tale to tell. He always claimed them absolute truth despite no one ever believing him. You hadn’t seen him in so long, to only find out now that he was missing…you guess people just figured he would come back. But hope was lost at this point.
You follow the instructions on the note to the wall at the end of the upstairs hallway, and stare wondering. The wall is bare apart from a photo depicting your grandfather and the grandmother you never met. You remove the photo and sure enough there’s a key hole in the wall. Sliding the key in and turning it slowly, there’s a click and a pop. The wall swings towards you and behind it, a small room with a cardboard box labeled “records”.
Upon opening the box you realize it’s filled with small containers, each container with a label and a few video chips. You close up the box and rush home with it. Back in your apartment you don’t have to worry about any interruptions. You pick randomly and pull out the container that says “The Beginning”.
Plugging the chip into the console causes the light screen to whirr to life and you see your grandfather, but he’s maybe 50 years younger. He’s with two other people, one of which is your grandmother. Your grandfather fiddles with the camera a bit and then points it directly at his face:
“Hello hello! This is Adventure Crew Extraordinaires and we’ve just found this weird stone statue in the middle of Cold Brook Forest.”
He points the camera towards the statue. A large cold grey robed figure stands as tall as the trees, the face is feminine and has a blank stare as she looms over those below her. Two arms seem to grow from her back and hold the robes shut. She is surrounded by autumnal birches, the ground littered with leaves and underbrush. The sun streams warm light down on the scene, giving it that eerie beauty you often experience when looking at statues in gardens. He turns the camera back to his face.
“We have no idea what it is or who made it but we’re gonna get a little closer and see if there are any engravings. Hey Holly, try to look out for traps, hunters come through here a lot!”
A female voice replies “Yeah I got it Jack!”
He points the camera towards the girl you recognize as your grandmother as she approaches the statue.
“That’s Holly, by the way, in case you didn’t know. I’m Jack, and over there is Gunderson, he’s kinda quiet.”
The larger man grunts and follows Holly. Jack begins following them and quickly they’re all standing before the hulking mass of stone. Suddenly jack points the camera down at his feet and bends down, brushing away the leaves. Beneath is a stone about the size of his palm, and it shines like opal on one side. A strange cracking noise sounds from above and they all move away quickly, fearing a piece of the statue may be falling.
Before them, the statue begins to move; the fingers curl around the edge of the cloak which suddenly moves as though made of fabric and pulls apart. Inside is a void-like darkness and a strange oval shaped door.
Holly is the first to speak, “Are you all seeing this or am I trippin?”
“No Holly I’m pretty sure we’re all seeing it and unless you spiked our water I don’t think so.”
Gunderson says nothing.
The trio falls silent for a few minutes and Jack cautiously approaches the statue again. The camera points down at the rock in his hand and then back up at the strange door in front of him. There’s no apparent way of opening said door, but Jack is quick to notice the impression in the door is shaped oddly like the rock in his hand. He inches closer and stretches out his arm, placing the rock inside its hole with a click, and the door swings open.
Inside the door is what looks like a wall of iridescent purple liquid. Jack slowly sticks his hand in but then pulls back quickly as if burned, but he laughs.
“Oh that is so weird…Holly! You gotta feel this!”
He points the camera at her as she runs up to him. Stupid kids, You think with a smile. She too sticks her hand in, but she doesn’t retract it nearly as quickly as Jack did. And you nearly feel your heart stop as she jumps through the door. Jack follows and the video becomes static for a moment before showing a truly strange sight. Jack and Holly, Gunderson trailing behind, are inside a giant domed room filled with doors of iridescent purple liquid. The room is round with three semi-circle alcoves, the group stands in one with another across the room. The last alcove is across from the hallway leading out.
The walls are a light grey and the ceiling is white. In the center of the dome is a shape like a four petal flower, which raises up into another dome, but made of glass. So many different creatures walk the floor here it’s hard to keep your eye focused on any one for more than a second. So many colors and such odd anatomy…. you’re pretty sure you just saw moth man drinking bubble tea.
The group scans the area several times, just standing and looking around, when one of the other beings seems to notice them. It makes its way over and begins speaking…..in English.
“Hello, is this your first time visiting Hub-A?”
In the most weirdly calm voice Jack is the first to speak: “What are you? And…where is this?”
“Ah, first timers…” he rubs his hands together and fidgets nervously, looking around the room before turning back to them with an exasperated sigh, “Oh where is Damien when you need him!” The being clears its throat and smiles, “My name is Welkins. You are currently standing in Hub-A, it’s a place where connections to certain other worlds and dimensions are strongest. I am Human, I am one of the many races you will soon come to discover.“
You pause the video and stare at the strange creature. How could this thing be human? Genetic alterations maybe. But if it was human, why didn’t it recognize that they were too? You stare at the screen and take in the being’s appearance. Its nose is so flat it practically blends in with the face, but the color running down it and the two nostrils give it away. Speaking of color, this person is powder pink all over, with the exception of its nose which has a streak of white running down it. its eyebrows are clearly applied with makeup; they simply do not look real. Its ears are like a cat’s, but instead of sticking up out of its head, they stick outwards from the sides. Its hair and eyes are the only familiar things about it; black hair held back in a bun and deep, chocolatey brown eyes. You absentmindedly admit to yourself this being is beautiful, then you hit play again.
“You are on the planet known most commonly as ‘The Crossroads World’ due to our strange situation. There is an information center this way, someone there will be better suited to help you find your way around during your visit.”
Welkins begins walking away and the group follows slowly, but it’s not long before Jack pipes up again.
“So uh, where’d you get your mods? They’re pretty intense.”
Welkins casts a glance over its shoulder, “Mods?”
“You know…Genetic modification? How else can you look like that and be human.”
You smile, seeing your grandfather was smart enough to ask that question.
“Ah, have you met others of my kind? Did they not explain it? Humans are something called ‘True Shapeshifters’, most humans don’t look alike because we can so easily alter our form. Granted this is my true form, most humans technically look this way though with variation.”
The look the being gets on its face tells you Jack is also making a face.
“I’m sorry, you can’t expect me to believe that. I mean, we’re human! And we’re not shapeshifters and that’s certainly not what we look like naturally. I mean you do speak English so that’s something. But seriously what is going on here? Is this a LARP thing?”
Welkins looks stunned and says nothing except a quiet “follow me” before turning and hurrying its pace. You think it’s a he actually, biologically, based on the voice, but you’re sure as hell not going to make assumptions.
It only takes a few moments before they reach a room filled with what looks like holograms, there are more beings here, of all shapes and sizes. The information center is the same coloration as the rest of this place; it even has domes to allow light to filter in like the main portal chamber. But the walls are lined with inset screens that depict strange landscapes, some more familiar looking than others. Each screen has a hologram next to it which will occasionally change to take on another being’s shape. As the camera scans the room you notice some of the beings in there are the same ones that the holograms portray. One particular massive and beastly looking being catches your attention and you pause. It looks like some sort of massive beetle…taur? It has a humanoid torso and the body of beetle beneath, but it is entirely plated and even has big bug eyes. Resuming the video shows Welkins walks right up to this very tall…man?… who seems to be exhaling bright blue smoke. He has to have at least 10 eyes on his face and based on Welkins you’d say this guy has got to be over 7 feet tall. He’s not as colorful as Welkins, being a rather bland tan color, but his eyes look like swirling galaxies of deep indigo blue. A single large and thick braid runs down the center of his head and hangs all the way past his hip. He’s wearing robes of some sort, a mix of blues and whites, delicate gold embroidered images of strange fish dance across the fabrics. They talk for a moment in a language you manage to recognize as French and then both turn to look at your grandfather’s group. Welkins quickly excuses himself making little eye contact with the group. The taller one walks towards jack who obviously has to crane his neck to look up at this guy.
“I am Damien Dorosov. Welkins has told me you claim to be humans who do not shapeshift.” His voice is soothing, a beautiful French accent with undertones of yet to be revealed wisdom.
“You gonna tell us our entire civilization is lying?” Holly pipes up, sounding incredulous.
“No, of course not. I’m not here to tell you what you know, I’m here to tell you what I know. There is a high possibility you are from what we call an ‘alternate dimension’. So far we are only aware of three, but no one would be surprised to know there is another. Though the idea that there are other versions of humans is fascinating. Andula will most certainly want to hear about this. But that can wait. I will answer as many of your questions as I am able. You have full access to this hall like anyone else. The holograms will tell you about the different worlds and dimensions this Hub has access to.”
At this point Jack makes no sound, but the camera shuts off. You sit and stare unbelieving at the screen, but then quickly scramble to find the tiny box labeled “The Beginning” and pull out the chip labeled ‘2’.