Chapter 2 – Welcome To The Machine (II)

“Do not be concerned, Ringbearer, within the order section of the directory you can fully customise your abode within the Forge. At this current time you have access to this room and one spare room. If you are concerned about relieving yourself then I would recommend you repurpose the empty room into a toilet.”

“Should I worry about wasting the room?”

“No,” Kai replied, “The ability to buy extra room space will be opened to you when you complete your first mission, so if you wish to expand your dwelling within the Forge your best choice of action is to complete the first mission soon.”

Maynard nodded, but moved back to the computer, ordering himself a bottle of lemonade and quickly trying to locate the directory he needed to use to set up the toilet. In quick succession, he requested a toilet, shower, mirror and sink, as well as the few basic toiletries that he would need in order to live in his current prison. As he finished getting everything he heard Kai say, “Please stand clear of the Alm Gate as there is an incoming order,” once more, however unlike the pizza what he received was a two litre bottle of unbranded lemonade and four fist sized boxes, each with the symbol of the item he ordered on them. 

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Picking up the box with the sink symbol on it, he began looking at it closely. The edges of the box seemed perfectly flush, as if they had been fused together, but on one side there was a simple lens set slightly inside the odd structure, and on the top section there was a single button. Maynard turned the box a few times in his hands before putting it down and opening the bottle of lemonade to have a drink. As the carbonation burned his throat he began to come up with all sorts of alternatives to the information he had been given by Kai. There was no way of verifying anything for the moment, but he swore to keep the ideas in mind, because he could tell that wherever he was, the technology provided was far beyond anything humanity could currently even comprehend.

Finishing his drink, he asked, “Kai, how do I get to the other room?”

“That is simple, Ringbearer,” Kai replied, “You can either ask me to link up the two rooms immediately, take the control panel from the floor over to the Alm Gate and connect to it there, or use your subdermal implant to perform the same action.”

“Subdermal implant?” Maynard sighed. He felt he had reached the tipping point with shock towards all the futuristic technologies that he was being exposed to, and now just felt numb to it, “You know what, I’ll find out later, could you just open the gateway to the other room?”

“It would be my pleasure. Please stand clear of the Alm Gate as it opens. Please note, a permanent gateway connection will not be possible for you to create until you have completed your first mission.”

“I get it,” Maynard said before clearing away the boxes in front of the gateway and watching intently for some gauge on how the alien machine before him worked. Symbols that he did not recognise began appearing on the rim of the gate one after the other. Each symbol appeared faster than the last, and with the arrival of a new symbol, light would pulse as a faint membrane began appearing around the device. Hundreds of symbols covered the gateway, and as they began to flash so quickly that there was basically just a constant light coming from within, space seemed to rip apart and Maynard became able to see an empty room just beyond. 

The light began to fade and the membrane that covered the gateway collapsed as Kai said, “Connection is complete, please proceed towards the connected room.”

“Thanks,” Maynard replied before stepping into the new room with the small boxes. It was almost identical in style to the room he was in originally, but it was noticeably smaller, and there was no screen on one wall. Instead the only object of note was the open gateway. 

He put down three of the boxes and kept the sink-marked box in his hand then carefully pressed the button on the top. Instantly the image of a basic wall-mounted sink was projected in front of Maynard. As he moved the box he could move the projection, so he directed the projection to sit against the wall next to the gateway and pressed the button again. As the button clicked, the box sprung out of his hand and the metal twisted and warped until there was a metallic looking sink attached to the wall. To test the device, he walked over, stuck his hand under the tap and saw his hands get covered by a soap-like substance. A few seconds later a jet of water shot out, rinsing his hands. Taking his hands away from the tap, Maynard watched the water stop, and instead a jet of wind came out of the tap, which allowed him to dry his hands in short order. As he picked up the next box, he muttered, “At least that’s mostly normal.”

After the sink, Maynard set the bathroom up in short order. Fortunately, there was still a lot of free space after he was done, so he knew that he could easily repurpose or simply renovate the room if he needed. As he set everything he could up, he was gradually coming to terms with the fact that he was trapped, and if he wanted to have a chance of getting home he would have to take part in the missions that Kai spoke about. It weighed down on him, but Maynard knew that he was not the kind of person to go somewhere unprepared, and he had one more possible recourse that he could try before he would accept the reality of the situation and submit to the whims of his artificially intelligent companion.

He walked over to the screen, chose the ‘communicate’ option, and was presented with an archaic looking bulletin board filled with hundreds of topics and thousands of posts. Maynard made himself as comfortable as possible, grabbed his bottle of lemonade and began scouring the forum for something that might give him an edge up when going into his mission. The vast majority of things he found were either incomprehensible without context, required him to be able to respond, or were based around trade, and so were useless, but after an hour he did find a single thread that was directed at new ringbearers. It had been buried since there had been no interaction with the thread for close to a year, but there was something about it that caught his attention. The way the original poster wrote reminded Maynard of someone, but he could not put his finger on who. After his initial scan of the post, he moved back to the top and began taking in the information slowly.

To any of you who are new here, welcome to the Forge. This place is mysterious, and it has many parts to it that most of us simply cannot explain. The one thing that you can be sure of, is that if you are here, then you are a ringbearer. What that entails, you will learn in due time, but this post will give you a few key pieces of information that you should take into account as you explore the Three Rings. 

  • Do not tell people your real name. Ever. A real name has power, and yours can be used against you if it falls into the wrong hands. Even the mightiest heroes will be felled if they are weakened by a curse. It’s a standard for ringbearers to go by fake names or aliases, so do not feel like you are out of place when you do so.
  • Magic is a real thing. You may or may not believe me, but this is specifically why you must protect your name. Trust is a rare creature within the Three Rings, as magic is insidious and corruptive in the wrong hands, and you will often not know who the wrong hands are until it is far too late.
  • Remember that every statistic is useful. There is some debate with regards to the best path of growth amongst ringbearers, but it is an accepted fact that if you are lacking in any statistic you have a weakness, and weaknesses can be fatal within a ringworld. Your own survival is paramount, as the gods are uncaring. They will not save you.

Detailing anything else here would be superfluous. Good luck, I hope to watch your growth in the future.

Maynard sat still after he finished reading through the post fully. There was a lot for him to unpack, but what he zeroed in on quickest was that he needed to think up a new name for himself. Maynard Clark would not cut it – he needed to become someone else. As he looked through the comments that had been left behind by ringbearers, he tried to gauge the authenticity of the post, but as one would expect, the replies were beyond a mess. Some people were agreeing with the original poster, some vehemently disagreed with paragraphs of text, while others just talked on tangents about things that either did not matter or did not make sense to Maynard. Inevitably, he closed the bulletin board, sat back and said, “Why didn’t I think of this earlier, hey Kai?”

“Yes, Ringbearer?” 

“Is magic real?”

“I’m afraid I cannot tell you, Ringbearer,” Kai replied.

“Okay,” Maynard said with a frown, “I kind of expected that answer. Hypothetically, if magic was real, would giving part of your name out as an alias still be dangerous? Like, if I called myself Mayn, would I still get hexed?”

There was a pause, before Kai replied, “If, hypothetically, a system of magic existed where they could use your name as a medium or focus, then an abbreviation of your name would not be dangerous in and of itself. However a pseudonym wholly divorced from your name would still be safer as there would be no part of your core identity that the spell would be able to latch on to.”

“Thank you,” he said as Kai finished speaking, “I guess I can use Mayn for now, but I’ll still have to think of something else to call myself.”

Over the next hour, Maynard continued to read through everything he could find that might help him, but more often than not, things that people claimed were contradictory. Some people claimed they travelled to worlds they had heard about, some said they had visited places that could not exist, some even claimed that they went to places that were like their home but ever so slightly different. There was no unified chain of thought about anything except that magic existed, and it was dangerous. As he finished his bottle of lemonade, Maynard stood up, put the empty bottle on top of the pizza box, and said, “Kai, I think I’m ready to begin that mission you want me to go on.”

“Thank you for beginning your task, Ringbearer. The location you will be travelling to is the 19th century village of Durley, which is situated near a mine and roughly fifteen miles away from a university town. Your position is that of an assistant to a professor who is studying some underground ruins that have been discovered within the mine. Your task is to retrieve, or to destroy a rare chunk of ore of the anomalous metal ‘Carrionite’. There is no penalty for failure. You will not be alone. Clothing will be provided.”

Maynard balked at the information that Kai had dropped on him, but he did not flinch away from the task that was before him. Once the clothing Kai had mentioned appeared out of the gateway, Maynard moved into his bathroom and put it on in short order, replacing his jeans, t-shirt, boots, and hoodie with a dark grey three-piece suit, a bowler hat, ascot tie and square toed shoes. Maynard looked in the mirror that he had placed above the sink and smirked at his reflection. As he fixed his bowler hat, he could not help but think I should wear a suit more often, before grabbing the overcoat that completed the look and moving back into his nexus.

“What time will I be arriving?” he asked.

“You will be arriving on the 13th of October, 1882 at 3:44PM,” Kai replied, “Do not forget, you can use your subdermal implant at any time within the field to check mission data or your personal status. Please stand clear of the Alm Gate as it opens. Good luck, Ringbearer.”

As Kai finished talking, the gateway lit up and transformed into a blank, silver panel. Before he took that final step, Maynard stared at the panel for a moment as the membrane dissipated to allow him entry. He had just realised why he found the Forge so unsettling. It doesn’t have shadows, he thought as he stepped into the silver screen, leaving the weird room and the AI that ran it far behind.

- my thoughts:
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