In the land of Papyrus there exists quite a few cities. There are large cities, like Townsburg, Watson, Dewey Central, River Fun Land and whatnot. There are a few hidden communities, lost even to the Lost Dimension, such as Bielefeld, Agloe, Alfheim and North Dakota. Far more common than either of these, however, are abandoned buildings and vestiges of towns with no known origin. Whenever something or somebody goes missing, it is likely to be found somewhere in this lost world. Nobody knows why, although there are theories, but the important thing about lost structures is that someday, in some strange way, they will be found.
Such was the case with the large stone building which Carla and Mel found at the edge of the forest that evening. It looked like a cross between a castle and an old church, but it was so overgrown with moss and vines that there was no doubt in either Okabe’s mind that it had been uninhabited for quite some time. The building sat in the ground at a slightly tilted angle, like some giant had picked up its blocks and thrown one into the soft ground.
Mel was tired from walking all day and he couldn’t imagine how exhausted his niece must’ve been. He led her to the cavernous wooden doors. The doors had no handles, only hundreds of carvings of wide open eyes, so he picked a side and pushed.
Despite pushing with all his might, Mel could not budge his door. He stepped closer to the wood, squinting in the dying sunlight as he ran his fingers over the grain.
He continued studying the eye door for quite some time as Carla yawned in the background. She sat down on the ground outside and started pulling up grass and playing with it before finally growing bored and asking, “Whatcha doin’?”
“I’m examining this door to find the wood’s structural weak point,” Mel said, continuing to examine the door to find the wood’s structural weak point. “If I can find a breaking point, like maybe somewhere where they attached two separate pieces of wood, it’ll fall apart easily. It can’t be too hard to find something, especially since I’m sure termites and rot have made the wood less than solid.”
As her uncle continued to study the giant slab of wood in front of him, Carla sat cross-legged and looked at the other door. It looked back a hundred times with the crude carved eyes. Each one looked like it could come to life at any moment. The more she looked, the more sinister the door seemed, until she could not stand the inanimate stares any longer and pushed her hand against the wood and blocked the carvings from her immediate sight.
At her little push, the door creaked open easily.
There was a CRACK! as Mel struck his door in precisely the right spot, shattering that point and sending jagged, spider web cracks splintering through the door. It wasn’t broken, sure, but Mel had done considerable damage. He looked over to his left, shaking his tingling hand, to see Carla leaning up against her door as it stood wide open.
“You done?” Carla raised one eyebrow in a taunting fashion. “I’m sure we can find some wooden planks inside for you to practice your karate on.”
Mel gave Carla a look before abandoning his plan and joining her inside.
The entrance opened straight up into a wide, glorious sanctuary which looked straight out of a centuries-old Catholic church. There were wooden pews lining all the way back to the wall, each looking brand new and untouched by moss or worms. Behind the pulpit was a huge fountain bubbling out fresh, clear water. High above the fountain was a wood relief of an old man with a miserable neckbeard, with
CATHEDRAL OF SAINTE DECIUS
printed in large letters underneath. On either side of the fountain, bathing the hall in the orange light of sunset, were enormous stained glass windows with depictions of biblical scenery, ancient rituals and all-consuming eyes blending together in beautiful works of art. The glass stretched high up to the ceiling, or at least it seemed to. In reality, Mel and Carla couldn’t even see the ceiling of the great hall. The room stretched up so high that, hundreds of feet up, clouds formed and blocked out anything beyond.
“I don’t remember seeing stained glass windows from outside,” Carla said.
“I don’t remember the building being so tall,” Mel said.
“Ahhh…” Carla’s hat gasped.
“We should look around, right?” Carla pointed to a few hallways leading out beneath the great glass displays. “Maybe they have, like, a kitchen. Or a bathroom, at least. I haven’t had a decent place to sh-“
Mel let out a shout next to her, disturbing Carla’s thoughts. He had turned around to close the door behind them when he saw the reason his own door would not budge. Standing with its back up against the cracked wood was a nine-foot tall humanoid monstrosity.
It- she– had two arms reaching up beside her head with the fists clenched and muscles flexed. Beneath these arms were two more arms, one reaching a hand forward in a stopping gesture and the other at her side, pulling what appeared to be the hilt of a sword out of a small bag attached to her hip. She wore clothes made of layers of green cloth cascading over each other, reaching down over two sets of breasts and exposing a tiny stretch of stomach before ending in a matching long skirt. She had dark, shiny boots stretched over her ankles and a large bandana tied over her forehead, barely leaving any space for her menacing eyes to see. Her hair was short and blonde, spiking up from behind the bandana, and her face was, unfortunately, quite ugly. She had a long, pointed nose and dark tribal markings underneath her beady eyes and above a wide mouth set into a frown.
Carla and Mel stood absolutely still, waiting for the giant woman to move. But despite the vivid colors and the life that seemed to hide underneath her bronze-colored skin, the four-armed woman stood absolutely still.
“I think it’s a statue,” Mel whispered out of the side of his mouth.
“You’d think we’d have seen it in our peripherals,” Carla muttered back.
“…” the still woman continued to not say.
Mel decided to sacrifice himself, if needed, and lightly touched the woman’s outstretched palm with his own. It was neither as warm as a living thing nor as cold as carved rock, and it didn’t give one bit.
“So, that’s the second most disturbing thing I’ve seen today,” said the niece.
“It’s not dangerous, I suppose. And now we’ve got a nice, big, creepy building to spend the night in,” said the uncle.
In the hall to the left, the two Okabes found bookshelves overflowing with religious texts, from familiar bibles and Qur’ans to a heavy tome with nothing written on any of its thousands of pages. Some of the books were in different languages and some of them wouldn’t even open. There were chairs and desks and stacks of parchment for scribe work, but that stuff didn’t seem useful to the journey ahead, so they left all of it there.
The right hallway led to a large pantry full of preserved goods, which Mel sorted through excitedly. He portioned some food for carrying in his own bag and filled a sack with rice for Carla to carry. While she explored the other rooms, including a nice and relatively modern-looking bathroom, Mel made sure to put aside some food for a nice breakfast the next morning.
And then it was done. There was nothing to do but spread sleeping bags over a couple of pews and sleep for the night.
Mel woke in the middle of the night. A light rain was misting from the clouds in the ceiling of the cathedral, covering the ever-flowing fountain with dew that sparkled like diamonds in the blue moonlight. For a moment, he forgot he was even inside and wondered what had roused him from his sleep.
And then he saw the statue woman move.
She was standing by the fountain, not doing anything but watching the water flow. Mel pulled himself out of his sleeping bag and cleared his throat, hoping he wasn’t signing his own death warrant.
“Hello, traveler,” said the four-armed woman in a low, husky whisper that seemed to carry throughout the whole room. “I pray you mean no harm?”
Mel glanced quickly at his niece, sleeping soundly on another pew. Above her head, the hamburger hat was snoring away, a snot bubble floating out of its little nostrils. He stared back at the mysterious guardian and rose to his feet. “We only wished to stay the night.”
“That is good.” Mel noticed that the statue woman still hadn’t made any eye contact, but stood almost as still as she had earlier that evening. “I am Pritha Prithvi, the guardian of this cathedral. I rise every night when the moon prism power running through these windows grants me the right, and sleep still every day when the sun comes up again.”
Mel couldn’t help but smile. “I am also a guard,” he said. “But in another world. We- I don’t wish to disturb you. If you want to kick me out of here, I’ll leave with no trouble.”
The woman seemed to twitch her mouth into a momentary smile, but it was gone before Mel was sure it had been there at all. “I don’t guard the cathedral from the outside world. I keep what is inside from leaving. A powerful demon is sealed in these halls. Pray, do not touch anything you do not need, and everything will be alright.”
Pritha Prithvi tented her fingers together with her lower two hands. “Leave in the morning. Take whatever you want with you. I will be watching. Goodnight.”
Mel sat back down, but couldn’t bring himself to stop asking questions. The guardian was not so intimidating after all, he decided, when she came in peace and unarmed. “Why are you here? I mean, not to sound rude, but what are you anyway?”
This time, Pritha Prithvi definitely looked straight into Mel’s eyes with a dull, ethereal expression. “I am a centaur. The human body, joined into itself.” Her upper arms gestured at her midsection, indicating the torso and a half joined where the first pair of shoulders should’ve been. “My sole purpose is to protect the outside world. That is all I have known and all I shall ever know.”
“You seem sad.”
“I feel only my duty.”
“But you’re human. You’re, like, fifty percent more human than anybody. Why do you have to waste away in here?”
Pritha Prithvi closed her eyes and relaxed her top two arms. “Tell me, human, have you seen the evil our kind has wrought in this world?”
Mel remembered his parents’ harsh words about his sister, the rumors of the Redshirt corporation, the look on Warden Genkai’s face when she was bashed into the wall, the cold blood on Hammerstein’s bandage. “Yes,” was all he could manage.
“We all must pay for our sins.”
Mel slept fitfully through the rest of the night, unsure of his dreams.