Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
The man stared at Christopher long enough for it to become uncomfortable.
“I was told you wanted to talk to me,” Christopher said.
Cain smiled. “I did, indeed.”
Christopher waited for more, but once again the silence dragged on.
“I’m sorry,” Christopher said, “I’m not sure what’s going on here.”
“Forgive me,” Cain said. “I’m afraid I was not quite prepared. You see, there’s a project I’ve been working on for a very long time. It’s a rather…emotional thing for me. It started years ago, and I have to admit I thought there was no hope of finishing it. Every time I thought I had solved it, there was a catastrophe. Recently, I thought I had finally seen it over and done with. The work of half my life, wasted. And for Razor Mountain, far more than that.”
Christopher frowned. “I don’t understand. What does this have to do with me?”
“I’m sure it will sound a little absurd, but you are vitally important to this project. You, here in Razor Mountain, have renewed my hope that I can finally succeed.”
“I…I don’t want to get your hopes up,” Christopher said. “I don’t really understand what this project could be that I somehow have to be involved to make it work.”
Cain nodded. He stepped forward and put a hand on Christopher’s shoulder.
“I understand. It sounds absurd. It’s difficult for me to explain. I think we had better take a walk, so you can see it for yourself. Then it will all make sense.”
“Lead the way, then,” Christopher said.
Cain walked past him, back to the elevator. Christopher followed him in, and the doors closed. Christopher watched as Cain took out a little key and unlocked the metal panel he had noticed on the ride up. Behind it was a ten-digit number pad. Cain tapped in a long sequence of numbers, and there was a prolonged beep. Then Christopher felt the elevator begin to gently descend.
Christopher counted silently to himself again. It had taken about thirty seconds for the ride up. Now, he gave up after hitting one hundred on the way down. They were clearly descending deeper into the mountain than he had before. The old man seemed content to stand side-by-side in silence, but Christopher felt increasingly awkward. Despite his companion’s apparent frailty, Christopher was acutely aware of the imbalance of power between them. Cain looked utterly self-assured, and as usual, Christopher had no idea what was going on.
The elevator doors opened onto a hallway of polished, unadorned black stone. Cain stepped out without looking back to see if Christopher was following. He looked as though he were just out for a stroll. Christopher exited the elevator, and the doors closed behind him. He reached out a hand and let his fingers trail over the slick, glassy surface of the black stone. He had expected it to be cold, but it was not.
“It’s surprisingly warm down here,” Christopher said, as much to break the silence as to suss out any information from the strange old man. “I suppose that’s part of what you do?”
Cain nodded. “I make sure the temperatures are comfortable in the city proper,” he said. “We love to pump up geothermal heat wherever we can. But down here, it stays warm with no effort on my part.”
The light in the hallway came from narrow slits in the ceiling every twenty feet or so, creating a pattern of alternating darkness and light that reminded Christopher of night driving on the highway, street lights passing by. It was almost hypnotic. The effect also made it difficult to judge how far the hallway stretched ahead, although Christopher could tell that it eventually curved to the left, out of sight.
“What is this place?”
“This is one of the oldest parts of the city, or so I’m told,” Cain replied, chuckling. “Much older than me, and that’s saying something.”
“How old is Razor Mountain?” It seemed like a potentially sensitive question, but Christopher sensed a guileless openness from his guide.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Cain said. “Maybe better.”
The walls, the ceiling, the floor were all perfectly smooth and seamless. As far as Christopher could tell, it was precisely square and the dimensions didn’t vary, although it was hard to tell with light reflecting off the polished surfaces.
As they made their way around the curve, Christopher began to realize that the path formed a spiral. It started gently, but steadily tightened. The light also began to change. The narrow slits grew further and further apart, and the gaps of darkness between deepened. Then, there were no more lights. But even as they walked away from the faint reflections, Christopher could still see the path forward.
For a moment, a memory asserted itself: waking on the dark plane, groggy and confused. The sensation of a lightless cave; looming shapes and smothering darkness.
At first, he thought he might be imagining the blue glow. Then he decided it must be a translucency in the surrounding rock. It was so faint that he had a hard time seeing it, except in his peripheral vision. But it had an electric energy that made him feel like he had been shuffling in his socks on carpet. He blinked, and the glow intensified. He could see it through his eyelids.
When the spiral could get no tighter, the hallway opened onto a cylindrical room.
The walls here were different, metallic and dull.. The blue was searing, and for a moment Christopher held up his hands to cover his eyes. It did nothing to it out. He realized he was still holding the tattered paperback, and felt momentarily silly, hauling it around for the sake of a brief joke.
He couldn’t help but take a step into the room. He looked up, and saw darkness. The room extended upward beyond his sight. The blue glow pulsed deep in the center of that darkness, like the iris of a distant, giant eye trying to focus on him.
“This is your project?” he muttered.
Cain came up slightly behind him and made a small gesture that seemed to encompass both the room and the two of them. “This. This is my project.”
“What exactly do you expect me to do?”
“Just look around and tell me what you see,” Cain said.
Christopher took another step toward the center of the room. The book slipped from his hand, his limbs far away and oddly disconnected.
“I see…symbols and shapes on the walls. Incredibly delicate. There’s some kind of pattern there, but I can’t quite tell what it is. It’s all in that blue light. What is that light?”
Cain sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t know. I can only ever see it out of the corner of my eye. I’ve spent so many nights pacing around this room, but I can never quite see it.”
There was a distant thud that reverberated through Christopher’s body. Somehow, he had fallen to his knees, but he didn’t feel it. He was numb. He could hear someone whispering, many voices whispering. It was a crowd speaking over one another, many languages that he couldn’t understand.
And then he could.