Keys To The Kingdom

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The Keymaster watched as M.E.G. personnel took away the cat that had given him so much grief for the past several days. He breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to finally be rid of that beast of burden.
One of the M.E.G. officers turned to him. “Thank you for this, erm…submission. But may I ask why you gave this to us?”
Wanting to put as much distance as possible between himself and that thing, The Keymaster swiftly turned to leave. “I have no time for questions. Good day, gentlemen,” he hastily replied. On his way out, he could have sworn that the cat was glaring at him.

The Keymaster had retired to the tower in The Hub. He looked around his chambers, finding that it did not quite feel…homey recently. Thus, he decided that some renovations were in order, and so he set to work, once again cleaning the mess of his living space. As he did so, he reflected on all that he had discovered about himself: a vessel for a primordial being, meant to serve some vague purpose; a fallen god betrayed by his own followers as the result of his greed; a mortal burdened with godhood against his will. These were all the things he was, yet he did not feel like any of them. To The Keymaster, he was just…well, himself. All that truly mattered to him for now was doing his job.

The Keymaster would suddenly be pulled from his thoughts, stopping dead in his tracks as he heard a faint metallic clink caused by an object falling to the ground from a shelf. Looking down, he saw a small brass-colored object, which he kneeled down to pick up and examine. It was a strange clockwork device, roughly the same shape and size as a rubik's cube, composed of an assortment of miniature gears and cogs. He had never seen anything quite like it, nor did he recall any memories of it. As he examined its many facets, he noticed one peculiar detail: one of the gears, it seemed, had slipped out of alignment with the rest. Slowly, The Keymaster slid the gear back into place, upon which the clockwork contraption sprung to life, tremoring with a soft blue glow that emitted from within. He intently studied the device, attempting to decipher its purpose, before a streak of black lightning burst forth from it and struck him in the chest at point blank. Upon the instant of contact, many images and scenes simultaneously flew past The Keymaster. It was as if his life flashed before his eyes, yet it was not exactly his life. The memories which he saw were not his own – not even suppressed ones. He saw himself in many strange and often conflicting predicaments, with beings he did not recognize. Just as quickly as it had happened, however, it suddenly stopped. The force of the blast stiffened his body and sent him flying backwards. After smashing into the wall and sliding down to the floor, where he remained for a few moments, The Keymaster slowly rose back onto his feet and dusted off his cloak. A scorch mark was left in the area that he had been struck by the bolt, with faint wisps of smoke still flowing from it. Regaining his bearings, he looked around and saw gears and cogs strewn about, the device having exploded.

Before The keymaster could investigate any further, he would be alerted to the sudden sound of a heavy thud from behind him. He quickly turned around and saw a figure with long black hair, lying face-down on the floor as if having “fallen” into the room — despite there being no opening in the ceiling. Slowly and cautiously, The Keymaster approached the fallen figure. “Excuse me, sir, are you alright?” he asked.
Suddenly, the figure arose with a start, revealing a pale, sharply defined face that was speckled in black stubble. He gasped as he shot up onto his feet. “Hubris! Show yourself, coward!” he shouted deliriously, blindly flailing about with his fists in the air.
The Keymaster raised his hands, attempting to calm what he believed to be a distressed vagrant. “Be at ease. You are safe,” he repeatedly stated.
After a few seconds, the bearded man came to his senses, silently staring at The Keymaster in confusion. “Who are you, and what are you doing in my home?” he demanded.
Crossing his arms, The Keymaster loomed over the man. “I am The Keymaster, and this is my home.” His eyes slowly wandered towards a ring of keys attached to the bearded man’s right hip, at which point he suddenly lashed out. “Liar! I am The Keymaster! You are but an imposter! This must be another of Hubris’ deceptions!”
The Keymaster’s patience had well worn thin by now. He was in no mood for games. “I do not know who you really are, or why you wish to masquerade in my guise, but this shall not stand. Drop this little charade of yours, or else I shall force you to.”
Without a word, the bearded Keymaster entered a combative stance, indicating that he was unwilling to comply.

The Keymaster charged towards his bearded counterpart, who grabbed onto his body and used the momentum to throw him over the balcony they stood on, sending him to the ground with a painful thud. In a dark blur, the bearded Keymaster darted through the twisting passages of The Hub with lightning speed. He reached the first level door he could find, producing a key and inserting it into the lock. But to the confusion of the bearded Keymaster, the key did not quite fit, and the lock would not budge. He tried several more doors, but none of them would open for his keys. Regardless, his efforts were ultimately fruitless, as The Keymaster could sense the exact position and activities of all occupants within The Hub at all times. The Keymaster mustered the strength to rise back up, no-clipping through the wall and re-appearing directly before the bearded Keymaster. “It would seem that ‘The Keymaster’ has forgotten what he is capable of,” he gloated. With that, the two exchanged grapples and blows in rapid succession, dancing around each-other, clipping all throughout The Hub as one tackled the other. In the midst of the struggle, The Keymaster found the opportunity to grab a certain key from his ring and open a rift. The bearded Keymaster would be drawn into the rift, before suddenly finding himself locked in a cell. For a moment, The Keymaster gazed upon his new prisoner in triumph, which faded when the bearded Keymaster simply shattered the bars of the cell and let himself out.
“I think you forgot…” He slammed The Keymaster against one of the cells. “I am The Keymaster!”

The two Keymasters grabbed each-other by the collars of their coats, each raising a fist to strike the other. But before either of them could, their eyes finally met, and they froze. They saw themselves within each-other, and in that moment, they knew that neither of them were lying. Somehow, both of these beings were the “true” Keymaster, however paradoxical and implausible it may have seemed. Thus, they lowered their fists and backed away from each-other, with The Keymaster transporting them both back into the tower. “You speak the truth…” The Keymaster stated.
The bearded Keymaster nodded. “As do you…”
The Keymaster looked upon his counterpart and wondered how this was even possible, before his eyes wandered down to the strewn about pieces of clockwork on the ground. A sneaking suspicion of what had happened began to creep up on him. “Oh, no…” he groaned, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “What do you last remember before meeting me?”
The bearded Keymaster scratched his chin, grinning as he relived the preceding events in his mind. “Ah, it was my moment of triumph. The Crown… I had placed it upon my head, and became the ruler of the entire universe! Absolute power lay at my fingertips, it was glorious…” His expression then fell into one of bitterness. “But…I was tricked, manipulated by a great deceiver. He used me as a pawn, and took the crown for himself. I was engulfed in darkness, and then…” The bearded Keymaster squinted as he looked around. “-now I’m here.”
The Keymaster’s eyes narrowed. “I have never heard of any such crown, nor of a great deceiver.”
The bearded Keymaster seemed surprised, and even offended. “How could you not know?! The Crown of the Throne, the Alpha and the Omega, the royal court!” he raved.
“The more you say, the less sense you make. These words of yours have no meaning to me.”

The bearded Keymaster fumbled at his key ring, before producing an ornate golden key. “Look, here! The Key of Salvation. It leads to the throne room, from whence I have come.”
“I still know not of that realm, but if you are truthful in your convictions, it should not be difficult to locate the door.”
The bearded Keymaster grinned. “Why, of course. It would be…” he trailed off, his confidence quickly diminishing as he looked around. “…right here.” He appeared deeply confused, and troubled. “This is the chamber of forbidden gateways, is it not?”
The Keymaster hesitantly nodded. “I don’t exactly call it that, but…yes, essentially.”
The bearded Keymaster stepped back, staring in disbelief at the doors. “How could it not be here? How is that possible? Unless…” He slowly turned back towards The Keymaster. “…This is not the reality I know.”

Before either of them could fully grasp the implications of this situation, a great disturbance emanated throughout the realm. “What was that…?” The bearded Keymaster murmured, his eyes narrowing as he looked about. Suddenly, like a wound, a rift in reality tore itself open before the keymasters, and the entire scenery around them changed before their very eyes.

No longer were they in the tower. Now, they were in a grand hall, in a space beyond time itself. The Keymasters found that their hands were now bound by cog-shaped handcuffs, restricting their mobility and dampening their powers. “What is the meaning of this?!” The Keymaster stammered, as he and the other Keymaster looked forth. Before them were two thrones, upon which sat two beings, hovering in the air behind a podium. On the throne at the left was an old bearded man in robes — The Clocksmith. On the throne at the right sat the keeper of time — Divus.

The bearded Keymaster’s eyes widened in surprise towards the Clocksmith. “You…!” He growled, stomping forward. Before he could get any closer, however, he smacked into an invisible force field that sent a shockwave through his body and launched him back. His body stiffened and recoiled, and he grunted again, shooting a death stare at The Clocksmith.
The Keymaster studied Divus intently. Something about aem was oddly familiar to him, yet he could not put his finger on it. Yet again, he could feel gaps in his memory, but these musings subsided as Divus began to speak. “Keymasters, you have been brought before the Time Keepers to answer for your crimes against Time.”

The Keymasters were shocked. “Crimes, against time itself?! What rubbish,” the bearded Keymaster stated, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I’m afraid that there is no such ‘rubbish’. Things have been messed up so badly that I’m forced to personally attend to my duties,” Divus grimly rebutted, leaning forth. “Your folly has resulted in two timelines becoming deeply entangled.”

The Clocksmith looked to the bearded Keymaster. “For you, it was by placing the crown upon your head, a head which was deemed unworthy, and you were cast out from your timeline as an exile. As we speak, the fabric of the reality we share is slowly unraveling, subjected to the tyrannical rule of the Usurper.”
“This would not have happened if you had altered the timeline for me like I wanted!” The bearded Keymaster spat.
The Clocksmith shook his head. “You fail to understand that it would have only brought us to doom much more quickly.”

Divus then looked to The Keymaster. “And you, Keymaster - while the other may have tampered with his own timeline in his own way, it is you who are responsible for bringing him here, tampering with your own. Do you have any idea what you have done?” ae boomed, staring The Keymaster dead in the eyes.
The Keymaster looked up. “I still don’t understand. What exactly did I do?”
“Time, Keymaster…you have broken time.” Divus grimly declared. “I once created the prototype of a device capable of transporting oneself to alternate timelines. However, I lost it some time ago amidst the war…and somehow, it ended up in your possession.” ae sighed. “When the time tuner…malfunctioned, you experienced an integration point, as did the other keymaster when he placed the crown on his head. It appears that by experiencing an integration point simultaneously, you two were drawn towards each-other. Your meeting has set into motion a chain of events which, if not reversed, shall end in calamity.”
“What ‘calamity’ do you speak of?” the bearded Keymaster asked.
“Your respective realities have been cross-contaminated, gravitating towards each-other, and may ultimately collide — bringing about the destruction of both,” answered the Clocksmith.
“And when that happens, every other timeline will converge and befall the same fate,” Divus added. “It seems that only by purging you from your timelines may this be undone.”
The bearded Keymaster’s eyes widened. “-Erase us?! But, why?”
The Clocksmith sighed. “When a timeline strands so far from its counterpart, it becomes its own reality… and it cannot be erased. While entirely erasing the problematic timelines is the preferable option, it is simply impossible, and therefore erasing you is the second best solution.”

“Wait, wait…” The Keymaster said, getting the attention of the Time Keepers. “If the Time Tuner breaking is what caused this, can simply repairing it and returning everyone to their timelines not also be a solution?”
Divus huffed, contemplating the idea. “…I suppose it could work, but given the nature of this crisis, it would be incredibly risky. I would only accept this under the condition that you gather all the parts that have scattered.”
The Keymaster knew that such a task would be tedious. However, when faced with the threat of being erased from time itself, this was the more preferable option. “I shall do so, however I also wish to be accompanied by my variant. His assistance would be of value to me,” he replied, glancing at the bearded Keymaster who scoffed – seemingly bothered by the idea of having to help.
Divus and The Clocksmith looked towards each-other and then back at The Keymaster, before nodding. “We shall allow it.” With a wave of Divus’ hand, the cuffs around the wrists of the keymasters were unlocked, clattering to the ground with a brassy thud.
The Keymaster looked back up at the Timekeepers. “I would like to ask one more thing: can you provide any insight as to where these scattered pieces may be found?”
The Clocksmith stroked his beard. “There are certain fixed locations which your respective universes share in common. Indeed, they are the very anchors by which they are now being pulled together. It would stand to reason that the energy which the time tuner is attuned to would magnetize its parts to these anchors.”

At the flick of a switch on the arm of Divus’ throne, a portal was suddenly opened in the middle of the Time Hall. It was a large, circular hole in reality, but a controlled one - not like the chaotic and uncontrolled holes that were now likely appearing all over The Multiverse en masse. Divus looked back at the three Keymasters one final time. “This shall return you to The Hub. Go now, but heed my warning: if you do not return within the hour…you will be erased.”
With that, The Clocksmith pulled out an antique stopwatch, setting a timer for one hour as he gazed upon the two Keymasters, silently wishing them luck with the solemn expression on his face. The two Keymasters stepped forth, crossing the threshold.
When they were gone, the Time Keepers all looked at each-other. “Do you think they’ll succeed?” Asked The Clocksmith.
“Honestly…I don’t know. But I hope for their own sake that they will,” replied Divus.

After comparing notes, the two Keymasters would travel from The Hub to various locations which their universes shared in common. Fortunately, they did not encounter any wanderers, which for all they knew could have caused even further disturbance to reality. In their travels, the two Keymasters exchanged many stories. They told each-other of their experiences in their native realities – which both happened to be a collection of liminal spaces called “The Backrooms” by modern wanderers. As they came to find out, their own realities were just as diverse from each-other as themselves. The bearded Keymaster’s reality was mythical and whimsical, yet oftentimes surreal and bizarre. The more they came to know each-other, the closer they seemed to become, almost forming a brotherly bond amongst themselves. From the chamber of water, to the desolate corridor, to the winding staircase, they collected various scattered pieces of the time tuner.

“Well, we nearly have all of them now. The last pieces should be here.,” The Keymaster said as they returned to The Hub.
“A shame I could not see more of this other universe before I depart…” the bearded Keymaster mused.
The Keymaster stood in contemplation, before replying. “Well…there is perhaps one realm I may show you…” He motioned towards one of the doors in his sanctum, beckoning his twin to follow. With a swift motion, the door was unlocked, opening before them. The two Keymasters stepped into a large hall with a round table, surrounded by a circular arrangement of marble thrones. They sat unoccupied, seeming to have not been for quite a long time.
“What is this place?” the bearded Keymaster questioned.
The Keymaster scoffed. “As if I have a clue…” He then drew a sigh. “If I were to guess, this was likely a meeting hall, where…individuals like myself would gather. But that time has long passed.” He slowly paced about the hall, running his hand along the back of the chairs. “This… place… is filled with many things. Wonders. Horrors. I have seen it all, and after all of it, I always find myself coming back here. It's meant for me, tied to me somehow. But I still don't quite know the why or how of it.”
The bearded Keymaster nodded with understanding. “You are not the only one to have been estranged. At one point, I too was part of a group.”
“Were you, now?”
“Indeed; a royal court. I was the chamberlain, loyally serving my king. We were as close as family…before treachery struck from within." The bearded Keymaster turned his back towards The Keymaster, lost in his self-reflection. “We drifted apart, and I cannot help but blame myself for it. Had I not lost faith in the crown or my kin, perhaps we would have not been divided.”
The Keymaster silently looked upon his counterpart for a moment, before approaching him and placing a hand on his shoulder. “It is never too late to make things right. To correct past mistakes. I have learned this firsthand.”
The bearded Keymaster looked back at him. “Is that so?”
The Keymaster silently nodded in affirmation.

Suddenly, there was a great disturbance that alerted the both of them. They immediately returned to The Hub, which shook with a loud rumbling as debris began falling to the ground. The Keymaster looked up to see that the debris wasn’t breaking off from any structures, but instead was appearing spontaneously. The Hub wasn’t collapsing, but rather colliding. The Hubs from both Keymasters' realities seemed to be clipping into each-other, creating an interdimensional collision and overlap between them. The convergence was already beginning, and they knew that it would not be long before the event horizon of irreversible multiversal damage would be crossed. “There are only mere minutes left. We must gather the rest of the pieces, before it’s too late!” The Keymaster called out. At that moment, a large stone column toppled down, and they both dove out of the way.

The two Keymaster scrambled to scrounge for whatever pieces they could. It was like finding a needle in a haystack – or, more fittingly, several needles in several haystacks. The Hub, with all its little nooks and crevices, could have been hiding a piece anywhere.

Amidst this, the bearded Keymaster craned his neck to see a large, ornate golden door that appeared on the balcony overhead. Could it really be…? he thought to himself – and indeed it was. It was the door to Level Alpha-Omega, the Throne Room, in his own reality. Just like that, all the promises and commitments that the bearded Keymaster made to the other two left his mind. An opportunity for freedom presented itself to him, and he would have been a fool to not take it.
“Well, brother, it sure was nice to have gotten to know you, but it seems that my time here has come to a close,” he stated, pointing to the door.
The Keymaster narrowed his eyes. “What do you think you are doing…?” he growled.
“I’m returning home, to my reality” replied the bearded Keymaster
“Don’t you realize that you will have no reality to return to if we do not help each-other?” asked The Keymaster, as the two Hubs continued their cataclysmic merging with each-other. “Just because you exit this one, it will not prevent your own from falling.”
The bearded Keymaster laughed. “I will find a way. Believe me, I know betrayal feels like, considering I recently experienced it myself. But the ends justify the means.”
“Get back here, traitor!” The Keymaster shouted as he began to pursue the bearded Keymaster. The bearded Keymaster fled up the staircase, but found himself surprised by just how fast The Keymaster was, as he quickly caught up to him. Feeling a small whoosh of air from behind, he turned around and saw him standing there. The Keymaster’s hand shot forth, and the bearded Keymaster jumped out of the way, causing the blind Keymaster to instead strike a stone pillar and crack it. The bearded Keymaster then came up from behind The Keymaster and rammed his elbow into his spine, creating an audible crunching sound. The Keymaster fell to his knees with the wind knocked out of him, temporarily incapacitated.
Making a mad dash, the bearded Keymaster finally reached the ornate door. “Farewell, brother!” he exclaimed, as he stabbed the Key of Salvation into the door. He gleefully ripped it open to find…nothing. Pitch black emptiness. The Bearded Keymaster’s breath was taken from him, as he gasped in shock. He nearly stumbled through, but instead fell back from the doorway. “I…I don’t understand…” he said in disbelief as he fell back.

By now, only one minute remained on the timer. The Hub began to crumble all around the two, and The Keymaster looked to his bearded counterpart. “Perhaps your course of action should be reconsidered,” He said judgmentally, his arms crossed.
The Bearded Keymaster nodded hastily. “Erm, um…yes, of course!”
The two Keymasters scrambled throughout what still remained of The Hub to find the final piece. In the last ten seconds, The Keymaster would find a cog wedged in a doorway. He grabbed it, and then a rift suddenly opened, through which the two Keymasters were drawn.

With that, the Keymasters were once again in the time hall, standing before the Time Keepers, at the exact moment the timer reached “0”. “Ah, just in time,” The Clocksmith remarked.
“Have you returned with the time tuner parts?” Asked Divus.
The Keymaster nodded, presenting the parts. “You would not believe what he had to endure to obtain them.”
After inspecting it, Divus’ hands became a blur as ae reassembled the device in the blink of an eye. “Now then…I say it is time you are all sent back home,” ae said as ae began calibrating the device.
The bearded Keymaster stared down at the floor, contemplating. “Whatever events are currently transpiring in my reality, I feel that I am dearly needed. I must redeem myself to those I have betrayed.” He then turned towards The Keymaster. “I am aware I was not the best guest here, nor the most loyal companion in your journey. So, I…” he paused, wincing as if it caused him physical pain to say this. “…am sorry.”
The Keymaster solemnly nodded his head. “Do not worry. All is forgiven.”
The bearded Keymaster seemed relieved to hear this. “I have learned much from this experience. My eyes have been opened, and I will use what I have learned to save my comrades.”
The Keymaster shook the bearded Keymaster’s hand. “I wish you the best of luck in sorting out the problems of your reality.” Divus activated the time tuner, and with that, the bearded Keymaster disappeared from sight, sent back to his reality.

Only The Keymaster now remained in the Time Hall, facing Divus. “Everything should be normal once again,” ae said as aer throne hovered down towards The Keymaster. “You’ve been a great inconvenience to me…but you at least fixed your mistakes. This isn’t the first multiversal crisis I’ve faced, after all,” ae said with a faint laugh.
“That is comforting knowledge…” The Keymaster semi-sarcastically replied, before seeing that Divus extended aer hand towards him. Reluctantly, he took the hand, shaking it. As he did so, he unlocked yet more memories. He vividly remembered Divus, and all that ae had done. He remembered ruling alongside aem with the rest of the Pantheon, in a bygone era when The Backrooms was known as “paradise”. After being brought out from his memories, he gazed upon Divus with fresh eyes. “Divus…it’s you!” He exclaimed.
Divus chuckled. “I wondered how long it would be until you recognized me, my friend. Glad that you finally remember,” ae said, releasing the handshake. Divus then looked down at aer watch. “Oh, I best get going soon. It’s Happy Hour in The Snackrooms, and the Alchemist doesn’t like when I’m late. Say, would you care to join us?”
The Keymaster shrugged. “I’m afraid I must decline this time. Aside from the fact you were perfectly willing to erase me just an hour ago, I have my own duties to attend to.”
Divus nodded. “Aye, understood. But take it from me: you don’t always need to be all business and no pleasure. You should learn to loosen up sometime. “Now, I believe that you would like to go back to your own home now, correct?”
The Keymaster nodded. “Yes, home…” He said, his mind seeming to wander elsewhere.
“Well then, I shall send you back now. Though I advise that you no longer mishandle mysterious objects that you randomly find.” Ae tapped the temple of aer head.
“Right…” The Keymaster said, before he suddenly found himself back in the tower.

Looking around at his surroundings, The Keymaster found that it was all back to normal. Everything was stable, with no other Hubs bleeding into it any longer. Sighing with relief, The Keymaster resumed his cleaning. In the process of doing so, he turned up an antique mask. However, deciding he had enough excitement for now, The Keymaster simply left it where it was, and finally finished cleaning. However, what he failed to notice was that one of the ornate doors in The Temple now emanated a soft, ethereal glow…


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