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 trouble 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 and stood atop the balcony, overlooking the rest of The Hub. He reflected on all that he had discovered about himself: a vessel for an eldritch 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.

He would suddenly be pulled from his thoughts, 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 level 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. “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.”
The Keymaster stared at him, somewhat judgmentally. “I am beginning to question the wisdom in believing you.”
“No, it all adds up. Think about it – we are both The Keymaster, but have never known each-other. You know nothing of my background, as I know nothing of yours. What we know about our world is true to ourselves, but not to each-other. My keys do not work here. It can only be that our worlds are entirely separate!”
The Keymaster slowly paced about. “So, you propose that there is more than one reality…a multiverse, even?”
“At the very least, there must be yours and mine.”
“And therefore, you believe that you were somehow transported from your reality to my own?”
“That is what I believe, yes. And I also believe that the Crown played a role in it.”
The Keymaster again looked down upon his counterpart with judgment. “I surely would not have been so reckless as to abuse such a supposedly powerful artifact,” he scolded.
“I…I was desperate. I foresaw a great calamity that would befall my world, and I was willing to do anything within my power to prevent it. And it was in that desperation that I was manipulated.”
“You play the victim quite too much. You may have been taken advantage of, but I doubt this being magically inhibited your critical thinking and free will.”

“FREE WILL…SUCH AN AMUSING IDEA.” a voice suddenly rumbled through the level. The two Keymasters looked all around themselves with apprehension, but before they could even process what exactly was happening, the scenery would change, and they found themselves suspended in a primordial void of white and gray. It was emptiness beyond and before The Backrooms itself. Well, almost empty, except for one thing which promptly made its presence known. Tremors emanated everywhere as a being of monolithic stature arose before them, as an island would arise from the sea. Its enormous cosmic proportions absolutely dwarfed the Keymasters, who were but mere specks of dust compared to it. It would take several hours for light to travel between two ends of the being, and thus viewing its entirety would be practically impossible for a human. It was enshrouded in the darkest blacks and the most lustrous golds, crowned by a triangular “head” and reaching outward with tentacular appendages. It evoked the same primordial fear and awe that every human feels when kept up late at night, pondering just how small they are in comparison to the rest of existence; and admittedly, the two Keymasters felt this as well. They both recognized this being to a certain degree, though what exactly it was had yet to register in their minds.
“Who…what are you?” The Keymaster asked.
The stillness of the void was shattered by the voice which emanated from the being in reply. “I am you…I am Kei’!
As the bearded Keymaster gazed upon Kei’, the only word he could force from his lips was a breathless “…impossible.”
“It is reality. You are you, yet I am you. I am all of you — every iteration. For I am your higher self, your Oversoul, the motor which drives you to your ultimate destination.” The Keymaster began to feel disoriented. He and his variant struggled against an invisible vice-like grip that Kei’ held them in, but to no avail, as Kei' continued monologuing. “As my avatars, you serve a particular purpose – a purpose now jeopardized. 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 gravitate towards each-other, and may ultimately collide — bringing about the destruction of both. Only by returning to your native reality may this be undone.”
“Can you not return him yourself, if you are so supposedly powerful?” Asked The Keymaster.
“Do not dare question me — for as I created you, I may destroy you with even greater ease. I made you to be my hands in this world I cannot touch, and you will play that role with the utmost enthusiasm if you value self-preservation.”
“Can’t you at least give us some hint as to what should be done?” asked The Keymaster.
Kei’ paused. “There are certain fixed locations which your respective universes share in common. Indeed, they are the very anchors by which you pull them together, Collecting material from enough of these locations, then uniting them, shall reveal the gate.”
“Which locations are these?”
“A chamber of water, a desolate corridor, and a winding staircase. You have two hours to accomplish this…lest I correct matters myself.”

In the blink of an eye, the two Keymasters once again found themselves standing in The Hub, as if nothing had ever happened. Looking at each-other, they both knew that following as Kei’ instructed was the only way to guarantee their preservation.
“Well, then…where should we start?” asked the bearded Keymaster.

From The Hub, the Keymasters would travel to each of the locations that Kei’ had described. Luckily, they did not encounter any wanderers, as The Keymaster knew it would have been difficult to explain, not to mention potentially cause 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 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, they collected a small container of water. From the desolate corridor, they collected the bones of dead entities. And from the winding staircase, they collected a chunk of stone.

“It seems that we have now gathered all the material. A shame I could not see more of this other universe before I depart…” the bearded Keymaster mused as they returned to The Hub.
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 meeting 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. I was the royal gatekeeper, loyally serving my king with the rest of the royal court. 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. “We must create the gateway, before it's too late!” The Keymaster called out. At that moment, a large stone column toppled down, and The Keymaster teleported the both of them into his prison realm.

“We'll be safe here for now. It has been approximately one hour and fifty-five minutes since Kei’ gave the order. That means we have but five minutes to accomplish this.” The Keymaster laid out all the materials on the ground, trying to think of how to form a gateway from all this random junk. “This can't be all. It does not make sense. Something must be missing…”
The bearded Keymaster stroked his chin, before finally coming up with an idea. “I believe I may have a solution. You are acquainted with the art of key forging, are you not?”
“What is that?” The Keymaster asked in confusion.
“Are you serious? You are The Keymaster, and yet you have never forged a key?!”
“I have merely always had them, as far as I know!” The Keymaster stammered.
The bearded Keymaster huffed, before noticing the glowing orb in the center of the space. “Fortunately, I recognize a forge when I see one,” he said as he approached it. “We must each produce the keys to the realms we visited, from both my reality and yours.” As he said this, three keys materialized from the bearded Keymaster. The Keymaster followed suit, and produced the three keys as well. “Now, we must combine them in the forge.” The six keys were then dropped into the orb. “And now, we must forge a new key – together.”

With that, The two Keymasters gathered around the glowing orb, and they both inserted their hands into it. They aligned themselves with the power of Access which they commanded, and channeled this power into the forging of the key. As the two Keymasters yanked their hands out of the orb, a white-hot key flung out onto the ground, smoldering with smoke. As if in response to this, all the gathered materials suddenly began stirring, moving of their own accord as they formed into a gateway. “Well, this is it — your way back home,” The Keymaster said.

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 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.” With that, the bearded Keymaster entered the gate and disappeared from sight, sent back to his reality. The gate, too, would disappear. In his peripheral vision, The Keymaster could have sworn that Kei’ was looking down upon him, but when he turned around, there was nothing there.

The Keymaster returned to the tower. Looking around at his surroundings, he 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 looked around his chambers, but found that it did not quite feel…homey. Thus, he decided that some renovations were in order, and so he set to work. However, what he failed to notice was that one of the ornate doors in The Tower now emanated a soft, ethereal glow…


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