The first thing that penetrated the kaleidoscopic whirl of disorientation was the feeling of her front teeth. They hurt. Not like someone had punched her in the face. Her lips felt fine. Just a little smushed. And her nose was ok too. But her teeth hurt. They were sore, throbbing with a dull, clinging ache.
Her forearms were complaining too. Pain ran right along the bones. But her hands were fine. Or least better than her knees. There was a bucket of agony pouring from each knee down her lower legs. She really didn’t want to think about that.
Lying on her face wasn’t helping Betty feel any better though, so she pushed herself up and rolled over onto her back. Breathing slow, she was delighted to discover that none of her ribs or internal organs seemed to be particularly battered by whatever had hit her. Even better, she still had whatever was left of the Spelling Rose in her hand.
She waited a moment, breathing steadily to let the pain subside, before she opened her eyes. The Spelling Rose has survived by the Seeming charm that she normally carried was shattered. She knew that without seeing her reflection. Her body felt normal, not corseted up into the shape of a human girl.
Gone were the short, stubby ears she wore to school. In their place, Betty’s proper goblin ears, long and floppy and pointy, were perked up listening for a clue as to her location. Wherever she was, the goblin girl was sure she wasn’t in Rosie’s bedroom anymore or anywhere else on the human-Earth. The blast when the Spelling Rose dropped had thrown her somewhere else. Somewhere far away. Somewhere that might not like goblins all that much.
That seemed like a safe bet to Betty. There were lots of places where goblins weren’t that popular. Most places, if she was pressed to admit it.
With that cheerful thought, she took stock of her environment, trying to match it to any place she was familiar with.
The hum of machinery felt familiar, but it lacked the musical hiss of steam that she was used to hearing in goblin factories. In place of the song a factory sang, Betty heard a staccato series of clicks and chinks. The arhythmic pattern of the sound brought to mind the sense of living creatures, many living creatures, bustling around her, rather than a series of people working towards a common purpose.
The bustling was layered, suggesting that the creatures were arrayed at all points near and far. Betty didn’t see anything moving though.
She’d fallen into a long, gently curving tunnel. In both directions the tunnel was rounded, but not smooth. Various small lights, flickers of flame, and glowing rods illuminated the tunnel and revealed fine gears and dials and etchings that ran on as far as Betty could see. That meant only one thing as far as she could tell.
“I have never been here or even heard of this place before.”
She whispered to herself not because it seemed like a safe thing to do, but because she was in trouble so deep that she’d lost all sense of scale as to danger.
The tunnel was a small one, even from Betty’s perspective. Small meant it was scaled for people her size, which seemed like it should have been comforting. When she reflected on it though, it wasn’t.
“Small tunnel, small creatures,” she said, keeping her voice at a whisper. Most goblin survival techniques emphasized how to use a larger creature’s size against them. Hiding in small places being a prime example of that. Against other small creatures though, that wasn’t going to be an option.
Despite the danger of alerting whatever was nearby, Betty kept whispering to herself. Talking wasn’t calming her nerves, but it was acting as a practical alternative to screaming.
“There’s lots of them, but they’re outside the tunnel. That’s good. But there are controls in here. Which means they must come in here too. That’s bad.”
Without the Seeming charm, her body felt lighter and more free. The pain had reduced to a dismissable ache too, even in her knees. Despite that, and despite the warmth that radiated from the tunnel walls, Betty felt a chill of cold stealing down her fingers as her hands shivered. A nervous fidget ran down her spine and she started walking, heading down the low slope of the tunnel.
She moved silent and careful, her shoes lost with the broken Seeming charm that had shrunk her feet to match her human disguise. Wide goblin feet would have earned her strange looks in the human world, but until she knew whether she’d landed somewhere safe, she was delighted to have the use of her natural, and much quieter, appendages.
The section of the tunnel that she’d fallen into didn’t look any worse for the wear given her arrival. She hadn’t punched through the wall of the tunnel like a meteor, even if that’s what the trip felt like. In practice though, Betty knew that she’d not so much “fallen far away” from where she’d been but instead “moved sideways” in a sense.
World traveling knowledge wasn’t part of her school curriculum, but since she traveled to the human world on a daily basis, she’d spent some time studying how walking between worlds worked. Most of the explanations involved contradictory claims as to the nature of magic and the fundamental differences between the realms of existence, but the general gist that most people seemed to agree on was that many of the worlds where people lived and worked were pieces of the same thing.
Betty wasn’t in Rosie’s bedroom anymore, but she was probably standing on a spot relatively close to where whatever world she was in overlapped with it, with the distance between where she was and where she’d been being more a matter of metaphysical state than measurable distance.
That thought didn’t calm her, nor did finding a port hole in the tunnel’s wall.
Outside the tunnel, she saw hundreds or thousands of long strands, each segmented and burnished, glowing with a reflected golden light that played and shifted around their brass assemblies. The strands were as large as the tunnel she was in, and all around them scurried spiders the size of small automobiles, made from platinum and gold, with eyes of burning coal.
“I’m not safe here,” Betty whispered, and heard a spider just above the porthole drop down in response.
Before the gears that controlled its eye modules could rotate to face her, she was off, racing down the inside of a thin strand inside a giant mechanical web. Behind her, the sound of spiders scurrying rose like an oncoming wave.