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To the left of the landing stood a single doorway, damp with creeping woodrot, low enough that Liam had to duck his head to go through. The room beyond was empty, the bare floorboards humped and buckled with the slow distortions of winter-summer-winter. A dusty window looked out over a part of the city Isaac did not recognize. He peered out, trying to spot a familiar landmark, but could find none.
Liam turned toward the only other doorway in the tiny room. "Here we are."
Isaac looked. Set into the wall at right angles to the doorway they had come through was a rectangular opening that had probably led into a closet at one time. A damp, stained mattress had been forced into the passage at some point, blocking off the closet- or whatever it was- as effectively as a Poe-style brick wall. An antique, oval-shaped dresser mirror leaned at an angle against the mattress.
"Sorry," Isaac said. "What?"
ng or a Penrose Triangle, but I like having something I can manipulate."
"Did you just say all of that to sound impressive?"
"Bright lad. Going to get you in trouble someday." Liam held the piece of cardboard up. "This is an optical illusion. Optical illusions are powerful, because we're all about seeing. When you can switch between a vase and two faces looking at each other, you've already got your mind thinking around corners. It's also dangerous, because there's a microsecond of mental disconnect between the vase and the faces. A tiny blip of no-mind, like a little nano-Samadhi. An unscrupulous bloke can use that disconnect for all sorts of things. So forewarned is forearmed, yeh?" Liam bent the two arms of the 'L' upward until they met along their edges, forming a shape like an empty cube. He pinched it there with thumb and forefinger, and held it out toward Isaac. "Now tell me: Is this half-cube an inny or an outie?"
"What? Liam, it goes in, I saw you-"
"So stretch your mind a bit. Look at the thing."
Isaac did, and suddenly the half-cube seemed to pop outward in his vision. Something spasmed in his mind-
When he looked up, the closet doorway had changed. No, he decided-
"The entire room's changed," he said. "This isn't the same room."
"Course it isn't. This one's got an open Gate in." Liam unfolded the cube and slipped it back into a pocket.
The mattress and mirror were gone. Isaac could see a darkened alley through the doorway now, though it seemed to be- in some nonspecific way- a long distance off. "Do we just step through now?"
"That's right. Shall I?"
"Sure. I'll follow you."
Liam stepped through the doorway, bumping the scabbard of his sword on the narrow doorframe and cursing under his breath. A moment later, he seemed to recede away in a direction Isaac could not have pointed to.
Isaac took a deep breath, held it, and followed.
This time, the disconnect was easy.
-a blank space-
And he was standing in the sidestreet with Liam. The sky above was dark and strewn with alien stars. Lensmoor. He knew the feel of Lensmoor now. It was like a half-remembered baroque dream, a gothic corridor of fluid association and-
"Oi," Liam said. "Quit that."
Isaac blinked. "What?"
"You've got that glassy-eyed look that says you're taking in too much at once."
"Sorry? Too much of what?"
Liam crossed his arms. "You think your experience of Lensmoor is all there is of it? This isn't Prime Materia anymore, mate. Limitations don't work the same. That fish-eyed stare means some of that is filtering in. Take too much at once, and you'll rupture something."
"Look, I'm sorry," Isaac said. "I don't follow any of that. What the hell are you talking about?"
"On the Prime Materia," Liam said. "Something can be just what it is. A chair can be just a chair for you. The world can be just a world. It doesn't have to be, and inquisitive lads like yourself won't ever let it be, but it can be. Not so, here." He paused to take in Isaac's uncomprehending stare. "Look. How big would you say Lensmoor is?"
Isaac looked around. The buildings surrounding them loomed high above, giving little indication of what lay beyond. He tried to recall previous visits. "I don't know. It feels like a pretty big city. The size of London, maybe?"
Liam smiled, just a little. "Least you admit you can feel the size of a city," he said. "That's a start." He looked around, as if checking for onlookers. "If I do this," he said. "You're not to tell Bishop, right? Or anyone else, for that matter."
"Do what, Liam?"
"Show you how to see. Just for a moment."
"It's your own choice. And it might help. Or not, I don't know."
Isaac considered. "This will show me the real city?"
"Lensmoor isn't a place, Isaac. It's more like a verb, or a state of mind, or something the bloody language doesn't have a word for. Do you want to see or not?"
"Fine. Do it."
"Close your eyes. Now imagine in your mind a circle with a single dot in the center. All right?"
"Focus on the circle. Focus on the dot in the center. Try to push your whole consciousness toward the dot. You don't hear anything but my voice. You don't see anything but the circle. Do you remember how to do what you did with the cube? Do you remember what it felt like?"
"I'll count three. At three, hold your breath and focus all your consciousness on the circle. Then, when I say, open your eyes and do the same perspective trick you did with the cube. All right?"
"One. Two. Three."
Isaac held his breath. His perception seemed to push outward through his forehead, toward the circle he saw behind his eyes. There was a moment of-
"Open your eyes."
He opened them.
And opened them.
And opened them.
"Oh. My. God..."
He saw/felt his awareness of the city expand outward around him. Out, and out, and further out, extending out of Euclidean space, down corridors and hallways he had seen in dreams, into places and moments he had known before- a strange, deserted street in London- a towering church against a blood-colored sky somewhere in the future- hallways he had wandered, half-aware, in the Invisible College- places he had never seen, would never see again- opium dreams- quicksilver delerium cities glimpsed in between-places- twilight- a terrible sense of size-
"This thing is big..."
"Close your eyes," Liam said. "Focus on the circle again. Pull your senses back into yourself. You'll get vertigo, you keep looking any longer."
Isaac did as he was instructed. He felt his awareness compress around him again, saw the circle flare suddenly in his mind. He opened his eyes, and the overwhelming breadth and depth of the city was gone, though he could feel it hovering just beyond sight.
"There's nowhere quite like Lensmoor," Liam said. "There's nothing like a center in the Multiverse, but there are nodes. Places where things gather."
"Is this the biggest of them?"
Liam shrugged. "Size isn't really size. Importance sort of depends on who's asking. I'd call it significant. There's a few places where things are happening fast right now. Lensmoor, Midport, Albion, Alteria, The Arcanelle." He stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. "It's a big world out there. Come on, then. Let's walk."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.