The Tyranny of Keys
Sometimes the discovery of something thought impossible defies not only our everyday assumptions, but suggests the world is far stranger than we might ever have imagined.
The deep frost and thaw of ice ages has obscured and uncovered, by turns, some of the oldest secrets that the world has hidden. As our industry changes the face of the world, and hastens its end, some of these secrets have been made accessible long before they would otherwise have come to light. Of these, one of the most spectacular is The Tyranny of Keys; a network of subterranean structures whose origins, while decidedly not human, are even more of a mystery than the materials and techniques used in their construction and the delicate writings carved into every inch of every surface in some unknown language.
Glacial melting having exposed a small opening to a cave in the rocks near the summit of one of the highest peaks in the Chinese portion of the Tian Shan mountain range, The Tyranny of Keys was discovered some hundred metres below the surface by a climber who descended along the cave’s twisting and treacherous path. He moved towards a hidden fissure, towards and a thrumming noise whose source he could neither place nor explain. Curiosity his unerring guide, the man followed the path as far as he could, crawling the last few metres through a narrow trench that opened out into the enormous antechamber that lead into The Tyranny of Keys.
The whole place vibrated, as if some deep engine was singing out purpose and effort, and the explorer realised that channel through which he had entered was a crack in a larger, perfectly levelled rockface that was exposed by a doorway; a triangular arch opened flush against it. The contrast drew his attention to the substance of the architecture in which he stood, a uniform and semi-metallic grey-green colour - almost black and unlike anything he had ever seen - lit by a flat ambience that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time and meant that he cast no shadows.
This was not the only uncomfortable absence: The chamber was enormous but, as he walked deeper into The Tyranny of Keys, he realised that his footsteps didn’t resonate. Despite the acute angles of the large open space - an arrangement of impossibly perfect geometries like crystals tended and shaped as they grew - the walls swallowed up echoes before they could form, creating an aural experience at odds with what his mind might have anticipated. If it weren’t for the reassuring solidity of the floor beneath his feet, an anchor to concrete physicality, the sensation might have become uncanny; something other than real.
Unsettled nonetheless, he moved slowly as he ventured further inside - both to take in everything he was seeing and so as not to break the fragile accord he had reached with the otherness of the experience - and passed through another triangular tunnel, finally noticing the incredible detail carved into the walls and floor alike. None of what he saw was familiar and, while these markings share an occasional symmetry to other untranslated or untranslatable languages (such as in the writings of Pilcrow Jones) it would be far stranger if there were not some even incidental similarities, given the vast quantities of unique characters discovered within The Tyranny of Keys.
The next chamber he discovered was nauseatingly vast, massive on a scale that still causes an existential dread even in those who are thoroughly briefed and prepared before they are sent inside. There was not, nor is there, any other interior space so massive, either natural or constructed, and the mere sight of it was so dizzying and vertiginous that it sent the explorer sprawling to the floor. He hung on for his life, despite the absence of danger, and allowed himself to be overwhelmed as his mind adjusted to a reality in which this space was not only possible but present, a place he had found himself inside.
It did not help that, while the antechamber had already been somewhat alien, it had adhered somewhat to the explorer’s expectations of a space designed to be navigable to human life, and that this new space… did not. Corridors were jutting off at angles and in directions which made them inaccessible to those bound by gravity - steep climbs and deep falls apparently not an issue for whom- or what- ever had built or birthed The Tyranny of Keys in the first place - and the dissociation of the visual and experiential was powerfully and profoundly disorienting.
Later, the explorer could not say how long he had stayed prone before managing to find his feet and, still unsteady, returning to the antechamber where he had entered The Tyranny of Keys; certainly, several days had passed by the time he reached the nearest town and started telling people about what he had found. Several parties sent out people to search for The Tyranny of Keys, most expecting to find nothing, but the directions were clear and accurate and within a few weeks there was a steady traffic of experts - of differing and disparate disciplines - being ferried to and from the site.
The first endeavour had been to create easier access to The Tyranny of Keys; a quick and careful excavation from the surface down to the entrance to the antechamber was carried out, during which it was inadvertently discovered that neither pick nor explosion could mark - much less damage - the material that the structure was made from. This limited the ingress to equipment that could either fit through the original portal or be constructed once it was passed through in pieces, forcing a caution that might otherwise have been ignored, and meant that the exploration had to be slow and methodical.
The name of the site was the first and most immediate discovery, but one that took some time to have achieved a consensus. It had an official designation, along with several code-names meant to keep it secret until its significance and potential for scientific and cultural exploitation could be confirmed, but everyone who had spent time inside - even if only going as far as the antechamber - had felt a different name coming to them fully-formed. It seemed mad, nonsensical, but once someone said it no-one denied that it was the name they had already been thinking: No matter which languages they spoke it in, they knew - unquestionably - that this place was The Tyranny of Keys.
Eventually the management and exploration of The Tyranny of Keys became a shared international concern, an earnestly and eagerly protected endeavour that has yielded endless speculation and very little in the way of sure and certain conclusions. At the very core of all the studies and experiments there is a single question that, if answered, could elucidate and illuminate all of our others: Who built The Tyranny of Keys? In the absence of an answer we are left to speculate, basing best guesses on what little we can gleam from a creation that we might never have been intended nor expected to find.