Life for Kevin and Tanji had fallen into a regular pattern. Not a rut, exactly - the mysterious world of Lyndesfarne was even now far too new and exciting a place for Kevin to be in the slightest bit bored and, although Tanji knew vastly more about his own world than he knew about hers, there was still a great many interesting things for them to do together.
Kevin's introduction to Lyndesfarne - a series of events now quite a few years in the past - had been a slow and, he understood only in hindsight, extremely carefully managed process. Being initiated in the existence of what many might regard as an entirely mythical world was a delicate and protracted business, although the Other World itself was one whose description in myths and legends had a surprisingly consistent character across several continents and thousands of years.
His first exposure to the enchanting strangeness of the Other World was when Kevin had been commissioned as the leading architect for the construction of the New Bridge. This was introduced as a minor civil engineering problem: the design of a bridge between the mainland of North East England and the small island which lay a few hundred metres off the coast. For everything that he had understood hitherto, this was a distinctly backwater area and, even at the time, he wondered why such an elaborate and expensive construction was considered necessary.
It was not long before he had the first inkling of the truth: the stormy straights that lay between the Mainland of England and the island of Lyndesfarne was actually a crossing between his own world and another one; that the apparently deserted island at the far end of the bridge was a placeholder in his world's reality for the universe which contained the other. The same effect was observed from the Other World: his own world seemed to be represented by a tiny and uninhabited island.
The second surprise he had not fully appreciated until he had first visited the island, on the pretext of inspecting the Old Bridge - the original stone bridge built several hundred years ago. The engineering principles and technological solutions that Kevin had long ago studied, and more recently applied in the design of various sophisticated civil engineering structures simply were not applicable in the Other World. Instead, an alternative set of rules and operating principles were in place, principles that even now Kevin found mostly incomprehensible and were generally referred to as "magic".
One principle which Kevin did understand was that magic was both pervasive and reliable: with the right gestures - mercifully, incantations did not seem to be necessary - anyone could activate everyday magic as easily as he could operate an electric light switch. While an individual's skills and innate abilities - coupled with extensive training - was certainly a factor in the invocation of more complex magic, Kevin found to his surprise and delight - and just a little pride, too - that even he had learned to fasten a cloak or turn on the illumination in a room without the slightest difficulty.
Magic seemed to be a property of the universe - indeed, Kevin was later to discover, both universes. There was nothing intrinsic in his world which prevented magic from functioning as intended. The reason magic did not, in general, work was that a carefully-designed barrier surrounded the crossing, fitting in the interstices of the passage between the Two Worlds. This interfered to prevent magical devices and artefacts from working when moved from Lyndesfarne. The same magical blockade also acted in the opposite direction, to prevent sophisticated technology from working in the Other World. The barrier was actively and carefully maintained, but occasionally something would slip through: some magical artefact would end up in our world still active - or at least partially so.
It was during the construction of the New Bridge that Kevin had first met Tanji. She was then a Guide in the Guild of Directions - the Lyndesfarne organisation that trained individuals to assist Visitors to the world of Lyndesfarne. Members of this Guild provided help with language and culture, and how to get about in a world where nothing worked as they would have expected.
Tanji was a petite and blonde-haired woman, although she was usually more blonde when on the Lyndesfarne side of the crossing. Kevin was convinced that people from the Other World were definitively as human as he was, but there was some common trait which gave them a certain elfin facial appearance. It was something about the shape of the eyes and the cast of the cheekbones, and a consistent tendency towards slightly pointed ears.
In all probability, none of this would have caused much comment in modern-day England, but most visitors from the Other World - including Tanji herself - used whatever limited shape-changing ability they possessed to adapt themselves to the norms of Kevin home world. In Tanji's case, this involved a modest darkening of her hair and the smoothing of the contours of her face. She was still immediately recognisable in either guise, although Kevin quite definitely preferred her true Lyndesfarne appearance.
Since the completion of the New Bridge, Kevin had been more than filling his time with consultancy work, having resigned from the international firm of architects which had employed him for several decades. He had been surprised at the amount of design work he had been offered - he was apparently rather more well-known that he appreciated. Some of the commissions were conventional civil engineering undertakings including a number of bridges in various countries, often with some technical difficulty caused by location and geography.
Other work was specifically around the crossing to Lyndesfarne and relied on his knowledge of both magic and technology; there was more industry based around this crossing that he had at first realised. He had even been offered an honorary chair at his old University, although he was not sure how to react to this offer.
Kevin thought of himself as just an average forty-something bloke, although in truth he was probably less overweight and rather more fit than most British men of his age. It was just a fluke of genetics that he had so far retained all of his dark brown hair and that it had yet to show significant signs of greying. He could perhaps have been mistaken for a man ten years younger - at least, until he opened his mouth. Then, his cautious demeanour and careful manner of speaking declared his true age and upbringing.
In Kevin's own estimation, he was conceivably slightly over-educated, and could perhaps be described by the words 'anorak' or 'geek', depending upon which side of the Atlantic one was currently resident. He had been extensively educated in the better kind of schools and university, and his sharp intelligence and retiring demeanour had meant that he had learned a great deal from a broader experience of the world - indeed, both worlds.
His studies and private ruminations had led Kevin to harbour grave concern about the stability of the crossing, and the politics that inevitably infiltrated every aspect of its governance. The intertwined history of the Two Worlds was something he was still trying to get a handle on. Any number of new friends and acquaintances seemed intent on telling him stories with deep meanings and perhaps ambiguous - even conflicting - motivations.
At one time - hundreds or even thousands of years ago - there had been a great many crossings and pathways between the Two Worlds. A myriad of stories and tales, myths and legends had attended these ways and the peoples which had used them, many of which persisted to the present day. From the stories of Faerie folk in Ireland to the Spirit Guides of the North American natives, the Elves of Iceland and the troglodytes of Germany, these stories all had their roots in a long history of communications between the worlds.
All of these pathways were now closed, save for the crossing at Lyndesfarne. From all accounts, any amount of drama and excitement, death and heroics had accompanied these closures, and many of the tales he heard spoke of epic actions in those far-off times. It seemed that repercussions of events in the distant past echoed forward to the present day and even now put at risk the fragile tranquillity and perceived peacefulness of the last remaining crossing between the Two Worlds.
Bret arrived on Kevin's doorstep one Saturday morning in early Spring. His appearance was announced by a brisk knocking at the door of the little flat in South Manchester which Kevin had maintained, and inhabited intermittently, for much of the last decade - ever since, in fact, his wife had chucked him out, declaring herself eternally bored with his company all those years ago.
Kevin had met Bret when they were both working on the design of the New Bridge to Lyndesfarne. The design of the bridge had presented a whole series of unique technical challenges. Because of the barrier, technology could not be relied upon in one world and magic was disabled in the other, and so there was no single technique which could be used for the entire structure.
The solution to this conundrum was to design the bridge in two halves, each supporting only the weight of its own half. The short central section, where neither magic nor engineering was entirely to be trusted, had been filled with a laminate: alternating layers of steel-reinforced concrete and the magical "construction stone" that was widely used in the Other World.
Kevin had been the technical lead for the England part of the New Bridge, while Bret was the lead designer for the Lyndesfarne section. They had met under strange circumstances and had become firm friends, although it was not until much later that Kevin had begun to appreciate the deeper connections that Bret maintained with the Boards and Guilds, the groups that could only be called the Establishment: the interlocking organisations which formed the governance of the crossing on both sides.
Kevin had been slightly startled by the unexpected knock on the door. He peered through the viewer cautiously, saw that it was Bret, then opened the door and beckoned him inside.
"Hi," Bret said as Kevin closed the door behind him, "Are you busy this weekend?"
As it happened, Kevin had very few plans for that particular weekend, other than enjoying a great deal of Tanji's company and, perhaps, indulging in one of his other passions, that of cooking. It was still sufficiently early that neither Kevin nor Tanji were dressed; indeed, she was still in bed and he was making her a mug of hot chocolate in his dressing gown.
Bret's appearance had not changed since Kevin had last seen him. He still wore his blond hair unfashionably long and as usual tied back into a neat ponytail. He had an open and smiling, even boyish, face and was dressed fairly casually in dark brown trousers and a blousy white shirt.
Kevin reached out and shook the other man's hand warmly.
"How are you?"
"Oh, fine, fine," Bret replied casually.
"And did you have something specific in mind for this weekend?" Kevin pressed, grinning at the sudden appearance of his friend.
Just then, Tanji appeared in the doorway in Kevin's spare dressing gown, evidently having heard the unexpected sound of voices. She did not seem particularly pleased to see Bret, and Kevin suspected he knew the reason why this was so.
Bret's role in the Lyndesfarne Establishment, and his closeness with the Ferryman - the secretive final arbiter of policy and ombudsman of disputes in the management of the crossing - had drawn both Kevin and Tanji into the darker side of the political relationship between the two worlds. This had resulted in Tanji having the terrifying experience of being kidnapped, transported between the Two Worlds in a crate, and held hostage to prevent Kevin and Bret from discovering too much about a kind of a conspiracy which even now none of them truly understood.
True, Bret had been instrumental in tracking down Tanji and he and Kevin had together rescued her from her captors, but even so she retained a certain amount of - well, not distrust, but perhaps disquiet - at the unexpected appearance of Bret. Nevertheless, she greeted him civilly, together with a certain degree of nervousness which Kevin thought only he could detect.
Attempting to lighten the situation, Kevin ushered Bret into the kitchen and offered him hot chocolate, the kind he used being the best approximation that he had been able to locate to the popular hot drink served everywhere in Lyndesfarne. Bret nodded appreciatively, and Kevin poured him a mug, as well as one each for Tanji and himself.
"I would like you to help me," Bret said directly, after sipping the warming drink, "I would appreciate your insight on a delicate matter."
Kevin glanced at Tanji, who shrugged.
"I'll go and get dressed," she said, without waiting to hear his response.
"Of course I'll do whatever I can to help," Kevin replied politely to Bret, "But we'd better take Tanji."
"I wouldn't dream of suggesting otherwise," Bret responded, smiling broadly.
"OK. You drink your chocolate, and I'll get myself ready."
Kevin went for a hurried shower and then to pack, throwing a few items into a small rucksack of the kind he had noticed was popular in the Other World. In less than fifteen minutes, the three people regrouped in the hallway of Kevin's little flat.
"Come on then," Bret said, "Let's go. We have to visit a Cave."
"A cave?" Kevin queried.
"Cave," Bret responded, emphasising the francophone pronunciation, "In France."
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