Burb Rocking
Thursday, June 05, 2008
  Chapter Nine: The Pit

CHAPTER NINE

The fishbowl became my new home.

When consciousness returned, that’s where I was, lying on the squishy pallet where I had lain when “dead.” Each day a basket of food and drink was lowered through a cylindrical shaft down into my cell. Day-Glo fish swam beyond the encircling transparent wall.

No one came to call, to interrogate, to torture.

Solitary confinement in a place where time was almost meaningless. All the same, I marked each delivery of a meal on one of the white ribs running up the sides of the jug-shaped chamber.

When I wasn’t pondering various unworkable schemes for escape, I thought of Merlin, and of Bleys. Had they really been tossed into the abyss? Raum was more rational than Zirlar. As royals of Amber, my kin could be useful as bargaining chips. And if my ability to employ Trumps could advance the plans of Amber’s enemies, the same could be said for my son and my brother. Finally, as former agents of the crown, they held information which could be used by the other side.

I was heartened by my own continued existence. If “the bottom of the sea” euphemistically referred to my confinement in a bottle-shaped aquarium, then perhaps “hurl them into the abyss” could be taken at something other than face value. That thought was my rock and I clung to it like the drowning shipwreck victim that it almost seemed I was.

Despair came at me from several directions, but my guard was up. I lived. There would be no despair. Bleys possessed knowledge and resources beyond my own, and had survived worse situations in the past. If I lived, then my guess was that he did, too. A certain amount of denial is probably necessary in most grasps for hope, and I was well aware of the possibility that I was only kidding myself. Still, I hoped Bleys lived and chose to believe it all the same.

As for Merlin, this was his turf. Having been raised in the Courts, he obviously could access native lore beyond the ken of either Bleys or myself. His connections in this place, besides conferring hidden advantages, might also provide unlooked-for allies. In point of fact, if I were placing odds on any of the three of us living through this mess, I’d be giving myself the lowest score. Merlin’s chances were at least as good as Bleys’, and better than mine.

We were far from out of commission. This surely was check, but not yet mate. There was indeed room for hope, hope that was something other than self-deception. Room for hope, if not optimism. When Eric had me immured in the dungeons beneath Amber, I had been deprived of my eyes. Yet I had escaped and lived to tell the tale. I would escape to tell this one.

Down, but not yet out.

Still, despair was not so easily turned aside. Days went by, then weeks, then months. Eventually, I raged against Martin. This was all his fault. Somehow, he had messed up, gotten Merlin and himself in over their heads, so that Random had sent me after them. Had I not come to the Courts as a result, there would never have been talk of people inhabiting abysses or sea-bottoms.

I burned with the urge to confront him with his crimes, teach him a proper lesson. So strongly that I eyed the wall of my prison, wondered how deep underwater I was, how easily that wall could be broken. Escape, track him down, make him understand the enormity of the disaster he had precipitated, the harm he’d done his cousin Merlin, his uncle Bleys, me, and Amber herself. I believe I actually saw red, wallowing in my wrath.

Sometime later, after the anger had burned down and something like rationality returned, I forced myself to recognize the youth and inexperience of my nephew and my son. They were going to make mistakes; it was unavoidable.

So I blamed Random.

But that, too, passed. And, when I had no one left to accuse, I blamed myself.

I had not made an effort to be a part of my son’s life. Instead, I had given him the barest minimum of myself, told him the story of how I had come to his homeland, how before that I had simply come home (really not so simple), how I had come to be his father. And kept my promise to see him walk the Pattern. Then, as if fulfillment of that promise relieved me of all my duties as a parent, I had taken the first opportunity to go as far from Amber and Chaos as I could get, losing myself among the Shadows. My rationale had been my search for the Pattern I had drawn. But now I knew that quest for what it had truly been: my excuse. For, somehow, I had known all along that my Pattern was not part of the web of worlds stretched between the two known poles of existence. It lay somewhere else. Bleys and Fiona had said as much, and in the core of my being I had known they were right.

So why had I fled the home and family I’d fought so hard to save? The pain of losing Deirdre and my father? The awesome scope of Brand’s treachery? The rejection by a certain Princess of Chaos?

All of that, I decided. And more. Just as it had seemed I would take my place in a ready-made family of my own, the mother of my son had declared her hatred for me. And that son had turned out to be a being who, while resembling me on the surface, was in truth very different, almost alien, raised in a realm I still only barely comprehended.

And even if all of that had not been there, further complicating the picture, even a normal family — whatever that was — would have been complicated enough. The truth was, though I might have done a little growing up during the succession intrigues, I still had some left to do. I just hadn’t been ready. Those responsibilities had scared me, and I’d chickened out. I’d run, and now I was ashamed. And not just ashamed. Guilty. For now it was clear that others would pay for my unwillingness to face responsibilities which were mine, and mine alone.

My fault.

If I ever got out, I resolved to do things differently. If Merlin still lived, I’d find him, get to know him better, make myself available. And I’d cease avoiding Amber. Though I had sworn my loyalty to Random along with everyone else that day on the verge of the abyss, I had not rendered service as they had.

As for the rest, with so much time to think, sooner or later every connection suffered a review. Dara was the mother of my only son. Perhaps I had given up on her too easily, avoiding a serious commitment for all the reasons I was now finally willing to acknowledge. She had made it easy, by rejecting me first. The only way to know if there could be anything there would be for me to make the first move, test the waters. If those waters were still posted “No Swimming, No Fishing,” then at least I’d know that, and know I’d tried.

And Moire…what to say? She’d seemed happy enough to call the troublesome prince her consort. But had I chosen to reside with her in the city beneath the sea for her sake, or for the sake of the city itself? There I had been able to be in Amber without any of the complications of actually being in Amber. Self-imposed exile in an underwater limbo? After hundreds of years of exile, exile was what I knew best. An existence which had frustrated me, but which had also become a part of me. Frustrating, but also — not so unexpectedly — freeing.

I’d lost my passion for living. Without it, there’d be no point in escape.

I laughed bitterly. I’d chosen the beautiful prison of Rebma, willingly placed myself in the power of its lovely warden. And now where was I? Underwater again, in a funny little jail, a genie trapped in a lamp. As there was no beautiful mistress of this latest incarnation of the Stony Lonesome, and the cell was considerably smaller, on the whole it would have to be said that I had traded down. Even if the essentials had hardly changed.

And now, of course, the new conditions, having worsened somewhat, came with their own costs. Things were happening outside my collapsed existence, but what things?

The three mystery men I’d brought into the game, how mysterious were they? They were almost certainly family-members, and obviously long-lost ones. I’d seen their faces before, but I knew even less about them than I did about Osric and Finndo. These three, therefore, had to be their elders, from the time of Oisen and Isolde, if not earlier. From Amber’s earliest days then. We’d been taught they were among the deceased, but, clearly, this was not so. The witches had known this, of course, and for reasons of their own had chosen to share this information with Swayvill’s foes.

But why now?

Because Swayvill’s war on Amber had failed, that was why. He was a defeated monarch. And therefore vulnerable. Now those who had quietly plotted his downfall for millennia at last saw their chance. And had chosen to act. I marveled at their patience.

But perhaps they hadn’t been as patient as all that. It would be naïve to assume this had been their first and only attempt.

The witches themselves were obviously the key to everything. They had known more about the new Pattern than I. Not just more than I knew, more than anyone knew, more than Bleys, more than Fiona. Possibly even more than Dworkin himself.

Dworkin!

If the witches were the key to the other side’s power, Dworkin was ours. As soon as I managed to learn Merlin’s fate and, hopefully, find him alive somewhere, finding Dworkin would be my next order of business. Then I’d have to learn the story behind the witches and our three new relatives. And report any findings to Random.

The mission would still be completed. It would just end up taking a little longer than anticipated, that’s all.

Still leaving me with the problem of escape.

There were two ways out, as I saw it. One: Up through the chimney above. Two: Out through the broken wall into the waters outside. Assuming I was being held under Haylish, I would emerge in the midst of the city. From there I could make my way to the Street of the Beggars, masquerading as one (easy enough, one would hope, for a bedraggled escaped convict), learning what I could of the situation prevailing in Amber and the Courts.

What, for instance, was the cover story circulating about the disappearances of Yours Truly, the visiting prince, and Bleys, the resident ambassador? At some point, though, I’d have to make contact with Swayvill, work my way over to Thelbane, gain a private audience. From there we would have to unravel where Merlin and Bleys were being held, mount a rescue. If possible, I’d get in touch with Dworkin, secure his help. With my grandfather on board, locating the still-missing Martin should be less of a problem. Then back home to Random with solid results and, all going well, Swayvill’s opposition already dispatched.

Optimistic, me?

But there was a distinct possibility of drowning if I literally broke out. The other option, using the rope by which the food basket was lowered, wasn’t much better since whoever passed me my meals would be at the other end, able to cut or release the rope any time he chose.

The matter required yet more thinking. So I looked out through the aquarium wall, watched the fish swim by.



The old green-bearded fellow had been paying me another dream visit, shouting to be heard above a roaring wind. It had seemed I could almost make out the words.

“Lord Corwin!”

Suddenly awake, I sat up with a start and looked around. Still a lone fish in a bowl. The shifting light filtered through the waters and wall showed a round cell devoid of all but my sleeping mat and the thunder bucket against the other wall (the chamber pot that got hauled up the rope once a day).

The words had come to me in a loud whisper. A fragment of my dream?

“Lord Corwin! Are you awake?”

After a pause, I answered, “Yes.”

“Are you all right?”

“Things are going swimmingly down here. So to speak.”

A girlish giggle reached my ears. So I got up, moved to the center of my chamber, tilting my head to peer up the shaft. There was, far, far up, framed against a featureless field of green light, an outline of someone’s head and shoulders.

“I’m not supposed to be here. So I have to be careful and talk softly.”

“Okay.”

“It’s great to finally talk with you.”

“Same here. I don’t get many visitors. In fact, you’re the first.”

“Aren’t you curious who I am and why I’m here?”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.”

“I’m Airu.”

“Delighted to make your acquaintance, Airu.”

“You have to escape,” she informed me.

“Now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea. Easier said than done, however.”

“Bad things have been happening.”

“Somehow this news comes as no surprise.”

“Very bad things. King Swayvill no longer rules Chaos.”

“Who’s in charge then?”

“The lords of Chaos no longer heed Swayvill. They are calling for Zirlar to claim the Greenstone Throne.”

I’d actually been expecting something like this.

“How is Zirlar managing this coup d’état?”

“Many are unhappy with Amber’s victory. They blame Swayvill.”

“And support Zirlar?”

“He has promised victory over Amber.”

“What of Raum?”

“Zirlar’s ally.”

“He doesn’t mind sitting backstage while Zirlar takes the bows and has flowers thrown at his feet?” I wondered, a little incredulous. “Zirlar gets the glory, not to mention the power? And what does Raum get out of it?”

“Raum has said many times that he has never wanted the throne. All of Chaos knows that.”

“Really? If Swayvill knows that, though, then why doesn’t he make common cause with Raum against Zirlar? And then reward Raum with the number two spot he now holds? Doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know. But now that Swayvill’s reign is over, Chaos is mounting an attack against Amber.”

There it was.

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

They’d had months to prepare. I should have seen this coming, too. Still, I was curious how they were pulling it off.

“Without a road through Shadow?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I’ve got to escape.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling you.”

“Can you help me?”

“Maybe. What will you do when you’re free?”

“Defend Amber, of course.”

“I knew that already,” she announced, her tone carrying what might have been a mild note of rebuke, annoyance at the very least. “What else will you do?”

“I don’t know. I had some ideas, but they may have just changed.”

“If I help you, you have to promise to help me.”

“Help you? How?”

“We’re prisoners, too. You have to help us get away.”

“And yet you walk free.”

“We are not free. We cannot leave this place, and none of us can walk between worlds as you do. They keep you down there because they think if they didn’t that you’d be able to leave and help Amber.”

“Well, I can’t help you unless you first help me.”

“Promise first.”

“Very well. After you help me escape, I will do what I can to help you and your friends get out of here. And, by the way, where are we?”

“Valtuya. So we have a deal?”

“We have a deal.”

“Good. Oh —!”

“What?”

The head-and-shoulder outline above vanished. A minute later, the helmed head of one of my captors appeared in its place. Another minute passed before the rope snaked down. I tied the thunder bucket to it, then tugged the rope twice. The bucket slowly rose up the shaft, carrying with it my hopes and life’s inevitable consequences.



Airu’s visit had effected a change in my thinking. I couldn’t say exactly how, but she had reinspired me, helped me to focus on the problem.

With the right tools, I could gain the shaft. With the right tools, I could pierce the walls of my prison. The problem, obviously, was tools. Maybe Airu would show up tomorrow with what I needed. Maybe a month hence. Maybe never. With an endless sentence stretching before me and no guarantees, there was no time like right now for getting started.

So what did I have?

Fortunately, I’d only been relieved of the obvious items which might aid in a possible escape attempt. Grayswandir was gone, naturally, as well as my deck of Trumps. The jewel from Tir-na Nog’th — that which had been dubbed the Dreaming Diamond — had also been confiscated.

Still, I’d been allowed my clothing and most of what I’d had on my person, minus the dangerous and/or useful things. Cloak, light jacket, shirt, belt, trousers, gloves, boots.

Most valuable, of course, was the belt, silver and steel, like my sword and other fine cutlery. And the cloak offered an ample supply of sturdy cloth.

Classically, my escape would consist of cutting the cloak into a couple of long strips to be twisted into a serviceable rope. With said rope I’d ascend the shaft to freedom.

And I did consider this. The shaft, however, looked too long, fifty, sixty feet or more in length, only about five feet wide. Even using my belt as a grapnel, I had serious doubts about hurling it straight up through the center of the shaft all the way to the top.

The floor of my cell was of stone so closely joined that no mortar was visible between the blocks. And I suspected none had been used at all, that the blocks had either been cut perfectly or formed through some natural process, like that which had created the slabs on the seafloor near Bimini. Perhaps they appeared blocks on the surface, but were merely imprinted thus on one side and in actuality a single continuous sheet of rock? However that might be, from what I could make out of the shaft’s interior, which began about fifteen feet overhead, and of the ceiling itself, a similar process had wrought the rest of this dried up well. The place might have begun long ago as some sort of lava tube within a seamount, or as some similar natural feature, but had at least been modified to the extent that a wraparound band of glass had been created where I was, down at its bottom. And it was otherwise unfurnished, with the exception of the pallet on one side and the necessity of the bucket on the other.

Could the pallet be used to gain the shaft?

No, I decided, as it was shapeless and soft, devoid of any frame or rigidity, like a water mattress or beanbag.

But perhaps structure and rigidity could be provided by employing other available resources?

Again, no. My boots and belt would not suffice for a frame ten or more feet tall.

Then perhaps my only hope for escape was the intervention of an unexpected benefactor, as when I had been held in the dungeons of Amber? And I would be forced to wait things out until fate dealt me the wild card of a Dworkin or an equally powerful ally?

But there was no time for that. And I felt, ever since the visit of the mysterious Airu, that I was on the verge of some realization which would culminate in my freedom. But what else did I have for resources?

Dworkin wasn’t coming this time. So there was only one thing to do.



Parts of the cloak were sacrificed first.

The edge of my belt buckle, sharpened against the edge of a block of stone in the floor, was my cutting tool cum burin. At first, my left boot provided the basin into which some of my water ration was poured. When I had enough water put aside, I set to soaking strips of my cloak, which were then repeatedly squeezed and wrung out.

In my impatience, it wasn’t long before I also resorted to the right boot. So if I succeeded it would be as a barefoot escapee. Whatever, I eventually had useful quantities of the black sludge I wanted.

There would be at least two versions, I decided, and more if I could manage them.

My material resources were limited, so I’d have to take it slow. As for my mental resources, these also had their limits, so, for that reason too, it would be slow going.

I began by recalling the Pattern, the necessary starting point, since without it the rest of my efforts would be for nought. First, small attempts, little petroglyphs, each scribbled on an individual block of stone. A Pattern here, a Pattern there. My first renditions were messy and crude, as I grew accustomed to my materials and refined my recollections of the glowing symbol locked away in Amber’s basement. Each time I drew a better one, I rubbed out any less worthy versions, smudging the images.

It got so that I would wake up and scratch out an image of the Pattern. The Pattern began to appear in my dreams. And, when it came right down to it, it was the image I knew best, at the center of everything. So it was not long before I could draw it without much trouble.

Then I practiced laying down a square of black and scratching a Pattern into it. As I carefully and deliberately performed one experiment after another on alternate stone blocks, the floor under my mat (where I began my work so it could be covered up and hidden from view should anyone peer down to see how I was doing) acquired a checkerboard design. What would anyone make of it if I managed to depart? Corwin had lost his wits? Or merely decided to decorate?

When I felt I had sufficiently mastered the technique, I moved to the walls. The cell was about fifteen feet wide. If I worked at eye-level, I reckoned my work would not be clearly discernible to anyone above.

Small trials at first, just as before. Only now I was more ambitious. Simple renderings of simple subjects, invariably towers. They could have been towers anywhere, in the beginning. But I got better. As with the Pattern, I began with regular drawings, then moved on to my anti-contour engravings, as I thought of them, elaborated silhouettes carved into panels of dried black goop. There were many failures, as I tried to infuse my efforts with more character and identity.

All of those sprung from the line of Oberon, of the blood of Barimen, are, after all, artists. To walk in Shadow, to imagine and visualize other places well enough for them to have the necessary richness and depth, and what might be called self-consistency, cultivates the artist within. And not just visualize — taste, smell, feel. If not born to be creative in this way, sooner or later all members of my family become so. All part and parcel of the whole Pattern-mastery gig.

Time went by, well over a month. When I finally felt I was ready, I checked my remaining supply of boot-sludge and cloak. And hoped there would be enough.

Three rectangles of black went up at three different places on the glassy wall. Each was about three feet tall, two feet wide.

Within the first rectangle I strove with a subject well known to me: the Lighthouse of Cabra. What emerged was not Michelangelo, but it at least met with my satisfaction. Then I inscribed two different towers within the other rectangles, saving the most difficult for last. As always, this took time, but when at last the work was done all three met with my approval.

Then I labored to incorporate the Pattern into the three murals, as a light overlay. I worked long and hard at this.

And failed.

With all my will, I felt for the power of the Pattern, but felt nothing. Either I was in a place where the Pattern had no power whatsoever, or my renderings were inadequate. My horrible feeling was that it was both.

For a time, I wept.

Then, the very next day, grimly, bitterly, I tried again.

Deciding my approach had been misguided, I smeared over my previous efforts and began with the Pattern this time. That was not so hard, as it had become second nature. The difficult part came when I tried again to execute the drawings. My efforts seemed doomed to failure, but I forced myself to press on.

My efforts failed.

Again, I wept.

Well, what now? I obviously could not do what Dworkin had done. What he had accomplished in minutes, I could not do, even with weeks, or months.

There was no escape.



Then I knew real despair.

Each time I woke my eyes stung with unshed tears, haunted by visions of towers and the Pattern, of Amber burning, of Merlin’s broken body lying in some ditch, of my brothers and sisters in torment and sentenced to an eternity of imprisonment. Several times, I considered suicide. The one change for the better was that the green-bearded fellow no longer troubled my sleep.

Each time that I considered suicide, I told myself there was still a chance that Airu would come.

But she didn’t come.

What had I done wrong? What secret of Dworkin’s art did I lack? Brand had known how to draw Trumps, even for people he had never met. Merlin had created Trumps, and done so without the benefit of Dworkin’s tutelage.

Sighing heavily, I got to my feet.

Though I might never discover the secret of drawing Trumps, I had all the time in the world to figure it out. Descended from the Unicorn, somewhere within me the power lay, waiting to be unlocked.

So I returned to drawing, erasing, drawing again. As I still preferred the notion of a contre-jour engraving backlit by the diffused light of my aquatic surroundings, I stuck with that. Fish swimming into a drawing as I was trying to focus on some distant place, I decided, would be distracting. That part, at least, I felt I had right.

But I also decided to broaden my range, if only a little. So I practiced other towers, too. The Eiffel Tower came readily to mind, so I gave it a go. My Empire State Building? Honestly, not my best work, even though it had been done as a regular drawing rather than as an engraving. Once more, the Lighthouse of Cabra went up, and this time I tried to incorporate the Pattern into it as I went, a method pioneered in my homage to Eiffel. I was neither surprised nor disappointed when it didn’t respond to my will.

Every so often, I put up another big Pattern on the wall, as a divider between one subject and the next. And laughed morosely as I did, imagining the report of Corwin’s descent into madness as he covered his window space with Patterns and towers — doubtless an attempt to block out the unchanging underwater seascape.

Then one day I looked up to see that my sludge was very low and my wall was covered. Six virtually identical versions of the Pattern, six towers. Cabra, Eiffel, Empire State, Thelbane…

Still unhappy with King Kong’s favorite skyscraper, I took it down, opting to try it as an engraving this time. It was unlikely there would be more drawings after this, so my tribute to New York would be my last.

The thought made me sad. When I had begun my project, I had viewed it as a time-consuming chore. Somewhere along the way, though, those very qualities which had caused it to settle on me like a burden had made it a boon. Instead of waking to wonder what I was living for, for weeks I had woken to a plan and a purpose. There were times when I had been so absorbed by my endeavors that I had forgotten where I was, when I’d briefly become, in a sense, free.

So I determined to put forth a supreme effort, and a slow one. I would make this final sketch last as long as it could be made to last.

And it did. It took about three weeks.

Then it was done, and I set aside my belt buckle.

Over the next few days I contemplated all that had led me here: exile on Earth, taking Amber, drawing my own Pattern, losing some whom I’d loved, gaining a son and then losing him. To end as a kind of shadow of Dworkin, a Dworkin wannabe, a half-crazed (only half?) artist and a failed one at that.

Finally standing there in the center of the chamber, admiring my handiwork while also despairing of it, baffled by my inability to fuse the Pattern with an image, my weary gaze faltered, unfocused, saw double images. The subjects on the wall, so poorly held by my relaxed and overstrained eyes, seemed to float over each other and merge.

It was as if a door had opened. And, indeed, one had.

The Pattern to the left of the engraving of Thelbane seemed to drift till it hovered over the tower. As it did, the Pattern almost seemed to rise up from within Thelbane, overlaid as it now was upon the Pattern that had so painstakingly been woven into the representation of the tower. At the same time, the tower acquired a sudden sense of depth. Like wearing 3-D glasses at the movie theater.

And the image continued to move toward me, for the power of the Pattern had now begun to pull the place out of the image.

I was looking through a Trump!

Inexpressible joy burst within me. Tears ran down my cheeks while at the same time I laughed.

Turning in a slow circle, I tried the trick on each of my engravings, letting eyes go out of focus till the Pattern beside a tower image lay atop the Pattern residing within the image. And each time, after a few moments and much effort, I could feel the tug of the place beyond.

I had created six Trumps!

Overwhelmed by the prospect of imminent freedom, by the shock of such a success after having despaired of any success at all, I slid my sleeping mat into the center of the room. And then sat cross-legged upon it, staring at the wall which was no longer a wall. Now that the door — make that doors — stood open, I hesitated to go through.

My future waited on the other side of one of those doors.

But which one?

There were reasons why it made sense to make use of any one of the six Trumps. And also reasons why not to. An hour went by as I reviewed the pros and cons. And the more I thought it over, the more clear my choice became.

Very well, then.

I stretched out my legs, massaged the ankles and calves a little to take out the stiffness, got to my feet. And stood before the drawing.

Smears, squiggles and shadows telling of gases, veils and trails of smoke, torn bits of gray cloud, and confusing lighting effects left everything a muddle where the horizon should be, seeming to do away with the line between land and sky. In the middle distance, squatting on a jutting shelf of rock, stood a tower, wide, tall, and dark. Like the horizon, portions of the tower were obscured by founts and spurts of smoke and flame. A race-course of dark objects, adrift in the air over the fiery and pock-marked landscape, orbited about the tower — rocks, large and small, the bigger ones smudges showing less detail due to the greater velocity with which they moved. A few random edges and angles at the bottom of the engraving hinted at the jumble of wreckage in the foreground that was needed to complete the picture. Complicated, but crude — almost abstract — to me it most closely resembled some student's random doodle on the back of a notebook.

It was my masterpiece.

I lay my will upon the image, drew upon that force which at last I thought to feel in the image, which was also part of my own being, in my very blood.

Though I’d never been there, I’d briefly seen the place through a Trump — twice, actually — and through a piece of epic story-telling provided by Random. Viewed via Trump, I’d seen the interior of the tower, only glimpsing through a window the wild and sulphurous region surrounding it. Would such piecemeal information be enough? Even as I wondered this, the lines wandering through the unseen limits of the far background blurred, almost violently, and the lines defining the tower and the hill that held it up suddenly telescoped toward me, so that the tower was lost within the effect of abrupt magnification. A peculiar lurching sensation which I could not recall experiencing with a Trump before. But that tower stood at the limits of Shadow, and I stood in a place even stranger and more remote, so the unexpected was to be expected. The coldness was there and a place hovered before me, just out of reach. Placing my trust in the system of Trumps as I always had, I barely hesitated. And took a step toward freedom, feeling the warm breath of air waiting for me before my foot even touched the ground.

The soil underfoot was dusty and hot, the wind blowing across my body a parched and dirty thing. Slowly, I raised my eyes and beheld a white four-sided tower narrowing to a needle-nose extended by a golden antenna-like spire, soaring up from a wide open-air two-story structure, looking for all the world like some alchemist’s mixed-up notion of a rocket resting on a fairy-tale launch-pad. Off to the right, the slope of a hill rose at the temple’s back. An ancient well of white stone stood on the hillside, gleaming where the rays of the sun broke through its retinue of shade-trees.

The sun. It burned fiercely in the sky that seemed to go on forever beyond the frozen white peaks of far-off mountains into an infinitely unfolding universe of ever-deepening blue.

Striding across all intervening Shadows through the doorway of a Trump, as my foot had passed over a thousand or more worlds, bringing the rest of me behind it, something unprecedented had occurred.

I had misstepped.

Copyright © 2008 Lokabrenna @ Blogger (JTB) All rights reserved

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