The Loop Test, Part 3
Draminicus shut out the sizzling, radiation laced air of Ogga as soon as he felt it on his skin. He didn’t want to be here. This place wasn’t what he needed. Holding his breath and squeezing his eyes shut, he banished the world of Ogga like a child escapes a nightmare. He slipped back into the void.
The nothingness clung to him more tightly this time. A million images and secret places across the cosmos skittered past his mind’s eye and then vanished in the emptiness forever. With all his will, Draminicus sought to focus on a memory, any memory. Huge chunks of his psyche spun off into oblivion in the moments it took him to find it — a sound. Chimes, infinitely varied and beautiful, tinkling in a honey-scented breeze.
The chimes were real, he told himself. He was with the chimes. He saw a broad emerald river from between tall, airy columns of ivory stone. A settee of gold wire and russet moss cushions beside a fountain of sky blue water, clear and cool. He felt his feet upon strangely warm tile and his fingers, spreading, could feel the air moving.
This was home. This was Daledas.
Attunement came quickly, like slipping a hand into a worn glove. Draminicus knew the sound of the shopkeepers’ chimes in the nearby market, each collection of tones an audible lyric advertising the quality and value of a distinct ware. A pod of vatoo sailed overhead, their wide grey bodies rippling like sheets in the wind as they passed. It was a warm day, and Draminicus’s stomach rumbled.
He left the great columned hall in which he had appeared and stepped onto the quietly bustling streets of Avriado. Dales like himself—tall, thin, clad in ankle-length robes of many colors and designs—silently went about their business, eyes downcast. The street vendors politely jingled their chimes on tall poles, looking left and right for a prospective buyer, but held their peace as the others did.
Draminicus sighed in relief. He strolled through the crowd, letting his fellow dales brush past him without looking up. The silent sense of community and oneness he remembered having with his people as a child came back with palpable force. How long had it been? He had no idea. Any record of time was impenetrable to him; besides, he didn’t even know which stool he was on.
Draminicus approached a street vendor who was sizzling discs of takoo over hot coals on a flat pan. “One, please.” He said, eyes downcast.
The vendor stopped jingling his chimes long enough to flip a crispy takoo onto a broad, flat strip of orange banu hide and held up two fingers. Draminicus tweaked a pair of small, shimmering crystals into existence in the sleeve of his robe and paid. Stepping away, his mouth watering, he took his first crispy bite.
The takoo was crunchy, sweet, and tangy all at the same time. Draminicus immediately spit it out, coughing. “This…this is vile!” He said aloud. Several dales stopped and stared at him for a moment and then continued on their silent way.
Draminicus brandished the flat, round vegetable wafer under the street vendor’s nose. “What is this? What did you sell me?”
The dale’s purple eyes were wide with confusion. “Takoo. Words of my fathers, it’s takoo! What’d you think?”
Draminicus shook his head. “This isn’t takoo. This is horribly sweet.”
The vendor threw up his hands. “Takoo is sweet, you yotter!”
Draminicus blinked at the profanity. That was very unlike the Avriadoan streetvendors he knew. He stepped back from the vendor and threw the abominable food down on the street before walking away. He hurried between the quiet crowds, hearing them whisper among themselves. “What’s wrong with that one?” and “Careful, he may have the Sallow Madness.” They parted for him, unwilling to touch their cloaks or shoulders against his. He felt angry and ashamed, but kept on going without looking back.
There was something wrong. The streets of this, the city of his education, did not run the same places they did before. He was quickly lost in his childhood home, sitting beside another fountain, gazing at a plaza of blooming sweetling banu, their yellow blossoms raised to snatch the buzzing tribeeta from the air with soft, slushy tongues. He had never seen such a plaza before. Above him, the daystars looked…wrong; the old, familiar constellations were blurred and unclear. He stared upwards for what must have been hours, trying to find the imaginary lines in the sky that had so helped him understand the secret laws of cryptomancy. They were not there.
Memory—his memory—came trickling back into Draminicus’s conscious mind. He remembered his time at the schools of Avriado, when he was young and calm in spirit. He had shown great aptitude—the greatest in a generation—and so he was permitted to learn to read and write. It was a heavy responsibility, but he rose to the challenge. He rose too well, he recalled. Arrogance and entitlement became the keystones of his personality. Somewhere he crossed a line; the precise circumstances were still shrouded to him, a peculiar mercy of his compartmentalized mind. He was expelled, banished, his name crossed from the Great Ledger, his chimes taken from him, his family chimes altered to hide them from his ears. He was suddenly alone in the wilds.
Draminicus chuckled bitterly as he recalled a mental image of himself, standing with a tattered cloak on a windy plateau overlooking the blizzard-choked depths of the KnurrBasin, facing an armed party of his fellow students, couplets of warding glowing on their breastplates. “I will return,” he had hissed through parched lips, “One day I will walk the streets of Avriado again.”
He heaved a deep sigh, savoring the sour irony of it all, and kept looking up at the unfamiliar stars of his home.
“This is a waste of time.” A familiar voice spoke from behind him. Draminicus turned to see Wollow crouched upon a bench, his great beard bound into locks that were tucked beneath a heavy aquamarine cloak. His spectacles twinkled in time with the daystars above.
“You’re wearing an unwise color.”
“You dales—so obsessed with symbolism. What if I like this color, hmmm?”
“It is proscribed. It is the color of the Quay barbarians.”
“You aren’t as smart as you think you are. As it happens, the Quay wear red.” Wollow announced.
“I should know the customs of my own world.” Draminicus snapped. “This is my home.”
“No.” Wollow waggled a finger at him and then pointed at the flow of steady foot traffic filing past, “This is their home. You are not one of them.”
Draminicus sighed. “This isn’t my Daledas, of course.
That’s why everything is strange.”
“Correct, though I would hasten to add that its strangeness would be undimmed even if it were ‘your’ Daledas. Any world where literacy is illegal—and justifiably so—is truly, truly deranged.” Wollow sighed. “What are you doing here? Are you quitting my test, then?”
“I needed time to think. I needed something familiar to calm my nerves.” Draminicus answered.
“You did, eh? Well, how’s it working out for you? Comfortable here?”
Draminicus shifted in his seat by the fountain. “It’s too different. I feel…askew.”
“Do you know why?” Wollow said, the tufted tips of his beard drawing his cloak more tightly around his tiny frame.
“What is the point of all this testing, Wollow? What does it matter? I can already slip from world to world at will, I can tweak reality to my whim—what’s left? I have all the power I’ll ever need.”
Wollow chuckled. “Oh, yes—all the power you’ll ever need, eh? You can’t even tweak a street vendor into making the right kind of vile vegetable snack for your warped dalish tastes. I’m not even going to get started on Ogga.”
Draminicus shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the test, you yotter.” Wollow snapped.
Draminicus stiffened. “Don’t use such language. It’s wrong on your lips.”
“Insufferable pedants, you dales; comes from upbringing, no doubt. Answer my question.”
“I feel askew here because it isn’t my Daledas.”
Wollow shook his head. “Circular reasoning — you feel askew because it isn’t your Daledas and it isn’t your Daledas because you feel askew. Hmph! Very convenient.”
“What do you want me to say?” Draminicus asked, throwing up his hands. “I don’t understand!”
There was a jingle of chimes—a mender, judging from the tones. He came around the corner and began to cross the plaza where Draminicus and Wollow sat, bearing a pole half-again as tall as himself from which his chimes of office were hung. On his hands he wore fine, white mittens that matched the white trim on his luxuriously embroidered green robe. He moved with the stately grace expected of a literate professional.
Wollow’s beard pointed at the mender as he passed. “What is that person’s job?”
Draminicus closed his eyes to speak with the proper reverence. “He is a mender. He knows the words that, when written, will heal injuries and knit together sundered materials. Menders are powerful and feared, for their eyes have gazed upon the Words and have been taught in their use with pen, brush, ink, and awl.”
“You might have been one yourself.” Wollow stated, nodding.
Draminicus sighed as he watched the mender call at the door of a wealthy house at the edge of the plaza. His crimes came rushing back to him. “I was taught here to become one, but I became too curious. I read too much. I saw the First Word.”
Wollow’s kaleidoscope spectacles glittered in the starlight. “What was it?”
“It cannot be spoken, and I will not write it. They were right to banish me for it.”
Wollow snickered. “Sounds powerful, I’m sure. I take it, then, if you read so far, that you learned how to break things as well as mend them.”
Draminicus scowled at his teacher. “Why are you smiling? How is this funny?”
“What could you do to that mender, there?” Wollow asked, his smirk so broad his beard could not hide it.
Draminicus shuddered. “Here, in Daledas, I am very powerful. With a word etched in the sand, I could destroy this very city.”
Wollow laughed aloud once—it was a hard laugh, like flint being cast down stairs. “Posh. You’re a eunuch. No wonder you are failing my test.”
“What? You don’t believe me?” Draminicus blinked.
“Of course I do—that isn’t the problem. The problem is that I ask you what you could do, and you think of the cryptograms you could write and the fire you could rain from the heavens. You are a dimwit if you think that means anything. Such power is impotent in the face of what I teach you, and yet you rely on it. You bumble with phoenix rods in Ogga’s endless dungeons, and wonder why you fail—bah! I offer you Transcendence; I give you a hand up from the quagmire of reality, and you only come halfway out and complain. You think we are immortal, unto gods? Yotter, I call you!” Wollow stood up.
“I don’t understand!” Draminicus said, catching the hem of Wollow’s cloak.
Wollow’s beard brushed him back with a savage swipe. “Ask yourself this: how can a god not get a decent takoo in a city street? How can you slip that tunnel into an Ogga where there was none, and yet cannot escape a simple drainpipe when chased by trogs? Why is Ogga always destroyed? You think you are alone in the universe—that you’re an outcast, a freak—and you are both right and utterly wrong. Until you figure out why, stay out of my cottage. I cannot abide any more whining about how ‘you don’t understand.’”
Draminicus opened his mouth to protest, but even as he did Wollow was gone. Where he stood there was nothing, and there had been no sign of his leaving—no pop, no flash, nothing. His teacher has simply edited himself out of the world entirely; it was as though he never was.
As Wollow vanished, so, too, did Draminicus’s knowledge of him begin to fade. In a world where there never was any Wollow, knowledge of him was also impossible. Fighting with all his mental discipline, Draminicus managed to retain the balance of their conversation in his mind, but in so doing found himself feeling even more alien from the city around him. The air smelled too sweet, and the sounds of the mender’s chimes were harsh in his ears. Frowning, Draminicus sat in thought for some time, re-attuning himself to the world around him.
Was he a god? The dales—the civilized dales, that was—had long since rejected the idea of ‘gods’ as such. There had been the Words, and that was all. Words did not think or plot or grow angry with their ‘followers’ in the fashion of the gods and spirits clung to by so many beings. Still, as far as he understood the concept, the power Draminicus wielded—the power taught to him by Wollow—was certainly godlike. From that bench in Avriado, he could go anywhere, see anything. He could fashion for himself a world of his own design instantly.
But this was merely arrogance, he reminded himself. His memories of Wollow scolding him for ‘thinking like an egoist’ echoed quietly in the back of his mind. One did not create reality when slipping between worlds, one merely found something that was always there. It had permanence and substance all its own, that world. It existed with or without you.
Why, though? What made those places permanent? How was it that Draminicus could find a dozen different Avriados sprinkled across the cosmos, and know that the other ones still existed, somewhere? Why couldn’t he make the takoo taste right?
Draminicus’ attention was drawn to the mender who, finishing some errand, slipped his mittens back on, took up his pole and jingled his way out of the plaza at his stately pace. As Draminicus watched the literate dale go, a tiny itch of an idea nibbled at the bottom of his mind. He stood up, “Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!”
The mender turned to face Draminicus, a faint curiosity in his eyes. “Is there some service I may provide?”
Draminicus shook his head as he trotted over to the man. “No…well, yes. I have a theory I’d like to test, and I think you can help.”
“Are you a student? You look a bit old, if you don’t mind me saying…”
“What if I told you I could disappear in front of your eyes—would you believe me?”
The mender chuckled. “Of course not. Are you a street performer? Where are your chimes?”
“What would it take for you to believe that I could?”
“Why, you’d have to do so, of course.”
“But you don’t think that I can?”
“No.” The mender considered for a moment, “Are you literate?”
The mender squinted at him, “Then perhaps you know some couplet or verse that would allow you to perform this ‘miracle’, if you’ll pardon the phrase. Are we speaking hypothetically here, or…”
Draminicus nodded, and as he stood there, he attempted to slip out of the reality, right then and there. He went nowhere. He felt…resistance. Suddenly he was as firmly present in Daledas—an unmalleable, rigid Daledas—as he was in Ogga. The idea eating at the bottom of his mind came to the surface with a great crash. “It’s you.” He breathed quietly.
“It’s me what?” The mender said, “I don’t understand.”
Draminicus willed a piece of chalk into his sleeve, and produced it. “Are you surprised?” He asked.
“That you have chalk? No—should I be?” The mender took a step away from Draminicus, his wispy eyebrows drawing together in concern. “You are a student, yes?”
“Oh no—I am a master.” Draminicus couldn’t help but smile. He imagined it made him look rather demonic to the stately mender. In a flowing hand, he wrote the word ‘Ogga’ upon the wall of a house. It was a meaningless word, here, or at least it was conventionally. This time, though, Draminicus imbued it with meaning from nothing but the wellspring of his own will. He wanted it to mean something. He wanted the mender to believe, heart and soul, that it was a real word the old man did not know.
The mender, his eyes wide and mouth agape, backed away from the word as it glowed upon the simple stone wall. He quickly produced a simple talisman with the Sigil of Fortune upon it from around his neck. “Begone!” He stammered. “S…spare us this blasphemy!”
Draminicus laughed as he felt the mender’s fear—the mender’s belief—sunder the resistance knitting together the reality around them. It was all so simple. It always had been. “Amazing!” He breathed.
The word ‘Ogga’ fell inwards upon itself, and where it had been written, a blazing orange hole appeared. It grew in size, belching heat and radioactive sand from its depths, until it was large enough for Draminicus to enter. Waving gleefully to the terrified mender, Dramincus darted through.
Posted on November 4, 2011, in Fiction, The Rubric of All Things and tagged Draminicus, fantasy, interdimensional travel, parallel worlds, The Rubric of All Things. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.