The Loop Test, Part 4
This time there was no emptiness, no cold void between worlds. Draminicus stepped directly into the hell that was Ogga. This time, though, he was calm. He knew what he had to do. He had solved the puzzle.
He found the hatch in its usual spot and entered before he burned alive, and then dropped off the end of the ladder, twisting his ankle again. He laughed at the pain this time. Of course, of course…
The answer had been in front of him the whole time. It was the answer to everything, too. The test was not to see if he could defeat trogs or solve what happened to their predecessors. The test was to see if he understood, on a fundamental level, what made worlds the way they were. The answer was so very simple: Their People.
The takoo vendor sold him takoo that was exactly what takoo tasted like in his Avriado on his Daledas. What’s more, every takoo vendor in every city in the vendor’s Daledas made takoo the same way. Their collective wills—their sentient acknowledgement, conscious or otherwise, of the way their world worked—was irrefutable. Takoo, there, tasted like that. It was a fact, a simple reality to them. Draminicus could no more change that and remain in their same plane of existence than he could have made them walk on their hands or spit fire. The vendor’s solid understanding of the world, bolstered by the countless masses that agreed with him, overcame Draminicus—Draminicus was, after all, only one person in a sea of sentient people.
So it was, also, with the mender. The mender knew Draminicus could not disappear, conventionally, from the world since, as the mender well knew, there were no known phrases or compositions that would achieve such an effect. Draminicus, though, was just peculiar, just frightening enough to allow him to entertain the possibility that there was. This weakened the mender’s resolve and, indeed, tapped into a reservoir of doubt held by all of the literates of Daledas—that there were words unknown and unspeakably powerful, hidden in the dark places of the world. All Draminicus needed to do was to tap into that inherent weakness in their understanding of the world, and he had made a direct portal here, to Ogga.
Belief was the key. Just as he himself had learned how to control his own perceptions and beliefs and, therefore, alter the world around him, he also had to learn how to exploit the beliefs of others to his own advantage—their beliefs were every bit as potent as his own, but they, unlike him, lacked control over what they believed. Nowhere was that more important than in Ogga.
Ogga was dead because the only sentient beings still living there—the trogs—only accepted it as dead. Their world, by definition, was a dead one. They could not imagine it any other way and, with all the knowledge and beliefs of their forbears erased, Ogga could take no other form and still be Ogga. The trogs made their world what it was, without even realizing that they were the ones doing so. It was a circular symbiosis—they were like they were because of their world, and their world was like it was because of them!
As Draminicus entered the long-dead command center, he finally realized what Wollow meant by ‘Transcendence’ and the significance of what he had become under the strange old man’s tutelage. Draminicus was free of that loop that trapped others within their simple, rigid worlds. He was able to entertain other possibilities, to explore worlds limited only by his own imagination.
The feeling was heady, exhilarating, terrifying. He was an individual adrift in an infinite sea, surrounded on all sides by those enslaved by their own dependence on what they termed ‘the real world’. He was assaulted by mental images of trials for heresy, of being burned at the stake, being drowned as a witch, being tossed off the edge of the world as a devilspawn, and worse things. It was the culmination of the quest he had undertaken, all those years ago, in Avriado when he read the First Word; when he had been banished to the wilderness. He was now alone and terrifying to the sentient beings of the world—a black sorcerer, an otherworldly terror. Still, he could not but feel that the understanding was well worth the risks. It had all been worth it. He was free.
Picking up the phoenix rod from its battered box, Dramincus stood with his back to where the trogs would enter, and sat in the chair with the mine. He knew that the trogs didn’t know the mine was there, and so he tweaked the mine out of existence without difficulty. The solution to the problem of his transcendence was to use the beliefs and superstitions of a people against them. He had to do not what they expected, but what they feared and hoped and dreamed, and, in so doing, gain power. The expected always went the expected way, but the unexpected, well, that could mean anything.
The trogs expected a fight or they expected their prey to flee, but they didn’t expect it to ignore them. Steeling himself to be calm, Draminicus waited for the creatures to burst into the room before raising his hand and stating, “I am not to be interrupted.”
There was the briefest of pauses from the massive trogs, and Draminicus felt the grim hold they had over reality waver slightly. Capitalizing on it, Draminicus stood and faced the beasts, the phoenix rod cradled delicately in the crook of his arm. His robe had become resplendent white, glowing with quiet power. On his brow he had tweaked a simple circlet with a device in the shape of a great, flaming bird—the image of the phoenix. He stood and beheld those that he had fled from for oh-so-many permutations of his life, and sculpted his expression into that of disdain. In that moment, knowledge of how to work the phoenix rod fluttered to the surface of his mind. He marveled at how simple the things were—all he need do was point and hate.
The trogs’ small, yellow eyes narrowed at this new, strange intruder who stood with the authority of one superior to themselves. They paused and circled slowly, gauging Draminicus, who still stood firm and haughty before his chair. The trogs’ violent natures could only be cowed for so long, however. The biggest one—an elephantine creature with a hide festooned with one-foot spines and barbed wire—scraped cloven-hoofed feet across the ground in preparation to charge.
Summoning the malice he bore these creatures for the untold ages of pain they had inflicted, Draminicus leveled the phoenix rod at the beast and snarled, “Unwise.” Instantly, a beam of the purest white light shot from the arcane weapon’s tip and struck the trog, incinerating it with a flash of nuclear fire. The others, howling in dismay, retreated into the winding labyrinths of Ogga’s underbelly. As they went, their barks and growls undertook a different tone. “Danger,” they called, “stay away.”
“So, now you see. Finally.” Wollow announced, sitting again on his stool, writing, while his multi-talented beard puttered around the tiny cottage.
Draminicus turned the phoenix rod over in his lap. “This is a horrible device.”
Wollow nodded. “Yes, but it does it’s job very well. Too well, you might say. Are you going to keep it?”
Draminicus considered, but did not answer. “We are not gods, are we?”
Wollow grinned and adjusted his kaleidoscope spectacles. “Stupid question.”
Draminicus looked helplessly around the one-room cottage. “What do I do now?”
“Are you speaking about vocation, or about what you ought to do this very moment?” Wollow asked, sipping tea offered to him by a scrap of beard.
“What does someone who can go anywhere and do anything…do?”
Wollow snorted out a short laugh. “Everything and then nothing. Now you come to that delicious realization that I came to myself, so very long ago. Transcendence—the power I, and now yourself, wield—is not a reason for being. You have, up until now, lived to learn the secrets of the universe. Now you have them, and you have realized that they do not answer any questions that really matter. They don’t tell you what to do with yourself. You banished yourself from the only home you ever knew, divorced yourself from almost every other sentient being in existence, and for what?”
Draminicus breathed deeply. “The…the understanding was still worth it.”
“Was it really? Doubtful. The secrets of the universe are, ultimately, worthless for someone like you.”
Draminicus blinked. “Someone like me? What does that mean?”
Wollow shrugged, “It means anything you like—in an infinite universe, all things are. I will, however, tell you this: You are, I think, too needy to survive with the knowledge you now possess.”
“What?” Draminicus stiffened. “Why? Why are you telling me this now?”
“I, of course, have told you this before. Numerous times, in fact. Indeed, when you found me and forced me to tutor you, I told you this precise thing would happen.”
“I…I forced you to…”
“Don’t be so coy. Think, dammit—you’ll remember.” Wollow’s spectacled eyes glittered in the firelight.
Memories floated up out of the depths of Draminicus’s mind. Disjointed images of Draminicus kicking over stewpots and lighting fire to bookshelves in Wollow’s cottage, all of them threaded together by a tenuous, convoluted narrative. The sound of his voice, shrill and imperious, grated against his ears. He felt his face flush with embarrassment. “I kept coming back. It took me what—years? Longer?—to convince you to teach me.”
Wollow nodded slowly. “Eventually, teaching you seemed the easiest way to be rid of you. Of course, in some reality we are still having our little fights, while in others we are the best of friends. I am most relieved, however, to be currently in this reality, where you will go soon and leave me to my hermitage.”
Silence fell over the cottage for a few moments. Draminicus watched the fire. Eventually, he stood up. “Why can’t I survive?”
Wollow grinned. “Because you ask too many questions, why else? You have chosen a path that is fundamentally solitary by nature—you are a lone consciousness skimming across the cosmos, constantly out of place. The more you look for answers, the more you will become frustrated and, eventually, insane. Whereas I have thrived in my solitude, you are going to be miserable.”
Draminicus opened his mouth to ask another question, but shut it again.
Wollow’s spectacles remained fixed on Draminicus’s face. “I cannot help you decide what to do with your Transcendent self, but I can tell you were to go.”
Wollow grunted. “Away from here, of course. Get out.”
Draminicus frowned, “That’s it, then?”
“Your tutelage has ended. Go and never come back.”
Draminicus put the phoenix rod down on Wollow’s writing desk. “I will survive, Wollow. You’ll see. There are plenty of questions to be asked of plenty of people—enough to keep me going forever, if need be. I may be leaving now, but I will come back.”
It was Wollow’s turn to frown. “In an infinite universe, Draminicus, all things are.” With that, the strange cottage and its bespectacled master faded away into the endlessness of the cosmos.
Posted on November 5, 2011, in Fiction, The Rubric of All Things and tagged Draminicus, fantasy, interdimensional travel, parallel worlds, The Rubric of All Things, Writers of the Future. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.