The walls showed a thousand writings and pictures as they slithered across the dark wood, telling the same story--a tale of darkness in a world long passed, wars and battles, everything Shren had ever read about in the history books. He watched with fascination, as he did every day; watching the stories be told in the silence of ink upon a wall.
Then the picture changed. It came to life. Black wings unfurled, arching feathers brushing the roof above, throwing shadows across the small square room as the lantern in the centre of the roof rocked and swayed in the breeze. The wings thrust out from the walls, grey and black etchings now hovering in mid-air. The wings beat slowly.
Shren covered his nose as the damp air stirred, chill gusts flinging fragments of mould into his face. He shivered and groaned; the musty scent of rotting wood and aged wine was irritating.
The wings slowly curled in on themselves, folding, before fading completely. A golden-cream furred shape crouched upright where they had been in the dark corner of the cellar.
“We need to leave.” The cat-like creature fell onto four legs and padded over to where Shren crouched, leaning against a barrel. It nosed the man’s huddled figure, keen eyes flickering as it waited for a response.
Shren unwrapped his arms from his legs and heaved himself upright, staring down at the linsang. He did not deign to respond, simply turning his back to it, staring at the dank walls of his prison. Every day the linsang spoke to him and every day it said the same thing. He did not want to leave.
Water dripped from the ceiling. Icy droplets slid down his neck and Shren lifted the hood of his cloak with a sigh.
Still the linsang stood, tail twitching as it watched its master.
“How am I to leave?” He demanded as he finally whirled round to face his familiar, “When I’m in a locked prison?”
“You know as well as I do,” the linsang arched its back in a stretch as it spoke, words seeming to materialise as sounds in the air though its mouth never opened. “You can leave whenever you wish.”
“Why now?” Shren leant his head back against the cold bricks and stared up at the ceiling.
“Time for reality, my friend,” the linsang said simply.
Shren growled and slid back into a crouch on the floor. His mouth twisted bitterly. “Reality,” he hissed, “Can go to hell.”
In answer, the linsang turned to the walls surrounding them, and Shren wearily followed the familiar’s gaze. The once white stone, now moulded green and grey, still held strong, held back the onslaught of the elements far above. And as had ever been for seven years, still the stories scrolled, black etchings of ink fluidly shifting over the walls day and night. Shren had tried to scrub them off, make them stop as the stories they told he did not wish to hear. Did not wish to believe, he admitted silently.
The place had driven him mad. Perhaps it was indeed time to leave.
A flicker at the edge of his vision made Shren to pause. He glanced over at the wall beside him, and the pictures it told caused him to sink to the floor once more.
No. Shren tried to look away but every wall was covered in the lies. Men laughing and drinking, showing his fine arts; the paintings of colour he had collected himself. Telling stories they had overheard him say, as if they were their own.
The words were whispered, but Shren clenched his fists, nails digging into palms crusted with the dried mud of years. Fear shone from his eyes as he sought to not watch the visions. Truth, the linsang had told him. The walls always showed truth.
But it was lies. “Stop it!” Shren shrieked, eyes wide. Perhaps indeed he had gone mad.
With those words the walls stopped. “I am sorry,” the linsang rubbed against his legs, “But you know as well as I do…Now is the time.”
He looked once more at the scrawling, the pictures that had been there his every waking moment. They had changed once more; this time it showed the guards of his prison, his own servants, their faces warped. Eyes scratched out, bleeding blackness. Skin grey; dead.
Shren recognised this picture. Never had he seen it before on these walls, but a time many years ago. An ancient painting he had seen once and sought for many years after; different subjects, yet the eyes were the same. Staring black holes. He’d never been able to see the strange mural again, yet here it was, on the very walls of his cellar, and that was truth.
His heart pounded in his ears; he knew what this meant. The linsang was right. He needed to get out now. Without any further argument, Shren drew himself up and laid his hand on the door latch.
He was sure it was locked. It had been locked for years, was that not why he was imprisoned here, why he had never left? Yet when Shren pushed down on the door handle, it swung open, moisture-swollen wood scraping against the stone doorway was the only resistance he met.
Had it ever been this way? Shren shook himself; of course not. The servants had to open and close this door to deliver the food that appeared every morning before he awoke. Perhaps one time they had forgotten to lock it. This one time.
He peered nervously out the door. Nothing happened. No traps sprung, no servants leaping from darkened alcoves.
So Shren ventured out into his mansion once more, a place he had not seen for close to seven years. He ignored his surroundings until he had exited the stairwell from the basement and was at ground level, concentrating only on one step at time.
Then he was inside the house. Here the plain stone walls, moulded and damp below, changed to plastered and painted surfaces, smoothed and clean beneath his fingertips.
So little had changed. His servants, traitors one and all, and yet they had still faithfully taken care of his home in his absence. They had spent his hoarded riches on the baser things, enjoying life as one big party, only to fall prey to one man--a magicworker of kroma iridis. That was the tale the inked walls had told him. Never had the pictures changed from days of banquets and debauchery until that moment, when he had seen the man with the bloodstained, black eyes. How could they bring such a man into his home?!
Seven years ago his servants had turned on him, locked him in that dank wine cellar and begun to spend his well-earned riches. Seven years without seeing the sun, without talking to another human being. And yet something had happened last night, something that had changed the very feel in the air, unlocked the door to his prison, and emptied his house so that the massive arched hallways and rooms served only as echo chambers for his footsteps, as quiet as he tried to be.
Kroma iridis…Shren still had difficulty wrapping his mind around it. He knew the servants to be foolish, vapid creatures, but never did he think they were that stupid. Magic users were prolific in Jahari; every town and city being home to nearly a million, in total. Most were those who used the magnetic leylines that crisscrossed the earth, invisible lines of power creating a grid or mesh that they could access in order to travel instantaneously to any intersecting point in the mesh. For travel, purchase and sale of goods from far-off lands, messengers and spies; the mesh made the world traversable, being that the wild and unpredictable winds and tides made sea travel impossible from Jahari. It had its limitations; after all, the leylines were direct modes of travel only to intersecting points. One could not stop in the middle of a line, nor could one travel blindly, for they may easily drop out of the world mesh only to discover that intersection happened to be located over empty ocean. For this reason, travel to the poles was the easiest, as there were two continental landmasses at each, and the intersections were more concentrated.
Most intersections did not concentrate on areas of high population. In fact, the mesh had more to do with the geometric shape of the earth than with cities and those living on the surface of the earth. Thus they were spaced evenly. At the direct point of the poles, every line converged into one primary intersection.
Those who used this magic were good people--as good as anyone, really. It was the second force of magic that attracted users to be feared and avoided, at best. Kroma iridis and pulchite iridis…
Shren shuddered. They were used as tales to frighten children, as warnings to the unwise. One didn’t involve themselves with the iridis if it could be helped, ever. Yet his servants had brought one’s influence into his home; tainted it.
He remembered the scrawls on the walls of the wine cellar he had made his home for the past seven years. Never had they shown the workers of the iridis paths. That was thanks to all he had done, everything he had set in place to avoid calling their attention down on him ever since he had become aware of their presence. Ever since he had asked about the painting.
And yet his servants had invited one into his own house--undoubtedly hoping for acts of wonder, an exhibition of a black-eyed at their party. They had come, and this caused Shren to wonder. What could have drawn the attention of a kroma iridis enough to come to his very home?
He thought again of his once-faithful servants. His lip curled. Betrayers. Yet still he had to admit; they had taken great care of all his home and his possessions--maybe for their own appearances, maybe out of respect for a master they once admired, he did not know or care. His precious collection was more or less in one piece as far as he had seen, and for this he was grateful.
The linsang was beside him, purring softly. “Where am I to go now?” Shren asked his familiar, shaking his head, feeling utterly lost. “My home is ruined; I cannot live here anymore. My servants betrayed me and have left me. I have no one and nothing.”
The cat rubbed up against his legs, massive eyes staring up at him. The green flecked orbs held wisdom far beyond his understanding, and so it was that a grown man asked the advice of an animal. “Go to your study,” the cat said softly, and Shren understood. Of course.
Shren entered the room on the second floor. His study. This door was locked, yet that fact did not surprise him. His servants had never known the code he had set on the lock; the one room inaccessible to those he had once trusted with his life.
He pressed a hand against the fine-grained wood, and a burst of green light emanated from the door, flickering down to the floor in waves before disappearing. The door swung open. He sighed with relief as he scanned the room; at least here, nothing had changed. It was just as he’d left it, though dust now lined the shelves and the books strewn upon the desk. He allowed himself a second to relax in the familiar--never forgotten, despite the length of his imprisonment--room before he shook himself. He needed to concentrate. There wasn’t much time.
Shren quickly moved to the desk in the centre of the room, gathering up the pale blue and aqua stones that were piled neatly on it. He poured the magnets into his bag, rolled up the huge parchment whereon the world map was painted, and locked the door. He may need to return, and if he did, he wanted everything to remain as it was. He hoped it would be untouched, though he wasn’t optimistic. When they discovered him missing, he was sure his study would be the first place they’d look.
Shren approached the construct dominating the centre of the room. Wires twisted and curled around smooth ovaloid stones of all sizes, a massive configuration. And yet out of the chaos, came a sense of order so refined and yet so primitive that it seemed to come from the beginning of time itself. This construct had its origins far from the place and time that Shren now inhabited. The towering circle of meshed wires and stones was hovering gently over a stand; made of the same black, reflective material as the stones inside the construct. A hum emanated, quiet, as the construct bobbed and turned slowly.
Shren reached out a hand to the stones enmeshed in the wires. He turned first one, then another, twisting and circling the black ovals to a pattern only he could discern. He did not even know how he did it; simply letting go of his conscious mind and allowing the magnets to guide his hands.
And so the world mesh once more opened an accessway to him as the pattern was completed. The construct flashed a bright light for the scarcest second before fading, and the hum grew in intensity. The very air shimmered around the construct and Shren himself, until the studyroom vanished.
He floated in darkness.
Accumulating hordes of riches during his eight years of servitude had not served him at all. The very reason he had done so, had worked his soul out every day, endured insults and grievances, offences and prejudice without question or recrimination was for one reason only; to come back to the town of his birth as soon as he was able to leave the city, taking trains of wealth along with him.
And with this, he thought so nobly as to help his poverty-stricken town, help the siblings he had grown up with until his 5th year, where he was apprenticed out. He knew his parents had scrimped and saved and gone without, even compromising their values in order to have enough money to send him away, perchance to gain an education, to give him a chance at life. It was the world’s own fault that the poor bred like rabbits, that birth control was far too expensive to buy and delicate to take on long journeys to the poorer towns. And so he had many siblings, and likely many more, he surmised, by now--at age forty, having been away from his home for more than two decades.
He’d always wanted to rescue his siblings from their inevitable life of slavery, prostitution, and murder. He wanted to give them the chance he had gotten. And deep inside, he yearned to show his parents that he had made something of himself, used what they had given him. That he was better than them now, and could take their children away from them. The one time he had attempted contact with them, he had invited them to his apprentice-home to see what he had learnt. There ensued a vicious--and entirely unprovoked and one-sided--argument that totally discouraged him from trying again. Too proud to take my money, he thought to himself, his lip curling, so they resorted to outlandish claims of my having turned from my poor roots, of becoming as vapid as the rich. He shook his head. He was rich, still, but it did nothing to change his personality. They’d still stopped speaking to him a long time ago, and he certainly would not be the one to re-start contact.
And then the linsang had come along. He’d found purpose in a pursuit of knowledge, burying himself in tomes and scrolls that no one else cared to touch, and within those long-forgotten pages, he’d found magic.
The first time he’d attempted to touch the world mesh had met with resounding failure. He’d prepared the entire day for the moment, having studied the process from what he could find, and piece together, from several different sources.
“It couldn’t be easy, could it?” Shren had muttered to himself as he laid out the equipment he would need. A compass and a map of the leylines of the earth he’d made himself, and a bracelet he’d woven from stones--not precious to the jewellers of the world, but ones that, while plain, could channel the world mesh’s energies perfectly--and metal.
Yet when he closed his eyes, bracelet on his wrist, and attempted to access the mesh of leylines surrounding everything on earth, he’d touched raw power. An explosion of white bloomed behind his eyelids, and Shren was throw back. He landed at the far end of the room, dazed.
The linsang had first appeared to him then.
With the linsang’s guidance, he learnt to be an entrepreneur and became rich off the fat of those who had persecuted him--and to master the world mesh. But I couldn’t help them. Even though I had accumulated riches to aid my family, they refused me. So I refused them. Bitter, angry, Shren had locked himself away and dedicated twenty years of his life to studying the world mesh instead.
He had tried over and over to convince the ruling classes of the use of such instant transportation to aid in the service of wounded and starving peoples--among whom was his own family. They rejected me, but I never stopped trying to help them.
Perhaps I try to escape reality a little too often, he admitted to himself as he headed to his study. I need control.
First the worst thing he could think of had already happened; his riches he had hoarded for his family were squandered, his servants he had thought of as ever-loyal, had betrayed him. Now the linsang had told him to leave all that was familiar--the cellar--and…Then what? The thought terrified him.