The two naked brother gods walked through a thick mist that obscured all of their surroundings. It was no ordinary mist, for it swirled with all of the colours of the rainbow, making Simon’s head swirl with it and begin to ache again. He tried closing his eyes but somehow the colours still penetrated.
“Here, you will need to wear these where we are going otherwise you will go insane.” Txazop handed him a pair of glasses with dark tinted lenses. They seemed very lightweight, made of cheap plastic and cardboard as if they were disposable. They reminded Simon of glasses he had seen in the ACMI museum in Melbourne. The sort of glasses people had to wear to watch 3D movies when they were first invented. He put them on and his head cleared. The swirling colours were still there but they were manageable now, seeming to form distinct patterns rather than the pure randomness that ensued without the glasses. Txazop took his hand. “Stay close. Many have entered the Serpent’s Maze but few have returned. It is a place of twisted magic, where the laws of physics are bent to breaking point.”
They approached a doorway, the only clear object in the mist, which was only half their height but was as wide as it was high. The colours were emanating from there, flowing out of two giant fangs that seemed to hang in the air either side of the doorway. Simon looked up and managed to make out dim shapes in the mist. He could see a round head with two red eyes. It wasn’t a doorway, he realised, but the mouth of a giant snake.
“Mind your head,” Txazop seemed unconcerned as he stooped to enter the maze. Despite his Hero’s genes, Simon held on tight to his hand and followed the Singing God into the serpent’s mouth. Once inside, he found that he could easily stand upright. All of his senses were assailed at once. The one constant in the whole experience was the curves. Everything was curved. Afterwards, he would swear that even time became curved. The walls of the maze were in constant flux. New pathways formed then disappeared. But always they were curved. There were no straight lines in this maze. The colours were even stronger inside. Beams of light followed the shape of the walls, changing colour as they bent, so that every colour in the rainbow, and more, was visible in every beam. Waves of temperature and humidity changes made his skin glisten with sweat one moment, and then rise up with goose bumps the next. Beautiful fragrances were carried on the breeze to be immediately replaced by the foulest stench ever created, so that Simon retched in disgust. And all the while there was a rhythmic serpentine hissing that seemed to contain meaning but as soon as a word almost formed in his head it was gone, replaced by another, none of them making any sense.
Txazop strode purposely forward, seemingly unaffected by the strange sensations. Simon stumbled after him and felt that a dog’s lead might have been more appropriate than holding his hand. He would have fallen to his knees and covered his ears, nose, eyes, and mouth given half a chance but Txazop held him now, almost dragging him along, so that they seemed to pass through solid walls, always travelling in a straight line, rebelling against the curves, heading for the centre of the maze. Simon wanted to scream that he couldn’t go on but his vocal chords seemed to be frozen in terror. His free hand instinctively sought Kin Slayer for comfort, but it was not there. The pressure was building in his head. It felt like his brain was going to explode. Blood began to seep from his nose, eyes and ears. Txazop was dragging him now; he had lost the will to live.
They were in an open space now and the pressure in Simon’s head was only a severe headache. Simon realised he was lying on a surface that seemed hard one moment yet soft the next. He stood up. Txazop was waiting for him. They had exited the maze and were standing in a place of pure white. Even with his glasses on, Simon had to shield his eyes from the brightness. They were in a square in architectural terms, though it was circular in nature. Seven curved roads ended there and they were the seven colours of the rainbow, though they were not fixed and oscillated in an apparent random fashion.
“Where are we?”
“Welcome to the home of Zeench, Chaos God of Change, Magic, Schemes and Plots. We have passed through the Serpent’s Maze relatively unscathed and now stand at Rainbow’s End. Perhaps you will find your heart’s desire here. We have a choice of seven roads. One of them takes us back to the Maze. Three of the others take us to the homes of the other Chaos Gods, though they are often closed because of conflict between the gods. One road is the Doomed Road that leads to Lemal.” The name stirred a recollection in Simon’s memory. The dwarves of Second Delve were somehow linked to Lemal. “One road is said to lead to Limbo, though no one who has passed along it has ever returned. The final road leads to our destination, the Impenetrable Fortress of Zeench. At its heart lies the Secret Library where we will meet Zeench.”
“How do you know which road to take and how will we breach the Impenetrable Fortress?”
“Were you here alone and uninvited, you would have no chance of succeeding. Even if you found the correct road, the fortress lives up to its name. Time and space do not exist in the same way inside there. You would wander around aimlessly until you went insane. Great Zeench knows that we are here and will guide us swiftly to our meeting.” As if on cue, one of the roads turned white and they followed it for a short distance until a giant castle came into view. Like everything else here, it seemed to be ever changing. One moment it was an ornate Gothic cathedral, the next it transformed into some sort of post-modern office block, before changing again into a classical Roman temple. It went on altering itself, as if an architect with a computer was playing with graphics and couldn’t make up their mind what to build.
A transparent tunnel, just wide enough for them to walk two abreast and just tall enough so that they didn’t have to stoop, opened up in the building. It reminded Simon of walking through an aquarium, although there were no sharks swimming above them, rather an ever changing forming and reforming of matter that made him feel nauseous, so that he tried to avoid looking at it. They followed the curving tunnel into the inner sanctum of Zeench; his Secret Library.
It was a transparent cylindrical structure that rose higher than Simon’s craned neck would permit him to view. Outside, ever-changing swirling colours ebbed and flowed. Inside, there were no books that Simon could see. Zeench was alone in the empty room. He towered above them in the form of a giant cobra, rearing as if about to strike at its prey. His hood shimmered, changing colour to match the external light show. Instead of a snake’s head, a bald human head stared down at them. It looked albino, in stark contrast to the brilliant colours of the hood, and was fully human in form, except for the darting snake tongue that flashed from its mouth.
“Welcome to my domain,” Zeench spoke with barely a semblance of a hiss, or perhaps he projected into Simon’s mind. “You find me sitting in my Secret Library, where few mortals have ever visited. In here, I am privy to all the plotting and scheming in the multiverse. I see it all, from the puerile playground plots of children, through the financial frauds of city bankers, to the history-defining intrigues of power brokers and dictators. Some, I ignore. Some I choose to thwart. Others, I aid in their cunning if it amuses me. I watched the plans of Weylyn the Wolf turn to dust. Did it seem to you that you had supernatural aid in your quest? You think that only Fate had a hand in your victory? Oh, the arrogance of those associated with the Balance. It was Zeench who ensured that Kris of Karo came to you. You cannot ignore the Gods of Chaos, nor the Gods of Law for that matter. They may be weak but they continually plot and scheme to regain their strength, and we must ever be on our guard. I see old wizard Manfred sitting in his fine tower, stretching the very fabric of his mind as he struggles to understand it all. His plans are ill defined and unlikely to succeed. Meanwhile, Kharmeth is like a bull at a gate with his insatiable blood lust. He will not succeed either. There is but one mind in the multiverse I cannot fathom. He is the one thing that I fear, for I cannot manipulate him. You have done well to deal with him, but the time will come when you have to meet him in battle. Join with me. I will be your patron and aid your plans, for though I cannot influence him directly, I can affect his minions. Together we shall defeat Gadiel. Together we shall make the Gods of Law and the other Gods of Chaos bow before us, as Txazop does now.” Simon saw his travelling companion crumple like a rag doll and drop to his knees beside him. “I already know your desires and I will aid you to achieve them. Take a new name, in recognition of your patron, Simon Ophidian. Wear the logo of the Great Serpent. Plot with me to rule the multiverse. Choose wisely, my Champion, for I know all plots and cannot be deceived.”
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