Simon couldn’t remember disembarking. One moment he seemed to be in the Captain’s cabin, the next he stood on another seashore, remarkably similar to the one they had left. A white path in front of them stretched through low brush into the mist. It wouldn’t have surprised him to find another Rainbow’s End at its end. They were wearing the same clothes that they had on when they left First Delve. They carried the same packs. Yet to Simon it felt that years had passed, if not millennia. Limbo has that effect on people.
“Are you cold?” Jhamed asked.
“Not particularly. The mist seems to be more low cloud than fog,” Simon replied. “Why do you ask?”
“The hairs on the back of my neck are standing erect and my whole body is covered with goose bumps. I have an incredible feeling of déjà-vu. We have done this before.”
“Yes, not so long ago when we embarked on the Ship of Souls. Have you forgotten already?” Simon smiled but was secretly concerned by Jhamed’s unusual demeanour.
“No, I don’t mean that. We have done this before only it wasn’t me and it wasn’t you, except I somehow have the memory. The Sword was different. It was Fleischaker then, or Excalibur. Wait! Don’t go! It’s no good, the memory is lost.” Jhamed looked glum and seemed disconcerted by the vision. He looked around in consternation.
“I expect it was another Hero and another Companion. It may have been Gilgamesh. Is there nothing else you remember?”
Jhamed removed his hat and scratched his head vigorously with both hands. His curls, momentarily released from their bondage, expanded to twice their volume, like a jack-in-the-box escaping from its box. He stopped scratching and looked at Simon. There was no hint of his normal jollity. “Only a smell. A terrible bovine stench.”
“Perhaps it is a warning, although of what I cannot say. Nevertheless, we must press on. Stay on your guard and tell me if you remember anything else.” Jhamed nodded and replaced his hat, crudely stuffing his locks back into confinement.
As there was only one path to follow, they headed away from the shore and into the mist. The road was paved with pure white stones and was so well maintained it could have been laid yesterday. The coarse brush, close to the shore, soon gave way to lawns and gardens, which were immaculate in every aspect. However, there were as few gardeners about as weeds. Thoughts of gardeners took Simon’s mind back to Eden and Marduk. He wondered how the elves were doing. How long had they been away in Limbo? What could have happened while they were gone?
The mist suddenly cleared and a picture postcard blue sky with fluffy white clouds was revealed. They could see now that the road wound its way up a small pine forest-covered mountain, like a white snake amidst the greenery. At its end, they could barely make out some buildings.
“They look like ruins,” Jhamed said, squinting.
“I have seen similar places in my dimension,” Simon said, “in Athens. They look like ancient temples.”
“The Gods of Law must be far gone if their temples are in ruins,” Jhamed said. “It will take us several hours to climb up there. I wonder if it will get dark here?”
They pushed on. Simon set a steady but brisk pace that wasn’t rushing and shouldn’t unduly tire them. They passed more beautiful gardens that displayed plants from across the multiverse in every season. In one bed, spring bulbs raised their flowered heads and shouted their joy to the sun. In the next trees shaped into a myriad of creatures displayed their autumn foliage in a cascade of reds, golds, and browns. The trees wore their multi-coloured coats but not a single leaf seemed yet to have dropped to the ground.
Still they saw no one. The temperature seemed perfect for their climb and the quality of the light didn’t alter. Simon had initially assumed that the sun was behind the mountain, yet after several hours, there was still no sign of it. The gardens eventually yielded to the forest and the multifarious scents of flowers were replaced by the unmistakable smell of a pine forest after rain. Simon was immediately taken back to a childhood visit to Tasmania. Trees were sacred there, rather like in Eden; but that had only been achieved by much protest and struggle. Most of the old indigenous trees had gone and been replaced by pine trees. He must have been very young because his mother had taken him in a pushchair. He hadn’t known he had this memory until they’d entered the forest. He remembered a very old gnarled tree right in the middle of a clearing. He couldn’t remember what it was but it seemed very ancient. As they were admiring it, they met an old man who was nearly as gnarled as the tree. He had bent down and patted Simon on the head. He had looked into the man’s eyes and seen something there. What was it? Recognition? Love? Fear? The memory dimmed. Simon stopped and sat down.
“What is it?” Jhamed asked.
“I have just found a memory too. Either Manfred or someone who looked very like him was checking up on me when I was a small child.”
“I doubt it was Manfred or I would have known,” Jhamed said. “Our interest in you wasn’t aroused until much later. Perhaps it was Weylyn.”
“No, the eyes were not Weylyn’s. Besides, he would have taken the opportunity to kill me; my mother could not have protected me.”
“This place seems to have a power to awaken memories. I have remembered many things about my father that I never thought I knew. Let’s take a break and eat something. We must keep our strength up for whatever lies ahead. Your descriptions of the Chaos Gods were quite frightening. I can’t imagine what the Gods of Law will look like.”
Jhamed sat down as well and foraged in his pack for supplies. They enjoyed their picnic lunch in the forest but were quiet and subdued, each lost in his own thoughts, and the conversation was limited to ‘Pass the salt, please’.
They packed up cautiously, taking great care not to leave any mess behind. Simon remembered the Law dimension where they had ignored the ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs. It had caused a great deal of trouble and needed Jhamed’s father to do a streak to help them escape. He had a light bulb moment. “I know who it was!”
“Who who was?” Jhamed asked.
“The old man in Tasmania. It was your father. It was Fate keeping tabs on me. This place isn’t waking up just any old memories, but memories associated with Destiny.”
“How do you explain my déjà-vu?
“I can’t… yet. But I’m betting it had something to do with your father. He must have passed the memories on in your genes.” Jhamed may have harrumphed at Simon’s theory but the expression on his face showed that he was giving it careful consideration.
They continued on their way in silence. The path became steeper and Simon began to sweat. Jhamed finally broke his silence. “It couldn’t have been my father. My father serves the Balance. Why would this place bring on memories of him?”
“It has troubled me as well,” Simon said, “but it seems to me that there are only two sides in this; Law and Chaos. It’s not like the Balance is a third way but rather the best compromise between Law and Chaos. We have been aided in our quest by Chaos at times and I suspect by Law as well. Perhaps your father has also been a companion to other Heroes as he was to me in the Fatherland. It is in your genes just as it is mine. I suspect that the Hero has at times served Chaos and at other times Law. Would not Arthur Pendragon have been a servant of Law, for example? What about Gilgamesh? Before he served the Balance, the ancient stories suggest that he was an agent of Chaos and sought to destroy the Gods of Law. He may even have taken this road with your father at his side. I wish that I could remember the lives of the other Heroes.”
Jhamed stopped in mid track and looked at Simon with incredulity. “You must be crazy!”
Simon wasn’t quite sure which part of his thesis Jhamed thought was crazy and his companion continued walking without further comment. A while later though he spoke again. “Be careful what you wish for, Simon. You have enough trouble dealing with some of your own memories. Other manifestations of the Hero have done things that are much more terrible. Anyway, what about Gadiel? Where does he fit in?”
Simon had rarely seen Jhamed so serious. Not only that, his friend had hit on the one question that he had been unable to answer. Was Gadiel somehow outside the conflict between Law and Chaos? Was he just using the conflict for his own ends? Would he even care which side was the ultimate winner? “I don’t know, but I’ll be sure to ask him next time we chat!” That did the trick. Jhamed dissolved into a fit of giggles that progressed to full blown belly laughs. He was back to his normal self.
Jhamed’s better humour also seemed to have an effect on Simon’s mind. “It’s becoming clearer to me now. You won’t like it though.” Simon wondered whether he should continue and risk darkening Jhamed’s mood again.
“Well? What pearls of wisdom will you deliver this time?”
“Don’t mock! I know I don’t always work it out right the first time, but at least I try.”
Jhamed mumbled something under his breath that Simon couldn’t make out.
“I don’t know why I haven’t seen it before. It’s so obvious. There are two sides in the multiverse; Law and Chaos. There are two aspects to our destiny; fate and chance. Don’t you see, Jhamed? They are two aspects of the same thing. Chaos depends on probability, all probabilities being possible. Law depends on a single pathway defined by fate. Your father was always working for Law.”
Jhamed looked at him with an expression that would have befitted the world’s best poker player. “My father was following the Tapestry. The Tapestry is on the Ship of Souls. The Captain serves the Balance. My father helped you destroy a minor god of Law. Quad erat demonstrandum. Honestly, Simon, sometimes I think you have the logical capacity of a slug.”
Simon sighed. It was always the same. No sooner did he think that he had wrapped his mind around all of the questions than the answers he generated threw up new questions. If only someone would explain it all to him. “The Tapestry is tied up with Gadiel. He’s the key to all of this.”
“Be sure to ask him!” Jhamed winked at him.
“I’ll make a list,” Simon replied, which set off Jhamed’s giggles again.
They continued their climb. The light didn’t change, as if time were frozen. The questions and possible answers swirled around in Simon’s mind like wisps of morning mist. Something substantial seemed to be there but he could never quite capture it.
They made steady progress, and stopped for a second meal when they felt hungry again. The light and the air stayed the same. The ruins were closer.
They might have walked for minutes, or it could have been weeks. They had stopped speaking, each seemingly trapped in his own thoughts. Simon grappled with the complexities of existence, without forming any further concrete conclusions.
The change in terrain and light surprised him. They had reached the top of the mountain. The ruins spread out in front of them. Great slabs of hewn grey rock, turned green in places by mosses and lichens, still showed where the floors had been, though most of the walls were long gone. Many circular pillars still reached for the sky, like extended fingers, while an occasional ruined archway still struggled to survive the march of entropy. Beyond the ruins, the peaks of many wooded mountains were visible. Everything was stained blood-red by an invisible setting sun.
It took a while for the view to sink in and the realisation to dawn. Simon turned to Jhamed. “This is an anachronism. You saw how perfect everything was climbing the mountain. We are in a place where Law rules, where the Gods of Law reside. This place; these ruins, are completely out of place. How can an island of Chaos exist here?”
“My father would know,” Jhamed replied.
“I somehow feel responsible,” Simon said, “like a guilty secret pricking my conscience. How can it be?”
“My father would know the answer to that too,” Jhamed said in a serious tone, with no hint of jollity.
“I do believe he would,” Simon said. A shiver ran down his spine and the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. “This was a temple, but something terrible happened here.”
“A Hero came this way before and then
For Chaos he fought, long ago and when
The Gods were young and Time was linear
Even Fat Fiona was skinnier.”
The voice was female and had an accent that Simon would swear was Scottish. If pushed, he would have placed the owner of the voice as a citizen of Glasgow. They had been looking into the distance, admiring the view, and seeing the bigger picture. Somehow, they had overlooked the strange sight immediately in front of them, in a dip in the ground.
More than in a dip, it seemed like everything before them was partially buried in the earth. There was a stone door frame, which extended about four feet off the ground. Within the frame was what appeared to be a partially buried wooden door. While the stone frame appeared ancient and crumbling, the door seemed freshly painted in rainbow colours. The colour red was especially fresh, from a flow of blood.
The voice had come from a naked woman. She disappeared into the earth, buried to half way between her knees and her thighs, with her arms above her head. Her hands were nailed to the top of the door. Her hair was black, long, and unwashed. It also appeared to be uncut. It cascaded over her body, and looped around her in coils. As much hair as there was failed to hide her gargantuan breasts and stomach. Her pendulous breasts hung down so that the huge nipples almost touched the ground. Her rotund stomach stuck out between them and its weight rested on the ground, protecting what little modesty she retained. Her bulbous buttocks, pock-marked with cellulite, stuck out behind her, providing balance for her stomach and breasts. Her face was wrinkled and her cheeks sagged. Her eyes and lips matched the colour of her rotting teeth. Her nose dribbled green snot. She had more chins than Simon could easily count on the fingers of his artificial hand.
“Sad creature nailed upon the colour door of time,
Not preacher, yes, and you and I commit the crime.
Once before, to the Cedar Forest you came
And for the damage caused, I share the blame.”
“Not I, madam, though I do feel a connection with this place and my conscience is pricked,” Simon said. “Who are you?”
“Few have the wherewithal to pass this way,
And fewer still take the advice I say.
The Oracle of Parandham I be
Though Fat Fiona is all that you see.”
“I seek the Gods of Law, Oracle. What advice do you give?” Simon asked.
“My punishment for your last visit here,
Awaiting the day you would again appear.
Emotion revealed as the Ocean Maid,
The price for entry must be paid.”
Jhamed revealed his frustration. “You speak in riddle and rhyme, lady. Can you not say clearly where we must go?”
“As one door opens another one closes,
The answer, of course, is right under your noses.
The door that stands in the temple chaos
May be unlocked, if you spare the pathos.”
“So the road to the Gods lies beyond your door. It makes sense to hide the way to Law in a place of Chaos. What price must I pay, to unlock it?” Simon asked.
“The price is mine, though it’s more a reward,
End my existence with your great Sword.
End the torment that has dogged my years,
I welcome my end without any fear.”
Simon was horrified. “How can I take the life of a defenceless woman?”
“You have done worse things,” Jhamed said. “If it’s the only way…”
“How do we know it’s the only way? We don’t even know if we can trust what she says.”
“My father would know,” Jhamed said.
“Would you stop saying that!”
“Ah, the fog lifts and I see clearly now,
I pondered long on the why and the how.
You are indeed your father’s son,
More than that, you are the one.”
“So, my father was here? What do you mean, I’m the one?”
“And Gilgamesh was here with him.” Simon’s words were more of a statement than a question.
“The Hero Gilgamesh was badly flawed,
Not enough was the power he gained from the Sword,
The thing he sought, his immortality
Would ultimately lead to his fatality.”
“Yes, we know all that. What do you mean, I’m the one?” Jhamed was getting agitated again.
“The gifts of the Gods are grievously earned,
Take great care, they should never be spurned.
The gift from the father can be greater still,
That you are stuck with for good or for ill.”
“What are you babbling about? Why am I the one?”
“Gently, Jhamed, the Oracle is talking about the genes we inherit from our parents.” Simon understood at a subconscious level. There was more to Jhamed than either of them yet knew. “Am I going to earn a gift?”
“The Gods of Law reside within,
Sometimes they act upon a whim,
That is all I can say, there is no more,
Kill me now, and pass safely through my door.”
The Oracle fell silent and closed her eyes.
“There must be another way. Give me a hand to move her,” Simon said.
They tried to grab her. Heaven knows, there was enough to grab hold of. Yet, they could not get a grip. It was as though a skin tight force field were protecting her. Jhamed fetched a long tree branch from the forest and they tried to prise her up with that. She sat, implacably, throughout with her eyes closed as if in deep sleep or a coma.
It seemed that many hours must have passed, but the red sunset remained, unchanged. They ate, sparingly, from their diminishing food supplies, and considered their situation.
“Maybe this is a challenge,” Simon said, “set by the Gods to determine whether we are worthy or not.”
“Or maybe you should take her at her word and just put her out of her misery. She seems to have spent an eternity nailed to this door.”
They were both startled by her reawakening.
“Ah, Excalibur, I remember it well,
Gilgamesh did not hesitate to break my spell.
I died on your Sword, I suffered no pain.
Take out Kin Slayer to kill me again.”
She resumed her torpor.
Simon made a decision. He stood up and drew Kin Slayer. He held the great Sword above his head, but did not move towards the Oracle. He waited. Kin Slayer sang. It was unlike any noise the Sword had ever made before. It wasn’t its usual shriek of anticipated pleasure. It was more like a low groan. Simon heard the words in his head. It has no soul. It is already dead.
Simon struck, severing Fat Fiona’s head. Unlike from her hands, there was no blood. Her head rolled a few feet and crumbled into dust. Her body followed suit. The door vanished. A memory came to him, perhaps from Kin Slayer, of a previous decapitation. That head had a lion’s face, and a bull’s horns. Its body had been covered in horny scales, like a mythical dragon. Its feet had the claws of a vulture, sharpened to become lethal weapons. Its devil-like tail and giant penis had each ended in a snake’s head, with poison-dripping fangs. Humbaba the Terrible.
He cast aside the memory. “Come on! What are you waiting for?” Simon stooped through the door. Jhamed followed, not needing to bend.
They emerged into a serene forest. Cedar trees were precisely planted in perfect rows, with identical separations. Each tree was exactly the same size as its neighbours. The air was still, thick, and heady with the incense-like tree smell. There was no sound, not so much as a single bird singing nor a branch rustling. The forest floor was perfectly white, like powdered marble, and not a single piece of detritus sullied it. The sun was directly overhead, and the tree spacing permitted a narrow beam of light to penetrate between each group of four trees. The light reflected off the ground, lighting up the trees as if they were a set in a stage show.
And right at the focal point of their vision, she stood. She was a tall, willowy blonde with long hair, pert breasts with tiny nipples, a flat stomach, long, slim legs, and a shaved pubis. She smiled and her face lit up, sparkling blue eyes shone like sapphires in the bright white light.
Simon wondered whether he had ever seen such a beautiful woman. He cast a glance at Jhamed. His friend looked like he was catching flies.
“So, you have disposed of my sister.” It was a statement, rather than a question, in exactly the same accent as Fat Fiona’s. “My name is Lorna; they call me Luscious Lorna. Please follow me. The Gods will see you now.” She turned and they were presented with the view of her beautiful arched back and a pair of taut, tight buttocks that could have opened beer bottles. Struck dumb by her beauty, the two men followed Luscious Lorna with their tongues hanging out, like overheated hounds.
The narrow track between the trees slowly began to widen until it became an avenue. The white dust underfoot changed to solid white rock that Simon guessed was marble. The brightness of the light hurt his eyes. Lorna, ahead of them, seemed a vague shadow within the pure white of the dazzling light. They stumbled on, barely seeing the stairs that they climbed between marble pillars. They entered a large anteroom and almost bumped into Lorna, as she stopped abruptly.
“There is a rule of absolute nudity here,” Lorna said sweetly. “Please disrobe and leave all of your possessions, including your weapons, on the chairs. They will be perfectly safe. No crime has been committed here since the last time a Hero visited.”
There was a fogginess inside Simon’s head. He behaved like an automaton. His brains had turned to cotton wool and felt about as useful. He did as he was instructed, stripping naked and removing Kin Slayer.
Jhamed giggled. “Imagine the indignity, if Manfred were here.”
A memory tugged annoyingly in Simon’s head. Just out of reach, but tantalisingly there. It involved Taran and Adjatay. They were in a tree. He couldn’t find it any more. Then like waking from a dream, it was gone. The only reality was here and now.
All of the FirstWorld Saga is available here, including Volume 1, Quest for Knowledge for free.