Lord Orinian of Alozzia made his passage down the long gallery, not bothering with either the elaborated elegance of the interior decorations or the people who stopped what they were doing to stare at his unusual appearance. He didn't look twice at the high, thin pillars of synthetic diamond and gold, lit from inside by warm full-spectral light. Nor was he impressed by the high, pointy and gold-mullioned windows, partly in stained glass, from where the sun streamed in and bounced off the polished floor of elaborated mosaics depicting fractals and meandering abstract patterns. He had seen it all before, plenty of times. His junior colleague, High King Angarian was a man who loved opulence, almost in absurdum, he was an ardent collector who filled his palace with furniture, rugs, chandeliers and the finest of arts and sculptures and every time Orinian visited Whitehall did Angarian have something new to present. The overall affect was an abode of power and privilege, just what one would expect from a man who had been king for three millennia.
However today Orinian was fully inclined on asking the King to forget about showing off his latest finding. There would surely be time for that later, what recently occured in Orinian's own realm were far too serious for these kinds of diversions, and something told him also that time was dire. He needed to talk to Angarian about this – and this alone, and he hoped his wordings had been clear enough when he had sent the message of urgency just the day before.
But you never knew with those races of the younger universes, he thought; they were headstrong and flippant, always running head over heels into one adventure more senseless than the next. Yet for him, a Tarondan going on 20 000 years old, he had seen it all by now, even races emerging and dying. Over the last centuries had he felt a certain kind of weariness in his old soul, a longing for peace and quiet more than anything. And then Angarian – less than half his age – may consider Orinian a bit lethargic. He could live with that, if only the right conclusions were made. Not only was his realm in jeopardy, this break in the space-time which held the Seven Cosmoses together – might endanger them all. On top of that, who knew what it was that had come through? It could be anything. Any powerful and horrid kind of specimen, aiming to devour them all.
Again, he thought it over, the course of events, which had brought him here. The piece of Mitarium – that highly radioactive matter, the terrified mortal man who had found it, and who had died of radiation sickness just hours later. Radiation sickness – in Taronda! Unheard of earlier!
Lord Orinian's young countryman Chervin fought to keep up with the fast pace of Orinian, almost running, since he was so much shorter in stature and most of all with notably shorter legs.
"Orinian," he gasped. "What are you really going to tell those Eraldans? Do you think they might listen? Seeing the seriousness of the situation? Since they are not exactly known for..."
"They call us introspective old farts, I know," Orinian cut him off. "Regardless of that, I hope to convince King Angarian of the gravity of this occurrence. I have to let him know about the anomaly deeper down in the cave system."
The same day as the discovery was made had he, Chervin and a few others ventured deeper in the caves. Yet not after taking all kinds of precautions, including weaving protective charms across their forms, arming themselves with both magic and regular weapon, even a laser gun which Chervin had brought back from Earth. Orinian had used his magic to make the ailing mortal man able enough to guide them through the winding systems of tunnels and caves to where he had come upon the structural cessation and the stone of Mitarium. But not even the paramount Alozzian Lord could save the man from dying. It was too late even for Orinian's powerful magic, the mortal with his fragile physics had been injured beyond rescue. In the end Orinian had considered it an act of mercy to just let the mortal's poor soul lose and letting it travel through the under-dimensions to the Lethe – the timeless singularity where it all ended and began at the same time. The unfathomable place where souls were remade for reincarnation.
But before the man had died, had he shown them! Oh horrors!
The universes were always striving for balance, for equilibrium, so the tear in the space-time fabric had almost remended itself, and there was no sign of any more radioactive matter. But tracing his magic across the area indicated by the mortal man, Orinian had felt it. Like a scar in reality, a thinning of the atomic structure, missing quarks and re-arranged electrons. There were even some infinitesimal fragments of anti-matter intermingled with the regular atoms, a clear indication that something was wrong, since anti-matter didn't exist in the universe where Orinian lived.
Obviously the gash had been large and profound, letting through something which was huge and strong and very old. Orinian couldn't even begin to guess what that thing could be, and it frightened him severely, chilled him to the very marrow of his bones. He thought he had seen it all during his long life, but this horrid discovery went beyond everything he had ever encountered before!
There was something else too, a kind of matter staining the stones where the alien thing had obviously come through. A kind of substance similar to ectoplasm, but even more primitive. That discovery convinced Orinian that this thing had appeared from a place much older than theirs. Such primitive matter didn't even exist in their realms – it was devoid even of quarks, molded together by building stones simpler than anything existing in any of the Seven Cosmoses. And still it seemed to have some kind of – intelligence...
"Intelligence?" King Angarian's voice turned slightly pitched at the end of the word as he leaned forward across the desk regarding the small hexagon of hyperdiamond resting on the shiny oak surface. Inside of it was that slimy, ruddy-glowing matter which his senior colleague had collected from the cave in his realm. That unnerving, somewhat flickering glean seemed to attract his eyes, Angarian found it almost impossible to tear his gaze from the matter imbued in the diamond.
"Yes, intelligence. It tried to run away when I began collecting it," Lord Orinian said, feeling a slight shiver run down his spine as he evoked the event. "Some of it slipped between my fingers and seeped through the atomic structure and went – well, somewhere else. Nut much, but enough to have me really worried."
"Couldn't it just be the manifestation of some kind of 'gravity'?" Angarian asked while his sky-blue eyes remained fastened upon the plasma encapsulated inside of the hexagon. "A try to 'fall through' and return where it came from. Similar to the soul of a dying?"
"I'm not sure," Orinian shook his head. "This matter is simpler than a soul. Of an even older kind than what makes up our life essence."
"Still it's perceptible within the visible spectra," the king said, finally lifting his gaze to meet Orinian's. "A soul doesn't manifest itself on any wavelength we can observe when it comes to electromagnetic radiation. You have to have a Fratwian Capacitator to observe it."
"Gentlemen, on certain occasions you can envision the souls of the death through your eyes. It's doable in places like the Earth universe and even more in the Saninger universe," Chervin spoke up. He had been silent until now, while Orinian described the incident, uncomfortably recalling what had happened to him. At one point Chervin had got some of that odd, sticky plasma upon the fingers of his right hand – and horrified had he watched it leak through his skin, dissipating somewhere inside of him. That was something he hadn't dared to even tell his Lord about. Instead he had been vigilant for changes within him, examining himself thoroughly, every minute fearing that he would begin to feel strange. But nothing of significance had occurred and somewhere deep inside of him a hope had begun to grow that the matter was indeed harmless. At least to an old soul like him with a body originating from one of the more durable Cosmoses.
"That's no secret," Angarian replied. "These observations are feasible because both the Humans and the Saningers are young, fast-living races. Just like the Commoners in our world and the Regulars and the Mortals in your own. But also because of the elongated light spectra in their words, however the amount of man-made electricity on Earth has made souls harder to perceive. The Humans are congealing their world rapidly these days. Soon it'll be even as hard as our own, and a long-living race will see the light of dawn." The king shifted in his seat, "but I'm digressing. This bizarre manifestation inside of the diamond is no soul, of that am I sure. At least not what we mean when we talk about souls."
"It seems to me a fragment of a soul," Orinian pondered as he regarded the pink substance, almost as enchanted with it as the King. It seemed different in this universe. Almost as if it was glowing stronger, trying to shatter the hyperdiamond it had been locked into.
"But souls as we know them cannot split," Angarian remonstrated. "Because of their old structure, they hold together even if they can be spread very thin and even separated between universes."
"I know," Chervin nodded his head. "If that wasn't the case we wouldn't be able to die."
"Or at least not completely," Angarian replied, regarding the Alozzian wizard. "If a soul was possible to take apart, we would be faced with partly dead people around us. And I dare not even begin to ruminate how that may affect our universe."
"But what if this thing which came through can split its soul?" Chervin asked.
"Impossible!" Orinian protested, more out of habit than firm belief, as he didn't know what to think now. And yes, the King contradicted him in the very same moment.
"Perhaps impossible within our cosmoses. But not where this thing came from. Consider it coming from a place where souls really can be taken apart. Where souls can multiply and grow. Perhaps that is its way to procreate. Splitting the soul rather than cells within a body. What if this creature is truly bodiless."
"Like the creator god?" Chervin's eyes widened as he was reminded of the old legend which was found almost in every corner of the Seven Cosmoses. The legend of a bodiless yet sentient creator who had rendered these cosmoses alive once billions and millions of years ago. The Humans had their God of Abraham, the Saningers their Cosmic Mother and the Tarondans and the Lealians had always been revering the Starmaker. "You think it's some kind of god which came through?"
"I don't really think anything at the moment," Angarian shook his head. "We know too little to even speculate. We need more information, that's for sure! Now, my Secret Service noted this breach within the space-time fabric too. They have instruments to monitor the universes, they go through the boundaries of all the Seven every week, and then the information is beamed down to powerful supercomputers which analyze what is going on out there. The other night general Tirkar Baitur became alerted that something near your place was not right. One of his agents, a Cyborg, went there to check on it."
"They convened right after the incident and have gone through debriefings and minute-by-minute, step-by-step analyses of the finding ever since," The King went on. "General Baitur has already met with the best physicians and alchemists of my court and alerted them to the event. While troubled by the momentousness, no one was really shocked. For a long time have they been aware of the possibility of a disruption in the time-space fabric that is keeping our universes together, the question has more been a 'when' than an 'if'. Thus I learned about this anomaly even before your arrival, gentlemen."
"But our agent failed to find this odd matter. Not unexpected, since she went there using her astral body, which don't operate on the frequencies where regular souls are found. So if she might have seen this matter in the diamond here, she wouldn't have thought it something out of the ordinary. Her mission was to concentrate on the damage done to the universal edifice, and see if she could mend it."
"Was that successful?" Orinian asked, reminded of his own shortcoming in the same situation.
"Yes it was," the king affirmed, nodding his head.
"That means we only have to worry about this alien intruder," Chervin put in.
"Which is serious enough, I guess it's even more so than a rupture in the structure," Orinian alleged. After a second or so he went on. "Angarian, I wish to speak to this Cyborg of yours. Learn what she saw."
"If you believe that to be helpful, Orinian," Angarian sounded slightly reluctant.
"Yes I do. I'm grasping at strains here, anything could be helpful, any tiny fragment of knowledge."
"I'll arrange for you to meet her then," the king relented. "Are you staying over the Hallow Night Fiesta?"
"Originally I didn't plan to, but that can be changed," the Tarondan Lord nodded his head and against his will Chervin felt himself brighten up a tad. He had always loved those celebrations and they didn't have them at home in Alozzia.
"There are also a few others I believe we should share this with," Angarian went on.
"Jareth of Labyrinth. And Queen Sarentona. Besides, and just to be on the safe side, I've contacted a Voidwalker."
Orinian felt his eyes widen at that and he swallowed against his discomfort. Prejudices, he then told himself. Angarian had always been daring and unorthodox when it came to life forms, he didn't hesitate to let a soul bind to a machine or to engage those beings who lived less inside of their physical bodies and more as astrals walking the realms between the atoms. Then again, Orinian himself used Sprits and Ghosts as regular workers and he knew that scared a lot of others.
"I trust your decision," he confirmed. "Have you talked to Jareth and Sarentona yet?"
"I've sent diplomats to Labyrinth and Terandabar already, carrying messages of an extra convention of the Council and I was readying yours when you beat me to it by arriving here. The human Illuminate has been informed too."
The buildings all looked the same. The entire street seemed overcrowded with their matching facades and the nearly identical cars parked out front in the street. Even the landscaping scheme did not deviate from property to property, giving the neighborhood a cohesive appearance. It might be pleasing to the eye, but it showed a lack of personality and a desire for conformity, rules, regulations and standards. She found the whole thing detestable and this afternoon, while walking home from the school bus, it grated at her even more than usual. Perhaps because she was alone, since Doris was ill – or perhaps because Sara was for the first time really observing, taking things in, not just gazing at her surroundings.
Before this fall, Sarah had never felt like she was truly growing older, but now she felt too old, too mature for the way she had lived for so long. She loved her best friend Doris and there were a couple of other girls at school she was found of. But the school itself? It was dreadful! Always the same kind of mind-numbing sameness, every dismal day like the next, no fuel for a spark of creativity or any room for surprises to be thrown in. This narrow life style of the dull London suburb was slowly suffocating her.
Not until her encounter with Umbrianna had she really been aware of it, she had assumed this was what life was all about. That it was wrong of her to expect more. But the strange visitor who had claimed friendship with her mother, she had triggered something within Sarah's mind. A belief that there might be something more out there, something beyond this sad excuse for a life – which was actually just a mere existence, not much more worthwhile than those amoebas in the petri-dishes they had been studying in laboratory class.
It was strange, she thought while passing the open gate to their large townhouse and starting up the shallow, tiled slope through the garden, where the lawns were now littered with fallen leaves and the grass gleamed with wetness in the fading daylight. When she had mentioned Umbrianna to her mother, telling about her visit, without going into any major details, her mother had pretended not knowing what Sara had been talking about. However there had been something there – a slight strain to her voice, a narrowing of the brows, not more than a twitch to be true. Then Julianne had busied herself with emptying the dishwasher, making such a noise out of stacking china on the workbench that further discussions had been impossible. Sarah had shrugged it off and gone into the living room to watch TV, but she still couldn't shake this feeling that there was more to this than just an old acquaintance her mother didn't want anything to do with.
But who was Umbrianna then? Why had she shown up just the very day when Sarah was alone at home and why had she not presented herself with a surname? And how did she know all these things about Sarah's father, while her mother refused to even acknowledge her – refused to even be mad at Sarah for bringing the subject up. What was it Julianne barely managed to gloss over?