The Man Made of Ink

Today we will explore fantasy, but not your average orcs-elves-dwarves type of fantasy, but rather a much weirder approach. Imagine an infinite number of worlds, all floating in the same substance we call reality and accessible through means of magic. Imagine truly alien worlds, not just science fiction alien, but really alien, like changed laws of physics, discworlds and worlds with no ground or no sky. Most known worlds are inhabited by humans, but other sentient beings have also been found. This type of universe is the sort of thing that I wanted to do since I was a little boy (then again, exploring other worlds was always my dream job. It still is, by the way.).

 

Music of the Moment: Koji Kondo – Clock Tower

 

Zantoom was a truly beautiful world. It featured a wide selection of colours, each shimmering brighter and livelier than the last, but it was mainly white. The deep blue pools and crystalline fountains were enclosed by white marble, the magnificent green gardens were surrounded by white columns and statues, the beautiful gold-and-brass ornamentation was adorning majestic buildings of clean, white stone and even the armour of the guardians was white, becoming the metal canvas of elaborate golden scrollwork.

Even though the sun was high up in the clear, blue sky, it was neither warm nor cold in the City of the Ageless, and, aside from the splashing water from the fountains and the occasional footsteps over the white-flagged floor, it was completely silent. People were rarely seen in the labyrinth of streets and plazas, most of them being soldiers and pages, hurrying around in white uniforms or scholars in white robes, thoughtfully discussing important topics with low voices. Most of them were Ildari, humans with pale skin, white hair and white eyes, claiming to be direct descendants of the Old People, who had first built the city.

One man stood out, though, like a drop of ink in an ocean of milk. He was leaning on a white half wall, motionlessly observing the transparent water falling out of a nameless white statues mouth into a wide, shallow basin. His eyes were pitch black, as was his long, flowing hair framing his oblong face, falling over his shoulders like a waterfall of darkness. The long coat he was wearing was also black, covered with complicated geometric patterns of thin, black rubber. His other clothes were black as well: a black chemise with black buttons, black pants with a belt of black leather, and black shoes with black laces. Even his arms and hands seemed to be made of black metal.

They called him the Shadow Master, more of a title than a name, but since nobody knew his real name (or anything else about him, for that matter) it had become just that. Some rumours claimed that he came from a far-off world, yet undiscovered by the explorers, others said he was one of the Elders, immortalized through ancient magic, and even others were certain that he was a wandering god.

No matter what was true, the Shadow Master was spoken highly of in Council circles and in charge of the Shadows, their very own army of spies. The Council of Zantoom had an enormous army at their disposal, as was necessary when governing thousands and thousands of worlds, but they preferred to remain unseen in their operations. Giving the worlds a feeling of independence was of paramount concern, and having soldiers stroll around them didn’t really help that cause.

The Shadows did employ humans and other beings, but most of their agents were Shades, sentient creatures of pure darkness that could morph into almost every living thing imaginable. Their wills were bound by powerful magic, making them loyal and obedient servants.

A young, uniformed woman approached the Shadow Master. She had blond hair and green eyes and carried a glass cartridge with brass caps inlaid with a circle of ivory. It had to come from the Council.

He grabbed through the glass as if it was not there, taking out the scroll inside of it. It was sealed with a clasp that bore Grand Councillor Alcvir’s sigil: two interlocked crescent moons on a hexagon with rounded corners.

 

Shadow Master,

 

it has come to my ears that you managed to capture one of the Strangers. If that is true I am most pleased and would advise you to make his interrogation a top priority. I will make certain the Council gives you access to any resources you might require, but we will expect a full report within the next twelve cycles.

 

Adeitasun osoz,

Grand Councillor Alcvir

 

It was true. They had indeed captured a Stranger. A man with skin pale as milk, violet eyes and no hair anywhere on his body, immobilized by magical forcefields and held atop a blue granite tower on a nameless world tormented by eternal tempest.

Even the Shadow Master knew virtually nothing about the Strangers. They came out of nowhere, stronger and faster than any human he’d ever heard of and operated in seemingly irrational patterns. But truly, they were not irrational. Quite the contrary was true. When seen on a larger scale, the Strangers actions worked like parts of bigger plans, creating outcomes no man could possibly predict. Something that interested him personally, though, were their coins. They displayed nothing and were made out of a grey metal unknown to him, but he knew they were the key to the Strangers ability to step into other worlds in a moments notice, as opposed to travelling by worldships or riftdoors like everyone else.

He turned to the envoy.

“You are not a Shade.” He assessed.

“No, Sir.” She seemed nervous.

“You don’t need to call me Sir, I am not a member of your military.”

“Yes, Sir, I mean, yes.”

He gave an amused smile.

“What is your name?” He asked.

“Andriah Vorrell, S- uhm.” She swallowed the ‘Sir’ in the last moment.

“What world are you from, Andriah Vorrell?” The Shadow Master was well aware that he made most people nervous, especially junior officers who wanted to make a good impression.

“Detton. I am from Detton.”

“I have heard of that world. You have a violet sky and two blue moons that always remain at the same place. Your sun pulsates very slowly and most of your stone is as blue as your moons. Is it true that your trees have black leaves?”

“Yes, Master. The leaves are black.”

“A strange world.”

“It is, yes.”

He smiled.

“It is not for you, you grew up there. You don’t need to agree with me because of my position.”

“Yes, sorry, Master.”

The Shadow Master made the scroll disappear in the palm of his hand.

“I will take my leave now. I wish you a nice day.”

“Thank you, Sir, Master.”

But he had already crossed half the plaza. When the Shadow Master walked around the next corner, he simply disappeared.

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