The house was still devoid of books but for him and the heavyset, dark-eyed man across the room from him who wore a red kimono, and stood in the door to the hallway. “I can help if you want to escape. Brahmen isn’t looking for you, since he believes you contained. You have to decide now.”
The Scribe unfolded himself, standing slowly, feeling the muscles in his legs stretch and hearing the creak of the floorboards underneath. “Escape,” he said. His voice was strange, dusty and cracked from disuse. He looked at the man with the dark eyes a little more closely. There was something familiar about him, about his eyes.
“Come with me,” the dark-eyed man said. He turned and went to the kitchen and opened the door that would have been at the back of the house had it been tethered to its former position. “Through here.”
The Scribe, docile and aching, stepped through the door into a night full of stars, tree limbs and leaves and fresh air. A comet streaked across the indigo sky, trailing flames. The path they walked was filled with white gravel and sand and felt good on his bare feet. Ahead of him was a grey chalet with roofs pitched at steep angles and lit with color and life. “Welcome to the Altneu Mittelmark,” the dark-eyed man said, stopping at the gate to the property. “You will be safe here in my home.”
Overwhelmed by the smells and sights and sounds of night, the Scribe followed the heavyset man in his red silk kimono up the smooth path. Sculpture, large potteries, flowers, fountains and bushes were new things to him though familiar as recalled through the cobwebs of ancient memories. He remembered sand, heat, trees and grass from their smells. Rocks, sharp and white in the moonlight ringing the inner high walls of the property, were also familiar. He stayed to the path behind the dark-eyed man and absorbed as much as he could.
Inside the chalet (another word that sounded familiar and new at the same time) the Scribe collapsed. The dark-eyed man came and helped him back to his feet. “Sensory overload,” he said. “You will acclimate yourself soon enough. The chalet is welcoming if you’re expected.”
Back on his feet, the Scribe was shown by the dark-eyed man through hallways decorated with small portraits of unfamiliar people to an apartment that was larger than the house of books had ever been. His host bowed to the five women waiting there. “You are in good hands, Scribe,” he said. “I will visit with you come the morning after you have slept.” He left the apartment, sliding a door closed behind him. The Scribe faced the women and felt warm.
He was bathed by Myoki and Anna; dressed by Lispeth and Ingrid; fed by Selannah. The women all made small talk after introducing themselves but did not ask him any questions. Each one was attentive and devoted to his comfort and he did his best to be a gracious guest. He had been such a creature of habit in his role as Scribe, he could not sleep when Ingrid and Selannah put him to bed until they crawled in on either side of him and held him until he gave into his fatigue. He did not dream at all.
“I trust that everything has been satisfactory?”
The Scribe nodded. A magnificent breakfast was laid out for him and he had been trying one of every item on the table when the dark-eyed man had entered his apartments. Then he smiled and said, “Yes, thank you.” He stood and offered his hand in greeting. “I know I have another name that I cannot recall, but I am Brahmen’s Scribe. Formerly of the House of Books.”
The smile that crossed the dark-eyed man’s face like a shadow across the sun fled quickly. “I am Strangiato, a Seeker for the Powers that Be,” he said taking the Scribe’s hand. “I also had another name, as do we all who serve the Chondria in the battle against Brahmen’s evil.”
The Scribe started to speak but stopped.
“Go ahead,” Strangiato said.
The insulated man smiled, a wan thing he wasn’t used to doing. “When will Brahmen take me back?”
Strangiato’s laughter was not comforting in the least, but it was genuine and filled the room. “Never, if the Chondria have anything to say about it, and we do. You are my guest for the duration of the war between the states of being.”
“Guest is perhaps another word for prisoner,” the Scribe said. They sat now at the breakfast table as equals.
Strangiato said, “You are not a prisoner. I have transportation to take you wherever you would like to go, whenever you would like to go.”
Strangiato did not answer, only looked impassive.
The Scribe leaned forward. “What states of being? What does that mean?”
“The thinking mind and the feeling mind are two very different states, yes?”
The Scribe nodded.
“Without consciousness, one cannot be said to feel,” Strangiato said. “Are we only defined by our positions, our roles? You, for instance, are the Scribe, I am a Seeker, but that is not all that we are, is it?”
“I have only been the Scribe for as long as I can remember.”
“Did you feel that some things you have experienced here are familiar? You admitted that you had a name that you could not remember, so even though you were Brahmen’s Scribe, you were someone else before.
“Continuing to imagine that you are only Brahmen’s Scribe is one state of being, but not the only one you can imagine, surely.”
“I am confused,” the Scribe said. He sat back in his chair and frowned.
Strangiato said, “The states of being are many and varied, as are the creatures of the universe. Brahmen seeks to usurp the natural order of all that has been and should be. He, for lack of a better definition, is Evil and the Chondria are Good. There are many more entities involved who fall on one side or the other.”
The chalet suddenly lurched under the two men, tossing the Scribe to the floor. Strangiato stood and left the room more quickly than his size might suggest he could move. There was shouting in the hallway outside the Scribe’s apartment, and he stood at the door afraid to go through.
Steeling himself, he put his hand on the door handle and felt nothing but the cold brass and scrollwork as he thumbed the latch and opened the door. Emboldened, he ran toward the clamor that kept rising.
“WHERE IS THE SCRIBE?”
The Wolf’s voice chilled him. He was feeling and hearing and was exhilarated at the prospect of finding a new state of being. He came to the courtyard where Strangiato was, complemented by a brace of women and men, some of whom he’d seen in the chalet. All were looking over the top of the wall at the silver eyes of Brahmen’s enforcer scanning them.
“You have no power here, Wolf,” Strangiato said. “This house is well-defended.”
A wolf’s laugh is terrible to hear. “WHERE IS THE SCRIBE? HIS MASTER WOULD HAVE HIM BACK.”
The Scribe drew in a deep breath and held it. Memory suddenly crashed on the rocky shoals of his mind, whitewater spraying high into the air and he shivered with the second wave, the third. He remembered the nets, the traps, the pain of the torture that had taken his memory. He remembered Brahmen's laughter and taunting. The Scribe closed his eyes and stretched his neck. The sound of his memories crashing in on him invigorated him. Refreshed, he narrowed his eyes.
“I am here, Wolf,” he said in a quiet voice. “I have been a slave long enough.” His voice became stronger, more sure, commanding. He stepped out into view of the wolf looking over the high walls of the chalet. The Scribe shucked off his kimono and stood facing the wolf. Naked and radiating strength, he began to work his fingers and hands in patterns that Strangiato and the household staff knew well. “You cannot take me back.
“Your master is not mine. This house is protected by the Chondria and wards of my own devising.” Strangiato and his entire retinue looked at the Scribe, recognizing his power and his office.
He worked sigils and signs, spoke words not designed for the human vocal system and a golden glow traced his movements. The Scribe’s fingers wrote elements in the air, his eyes rolled over white and the Wolf began to shrink.
“Open the gate,” the Scribe said to Lispeth, who ran to do as instructed. “Bring the wolf inside.” She swung the double gate wide and stepped outside, careful to stay on the path. Lispeth took the smaller wolf’s nape in her thin hand and guided the trembling animal into the chalet. Selannah and Ingrid rushed behind her to close the gate.
The Scribe stood in front of the Wolf and the wolf’s silver eyes looked up at him. “How dare you?”
“Brahmen dares, sorcerer.”
The Scribe smiled, crouched down to meet the wolf's eyes as an equal. “You are a pale thing, wolf, in my eyes now. I have my mind, my life and Brahmen will beware.”
He stood and looked at Strangiato. "Kill him and send me the creature's blood. I will make ink of it. Send the head to Brahmen." The Scribe turned his back to the wolf and walked back into the chalet toward his future.
Confused? It's okay, the Scribe's story will continue in Sender, which will appear early in 2010 and conclude in June of 2010 with all the other characters that have been introduced here in The Long Range. I promise it all pays off in the end!
Thanks for reading The Insulated Man.
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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