Kumori - Journal Entry 3
The purple smoke dissipated, and again Kumori found himself standing in the foyer of the impossible palace within the lamp. Brilliant sunlight streamed through the high-set skylights overhead and splashed over the vast and intricate mosaic of the floor. Arched doorways led out of the room in all directions, flanked by high marble columns that supported the dome of the roof high above. The sound of music drifted from one of the hallways off to his left. He made a low grunt of displeasure. At least this time he hadn’t been engaged in combat when the lamp took him. He removed his helmet (for entering and exiting the palace always led to appearing fully armed and equipped, no matter the state in which one was taken- the boisterous newcomer Cian told of having been in the intimate company of a woman when taken by the smoke) and strode through the second hallway to the right, toward the room he had begun to consider “his” during the time he had spent in the palace.
He passed down a colonnaded hallway, past ballrooms and studies, until he passed through a granite arch and out into the Fire Garden. A walkway of white marble led between hedges of a flower whose name Kumori had never bothered to learn. The flowers fell in long chains of gold and crimson petals, and clustered in such profusion that the hedges appeared as a conflagration frozen in time. The scent of them was heavy and sharp, but sweet, and when Kumori had first passed through the garden a decade (no, a millennium, he reminded himself with only a trace of bitterness) before the scent had nearly overpowered him. Now he noted it, took almost a moment’s pleasure in it, but never slackened his pace. He strode into the first of the three open spaces in the Fire Garden. A wide circular fountain rose from a neatly-clipped lawn. Some godling of fire stood sculpted in polished bronze, rising from the water on a column of sculpted flames. Water flowed over the surface of the godling’s skin and down the column, while an eternal flame burned from the top of the golding’s head, as though growing like hair. A relatively nondescript Elf sat on the edge of the fountain, plucking idly at a slender cittern. He noted Kumori’s approach, smiled slightly, and nodded. Kumori returned the greeting with a nod of his head. Neither spoke; etiquette amongst the trapped called for no more, and tended even to discourage it. There was no way of knowing what a returning “guest” had just lost, or what they had been through. Unless one encountered someone in a state of acute bewilderment (the mark of a new arrival), the rule was to give others plenty of space. The Elf was one of a few people Kumori had actually gotten to know in his time in the palace, even to count as a friend. If he stayed long enough this time, he would seek him out for a duet.
For now, he passed on. The hedges gave way on the far side of the fountain to an orchard of plumeria trees, the flowers all blooming in a panoply from wine purple to sunlight yellow. Beyond the orchard came the second clearing, this one centered on a plinth of gold-colored marble. Beyond that, a wide lawn on which three more of the cursed sat debating the nature of the place. They were two men and a woman, all past middle age, all arcanists of some sort, and they had been arguing for the whole millennium Kumori had spent in the palace. He gave them the same greeting, which only one acknowledged. The final landmark of the Fire Garden was a broad mirror of obsidian, a bow’s shot across, which led to the doorway into the next wing of the palace. It reflected the cloudless sky overhead darkly, like the frozen surface of a bottomless well. Here, Kumori paused.
Only for a moment, but the Black Mirror always chilled him, somehow. He had forced himself, while stuck in the palace for his seeming decade, to stare down into his own reflection in an attempt to desensitize himself, to take some of the mirror’s power away from it. Each time he had done so, he had seen no face staring back up at himself, but simply a blank black spot like a hole in the world. Now he strode purposefully across the Mirror and kept his gaze carefully on the doorway into the Fire Wing of the palace.
Again he strode past galleries and vast, empty halls. He walked up a spiral staircase, down another hallway, and up another staircase into one of the towers. He climbed past one, two, then three doorways before coming to a fourth, which he swung open with a proprietary air and stepped inside.
It was a small room, not more than eight feet by six. Sunlight spilled through a great window across the floor. Rich, elaborate rugs lay as much like tatami as he could imitate over the hardwood, and a low side-table sat before the window, with a sheet of parchment upon it on which he had written the Sutra of the Lantern years before. His approximation of a futon, a mattress taken off one of the beds from another chamber, stood stacked against one wall. A bowl full of sand held the remains of incense sticks he had burned the last time he’d stayed. His brush and ink-box sat on the same table. More than anyplace else, this was now his yashiki, his mansion. He felt an odd ambivalence; the mixture of a traveler’s homecoming and a prisoner’s return to incarceration. He dispelled both emotions with a forceful sigh and set about removing his armor. When he had gotten to his under-robe, he removed his rosary from his neck and knelt before the parchment. Must remember to purchase incense next time I’m free. He prayed the sutra until he felt at peace.
The false sun within the lamp had set by then, and the false, patternless stars shone untwinkling through his window. A knock came at his door.
Outside, in the real world, he would have reached for Satori. Here, he merely turned, perplexed. “Yes?”
The door opened. A tall westerner, with copper hair and bright blue eyes stood regarding him from the hallway. “I’ve been told you and I might know people in common.”
Kumori actually smiled. “You must be Cian. Yes, we do. Come in. I will tell you how they fared when I was taken from them last.”