Verse 3: 19th NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
"Addle-pated fools!" Shim Po bellowed for the twentieth time in as many minutes. "They wouldn't know an original idea if it climbed up their beards and kissed them on the lips!"
"Yes, Master," Rogi hastened to agree. Hastened agreement was 70% of the manservant's responsibilities, and Rogi was a proudly humble member of the Guild of Toadies, Sycophants, Lackeys, and Minions (Local 8561), where he taught a post-graduate seminar once a month on Advanced Sniveling and Back-Handed Compliments. He had been employed by Shim Po for just over eight hundred years, although he'd actually worked perhaps an eighteenth of that time.
Shim Po, Magnus and former Chancellor of the Guild of Mystics, paced around the study which occupied the entire top floor of the dark and brooding tower, his face indigo with outrage. He had never been so humiliated in his life, and that was saying something. He had borne thousands of insults from his peers over the past millennia, ranging from gentle ribbing to acerbic jokes to pointed barbs to outright name-calling. Maybe he had not borne it all that well, but he had contented himself with muttering, shouting, excessive drinking, and a few random acts of cruelty directed against people and property wholly unconnected to the insults in question. Generally, he had left the other Mystics alone, more out of craven fear of reprisal than any sense of morality, although he had arranged (anonymously) to have 400,000 copies of An Utter Berk’s Guide to Space and Time delivered to the Guildhall after one particularly galling session where his monograph "Sensory Input as a Basis for Rational Acceptance" had been denied publication in the Journal of the Allaq'Myran Mystical Association by every single member of the Editorial Committee.
"Seeing is Believing," sniffed Editor-in-Excelsis Lafcadio Hyssop, "is hardly a novel concept."
"Addle-pated fools!" Shim Po repeated, sweeping a stack of Journals off the table with a brush of his mind.
"Yes, Master," Rogi once again hastened to agree as the cordbound digests fluttered to the ground.
"They. Will. Be. Sorry. Rogi. By Vara, Midra, and Pala, they will pay for their arrogance. Somehow, someday, they will know the pain they have inflicted upon me a million-fold. Nay, a million-million fold!"
"That would be a trillion, Master," Rogi offered helpfully, beginning to pick up the scattered folios.
"I know that, dolt!" Shim Po sneered. "I was striving for dramatic effect through repetition, but such nuances of rhetoric are obviously wasted on a dimwitted slumgullion such as you!”
"Yes, Master," Rogi replied dutifully.
Shim Po gazed skyward, or more exactly, ceiling-ward, since in order to literally gaze skyward he would have had to descend two levels and stick his head out a window. Since Shim Po believed that fresh air had a negative effect on higher thought processes, his study had no windows. When thinking, he preferred things stuffy.
"Why must I constantly be surrounded by morons?" he moaned, apparently addressing a nest of spiders that had taken up residence directly above his head. If he had meant his question for the Gods, they were as unconcerned with his complaints – and existence – as were the spiders.
"I don’t know, Master," Rogi commiserated, although he had a suspicion that Shim Po was often in the company of morons because he spent so much time alone. Shim Po, Mystic of Yorvadan, did not often seek out the company of strangers, and they gladly returned the favor. He was a stoop-shouldered, pigeon-chested, bowlegged git with a scraggly beard, watery eyes, and red teeth. He had no friends, having alienated every single wizard of any standing in a ten-thousand wing radius at one time or another over the course of his long life. The only folk who spoke well of him were local tradespeople, for Shim Po was stupefyingly wealthy, always paid his accounts promptly, and felt that haggling was beneath his dignity.
Ultimately, Shim Po was surrounded by morons because he considered every other person, fae creature, and spirit his intellectual inferior by several orders of magnitude. Unlike T'Lexigar Machallo and Gloria Robinette, Shim Po had a very clear idea of his place in the Great Design: he was at the very center of it.
This is not to say that Shim Po was wholly without good qualities. He was, for example, extremely punctual and cared for his aged mother quite generously, if by proxy. On the whole, however, his faults far outweighed his virtues. At one time he had been a bright young man and his treatise regarding the relationship between Truth and Essence was still regarded as a seminal work in the field of Trans-Dimensional Philosophy. Unfortunately, like so many prodigies, he had been so spoiled by an overabundance of praise that the well of his inspiration had been tainted thereby. His later works had never matched that early accomplishment, in either scope or brilliance. He had shot his intellectual bolt far too early, and it was about all he had to offer. By the time anyone realized this, it was too late to change his mindset. Accustomed at an early age to being considered brilliant, Shim Po clung to that rock long after all others had abandoned it and swum ashore.
Having never learned humility, Shim Po was a prime target for humiliation. Totally without humor, he was an easy butt for jokes. Most of all, he was convinced he knew everything, so he rarely bothered to learn. He read voraciously, primarily so he could write long scathing letters to the authors explaining how intellectually bankrupt they were. He had accumulated an impressive library in that fashion, consisting almost wholly of books he despised. At times like these, feeling especially aggrieved by the opinions of other, lesser minds, he had a standard response. He would choose one of the many volumes he had not yet gotten around to reading and write a vitriolic review of its contents. After that, he usually felt better.
"Rogi, fetch my correspondence file!" he commanded. "There must be something here by one of those imbecilic has-beens that I have not yet read. I shall give them a taste of the hell they have put me through!" As Rogi scurried away, Shim Po bent over and regarded three shelves of relatively new purchases with a critical eye, all the while continuing his rant. "Hell is too good for that lot, with their stupid Journal, and their tiny little brains, and their neatly pressed robes. Hyssop's latest must be here somewhere. I shall write a letter that will make him feel like seven devils had made his degradation their life's work…."
He trailed off, as something just beyond his consciousness knocked at the back door of his mind. All at once, a brilliant light appeared above Shim Po's head.
"Here, Master," said Rogi, holding a light globe. "Does this make it easier for you to see the titles?"
Shim Po waved a dismissive hand at his lackey without looking at him. Instead, he plucked a slim volume from the bottom shelf, then creakily returned to an upright position. Clutching the book to his chest, the Mystic ordered Rogi to brew some yeg-sai-bok. "Lots of it, Rogi. You see, I am evolving a plan."
"Is it a cunning plan, Master?" Rogi asked eagerly.
"Oh, do shut up. Just get the damn tea!" Shim Po sank into his favorite chair as Rogi headed to the kitchen. "I have reading to do."
Yeg-sai-bok was a tea, an extremely expensive blend reputed to expand the consciousness and bring greater scope and efficiency to the mind. Rogi had tasted some once; it made his sinuses ache and stained his teeth pink. By the time he returned with the tea service, Shim Po had relocated to his desk and was using the vellum he had intended for his indictment of Hyssop's limited imagination for an entirely different purpose. The Mystic had covered half a dozen pages with runes, dimensional and astrophysical symbols, and myriad arcane diagrams. Rogi set the self-heating tea service next to the Mystic, poured him a cup, and then retired to a corner to await his master's next command. Shim Po paid his minion scant heed. The mage muttered to himself, cackled a few times, scowled quite a bit, and occasionally crumpled a sheet of paper and threw it to the floor. Each one was dutifully retrieved, smoothed out, and placed neatly in a file drawer labeled ‘Rejected Ideas’ by the faithful manservant. Shim Po had an ironclad rule: "Never Throw Anything I Write Away." Rogi's collection of more than eight centuries’ worth of shopping lists, for example, filled an entire chamber on the tower's seventh floor. The less said about the Mystic's brief flirtation with lyric poetry, the better.
When Shim Po finished the first pot of tea, he demanded another. "Oh, and some oatmeal cookies," the wizard called over his shoulder.
"Yes, Master!" Rogi replied.
"But no nuts."
"Yes, Master, I mean no, Master!"
"And a grilled cheese sandwich!"
"Yes, Master!" Rogi called as he continued down the stairs, "May it give you pimples," he grumbled.
"What was that, Rogi?" Shim Po demanded.
"I said 'Good to keep things simple,' Master!"
By the time the sun set, Shim Po had finished three pots of tea and had a pretty good buzz going. He checked and re-checked his figures, but could find no flaw in his plan. To be sure, the book that had inspired him was written in Ganta, a language he’d only studied for three years in his youth thousands of years earlier, and thus the going was a little slow, but it laid everything out for him quite neatly. Entitled From Here to There, it was written by a renowned Tazyr Wizard named Thorgrim Karschild.
The Tazyr are an Elder race, of the standard configuration, and sometimes called Dwarves, though there is nothing dwarfish about them. Yes, they are shorter than the average Wer or Elf, but not by much and they are by no means stunted in either appearance or intellect. They are well-muscled, quite nimble, extremely industrious, and more inventive than is entirely safe. They excel at mining, sculpture, carpentry, and scholarship. Tazyr opera is among the most moving and emotional theatrical experiences one can have. Mist of the Mountains, by the Rafesh-Tazyr Moldon Voxgluuv, for example, is widely regarded as an opus of jaw-dropping greatness; primarily due to the sheer mind-blasting beauty of the infra-bass music, but also because keeping one's mouth closed during a performance can loosen the teeth of most listeners. Tazyr are notoriously bad at only three things: farming, baking (their bread is so hard and gritty that even they don't like it, they just eat it to prove how tough they are), and getting things off the top shelf without an axe.
On the other hand, if there is one thing the Tazyr understand better than almost anyone else it’s tunnels. It is therefore hardly surprising that few wizards outshine them in the study and implementation of Interdimensional Travel. After all, once one has mastered the difficult task of boring through solid rock, how much more difficult can it be to drill through the Manifolds, those insubstantial and largely theoretical barriers that separate one Reality from another?
Actually, it proved to be quite difficult. Before the Tazyr had set their collective minds to the problem, nearly all interdimensional travel not accomplished by means draconic, deamonic, fae, or divine had been purely accidental. The vast majority of interdimensional rifts occur naturally in the wake of Chaos Storms, unpredictable events attributable to high concentrations of free-floating magical residue. Such rifts are, by their very nature, short lived and erratic, connecting realities pretty much at random. Wizards such as Karschild had devoted themselves wholeheartedly over the last 10 eons to the goal of crafting and improving controlled gateways between different planes, and if the book was to be believed, Karschild had achieved some measure of success in the areas of simplification and targeting.
Shim Po's original plan was to open an interdimensional tunnel between the Mystic Guildhall and Hell, fitting punishment for what they had put him through. However, there were several drawbacks to that idea. First, it would require his actual presence at either one terminus or the other when the tunnel was created. Since part of his dismissal from the Guild was a ward effectively barring him from the guildhall, the only other option appeared to be going to Hell himself, an option best left for never.
The second problem, even if he overcame the first, was there was nothing in the nature of such a passage that would force the Mystics into the aperture to be deposited in Hell. He might have a low opinion of their collective intelligence, but he didn't think they were dim enough to say "Ooooh, look at the big hole in the space/time continuum! Let's all go and see where it leads!" The infernal denizens on the other end might prove more adventuresome but he simply could not count on that either.
The fact that he really did not understand Ganta all that well he dismissed as inconsequential.
He’d wrestled long and hard with these problems, though, taking them in order. After an hour, he decided what he really needed was two tunnels, one to the guildhall and one to Hell, both originating from the very room where he now labored, thus saving him having to actually go outside… or anywhere else. He was so pleased with his own cleverness that he rewarded himself with a double shot of purple flavored brandy, savoring the citrusy warmth as he worked. Keeping Mystics and devils alike out of his study was relatively simple; he’d create a Sphere of Protection that overlapped the ends of both tunnels, much like sticking two crystal tubes into a hollow rubber ball.
Eventually, he came up with a solution to the second problem, and that brainstorm clearly merited another slug of brandy, which relaxed him so much he could no longer feel his toes. He would simply combine the tunnel spell with a unidirectional chaos vortex, which would suck anything approaching the entrance into the tunnel and shoot it through to the terminus, while preventing its return by dint of the hyperdynamic winds that would be a by-product of the vortex.
There was only one more problem, the ultimate problem in fact: should he even do this thing at all?
Shim Po was many unsavory things, but he had never been a villain. He had never crossed the line from petty vindictiveness to outright evil, a line he knew once crossed would create a one-way moral vortex as powerful as the magical one he envisioned for his instrument of revenge. But what else did he have to live for? Word of his disgrace was already spreading, and soon there would not be a Mystic, Mage, or Sorcerer anywhere who wouldn't consider him beneath notice. One act of villainy, especially on this grand a scale, would perhaps place him on a slippery slope to eventual arrest or worse, but wouldn't he rather be hated than ignored?
He stood from his desk at last, straightened his robe (which had gotten all bunched up in the back from where he had been sitting on it), and strode to the center of the room.
"The die is cast…" he began, then – sensing no reaction – cleared his throat loudly. Rogi came awake with a start, leapt to his feet, then stood at attention. Once he was sure of his audience, Shim Po began again. "The die is cast. There is no other option. I have been wronged, and those who have wronged me must answer for their transgression."
He steeled himself for his next pronouncement, which would contain a word that would indelibly delineate the point at which his future path toward villainy would surely begin. He took a deep breath, then proclaimed "As Shaverak, Lord of Revenge, is my witness, those addle-pated fools will RUE the day they incurred the wrath of Shim Po!"
"No, Master! Not RUE!" Rogi pleaded, outwardly aghast but inwardly thinking: Give it a rest, you old blowhard.
"Yes, I said RUE, and I meant RUE! Now come, Rogi. We have preparations to make."
The preparations consisted mainly of moving heavy furniture (Rogi's job) and explaining the brilliance of the Master Plan (Shim Po's). Once a sufficiently large open space had been cleared, Shim Po directed his assistant to use a mixture of ground dragon eggshells (for strength), Hibernia root (for indelibility and toughness), yellow paint (for high visibility) and cinnamon (to hide the smell of the Hibernia root) to draw a perfect circle eight spans in diameter on the floor. In that circle, Rogi then inscribed an eleven-pointed star to establish the Sphere of Protection. In the center of the star, Shim Po himself added the symbol for Chaos, which he would use to anchor the Seed which would serve as a focus for his Vortex spell. The Chaos Seed, of course, was the key to the whole operation. Without it, he would produce nothing more dangerous than the typical Wizardpark ride. With the Seed (which had come into his possession through a series of highly questionable business dealings), however, he could harness primal forces that were in some ways as powerful as the gods themselves. The fact that in so doing he would be breaking the law, violating several dozen local safety ordinances, and tampering with the very fabric of reality gave him barely a moment’s pause. He stood back, surveyed his work, then – as an afterthought – added two arrows, so he would remember which tunnel went to which location.
Shim Po struggled to his feet, shrugging off Rogi's attempts to aid him. Fists on hips, he inspected the groundwork they had laid with a critical eye. Satisfied with the results, he took another long pull at the brandy bottle. Spell preparation, he reasoned, was thirsty work.
Rogi busied himself lighting eleven blackcurrant tapers around the room, corresponding to the eleven points of the star in the circle, while Shim Po wrestled with one last dilemma before beginning the series of incantations that would set his grand scheme in motion: which direction would the vortex point? After due consideration, during which time he polished off the rest of the brandy, he concluded that the passage should be one-way from Hell to the Guild.
"After all," he explained to Rogi, "It is one thing to unleash a few infernal creatures on a gaggle of doddering old Mystics. That is admittedly the act of a villain, but only an arch-villain would be so heartless as to inflict that assemblage of nincompoops on a realm of unsuspecting devils."
"Dark Angels," Rogi corrected.
"Dark Angels, not devils, Master. The Nine Cities of Hell are populated by Dark Angels, since they are cognate to the Heavenly Reaches where Light Angels dwell. Devils are actually from Abadoon, which is counterpoised to both Heaven and Hell, and is a wholly separate…." Rogi finally took note of the frosty gaze which his master had fixed on him, and trailed off. After an uncomfortable pause, he rushed to continue. "Um, I probably have that wrong, Master. Please forgive my impertinence; I spoke without thinking."
"It is a good thing I need you to hold the book, you know. Otherwise there would be nothing left of you but your molars," Shim Po glowered.
"Now, if you are done interrupting me, may we begin?"
"Of course, Master!" Rogi sniveled. "At your command!"
"Fetch my Chaos Seed!" the Mystic commanded, pointing in the general direction of a stuffed owl perched atop the nearest bookcase.
Rogi looked in that direction. "Up there, Master?" he inquired.
"Of course not, you buffoon!" Shim Po thundered. "From the Vault!"
"The Vault is in the basement, Master. Why are you pointing upwards?"
"Should have known," Rogi muttered, as he scurried away. Minutes later he returned, holding a rather shabby wooden casket at arms' length and looking afraid it would explode at any second. "Here, Master."
"Do not give it to me!" Shim Po snapped. "Put it in the center of the Circle. And whatever you do, don't drop it."
Rogi gulped, gently lowered the box to the rune marked floor, setting it directly over the symbol of Chaos, then slunk back away from it as if afraid any sudden move might awaken the slumbering seed and cause it to pounce upon him.
"Very good. Now what?" Shim Po was feeling a trifle dizzy and was having some trouble concentrating. Rogi gaped at him, fighting the urge to turn and flee. "Wait – I remember! First, the Sphere of Protection." This was relatively simple, and soon a twelve-span sphere of force, impenetrable to all physical and all but the most potent magical forces, sprang into existence, shimmering and pulsing in the flickering candlelight. With a casual (and unnecessary) wave of the hand, he disintegrated the wooden container within, leaving what looked for all the world like an extremely desiccated prune in its place. That done he focused his will into the Chaos Rune, and the Seed rose into the air, rotating slowly. Deprived of the residue which it needed to blossom, the Seed would lie dormant until the leakage from Hell augmented the minuscule amount within the sphere.
"Which of the myriad Hells are you going to tap, Master?" Rogi inquired.
The question caught Shim Po off guard. Since the Dimensional Tunnel spell was written in Ganta, the incantation had to be spoken in that language, and he could not, for the life of him, recall the Ganta name of any one of the Hells.
"One is just as good – or bad – as another, I suppose," he declared. "I shall just pick the nearest one."
"Very good, Master," said Rogi, but he sounded far less than convinced. Shim Po looked decidedly unsteady on his feet and his speech was definitely slurred.
"Rogi, hold the book where I can see it. No, closer. Wait, farther away… no, no, closer. Yes, that is it. All right, let us do this!" He waggled his fingers, cracked his neck, and took a deep breath. Gathering his titanic will and much of the nearby mana supply, he then began reading the incantation from the page in halting and appallingly accented Ganta.
What he meant to say was "From here to there, from there to here, the road is long, the way is clear. I sent it hence, from far to near, from here to there, from there to here."
Unfortunately, what he actually said was, "fom her toe thar fom thar toe her, ta rood es lung, ta wee es cler. I sind et hins fom far toe ner fom her toe thar fom thar toe CHOOOO!"
A few moments earlier, one of the room's other occupants, attracted by the flickering lights, had decided to investigate what these strange four-limbed creatures were doing. The curious spider'd descended from its nest, loosing a gossamer strand of silk from its spinnerets. Its downward progress had gone completely unnoticed by Shim Po, even when it landed on his mustache and decided to check out the inside of the Mystic's nose.
The resulting sneeze had three effects. First, it sent the spider flying across the room where it landed safely on the remains of a cookie. Next, it made Shim Po's head ring like a carillon bell. The last, and most significant, would not become apparent until some time elapsed.
Magic is a fairly exacting discipline, requiring keen mental focus and precise use of symbolic guides, in this spell's case, the diagram and the incantation. Rogi, who'd had quite a lot of practice, had made no mistakes in the former, but Shim Po's sneeze had been a significant deviation from the later. Meaning and intent can make up for quite a lot when it comes to pronunciation, of course, but since "CHOOOO!" does not sound even remotely like "Here," no matter what heathen dialect one might speak, at that point the incantation was irrevocably tainted. If Thorgrim Karschild himself had been casting the spell, as soon as he sneezed he would have thrown himself out the nearest non-existent window. Shim Po, however, chose to muddle onward.
He pointed at the left-hand arrow, and said "Fom-her – ta closest Hill!" then to the right and said, "Toe-Thar – Ta gilda mystic!"
Amazingly, two tunnels through the very fabric of the universe appeared where he had indicated. In a matter of seconds, the Chaos Seed, fed by the ambient chaos floating in from the left, had created a swirling, raging storm spinning the air into a turbulent stream from left to right. Everything had, as far as Shim Po could see, gone exactly to plan. Yet aside from some twigs and clumps of sod, nothing came through the tunnel. After three minutes, not a single devil (or dark angel) had been sucked through and sent flying towards the guildhall where, confused and enraged, it would have by all rights turned the very first creature it saw into Wizard Tartare.
"I don't understand," Shim Po whined. "Why didn't all Hell break loose?"