Книги о Ралионе
  Энциклопедия Ралиона

The Guardian
10. Alone in the mist

Nlaminer woke up. The embers in the fireplace were dying. It was warm in the room. He slept with a silver key and ironwood staff in his hands. He scanned his backpack. Nothing missed. Whoever ran the place, he was honest enough.

Time didn't flow here. He felt his inner clocks stopped. This gave an illusion of stability and being protected from everything. Well, if he stayed here, probably it would be the case.

He gathered everything he had and looked outside. The corridor was the same - voices, soft music, footsteps... Nlaminer went out and tried to remember the door that led in his apartments. If only it makes any sense, he thought. The mind was tired of endless tricks with space and time, it would be so quiet to live in a place where walls do not move and all paths always lead to the same destination. He sighed. A passage led down, towards depths of the Theater. Figures walked in the distance. The way seemed to be no worse than any other and Nlaminer moved on, looking around. Pictures were attached to the walls - landscapes, abstract paintings, but not a portrait among them.

If only I knew where Uaron dwells, he thought. Too strange creature, he must be. But everything in this twilight realm was strange, sometimes eerie. I need to find Uaron, but where and when I manage to do that ?

Still thinking, he made a turn to the right and stood amazed.

It was a great restaurant, all filled with people. Different races sat here. None paid too much attention to the newcomer. He walked by the richly decorated tables; a low hum of conversation filled the brilliant hall, nearly two hundred feet in all dimensions.

A barman was an elegant Human, with white hair and smiling eyes. He silently offered him a cup of the herbal tea. Judging by smell, it was the same mixture he drank there at the Palace. The understanding suddenly came over him. Nlaminer sat by a counter and thanked the barman. The latter made another cup for himself and sat, intently looking into Nlaminer's eyes.

"Uaron ?" Nlaminer asked, after he sipped a bit off the cup. The taste was wonderful. It brought him the memory of the Eternal forest and its fragrance. Nlaminer shook away the images and noticed the barman nodded.

"Welcome to the Theater," he pronounced the last word with a capital letter. "It seemed you need a good rest."

A music, unknown and weird for Nlaminer, started to play. He widened his eyes; the inner rhythm was charming. "Where are we?" he asked, looking around. The place was irreal, fragile, unnatural.

"This is the Theater, that's all." Uaron answered him, playing with empty cup. "This is my place. I saw you in the Palace and decided you could need my assistance."

"The Twilight Palace ?"

"How charming ! Is it the name you gave it ? Wonderful." Uaron smiled and made himself another drink.

"Do you know something of me ?" Nlaminer asked.

Something very unusual was about this Human... or what he were else.

Something mysterious and powerful. Not the magic power; not even godlike powers. But powerful still.

"Nothing you wouldn't give me. I know only you are in trouble. I have very few visitors, you see. These," he made a gesture and the hall became empty; the music was playing still, "These are illusions, images of my mind. I have strong nostalgy for my home." His face darkened for a while. "So I decided to remain here and welcome whatever stranger passes through this place."

"What's the Theater ?"

"That's all I want. You see, great emperors possess much power and rule large countries. But they live for a short time. I would like to live longer... So I placed the limits to my empire and fled from whatever world I could live in."

"A Tunnel," Nlaminer nodded. "I see it now. This is a Tunnel. So you are a god ?"

Uaron shrugged. "In a way. I rule this place; it obeys the rules I'd once introduced. Nothing more. But I will live as long as I desire, for Tunnels are outside of any time flow."

Nlaminer was amazed. "I thought all Tunnels were under gods' control."

Uaron laughed. "There are always things nobody could imagine. I thought the same until I visited the Twilight land. There are no gods here, at least I evade them. We do not interfere into one another's business."

"No gods at all ?"

"No, no gods. They never visit the Twilight land. No one knows how it was created. And any mortal can find here a refuge from anything, if he succeeds to come here."

"It's rain outside," Uaron added unexpectedly. "Do you like rain?"

Nlaminer shrugged. "I do not mind it, anyway."

Uaron flapped his hand and the splendid hall vanished. They stood on the vast domelike roof of the Theater. A warm rain was falling.

Uaron made another gesture and two chairs, under a gray tent, appeared out of nothing.

"You can help me ?" Nlaminer asked. "I seem to..."

"No !" Uaron interrupted him. "Do not tell me anything. This is not necessary. You want to find someone, right ?"

Nlaminer nodded.

"And you are ready to do anything to save her ?"

Nlaminer stood up. "How do you know ? You were..."

"Easy, my friend, easy." Uaron laughed again. "I saw you both from the window. No need to get annoyed. Believe me, if I wanted to play with you, you could wander the Theater forever. I had such visitors; some of them wished to discover my treasury. Stupid ones !"

he laughed again, more shortly than before. "I have no treasure but the Theater, you know. Gold and everything else has no value here."

He stopped laughing and looked at Nlaminer earnestly, offering him to sit again.

"You think I am crazy ? No. But... from the other hand, craziness is like spice. It brings stronger sensations. So, judge me any way you want, but I can help you. The price is high, though. Very high. Are you still willing to continue your journey ?"

Nlaminer thought for a while. Then he looked into dark eyes of his host and nodded. "Yes, I think so."

"I am glad. You will think I am mad and the price is too cruel.

Maybe it is. Let us come to my library."

They stood and entered a door that appeared in front of them.

Uaron led their way. "When you live in a place like that for several hundred thousand years, you will learn its rules perfectly."

"If there is no time here, how you could measure time ?"

"You are clever. Well, I brought my watch with me." He showed him fine watch, fastened on his wrist. Nlaminer heard of such things, but never had one or even saw. They cost awfully much.

"This is the only thing that shows me the time," Uaron added.

"Well, we are here." He opened wide the great doors and they entered a vast room, going far into distance. Bookshelves were placed in rows. Nlaminer stood fascinated. He never saw so many books at the same time. They were going for several minutes, and there was no end to the room. If it could be real...

"It is real," Uaron replied. "Here everything's real... except for all that isn't." He smiled. "Well, this collection is quite real.

The only way to keep one's mind working. And here's the table."

He led Nlaminer to a massive hazelnut table. A thick heap of paper lied on it, inkwells and pens stood in rows.

"There is a door in the far end of the library," Uaron waved his hand. "Here comes the price for your freedom. You will sit here and write everything that occurred in your life. Every day you remember, every adventure that befell you, every hue of your life."

Nlaminer had nothing to say.

"You may believe me or not," Uaron added in low voice. "But that door will let you out only when you finish writing all that happened until you stepped into the Theater. That's a rule. I cannot change it. Nobody can."

"She will perish while I write this chronicle," Nlaminer said bitterly. Despair fell upon him, a dark and endless mist.

"No." Uaron shook his head firmly. "There is no time here.

Decide for yourself. You cannot trick the Theater, but you can play its rules. Does her life cost the price I've named ?"

Nlaminer replied at once. "Yes."

"Then pay it. Until then, be my guest. I am a good host, you'll see that yourself. Pay the price, Nlaminer. You will find no other way out."

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