Roger Zelazny



I am not certain.

It sometimes seems as if I have always been here, yet I know that there must have been a time before my advent.

And sometimes it seems as if I have only just lately arrived. From where I might have come, I have no idea. Recently, I have found this vaguely troubling, but only recently.

For a long while, I drifted through these halls, across the battlements, up and down the towers, expanding or contracting as I chose, to fill a room--or a dozen--or to snake my way through the homes of mice, to trace the sparkling cables of the spider's web. Nothing moves in this place but that I am aware of it.

Yet I was not fully aware of myself until recently, and the acts I have just recited have the dust of dreams strewn over them, myself the partial self of the dreamer. Yet--

Yet I do not sleep. I do not dream. However, I seem now to know of many things which I have never experienced.

Perhaps it is that I am a slow learner, or perhaps something has recently stimulated my awareness to the point where all the echoes of thoughts have brought about something new within me--a sense of self which I did not formerly possess, a knowledge of separateness, of my apartness from those things which are not-me.

If this is the case, I would like to believe that it has to do with my reason for being. I have also recently begun feeling that I should have a reason for being, that it is important that I have a reason for being. I have no idea, however, as to what this could be.

It has been said--again, recently--that this place is haunted. But a ghost, as I understand it, is some non- physical survival of someone or something which once existed in a more solid form. I have never encountered such an entity in my travels through this place, though lately it has occurred to me that the reference could be to me in my more tangible moments. Still, I do not believe that I am a ghost, for I have no recollection of the requisite previous state. Of course, it is difficult to be certain in a matter such as this, for I lack knowledge concerning whatever laws might govern such situations.

And this is another area of existence of which I have but recently become aware: laws--restrictions, compulsions, areas of freedom... They seem to be everywhere, from the dance of the tiniest particles to the turning of the world, which may be the reason I had paid them such small heed before. That which is ubiquitous is almost unnoticed. It is so easy to flow in accordance with the usual without reflecting upon it. It may well be that it was the occurrence of the unusual which served to rouse this faculty within me, and along with it the realization of my own existence.

Then, too, in accordance with the laws with which I have become aware, I have observed a phenomenon which I refer to as the persistance of pattern. The two men who sit talking within the room where I hover like a slowly turning, totally transparent cloud an arm's distance out from the highest bookshelf nearest the window--these two men are both patterned upon similar lines of symmetry, though I become aware of many differences within these limits, and the wave disturbances which they cause within the air when communicating with one another are also patterned things possessing, or possessed by, rules of their own. And if I attend very closely, I can even become aware of their thoughts behind, and sometimes even before, these disturbances. These, too, seem to be patterned, but at a much higher level of complexity.

It would seem to follow that if I were a ghost something of my previous pattern might have persisted. But I am without particular form, capable of great expansions and contractions, able to permeate anything I have so for encountered. And there is no special resting state to which I feel constrained to return.

Along with my nascent sense of identity and my ignorance as to what it is that I am, I do feel something else: a certainty that I am incomplete. There is a thing lacking within me, which, if I were to discover it, might well provide me with that reason for being which I so desire. There are times when I feel as if I had been, in a way, sleeping for a long while and but recently been awakened by the commotions in this place--awakened to find myself robbed of some essential instruction. (I have only lately learned the concept 'robbed' because one of the men I now regard is a thief.)

If I am to acquire a completeness, it would seem that I must pursue it myself, I suppose that, for now, I ought to make this pursuit my reason for being. Yes. Self-knowledge, the quest after identity... These would seem a good starting place. I wonder whether anyone else has ever had such a problem? I will pay close attention to what the men are saying.

I do not like being uncertain.

Pol Detson had arranged the seven figurines into a row on the desk before him, A young man, despite the white streak through his hair, he leaned forward and extended a hand in their direction. For a time he moved it slowly, passing his fingertips about the entire group, then in and out, encircling each gem-studded individual. Finally, he sighed and withdrew. He crossed the room to where the small, black-garbed man sat, left leg crooked over the arm of his chair, a wineglass in either hand, the contents of both aswirl. He accepted one from him and raised it to his lips.

'Well?' the smaller man, Mouseglove by name, the thief, asked him when he lowered it.

Pol shook his head, moved a chair so that his field of vision took in both Mouseglove and the statuettes, seated himself.

'Peculiar,' he said at last. 'Almost everything tosses off a thread, something to give you a hold over it, even if you have to fight for it, even if it only does it occasionally.'

'Perhaps this is not the proper occasion.'

Pol leaned forward, set his glass upon the desk. He flexed his fingers before him and placed their tips together. He began rubbing them against one another with small, circular movements. After perhaps half a minute, he drew them apart and reached toward the desk.

He chose the nearest figure--thin, female, crowned with a red stone, hands clasped beneath the breasts--and began making a wrapping motion about it, though Mouseglove could detect no substance to be engaged in the process. Finally, his fingers moved as if he were tying a series of knots in a nonexistent string. Then he moved away, seating himself again, drawing his hands slowly after him as if playing out a line with some tension on it.

He sat unmoving for a long while. Then the figure on the desk jerked slightly and he lowered his hands.

'No good,' he said, rubbing his eyes and reaching to recover his wineglass. 'I can't seem to get a handle on it. They are not like anything else I know about.'

'They're special, all right,' Mouseglove observed, 'considering the dance they put me through. And from the glimpses they gave you at Anvil Mountain, I have the feeling they could talk to you right now--if they wanted to.'

'Yes. They were helpful enough--in a way--at the time. I wonder why they won't communicate now?'

'Perhaps they have nothing to say.'

I found myself puzzled by the manner in which these men spoke of those seven small statues on the desk, as if they were alive. I drew nearer and examined them. I had noted lines of force going from the man Pol's fingertips to them, shortly after he had spoken of 'threads' and performed his manipulations. I had also detected a throbbing of power in the vicinity of his right forearm, where he bore the strangely troubling mark of the dragon--a thing about which I feel I should know more than I do--but I had seen no threads. Nor had I noted any sort of reaction from the figures, save for the small jerking movement of the one as the shell of force was repelled.

I settled down about them, contracting, feeling the textures of the various materials of which they had been formed. Cold, lifeless. It was only the words of the men which laid any mystery upon them.

Continuing this commerce of surfaces, I grew even smaller, concentrating my attention now upon that figure which Pol had momentarily bound. My action then was as prompt as my decision: I began to pour myself into it,

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