And so it is that I present to you the tale of a creature that comes to call itself "Kane" and finds a world hidden beneath the snows of the place mankind has labelled, "The Roof of the World."
Leaving The Circle can also be found in my short story collection Adventures By Moonlight.
LEAVING THE CIRCLE
By Stephen Walker
One amongst them was standing. It took him to be their leader.
His hand clutching a staff made of cane, that leader declared from behind a needlessly ornate mask, “Entity, we have called you here from the Realms That Are Dark because we wish you to bestow upon us even greater wealth and power than we already have. The circle that surrounds you constrains you.”
It looked down at the chalk circle that had been drawn on the table in anticipation of its arrival.
The man continued; “You cannot leave that circle without our permission and, therefore, you have no choice but to do as we demand.”
“And what is the the name of he who has summoned me?” it said.
“I am Charles Darville, leader of this cult.”
“And what is the year?”
“It is the year that we of this world know as 1934.”
It said, “Thanks,” stepped out of the circle, hopped down from the table and walked out the door.
That was that nonsense done with. Now to find out what it was really here for.
On the way down the stairs, it saw a painting of a woman. It didn't have a clue who she was but she was the only human being it had seen since it had got here that it had liked the look of. Therefore it decided that from now on it was going to look like her and, by the time it reached the bottom of the stairs, it was now a she.
Judging by the doorman's consternation at the very sight of her, she assumed she was in some sort of gentlemen's club.
Not for long she wasn't because, as she approached it, the front door flung open, momentarily trapping the man between it and the wall, and she stepped out into the world she'd just arrived in.
Slam! The front door shut behind her and she took in her surroundings, a cobbled street with primitive auto-mobiles chuttering up and down it. She knew full well there's no such thing in life as “Chance” and that meant that if she was here it was for a reason.
She didn't yet know what that reason was but she knew how to find out. All she had to do was pick a direction and then head the opposite way.
She hadn't got it quite right. Comparing herself with the people she'd passed on the way had told her that. Her fingers were slightly too long, her eyes too large, her irises too dark and her skin too pale. Still, it was close enough for her to get by. What mattered now was where she'd found herself.
The Arkadian's Retreat was a second-hand bookshop that stood six streets away from the gentlemen's club she'd just left. Her quest to find the opposite way had led her here. She let its door swing to behind her, ignored the bell that tinkled above it, hoped there were no candles around and descended the two wooden steps that led into the shop proper.
Ten feet away, a grey-haired man with spectacles had his back to her, up a ladder. She took him to be the proprietor. She made her way across the room, doing a slow turn to take in her surroundings as she went, and came to a halt, facing the wall opposite the door.
That wall's shelves were cluttered with ancients books of all sorts. The Rise of this Empire, The Fall of that Empire. None of that mattered to her.
But, here, she found the book she was after – big, fat, tall and heavy. It was an Atlas of this world. She pulled it from its shelf, planted it on a nearby table and opened it. She hurriedly flicked through its pages till she found one that interested her, then ran a finger over that page until it stopped where it felt it should.
She took a look. The place over which it had come to a halt had a name.
It was, “The Roof of the World.”
She glanced across at the man up the ladder. He still had his back to her. Not that it would have mattered if he'd seen her. What she was about to do, no one would have believed him anyway.
She slammed the book shut, took a step back...
...and dropped through the floor as though either she or it were suddenly immaterial.
*Fate long ago decreed that you can't drop through a floor without also dropping through a ceiling, but it wasn't the ceiling of a room below the bookshop she found herself dropping through. It had taken a moment to get there but this ceiling was half a world away from where she'd just been. She landed on her haunches, silently, then rose to her feet and took a look around.
So this was The Roof of the World?
She wasn't overly taken with it.
It seemed The Roof of the World was a long, straight corridor made of stone, with strange carvings on its walls. Whoever'd created it had clearly had a fetish for precision. The joints in the stonework had a flawlessness that went far beyond anything mere functionality could ever demand.
She wasn't alone.
Something was coming.
She could sense it.
She took a step back into an alcove, and watched as a blue ball of light, no bigger than her fist, floated by. If it had noticed her, it gave no indication of it.
When it had passed, she stepped back out into the open and watched it disappear around a distant corner.
She headed the opposite way, rounded a corner of her own...
...and walked face-first into the barrel of a gun.
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