Excerpt from Book of Worlds
A place exists in Greek Mythology, one of the seven Greek hells, called Pandemonium. I believe the English word meaning ‘great noise and chaos’ probably originates from this hell. Pandemonium, to the best of my knowledge, is essentially made up of an endless network of cramped tunnels. A powerful wind whistles through the tunnels constantly, and the poor souls who are condemned to wander the tunnels for all eternity are eventually driven mad by the constant howl.
The world I will tell you about in this chapter is not hell, in the sense that people go there when they die (At least I don’t think so – I didn’t meet any dead folk there at any rate), but this place is undoubtedly the closest thing to hell I have ever found in all my travels, and of all hells, Pandemonium is the one that comes to mind when I think of it.
I opened the door in the floor of my attic. By now you will have realised that the house in which I lived was by this time littered with magic doors. To walk around the place would not reveal anything out of the ordinary, unless you were looking. But there was a secret door around every corner, in hallways, in ceilings, in trees, walls and cupboards. I have more keys than can fit in my pocket.
It was a trapdoor, and that was a mistake I will never repeat as long as I live, and I’d advise you to make it one less time than I did. You see, trapdoors are risky things. Imagine, for example, your door happens to open on darkness, as many do, and as this one did. If it were a normal door, you could take a few steps in and poke around, knowing you could always run back through the door if you found something you didn’t like. But a dark trapdoor… If you’re hanging by your fingertips in the dark and can’t feel a thing below you, for all you know, you could start falling and never stop.
Anyway, I was still a relatively young man, and I was drunk on adventure. I’d been through so many tight scrapes, some of which you’re familiar with, dear reader, and I thought there was nothing I couldn’t handle, no danger too great to brave. What greater adventure is there, after all, than leaping blindly into utter darkness, with no way back and no knowledge of what lies ahead? Only death, I think.
So I jumped. And I landed in Pandemonium.
I didn’t fall for long, but I assure you it was long enough. The real problem was that I hit rocks on the way down and when I landed I was in pitch darkness, totally disoriented, with a horrendous wind howling in my ears. It was loud, but not so loud that I didn’t hear the trapdoor shut behind me. The sound of it echoed in my ears from every direction.
For the first several hours, I tried to find the trapdoor. I climbed up what I thought was the vertical tunnel that led to the door, only to find it levelled out into another tunnel entirely. I went back down and tried another vertical tunnel, with the same result. I hardly need to tell you, but it wasn’t long before I was irredeemably lost.
The hours that followed were the darkest I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve had some dark times, believe me. Initially there was only despair, but it was followed by a feeling of terror so intense it almost drove me insane. I don’t know how I managed to hold myself together at all, curled up in those tunnels, grazed and bleeding and hopeless, but I did.
I searched for a way out for a long, long time. I ran on the hope that the tunnels were only a small part of a larger world, and that if I just explored enough I was bound to arrive at an exit to the tunnels, whereupon I could discover the nature of the world I was really in. As time went on, I become more and more convinced that there was no larger world, and that what I saw was all that there was. The tunnels, if not endless, were the entirety of the world I was in.
In the end, of course, I did find my way back to the trapdoor, but it was by sheer luck. I’d been going in circles, and while I thought I’d travelled many miles I had in fact not gone far from my original entry point. Emerging from one tunnel, I bumped my head against the ceiling and heard a hollow sound, and when I looked up I saw the tiniest pinprick of light above me. It was the keyhole to my trapdoor.
When I emerged, I was bleeding, starved, dehydrated (the walls almost leaked salt), and fascinated. Over the years, I made several more ventures into this peculiar hell, mapping the intricate tunnels on a piece of paper, storing my valuables there (a foolproof safe if there ever was one), and cutting doorways.
One would think that only terrible worlds could stem from one such as that, but some of my greatest adventures came from the doors I carved in that rock. In fact, it was through one of these doorways that I discovered the strange Islands of Grale, and the priceless artefact I recovered from there, which sits to this day on my desk…