"They are Agents of the Master," my Guide said as we watched a pair of twin beings enter Halcyon Hall by its main aperture.
"And who is the Master?" I asked.
My Guide's lips puckered, as they always did when he was profoundly and existentially offended.
"Don't you know?"
I felt deeply confused. Did I know? Déjà vu overwhelmed me. My Guide's lips continued to pucker themselves back and forth, precisely mirroring my vacillating state of consciousness.
It was at this point, in a linear sense, that I first suspected my Guide was a Time Criminal of at least the nonce octaval, and began keeping a dossier on the subject.
I would later learn that the two we observed entering Halcyon Hall were none other than the dirty, dirty Jumley Brothers, Jom and Jim Jumley.
Each of them had twice as much gumption as the last, and the last had eight times the moxie of the former.
They were wanted for Crime Robbery, Train Impersonation, Rampant Ventriloquism, Void Seerery, and that's just getting started; a humble shorthand list of their crimes would fill a filing cabinet of indeterminate dimensions.
Once, allegedly, each of them managed to convince the other that the other one was the other one, at which point things really got busy.
At present, they appeared a whirling dervish, locked as they were in their perennial typhoon struggle for supremacy.
Incidentally, they were also nudists, but this hardly bears mentioning, and so I shall not mention it.
"There is no difference at all between solid, liquid, gas, plasma, etc., except in how difficult it is to clean up the mess."
"Please, do you know a way into Alkazar?" I asked.
"There is no Alkazar, just as there is no Master."
So went my conversation with one of the wisdom peddlers on the outskirts. These fellows claimed to dispense the unadulterated Wisdom of the Master, from the horse's mouth, so to speak.
"I can see Alkazar now, cleaving to infinity both upwards and down," I said.
"You see your Self only. But you do not recognize it as such," said the Hoggoblin.
Eventually I would refrain from speaking with their ilk, or even making eye contact, which they invariably interpreted as an ardent plea for more wisdom.
Meanwhile, my Guide was nowhere to be found. He had vanished with a rustle of leaves into thin air some time before, his garbled excuses drowned out by dark flux as space/time sundered itself and wrangled him off to some far flung plane.
Guides are something of an anomaly; lacking any free will whatsoever, they also lack even the illusory free will enjoyed by many, and as such may be whisked off at any time by the Master's unfathomable design.
This little teleportation jinx also managed to snag all of my clothes, and that's how I wound up nude in the vicinity of Alkazar, sans Guide.
The Master proved elusive. No sooner would I enter one or another of Alkazar's timeless halls, then I would be overwhelmed by sweet whimsy; the dregs of the Master's charisma as it receded like an ecstatic tide. His heel could be seen ever so briefly as it winked out of sight beyond the doorway at the far end. A whiff of cinnamon sometimes swirled in his wake.
Often there were strange beings in the halls. These always had rapturous expressions on their faces, big black pupils of love, adoring something I could not see.
Or else they were consumed by infinite mirth, and could tell me nothing.
"A garment must at least cover the urethral opening to be considered 'pants'. You, sir, stand in violation of municipal ordinance. Prepare to be boarded!"
Constables. I told 'em years ago I was innocent. Seems a few of 'em still hadn't got the memo.
In the end, he let me go after I put a bit of cotton detritus on the tip of my wick, sort of like a cork.
"Do you enjoy the touch of fish?
Well? Do you?
If you answered 'yes', I may have a job for you.
Does it pay well?
Ehh . . . no. But there are certain benefits which come with the territory.
If you're interested, meet me by the old boiler refinery at the stroke of nod. And bring a pickaxe.
I'll be the one with the twelve tongues.
So read a flyer hanging near the junction. Could it be the Master, testing me? I'd been making little headway in penetrating Alkazar's mystery, and so I decided to take the plunge.
All I needed now was a pick.
Would that the first time were the only time I ever beheld the dirty, dirty Jumley Twins.
They entered and departed Alkazar on a whim, as though it were nothing more than a humble peanut, though none who entered Alkazar ever came out again, and none who left ever returned.
Indeed, so rapidly did those twin brothers shunt in and out that they were invisible, save for a shimmering afterimage just outside Halcyon Hall, in which they appear to be coiled in some sort of sensuous knot.
The brothers have assured the authorities that this is merely an optical illusion.
It seems the Jumleys had caught wind of my investigation. They were adept at catching wind, and indeed many of the elements. They flanked me as I strode down Inverted Aisle, and then they got busy, in their usual Jumley Twin fashion.
An otherworldly melody arose from everywhere at once, some sort of Alien Flute Sonata (AFS). At the apex of a towering redwood was Jom - or was it Jim? - dancing a merry jig in time to his piping flute, his gay grin gleaming grotesquely.
He danced like I had never seen before. How is it that a body can become a waveform?
And the music, the music. Let's just say it had a certain charm.
Then there was the other brother, Jim Jumley, or it may have been Jom Jumley, I'm not sure, but there he was, in broad daylight, or was it twilight, triple back flipping and cartwheeling with the reckless abandon, and supernal grace, of one who had long since discarded any identification with the corporeal form.
He encircled me, even as he performed his high-speed gymnastics, and soon he had - municipal laborers cover your ears - cut a track into the cobblestone road with his pattering feet, even exposing a bit of the municipal sewers underneath, but more on these later.
"You, Zebitupia, wish to enter the City of Bells?" the brother asked me as he twirled. He sounded curious, and vaguely amused.
His appendage was apparent.
I didn't know what to say. The City of Bells was surely Alkazar, for even at great distance I could make out its cacophonous din, but who was Zebitupia? Surely not I.
Then they were gone with a wink.
In the descending silence I heard a dull thud behind me. Investigating, I found a jar of my very own stool.
"The portals of Stargate Ascension are many, friend, and varied. T'would be unwise to ignite your booster fuel without the proper coordinates.
"Now, have you brought me the Vermilion Codex?"
Rats. Of course it would be the Codex. I had misplaced the thing down a two-hundred fathom mine shaft not two minutes prior. I swore right then and there never to deal with Ingotswine again.
"I believe I left it in a rickshaw, or suchlike," I lied with all the brazen audacity of a Troubadours Guild Adept. Better he thought the Kodex was presently being splattered with exotic bodily fluids on public transit, than for it to be languishing in the hands of the Ingotswine, or worse.
"Well, fine. See that you have it next time. You'll need it to enter Alkazar. Say, where are all your clothings? As a general rule I prefer not to behold genitalia before noon. Personal reasons. You wouldn't understand."
"They were sucked into a vortex."
"Figures. Here, take this cotton ball. That little bit of twine on your Johnson may technically count as pants, but it won't fool the Sentient Sentinels for long. Tuck this little tuft between your butt cheeks, and it counts as a fine-tailored suit. Strange, I know. But it's all codified in the Compendium of Regulations Pertaining to Alkazar, and Her Environs."
"Thanks Buffalo Bronson."
"You are very much welcome my son."
The Rumber Brothers. Pfft. I tell you, you've never seen six hundred brothers so identical as these boys. Each one of them was twice as identical as the one before him, and each one after was fourfold as identical as the one before him.
How can this be? I tell you, it is the sort of thing one must see to believe.
And apparently I had to give every last one of them a handsome golden doubloon if I was to have a twit's chance of getting into Alkazar.
They had a King, these Rumber boys. One of their own. Only none of them knew who it was.
Who was it?
Was it the one with six whiskers?
Or the one with the hacksaw ridgeline?
Perhaps it was even the one patting his pulsating purple prehensile pistonic probing plunger proboscis?
Well, they were all identical, so who could tell?
The Rumber Brothers sure couldn't. And so when they all mutinied simultaneously before my very eyes on that fateful day, it was every man for himself.
Never in my life have I seen six hundred men so evenly matched; they ground themselves to powder. Nothing was left.
It is said that the Master shed a single tear as he looked down upon this spectacle from some high, high aperture, and that this tear has become all of creation.
Alkazar was mine.
At least, that was what I squealed to myself, frothing at the mouth, as they wheeled me off to my padded cell.
Then I awoke.
I sat before the Immortal Tribunal, charged with "High Conspiracy to Commit Grand Malfeasance Against Alkazar, and Her Subsidiaries, and Furthermore to Besmirch the Good Name of the Master." They had brought in my nephew as a witness, scoundrel, and for evidence he had one of my turds in a jar. The smoking gun, as they say.
Then I awoke.
I was in Alkazar's innermost Sanctum. I was complete. I knew all and everything. I knew nothing. I was formless, before time and space.
I was Unborn.
Then I fell back asleep.
I lay face down in the gutters adjoining Alkazar. Immense redwoods peered down at me lovingly. I could faintly hear the sweet tinkling of Alkazar's krystal bells.
The Master arrived, his gold and orange robes fluttering on a forest zephyr. Crouching beside me, he whispered something that I cannot recall.
"PfffphghhhrrFFFGHGHIRRIIR!" I garbled to him past the wad of sod lodged in my gob, but he was already gone.
Soon after, a Light appeared in the center of my head. It never wavered, and grew more luminous with time. Kaleidoscopic geometries mutated before my inner eye.
"Who am I?" no one asked nothing.
There was only silence.
Alkazar's Minister of Tourism strode up and dumped a wheelbarrow full of pamphlets on my prone form as I lay in that gutter forever.
"Welcome to Alkazar and Her Environs," he said, porcine jowls flapping moistly.
"There is much to see and do here, most of which can be found in the mines. Proceed there at once. And where is your pickaxe?"
Then he sat on my face.