The young Persian shah walked through his harem, ignoring the blatant sexual invitations from his many concubines. One woman was thrust aside with disdain as she showed herself immodestly to him. "Out of my way, harlot!" he said, making a noise of disgust. The helpless woman, hung limply against the wall, arms wrapped around her body, hand clutched at her breast and dismay evident in her soft eyes. As a powerless doe left behind by the rest of her herd.
The arrogant Persian noble walked purposefully, a business-like expression on his face, his forehead wrinkled in apparent conversation. His numerous wives stood aside for him as he made his way through the corridors of the complex.
His soft, tasselled shoes made no noise on the hard stone floor. As he walked onwards, his stride shortened and he was silent as a feather. He moved out of the harem, into a different area. An area with more dirt and cobwebs. His expression softened; it had lost its imperious arrogance. The passages he had walked into were dusty and dark, illuminated softly by tiny candles. Their pearly, calm, glowing incandescence irritated him for some reason. He blew them out angrily. The frustrated Shah gritted his teeth at his stupidity. Left in the dark. He had walked too far in to find his way out without any light source.
Vexed at his own foolishness, he stared down into the darkness, and then after a few choice oaths, looked up to a greenish glow and a light humming noise. Grateful for the eerie signal, he cared not for where it came from, or even if it were dangerous to follow. Instead, he followed appreciatively, compelled by the blushing emerald walls that reflected the ghostly shine leading his way. With no consideration for his well-being, the young man stumbled onwards, getting closer to the source of the light. A cold wind blew at him from the front, blowing his long hair backwards on all sides, like a green sun. Then he saw the light.
Wonder turned to fear as he stood, paralysed, horrified, the young man was dwarfed by the hugeness of the room beyond the point at which he stood. A sentient force read his mind, penetrating his most inner senses, then tantalisingly pulling away its calm touch, leaving him yearning, trying to grasp for more in vain. His mouth open in a silent gasp, the green light reflected in his dark eyes as he gazed at the exotic architecture of the chamber. Giant masks of the face of men were held aloft against the walls of the massive room. The faces were extraordinarily lifelike. These masks resembled faces belonging to gods of yore, rather than those of common men. Beautiful and yet alien, the masks seemed conscious of the Shah's presence, their empty, smooth eyes following him and yet pointing nowhere. Stone gargoyles, wings spread as if they were to push off with their powerful legs and take flight. Gazing, unbelieving, trying to comprehend his inconceivable surroundings, the young man walked up to a glowing orb. It was bright green, so bright he could not bear to look at it. Hand stretched once, then pulled away in dismay. He fell down in despair. He felt alone, lonely for the company of his comforting concubines. His head was bowed, and his eyes were lost in the stone floor.
After a while, he rose up to find a way out of the chamber. Worry came before curiosity, so he decided that now would be a good time to leave rather than later. However, as he got up, the shining, scintillating globe caught his eye. Determined to take it with him, he unfalteringly reached for it and took it from the marble altar that it rested on.
As he transferred the ownership of the orb, the bright green dimmed to a pulsating emerald, then nothing at all. Not a second later, the glow renewed with a blinding flash, brighter than before. Satisfied with the possession of the orb, the young Shah strode towards the exit. When he made it to the wooden door, he noticed two things.
1. It was shut, whereas before it was open.
2. It was locked.
He froze in horror, panic gripping his heart like an icy claw. The ornate designs on the lock told him that in no way could he break or pick the lock. He looked around in alarm, his heart rate rising rapidly. A surge of claustrophobia washed over him, and he gritted his teeth.
His reverie was disturbed by a hollow laugh. It materialised out of nowhere, a massive, demonic sort of creature stepped forward menacingly in front of the cowering young man. The red flame that surrounded it accentuated its hugeness further, and the aberration reached for him.
The Shah was forced up against the wooden door. Desperate, out of ideas and taxed to the limits of his inner strength, he hurled the incandescent ball of green fire at the fiend. As it struck, the demon fell back, roaring in pain and clutching at its right shoulder. It looked forward furiously, flaming eyes boring into those of the frightened man.
Green fire coalesced with the demon, spiralling emerald flames intertwining with the rest of its body. The Shah drew his sword. Irritated, the demon snatched the sword and shattered it. It roared again, its power dwindling. Even so, it still lashed out with its claw. The nimble Shah fell and rolled away, just barely.
Eventually, the wild beast of fire fell. The fires it bore faded away, and eventually, with no spirit to burn, it consumed itself. The doors of the vast chamber re-opened. Grateful, the Shah couldn't help but smile.
The green orb was gone, but the young man needed no light. Newfound wisdom guided his path.
He emerged triumphant, exultation shining forth from his clear, unperturbed face.
By Philip Lochner