The Endless Circle

He needed to get his blood pressure checked. The thought was calm to the point of absurdity. Head pounding, he swayed on his feet, dizzy and nauseous. Except for a design in the centre and a few small cabinets in the corners, the room was empty. Cool white streetlamps shed a meagre light though the lone window. Despite the chill air, sweat trickled down his spine and soaked into his shirt.

He was the only person in the room, but he wasn’t alone. A coiling shimmer, the concept of light reflecting off the sheen of oil in stagnant water, slithered around him. Tell me, how long had you imagined to keep me bound? Its hissing speech was accompanied not so much by the stench of rotting garbage, but by the thought of the smell of it. The sibilant whisper, like the smell, was not so much the sound of a voice, but the idea of sound, interpreted by his mind as sound. Spirits were, after all, things of pure thought, Platonic ideal.

“Ah…” He choked on the dryness of his throat, and swallowed, trying to call up some moisture. He tried not to breathe, but the idea of the smell wouldn’t go away. The concept of laughter whispered softly in the concrete chamber. He shivered. Trembled.

ANSWER ME! The demand sounded like a whisper, yet he flinched from the thought of a screech.

“Forever!” He bit back the word even as he spoke it. “As – as long as necessary.” The sound of his own voice in the dimness gave him some courage. “Until you acceded to my demands.” He continued to clarify – or revise – nervously wringing his hands. “Until the pact was made.” By the end, his voice was almost steady, regaining a measure of poise and command.

The shape stopped somewhere out of sight, but he could not make himself turn. The spirit was silent for a time. Your circle was flawed. The thought of its response was bland, casual and so blatantly obvious – given his current situation – that the man wanted to laugh. He did not, and stood up straighter.

He licked his lips nervously before speaking, but his voice was clear. “The initial lure, the first trap, it was flawless. I know it was.”

Yet you haven’t spoken the words. The idea of weight pressed on his shoulder, smooth as snakeskin, slippery as oil. The thought of the smell of rotting garbage grew stronger, the overpowering memory of a dream. He gagged. Could it be that you have doubts?

The concept of the question was condescending, trailing off into faintly mocking laughter, a rattling hiss. The man swallowed, and struggled not to gag again.

The lure had been perfect. It called this spirit, and this spirit alone, drawing it out and to the cage, entrancing it, making it docile and easily contained within the circle. He’d studied for weeks, practiced for days. And it had hardly been the first, or even the strongest, spirit he had called forth. Or so he had thought.

It hadn’t even been his first choice. But the others…the others could not help him – or would not. Powerless or unwilling, all. Except one, and he had become desperate.

This was an old spirit, whose legends spanned the world as his coils, in some myths, were said to. It remembered the time of the Ancients. It remembered when mankind had barely begun to walk upright, when the mortal kin were children in a world beyond their limited imagining. It remembered, where so many others forgot. That knowledge was why he called it forth, under its thousand names. It was the giver of wisdom and the father of lies; it had been called Jörmungandr, Yamata no Orochi, and the serpent of Eden. It was Nidhogg, Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Vritra, Typhon, Leviathan, Apep, and a thousand other names long forgotten. It was the idea knowledge; it was the concept of all that corrupts and destroys. A god of secrets, and of hunger.

His heart skipped, and he swayed, dangerously close to passing out. Oh, how he’d been played! The mistake was glaring, so painfully obvious to him now. Was the mocking laughter he was hearing the spirit’s, or a product of his own mind? He couldn’t tell. He fell to his knees as the impression of a thousand coils brushed past him, curling together before him. As if in mocking, the concept of snake-coils twisted in the air above the uniquely carved circle in the concrete floor, ignoring it entirely. The lure hadn’t done anything but caught its attention. It had come on its own.

What circle could possibly be great enough to contain the Ouroboros itself?

Though he wanted to look away, he found himself entranced by the suggestion of a thousand serpentine heads, all focussed upon him. The oil-shimmer in the air flowed hypnotically, endlessly.

I am Wisdom-That-Corrupts. I am Truth-That-Lies. I am Great-Endless-Serpent-Whose-Coils-Strangle-the-World! The hissing idea of speech rose in fervour, the thought of a thousand voices speaking as one. They chanted. They praised.

He found himself prostrate, palms pressed down, sweating and trembling on the cold, bare floor. “P-please…” He was amazed that his voice did not fail him, but he found that, though he could speak, he could think of nothing to say. He’d be so very, very wrong.

You have called me for a pact. The Great Serpent spoke, its multitude of voices purring, filled with the essence of triumph and contempt. A pact shall be made.