Duncan Kyle is an ordinary twenty-something whose simple life of sports, job, and girlfriend comes to a crashing halt late one night when he falls through the floor of his apartment. He finds himself in Malkuth, a desolate, desiccated world where the only living beings are a sardonic Sphinx and her invisible caretakers, who in this frigid place are drawn to anything warm. He is told by the Sphinx that he will have to make his way through ten worlds before he can return to life as he knows it—the ten emanations of the Sephirot.
On his journey, Duncan encounters a wild huntress torn between making love to him or killing him; an elderly woman who tries to convince him that he has been ill and dreamed the whole thing; a scarlet-robed judge who sentences him to be whipped and executed for performing evil magic; a kind potter and his daughter who take him in and heal his injuries; and a timid, soft-spoken Methodist minister who helps him survive in a place where all hell breaks loose—literally—once the sun goes down.
In every world he visits, though, one thing stays the same. Duncan has to rely on his wits alone to stay alive and find his way to the next portal, and he has to summon the strength of will to keep going—because if he falls for the snare each world represents, he'll never find his way home.
The room was stone-walled, as all of them had been, but this one had a ceiling so high as to be out of sight. It had no windows. In the center of it, and taking up most of the room, sat a huge statue of a Sphinx, its face angled away from him. The thing was enormous. The top of its head was barely visible in the gloom. Its hind legs, smooth-carved and rippling with muscle, towered over him. The massive paws alone, resting on the ground directly in front of him, reached nearly to his waist.
Walking silently, he made his way around to the front of the Sphinx. Directly between its forepaws was a huge bronze brazier, in which a fire burned steadily. But more importantly, beneath the brazier was a stone basin with a pool of dark, still water, reflecting the light from a surface like a mirror.
His thirst surged tenfold. He said, in a thick croak, "Water. Thank god."READ MORE
Immediately there was the same grating noise he'd heard before. And the Sphinx's head moved, angling downward. Rock dust came down in a trickling stream from the sides of the neck. His thirst forgotten for the moment, he looked up into the statue's immense face.
And then the Sphinx's eyes opened.
The eyes were glossy, liquid, alive. The irises were green flecked with gold, the pupils an inky black, the whites as smooth and unblemished as polished alabaster. It regarded him with a gaze that was curious, intelligent. Duncan froze, body and mind, in such a balls-clenching panic that he was unable to utter a sound.
And then it spoke.
"You're naked," the Sphinx commented.
"I know," he was able to gasp out, after a moment.
"I thought you might." The Sphinx's tone was conversational, its voice deep, resonant, like a cello. "It just seemed odd."
He looked down at himself again, and then back up at the Sphinx's face. "I... I wasn't wearing any clothes when I fell through the floor of my apartment, and ended up here." He swallowed painfully. "Can I drink from the pool?"
The Sphinx's mouth curled upward a little in an ironic smile. There was the same creaking grate of stone on stone, and another thin tendril of dust spiraled downward. "What does that mean, can you drink? The water is right there. Have a drink if you wish to."
"You won't grab me, or hurt me, will you?" His cheeks burned at how cowardly it sounded.
"Of course not. Why would I do that?"
He moved forward, and knelt down, reaching out to cup his hands into the water. He saw his own reflection. His hair was disheveled, his face pale and grime-streaked, an ugly scrape across his shoulder. Above him, he saw the reflection of the Sphinx looking down at him. Its smile widened, and he caught a flash of sharp white teeth.
"Of course," the Sphinx said, "the first thing you should learn here is that everything you see and hear is a lie."COLLAPSE