Ganpoche sat quietly in the middle of the Gallery. Above him, Miller’s vast “Rainbow Dragon” arched, its scales shifting with infinite subtlety through every colour imaginable. At the far end of the Gallery, there was Dao Chen’s “Plum Blossom Waterfall”, tumbling in slow and infinite silence. Here, Woomaralla’s “Birthing Man” stood on a plinth, his hands spread open, birds rising from his palms. There, Scarlatti’s “Darkness Impenetrable” roiled and threatened, low growls emerging from it, interspersed with the crunch of jaw on bone.

The Gallery. The home of the greatest creations of the Illusionists’ Covenant. alDjabil’s “Siren” was there, a creation so beautiful that it was locked away, to be glimpsed only by those on the threshold of their own death. Morchione’s “Twelve New Signs of the Zodiac”, a cavalcade of fanciful beasts, drawn by starlight and music. The Feast of Garnau Singh, the mere sight of which made a man feel sated by the best meal of his life.

Ganpoche knew it had been a mistake to come here. He had thought to find inspiration. He had thought to test himself against the masters. For eighteen years, his students had been urging him. “You are the greatest living master,” they had told him. “Your talents are without equal.”

That much was true. His facility with illusion was legend. He had a gift, a gift that other illusionists envied and yearned for. Bintzu had even tried to kill him, in a fit of jealousy; the first time for nearly two hundred years that one of the Covenant had attacked another. He had, of course, failed; had been imprisoned in the Gouffre, to repent for an age. It had taken Ganpoche the merest blink of an eye to defeat his former pupil, his most gifted student.

His skill was beyond question, his power unarguably peerless.

The greatest illusionist of his age. The greatest illusionist, some said, of any age. A man gifted beyond measure. A man whose talent was beyond the imagining of his colleagues, his students.

Beyond imagining.

He looked around. The Colossus of Time’s features crumbled into age, then smoothed back into youth once more. Nobody even remembered who had made it; it was entirely possible it had yet to be crafted, and was making its way backwards from its creation, at some point in the future. Balcho’s “Tone” sounded, a single note of such depth that one fancied, for a moment, one could hear the voices of everyone one had ever known, and everyone one would ever love.

The Gallery. The repository for the greatest works of a hundred illusionists, a thousand. Here he sat, surrounded by wonder and beauty and imagination that knew no bounds.

And he couldn’t think of anything that had not already been done.

Not a single thing, that was not trite and shallow and facile besides the works of these great masters.

With a sigh, he stood up, and walked briskly towards the exit.

Maybe next year, he thought. Maybe next year.

Brian Dolton‘s fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Flashing Swords, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. He has been writing for many years, and will continue until they pry the keyboard from his cold, dead hands. PS If any of you know who the “they” in questionare, he’d love to hear from you, so he can make suitable preparations.

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  • Well that one struck a chord!

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    For “They” try the umbrella Wachovia ad on internet.

  • Bob

    Loved the descriptions of the works in the gallery – each one is just begging for its own story.

    In answer to your question: “They” are “The Good.” A clue is hidden in Billy Joel’s song “Only the Good Die Young”, to whit: “Only the Good die young / that’s what THEY say / only the Good die young.” Clearly, “They” are the Good, bemoaning the injustice of their fate, and Joel’s lyrics clearly connect them with the keyboard-pryers of your query. Admittedly, there is some controversy over this, as some exegetes claim the “They” of Joel’s song are actually a shadowy cabal issuing a dire threat to the Good (to fill their time not spent prying the keyboards from the dead fingers of writers.)

    Perhaps some mysteries were not meant to be solved. Nonetheless, loved the inventiveness of your story; cheers!

  • Nice. 🙂

  • Only the young die good.

  • A. Terrance

    It’s sort of confusing who or what the “Convenant” is. That little part about Bitzu sort of distracted from the overall effect of the piece.

    Good idea though.

  • Gerard Demayne

    I liked the writing here but I’m having difficulty reconciling the idea that he was the greatest illusionist of his age, possibly any age, but wasn’t able to come up with a great work. By whose definition, therefore, was he the greatest?

    Perhaps you could have made more of “The Colossus of Time” not having been created yet and alluded to it being his possible future creation. But perhaps THAT would be trite.

  • I liked how you evoked that feeling of creative slump. I think so many artists feel like they’ll never be able to measure up to what came before.