A short story as an All Hollow’s Eve offering.
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Silence of the Night
I was overcome with awe, and fell to my face when I saw the Chronomancer walking slowly toward me along the balcony.
To my right, the thought-amplifying spyglasses looked out from the great embrasure upon the darkness and strange fires of the Night Lands, and I could see the shining eyes of the Great Watching Thing of the Southeast looking at me. The Thing was as mighty as a mountain, and about its forepaws, which had not moved in a million years or more, was encamped an army of Blind Ones, of Ogres, and of shaggy subhumans, of which more than half had stirred from the six thousand year paralysis, and had been stirring since the days of my grandfather’s youth, and the reddish haze of severe space-distortion was all about them.
To my right, above me and below me were the other balconies, the windows and lamps of the Home of Man, and the Tower of the Monstruwacans, the monster-watchers, rose another mile above the topmost embrasures of the highest balconies. No other humans were near me, not for miles: the cities of this level, and the ones below and above, had been deserted for half a million years. The cities were silent except for the whisper of the perfect machinery built by an ancestral people, and were empty of thought-action, except for those paeans known to hinder powers of the outside, soul-vibrations taken from the thought-records of departed sages of greatest spiritual power and wisdom. He and I were alone.
Once, when I was but a youth, I dreamed of the days of light. A hollow vessel of wood, like a long and narrow dish, but great enough to hold many men, was shattered on the sea: the crew was treading water, and with loud voices they called to each other, each man telling the other as he sobbed to remain strong and hopeful, and await the dawn.
In the dream this seemed no wonder, though I later would regret I had not slept long enough to see this marvel of the ancient world.
My father was in my hands, and he was weary and cold, and I gripped him, calling out his name, although the bitter sea wave entered my mouth whenever I spoke.
There were sharks in the waters, drawn by blood, and, one by one by one, the men to my left and right were yanked below the surface. The inconstant moon appeared and disappeared between silver-edged black clouds: and sometimes I would see the silhouette of some mate or well-liked crewman bobbing on the heaving waves. But then the water would rise and fall between us, and I could not see, or the moon would hide. Then, a moment later, there was fitful light again, and whoever I sought was gone. They made no screams as the jaws pulled them under, for they were too weary.
I remember the salt-sea and the deadly cold. I remember trying to pull the wizened body of my father up onto my back, as if I could somehow lift him away from the sea. All I did was to push my own face below the dark waters.
When I woke, the dreaming glass registered a time-tension of over twenty-five million years, farther by three aeons than any accurate records reached, farther than previous paleochronopathy had recovered though thought-echoes. Even the master academicians, dwelling in the egg-shaped crystal thought-chambers of their guild, their minds augmented by surgery and magnified coherent streamers of by Earth-Current, could not penetrate the spirals and angles of time so deeply as I, when merely an untrained boy, unaided, had done.
I knew then that my life was marked: if foretellers had not foreseen someone of my power, after-tellers, those who walk through the memories of their ancestors, would return from the future to seek me.
I was not entirely surprised. In a sense, I had been long awaiting this visitation.
Did I say I was alone, fallen prone before the stranger from another aeon? Not alone. None within this Last Redoubt can be alone. Our enemies are ever with us, unsleeping, tireless, horrid.
The Final Siege of Man has been since eight and a half million years ago, or so run the estimates of Paleochroniclers, who study those books written by earlier versions of the human race.
Uncounted millions of years before that, a great lamp stood in the upper darkness, called Sun. So long ago that only the time-dreams of the strongest mystics can confirm it, this lamp was quenched to an ember, removing all the light from the outer lands. Then came the hosts of Dark, seen and unseen. Between upper and nether and surrounding darkness, the terrors are encamped against us, patient beyond the limits of eternity.
The Great Redoubt stands seven miles and more, a mighty pyramid hulled in imperishable metal lit with a million lamps, above the haunted cold waste of the Night Land; and from our balconies, by the flares from fire-pits or by the smolder of volcano-flows, we see the beings move, those that can be seen to move, or loom in the darkness, large as living hills, motionless and watching, those that cannot. Beings from the far side of the life spectrum move also, but at so glacial a rate, that tens of thousands of years span the slowness of their approach against the walls of this last fortress of mankind.
On the low hill to the North stands the august and terrible House of Silence. Through the millions of years since the Watching Things have encamped against us to beleaguer our mountain-overtopping fortress, this small House of Silence has issued no sound, and not even the most sensitive of long-range microphones have detected a whisper. There are lights seen in the casement, and yet these never move nor flicker, not in all of eternity. The main doors stand open. It is known that men lost in the darkness of the Night Lands will walk as if asleep into those open doors, and never speak or make a sound: those who enter do not emerge. The instruments of the Monstruwacans detect that this House is the center of the fields of influence that trouble the aether for many miles across the Night Lands, and most scholars agree is it the center of all the forces arrayed against us.
A silence filled the Night Land now. I could see the eyes of the Southeast Watching Thing scrutinizing the two of us. The yammering of the kiln giants was diminished, the pounding of their machinery which heats their buried dormitories; the Things Which Peer ceased to stir atop their half-unlit headland, and their hooting was quiet. The baying of the Night Hounds ceased. A great hush seemed to fill the night. The lopsided ear of the Watching Thing to the Northwest could be seen, huge and motionless, against the dreary glow of the fire-pits beyond it. Surely our words did not escape that terrible, watchful malice.
Perhaps he and I could have removed to the center of the pyramid, or to the spot one hundred miles below our feet, where the deepest of our many buried acres of farms and gardenlands rest. It would have made no difference. The influence of the House of Silence was not impeded by mere solid objects.
“Exulted, how is it that I feel fear?” I spoke without raising my eyes, wondering at myself. “The passion is one we left behind long ago, once mankind achieved the icy purity of perfection.”
The man from the future stood still when I addressed him, and I saw the hem of his shining robes and the gleam of his boots on the metal deck. He said only, “You know the answer.”
I did. The emotion was meant for me. Even in the sober mind-discipline my race had practiced for these last two million years, it was known that mere detachment held particular dangers.
Hatred forever battered the energized sheathe surrounding the Last Redoubt, in endless tides of malefic will pouring in from remote inhuman sources, from alien spheres in distant space and from other configurations of the time-structure, and to this was added tides of something more bitter than hatred crossing the abyss from dimensions ulterior altogether to time and space. Intellectual serenity was not the best defense.
Long ago the secret of the Night Hearing had been accomplished, so that every child of the race was trained in its use, on conscious and subconscious levels, and the thinking machines that organized our webs and tapestries of thought were designed to impress upon us only those emotions and only in the degrees thought wisest and best for the mental health of our diminishing community. We still retained individual minds, for too intimate a unity had dangers of its own: but our souls were so often visitors within the thoughts and memories of others; even as often as friends visit the houses of friends, we entered each other’s beautiful thoughts: and our love and understanding was so deep, that it was as if each of us had many mansions of personality in our minds. We were not one soul, but we shared much that men of earlier eons never could share.
The Mind Song determined that I should feel fear, that most ancient sensation of life. I said, ” It is fitting and proper that a man should quail at a ghost.”
Perhaps I was the only man left who could feel fear. Of all the retromancers, I of all my generation had passed furthest back down the slope of evolution, into even prehuman forms, and pre-animal, far back into the past life of the cells and viruses in the human body, and I had achieved even unto the simple soul of the first amoeba, that primal thing of ooze, smaller than a pinpoint, born in a flare of sky-lightning, whose origins even the sages cannot fully explain. The first ancestral cell knew nothing but light by day and darkness at night: but even before the development of the most primitive nervous system, the chemical contractions of the night produced the sensation higher animals experience as fear. Fear of the dark is the oldest of things.
“I am not a ghost,” he said, “but a man, like you; Aeneas. Rise!”
“Not like me,” I said.
“Rise, in any case.”
Slowly I stood. I looked him in the eye, but his eyes were strange.
“How can you be here?” I asked him.
“But you know that answer as well,” he said sadly. The shape he occupied was healthy and of good limb and proportion as the cellular science could make us, hale and strong even after decades of life. His eyes were not like ours, for the Mind Song did not pulse in him: he was in communion, perhaps, with his people, our remote descendants, across the abyss of time. Perhaps they watched now through his eyes.
I knew his face. The countless millions who once occupied the seven-mile-tall structure of the Last Redoubt were, in these times, reduced to a few hundred thousand, and each knew each. Heliogabalus had been a prognosticator of my class and aspect, though he walked in his dream to find the future, not the past. He sought too well, and when he woke, one of our descendents woke with him.
“You are a possessor,” I said, “This is very near the arts of the Enemy,”
“Not so, for the Watching Things and the Powers who set them to Watch consume the soul and destroy the inmost self: whereas I am come consume only my own being, that those of this time may have extra years, a different fate. Heliogabalus is my host and landlord, not my victim.”
I said, “You are like me. A student of retromancy.”
“Not like you,” he said with a small smile. “Your fame lasts even through legend to my day. Our word for one who is unsurpassed in the mystic sciences is your name.”
“Yet this present is your past. Do we seem grand to you? Or diminished? Have you come to admire arts lost to your time, or to smile at simplicities you have overtopped? Is there nothing but darkness ahead? Is there hope?”
His eyes shined with the Mind Song of another time, another race of man.
“There is no hope known to me.”
I was of the Seventeenth Men, the penultimate race of mankind. He was of the Eighteenth and the Last, in spirit if not in form.
Many times over the millennia, mankind has reached the pinnacle of evolution, a harmony of spirit sustained by beneficent etheric and astral sciences, while our neural systems were tinkered over generations to perfection by neuropsychiatry and abnegatory disciplines: in each period of history the pattern was repeated. At first, our ancestors conquered insanity, and then they slowly learned to dwell without immorality, and all slavery and theft and coercion was left behind, childhood sickness; and then, seeking higher perfections still, the race would achieve the mystic union of the earth-energies, the balance of forces of past and future.
Some of these golden ages lingered but a thousand years; some, multiples of millions.
Yet the machinations of the Enemy, or some inner weakness of the human frame, or mere ambition, or a disturbance in the cycles of incarnation and reincarnation, sooner or later would disrupt the delicate checks and balances of our neural-moral laws and impulses. One such age was ended when a freakish storm in the aether stirred up madness and abomination in our ancestral nerve cells. Another failed due to a diminishment of power from the Earth-Current.
Many were halted more gracefully, when a messenger from the future came to warn the generations that their current stage of evolution was complete. So it was when the Sixteenth Men gave way to the Seventeenth, and, earlier, so it was when the Neanderthals, the Second Men, without war gave way to Homo Sapiens, the Third race of Man.
In our case, some forty thousand years of dark ages passed before the lost perfection was found again: in the case of the Third Men, far longer, for they killed the prophets sent to them from the future.
When Heliogabalus spoke, I understood the dark impulse of the Third Men of long ago.
He spoke: “There is no hope known to me. For all of time mankind have known how the final siege would end. The rate of the diminishment of the Earth-Current has been calculated to within an erg-second since the time of the Fifteenth Men, and even the Fourth Men, those strange, cold thinkers composed entirely of brain, estimated within nine hundred years the date of the extinction of man.”
“Then why are you here now, ghost of the Things To Come?”
“I am come that my times shall not come. I speak, and this alters the past, and I destroy myself and all my people, every generation back to this point in time.”
I listened with growing horror. I wondered if I cast myself from the balcony even at this moment, and dashed myself to death against the armored walls, before another word were spoken, if it would keep future history on its destined path, and save the next generations of man, our children, from the unimaginable condition of never-having-had-been.
His words were like the solemn toll of a bell. “We have consulted with the dead, who are not anchored in time as living men are. They grow ever fewer, for the after-life condition is not immune from the assaults of the Final Siege, and it loses integrity when living men diminish. Nonetheless, the parliament of the departed have arranged a set of signals to commune with us, and they believe the alternate which will come into being when I slay my people will ensure an additional five thousand years of human life and sanity upon this long-dead world.”
“How can the dead speak to the living?” I asked. “How can you meddle with your past? If these events are changed from fate’s decree, you will not have and never will have had come to be: therefore your acts, your speaking to me here, is paradox.”
“Eternity is sick and trembling as a man with palsy. The boundaries of aether decay, the fabric of space-time unravels as the Enemy reaches a final condition, to compress our spacetime within their greater congruence, one where no life nor logic is possible. Past and future slip with greater ease into each other; doors long shut are opened; cause and effect becomes dreamlike. In earlier ages, paradox would have stopped me. Not now. The end of all things is nigh: even subatomic interactions lose coherence.”
“We were promised that there would be a light beyond this darkness, a time when all true lovers would be reunited!”
“That report is known to us as well, but when we send a Foreteller to walk the fourth dimension of time, from that direction comes nothing but a dreadful silence, and those who turn their thoughts toward it are lost and do not return. There is nothing after the end of man.”
“How will Man end?”
He said, “The prophecies you know are roughly true. The Great Southern Watching thing over the next fifty thousand years will continue forward, half an inch a year, extinguish the Electric Circle, shatter the Air-Clog to allow the influences of the Night into our windows. The Lanterns of Darkness of the Seven Towers to the West will be lit, and their beams will fall across the Western face of the Last Redoubt. A single blow from the Paw of the Thing will rend the gate and the surrounding walls, and nine great spirits of uttermost darkness from the dead stars beyond Arcturus will descend, escorted by the Lifeless Tree, and enter into the empty cities of our ground level, and take possession. Year by year they will climb the stairs, overcoming every barrier and ward and emplacement the ever-dwindling race of man shall erect against them. Those trapped in the upper citadel of the Redoubt and those trapped below in the buried gardens will diverge into two distinct human species. The boundaries of aether will diminish further; dreams will walk the balconies of the shattered citadel, solid beneath the failing lamps. The cisterns will grow dry, and men will gnaw their tongues for thirst. The ghosts of past ages will grow ever thicker, and the number of the living diminish, and the loss of memory which protects the current generation will fail. Every man will be possessed as I am possessed, but by many legions, not my one. The Last Child will be born, the most perfect of beings, who will attempt to open the Doors of Time and allow us to escape into the past: and even though the effort is doomed to fail, he must attempt it, and must fail. The Hounds of Tindalos who enter through the angles of Time will enter, and the laws of geometry will become non-Euclidean; the laws of morality become no longer suited to our condition of being. The final tribe of men will do all fashion of corruption and abomination to their childrens minds and bodies, thinking it wise and right. The Thing Which Laughs will come forth from the Country of the Great Laughter, and his visage will blind ten thousand, who will go forth dancing and rejoicing and enter that cold and steadfast light which has without noise since eternity poured out through the ever-gaping Doors of the House of Silence. The Night Hounds will learn the Master Word and enter the upper citadel, and slay the Last Child. The Silent Ones will doff their robes and be seen in their true shape, and will enter the Tower of the Monstruwacans to dwell there, and extinguish all the lamps there, and shatter the Great Glass. The greater servants of darkness will feast on the lesser ones, and all the abhumans be slain and consumed by monstrosities, and these in turn will be drained by their dark masters.
“Know that the technology to preserve and revive ghosts, that magnetic echo of human life where our interior self is carried, will be perfected by this time, and even the death of all men will not destroy the preservation crystals where the psychic force of centuries is kept. For five hundred thousand years after the last death in the flesh of mankind, the surface of the Great Redoubt will retain some part of the charge of the aetheric force that sustains life, and all the ghosts of the slain will remain in suspension here, walking the corridors, unaware that they are dead. Then a great voice will come from the House of Silence, and speak that word which is the opposite of the Master-Word, and the ghosts of the lordly dead will enter a condition of being utter unlike and infinitely worse than if they had merely been annihilated.”
I was speechless with dread for a full minute, oppressed by the vision of destruction.
“These things must come to pass?”
“Soon or late. Because I speak, I hope to add thousands of years, not centuries, to the lifespan of mankind, and delay this death by an aeon.”
My next works crackled with anger, “And are all your people slain by your act? All your ancestors back through countless years?”
He was solemn. His eyes seemed not to see me. “Every man and woman and child ever born across the fifty thousand years of aborted time has been consulted, directly or by proxy, and all consent. Our race is weaker than your own, lesser in number by an order of magnitude, and yet we are not as weak as ancient men once were. No one lives in this pyramid, the mighty home of Man, who does not stand ready to sacrifice himself that others may live, or to slay their loved ones, that others may die wholesome deaths, and escape destruction.”
“What is this terrible message from the future?” I asked him, and once again the awe and fear of the Mind Song was upon me. The machines in the base of the pyramid, six miles or more below my feet, throbbed and beat through the air silently, and I detected their action with my brain elements. In their swift and automatic fashion, they had linked the minds of the many souls in the pyramid together, waking and sleeping alike, men and women, and determined what emotion was right and sane for me to feel. Nothing but terror and awe was fitting, to hear a race of man, a span of eternity, condemned.
“The message has already been spoken,” he said. “The clue that it is possible is enough. Only in your heart is love enough, a son’s love for his lost father, to pull you from the safe serenity of this last living fortress, and down into the darkness, death, and silence of the Night Land.”
And I heard the great sigh, both in my mind, and with my ears, coming from the million windows of our nearly empty pyramid.
The collected minds of all the human race could grasp in an instant what would have taken an equal number of men scattered over generations centuries to see. The machinery needed to capture the essential substance of the dead was not, after all, so different from the air-clog that surrounded the Last Redoubt, and kept the thought-forms of the Abhorrent Ones at bay. The engineers, philosophers, spiritualists and pnuematicists from many scattered cells and chambers in the great pyramid had combined their genius with the racial mind, and sketched out a rough design. The instrument would be no larger than a lantern: a man could hold it in one hand, and the housing made of aetherically-neutral metal, to dampen out thought-vibrations. A ghost-cell.
“My father is dead!” I shouted at him. I was too astonished to notice that the Mind Song selected anger, an emotion so old that only one of my order could know of it. “He fell in the Place Where the Silent Ones Kill! There has been no whisper of mind speech from him these many years! No one can survive so long in the outer darkness!”
But the future man, now of an extinguished race, was gone. The Mind Song in him was no longer that of the Eighteenth Men. He straightened; his eyes met mine; and it was Heliogabalus again, and his thoughts were shared with my thoughts, peaceful, sane, endlessly calm.
The anger was gone in a moment, and for many weeks I wondered why the machines in their wisdom had selected that particular emotion for that time: joy and hope was what should have been in my heart. I love my father, and would do anything, even venture into the Outer Darkness, to recover him. The hint that his immaterial essence, his mind and thoughts and inner self might still be in existence, uncorrupted, not suffering Destruction was hope beyond hope: as if, long after the coffin was sealed and the tomb was shut, a voice came to tell you to open it again. Why had I not felt gratitude?
The Preparation for the Going Out has not changed since four million years ago: the ways of the Forces and Powers are made known, oaths taken, information too delicate to be known to the foe removed from the brain. There is a time of fasting, and an exposure to concentrations of the Earth Current and other salvific rays and radiations. Then a last meal, consisting of certain fruits, otherwise long extinct, kept in cultivation just for this ceremony, and never eaten at any other time. The capsule is implanted, and the other ways of swift self-destruction taught, in case the capsule, for whatever reason, should fail. Final warnings and admonitions are laid upon the soul of the Adventurer by the Captain of the Gate. Final memories and testaments are imprinted by means of the brain-elements into a book of activated metal leaves.
Only those may go who are young men, unmarried, unapprenticed, unindebted, unindentured. Orphans, or those with no living brothers to carry on their family names and gene patterns may not go, for the eugenicists will not permit a culling of our boldest over centuries, lest we breed ourselves into cowardliness. Neither the old, nor the sickly may venture forth, nor, during those aeons when insanity and crime existed, could a man go unless a jury of his neighbors bound themselves by twelve oaths that he was hale and of sound mind and good character. No man who had taken orders from the Monstruwacans could go, nor who served the Architects, nor a man who had suffered neuro-alteration, or who possessed an augmented soul; nor could pass out from our gates any dreamer who dreamed of strange things unknown to other men, if he could not account to the oneiropaths of the origin of each dream; and no woman, ever.
There are some tools, like the hand-axe or the hull of a ship, which, having achieved a most graceful shape, need no further change. The harness and gear of the Out-venture has not changed in all the ages since the time of the Seventh Race of Men: above a long vest of padding, I wore armor made of the same imperishable metal as the Last Redoubt; my helm was gray as well, without plume or device. A dun mantle of living fibers covered my shoulders, able to generate heat against the piercing chill of the Night Land, and to comfort the soul. In my script I carried a dirk of energized metal, a dial that could be read by touch, and a needle that pointed toward the geomagnetic aura of the Great Redoubt. Here also were tablets of nutriment, and the powder whose virtue was to condense water out of the air: no spring in the Night Land could be trusted, either because of soil contamination, or strange lights, or haunting. A cup could purify the water, and also be held over the mouth and nose when passing through thin air or clouds of venom or fine particles.
The Diskos is the perfect weapon. It is as if alive, and charged with Earth-Current, and the blade is a sharpened circle of massy weight which gives off a terrible light and dread low roaring when it spins. And when it is quiet, it is tense with a terrible quiet, so that to touch the still blade with a finger is to feel its hidden energy tingling. The blade is held on forks. The shaft of the weapon is cunningly made, so that the hand of the man who owns it can make the shaft grow longer or shorter, so that the head of the weapon is closer or farther, depending on the size of the monster to be smitten, and the length of the needed stroke. The charge in the weapon can electrocute even insubstantial attackers, or purge bad air. Legend says the Hog was slain by a stroke of the first of these weapons made by Carnacki the Artificer.
We carry no lamp nor candle in the Night Land, for the temptation caused by light-hunger would be too great, and watchful things would be drawn to any glimmer of wholesome radiance. The Diskos gives off a flare of white fire when we smite, and its fearsome shining extends as far as the weapon-stoke reach, and lasts for the duration of the stroke, no longer.
If a monster stands too far off to be pole-axed with our weapon, it is better not to see them, but to let them pass by, unmolested.
Neither is it hale to peer too narrowly or overlong at any creatures above the human range of life force, lest they bring nightmares, and nightmares attract the hungers of the Pneumovores as blood in the sea, back when seas still lived, attracted the shark packs who ruled those waters then. It is better to walk blind in the darkness, and see only what the Night Hearing shows.
When I stepped out into the bitter chill of the Night Land, the gate slid silently and swiftly shut behind me. The gate-way was dark, and all the masters of the Watch, the squires and custodians of the gate-house, had been present, standing on the great slope of the downward stairs in their gray armor of imperishable metal. Each one held his Diskos, but the disks were still, and the weapons were not lit, so that even the tiny hum and spark of those weapons would not escape into the Night Land and tell that some child of man crept forth.
I passed out from the North-West gate. A signal went from corridor to corridor through the great pyramid, so that, as I crept forth, a sudden great commotion was heard to the South-Eastern side of the Pyramid. I heard it dimly, and it sounded like the roar of the hidden sea that can be sometimes heard in the great pipes below the pyramid, from whence we take our water. This was meant to distract the watchers of the night world; for armigers and fulgurators were firing rockets and culverins from the low balconies (say, perhaps only half a mile above the land) across the gray dunes and down into the deep pits of the Country of Wailing.
Even from across so wide a distance, miles away from us and around the far side of the mighty pyramid, I heard the whooping, deep, low sounds of the Wail, and I could feel it tremble in my teeth, as if a great hill or mountain were to utter its grisly lament. A great Voice uttered from the Mountain of the Voice, and it was answered by the terrifying mirth that issued from unseen mouths in the Country Whence Comes the Great Laughter. And not long after, I heard the terrible baying of the Night-Hounds, but I thought they were issuing south, toward the commotion. Soon also came the wind-roaring from the underground warrens of the Giants whose kilns lie somewhat to the south and east. This clamor showed that they had lifted their great doors, for the sounds of their air-machinery can be clearly heard when their iron doors gape open, and the Giants rage forth across the pits and craters of the Night Land, thick as ants from an antish fort of dirt.
I moved quietly, and left the prints of my metal boots in the soft sand and ash that was gathered all around the foot of the pyramid. These ashes were alleged to be the remnants of great beasts and beings that had been destroyed, ninety-one hundred years ago, blasted by a flood of the energies of the Earth-Current down the armored sides of the pyramid, a flood so great that the mighty home was said to be darkened for three hours or more, and all the lamps were drained.
When I came to the Circle, it was a tube of transparent metal held perhaps nine inches from the soil. It was small enough that I could step over it in one step; and yet, on this small light, the life of all the hundred thousand who lived in the Pyramid depended. Without it, the thoughts of the Darkness would have reached from House of Silence, or the Quiet City, the Dark Palace, or other places of power, past all our walls and gates and doors, into the hearts and dreams of our children, there to grow and swell until we were no longer human, and our souls be made fit for the Enemy to consume. Such small and frail things defend us.
The clamor of the barrage meant to cover my departure was still going on when I passed over the Circle.
Then the thought of mankind was gone. Instead I felt in my brain the silent watchfulness of the Night Lands, pulsations inhuman and remote from earthly life like the pressure of a coming storm against the metal fabric of my helmet.
I was alone. For the first time since birth, since before birth (for prenatal empathies are drawn into the Mind Weaving as well) I was all alone.
All the old passions and fears of a dawn-age man were pounding in my thoughts: fear and giddiness and terror and self-will; lust and anger and sloth and a dozen extravagances. I had been trained and Prepared, but this was an intoxication I could not fathom. I went from being pure to being a beast man in one step.
No one else could have endured it. I was a retromancer of ancient recollection. In me dwelt a dozen lives or more of heroes from our past, all their passions and their memories. Like the call of a trumpet to arms, those ancient visions stirred within my breast. My fear was transformed to cool fury, my sudden passions into passionate calm tension, an eagerness to go and do great deeds.
We are not mere thinkers and savants, we men of the Seventeenth Race. Our perfection is not a trap to weaken our resolve. The blood of heroes still was in me, and all the imperfections needed to stir that blood to anger and devotion. Nothing other than being human will allow a man to stand in the silence of the Night, and not be extinguished.
I thought of my father, and my love for him gave life to my limbs. Conquering fear, I stepped away.
Scholars spend lifetimes classifying the genus and species of the horrors scratching at our windows and gates. Some are like us, occupying three dimensions of space and one of time, have blood and bones and brain. Apish abhumans, as well as taller giants, many-armed abominations, wide-mouthed ghouls and mantachores who once had upright stance: these are the least of our foes. Samples of their blood and brain matter show that their ancestors once may have been human, but they adapted to the endless dark, were mutated by the spiritual influences of those great Powers that walk in the Night, or were changed by energies released over aeons by gaps, pits and fissures in the crust of the dead earth, or by poisons they released themselves with the machines we hear pounding, forever pounding, in the warrens and sunken places of the siege against us.
Whether the Enemy builded the mile-high towers to the West, or whether it was the ancestral races of man whom scholars say dwelt outside the Last Redoubt in legendary times, no one knows.
The Silent Ones have never been known to slay a human being who did not first trouble them, or trespass into the Place Where the Silent Ones Kill. For this reason, there are some who claim they are no part of the Host of the Night, no more than the lampreys that cling to the bellies of sharks are sharks.
Others say that they are indeed the leaders and archons of the great siege against us, and that they do not deign to kill merely out of their delicacy. The books of the future have been examined by the Monstruwacans, and this is one of the pieces of information known to be on the Interdicted List: this means it is some knowledge visions have confirmed that no future generation of mankind will ever discover. It is held not lawful to inquire into the matter, since the line of inquiry is already foreknown to be unprofitable, and the time the human race has left to answer all the questions of the human condition is limited. We shall never know.
The river of mud had dug itself a deep canyon all around, and, subsiding over centuries, had left behind many lesser valleys, swales, and scars, a land of mud-pits and swampy ox-bows, all embraced between two steep walls cut and rutted with the erosion of dead centuries past. It was two weary hours of scrambling up and down crumbling slopes and splashing across puddles of frozen or of boiling mud, before I reached those steep and rotten canyon walls; and another five hours of fruitless attempts and many falls before I found a crooked switchback leading up past chipped and pockmarked walls of mud-covered stone to the surface of the world again.
As I emerged from the canyon, I came once more into the sight of our mighty home. There it loomed, a pyramid of human life, mile on mile rising in the distance, balcony upon balcony and embrasure upon embrasure. The differences in texture of the surface armor as where lines of fortresses or roofed townships had been erected along the dormers, all this was erased into smoothness because of the distance.
The arched windows of the Sunderhouse men, the long and narrow window-slits of the Patrones, all these architectural curios which figure so prominently in our history and public debates, from here, were invisible. Even the acre-wide aerodrome bays, long lost and long forgotten, a remnant from an earlier aeon when the air of the outer world was different, even these were so tiny as to be invisible discolorations in the rank on rank of blazing light.
Craning my head back, I could glimpse a spark of light, brighter than most, at the apex of the converging lines of the pyramid, vanishing in the distance overhead. Of the Utmost Tower itself, or the sanctuary of the Monstruwacans, I could see nothing. Those high and distant cities which sit on the uppermost stories of the pyramid, just under the armor of the penthouse, names famed in our romances and literature: Aeloia where Scarapant once climbed to wed his lost Angelica, Golden Aeyre, made famous by the poet Erebophoebus, and Highguard West in whose greenhouses the beloved last pines grow, which will not grow in the deep farms and fields buried beneath our pyramid, none of these were even visible at all; but a tiny mote I thought perhaps was the ninety-fathom tall Major Pumphouse by the shore of the roofed-in Attic Lake glinted in my eye, the rumored fountainhead of the Hundred-Story Waterfall, designed by the Architect Ellivro.
I will not detail the times of my marching. Many watches passed as I stalked in the night, and when the dial told me to rest, I rested, with my spirit alert about me to wake me lest some dread and deathly Power come nigh. I ate of the tablets of the scrip, and grew lean and clear-minded, for they feed only the soul, not the flesh.
The first creature I slew was a giant who came suddenly out of a sandy place near a smoke-hole, and the moss bushes deadened the noise of his approach.
He meant to dash my brains out with a cudgel, but I avoided the blow, and cut a great gash in his side with the stroke of my Diskos, penetrating hide and blubber, and the lighting stabbed through his body. He wept as he lay dying, and his sobs sounded almost human. I struck again, meaning to decapitate, but the blow landed clumsily, biting into his massive shoulder-plates and collar-bones. Nonetheless, this second blow snapped his neck, and a surge of power from the hilts of my weapon blackened the face and head of the man-creature, killing him. He was nigh twice my height: his wrist was thicker than my thigh.
That first encounter was more danger than the next six or seven I slew, for by then I was grown wary and cunning. The long weeks beneath the pulsing mental pressure of the Night Lands, the hooting voices, the strange distant lights making omens to each other, the grisly viciousness of the mutated beasts, the loathsome things that crawled like slugs, all awoke in me a deadly warlike nature that surely my oldest ancestors, from the pyramid’s earliest times, must have known.
I spend more miles crawling than I did walking; I avoided far more than I slew, and I covered my tracks after. Only when I could not avoid it, as when I was in a blind canyon, or had to pass a guarded spot, did I encounter the night creatures. I smote at monsters from behind, or when they slept, or when they went to the bubbling pools of black water to sip the salty liquid.
As I passed through the diseased land of the abhumans, crawling from ditch to ditch, and hiding in the ash of cold crater-mouths, I saw the race destined to replace us, walking on their back paws with large steps across a land the dark powers had given them: stoop-shouldered, crooked-legged men with powerful chests, arms as thick as my leg. Their nails were black like iron, and their hairy pelts were thick and coarse, like the pelts of shaggy wolves from a former age; their mouths were like the muzzles of baboons, with canines keener than my dirk. They had no tool more complex than the thigh-bone of a Night-Hound that they used for truncheons; and their dams and their spratlings were equally unlovely.
But it was not their crudeness that repelled me; it was the wisdom in their eyes, their wolf-eyes glowing green beneath thick brow ridges. I saw in their expressions a cruelty, a haunting and solemn cruelty, humans are not prone to know.
These things thought more like men than the Night Hounds, the giants, or the behemoths, and they were cunning to guess my ways. And so they grew aware of me, and hunted me.
With the abhumans on my trail, I was driven east, back toward the Pit of Red Smoke. I entered the rocky and broken terrain surrounding the lip of the Deep Valley which encloses the Pit, a land of cliff and standing stones. The land here was tormented, as if giants with axes had split the ground and flung huge boulders every way (though our records show no trace that the giants had ever done such a thing, here); and often I came across rows of pillars and the rubble where walls had been.
Over several watches the abhumans hunted me, and I needed to rely upon my memory of the maps I had studied in the House of the Monstruwacans of this bit of terrain, so that a retreat down some promising canyon would not turn into a cul-de-sac, and death.
When the Pit of Red Smoke was belching opaque clouds, and the land was dark, I moved; when the Pit was calm, and red shine hung on the bellies of low clouds, and red shadows fell across the stark rocks of the land, I hid.
At such times, I could see the Last Redoubt, shining and beautiful in the distance. But, nearer at hand, I saw the Lesser Dome of Too Many Doors, windowless and crusted with pentagonal cracks as if it had been the shell of a monstrous tortoise.
And, also I saw, to one side and beyond it, the lowering profile of the Northwest Watching Thing. This was the oldest and most cunning of the Watching Things, and it was several miles closer to the Redoubt than it had been in our ancestors’ times. For perhaps half a million years, the Thing had lifted its mighty arm, crusted with moss and debris, and held it aloft to point toward the pyramid, hand supine, its spread fingers longer than tree boles. A lake had slowly gathered from the atmospheric moisture in the hollow of its great dark palm, and the heat from its body prevented the lake from turning to ice. None knew what the gesture presaged, but it filled all who beheld it with dread.
Once, two hundred years ago, a discharge of ground-lighting had ignited near the Northwest Watching Thing, and in that flare a Monstruwacan named Semelus had seen the smile slowly spreading across its mask-parts, observed the glitter of its strange eyes, and the sight of it had sickened him, so that he bit the capsule and died before his soul was wounded beyond recovery.
As I stood observing the terrible silhouette of the Northwest Watching Thing, it must have felt the pressure of my gaze, for I sensed a pulse of hideous thought cross the darkness of the air. It was like a horn-call, but utterly silent. Immediately I heard stealthy noises in the dark to one side of me; I fled the other way, as quickly as stealth allowed, and, in the dark, climbed a cliff, with nothing to guide me but touch to find the hand-holds and toe-holds across the icy rock. I had to draw off my gauntlets to do it, because the fingers of the gauntlet were too clumsy for this work, but the stone soon sucked all the heat and feeling out of my fingers; with numb hands, I could not feel where the stone was, and, in the dark, the rocky cliff seemed to no longer be vertical.
I heard sniffing noises underfoot, and caught the odor of abhumans thick in the air.
All at once, blinding me, a flare from the Pit of Red Smoke rose up, and I could see the cliff; I was but a little yard from the top. I scrambled to get over the rocks. The light was splashing against the height where I was, but the canyon I had just crawled from was black to my eyes, though I heard a low sardonic mutter of abhumans speaking to each other when I became visible. For some reason, it chilled me to hear them, so calm, so self-controlled, when they spotted me; I did not know what words they said, but their tones were dry and saturnine.
When I crested the brink, I heard a low, mocking laugh coming from my left. Here, out from the shadow of a tall rock, and into the leaping red light, came three hunched figures. Apelike, they moved on feet and knuckles, carrying their truncheons in their teeth, but they each rose to their back feet when they rushed toward me, grasping their truncheons in one or both forepaws; and they smiled grimly as they came. The stench from their powerful arms was terrible.
I drew the Diskos, and felt the power in the haft enter my hands and warm them; the flare of light, the terrible roar of the spinning blade, caused the foremost abhuman to hesitate; I slashed him across the belly, and lighting threw his guts unwinding from the ghastly wound; and his body jumped a yard into the air from the electric shock, arms and legs jerking; the other two closed in on either side of me, and aimed truncheon-blows at my legs and head.
One blow struck my leg-armor, which rang like a bell; and I fell, so the other blow passed my helmet, and struck the rock to one side of me with such force, the rock splintered and flew in pieces. By this mere mischance was my life saved.
At that same moment in time, the flare from the Red Pit ended, and black smoke smothered all the light. The Diskos, either by fate, or because of its own wiliness, ceased to spin and roar, so the blade went out; and the hulking mass of the abhuman I felt move near above me became invisible in the sudden dark.
Awkwardly I rolled to one side. Something in my motion startled the abhuman stooping over me. I heard his truncheon whistle through the air, I felt rock-splinters from his superhuman blow thrown, tinkling, against my armor. I struck upward with the shaft of my Diskos. There was no flare, no noise, since I struck with the insulated part of the haft, but I must have struck the soft parts of his lower belly; for he lost his footing in the dark. There was a slither of pebbles, and rush of air, and, with a low, sarcastic mutter like a curse, I heard the great beast-man fall. He must have pitched off the brink in the dark; for I heard the sound of his body passing through the air below. There were hisses from down below in the canyon, low words suggestive of irony and contempt, and perhaps a scoffing laugh or two, when the body fell among those gathered there.
I rose to my feet and lit my weapon, and the blade uttered its roar. Now there was no light from the red pit; the only light here was the flare from my blade. The remaining beast-man straightened up, and with a gesture of distaste, put one paw before his wolfish eyes in the sudden glare and stepped slowly back.
He hefted his club and measured the distance between us with his eyes. He saw that he had reach, and a more powerful blow than I did, and yet he was wary, for the mere touch of my weapon was death, for the spinning blade flashed and roared with frightful living energies. The creatures unseen in the darkness below and behind me must have been able to see the combat, for we were nigh the edge: and I heard hisses and grunts as they called out in their language smirking advice, sardonic japes and deprecations to their unbeloved comrade. From his eyes I could see he was not comforted by their calls.
At that same moment, I felt in my soul a profound chill, and I knew it was some force from the House of Silence breathing courage and inhuman intelligence into this degenerate beast-man. He picked up one of the fallen truncheons in his second forepaw, so that he held two: I saw he meant merely to feint with one and smite with the other; no matter which way I turned, he would surely smite from the other way, and have me. I am not a small man, nor a weak one, but I was as a child before this apelike mass of brawn and cunning.
He stepped hugely forward, and my spirit shrank within me, and his spirit grew like a terrible and hungry shadow.
At that moment, I heard a murmur like the roar of the sea. To my left, miles away, the Last Redoubt was visible, balcony upon balcony shining, a wall of light. People had been watching my duel. When I had first lit my weapon and struck at the first abhuman, surely men, women, and children standing in the pyramid windows, or over their telescopes, must have cried out. Perhaps only a gasp, of a word of hope, but, amplified by a million voices, it became a strong noise on the wind of the world; only now had that cry reached me.
How that sound filled my heart! I saw doubt twist the sneering muzzle of the abhuman; his eyes (for at that moment, seeming almost human) were troubled with sorrow and regret.
While he paused, I snapped my Diskos-shaft out to its polearm length, and performed a running lunge called a flèche; the monster raised his heavy bone club to parry, but it is no easy matter to parry a spinning disk; my blade skipped off and around his parry his and smote his wrist. With the second club he swung a round wide blow toward my head, but I lifted my trailing hand high, to catch the truncheon on the ringing shaft of my weapon, a foot above my helm; and sparks flew up. Of its own, the shaft of my weapon extended itself and drove its spinning blade down along his arm and into the armpit of my foe.
It would have been a minor wound, for his body was very great, had my weapon been a minor weapon, for the cut itself was not deep; but the power and shock of the earth-current shining from my blade entered his wound and made his limbs jerk and jump. Before he could recover, I stepped under his reach, swtiched to a one-handed grip, and guided the Diskos to continue eating into his side on its own. I heard the whine as the spinning blade cut through bone, and the blood sprayed backward in a fan, and the blade-heat lit the coarse hairs of his arm afire. Meanwhile I drew my dirk with my off- hand, stepped very nigh to him and struck into his great hairy chest at the spot where my trainers told me the heart might be.
There was no heart, but I saw, beneath the bubbling gush of blood and puddings, a cold black orb of shining black stone. I knew not what this was: it was some artifice of the enemy, something his masters had put in him. Even so, the abhuman, though he was torn open in the chest, wounded in the wrist, arm, and armpit, I saw the unclean spirit enter his eyes once more. He dropped the two clubs and grappled with me. Such was his strength that even armor as stern as mine creaked and complained; I could not breathe, and my ribs were bending.
The Diskos, as if of its own accord, shortened on its haft, so that it was the size of a short ax rather than a pole-arm, and I threw my elbow over his huge shoulder as if to embrace my foe. The Diskos flew like a pendulum and fell against the small of the creature’s hairy back. I severed his spine, even as he nearly broke mine. The low roar of my weapon became shrill noise of triumph as the spinning blade sawed through hide and muscle, vertebrae and nerve-trunk. The louder and more distant roar from the thousand cities of mankind, echoing from the distant balconies miles above me and miles away, told me the blow that I could not see had struck home, and that victory was mine.
The monster fell down with me still pinned in his arms.
Somehow, he was still alive. A weird vitality clung to his frame. The arms like iron pinioned me, and only my armor saved me. The face was pressed to mine, and he gnawed on the cheek-plates of my helmet, trying to bite the flesh of my face. His canines were like daggers of bone, and a-drip with warm slobber.
“Why do you hate us?” I whispered aloud, gasping. “Why do you attack us?”
The abhuman grinned at that, and his eyes glinted like black stones, and his beast mask was transformed as the abhuman died, and the possessing force came fully to the fore: it was no longer a him, but an it.
Now the face of it was something wholly opposite a man, something antithetical to all life.
“Malice is its own reason,” The words from the mouth were in an ancient language. “Malice invents its own excuses. The Great Ones could have smashed your flimsy metal house long and long ago, child of man, but it is degradation they crave: death is too noble. For centuries they will torment your dead, until even your memories are a torment. I am made in mockery of you, me and all my race, a crooked copy, merely so that you can be told this final secret: there is nothing.”
“What have we ever done? Did our ancestors open up a gate into an ulterior dimension and release this horror? What is the reason?”
It laughed without breath. “No reason. There is nothing. You are to die. You scream in the night. The silence will not answer you.”
By that time, I had worked a hand free, found again my dirk, and, straining, brought the point up to the soft flesh beneath its chin. Because my arm was pinned so tightly against its monster chest I could not push the dirk quickly, therefore I applied pressure until the point slowly penetrated its chin and tongue and mouth, the roof of its mouth and skull, and finally the blade found its brain, and the metal pulsed with light, radiance entered its brain pan, and it died fully and completely.
I had to saw myself free of the monster’s grip with the spinning blade of my Diskos.
Then, my blade still, utter darkness fell over the scene again; and I crawled away from the combat, moving on three limbs like an abhuman, one hand on the ground. My other hand held my Diskos, and I used it like an old man’s staff to support my steps.
What was it? The noise of many voices from the Last Redoubt was gone. It was as if all mankind held its breath. There was some danger near me, something the Monstruwacans did not dare to signal to me through the flashing lamps of the upper stories, lest their signal make my foes rush in.
I listened. Slithering noises of pebbles dropping was the only warning I had that the company of abhumans were scaling the cliffs behind me. Perhaps they were already here.
As silently as a man in armor can move, I fled.
Nine hours later I finally escaped pursuit by immersing myself in a stream of sulfurous water. The chemicals in the boiling river made the abhumans lose the scent. A great cloaked Walker five hundred feet high passed through the area, and the abhumans fled before it, loping away, snarling. The Walking Thing passed away south on long crooked legs, its shrouds and tatters like a black mist, billowing, and it dwindled and I lost sight of it.
I found my father’s body lying just where it had fallen so many years ago. The body rested among a cluster of jagged stones. To one side shined the ghastly unwinking light from the Plain of Blue Fire. From the North, along the Black Hilltops, gleamed the Seven Lights, pale as death. Each standing stone had a double shadow of gray-white and dark blue, making a confusion of shadows. There were nests of stinging ants larger than a man’s hand creeping on black legs in and out of the cracks between the rocks. Strangely enough, these were actually ants, a form of life with earthly ancestry, and so when I touched them with my spirit and spoke the Master Word, they were awed, and scuttled away from me. No doubt a nest had escaped through a broken window at some point in the near past, and the colony had not remained long enough exposed to the malice of the Night Lands to be changed by the thought-forms of the House of Silence. I took it as a good omen.
From afar, I could see how Night Hounds had torn at the face and hands, but his armor had protected the rest of him from despoliation. The electric tingle in the air, the smell of ozone, told me his Diskos was still alert, even though, in the gloom, I did not see it. The clean aura of the weapon would have discouraged any of the lesser creatures from approaching.
Even my approach was wary, for as I came near my father’s Diskos I felt my own weapon stirring oddly in my grasp, due to magnetic sympathy. I felt the build-up of electrical tension in the air, but I said the Master-Word with my brain-elements, and my father’s weapon quieted.
I felt a stirring in the black heavens above me, and I quailed, expecting death; and I put my lips near the flesh of my forearm where the capsule was embedded, that I might quickly bite and die before I was destroyed—but then I saw a thin white line, made of a light more pure and silvery in hue than any lamp. I thought it must be from a higher spectrum than what exists in this continuum: there was a sense of peace to it. Where the line ended, I can not say. It seemed at first to be dropping down from the cloud overhead, as slender as a spider thread: but then as my eyes adjusted, I saw it came from a direction that was neither up nor down, nor any direction the three dimensional mind can perceive.
For as many years as the horrors have thronged around the Last Redoubt, through all the silent weight of numberless millennia, every now and again, oddly, inexplicably, one man or another who walked in the darkness of the Night Land would see a strange manifestation of something that seems to wish human beings well, not ill: but how it is that any of these ulterior ones could be aware of us, or why they would show us favor, I cannot say. No message has ever come from them: their constituent energies cannot be reduced to impulses falling within the normal psychometric ranges. In olden days, boys flung overboard at sea, back when the seas of the world still existed, would from time to time be rescued by living animals called dolphins. Even though no words were ever spoken with these swimming beings, extinct so long ago, yet they were not myth. The Good Powers were as those beings to us: a matter of tales and wonder. I had never thought to see one.
It touched me, and I knew this was one of that kind whose authority is over time and preservation from decay. It was as delicate on my face as a spring wind that once existed in the open world in the ancient days of light.
I looked, and saw where the slender silver line reached, and lo, here was my father’s Diskos lying in a narrow place between two rock-splinters, deeply so that I would not otherwise have seen it. When I moved my eyes to follow the light-path, it was gone, and by this I understood that it was a ray extended through a fractal geometry of space, so that even creatures a pace away could not have seen it. It was meant for me, and for me alone.
When the light vanished, I saw my father’s corpse was gone, and only empty armor, scraps of rotted lining, showing where the body had been. Where the corpse went, or how I saw it so clearly, that I do not know.
Nothing of earth, nothing of the condition of timespace as we know it, could have saved my father’s soul for years untouched and uncorrupt in the middle of the dark silence of the Night Land.
I could not reach the Diskos with my arm, and I was afraid to remove my armor and reach with a bare arm: but I touched my Diskos blade to it, and the magnetism made the two cling together. Once and twice and thrice I attempted to draw the weapon from the narrow place, and each time it scraped against the side and fell back. Patiently I reached again and again, but I could not draw it up.
Then I laughed at myself, dismounted the heavy round blade of my Diskos and laid it carefully on the cold rocky soil to one side. Now I held a wand that throbbed with living metal, ending with two forks. I took out the ghost-cell, and looped its lanyard over the forks of my Diskos, and the Earth-Current in the weapon made it cling. I opened the stop-cock, and activated the etheric cell inside the little housing. I lowered the ghost-cell with its stop open on the end of my weapon forks, and gently I touched it to the Diskos.
In no wise did the weapon smite me, but instead, as if it were a living thing, and gentle of soul, it passed into the ghost-cell that which the white multidimensional line had for so long preserved within the spiritual circuitry of that weapon. I saw the charge needle on the ghost-cell swing over, and the measurement was within the norm for a human male of middle years.
The cell was no bigger than a lantern: I held it in one hand, near my eye. Before I even spoke, I heard the voice of my beloved father come to me from the cylinder, and even as I paused in wonder, I heard with my brain elements the Master-Word beating, low and solemn through the aether, coming from what I cradled in my fingers.
“You are he,” I said, “Not some lying voice from the darkness, meant to snare, but my own father, whom I love.”
But he would not answer me until I sent back the Master-Word, and showed him I was human.
The week or more that passed as we two traveled back toward the great redoubt were filled with great joy and also great terror. Once the Severed Hemisphere descended from the clouds, and passed overheard and I was sure our doom had come. Ready to slay even my own father, I raised the forks of my weapon and readied with one hand the stroke to drive the blades into the delicate housing of the ghost-cylinder. My other hand was at my mouth, of course, so that I could bite the capsule and perish.
For perhaps a watch the Hemisphere stood above us. I could not see it with my eye, but by the troubling of my spirit I knew it. And yet the Hemisphere passed by and did us no hurt. Silent as mist, it went from us, traveling toward the Quiet City by the shore of the Giant’s Ocean: and I cannot account for this, because I was clearly within the primary radius of action of the Hemisphere. And yet perhaps it was bent on some horrid business at the Quiet City: for many of the strange unwinking lights of that place fell into the water and were extinguished, and did not rise again: whether the things in the night prey on each other is not well established. Certainly the hounds and giants, which are made of flesh, have no hesitation to turn on each other: but the evil creatures from so far above us in the scale of cosmic evolution, from zones of the universe far older than the visible universe, we cannot determine their actions.
And then the noise of a trumpet blowing came from the Western Hills where the Three Listening Granoliths rise dark and empty—and this sign is ever one that precedes some great change in the Night Lands. It was one heard in the years before the Great South Watcher approached from the south, and, two million years later, it was last heard sounding before the coming of the Thing That Nods. The Thing rose out of the shadows of the South East, beyond the Place of the Windowless Object, so that the Object was hidden from the sight of man from that time to this.
I spoke to the soul I cradled in my hand. “Father, one of the Great Powers has passed us by, and done us no hurt—and my heart misgives me.”
I heard his voice with my brain-elements. “Aeneas, use now the learning that I taught to you, and realize that it is for no good purpose that we were spared. The Force and Influences issuing from the House of Silence are cunning, but their cunning is not as a man’s cunning, for they are not as we are.”
“Do you mean me to kill you?” I asked in astonishment, forgetting myself, and speaking aloud. The sound of my voice echoed strangely in the gloom, and I feared I had brought a Night Hound onto my trail, and so for many hours I did not speak again, but crept from crevasse to crevasse, parallel to the Road Where the Silent Ones Walk.
After I rested and slept and woke, we spoke once more: “Why do you think harm will come if I bring you into the Great Redoubt, O Serapis?”
“Are you obedient to me, my son?”
I was not sure how to answer. “Father, all I have done, I have done for you, that I might be as you once dreamed I would be, that you would look on me in pride. And yet how do I know your fears have not overthrown your reason?” For I had examined his thought-architecture with my Night-Hearing— at least, as well as I could without a soul-glass to catch supermundane reflections. His memories were mostly intact, but it was as if his mind lacked both hypothalamus and hippocampus. And he was alone, terribly alone, as I now was, with his weaknesses unsupported by the wisdom of the Great Thinking Machines, his thoughts un-uplifted by the love of the hundred thousands in the Last Redoubt. The harmony of the Mind Song was absent.
His thought touched mine: “It was to prevent the future from which he came that the Chronomancer came into the past and possessed great Heliogabalus. What is the one piece of craft known to them, unknown to us? What is the thing his word brought about?”
“The ghost-cell. His world was one where it did not exist until later years invented it. This time line is one where a greater measure of knowledge of the ghosts and their ways will be established unto men.”
“Ah, so it would seem, my son. And yet what does logic tell you? All those years I spent with you crafting your deep neural structures according to the learning of the schoolmen surely were not a waste: when you emerged from the Egg of Glass, at the pinnacle of the meditative arts, you surpassed even your teachers, even me. Your mind was clear enough to reach backward through time to encompass the record of all life. Such a mind cannot be unable to see the logic of this simple puzzle.”
“You are saying that the Chronomancer sent me out into the darkness, not to prevail, but to fail? My mission is parricide?”
The notion was so horrible, so alien to the norms of sanity, I sent the Master-Word once more into his soul, to confirm that father had not gone mad during the hours while I slept.
He answered with the Word, but also asked softly: “What was in his account of the Death of Mankind which is not from any prophecy or report we have ever heard erenow, even from those who venture too close to the screaming that comes from the end of time?”
I said, “He said the ghosts of all the dead would linger in the Great Redoubt for years and centuries after the death in all their flesh of all the last generation.”
“And then what?”
I did not answer him. The Chronomancer foretold Destruction for all the memories of all the race. Everyone who was safely dead and beyond their reach, every hero brave enough to take the capsule between his teeth and slay himself quickly before the Destruction of his human essence, would no longer be preserved and safe. Even the dead would be tormented and corrupted, their souls consumed with exquisite malice thought by thought.
I asked, “Is there some other place the lordly dead might be preserved?”
“After the Earth Current fails? Do not be foolish. At one time, in the youth of our race, these matters were the stuff of dreams and riddles; there were men who knew nothing of the psychic sciences, or did not comprehend how every finer mental substance must have a material substrate. But for countless ages we have known the truth, and I can confirm the guesses of the necromancers, who have studied the cycles of reincarnation for many millions of years.”
“Confirm what, father?”
“Learn now the lore of the dead: even spirits must pass away. There is no life past the universal night.”
“But we have studied the art of reincarnation, and know its secrets!”
“My son, the mighty Earth Current has the power to restore, even after many tens of thousands or millions of years, those who die within its aura, if their love is pure. Such heroes can be imprinted into the gene-plasm of the unborn. But the might of the Earth Current must fail in time. Know that there were once aurenetic fields alike to this surrounding the husk of our dead sun, and, at one time, surrounding the core of our dead galaxy. But the enemy, star by star, has disturbed the natural balance of aetheric and magnetic fields in heaven: and likewise disturbed the aether all the way to the core of the earth, and leached away the virtue of the Earth Current which sustains our life on this darkened world. It is a slow process. In early eons, men could be reborn on other worlds, on Arcturus, where the great sun Branchspell sheds light not meant for human eyes, in hues unknown to us, jale and ulfire. Again, men were born beneath the Green Star in the constellation of the bull, or in the unique rosette of planets captured by the star Omos in the Globular Cluster NGC 7006 in Delpinus: but as the darkness grew, fewer and fewer pneumo-astromagnetic fields survived able to act as a medium between distances. Soon men were confined only to reincarnate within the magnetic aura of the Earth-Current, both here and at the undiscovered Third Redoubt occupying the opposite pole of the planet. When that Redoubt betrayed itself and created the abhumans, the cycle was broken, and for many millennia life has been using up a stored energy that can never be revived. Nothing is promised in this new technology, this science of preserving dead memories like mine, nothing save that we will outlive the healthy and living phase of mortal life, and dwell for a time as shadows, as echoes, as recordings, and all the sacrifice we made to deny the enemy shall be in vain.”
I said, “This is the future we have avoided! The Chronomancer’s sacrifice was to prevent this same tomorrow you decry.”
“No. He reached the only time when man was perfect enough to see the difficult choice, and yet primitive enough in impulse to know the right thing to do. You alone of all our race recall the first wellsprings of life. The heroes of forgotten years, those grim and iron-hearted men of stoic temper: they still live in you. You alone of the Seventeenth Humanity are bold enough to venture out of the Last Redoubt; they are too refined and perfected to know what must be done. Slay me, and tell the Last Redoubt that attempts to preserve the race beyond our allotted span will prove as unwise as ever a novice proved who hesitated to bite the Capsule, hoping some star of light would save him, and this hope snared him to his destruction, whence his soul-remnants do not escape forever. There are some things it is better to die than to endure: and this is truth for races as for single men.”
“How can we live utterly without hope?”
“Where is hope to be found? As men in coffins, so entrapped is all our race by remorseless entropy, and a little time remains until the air runs out. It may be an hour or a minute. What shall you do, what shall we all do, in the span of time remaining? Claw at the lid as beasts might do? There is a certain low bravery in that, but it will only bring the earth down atop us. Write a sonnet on the inside of the lid? Perhaps. None will ever see it, but it will be a thing of beauty that was not there before, a defiance to an uncaring cosmos. You recall the span of human life all the way to the earliest one-celled organism. What is the right of things?”
I had to remove my gauntlet to wipe my eyes. “I will not slay my father. You taught me everything.”
“I am but his shadow.”
“We could imprint you into an unborn child!”
“As population falls, this would lead to many souls within each one man.”
“And yet the Mind Song could coordinate all the disparate elements!”
“And preserve us until the Great South Watcher smites the gate. Preserve us for that creature! The doors of the House of Silence stand open even now to receive us. Will you see me preserved until I am lured to that place, from whence no sound, no voice, no song, no scream, ever is allowed to escape?”
“Is there no weapon against these horrors, my father? Will these creatures of light who, from time to time have manifested to preserve one lost man or another, can they do nothing to preserve the race?”
“Of what is unknown, nothing can be said. Will you pin your hopes on the Good Powers, if they are good indeed? Even though one held me in suspension for lo these many years, I still cannot tell what it was, or if it will come again. Slay me now, and let my essence spill into nothingness, so that I will not come intact and self-aware into the power of the enemy. That is my wish. You are my son.”
With words of lead, I said, “Father, I cannot. All the ancient life-force in me cries against it. Will I be the name of impiety forever? No son can slay his father.”
“You are confused and weak. When you return to the energized sheathe of air surrounding the pyramid, the Mind Song will balance your humors, and you will see straight again.”
So it was that with the slowest and most reluctant steps I returned through the infinite terror and danger of the Night Lands. Of that walking I will give a complete report to the Monstruwacans: here I will say only a little of what I saw. I slew a manlike shape covered with spines and bristles twice the height of a man, in a pit of smooth sand near a smoke-hole. This was a great monster, and the slaver of its jaws was nasty and beastlike.
In another place I came across a coven of Silent Ones who stood without motion along the crest of a barren hill, their hoods tilted toward each other, almost in the attitude men would take, who talked and consulted. I buried myself beneath the moss bush. These great and unearthly spirits passed near by to me, but I was not slain.
I saw a regiment of Night Hounds standing in order before a creature that seemed an insect thing, all claws and crooked legs, yet made of mist that my eye could see through him. The hound-things were greater than a dray-horse of the ancient world. I have never heard report of intellect among the Night Hounds, nor that they moved and drilled as armed men, in file and rank: and surely this was a great wonder, and I did not understand it. There was no wind, and they did not scent me: otherwise I surely would not have saved myself alive.
In another place I found a ruin that indicated that human beings indeed once had dwellings, smaller strongholds, out in the darkness away from the Great Redoubt: yet I saw the little bones they left, and my father told me these people slew their children and ate them, in order that they be accepted among the abhumans.
Elsewhere I saw the stones stir uneasily, and I felt in my spirit the powerful malice radiating from the ground, and I realized I walked among the eggs of some form of life made of a substance harder than rock, and it was by the mere unwatchfulness of the guardians there that I escaped.
In another time I heard music in the darkness, calling, and it was only through the intervention of my father’s ghost that my life and sanity were preserved, for he said the Master Word to me, and I was reminded of human things, food and lamplight, clean water and the laughter of children, and by this means I resisted the pull. I feared for him, because to put his power out from the ghost-cell and touch me, he exposed himself naked in spirit to the miasma of the Night Land, if only for a moment. Yet he seemed to take no hurt.
When I passed through the gray dunes, I lost sight of the Great Redoubt, and was lost. I thought I was in some deep valley, whose tall walls no doubt blocked my vision of the mighty Hill of Life. Yet I followed the needle, and it pointed toward the source of the Earth Current, but I did not see the Last Redoubt before me, and neither did I find any wall or cloud blocking my sight. I felt the power of many human souls in my mind, so I knew I was near, and I saw the weird fires of the Country of Blue Fire to the North, and so I knew I was not blind.
Not until I came to the very place of the Great Redoubt, did I see that the upper stories, many of the cities and towers of the upper balconies, were dark. I did not know the terror that the Redoubt had fallen, because I still sensed the pulse of human life within, but I was filled with doubt and awe.
Closer I crept. I could smell the burning in the air, and I knew from the disturbances in the aether that a mighty battle had taken place here, and much of the Earth-Current had been expended to ward off an invisible pressure from the House of Silence. Of the corpses of Night-Hounds and slugs as vast as hills, there was beyond number heaped up in mounds before the Southeast Gate and the Southwest. I walked many hours to the North, till I came around the side of the pyramid: for the first time in all my life, the sight of the Northeast Watching Thing, that monster called Crowned Watcher, was lost, since a great pall of smoke hung over the Night Land in that direction, and, for once, the piercing horror of the many eyes watching us was blind. This great smoke was due to the discharges of weapons of an antique type. They had not been fired in perhaps three quarters of a million years, but the ancient and honorable guild of the Matrosses kept them in order.
There were scavenger-creatures among the many corpses gathered around, but they fled from the roar and flash of my Diskos. Once and twice abhumans spotted me, and threw stones, holding away from me and hooting for their comrades to come and slay: for they were wise enough not to come at me one at a time. But I pursued the first and killed it, and, not long after when another pelted me I gave chase, but he escaped with a wound to his leg, for he fell down a slope into a rushing creek of slime, and I dared not follow. Both times the creature-men were far from their bands, and walking alone.
I came upon two figures outlined against the dim and sacred glow of the electric circle so suddenly that I turned upon them with my weapon: but my Diskos, being wiser than I, could not strike, for these were men. The Master Word beat solemnly in the dark air.
“Here is one whose name I cannot say,” said the first, “And I am Belphanes of the Savants. My order is that which oversees the oaths of men: if you have vowed to spare your father, I release you from that vow, and absolve you.”
I could see the Mind Song in their eyes. To me the Song was still silent. They were on one side of the tiny line of light which defines the Air Clog, and I was on the other.
“I will not kill my father,” I said. “Where is justice in this? We are perfect men of a perfect age: we will resist the temptation to preserve our dead. They will perish with us, and escape the final dread. But to extinguish their memory before that time is madness. Where is the harm in it?”
The one unnamed to me said, “Friend, you have been alone, and your mind has wandered down strange paths. You know that there is one race of mankind who will come after us, fully human, flourish for a few years, a brief and final golden age, before the abhumans learn the Master Word and come to occupy our beloved homes. Our children will not be able to resist the temptation.”
“That is not proved!” I shouted, the first time one human voice had been raised in anger against another in perhaps twenty thousand years or more.
That one said, “You may prove it. You are as our ancestors were, and as our descendants will one day be. Resist the temptation to cling to life when life endangers soul and sanity. Put the cylinder at your feet. To spare you, I am come, and I promise to shatter the casing with one blow, and with my weapon tuned so that no part of your father will escape and be tainted by the Night.”
I knew why he had not been introduced to me. It is not fitting that one whose duty it is to slay your loved ones be known to you.
Belphanes of the Savants shook his head toward that unnamed man. “Spare no words with him: his soul is isolated. As soon as he steps across the white circle, he will be in communion with us, and what must be done will be clear.”
Such was my grief and anger that I turned away. Perhaps I meant merely to run into the darkness, blindly, without goal. Or perhaps I thought the shattered strongholds filled with bones could be restored to energy and light, and I could live out my days alone, companioned only by my father’s lifeless voice.
But whatever it was I thought, I saw, remote in the distance, where the great clouds of smoke had parted, merely the suggestion of a shadow within a shadow. One shadow was a low hill set with standing stones; the other was the outline of the House of Silence, and I saw the motionless little lights in the windows: and I saw its doors were open, as if inviting me to come inside. The allure of the doors was very great. I remember thinking that it would be a heroic deed to go there, since all the members of my race feared it, and I would see what they feared to look upon, the nameless and unsleeping power that dwelt inside that place.
The two men spoke the Master Word, but I did not hear it: and they dared not step over the electric circle, for at that moment it was grown terrifically bright, and I heard the groaning of engines buried beneath the great Redoubt, bringing up Earth-Current to the task.
The aetheric disturbance could have blown my soul into nothingness, as a puff of breathe blows out a candle: but the purpose of the House of Silence is ever to take, never to kill. And I stepped one step away from the electric circle, which now blazed like lightning on the ground.
My father spoke the Master Word to me, and his spirit seemed to reach up from the lantern-shaped cell I held and touch my face. This broke the spell. I stepped back across the circle, and, at that same moment of time, sanity and moral sense returned to me.
I saw from the dials on the casing that all my debate and hesitation had been for nothing. My father was rapidly dehumanizing. He had exposed himself to the full brunt of the silence of the Night Land to save me. Before the process could complete itself, before he was trapped for eternity in an agony such that no fleshly organism can imagine, I shattered the casing of the ghost-cell down at my feet: there was a flare of light where it broke against the lightning of the electric circle. That clean and pure electric essence of the Earth Current may have swept the stain away: his individuality and memory were gone. Not even an echo of the beloved soul remained.
“Why?” I called out in grief. “Why is this dark world as it is? Are all the promises of hope in vain?”
I felt the pressure of the silence, the soul-destroying emptiness, that issued from the House of Silence, creaking against the laboring barrier that protected us.
There was no other noise from the Night Lands to answer me, except, perhaps, the mocking echo of unearthly scorn from the Country Whence Comes Great Laughter.