Based on the works of William Hope Hodgson
AN EXPLANATORY NOTE
The book you hold in your hand is a masterpiece. At least, I hope it is still a masterpiece. It is a tale of adventure, a novel of both fantasy and science fiction, and more than anything else, a love story. William Hope Hodgson (1875-1918) wrote professionally for only eleven years before a German shell ended his life during World War I. In that time he produced numerous short stories and four extremely imaginative novels. Of the four, The Night Land is surely the most ingenious. The book was praised by such diverse sources as C.S. Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft commended its ". . .sense of cosmic alienage, breathless mystery, and terrified expectancy unrivaled in the whole range of literature." The poet and stylistic master, Clark Ashton Smith, said, "In all literature, there are few works so sheerly remarkable, so purely creative. . .Only a great poet could have conceived and written this story. . ." The Bookman, a leading journal of its day, said, "Mr. Hodgson gives us the most touching, exquisite. . .romance that has ever been written."
Unfortunately, a book that should be considered a classic is mostly unread and forgotten, for Hodgson chose to write it in a difficult, archaic style which The Bookman called: ". . . a language surely of his own invention." Added to that, Hodgson steeped the work in Victorian sentimentality. Despite his praise for "the unforgettable sombre splendor of the images. . ." C. S. Lewis criticized its ". . .sentimental and irrelevant erotic interest and. . . flat archaism of style." Editor Lin Carter, while praising the book when he oversaw its publication in the Ballantine Books Fantasy Series in 1972 said, "The Night Land is a work of sustained imaginative vision without equal in literature, but it is dreadfully overwritten, overlong, and verbose and repetitive to the point of shameful self-indulgence. The High Victorian love scenes and romantic dialogue are excruciating to the modern taste and hurt the strength of the book."
That this novel should survive, despite its many faults, is an indication of the power of the narrative.
Thanks to Betty Ballantine and Lin Carter, I first read The Night Land over thirty years ago. As a seventeen year-old, I did not mind it being sentimental and redundant. I loved the mystery and wonder of the story.
I first got the idea to rewrite The Night Land more than ten years ago. I picked a paragraph at random from the book and rewrote it in three styles, each more modern than the last. Having other work to do, I set the pages aside. When I eventually returned to the project, I began by rewriting the book, paragraph by paragraph, but soon discovered that Hodgson's prose did not hold up in a direct "translation." I grew bolder and began adding dialogue (Hodgson had none), character motivation, and even brief scenes not in the original volume, but necessary to support the logic of the story line. I was forced to name the main character, who Hodgson left nameless. I have divided the book into more chapters than in the original, breaking the action at various points to slow the relentless pace, and have renamed several chapters to avoid giving away the plot. Despite the many changes, I have strived to use Hodgson's thoughts (sometimes only bare hints) to recreate his world. Everything I have done has been for a purpose. Although I have served as second scribe, all of the genius belongs to William Hope Hodgson.
The charred fragments of the story we now call "The Night Land" were discovered in an iron box in the burned ruins of an ancient country residence in the County of Kent. Nothing else survived, nor did anything remain around the manor except a stand of ancient oaks and a small, family cemetery.
MIRDATH THE BEAUTIFUL
"And I cannot touch her face
And I cannot touch her hair,
And I kneel to empty shadows--
Just memories of her grace;
And her voice sings in the wind. . . .
And I answer with vain callings. . . ."
It was the joy of sunset that brought us together, as I walked alone, far from home with my oak staff in hand, pausing often to view with wonder the clouds forming, row upon row, the battlements of evening in the sweet, gathering dusk of the year 1827.
The last time I paused, lost in solemn glory of the coming twilight, I heard to my right, beyond a gap in the hedge bounding the country road, the din of strident voices, some low
and coarse, but one higher, as of a person in distress. I stepped through the hedge gap to find three men confronting a woman so lovely I knew her at once as the maiden acclaimed throughout
the County of Kent as Lady Mirdath the Beautiful. Until that time, I had heard of her only by reputation, for though the estates of her guardian lay next to my own, I had often been abroad, and when at home had immersed myself in studies, riding, and physical training, the last of these such a constant passion I do not boast to say I have never met my equal in strength or speed.
Because of my conditioning, I did not hesitate to place myself between Lady Mirdath and her assailants, and with my oak staff raised, warned them to withdraw. I am not a small man, and at first my unexpected appearance and sheer physical size must have startled them, but after a moment, they recovered their courage and ran at me without a word, knives gleaming in the dusk.
I stepped briskly forward, eager for the attack, while behind me sounded the shrill call of a silver whistle, as Mirdath summoned her dogs and household servants. Even as she did so, I drove the end of my staff into the stomach of one of the attackers, dropping him to the ground. Without pausing, I gave another a sharp rap on the head, surely cracking his skull, for he toppled instantly to the earth. The third, who was nearly upon me, I met with my fist, nor did he require a second blow, but went down to join his companions. Seeing my enemies defeated, proud of my easy victory, I turned to the lady and laughed at her look of astonishment.
My mirth died in my throat, however, as she said, "You are either Hercules reborn or a strongman escaped from the circus. Do you thrash villains as a regular practice, or is it a natural gift?"
Her question deflated me somewhat, and before I could find anything close to a response, three enormous boar hounds, drawn by Mirdath’s whistle, bounded up and encircled me, fangs bared, and the lady spent several uneasy moments keeping them off me, while I, in turn, prevented them from mauling the unconscious thieves. Just when the dogs had settled, shouts arose and lantern lights came bobbing through the woods, marking the arrival of the footmen of the house, who came armed with cudgels. They too were as baffled as the dogs by my presence, and if Mirdath had not stepped between them and me, I would have been mobbed.
"Who are you?" their leader demanded in a Northumbrian accent, his gaze taking in my face and the men upon the ground. "What are you doing out in the woods?"
"Why, John, don't you recognize him?" Mirdath asked. "It's Andrew Eddins. He has saved my life."
The servant's tone immediately softened. "My pardon, sir. Sir Alfred has told the Lady not to wander alone, but she's a stubborn one. When we heard her whistle, we were terrified for her safety. What would you like done with these rogues?"
The assailants were gradually groaning their way back to life, and I ordered them taken into custody to be presented next morning to the magistrate. As the servants secured the thieves, I removed my hat. "Would the lady care to be escorted to the safety of her door by a circus strongman?"
Despite the danger she had faced, Mirdath blushed and gave a brave smile. "I fear I have embarrassed myself in my excitement. When I saw you leap from the hedge like an ancient hero, you seemed more dream than reality, and I hope you remember that I called you Hercules at first. Please forgive me and say we shall be friends."
"How did you know my name? We have never been formally introduced."
"Some of us do not spend our days locked away in our manors or traveling abroad. We snoop instead."
"Is everyone in the county watching me, or is it just you?"
She smiled. "The rest of the spies are busy elsewhere, so you do not receive the attention you deserve, but I have often seen you riding your horse past our manor and have inquired concerning you. What a beautiful stallion you have! You and I are actually third cousins, you know; Great-grandmother Agnes was Lord Charles Eddins’ sister, and you must call me Mirdath, since we are related and you have just saved my life."
She grinned mischievously. "For shame, sir, in not visiting us before. You must present yourself to my guardian tonight to make amends for your neglect."
"I will do so," I replied, keeping my voice steady, for though I had defied the assailants without a quaver, the face of Mirdath, seen so near, took my breath away. She was tall and slender, though I was a head taller, and the rumors could not begin to match her beauty. More than this, it impressed me that she could face danger one moment and stand joking the next.
She led me back through the breach in the hedges and we walked together down the road. "This gap is my own special secret," she said, giving me a sidewise glance. "You must promise to tell no one, for my maid and I, disguised as village lasses, sometimes slip through it to attend country dances."
Not being a man for flattering words, I said nothing, though I thought it unlikely that any disguise could hide that lovely face. But in that I was wrong, as I would eventually discover.
At her manor, she presented me to her guardian, Sir Alfred Jarles, an old and respected man I knew in passing because of our adjoining estates. There, she praised me to my face, and Sir Alfred thanked me profusely, proclaiming me an eternal friend of the house. I dined with them that evening and afterward walked again on the grounds with Lady Mirdath, who seemed more familiar to me than any woman had ever been, as if we had always known one another. It became our constant delight to discover how much we had in common. But that night, I soon perceived she was most fascinated by how easily I had overcome the three assailants.
"Are you truly as strong as you seem?" she asked me.
When I laughed in pride and embarrassment, she clutched my arm to discover my strength for herself, then released it with a gasp.
"A circus strongman, indeed," she said. "You must spend little time in reflection."
I chuckled. "A polite way of calling me empty-headed. I study more than you might suppose. I do enjoy physical activity and rambling outdoors, but have done extensive reading in the sciences, especially biology. I love learning about nature."
"Then we share that passion as well. It seems you are not only a protector of women, but a scholar, too."
But if she took pleasure in my strength, her beauty, glimpsed between the shadows of the candlelight at dinner, likewise amazed me. Were it only that, I would have been amply infatuated, but our shared interests and her cleverness and easy laughter left me twice enchanted.
We wandered through the woodlands all that evening, lost in conversation, unaware of the passing of time, until there arose the shouts of men’s voices, the baying of dogs, and the gleam of the lanterns. I stood perplexed, until Mirdath gave a sweet laugh, perceiving that we had stayed so long Sir Jarles had feared once more for our safety.
Such was the way of our meeting, the flowering of our acquaintance, and the beginning of my love for Mirdath the Beautiful.
The following days passed in a delightful haze, for from then on I wandered every evening along the quiet country road leading from my estate to Sir Alfred's. Entering through the hedge gap, I often found Lady Mirdath already walking there, accompanied, at my request for her safety, by her boar-hounds. Strolling together, we shared the things that have always fascinated me--the mystery of twilight, the glory of ancient woods, and the splendor of night. She seemed to enjoy my company, though she had a mischievous streak and sometimes teased me relentlessly, as if to see how much I would bear.
One night I came to the gap in the hedges just as two country maids were leaving Sir Alfred’s estate. I nodded a greeting, intending to continue through the gap, but as they passed they curtseyed with unusual grace for provincial girls. On a sudden intuition, I drew near enough to peer at them through the fading light. Though I could not be certain in the dimness, I thought the taller might be Mirdath.
"Who are you?" I demanded.
In answer, she only simpered and curtseyed again, keeping her head down, leaving me in doubt. Knowing Mirdath's impish nature, I decided to follow them. They hurried away, as if fearful of my intentions, and I pursued at a distance to the village green, where a great dance was being held. Torches, plunged in the ground in a circle, lit the night for miles around, sending the shadows of the trees bobbing in imitation of the scores of dancers. Barrels of ale were set out on long benches, and a fiddler stood upon a low hill, playing a tune. Half the county must have been there. Since I was the only one dressed as a gentleman, I felt the eyes of many upon me, and the crowd parted as I advanced.
Though the two joined the dance, they avoided the torchlight, keeping only one another for a partner. By these signs I was convinced this must be Lady Mirdath and her maid. I approached the taller woman, bowed, and said, "May I have this dance?"
"I am promised, sir," she said, in a voice similar to but somewhat unlike Mirdath's. I caught a glimpse of a grin beneath her bonnet, but before I could get a closer look she gave her hand to a hulking farm lad, who danced her round the green. She was abundantly punished for her deception; it took all her skill to save her feet from his clumsiness, and when the dance finally ended she excused herself as quickly as she could.
Despite the darkness and her disguise, I was convinced of her identity. I strode across to her and whispered, "Mirdath, this is scarcely proper. What would Sir Alfred think? Quit this nonsense and let me take you home."
Her eyes flashed in the torchlight in response, and if I had doubted her identity before, I did so no longer. She stamped her foot in fury, turned from me, and hurried back to the farm lad. After suffering another dance with him, she bid him escort her and her maid part of the way home. Another young lout, his comrade, accompanied them as well, while I trailed a discreet distance behind. No sooner had they left the light of the torches than the lads, ignorant of the true rank of their companions, tried to put their arms about the ladies' waists.
Lady Mirdath cried out in alarm and slapped her escort so violently he recoiled, but then, cursing loudly, came at her again. He seized her by the shoulders, trying to kiss her while she screamed my name and beat at his face with her fists. Her struggles would have been useless, had I not been close, but I caught the poor lad and struck him once, less to hurt him than to teach him an unforgettable lesson. He folded and I cast him to the side of the road. The second boy, hearing my name and probably knowing my reputation for strength, released the other woman and ran for his life.
In my anger, I caught Mirdath by her shoulders and shook her soundly. "What were you thinking?"
I was breathing hard and my expression must have looked dreadful, for she appeared terrified. My temper is one of my worse faults, but her fear shamed me into regaining my composure.
"Walk down the road ahead of us," I ordered the maid, my voice trembling with rage.
After the woman complied, I said more softly, "Mirdath, why do you do things like this?"
She spoke so quietly I barely caught her words. "Perhaps because I want someone to stop me."
We returned to the manor without another word. Mirdath kept close to me, as if both comforted and embarrassed by my presence, and I led her through the hedge gap and back to the Hall, where I bade her goodnight at a side door for which she had a key. She replied in a subdued voice, acting almost as if she did not want us to part.
Yet when we met the following day, she taunted me all through dinner, little jabs that burned like tiny brands. Finally, around dusk, when we were alone in the Music Room, I asked, "Why are you being so spiteful? Is it because of last night?"
"Have I been cruel?" she asked.
"You know you have."
She looked down. "After my parents died and Alfred became my guardian, my moodiness often surprised him. Sometimes he took me rowing out on the pond in a little boat. We would spend the whole day together. Those were happy times for me. We laughed and played--he can tell the most wonderful stories--but when we speak of it now, he says that toward the end of the day I would invariably start an argument. He thought it was because I was afraid to love him, lest he die, too."
"An understandable reaction, I suppose, but it won't bring you much happiness."
"No," she said, her face growing gentle. "Come, let me play my harp for you."
All that evening, to make amends for her cruelty, she played the favorite melodies from our childhood, and by the time I left I loved her even more.
That night, escorted by her three boar hounds, she accompanied me to the hedge gap, but being unwilling to leave her alone in the darkness, I followed her unobserved until she returned to the safety of the Hall. As she walked home, softly singing a love song, one or another of the dogs ran back to me and nosed against my hands, but I quietly sent them off again. I did not know whether she loved me or not, though I believed she felt some affection for me.
On the following evening, I went to the gap somewhat early, and to my surprise found Lady Mirdath talking to a well-dressed man with the air of the king's court about him. When I approached, he did not step aside to let me pass, but eyed me insolently and stood his ground.
"Pardon me," I said, the way being clearly too narrow to accommodate us both.
Though he looked directly at me, he refused to budge. My pride rose at his ungentlemanly behavior. Regardless of his rank, I would not be mocked in my own country, not before Mirdath. Determined to teach him a lesson, I picked him up by the shoulders and set him to one side.
To my pain and astonishment, Mirdath turned on me, her face red with rage, "How dare you manhandle my friend, you--you bully! I have been so mistaken about you! How could you? How dare you?"
I stood stunned before her assault. For her to humiliate me, her true friend and cousin, before a stranger, surely meant she did not love me. Too deeply wounded to argue, I bowed low to Mirdath and the man, who really was slight of frame. He had weighed nothing at all when I lifted him. "I. . . .apologize. The Lady is correct. I should have been courteous from the start."
Having somewhat repaired my error, I turned and stalked away, leaving them to their happiness, my own sight blurred by despair and anger. In my anguish, I walked a good twenty miles before returning home. I ate no supper that night, and got little sleep. For days afterward, I remained despondent, for I was so desperately in love with Mirdath, and my entire spirit, heart, and body ached with the sudden, dreadful loss.
For a long week I took my walks in another direction, but by the end of that time could not resist following the old way in hopes of catching a glimpse of her. In reward, I saw all a man ever needed to fill him with jealousy, for as I approached the gap, I found Mirdath walking beside the well-dressed man, his arm around her. Since she had neither brothers nor young, male relatives, I knew they were lovers. Yet the moment Mirdath saw me, she acted ashamed, for she shrugged off her companion's arm and curtsied to me, her face glowing crimson. Not knowing what to say, I bowed low and passed on.
"Andrew, wait!" Mirdath called behind me.
I turned only long enough to say, "There is nothing to wait for, nor any reason to ever pass this way again."
I did not linger for a response, but even as I turned back I saw the man put his arm around her once more. Perhaps they watched me as I departed, stiff and desperate, but I did not look back again.
For an interminable month thereafter, I avoided the gap, my love and hurt pride raging within me. However, pain shapes a man's character, and at the end of that time, thinking myself reconciled to the loss, I began taking my walks past the gap again. I never saw Mirdath, though one evening I thought she must be nearby, for one of her boar hounds bounded out of the woods and onto the road to nuzzle my hands. I waited a long time after the hound left, but caught no sight of her, and so continued on again, my heart heavy.
I threw myself into my studies and physical conditioning, and rode my black stallion around the county for hours. Like many young men of my station, I thought much of myself, and the idea of Mirdath rejecting my advances for such a slight man, regardless of his position, baffled and wounded me. I had yet to learn that living invariably cures vanity, and that no one passes through this world without undergoing humiliation.
Two weary, lonely weeks passed, and I grew sick with longing. By the end of that time I resolved to enter the grounds surrounding the Hall to try to catch sight of her. Having made my decision one evening, I went out immediately, and entering the gap, came by a circuitous route to the gardens around the Hall, which I found brightly lit with lanterns and torches, and filled with a throng of people eating and dancing at a costume ball. A sudden, horrid dread pierced my heart that this might be Lady Mirdath's marriage dance, but I soon dismissed the notion, for I would have heard the announcement of a wedding. Then I remembered this was her twenty-first birthday and the end of Sir Alfred's guardianship. In fact, I had received an invitation several weeks before, but had dismissed it as a polite gesture on Sir Alfred's part.
Had I not been so heartbroken, I would have enjoyed seeing that spectacle. The revelers danced on one end of the wide lawn opposite lines of bronze and silver lamps, and lanterns twinkled among the trees and leaf arbors, reflecting their starlight off the silver and crystal that adorned a magnificent table spread with all kinds of food.
I caught my breath as Lady Mirdath stepped out of the dance, dressed in an exquisite, blue gown, her golden hair falling about her shoulders. Despite her beauty, to my eyes she seemed pale in the looming lights. No sooner did she take a seat than a dozen young men from the great families flocked eagerly around her. She looked exquisite in their midst, but somewhat pensive; her glance drifted away so often that I soon realized she must be looking for her absent lover. I could not imagine why he would desert her on such a night unless he had been called back to the court.
As I watched the young men fawning about her, I burned with a fierce, miserable jealousy. How I longed to step from concealment, to pick her up and carry her away, to take her to walk with me in the woods as in the former days, when she, too, seemed close to love. But what was the use? Clearly, it was not they who held her heart, but one small man of the court. So I stood and watched and did nothing until my misery drove me back to my house.
I avoided the gap for three miserable months after that, but by the end of that time, unable to bear not seeing her, I found myself standing before it one evening, at the spot where I had first, on a single night, both met Mirdath and lost my heart to her. Trembling with eagerness, I peered across the sward lying between the hedgerow and the woods. I stayed there a long time, waiting and watching hopelessly, until something soft brushed my thigh. My heart leapt when I discovered one of the boar hounds, for I knew, with agony and anticipation, that Mirdath was near.
As I waited, my heart pounding in my chest, I heard a low singing among the trees, faint and filled with sorrow, and knew Mirdath wandered alone in the dark with her dogs, murmuring a broken love song. Despite the way she had treated me, hearing her in such grief awoke my compassion. Though I yearned to comfort her, I did not dare move, but stood motionless in the gap, my soul in turmoil.
Presently, her slim white figure slipped from among the trees into the twilight. She came to an abrupt halt, and staring all around, gave a muffled sob. A sudden, unreasonable hope filled me, and leaving the gap, I rushed to her side, calling softly, with eager passion, "Mirdath! Mirdath!"
I came to her, while the hound, supposing it a game, bounded beside me. Without thinking, only craving to ease her pain, I held out my hands to her. She rushed into my embrace and remained there, weeping. When she finally fell silent, a sweet peace swept through me.
Suddenly, she relinquished her embrace, slipped her hands in mine, and raised her lips to me, so that all at once I knew she loved me.
That was the way of our betrothal, simple and wordless, yet adequate, except that love always gives more than mere adequacy.
She soon freed herself from my arms, and we walked home through the woods, holding hands like children. After a while I gathered my courage and asked her about the man of the court. She laughed sweetly, but refused to answer until we came to the Hall. When we arrived, she led me into the Greatroom, where another lady sat demurely embroidering, though her eyes betrayed a hint of delight at seeing me.
With an impudent curtsey, Mirdath said, "Sir Andrew, this is the Lady Alison."
"My pleasure," I said, bowing slightly, though the looks the two exchanged confused me.
Mirdath suddenly laughed so impishly she grew breathless, swaying a little with the effort, her cheeks red. "There is only one thing to be done," she cried, reaching above the fireplace to retrieve two pistols from their rack. "Andrew, you must challenge her to a duel to the death."
I stood in astonishment, while Alison kept her head down over her work, her frame, too, shaking with suppressed laughter.
"I don't understand," I said.
In answer, Alison looked full into my face, and I exclaimed in astonishment, for her features were those of the man of the court. I looked helplessly at Mirdath.
"Oh, Andrew, forgive me," Mirdath said, no longer laughing. "I have played a cruel joke not only on you, but on myself, and have paid a dear price. I have learned my lesson not to tease. Alison is my best and dearest friend. For a wager, she disguised herself to play a prank on a young man who wanted to marry her. When you happened along and treated her so forcibly, I lost my temper, forgetting you thought her a man."
"So that was it?" I asked. "My bullheaded jealousy?"
"And my foolishness," Mirdath said. "After that, we decided to punish you by fanning the flames, and met every evening at the gap to play at lovers, so you would see us. But when you appeared, I suddenly regretted our plan. I had not admitted, even to myself, my. . . .feelings for you. Seeing the suffering on your face, I drew away from Alison, but when you bowed so coldly and refused my call, I grew angry and vowed to punish you even more. Oh, Andrew, forgive me!"
I laughed. "I refuse to. I intend to remain by your side day and night, haunting you for your devilry."
Filled with gratitude and mad delight, I took her into my arms, and we danced around the Greatroom while Lady Alison whistled a tune.
So all ended well, despite the stubbornness and inexperience of youth. Mirdath and I were never apart thereafter, but wandered together rejoicing in one another's company. We were alike in a thousand ways, for we loved the splendor of gray evenings, the gathering darkness of dusk, the silent shining of starlight, the soft turning of the clouds by night, the faded colors of pastures in moonlight, the whisper of the sycamore to the beech, and the slow, somber rumbling of the sea. We listened to the thunder and watched the soft rains.
We were married in the spring. She looked radiant in her bridal gown, slender and lovely as Love itself--the curls of her hair, her wonderful eyes sober and sweet, her full lips, her mischievous smile, her slender hands, the grace of her every move--this is only a hint of my beloved's charms.
Mirdath, My Beautiful One, lay dying, and I had no power to hold back death's dread intent. In another room, I heard the thin wail of the child, and its crying woke my wife back into this life, so her pale hands fluttered desperately on the covers. I knelt beside her, taking her hands gently into my own, but still they moved helplessly, and she looked at me, unable to speak, her eyes pleading.
I left the room and called softly to the nurse, who brought the child, wrapped in a long, white robe. When Mirdath saw the baby, her eyes filled with a lovely light, but she still moved her hands weakly. I took the infant in my arms and the nurse stepped from the room. Sitting gently on the bed, I held the baby near Mirdath, so the tiny cheek touched the white cheek of my dying bride, though I kept the child's weight off her.
Presently, Mirdath tried to reach for the baby's hands, and I turned our daughter toward her and slipped the tiny fingers into the weak hands of my love. I held her above my wife with infinite care, so Mirdath's dying eyes looked into the eyes of the baby. In but a few moments, though it seemed in some ways an eternity, Mirdath closed her eyes and lay motionless. I gave our daughter to the nurse, who stood in the next room, then closed the door and returned to the bedside, so we could share those last seconds alone together. Mirdath groped along the covers, and I took her pale fingers into my own clumsy hands.
After a little while, her eyes opened, quiet and gray, but a little dazed. As she rolled her head on the pillow, the confusion left her expression and she looked at me clearly. I bent close to her and her eyes begged me to take her into my arms for those final moments. I lay gently upon the bed and lifted her with all my care until she lay comfortably against my breast, for love gave me skill to hold her, even as it eased her pain in the short time remaining.
So we were together, and it seemed Love made a truce with Death around us, leaving us undisturbed, for a peace fell upon my heart for the first time after many weary hours of pain. I whispered my love to her, and her eyes answered. The strangely beautiful, terrible moments passed into the hush of eternity.
Suddenly, Mirdath whispered something. I leaned my head down to hear as she spoke again. "My Hercules. My circus strongman."
I tried again to tell her how much I loved her, how much I would always love her, but even as I spoke the light left her eyes, and My Beautiful One lay dead in my arms. . . My Beautiful One . . .
THE LAST REDOUBT
Since Mirdath died and left me alone in this world, I, who once cherished her sweet companionship, have suffered a longing such as words can never tell. I have tried to continue my studies, my riding, and my physical training, but it all seems empty now. Mostly, I spend my hours sitting beside the hedge gap where we first met, remembering our moments together.
In the last few months, however, a miraculous event has given me hope, for in my dreams I have been transported into the future of this world, where I have witnessed strange and marvelous sights, and known once more the joy of living. Though I do not know if anyone will ever read it, I must write the story down, if only to ease my yearning for my beloved. If anyone does read my account, they will certainly disbelieve it. I scarcely believe it myself, and sometimes think grief has robbed me of my sanity. But if you read with an open mind, putting aside your doubts, you will gaze with me into the very portals of eternity.
From the time the dreams began, they continued night after night, always opening exactly where they ended the night before. They did not seem like dreams to me, but rather as if I woke in the far future. A gray mist always obscured my vision when I first arrived, but it soon faded, leaving me in a land of darkness lit here and there with miraculous sights; for the sun had died and everlasting night lapped the world.
From the moment I entered the dream, I possessed a complete set of memories of the Night Land, as if I had lived there all my life. In my earliest vision I found myself an adventurous, if hesitant, sixteen-year-old named Andros, standing at one of the windows of the Last Redoubt, high up in a four-sided pyramid of gray metal forged to protect the last millions of the world from the Forces besieging them, a structure rising to a height of almost eight miles and holding one thousand three hundred and twenty floors, each containing a city. I do not know its location, except that it lay in a tremendous valley.
I stood upon the One Thousandth Plateau, looking through an odd spyglass to the northwest, studying the hideous, but completely familiar landscape I had observed all my life. The window, made of a transparent substance much thicker and more durable than stained glass, rested in a recess the inhabitants called an embrasure. Thousands of embrasures covered the shining gray metal walls. The spyglass was a rectangular box that gave off a slight hum, set upon a pole with not one, but two lenses, one for each eye. Thin points of golden light burned within it, and its range could be adjusted by a thin lever.
In my right hand I held a copy of Ayleos' Mathematics, a book with a yellow metal cover, for as Andros I had always loved the art of numbers, particularly geometry. There is such certainty in mathematics; the world may change, but a seven is always a seven, and when added to two invariably makes nine. As a child I assigned personalities to the first ten numerals: 1 was strong, 2 friendly, 3 wicked, 6 funny, and so on. I even devised rules to explain how their personalities produced the correct answers in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. To me, working with numbers was glorious sport, particularly the number seven, who I considered a good friend. Any time I was presented with a difficult decision, I could escape to mathematics for a pleasant hour. Often, after doing so, I would return to my troubles and immediately see the solution. But perhaps an interest in geometry is not surprising for one raised in a pyramid.
Because of my mathematical propensity, as I stared through the spyglass I could recite the name and distance of every object in sight, as calculated from the pyramid's Center Point—a mysterious strip of polished metal rumored to have neither measurable length nor breadth, installed within the Room of Mathematics where I carried on my daily studies.
In the wide field of my glass, my eyes first fell upon the bright glare of the fire from the Red Pit shining upward against the underside of the vast chin of the Northwest Watcher--The Watching Thing of the Northwest: That which hath Watched from the Beginning until the opening of the Gateway of Eternity. So Aesworth, the ancient poet had written.
To my amazement I suddenly realized the bard was incorrect, for deep within my soul I saw, as dreams are seen, the sunlit splendor of the past. Thus, even as I, Andrew, dreamed of the future, the youth in the embrasure remembered his former existence, though it seemed to him a vision old as the dawn of the world. I looked back upon my life as Andrew Eddins as if seeing dreams my soul knew as true, but which appeared as a far vision, hallowed with peace and light. Since I had often demonstrated a knowledge of antiquity that perplexed the men of learning of that age, I cannot claim to have been completely unaware of the past before then, but from that moment my memory of the lost eons grew tenfold.
The knowledge struck me with such force that I groaned and fell to my knees, overcome by the power of the revelation. I knelt there, stunned by all I knew and guessed and felt, overwhelmed most of all by the memory of Mirdath. As I recalled the way she had sung to me in the days of sunlight, my longing for her reached across the ages, and for the first time I understood the emptiness that had haunted me even from my childhood.
"Are you ill, Andros?" a voice asked.
I looked up to see the ancient, friendly face of Cartesius, my mentor and friend, who had taken me under his protection after my parents died six years before.
"Why are you up so late?" I asked, avoiding his question as he helped me back to my feet. "It's past the fifth hour of sleep."
"I can sleep later. A waste of time, sleep. I haven't slept in. . ." he blinked in thought, "forty-two hours. There is too much to do. The Thing That Nods has changed the angle of its movement by point three degrees. We can see a fraction more of its face, if it is a face at all; the scholars are in furious debate on the issue. The whole tower is astir with excitement. According to the Records, such an event last happened four thousand seven hundred and twenty-six years ago, when Olin was Master."
"After all these centuries? How extraordinary."
"Precipitous times, indeed. Who knows the ramifications?" He smiled happily, his eyes lost in distant horizons, and then, remembering himself, made his expression stern. "It is extremely serious, of course. We are gauging the rest of the land, to see if any reactions arise. So far, we show a twelve percent increase in movement around the Giants' Kilns, but nothing more. We are watching the points of the compass steadily, though I just sent most of my assistants to bed--for some, exhaustion overcomes passion. A pity they lack fortitude."
He paused, his eyes suddenly focusing on me. "But you were distressed when I first approached, and now you are trying to divert me. What is it, Andros? How can I help?"
I sighed. "It's hard to explain. I've. . . .seen something."
"Something unusual, by your demeanor. A vision?"
"I think so."
"Tell me all about it. Leave out no detail, no matter how small. We shall find the significance in the insignificant."
I smiled at his old turn of phrase. A brilliant man, Cartesius served as the Master Monstruwacan within the Tower of Observation located at the pinnacle of the pyramid, where he and his fellow Monstruwacans observed everything that occurred within the land, peering into the darkness to extend their knowledge, always seeking new information despite being thwarted by distance--the plain of the Night Land remaining always beyond their reach. Their main duty was to watch, measure, and record the movements of the monsters and beasts besieging the Great Pyramid, so that should one merely sway its head in the darkness, every detail was noted. The name Monstruwacan itself, in the language of the people of the pyramid, literally meant Scholar of Monsters.
Though snow-haired with antiquity, Cartesius stood straight and unbowed, his dark eyes shining. He wore a perpetual stare, as if peering through the Great Spyglass had fixed his expression.
He had noticed me in my youth, for I possessed that rare talent my people call the Night Hearing, a gift so uncommon that out of all the pyramid's millions, only I showed any degree of skill in its use. I could detect, with better accuracy than the recording Instruments, the invisible vibrations pulsing continually through the eternal darkness of the ether.
"I have seen the past," I finally said.
His hoary eyes grew bright; he gave a happy smile. "Tell me."
The words tumbled from me as I related everything I knew about the lives of Mirdath and Andrew. As I spoke, I expected Cartesius to reprove me, for I mentioned grass and trees, oceans and wind, and most of all, the glorious, golden sun--things the people of the pyramid considered only myths--but he kept a respectful silence.
It took more than an hour to tell it all, and when I finished, my voice choking with emotion, tears glistened not only in my eyes, but in his as well. "Is it all a fantasy?" I asked. "A delusion?"
The Master Monstruwacan sat upon a gray stone bench, his hand upon his bearded chin, his eyes lost in the fantastic world I had described. He cleared his throat. "You have certainly experienced something. Nor do I think an Evil Influence has affected your mind. How extraordinary if it is true! And how sad."
I gave a sigh of relief. Even though, through experiments and the refinement of mental arts, the people of the pyramid spoke comfortably of concepts beyond our present understanding, as we of this day hold beliefs our forefathers would have considered lunacy, still I feared my story too bizarre to be taken seriously.
"This strange gift you have, Andros," Cartesius said, "you have always known many things about the ancient Days of Light. How I have laughed to see you confound and anger our scholars. How they long to believe you, even when they cannot accept your stories."
"But this--" I said. "It seems inconceivable! Can a man live again?"
"I do not know. I have never heard of such a thing, but life is filled with unusual and wonderful events. I am perpetually astounded that we exist at all. How can I say something is impossible simply because it has never happened before? Every action must have originally occurred for the first time. I therefore grant that though your experience is unlikely, it is within the realm of the possible. I believe you."
"Thank you." My voice almost broke in gratitude.
"You need time to understand the revelation. Once you absorb it, you must record everything--the tiniest bit, the merest speck. You must draw the shape of every leaf, show the precise color of the sky--a thousand things. Fear nothing and tell all! That is the way of the observer. Then I will set the Monstruwacans scouring the ancient histories--a man could spend a lifetime studying all you have just told me. If only I were young! It makes me long to leap to the annals, to brush the dust away, to blow back the debris and look for correlation." A fire rose in his eyes. "This is even more important than the movement of The Thing That Nods! I must go to the Hall of Records at once. There is one volume, yes, I see it clearly in my mind. I will rouse all the Monstruwacans from bed--they've had at least an hour's sleep; it should be sufficient. We must discuss this. We must correlate. We. . .must. . . correlate!"
He leapt to his feet, eager as a hound, and sped a dozen steps before abruptly turning.
"Forgive me, Andros. I forget the human in the hunt for the unknown. Will you be well, my boy? I can stay if you like."
I managed a smile. "I just need time to think."
His eyes focused gravely upon me; I felt him studying me with the meticulous scrutiny usually reserved for his work.
"Yes," he finally said. "You do need time. You must weep and laugh, grow angry and mourn, to prevent the vision from overwhelming you. But you will prevail, Andros. I see it. You will prevail. Come to the Tower of Observation if you need me."
As he vanished from sight, the thought struck me that I would not be the one to correlate my story with the Records. I did not need to; I had seen the past and knew the truth, but I loved my wise, old friend for believing me. Then the revelation overcame me again, and I sat and wept, clutching my copy of Ayleos' Mathematics, consumed by my memories of Mirdath.
After a time, when I could no longer bear contemplating my former life, I turned from the haze and pain of my memories back to the embrasure and the inconceivable enigma of the Night Land, for none of the inhabitants of the citadel ever wearied of looking upon its dreadful mysteries. The old and young, from infancy to death, watched the black monstrosities of that fearsome country, which only our Great Pyramid, the last refuge of humanity, held at bay. But now I saw the familiar things with new eyes, from the perspective of that ancient gentleman, Andrew Eddins, and it shook me to my core to see my impressions of the world so altered. For the first time, it seemed overwhelming to think of an entire planet bereft of light, spinning through the unending darkness of a starless sky, the only illumination the unearthly fires dotting the landscape.
Nearly overcome by this new-found sense of horror, I looked again at the Red Pit and the Northwest Watcher. Slightly more than fifty-three miles separated the pyramid from the Watcher. The creature could be seen from such a distance both because of the height of the redoubt, and the Watcher's enormity, for it stood twenty-six hundred and seventeen feet tall--almost half a mile. Its form was so cragged it might have been mistaken for a mountain if not for its brooding mouth and hollow-eyed, unswerving stare. It possessed neither arms nor legs, and its whole body cascaded downward from its head in irregular terraces. The long, sinuous glare known as the Vale Of Red Fire, a valley of flames, lay to the Watcher's right, and beyond the creature's bulk stretched the dreary, shrouded leagues of the Unknown Lands, across which shone the cold light from the Plain of Blue Fire.
On the very borders of the Unknown Lands, there ran a range of low volcanoes, which lit up, far away in the outer darkness, the Black Hills. The Seven Lights shone there, which neither twinkled nor faltered through eternity, and which even the Great Spyglass could not see clearly, since they stood over one hundred and sixty miles away. Neither had any adventurer ever returned to tell of them; if he had, a record would have existed within the Great Library, which held the histories of all who ever risked not only their lives, but their spirits, by venturing outside the pyramid, for the accounts of the Last Redoubt did not deal with mere thousands of years, but with millions, dating back to what we called the mythical Early Days, when the sun still gloomed dully in the twilight sky. Of all that occurred before that, only legends remained.
As I read over what I have just written, I nearly despair, for in trying to describe the world I have seen, it seems I have set for myself an impossible task: to portray a land of such vast proportions, such darkness, and such looming, hideous evil. I seek to describe the indescribable. My descriptions fail; my pen falters. Yet I must make the effort, if only for my own sake.
To my right, to the north, the House of Silence stood upon a low hill about seventy-five miles away. Many lights gleamed within it, but no sound ever came from it. It had remained unchanged through uncountable epochs--always the unwavering lanterns shining from beneath its sloping eaves and twisted windows, but never a whisper our listening devices could detect. Our people considered this House the greatest peril in all the Night Land. From my earliest childhood, perhaps because of my Night Hearing, I feared it more than any other aspect of that terrible country, for I often thought I felt the evil seeping from it, reaching toward the pyramid. It was as if some fate awaited me concerning it, and a violent trembling would seize my entire body if I stared too long into the beckoning blackness of its enormous, arched doorway.
Beside the House of Silence wound the gray, shimmering Road Where The Silent Ones Walk. We knew almost nothing about the Road, which passed around the eastern and southern sides of the pyramid before finally vanishing in the west. Many scholars believed that, of all the structures surrounding the pyramid, only it had been built by human hands. And on this point alone a thousand books have been written, all contradicting one another, as is the way of such things. It was the same with every other monstrous creature--whole libraries had been penned on every aspect of the Night Land, and millions of such volumes had molded, forgotten, into dust.
I stepped out of the embrasure. Because of the lateness of the hour, the wide corridor in which I stood, banding the One Thousandth Plateau, lay deserted save for a watchman riding the moving road spanning the width of the passage. Seeing this familiar scene from Andrew's perspective, I hesitated, for I could not help but wonder what he would think of it all, especially the traveling roads we called migrators, which ran around the outer edge of each of the plateaus. The One Thousandth Plateau stood six miles and thirty fathoms above the plain of the Night Land, and stretched more than a mile across. Numerous doors and passages lined the corridor's inner wall, and though most of the pyramid was made of shining gray metal, throughout the ages artists had painted colorful scenes along the passage, so that as I stepped onto the migrator, I rolled past brilliant depictions from the history of the One Thousandth City, and portrayals of battles with the monsters of the Night Land. The ceiling, which hung twenty-six feet above me, had always provided ample space before, but now, remembering the blue dome of the ancient sky, I felt confined.
In a few minutes, I stepped off the migrator at the northeastern wall, where I gazed through another spyglass at the Watcher of the Northeast--called the Crowned Watcher because a blue, luminous ring hung in the air above its vast head, shedding a strange glow downward over the monster's dreadful folds. The light revealed its enormous, wrinkled brow, but left all the lower face in shadow, save the ear, which belled out from the back of the head toward the redoubt. Past observers claimed to have seen it quiver, though no living person had ever witnessed it. The night hid its body, but ancient travelers' accounts claimed it stood like an enormous idol, its shoulders tapering down in a severe angle, its distorted hands hanging to its sides, its lower body a shapeless mound of darkness.
Beyond the Northeast Watcher, close by the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk, lay the region called The Place Where The Silent Ones Are Not, so named because the Silent Ones were never seen there. The Giants' Sea bounded the Road upon the far side, and beyond the sea ran another, smaller road called The Road By The Quiet City, which passed beside the unwinking, haunted lights of a deserted metropolis. We had never, in hundreds of thousands of years of watching, ever spied signs of life along its empty avenues, nor had even one of its lights ever faltered throughout that time. Its towers and domes rose, row upon row, into the sky, strange sculptures dotted its high roofs, and sweeping stairs wound between the buildings, as if it had once been home to a noble race.
Close beside the lights of The Quiet City lay the impenetrable void of The Valley Of The Hounds, home of the monstrous Night Hounds. Beyond that, obscuring all the east, hung a tangible, absolute darkness we called The Black Mist.
As I rolled on the migrator through the quiet Hours of Sleep, making a circuit to see each section of the Night Land, I heard a far, dreadful sound down in the lightless east, and, presently, again--a cackling laughter, deep as low thunder among the mountains. Because this came at random intervals from the Unknown Lands beyond the Valley Of The Hounds, we named that distant, unseen region The Country Of The Great Laughter. Despite having heard it many times, it always made me uneasy, a constant reminder, even in the redoubt's depths, of the horrors assailing earth's last millions.
Again, I was struck by the contrast between my life and my vision of the world before the sun failed. How strange a man Andrew Eddins seemed to me, who could, on whim, ride a horse through forests and glades! How different and yet how similar the two of us were, he with his interest in nature studies, I with my fascination for mathematics, he loving an outdoors I had never seen. I knew my environment had made me more thoughtful than he; I lacked his quick temper but shared his impulsive nature. He seemed the strangest of creatures, a great hulk of a man, so alien as to be almost beyond my understanding, and yet, at the same time, a part of myself.
Stepping off the migrator, I gazed at the translucent cover of one of the pyramid's millions of interior lights. Though I understood the simple principle that powered it, the part that was Andrew, who lived in a world of torches and candles, looked upon it with awe.
I sat down on a bench, overcome once more, thinking of that whole lost world. How unfair it seemed for my people to suffer imprisonment when humanity had once roamed the whole world. I put my hands over my eyes, as if to blot out the vision, but in the darkness I saw only a tall, gray-eyed lady, wearing unfamiliar garments.
After all these ages, where are you? The thought came unbidden, and I looked up, suddenly struck by the notion that if I had returned to life, perhaps Mirdath might do so as well. The idea filled me with excitement, but dismayed me too, for if she lived among the millions of people in the pyramid, I did not know how I would ever find her. Undoubtedly, she would look completely different, even as I, Andros, looked different from Andrew.
The Laughter sounded again, rousing me from my reverie. As it died away into the eastern darkness, I rose and looked through the spyglass, knowing Andrew's memories would alter my perspective. I focused on the crater of the Giants’ Pit, lying south of the Giants' Kilns. Titans tended these Kilns, enormous, bulging cylinders casting a red, sporadic light. The illumination threw wavering shadows across the mouth of the Pit, and the giants could be indistinctly seen crawling along its rim, performing unfathomable tasks. We neither knew what they did to the Kilns, nor why they did it, and this was but another of the mysteries of the Night Land.
To the back of the Giants’ Pit, between it and the Valley Of The Hounds stood a vast, black Headland. The light of the Kilns struck the brow of the formation, revealing forms constantly approaching the illumination, looking over the edge, and swiftly returning to the shadows. Throughout our recorded history, never had an hour passed without at least one of the creatures emerging. Because of this, we marked the region on our maps as The Headland From Which Strange Things Peer.
I could write for hours about all the examinations, observations, and speculations spent on the Headland alone. The Monstruwacans possessed thousands of images comparing the creatures who came to peer, and still no one could say what they were, or how many. For a brief period of time in my childhood, Cartesius thought he had positive proof that they were all actually a single being, returning again and again. It is impossible for me to convey how much excitement the discovery caused throughout the pyramid, or the wild theories that arose from it, but in the end, the information proved contradictory, and the Monstruwacans were forced to admit they knew no more than before.
Far closer than the Headland, running straight before me, was The Road Where The Silent Ones Walk. As I had done countless times before, I searched it with the spyglass, for the sight of its sojourners always stirred my heart.
Soon, alone in all the miles of that night-gray road, I saw a quiet, cloaked figure. As was the way of those beings, it was shrouded, and looked neither to right nor left. Legends said the Silent Ones would not harm a human, so long as one kept a fair distance from them, but I could not help but shudder as I watched him leave that part of the Road lit by the light from the Three Silver Fire Holes and pass into the shadows.
Far beyond the Fire Holes fluttered The Thing That Nods. I gaped at it a time; it had indeed turned a fraction more of its face toward the pyramid, and though its features remained indecipherable, I looked upon it in fascination. No one knew what it was, or why it moved; like so much of the Night Land it remained a dark and infathomable enigma.
To the right of The Thing That Nods, but nearer, rose the vast bulk of the Southeast Watcher--the Watching Thing of the Southeast. Thought the firest called The Torches, burning to either side of the squat monster, were easily a half mile away from it, they cast enough light to illuminate the beetled head of the unsleeping brute. Its body hung behind it in a mound resembling the distorted form of a frog. It seemed to rest its weight on its deformed, splayed front legs. Regardless of how many times I had seen it, it always brought a shudder to my soul, and I soon looked away, following the Road as it swept farther on to where it wound close by the Dark Palace, and then farther on, passing around beyond the mountainous bulk of The Watcher Of The South--the greatest monster in all the visible Night Lands. My spyglass showed it clearly: a living hill of watchfulness, brooding squat and tremendous, hunched over the pale radiance of the Glowing Dome, its mouth gaping open, its eyes staring vacantly ahead.
Much had been written concerning that odd, vast Watcher, for it had come out of the blackness of the Unknown Lands of the south a million years before and had drawn steadily closer through twenty thousands years, but so slowly no one could perceive its movements in a single year. Yet it did move, and the Monstruwacans had recorded every foot of its progress.
After it had come quite far on its journey to the Last Redoubt, a Glowing Dome had arisenmout of the ground before it, halting its advance, and from that time on, through countless ages, the Watcher had stared over the pale glare of the Dome toward the pyramid.
Because of the rising of the Dome, many scholars wrote essays suggesting that even as the Forces of Evil were unleashed upon the last age of mankind, so other Powers of Good, incomprehensible to the human mind, arrayed themselves to battle the terrors. But the Glowing Dome was not the only evidence of such Powers, as I will later relate.
Of the coming of the monstrosities, we knew little, for the evil began before the histories of the Great Pyramid were written, before the sun had even completely faded. We believed the trouble arose in the legendary Days of the Darkening, when ancient science disturbed powers beyond the earthly plane, allowing the monsters and Ab-humans to pass an unseen barrier previously protecting mankind. Grotesque and horrible creatures materialized to assault humanity, while those entities lacking the power to assume physical form grew into Forces capable of influencing and destroying the human spirit. As civilization degenerated into lawlessness, the surviving millions banded together in the twilight of the world to build the Last Redoubt.
Later, through hundreds of thousands of years, mighty races of dreadful creatures, half man and half beast, appeared. They warred against the pyramid, but were driven back time and again, with much slaughter on both sides. After many such attacks, the people tapped the energy flowing through the earth and erected a circle of power around the redoubt. Then, after sealing the lowest half-mile of the pyramid, they found peace in what was the beginning of an eternity of quiet waiting for the time when the Earth Current would fail.
Through the centuries, the creatures glutted themselves upon any who dared to venture outside the sanctuary to explore the Night Land. Of those who went, few returned, for eyes peered through the darkness, and Forces of Evil moved upon the face of the earth, keeping vigil with senses superior to those of humankind.
As the eternal night lengthened across the world, the power of the evil ones grew, and new and greater monsters developed, bred out of space and other dimensions, attracted like infernal sharks by that lonely hill of humanity. Giants arose, fathered by bestial humans and mothered by monsters, and various other creatures appeared, bearing human semblance and cunning, so that some of the lesser brutes possessed machinery and underground chambers for warmth and air.
I listened to the sorrowful roar rising continuously over the Gray Dunes from the Country Of Wailing, which lay midway between the pyramid and the Watcher Of The South, then I took the migrator toward the southwest side. As I rode the traveling roadway, I watched the panorama of the Night Land, a landscape vast as a nation, through the passing windows.
Leaving the migrator, I looked from a narrow embrasure far down into the Deep Valley, four miles to the bottom, where boiled the Pit Of The Red Smoke. The mouth of this pit extended one full mile across, and the smoke filled the Deep Valley at times, making it appear as a glowing red circle amid dull, ocher clouds. Since the smoke never rose much above the valley, it left a clear view across to the country beyond. There, along the farther edge of the Valley, the gray, quiet Towers, each nearly a mile high, shimmered wickedly.
Beyond these, to the southwest, loomed the enormous bulk of the Southwest Watcher, a creature shaped much like a gargoyle with shoulders held high as if in a perpetual shrug. The Eye Beam projected from the ground before it--a single ray of gray light shining on the monster's right eye. Because of the illumination, that eye had been scrutinized through thousands of years. Some believed it looked steadily through the light at the pyramid. Others, thinking the ray the work of the Powers of Good, argued that it blinded the Watcher, preventing it from seeing the redoubt clearly. Whatever the case, as I watched through the spyglass, it seemed the brute stared, unwinking, as if fully aware I spied upon it.
I have told of the five great Watchers surrounding the redoubt: the Watchers of the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast, and South, each keeping silent, immovable guard upon the pyramid. Despite their motionlessness, we knew them as mountains of living vigilance, filled with hideous, steadfast intelligence, ever ready to destroy us should our defenses fail.
To the northwest of the Southwest Watcher, extending an unknown distance, lay a region called The Place Where The Silent Ones Kill, so named because ten thousand years before a group of adventuring humans left the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk and were immediately destroyed. Only one survived to tell the tale, though he died soon after, his heart frozen. Our scholars could never explain this strange account, but it was written in the Records along with the testimonies of those who examined the body.
In the very mouth of the western night, far beyond The Place Where The Silent Ones Kill, glistened the Place Of The Ab-humans, where the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk was lost in a dull green, luminous mist. We knew nothing of that region, though it stirred the imaginations of our greatest thinkers. Some believed it to be a place of sanctuary, differing from the Last Redoubt as we of this day suppose heaven to differ from earth. Those who held that view thought the Road might lead there, if only the Ab-humans did not block the way.
Finally, my observations came full circle, back to the Red Pit and the Northwest Watcher. Between all the Watchers, the monsters, the flames, and the terrors, countless fire-holes pocked the surface of the Night Land. From where I stood, they appeared as pin-points of light across the dark plain. As a boy I had often tried to count them, but they were too numerous.
I have described something of that land, and of the besieging Watchers and terrors that waited for the hour when the failure of the Earth Current would leave us defenseless. I stood, quietly gazing, lost in wonder both at my own dark world, and at the forgotten days of sunlight. Sometimes I glanced upward to the gray, metal mountain rising measureless into the gloom of the everlasting night, or downward to the sheer sweep of the grim, metal walls, more than six full miles to the plain below. All around the base of the pyramid, which was five and a quarter miles each way, ran the great circle of light generated by the Earth Current, bounding the edifice for a mile on every side and having the appearance of a transparent tube. This, we referred to simply as The Circle. None of the monsters could cross it, because it created what we called the Ether Barrier, an invisible wall of safety. The vibrations from the Barrier disrupted the minds of the monsters and lower man-brutes, and created resonances to protect us against the Forces capable of attacking our souls. A Force of Evil could only penetrate the pyramid if an inhabitant dabbled in matters that left him open to its dreadful influence.
I could never look at The Circle without thinking of my parents, who had helped maintain the pyramid's mechanisms. They and their fellow workers had been required to perform a full survey of The Circle once every six months. A young member of the team, either through foolishness or carelessness, stepped across the Barrier and was attacked by a monster. When my mother and father rushed to his aid, the beast killed all three. I was ten years old at the time, and saw the entire episode through a small spyglass.
As I stood thinking of my parents and Mirdath, I realized that in both instances death had stolen my loved ones while I helplessly watched. Leaning against the embrasure, overtaken by the losses of two lifetimes, I stared out into the night.
THE QUIET CALLING
Upon turning seventeen, every child in the Great Pyramid is required to spend three years and two hundred, twenty-five days traveling from floor to floor through all the cities of the redoubt, spending one twenty-four hour period in each. I greatly enjoyed this journey and met many I might have learned to love, if there had only been time. Most I never saw again, for though the whole population traveled up and down the pyramid with an almost obsessive passion, there were so many millions and so few years. During my sojourn, I continuously watched for someone who might be Mirdath reborn, but as time passed I grew discouraged, for it seemed to me our souls would be drawn to one another if she were in the redoubt.
As I journeyed, I heard a rumor of another remnant of the human race living in a second refuge located somewhere in the night. As was often the case, though its existence was confirmed by hundreds of ancient works stored in libraries scattered throughout the cities, those scholars who bothered to read the Records remained skeptical, but from the moment I heard the tale of a second refuge, I thought it must be true. Having discovered no sign of Mirdath in my own pyramid, I believed she must be elsewhere, perhaps in that other, hidden sanctuary. I found myself constantly listening for her with my Night Hearing. Though I had not heard her voice for an eternity, it sang sweet and clear in my memory, as if she slept within my soul, whispering to me out of the eons.
When I came of age at twenty-one, my journey through the cities ended, and like many young men, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I considered becoming an instructor in mathematics, but I preferred applying my knowledge rather than teaching it to others, and was therefore overjoyed when, because of my gift of the Night Hearing, Cartesius offered me a post within the Tower of Observation. Such an appointment was the most coveted in all the pyramid, and I arrived at the tower grinning with pride, my yellow copy of Ayleos' Mathematics tucked under my arm.
As Cartesius's ward, I had been to the Tower of Observation often, but had never lost my sense of awe. It stood at the pinnacle of the redoubt, overlooking the Night Land from a height of nearly eight miles, two miles higher than that of my native city of Ogygia at the One Thousandth Plateau. Although the tower was less than a hundred yards in any direction, its embrasures covered the entire surface of the walls, giving one the impression of floating high above the plain of the Night Land. The Instruments clustered in the center of the chamber, a mass of crystals, pulsing lights, and controls. In many ways, the Tower of Observation was like the bridge of a warship, for the Master Monstruwacan had many forces at his disposal. The Instruments were as old as the pyramid itself, though some had become neglected and fallen into disrepair.
The most important Instrument of all was the Great Spyglass, an apparatus that took up as much space as the rest of the equipment combined. It bore little resemblance to the spyglasses of the nineteenth century, its main mechanism being a multi-faceted stone, pure as the clearest diamond, filled with shimmering light. Connected to this gem were hundreds of tubes running up to the ceiling and back down again beside the embrasures. The tubes, each of which contained a pair of eye slits, normally rested about seven feet off the floor. Whenever a Monstruwacan needed to look through the Great Spyglass, he simply seized one of the tubes and pulled it down to the proper level.
A low, pleasant hum constantly filled the tower and the air tingled with a slight electrical tinge. Monstruwacans shuffled back and forth, studying various portions of the Night Land, bending over their Instruments or hovering over one of the many breathing bells scattered across the chamber. Despite the air being pumped throughout the pyramid, the atmosphere in the tower sometimes grew rare, making the breathing bells a necessity, and clouds billowed from them with a soft, continuous hissing. I adored working there, where I could see the Night Land through the clearest eyes in the world.
If I had debated the scholars before my awakening, I did so even more afterward. I often sat half a day telling tales that sounded like fables, entrancing their hearts while angering their intellects. But Cartesius listened to anything I had to relate. Sometimes, after speaking for hours in the Tower of Observation, I glanced up and found all the Monstruwacans gathered round, their observations and recordings forgotten, their Master too enthralled to notice their negligence. When Cartesius finally roused himself, he would scold his assistants, scattering them, bewildered and thoughtful, back to their work, but they were always eager for more. The scholars outside the Tower of Observation were the same; though they scoffed and argued, they would have listened to me from the first hour, the start of what we still called the day, to the fifteenth, the beginning of the Hours of Sleep. Occasionally, I found some who believed my tales, and a faction eventually rose up that later became more numerous, but regardless of whether they believed or not, everyone loved to hear, and I could have spent all my time telling stories.
Because of this, I became famous among the millions of inhabitants, for the people passed my tales down through the cities, even to the farms at the lowest tiers of the Underground Fields lying a hundred miles below the redoubt. There, supervisors and workers alike gathered eagerly around me whenever the Master Monstruwacan and I descended on business concerning the Instruments and the Earth Current.
I had worked in the tower less than a year and was at my post at the fifteenth hour, pondering my lost love and my memories of the past. As a young man might, I had fallen so deeply into my meditations I almost fancied hearing my Beautiful One whispering in my ear. As I stood gazing out at the Night Land, communing with my own thoughts, there arose a real whisper, beating on my Night Hearing.
I staggered as one struck. Through five long years, since my awakening in the embrasure at sixteen, I had listened. Now, out of the everlasting darkness, through all the eternal years of my lost life, the call came. I knew it instantly, but because of my rigorous training, did not reply using my name, but sent the Master Word through the night, projecting my thoughts in the manner taught to every inhabitant of the pyramid. If my caller were human, she would be able to hear and respond, but if this were a false message intended to deceive my soul, sent by cunning monsters, Evil Forces--or as was often suspected--by the House of Silence, the creatures would be unable to repeat the Master Word. I do not know why this was so, except that we considered the Master Word holy, possessed of a power proven through all the everlasting ages. Even now, in my journal, I will not dare to reveal the sacred Word.
As I stood trembling, trying to control those emotions that destroy mental reception, the throb of the Master Word swirled around and around my spiritual essence, beating steadily in the night. Though I had no evidence that this might be my lost love, I replied with all my will, Mirdath! Mirdath!
At that moment, the Master Monstruwacan approached me. "Andros, the Instruments have detected the faint pulsing of the Master Word. Did you--" Seeing the intensity of my expression, he fell silent.
I listened with my spirit a long while before returning his gaze.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"A voice from the darkness."
"Do you still hear it?"
"No. Only a sense of faint, happy laughter."
According to the law of the Pyramid no one can enter the Night Land before the age of twenty-two, when--if a person wishes to make the journey--he receives three lectures upon the methods of survival, the use of weapons, and the dangers, including a strict account of the mutilations and atrocities done to other adventurers. If the candidate is judged sane and still wants to go, the people consider it an honor for him to add to the knowledge of the Great Pyramid by making the journey. A small capsule containing a fast-acting poison is inserted beneath the skin of the traveler's inside left forearm, so that, should he become entrapped by a Force of Evil, he can save his spirit from destruction by biting the capsule and taking his own life.
From the moment I heard the voice, I began planning such a journey. Everywhere I went, I listened for that quiet calling. Twice, I sent the Master Word throbbing solemnly through the everlasting darkness, though I dared not do so any more than that without further information, for we did not use the Word lightly. However, I often projected my thoughts outward, crying Mirdath's name. Sometimes I thought I heard a feeble thrilling of the ether, a whisper so faint even my Night Hearing could not catch its meaning, either sent by one with a weakened spirit or by an Instrument powered by insufficient Earth Current. This continued for many days, leaving me anxious from constant listening.
One day, as I stood by the Instruments in the Tower of Observation, the ether stirred around me. I instantly made the Sign for Silence, and the Monstruwacans throughout the tower emptied their minds of all thoughts, bowed over their breathing bells, and stood motionless.
The gentle thrilling returned, breaking into a clear, low message. Andrew!
Hearing my ancient name shook my soul, leaving me trembling with excitement. I replied with the Master Word, sending the ether rippling with the force of my response. A long silence ensued.
Finally, I discerned a calling so faint even the Instruments could not have detected it, followed by the heavy, throbbing reply of the Master Word. I hurried to the Instruments and used them to accentuate my own powers of thought. Mirdath.
Andrew the night replied. I could scarcely breathe. To steady my emotions, I took deep swallows of air from a breathing bell. As soon as I had composed myself, I remembered those about me--and with the link fully established--signaled the Monstruwacans to return to their duties so the Records would not lapse.
Beside me stood the Master Monstruwacan, quiet as any apprentice, waiting with slips to make notes, keeping a strict eye upon his assistants to prevent anyone from disturbing my concentration. For a precious hour, I spoke with that woman out in the darkness of the world, who knew my name from ages past.
Are you really Mirdath? I sent into the night.
A brief silence followed, as if she collected her thoughts, but her reply nearly broke my heart. My true name is Naani.
For an instant I could not think of a reply. But you called me Andrew! I finally protested.
As a child I read a book that is very dear to me, the story of two lovers, Mirdath and Andrew. When I first called and you replied with her name, I thought it might be some sort of test, and answered like the woman in the book.
For a moment, a haze of sorrow blinded me; all my hopes were dashed and my ancient love forever lost. Yet, I was puzzled as well. Although all the history of love is written by one pen, it seemed an enormous coincidence that Naani's book should mention Mirdath and Andrew, names unfamiliar to that age. More than that, amid my pain, Naani renewed my hope, for she replied, almost wistfully, Somehow, I thought your voice would be deeper.
Why would you expect it to be?
I sensed bewilderment from her. I don't know. I wonder now why I said it.
Perhaps the man in the book was described as having a deep voice.
I don't think so, she said. It was a foolish comment, for which I ask your pardon.
I did not reply at once, but my hopes were raised, for in the ancient days I possessed an extremely low voice. Further questioning only confused her more, and I soon let the matter rest.
Although it shows how much my soul longed for my lost love, it was strange for us to talk about so trivial a subject when our communication represented the breaking of as much as a million years of silence. Already, the news was being relayed from city to city throughout the pyramid by way of the Hour Slips, a sort of paperless printing press with the daily tidings appearing on enormous crystals scattered throughout the cities. My contact with Naani filled the accounts, with every inhabitant anxious to learn more. The authorities had suppressed the news of her first brief message, dismissing it as the delusion of an imaginative young man--no doubt my tales of the sunlit days made many think I suffered from hallucinations--but with the Instruments confirming the communication, there could be no question. In that one moment I became more renowned than in all my life before.
Naani and I spoke a long time, and her words verified the accounts of some of our most ancient Records. She told of dwelling in a three-sided pyramid, a mile in height and three-quarters of a mile along its bases, built, according to her people’s accounts, upon the shores of an enormous sea whose waters had long since evaporated. Her nomad ancestors had raised the pyramid in the twilight of the ancient world to escape the predations of the growing tribes of half-human monsters. The man who had designed her redoubt, and who led a group of four million to construct it, had once lived in the Great Pyramid, but had been exiled after rebelling against the authorities of the lowest city. The construction took many years, the builders living together in a camp and keeping continuous watch against assailants. They tunneled miles beneath the surface to tap the Earth Current, raised the pyramid, built Instruments, ordained Monstruwacans, and for many generations communicated every day with our own citadel. Even though her people had not spoken to us for generations, they still called their pyramid the Lesser Redoubt.
Eventually, their Earth Current began to fail, causing us to lose contact when they could no longer power their Instruments. Hundreds of generations passed in silence, while the Earth Current continued to fade. As it deteriorated, their numbers dwindled.
I interrupted her at this point: Even without your Instruments, some must have been born with the Night Hearing. According to our Records, we have heard the Master Word at various times. That, more than anything else, kept the reports of a second pyramid alive.
She explained that the Master Word was agreed upon and made holy between the two redoubts during the early days, and some of her people had indeed possessed the Night Hearing, but because of the weakening of the Earth Current, which caused their population to diminish to less than ten thousand over the centuries, none had been born with the gift for a hundred thousand years. This had changed in the last two decades, when the current unexpectedly increased. As a result, their young people had ceased growing old before their time and their birth-rate had risen.
This all happened about the time I was born, Naani said. I am the daughter of the Master Monstruwacan, and as I grew older, my father realized I possessed the Night Hearing. When the people learned of my power, a new interest arose in the ancient, forgotten Instruments, and we searched until we found the plans to restore them to order. We prepared an Instrument, and I was given the honor of being the first to call across the darkness, to discover if any other members of our race still lived.
She paused, and I sensed her trying to contain her emotions. The first time I called, there was a multitude gathered around me. No sooner did I send out my thoughts than I heard the Master Word. When I reported this to the others, some wept, some dropped to their knees in prayer, and some stood silent, but all urged me to continue. I spoke the Master Word and heard you respond using the name of Mirdath, but when I tried to answer, the Instrument failed.
We worked frantically to restore its power, but it took us several days. During that time I discovered I could hear the Master Word surrounding me sometimes, even without the help of our machines, but I lacked the ability to answer. The name you used reminded me of the book, so I found the volume and read it over and over. I seem to be drawn to it, though reading it fills my soul with a strange melancholy.
Perhaps because you find it familiar?
I do not know. I contacted you again after we repaired the Instrument.
I pondered all she had said, and remembering how I had often heard a vague stirring of the ether, knew it must have been Naani using her untrained mind.
We spoke a great while, and many times in the following days, concerning our lives within the two redoubts. After so long a separation, our cultures were similar in many ways, but quite different in others. Food was scarce in the Lesser Redoubt, though Naani's people had not realized it until the revival of the Earth Current partially restored their appetites and vitality. Our men of learning understood how the soil could lose its nutrients, and we recommended various methods to accelerate the restoration process.
As might be imagined, the story of our conversations, along with countless comments, were published in the Hour Slips. The libraries brimmed with people pouring through ancient Records that had been either forgotten or disbelieved for centuries. I was so besieged with questions from the curious that if I had answered them all I could not have found time to sleep. Endless stories were written about me, most of which I ignored. Of what I did read, much was pleasant, but some was so absurd it angered me.
I suppose if my work had not kept me so busy, such recognition might have made me vain, but I was always occupied either listening for, or speaking to, the Lesser Redoubt. If anyone noticed me standing in communication, they plagued me with questions, so I spent most of my time within the Tower of Observation, where the Master Monstruwacan maintained a strict discipline.
In the days following our first communication, an ancient and evil deception soon resumed, in the form of calls for assistance from ones claiming that the Lesser Redoubt had fallen into danger. When I replied with the Master Word, I invariably received no answer, and when the Lesser Redoubt heard my transmission and contacted us, they always contradicted the false reports. By this, we knew the monsters and Forces of Evil were aware of our contact with the Lesser Redoubt and sought to trick us into leaving our sanctuary. Such deceptions were familiar to us, but they now became more frequent. If not for the sure test of the Master Word, which was too holy for the Forces of Evil to utter, many of us would doubtless have been lured to our destruction.
If anyone from our present century ever reads my narrative, it should show them something of the terror of that time and give them a quiet gratitude to God that we do not suffer as humanity shall yet suffer. Of course, the people of the pyramids, to whom it was the normal way of life, did not think of it as suffering, and I have come to realize that mankind is capable of persevering, and of even learning wisdom, in the most desperate of circumstances.
Through all the Night Land the monsters and Forces began to awaken; the Instruments constantly registered increased levels of power at work in the darkness, and the Monstruwacans kept an unceasing vigil, lest any movement go unrecorded. A sense of change, of wonders abroad and wonders to come, filled the whole country. Cartesius, as excited as a boy, scarcely slept at all, and could be seen at any hour hurrying from Instrument to Instrument, eyes glittering.
From The Country Of The Great Laughter, the Laughter sounded incessantly, like murderous, heart-shaking thunder rolling over the lands out of the unknown east. The Pit Of The Red Smoke filled all the Deep Valley with crimson, the haze rising above the edge and hiding the bases of the Towers upon the far side. Around the Kilns to the east the giants gathered, and enormous balls of fire erupted from the tops of the Kilns themselves. From the Mountain Of The Voice, which I have not mentioned before, but which stood southeast of the Southeast Watcher, I heard the calling of the Voice for the first time in my life. Though the Records mentioned it, it had seldom been heard through the ages. It was shrill--strange and distressful and horrible all at once--as though an enormous woman, filled with an unnatural hunger, shrieked across the night. As with everything else outside the shelter, we had no way of knowing the meaning of all this activity, but it made us uneasy. In my few hours of leisure I consoled myself by working problems out of Ayleos' Mathematics. Only my beloved geometry drowned out the sounds of the Laughter and the Voice.
Other ploys were used to entice us into the Night Land, as when a call warned that a band of humans, faint with hunger and in need of aid, had escaped from the Lesser Redoubt and were approaching. Again, the creatures failed to respond to the Master Word. This came as a great relief, for until we knew it was a false message, it filled us with anxiety.
I spoke with Naani at all hours. I soon taught her how to send her thoughts without the use of the Instruments, though I was careful not to allow her to exhaust herself by overusing the power. Because her health, like that of all her people, was deficient, her messages remained faint except when she used the Instruments. Apart from this, her Night Hearing was keen, and I suspected it might someday exceed my own.
Through our many hours of conversation, our spirits drew ever closer, and though we seldom spoke of it, we both shared a deep sense of familiarity, as if we had always known one another. And this, as might be imagined, thrilled my heart.