The Night Land
Night Scapes
Night Thoughts
Night Lands
Night Times
Night Voices
Night Maps
Night Songs

Awake In The Night

By John C Wright

Years ago, my friend Perithoös went into the Night Lands. His whole company had perished in their flesh, or had been Destroyed in their souls. I am awake in the night, and I hear his voice.




Our law is that no man can go into the Night Lands without the Preparation, and the capsule of release; nor can any man with bride or child to support, nor any man who is a debtor, or who knows the secrets of the Monstruwacans; nor a man of unsound mind or unfit character; nor any man younger than twenty-two years; and no woman, ever.

The last remnant of mankind endures, besieged, in our invulnerable redoubt, a pyramid of gray metal rising seven miles high above the volcano-lit gloom, venom-dripping ice-flows, and the cold mud-deserts of the Night Lands. Our buried grain fields and gardenlands delve another one hundred miles into the bedrock.

Night-Hounds, Dire Worms, and Lumbering Behemoths are but the visible part of the hosts that afflict us; monsters more cunning than these, such as the Things Which Peer, and Toiling Giants, and Those Who Mock, walk abroad, and build their strange contrivances, and burrow their tunnels. Part of the host besieging us is invisible; part is immaterial; part is we know not what.

There are ulterior beings, forces of unknown and perhaps unimaginable power, which our telescopes can see crouching motionless on cold hillsides to every side of us, moving so slowly that their positions change, if at all, only across the centuries. Silent and terrible they wait and watch, and their eyes are ever upon us.

Through my open window I can hear the roar and murmur of the Night Lands, or the eerie stillness that comes when one of the Silent Ones walk abroad, gliding in silence, shrouded in gray, down ancient highways no longer trod by any man, and the yammering monsters cower and hush.




Before me is a brazen book of antique lore, which speaks of nigh-forgotten times, now myth, when the pyramid was bright and strong, and the Earth-Current flowed without interruption.

Men were braver in those days, and an expedition went north and west, beyond the land of the abhumans, seeking another source of the Earth-Current, fearing the time when the chasm above which our pyramid rests might grow dark. And the book said Usire (for that was the name of the Captain), had his men build a stronghold walled of living metal, atop the fountain-head of this new source of current; and they reared a lofty dome, around was set a great circle charged with spiritual fire; and they drove a shaft into the rock.

One volume lays open before me now, the whispering thought-patterns impregnated into its glistening pages murmuring softly when I touch the letters. In youth, I found this book written in a language dead to everyone but me. It was this book that persuaded the lovely Hellenore (in violation of all law and wisdom) to sneak from the safety of the pyramid into the horror-haunted outer lands.

Perithoös had no choice but to follow. This very book I read slew my boyhood friend-if indeed he is dead.

Through the casement above me, the cold air blows. Some fume not entirely blocked by the Air-Clog that surrounds our pyramid stings my nose. Softly, I can hear murmurs and screams as a rout of monsters passes along a line of dark hills and crumbling ruins in the West, following the paths of lava-flows that issue from a dimly-shining tumble of burning mountains.

More softly, I can hear a voice that seems human, begging to be let in. It is not the kind of voice that one hears with the ear. I am not the only thing awake in the night.




Scholars who read of the most ancient records say the world was not always as it is now. They say it was not always night, then; but what it may have been if it were not unending night, the records do not make clear.

Certain dreamers-once or twice a generation, we are born, the great dreamers whose dreams reach beyond the walls of time-tell of aeons older than the scholars tell. The dreamers say there was once a vapor overhead, from which pure water fell, and there was no master of the pump-house to ration it; they say the air was not an inky darkness whence fell voices cry.

In those days, there was in heaven, a brightness like unto a greater and a lesser lamp, and when the greater lamp was hooded, then the upper air was filled with diamonds that twinkled.

Other sources say that the inhabitants of heaven were not diamonds at all, but balls of gas, immeasurably distant, but visible through the transparent air. Still others say they were not gas, but fire. Somehow, despite all these contradictory reports, I have always believed in the days of light.

No proofs can be shown for these strange glimpses of times agone, but, when great dreamers sleep, the instruments of the Monstruwacans do not register the energies that are believed to accompany malign influence from beyond our walls. If it is madness to have faith in what the ancients knew, it is a madness natural to human kind, not a Sending meant to deceive us.




As I nodded, half-awake, softly there came what seemed to be the voice of Perithoös into my sad and idle thoughts. I was called by my name.

"Telemachos, Telemachos! Undo for me the door as once I did for you; return the good deed you said you would. If vows are nothing, what is anything?"

I did not move or raise my head, but my brain elements sent this message softly out into the night, even though my lips did not move. "Perithoös, closer than a brother, I wept when I heard your company was overwhelmed by the monsters. What became of the maiden you set out to rescue?"

"Maiden no more I found her. Dead, dead, horribly dead, and by my hand. Herself and her child; and I had not the courage to join them."

"How are you alive after all these years?"

"I cannot make the door to open."

"Call to the gate-warden, Perithoös, and he will lower a speaking tube from a Meurtriere and you may whisper the Master-Word into it, and so prove your human soul has not been destroyed, and I will be the first to welcome you."

The Master-Word did not come. Instead, mere words, such as any fell creature of the night could impersonate, now whispered in my brain: "Telemachos, son of Amphion! I am still human, I still remember life, but I cannot say the Master-Word."

"You lie. That cannot be."

And yet a felt a tear stinging in my eye, and I knew, somehow, that this voice did not lie: he was still human. But how could he forget the Word?

"Though it has never been before, in the name of the blood we shed together as boys, the gruel in which we bound our silly oath, I call on you to believe and know that a new sorrow has appeared in this old, sad world, like fresh blood from an old scar; it is possible to forget what it means to be a man, and yet remain one. I have lost the Master-Word; I have my very self. Let me through the door. I am so cold."

I did no longer answer him, but stirred my heavy limbs.

Though my hands and feet felt like lead, I moved and trembled and slid from my desk where I slumbered, and fell to the floor heavily enough to jar myself awake.

How long I lay I do not know. My memory is dark, and perhaps time was not for me then flowing as it should have been. I remember being cold, but not having the strength to rise and shut the window; and this was an old part of the library, so there were no thought-switches I could close just by wishing them closed.

My thoughts drifted with the cold wind from the window.

This wing of the library had been deserted for half a million of years. No one came into this wing, since no one could read the language, or understand the thoughts, of the long-forgotten peoples who had sent Usire out to found a new stronghold. Only I knew the real name of those ancient folk; modern antiquarians called them the Orichalcum people, because they were the only ones who the secret of that metal; and no other trace of them survived.

And so the Air Masters, during the last two hundred years of power-outages, had lowered the ventilation budget in this wing to a minimum. I had needed vasculum of breathing-leaf just to get in here, and would have fainted with the window shut.

Nor were failures of the ventilations rare. Most windows of most of the middle-level cities stood open, these days, no matter what the wise traditions of elder times required.

It was two miles above the Night Land. No monster could cross the White Circle, and nothing has climbed so high since the Incursions of four hundred thousand years ago; and even if they did, this window was too small to admit them.

I remembered wings. In my dreams I see doves, or the machines used by ancient men to impersonate them. But the air is thin, and even the dark and famished things have no wings to mount so high.

I thought there was no danger to have the window open. Stinging insects, vapors, or particles would be surely stopped by the Air Clog. But what if the power losses over the last few centuries were greater than is publicly admitted by the Aediles or the Castellan? But it had not stopped the Mind-Call, as it should have done.

Many Foretellers have dreamt that it is five million years before the final extinction of mankind. Most of the visions agree on certain basic elements, though much is in dispute. Five million years. We are supposed to have that long. I wondered, not for the first time, if those who say that they can see the shape of fate are wrong.

I came awake when there was a movement, a clang, behind me as the hatch swung open. Here was a Master of the Watch, clad from head to toe in full armor, and carrying in hand that terrible weapon called the Diskos.

I knew better than to wonder why a Watchman was here. He came into the chamber, his blade extending before him as he stepped, and his eyes never left me. The shaft was extended. The blade was lit and spinning. The furious noise of the weapon filled the room. Flickering shadows fled up and down the walls and bookshelves as eerie sparks snapped, and I felt the hair on my head, the little hairs on my naked arms, stir and stand up. I smelled ozone.

Without rising, I raised my hands. "I am a man! I am human!"

His voice was very deep, a rumble of gravel. "They all say that, those that talk."

Slowly, loudly, clearly, I said the master-word, both aloud with reverent lips, and by sending it with my brain-elements.

It seemed so dark in the chamber when he doused his blade, but his smile of relief was bright.




My youth had been a solitary one. To hold one’s ancestors in honor, and to love the lore of half-forgotten things, has never been in fashion among school-boys. The pride of young men requires that they seem wise, despite their inexperience, and the only way to appear all-knowing without going to the tedium of acquiring knowledge, is to hold all knowledge in weary-seeming contempt. Students and apprentices (and, yes, teachers also) bestowed on me their well-practiced sneers; but when my dreams began, and ghosts of other lives came softly into my brain as I slept, then I was marked as a pariah, and was made the butt of every prank and cruelty boyish imagination could invent.

Perithoös was as popular as I was unpopular. He was an alarming boy to have as a schoolmate, for he had the gift of the Night-Hearing, and he could hear unspoken thoughts. All secrets were open to him; he knew passwords to open locked doors and cabinets, and could avoid orderlies after lights-out. He knew the answers to tests before the schoolmasters gave them, and the plays of the opposing team on the tourney field. He was good at everything, feared nothing, and anarchy and confusion spread from his wake. What was there for a schoolboy not to love?

Once, when the Head Boy and his gang had me locked in the cable-wheel closet, so that I would be absent from the feast-day assembly and gift-giving, Perithoös left the assembly (a thing forbidden by the headmaster’s rules), took a practice blade from the arm’s-locker and spun the charged blade against the closet door hinges, shattering the panel with a blast of noise.

Not just school proctors, but civic rectors and men of the Corridor Guard arrived. To use one of the Great Weapons while inside the pyramid was a grave offense; and neither one of us would admit who did it, even though they surely knew.

We both were scourged by the headmaster and given triple-duty, and had porridge for our holiday feast, while the other boys dined on viands and candied peaches.

Perithoös and I ate alone in the staff commissary, our shirts off (so that our backs would heal) and shivering the cold of the unheated room. We were not allowed to speak, but I tipped my bowl onto the board and wrote in the porridge letters from the set-speech: shed blood makes us brothers-I shall return this deed.

Even at that age, he was taller than the other lads, broad of shoulder and quick of eye and hand, the victor of every sport and contest, the darling of those who wagered on gymnastics games. He was as well-liked as I was ill-liked. So I expected to see doubt, or, worse, a look of patronizing kindness in his eye.

But he merely nodded, wiped away the porridge-stain with his hand quickly, so that the proctor would not see the message. Under the table, with perfect seriousness, he clasped my hand with his, and we shook on it. Porridge dripped through our fingers, but, nonetheless, that handclasp was sacred, and he and I were friends.

At that time, neither one of us knew Hellenore of High Aerie.




I had been found in the library by proctors of the Watch, whose instruments had detected the aetheric disturbance sent by the voice in the Night.

The Monstruwacans kept me for a time as a guest in their tower, and I drank their potions, and held the sensitive grips of their machines, while they muttered in their white beards and looked doubtful. More than once I slept beneath their oneirometers, or was examined inch by inch by a physician’s glass.

I told them many times of my mind-speech with Perithoös, and they did not look pleased; but the physician’s glass said my soul was without taint, and my nervous system seemed sound, and besides, both the Archivist (the head of my guild) and the Master of Architects (the head of my father’s) sent letters urging my release, or else demanding that an inquest be convened at once.

I spent the remainder of my convalescence in Darklairstead, my father’s mansions on level Fourscore-and-Five. Ever since, a generation ago, the power failed along this stretch of corridor (half the country receiving from the sub-station at Bountigrace is dark) it has been a quiet and restful place.




Among my very earliest memories was one dream, repeated so many times in my childhood that I filled a whole diary with scrawled word and clumsy sketches trying to capture what I saw.

When I was seven years, my mother died, and her shining coffin was lowered into the silvery rays of the Great Chasm. My father became strange and cold. He sent my brother Arion to prentice with the Structural Stress Masters. Tmelos (who is younger than I) was sent to the quarters of my Aunt Elegia, in Forecourtshire, for her to raise; Patricia took holy orders, and Phthia stayed with Father to run the house and rule the servants. Me, I was sent to board at a school in Longnorthhall of Floor 601, where the landing of the Boreal Stair reaches for many shining marble acres under lamps of the elder days, and potted Redwoods grow. When I left home for school, the dream left me.

As I recovered at my father’s manse, the dream came once again, and it no longer frightened me, for nothing that reminds one of childhood, even ill things, can be utterly without a certain charm.

It was a dream of doors.

I saw tall doors made of a substance that gleamed like bronze and red gold (which I later found to be a metal called Orichalcum, an alloy made by a secret only the ancients knew). The doors were carven with many strange scenes of things that had been and things that would be.

In the dream I would be terrified that they would open.




Father and I would dine alone, without servants. The dining chamber is a pillared hall, wide and gloomy. Out of the hatch window, I would often see, across the air shaft from me, little candles dancing in the hatches of some of my neighbors. Once, candles had been used only for the most solemn ceremonies, back when the ancient rules against open flames in the pyramid had been enforced: the sight of candles used as candles always saddened me.

Some nights there was a hint of music from some city far overhead, echoing down the shaft, and, once, the hiss of a bat-winged machine carrying a Currier-boy (only boys are small enough) down the airshaft on some business of the Life Support House, or perhaps the Castellan, too urgent to wait for the lifts.

Our table was made from a tree felled down in the underground country, by a craftsman whose art is the cutting and jointing of living material, an art called Carpentry. Such is Father’s prestige he can have such things brought up the lifts for him, but he has never moved the family to better quarters.

My father is a big, tall man, with fierce, penetrating eyes in an otherwise very mild face. He shaves his chin, but has a moustache that bristles, and this gives his penetrating eyes a strange and savage look.

I have dreamed of other lives, and once, in a prehistoric world, a dusky savage who was me, strong and lean of limb, and braver than I ever hoped to me, died beneath the claws of a tiger. The great cat was more bright of hue than anything in our world is, shining orange and black as it slunk through dripping jungles beneath a sun as hot as the muzzle of a culverin. I wonder what became of that species, that lived on some continent long since swallowed by the seas, before the seas dried up, before the sun died. I have always though that extinct beast looked something like my father.

His bald head was growing back in new hair, as sometimes happens to men of his order, for men who work near the Earth-Current, their vitality was greater than normal.

After dinner, we brought out carafes of water and wine, which glistened in the candle-light, and mixed them in our bowls. I am sparing with the wine and he is sparing of the water I; but he is sober even when he drinks deep, and shows no levity nor thickwittedness. Perhaps exposure to the Earth-Current helps here too.

He sat with his bowl in his hand, staring out the air-shaft. .He spoke without turning his head. "You know the tale of Andros and Naäni. You were raised on it. I am sure I hate it as much as you adore it."

I said, "Andrew Eddins of Kent, and Christina Lynn Mirdath the Beautiful. The tale shows that, even in a world as dark as ours, there is light."

Father shook his head. "False light. Will-o’-Wisp light! I do not blame the hero for his deeds. They were great, and he was a mighty man, high-hearted and without vice. But the hope he brought served us ill. Perithoös was no Andros, go into the Night. And that high-born girl who toyed with your affections; Hellenore. She was no Mirdath the Beautiful. Hellenore the Vain, I should call her."

"Please speak no ill of the dead, father. They cannot answer you."

He raised his bowl with a graceful gesture and took a silent sip, and paused to admire the taste. "Hm. Neither can they hear me, and so they will not flinch. She is not the first of the dead who have served the living poorly. He did us ill, whichever forefather first thought it would be wise to leave us tales and songs that tell young boys to go be brave and die, or to perish for a gesture."

I said, "Keeping a promise counts for more than mere gesture, Father."

"Does keeping a promise count more than preserving flesh or soul?"

I said, "Those who study such matters say that souls are born again in later ages, even if the conscious memories are lost; poets claim that oath-breakers are reborn into lives accursed with turmoil and bitter anguish. If so, then each man in his present life must take care to die spotlessly, his soul still pure."

Father smiled bitterly. He did not read poets. "What point is the punishment, if, in his next life, each criminal has forgotten what crime he did?"

I said, "So that even men who are stoical and hard in this life will fear to break their word; for, in their next, they will be young and green again; and suffering that comes unannounced, for reasons that seem reasonless, are surely the hardest pains of all to bear."

"A pretty tale. Must you die for an idle fiction?"

"Sir, it is not a fiction."

He said: "Must you die, fiction or not?"

"I had no other friend in my school days."

"Perithoös was no true friend!"

"And yet I gave my word to him, friend or not. Now I am called to fulfill it."

"Who calls? There are Powers in the dark who can mock our voices and our thoughts, and deceive even the wisest of us. Only the Master-Word is one the Horrors cannot utter, for it represents a concept that they cannot understand, an essence that does not dwell in them. If what called to you did not call out the Master-Word, you know our law commands you not to heed it."

I answered: "Despite the law, despite all wisdom, still, a hope possesses me that he is alive, and undestroyed, somehow."

He said grimly: "A true man would not call out to you."

I did not know if he meant that a man of honor would die before he let himself be used to lure a friend out into the darkness; or if he meant that what called out to me had not been human at all. Perhaps both.

I said: "What sort of man would I be, if it truly were Perithoös calling, and I did not answer?"

He said: "It is your death calling."

And I had no answer back for that. I knew it was so.

After a space of silence, eventually he spoke again: "Do you see any cause for hope you say has taken possession of you?"

"I see no cause."


"But hope fills me up, father, nonetheless, and it burns in my heart like a lamp, and makes my limbs light. There are many ugly things we do not see in this dark land that surrounds us, father, horrors unseen. And there are said to be good powers as well, whose strange benevolence works wonders, though never in a way humans can know. And they also are not seen, or only rarely. There are many things, which, although unseen, are real. More real than the imperishable metal of our pyramid, more potent that the living power of the Earth-Current. More real than fire. So, I admit, I see no cause for hope. And yet it fills me."

He was silent for a while, and sipped his wine. He is a rational man, who solved problems by means of square and chisel, stone and steel, measured currents of energy, knowing the strengths of structures and what load each support can bear. I knew my words meant little to him.

He reached his hand and doused the lantern, so that I could not see the pain in his face. He voice hovered in the dark, and he tried to make his words cold: "I will not forbid you to venture into the Night Lands…"

"Thank you, Father."

"…. Since I have other sons to carry on my name."




Visions, pulmenoscopy, and extra-temporal manifestations are not unknown to the people of the Last Redoubt. The greatest among us are known to have the Gift; and at least one of the Lesser Redoubt also was endowed with the Night-Hearing, and memory-dreams. Mirdath the Beautiful is the only woman known to have crossed the Night Lands, and her nine scrolls of the histories and customs of the Lesser Redoubt are the only record of any kind we have for the history, literature, folkways and sciences of that long-lost race of mankind. All the mathematical theories of Galois we know only from her memory; the plays of Euryphaean, and the music of an instrument called a pianoforte, infinite resistance coil and the sanity glass, and all the inventions that sprang from them, are due to her recollection. Her people were a frugal folk, and the energy-saving circuits they used, the methods of storing battery power, were known to them a million years ago, and greatly conserved our wealth. Much of what she knew of farming and crops we could not use, for the livestock and seed of our buried fields were strange to her. She knew more of the lost aeons than even Andros, and was able to tell tales from the time of the Cities Ever Moving West, of the Painted Bird, and of the Gardens of the Moon; she knew something of the Failures of the Star-Farers, and of the Sundering of the Earth. More, she also had the gift of the Foretelling, for some of the dreams she had were not of the past, but of the future, and she wrote of the things to come, the Darkening, the False Reprieve, the disaster of the Diaspora into the Land of Water and Fire, the collapse of the Gate beneath the paw of the South Watching Thing, the years of misery and the death of man, beyond which is a time from which no dreams return, although there is said to be a screaming in the aether, dimly heard through the doors of time, the time-echo of some event after the destruction of all human life. All these things are set out in the Great Book, and for this reason Mirdath is also called The Predictress. Mirdath and Andros had fifty sons and daughters, and all the folk of High Aerie claim descent from them, some truly, and some not. Hellenore of High Aerie was one of those who made that claim truly.




When I was a young man, a time came when my future had disturbed those whose business it is to seek foreknowledge from dreams, and I was summoned to an audience.

For many generations the Foretelling art had fallen in disrepute, and charlatans rose to deceive the common people; but then a girl of the blood of Mirdath was born whose gift was proven by many sad events, the Library of Ages-Yet-To-Be was reopened. The Sibylline Book had more treatises of prophecy added to it, and eschatologists compared dream-journals and revised their estimates. Even I had heard of her: the hour-slips said she was sure to be the next Sibyl.

I don’t recall the date. It must have been soon after my Initiation, for I wore my virile robe, and my hair was cropped short as befits a man. The blade that was ever after to be partnered with my life, I had hung over the narrow door to my cell in the journeyman’s room of the Librarian’s Guild-house, as only those beyond their fourteenth year are permitted. I remember that the squire to come fetch me called me ‘Sir’ instead of ‘Lad’, even though he (to my young eyes) seemed incredibly old.

I remember the Earth-Current was running strong that year. It was my first time at the Great Lift Station for my floor. Invisible forces lifted the platform in a great surge of wind off the deck. Maidens clutched their bonnets and squealed, and many a young gallant (for a strong flow of the Earth Current makes lads more bold and amorous) took the opportunity to put an arm around fair shoulders to steady a maiden making her first voyage away from her level. Some of the more daring boys learned over the rail, and waved their caps at the rapidly dwindling squares and rooftops of the city, before, like an iron sky, the underside of the next deck upwards swallowed the lift platform. I rode the axial express all the way to the utmost level. I remember I had to drink a potion made by the apothecary, because of the thinness of the air.

Fate House that sits atop the highest stories of the highest city; the hanging gardens of High Aerie sit between the shining skylights of West Cupola and the pleasances and airy walks of Minor Penthouse. There are floral gardens here, under glass, as well as pools and lakes amid the rooftop-fields of the long-empty aerodromes built by ancient peoples.

The domes of Fate House are dusky blue, inscribed with gold, and, above the roof-tiles, many a monument of ancient hero or winged genius of the household stood on slender pillars among the minarets. All within was a somber and august as a fane.

Here was Hellenore daughter of Eris. I see again the sheen of her satiny dress, as she sat beneath the rose lamp on a Lector’s chair too large for her delicate frame. How like a swan’s, her neck, all her mass of ink-black hair was gathered up and held in place with amethyst pins, jewel-drops like the stars the ancients knew, within the clear darkness of their temporary nights. I recall the delicate small hairs, wanton and wild, that had strayed from the strictness of her coiffure, and kissed the nape of her neck.

None of our pyramid has eyes like that, hair like that, save those descended from the strange blood of Mirdath the Beautiful. And none but me remembered the grace of the swan, and so none but me could see it in her.

Her voice was soft music, each word careful and light, like a brushstroke of calligraphy laid in the air. With what delicate tones she spoke of the grim horrors in the night, the grim future she foresaw nightly in her dreams!

We spoke for a time, of the horrors of the Deception two million years hence (slightly less than half way between now and the Extinction), when colonies of man leaving the Great Pyramid would go to dwell in what seemed a fair country to the West, even as certain legends said, not knowing that the House of Silence had already cursed and undermined the whole of that land, and merely held their influence at bay for millennia, waiting for the memory of these prophecies of Hellenore to be forgotten. Whole cities, pyramids and domes as great as ours, would be swallowed and cracked open, and multitudes would die, one entire branch of the human family wiped out; the survivors to be changed into something not human.

Then we spoke of my fate.

"My visions revealed hundreds shall die because of some ill-considered act you set in motion; first one, then many more, will go pelting out into the darkened world to perish amid the ice, or be ripped to bloody rags by Night Hounds, to be sucked clean of their souls and left as husks, grinning mouths and eyes as dry as stones. Heed me! I see many prints of boots across the icy dust of the Night Land, leading outward from our gates; I see but one set coming in."

I asked: "Must these things come to pass?"

"No human power can alter what must be."

"And powers more than human?"

She said softly: "We foreseers behold the structure of time; there are creatures not quite wholly inside of time, powers of the Night Land, whose malice we cannot foretell, since they are above and alien to the rules of time and space that bind all mortal life; there are said to be good powers, too."

"A riddle! Man’s fate can be changed, but men cannot change fate." I asked.

Her full lips toyed with a smile, but she did not allow the smile to appear. "We are but drops in a river, young man," she said, "No matter what one drop might wish or do, the river course is set, and all waters glide to the ocean."

These words electrified me. "Ah!" I said, forgetting my manners, jumping up and taking her hand. "Then you have seen them too! Rivers and oceans! In visions, I have seen and heard the waters flowing, ebbing, pulled by tides, crashing by the shore. There is no sound alike it in the world, now."

She was startled and displeased, and favored me with a look of ice as she drew her fair and slender hand from mine. "Strange boy-what is your name again?-I spoke a line from old poetry. My people in the high-most towers are learned in such lore, and know old words like river and sea; but no one has seen them, except in the decorations of volumes none can read."

I did not say that there was one who could read what others had forgotten. I spoke stiffly, "My apologies, high born one. Your comment thrilled my heart, for I had thought you meant to say that we would do great deeds in times to come, to defy that ocean that must swallow of human lore and history, so that the watercourse down which the current takes us might be ripped free of its bed, and set to a new path."

"Strange boy! What strange things you say!" She recoiled, one slim hand on her soft bosom, her lovely long-lashed eyes looking at me askance. Even in surprise, even when showing disdain, how elegant her every gesture!

"There was a time when all men spoke thus, and did deeds to match."

"Only men?" But she was not looking at me. Her eyes were turned sideways, and she stared at some spot on the walls of her family’s presence chamber. There were many busts, portraits, and engraved tablets along the walls-I don’t know which ancestor her gaze was resting on. In hindsight, it surely was Mirdath.

I said, "Can you tell me what this ill-considered act might be?"

Her eyes were elsewhere; she spoke airily, unheeding: "Oh, some chance remark spoken to some girl you fall in love with."

My voice was hollow, and my stomach was empty. "What? Must I vow to be silent, to speak never more to any woman?" It took me a moment to rally my courage. I drew a breath, and spoke. "If that is my doom, I will learn to welcome it. If I must, I will take the vow, and go to some monastery in the buried basements, forbidden to woman, that I might never meet my love."

Her glittering eyes returned to me, and now a girlish mischief was in them. She said archly: "You will defy the structures of time and destiny, and rip up the pillars of the laws of nature, but you will meekly foreswear love and speech, merely because you are ordered to it? Backward boy! You would challenge what we cannot change, but would submit to what we can!"

That made me smile. "Perithoös says the same thing of me. Always looking backwards! We were walking at the Embrasures, and he joked once that-"

Hellenore sat upright, eyes shining. She said, "You know Perithoös, the athlete? What hour does he stroll upon the balcony, what level, where?"

A glow of joy lived in her face; and then she blushed and my heart ached with pleasure to see her cheek glow; but the thought of meeting Perithoös was such that she could not put away her smile, so she lifted her slender hand to hide it. If you have seen young maidens in the grip of first love, you know the sight; if not, my poor pen cannot mark it.

I told her I would arrange a meeting, and the smile came out again.

Beautiful, was that smile; though not for me.

And yet so lovely!

They met, at first, with chaperones.

At first. One of them could see the future and the other could see thoughts; both were bold, nobly born, and love-drunk. How was a duenna to keep them under watch?




They died swiftly, those who died, when the three hundred suitors set out to rescue Hellenore.

The company had been divided into three columns of one hundred men each. Before five-and-twenty hours of march, the rearguard column had driven off a host of troll-things from the ice hills, and stopped to rest and tend their wounds. From the balconies, and from the viewing tables, we watched them made a camp. It was hard to see, for it was well camouflaged; the tents and palisade were mere shadows among shadows, even under the most powerful magnification; and the sentries at the picket moved without making noise, warily.

But then they did not stir again. Either a sending from the House of Silence, or an invisible fume leaking from the ground, made the sleepers not to wake. Long-range telescopes glimpsed the survivors, perhaps the sentries who did not lay down, trying to carry one or two men to higher ground. The rest were left behind. A pallid slug a thousand feet long oozed into view near the last known position of those men; the Monstruwacan instruments recorded tiny Earth-Current discharges at about that same time, so it was thought that the survivors swung their weapons once or twice before they died.

At about seventy hours, the main column was beset by the Great Gray Hag, mate of the monster slain by Andros, and her fleshy fingers pushed men into the sagging hole that formed her maw, armor and all. The column was routed, and fled into the Deathly Shining Lands to escape her. They did not emerge. The Shine is opaque, and nothing has been seen again of those men. The scouts accompanying the main column were eaten by Night Hounds, one by one.

The vanguard column lasted until the end of the second week, when the Bell of Darkness descended from the cloud, and tolled its dire toll. Only seven out of those hundred had the presence of mind, or strength of will, to bare their forearms and bite down on the Capsule of Release. Those whose nerve failed them, and who did not slay themselves in time, were drawn silently up into the air, their eyes all empty, and strange little vulgar grins upon their lips, and their bodies floated upward into the mouth of the Bell.

We all watched from the balconies. I heard from underfoot, like an ocean, the sound of mothers and wives weeping, men shouting, children crying, and the noise was like the oceans of the ancient world, but all of grief.

The shattering noise of the Home-call echoing from the upper cities interrupted, ordering all the millions to shut their windows; and lesser horns were sounded on the balconies to pass the warning to the lower cities. The watchmen ordered the Blinds raised up on their great pistons to block the windows and embrasures of every city and hamlet dug into the northeastern side of the pyramid; and the towers and dormer windows lowered their armor.

I remember hearing, before the Blinds closed over us, the whispering murmur of the air-clog, straining under double power, raising an unseen curtain to deflect the malice of the tolling bell, lest the sound of it drive mad the multitudes.

Perithoös had been in the vanguard. The Monstruwacans studied blurry prints made from long-range telescopes, and tried to confirm each death, what little comfort that might have been to the grieving families. Not every corpse was accounted-for.

My cousin Thaïs came to see me while I was undergoing Preparation. She is pretty and curt, with a sly sense of humor and a good head for chess and math. Thaïs did not, aloud, try to argue me out of my venture, but she showed me her calculation: The expected average lifespan of men who went forth to save Hellenore worked out to an hour, twelve minutes.




By traditions so ancient that no record now recalls a time when they were not, those who venture into the Night Land do not carry lamps. It is too well known, too long confirmed by experience, that a traveler cannot resist the temptation to light such lamps, when the darkness has starved his eyes for too many fortnights.

And so it is thought, that since the weapons we carry give off light when they are spun, that those who walk in the Night will have light when and only when it is needful: that is, namely, when one of the monstrosities is no further off from us than a yard or two; for then we must strike, we must see to make the stroke.

Our craftsman could make lamps to burn a million years or more. We will not carry them into the Dark. A man who will not trust his soul to warn him of unseen dangers coming silently upon him, is the only kind who needs a lantern in the Night. But would such a man, too unsure to trust his soul, be man enough to beat back all the horrors his lantern would attract?

We carry also a dial of the type that can be read by touch, for to lose track of hours, and proper times for rest and sup, is to court madness.

There is a scrip for toting the tablets, made of solidified vital nutrients, which is the traveler’s sole food-for there is nothing wholesome in the Night Lands to eat, and more solid food, even a bite from an apple might bring too much belly-cheer, and relax the discipline of the Preparation.

Likewise, water is condensed out of the atmosphere in a special cup by a powder made by the Chemist’s guild. The new-water is pure and clear, but bitterly cold, and the cup has that virtue that anything placed in it is cleansed of venom or morbific animacules. Some travelers hold the cup over mouth and nose when treading lands were the air is bad.

The mantle is woven of a fiber that, though it is not alive, is wise enough to shed heat more or less as the deadliness of the chill grows more or less, depending on the amount heat escaping from the ground.

The armor is so stern, and made so cunningly, that even monsters many times the strength of a man cannot dint it, and the joints are fitted at a level to fine for the eye to see. A blessing in the metal, an energy not unlike what throbs so purely in the fires of the White Circle, is impregnated into the helm and breastplate, to help slow those particular influences that attack the brain and freeze the heart.

Arms, armor, mantle, are made by craft a million years has perfected; and they are fair to the eye, but grim and without ornament, as befits the sobriety of the undertaking.




At last the torment of the Preparation Chambers ended. I was oddly clear-headed after the fasting and the injections, and I had endured the test of being forced to view that which still lives, pinning to a slab and sobbing, within the refrigerated cell at the center of the secret museum of the Monstruwacans. I had read the bestiaries of former travelers returned sane from outer voyaging, and learnt what they said of the ways and habits of the night-beasts; and I understood why such journals are not shown to any save those whose quest carries them outside our walls.

The Capsule of Release still ached within the tender flesh of my fore-arm; and the hour of parting was come.

The lamps of the Final Stair were darkened. The watchmen, armed with living blades and armored in imperishable gray metal, stood for a time in silence, composing their thoughts, so that no disturbance in the aether, no stray gleam of thought or metal or sudden noise, would tell the waiting horrors of the night lands that a child of man had strayed among their cold hills.

I stood with my face pressed to the periscope for many minutes, and the escort with me showed no impatience, for they knew it was my life I staked at hazard on my judgment of the ground.

At last I raised my hand.

The Master of the Gatehouse saluted me with his dark Diskos, and the door-tender closed the switch that sent power to the valves. The metals leaves of the inner gate swung shut behind me, and then the outer leaves swung open, very swiftly and silently.

Out I stepped. The ashy soil crunched beneath my boot. The air was as chill as death. The outer valve was already shut behind me, and two layers of armor heavily closed back over it, locking pistons clicking shut almost without noise. If a monster were now to lunge across the Circle from the all-surrounding darkness now, or a Presence to manifest itself, the door wardens were obliged to do nothing but guard the door. I was already beyond rescue.

None within would come out for me, as I was now going out for Perithoös, and he had gone out for his fair Hellenore. Prudent men, they all.




A few minutes walk-no more than half a mile-I crossed the place where a hollow tube of transparent metal, charged with holy white energies, makes a circle around the vast base of the pyramid. It is held to be one of the greatest artifacts of ancient times, the one thing that keeps all the malefic pressures, the eerie calls and poisonous clouds and groping fingers of subtle force at bay. The hollow tube is two inches in diameter, hardly higher than my boot-top. It only took a single step to cross it, but I must clear my mind of all distempered thought before the unseen curtain would part for me. My ears popped with the change in pressure.

It is customary not to look back when one steps across the line of light. I was inclined to follow the custom.

My father had not been present to see me off.


to Part 2 . .


© John C Wright 19 Jan 2003


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