The Cry of
the Night Hound
The monsters still howl for him, months after he
fell. In the gloom, I can sometimes see one or the
other, sometimes both together, wolfish beasts
with leathery hides and dark bristles, and they
raise their grinning, shark-like mouths to the
black clouds above and utter their cries.
Impossible that such horrors could love a child
of man, and be faithful; impossible. Yet they do
not molest the body, nor even approach it.
My brother Polynices lies in plain view on the
baked black salt of the Night Land. The hollow
where he fell has a smoke-hole in it center, some
five yards beyond his motionless, outflung hand,
and the smolder from the hole casts a light across
He lies many miles below the armored windows of
our redoubt, but even so, the spy-glasses and
instruments of the Monstruwacans (those scholars
whose business it is to watch the horrors of the
Night) leaning from the balconies, can pick out
The fingers of his gauntlet are stretched out, as
if he were reaching for the little warmth of the
smoke hole as he perished. He lays on a slight
incline, for a circle of salty mineral surrounds
the smoke hole and slopes toward it. His boots are
toward us. The smoke hole is to his left. His
helmet fell from his head, and rolled a yard down
the salty slope. The little trail the helmet made
as it fell is still visible. There has been no
wind, no earth tremors, to disturb the salt
crystals and erode the trail. The haft and great
wheel of his disk-ax weapon lay to his right, and
the shadow of his body falls across it, making
details difficult to make out, even under the
immense magnifications of the Great Spy Glass. The
hair I used to tousle has continued to grow as the
months have passed, and now falls across the
shoulder-plates of his armor and spills onto the
salt. I cannot see those wild locks without
wishing for my comb of nacre to put the tangles
right. He was always careless of his appearance.
Because of the angle of his fall, I cannot
make out his face. Did he die calmly? Or is a
rictus of hollow terror and despair frozen forever
on his features?
His right forearm is hidden under his body, as if
his teeth were seeking the lethal capsule buried
under the flesh of his forearm when he fell. Did
he fall too swiftly to bite the capsule, and slay
himself wholesomely, before his soul and spirit
There is no blood visible. There is no sign of
When we were young, my brother and I found a
long-deserted balcony lock, and from a previous
life he remembered the word to open it.
He and I would climb through the broken armor of
the window in one of the abandoned cities in the
base level of the Pyramid. With fearless hearts
and unsteady feet we would pick among the tilted
slabs of imperishable metal, and find a little
niche, about five hundred yards above the Night
Land, open to the thin air and stinking fumes. We
would sit with our lunch basket and spyglass on
the corroded lip of some ancient corbel, our legs
dangling and kicking above the smoke and darkness
of the Land, and we would hear the voices of
monsters muttering and hissing underfoot, see the
glinting eyes of remote and cyclopean faces, or
feel the dull throb of their malice beating
against the sheath of energized air surrounding
There was a series of irregular stairs leading
down and down from a little ways below that spot,
but we never dared to venture down.
I remember I wore short-pants then, like a boy’s.
During my childhood, before I had a name, I was
called Païs or Meirax, or something of the sort;
the servants called me Annasa, of course.
Because my father was the Castellan, the nurses
and tutors had no credible threat to make when I
defied them, or tore my girlish pink bloomers to
shreds. Later, when I was old enough to know what
grief my antics caused my father, or what pleasure
my father’s critics in the Opposition Seats, I
dressed more demurely outwardly, though inwardly,
I suppose, I was much the same.
From the steles we found on that hidden cleft, at
the top of those forbidden stairs, we knew this
place had been made by the Labdaciteans,
great-grandfather’s people. The locks recognized
our life-patterns, and called us by his name.
We knew the tale. Before even grandfather was
born, Labdacus eroded the power of the Architects,
by making climbing-paths not shown on their
charts, to run from window to window between the
levels, that his loyal retainers might circumvent
the blockades, when Architects cut power to the
inter-municipal Doors, or grounded the great
Lifts. Grandfather Laius, when he came of age,
rose to preeminence on the promise that all such
unlawful paths and places would be destroyed, and
the Last Redoubt brought once more into honest
conformity with the Great Central Survey of the
As an adult, I know the horror of wondering if
there is some gallery, portal, or open window,
unwatched and unlocked against the subtle malice
of the enemy, a hole a spider could wriggle
through, or a crack to admit a weft. Even we,
young as we were, were scandalized to see the
breach of Labdacus. His crime was solid before our
eyes, as plain to touch as the smooth hole cut in
the armor. The massive, ill-made blocks of crooked
stair lead down from it as a blood trail leads
down from a wound. But it was a pleasing scandal,
and our fear made us grin sickly grins, for it was
our great-grandfather who had committed, not a
petty crime, but a great one.
We promised each other we would never do anything
so wicked as meddle with the walls and wards by
which Man lives.
But we were also pleased to have a secret known
to none, a place only those of the blood of
Labdacus could pass. We considered our promise
fulfilled by vowing to tell no one of our find.
The idea that we should have immediately sent for
the Architects, or the local Officer of the Watch,
never crossed our young minds.
We were the children of the Castellan, after all.
Not long after my age of majority, not long after
my father’s death and the ascension of Creon to
power, I came to tread these same broken slabs of
ancient metal again.
This time, my footsteps were not as sure as a
thoughtless child’s would have been, nor was my
costume as suited for the adventure. I wore
a skirt to my ankles and a blouse buttoned to my
throat, and my hair was pinned up and coiffed in a
fashion I envied when it was forbidden to me, but
which was now a bother to dress and maintain. My
gloves clutched the corroded wall as I inched in
my foolishly heeled shoes across the sloping face
of the armor, a dizzying drop to the lands of
darkness opening up behind and below my bustle.
The child I had been would not have known me.
Païs had been so unafraid, and I was so fearful
Once only I looked over my shoulder. In the light
of a recent volcano, I could glimpse the tall
shadows of two kiln-giants, their heads together
as if in consultation. One of them raised a heavy
hand and pointed at me, while its lamp-eyed
companion nodded. This unnerved me, so I
clutched the metal beneath my gloves more firmly,
and returned my eyes to the task.
I made it around the last turn and came with
relief to the sturdier footing and broader step of
the ancient and unused corbel.
Polynices was in his armor, standing where once
he’d lunched as a child. The long handle of his
disk-ax weapon was in his hand, and he leaned upon
it in an attitude of alertness, his head staring
down at the darkened Land.
He was listening.
Up from the gloom underfoot came the mournful,
haunting sound of a Night-Hound, baying.
Having found his hiding place, I did not wish to
speak, lest I startle him. I had the mental image
of him dropping his Diskos over the side, or,
He said, “Rightly or wrongly, the dogs are mine,
and I must feed them.”
I said quietly, “They are monsters. They are
howling because they thirst for your blood, not
because they love you.”
Polynices shook his head grimly, not bothering to
look back at me. “Draego saved my life from the
Abhumans. I fed him from my hand, and he knows not
how to eat from any other. See! Even now he will
not hunt among the crags and chasms of the Night
Land, or worry pale flesh of slug-things from
their lightless holes or blind fish from poisoned
lakes. He starves, and stands before the gates of
the Last Redoubt, and howls his love and sorrow
for me. Dracaina is often with him, and joins her
weeping voice to his.”
“Monsters. Do you not understand the word?
Enemies of man.”
“Not these. Love can break even the power of the
Night. My dogs are my friends.”
“They are not dogs! They are Night-Hounds!”
He said nothing, but listened to the mournful
howling of the monsters far below.
On and on they wailed. Once, both Night-Hounds
fell silent, when the Great Laughter began to
issue from a buried country to the east, a deep
trench whose upper crumbling banks are visible
from the Last Redoubt. Another time, the Hounds
were silenced again when a deep and monstrous
Voice from a cold volcano cone called out in a
long-forgotten language, uttering a rough shout
that traveled and echoed across the Night Land
like a clap of thunder, traveling away to the
North. The Night-Hounds were hushed for a while,
perhaps cowering in terror, but then their howling
and lamenting began again.
“I had a dream that you would die.” I told him.
He said, “I will find a way to smuggle food out
to them. I do not fear the law.”
The Great Laughter issued from the eastern hills
and canyons at that moment, trembling across the
strange and barren landscapes of the Night, and
this seemed a fitter answer than anything I could
The chief tale of the House of Andros tells how a
woman who perished like Polynices, without a mark,
without a sound, in the Night Lands, by a singular
and peculiar miracle, was revived, and lived and
bore fifty sons and daughters who became the
ancestors of my house and phylum.
I should think the implications of this are
To watch over the body of my brother, I stand on
a high balcony, some five miles above the hills
and plains, glaciers and craters, volcanoes and
venom-lakes of the Night Land, and I look through
over my brother through one of the spy-glasses of
the Monstruwacan, the monster-watcher, of this
The Great Redoubt rises seven miles above the
cratered landscape, motionless waters, smoking
pits and dull fumes of the Night Land, and the
Tower of Observation a full mile beyond that. The
Night Land is not utterly dark, for strange flares
of light, burning torches hanging in the gloom, or
foetid burnings from smoke-holes will illume one
thing or another, and there are candles in the
windows of an Empty City to the Northeast. From
the embrasures of the Great Redoubt, as from a
mountainside, what little there is to be seen, can
Haemon, my betrothed, stands near to me. He is
beautiful, with great dark eyes and long lashes,
but broad of shoulder and narrow of waist, with
strong hands and a ready smile. I wish he were not
so young. I wish I could love him as I ought,
enough to blot out other loves from my heart.
C Wright 1 Aug 2005
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