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Silence of the Night


 

 


by John C Wright
part 1
 

I was overcome with awe, and fell to my face when I saw the Chronomancer walking slowly toward me along the balcony.

To my right, the thought-amplifying spyglasses looked out from the great embrasure upon the darkness and strange fires of the Night Lands, and I could see the shining eyes of the Great Watching Thing of the Southeast looking at me. The Thing was as mighty as a mountain, and about its forepaws, which had not moved in a million years or more, was encamped an army of Blind Ones, of Ogres, and of shaggy subhumans, of which more than half had stirred from the six thousand year paralysis, and had been stirring since the days of my grandfather's youth, and the reddish haze of severe space-distortion was all about them.

To my right, above me and below me were the other balconies, the windows and lamps of the Home of Man, and the Tower of the Monstruwacans, the monster-watchers, rose another mile above the topmost embrasures of the highest balconies. No other humans were near me, not for miles: the cities of this level, and the ones below and above, had been deserted for half a million years. The cities were silent except for the whisper of the perfect machinery built by an ancestral people, and were empty of thought-action, except for those paeans known to hinder powers of the outside, soul-vibrations taken from the thought-records of departed sages of greatest spiritual power and wisdom. He and I were alone.
 

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Once, when I was but a youth, I dreamed of the days of light. A hollow vessel of wood, like a long and narrow dish, but great enough to hold many men, was shattered on the sea: the crew was treading water, and with loud voices they called to each other, each man telling the other as he sobbed to remain strong and hopeful, and await the dawn.

In the dream this seemed no wonder, though I later would regret I had not slept long enough to see this marvel of the ancient world.

My father was in my hands, and he was weary and cold, and I gripped him, calling out his name, although the bitter sea wave entered my mouth whenever I spoke.

There were sharks in the waters, drawn by blood, and, one by one by one, the men to my left and right were yanked below the surface. The inconstant moon appeared and disappeared between silver-edged black clouds: and sometimes I would see the silhouette of some mate or well-liked crewman bobbing on the heaving waves. But then the water would rise and fall between us, and I could not see, or the moon would hide. Then, a moment later, there was fitful light again, and whoever I sought was gone. They made no screams as the jaws pulled them under, for they were too weary.

I remember the salt-sea and the deadly cold. I remember trying to pull the wizened body of my father up onto my back, as if I could somehow lift him away from the sea. All I did was to push my own face below the dark waters.
 

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When I woke, the dreaming glass registered a time-tension of over twenty-five million years, farther by three aeons than any accurate records reached, farther than previous paleochronopathy had recovered though thought-echoes. Even the master academicians, dwelling in the egg-shaped crystal thought-chambers of their guild, their minds augmented by surgery and magnified coherent streamers of by Earth-Current, could not penetrate the spirals and angles of time so deeply as I, when merely an untrained boy, unaided, had done.

I knew then that my life was marked: if foretellers had not foreseen someone of my power, after-tellers, those who walk through the memories of their ancestors, would return from the future to seek me.

I was not entirely surprised. In a sense, I had been long awaiting this visitation.

Did I say I was alone, fallen prone before the stranger from another aeon? Not alone. None within this Last Redoubt can be alone. Our enemies are ever with us, unsleeping, tireless, horrid.

The Final Siege of Man has been since eight and a half million years ago, or so run the estimates of Paleochroniclers, who study those books written by earlier versions of the human race.

Uncounted millions of years before that, a great lamp stood in the upper darkness, called Sun. So long ago that only the time-dreams of the strongest mystics can confirm it, this lamp was quenched to an ember, removing all the light from the outer lands. Then came the hosts of Dark, seen and unseen. Between upper and nether and surrounding darkness, the terrors are encamped against us, patient beyond the limits of eternity.

The Great Redoubt stands seven miles and more, a mighty pyramid hulled in imperishable metal lit with a million lamps, above the haunted cold waste of the Night Land; and from our balconies, by the flares from fire-pits or by the smolder of volcano-flows, we see the beings move, those that can be seen to move, or loom in the darkness, large as living hills, motionless and watching, those that cannot. Beings from the far side of the life spectrum move also, but at so glacial a rate, that tens of thousands of years span the slowness of their approach against the walls of this last fortress of mankind.

On the low hill to the North stands the august and terrible House of Silence. Through the millions of years since the Watching Things have encamped against us to beleaguer our mountain-overtopping fortress, this small House of Silence has issued no sound, and not even the most sensitive of long-range microphones have detected a whisper. There are lights seen in the casement, and yet these never move nor flicker, not in all of eternity. The main doors stand open. It is known that men lost in the darkness of the Night Lands will walk as if asleep into those open doors, and never speak or make a sound: those who enter do not emerge. The instruments of the Monstruwacans detect that this House is the center of the fields of influence that trouble the aether for many miles across the Night Lands, and most scholars agree is it the center of all the forces arrayed against us.

A silence filled the Night Land now. I could see the eyes of the Southeast Watching Thing scrutinizing the two of us. The yammering of the kiln giants was diminished, the pounding of their machinery which heats their buried dormitories; the Things Which Peer ceased to stir atop their half-unlit headland, and their hooting was quiet. The baying of the Night Hounds ceased. A great hush seemed to fill the night. The lopsided ear of the Watching Thing to the Northwest could be seen, huge and motionless, against the dreary glow of the fire-pits beyond it. Surely our words did not escape that terrible, watchful malice.

Perhaps he and I could have removed to the center of the pyramid, or to the spot one hundred miles below our feet, where the deepest of our many buried acres of farms and gardenlands rest. It would have made no difference. The influence of the House of Silence was not impeded by mere solid objects.
 

 
John C Wright 21 May 2007




This story in complete form is included in AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND, a collection of all four of John C Wright's Night Land tales, published by Castalia House in April 2014.  Click on link to purchase.
 

 

 

 

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