The fifth and sixtieth year of the Reign of the House of Wroan,
when the time of Man and Fey differed only by ten times.
The year of man 1837
Shahavaw could see the puzzlement in Masveh’s eyes, feel the questions she kept holding back, for fear of what they might say about her mother.
Taking a shallow breath she went on. “Before the closing of the gates there were fey who dared to reach out to— to forbidden places. For this, they were driven away from our kingdoms. So they turned to the world of man and remained there, even after the closing of the gates. The reigns of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero attracted them like kindred spirits. And so they prospered on the mid-coast of Italia hiding among the humans.
“How those defiant ones protected themselves from the storming of the sun, or the dementia of displacement, we could not guess at first. But soon their boastings, as they called out to other fey to join them, confirmed our worst fears and their madness. Every race of fey knew that what they were meddling with had been forbidden for a reason. Though that reason was more ancient than our kingdoms, and nearly forgotten, we knew to fear even the speaking of it.”
Shahavaw trembled visibly as she caught another glimpse of a memory that could only be described as primeval. “Masveh, an entire continent was sunk because of this. Its people called themselves Rakhab. Every detail of their sin, the sin that damned that land was supposed to have been sealed into utter destruction with them.
“Some of our wisemen suspected that that was the goal of the defiant ones: to open a gate back into that ancient land. But I, I think they were wrong. It wasn’t that gate they were after. It was—”
She could not finish. A cutting dryness stung Shahavaw’s throat, kept her from uttering that next word. She swallowed against it, tried again, to say it differently, even in another tongue but the dryness ran deep, parching her very thoughts. She turned from side to side as if seeking a way to escape, a way out. But there was no way to break that chain.
‘How do you break a chain that’s anchored within the depths of your being… when it is anchored there because it is the only way to keep you whole?’
Masveh stared in shock at her mother as that thought in Shahavaw’s mind spilled over into her consciousness. Shahavaw caught the pain in her daughter’s eyes. Even if she could not speak the words, she could return to the facts of history.
Those she could relate.
“When Vesuvius started to rumble in anger, we warned the humans. But the defiant ones proclaimed their own majesty and assuaged every fear. When the tremors could not be denied, we told them again. But the defiant ones claimed to have a compact with death, immunity from oblivion. And they believed them. And then Vesuvius roared.”
“They laughed and put their plan into action: they pulled the cities of their human worshipers, and the entire surrounding land, through the veil, into our world. Can you imagine such power? They held it all there for half a day, enough for two months to pass for mankind, to let the eruption run its course, and then they released the land back into its own time stream. Their cry of triumph was heard around the world. But it was brief. They did not realize that Vesuvius itself had been caught in the fringe of their thrall, its fury frozen in time. And with their return it all was finally released. The rage of Vesuvius still blotted them out. “
Shahavaw tightened her grip on her daughter’s wrists. “They all should have been destroyed. It did not matter anymore how they had acquired their knowledge. With the gates closed, there should have been no way to retrieve any of it. But something must have been left behind. Only from there could this vile sorcery have come that was being used by the man-wolves.
“I went to Italia to try to understand. I knew where the doomed cities had been. And even through the layers of rock and soil and ash I could tell that there was indeed something buried down there.
“I could hear its groanings.
“The sound is repulsive to our nature. But that voice echoes differently in the mind of man. There was an engineer by the name of Fontana in the vicinity, in charge of digging a new course for the river Sarno. He heard the voice, couldn’t possibly understand what it said, but he was drawn to the place; and he started to dig toward the buried cities. I stopped him and made him hear the true nature of those groans through my ears. He reburied what he had found.”
Masveh glanced at the writing desk. With every memory recounted by her mother the images slid forward. This last memory dated from 1599 in the world of man.
“I returned to our world, but a month later I saw a group of men digging there again. I don’t know how close they came. They were warned by tremors two days in advance and then Vesuvius erupted, again destroying cities and burying those fools under 15 palms of ash. When I retraced their steps, to ascertain what had brought them there, again I found writings with evidence of ancient fey knowledge.
“I determined to guard that land. If fey were entering the world of man undetected by our instruments, then I would roam that world and catch them in the act.” Shahavaw turned her eyes down to the spinning surface of the desk. January of 1679 came to the surface. “They overplayed their hand, or so I thought. They caused darkness to spread over all of Britain at noon, deep enough that a book could not be read but by candlelight.
“Such undisguised interference with mankind, such hubris; how could they think they would get away with it? And what did they intend to achieve with such a display? I led a party of hunters. We found them. They were again cave dwellers, like the one that nearly killed you; brood of Ikal. We drove them back to their lairs underground, burned their tools of sorcery, and discovered too late that someone else had advanced upon the buried cities while we were occupied.
“By the time we got there that expedition of men had killed each other. One or two may have survived but we could tell they never reached the cities. All we could do was fill up their tunnel and leave that accursed place before the Sun stormed.”
Shahavaw looked into Masveh’s eyes. “I did not realize what was happening until much later.” Her voice again started to strain. In response to that pause, the surface of the desk slowed down to the year 1725 and then that date smeared into a streak that extended all the way to 1731. Six years in the world of man. The image blurred out in response to Masveh’s reaction. But Shahavaw did not look away. Even as her subconscious tried to hide the truth, her eyes confessed it.
“Six years, you stayed six years, why?”
“Because we missed it!” Shahavaw clenched Masveh’s wrists. “Life from Blood; that is what the groans speak of, blood worship of a kind not seen since the time of… Odysseus.”
Myths again, in the mind of her mother, and yet before Masveh’s eyes the images on the desk responded by jerking back two dozen centuries to an ancient time before the closing of the gates; a time from where there could be no memories, only stories turned legend long ago. Masveh could clearly feel those stories alive within her mother’s mind.
“This thirst is ancient—” A violent shudder kept Shahavaw from finishing that sentence. She tried again. “The same ones that gave the power to Rakhab.” And the shudder returned as a seizure. For interminable seconds she could hardly breathe. Masveh held on to her.
With an immense effort her mother pushed herself back down into the cushion of her chair, pressed her elbows against her lap, and spoke again in halting phrases. If she could not speak the words directly, she could repeat the allegories chronicled by the Roman Apuleius in his Metamorphoses. “Lucius, he called the poet, as if changing the name, embellishing the story could hide the truth. Aristomenus, another name to hide behind. Socrates the victim, as if to say wisdom itself cannot stand before them. Panthia and Meroe, the witches: they drew his blood and stole his heart. It is not a just story. That is what they want. They need it… to make life.”
The fact that she had been able to say those words gave Shahavaw strength to go on. “This thirst is ancient, Masveh. And I saw it in the world of man, in the Ottoman lands: Dead bodies raised to walk again.” She hung her head, and her voice again thinned down to a strained whisper. “Fallen things clawing their way to the realm of life: They feed on blood; they drink life to gain a temporal mockery of the same. How are we to fight them? They are not device, mindless machine manipulated by will, like Golem. And they are not human, but they are full of blood.”
Masveh struggled to grasp the tortured thread of that narrative of legends and witches and monsters that could not exist. “Mother, why come against them?” She tried to bring reason back into her mother’s mind. But what she saw reflected back was raw emotion, fear twisting in coils that were barely held at bay by anger and desperation. “The sorcery of man is man’s own curse,” she argued. “Those things, they cannot be fey.”
Shahavaw’s face snapped up in anger. “Can’t they? Then why? Why? Why could I hear in that land too, the groanings of the Sphinx?”
This time the seizure was a violent spasm that wrenched Shahavaw’s body out of her daughter’s hands. She fell at the foot of the chair, covering her mouth with one hand and with the other slapping at her tear-ladened eyes, panic shearing her very being. Only one thought went through Masveh’s mind, to shield her mother from the terror. She grasped her writhing form by her arms and pulled her into herself.
Shahavaw’s scream broke into a gasp as she found herself thrust into the middle of a ring of blazing light framed by three figures. Ynaskein stood in front, her blue mane bristling, the scales on her shoulders and back folded tight into impenetrable living chain mail; her swords drawn and pointed outwards, none would dare to cross that line. Anora Frir, the lioness, guarded her left flank, all claws and fangs, her double-edged pike coiled to strike at any who tried to approach. And on her right, her right was defended by Masveh Llwroan, flesh of her flesh, her knives shielding her forearms and twin hand-axes twirling in her hands.
Masveh felt her mother’s heart within her own chest fluttering down to normalcy. It beat so much like a human heart. That was what she had counted on, and yet what it implied defied understanding. She did not know how long she could maintain this fold on the veil between the worlds. Between fey and human this spell opened a door into the human world. But between fey and fey there should have been no door, no in-between; there was no world to cross into. Yet it had worked. Her mother and Masveh stood on the boundary of existence between fey and man, and shared natures. In that state her mother could brace herself on the Gammadim fire within Masveh. In that state Masveh could see and feel the memories that tormented her Queen.
Shahavaw’s voice moved Masveh’s lips. Their minds faced the memories together. “Don’t you see? I didn’t at first. The children of Apollos Lycaon could only move the wolves in dream. For centuries the sorcery went no further. In spite of Kirke’s madness all there was was illusion and control, beast enslaved to man. But she wanted more: to meld beast and man.”
“Why?” Masveh’s voice had barely moved those lips when Shahavaw’s cut in:
“Because if beast and man can be one, perhaps fey and man can be one too.”
“Why? Masveh, why? It was that accursed question that held me back. Why do it? We are Fey. We live, don’t we? Yes, it is not like the life of man. Yes, we are all but fragments of the same light, each a piece of an unchanging whole; but we live, we feel, we love. Yes, with every child born, the light of the parents dim. But even in the world of man, what mother would not give her life for her child? We are individual, even if only while we live. What does it matter if oblivion returns all that we are to the light? Won’t my love, my memory live on in you?
“We are constant. We are what we are because Fey made a choice. We are not like man. But they, they refused to accept that. You have heard of them, the night leeches.”
The name alone repulsed. “Acubi”, Masveh repeated, gagging with disgust. “Drainers of breath, loathsome lecherous worms, lascivious lacerations of fey flesh,” Masveh Shahavaw felt their lips soiled by the very words. Acubi, so called by the ancients: unbridled desire, envy itself. Fey, in essence, but of a different kind: able to enter the world of man but not through any material veil. Some said they could step in through the dreams of man.
“They were ever obsessed with the power that mankind has to procreate life,” Shahavaw went on, “real life in its own image. It was they that taught man the most primal, the most bestial of fertility rites.”
“But why? They are—”
“Impotent,” Shahavaw confirmed what the wisemen had suspected long ago. “Yes, they cannot mate with their kind, or any fey race. So they kept trying, with ancient science first and then sorcery, and then stealing the seed of man, and when that did not work, stealing their breath. They are back, Masveh; now drinking their blood.”
“How could their race survive?” Masveh could not accept that. Whatever they were, aberration of fey, sorcery gone hideously awry, however they came into being, they were long gone; they had to be. “They were forever cut off by—” Masveh almost finished saying ‘the closing of the gates’; but all of a sudden she realized that that signpost in her mind had been changed.
In this place, in this between, it had become solid, whole, deep. The closing of the gates had ceased to be a point of beginning, where the nature of fey had been recast, and became instead the pivot of creation. Before she could begin to grasp what this perception of the universe could mean or how it could even be, her mother said: “She lives.”
Knowing the word she was about to pronounce again, Masveh tried to still her mother’s lips, and braced herself to quench the horror. The thought alone set her own heart racing. Sphinx: Legend called her: Mother of the Acubi, all-consuming lust. But she could only be mother in name and in rage… not in fact. It could not be. Her kind was destroyed at the dawn of time. Such an ancient thing could not have begot. If she had been able to, mankind would have perished.
“She could not?” Shahavaw’s voice, suddenly cold, seized that thought and challenged her daughter. “Over the centuries we let man deal with man. Didn’t we? Isn’t it out of spite that we have stayed away? After Vesuvius we told ourselves we would not meddle with man again. Even when we saw the worship of things that should have been silenced ages past, we did nothing. Even when we saw their obsession with blood match Kirke’s again, we refused to see how much it was like her lust. Man and beast, Masveh, with every century they get closer to bringing them together.”
“No, Mother, it cannot be. The gates were closed; the blood of man and the being of fey were changed forever. Not even Gammadim can become one with man.”
“There are things beyond Gammadim.”
In the blazing flash of the memory that accompanied those words, Masveh understood that she spoke of, “the ones whose light puts ours to shame.” Masveh spoke that appellation in a whisper of awe. “But we do not speak of them. And they are the incorruptible, it is they thet guard the gates.”
Her mother’s silence reminded her, that there were others; others that had been like them… long ago.
“The banished ones! No,” Masveh protested. “Those beyond can never come back.”
“Not into our world,” Shahavaw pressed. “But you know they wander just outside the world of man.”
“Blind, deaf, useless refuse.” The fallen could be nothing else.
“But they can meld with man.”
“The human mind fragments in their presence. There is no power in that union.”
Shahavaw let that thought sink into her daughter’s mind. Masveh felt an overwhelming urge to push her mother away, to break the spell that kept her there able to speak those words. They were utter madness to fey; and they were starting to erode her own reason away. That spark of irrational fear brought an angry roar from Anora’s throat, a warning hiss from Ynaskein; and Masveh stood her ground. She fought that impulse and forced herself to listen again, to consider the words.
Again, Masveh found herself understanding something that most fey could not abide. She realized that the rejection of her mother’s words had come from deep within her being, from instincts ingrained in their very essence, instincts built into them on purpose to keep them away from the voice of—”
“That that only sees itself.”
Masveh had heard those words before, more than once.
In the midst of her mother’s most violent seizures, Shahavaw shouted them out in terror and warning, in anger and despair. “No!” This time it was Masveh who shuddered. “Blind, deaf, useless refuse!” She shouted. “Trapped forever within themselves, they cannot see, they cannot hear, they cannot speak, they cannot touch. Nothing on earth could have escaped the closing of the gates.”
Shahavaw stood silent, staring, staring into her daughter’s eyes, peering into a mind so much like hers, and yet so much more: deeper, stronger; she had to be stronger. For this she had been born. Softly, she said, “there are other ways to cross the vastness, beside the gates. Why else set guardians in worlds of fire, water, and storm.”
Of the images in her mother’s mind, Masveh could only recognize the Salamanders, they that watch over the worlds of fire, standing guard among the stars. And Masveh understood the words left unspoken, the horror of the thought… What if She is not of this earth?