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 continued relating Diderici’s story. “Once in the cave, they took the unconscious woman to the secret chamber past the iron gate. On the way there he almost gave himself away, for he knew the turns of the tunnels in the darkness. The younger witch tugged on her sister in alarm but the older one dismissed her, for the night was ripe for their sorcery.
“They scribed a fresh pentagram with more powerful symbols within a large circle on the untouched stone floor, and tied the drugged victim to its center. Then they scribed another row of symbols inside another circle for him to stand within, with the command not to step out. ‘The magic of these runes will make you invisible to our lover. Stand still and quiet until he speaks as we speak, for he will not hesitate to slay you without a thought. That is his nature until his hunger is sated. Once that has been satisfied we will show you to him.’
“The magic started at the appointed time, the sacrifice made swiftly. The women were utterly efficient. Diderici had seen army surgeons that were slower than that, doing amputations. He refused to feel any horror. The body of the sacrifice ready, the women set its parts on a pile of coals at the center of the circle and lit the fire. Quickly, they retreated to their circle, disrobed themselves, and anointed their bodies with an unguent that filled the mind of Diderici with visions and sickness and lust. They lay down just as the soporific oils suffused the consciousness out of their bodies.
“As the light of the fire started to dim, two wolves slipped in through the darkness of the cave and moaned at the embers. Slowly, out of that dimly lit smoke, Diderici saw a form arise: Hairy, dark, slightly smaller than a full grown man but as thick around. Its face was like something between a monkey and a dog but it had four eyes, two at the base of its snout and two others far on the side of its face below its ears. When it took full form, the she-wolves stepped across the circle and started baying and offering themselves to the creature inside.
“Once it was done with the wolves, they slipped away and entered the witches’ circle, each one laying down by its witch. The creature, then sitting in the center of its circle, started feasting on the sacrifice, the charred remains of the woman Diderici had once seduced.
“Half an hour must have passed before the wolves stirred awake and left the cave, no gleam of intelligence in their eyes. The women sat up inside their circle and started speaking to the creature. Its lusts satisfied, it sat in the smoldering coals gorged, as in a drunken stupor. It turned and looked toward their voices but it was obvious that he saw nothing there.
“In that trance-like state, the being answered their questions. Diderici saw the younger witch making notes in a book while the older asked question after question. This was how they obtained their spells; for the being gave precise answers relating to rites and objects, magic and alchymie. They continued thus for about another half hour; and then, putting their book away, they asked the being if it could recognize the antichrist.
“The being stirred and almost awakened, but the witches simply smiled and changed their voices to gentle whispers. Diderici realized that the being was in a dreaming state within which the witches’ voices could manipulate him. As they repeated their question, the being started talking about the powers of the antichrist. ‘Lie of a lie’ it called him. It assured them that the day that hallowed personage stepped into the world, many would follow him, no longer in dreams but in deeds.
“The monster licked its lips, and from that dog-like snout started to issue words of exultation for the head of all traitors, the king of rebels. Singing praises thus, the being’s speech became louder, impassioned. It shouted and almost awoke itself.
“At the fluttering of its eyes its form seemed to dim away. The younger witch grasped her sister’s shoulder, and they remained quiet and perfectly still. The being glanced around the room and, seeing nothing, settled back into the ashes, returning to its somnolescent state. In a flash of insight, all that Diderici had read, suddenly convinced him that this being resided in another reality; and that it was only in a dreaming state that it was drawn here by the witches’ spells.
“But why only asleep? He asked himself. They feared it. That was why they did not release it fully. That was why they kept it in that stupor, left it uncertain of whether what it saw was real or a dream. They were manipulating it, just as they intended to manipulate Diderici for their purposes. But if he was the antichrist then the power the being sang of belonged to him, not them.
“Diderici jumped out of his circle into the witches’ circle, seized the older woman by the throat and threw her out of the circle. He shouted: ‘Well done servant, I am indeed come. See what I offer you, living flesh.’
“The being startled awake and saw the old witch on the floor of the cave. In its confusion it nearly dimmed out back into its world but Diderici, his hand over the young woman’s mouth, spoke again in commanding tones. ‘This is your prize; take it, I grant it to you.’
“The being slid a tentative foot out of the embers, afraid of entering what it was convinced was a dream world. But the stone proved firm under its hairy feet, the smells drew saliva to its maw, and its eyes, fully open, saw with vivid clarity a real cave, real walls, and a naked woman lying before him. Its lust was aroused all over again but this time it was unimpaired by the heaviness of sleep, this time it had its full savage power.
“The being consummated the hideous deed by devouring the woman. And then Diderici, still invisible to its eyes, continued. ‘What do you give me servant? I have indeed arrived. I am the one you spoke of. I come to set you and all your brethren free… but I am trapped in a human body.’ He let go of the younger witch and stepped outside the circle.
“At his sudden appearance the being snarled; but its eyes saw something in the man standing before him, something that frightened it and, at the same time, made him smile in a gruesome grin that was still dripping blood.
“‘Is it true?’ it said as it approached him. The young witch terrified at what had been set loose, and the butchering of her sister, almost left the circle, almost ran for the bucket of stolen water that would douse the fire and end the spell. But the creature touched the man and said, ‘Yes, this is the way they said it would feel. Yes.
“‘I have ancient runes, ancient gifts prepared by my family and my kind long ago. I will return.’ The creature stepped into the smoke, and returned in seconds.
“It set down before Diderici a box, holding it in its claws just within the reach of the man. ‘Long ago,’ it said, ‘life eternal was denied to your kind, and spirit denied to us, but there have been faithful ones through the ages working in secret to recover the power of life. There is another place, far away, where your kind was said to exist: the mighty ones. I have gone there in my dreams and walked that vast desolate land. Ruins upon ruins, was all I found… as far down as the core of the planet, and as high as the wisps of the waterless clouds that streak that sky with a purple glow.
“I found no one. But in the abandoned edifices of an ancient and magnificent city I heard whispers of the long dead. That is where I learned my arts; that is where my father and his father’s father learned these arts. We have been waiting for this time. There, at the center of that city, is the only building still standing upon its original foundation. We have always called it the temple.
“‘My father would not open the temple. He was content with power and riches in our kingdom. He feared the whispers. I fear nothing. I have sat centuries at the threshold of the temple and listened to that voice. My father will soon die and the kingdom will be mine. Will you help me rule over my kin?’
“Diderici answered with a conviction that surprised even him. ‘I will.’ Then the being withdrew a key from the emptiness before him and opened the box. It contained a crystalline powder, most of it glistening like diamond dust but interspersed throughout it were streaks of ruby and beryl and other precious stones.
“Diderici reached for the box, ‘What is this?’
“‘Those that found it, say it was this that opened the door for the mighty ones to escape the flood that destroyed the world – the last act of vengeance of the angry one. You must know the tale, if you are the one.’
“The being gazed into Diderici’s eyes again, doubting his own judgment for a moment. But then he said. ‘It is the curse on time itself that keeps you bound to ignorance, is it not? You do not yet see what is to be. We had a champion, a liberator, the Pinnacle of Power. He understood the promise in the new born universe, even at the dawn of time. That is why he reached up for the throne of the heavens, that he might rule it in order. He saw history before himself: unwritten. He saw choices spread out over the fabric of eternity like endless trees and branches and fruits, bearing seeds that led to more trees again and again.
“He saw it all and understood the waste. And so he determined to cast forth a future into the ages, worthy of all that like him understood the makings of the heavens and the earth, an ordained future for all that understood the order of things: to strengthen the strong and sweep away the weak.
“‘He knew. He understood more than them all. Even as some of his brothers said that of all the weak, man was the weakest, even as those called out to destroy mankind, he stood in their way for he knew otherwise. He had walked among the fiery stones. He could see within man the ultimate fire, the very power that birthed the universe out of nothingness. All that the fragile creature lacked was the understanding of the order of things, the power of the strong over the weak. And so he opened the eyes of man. And he saw he had given them a worthy crown.
“‘How much they were like him now! But he did not envy them. No, he understood that they would use their fire to bear strong after their kind, ones who would not fear to rule over the weak. And he understood then that man and woman were issued out of the womb of meaningless creation to rule by his side. Together, the Pinnacle of Power and the breeders of life would reshape that creation into its true form.
“‘There was work to be done, so much to discover yet. He understood, for the order of things demanded it, that there had to be a way to rule as one: he as the head, man as the body, woman as the womb of life. So he set about his work and he discovered the way to become one with flesh, taught it to his brothers and taught it to us. It took centuries, eons, ages of experiment to perfect it. Only the strong of creation welcomed us. But we also found the flesh of man to be fragile. Their mind was unable to grasp the fullness of our glory. Yet they were so much like us. Another age is all it would have taken us to perfect it.
“‘But the angry one challenged the Powerful One and struck first. With a curse he twisted the fabric of the universe itself, changing the nature of time, poisoning the flesh of man and beast, poisoning the mind of the children of creation. He turned our kin against us! Those of us that tried to unite with flesh again, to form an army to strike back, burnt themselves into oblivion. The Powerful One himself could not come to our aid for he was caught inside the body of his most faithful servant when the curse on the flesh struck. The towering dragon was reduced to a limbless slithering form wallowing in the dust.
“‘And while they writhed together in agony, defenseless, the angry one crushed its head, shattering the body of the liberator, piercing the dragon’s side. As every precious stone in his body crumbled, the universe cracked and all his servants found themselves cast through those fissures into the nothingness in between. Only the weak of our kind remained in the world of man.
“‘Our voices were silenced, our worlds split apart, flung far from the world of man. But the angry one could never take away our wisdom. We remembered the power our master had set free within man. And we understood the wisdom of his choice to give man the sight to understand the order of things. We realized we could use that sight to reach them once more. So we called out through the stars, through mind and metal, artifact, device, and power-filled symbol. We sang to them in songs of power, and taught them how to feast in the glory of the strong. We would yet raise up an army to fight back.
“‘And we would have succeeded, but the angry one proved his nature again by pouring out his wrath on mankind. His flood nearly wiped them all out, destroyed the machines and the lands of those loyal to us. But by our words we managed to rescue some. And though he tried with the years and the laws and by force to make them forget, still he has never completely silenced our voice. For we know that the seed of the fire that birthed the universe is still within man, and one day that seed will be ours again. We know there is one that will come to set man and all the worlds free again.
“‘That is the one some call the antichrist.’
“Diderici took it all in, his soul swelling with excitement, with the certainty of the power that was now within his grasp. But still within him there was a source of hesitation, a remembrance of fragments of stories that, though he never believed, yet he knew that, somehow, they had made him tremble.
“The being saw that sliver of doubt in his brow and spoke again. ‘Lie of a lie! There was never such a thing as a Christ. It has all been a lie. This is the truth: We who wait, it is up to us to set the Pinnacle of Power free again. For without him we cannot see the way. The worlds are far apart. You can become our eyes and hands and help us reassemble the knowledge lost.
“‘We have looked for others like you before, ones who would obey the call of the universe to set all things right again. But the power that we give must be used according to the order of things, the strong over the weak. Yes, others before you have heard us but none have succeeded, for once they touch the power, they crave it for themselves, and use it only for their own purposes. The Nazarene was one such. He thought that by raising the dead, people would follow him. That trick only works on children and birds. He reaped the reward of those who defy the order of things. Even his followers, who tried to change the story of his fate, paid in horrible death. They ignored the order of things. That is not how the universe works.
“‘No, you cannot defy death. It must be traded; it is the power that runs the universe, the never ending circle: as death follows life, life follows death. Turn the wheel; trade the death of the weak for the life of the strong, until strong begets strong forever. No, we would not let the Nazarene corrupt the universe, for we discovered he was a traitor, sent by the angry one to destroy our way. We ended his reign instead.’
“The being paused and observed the man, smelled his scent, reached out and touched the fringes of his mind. And the being smiled for it knew it had smothered away the remnant of the doubt. ‘Now, you have been warned. Tell me, will you be the one? Will you be the one that will lead us back, that will raise again the Powerful One?’
“Diderici found his eyes drawn to the depths of the glow within the powder in the box. His hands had to caress it. The creature clung to the box and spoke in a soft voice: ‘This before you, they say, is all that was left of the Pinnacle of Power, the remains of his body, found within the carcass of the dragon.
“‘Where his fire resides, we do not know. Yes, he lives in us, but one day we will all live in him. The fractures in the universe stretch out farther than we can see, across the world of man and myriad worlds beyond, and perhaps even across time. We do not know because the angry one struck again when we killed his traitor. He sealed the cracks of his own making, pushing us farther and farther away with each passing century. And then he poisoned the blood of man to keep our weaker kin from ever attempting to rise. I have worked long and hard to call to them, to speak to man… it has been fruitless, until now.’
“The being flickered suddenly, so that for an instant the rest of the cave could be seen through its body. It closed its eyes and clenched its teeth and clung to the place with all his might. When it looked up again, its form regained solidity but its eyes had grayed. It knew it was running out of time.
“‘Poison, this place is poison. Open the way for us! We cannot see, but man has the sight and the fire. Take on his body, become one, and you will hear his voice. Follow that voice and he will open the way. He will bring us together again.’
“He let go of the box and Diderici reached in. The powder yielded to his touch flowing like silk around his hand. He lifted it up and it spread like oil. Too late he realized that that sensation was the melting of his flesh. The powder clung to him and spread inwards through the skin, drawn by the electrical song within muscle and nerve. It tried to follow the path of that song to the source, but there was blood all around, burning blood, and yet it refused to let go.
“It cried its own song, louder and louder till the man’s limbs lost all control. The pain brought his hands to his face, and it pierced through again, only to burn again. And then the creature saw the way. Diderici was down on his knees.
“Wrapping a hand in a piece of its garment the being reached for Diderici’s head and yanked out the fragment of blade. Blood flowed freely, a shudder brought the man to the floor, and the powder found the way. It flowed into the wound like chaff driven before a whirlwind, sending the man’s body rolling over the stone floor in convulsions that snapped joints and bones.
“Another minute of those spasms and he would have broken his neck or crushed his skull against the stony ground; but the young witch jumped out of the circle and seized a small bucket that sat by the wall. Flinging its water into the center of the monster’s pentagram instantly dowsed the embers that connected the worlds. The creature, dimming away, scrambled for the smoke within the circle. Ashes, coals, and human remains were scattered across the floor, and the doorway between the worlds was shut. That closing ended the seizures and left Diderici in a deep darkness that lasted weeks. But he lived.”
Shahavaw’s perception of her daughter felt distant for a moment. She pulled herself back and finished that sentence: “… if that existence can be called life.”
Masveh felt her mother struggling against the next patch of memories. “From that time on,” Shahavaw hurried, “Diderici hired himself out to the powerful in need of his occult services: as silent assassin, spell-caster, whatever they needed, as long as they had the power and the money to further the quest implanted within his being. He sought out others like him who had contacted the beings across the veil. He learned their arts and taught them some of his. And with time, he concluded that it was all true, that buried in the memories of mankind were the remnants of a knowledge more ancient than man, and that it held the key to a way to open the gates.”
Shahavaw turned her face away in disgust. “What the key is, he does not know. He feels it just beyond his reach, but the words do not come. That is why he keeps experimenting. But there is one who knows. She senses him; he senses her. They smell each other across the void like beasts in heat. He must never reach her.”