THE REVOLUTIONS OF TIME
By Jonathan Dunn
Note to the reader: The manuscript for this book was found in a weather- beaten stone box on an island in the Pacific Ocean. Its contents were written in an ancient form of Latin, which was translated and edited by Jonathan Dunn.
Dedicated to Bernibus, amicus certus in re incerta cernitur.
Table of Contents: Chapter 1: Past and Present Chapter 2: Predestined Deja Vu Chapter 3: Zards and Canitaurs Chapter 4: Onan, Lord of the Past Chapter 5: The Treeway Chapter 6: The Fiery Lake Chapter 7: Down to Nunami Chapter 8: The Temple of Time Chapter 9: Mutually Assured Deception Chapter 10: Devolution Chapter 11: The Land Across the Sea Chapter 12: The White Eagle Chapter 13: The Big Bang Chapter 14: Past and Future
...The very men who claimed mental superiority because they were free from superstitions and divine disillusionment were themselves victims of their own sophism, and while they thought themselves crowned with enlightenment, it was naught but the Phrygian caps of their prejudices toward the material state.
—Jehu, the Kinsman Redeemer
The physical manifestation of the spiritual force is not the spiritual force at all, only a bland deception. If you only focus on what you can see directly, than you chase after only the representation and not the object desired. If a bird is flying through the sky at noontime, casting a shadow on the ground below him, and a man comes along, and in the hope of catching the bird chases after its shadow, it is evident that he will never catch it, for when he does reach it, he will find that there is nothing there at all, only the shadow of what it was he desired. So it is with the spiritual!
—Onan, Lord of the Past
Chapter 1: Past and Present
My name is Jehu. Most probably it sounds foreign and unfamiliar to you, devoid of the qualities of affection and personality which give character to a name. It is a harsh name, cold and inhuman, like something out of the night, an unwelcome intruder into the warmth of familiarity. It inspires no blissful memories, nor does it kindle fond feelings in the bosom of the hearer, instead the heart is hardened to it like the feathers of a duck to water, repulsing it, leaving it to run off into the ditches and by-ways of the long forgotten past, to trickle dejectedly into those stagnant ponds where so many words of wisdom are imprisoned: out of sight, out of mind, out of heart, out of history. Yet while history is forgotten and misconstrued, it is repeated, for what is life without water, which nourishes and sustains it, and what is life without wisdom, which protects and cultivates it?
Jehu is my name, though it no longer brings the quickened pulse and keen anticipation of happiness to the hearts of any, not even my own. For what deference can be given to a name, though not in itself a thing of dishonor, which represents the failure to derail the evitable fate which wrecks the race of man again and again. Not that I myself embody such a failure, nor even that I gave birth to the dreaded fate's latest momentum, but as is seen time and again throughout history, one name is brought to represent the tide of change, for better or worse, the doer of deeds which were done not by him, but by a mass of independent doers, yet it is written in the annals of history as the deeds of but one man.
While I had little to do, consciously, with the doom of the earth, I will always be fingered as the villain, as the ambitious Napoleon or the barbaric Atilla, the arrogant Augustus or the fearful Cyrus. Someone has to bear the burden of shame on the pages of history for the people of his time, and in that sense, maybe I truly can be called their kinsman redeemer. Perhaps it is my fate to bear witness to the wrongs of a people, of which even you are not wholly innocent.
And yet can an individual be blamed for the faults of a society, can personal responsibility be extended to the members of an unknown multitude? How the enjoined conscience of one longs to say no, but in good faith it cannot be said, for in this case the mask of ignorance cannot supersede the face of guilt. Indeed, ignorance in this case only adds to the shame of the guilty, this being a crime not of misdeeds but of negligence, twisted together with the vices of humanity into a thick and sturdy cord, a rope that cannot be pulled apart and individually examined, yet must be taken as a whole. Insularly, the strand of ignorance could be easily snapped, remedied by but a little education, yet when woven together by one's own hands with prides and prejudices, it forms an unbreakable rope, which is placed about our neck to hang us: through means of our own doing is our fate foretold. If but one or two of the strands were omitted, the result would be a feeble rope, easily broken, and we would live. But by our own vices is our mortality made manifest, by our own wrongs are we wronged.
By now you may be beginning to feel the impulses of indignation arising in your breast, for who am I, the admittedly despicable Jehu, to group you as my fellow convicts, my co-conspirators, in a sense? And you are right, for I am not your judge and neither do I wish to be.
Having said that, I now request of you to put down the book and discontinue reading.
"Surely," you say to yourself, "He is mentally deranged, for what author in his right mind would encourage his readers to disperse, what writer does not thrive on the digestion of his words by an eager audience?"
Here I must make a revelation to you: if my manuscript has indeed been found, then I have long since been dead; and I assure you that in whatever form my existence takes in the present, I have little desire for your intrigue or goodwill. Do you think Melville is consoled in death of his miserable life by the vainglorious praises of the living? Or do you think that Poe is comforted by such avid attentions in his present abode? In truth, Melville's only rivalry is now within, and Poe's only raven that daunting memory of those truths which had escaped him in life, but which now are opened to you.
More importantly, if this manuscript has been found, it proves that what is contained herein is the unerring truth. I do not write this to exonerate myself, however let me say here that I am more the Andre' than the Arnold, for I was but the emissary of history, not the traitor to humanity, and if not me then some other would have filled the void. Let it be remembered that it was Andre' who gave his life for his deeds, and yet it is Andre' who is recollected with a sweet sorrow, and though Arnold lived, he had no peace. Yet while history is vivid and encyclopedic, in itself a living organism, it can speak only through the mouths of men, who often misrepresent it for their own partisan and prejudiced plans. It is strong and steadfast, though, and in time is always victorious over its menial opposition, for what is history but the past tense of truth, and it is justly said that veritas numquam perit, truth never dies.
Going back to what I said before, namely that at my manuscript's discovery my demise will itself be history: I am assured that such is true, for even now as I write this my death is near at hand. How wide the abyss of time that separates us is I cannot tell, but I do know that it is beyond the reckoning of men, such an unknown barrage of hollow, formless years. Yet as you read this it is as if I were speaking directly to you, despite all of the desolation between our times. That is what makes history an organic being, and by history I mean all of the past, or all of the future, depending on your viewpoint.
A book is a connection between times and peoples, more so than any other medium. As I put these words down in writing, it is as if I am imparting my very self into the pages. And as you read them, the name Jehu slowly forms into an image, into a personality, and from the empty word Jehu comes the great well of affection springing from a personal intimacy. A book is an enigma in which no time exists, and as it is read it brings the reader into its eternal being, for while it sits closed on a shelf it is no more than a forgotten memory, yet when it is opened its contents come to life and its characters and locations are once more existent in the same state as when they were written, the story becomes once more reality.
While I have long been deceased, when you read this I am brought to life once more, and with my rebirth I tell you my story, and make known to you the truths contained therein. The words of this book are a rune gate, a portal to the past, and as you read them, your present fades away and you are drawn into my present, this very moment in which I now write. Then you connect with me intimately, and for a brief time the gulf of mortality is transcended and the depths of my being are laid open to you. We commune together and you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood, merging your existence with mine.
Come to me now, my friend, come to me across the gulf of mortality, for I await you. Come, and in your spiritual peregrination meet with me, in this land of the past which is so foreign and unfamiliar to you, but which will become for a time your home. Come to me, my friend, and let me tell you my story.
Chapter 2: Predestined Deja Vu
It was in the last stages of sleep that I began to feel the warm morning sun strike my face, and hear the pleasant chirping of birds and crickets. I rolled slowly over, stretched my legs and my back, and stood up, with the last remnants of a dream playing quietly in my mind. But as I came to my feet and got a clear view of where I was, I realized it was not a dream that I had had at all, but something far more sobering. I found myself somewhere in the center of a very large prairie which covered the land for many miles around. From the sun's lowly position on the eastern horizon, it was evident to me that the new day was just dawning, casting a golden hue on the grasses that covered the prairie's surface.
Around the distant outskirts of the plain I could make out a ring of trees circumventing the whole, waving almost imperceptibly to and fro in the light breeze that was blowing. A few miles to the southwest there was a group of odd looking trees stretching up over the horizon to a considerable height. They were closer than the outer ring, which kept a uniform girth around the prairie, but somehow they looked very peculiar and foreboding, and I got one of those sobering feelings which I like to call predestined deja vu. What I mean is that I got a sense of deja vu, but instead of the past converging with the present into one thought, the present seemed to converge with the future, and the result was a mysterious foreboding of something, though I couldn't tell what. That is the sensation that I had when I saw what I assumed to be a small grouping of trees somewhere in the southwestern portion of the savanna, though that was merely a guess, for in the distance I could only make out several dark forms rising out of the grassland like trees, or possibly buildings, one of them being a great deal taller than the others, with a spherical shape on top that only faintly resembled a tree's crown. If it was indeed a tree, it was the largest that I have ever seen, for it looked to be upwards of 800 feet tall.
My mental warning bells were ringing quite loudly, and I endeavored to silence them by extreme exertions of the will, but they would not be subdued. I assumed that they were not at all correct, much like the fearful expectancy some have while swimming in the ocean, out of sight of all land, of being attacked by an enormous leviathan of the deep. As unfounded as the fear is, it places one into a frenzy of dubious thoughts that inspire equally frantic and anarchist actions. Because of this, I thought that my ideas were naught but superstitious fancies, yet try as I might, I could not rid myself of them.
Instead, I made up my mind to set off in the opposite direction, north, and to advance at a double march until I should reach the woody border, which looked to present shelter not only from the southern apparitions, but also from the shielded underworld of the grasses, in which also dwelt the mysterious sense of fear and predestined deja vu. It was slightly chilly, but beyond that nothing defaced the temperate beauty of the day, and even that promised to soon dissipate with the continual strengthening of the sun's warmth. As I walked, or rather, trotted along, it did just that, and in the growing warmth of the day the sweet fragrances of the many various grasses rose to the surface, delighting my odor perceiving sensors with their earthy simplicity.
The day marched on, and with it I, and the distant wall of trees began to slowly grow closer. At length, I found myself at their edge, at around the noon hour, and as I came upon the first of them, I leaned against the trunk of a large, thickset tree for a moment of repose and reflection in its shade. It was by all appearances an ancient wood, for the line between it and the prairie was distinct, appearing as if the shrubs and lesser flora had acquiesced to fate and retreated beyond the forest's claimed boundaries, rather than continue for countless ages to charge and then be pushed back, to gain a foothold only to be thrown out a year or two later. The trees themselves were mighty pinions of strength, tall and of great girth, and spread far apart from one another, leaving wide open spaces between their towering trunks. A short, soft grass clothed the land that stretched on in their midst, joined in its solitude by a hearty looking moss that stretched itself out on the trunks of the trees and on the rocks and boulders that lay scattered here and there among the open spaces. Far above, the trees' great branches spread out a thick canopy, covering the whole of the forest area in a relaxing and invigorating twilight, rendering itself homely and quaint. After a few moments of enjoying that most pleasing scene, I roused and extricated myself unwillingly from its enchanted depths and set off once more into the heart of the woods, having no where else to go.
After a time, I cannot say how long, I came upon a small, trickling stream which flowed deeper into the woods, that direction being northward. A short walk along its path, after refreshing myself to content with its pure waters, brought me to its destination: a large lake into which the forest opened. Its banks were very gradual and the grass of the woodland led right up to the water's edge. The surface of the water itself was smooth and delicate.
Amidst the pleasantness of the scene, there was something missing from the feel of the area: inhabitants. There was an abundance of wild life of all kinds, and much organic life as well, but something greater than flora or fauna was missing: people. I had traveled so far, and without any sighting of a person. It was a lonely and desolate feeling which prevailed, despite the abundances of life. Novelties soon grow worthless with no one to share them with, ideas become meaningless if not communicated timely, emotions grow boisterous and uncontrollable with no end to receive them.
I was quite alone, unfortunately, and it dampened my spirits considerably. Feeling despondent, I turned and walked sullenly from the lake's edge into the woodland once more, with no definite purpose in mind, only a meandering thought of my dismal situation. My thoughts morphed, in succession, from anxiety to despair, to anger, to frustration, and in my frustration I knelt down and picked up a fallen branch from the ground, walked to the nearest tree, and eyed a strange, protruding knob that stuck out from the trunk. I held the branch at shoulder's length and swung it at the knob with all the force of my built up emotions. It hit with a crash and a hollow thud, leaving the branch broken and my arm sore, but the knob undamaged.
But then something unexpected happened: with a grating noise, a small hole appeared part way up the trunk, coming from what looked to be solid wood, for no sign was seen before of its having an opening. From the newly opened hole was then thrust out a head, hairy and with a short snout-like edifice for a nose and mouth. Its eyes and the furry hair which covered its face were brown, and a few wily whiskers protruded from its snout. With a look of utter surprise, as if it had not expected me as much as I had not expected it, it eyed me closely for a moment and then looked anxiously from side to side and told me to come in.
When those words passed its lips, or whatever artifice it spoke from, a great weight fell from my shoulders. After a short moment, quickened by my relief, a door appeared in the trunk of the tree, its edges previously hidden behind the thick mosses. Swinging inwards, it opened and revealed the creature standing there, beckoning me to enter. I did, and the door shut behind me, leaving me in the darkness of the hollow tree.
Chapter 3: Zards and Canitaurs
My eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, and once they did I saw that the trunk was hollowed out to the extent of eight feet in diameter, with two stairways, one up and another down, filling either corner of the small entry room in which I found myself. Observing that my vision was returned enough to see, the strange creature which had greeted me led me down the descending staircase for a short way, until we came into a cavern which was delved beneath the roots of the tree.
The walls and floor of the cavern, or more accurately, the sitting room, for such it appeared to be, were paneled with a thick, heavy wood with an almost artificially symmetric grain, and the ceiling was done in diagonal boards of the same. Sitting in the center of the room was a brick-laid pit in which burned an illuminating fire, and around it was placed an odd covering frame that caught up the smoke and channeled it via underground passages to some distant wilderness, where its sightless remnants would dissipate into the atmosphere unnoticed. On the near side of the fire was a round table flanked by four large, comfortable chairs, padded by cushions made from the same material as the various carpets and tapestries around the room.
There were two more of the strange creatures seated at the table, called Canitaurs as I later found out, and as they are closely entwined with my story, being prominent participants, I will describe them in some detail here. They stood erect like a man, yet were quite contrasted in appearance. Their skin for one was covered in a thick, impenetrable coat of hair, much like a dog or a bear's. Their hands, also, were less distinct in the fingers, though but slightly, and their limbs were a little longer and thicker than a man's. The two most notable differences, however, were the formation of their shoulders and chest, which were very pronounced and muscular, and their faces. The latter's features were brought to a point in the short snout, or muzzle, that formed their nose and mouth, taking their chins with it and leaving a long line from their neck to their chest open. Humanity prevailed in the rest of their features, though, giving them the look of a man and canine hybrid.
By then I had overcome my initial perplexion at the sight of the Canitaurs, and I endeavored to put a strong check over my emotions in order to prevent another outbreak of panic and to remain cool and candid, come what would. Yet it was, ironically, the product of my rashness that I had found their habitation at all. This I successfully did, and as I entered the room, led by the Canitaur who was on watch, the others stood politely and greeted me with an apparent intrigue.
Our conversation proceeded at follows:
"I am Wagner of the Canitaurs, my friend," said the one who appeared to be the leader, "And these are Taurus and Bernibus," the latter being the one who had led me down. "Welcome to Daem."
"I am Jehu," I told them, "It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Indeed, and under such circumstances as well. Tell me, how did you come to be here?"
Here I smiled nervously, and replied, "I am a traveler from a distant land, and came here by the advice of a friend."
At this somewhat false answer, more in character than in content, Wagner looked at me wonderingly, as if detecting my falsehood, but did not follow his look with any probing questions, to my great relief. In order to steer the conversation away from this point, I added quickly, "I am not at all disappointed, either, for the landscape is beautiful and the trees and foliage are wondrously large, but I was surprised to find that, from the prairie to the lake, I saw no one living among these quaint locations."
Wagner looked at me closely, with a hint of almost reverencing respect and said, "You were very fortunate in your travels, I assure you, for had you arrived at any other time, you would have fallen into fouler hands than ours by far."
"I do not understand what you mean," I said.
"Of course not, I am forgetting your new arrival has left you unacquainted with affairs that I am faced with everyday. Let me explain: we, that is, the Canitaurs, have been in open hostilities with the other group of people on this island, the Zards, for as long as we can remember. They have great military superiority in this section of Daem, and when we come here we are forced to live in hiding, in outposts such as this one."
"Why not just make peace?" I asked.
"Because it is our ideologies that conflict, neither group of us will yield, and the solution can only be decided by force, military force. It is fortunate that you have come among us first, for they would have mistreated you."
"So you have said, though I do not see why I was not captured by them on my journey through the plains, if they are as powerful in this quarter as you say," I replied.
"As I said, the timing of your arrival was very fortunate," he said, "At any other time you would have surely been caught, and then your fate would have been uncertain, but yesterday was the Zard's new year, the Kootch Patah, on which they spend all night in celebrations and revelries. Because of this, they were all soundly asleep on your trip through the prairie, very possibly laying at your feet, covered by the tall grasses."
So my fears were not as unfounded as I had thought, was my predestined deja vu, then, real as well? Only time would tell.
"I am indeed lucky then, as you have said, not only in the Zard's unattentiveness, but also in finding of your secreted habitation, as well as your friendly welcoming of me," I said.
"I must confess," he chuckled, "It is not merely from a one-sided hospitality that you are welcomed."
"Indeed?" I said.
"Indeed," he answered, "For your appearance and the circumstances of your arrival are almost uncannily the realizations of one of our most ancient prophesies, one which we have longed to have fulfilled."
"Is that so?" I rhetorically asked.
"Surely it is," he said with a smile, though from happiness or humor I could not tell. He went on soberly, saying: "The prophecy is concerning the kinsman redeemer, one of the ancients sent by Onan, the Lord of the Past, to redeem us from the destruction of this polluted world."
"What do you mean by 'one of the ancients'?" I interjected questioningly.
"Exactly what I said," Wagner replied with a light hearted smile, "Let me explain."
But before he could, we were interrupted by a violent scratching and pounding at the door, along with some grunting voices which I could not understand. The Canitaur's ears, which were quite large, though more erect and postured than floppy, quickly rose to attention, and they had spent not a moment listening when they uniformly chorused, "Zards," in a hoarse whisper. My earlier fear, then mysterious but now understood, returned in full force, and my face writhed in horror as I ejaculated remorsely, "Then we are lost."
Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, "Perhaps, but there is still hope. Come, follow me," and rising from his chair he led the way to the furthest corner of the room. A primitive tapestry was hanging there, and Wagner lifted it up while Bernibus and Taurus hit two hidden switches, one being on either extremity of the room, to avoid discovery. That unlocked the wall behind the tapestry. It opened along lines previously concealed by the wood's grain and revealed a small cubbyhole built into the wall, probably meant for its present use, concealment. Wagner led us into it and no sooner was the door, or wall, latched again than the Zards, having broken down the outside door by brute strength, flooded into the room.
We could see them as they did, for the wall that concealed us had many small holes, and the tapestry as well, so that on the inside we could see all that happened in the well lit room, while they could not see us, as there was no light to reveal us. Indeed, I had been sitting facing the hidden compartment during our brief dialog and had not detected it at all. The situation was quite different at that time, though, for the Zards were actively looking for us, whereas I was merely glancing occasionally at the wall.
Now that they were closer, I could easily understand their conversation:
"Blast it, they aren't here," said one,
"Probably deserted the place after Garlop saw them, he should have kept watch."
"Why? He couldn't have stopped a group of them, and they're too keen to be followed."
"Aye, he did right to hurry off, but it would be a shame if they escaped," another joined.
"The King is here though, and there's no fooling him.
"Hear ye, hear ye," the others assented, that being a common phrase among them which was the equivalent of an 'I agree' or 'Amen'.
A larger, more commanding Zard, whom the others looked in deference to, then came down the stairs, saying as he entered the room, "Let us not celebrate prematurely, gentlemen. There is nothing of interest above, so we will have to search carefully down here."
"Sir, is it true it was a hairless one he saw?" one asked him.
"We are all hairless here," he said, laughing with the others, "But yes, it is reported that Garlop saw one of the ancients, and with his sharp eyes and knowledge of history, it is assumed to be true. I need not remind you, then, the need to find them before they are too far away, it is imperative to the cause that the ancient is not brought to the hidden fortress of our adversaries."
The Zards then set to work with great assiduity searching for any clues of the Canitaur's whereabouts, examining everything meticulously, yet quickly. They tore the furniture apart to look for hidden compartments, followed the smoke pipes through the ground to their outlets, tore off the floor boards to look for secret passages, and did the same to the ceiling.
Before I continue with my story, let me pause for a moment to describe to you the appearance of the Zards, for you are probably curious as to what they look like.
Quite different from the Canitaurs, they were, in fact, completely hairless, being almost lizard-like. They stood erect, about the same height as a man, that is, about six feet or a little over that, and their bodies resembled those of alligators, with short, thickset legs, stout arms, and a long body with a tail draping down to the ground, looking like a giant tongue, though covered, of course, in scales. Their heads were small, having a little skull on which were the eyes and ears and with a long snout that, like the Canitaurs', held their noses, mouths, and chin. Huge, sharp teeth filled their mouths and gave them an odd, fiercely sophisticated look. Their hands were thick with long fingers, and though their overall appearance had an air of awkwardness about it, they set to their tasks with great dexterity, though if it was natural or the result of their excited state, I could not tell. Indeed, I began to grow worried when the Zard who was removing the walls, to check for holes or tunnels, drew near to us as he methodically pried off the panels with a metal bar and looked for anything suspicious.
He moved along quickly and was just about to put the bar to our covering and pull when another Zard, on the other end of the room, held aloft a piece of paper, calling the attentions of the others to it. Our almost discoverer went himself to the other Zard, and we were, for a moment at least, saved from being exposed. Having read the paper, the taller Zard, the King, said to the others, "Well done, lads. We have here a map to the Canitaur's hidden fortress. Let us go to Nunami, gather some troops, and surprise them. Today may prove victorious, so let us hurry."
The others assented and as a body they went up the stairs and out the door, hurrying forth, it seemed, to do their dastardly deeds, and in their ardor not leaving behind even a single one to guard the hideout. Despite our good fortunes, my spirits were damp, for my sorrow of the Canitaur's ill fate was as a wound in my bosom, knowing that I had been the sole reason for their discovery. What a good kinsman redeemer, I thought, for my coming may have ended the wars, or put its completion in motion, yet not in the favor of my hosts.
To my chagrin, however, the Canitaurs, led by Wagner, were buxom, seeming to find great humor in what had happened. Turning to them in a zealous perplexity, I said spiritedly, "How can you laugh? You may have escaped, but your brethren are doomed, and you yourselves will not last long around enemies without the protection of the other Canitaurs."
But my rebuke only seemed to make their laughter and mirth more hearty, and they raged on without ceasing for a time. After a while, when they were reduced to a smiling remnant of their former pleasure, Wagner turned gravely towards me and said, "Forgive me, Jehu, for not explaining it to you. You are right to chastise us, but the situation is not as you seem to think it, for the map they found was a fake, and will lead them to nowhere of importance, while we affect our escape. We are lucky that they left no guard, but come, let us not tempt fate and remain any longer in this compromised outpost, to the fortress we go!"
He finished and met with the approbations of the others, and accordingly, we exited the cubby hole and made our way through the rummaged room, up the stairs, and out of the tree. It was now early evening, and the temperance of twilight, with its soft and mellow splendors, only increased the pleasantness of the area. A slight breeze prevailed and rustled the leaves and boughs of the giant trees just enough to render it pacifying and comforting. Being quickened by the breeze, the lake danced on in its earlier smoothness, only in a faster tempo, improving the ruggedness of the watery wrinkles. The last visiting rays from the sun were congregated on the eastern shores, saying their good-byes to the glowing trees, and giving their parting respects before being whisked away to their native lands of fire, to come again in great numbers on the morrow.
We set off around the lake, making our way northward towards the rugged mountains rising before us in a grand show of might. Wagner and Taurus walked before and behind us, respectively, Wagner leading the way and Taurus erasing the marks of our passing, and both watching for any signs of ambush. Bernibus walked abreast of myself, keeping me in pleasant company, for he was a very enjoyable companion.
During our walk, Bernibus and I had an insightful conversation, of which I will relate to you the following, as you may find it interesting:
"Tell me," I said to him, "You seem to be a jovial people, despite the war that you find yourselves in, but are all of your people of the same attitude?"
"Very nearly, yes," he replied, "For though we do not wish war, the principles at stake here are important enough for us to sacrifice an easy life for them. We've grown used to it, everything is done in such a way as to promote secrecy and stealth, those being our main advantages in the conflict. Out of hundreds of outposts like the one we were just in, for example, only four others have ever been discovered, and the Zards still have no clue where our fortress is." This he said in a boastful manner, but as he did a faint spirit of sorrow spread across his face for an instant, as if in memory of one of the raids of previous times.
"That explains their rapture when they found the false map," I returned, "But I must admit that I am still ignorant of the cause of the wars. It was said that it was conflicting ideologies, yet that is self-evident, as all conflict is at heart just that. I don't mean, either, the actions that caused the most recent inflammation, but what exactly your conflicting ideologies are? What is it that keeps you from harmony?"
"You have a knack for hard questions," he said with a smile. Then he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. At length, he continued, "The Canitaurs have a profound respect for all that has gone before us, we honor the traditions of our ancestors and revere their beliefs and their ideas of truth. The past, in the guise of history, is the key to the future, we believe, and we hold strictly to the worship of Onan, the Lord of the Past," at this my attention was perked. He continued, "Our adherence to the ways of our ancestors is based on the idea that what has continued throughout the ages has continued because it is right, that it has remained steadfast because it is based on the immovable foundations of reality. We follow Onan because he is real, because the past has existed, and it is certain that it will continue to exist, and because that existence dictates the operation of the present. Although we may seem ritualistic and entrenched in tradition to the outside observer, we enjoy the comforts of knowing that we are on a well tread path, that we are not alone in time but in company with our forebears. We are called the Pastites because of our beliefs, because of our tradition based lives that instill in us a reliance on history, on the events of the past as a light by which to guide our own actions, as a road paved by the flesh and blood of our forefathers which leads to happiness and peace."
Bernibus paused for another moment, as if in contemplation once again, before he continued, saying, "The Zards are followers of the future, or Futurists as they are called. They believe that the past is just that, the past: the ignorant and selfish times of the unenlightened who were too shrouded by prejudices to understand the world clearly. Instead they place their faith in the scientific and philosophical ideas of the day, believing that while history and the past were delegated to the control of the unsophisticated whose ways were superstitious and outdated, the present contains truth in its pure form. Reform and revolution are their watchwords, for they tinker with the very foundations of society and life in an attempt to cultivate it. Zimri is their Lord, of the Future, and they follow him loosely, for he doesn't require the strict adhesion that Onan does, which suits their independent and relaxed world view very well."
He went on, in summary, "In a word, the Pastites believe that history, the reality of the past, governs the present and the future, while the Futurists believe that the future defines the present and the past."
"I begin to see the differences," I replied in a humble, questioning manner, "And yet they seem to me to be passive, secondary differences, the kind that result in a conflict of subtle disagreements here and there, argued over dessert like tariffs or taxes, not at all violent. How is it that they take such a prominent role in everyday life that they can only be resolved by force? What is it that takes it from the fireside to the battlefield?"
Here I was slightly taken aback by the expression on Bernibus' face, it was one of surprise mingled with apprehension and questioning. He said, "Then you do not know?"
He laughed, "I take it you do not." Becoming solemn again, he continued, "Our land, Daem is on the edge of ruin, and has been for all of my life and those of many generations before me. About 530 years ago there was a great war on earth, one in which no restraint was used, no mutually assured destruction, for nuclear weapons came into the hands of those who cared not for any life, not even their own. Tensions were high for a decade, and in the following segregation, the peoples of the earth lost their personal connection with their enemies, and, as always happens, ceased to view them as equals, but instead as evil ones bent on their destruction. Things came to such a crisis that at last a little flame was lit and it grew and grew until it became a full scale nuclear war. The destruction was total: no one was exempt, as almost everything, and everyone, was destroyed. The only surviving place was this island, which is the sole habitat of the delcator beetle, a small insect that digests nuclear waste and neutralizes it. The first few decades were horrible, before the atmosphere recovered enough to return to normal, and in that time things mutated and grew gigantic. The trees and foliage, as you see, are an example of this, even the redwood trees of old were nothing compared to the trees of Daem. And the Zards and Canitaurs grew and changed as well, and, as we lived on either ends of the island, as we do now, our forms morphed into the separate forms that they now take.
"And that is where our conflict turned violent," he continued, "For it is our desire, on both sides, to return the earth to its previous state. The Pastites want to return through time and stop the destruction before it happens, because we believe that the past is what must be changed in order to change the present and future. It is the actions of the past that brought about the present woes, and it is they that must be undone. For their part, the Futurists want to change the present through the future, to go into the future and bring back its completion, in the form of restored RNA cells, which is congruent with their belief that the past is the past and all that matters is that which is yet to come, that which still has the hope of existence."
I looked at him as he finished and said, "But, why not do both. Wouldn't that be more effective than fighting each other? How can continued destruction revert previous destruction inflicted in the same manner? Could not both ideas be tried?"
"If only they could," he replied. "It goes back to Onan and Zimri, you see, for we ourselves cannot do such things, but the gods whom we follow can. Shortly after the worldwide destruction, we, meaning both the Zards and the Canitaurs, received the prophesy of the kinsman redeemer, who would be sent to help us change the earth to its former majesty. He was to be one from the time right before the beginning of the final firefight, one of the ancients who still kept the pure human form. Our hostilities broke out in an attempt to control the entire island, so that when he should come, the dominant force would have him. Each side was convinced that theirs was the right way, the only way through which the end of restoring the earth's ecosystem could be reached. You are the kinsman redeemer, Jehu, for you fit the prophecy perfectly, and I am glad that you have fallen in with us."
After his discourse, Bernibus fell into a silent meditation, as did I, and the rest of our walk through the now dark wilderness was one of silence and solitude. Given the cessation of action in my narrative, I will take this opportunity to describe the circumstances of my arrival on the island of Daem, about which you are no doubt wondering.
Chapter 4: Onan, Lord of the Past
Not wishing to delve too far into my past or relate what would be mundane and disconnected with my story, I will summarize with brevity what my situation was. I was a military man, an Air force pilot to be exact, and was on active duty patrolling the no-fly zones off the coast of China, it being, at that time, an area of very high tensions. The situation was grim, as any small incident promised to set the pendulums of war into motion, but the worst had subsided, and things were beginning to look as if that incendiary incident wouldn't come after all. The main part of my story begins on a cloudy night of what was to me just a few weeks back, though it seems like many ages ago now, and indeed, it was.
I was flying over an area that was littered with small volcanic islands, the type that rise above or fall below sea level continually, so that what one year is above water is later below. Some of them have even been known to only rise above the waves for a short time, and then vanish from the sea completely, worn down by wind and waves. The night was murky, and the air was thick with water and dust, the result being that there was no natural light whatsoever, and any artificial light that could be mustered was largely reduced to nothing, visibility being no more than twenty feet.
The wind was calm and the flying, though strenuous from lack of sight, was without turbulence. I was doing well, until out of nowhere I heard a loud crack of thunder, followed by a bolt of lightning that hit the plane. At once I lost all of the instruments, excepting the actual control of the plane in manual, meaning that the radar and all the guidance systems were crippled, and I could see nothing. Not knowing what to do, and not being able to radio for help, I pulled down and slowed until I was just barely remaining airborne, and began looking for an island to land on.
Once below 200 feet, the clouds gave way and I saw an island. I aimed for it and slowed more, preparing to land on it. I did, though just barely, for it was extremely small, being one of those inconsistent volcanic islands. Getting out of the plane, I was greeted by a strong blast of wind that was dripping water from its cold grip, and I was instantly chilled to the bone. There was nothing on the island at all, except for the hole in its center, from which, no doubt, came the lava that had formed it. It was on a slightly elevated hill, and looked as if it had not erupted for many thousands of years. With nothing to do at that moment except to get an idea of the island that I had landed on, I walked over to it and knelt down beside it, peering blankly into its depths. It seemed to be absolutely devoid of light, and, as often happens, its darkness was mysterious to me, for I wondered what lay hidden in it, and my curiosity got the better of my common sense. I leaned slowly forward. Then, as I did so, I heard a loud and terrible voice, personified in the crashing of the waves and the moaning of the wind, and it said in a monotonous and unending refrain, "Enter." Nothing more nor less than the continual repetition of that word. This alarmed me, and as I did not want to do that, I began to stand upright and back away from it, to return to my plane. But as I raised my knee from the ground in order to stand, my other knee slipped under the increased pressure, and in the ensuing instability, I completely lost my balance and fell forward into the hole.
There are certain events in our lives that change the whole course of our existence, and falling forward into the hole was one for me. Its immediate effects weren't injurious to me at all, but it matured with time, like a good wine, and grew until it overcame me, starting the chain of events which would result in my demise. Yet not only mine, but that of everyone.
Let me continue, though, and I will explain what I mean and not confuse you more. I landed with a thud on a pile of soft dirt some twenty feet down, in a dark place which seemed open, not cavernous and cramped as I would have expected. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and as they did, I realized it was not now totally lightless, for there was a faint glow coming from somewhere in the distance. Looking up through the passage I had come down, I saw that there was no way to climb up it, and, accordingly, set off to find the source of the faint light that came from the distance. After walking cautiously through the darkness, I reached a curve and then a tunnel-like exit to the spacious cavern that I was in, and as I turned it I saw the source of the light: lava flows. The room, or area, I had entered was rather thin and round, with a river of lava flowing downwards and a small ledge of rock winding along its edge. Together they descended spirally downwards at a gentle angle, taking the form of an intelligently designed ramp. As I followed it down I soon broke out in a sweat, for the gurgling, fiery plasma heated the area up to a warm degree.
I found myself looking intently at the flowing fire beside which I walked, its strangeness stealing my meditations from other things, and I looked at it absorbingly, not paying attention to the path that I walked on, so entranced was I with the feeling that its boiling character gave to me.
As I walked along the lava preoccupied with my meditations and not paying conscious attention to the path, my subconscious was carefully monitoring my way, and when once my eyes glanced upward, I quickly saw that my surroundings had changed. The narrow, spiral descending tunnel had given way to a very cavernous area where the lava flow formed a large lake of fire. A domed ceiling crowned this great room, though not exact and polished, having instead a rough appearance as it stretched from wall to wall, a semi-chasm of a hundred yards, more or less, with its uppermost height being not less than twenty yards. On the far walls were two lava falls, trickling from raised tunnels in the wall into the body of lava, which covered the whole bottom of the room. There was a platform that sat in the middle of the fiery lake, connected to the tunnel I had come from by a walkway of stone. This room was different than the other two, also, in its fashion, for while the previous had vague evidences of intelligent design, this one was very obviously artificially decorated. The walkway above mentioned was of ornate stone with an intricate design of circles, squares, and triangles carved into it, and on each corner of the center stage was a long pillar that reached from floor to ceiling, each carved like a totem pole, with a variety of animals and shapes stacked upon one another. The dome was done ornately as well, for I saw as I walked further into the room that what I had thought had been imperfections in the dome proved to be an elaborate three dimensional sculpture that stuck out from the ceiling, depicting an intricate scene of figures and telling a story of some great saga of war and peace, pride and prejudice, love and hate, faith and betrayal, all combined to make the greatest mural: history, the story of time itself.
As I looked in awe upon its beauty, I was startled by a voice coming from an unseen figure somewhere on the center platform. It said, "Jehu, you have come at last. Welcome."
The voice was very gentle and pleasing to the ears, slowly and confidently spoken, meticulously articulated. I looked around in its direction and saw a short, elderly gnome with a long white beard reaching to his chest and a short crop of hair on his oblong head, which was outfitted with a sharp, angular nose, a pair of sparkling eyes, and two protruding ears. He was no more than four feet tall, and no less than three, with a dignified poise to him, and was dressed in a dark robe with a black and gold design on it. We looked at each other for a moment, he smiling pleasantly and me expressionless, for though I felt that I should be surprised, or at least bewildered, at the sight of a gnome in an underground cavern, I was not, it was as if I had almost been expecting it to happen, as if in the back of my mind I had already been there and done that. Perhaps it was only a case of predestined deja vu, or maybe it was something less tangible. Either way, the gnome then broke the silence again, saying:
"Let me introduce myself, Jehu. I am Onan, the Lord of the Past, and these are the Chambers of History."
He then paused for a moment, waiting for my reaction, which was, again, not too much surprised, but rather complacent, thought I didn't look bored or snobbish, as is sometimes the case in that situation. Instead I became as genial as possible, realizing that whatever force was behind this, it was greater than I.
"Hello, Onan, it is pleasure to meet you," I said, advancing with a proffered hand extended towards him, which I realized belatedly made me appear oafish, but he took it good-naturedly, and with his pleasantness eliminated my unease at shaking the hand of one half my size. He then beckoned for me to follow him, and turned and walked to the center of the platform, where he unexpectedly laid down on his back, facing the muraled dome. I did the same, somewhat hesitantly, though I found it to be quite comfortable once I was down. He saw my sluggishness and by way of explanation said to me:
"Do not be troubled, my dear Jehu, for we lie on our backs to bring about clarity of mind."
Then he continued speaking, calling my attention to the sculptured dome:
"That is history," he said.
"What do you mean," I asked, "I've always viewed history as an organic being, constantly growing as it devours the present."
"It is an organic being," he replied, "A monstrous beast of sorts. But that (meaning the mural on the dome), my friend, is the genetics of history, its code that dictates what it is and what it will become, the master plan."
Allow me to take a moment to describe the mural for you. Firstly, its form: it was spread out across the dome like the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, its whole being a broad, harmonious picture that complimented itself, telling a story throughout its united branches. It was much more than a painting, though, because it stood out from the dome like a group of completely independent sculptures, but placed so as to tell the combined story with a sort of native ease, not stressed or artificial, yet seeming as natural and beautiful as water in its flowing grace. Now I will endeavor to describe its content, though I realize that in this case the picture must be worth many millions of words.
The center of the mural was its beginning, and there a man was standing proudly upright, dressed in splendid clothes of fine linens. He held in his hand a magnificent cup of gold with a row each of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls running along its breadth. It contained a dark red liquid, which appeared to be boiling, and the man was holding it out to a fierce lion whose shoulders were four feet across and whose mouth was like a cavern, with stalactites and stalagmites of the most terrifying nature. With an evil glare in its eyes toward the man, the lion drank thirstily from the cup. Around the man and the lion there was a ring of blazing fire, leaping out of the dome like great pillars of flame, entrapping them within its narrow circle. On the outside of the fire was a group of mighty lizards and beasts, the smallest of which was larger than several elephants. Their whole attention was paid to a great fight in which they were engaged, yet their foe was naught but the reflections of themselves on the great sea which surrounded the island that held these strange sights. Several of them were dead or severely wounded at having been accidentally mauled by their fighting brethren. Across the ocean from the island there was another landmass, whose far edges were not in sight. On it were many ape-men bowing down in worship of a gigantic White Eagle which was soaring far above them with a multitude of lords and ladies gripped in its massive talons. The lords were dressed in silken robes and adorned with many pieces of fine jewelry, and the ladies were clothed in skirts of crimson; both groups had upon their faces looks of pleasure, and contempt towards those far below them.
Onan continued speaking, "You see, Jehu, the whole of history, both that now written and that yet to come, is planned, executed according to its own power, for the course of time is marked as clearly as the tides: by its own coming and going it is revealed. Revealed, however, only in an abstract and undefined manner, so that while its marks are clearly seen, it is only by special revelations that it is shown in a comprehensive and detailed light. And that is why I have summoned you here, my dear Jehu, for you are the chosen one, summoned to help me."
I was skeptical and asked him, "You summoned me? But how, I was to forced to crash land on the island by the weather, and accidentally fell into the volcano's mouth. It was by my own freewill decisions that the circumstances of my arrival here were fulfilled."
Onan laughed quietly and said, "History is not an unstoppable machine, allied with fate to control the destiny of all things past and future, nor does it nullify the power of man's freewill, yet the force that acts upon the minds of men to form them is history itself. You see, men are not the opponents of history and fate, for they do not impede its progress with their freewill decisions, instead they are its minions, its slaves, building up its strength and carrying out its dictates by its influence, so that they become history as they serve it, adding to its organism their own consciouses. While you were brought to these Chambers by circumstances of your own choosing, your desires in choosing those circumstances were dictated by the experiences of the past. But never mind how I summoned you, for you are here now."
"Very well," I said, not wishing to disagree with the Lord of the Past. Still, I was in a stubborn frame of mind, and asked, "But if the past is as powerful as you construe it to be, then why does the Lord of the Past need the help of a mere mortal like myself? Or do you mean you need a more direct agent than those you control only by influence?"
"Something like that," he answered. "You see, there was a great disaster once, which was blamed on me, and in order to atone for it, I promised to send a kinsman redeemer before anything so devastating happened again, and I believe you are the perfect choice."
"What devastating event hasn't been blamed on the past in one form or another?" I said, "But why not just go yourself?"
"It is against the rules," Onan told me.
"Yes, indeed, I sometimes wonder what good it is to be a god if you can't do anything yourself," he said with a sigh.
"What do you want me to do there, then?"
"I cannot tell you, unfortunately."
"Against the rules?" I asked.
"Very much so. All that I can do is send an agent with a slight understanding of the situation of history and physical existence to the people, but he must make the judgments of how to proceed all on his own. If I did tell you, it wouldn't be much different than going myself, and then there would be no human resolution to human problems."
"Our lives serve as a spectator sport to the gods, then?" I inquired of him.
"I am afraid not," he said, "It is much more serious than that. The Greeks were not all wrong, you know."
"Who else, I wonder."
"Not many," he sighed, "But tell me, are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
"Then I will begin. The understanding of life begins with the understanding of physical existence," Onan said, "And by physical existence I mean the quality of being materially animated. Not to confuse it with consciousness, which is the ability to think and reason, it is rather the realm in which one has substance and continuity. I will call the elements of physical being time and matter, those words representing widely known concepts. Matter provides the raw substance and time gives those lifeless objects a plane of being to exist in. Without time, matter can do nothing except sit in a sterile state, in a vacuum in which nothing could occur; and without matter, time would flow, but nothing would move with it. Thus, the basis of physical existence is time and matter, each being useless separately, yet together being the perfect combination of a tangible object and the fluid, forward movement to animate it. Imagine it as a three-dimensional painting, matter given depth by time."
"Not so complicated," I said cheerfully.
"Not yet, you mean," he laughed.
"Exactly, tell me more."
"Not just yet, Jehu. First you must help me."
"The time to begin has come then?" I asked.
"Yes, you must go now," he said, "And remember, I'll be watching. Good- bye."
And with that, not even standing up, Onan put me into a deep state of comatose and sent me through time to the unknown lands and people whom I was to deliver. I awoke, as you will remember, in the center of the savanna. Now that you know the circumstances of my arrival on Daem, I will go back to where I was before: on the way to the Canitaur's hidden fortress.
Chapter 5: The Treeway
I was walking in silence through the rugged forests of northern Daem alongside Bernibus the Canitaur, with his fellows Wagner and Taurus before and behind us, respectively, the former leading the way, the latter covering our tracks, and both on the lookout for an ambush. An entire lifetime of guerrilla warfare and privations of all kinds had instilled in the Canitaurs a strong and prevailing sense of caution, which sometimes rendered their lighthearted and almost spiritually frivolous nature to the casual observer a dense, deceiving demeanor used to conceal their true selves. But that was not the case, I believe, for they were, or at least Bernibus was, truly amorous in personality.
The sky was then in its deepest dark, and in the few breaks in the canopy above large enough to be seen through, there were few celestial lights to illuminate the depths of that mountainous forest. The forest itself sprawled like a great metropolis along the lands above the large central lake of Daem, Lake Umquam Renatusum, which was close beside the Canitaur outpost where we had narrowly escaped discovery and capture. However deficient in sight the forest was, it was abounding with sounds, everything from the call of the owl to groan of the bull frog, it was as if the whole of the forest had congregated about us, drawn to us by some unknown scent of interest and intrigue.
Continuing on for some time in the same way, I found myself growing weary, nodding my head slowly towards the oblivion of sleep, until I was brought to an instant liveliness by Wagner's announcement that we had reached our destination. I looked around carefully, yet I saw nothing at all to indicate the entrance to a large, covert military establishment, much to my companions delight. Their whimsical sense of humor surfaced once again as they laughed with seemingly infinite pleasure, both at my wondering expression and with a sense of satisfaction at their own cleverness. After the outburst had been subdued and a certain level of solemnity had been reached, Wagner approached the nearest tree and knocked on it with a rhythmic rut-tut-tut.
Expecting their old trick to be replayed, I waited for the tree to open, but to my surprise, it didn't, instead a strong rope ladder dropped down from a tree several yards to the east. This we climbed, and I found that I had been mistaken as to the height of the ancient wooden towers, for they proved to be even loftier in dimensions than I had imagined. Accordingly, it took us a good five minutes to reach its top at a quick and steady pace, and all through the climb I was terrified at the long drop, from which the ladder offered no protections. Yet I made it to the top safely, and found that there was a large platform built securely among its upper branches, with enough room to hold a few dozen persons, and there was even comfortable seating in the center. There were four guards stationed on the platform, each equipped with a long bow and a quiver of metal tipped arrows, and though they were hardly visible through the dim light emitted from the covered lantern that lit the platform, I could see them quietly conversing with Wagner and Taurus while Bernibus and myself reposed on the seats provided for that very purpose.
They conversed for awhile, though I could not hear them, nor could I see them well enough to judge their facial expressions, but Bernibus waylaid any anxious thoughts I had with his encouraging tone, and also by giving me a drought of ale and a loaf of bread to overcome my fatigue and hunger, both of which I quickly consumed. He gave me more bread, but wouldn't allow me another glass of ale, for safety's sake. At first I thought he deemed me easily overcome by spirits, but I soon discovered his reasons and thanked him.
Wagner returned from the guards and, finding that we were ready to proceed, led us to the far corner of the platform, where we were joined by Taurus. We then set off on a road that ran above the lower levels of the canopy, made from jointed platforms that were attached to the massive limbs of the trees, meeting the branches of the next tree half way across, forming a continuous, snaking path far above the ground. Traveling on those paths we made our way criss-crossingly to the west. The walking was no more difficult than on the ground, for the boards were firmly secured to the great branches, which were at least five or six feet wide, and there were short rails as well.
After no more than half an hour of travel on the 'Treeway', we reached another large platform in the center of a great tree which was very much like the first one, excepting that the trunk of the tree came up through its center and there was a door leading into the trunk. There were eight guards on this platform, but they let us pass without more than a friendly gesture, their scouts having, no doubt, seen us long before and ascertained our identity and intentions. They seemed to have been expecting the return of Wagner's group, though the addition of me they appeared to eye curiously.
Wagner led us directly to the door, which opened into a set of circular stairs that wound down the inside of the tree like the insides of an old world lighthouse tower. The stairs descended further than the tree ascended, wrapping around almost infinitely, at least to my wearied senses, which were depleted of vividness by the treacherous toils of the proceeding day. Down, down, down went the stairs, until at length we reached the bottom and found ourselves in a cave, the stairs ending in a small foyer area which opened out into the cave, it being delved into the bedrock layer, indicating that we had indeed passed below the surface on our descent. The passage was really a narrow defile with high walls on either side, impenetrable due to the fact that they were the foundations of the earth above. It stretched on for a ways, its whole length commanded by little, turret like stations which stuck out from the upper wall, in which were stationed groups of archers, and though they now stood in a solemn, dignified manner, any opposition that attempted to force a way through would have been decimated. Yet they stood at attention and made no noise or movement at our passing, instead being the essence of well disciplined soldiery.
This narrow chasm led onward for about three hundred yards, the walls stretching upwards in such a fashion that it brought to mind images of Moses crossing the Red Sea, with great walls of water suspended in air on either side, ready at any moment to come crashing down upon them, their lives in the hands of another. So did I then feel, the Canitaur guards being able to slay me on the slightest whim of fancy that struck their minds into a sadistic mood. Yet I was not afraid, instead I was overcome by a feeling of relaxation, where all cares and worries are given up as frivolous burdens, not necessary and not helpful, being, in fact, harmful to the mind.
The defile, or narrow passage, led to a great abyss, crossable only by a drawbridge controlled on the other side, which was at this time lowered and ready for us to cross, which we did, accompanied by four honor guards who were dressed in all the pomp and pleasantry known by the Canitaurs. It was a custom among them to greet newcomers with an honor guard which escorted them to the body of dignitaries and aristocrats that would be waiting to welcome them in style. This was done for us, and we were led into the fortress' great room, which was used for discussions and debates, via another winding stairway that took us even further below the surface. It was a splendid room, equipped with all kinds of luxuries and embellishments and spreading out like a quarter circle around a central stage with a podium upon it. Seats were arranged in arching rows, with a sort of cluster of seats around a wooden desk being allotted to each of the members of the council and his aide de camps; there were two hundred such clusters. Sitting there like they had been woken from sleep to attend to us were the delegates, looking tired and untidy, a rare state for a Canitaur to be in, with their clothes ruffled, their hair uncombed, and their eyes glazed with a discordant state of mind.
Wagner, who turned out to be a high official among them, led me to the top of the stage where the podium was, with a sofa, desk, and several chairs behind it, concealed from the council by the raised floor and walls that formed the base of the podium, creating a small, private anteroom for those at the podium. I laid myself down tiredly on the sofa to rest while Wagner took the stage and began to speak.
"Friends, comrades, associates," he said to the council, "I thank you for neglecting your beds at this late hour to join with us here in the Hall of Meeting, for there is something very important to be shared. You are all no doubt familiar with the ancient prophecy of the Externus Miraculum: long ago it was told that in our extreme need, when hope no longer exists in the hearts of many, an ancient would be sent by Onan our lord to redeem and deliver us from the evils of this world, for as our doom was wrought in their times, so would our hope originate. The past cannot be changed except by those who first made it, and our present is dictated by the happenings of the past, so that for a better future the past must be changed, and only then will we be freed from the burdens of history."
He continued, "We have therefore long awaited the arrival of our kinsman redeemer, who will change the past and prevent the cause of our current woes from happening, for without its roots, what evil can grow and flourish? Our redeemer was to come on the Kootch Patah, when our adversaries the Zards are not watchful, being drunk with celebrations at the turning of the year. Myself, Taurus and Bernibus went to the shores of Lake Umquam Renatusum, as is our custom, to watch for the coming of the promised one, and this time we were not disappointed, for he came to us, even as the prophecy says, as we sat hidden in the living tower. Seen by the Zards, we were almost discovered, until the promise of the hidden fortress drew them away, even as the prophecy says. And now we are here, delegates of the Canitaurian people, safely within our fortress with our kinsman redeemer, so what shall be done? Let us decide."
At this point he cast a glance towards me, as if desiring me to speak before the council, but I was in the last throes of wakefulness, where sleep has crept so far upon you that arrival in the land of dreams is only a matter of moments, and wakefulness is not desired, nor is anything else. I looked at him with my eyes glazed with that sweet, savory taste of sleep, and though I was conscious, I was not in control, only an audience to actions of my subconscious whims, and even that passed beyond my reach as my eyes fell shut, isolating me in the realm where worldly concerns mean nothing. And so I was when my exhaustion overtook me, leaving me sound asleep on the sofa behind the podium.
Chapter 6: The Fiery Lake
When I woke I was no longer in that room but in another, a small homely room where I was laid on a bed, the room being located, as I found out later, not too far from the Hall of Meeting. Though the depth of the fortress prevented me from knowing the time, it felt to be early afternoon by that strange internal clock that so seldom errs. It was correct, as usual. There was a quaint fireplace on the far wall of the room with a small, unadorned and unpretentious mantle, decorated like the rest of the fortress in a practical and experienced way, finding just the right flavor between the ornate, the practical, and the quaint, and avoiding all the while the clutter brought by superfluous material possessions. A table in the center of the room was furnished with a steaming meal, beside which sat my new friend Bernibus, smiling on me with a benevolent and almost paternal affection.
"Good morning, Jehu," he said, "Or should I say afternoon, for the morning has quite passed by already."
"Yes, and it has left in me a great appetite, my good man."
"As is shown clearly in your eyes," he jested, "Come and eat."
Needing no further urging, I leapt from my bed, sat down across from him at the table, and began partaking greedily of the hearty breakfast of hash browns and pancakes, which were pleasing to my mouth and stomach, for the tastes in food are controlled more by the condition of the body than by the time of day. When I had satisfied my needs, we reclined in our chairs and began conversing:
"Tell me," I said, "Did my untimely slumber yester eve cause any irritated prides?"
"Quite to the contrary, the council was well humored and followed your lead to their bed chambers."
"I am relieved to hear it, for I was anxious of appearing lax in ardor or animation."
"Not so, my friend, you are quite exonerated from doubtful thoughts. There is a session planned for this evening though, so may yet feel yourself put on trial."
"Unfortunate," said I, "But surely they can mean no harm, am I not the kinsman redeemer, after all?"
"Yes, you are," Bernibus said with a look of subdued apprehension, "We have an end in view, though the means are as yet not wholly decided. It is a complicated situation."
I smiled softly, "So is always the case."
"In truth it is: time reveals all things yet do all things reveal time?"
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
"Our situation is complicated by differing views of time, and I was wondering aloud if history and the present reality disclose the truth about time in the same way that time reveals the truth of the present. If our way were more illuminated, the journey would be easier."
"Perhaps that is why men look to the well lit paths of history, or to the dim conjectures of the future rather than the dark, yet detailed ways of present."
"Perhaps," he said, "But the present is so fleeting that it holds little intrigue"
"Even so, it is the stage, not still waiting behind the curtain, nor already performed."
"Yet the past controls by influences and prejudices, justified or not, and it will doubtless be the view of the council that the past must be redone, that the problems be addressed at the source," Bernibus replied.
"I am still in the dark about all your inferences," I said.
"My apologies, I forget myself. But let us not dwell on subjects which may become quite exhausted in the near future, for better or worse," he told me.
"Fair enough," I returned, acceding to the subject change, and jumping on the opportunity to steer it in a different direction, "I know little of you, Bernibus, so tell me all."
"There isn't much to tell," he coyly responded.
"Nonsense, Bernibus, tell me or I shall get very angry," I jested, imitating some mythological god's wrath.
He smiled discreetly and yielded to my request, "Very well, I will tell you. I was born in the year 490 D.V. (that is, Durante Vita), to a poor couple from the northernmost pier of Daem, the Gog."
"Wait a moment, Bernibus," I interrupted, "I didn't mean in that fashion, for when I say I know little of you, it is because I literally know little of 'you', not the circumstances that make up your past. I guess it goes back to the interpretation of the past and its powers, and since we can't seem to escape discussing it, lets embrace it willingly. You seem to believe that the events of your life have shaped you in such a profound way that their mere description is sufficient to explain your personality; I will grant that their influence has effected you subtly, but history is not the scapegoat of the present. The circumstances do more to define the character of an individual than to shape it, for even siblings with the exact same experiences can be greatly different in personality and achievements. But what I mean is this: your past has influenced your present, yet it is gone and your present remains, show me Bernibus, not his previous forms."
You, who are now reading this, may think this statement of mine to Bernibus to be hypocritical, in light of the very purpose and intent of these memoirs. You may be thinking that I am relating this whole happening in order to justify my actions and decisions. But that is not the case, for I understand that you have no power over me, I have long been dead in your present and your sentiments mean naught to me. In fact, I wish to tell of the circumstances I found myself in as much as of myself, so that you may have a retrospective clarity in visions of the future. You will understand that statement later on, but for now let me say that I wished to know the essence, the person, the consciousness of Bernibus, whereas I wish to impart to you my story, though ere its end you may come also to know me. I have no ambitions of material immortality.
Bernibus understood my meaning, and though he disagreed with its theoretical imputations, he humored me and did as I suggested. He pulled back his brow in a reflective demeanor, brought his eyes to mine and began:
"You desire me to tell you about myself without literally telling you of myself. I suppose you mean that we discourse on some variety of subjects, so that you can see who I am discreetly," he said.
"Exactly," I replied, "You say it better than I."
"Perhaps it is for the best, as you will draw your own conclusions rather than be given mine, and instead of my telling you what I would like to think I am, you would see what I am in truth. Strange, isn't it, that though we think we know ourselves, we very much do not, and it is only the unbiased observer who sees us as we are. You know, I was once thinking of writing my memoirs, and I would have, except that I was afraid that if I read them afterward I would be forced to see myself as I am and be horrified at the truth."
"Damn the truth," I said.
"You're starting to sound like a philosopher," he laughed.
"And you a psychologist," I rejoined.
"And where would that place us on the scale of artificial intelligence," Bernibus jested.
"Following the footsteps of Jeroboam," I returned.
"Oh, nothing. Tell me," I asked more solemnly, "What position does Wagner hold among the Canitaurs?"
"He is the Khedive Kibitzer, our ruler in that he leads the council."
"I am his brother-in-law, a relationship that our culture places great importance on, especially as he has no blood brothers. I become, in effect, his partner, though he doesn't accept me emotionally as one, only in etiquette."
"Why is that?" I inquired.
"Because, I am of weak heritage. His sister loved me, and I her, but to him there is no such thing as love, only business, the destruction of the Zards at any cost. No price is too high," he told me with almost a vengeful scowl on his usually pleasant features, it soon passed, though, and left no trace when it had.
"You sound bitter, Bernibus."
"My feelings betray me, yet I am not bitter, only disillusioned."
"You sympathize with the Zards, then?"
"Not at all, I do sympathize, however, with peaceful solutions," he said.
"Which is why Wagner disapproves of you, no doubt."
"Yes, mainly, but don't misunderstand me. I am not a closet Futurist, nor am I a strict pacifist, I just can't help feeling that there is another way. But I understand the selection of ideologies, how the stronger breaks the weaker to submission, and while one flourishes, the other diminishes, and I understand focus points, but I cannot justify their marriage."
"What you mean by focus points?" I asked.
"They are the culmination of conflict, where two sides meet and the battle takes place, not meaning necessarily an important or strategic military, civil, or commercial place, but one on which the fighting occurs, the result ending in the defeat or victory of the whole campaign. The focus point of the Zards and the Canitaurs exists both on the philosophical and martial levels. On the philosophical level, it is the question as to what is the proper solution for remedying our current catastrophic situation. On one side the Pastites wish to correct the root of the problem by stopping its realization in the past, the Futurists, however, would venture into the future and brings its stabilization and completion back. On the military level, our forces collide in the forests around Lake Umquam Renatusum, the northern mountains belonging to us and the southern plains to them. The lake itself is of little importance, yet whoever conquers it will conquer all."
"Interesting," I said, "But I do not understand how you seem to imply that I am your ancestor, while Onan seemed to mean the opposite, that you are my ancestors."
"It is strange and complex, and we understand very little of it, ourselves. The time for the council has come though, for our talk has dwindled away the afternoon. Perhaps some of your questions will there be answered. But come, let us go."
"Very well," I said, "Take me to your leaders."
From that room, the one I had awoken in, it wasn't very far to the council room. Exiting it, we turned down a short, closed hallway that opened into the concealed area behind the podium that I spoke of earlier. On the sofa where I had fallen asleep was seated Wagner and on a circle of smaller chairs around the edges of the area were seated about ten stately looking Canitaurs, clean and well dressed, according to their customs. They greeted me amorously, with a mixture of eagerness, excitement, and hope painted on their purloined countenances, taken from the sleepless spirits of several departed generations of war- hardened veterans.
Standing as we entered, they greeted me cordially, and, once the formal greeting of a short bow and a blessing was finished, we all sat down, they in their previous seats, I next to Wagner, and Bernibus in a small chair in the corner, away from the circle of the delegates. He, that is, Wagner, then opened our dialog:
"Welcome to the council, Jehu," he said.
"I was under the impression that the council was much larger," I replied candidly.
"It is, but this is the leadership; we felt that the clamors of a full legislature would be overwhelming to you at first. I know it still overwhelms me sometimes," he laughed, and the others with him. That explanation sufficed at the time, but I later found that Wagner had taken control of the council himself, and that it had no real power: it never met for more than ceremonial matters, the Khedive Kibitzer, Wagner, controlling the rest. But I get ahead of myself.
One of the others then interjected, "Our purpose now, Jehu, is not so much to make decisions as to inform you of the decisions we have already made, not that we mean to exclude you from our counsels, but we've been preparing for this moment, your arrival, for many years, since it was foretold long ago."
"Decisions with what end?" I asked of them.
"The reestablishing of an efficient and healthy climate, both naturally and philosophically, one in which tradition, history, and experience reign supreme," Wagner said in such a way that I couldn't help but think that it had served as an idiom of his for many years.
"A termination of the Zardovian conflict, then?"
"Essentially, but not wholly, as there are other, more complicated ends in view, less integrated with the format of a completely ideological conflict."
"Meaning that we wish to return to our original forms," Wagner said.
"Those being, I assume, the same as my own."
"Yes, you see after the Great War, the atmosphere was so filled with radioactive materials that all life was destroyed, except for that on Daem, which was protected because of our distant and isolated location, and the presence of a group of insects that neutralize radiation. They were overwhelmed in the first few decades, for though they were able to reduce the amount to make it habitable, we degenerated into what we are now, Zards and Canitaurs, based on our habitats, we being mountainous, forest dwelling folk, and they plains people. At first our ancestors grew to immense proportions, as did the vegetation on Daem, but we slowly returned to normal size as the radioactive material was consumed. I am surprised that Onan did not tell you about it all," he said, looking at me with a slight tinge of confusion creeping into his wayward eyes, formerly filled only with hope and excitement.
"I wish he would have," I responded, "But he said that it was against the rules."
"Ah, yes, I forgot about the rules there for a moment," he laughed, his countenance returning to its former gleeful appearance.
"A foolish law, no doubt, and from whom?" I said, availing of the apparent intra-personal deja vu, that is, the converging of the presents of our two minds into one idea, between Wagner and myself to cultivate a bit of sympathy in my difficult situation. But there would be no harvest, for Wagner checked his mirth and said:
"It was necessary, and the Council of the Gods did well to govern themselves more strictly."
"Well, during the Homeric period the gods really went at it, using humanity as players in their battles, like a game of chess, actually. Come to think of it, chess did originate in the realm of the gods after the laws. Things were quite a mess back then, though, with a whole horde of demi-gods walking the earth, and it ended up snuffing out the first flames of democracy and leaving monarchies for the longest time."
"Homer's stories were true, then?" I asked.
"Very much so, but after the laws of physical abstinence were adopted things mellowed out considerably, and men went back to their self- obsession, their material minds weren't yet weaned from the physical realm."
"So the very men who claimed mental superiority because they were free from superstitions and divine disillusionment were themselves victims of their own sophism, and while they thought themselves crowned with enlightenment, it was naught but the Phrygian caps of their prejudices toward the material state?" I asked, with more than the average dose of irony and feeling, both for my subjects and myself.
"Exactly, upon disinterested examination one finds the theater of human history to be one defined by a ludicrous melodramaticy, the soap opera of the gods," he answered. "But we digress far from our point, Jehu, which is a discussion concerning the implementation of our plans of action formed in preparation of our current situation."
"So I had surmised," I smiled at the reminder, "But tell me, what are your plans, and what is the current situation?"
"This is a time of fulfillment, with the events of many of our prophecies coming to pass. Now is a time of action and of hope. You, our kinsman redeemer, have come, and the time is ripe for victory and domination, ripe, in short, for a return to natural existence, harmony between forces interior and exterior. Our plan, my dear Jehu, is to attack the Zards swiftly and fiercely and break their strongholds like the walls of Jericho, literally."
"It sounds daring, certainly," I said, "But is it not overly so? I was under the impression that the Zards were much superior in force than the Canitaurs."
"In the southern regions, where you landed, yes, they are, but we rule the northern sphere of action. Our forces actually form a soft equilibrium that keeps fate's pendulum from straying from its neutral position, so that a military action previously would not have been predictable, with either side being capable of winning. Under such conditions war is avoided, but now you have arrived. The Zards, as well as ourselves, have been expecting a kinsman redeemer, you see, and our war has been kept from raging by the belief of each side that their god would propel them to victory with certainty by the sending of one such as yourself. Your arrival changes things, it marks the beginning of our dominance," he told me vaingloriously.