For Every Lost Tomorrow
1. The Violation
She ran, heavy boots pounding the walkways, through the architecture of a waking nightmare. Eyes wide with terror, barely seeing the signs and manifestations of invading horror and imminent destruction stamped and recorded onto the walls, floors and ceilings of the corridors she moved through and the chambers leading from them in the gloom, the half-light. Screams echoed around her full of despair; some of them were her own.
She had had one notion to hold onto: to descend through all the levels of the Pyramid; but the reason was lost as she surely was, in body, in soul. The home of all her Peoples was finally utterly breached: Invaded. Doomed. The corridor widened to show an embrasure, so this place was an outer wall of the Pyramid. Slowing to a staggering walk, gasping for breath in the foul air, she steadied herself against an arched buttress but then recoiled. Her hands were coated with a slime. She moaned in disgust and wiped them across her. Her garb was a closely fitted, black one-piece armour-suit with a wide belt from which swung the Diskos and a pouch. Her helmet was lost. She was lost, she knew; humanity too… this Final fall.
The translucent material of the embrasure was shattered from some impact from without. Jagged shards lay across the floor. She made out the low shape of a viewing table and leaned on it, eyes screwed shut, breathing raggedly. When she opened them she saw, staring up at her, the flickering silent shape of a huge screaming face. Whether this was an image from outside the Pyramid or a manifestation of one of the Evil Powers that besieged them was uncertain now that the Earth-Current was failing, but she leapt away and backed around towards the embrasure with the Night beyond. The ceiling and walls were stained with verdigris, tainted with moulds. There was a vile, sticking sludge underfoot and the shadows gave up low sounds of crawling and creeping things, gathering; the Air Clog had failed, no longer dissolving spores and seeds. But she had to see: to know.
Her gauntleted hand held, fast but atremble, onto a spear of pseudoglass and she craned her neck forward to lean slightly out. The spear suddenly came loose and dropped, clattering down the outside of the Pyramid; her eyes followed it until they gazed on the awful sight far below. The carnage: the chaos of ultimate loss. The breaching of this: their ultimate Refuge. Her breathing now came in low, shallow gasps. Tears streaked her face as she saw the actuality, the tragedy of the End, that long-feared last Hour of Humanity here, when the monsters of the Land and the evil Slayers ript and tore bodies and soon, souls.
A gust of air whipped her face; she was just above the lowest, sealed, section of this their Last Refuge, and it brought momentary clarity so she was able to register the tapering sweep of burnished metal: the face of the Pyramid, above and below, as she raised the spyglass-instrument from the pouch to her eyes.
Below. Sound hit as detail swam into view, on the ground, there illuminated by unnatural light from the Land beyond and by torch-poles of fire or lamps aglow from batteries at their bases. Some twenty thousand figures in black armour fought a host of beasts and monsters swarming over them, around them. There were oaths, curses, pleas, shouts, screams, cracking armour and bone, rent flesh of man and beast. Orders; running. Stamping, kicking boots. Punching gauntleted fists, Diskoi, growling, shrieking cacophony.
The Great Door had been opened, and the Lesser Doors too (she could tell, below, to the left as she leaned out) and Peoples of the Pyramid ran out, back in and out again, ran in circles, crying and shouting, as the creatures of the Night fell on them. Some had the Diskos, most did not; nor did they have the order of those in armour: ranked, spaced, in arced formations. The voices of their Diskoi roared as one as they smote the attackers – every hideous form of brutish Man-Thing, a scuttling, tearing crablike hoard, huge snakes.
The great battle was spread around the whole base of the Pyramid and she saw now that more creatures, savage, unclean and barbarous did cross the flickering Electric Circle as it… now… finally… sputtered, flared, strobed and died, turning from blue to black forever. A lament like a physical wave from the spririts and bodies of the beleaguered erupted as a wail that came from the combatants and those that clung to each other within the Refuge in terror and for supplication; so did her own voice sound in her ears.
In the redoubt of her inner-most mind she knew, as the Earth-Current had run low, some Powers of Evil had seeped into the Pyramid and clutched at its Peoples. This dread had been upon them for a hundred thousand years. And now their protection was entirely gone. From the North-West came a sound that cut through the din of the fight: a hissing whispering Noise. It came ever closer, and it rasped.
It seemed as if coils of dark smoke wove between the humans below and through the gaping doors, roiling up the face of the Pyramid, entering through cracked embrasures and open hatchways.
She pulled back. Then something caught in a sideglance from the corner of her eye came aflutter in the shadow. She was slammed and pinioned against the buttress – she wept, feeling the weight of the upper levels – cages of metal pressing down. The weight of all the lives of all the generations of yore – their legacy – was it this: just death? Dissolution?
She felt a Power seep inside that would erode and corrode her body, rendering it a brittle, cracked husk from which to imbibe her selfbeing; her very spirit.
'You cannot mourn us, but remember us.'
— 9000 years before the Last Hour —
Sent into the aether.
I have left the Pyramid behind long since. Such freedom! Freedom from the humans, from the monsters and beasts of the Land, from the brooding things about the Pyramid with their Evil gazings.
Mine is the freedom to now look to the duty bestowed on each of us. Mine is the freedom to soar in the dark but clear air, far away! Searching through lenses of crystal and glass, I count two of my companions to the left.
We were ten.
Each of us at the centre of these constructions of stout wood, gauze and strong rope launched in pairs from atop the Pyramid in the blur of whirling rotors and the slow steady beat of curving wings. With a sac of carefully manufactured gas for buoyancy and a compact but powerful engine that cleverly uses the pressure of water that fire boils, we did strive to confound the besiegers of the Peoples of the Pyramid.
I recall three destroyed as they crossed the Electric Circle. None without had power to cross it, but many sit and wait throughout the ages, and a clan of Subhumans below flung molten fire from the flamepits upwards by means of crude sling machines. They fell burning.
Two more were stricken in a similar way, though the missiles were rocks that smashed and broke the frames of their ‘Ornithoi’. I scarce had the time to steer and avoid a bolder shot at me when the air to my right was thick with shafts hurled by Beastmen of horrific strength from the slopes below. The other in my pair was transfixed thrice and did explode as the engine was caught. I registered the heat and heard the screech.
Then, below me, dire peril for yet another. A gout of vapour and a spraying of water – a flame from within licked at the gas sac which was, I saw, detached, to detonate in the air, illuminating the face of the Refuge behind and all the horrors beneath. As the ‘Ornithos’ glided down I heard the message from it:
‘Go! Onwards! Fly to the East and find Safety! Go!’
It cleared a small firehole around which gathered a small tribe of grasping, reaching, Huge Haired Men and plummeted into a larger firehole, swallowed in the searing bubbling cauldron.
We that live on do not mourn, nor will any within the far and becoming-farther Pyramid mourn. For it was not a man who died there: not men and women who have died this Hour.
I am a parcel of flesh and membrane, of cells and blood and sinew. I am hung within this aerial machine and have the Night-Hearing and Speech, so designed and assembled by that Sect of the Monstruwacans who do deal with others within Our Last Refuge.
I navigate to the East as past flights have to other points and others yet will to the South and South-West. My purpose, my duty, is to traverse the hostile Land about the Last Refuge, confounding the Evil Host below, which I have now done, and to pass over those barren and dead countries further out: perchance I should discover terrain where Humans might thrive. Nothing more is asked of me, of any of us.
We will observe, map, record, set down and send pipes and forks into the Earth. We shall inform those distant Monstruwacans using the Master-Word and the Night-Speech. Then, I know, we shall rest, atrophy and wither. And none shall mourn us. We have no soul to mourn and that is good for what is not existent cannot be plucked from aloft by the Powers of Foulness that peer from below. You cannot mourn us, but remember us…
2. Many Battles
She forced the thoughts forward painfully… ‘I must know, have memory of who I am before my heart freezes forever and my soul is eaten. I must have recall!’
Her eyes were locked open, staring upwards as if through a veil at a pale squirming slug-thing above her. Although she was in armour, her spine was crushed against the buttress, her head forced back as the Thing that had infested her did its choking, smothering, suffocating, blinding Evil works.
She wondered if this was taking a great Hour or only the tick of a second. She could no longer hear the battle through the open embrasure – only vaguely the wet sounds of the abomination above her, emerged from a fungal spore and, she knew, with a hunger.
‘You taste so good, Shullyiah…’ he had said.
Vroube had said. Vroube. No, he is a man. I am Shullyiah. Shullyiah! She held the name in her mind. More – she tried to struggle – was she not in the State of Preparation?! She could not resist long enough to reveal and bite onto the capsule in the flesh of her right forearm – slay herself and save her selfbeing!
Have memory… and have memory of memory…
All of the Peoples of the Pyramid then knew the Earth-Current was failing. Would fail. The Electric Circle still burned brightly but the Monstruwacans knew its power to hold at bay the besiegers was reducing and would be snuffed out. Some did not have belief that the Earth-Current would die; it fluctuated from the ‘Crack’ beneath the Pyramid, they said, only fluctuated… How brightly it burns in the vaults below! An hundred thousand years? So many lifetimes. Who could fear and weep for that distant future?
But lo! The Switch Masters studied their instruments and gauges. They took their readings. They confirmed it was so. And it was.
As the centuries turned to aeons, the life force of the Peoples grew weaker. They looked out as Mounds of Watchfulness and Evil Dark Powers did more accrete themselves about their Refuge in the Night, awaiting. The sounds of the beasts and Subhumans increased ever and again. The numbers of the Peoples fell; their courage and their very wits began to slip from them, as the sea had retreated from the land, drying up.
Then, once, amid the despair, the decadence, the fear and the decay, the Earth-Current spouted anew, afresh! There was rejoicing and hope in the Refuge! Voices that warned of this state being not everlasting went unheeded or unheard.
But then in the Mid-City of Nevermore there were some who were indeed awake within their minds and souls, and they consulted the Histories, sought out the Record Keepers, the Monstruwacans and those who had maintained some Learning and Wisdom.
A great Lodge was formed. Many now had no way to use their brain-elements to send Speech, but those that did sent words into the aether of A Great Task. Also by way of the Hour-Slips and missions it was ensured that some numbers gat knowledge of the Task. They went before the Monstruwacans, but their Guilds were pledged only to observe, record and study. But despite this, the Peoples of the Lodge knew this was the Point and they made them a Plan. This Lodge of Safety, ignored by so many Monstruwacans, so many more of the Peoples, derided by Leaders, found its own Way.
Generations of the Lodge toiled, still ignored or denounced as fools. Great Acts of Heroism and Valour were undertaken.
The lowest, abandoned, levels of the underground Vaults beneath the Pyramid were wrested back from the Worms, the Slug-Things, the scorpion creatures, the venomous arachnids; their stifling blankets of web were put to the Torch and the lands were made clean and pure. The metal walls were rendered Safe, patched, reinforced; such were the labours of the Lodge of Safety. The Sieve was built into the Great Deep Well there, with purifying machinery and with the Earth-Current and the ‘Crack’, the Peoples of the Lodge made devisings and used tools to fashion chimneys to take heat and life-giving energy from the main Fire Channel that ran anigh to the Vault that was lowest in the Earth.
They bade their farmers to create and fashion through the years an abundance of Submeadows and Nethergardens for the growing of wholesome foods and supplementary potions to give nutrition and strength. Some thousands of the Peoples of the Lodge of Safety did abide and toil in the Submeadows and Nethergardens whilst yet others did continue to live in Nevermore and other Cities of the Refuge with their kin. Yet the other Peoples, though some shared the benefits of their sustenance which did truly restore vitality, ignored and shunned them as the Earth-Current diminished and the Pyramid suffered attacks and intrusions. It was an irony that those lackings of the majority of the Peoples of the Refuge did lead to and be the reason for the strength that the Peoples of the Lodge of Safety sought and found.
All this Shullyiah had memory of as she stood, transfixed, dying and possessed by Evil.
She felt a touch to her face. Her unseeing eyes cleared. A black figure stood close to her, looming over her constricted body. The embodiment of the Evil Power now to… no…it was a human man in armour such as hers, but helmeted. One bare hand cupped her cheek; the other removed the headgear. He spoke to her.
‘I can see… it…within you, woman. Focus your mind, have understanding. I will give succour.’
He dropped the helmet and pointed to his chest where his armour was embossed with the sign of the Sacrificial Watch; the same band of Tragic Heroes who were fighting to the End, there, Outside.
‘My squad was dropping from aloft to pour fire pellets upon the Squat Men approaching. I saw you through the embrasure… sensed your violation. Now…’
The man was of similar years to her, his face scarred from conflicts past and his pupils now burned a fierce red as he entered another. Shullyiah could thus see he used his Preparation and Sacrificial Training to engage, lock and prise the thing inside her away… but substituting himself, his own soul. His head dropped to his chest and he said:
‘I have it, unto its destruction!’
Something, somewhere, screamed shrilly then the man shrivelled before her, his fingers appearing as dry twigs at her face. He fell, his duty done and Shullyiah, as one who comes awake from a dream, found awareness of hers — where she had been and where she must now go. To descend! She stared once at the sac of buoyant gas snagged on a spike of pseudoglass and hurried out.
‘The Last Hour is drawing near.’
Twenty two years before the Last Hour —
A message to all the Peoples and one dear child.
M’Warbe and Kitoshii held hands after their coupling. They kissed and stood. They had loved together, lived together and now they were ready to die together. They donned their black armour, attached their Diskoi and secured their helmets, their gauntlets. Descending in the lift from the Mid City of Nevermore neither spoke but they still were hand in hand.
In the Hall before the Great Gate, with the two Lesser Gates either side, they took their places atop a plinth before an assembly of 200 of their Lodge of Safety, in armour, and 400 others. M’Warbe spoke, his voice echoing around the metal chamber.
‘To you of our Lodge of Safety that are in the State of Preparation, we give honour. This, our message, is to you and our listening brethren and sisterhood, and all. The Last Hour is drawing near. We have completed the Great Plan – all is prepared. The Final Act will be only when the Earth-Current ceases; thus will we use it for as long as can be so to greater effect.
‘The Sacrificial Watch are ready – they yearn for their Moment of Destiny when they fulfil their purpose; to distract, decoy, protect and aye, to do a great slaughter of the Night Things! In this way, even after an Age of their scorn and rancour, some numbers of the other Peoples of this Refuge may prevail.’
‘This hour we go forth beyond the Electric Circle to battle and utterly destroy the siege machines of the Ogre Men from the South. They have come at us from within the Two-Way Mirror Mountain there and do fling missiles to break our Refuge.’
She pointed down at those not in armour.
‘You have been given up to us by your Cities’ Leaders and what remains of their Watches.
‘Takers of life, doers of harm, transgressors, hear me. As we take that step across the Electric Circle, there you shall be handed the Diskos for you to slay what Ogre Men or other attackers as you are able. Our hope is that you will all meet death as you redeem yourselves. If you use the Diskos for aught else we will slay you. But have belief – you will have scarce time to do other than flail and perish!’
Kitoshii inclined her head to a lens above.
‘Shullyiah, our little one – we love you.’
The Lesser Gate to the right was opened, sliding upwards.
One hundred armoured men and women, led by M’Warbe and Kitoshii, charged out and swung in a proper series of formations to the right to move around the Pyramid to face the South. The moaning and wailing condemned followed; then came the one hundred more warriors with carts piled with Diskoi. As they ran to battle across the Electric Circle Kitoshii snapped her visor down to block out the Charm and Love of the Two-Way Mirror Mountain that rose level with the Refuge there across the Land.
She raised the Diskos and with M’Warbe began the smiting that was to clear a way for others to smash the Ogre Men’s encampment to splinters. The Peoples of the Pyramid crowded to the embrasures above the lower sealed section that gave a view to the South to be witness to a grim battle of ferocious savagery. And after many a bloody hour some numbers of the Ogre Men did flee to the Two-Way Mirror Mountain, leaving their machines wrecked and aflame, with six hundred and two humans lying all about in death.
3. Descending, Musing, Coupling
Shullyiah once more sped through the walkways, knowing she would not again see her home City of Nevermore. She was below it, descending. She saw no living human in the dark passages and heard only distant cries of the demented, hunted… and the brutish snarlings of the invaders.
She knew a great multitude of the Night Things would be already slain by the Sacrificial Watch all about the Pyramid and within. None of those brave warriors would live, as they lived, now, only to slay for the lives of the Peoples of the Lodge of Safety. Many would be ript and clawed by the Subhumans, the Squat Men and the Huge Haired Men. Many would succumb, ere as they slew monsters and snakes and arachnids, to the Evil Powers of the Dark Things. Their State of Preparation and Sacrificial Training would prolong their own end and she reasoned that their burning battle furies would somewhat hold them in a State of Purity and shield them as they cleaved with Diskoi and scorched with fire pellets.
But they would perish as prey to them, foul Evil howling in their minds as they fell even though a number would have ability to use their life force to constrain the Dark Things and turn their Evil Powers back against them, as had that un-named man in the embrasure.
This great fight would be of acts of heroism and bravery, courage, folly, and insanity as the Sacrificial Watch and other armed and unarmed humans died together, as a shroud, a cloak, as decoys, distracting.
She made use of the charts in the pouch that showed the inner construction of the Pyramid from when it had been built. The walkways were in a grey shadowed gloom. Some tiny light still shone as some reserve of the Earth-Current did yet reside within the Refuge, so as to enable the woman to use the minor lifts between floors, but the primary lifts between levels had all been stilled.
Here, further down, there were unholy and unhealthy glowings emanating from packed mosses and lichens blown or carried in through breaches and breakings.
As Shullyiah moved through a doorway she came upon three raging Squat Men who dashed at her, grunting and drooling! She fell into a crouch, freed the Diskos and sprang at them; its blue fire lit the passage as she fought and killed them in anger and hatred of them here, in this fallen Refuge.
She paced onwards and downwards, now deciding to traverse the interior of the Pyramid by way of locked and sealed quiet small passageways, ladders and stairways. So she peered at the maps and selected keys from the pouch. Releasing a door in a curved shadowed corridor, she had to make a step over two slain men, and so surveyed every place with heightened caution, even the corpses, and she saw that they each wore an embroidered emblem on their clothing that was an aerial representation of a four-sided pyramid.
Shullyiah did have recall of the tale of a maid, Naani (daughter of the Master Monstruwacan), who was said to have continuing Night-Speech even in this present time with a man of the fabled First Great Redoubt. Some of the Peoples of this Refuge said that he journeyed even now across the Night Land all about his far distant Mighty Home which, four-sided, towered eight great miles high, through trial and terror out of all the Night of the world to find her here.
Some said he was leading a mighty army come to save the Peoples of this our Refuge from their dire plight. None would now save these poor slaughtered devotees at her feet and many, many more. Others said this tale was just a tale – a story wrought by kind, pained mothers to comfort their babes and their men-folk alike, in the Very Last Hours of the world as the Earth-Current died and the slayers charged in.
Many claimed it a judgement.
Yet others claimed the maid did not exist or that she was already destroyed inside by Evil. Or that some Thing worked deception on her, of false callings – that a Force of Darkness masqueraded as a human on such a quest.
Shullyiah had in truth had little time to consider, but conversed once with Vroube on this and they had decided that Naani was but one human and her beloved one other. One might cross such an expanse of utter loneliness and desolation in stealth, but an army would surely be ript asunder from all sides by prowling monsters and feasting Evil. And if this Mighty Redoubt did in verity reach eight miles into the cold black sky, such millions of humans would attract untold hosts of Watchers, Subhumans, beasts and Evil Powers.
‘Those Peoples surely have problems of their own and do not want those of others on their day off!’ was Vroube’s grim jest, using the strange word ‘day’.
Shullyiah and Vroube laughed, kissed and coupled with a human passion that denied all approaching Evil and dared the beasts to attack…
They resided in their Refuge that was a sturdy pyramid of three sides, a whole mile tall and three-quarters of a mile along its base. It rested atop a great hill that was anigh to the shore of a vanished olden sea. They knew it of old as the Mount of Refuge and it was indeed a broad plateau with their Pyramid at its centre, surrounded at the edge by now fallen, broken ramparts and fortifications all collapsed and crumbling into decay, occupied by Subhumans and Ogre Men, infested with snakes and scuttling creatures, and arachnids too: webs stretched across open gates. Its slopes bore the ruins of turrets and bridges spanning drops between crags; and still three stairways remained, though no human foot had climbed there for many a million years.
The humans in their own Last Refuge were under unholy menace from the blue shining that was The Shine, it being Unholy, and the hideous Fixed Giants that observed them with dread schemes from the North West.
Shullyiah and Vroube were trained, in a State of Preparation and hardened from battles Without. Those Peoples as they, in the Lodge of Safety, knew fear, but they too had anger and hatred of the besiegers. They had sworn that humanity should survive on the Earth.
‘It is ours,’ said Shullyiah, ‘from Countless Ages gone, Vroube!’
The man nodded. She continued, ‘After all we have endured we must prevail! We shall deliver ourselves unto Safety through the stages of the Great Plan in the Final Hour; the attack of the Sacrificial Watch, the Evasion within the Refuge, the Escape from it and the journey Away… The Earth has perished once’ – she pointed straight up indicating the cold, frozen, dead world untold miles above – ‘it shall not perish once again! And we shall loose a great Hurting on our besiegers as a gift of our parting – theirs will be the agony and our Peoples of the Lodge of Safety shall go to reside with joy, mirth and jest.’
Vroube nodded again.
‘Come, gas sac, to our tools!’
— Five Thousand years before the Last Hour —
From the Journal of Him Who Pushes Through.
I stand with Vras-Veth and Toru-Choi and we have pride and satisfaction in our toils thus far. Their headgear and upper-body protective cowls are embossed with an aerial representation of our three-sided pyramid, as are mine: The emblem of the Lodge of Safety.
We are far, far from that Pyramid now! We dig, we burrow, we fashion a mighty enclosed Way through the depths of the Earth itself. A tunnel, a half a mile wide – encased in steadfast grey metal – arched, with supports and shorings. Secured now, against collapse; against intrusion. One thousand long years we have laboured, through rock, sand, soil and mud…
The Peoples of this, the Tunnelers Guild, have torn through this Lower World with great wheeled drills and rams, with scraping and clawing machines, with old tools and new and yes, with our bare hands. Hundreds have died that their work might yet save many thousands more in a far-off future time. Buried, crushed, choked, burned, drowned even. But still to push forward ever towards the East where lies that country of which we have knowledge – a place of Safety.
Toru-Choi is studying the soundings taken in preparation for our next Push. Gravel, stones. Easy to penetrate, hard to secure, so we will have to bond a layer of it as we go. I will summon our Chemists to work with the Engineers and the Labour, to concoct the mixture. Here, so far beneath the surface Lands, we encounter all varieties of material to dig through. I try not to think of how far beneath! A huge shaft drops from the centre of the base of the Pyramid through the heart of the Mount of Refuge to the Nethermeadows and Subgardens in their descending levels. The lowest: twenty miles beneath that bleak-faced mount.
The tunnel originates there. Every long, grim mile bought with the sweated work, too often short life or broken bodies of generations of humans who toil to build that which they will never see complete.
I lost a son sixty-three miles back. Vras-Veth lost his wife seventeen miles back.
‘Tabat-Pras! You smooth-handed old shirker! How about you come to the Face and actually do some work – help us drive the Screw!’ He jibes me with a smirk.
I take a pebble, flick it at him, it pings from his headgear.
‘So say you? I have more dirt under my fingernails than you have seen, ever, babe-in-arms!’
He nudges Toru-Choi.
‘He is past it! His back is more curved than the roof of Big Cavern!’
Two hundred and thirty-four miles back, we encountered a vast pocket, the Screws poking through into an empty space. Fifteen miles. Filled with a poisoned vapour. So many stricken and dying, convulsed, yet it gave us so much distance – progress. Even as we were moving the lost and pumping, then shoring and plating, we rejoiced in our hearts that ‘We are Below’.
Mile upon mile of rock lies impacted between us and the terrors of body and spirit which the Peoples Above do live so anigh to and nought can reach the Tunnel of Safety.
A woman’s voice falls through the air from a wooden gantry high above and towards the Face.
‘See how the Master Builders josh and jest, whilst we graft ceaselessly!’
‘Bend your backs, paper-shufflers!’ joins in a man next to her.
I point upwards and call out:
‘That section is re-assigned! You will ascend the Shaft and commence building a fence around the Green Fixed Giant!’
She replies, ‘Only if you come along and plant a lovely bed of flowers under its snotnose so it scowls no more, but beams as do we as we toil!’
It is a revolt of the Labour…
Her hose briefly plays over the three of us and we dart clear. I quip to Vras-Veth:
‘Come, gas sac, to our tools!’ and we all proceed with grins and arms linked to the Face, to poke through to the gravel: onward.
4. Burning Hatred – Vengeance
There in the dark, amongst the inner fittings of the Pyramid, Shullyiah was still glad of her armoursuit as she threaded her way through winding narrow spaces, using her small handlamp from the pouch to study the charts and see the way onwards and downwards, ever and again catching an elbow or barking a shin on jutting pipes, wheels or levers. It was almost silent but for occasional sighs and pops: testament to the Refuge falling into a slumber now the Earth-Current was shut off. A deathly coma.
As she had descended, her senses had returned fully, and with them full memory of the mission she had been on. She had journeyed up, almost to the Tower of Observation itself, and met with a young Monstruwacan: Shiel, as arranged. Through his terror he had comprehended and agreed to execute the singular but vital part of the Great Plan of the Lodge of Safety:
To unleash the remaining stored power of the Earth-Current down at the attackers when the last of the Sacrificial Watch fell or were overwhelmed, as surely they would be, because the monsters were great legions strong and crazed in their bloodlust. Shullyiah should have been returned and amongst the Nethergardens and Submeadows long ago, but for… she shuddered.
She could picture Shiel nodding, frantically wrestling with his horror, grasping and wringing the wide sleeves of his now crumpled, grimy red-piped white robe, the tall hat jammed back on his head – his own death looming.
She glanced at her timepiece in the tiny light. No. Not enough time. She would never be able to emerge from these rodent holes, reach the Great Shaft and descend before… even as she calculated she felt the structure of the Refuge judder slowy and vibrate around her – then she had another mental picture of the giant spark playing around the massive jutting dark rods ringing the Tower of Observation, like a great beacon, lighting up the plateau and the Mount and the surrounding Land for miles. Then shooting downwards in jagged arcs of blue, searing intensity scorching, burning; melting anything exposed to them.
As this, the overture of The Last Great Act thundered into reality, Shullyiah was flung this way and that by the concussion as the Refuge reverberated and she screamed oaths and pleas, deafened and battered. It lasted seconds only. Then silence once more.
The Great Hall in the base of the Pyramid was lifeless and still. A low baleful light filtered in through the long-opened Greater and Lesser Gates, from smouldering fires. On the floor here and there were charred remains, fused and unrecognisable as human or other. Smoke drifted across the floor and around blackened pillars.
A hatchway was kicked open from beneath a stairway and Shullyiah stumbled out, gagging on the acrid stench in the air which still crackled slightly. She staggered past the stations of the Greater and Lesser Lifts, stilled now. Past the also-stilled lifts of the Great Shaft, their gears and pullies wrecked, as planned, she noted numbly.
She began climbing again downwards by ladders, into darkness. Warm air dried her tears and the sweat on her face and in her hair as she descended, she knew, through the height of the Mount of Refuge, surely to find herself alone in the eventually airless dark. The pumps were now as dead as she soon would be; for she knew what the Lodge of Safety left across the Nethergardens and Submeadows, waiting for the intruders that would follow, spreading upwards through the Pyramid and downwards…
She actually smiled. The Great Plan was not just to Escape the dying of the Earth-Current and the Fall of the Refuge. Its Last Great Act was to slay and slay again.
Shullyiah and the Peoples of the Lodge of Safety nurtured, alongside their duty and purpose to see humanity survive and find shelter, a resolve born of hatred and malevolence.
It was vengeance for the slaughtered, the fallen, the devoured! For every lost tomorrow. With guile and cunning to match the stealthy Subhumans or even the cruelty of those olden inhabitants of the vanished Upper World, they had laid traps…
When the invading creatures gathered again after the First Slaying (with the Earth-Current from atop the Pyramid), when they ventured inside and then down, they would suffer a Second Slaying! Some would trigger mechanisms in wait. Some would encounter other mechanisms, attended by a heroic few of the Sacrificial Watch as they bellowed: screaming for vengeance! Humanity’s scythe would sweep through a mighty number in a torrent of blood.
Blades, spikes and shafts that would rend, spear and slice flesh, scales and spines. Vats placed to spray liquids made acidic by chemistry to spatter and burn! Flagons of boiled water with jets to scald! Yes, the Refuge would indeed be a sepulchre, but not just for poor perished humans. She mused how any human coming anigh to her onetime home after this Hour would find a dark Pyramid and see it to be a necropolis, not having knowledge that far below a multitude had fled through the Earth! The Escape!
Now, far above, Shullyiah could hear an echoing tumult: The baying of great beasts. She smiled again as she climbed down. Yes, the Last Great Act was well underway.
Hybrid animals of utter viciousness and ferocity, created over the last decade by way of biological experimentation on captured Night Things, brought at such cost of life and limb – slung snarling on poles or bound with rope, to be transformed within the laboratory chambers of the Refuge. Creatures of fangs and talons, bred to have obedience to their human masters and total hostility to all else. Their cages were now open. They went, with their handlers, all to their deaths, to wreak death across the Mount of Refuge and beyond in the Night.
It is good, she thought.
But… as the baying and screechings of those terrible creatures rang out above, another sound sang out from far below…
Her name? But… that could not be… far too late…
Her man – below?
‘Listen, beloved – do not question now – trust! There is water beneath you – a long way but… dive! It is warm!’
She thought, well, good, and then was bemused; would death have been better in battle above or even being slain on the run if she had not been one of the Peoples of the Lodge of Safety? Better than fighting for every moment of life?
No. Life is sweet no matter what.
She tucked her hair into the pouch as she pulled it over her head, its contents now tumbling down, the handlamp’s pinpoint of light falling. She slung the Diskos across her back and leapt away from the ladder, outwards, arms above her head arcing down.
Shullyiah entered the water cleanly and turned, striking upwards. The armour was strong but with little weight.
Has any human done so strange a thing in this world? She thought – submerged in a pool inside a mount at the bottom of a shaft of metal so many miles deep!
She surfaced, spluttering. A looped rope splashed the water nearby; she swam to it and was hauled up by Vroube, whose arms she fell into.
‘My love!’ she gasped.
He was talking and leading her through a small hatchway that led into the uppermost of the Nethermeadows, lit by dim lamps in the roof of the vault and dimming even now.
‘Our instruments detected the discharge of the Earth-Current so I knew you at least lived to reach Shiel.’
‘Yes, I met him.’
The two of them had coupled, up there amid the chaos of the oncoming Fall.
A Monstruwacan partners only with another – for him that would never happen. He was to die not as a man – to lose his life with never any love in it. The union had steadied him – and her – a human kindness and joy as the unhuman stalked them all.
‘I could only hope you would appear whence you did…’ Vroube was saying as he helped her onto a small wheeled vehicle, which she could now see was one of the Trigurneys that did have as their motive power, the pressure made by the boiling of water in a forward cylinder. It sped off chugging.
‘I smote a pipe in the shaft with the Diskos – it carried hot water from one of the lesser fire channels: And waited.’
She hugged him and kissed his face beneath the visor.
Shullyiah saw that Vroube was directing the machine by levers and it was traversing the greater roadways of each level of the Underground Lands far beneath the Pyramid in an eerie silent twilight. They followed great ramps between the levels, ever descending, down down, deeper and down, through the now-barren Nethermeadows and Subgardens, their last harvests yielded one hundred years gone and stored in readiness.
Here and there were torch-poles that sputtered and died, as The Night Comes Down, she thought. She saw too some peoples of the Sacrificial Watch around the cages of their beasts. All were still and silent as honour statues in the glimmering. Except, at the second to lowest level, one mighty fearsome beast slowly turned its head as they passed; its eyes caught the flicker of the little lamp on the fore of the Trigurney and they flashed silver.
And all at once Vroube halted the machine, threw a lever and its drive band ceased to roll around; it gave a wet hissing and was quiet and still but for a little dripping beneath it. Shullyiah immediately missed the comfort-feeling of its quaint chuggings and pipings and did thank it in her heart for their passage, all with such cheerful rockings and bouncings amid such grimness as had enveloped them.
Her gauntlet touched its handrail once, and then she turned to look.
Before them was a wall that was a sheet of grey metal panels all affixed strong and hard, stretching out of sight in the dark, the height and breadth of this the lowest level. Twenty miles beneath the bottom of the Mount of Refuge, and that such a way below the Lost three-sided Pyramid that had been their refuge and their home and would suffer, even after the triumph of the Second Slaying, to be then home to the beasts, wraiths and Dark Things, all of the Night.
In the wall was set such a wonder of good human work that Shullyiah laughed and clapped her hands. It was the Great Plug: A huge circle in the metal wall that would truly bar the Way of The Escape to all. No creature could ever breach this as some might splinter and fracture other doors and hatches within the Refuge and the Lands Beneath.
But it was closed! They were to die here together! Yes – a final stand for two in love to make. Each with the Diskos they –
‘Come, dear one!’
Vroube grasped her arm and she saw — as she was pulled — the faintest sliver of light different to the guttering glow of the torch-poles placed here and there. They ascended the great ramp and she could hear the thrumming of huge gears and pulley mechanisms. It was not quite shut but it was shutting! On great hinges it was shutting and both moved through across the width of the Plug – truly equal to the height of three men — to be pulled inside by a tall woman in armour and a cloak.
‘You waited!’ yelled Vroube.
‘We waited – the others did not, of course. Just tell me on the honour of our Lodge that this woman justifies the risk,’ she barked.
‘This is Shullyiah. She scaled the Pyramid even as the way in was trod by our enemies. Even as bodies and minds were shredded, she bade the Monstruwacans to unleash the Earth-Current as written out in the Last Great Act in the Great Plan. The First Slaying.’
Vroube’s pride was obvious. Shullyiah eyed the older woman.
‘My heart rejoices that I helped The Escape. My hearts mourns those that have fallen and will yet fall behind that Great Plug I have now seen with my own eyes. I was ready to stand before it and wield my Diskos.’
The tall woman touched a gauntleted hand to Shullyiah’s arm.
‘May you never have to wield it ever again. Come. And hurry.’
The way of the Lodge of Safety had forever been that each part of their Great Plan was to be completed by separate guilds. So neither Shullyiah nor Vroube had ever been in the Tunnel. They were led down another ramp as the Great Plug was sealed behind them, huge latches closing and figures scurrying down ladders from aloft.
The Tunnel was a half a mile wide and arched a quarter of a mile high, where great lamps were lit, spaced wide and shining by means of batteries, now. Across its levelled flooring were eight sets of double rails ending in bufferings and a maze of workshops, platforms, towering winches and store chambers now all deserted and empty of humans or wares. The rails led off up the Tunnel into the far distance and were themselves empty except for those at the far left.
There stood on them a great series of wheeled containers coupled to each other for nearly a half a mile. At the head was a machine that seemed to Shullyiah to have life, even as that dear Trigurney! It shuffed and hissed! In verity it had locomotion by the same physical principle – a huge cylinder of water was being boiled by fire and its pressure made by gears, and good human engineering, to drive wheels ten to each side as high as she! A tall chimney at its fore belched smoke and the sight and smell of it thrilled her as it strained for the off! To Go!
The tall woman, whose name Vroube had told her but she had lost, spoke to them as they sat in the nearmost wheeled container now with some hundreds of the Watch, in armour and with Diskoi: The Last Rear Guard. She said there were eight mighty engines to pull each a great number of the long-wheeled containers. These held supplies, food, fuels, materials for construction, weaponry, tools, instruments, animals.
The Peoples of the Lodge of Safety: Men, women, children, young and old. Thousands upon thousands of them, assembled to wait for the End in the Vaults; then to embark.
Each engine machine was named for a hero of the Refuge. This one that would haul them was ‘Tabat-Pras’, who led the building of the stretch of the Tunnel that did lead up to and was then the One Huge Curve, so made when soundings and investigations revealed the gargantuan roots sunk in the Earth from the Land above. None had known what they fed – good or evil, but they were avoided, circumvented.
The engine machines burnt bricks made from bark of the trees that grew in the Vaults, bonded with certain minerals.
And now, Shullyiah and Vroube and all the Last Humans to leave the Refuge for Life, did hearken to a horn-call and so there was movement as ‘Tabat-Pras’ hauled them forward and Away! Strong pistons drove those wheels and the voice of power of the accelerating machine rose and echoed in the Tunnel, and the smoke and vapours billowed!
Only they, those that did operate and drive and these Watch were aboard, with wares, all the Peoples having left before.
The Escape was made!
Shullyiah and Vroube found a portal of the same material as were the now-blinded embrasures and opened it, leaning out and casting their gaze back, hand in hand. Their motion was ever more swift now, and before they blurred in her sight she determined that the traceries and etchings on the Tunnel wall were names, songs, poems, jests, stories and accounts, requiems and promises, carved Love-names and pictures: solemn, technical and scandalous. All along, Memories of those that had laboured so others might yet Live. Her heart swelled with the sweet pure human compassion of these things.
She and Vroube now saw the Great Plug shrink to a dot and the Leaving Place diminish and the tracks narrow, it did seem. And back there and following behind them as timed, now the roof lights winked out, leaving an utter final blackness as they left the Pyramid to Eternity.
Shullyiah envisaged the Refuge grown around with entwining thickets of vines, harsh waves of thorns, strangling. Mayhap piles of dead ash and the dusts of centuries heaped against its sloping sides in a dread silence.
Then she sat with Vroube and the tall woman of the Watch and they spoke all together even as they did eat and drink. They spoke of the coming to the Safe Country found back in Time by selfless, nameless searchers sent out aloft, of good wholesome terrain where the Earth-Current did yet flow in Strength; there they would open them a new ‘Crack’.
Now too, they would build pipes and so use the fire channels there and yes, great sluices and dams within and across the underground water paths. There too, lay a wide sea to sail – new shores to land on. There they would find a series of bleak and rough gorges of black stone, too harsh for humans to inhabit; yet they would construct and place there turbines to capture the power of the gales that did ceaselessly rip through those desolate places.
It would be the work of generations, the hard toil of century upon century. It began when they emerged from the huge shaft yonder, lifted by the labours of great stationary boilers to the Ground Hatches.
Guarded by the Watch, their own protective animals, from the Safety of metal-walled encampments with watchtowers, with healthy light from the half-circle of distant volcanoes, and fire holes… they would Build. They would build a New Refuge that would be a High Pyramid over the ‘Crack’ with its Electric Circle and Air Clog. They would employ sciences and explorations to attract the Protection of Those Sweet Powers of Goodness that did give succour to humans against the Influences of the Dark Things in the Night, alike to the Clear Burning Circles.
Shullyiah kist Vroube now and more as the tall woman moved off to be about her duty. She said:
‘When our Nation has grown strong in Safety and our children’s far descendants are a true, even greater Many… Vroube, could we… they… in some immense futurity grab back our Lost Home, there down the Tunnel? Could we, even in many or a million years traverse the Night Lands in unassailable might under Holy Protection and make search for the fabled First Great Redoubt and meet the Peoples therein in friendship? And with our methods, to retaliate against the Dark Things?’
‘My dear one, human Love conquers all, so — ’ He slapped his armoured thigh and spoke a rude oath and one of the nearby men of the Watch laughed and said:
‘Aye friend, that to be a plug up the ass of the Blue Fixed Giant!’
Vroube said to Shullyiah:
‘It had slipped out of my thoughts through our quests! The Bathyscaphes were launched! Into the wide water channels Below! Those heroes and heroines even now thwart the efforts of the dull Brutes that plunder! They follow labyrinthine marine passages, mayhap, we hope, to where may be a Safe Country that they shall find!’
Shullyiah smiled. Her heart beat strong in her breast with Pride, Victory and Endeavour.
And with Love.
©Greg Gwyther 2015