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A man and a cloaked woman confront a high, ominous, gabled Gothic house, beside a road in darkness.

Noise (Part 2)


To Noise (Part 1)

Before leaving I spoke to my mother and to Anya, who was my companion, and swore them to secrecy. Then I kissed them because I knew I might never see them again.

I went down to the fields in a dream of fear. My journey downwards to that depth took many hours. It was like a descent into the Hell of ancient myth; the faces of people travelling with me in the great lift were a blur of despair. The people were murmuring and saying that the Master of the Monstruwacans himself had been struck dumb by another bolt out of the House of Silence. I heard the quiet sobs of women and the whimper of their children.. They have given up hope, I thought. I tried to think of my mother and Anya but found my mind turn to Beatrice. She is like the people of the old times, brave and resolute. My fear retreated a little.

I reached the appointed underground level and, feigning a leisurely journey in the countryside, wandered towards my meeting with Beatrice and our contact, playing my cittern only to birds and field mice. But during my two days travel, I glimpsed for the first time, pale cheeks and anxious glances, even here among the bright poppies and the golden corn. "The Master of the Monstruwacans is dead," I heard one say to her companion.

We met in a forgotten corner of that country, where the thudding heartbeat of the air pumps reminded us that all this place had been built by human hands. Here the cloud-painted vault met a painted horizon of mountains and streams all bathed in a rosy light.

Beatrice pointed to the source of that light and said, "Look, how some craftsman of ancient times remembered a dream of Old Earth when the sun still coloured the world." We shook our heads in disbelief that such a time had truly existed. "But it did," she added. "The records tell of it and the Hero remembered it."

As the Cousin led us along the wall the thudding became louder and we felt its vibration through our feet. We passed a huge mechanism of wheels and levers, one of the great air pumps that are the life of the Pyramid, and then about fifty paces further along was the air shaft itself, a vast opening in the wall from which came great gusts of cool air. A moment later and the outward gale of air was replaced by a suction so strong that Beatrice and I were sucked into the entrance, thankfully to be caught by the wire grating fixed across the mouth. I could see the great valves open and shut inside. My feet were repeatedly swept from under me by the force of the air. The noise, the respiration of our world, was overwhelming.

Our guide, holding onto one of a series of stout rungs set into the wall, pointed to a little door set into the wall beside the air shaft.

"This is the entrance to the service lift that is used by the pump maintenance crew," he bellowed above the din. "The pump is always switched off during repair work.. As soon as I have disabled it you must ascend. The technicians will investigate as soon as they realise what has happened — maybe not for several days — this is an obscure corner of the Fields — but sooner or later, and you must have completed your ascent by then." We must have appeared puzzled for he pulled himself nearer to us and shouted, "This is a very slow lift, not like the great passenger lifts you are used to. It takes twelve hours to reach ground level. If the pumps start the lift will automatically stop at the next station."

We used the rungs to reach the door and the Cousin unlocked it for us. We shouted our thanks and waved goodbye, each thinking, I am sure, that, except for each other, he might be the last human face we would ever see. The door closed behind us.

We were in a little chamber with translucent walls. It was bare except for a narrow bench around its perimeter, presumably for the use of the technicians as they travelled to their work sites. At our entry a bright light suddenly flooded the well of the shaft. We felt the lift shake with the force of the air current. Then the noise stopped with a dying wail. For a while that part of the Pyramid had stopped breathing.

Beatrice touched the lift controls and our ascent began. I could see the ragged mouth of the valves hanging open below us. Soon it dwindled from sight. There was nothing to watch now but the smooth interior of the shaft. Twelve hours, I thought. The hands of my watch crept like snails.

"We must prepare," Beatrice said. "Put on your armour. Then I will show you the special defence I have made for us."

We changed into our armour and each hung the Diskos from our belts. Then Beatrice opened a satchel and brought out two long tubes of a clear, flexible material and handed me one. She wrapped the tube around herself in a spiral, joined the ends into a continuous loop, then fastened it securely to her belt. When she touched a switch the tube glowed with a faint light. She told me that this was a defence that she had learned from her studies, that once we were Outside and we had activated them we must never take them off or break the circles of light, or our defence against the Forces of the Night Land would be destroyed. I shuddered, then arranged my own light tube with equal care.

For my part I produced flat-bread, cheese and fruit juice from my pack. Beatrice mocked me for a greedy gourmet, but ate it just the same, and smiled in such a friendly fashion that I could have taken her for a young girl of my own class. I answered that soon enough we must depend entirely on the artificial food and water that I had supplied but that I preferred to eat real food for as long as possible.

We extinguished the external light and settled ourselves to sleep through the hours of waiting. But we were restless in our anxiety. Beatrice took various devices of wire and crystal from her satchel and adjusted their dials repeatedly, muttering what sounded to me like incantations but she told me, with some irritation, were mathematical formulae. I sank my head on my knees but was kept from sleep by thoughts of the impossible task that lay ahead. The House of Silence! The most feared evil in all the Night Land, whose power had destroyed so many who had ventured out into the dark, and which had now penetrated our mighty stronghold — to be challenged by a girl wielding nothing more than the power of mathematics and a young man who had spent his life strumming a cittern. So we counted the hours and fretted to reach the end of our journey.

Beatrice told me how stifled she had felt by her life in the Upper Cities, how she had buried herself in study, had even petitioned the Monstruwacans to take her as an apprentice, for there were some women in that guild.

"But," she said bitterly, "when the new danger appeared they brushed me aside, would not take my ideas seriously. When I realised that I must act alone I was desperate. Then I thought of you Little People, on the fringes of society, delighting in bending the rules. I thought one of you might help me — and I was right."

"We were always proud of our heritage and our difference," I explained. "It is said that because the current in the Lesser Redoubt had been failing through many centuries our people lacked energy and courage, that we are smaller in stature than you for that reason. We do not believe that. Didn't our mothers and fathers of long ago fight their way through the long miles of darkness and horror, unknown to the people of the Great Redoubt and so without any help from them? Then, whilst the Hero fought to preserve his lover and the whole Land was pitted against him, the few of our people who still lived after their tremendous journey, crossed over the Circle, unnoticed by the forces and monsters of the Land and by the humans battling them. We do not lack courage or resourcefulness but we prefer not to spend our lives in a morbid fascination with the fate that we know awaits us in, what all of us hoped, was the distant future."

After a pause Beatrice said, "I don't think we shall see our parents again." I answered her lightly, trying to calm her fear as well as my own, but she shook her head. We both knew that we were likely to share the fate of so many before us and die out in the Night Land.

Without realising it we both slept at last and were awoken by the sudden jolting of the lift.

"We've stopped. Have we arrived?" Beatrice jumped to her feet

I looked at my watch and shook my head. "Another hour to go," I said. Beatrice touched the control pads. Nothing happened. She touched the illuminator and as the light poured out we saw on one side the walls of the air vent but on the other a wide metal grating level with the door, and rising above it a ladder of stout rungs that disappeared into the far-off gloom above us.

The lift shook a little and we heard a soughing noise then a great rush of air. The lift shook violently

"They've discovered us!" Beatrice gasped. "Quickly. We must get out." She picked up her satchel and fastened it to the rest of her pack.. She lifted her hand to open the door but I caught it.

"We can't get out now," I said. "We would be swept away in the air current."

"I will not be defeated so easily," she cried, struggling with me, trying to reach the door. When she realised that I would not permit this she wept with rage and frustration.

We stood there, helpless, for perhaps an hour as, with a noise like the breathing of a huge beast, the great pumps brought stale air from the Fields and replaced it with new air from the accursed Night. Then, suddenly, the noise stopped and we felt the lift came to life and begin to descend beneath our feet. Beatrice pushed me aside and slammed her hand onto the control panel. The movement ceased and the door slid open. We scrambled onto the platform. The lift, swaying gently, moved again and plunged slowly into the depths of the shaft, taking with it our last beacon of light. We were stranded on the platform in utter darkness. Beatrice was still weeping and I confess that I bit my lip to prevent myself doing the same. I expected the wind to start up immediately and hurl us to our deaths.

Slowly I realised that we were not in total darkness. There was a scarcely perceptible aura of blue around Beatrice.

"Turn on your light shield," she said. Her voice echoed strangely in that vast space. I fumbled for the switch she had indicated earlier and I saw the faint violet outline of my own light spiral. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom we realised that the worm-like interior of the great conduit glowed with its own greenish light — doubtless some lost secret of the Ancients, but above and below the darkness was absolute.

"We've got to climb," Beatrice said, pointing to the rungs above us. "They can't start the pumps while the lift is moving."

"Then we should be safe for ten hours. That's how long it will take for the lift to reach the Fields again "

"I don't think so. They won't want the pump out of use for so long. And surely they can enter it at any level they like. We must risk it. But who knows how far we still have to climb?"

"Mathematics is your province," I said, "But perhaps common sense is mine. We must be roped together. If we hear the pumps again we must immediately lash ourselves to the rungs." She nodded.

I led at first. I was about to warn Beatrice of the increasing gloom above when I saw that the greenish light of the interior followed us, glowing ahead of us, fading to darkness below. We were cocooned in a capsule of that greenish luminescence. After a while this had a hypnotic effect — as if we climbed endlessly but made no progress.

I looked upwards to see the silver rungs continuing far above us, then stopping at a faintly-seen platform before the ladder resumed its ascent and dwindled into gloom. I called to Beatrice that there was a resting place ahead, then continued onwards until I reached the platform, a piece of metal meshwork just large enough for two people to sit with their legs hanging into the abyss. We rested there for a short while only, eating a little food and drinking the last of the fruit juice that I had brought.

We started upwards again. After many hours I lapsed into a kind of fixed endurance, aware only of my aching legs, the pain in my back, my blistered hands; then the short respite of rest at the next platform. Ever fearful of the return of the air current, I kept looking for some sign that we were near the end of our journey but the light remained unchanged — the green glow of the walls, the faint violet of my light spiral. I felt light-headed and thought my eyes were playing tricks when I saw a faint flickering of the green light ahead. At the same time I felt a stirring in the atmosphere, then a grinding sound. Beatrice cried "Hurry, hurry! It's the pump starting."

I felt a surge of energy brought on by terror and ran up the ladder like a spider up its thread. Now a heavy thudding filled the tube and we felt a downward draft of cool air with each pulse. Soon the draft became the high wind we had feared, threatening to tear us from our perch. We clung desperately at each blast then scrambled upward again in the intervals as the current changed direction.. I could now see that the flickering I had fancied earlier was no distortion of my vision but something pulsing with the rhythm of the pump, something obscuring the passage above us.

"It's the valve!" cried Beatrice, "It opens to let in the air, then closes to stop it escaping."

The noise grew louder as the pump increased in power. We clung to our frail ladder and felt it throb and shake with the force of the wind. As I crept nearer I saw how the great flaps of the valve opened and closed. I was ready to give up then. We could never force our way through that maelstrom when the valve opened and in the brief quiet when it closed we should be trapped behind it. We were so near now that I could glimpse a difference in the light coming through the open valve — a blue-white haze. Could this be coming from the Night Land that we could surely never reach? I stopped moving entirely.

I felt a sharp blow on my calf and at the next respite Beatrice gasped, "Keep moving. There's another platform. Get to it and tie us on."

"Waste of time," I groaned but she struck me again and I shuffled upwards, clung on during the battering of noise and air, then crept forward. I reached the last platform and hauled myself onto it, tied my rope firmly to a rail, then pulled Beatrice up beside me. We lay gasping, our hands over our ears, both of us almost insensible from the noise and the force of the wind.

"What now?" I asked during an interval. Beatrice lifted her hands in a gesture of despair. The valve above us opened with a noise like the flapping of great wings and we were briefly illuminated by that outside light. Beatrice gave a little cry and I saw her lips move but what she said was drowned by the colossal noise of the air intake. I was dimly aware that she had wriggled around to face the wall of the tube. When the noise stopped she shouted to me to untie us. She was struggling furiously with something attached to the wall. It was a recessed ring — a door handle. She screamed at me to hurry but instead I gestured to her to untie the rope from the rail. I seized the ring from her and twisted it savagely.

A door swung open. I threw myself inside just as the next hammer blow of air hit the platform. A sharp tug on the rope at my waist nearly dragged me back but I clung to the door-ring as my feet went from under me. I wedged one arm through the ring and was pulled through the opening as the wind forced the door further open. Instinctively my feet found toe holds in the stout rungs embedded in the bottom of the door. The rope at my waist pulled downwards. Beatrice! She must have been swept from the platform. I gritted my teeth and pulled furiously with my free hand. I screamed from the pain in my elbow and shoulder but heard nothing above the roar of the wind.

The noise stopped abruptly and my arm fell to my side. Beatrice was catapulted at my feet. She choked and retched for a few seconds, then staggered upright and dragged me from the door before slamming it behind us.

We were in the dark and the thudding vibration was, if anything, worse than before, but we were no longer in danger from the gusts of air. We lay there panting with fear and exhaustion until our eyes became accustomed to the dim illumination from our light tubes. At last I could see that we were in a narrow passage. As soon as I had regained breath I struggled to my feet. My head almost touched the ceiling. Beatrice looked up and tried to rise but her legs would not hold her. I used the narrow beam on my watch to search the passage for a way out and after a twenty paces or so discovered another door handle.

"Open it slowly," Beatrice whispered between the thuds of the pump. She was behind me, leaning on her Diskos for support. I turned the handle and pushed. The door was very stiff as if not used for many years and I had to push with my right arm only as the other was numb from the traction of the rope. When it finally yielded I saw that we faced a circle of blue light and beyond it lay an impenetrable darkness. The air had a strange tang as it sometimes does around powerful machines.

"Come back inside," Beatrice said, "We are still within the earth current. We can rest for a while. Beyond that circle is the Night Land."

We shut the outer door again, then simply fell to the ground and lay there insensible for many hours, awaking to much groaning and cursing from me at least, for my body ached from top to toe. Beatrice made up some water from the synthesiser and dropped in the nutrient tablets we would have to rely on from now on. The stuff tasted very dull and bland. I took a pinch of arnica to allay my pains and persuaded Beatrice to do the same, then we slept again oblivious of the constant respiration of our great home.

At length I roused myself, stumbled to the door and got it open again. I dropped to hands and knees and crept slowly up to the glowing circle, then peered cautiously over it. I nearly cried out then, for I was staring through the blackness directly into a yellow lidless eye. The eye remained motionless but its pupil constricted very slowly, then described slow circles inside its iris as if it was seeking me. I could now see that the eye was visible because it was illuminated by the light from the electric circle that guarded our hiding place. At first I could see only a surrounding shadow, then as my own eyes adjusted, a second eye gleaming faintly in the shadow — a warty carapace — a squat toad-like form; then more shapes, more eyes, all motionless. I scuttled back inside and shut the door.

"There are …watching things out there," I told Beatrice. "They look like giant toads…they don't move. They could almost be… the spawn of the Great Watchers. Have you ever heard of such things?" I could hardly speak for shaking.

Beatrice shook her head. "But there are surely many things the Monstruwacans don't know. How often do they inspect the airways? I would bet that your Cousin knows of them, and any of the men who attend these machines." She sank her head in her hands for a minute, then said, "They must be attracted to this little outcrop of the earth current just as the Great Watchers are to the electric circle around the Pyramid. I suppose they would be found at every circle that guards an air intake but they are unable to break through the force it generates.

"Nevertheless we must pass them. It is a dreadful choice but I think we should break the rule I made and go through with our own light-tubes switched off…." I tried to protest but she continued, "Otherwise they could well detect us and alert the Land before we can come to end of our journey."

And so it was agreed. We opened the outer door just enough for us to pass through, waited a while after it was shut, then each rolled quietly over the circle and into darkness.

The air of the Night Land was different, chill with a faintly acrid smell, doubtless from the various fire pits. But it was not that which made my stomach churn. I had felt an immediate sense of wrongness, of malevolence. Beatrice was looking fearfully at the grotesque figures of the toad-things. They were utterly still; their steady gaze bent on the light-circle. With Beatrice leading we crept past those unmoving boulders of watchfulness. There sizes varied from that of a large dog to some as big as a man — there must have been twenty or so, scattered in a rough circle as if someone had dropped them there.

After what seemed an age of stealthy creeping we stepped outside their sphere of influence and the sense of brooding evil retreated. We looked back at the mouth of the air intake. Already the protecting circle was a small O, against a strip of blackness. We stood for a moment, our hands linked, awe-struck. Behind that darkness was a blaze of light, the mighty Pyramid soaring into the night; at its apex, the Watchtower of the Monstruwacans gleaming like a star come again from legend to bless the earth.

"But see how far we have come, how far our underground fields reach under the Land !" Beatrice said. "We are already north of the Vale of Red Fire and of the North East Watcher." She indicated a great hunched shape, stark black against the light of the Redoubt.

I turned, looking behind me to scan the way that we must go. I saw the darkness broken here and there by fire pits and a little further off a dimly-lit road winding into the distance. By now I had a map of the Land in my head and knew that I looked upon the only thing made by human hands in all that desolation. I saw, walking the road, one of those tall, unknown beings we call the Silent Ones. I watched its gliding progress until I fancied that the road was better lit, that I could see the moss bushes growing on each side and observe the robed figure more easily. Without thinking I searched around for the source of that illumination. My eyes found a low hill just to the east of the road, then glanced upwards to a mass of walls, towers and gables, windows pouring out a bleak light — a wide open door.

Beatrice caught at my elbow as my knees buckled. "Steady!" she whispered, then when my head had cleared, "Does it know about us?" I frowned, puzzled at her question.

"Come on," she said, "you are sensitive to the House. Is it calling to you?"

"Yes, it calls me because I look at it but…it doesn't know that we are near." I felt a cold horror that I should have innate knowledge of this evil thing.

"Then this is what we must do. We will go from here to the road keeping away from those lights." She pointed to a group of fire holes. "When we get to the road we will switch on our defensive spirals and follow beside it under cover of the moss bushes. But if the House learns of us sooner, switch on your light tube immediately and I will do the same. It can destroy us in the blink of an eye but these light may give us some protection."

"Blue and violet, the colours of Heaven," I said.

Beatrice pulled at my hand impatiently. "Believe that if you choose, but I assure you it is just a matter of the frequency of the rays interfering with the emanations of force…." She shrugged and muttered that it was too complex to explain to one as ill educated as I. We hurried on but my thoughts were rebellious — however Beatrice chose to describe it the House was evil and seductive, and could damn our souls for ever.

Our journey across this shadowy stretch of land took us only a couple of hours. We were able to walk quickly as there was just enough light to see the way ahead. Always we kept a hand near to the Diskos and were on constant alert for danger. At one time we heard a loud rustling and immediately a surge of dark creatures lapped around us, squealing and scurrying, snuffling at our feet and pushing against our legs. We clung to each other in disgust but in a moment they had gone, leaving only a rank smell. Whether they were rats or small pigs I never knew. I pulled Beatrice away and hurried on, fearful that some large predator pursued them.

All this time I felt the malevolent glare of the House of Silence growing, as we continued. I sensed a cold intelligence regarding our world through an infinity of time and space, an intelligence as yet unaware of the two tiny figures that approached its portal.

At last we reached the grey gleam that was the road. We sat down, hidden in a group of grey moss bushes, ate some of our tasteless fare and rested a while. I kept my back to the House, fearing its power over me. I could see the distant light of our great home gleaming yellow between feathery branches of the moss. I felt it as a friend watching over us — a puzzled friend.

"Beatrice," I called softly. Her head was down as she concentrated on adjusting the wires on one of her pieces of equipment. "The millions know we are here. They are watching us through their spyglasses."

"They couldn't. It's too far." She looked up. "But the Monstruwacans in the watchtower could, I suppose. What makes you think they have seen us?"

"I can feel it. Can't you?"

Beatrice shook her head. "I'm not sensitive in the way you are. But if they all start thinking about us the Forces will be aware of us too and will begin to look for us. I just hope no one starts sending messages from the watchtower." She hurriedly repacked her satchel and started off along the road side. I followed with increasing reluctance — the power of the House bore down upon me.

Beatrice was running now. She left the bushes and sprang onto the roadway. I had a sudden horrid thought. I called after her but she ignored me and kept running. I called again, then hastened after her. She was now at full speed but I was the faster runner and was able to catch at her back pack before trapping her by the shoulders. She struggled, her head turned always to the north but she said nothing, only breathed very fast. For sure we had now been seen by every night creature within sight, so I wasted no more time trying to pacify her. I held her arms locked behind her with one of mine and, with the other hand, fumbled for the switch on her belt that controlled the light tube. The spiral flooded with a dark blue light that quickly intensified to a sapphire brilliance. Immediately I felt a surge of energy from the House. My feet wanted me to turn towards it

Beatrice looked at me with puzzlement, then horror. "Switch on your own light," she said thickly. I did so with trembling fingers. There was a flare of violet and the power of the House became blurred, as if there was an opaque screen in my mind, guarding me from its influence.

"Thank you, Friend," Beatrice said, "I had forgotten why we had come here, everything. I would have run straight on — through that Door. You saved me."

I grinned to hide my own terror and suggested that we might as well hurry on anyway, as entering the House of Silence was always to have been our fate.

"Yes," she agreed, looking down as if unwilling to meet my eyes. "I did not think you knew that was my intention." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Does It know?"

"I don't think so. All it wants is…our souls." She looked at me but did not argue.

Now we walked and ran openly, the road ahead illuminated by the bright lights we bore. I felt waves of astonished wonderment coming towards us from the millions watching from the Pyramid. We must by now have been visible all over the Land but nothing molested us. All was quiet, as if all its dire creatures waited to see us destroyed by the Night Land's greatest danger.

I knew without looking when we drew level with the hill on which the House rested. Beatrice looked up at the blaze of deathly light. In the hush that was all around us she whispered, "We have no death capsules. If what I do fails, kill me."

"But I thought you did not believe…"

"I …don't, but I am afraid." She looked straight into my eyes. "Do it."

I nodded, my hand on the knife in my belt. I had already planned my own death.

Now we started up the slope that led directly to the House. As we ascended the sound of our footsteps faded and I could no longer hear our breathing.

We reached the great Door. Beatrice turned a terrified face to me. Her lips moved but there was no sound. She gestured for me to stop and herself knelt down at the threshold. I stopped with difficulty. Even with the protection of the light spiral my feet were trying to drag me to destruction. I looked upward at the Door and what I saw was not a door but a gateway to nothingness. My eyes saw only the unblinking radiance, no walls or floor were there. Nothing moved, even the light itself was frozen. But how can light be unmoving, I thought, when light is movement?

And I knew that what I saw was not truly light but utter darkness, a pathway to some infernal zero that dwelled in another place where there was only everlasting negation. I felt myself being stretched out as if my head would fly there sooner than my feet — and yet there was no movement.

The violet light flared and I half awoke and turned my head towards Beatrice, still kneeling at my feet. The blue spiral of light across her armour was almost blinding in its intensity, as if it fought the non-light of the House. She was looking straight into the Doorway, her face a mask of agony, but her fingers were adjusting an instrument that rested on the ground — the normal rocky ground of the hill. I saw a shimmering screen, random oscillations flowing across it. I felt a vibration in my feet, then in my ears but I heard nothing. Beatrice's lips moved again. She was entreating me to do ...what?

I bent down to her, the movement seemed as slow as the motion of a clock. My hands descended, fastened onto the back of her head and slowly I pushed her head down. I felt her breathing quiet and saw her fingers move more easily. She was now able to see what she was doing. Her head continued trying to rise, to look again at the doorway but my hands kept pushing.

The oscillations were larger, more complex, coming with a regular rapid beat. My whole body shook with the vibration. Now the waves filled the screen.

I felt a great surge of malevolence pour forth from the House. Immediately the blue and violet light of our defences blazed even more fiercely, so that I could barely see Beatrice, but the waves from her machine penetrated, higher and brighter all the time.

Surely I heard a far off rumbling sound? The light from the House appeared to waver, to vibrate. The rumbling grew, like the beginning of one of the earth tremors that sometimes shook the Land. I knelt beside Beatrice. Then the ground shook violently and the rumbling became a low roar. The oscillations on the screen continued but now they had steadied at a great height and rapidity. I could not understand why I could see so much complexity in what should have been a blur.

The sound became louder and louder, rising in frequency. We crouched down, our hands over our ears. I tried to get near to Beatrice but the brightness of the blue light burned me. The noise was now an overwhelming shriek. The light from the House was vibrating too, faster and faster, but paradoxically becoming always darker.

I screamed from the overwhelming vibration in my body, from the pain in my ears and from terror.

Then the light went out.

Later I was told how a thousand Prepared men came to our aid. There was no sound from the Night Land and the men of the Redoubt were not molested by any of its monsters. Perhaps the Night Land mourned for the House of Silence, for the gateway to nothingness that had become nothing

They found me sitting at the threshold of the House, now a darkened shell. My violet light tube had burned out, scoring my armour as it died. I played a lament on my cittern — a lament for Beatrice who lay dead at my feet.

Her lips smiled but her body was burned through by the light that had shone on her, burning even through her armour. Her hands were like burned twigs and the machine she had made was in smoking fragments beside her.

As the Men of the Redoubt watched in wonderment, many robed figures came from the Road Where the Silent Ones Walk and approached the doorway of the House. One bent down and with reverent care, lifted the dead Hero and carried her into the dead House. The rest slowly followed and when they had gone I heard the music of my lament sung by the Silent Ones within the walls of the House of Silence.

And so was ended the greatest threat that ever was to the Mighty Pyramid and the millions that live within it, saved from everlasting silence by a woman's heroism and the power of sound.

© 2003 by Elizabeth Counihan.
Image © by Stephen Fabian.