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A landscape with unexplained lights, glowing lava, old pahoehoe, a hint of an old straight road, low green auroras, and the beams of searchlights carried by two explorers.

Heaven Sent (Part 2)


To Heaven Sent (Part 1)

Mett prowled his chambers, restless. He had invited one of his younger students, an eager female sub-Scholar, to these chambers earlier, and even after they had together established the soul-barriers that would prevent pregnancy and thus freely indulged themselves he still felt unsatiated. Dismissing her a bit too abruptly, he set about trying to discern what troubled him.

His evolved brain structure would not allow him to lie to himself, though it provided power to deceive others and block their intrusions into his own thoughts. He sensed a part of what troubled him: The Master Monstruwacan would respond severely to his interpretations of these latest New Foretellings. How could she not? She would first accuse him of being vague and obtuse, but for once he had been as succinct and direct as possible. These latest Foretellings were not so much false as limited in their truth. They focused intently on certain aspects of the near future, but left out crucial details. This his analysis had revealed. And yes, such censoring was a consequence of a subtle Malign Influence that had somehow crept into the Redoubt.

How? He had no idea. That did not trouble him, for it was not his domain to explore. The Oneiromancers and Monstruwacans were responsible for that. And if the New Foretellers were Influenced, it was their credibility at stake, not that of the Scholars. It was the Scholars' duty merely to study and interpret, and he had done a thorough job of that.

But the Master Monstruwacan was sure to demand further study, maybe even appointing Nemia for a second opinion. Up in the Tower, more than a week ago now, the Master had nearly apologized to her! Maybe that was meant to subtly insult Mett himself, to whom she had never apologized, or to threaten him with a women's alliance with his most promising protégé.

Still, these were not the things that truly troubled him. It was this strange peregrination the latest Foretellings spoke of: women, children, families, elders, unPrepared and unarmed, walking along the Road through the Night Land. And he was to be among them! It was not that he disbelieved the Foretellings; they had been accurate through far too many millennia. It was that he knew they were skewed, focused on the terrors and horrors of the near future, excluding other aspects he knew by omission would be present. A Malign Influence might be trying to frighten them away from this future. Why? Perhaps they should be frightened, but his Scholar's wisdom shouted to him that these New Foretellings were incomplete, and thus misleading.

He could not endure the confinement of his chambers any longer. He left them and took the lift down to the Archives and Libraries of the lower Scholars' Section. At least he could distract himself with some obscure study while he awaited the Master's response.

But on the way he received an urgent sending from Nemia: Grave news, Supreme. An elder janitor from the lowest cities appears to be possessed by an Influence, though the instruments of the Monstruwacans have not detected it. He is preaching a message of salvation into the West—and his following is growing.

Mett did not hesitate. Though he rarely departed from the comfortable confines of the Scholar's Section, he knew the limitations of reports and treatises. Meet me at the lift gate. We are going down to see for ourselves.

The Master Monstruwacan had sent Current Teks to examine the Electric Circle for failures, accompanied by Guards of the sixty-first Watch in full armour bearing diskoi. She had sent formal requests to the Oneiromancers to examine how these Influences, first upon the New Foretellers, and now upon this aged janitor in the lowest city, had gotten through the Air Clog. She had her own people examining the instruments in the Tower of Observation, to see if they could discover why they had failed to detect the intrusions.

She knew over the last few million years that the power of the Earth Current had gradually dwindled. But so too had the population of the Redoubt dwindled, and the area the Current needed to protect and nourish had been reduced. The cities were reduced from one-thousand three-hundred and twenty to four hundred and eighty, and now the entire lower two miles of the Pyramid were abandoned. Some of the Underground Fields had been abandoned as well, and only four of the original seven artificial suns were lit down there. Thus more power had been diverted to the Electric Circle and Air Clog. How had the Influences gotten through?

Dione did not bother to send a request for Mett to investigate the janitor. She had the mind-reading talent herself when she chose to focus, and through the communion she had shrewdly cultivated with Nemia, had psychically spied on the Scholar Potentate's brief exchange with the Supreme. They were already on their way. As were her own people to observe and test the janitor.

But as soon as the Scholars got back she was going to demand a re-evaluation of Mett's report on the most recent New Foretellings. Perhaps Nemia could offer a fresh perspective. It seemed Mett himself might be Influenced, so suspicious and speculative did he sound in the report. But she trusted his assertion that the New Foretellers had been subtly Influenced in their visions. But how? And to what end? The powers of the Night Land were devious, and sometimes their motives could not be discerned, even by such wise Archons as the Redoubt housed in these times.

Dione sought to calm her thoughts in stillness and meditation, but questions and speculations swirled despite her discipline.

Some people believed that the New Foretellings were but reinterpretations of old Foretellings, and others believed that they were indeed new, granting more hope to humanity. Others thought that they might be sent by a Malign Influence, to build false hopes and savor the greater despair the truth would bring, in the same way they believed they had been allowed to see in memory-dreams the truth of the ancient Sun, to torment them as time crept toward the Final Extinction. Still others believed the New Foretellings were sent by the Powers for Good, to reassure and comfort.

Such is ever the way with contrary humans, thought Kionopses the Foremost Foreteller. He stood immobile outside the charged room where the Sibylline Book rested on a pedestal of gray metal. He gazed through the crystal window at that icon of ancient prophecy, a source of prediction his Order had long worshipped, and whose loss it had long lamented. And now, so soon after its reacquisition, it had poisoned his Order, and through them all the Great Redoubt! He let none of this passion show, standing unmoved and eyes blank, a thing which told the other New Foretellers who moved silently about the chambers behind him how disturbed he truly felt.

His Order had been infected by an Influence that had somehow seeped out of the Book into their dreams. And he himself had petitioned the Scholars to bestow the Book on him and his Order! It would be a great aid to the comparisons the New Foretellers made with ancient prophecy, he had asserted, supplementing the accuracy and clarity of their Foretellings.

Mett had known it was really pleading. Nemia had acquired the Book from the Lost Cities, and so it by right belonged to the Scholars. So the Supreme Scholar, after making careful copies, had extorted several major concessions from the New Foretellers, including first reports of any New Foretellings (how that had rankled the Master Monstruwacan!). It angered Koniopses as well, but worse was the fact that the Scholars were immune to the Influence. Those evolved brain elements and the fact that they were not capable of lying to themselves protected them. It made the Foretellers look inferior. And now the New Foretellers could not even approach the Sibylline Book! There it sat, a useless artifact bought at great price, sealed off behind its own Air Clog and an electrified metal barrier. He refocused his eyes and saw the tiny filaments running through the crystal before him.

His brow twitched into the merest ghost of a frown. He knew copies would not be adequate to inspire the fresh Foretellings they needed. Oh, the copies could be useful in counter-posing the ancient Foretellings with the New, but it was the natural Influence of the Book itself, the soul-power of the prophet Sibylline—direct descendant of the ancient Mirdath, or possibly one of her actual incarnations—and the others who had written those pages that could call forth New Foretellings to guide the future of the Mighty Pyramid.

Not so mighty anymore, the Foremost Foreteller thought. With the greatest economy of motion he rotated away from the Book and faced the responsibilities of the immediate future. He glided through the corridors and chambers of his Order, noticing the movements and responses of his fellow members become more efficient in his presence. They were grimly determined, striving to overcome the doubt that had descended on their Order like a Black Mist from the Night Land.

Kionopses had set several plans into motion, including renewed agreements with the Oneiromancers that if any progress was made on the infected New Foretellers kept in quarantine the Foremost would be personally notified; a request to the Reclamation Guild to see if the Influence on the Book could be removed; and a petition to the Power Proctors for an increase in Earth Current, hoping to inspire New Foretellings.

Rarely in the history of the Great Redoubt had the immediate future been so prominent in dream-visions. Most prophecy, both old and new, looked into the far future, but recent dream-visions were of a time very soon to come. More must be known of that time. The predictions inspired by the Sibylline Book were significant of course, and just as obvious was the fact that now they could not be trusted. But why? They focused entirely on the danger of impending ventures into the Night Land, seeming to warn against such foolishness. How could such predictions harm the peoples of the Redoubt?

Perhaps some great opportunity to be missed if they did not make the venture? Like the benefits the blood of Naani had had on future generations... Or the discovery of a supplemental source of Earth Current that two ancient heroes had brought back...

The forces of the Night Land were so cunning.

Koniopses glided through the halls and chambers to the central Sanctum of the New Foretellers. It was at the very center of the Pyramid now, since the lower cities had been lost. Somewhere below him was the old center, the Room of Mathematics with its strange Center-Point, but such fancies no longer mattered. These were desperate times. The Master had finally released the results of the Century Scan, thirteen days after it had been performed, and the glum mood of the populace, already sagging from the announcement of the Kronologers, had fallen further.

The Foremost Foreteller sent a mental command, and the round door before him swung open. He entered at the bottom of a perfectly spherical room of seamless gray metal—the new center of the Pyramid—and sat cross-legged on the curving floor. Here he sought his own center. Around him many conduits and channels carrying Earth Current to all parts of the Pyramid coursed, filling the room with an aura of uplifting energy. Here was where he had purged his own soul of the Influence that had seeped from the Sibylline Book, to the satisfaction of the Monstruwacans, or else like his assistants he would be sitting in a charged cage in the Oneiromancers' ward himself.

Kionopses, always poised, always calm, became stillness. He felt the emanations of Earth Current entering the sphere, attuned himself to them. Slowly he floated upward, unknowing of anything but stillness, until he hung in the center of the room. The eternal silent moment...

Later, he opened his eyes when he heard distant footsteps approaching, nearly silent as all Foreteller steps. He knew them by their subtle sounds. The equator door opened, and Cerantae, his only close aide not Influenced, stood at the edge of the curving wall of the sphere. "Foremost, urgent news," she said, and waited for his request.

"The Reclamation Guildmember in the lowest city is possessed of an Influence, but no Physician's Glass or Spell Scan can identify it as Malign," Kionopses said. He opened his eyes and looked down at her.

Cerantae barely nodded—a touch too far, the Foremost noted. "You have seen," she acknowledged. "And—"

"The people there have begun to listen, and the crowds at his orations grow."

Cerantae nodded, this time only slightly more than the required metron, and the Foremost was pleased. He knew the observers he had sent down to the lowest city had reported back.

Cerantae opened her mouth to speak again, but the Foremost said, "The Monstruwacans have identified the means whereby the Malign Influence on the Sibylline Book was allowed entry into the Redoubt undetected, but have no explanation for the Influence on the janitor."

"And that means—" His aide paused, expecting to be interrupted, but Koniopses allowed her to continue. "—the entire Reclamation Guild is suspected of contamination at this time, and cannot be trusted to examine the Sibylline Book."

The Foremost allowed his stillness to become tainted by motives, and so drifted down to the open door. He stepped out of the Current-charged air onto solid metal. Turning only his eyes to meet the clear depths of his aide's gaze, he said, "And thus we New Foretellers are doubly distrusted. We must learn how the Monstruwacans' instruments failed to identity the taint on the Book. I have seen that it is the way both to clear our reputation, and clarify recent visions."

He turned and glided down the corridor, his last remaining aide gliding behind.

But another vision, newly emerged this session, loomed in Koniopses's mind. It was one he had seen a number of times before, but this time from a new perspective. In that age, not so far in the future now, when the Electric Circle had faded to dark, and the South Watcher lowered its great paw through ten thousand years and crushed the Great Gate, a new strand of light, more slender but more bright, would flare up to stay the Watcher from a full rampage through the Last Redoubt. That light would endure through another five hundred thousand years, and give the last humans of the Redoubt that much more life. Lives of quiet acceptance, of vain resistance, of dire preparation to flee.

All this the Foremost had beheld before, as if a Watcher himself, viewing from some unsupported height above the Redoubt, in greatly accelerated time, so that he actually watched the paw move, the metal of the Gate buckle, the strand of light flare. This session, though, Koniopses had seen the event as if he were a mere human—a future descendant, he knew—leaping and scurrying through the jagged rubble of the Gate metal, dressed in a frayed robe and soft boots, others of his clan scurrying around him. He glanced up and saw the vast towering form of the craggy mottled Watcher looming into the black sky, and passing under its enormous angled leg, picked his way down the rubble outside and joined the masses of people fleeing toward the Road Where the Silent Ones Walk. They all straggled along into the West, where a strong gold-green glow lit the horizon.

Striding along before his Aide, the Foremost strove to show no imbalance, no agitation after his latest Foretelling session. He knew he kept his outward demeanour composed and blank enough before Cerantae (though perhaps not enough to deceive the Master Monstruwacan). Yet within he felt a strong concurrence with these times soon to come.

Cerantae's steps faltered the tiniest fraction. "Foremost..." She drew breath raggedly. "What troubles you?"

These young female Foretellers were so sensitive. Koniopses stopped, turned, and placing a palm on her shoulder, looked into her wide onyx eyes. She knew as well as he that he needed to share the horror of his truth. Slowly, with diminishing success in maintaining his composure, he told her.

"In the far West, beyond the green luminous mist, no horrors prowl, nor bitter chill bites bone deep. No hounds roam and roar, and nothing Watches. Your diskos and armor are unneeded, your capsules unflesh and discard. Silence has no terror here, Giants cannot loom, Slugs and Scorpions and Humped-Men do not come here. The Night is lit here, not by Sun, glorious golden god blazing brilliance, but by this green luminous mist, concealing and revealing, casting sane shadows. The Silence sounds here, not yet of song and laughter, lost birds calling, but of sighs and whispers, reassuring rustles that something Can Be. Leave your tablets and dry water, and nourish here. Not yet on lush fruit and tangy brews, hearty grains savory with oil and herbs, rich viands and cutlets—that is yours to make—but dense and solid fare, real wet water, wholesome and simple. Only human fear and Love, doubt and Joy, grief and Mirth will trouble you here. The green luminous mist repels all Evil, and soothes all desperate dreams, wild hopes. We who love you await your living presence. Your Scholars have guessed that beyond all Night, this might be Heaven. Compared to your desperate and dwindling Refuge, is it not?"

The old man stood on the plinth in the central plaza of the four hundred and eightieth city, lowest now in the Pyramid. Above him loomed the great statue of the Master Spirit, founder of the Great Redoubt. The statue had been salvaged from what had been the former lowest city, in the age before even the bottom half mile of the Pyramid had been abandoned. Master Spirit, broad shoulders back, strong hands held out, one upholding the scribe and wheel-rule, tools of design, the other a Current Hammer, shaper of metal.

The old man looked frail and puny beneath that great statue of dark metal. Yet milling crowds filled the plaza below him, and the power of his words, the vibrant clarity of his voice, held them all. Some in the crowd shuddered to hear the high clear voice issue from such a frail old janitor.

The steadfast soul of that man had willingly moved aside, to allow the Influence to speak. But some in the crowd were not so easily convinced. Representatives of the Monstruwacans attended, and one of them spoke now:

"Lost spirit, you cannot deceive us who Observe."

The Scholars too had their agents: "This has happened before. The Records tell of such possession, evil spirits taking over the souls of our innocents, and speaking to entice us out to doom."

These statements sent ripples of unease and resentment through the crowd. The masses murmured and shuffled, some thrusting up their fists and shouting, others hushing them. A few in white robes with the red encircled cross on their breasts stood unmoving at the edge of the crowd, watching and listening.

The stooped acceptance of age and the burdens of duty had been shed from the old man. He stood, hands out at his sides but open to embrace, torso upright and shoulders back, head held high but expression patient and kindly. Now he looked more compelling than the statue looming above.

"Caged souls," he said gently, though his voice thrummed across the crowds, "we who dwell in the peace beyond pleasure and pain cannot argue. We know many lights that seem strange and horrid shine toward you from the Dark, and at these you leer and shudder, fascinated and repulsed. These—fascination and repulsion—are the walls of your cage, not Redoubt metal nor Air Clogs. Some who call, call not from the Night, but from beyond. Where the Makers have gone. They have left you a Road. Do you not wonder where it leads?"

Again the crowd stirred, conflicting currents surging through the peoples. Hope, distrust, eagerness, doubt. They knew the cunning of the forces in the Night, their hunger to deceive the people into foolishness, so the forces could feed. But the new Kronology with its countdown to doom, the launching of the results of the Century Scan, and now this news that the New Foretellings may be corrupted, all worked to urge the people to seek hope in these new words. But still countless generations of caution and distrust had their deep effects.

A member of the Poet's Guild named Array raised a well-trained voice to cut through the murmurs.

"Cruel the fear that chains the mind
"And breaks the strongest spirit.
"Though your offer may be kind,
"They'll not consent to hear it."

And another Journeyman Monstruwacan called, "Never in eternity!"

The old man had been waiting with a soft smile. Now he opened his mouth slightly, and without apparent effort his words rang high and clear over the plaza.

"You do not have eternity. Remember the predictions of your Foretellers, who all agree that the final fall of the Redoubt shall come in less than one million years now. And do you not wonder from whence comes such prophecy? That too has its source here, beyond the green luminous mist. For not all who Watch are fell."

The young Monstruwacan shouted at once, "Prove it! The Master Word!"

Other Journeyman Monstruwacans took up the challenge. "The Word! The Master Word!" The few elder Monstruwacans stood grimly with their arms folded over their dark robes. This was the true test. Others in the crowd rallied, as if breaking from a spell to shout their one demand: "The Master Word!"

At the edge of the crowd, the New Foretellers stood poised and waiting. They had heard a pronouncement on the origins of prophecies, but their latest Foretellings had been corrupted. They would be slow to trust now. A speaking of the Master Word might suffice for them too.

The only response of the old man was to open his mouth slightly. "Not all who cannot speak the Master Word are evil. We remember what it means to be human, and yet are no longer. We need no such truth-tests, in the serene safety of the green luminous mist. Here we loom outside of time, and Night and light bleed together, a balance you can only dream of. Yet we are but stewards of powers you have seen. Do you not also wonder whence come the Powers for Good that stay the Watchers, and ward your forays into the Night, and sweeten your dreams? That source too is here, and you may return to it—if you relinquish your clinging to trust.

"In time you must."

"Time!" a young New Foreteller shouted. "We still have much history to make." But that was the wrong thought, for they all were reminded of the doom-decree of the Kronologers, and a new agitation spread through the crowd.

The old man nodded gently and held out his hands, beseeching. "‘So near to the Eternal, and yet so far deferred in your minds and senses. Thus has it ever been.'" These words from their own records quieted them. And his next words stunned them silent.

"But no longer. You know that the Watchers move more swiftly when the Earth Current is gone. For how many Ages did the Fixed Giants watching the Lesser Redoubt remain still, unmoving, merely watching? Yet after the Earth Current failed there, they began to move again, and the Great Brutes that beset that smaller pyramid closed in, and burst the gates, and smote their vast limbs through the lower walls, letting in other horrors and chasing out all light and life.

"It is the Earth Current that stays the Watchers. Here, the Glowing Dome, the Eye Beam, the Blue Ring, the Tether from the Red Pit, the Torches— All these are manifestations of that same Power. And it is that same Power that provides the protection of the green luminous mist, beyond which no Monster or Evil Influence may pass. So be not afraid, but trust in the Powers for Good, for my words are all part of their Grand Design, that will prolong the life of the Great Redoubt, and allow the greatest number of dear souls to reach salvation."

His mouth closed, his eyes lowered, his head drooped, and he shuffled down the steps of the plinth, oblivious to the crowd that clamored to question, argue, plead, praise. Monstruwacans barged near to scan his body with portable instruments, uncertain that the thorough tests their Master had performed days earlier with more sensitive instruments still held true. But they did; no Evil Influence resided in the old man. But the Monstruwacans had missed the Influence on the Sibylline Book, and distrust had grown within their Order.

Scholars too pressed near, shouting questions, quoting Records. They had a riddle to solve, an irresistible challenge.

The New Foretellers merely drifted away. They knew it was future concurrence that mattered.

The old man shuffled unresponding through the throng, not as if in trance, but as if content that he had said all that was needed for now. The crowd dispersed, and while some people went back to their lives dismissive, others went troubled, and some plotted while others dreamed, and some studied while others wondered, as is ever the way with people. But many followed the old man at a distance, down the long corridor connecting the cities at the base of the Pyramid, to that first embrasure where he had been touched. He went straight to the opening and turned his gaze toward that soft green glow in the West.

To Heaven Sent (Part 3).

© 2010 by Gregg Marchese.
Image © 2015 by Kate Coady.