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

The Seeker


...Yet that, after such age [twenty-two], if a youth desired greatly to make the adventure, he should receive three lectures upon the dangers of which we had knowledge, and a strict account of the mutilatings and horrid deeds done to those who had so adventured. And if, after this had passed over him, he still desired, and if he were accounted healthful and sane; then should he be allowed to make the adventure; and it was accounted honour to the youth who should add to the knowledge of the Pyramid.

— William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land.

In recent years, a tall figure in shattered grey armour has been seen wandering the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk. It is not known if this is a True Human — scholars continue to debate. But he has become known to all as The Seeker.

The implications are considerable. If Human, then he alone has survived the Night Land. But why has he not returned, and why does he not send answer to the Master-Word? Most Scholars have reluctantly concluded that this person is no longer Human.

In the year approaching my twenty-third birthday, I, Zarvi, an Officer Cadet of the Seventeenth Level Watch, began preparation for a trip into the Night Land.

My purpose was to gather samples and data on behalf of my guardian and tutor the Monstruwacan Hugh Gaspar, but also on my own behalf. For in truth I yearned to step outside the hallowed ‘Circle of Light’, if only for a short while, and regarded this as a fine opportunity, not given to many, to come of age and prove myself.

Also in memory of my father, a veritable bear of a man, as broad across as my uncle was long — a valiant soldier of the Watch.

I did not have the burden of kith and kin, being not yet betrothed and both parents being dead — my mother when I was but a child and my father not even a year past.

Yet still — I found passing over the Circle a traumatic and bitter sweet choice. The glowing light shone on my face like the last breath of warmth I should have on this earth, and although I was clothed fully in the tough grey armour, and absolutely prepared mentally (if that was possible in this terrible place), stepping over that barrier was an act akin to stripping off not only my clothes but also flaying my own skin.

I had never felt so piteously vulnerable in all my life, and even the muscles of my back quivered, bracing themselves for possible attack. Never had I been so conscious of the eyes of the Watchers, which seemed to be like unseen lasers strafing the night.

Yet after several hours of walking I actually felt calmer within myself than I had for years. Too often I had experienced the soaring metallic walls of the Great Redoubt as the walls of a prison, made for restriction rather than protection.

And once within the moss-bushes I felt safer, although I guarded myself carefully against possible ambush. I was lucky in that they were some distance separated so that I could easily arm the Diskos if necessary.

After a few days, having survived several attacks, I was beginning to feel almost happy. Often they were so quick and fierce that I scarcely had time to glimpse the real nature of my attacker.

I found it incredible that here I was always potentially literally seconds from a ghastly death — yet never had I felt more alive. Difficult to believe that a scant week ago I was sitting at my studies in a stupor of boredom, or gazing fitfully out of embrasures like a miserable laboratory specimen, undergoing test after morbid test.

Here I could lengthen my stride to its fullest, without being hemmed in by narrow steel walkways, or worrying about bumping my head on every door lintel I entered. Most denizens of the Redoubt had grown small, like pygmies in a forest of dripping black metal.

I always carefully examined each carcass. This was in order to collect possible data, yet also in the grip of a morbid curiosity.

How were the creatures like men and how like monsters? Of what intelligence exactly? What combination of humanity and beast could have spawned them?

Being strong, in good health and of great stature like my father, these attacks did not alarm me unduly. I was well practiced in the use of the Diskos, and had been more or less expecting them.

But the Night Land has little patience with complacency — when I heard the baying of a great pack of Night-Hounds not far to the East I began to panic. I actually felt the great muscles in my thighs shaking in fear of them.

I had heard this sound so many times before, echoing around the great walls of the Redoubt. It could only mean that the pack had caught the scent of an exciting prey and were preparing to run in pursuit. They could eat the miles with those long strides, each trying to best the other in the throes of their excitement.

What to do?

Standing like a miserable, frozen rabbit, I cast around frantically, looking for a possible hiding place. It gradually dawned on me that the only possible place in this barren wilderness, where I would be in plain view if they but caught sight of me, was the awful House of Silence, perched upon its great steep hill.

My heart began literally to pound.

It had always been said that those who entered the House of Silence never returned. But I had no intention of actually entering the house. To shelter within its walls would be adequate.

Passing very close to the house was the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk.

If I managed to get on the road, which had a relatively smooth surface, I could make good speed, and possibly find refuge there.

I must confess that the house had never frightened me as much as it should —

I had always been fascinated by what could possibly be within — and I would be as good as dead in a very short time unless I could reach it.

As I began to run, my stomach turned to lead in contemplation of what I was about to do.

Yet nevertheless, I managed to reach its portals in good time, and overcoming my sense of dread by an almost physical effort, stopped just outside those open, ever-welcoming doors, my chest heaving.

In a matter of a few seconds the hounds had reached the house, baying and sniffing, turning round in circles trying to find the scent.

I looked down on their great multicoloured backs curiously, from my position high on the hill.

Arriving in a high dudgeon, they gradually became dispirited. A great gloom descended on them. Their tails began to droop. They became silent. A few of them began to shiver. They looked up at the house, as though seeing it properly for the first time.

Then, as one body, they turned tail and loped off through the bushes.

It had never occurred to me before that this evil place could in fact be a means of protection.

I resolved to use it for my own purposes.

Over a period of several weeks I stayed near the house, collecting my samples and making notes.

I always avoided the entrance, yet could not resist glancing inside as I passed. I could see a wall of shimmering white mist, rich with the glowing lights within.

The lights were suspended, as though held on thin elastic filaments, and the hazy, silk-encrusted atmosphere reminded me of the lair of some monstrous spider — venture too far near those filaments and you would be hopelessly caught — sucked clean of anything that made you human.

Most other creatures avoided the place completely, yet the House of Silence extended the welcoming aura of a frosty kind of warmth and light.

The more I studied it the more I became sure that, like a waiting spider, the House of Silence was powerless to force a creature to enter — if it entered it had to do so of its own will.

Yet the house had become powerful in enticements, and I was later to believe that it always offered what the recipient most desired.

In my case the things I craved were thus: Knowledge and Identity.

Although I was always most careful to shield my mind from any influence — I stayed away most of the day, and avoided all thought or question about the house in my mind, nevertheless I felt its influence strongly pressing on me.

I always slept a little away from the walls, and far from the entrance. I did not have a receptive mind anyway — I had often been told that ‘the Master-Word was weak’ in me, and a lot of the time struggled to make myself heard.

In fact, things that a sentient person found unbearable, I barely noticed.

On reflection, the house must have gone through several different strategies that I was oblivious to, before settling on something that would affect me.

It began to impart knowledge to me.

At first it was as though a fine mist was slowly clearing in my head — I seemed able to see things properly for the first time. I made useful connections where none were before.

My work became easier to the point where I began to tire of it.

Without fully realising it, I began to take less interest in it, until I was spending much of the day sitting upon the great stone steps leading up to the entrance, deep in contemplation.

I had but to think of a question, and it was answered.

I learnt about the Ab-humans, the Giants. About their creation in the last days of the darkening.

But the information given was always pure — just the clean, hard facts. It took me a long time to work out why I always found it so shocking — until I worked out that the House of Silence was completely without a point of view.

It possessed a machine-like intelligence — it liked nothing more than to gather data from the creatures it consumed within — but was not of human origin, (although it was possible that its powers had once been harnessed successfully and used by humans). So it knew nothing of human sensibility or warmth. Apart from the necessity to gather food and data, both of equal importance, it was supremely neutral.

I learnt the full history of the Great Redoubt — but often found it disturbing, and at odds with the stories and legends I had been taught.

I saw how the elite of the community had arranged to build the Redoubt as a final refuge against the dying sun — how they had carefully screened all comers, looking for ‘taints of the blood’.

How all creatures, no matter how noble, had been Cast-Out to meet their fate, if they did not meet stringent criteria. And the criteria were, naturally, decided by those of the wealthy elite, who, naturally, were extremely conservative in their requirements.

How scientists had been experimenting with genetics for far too long and were in fact responsible for many of the monstrosities surrounding the Redoubt — besieged like Frankenstein by their own dreadful creations. Also the dreadful state of the land itself — made sterile by pollution and abuse.

And lastly, branded like cattle. The seal of approval. The Master-Word encoded.

I had studied extensively during my years in the Redoubt. Yet naturally the information that was available did have a certain slant, or point of view. Maybe it had been heavily censored. Who knows?

Yet now everything seemed crystal clear to me — the pieces of the jigsaw fit together effortlessly. Questions that I had asked myself for years were fully answered.

As layer after layer of information was imparted, like the winding of skeins of delicate silk, my mind seemed to grow vastly in stature. I was able to see the millennia of history laid out clearly as on a game board.

Yet the strange thing was, I had always been so curiosity driven, so avid for knowledge of all kinds, that I did not stop to think if it was a good thing to get it.

I did not think where this was leading me.

No! I supped the information greedily — like an infant at a grotesque mother’s teat. Or a baby spider just learning to spin. Ream after ream of delicate, sticky, milky data. Machinations and secrets revealed. Hidden agendas. Nothing was closed to me. Except what I was to become.

I would often cast my gaze back to the Great Redoubt.

From this vantage point, I could see the vast slopes of the Mighty Pyramid soaring into heaven. Yet at this distance, the guards of the Watch in their grey uniforms, who once had formed my entire world, looked like nothing except grey termites.

And the Redoubt, a masterpiece of engineering by such tiny creatures — a veritable termite mound. How clever of those mindless insects to build such a thing!

Finally, I began to ask questions about my own heritage, my own identity.

Why had I never been able to tolerate conditions in the Redoubt? Why had I felt so constricted, so out of place? Ridiculous as it may have seemed, I had always felt far more at home Outside, on Watch. I thought it was because I suffered from some kind of claustrophobia.

As usual, I received far more information that I could cope with, and learnt rather more than I wished to know.

There was my entire inheritance laid out before me.

A woman called Marni, the product of a breeding experiment between a giant and a human, had fallen in love with one of the technicians who worked around the great vats.

Looking fully human, and indeed spectacularly beautiful, she managed to entice him to smuggle her into the upper echelons of the Great Redoubt. She did not realise how very difficult this would be for him, and what risk he took. But her survival, and also the survival of the child she carried, and their future happiness depended on it.

Luckily, Technician Arvo Gaspar was so deeply smitten that he cleverly hatched a complicated deception, and they eventually married.

Something unusual (and very valuable) had occurred and virtually all the genes implanted for giantism had become recessive and dormant. Indeed they were not likely to be discovered by any but the most sensitive tests — and who would be looking? Those of the upper echelons rarely had doubt cast on their heritage. Marni also used her strong human genetic inheritance to become an adept of the Word, although it was always to remain very weak in her.

She became almost undetectable.

The child she carried, a boy, was also a beautiful child, but grew quite large in stature, and looked finally like a muscle-bound human god.

His potential as a soldier was soon exploited on the Watch, and the legend of the Great Gaspars began.

Yet some damage had occurred — those final and illegal breeding experiments raged uncontrolled in the underground vats until they were finally stopped.

The Gaspars rarely reached their fortieth birthday.

I learnt something else that disturbed me greatly.

Always, at every point in our history, in some part of the Redoubt, the experiments continued.

Now the goal was to find some means of integrating humanity with those creatures of the Outside who coped best with the Night Land — but only to strengthen humanity, not change it too greatly.

This was a necessary insurance policy. Maybe the Earth-Current would fail, or the Redoubt’s defences be infiltrated.

But they also took a long term view, and these experiments had been continuing for a long time.

I knew that I was doomed.

Return was now impossible.

I had collected far too much data.

For there would be no escape from the efficient mind scans of the Redoubt.

The most sensitive and able scans would be used — made to pick up minutiae. Sentients trained to pick up on nuances of behaviour would also be present.

I would not even be allowed in the Great Gate until the Watch were sure that I was ‘untainted’ by the Outside.

I had been changed by the House of Silence. I had developed into my true form.

If the information about my family leaked out, as it surely would if I returned, then they were doomed as surely as I was.

They would be Cast-Out, or used for the experiments.

A successful melding such as this was unheard of. In fact I was sure that in some way human/giant hybrids were a more natural phenomenon, and that there was much more to it.

Perched alone upon the green hill, I often surveyed the road below and gazed down upon the Silent Ones who traversed the road.

They drifted towards the house, tall, white-robed ghostly figures, seeming to have an irresistible attraction to the grim House of Silence.

The road meandered in a wide arc, almost brushing the very walls, and here they seemed to linger.

They often looked up, but never acknowledged my presence. Inside the hoods of their robes lay dark shadows, and a seemingly infinite space. Yet I was always aware of the stern, dark faces within.

I started to wonder about the origins of these people. As usual, as soon as I asked the question, I received the answer.

The House of Silence seemed unable to give answers unless directly asked — I would go in complete ignorance of something for weeks, then ask about it and get a full and all-too-frank answer.

I had a strange and growing suspicion about the Silent Ones.

They also seemed more aware of me the longer I stayed. Once I almost slipped down off the hill when one gave me a curt nod.

I discovered that they were the descendants of some of the Cast-Out. Although hybrids of all kinds had been used during the initial building period of the Redoubt, no doubt due to their strength, they simply were not considered good enough to actually dwell there. Many others were discovered hiding in the Redoubt during the years following and also Cast-Out.

The Silent Ones were all very tall, and I discovered that they also carried the recessive giant gene. They were the result of natural crossbreeding between giants and humans, but also victims of a rare mutation.

It seems that in these cases of a recessive gene, where no real giant’s stature was conferred, a fault often developed within the brain. It went through a period of massive and abnormal growth, until it grew potentially huge, many thousand times larger than a normal brain, folded in on itself like a concertina and cramped within the skull.

These layers were capable of storing an immense field of knowledge. If given the opportunity to expand in this way, it would go on growing and developing over the years. It could constantly add on more and more data. Rather like the House of Silence.

The Silent Ones had nothing to fear from the House of Silence, for it protected those it recognised as being similar in structure to itself.

I wondered now how long I would have lasted if I had not possessed this ‘fault.’ Perhaps I would have been left hanging inside the House of Silence like a sucked-out fly. Or maybe I would have been strong enough to survive. Who knows?

The Silent Ones used the House of Silence as an Oracle. And perhaps also as a recharging station — an energy boost.

I had it in my mind always to return to the Redoubt, but was not sure how to accomplish this.

If only I could contact my Uncle Hugh Gaspar privately or perhaps write a document and place it safely within the Circle without being seen.

Yet I now had difficulty in computing exactly what information to give, and what to withhold. To the House of Silence, all knowledge was of equal merit and value — but Humans could be upset by this. Why? I no longer really understood why, and this bothered me slightly.

I resolved to dwell more on this.

Also, I knew the way back would be troublesome and difficult. My armour was no longer in good repair, due to the ravages of many attacks, always sustained while working away from the House. Although many creatures were beginning to avoid me, I knew that all the most monstrous focussed their attentions on the Redoubt.

They were attracted like hideous great moths around a giant lampshade, glowing fiery red and black in the darkness.

Whereas most creatures avoided the twinkling white lights of the House of Silence.

Only the magnificent Silent Ones paid homage to the place.

This set off an interesting set of questions in my mind, as I clambered down from the hill, and took my place on the Road amongst my Brethren.

© by Carole Carmen.
Image © by Stephen Fabian.