The Butterfly Effect (3): Folk Telling

by Kathryn A

Lost leagues northerly
lie the lands of our longfathers
Wonders wrought they
with powers perilous
Knowledge wrested
from the dark shadows
lore unnatural whispered secrets
Life they mastered with their magics
In their grasping, into folly fell
Old and new ways
their people sundering
Hommik and Seska
implacably warring.
Death loosed they, dire weaponry
fighting and fastness
ruin and ravishing
strife unending, the people dwindling.
So fell our forebears
mother and fatherless.

(fragment from "The Speaking of Eea")

Some say that he was always there, older than all, never changing, making his wizardry and wickedness, but that is not so. Once, he was a man. He was a traveller of far distances, sailing beyond the sun, seeking treasures wherever they could be found. No, he was not a pirate, he was a scavenger. He only stole from the dead.

One day, long ago, he and a companion reached our lands, the lands our fathers lived in, before we made the great journey. They came upon a deserted fortress, made by the Witches before they were struck down by the great poison. They were long dead, only a remnant skulked in the hills, attacking our fathers with their evil powers. The fortress was empty, yet not ruined. The arts of the old Witches were strong, by their spells keeping the air fresh (though the fortress was underground) and the walls strong, and the doors barred. Eldrich light glowed inside its halls, whether it be day or night.

But none of this daunted the travellers, as they flung each door wide, exploring as fearlessly as one walking in his own father's steading. One door there was that let upon a secret stair, and they opened this also. Deep, deep, deep the treasure-seekers went in the humming silence, down many, many steps, the almost endless spiral, each step a clang against the metal, echoing up and down the hollows. At the bottom lay the chamber. Hollowed out of the living rock, its roughness cried that it had not been made by hands, but merely found in their delving. Perhaps, perhaps not. The walls, uneven and irregular, glowed faintly, like the tutun plant when it is crushed, but this was not green, but blue. And the sound, coming and going like the wind in the trees, but not a sigh, it was a wail, a hum, a breaking of bones.

Two men entered the chamber, seeking a treasure. The treasure found them. If treasure you would call it. Life and death, that is what it offered, the thing in the chamber. Life for one, and living death for the other.

Two men entered the chamber. Only one man left it.

He called himself Dorian, but that was not his name. That had been left behind with his soul, in that deep, dark place beneath the earth.

From that day, he did not age -- as long as he kept the creature fed. He sailed to the stars in the ship he had arrived in, but always he came back. Sometimes he came back with a companion, and sometimes they descended the long stair. Two descended, but one came back alone.

The years passed. The years passed over Dorian, but did not touch him. Time did not lessen the creature's hunger; indeed, its hunger grew. But always Dorian kept the creature fed. Their lives were bound; if one died, the other would die.

Not every companion was destined for the creature's maw. Even a wizard can get lonely. Some companions were that only - companions. But if they grew suspicious, they fed the creature.

His last companion of that sort was the White Lady, Soolin. She was as beautiful as the blossom of the Tarban tree that blooms in the mountains while the snow still lies on the ground. Like the snow, she was cold. Like the snow, she was deadly. For she was skilled in the star-weapons, and Dorian had brought her for her skill as well as her beauty. And that was one prong of his undoing.

For he did not tell her about the creature in the chamber.

After one long journey, he brought back with him five all at once, for the creature was grown so hungry that one man was not enough to satisfy it. Three were men, and two were women. And that was the second prong of his undoing, for two of the five were Seers.

You say, if they were Seers, why did they come with one who meant them harm? Surely they would know? Perhaps they did. But knowing does not always allow one to avoid fate. He had rescued them from shipwreck, in a place beyond the sun, for one. For the other, it is hard for a seer to interpret what he sees. Understanding can oft come too late.

So it was that the five came, and found that they were trapped, just as they had been before. So one of them who was skilled in the ways of locks and doors was left to the door to the star-ship chamber, to seek a way out, but Dorian was wily and had built his door with many traps.

Some of the others went seeking another way in to the holding of the ship, but the two seers stopped to think their way, choosing wisdom over blind action. And as they discussed their course, the White Lady Soolin overheard them.

"I sense some great evil here," said the woman Seer, who was called Kalli.

"It is true that Dorian means us harm," said the other Seer, a man of the name of Avin. "Yet I fear that he is touched in his wits. The things he believes could not at all be true."

"It is not Dorian of whom I speak," Kalli said. "There is something else, something not human at all."

"I hoped that I was imagining that," said Avin. "Yet it stinks up this place like the rottenness of a swamp."

Soolin left, troubled. She did not want to believe their words, but she remembered the times when a traveller would come, and Dorian would say they had met some accident outside, at the arrows of our fathers, or the belly of a beast, yet she wondered. Perhaps there was something dwelling there that Dorian did not know of, and all the more dangerous for that. Or perhaps Dorian had lied to her. So she prowled the corridors with her star-weapon, searching for something unhuman. And because she went, the Wizard Dorian did not have a chance to cast her in a spell of sleep, as he had done before, nor could he take her star-weapon from her, for she was gone.

But he did not know this, and what he did not know, did not worry him. For at that same time, Dorian came upon the Seers, and ordered them to come with him to the long stair, threatening them with his star-weapon, for he had taken their own star-weapons from them, and they had no recourse. By his spells he had seen that someone had already gone down the long, long stair, and he thought that it was the other three of the five. It was, indeed, only two of them, yet that made little difference, in the end. For the one who had been working on the door had given up, and overheard Dorian speaking, and followed them.

They descended the numberless stairs, down into the pit. Behind them came the door-smith, and he left the door at the top of the long stair open, where it had always been shut. And Soolin found it, and entered, and went down after them, seeking something unhuman.

The two Seers and Dorian reached the bottom of the stair, to the chamber where horror awaited them. The two who had come there before ran to them, babbling in fear, though normally they were brave and stalwart warriors, yet what was in that chamber would be enough to unman anyone. The creature came forth, groaning with its terrible voice, and Avin knew, too late, that Dorian was not touched in his wits, and that a living death lay before them. He tried to attack Dorian, but the creature's spells had them in its grasp, and they could not move. They could only cry out as it slowly dragged towards them, weakened as it was by its hunger.

Dorian laughed, and called out to the one who had been following, the door-smith, that it was no use hiding, he must come. The door-smith came, for he was a coward. But behind him, silently, crept Soolin, listening all the while. She could hear the hiss of the creature, as it began binding the five with cords spun from its body. And she heard Dorian laugh, and say, "Soolin will join you later. Even she would not believe all five of you vanishing at once."

At that, Soolin was most wrathful, and she crept closer down the stair to where she could see into the chamber, and raised her star-weapon to shoot at Dorian. But before she could shoot, one of the Seers saw her, and cried to her mind, "Not Dorian! Shoot the creature!" And Soolin, questioning the thought, hesitated. At that moment, Dorian saw her with her star-weapon, but he did not quail, for he knew that the creature would save him, here in the centre of its power. But at the next moment, Soolin turned her star-weapon away from him and shot the creature.

Dorian's laughter turned to screams, as the creature writhed under the power of the star weapon, and Dorian writhed with it. As the creature fell, the weight of the years and corruptions of Dorian passed from the creature to their true owner, and Dorian wrinkled and bubbled like a dried up and rotting fruit, and his flesh fell from his bones, and his bones turned to dust, and blew away. As for the creature, where the creature had fallen was the body of a comely youth, without blemish, peaceful in death.

Thus was the end of the Wizard Dorian.

(from the Nin-Sar collection)