Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 11

Chapter 11.


Emerging from the forest onto the grassy slope of a wide alpine meadow, I stopped and looked – really looked – around me, and I suddenly realized where we were. The mountains we were slowly ascending from the west curved gently away from us both north and south, a curve that I could just make out at this altitude and from this vantage point. If that curve continued it would be a circle something close to five hundred kilometers across, a feature that would be – and had been – easily visible from orbit.

“But that’s impossible,” I heard myself say.

Hargan glanced back at us. “So you have placed yourself at last, Sasham Varan.”

“There wasn’t much opportunity to do it before,” I said distractedly, trying to comprehend what had happened. That crater was on the other side of the planet from where we landed! “You ended the Togron Gon Roltav after you declared yourself pleased with my last answer, and to be honest all of us were pretty much exhausted; whatever you used to knock us out before moving us, it didn’t really let us rest up. So we went to sleep and then you kicked us awake just after dawn, got us fed, and started us hiking. Besides, you didn’t leave us our comm equipment, so I couldn’t query the ship, and I don’t know your local stars.”

“You are of course correct,” Hargan said.

The Eönwyl had figured out what we were talking about. “But he’s right. How can we be here? Did your drug or whatever cost us weeks? How long has it been?”

“Not weeks, certainly,” said Chondu Hok Chondu, pushing her immense black wood bow aside to pass through some brush. “It is now almost ninety hours since you landed on Thovia to aid the victims of the landslide.”

I did a quick calculation in my head. That was about two and a half days of Thovia’s rotation, which meant that at most it had taken fifteen hours to get us around the planet.

Which, from what we knew of Thovia, was completely impossible. Unless… “You commandeered The Eönwyl? Or one of the local Imperial shuttles?”

Boduras’ laugh echoed across the clearing. “Certainly not, Sasham Varan. All of your vessels are, sadly, designed for stunted little creatures like you. Can you imagine your friend Guvthor in the Eönwyl’s piloting seat? Of course you cannot; the idea is sheer fantasy.”

I stopped, as did The Eönwyl and Vick; after a moment, Guvthor did as well, though his expression was not nearly so nonplussed or resolute as ours. “Then I think it is past time for some real explanation. We’ve been patient as all the Hells given the questions we’ve had; Guvthor played all mysterious and then promised us answers, and now you’re taking everything we can tell you and giving us nothing in return.”

Hargan gave a deep rumble – of amusement, anger, or something else I couldn’t tell – and turned to face us fully, pulling forth her great sword. “Hrrrm. And so here you draw weapon and demand answer, on the slopes of Revashuzanin Tal Kaslu, surrounded by the Thov Hok Shu, three tiny creatures alone.”

I hadn’t actually drawn weapons, but from their ritual of greeting and discussion I could guess that this was a figurative thing – that she’d just made literal. “I do.” I reached back and pulled, and held my vya-shadu before me, parallel in the ancient way. “You’ve played your game of secrets long enough and right now we have no reason to believe that you’re going to stop playing it tonight, tomorrow, or a month from now.”

“And they are not entirely alone.” Guvthor unslung the Makthu Hok Guvthor. “I am guilty of the same game – by the oaths and commands laid upon me by this same council – but in this I stand with my friends.”

Nor are you wise to speak as though we are at your mercy, Thovians. Vick’s mindvoice was hard, but filled with a fierce joy and anticipation. I am one of the People, the R’Thann, and my birthright is now mine. If you be ready to speak, then speak; if instead it is to be battle, know that you shall be Tested indeed, to the depths of your souls. The sharp claws flexed and his crest stood stiff and high.

The Eönwyl wasn’t so dramatic; she simply drew her pistol. “You left us armed. A rannai doesn’t much care about size.”

For a few moments, there was silence, and tension began to rise; even armed and aided by the psionics Vick and I could wield along with Guvthor’s strength and speed, I knew we wouldn’t really stand much of a chance against more than twenty Thovians. Then Hargan raised her sword and looked around at the others of the Thov Hok Shu. “Meldas San Kolon’Mak Shasto,” she said, and her sword was sheathed. “Your resolve has equaled our steel and we greet you as equals. I shall begin the explanations as we continue. Will that suffice?”

“As long as they’re explanations and not more evasions.” I breathed a sigh of relief as I returned my swords to their scabbards. I can’t afford fights with people who could be allies.

“Then let us continue. They will be explanations, though at first you may not completely comprehend them; there is much to explain.” She gestured for Boduras to lead and fell back to walk alongside us.

“Do you know what Thov Hok Shu means in your language, Sasham Varan?” She didn’t wait for my negative reply, but continued, “Roughly, it means the Remembrance of the World, or Those Who Remember for the World.

“You will have scanned our world as you approached. I will be surprised if you did not detect traces of cities like your own, buried beneath the earth?”

The Eönwyl nodded. “Most habitable worlds have something like them; the collapse of the ancient civilization they were part of, the ‘Atlantaea’ of Varan’s myths, is obvious in these ruins.”

“In much of the Galaxy, yes.” Hargan was silent for a moment, appearing to think. “But in the case of Thovia, those ruins are not the remains of this Atlantaea. For Thovia was one of the very few worlds which had not, in fact, joined mighty Atlantaea before the day of her fall.”

Vick’s low hiss echoed my own astonishment. “You… how do you know that?”

“Because so was it told to us by our parents, who were told it by theirs, and so, to the beginning,” Hargan said, and I recognized the same tone in her voice as I had when speaking from the Book of the Fall. “When the World had soared to its first great height and lifted its ships from the seas and set them in the skies, when the People stood upon the decks of those ships and thought to reach out our hands to the stars and make them our own, in those days did the People look into the night and see other great ships plying the ocean of stars, and we sent them a challenge and greeting, and found that the others had steel bright and strong enough to blind.

“And in those days also was Daramanda Hok Thov, wise man, teacher, speaker of things past and the walking of the past to the future, and Daramanda spoke to the People, and warned them that they went too far, too fast, and sought the stars without remembering the ground and the trees and the weight of worry from which the heights had been born. And some listened and thought, but more ignored the warning, for the bright-steel ships and singing death-armed warriors were of Atlantaea, the eternal, the ever-soaring, and we would reach for those heights as well; and their joyful enemies, with praises to their Lady, priests and warriors all, they came too from beyond the darkness to the World, and all spilled blood to bind the brotherhood; for both sides saw the People were strong and eager and sought their favor in the great contest, and long and spirited was the debate as to the path the People would take.”

We were back now in deep forest with the huge trees of Thovia looming above, casting shadows of mysterious green across Hargan’s face; and though I saw this, I was also seeing a distant past of legend.

“But Daramanda saw a great darkness behind darkness, and again he warned the People, yes, and the ever-children of Atlantaea and the proud warriors of naked claw and fang who opposed them in noble war; but their eyes were looking up, ever upward into the stars, and would not turn downwards to see that darkness which swallowed their past, their foundations, their strength and made it hollow and weak; and then the day came, and the bright-steel joyful Empire fell, screams of terror shattering stars, and even the Lady’s Warriors fled, fled back to the darkness beyond dark to escape the Fall that came from that which was darker still; and the People, too, fled back to our World, seeing the Truth, knowing it was near too late, but not quite.

“And Daramanda stood between the People and the darkness and bade the People light a great fire, the greatest fire of all, and the People obeyed, as the lights of the stars faded, and in that light returned to that which had been left behind.”

Hargan fell silent, and for a few minutes I walked without saying anything, trying to grasp what she had just recited. “Hargan… are you saying this is a true history of your people?”

“Do you believe the story you gave us – of your Eternal King – is true?”

“I… Yes, I do.”

She nodded. “Then it is at least as true as that story.”

“I’m not usually one for trying to interpret legends, I’m sorry to say,” the Eönwyl said. “What exactly does all that mean?”

“Well… if I get it all right – and please correct me, Hargan, if I don’t – Thovia had just gone through its great industrial advances and was building its own first starships when Atlantaea made contact with them. At the same time they were also contacted by some group…” Something was nagging at me. Their Lady? Warriors and priests? It couldn’t be… but they have some legends that would fit… “… some other group that was actually fighting Atlantaea, but it sounds almost like a sort of contest, a friendly rivalry rather than all-out war, and both sides were trying to convince Thovia to join their cause.” I glanced over, Hargan nodded, so I continued. “Now there was someone – sounds like a holy man, a priest of some kind, Daramanda, who I guess felt that all the speed of technological progress and maybe social progress had separated them from, well, their roots, and predicted a great disaster if they kept going. So when Atlantaea fell, his prediction was vindicated and the Thovians rallied to his cause in terror and…” …light a great fire… Torline’s Swords! “… and put their cities to the torch.”

WHAT? What sort of insanity was THAT? Vick’s mindvoice was utterly boggled.

“Our people are not inherently rational,” Hargan said quietly but with a tiny hint of humor in her voice. “Any more than are yours, R’Thann, or any others I am aware of. Legend has it that Daramanda’s prophecies were confirmed, and that the People therefore followed his philosophy with zeal, destroying the cities and technology above the most basic.” Her smile could not hide an expression of tragedy. “Of course, this led to the deaths of most of the People. But Daramanda’s Creed had gained great strength, and – as one might expect – rather than blame Daramanda’s, or rather his more extreme followers’, anti-technological beliefs for all the deaths, the blame was laid on how far we had gone from our basic and original nature.”

I winced, but couldn’t restrain a sad laugh. “Oh, vorces, I wish I could be laughing because it would never happen to us, but that’s all too familiar. There are probably a hundred or a thousand legends and stories similar to that one in the Empire, on a hundred different worlds. The only real difference is that none of them claim this goes back to Atlantaea. How can you be sure of that part?”

“A fair question,” Hargan said. “Because that was only the beginning. Eventually, of course, after a long time, we recovered and – despite the teachings – began to rebuild. Cautiously, trying always to figure out a way to maintain that ‘connection’ between our work and our World, but still building up, re-learning the science and technology we had lost.

“And once more, as we began to reach out for the stars, we met others – humans, with their ‘bright-steel ships and joyous courage’, already reclaiming the Galaxy they had lost. The Federation of Melossa contacted us and invited us to join.”

Melossa! I knew that name, but not from my own studies. That was one of the most ancient civilizations after Atlantaea, one that I knew because Taelin’s sister Mishel had been involved in studying Melossan ruins. If Melossa had truly contacted Thovia after they were rebuilding, it pretty much clinched the identity of the first civilization they had met; it had to be Atlantaea itself.

Which made that recitation of Hargan’s the first clear record from the days of Atlantaea that wasn’t part of the Book of the Fall or one of its derivations or related writings.

“The debate was furious on Thovia, for the teachings of Daramanda were still strong; but at the same time, we wished – very much – to step farther out, to become part of the living Galaxy. And the exact interpretation of Daramanda’s Creed was not agreed upon; there were at least two major … denominations, you might call them – similar to what I have heard of the difference between your Repentants and your Seekers.”

I nodded my understanding, and looked up to see that we were now entering a very large cave. Echoes began to chase around us as we continued speaking, and lent an even more powerful effect to Hargan’s next words.

“And then it happened again. Melossa, the powerful and proud, the united and strong, fragmented, almost without warning, world turning against world, fleet against fleet, as though they had all gone mad in the space of a few months or years.”

Hargan nodded as we stared. “And we, too, began to repeat our actions. Was this not a sign? We had begun to move beyond our world, to surpass where we had been the first time we had fallen. Perhaps we, too, had lost our way, ignored the roots that held us steady and firm.

“But one denomination of Daramanda’s Way believed that it was important to avoid the terrible deaths. Yes, we had lost our way, but we must be civilized at all times. If it was time to find our true selves again, we must do it wisely and with caution; this view – barely – prevailed. And so, as the last cries of Melossa faded from the skies, we carefully retreated from the cities, dismantled them over many years, and the inner circle of Daramanda recorded these events and that which was abandoned.”

“The Thov Hok Shu,” I said.

“Its beginnings, yes. And in the years that followed, the People came to understand that the problem with civilization was that when one came to be too advanced, one had left behind the true knowledge of our primitive selves, the people we remained in our essence, and this lack of understanding would inevitably lead to a collapse – civil war, a turning-inward of the civilization to decadence, or some other course which would end in the fall of that civilization.  But such a fall wipes out nearly all that was learned, and thus no civilization can truly reach its peak and remain there.”

“But that –”

“–Isn’t precisely true, no, but you must understand that much of these beliefs were developed following just such collapses; even the attempt to carefully orchestrate a “retreat” was not as successful as the first Thov Hok Shu would have liked. Still, the argument progressed a great deal in the centuries that followed. Our ancestors – and, in time of need, our selves today – used to live with great vigor and growth in the spring and summer, but would retreat and our bodies slow, become almost inert, in the depths of winter. What the teachings eventually came to say was that a true civilization must go through such cycles regularly, but not collapses; a revisiting of the old ways, a return to the roots, followed by a re-ascension, one that each time reaches a greater peak than the last as it is guided by the Custodians, those who retain the records and the knowledge so that they are not forever lost.”

“Wait. Hold on.” I shook my head, trying to take it all in, as we descended a long slideway with guide ropes that prevented this from becoming a complete disaster. “So you’re claiming that Thovia … what, builds up a civilization, cities, ships… and then backs up, goes to what we see now, and then does it all over again, every few hundred or thousand years?”

“We claim this because it is the truth, Sasham Varan.” Boduras turned to face us as we reached the bottom and saw in front of us a huge door – a door not of stone, nor of wood, nor of simple beaten bronze or forged iron, but of a smooth, shining alloy whose blue-touched silver looked like Imperial battle armor. “But the Custodians do not merely retain knowledge. They watch. They wait.

“For in Melossa’s fall, we saw the unexplainable, as we did in distant Atlantaea’s. There was no reason for the sudden unrest, no collapse due to anomie or despair or rootlessness. And while some of us believed that it was the way of the All – that those who rose too high would be brought low, as Daramanda had taught, by their very height and separation from their essential selves – others of us saw in this the hand of something else, something for which we had no name, but something which was not fate, but hate – something that sought destruction and had toppled Melossa, perhaps Atlantaea as well, and had spared us only because we were not so high, and had brought ourselves low before it could turn its hatred upon us.” The great door began to slide open, splitting down the center, multiple layers separating in interlocking order, a meter, two meters thick, and light began to shine through, obliterating the ruddy glow of the torches our escorts carried.

“And so we also hide our greatest truths, and sheathe our weapons in darkness, against that time that the eyes of hatred turn towards us, the moment when we see what lies behind the fall of those who were once our allies.”

The light blazed out and we stepped forward. We stood upon a ledge that looked across a cavern so stupendous that misty clouds drifted nearly level with our eyes at the peak of that impossible space, a cavern supported not just by the bones of the world but by shining-alloy braces that protected and strengthened the stone, held it above the square-soaring buildings of cast-stone and crystal and steel and streets of hard cloud-gray. The sound of engines and generators and people at work echoed through the cavern as we stared at the underground city, and then at each other.

“Welcome, Sasham Varan, for we believe – from your words, and those of our brother Guvthor, and from what we have already seen – that at last we have found what lies behind that hatred, have a chance to confront that which brought low Atlantaea and Melossa.

“Welcome to Thalam Hok Shuvan, the Shield of Knowledge.”