The Others

“Now, I have something I want to show you. Jacob, bring in the chanter.”

A frail old woman is brought into the chamber. She bows to Bulgar and straightens. Her voice is weak, a dry-paper rasp between receding lips.

“I recognize one of your number. He has seen this story. But Brother…” Her eyes bore into yours, the depth of the power concealed there startles you. “Timon? Yes, Timon. We met near a year ago in the council chamber of the Patriarchs. I was there at the behest of Siminious, may the gods rest his soul. You will be happy to learn that the story is clearer; the details brought into focus…Now, “ she says as she sits, “all of you please hold hands.”

The old woman begins to chant. As she does, incense, lit by someone, wafts about the room. It takes only a few minutes for the group to enter the trance, and within your mind the scene opens. It seems as if you are there.

It begins under a lemon yellow sky. It is hot, although the sun is just barely over the horizon. You are standing on the edge of a large, boulder-filled, depressed area some twenty or thirty feet in depth. The bottom is cast in sharp shadows from the burning glare of the newly risen sun behind you. In the distance, in every direction, a range of sheer mountains reach impossibly high into the sky. Between you see vast grasslands. The wind, hot, blows in from the mountains, the grass rippling gently. As the sun climbs behind you, your shadows shorten, retreating back towards you. Before you, twin moons return to their homes on the other side of the world. You turn to look at the sun rise. It is blue-white, smaller than the sun you are familiar with, burning with an intensity that causes each of you to squint and shade your eyes. Below it, another sun, larger, reddish, begins to peek over the horizon. The air is hot, but clear and dry; without the constant wind it would be unbearable.

In a moment, you smell something brought to you on the wind; you hear a rumbling. You do not see anything, but you know something is coming. It is the Others. They begin to surround the depression, moving through you, settling in on their multiple legs around the depression. The assembled crowd begins to form a pattern: You are gazing into what you would refer to as an arena.

The number of others is impressive; there are a thousand beasts now settling around the bowl. You did not witness it, but for sure, they rose at dawn, streaming from their caves, situated in the sheer cliffs of the distant mountains. They are here for the rites. No one speaks the name, but it has been whispered into your brains, perhaps by the wind, the age old name for the sacred rite being prepared below: The Killings.

You begin to scan the gathered throng of creatures. They are gathered in packs along one side, along with smaller versions of the creature; their colorings signifying something, but what, you cannot tell. The smaller ones you realize are females. Each is standing with a large male, some sort of rope around their necks tethering them to their mates. The larges males have a myriad of females, the smaller only a few. From the other side, you see a throng of creatures; their markings and size immediately identify them as females. Once this new group has arrived, the crowd settles; it is about to begin.

You now notice unseen in the quickly vanishing shadows, hidden amongst the jumble of rocks, small caverns on each side of the bowl. This here then is where the entrances will be made. A large male, his pelt decorated with the bones of small animals and other totems, enters. His ceremony is strange, distant, yet disconcertingly familiar. He finishes to great adulation from the crowd. The arena falls silent again in anticipation for what is to come. You do not have to wait long.

Two males, their coats light-colored, enter. Even without knowing the physiology, the biology of the creatures, you know that these are young males. The two meet in the middle of the arena exchanging formalized greetings. Then with a graceful savagery, they lock themselves into combat. The fight is brutal, bloody, swift, and to the death.

The victor rises on his hind legs, waving his forelegs in front of him. Then he turns and points at the gathered females. He is indicating his prize, his reward, his mate by right. Slowly, she comes forward, kneeling in front of him. The male produces one of the strange tethers, looping the open end around the neck of his newly won mate. She rises, and to the accompaniment of a loud buzz-like cheering, is led to the near side of the bowl where they take their place amongst the others.

The scene progresses, changing slightly, as if different years are lapsing, together, overlaid image upon image with the moon, stars and suns spinning overhead. In the distance, behind the duels, beneath the suns, you see cities rise; first of stone, then of metal. There are times they seems to burn, the air filled with strange metal beasts and birds, attacking each other, disappearing in incandescent clouds of gas. The sounds and smells of slaughter, of blood, of war fill your senses. The rituals begin to bleed closer and closer into each other, increasing in desperate ferocity; the charnel stench wafting in and out; the red sun overhead growing larger. The air hazes, thickening; you find it more difficult to draw a full breath.

The images begin to slow, each scene becomes more distinct; with this the crowds thin, the air thickens and the cities burn brighter. Finally, for the final time, the sun rises on a now deserted arena. There are no combats, no sating of blood lusts, no cruel competitions; there is no sound but the wind.

You no longer see vegetation; the once fertile landscape is a barren mix of grays and browns dull in the smog choked air; air thick enough to soften the dazzling white brilliance of the smaller of the two suns.

You can see the cities beyond; you need not walk their broad avenues to know their remnants are empty. The air stirs; you do not have to draw a breath of it to know it is swimming with poisons. The mountains still stand, smaller now, smooth and rounded; you are aware of their desolation without climbing the sheer cliffs to caves long empty, birthing places forever quiet. Swollen and immense, the red sun fills the sky; without studying it, without understanding its changed nature, you can tell its gorged and distended appearance portends doom.

This then is a world in the past tense; not dying, already dead; devoid of life: Murdered in the ages that spun before your gaze in but a moment.

You stand on the edge of the arena. The first sun has yet to rise, but the sky is light; it is darker then before, a deeper orange color refracting the coming light of the now feeble suns. It is cold. The wind, still ever present, bites at your exposed faces, bringing involuntary tears to eyes that have witnessed the slow wasting of a terminally ill world.

In the light of the two moons, the rock made of a substance alien to your world, gleams. Turning your head towards the sky, you see a third moon, glinting in the pre-dawn light. It is a moon, an entire world, made entirely of steel, hanging above the abandoned cities; it is as if it is the mote in an eye, looking down upon the wasteland before you.

Slowly, a light descends from the steel world above. It grows closer; moving slowly to your eye in a measured pace. As it draws nearer, it looks to be a large boat of gleaming metal. You can see it is headed for the hollow of weathered rock.

The craft eventually settles on a plume of dust on the far side of the arena. One of the creatures, one of the Others, slowly climbs out of it and picks his way down into the rock strewn bowl. On his person are the bones of animals, long extinct; tools that no longer have use; totems of power that hang impotent and limp.

He takes his time setting up his ritual, his movement practiced and careful. After a moment or two he is done. Sitting in the middle of the prepared ground, his body turned to face towards the rising sun, he begins to chant. The words mean nothing; you can scarcely hear them over the howling of the wind, swirling in the sour air. It is soon done.

Suddenly, there is a huge swirling of energy, not visible, but palatable; you can feel its presence. The earth begins to shake beneath your feet, undulating, then falls silent. The steel world above pulses with the energies channeled upwards from the toxic earth, through the sickly atmosphere, up into whatever fantastic reservoir has been built on the steel world to contain it and then, with a flash and a distortion of the space around it, the steel world is gone. Risen from the cradle of its creators, never to return to the ruined home of its builders.

The creature has remained watching. His body visibly slumps as if a great burden has been lifted; his head drops forward as if a great sorrow has filled his very soul. He has nothing left, it has all gone to infuse the essence of one world, natural, into another, artificial.

He stands on his multi-jointed legs, brushing dirt from his body with his fore-limbs. Then, unexpectedly, he throws back his head, and out comes a lonely, mournful wail in a language so utterly foreign its words cannot be formed by the human tongue. His wail turns to song; cadences unnatural and angular to your ears, but identifiably a song nonetheless.

The song needs no translation. It is the final dirge for a planet cruelly used and heedlessly ruined; it is the final death rite for his world.

In a moment of silence, stretching beyond endurance, he weeps.

The red sun finally appears; seeming to stretch from one end of the horizon to the other. It does not rise as much as it expands, unnaturally expanding to fill the sky; it seems close enough that it can be touched by simply raising an arm. The chill air becomes heated, so hot it cannot be breathed; the air, swirling with contaminants is burning; the forlorn cities melt and crumble; the very rock swirls in liquidity, and with an intense flash, brighter then any that any mortal eyes have seen fills your eyes.

You shake your head, and as your eyes refocus, you find yourself sitting at the table. The chanter has slumped in her chair. Without a word, Jacob gathers her up and removes her from the chamber.