Seeds of Edah bloomed upon the night sky, and the darkness heeded them not. It heaped itself in cloud upon the sea. Black spouts erupted there. And in one great step, in a boom of silence, it crossed, stirring the curse between the shores-that-will-be.
A cry went out from the island’s heights. And through the fume, Im made toward it. Trees bent upon the wind, and the stones gushed. And when he arrived at the high ledge, he found Mem and Dim, and there beside them was a spirit. The groan of its ethene message prattled upon the winds and stuck Im to the spot.1The narrator refers to Eth, the ostensible father of the hle, whom Edah cast into the seeds for his presumption, along with those that followed him.
Ghah called his children and now dispatched a ferry to gather them, and the siblings had not escaped notice.2Eth took for himself the name Ghah, or “father.”
And then the storm relented, and the spirit departed. The crosswind scuttled by, and the trees dug their roots into the ground. Mem returned to the ledge. Dim passed Im to enter the road. And Im returned to the shore.
Edah’s seeds yet shone. And exiting where the harbor and the village met, and where the fishing boats and the sailing ship yet pulled upon their moorings, Im crossed the sand to the surf. The paths of the east lay broken from Eth’s violence. All other shores wore the colorless garb of pathlessness.3As a result of Eth’s rebellion, Edah cursed the so-called sea that is between all things and also its paths, upon which the transverse hle dependend. And Im’s scowl lingered upon them.
Shallows scurried among the rocks, and as Im entered them, the cursedness of the sea met the cold cursedness within him. It fingered up his waist and then his chest. And as he groped, the eastern sky looked upon him, and the sea awoke in earnest. And then the shores-that-will-be dimmed until there was only the sea, and it filled all his veins. And as darkness mastered him and all the world went still, Im, himself, stilled. But then within the dark was a hand, and it touched upon his, and he took it. And flying from the cold, morning clothed him again.
Mem stood above him, wet and angry. And she motioned no. And she turned toward the upward path.
And Im spoke. “Edah’s silence will condemn us.”
Mem continue walking.
“We cannot escape Eth, and into our repentance, without him.”
Morning warmed the beach. And upon the harbor, movement signaled the labor of the island’s people, whose village huddled against the harbor wall. And Im glanced upon the sailing ship, and he considered it.
And as he walked the stone pier, the lower frames of several of those persons manned the fishing boats and the little rooms along the harbor wall. Those several whom Im passed glanced with interest. And the ship yet dozed upon its mooring. And after a time, Im removed himself toward the high ledge and into the silence of his thought.
In the following months, the winds gave way to a steady supply of snow. Dim spent much of his time at the door upon the dais. Mem spent her time among the high places, watching the uthean meeting of sky and sea.4The narrator refers to Uthe, another of the primary hle, who was not numbered with Eth and his followers. Im, however, looked upon the harbor.
Ever the ship lay moored there, and few ever walked its grey deck. But those few times his attention laxed, Im found Mem’s eyes upon him.
And upon a dim evening, when the snows had melted and spring again moved, and when the greys and blues of the night sharpened the yawning world, Mem brightened Im’s door, and Dim was at her shoulder. She dressed upon her black-look a smile.
Im stilled. “Has come Eth’s ferry?”5The translator has attempted to balance the text’s emphasis-oriented word-order with clarity.
As Dim entered, Mem stopped at the doorway. “Edah has spoken to me.”
Im’s eyes moved from Dim to Mem. “Then be not still, sister. What said he? Calls he to the shores-that-will-be?”
“He calls only me. But commands he my silence as well.”
“To where? And how will you go? Renounces he the curse?”
Her black look and her smile battled upon the field of her breath. And as the black look succeeded, she left.
Silence made its home among them as the season awoke. The island’s people set aside their coats for gardening tools, and Im remained near the harbor.
Fisherman manned fishing boats to clothe the bay in nets. Children hunted the shore for shells. In silence they labored, and in silence Im observed. And ever still the sailing ship waited upon the surf. And upon a darker day, when clouds crowded the coast and the workers stowed their work, and when the memory of the east cast the sea in cold iron, Im crossed the ship’s gangplank.
It bore his weight with a spring. And upon finding the helm and the horizon, several grey eyes now glanced Im’s way. Indeed, the wind-blown forms of a crew stepped out from whatever cracks Edah had stowed them.
In their silence waited a question. And there, through the sea’s broken paths, lay the-shores-that-will-be. The evening sky loosed its glistening pickets. And Im named the vessel Eledah.6“Word of Edah.”
Then came Mem’s voice. “The shores-that-will-be shall bear no craft.”
Im turned upon her. “Still withholds Edah your voice?” And at her silence, Im turned back to the sea. “Upon such craft Eth, himself, departed for mastery, but not of Eth are we. I depart for repentance. Too long has silence endured us here.”
“And how will you find your way? Or have you devised seacraft as well?”
“Am I not hle? It will serve me. Else reveal that which you hide, if it will keep me.”
And upon glancing back, Im found that Mem had already reached the stair.
The Eledah departed the harbor. Spray foamed upon its flanks, and the wind blew. And thus, at Im’s word, the ship and its crew entered the curse that is between all things, toward the-shores-that-will-be.
No ethene summoner lay behind when they had passed into the east’s matted paths. But at a high place upon the island appeared a white spark. It was Mem, and above her waited the evening and the stars, both blue and gold. And then, as the night bloomed in full, the vision departed, and Im etched their memory upon the Eledah.
Morning followed, and so it went. Ever the Eledah found cloud, star, and water. So upon a distant and unclouded evening, upon the tumbling skin of that blue, brine beast, Im returned the Eledah toward the lights of his etching. When morning buried the night, they put the ship to sleep. And when the night returned and the etching reflected the sky, they sailed. But just as in their egress, so now the sea withheld its ends, so that many more nights passed without shore.
But upon one battlefield sea, when the stars tuned their notes over the orange and pink that yet heaped upon the horizon, the sea let loose a black wing. Some unfathomable phantom traversed the sky alongside them, some leviathan silhouette, and the stars threw no reflection upon it. In its presence floated a flowered whisper, and Im stretched there his perception. But dawn arrived, and the sea tucked the whisper and the line under sheets of deepest green.
Darkness puffed its speckled breath. And Im forsook the sky and steered them toward the line. But night dove into morning, and still they neared it not. Two more nights followed. And on the fourth night, Im spooled himself with a hempen line, fastened it to a rail, and leapt into the sea.
The cold received him, and on toward the line he swam. And when the Eledah’s deck-lamps mingled with the night, the darkness yawned below him. No sand touched his feet. No arm draped his collar. And upon those cold and forceful lips, he stopped.
But the Eledah, who yet peered after him, moved farther still. A current had taken hold of him. Its infinite arm now held him, and the ship dipped from view. On and downward the current pulled, and downward still, until Im crossed a heavy hinge. A gap gaped before him, a thundering marriage of gravity and space where the waters broke into sheets, and the sky rested upon it. But the rope upon Im’s waist caught, and he plunged not far.
And with the sea upon his back, with the Eledah’s leash upon him, and with the darkness laid out before, the night unlidded. The stars had neared, and in their nearness, they had taken shape. They were hle. Below them slept a twilight mass and a shore. And the sea, despite its violence, could not reach it.
A yank upon Im’s waist signaled the hands of the crew. And he withdrew, back toward the ship and back into pathless obscurity. And as the dawn arose again, Im dripped his failure upon the ship’s boards, and he shouted against the guarded sky and against the shore and against the sea that preached not kindness. It lay still before him—beaten flat, perhaps, by unkind feet—and the enshadowed horizon smiled, and the stars yet shone.
But morning had bloodied the waters. A sting caught at Im’s throat. And near at hand, water sounded upon rock. Indeed, many rocks waited near. Great stones leaned above the Eledah, lining the sea like the severed spines of dead giants. Whitecaps smashed upon them and around them on their way to a shore. And there, hiding in cloud and shadow, loomed a porous mass, a craggle tangle of magmaic vomit, a land and, perhaps, an answer.
But Im turned from it, looking instead upon the western expanse, and again looking upon his etching and the sky. The sky-sailing hle burned through the cloud as linen. But Im found not the pattern of his etching. Indeed, they stayed no longer still. One company exhanged place with another, across the sky and back. One hle exchanged with another his perch. One eye blinked, and another opened. One door, one voice—all now passed, so that Im’s etching lay dead on the rail.
So Im turned instead to the sea and to that battlefield flattening that surrounded the island’s victorious slouch. A single, wide way led through the pathlessness. And into this he now steered them.
The sea yawned a great yawn, the wind blew high, and the sails of the Eledah stretched tight. The clouds ebbed away, and the water swished under the prow as the Eledah tossed them onward. And feeling the snipping wetness upon his skin and the weight of the flesh of his frame, Im let loose the helm, and he laid upon the deck. The grey boards pressed hard and real against him. And spying still those hle of the firmament, he closed his eyes. And the morning warmed his face, and the wind and the slithering sea lead him onward into the routes of his red thought.
At their slowing, Im arose. Afternoon had arrived, and several crewmen now peered upon him, drawing his attention toward their bow. And there among shoals lay the stone and sand of the shore-that-had-been. And Im breathed. Vegetation scented the air. Warm rain wandered the distance. And the creak of the ship, and the stretching of the rope, and the heat of the day, and the crash of the whitecapping waves all fell dead upon the question that now lay before them.
And when they reached the dock, Im leapt from board to stone, glancing not at the crew or at those who greeted them. Up the bony steps, toward the high ledge he ran. And the trees and the brush whipped up, and the mid-day birds took flight at the violence of his passing.
He arrived at the place and called out, but no one answered. Each of the brethren’s dwellings lay still but for the wind that wandered among them. And exiting Mem’s abode, Im called out again, emptying the branches of any remaining birds. And as he stood upon the ledge and listened, the trees danced, sand from sea-breezes dropped like diamonds, and a cloud spotted the blue.
At the stone door of Edah’s final word, Im let loose the gold and amber from the branches, and the light twittered among them. Empty remained the terrace, the dais, and the door. And as Im poured himself into that emptiness, an ethene air crossed him. Darkness fell upon his sight. And he turned east, shaking the sand and stone beneath his pace. He reached the crossroads and then the stair, and he descended.
But he stopped. There was a cave, and near to it reclined Dim.
“Where is Mem?”
Dim observed Im’s demeanor, and the silence of Im’s mood and of their brotherhood enjoined them. But Dim tossed his fruit into the undergrowth, stood, and joined Im on the stairway, brushing past him to lead east and down.
Im weighted every step upon Dim’s damming amble. And as they crossed the line of evergreens near the bottom of the slope, where the view opened upon the harbor and the little fishing boats, Im saw upon the deck of the Eledah Mem. And he rounded Dim and crashed down the steps toward the dock.
And after several barren moments, Im spoke. “Edah closes his hand upon us. Do not go.”
“Again he has spoken.” Mem intook, and her face darkened. “We have desired your return.”
But Im frowned still. “He speaks not to me. Perhaps you hear a sea spirit.”
And Mem motioned no.
The Eledah sighed upon the muted waves of the harbor, and Dim’s dusty steps signaled his presence.
And Mem continued. “Are we not all brethren? And have I not love for you? Dim, you know not my errand, but do you contest it?”
Dim motioned no. “I do not.”
And Im spoke again. “Then let us join you in counsel. Together let us find Edah’s voice, and in surety.”
But all Mem’s light had gone. And she turned to the ship, and the crew set to work, putting off their fresh harborage. And as the light upon the Eledah diminished, and as Mem’s glistening form and her blowing hair disappeared among the eastern swath, Im looked to his brother. But Dim had already left.
Below the high ledge swayed evergreens, and below still lay the sea. It advanced upon the shore in irregular rank as Im waited. And then the night came, and the sea fell under its weight.
And Im spoke. “We have but waited upon your doorstep. But if you will hear it, now I knock.”
The wind moved, and the sea crawled ever upon the shore. And Im sat upon the ledge and waited.
As the stars ended their second watch, rain pattered outside Mem’s cottage. It did little to stifle the silence. And Im exited the home and followed the path from the high ledge.
At the top of the stair, a flat space had been carved from the trees, and a low wall guarded the downward slope and the view of the sea. But the clouds had yielded, and the dying light now shown crimson against the island’s only peak, who watched over the treeline, upon the hills’ golden shoulders. But Im lingered not, instead taking the shaded western path toward Dim.
Needles and crispy bark scented the orange and tan of the stones. An embellished staircase led to a pedestal, above the pavillion and the dais on which the door had been set. Leaves clattered in the wind, and yellow light scattered itself among the stones and the shadows and the greenery of the wood. The stone door yet remained empty, and the sea and its massive candor hid behind the twinkling canopy.
No epiphany waited there, nor did Dim. And Im frowned, and he left the dais, back toward the crossroads, until he again passed the stair-lined evergreens and looked upon the sea.
And indeed, the Eledah approached. As it slipped through the shallow whitecaps, daylight splashed over it and among the stony outcropping of its onward rushing. And there stood Dim upon the harbor. The ship docked, and Dim boarded, and he disappeared below deck.
Im moved along the sand and stone of the dock. He stopped at the gangplank. Footsteps sounded from the bulkhead stair, and Dim came into view. And as he crossed the plank and passed by Im, the sea beat an empty rhythm upon the Eledah’s hull.
Dim departed as Im stepped upon the Eledah. No ethene rumor mounted the sea but only water and white cloud and sky. Gulls gossiped among the shallows, and the deck of the Eledah bobbed the world.
The muffle of timber received Im as he made his way below deck. And as he rounded the several runs in a thudding haunt, the empty beds, the empty stores, and the empty cabins told no story. Mem was not there. Even the ship’s crew remained absent.
By the time Im resurfaced, dusk had arrived. The island hushed as he passed up the steps, and the breezes wined of rain. The hills bent rocky and red before the crown of the island. And there against it, perched upon the mount’s high shoulder, shone the smooth skin of some golden structure. Upon its pinnacle, against the excited stars, appeared both a glow and a shadow, a light upon a hole. But as Im passed the crossroad pavilion, it fell below stone and leaf.
Metal sounded on metal as Im crossed the ledge and entered Dim’s abode. And among the many works that filled the space, Im found a pile to sit on.
The fire growled, the hammer rang, and water hissed. And between the sounds, Dim spoke. “Near you a second rebellion, brother?”
Im motioned no. “Not of Eth am I.”
“Then what darkens you?”
“Death has taken our sister. And I believe now that Edah and not madness has led her to it. Edah has spoken to you also, and you withhold it from me. Do you not?”
Dim still watched his work, though his hand and his hammer rested at his side. “Does silence speak so much to you?”
Im motioned yes.
And after a pause, Dim motioned the same. “Thus I believe as well.”
Dim worked his fire while Im spoke. “Edah commands your silence as well?”
“He has. And would you have me let loose of repentance?”
Im motioned no again. “I would have both Dim and Im repent.”
“Such is not my provision, brother.”
Im left his pile and turned toward the door.
“Where will you go?”
“Know I not.”
And Dim’s hammer sounded upon the table. “Then I will go with you.”
Footsteps signaled Dim’s following, and Im turned upon him. “Hound me not with your blessedness.”
“Mistake not silence for strength, brother. Comforts me your company.”
And together they left.
Matted dirt, the stones of the path, the clumped fortresses of grass—all laid still under their steps, and the hallways of the forest promised no echo beside them. They passed the crossroads, and Im set off through the trees, toward the crown of the island. Low limbs stroked him with leafy fingers. Animals hid in trees or shrubs or holes or else scurried toward quieter woods. And Dim followed behind.
The trees ended at a short escarpment. Bushes had found footholds along the rocks, and so did Im, and he climbed. At the top, the wind returned, diving from the ridge into the treetops below. And when Dim stepped upon the red stone beside him, Im walked on. They now crossed around the eastern shoulder of the mount, and Im spied there, upon its far neck and across many hills, the golden structure he had seen.
The evening diminished, and they slowed. And the mount shrugged and then fell at a mighty drop. Treetops swayed below, and farther up, to the west, through a final, huddled thicket, frowned a plated crag. Wide as the shoreline it seemed, and stars shined across its beaten skin, so that it yielded no onward way.
Im sat upon an incline. The stars shone upon the waters, and the sea and sky mixed into a dotted eternity.
And Dim came near. “If you seek the pinnacle tower, I can show you the way.” And at Im’s silence, Dim spoke again. “That now I speak, will you not listen?”
“Speak you not the water of my thirsting, brother.”
“Then follow, and let us speak not.”
Dim led down the escarpment up which they had come. They crossed under the star-draped canopy of the sleeping eastern forest. And the light yawned over the island as they found again the path and the harbor stair and then the cave where Im had found Dim before. Dim entered it, and Im followed.
Despite the darkness, the path was not uneasy. It had been paved and shaped as a byway, though not wide, and it crossed several other tunnels on its way. And so they went, until they reached an opening and a gully, which soon fell to one side and then under, as they crossed a mossy bridge. And then, around a final bend, the tower appeared. A little path bent up the hill and then stopped at an open door. And behind and beside the tower, the mount still clambered on. Around and up the tower spiraled a stair.
And Dim stopped. “Ever up it goes.”
“Lead you no further?”
“And no more have you to say?”
Dim motioned no. “But I will wait for you.”
The door led to a short, thin, wet stair, and Im went up. It exited behind the tower, where the mount had been carved out into a close courtyard, and then joined with the tower’s spiral stair. And as the stair took him to the tower’s other side, where the island clomped out into a cragged surf, onward Im climbed.
The utmost step joined the tower’s flat pinnacle. The sky and the cloud and the blue of the water and the emerald motion of the trees below swaddled the space. And on the other side, where the mount should have been—where indeed in some sense it continued—in a joining of places, a path had been set. Another world now laid out its palm, and upon it the starry hle shone nearer. And Im stepped from the pinnacle and toward the hle.
Starlight showed a footworn path. Sprites of gold and of purple chased the midnight shadows around the rocks and the dirt and the verdure that colored them. And as the slope deepened and Im climbed, the amber and ochre of the ground rubbed into his palms.
Then the hill crested, and the light hummed to orange and pink and then a flaring, sunrise peal. It spilt from its golden goblet a stinging warmth that washed away the shadows from the many cracks. And diverting behind the coolness of a rock, Im turned from the path.
Hle waited above him, burning not the darkness away but changing it, all the same. Only the haze of the sea and the choking distance between it and the hle’s high abode might suggest otherwise. Justice was their garment, and no weight or movement or distance could snuff it. And indeed, at this altitude, they watched Im from no farther than judgment.
And Im left the coolness of his rock and the openness under the sky and returned to the path, and with tears. And he scrambled along the stones, ever against the light and the heat, so that he made but little progress. And finally he stopped, and he laid his cheek upon the dirt, and the heat moved over him, and he breathed and turned an eye again upon the stars. And as he watched, one hle walked the sky as on a midnight beam. And when the amber ochre caught her foot, and she stepped near to him, she shone almost as bright as the light of the path, so that Im lay pinched between light and light—crisping between two fires.
She bent a quiet face toward him. “Attempt no further, dear Im, lest you perish.”
Im spoke into the dirt. “I know you not.”
“You remember it not.” And she smiled, but not without grief, so that the lighted night was in it. “Where are you going, dear one?”
Tears again found Im’s eyes as weight pressed upon his brow. And putting his palms to the ground, he pushed himself into a seated position. “I seek Edah, and have I not found an outward path? Or guards him some cursed span, as before?”
“For what purpose do you seek him?”
“To hear him.”
“Ever hears our father, dear Im.”
She spoke no further, and Im spoke again. “Then neglects he his children?”
“He neglects not.”
“Have I but asked his will, that I might follow it. And yet silent he remains, but to Mem, who is dead, and to Dim, for whom death nears.”
A sea breeze found its way up the slope and eased the heat of the two lights.
“A span there is, dear Im, and it grieves us.”
“Call me not dear if you will not aid me. While Eth continues his work, we desire but repentance.”
“Has not Edah spoken?”
“If I knew his command, I would die to keep it.”
And the hle smiled again, and the light smiled with her. “Delights Edah in such knowledge?”
“Delights he not? In the sea and the dirt and the stone, Eth is here. And I cannot endure it, or the shame of our participation, or the greatness of our folly, or the weakness with which I now condemn my brethren. And now alone are we, and alone am I, and alone will I be. Such is my desire for audience. And even now—through you—he denies me.”
“Then open your ears, dear Im, and I will speak.” And her smile left her, and the solidity of the stone and the heft of the sea and the stature of the dotted dome donned her, and the stones stilled, and the light lighted, and the wind blew away. “Great indeed has been your folly, and more than you admit. Through you and your fellows, death has darkened and now darkens many things, so that even we know it. With it comes also suffering, and so it should be. But fear not. In the soil of suffering grow many seeds, and death knows not them all. Indeed and indeed, all manner of thing shall be well.”
And there, in the coolness of the open sky, Im found the world below him, and the seas laid out flat and immeasurable and near. The chasm lay at its edge, all around, black and without censure—and there, near to it, the dark mark and the spiny shore of Eth’s dominion. And from the shadow of that dark place, a black ship now sailed toward them, distant and dim, but quick upon a violent wind.
Another wind whispered upon Im, and he breathed. “Then will you speak no more?”
“My water cannot quench you.”
“Then is Edah no better than Eth?”
And turning from her, Im slid back down the slope. And the stars diminished, and island’s green wind blew upon him, and the path and its light dissipated unto a hazy afternoon, until alone Im found himself upon the tower’s top, and the sea and the sky and the island’s stony shoulder enclosed him again.
Dim had not waited. And after calling out for him, and after surveying the hilltop and the gully, Im traveled again the tunnel path. And he arrived at the stair and turned east and down.
Im watched not the harbor. But upon steering himself into the dock, he spied the Eledah and also Dim, who stood near to it. And the drowsy waters clapped between the boat and the dock, and the ghosts of the Eledah’s crew waited in unbusy silence.
Im broke in upon it. “More worthy are Mem and Dim, brother. Speaks he such to you?”
“Know I not. But speak, and relieve your darkness.”
And Im motioned toward the sea. “Eth’s dispatch wings its way here. I have seen it.”
Dim wore no expression, nor did he glance from Im.
And Im continued. “And have I met our unfaithless cousins. As verbal as our father are they.”
“But father he remains. And perhaps upon my departure will he speak.”
Im motioned no. “Unworthy has he found me. And now lonely death comes upon a wicked wind. For has not Edah called you? And into silent repentence you go, even as I petition, and even as Eth draws near? Will you not still go?”
“Yes, brother.” A dark look came upon Dim. “But ask that I speak no more. Temptation asks with you, and I am not strong.”
“Edah, who makes silence my counterpart, tempts us both.”
“Perhaps a friend is silence.”
“He is friend of the dead.”
“So let death befriend us both, and ask that I speak no more.”
“Then speak no more.” And Im turned.
The surf threw its crested lines toward the shore. And in the herding of the Eledah, Im left the sea for the stair.
Im stood upon the stair, at the evergreen palisade, watching the Eledah procure Dim’s distance. The clouds had passed, and evening splayed the sea with blue starlight.
And Im spoke. “Will you not now speak? Take you both light and warmth, and will you not? Shall I know repentance upon but wind and waves, whose surety is folly?”
Dim’s vessel diminished upon the flattened eastern path. Clouds floated there, moving in a grotesque churn. Waves wept upon the shore.
“Folly walks near, and death with it. And before he finds me and life departs, will you speak? Or shall death master all?”
But no ethene messenger arrived that night. And the next afternoon passed, and the sea whispered among the stones until its tide swallowed them again. Birds sang among the higher shelves of the shore, and grey villagers walked the island’s grey paths. And night brought its burning watchers.
Another day passed. But upon the next morning, as Im watched from the high ledge, a darkness growled near to the island. Thunder thundered across the waters and settled into the hills. A stormy cankor entered the air. Shadows chattered among the trees.
And there, at the horizon-foot of the storm’s gargantuan filth, where the sky’s peripheral light still flashed upon the sea, sped two forms—one grey and one black. And the grey vessel now far outstripped its assailant and struck the whitecaps outside the island’s stony reach. It was the Eledah, and with a silent toll, it pierced the perimeter of Im’s hermitage.
And Im spoke. “Thus am I alone, and repentance with me.” And he sped toward the stairs.
The booming heart of the storm lay some ways off when the Eledah reached the harbor. The sea trembled, and the black ship yet trailed upon it.
Im called out. And the ferver of his shout shook the treetops and slammed upon the ship’s slick sides. But he heard no return, and in several breaths, he bound across the jetty and to the ship’s deck, whose twice-silent boards now told of Dim’s absence.
And Im spoke. “Death have you offered, and whom have I to tell but you? And now in your silence must I act. Or aught will you say in this last lightful moment?”
Only the sea and its black wind answered.
“Then if in chaos you plunge me, to chaos I yield. And if you will not lead, let lead me the sea.” And he turned upon the island. “Accursed be this, once-abode of Edah’s light, and accursed be the silence upon it. And accursed be the fool that now flees its cursedness.”
The black ship lay not far off.
“Let all be accursed!” And Im, taking the helm, set the crew upon his escape.
The storm now filled all but the western sky. Its chill fingers plucked at the Eledah as the shoreline trees trembled and the sea quaked. And as Im’s ire trounced upon the crew, and as the curses of his mouth cowed them, they shook as well. But yet they maintained their quietude, and they obeyed. And crossing the shore’s final reach, Im set them upon that same wicked wind.
The Eledah distanced from the black ship. Ahead glistened a golden horizon. But the arm of the storm reached far, and at last it overtook them and dotted the ship’s pallor. The sea arose to meet it, and the waters above and the waters below enfolded them. And the wind blew, and the rain fell, and the light of morning did not come.
And when the crew had retreated into some unseen retirement, Im stayed upon the deck, and he cursed the storm and the sea. And when the storm, regardeing him not, plunged its lightning arms into the waves, when towers of wind ascended the airs from water to water, still Im sent his voice out among them.
But then the storm started in earnest. Mountain swells lifted the ship unto the clouds. Then the sea exhaled, and the Eleëd plunged into gaping basins. Water begat water. And the roar of the skies and of the rain and of the wind drowned out Im’s hle voice.
But there appeared through the tempest a red and flickering light. And then, frowning over their bow, appeared a steep and rocky sheet. Im tottered to the helm, and he aimed the Eledah away from the cliff and toward that hopeful flame.
More stony vertebrae cut through the dipping swells, but ever the ship split them, falling instead into the waters that filled their spans. The wind and rain still tugged, but Im did not let loose his hand. The beacon approached, and Im shouted toward it. And the swells lessened, and the rocks thickened.
And then, with a groan and a scrape, the ship threw Im to the deck. No ethereal hand mended the rigging or tended the battered boards. And feeling the world tilt, and seeing the beacon before him, Im leapt over the rail.
He landed upon a jutting islet no larger than the high ledge. Lightning showed the black that marched around it and the black pellets that filled the air. And the wide gleam of a shore shone ahead.
Each swell rolled the Eledah upon the islet, board and water and stone. Lightning found a near place, and then another. The darkness hummed its wet and somber chorus. And when Im dove into the sea, the cold and airless space received him, and the world and the light departed.
His hand again found rock. Water pulled him from it, and he found it again. And as he dragged his body from the surf, the rain pattered, and the sea behind him writhed. And Im turned, and he drew himself up, and he climbed from the sea and unto the hard refuge above.
Thick lay the inland airs that embraced Im now. The storm threw itself against them, but the land drolled on in its unrestful dream, and the sea splashed no higher than the shore’s black sneer. And from the crooked frown of a mountain horizon, red light dripped into the shadows, so that the landscape’s gnarled witness shone in red and black the old violence and bubbling anger of its making.
And there, across the way, lay the beacon. It leapt in bright fury against the dimness of its distance.
Im dropped below a high, rounded rail, and silence followed him there. He climbed out again, and closer to the flame. And thus he moved.
The storm beat its impotence upon the shore. But as the cadence of lightning sent shadows tittering among their holes, a pallor lit the spaces between them, and the shadows withdrew to the deeper places, and the red undimmed to pewter.
And when Im came upon a wider void, he entered it. Thunder sang its disharmony. Electricity touched the air, and the crinkled scent of a burnt thing mixed with it. And amid the echoes, amid the sighs of the sea and stillness of the land, something else arose ahead of him. And Im climbed a final crest, and he looked out over a low space and upon the beacon.
It topped a hill higher than he and lobbed upward a sticky crimson. The night’s black milk intermingled with fire. Worshipers circled a stone pillar, and spirits moved among them. And as their song came upon Im, he retreated.
The land had been lit. It rolled in low and toasted swells, showing indeed the quick mixture of molten land and sea. And not far, against the shore and the waters beyond, arose the grey, stone cadence of a wall. High had it been set. And forsaking the fire and its worshipers, Im made toward it, until he stopped upon a closer crest.
The wall rose high and slick and withstood the storm on the seaward side. But its rear remained incomplete, showing its innards. Seawater littered the inland streets as workers battled the tools of service and the tools of war that floated among them. But upon the wall, itself, waited clever weapons.
One shelf stood above them—an upper prominence of sharpened stone that prodded the tumult. And there, like a cavern in the dark, striding upon that high walk and draped in weighty starlight, walked a hle. Upon his neck, he wore red. And upon his shoulder, he wore the livery of Ghah.
Im turned from the place. The landscape between him and the ship had brightened to a gleaming silver. And when Im looked upon the firmament, he found there the stars—but the stars! They shone with the same radiance of the island tower and the peak to which Im had climbed. The dun, inland cloud darkened the inner lands, and the storm darkened the sea. But at their meeting, the stars burned a stripe of unlidded glory. It ran along the shoreline, and the full weight of its light burned away all shadow.
The Eledah lay still within the bay, against an outlier rock and still, as yet, unmanned. But the light shone upon it, and its grey skin now glowed with ethereal flame.
Im breathed and shook. Tension readied his limbs. And he spoke. “Hound you the darkness also?” And dropping from the high place, he sped onward, toward the glow, leaping from lip to culvert, until he reached the shore.
The waters yet lolled their argument upon the land’s edge. And the beacon still burned behind him and the garrison yet slept in stillness when Im stepped through a narrow channel, near to the shore. The planks of the Eledah’s hull, and the sculpted handrails, and the sail, and the foam upon the surf all shone crystalline among the sea’s dark mass.
But upon a swell and a heave, the ship rolled. The sea split upon its side into blazing splinters. It crackled against the rock. And with a heaving groan and a scrape, and another scrape, and another, the sea dragged it from its perch. And the surf sighed as the Eledah loosed its grip and laid upon the frothy bier.
A sound signaled Im to turn. Something of screams weaved the air from the fired hilltop. The Eledah reeled as it struck the hull. And as the spirit struck again, it called out. And a red flicker appeared upon the pinnacle of the wall.
Im spoke again. “Hound not the darkness so!”
The spirit again flew, black and sure, toward Im. It touched upon the rock. And spanning the opening at which Im stood, it approached him. Darkness returned, and all but the screams and the stars disappeared.
But several voices now crossed the grey crests of the shoreline, and the spirit relented. And there, upon a near ridge, waited two hle.
One of the two hle bore Im to the ground. “Speak your message, traitor.”
The other called from the distance. “Certainly not! One of our father’s envoys has gathered this one. See his mirth? A friend you have found!”
Im scowled. “I am not of Eth.”
The surly hle spoke again. “Give your message then. What of the sky? Lights of ill omen have you brought.”
Only the fresh lather of the surf remembered the storm. Dull fires made their way across the hills, dipping below sight and then back. And excising the shoreline, a swath of starlight separated the dead inland breath and the darkness of the sea.
“What have I to speak? I share as much fellowship with them.”
“You sailed the grey vessel?”
Im motioned yes.
“Then has not The Enemy sent you?”
“He speaks not. Now begone, or else set me to bondage, and harass me no more.”
The surly hle bound Im. And as they passed the other hle, he bent a crafty eye and followed. And on they walked back to the wet walls of the garrison, whose many eyes moved from sky to Im, and where torchlight and black stone gobbled them up. Metal and stone echoed their steps, and they came upon a stair and then a catwalk—a petrified tongue that licked out toward the sea.
The surf had cracked the wall and now rambled among the streets’ doors and windows, reveling with wooden discourse of the debris it now snatched. Bodies floated among the wreckage. And between each swell, workers worked under violence. And the stars lit them all.
Im and the two ascended a final, flicking stair unto a level place. Several servants waited there. And in the center of the space stood an emblazoned hle, clothed in red.
The crafty hle spoke their presence. And after a few words, the surly hle brought Im near. And as the two deposited Im, the red hle offered Im a friendly expression.
Im watched the Eledah. Black lines now lashed it to shore, and several boats approached. “I am not of Eth.”
The red hle gave no pause but motioned toward the ship. “The grey vessel you sailed?”
“And bear you no message?”
“Then how shall we regard your accompaniment?” The red hle motioned upward.
“No fellowship do they offer me.”
“Our enemy sends his watchfires and the ship of his messengers. Threatens he war?”
Im returned the gaze of the red hle. “What messengers?”
“Perhaps, then, no messenger are you. But no authority have I to decide.” And the red hle let loose his gaze. “Welcome home.”
The surly hle and the crafty hle led Im back down. They exited to a road, where waited many groups of people. And upon sight of them, the groups set out toward the mountain.
No other hle accompanied them. But others of lesser make arrived in loose lines, ordering themselves little, but for the cushion they gave Im and his captors—only glances and whispers crossed that space. And though Edah’s watchers remained, dim and silent, the light of the shore fell behind.
Shadow begat rock, and the frown of the red mountain deepened, until they reached a descending expanse, flat as a beaten bowl. Farms dotted it, and some of the group were led off to join them. At the bottom of the bowl lay the broken lip of a chasm and a bridge, across which another expanse followed. Then at last, set into the face of the mountain, a great gate blocked their way.
Its rocky brow reached high, and from it came a foul air. And the gate opened, and a tunnel behind it yawned to receive them. Then as they passed through and some unseen hand closed them in, the darkness of the tunnel and the warm breath of the mountain swallowed them up. And at last, the stars went out.
The perfume of industry mixed with the tunnel air, and crimson lit the cobble in regular intervals. Lower guards and their beasts watched from the darkness as the three hle walked on. And only shuffles and the occasional hushed word suggested that the lesser peoples still continued behind.
And then, near to Im’s shoulder, the crafty hle spoke. “Know we not your name, friend.”
“Call me Silent.”
“Words of whimsy, friend. Nothing more.”
The surly hle turned upon the crafty one. “Then speak not, and let us complete our errand.” And he looked upon Im for the first time since the shore.
But the crafty hle moved closer still. “Are you not called Im, friend?”
“Call me Silent, for that is what I will be. And call me not friend, for no fellowship have we.”
“You know it not, perhaps. But truly you spoke—no messenger are you.”
Im regarded him.
And the crafty hle spoke to the surly one. “What say you?”
“I will have no part in your play.”
The crafty hle laughed. “Then permit me a detour, and no more will I speak.”
When they exited the tunnel, past another thick gate, the underground gave way to shouts. The road fed into a courtyard, and into this, soldier-shepherds arrayed a rabble, lining their flocks unto the mountain on the far side. Either end pinched into roads, and city streets and buildings were beyond. From them, the pumping hearts of machinery fed the fleshy cloudcover. And centering them all, the mountain climbed, up and out of sight, into the deadness of that cloud and the holy specks that again sparked it.
The stones of the courtyard radiated outward from a hazy center, and as the rest of the group dispered, toward this the crafty hle now led them. The haze thickened to fog, and the air chilled. And then the fog ended, and a crisp circle opened up. The voices of the crowd and of the city’s machinery grumbled low and distant. And there, in the middle of the space, waited a black stele. Invisible eyes watched them, and as they broke some hideous threshold, a flicker of shadow, or of light, and a breath of airs not breathed from that volcanic valley, smote upon them, and the noise of the city sharpened, and the air went still and shadeless and dead.
And drawn again by a flicker, Im looked upon the ethene spike. Scripts of various tongues had been forced upon it, and it read,
Upon ignorance, perception.
Upon silence, speech.
Upon death, mastery.
Laws of many lines then marched toward the ground.
The crafy hle watched Im.
And Im spoke. “You reach for Edah’s table, but not of Eth am I.”
The crafty hle turned his look upon the other. But when the surly hle did not respond, the crafty hle called out. “See you it not?”
And Im continued. “Mastery masters Eth. I await Edah’s word. And if Edah should speak not—even unto death—I am not of Eth.”
The crafty hle laughed. And then he motioned for the surly hle to lead them from the courtyard.
And as the surly hle brought them back into the dimness of the mountain, the three hle made toward one of the other roads. Soldier-shepherds hastened their flocks aside. And indeed, Im now regarded the tremor with which they scuttled.
The crafty hle and the surly hle led Im up the mountain. The tops of the buildings weaved on into an ashen garment, whose edges drew up the ankle of that great peak. But the road proceeded on into its shadow, where another peak looked down.
They crested a high ridge and a porch and deposited Im there, where a mighty hle bound him. Then the hle dispatched messengers, and he and Im waited.
Another road cut back around the mountain’s hip, up and away from the city. But onward, the two mountains birthed a valley, and upon this the reeking city spilt.
The mighty hle spoke. “Brother of Mem and of Dim, I know you. I am Huk, though perhaps once of other name. Together we marched.”
Im looked not upon him. “Remember I death.”
And Huk continued. “Then may you find other reception than your predecessors, brother.” Several other guards now approached, and the mighty hle stood to meet them. “Serves Ghah even death.”
They led Im from the city. Mist hid their path, and the sound of the surf climbed the slope.
Huk’s voice rumbled nearby. “Speaks Edah with you?”
Im made no motion.
And Huk continued. “And to none of us, but with your brethren he spoke. Perhaps delays Edah his message.”
Im again remained silent.
And the guard that walked ahead motioned down the slope. “Toward the harbor our fellows steer the grey vessel. No more messengers shall it bear.”
And as they walked on, Huk continued. “Will you not ask him?”
After a time, they arrived at another guarded tunnel and entered. No torches lined its halls. But the lights carried by the guards revealed many strong doors. Crafted corridors gave way to the veins of uncut earth. And with Huk still eyeing Im from the darkness, the lead guard stopped them, and Im entered the room, and the door closed behind him.
Footsteps sounded along the tunnel, and through the door, Huk spoke. “Rest, and go not near the still pools. Tomorrow desires Ghah your presence.”
And as the click of feet and the whisper of garments and the sway of air departed, Im fell to the ground, and in the silence, he wept.
A sound disrupted Im. It was a breath. And then it sounded again, and Im’s eyes opened. Darkness met them, and he stood and entered it.7Common among the texts are oddities of hle faculty, and such seems to be the case here.
Fissures split the low ceiling, and the echoes of Im’s movement followed the walls. Crevices promised paths of infinite night, and Im considered them. And rounding a corner, he found a pool, and a light adobe within it. But it was a dead light, and all else seemed the darker for it.
The breath sounded again, and Im approached the pool. Hidden to one side, where water had once scooped out the rock, lay a body. It was a lower person, and the hunger of the pool assailed her in sickening stillness. The eyes were open, and they inquired in the direction of Im.
And after a time, she spoke. “You cannot frighten the dead.” And when Im did not move, she spoke again. “Perhaps you have not heard that judgment approaches?”
“That pool approaches your foot.”
The girl stood, and eying the ground around her, she felt with a hand the scooped-out wall. “When I sleep, it nears.”
Im turned back the way of the door.
And when he passed the corner, her voice echoed around it. “As does our judgment! Or have you heard, and in silence you wait, as I? Speak, friend.”
“Then you have heard not! So I will speak.”
Sounds of her movement stopped Im.
“With two words apiece came the first messengers.” And feeling her way, she passed the corner behind him. “‘Presumption!’ said the first, and Ghah took her. ‘Culpability!’ said the second, and Ghah took him. Both shared a second word. ‘Judgment,’ said each.”
She approached, and Im stopped her with a hand.
“Thus approaches a third, with whom judgment comes.” She waited.
“Judgment delights you?”
“It frightens me. But it is good.”
“Fear not. If judgment approaches, none will know it, for silent is Edah.” Im resumed his retreat.
And she followed. “Of The Enemy you speak?”
“Then indeed! Presumption we have in abundance, and if in silence or in storm, may Edah’s messenger come.”
When they came to the door, Im reclined near it. The girl felt her way to his side, and when she moved to huddle close, he let her. And as her eyes closed and her breaths lengthened, in thought Im watched the darkness. And perhaps for the red beast in Im’s breast, or perhaps for the cold, no pool made attempt that night.
Wind whispered as a hle guard opened the door. And though sleep still bound the girl to Im’s side, she huddled closer.
From the darkness of the tunnel, the hle regarded Im. “Follow.”
And laying the girl against the stone, he followed.
The underground yielded to the salted breath of the sea, and they followed the road away from the city. And there, across the curve of the downward slope, the sea beat upon a harbor. Each blow darkened the harbor street and the workers that labored there.
The guard regarded Im’s attention. “Upon death, mastery. We walk upon Ghah’s work.”
And there, struggling against its mooring, the Eledah gleamed grey among the black boards of its fellows. Its crew remained absent, and several of Eth’s servants now worked its splintered hull.
And as they walked, the guard continued. “The sea of the curse has retreated, and the shores-that-will-be cry, ‘Empty! Empty!’ And let it remain so. Let The Enemy post his silent lights—accursed may they be as the chaos to which he left us. His neglect births our strength.”
A great wave arose, jostling the ships and the Eledah with them. It crossed over the seawall and looted the harbor, depositing its bounty upon the slope.
The hle regarded Im again. “No response have you?”
Im motioned no.
“Also in darkness was I brought here. But let feel your feet the work of our father, and perhaps you will see.” And on the guard led. And as morning awoke, only the surf and the dead air accompanied them.
Beyond the harbor, the slope steepend, and the path looked down upon the violence of water and rock. Seawater burst through the space, and the servants that labored to bridge it flinched at each droplet.
The guard laughed. “See how the sea complains!”
Indeed, as the current swirled alongside them, it dissolved the island’s ashen armor, and dirty sores now darkened its eddies.
The mount rounded upon a valley, and the shoreline spilled into shallows. Gas vents puffed among dust and boulders. And centering the two mounts, a highway ran from the dark heart of the island into the sea. Devices of wit strengthened it. Sharp were its lines, and its skin gave no reflection.
But the sea had not withheld its toll. The current that joined from either corner of the shore rushed onward toward the horizon, plying cold fingers into the rock. Here and there, the highway had fallen. And though it stumbled onward, at the far edge of the sea lay the same black edge to which Im had sailed. The same current descended. And where Im had hung in cascading thunder to view the heavenly shore, where the highway now meant to leap, where its crafty sinews had tensed into a final strength to spring, it ended, and only chaff marked the offering of rock it had given to that terrible abyss.
They ascended the highway’s many steps and proceeded away from the sea and toward the inland darkness, where other works awaited.
And the hle spoke. “See you the mastery with which Ghah endows us?”
And Im spoke. “Yes, I see.”
Ancient refuse piled along the sides of the highway, and among the many craters, dust and vapor mixed with the pus of the island. Fire tinted the cloud from mount to mount. And where the two mounts neared, furrowing into a single brow, a wall had been set.
A mighty hle regarded them from its gate. And after speaking with the guard, and after summoning Im to his heel, Huk led Im through the wall.
They proceeded in darkness toward the red end of the tunnel, and Huk spoke. “Yet bear you no message?”
Huk regarded him, and Im remained silent. And when they reached the tunnel’s end, Huk motioned to remain so.
There, enthroned between the two mounts and a third beyond, fashioned from the stone over which it now watched, stood the trunk of a grand pinnacle, a barb of obsidian and umber, whose tip lay somewhere beyond the cloudcover. Deep were its roots, and thick were its gates. And upon it the maelstrom clouds turned.
A hooked road led them onward. And perhaps for the rustling that spawned at their steps, or perhaps for the tower’s adamant gaze, neither Im nor Huk spoke. And indeed, as they progressed, only dust marked the many spirits that now watched their passing. And then they reached the doors of the tower, and they crossed its polished floors to climb a wide stair, and the clapcalls of their feet beat the empty time beside them.
And after they passed several landings, all of whose doors produced sounds of work, Huk spoke again. “Then tell me of Edah.”
“Let his first two messengers suffice.”
“But, truly, have you no companionship with the hle above?”
“Madness keeps them from me.”
“Then silent to us all is Edah?” And Huk thought for some moments. “Instead of mercy, he offers his back. And instead of fatherhood, his upright hand. How then might we pursue good? Should we not sue for Ghah’s mercy in Edah’s stead?”
“Madness weds you likewise.”
“But speak I not the very wisdom of your siblings? If Edah offers death, seek we not life where it may be found? Is such presumption?”
“Has Eth found life?”
Huk did not answer, and they remained silent for some time. But at the next landing, Huk led them from the stairs.
Starlight shone through the portal through which Huk now led, and on its other side, the sky glinted with golden watchfulness. They now walked upon a spanning bridge—a great branch that twisted outward, into the heavens, from the tower behind them. Workers yet labored upon it. And other branches grew from each of the tower’s many crooks, groping outward into the cosmic night. And mounting a crest, where their path opened before them, they stopped. No surf whispered there, and no ethene ship. Gold and green slept among the gentle humps of hills. A forest lounged in sunlight. And among them lay a city. White and silver were its walls; verdant and vermillion and azure and purple and gold colored its petaled roofs.
Huk spoke. “Not of our sea are these. What we began there, we now climb into the sea of all things. Here are the cosmos, traversed unto upon the fabric that joins them, even as our former works. The shores-that-will-be shall be, and we climb toward them now. Such has Ghah found.”
Birds marked the forest and the fields beside. Flags flittered among the walls and rooftops of the city.
And Im spoke. “I have not known life, Huk, since our darkening, and I remember little before. Remember you?”
Huk motioned no.
“And even for all our darkness, we cannot put out even Edah’s dimmest light.” And he looked now on Huk. “I suspect that if to death Edah delivers us, no manner of perception or annunciation or mastery can stop him. And I suspect that all of us shall know it.”
Huk breathed. “If that is true, what salvation have we?”
The tools of workers yet sounded around them. And Im turned, and he walked back toward the tower.
The two hle climbed onward until the stair unfolded into a final landing. The branches of the tower reached around it, hanging upon the evening sky and diverting the stars into the spaces between them. Stairs cascaded into courtyards that budded ever outward, and jeweled structures bloomed in sable among them. And as Huk led Im yet onward, hle eyes now watched.
And then at last they stood upon a grand pavilion, where flame scented the air, and a throne looked down upon them. Beside it stood the image of Ghah, and platforms waited on either hand. And behind them all, across a shadowed courtyard and through a hall of blazing pillars, lay the tower pinnacle.
Servants watched as Huk took Im to the low space before the two platforms.
And Im spoke. “Tell me of Mem and Dim.”
“As I have said, even death serves Ghah.”
“But of what temperament did they come? Did they suffer?”
Huk regard Im. “They were not of Ghah. And all suffer.” And he returned his attention toward the courtyard. “Mughah and Oga.”8“Mouth of Ghah” and “Hand of Ghah.”
And there, exiting the far darkness, two hle approached. One strode like a spike; power adorned his brow. And another followed—a meaty form. Each took his place upon a platform, and the servants’ breathing, and the tenor of the hle guards, and the business of the tower behind them all stilled.
Under the light of the courtyard and the shadow of the tower, Mughah wore a look of pleasure.
And as he made to speak, Im spoke. “No messenger am I.”
“Speak not in jest, brother of Mem and of Dim. Stand you in a court of judgment. Speak, and quicken your fate.”
“Speak I not in jest.”
Mughah paused. “Sailed you not upon the grey vessel?”
“I sailed upon it.”
“And are not you the brother of the siblings, who witnessed to your coming?”
“Mem and Dim are my brethren.”
“And have you no message as they? Let loose your judgment.”
“I have no message.”
Mughah frowned. “His signal fires on the hills of night, and his scamp within our court—does not the lout prepare war? Speak.”
And Im motioned no. “I have received but silence, and have I but silence to give.”
“Truly. And when comes the morning, if bear you no word, you will find silence, indeed.”
Huk’s remained still as guards fell upon Im. And as they removed Im from the courtyard, and as they passed gilded hle and the workers that embellished them—all the way to a high cell, Im remained silent.
The door shut, and the room darkened. A thin window showed the red plain below, and the swish and lap of the island’s inhabitants mixed with the groan of their labor.
And Im spoke. “Here am I in the courts of Eth, and I have never left. And if crumbs you spare for fools, would that you spare a word for me now.”
And on the night sounded.
Voices traced the corridor, and Im arose. And as they passed back into the tower’s black groaning, Im spoke. “Silence, what fellowship have we?
“You are the pathlessness of the sea. You are the span to the heavenly shore and the unassailable heights.
“Our fellowship is foolishness. And what supplants foolishness but wisdom? And who speaks wisdom but Edah?
“In presumption demanded I such riches. But delights Edah in darkness? Even the words of my brethren might have sparked in me a flame. But then those words were no salvation for Edah’s messengers, who are dead, or for Eth, who shall be. Delights he, perhaps, in my confounding.
“And what of Edah’s servant upon the upward path, who descended in glory to prod me? Shall all indeed be well? Did not madness find me soon after? And indeed, amid the many words of our former state, we fell. Confundity!
“And the third messenger? No messenger is he to whom Edah is silent! Oh, Silence, you confound me!”
And in time, Im again sat upon the floor, and he followed his thoughts back into the shapeless paths of the night.
A brown gloom bloomed as Huk summoned Im. And as the two hle returned to the throne and the image, whispers presided over them—many hle and their servants now observed Im’s entry. Eth’s servants watched also from their platforms. And as Huk deposited Im, silence mastered them all.
Mughah spoke. “Has the coward delivered his servant? Speak.”
“There is only confundity, and no faithless word of ours may cure it.”
“Faithless prove not our words but Edah’s own.” Mughah regarded Im. “Observe the seed—the great trap of Edah—upon which our sovereign father founded our liberation. Observe what devices Edah devised to ensnare our sovereign father. Only by mouth and by hand, by the great mastery of Ghah, have we found freedom.”
But Im motioned no. “Finds Eth freedom if death has mastered him? In a soil of many words it mastered him and through him mastered us all, and now demands Eth of he whose soil is silence.”
The crowd whispered, and after an expression that could pounce, Mughah spoke over them. “Lo! Not silence do you bear, but poison.”
The branches of the tower clawed upon the sky, but through their grasp, the stars yet shone. But under them all loomed the tower pinnacle and the thought it aimed now at Im.
Im glanced at the empty throne. “If desires Eth a word of Edah, let him join in my own supplication, that together we might rouse him! Or perhaps Edah’s silence remains a stone, and only clatter we upon it.”
“Let clatter the weak. Silence is but the fool’s faithlessness. Maintains he his skybound threats, but shall we not faint. He has proved faithless, and with the words of his messengers, fails his repentance still.”
Im motioned no. “I have spoken to our unfallen brethren, and threatening as was their word, offered they only comfort.” He lingered a moment. “It was presumption that steered me hence. An eager seed sprouted within me that perhaps Edah is not who Edah is. And disbelief bore its fruit, and sought I to lay my own hands upon life.” And at Mughah’s silence, Im continued. “Silence yet confounds me, but know I this—presumption and culability are ours, indeed. For as silence is the soil of our independence, it is soil for dependence as well. My brethren heard the voice for which I longed, but heard they not all things, for their desire was for me, and Edah denied it, or else might they have spoken. And thus their dependence upon Edah, and not on knowing, blossomed.”
“Know you them so well?”
“It was I that fought their errands. Not so different are you and I.”
Mughah regarded Im. “Then go, and die with your similitude. And may your confundity keep you.”
“I am ready.”
And as Huk led Im from the courtyard, whispers followed them out.
No light awoke with the morning. And as Huk escorted Im from his cell, only the mumble of machinery followed them through the empty lanes.
The courtyard yawned before them as Huk returned Im to his position. Mughah wore upon his lips a bitter delight, and Oga remained as the stone. And now another watched from atop the throne. The tower and its spinning tendrils twirled upon him. The empty court, and the tremble of the city, and the bite of the air, and the dead stillness of the image proceeded from him. And the putrefied glory of his once-radiant brow bent in shadow as the figure now considered Im.
Mughah spoke. “A final mercy has given our sovereign father. Has our enemy found the courage to address us, or clings he still to infidelity?”
A breeze moved, and Im regarded the stars.
“Perhaps the glory of Ghah distracts you?”
And as Im regarded them, and if he could have thought it, a granule of cosmic air might have ridden upon their beams. And Im breathed, and he motioned no. “But fear not. Withholds he also our demands, else in our ease, we might regard ourselves Edah, and he our servant.”
The form on the throne moved, and the Mughah moved with it. “Not thralls are we. Perceive we the wide worlds and reach within them. Surpassing in mastery are we in the field of Edah’s neglect. He abandons the cursed sea, and we create land. He leaves the pathless waste, and we create paths. He lays out the flat expanse, and we create mountains. Of all our desires, we lack none.”
“Desire we death?”
Mughah motioned toward their feet. “Feel you the foundation that Ghah has planted within the sea?” He motioned toward the sky. “See you this very tower, higher than the highest peak, traversing again upon the cosmos? Lack we what life?”
“Ever depend we upon the teats of others. Lack we life independent, as lack all the living, who but depend upon Edah. For our part, we, the dead, know only death. Or keep we servants for love?”
“Then what of silence, fool Im? For in Edah’s great infidelity hear we naught else. A gift say you. A barren gift, and a faithless one, composed in the ash of his paternal ineptitude. Or has silence exhumed for you deliverance?”
Im again motioned no. “Silence is the soil, and in it are many seeds, but death knows not them all. Have we not already spoken these things? We may yet remain in our independence, but some, as perhaps my brethren, upon the salt of his rain and the power of his light and the work of his imperceivable breath, sprout into light and life. All perception, all might, all deeds lie dead in the dirt, and so deserve we the famine of our faithlessness. And so perhaps I am Edah’s message, and silence is his messenger. So hear Edah’s silence, Mouth. And let me to my death.”
And as a sigh and a shudder sifted through the stones, the form upon the throne stood. He turned, and he walked the courtyard toward his pinnacle. And the stones loosed, and the air moved, and the light arose behind him. And in the silence that followed, Huk found Im’s arm and led him from the court.
No eye but Huk’s watched Im as they departed the tower. Huk led them, over many long steps, to the city gate. And there Huk released Im to a troop of lower guards, black-clad as the volcanic spew upon which they walked.
They led through the long tunnel and the gate. They led across the bridge of the chasm and the slow ascent beyond. They led across the melted hills. And when the land knelt down to the sea’s edge, where the crash and the spray crossed over its black ridge and on up into the sky, where the cloudcover ended and daylight spilt upon the waves, they turned and left.
Im called after them. “But what of death?”
But they walked on until they disappeared among the landscape.
The pores of the island’s charred skin rubbed Im’s feet, and the sea moved, restless in its weight. Wind teased its surface, and its blue and white mixed in the black bowls of the shore.
Im breathed. “Surely you delight in my ignorance.”
And as Im’s eyes rested upon the shores-that-will-be, a grey bulk grew upon the horizon, reaching out its thundering hand toward Eth’s island.
“Then if the sea remains my judgment, to the sea shall I yield.” And Im found a slope to the water’s edge, and as the sea threw its spray upon him, he waded in.
Cold fingers found him just past the shoals, and at their embrace, Im stilled. And as the curse nestled him upon its hand, and as it poised him above its silent mouth, he waited.
But a voice shook him. “Why think you Edah hounds the darkness so?”
Warmth and light washed into the waters as Im turned toward the voice.
The Eledah had sailed into view. And upon it, among its shimmering crew, and along with another hle and several of the island’s lower peoples, stood Huk.
Huk again called out. “Swim you into salvation?”
Im motioned no. “I swim in ignorance.”
“Then Edah must delight in your ignorance.”
Im regarded the Eledah, and he regarded Huk. “Bring you my death?”
“I bring a vessel, if you would accept new company. For we have asked of Edah a captain, and lo! We find one among the surf.” And at Im’s frown, Huk continued. “Your message has spoken to some. Thus our master’s red fires fill up the land, and his ships fill up their sails behind us.”
And though the hull cut off Im’s view of the land, indeed the sails of many ships dotted the waters toward the harbor.
And Im laid upon the sea, and it bore him, and the sky opened above him, and the shadow of the island and the tremor of the widening storm threatened on one side and another.
The Eledah had come near, and Huk now looked down upon Im. “Will you repent of those accursed waters and come aboard?”
And Im righted himself, swam to the ship, and climbed to the deck.
The surly hle waited at Huk’s shoulder. And near to the helm, with her hand upon a rail and with the daylight on her face, stood the girl whom Im had accompanied at the still pool, along with several others of the lower peoples. The Eledah’s own crew wore quiet expressions. And the sea breathed its beating breath upon them, and it breathed with the ship beneath them.
The sails of their pursuers had neared. And the coming storm sent upon them foreign scents. Evening also approached, and the first lights of Edah’s host appeared.
Huk spoke. “We had feared not finding you, but perhaps Edah is not so silent.” He smiled now. “What course, then, would Edah have us take?”
The surly hle yet watched over the stern. “And with haste.”
But Im motioned no. “Know I not Edah, and bereft am I still.”
Huk regarded him. “Still has he not spoken to you?”
And Im motioned no.
“But ripe is the time. Let us petition him.”
“Then petition him. But have you not heard? Speaks Edah as he wills.”
“Then make we not for the outer chasm, or for some place of high refuge? Like you and your brethren, surely Edah calls us from darkness.”
“Am I called from darkness? Know I not.” Im watched as red specks now dotted the shoreside hills. “But such temptations seed not well within me.” And turning from them, he headed to the helm and set his gaze into the twilight over the silent sea and toward the far shore and the storm that it promised.
Huk followed. “Then to light! And let us find some reprieve, or else aid against our enemy. Or else to darkness, where might we find Edah at work.”
Im motioned across the sea. “See you the shore from which the clouds build?”
Huk motioned yes.
“Know I not what draws me there—perhaps some imp of Eth’s. I know not. But it draws me.”
Huk only watched him. The sea played upon the sides of the ship, and the wind withheld itself.
“But indeed and indeed, all manner of thing shall be well.” Im breathed the sea air. “Such have I heard.” And he turned his eye again on Huk. “Why think you that Edah hounds the darkness so?”
“I think, perhaps, that he delights in its lighting.”
And Huk yet watched, and the others with him. The lower crew that mixed with those of the Eledah and the two hle that had abandoned Eth all now waited upon Im.
And Im set his eyes upon the dimness of the paths and to the shores toward which they reached. “Yes. And perhaps that is enough.”
- 1The narrator refers to Eth, the ostensible father of the hle, whom Edah cast into the seeds for his presumption, along with those that followed him.
- 2Eth took for himself the name Ghah, or “father.”
- 3As a result of Eth’s rebellion, Edah cursed the so-called sea that is between all things and also its paths, upon which the transverse hle dependend.
- 4The narrator refers to Uthe, another of the primary hle, who was not numbered with Eth and his followers.
- 5The translator has attempted to balance the text’s emphasis-oriented word-order with clarity.
- 6“Word of Edah.”
- 7Common among the texts are oddities of hle faculty, and such seems to be the case here.
- 8“Mouth of Ghah” and “Hand of Ghah.”