an extract from the novel
The corpse was still there in the morning. It surprised
Darbo, he had entertained the notion that perhaps it would have disappeared,
like Gods and spirits had once been supposed to do.
He rose from his pallet and walked towards it. He was still wearing
the same clothes he had last night. The blood on them had stiffened
over the hours, but he paid it no mind, it meant nothing to him, after
He knelt beside the corpse and looked at it more closely. The early
morning light streamed through the narrow windows of his spire apartment,
casting the creature's--the God's?--face in brilliant relief.
It was female, this he could tell by the swellings of the breasts
beneath her shirt, though to all other intents and purposes she was
sexless. He had expected them to be male, the records had said they
were, but then he supposed they could be wrong, so many other things
were. Her face was long, the skull shaped differently to his, stretched
at the top, like a crest, giving her a high, intelligent forehead covered
in silver-white skin. The eyes, fixed in death, were completely black,
no iris, no pupil, just black. Her hair curled down to her waist, in
colour as pale as her skin. Her limbs were long, too long, and slender,
yet he could tell they had once possessed considerable strength. He
turned her over, cataloguing the caved-in section of skull, the seeping
brains, the rusty blood, noticing that it was all the same as human
matter, despite her unfamiliar appearance. In this, at least, the records
He let her head fall back to the ground. It made a soft and muffled
thump. A brief thought as to what he would do with her crossed his mind
but he disregarded it as unimportant. Soon there would be no one left
to discover the body.
Darbo returned to his console and opened the main screen at the page
he had been studying last night. There were three rock spire cities
on the mountain, or so he had discovered. He doubted that anyone else
knew. Most of the records he had found over the last month were so old
that they had not been opened in many millennia. If he had been able
he would have been curious as to why he had found them, and why now?
But he was not able, neither he nor anyone else on this mountain. They
were all caught in an emotionless state of life--if it could so be called--needing
neither food, laughter nor love, merely waking each morning and plugging
into their consoles, pursuing endless useless knowledge, occasionally
coming across the electronic tracks of another human soul, usually ignoring
it. They had eradicated all need for anything else many centuries ago
when they had finally discovered the secret of immortality.
The rock spires in which they lived provided a direct link to the
living heart of the mountain via ancient machinery that wound in silver
vines through hidden compartment walls. These vines, they had eventually
learned, could be connected to the human body and used to sustain and
continue life indefinitely.
No one knew when emotion had died, maybe it was part of natural evolution,
maybe it was forced upon them when they defeated death. Whatever, research
had been funded and soon the vines were found to store the mountain's
energy and so were cut from the rock and implanted in each human so
that they were no longer forced to spend hours each day hooked up to
the vine-walls of their homes. Yet the stage had been set, each person
was completely independent, had no need of human interaction, no need
of outside aid, no need of anything anymore.
Darbo had never seen a fellow human being in all his six hundred and
thirty years of life. He had been one of the last children to be born,
a final explosion of blood before even this lone revulsion died out
and came to be replaced with encelled humans locked within the spires
whose outsides they had never seen. Clean, uncaring automatons.
The screen flickered before him, displaying the images that had awoken
him to the past.
Tall pale creatures, small, dark, creeping devils, flames and water,
shattered rock and bodies, the catastrophic downfall of those who had
created the human race and cast it out into something the records called
hell. A race with no purpose, no reason to exist.
Darbo knew it all had to go.
"All their fault." He tried the words for size, but could detect no
bitterness in them, no hatred, only a hollow emptiness that had once,
perhaps, held something.
He looked at the dead Goddess, thinking that maybe this would inspire
some emotion, but it did not, merely made him consider the possibility
of finding more of them and seeing if they all died so easily.
And along with this he considered whether their creations could also
Sahla awoke to find that the fires had burned low, the shadows
had grown and her hut was empty save for one. Kai-ya's gentle face stared
down at her in place of those of the unfortunate Dark Ones who had watched
over her sleep. It was a face she knew well. Kai-ya and his wife had
taken her under their wing when she had been born, recognising the power
within her even as her mother had been caught between agony and gratitude
at the handing over of her shaman-child. It was always hard on the clan-family
of a blessed one; more so now, for people feared these unusual children
as much as they had once honoured them. The powers they held, including
the guiding of the dead to the spirit world, were--or had been--vital
for clan life but set them apart from all others forever. Sahla had
been doubly cursed, or doubly blessed, in that she had been born long-limbed
and almond-eyed, two things that made her physically repulsive to the
squat Dark Ones with their huge, protuberant eyes all the better for
seeing in the dark they roamed. Sahla had spent her entire nineteen
years outcast from the society she served, tormented by fearful peers
throughout her childhood and treated with a strange mixture of horror
and awe when she grew and took on her full role. She often wondered
what scared her people the most, the fact that she had powers they could
never know, or the fact that she looked so similar and yet so profoundly
different to them.
Kai-ya and Dil-ya were the only ones who had not feared her. They
had seen the bodies of her ancestor-shamans and they alone still possessed
one of the old powers, the dark-moulding that she so excelled at. They
had taken her tutelage upon themselves, treated her as their equal,
perhaps making up for the loss of their own child. Sahla knew that Hi-ya
approved of her relationship with his parents, she talked to his spirit
on some rare and precious nights in her dreams, but she had never mentioned
this to them--some wounds should not be reopened.
Now she had a wound of her own.
"Kai." She struggled for a smile and reached out a hand to him. She
had not seen him for many months before this day.
He grasped her hand and pulled her up into a quick embrace, crushing
her fiercely against his chest as though he could reclaim his lost wife
in so doing. Sahla wondered if he would die, too. She hoped not. She
had heard whispered tales from other Dark Ones that Pale Ones bonded
for life and when their mate died the one that was left behind would
soon follow. It was a difficult concept to understand for the Dark Ones
who saw love as a wonderful gift that should be shared with many.
He released her suddenly, as though regretting such a display of emotion,
and held her out at arm's length, looking at her with his intensely
dark eyes. She felt a small shudder run through her.
"Your dreams were peaceful last night, Sahla?" he asked her.
"More so than usual. The ancestors are good friends, but very demanding
"I know, Sahla. But be glad of them. You will need many friends in
He turned away, but Sahla felt his tears, even if she could not see
them. One did not spend nineteen years with someone and not learn to
read their emotions.
"Kai." She reached out to touch him, to send a curl of gleaming darkness
into his heart to ease the pain. He drew away. The movement was so minute
only she would have noticed it, only she who wondered why the people
who had once loved her now seemed so distant. Both Kai-ya and Dil-ya
had drifted away from her in the last few years. Dil-ya she could understand
in a way, she spent so much time in the land of the Others trying to
save their dreamland for those children still to come but Kai-ya...
well, Sahla had no idea why Kai-ya did not wish her company any more.
"We all miss her." She struggled against her tears, tears that could
have been for herself or for Dil-ya, she wasn't sure. "We all loved
her." She hung her head. "Oh damn it, it was so late, when I saw how
it happened it was already over. I just wish I could have told you sooner,
we could have done something to save her, I don't know... maybe..."
Kai-ya turned, too quickly, brushed away her concern with a short,
sharp laugh. "There was nothing you or I could have done. You told me
all you could, but it wasn't enough. The true-seeing dreams are often
unreliable; there are so many possibilities. It was, perhaps, meant
to be. So many painful things are."
He turned away again, stared into the shifting shadows, unable to
face her. Sahla frowned. Something told her that this moment was incredibly
important. As if to echo her thoughts, the wind howled outside and a
log shifted in the central fire, sending glowing sparks dancing across
her lap. "What do you have to say to me, Kai?"
He looked back at her, smooth silver face gleaming in the flames.
"Your dreams have been changing of late, haven't they, Sahla? Becoming
more chaotic, hard to understand? Not just those about Dil-ya, but others,
This was not what she had expected, but she recognised that he was
leading to something and so played along. "Yes, I see many images of
the other world. The rock spires lying shattered, the humans dead alongside
them, yet they can't be true-seeing, because all know the humans are
immortal, they cannot die."
"Yes, that's what I thought. But Sahla, I have true-seeing dreams
of my own."
She almost gasped, stopped just in time.
"Oh, not like the others, not of love and anger, not the turning of
remembered cycles, mine are like yours, they reveal secrets, prophesise.
I can't tell you where they come from, not the ancestors, I think, but
I know they mean something."
"What do they tell you, Kai?"
Even as he spoke the words, she knew they were true. Knew them even
as she hated them.
"You must go to the world of humans, Sahla. You must go fully and
you may never return."
Darbo looked around at the semi-circular apartment-cell
in which he had spent so many centuries. It was spacious, providing
more than enough room for one person. His console and selection of screens
took up the entire left-hand wall. For the first time ever they were
all turned off, and a hundred blank grey stares greeted his. On the
right was his sleeping pallet--sleep was one thing humans had never
managed to do without for some reason--folded up against the wall now,
and his wardrobe, set flush to the wall, along with a row of cupboards
for any personal possessions he may once have had.
The Goddess' body lay stiff and pungent at the centre of a brilliant
white sweep of tiles.
Her form was etched in the red ochre she had carried upon her person.
He had drawn her oh so carefully.
It was something he had discovered in the records.
He left her and walked to the door. It seemed surprised when he tried
to open it, groaned and shrieked in its fittings, and he had to force
it in the end. Darbo had always been strong.
He did not take anything with him. He did not look back. The word
home meant nothing to him.
Out in the space beyond, the first thing he did was stare for at least
The inside of the rock spire reared above his head for nearly a mile,
sheered away below his feet, stretched before him like a gaping mouth.
There was no end to it. Red rock spun endlessly about him, inset with
tiny white doors like a beehive, the workers diligent no more, locked
away in eternal hibernation. In the centre of this stood a massive scaffold
of metal pipes, interlocking, winding their way up and down the centre
of this one of many spires in a city of over a thousand, in a world
of three such cities.
And around these climbed the silver life-vines.
Darbo considered the possibility that these vines were a recent addition.
No one had been out here in his lifetime and the vines were supposed
to exist only in the compartments between the outside and inner walls
of the spires. He stepped forwards, his feet clanging hollowly on the
metal-gauze platform suspended outside his cell.
On closer inspection the vines did not look healthy. He was unsure
whether they were the simple machinery all knew of or organically alive,
like humans. Whatever they were, they were falling to pieces. Grey scales
covered their outer sheaths and thin spines emerged from their unknown
depths, waving at him as though a gentle breeze were blowing through
the still air.
Darbo pondered the possibility that the shard of vine inside his body
looked like this also, but quickly decided that this could not be so
because he was still strong, still intelligent, still immortal.
He let his hand drop from its inspection of the vine. A few shreds
of tattered grey material fell away and drifted slowly down into the
spire's depths. Maybe it was one of those portents. He had discovered
this from those old records, too.
He had discovered a lot.
He turned his gaze to the many cells around him.
About his own race.
He walked along the platform, stopped at the door next to his, raised
a hand, rapped on the metal, grazing his knuckle, the small wound healed
before the blood had chance to pool.
No one answered. Not a single sound came from within. He moved on
to the next one and the next. All the same. He did not tire, he moved
around the entire circle of his level, a task that took him all afternoon.
By the end his ears echoed with silence.
Back at his own door he stopped, pushed aside its shattered remains,
walked back inside, stood over the Goddess.
"Your people have forgotten you," he said to her. He nudged her lifeless
body with his toe. A dead deity still did not compute in his brain.
"But can you blame them? Indeed," he looked out of the nearby window.
It let in only light; no view of the outside world had ever been his.
"Who is to blame?" Her black eyes glazed emptily up at him. She did
not answer, but then, he had not expected her to. None of them would.
Because he knew all about them now.
He bent down and pressed his warm lips to her cold mouth.
"Don't worry," he murmured into her throat. "I will finish what you
He slid off her body and climbed to his feet.
The pallet was the first thing he ripped from the wall. It flew through
the air with a soundless whine, smashed into half a dozen screens, sent
shattered glass whirling everywhere, slashing his skin, skittering across
the floor, slicing deep into the Goddess' bloodless corpse.
A chair followed this, took out the console and the main screen, electrical
circuits flashing and spitting like a million burst arteries, smoke
spiralling blue and choking into the air.
Darbo punched every remaining screen in turn, driving his fist deep
into the hollow tube behind the delicate glass, tearing his flesh to
ribbons, ribbons that retied in pretty flesh-coloured bows at each and
His heart continued a normal rhythm, watching emotionlessly while
its blank-faced owner kicked in the wardrobe door and ripped the clothes
inside to shreds, tossing them over his shoulder to lie with the glass.
Cupboards groaned and fell, cracking on the shelves below, ripped free
and hurled against walls, gouging great holes wherever they touched.
The pallet leaped into his hands once more and he used it to smash
the tiled floor, grinding the metal edge down, twisting it from side
to side, sending cracks snaking in every direction.
When the last tile broke Darbo put the pallet down and walked from
The metal-gauze platform trembled beneath his footsteps as he closed
purposefully on the metal pipes at the spire's centre. He caught a handhold
and leaped into the web, began swinging down from pipe to pipe with
consummate ease, watched each circle of cells appear and disappear,
never-changing, constantly rising from beneath him, making him feel
as though he travelled nowhere, merely danced the fly's dance of futility.
At one point on his journey downwards he came upon a snarl of vines
a little different to the others. These vines glistened an ugly bilious
yellow, clutched at the pipes in a strangle embrace, quivered violently
at his approach.
Darbo looked at them for a long time before deciding what they were
and when he did he tore a piece of cloth from his shirt, wrapped his
hand in it and tugged them free. They did not break, but simply reeled
out length after length of diseased stalk. He was aware of their poison
burning his skin despite his protection because his body was working
harder at rejuvenation. With this in mind he quickly continued his journey
to the bottom of the spire, vines spreading and growing behind him.
The pipes terminated at the foot of the spire in dry, grainy yellow
earth, a vast field of sand in which he sank up to his knees upon letting
go of his ladder. He spotted the doorway to what he supposed to be the
outside world far away on the other side of the circle. It was sculpted
of rock, not metal, as rust red as the ochre that had carried away the
Goddess. It was the only door on this, the lowest level, as though no
human wanted this final linkage to the earth.
Darbo walked over to it, forging a path through the sand, not noticing
when it swelled to his waist and threatened to drag him down, still
not letting go of the burning vines, intent solely on his goal.
On reaching it he saw that it stood some twenty feet high, seeming
to have been made for giants rather than humans. He reached out his
free hand and pushed it. It opened smoothly and easily. He did not open
it all the way though, but first bent down and plunged the vines deep
into the sand, searching for the solid earth below. Then he rose to
his full height and walked outside.
His first view of the city was by moonlight. All about him hundreds
of spires converged towards the starry sky, silhouetted in shimmering
midnight blue, their blood-hue hidden in the darkness.
He turned in a circle, such a small thing by comparison, dwarfed by
these jagged towers, this field of motionless life. They spread in every
direction, many of them curved in beautifully slenderous designs, some
seeming as though they could only fall over, others narrowing infinitely
towards their middle only to swell out again at the top. Wind danced
around them, tugged icily at his body, wailed and moaned between the
ranks, scoured out small holes that would one day grow perhaps to topple
a giant. The ground sloped up before him, leading deeper into the city,
winding between behemoths. His gaze turned down to another path, almost
invisible now, that led to the edge of the city, the last of the spires,
and it was this he ran along as the ground began to shake beneath his
feet and the great spires groaned in concern.
Darbo ran for miles, stopped just when the diseased vines completed
their circuit with the earth, turned and looked.
A small spark flared in one of the spires, bloomed into a brilliant
flower of orange and gold, engulfed that which had created it, shattered
it into a million glowing-hot pieces, spread to the next in line.
And now the blood-hue returned and Darbo watched it all, so far away
that only the fire reached him, watched the humans die in silence, just
as they'd lived.
© Lauren Halkon 2002.
Night Seekers is published
Books (September 2002).
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