|Twilight of the Gods:
sunlight illuminated the passage, well enough that
Gwi could see the door at the far end. Nonetheless, she held an
oil lamp before her, continuing down the passageway that lay between
Necron's laboratory and the alley behind it. She pulled closer
the small bundle in the crook of her left arm, smelling the blood
on the blanket as she did so. Her thudding heart sounded at times
like pounding footsteps behind her. She was certain, judging by
Necron's lax attention this day, however, that she had deceived
him--again. The third time that day!
ached at the losses, yet she cried for joy that
not all was lost. Three lived, and this one, which moved ever
so slightly within the bloody blanket--this one was a witch. She
was sure of it.
heading northwest, the passage ahead was glowing golden,
as if sunlight had turned to mist. Her heart lifted with relief
as she came to the door, pulled it open awkwardly, grasping the
iron handle with the tips of her right hand, and stepped outside,
into the alley. To the right, the alley ran back toward the east,
ending at a far high wall. She glanced quickly in that direction,
prepared to withdraw back into the building if people were about.
Nothing but barrels and dank garbage lined the brick walkway.
Then she caught sight of a red flag, draped over the wall, visible
only to those who might be in the alley and looking up. There
the sunlight shone brightly. The red flag was a sign to continue.
She looked out
from the alley into the street. Buildings across
the street cast long shadows; but no one moved within them; nor
did Ch'turc wagons disturb the quiet with their noisy engines.
Then came the
snaps of the fingers. It was only one of the hundreds
of signals the Na-tés used on the streets as they dealt
with each other and their many clients. One could get lost in
the hand gestures the Na-tés made in their quick, wordless
communication with one another. Mongrels practiced a few hand
signals, but only enough to ask the price of a thing a Na-té
might be selling on the street--something stolen or illegal--for
despite their quick wit, Na-tés owned nothing themselves,
held few jobs, and the great majority lived on the streets or
certain the signal had come. Two short snaps of
the fingers meant, "I come." Still Gwi jumped slightly
when a Na-té slid up next to her on the sunny side of the
street. "Na mar!" the Na-té said in the street
guttural. "Sun goes down. Beasts be out."
It was said a
Na-té could slit a person's throat in
the middle of a public square with a hundred eyes watching and
none would see. The victim would be standing one moment, the next
doing the red dance and crumpling to the cobblestone. Ordinary
people of Ch'turc traded legends about the Na-tés, the
lowest class, many believing they carried the seed of the evil
one, also called Na-té. This evil Na-té was thought
to be a god by some and, therefore, the enemy of the Ch'turc god
Rael. People, therefore, attributed some earth powers to the street
Na-tés, like their ability to come up out of nowhere. Gwi
had not grown used to their ability to do that.
in and out to calm herself, and to return to the
business of the child in the bloody blanket. The Na-té
was right. Darkness seemed to creep across the street, forming
out of the shadows, as the last brilliant burst of sunlight slid
off the roofs across the street. With the coming of the dusky
shadow, came a blast of cold and the stench of the blood on the
blanket. Off somewhere on another street, the first of the drums
sounded that would be beating in the city that night. Gwi had
not grown used to the noise of the drums, either, during her time
She handed the
baby to the Na-té. The Na-té was
either a young woman or a boy nearly bursting into manhood, but
she could not see clearly, except the fingers wrapping upward,
enclosing the small bundle. "'Tis a witch, this one,"
Gwi whispered. "Lok on ye, sin na mar. It is the last child
for the day."
nodded. Gwi was certain now it was a boy, as part of
his face peeked out from under the hood, looking at the baby in
his arms, his mouth showing the crinkle of a smile.
Gwi nodded, as
well, and began to move toward the doorway she
had come from. "Back next sun," she said, stepping away--
Na-té grabbed her sleeve, shaking his head.
"Ye com, now w'me. Peoples meet. Peoples want meet you."
Gwi was still
holding the lamp she had brought from Necron's
laboratory. She didn't want to leave it inside the door to the
passageway. If Necron should come looking for her, he would find
the lamp and know it was an act of stealth to leave the laboratory
from the alley. And he would surely wonder why she had not left
the dead baby in the box inside the alley, where someone would
come along and take it for a burial.
Her mind made
up. Gwi nodded firmly to the boy. "I shall
go with you. But you carry the lamp, and I shall keep the baby."
Na-té nodded, taking the lamp and returning the
baby. Then immediately, the Na-té turned with the lamp
and walked briskly away, motioning with a hand next to his thigh.
"Com w'me." The lamp shone more brightly with the coming
of night. In L'ikk, with its high city walls, protected by high
mountains to the west, sunset was short, and night was upon them
before they had rounded the first corner.
the boy down the street, staying close to the
walls of the buildings as he did and dropping into shadowed depths
at every opportunity.
made little sound as Gwi followed the boy through
empty streets, then into busy areas, where the beating of drums
could be heard, where people gathered to drink Rhinevim, mead,
and to eat pastries on a stick.
traveled through the city, staying on back streets,
but as the night deepened, hour by hour, they came into areas
of the city Gwi had never been in, where buildings sagged in disrepair,
and garbage was piled high.
In her three
seasons in Ch'turc in the city of L'ikk, she had
seen much poverty. Working as a novitiate in the Temple for the
high priest Nostra, by day, she was protected from the poverty
by the thick stone walls of the temple grounds; but living in
the Mongrel quarters of the city after her duties were done at
the temple, she witnessed the poverty and felt the despair of
those less fortunate than she.
The lamp the
boy held aloft cast a pool of dirty yellow light
around them where he led; only a few etheric lamps burned in the
dark buildings,. The buildings here were badly damaged, and the
rubble of destroyed buildings littered the streets, causing their
passage to be difficult. Gwi had no idea what had destroyed the
buildings, but one often heard warlike battles going on within
the city gates. Yet the boy danced through the rubble of stone,
broken Rhinevim bottles, and lumps of things Gwi could not begin
darkest part of the city they went, until they came
to an area surprisingly free of rubble and garbage, yet what must
be in the heart of the Na-té part of the city. Some of
the houses here even had the etheric light, which Gwi knew was
created by the machines in the city of smokestacks on a hill to
the east outside L'ikk's city walls. It had seemed so long ago
that she had encountered her first etheric globe in the house
of Mega Drud, even longer ago that the nasty little Ch'turc Kaldag
and his companion Korn had bragged about such lights.
however, the city seemed darker and more dismal than
any Omoham city because of these globes of etheric light burning
in the buildings, and on the better streets of the city. But where
they were absent, the streets seemed much darker and more dangerous
than any pitch black street in the city of Cinátis from
whence she had come. As she had observed on her first night in
the country of Ch'turc in the dead of winter, such etheric light
so highly thought of by the Ch'turc was still a dirty light.
Now that Gwi
had been in Ch'turc for many long fortnights,
she had learned how different its people were from the Omoham'EYE;
how organized and controlled life was in this evil land. When
Gwi had first been brought to Ch'turc with new and frightened
eyes, the country had seemed wildly chaotic, with no sense of
order at all, unless one accepted the rule of the army as a kind
of order. But later, when she had become a novitiate under Priest
Nostra, she had begun to understand the depth of order practiced
in Ch'turc. Every segment of society had its place and, just like
their cities, walls prevented people from one segment of society
entering another--unless it was downward--and by ill luck, accident,
or illness one became a Na-té.
Such was what
Gwi had observed in her time within the city
among the Na-té there existed a strict
order and rules they seemed to follow, even though they were the
poorest, most dismal and diseased segment of the Ch'turc society.
Yet, in all that Gwi had seen and learned, she looked upon the
Na-tés as the true hope of the country, for by being outcasts,
with little chance to climb even into the Mongrel class, the
(those born to the cast) willingly followed their own Way. Gwi
was drawn to them, therefore, because they were more like the
Omoham'EYE. They would be the first class willing to throw off
the yoke of the priests and their god Rael, most willing to fight
the army of Ch'turc that roamed the land carrying out the dictates
of the ruler priests. The order by which the Na-té lived,
their tradition of theft and dealings in things illegal, was done
by necessity. When they bore children, their offspring did not
pass through the temples or the scrutiny of such judges as Necron
who on a whim, most times, decided to execute a newborn if he
even imagined it was a gifted. A favorite expression of his, said
out of the corner of his mouth as he tested a newborn for the
seed of Na-té, " 'tis better to err by killing an
innocent child than to suffer a single earth gifted to live."
she could not dwell on the deaths she had seen
of newborns; she could not overlong mourn those she could not
save. The child she carried against her, wrapped within the
blanket--this witch child--would be watched over by the Na-tés,
raised as one, taught as one; but on the streets, in years to
come, Gwi could only imagine what it might be able to do.
Na-té at last allowed her to catch up with him.
He lowered the lamp. They stood before a door in a building lit
by etheric light from a globe above the door.
Go in. Ay'll com back."
She went from
dirty light into sudden
darkness when she stepped over the threshold, into the house.
The baby moved within the blanket, and the barest flicker of light
shown from its little green eyes. Gwi shivered, witnessing this
felding, having no idea what power it might be evidence of.
But the hour
was growing late, and she must be home when an
accounting was done of the novitiates. Gwi was the one who must
do the accounting. A late or erroneous report would be grounds
for disciplinary measures. She kissed the baby on the forehead
and moved through the darkness, catching site of a frame of light
leaking around a door ahead of her. As she drew near, came the
sound of laughter.
surprised at the laughter, thinking she had been asked
to a serious meeting. And when she opened the door, blinking at
the glare of light which hid people in yellow shadow, she was
startled when two Na-té women were immediately at her side,
pulling at the blanket.
overcame her surprise, and was laughing herself
as the two women peeled back the blanket from the baby's face.
They smiled showing gums and few teeth, and the baby, apparently
ready for the meeting, grinned back with alert eyes and pink gums
as bare of teeth as the old women.
No one took
the baby, but all in the room came up for a view,
as Gwi was eventually led to a chair padded with blankets made
from washed out scraps of material. Though the blankets were shades
of gray and black and white, with some mixture of faded yellow
and green, still, she knew it was the best chair in the room.
She nodded around at the others who had returned to their places.
At first, Gwi
made little eye contact, as she scanned the faces
and smiled, trying at the same time to identify the classes of
people who had come together this night.
Gwi did not
doubt that the two nearly toothless old women were
Na-tés. And as she looked around the room, her eyes adjusting
to the light, she quickly decided that most of them were Na-tés.
Most were women, too, though there were male children of the long
years in the room, those graced by Rael to reach perhaps sixteen.
An elderly man across the room caught Gwi's eye. Although he appeared
to be laughing along with the rest near him, he was also looking
around the room as was Gwi. She had deliberately avoided eye contact
with him, however, to discover if she could that which arrested
He had many
teeth--more than most Na-tés Gwi had seen--but
his look was not that of the priesthood. For he was thin and gaunt,
though his eyes were bright and reflected the glare of the yellow
etheric light. Yet shadows played about his face as well, and
Gwi gasped, remembering one time, now more than a year ago, meeting
a Té. But he had been much younger, more like the children
of the long years. Still, she could not shake the thought that
the elderly man in the room was a Té, a being who, if found
out, would be instantly killed. Only, this one wore clothing,
and Gwi dismissed her thought the old man could be a Té,
for they could not wear clothing without suffocating, it was said.
the simple fact that would dismiss the old man
as nothing more than the rest here, either a Na-té with
rather remarkable health, or perhaps someone from the Mongrel
class. But not a member of the working citizens, the Contributors.
And certainly not a Té.
It was then
that the old man caught Gwi's eye, and locked his
with hers. Even though she was not an earth gifted, she saw tenebrous
green light glint from his eyes, just as she had seen from the
baby in the darkness of the hall. She could not look away as the
green light continued to emanate from his eyes in waves, until
she distinctly heard: "Awaken, my child, to the tiny spark
looked down at the baby, into its eyes, and was not surprised to
see the green light there.
later, a rather well dressed woman, whom Gwi had not
noticed before clapped her hands, then stood to speak.
The noise in
the room subsided quickly, though laughter came
just before the woman spoke.