The Revolutions of Time, Chapter 04
Onan, Lord of the Past
Not wishing to delve too far into my past or relate what would be mundane and disconnected with my story, I will summarize with brevity what my situation was. I was a military man, an Air force pilot to be exact, and was on active duty patrolling the no-fly zones off the coast of China, it being, at that time, an area of very high tensions. The situation was grim, as any small incident promised to set the pendulums of war into motion, but the worst had subsided, and things were beginning to look as if that incendiary incident wouldn't come after all. The main part of my story begins on a cloudy night of what was to me just a few weeks back, though it seems like many ages ago now, and indeed, it was.
I was flying over an area that was littered with small volcanic islands, the type that rise above or fall below sea level continually, so that what one year is above water is later below. Some of them have even been known to only rise above the waves for a short time, and then vanish from the sea completely, worn down by wind and waves. The night was murky, and the air was thick with water and dust, the result being that there was no natural light whatsoever, and any artificial light that could be mustered was largely reduced to nothing, visibility being no more than twenty feet.
The wind was calm and the flying, though strenuous from lack of sight, was without turbulence. I was doing well, until out of nowhere I heard a loud crack of thunder, followed by a bolt of lightning that hit the plane. At once I lost all of the instruments, excepting the actual control of the plane in manual, meaning that the radar and all the guidance systems were crippled, and I could see nothing. Not knowing what to do, and not being able to radio for help, I pulled down and slowed until I was just barely remaining airborne, and began looking for an island to land on.
Once below 200 feet, the clouds gave way and I saw an island. I aimed for it and slowed more, preparing to land on it. I did, though just barely, for it was extremely small, being one of those inconsistent volcanic islands. Getting out of the plane, I was greeted by a strong blast of wind that was dripping water from its cold grip, and I was instantly chilled to the bone. There was nothing on the island at all, except for the hole in its center, from which, no doubt, came the lava that had formed it. It was on a slightly elevated hill, and looked as if it had not erupted for many thousands of years. With nothing to do at that moment except to get an idea of the island that I had landed on, I walked over to it and knelt down beside it, peering blankly into its depths. It seemed to be absolutely devoid of light, and, as often happens, its darkness was mysterious to me, for I wondered what lay hidden in it, and my curiosity got the better of my common sense. I leaned slowly forward. Then, as I did so, I heard a loud and terrible voice, personified in the crashing of the waves and the moaning of the wind, and it said in a monotonous and unending refrain, "Enter." Nothing more nor less than the continual repetition of that word. This alarmed me, and as I did not want to do that, I began to stand upright and back away from it, to return to my plane. But as I raised my knee from the ground in order to stand, my other knee slipped under the increased pressure, and in the ensuing instability, I completely lost my balance and fell forward into the hole.
There are certain events in our lives that change the whole course of our existence, and falling forward into the hole was one for me. Its immediate effects weren't injurious to me at all, but it matured with time, like a good wine, and grew until it overcame me, starting the chain of events which would result in my demise. Yet not only mine, but that of everyone.
Let me continue, though, and I will explain what I mean and not confuse you more. I landed with a thud on a pile of soft dirt some twenty feet down, in a dark place which seemed open, not cavernous and cramped as I would have expected. My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and as they did, I realized it was not now totally lightless, for there was a faint glow coming from somewhere in the distance. Looking up through the passage I had come down, I saw that there was no way to climb up it, and, accordingly, set off to find the source of the faint light that came from the distance. After walking cautiously through the darkness, I reached a curve and then a tunnel-like exit to the spacious cavern that I was in, and as I turned it I saw the source of the light: lava flows. The room, or area, I had entered was rather thin and round, with a river of lava flowing downwards and a small ledge of rock winding along its edge. Together they descended spirally downwards at a gentle angle, taking the form of an intelligently designed ramp. As I followed it down I soon broke out in a sweat, for the gurgling, fiery plasma heated the area up to a warm degree.
I found myself looking intently at the flowing fire beside which I walked, its strangeness stealing my meditations from other things, and I looked at it absorbingly, not paying attention to the path that I walked on, so entranced was I with the feeling that its boiling character gave to me.
As I walked along the lava preoccupied with my meditations and not paying conscious attention to the path, my subconscious was carefully monitoring my way, and when once my eyes glanced upward, I quickly saw that my surroundings had changed. The narrow, spiral descending tunnel had given way to a very cavernous area where the lava flow formed a large lake of fire. A domed ceiling crowned this great room, though not exact and polished, having instead a rough appearance as it stretched from wall to wall, a semi-chasm of a hundred yards, more or less, with its uppermost height being not less than twenty yards. On the far walls were two lava falls, trickling from raised tunnels in the wall into the body of lava, which covered the whole bottom of the room. There was a platform that sat in the middle of the fiery lake, connected to the tunnel I had come from by a walkway of stone. This room was different than the other two, also, in its fashion, for while the previous had vague evidences of intelligent design, this one was very obviously artificially decorated. The walkway above mentioned was of ornate stone with an intricate design of circles, squares, and triangles carved into it, and on each corner of the center stage was a long pillar that reached from floor to ceiling, each carved like a totem pole, with a variety of animals and shapes stacked upon one another. The dome was done ornately as well, for I saw as I walked further into the room that what I had thought had been imperfections in the dome proved to be an elaborate three dimensional sculpture that stuck out from the ceiling, depicting an intricate scene of figures and telling a story of some great saga of war and peace, pride and prejudice, love and hate, faith and betrayal, all combined to make the greatest mural: history, the story of time itself.
As I looked in awe upon its beauty, I was startled by a voice coming from an unseen figure somewhere on the center platform. It said, "Jehu, you have come at last. Welcome."
The voice was very gentle and pleasing to the ears, slowly and confidently spoken, meticulously articulated. I looked around in its direction and saw a short, elderly gnome with a long white beard reaching to his chest and a short crop of hair on his oblong head, which was outfitted with a sharp, angular nose, a pair of sparkling eyes, and two protruding ears. He was no more than four feet tall, and no less than three, with a dignified poise to him, and was dressed in a dark robe with a black and gold design on it. We looked at each other for a moment, he smiling pleasantly and me expressionless, for though I felt that I should be surprised, or at least bewildered, at the sight of a gnome in an underground cavern, I was not, it was as if I had almost been expecting it to happen, as if in the back of my mind I had already been there and done that. Perhaps it was only a case of predestined deja vu, or maybe it was something less tangible. Either way, the gnome then broke the silence again, saying:
"Let me introduce myself, Jehu. I am Onan, the Lord of the Past, and these are the Chambers of History."
He then paused for a moment, waiting for my reaction, which was, again, not too much surprised, but rather complacent, thought I didn't look bored or snobbish, as is sometimes the case in that situation. Instead I became as genial as possible, realizing that whatever force was behind this, it was greater than I.
"Hello, Onan, it is pleasure to meet you," I said, advancing with a proffered hand extended towards him, which I realized belatedly made me appear oafish, but he took it good-naturedly, and with his pleasantness eliminated my unease at shaking the hand of one half my size. He then beckoned for me to follow him, and turned and walked to the center of the platform, where he unexpectedly laid down on his back, facing the muraled dome. I did the same, somewhat hesitantly, though I found it to be quite comfortable once I was down. He saw my sluggishness and by way of explanation said to me:
"Do not be troubled, my dear Jehu, for we lie on our backs to bring about clarity of mind."
Then he continued speaking, calling my attention to the sculptured dome:
"That is history," he said.
"What do you mean," I asked, "I've always viewed history as an organic being, constantly growing as it devours the present."
"It is an organic being," he replied, "A monstrous beast of sorts. But that (meaning the mural on the dome), my friend, is the genetics of history, its code that dictates what it is and what it will become, the master plan."
Allow me to take a moment to describe the mural for you. Firstly, its form: it was spread out across the dome like the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, its whole being a broad, harmonious picture that complimented itself, telling a story throughout its united branches. It was much more than a painting, though, because it stood out from the dome like a group of completely independent sculptures, but placed so as to tell the combined story with a sort of native ease, not stressed or artificial, yet seeming as natural and beautiful as water in its flowing grace. Now I will endeavor to describe its content, though I realize that in this case the picture must be worth many millions of words.
The center of the mural was its beginning, and there a man was standing proudly upright, dressed in splendid clothes of fine linens. He held in his hand a magnificent cup of gold with a row each of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and pearls running along its breadth. It contained a dark red liquid, which appeared to be boiling, and the man was holding it out to a fierce lion whose shoulders were four feet across and whose mouth was like a cavern, with stalactites and stalagmites of the most terrifying nature. With an evil glare in its eyes toward the man, the lion drank thirstily from the cup. Around the man and the lion there was a ring of blazing fire, leaping out of the dome like great pillars of flame, entrapping them within its narrow circle. On the outside of the fire was a group of mighty lizards and beasts, the smallest of which was larger than several elephants. Their whole attention was paid to a great fight in which they were engaged, yet their foe was naught but the reflections of themselves on the great sea which surrounded the island that held these strange sights. Several of them were dead or severely wounded at having been accidentally mauled by their fighting brethren. Across the ocean from the island there was another landmass, whose far edges were not in sight. On it were many ape-men bowing down in worship of a gigantic White Eagle which was soaring far above them with a multitude of lords and ladies gripped in its massive talons. The lords were dressed in silken robes and adorned with many pieces of fine jewelry, and the ladies were clothed in skirts of crimson; both groups had upon their faces looks of pleasure, and contempt towards those far below them.
Onan continued speaking, "You see, Jehu, the whole of history, both that now written and that yet to come, is planned, executed according to its own power, for the course of time is marked as clearly as the tides: by its own coming and going it is revealed. Revealed, however, only in an abstract and undefined manner, so that while its marks are clearly seen, it is only by special revelations that it is shown in a comprehensive and detailed light. And that is why I have summoned you here, my dear Jehu, for you are the chosen one, summoned to help me."
I was skeptical and asked him, "You summoned me? But how, I was to forced to crash land on the island by the weather, and accidentally fell into the volcano's mouth. It was by my own freewill decisions that the circumstances of my arrival here were fulfilled."
Onan laughed quietly and said, "History is not an unstoppable machine, allied with fate to control the destiny of all things past and future, nor does it nullify the power of man's freewill, yet the force that acts upon the minds of men to form them is history itself. You see, men are not the opponents of history and fate, for they do not impede its progress with their freewill decisions, instead they are its minions, its slaves, building up its strength and carrying out its dictates by its influence, so that they become history as they serve it, adding to its organism their own consciouses. While you were brought to these Chambers by circumstances of your own choosing, your desires in choosing those circumstances were dictated by the experiences of the past. But never mind how I summoned you, for you are here now."
"Very well," I said, not wishing to disagree with the Lord of the Past. Still, I was in a stubborn frame of mind, and asked, "But if the past is as powerful as you construe it to be, then why does the Lord of the Past need the help of a mere mortal like myself? Or do you mean you need a more direct agent than those you control only by influence?"
"Something like that," he answered. "You see, there was a great disaster once, which was blamed on me, and in order to atone for it, I promised to send a kinsman redeemer before anything so devastating happened again, and I believe you are the perfect choice."
"What devastating event hasn't been blamed on the past in one form or another?" I said, "But why not just go yourself?"
"It is against the rules," Onan told me.
"Yes, indeed, I sometimes wonder what good it is to be a god if you can't do anything yourself," he said with a sigh.
"What do you want me to do there, then?"
"I cannot tell you, unfortunately."
"Against the rules?" I asked.
"Very much so. All that I can do is send an agent with a slight understanding of the situation of history and physical existence to the people, but he must make the judgments of how to proceed all on his own. If I did tell you, it wouldn't be much different than going myself, and then there would be no human resolution to human problems."
"Our lives serve as a spectator sport to the gods, then?" I inquired of him.
"I am afraid not," he said, "It is much more serious than that. The Greeks were not all wrong, you know."
"Who else, I wonder."
"Not many," he sighed, "But tell me, are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
"Then I will begin. The understanding of life begins with the understanding of physical existence," Onan said, "And by physical existence I mean the quality of being materially animated. Not to confuse it with consciousness, which is the ability to think and reason, it is rather the realm in which one has substance and continuity. I will call the elements of physical being time and matter, those words representing widely known concepts. Matter provides the raw substance and time gives those lifeless objects a plane of being to exist in. Without time, matter can do nothing except sit in a sterile state, in a vacuum in which nothing could occur; and without matter, time would flow, but nothing would move with it. Thus, the basis of physical existence is time and matter, each being useless separately, yet together being the perfect combination of a tangible object and the fluid, forward movement to animate it. Imagine it as a three-dimensional painting, matter given depth by time."
"Not so complicated," I said cheerfully.
"Not yet, you mean," he laughed.
"Exactly, tell me more."
"Not just yet, Jehu. First you must help me."
"The time to begin has come then?" I asked.
"Yes, you must go now," he said, "And remember, I'll be watching. Good- bye."
And with that, not even standing up, Onan put me into a deep state of comatose and sent me through time to the unknown lands and people whom I was to deliver. I awoke, as you will remember, in the center of the savanna. Now that you know the circumstances of my arrival on Daem, I will go back to where I was before: on the way to the Canitaur's hidden fortress.