The Revolutions of Time, Chapter 07
Down to Nunami
When I awoke the next morning I found Bernibus and Wagner conversing quietly in the corner of my bed chambers, and as I first opened my eyes I saw Wagner looking at me with a blank, glazed expression, while Bernibus' was one of apprehension, apparently on my behalf. It seemed odd to me, but as Wagner became livid again quickly after his split- second lapse and gave me a hearty "Good morning", I thought nothing more of it. After his greeting, he continued:
"The day is ripe for victory, my friend, and the time is come for battle. We both have some preparations to complete, and so must separate, but we will meet again at noon in the entrance hall. Farewell until then," and with that he quit the room.
I looked at Bernibus, yet before either of us could speak, we heard a low, hollow grumbling, like the shaking of some building or foundation. He looked in my direction for a moment with an alarmed countenance, before I said defensively, "Tis but my stomach."
"Then we must get you some victuals," he laughed, "And I have just the thing to satisfy you and keep you so for a day or more: some mirus. It is our traditional energy food, for though its taste is bitter, its after-life is pleasant."
"And what is food except a servant to the body?" I said, "Let us eat."
"Very well," he replied.
And eat we did, for it was brought by a food service Canitaur on a tray, and I was surprised to see that it was a mixture of broccoli, spinach, and mushrooms, with a flavorless, glowing sauce. He was right, incidentally, for it was both bitter before and pleasant after its consumption.
"I know of the solids, but what is this sauce?" I asked of him.
"Carbon" he replied.
I looked at him and questioned, "Pure carbon? I have never heard of its having this use before."
"Your civilization was long ago and had not developed it yet."
"That has perplexed me, now that you mention it," I said, "Onan seemed to mean that I was going back in time to help my ancestors, but you say that I went forward, that I am one of the ancients."
He was wary for a moment, though if it was because of the apparent conflict, or because I was on a first name basis with his god I couldn't tell. He soon recovered his countenance and said, "It is a complicated question, and I believe you should ask Wagner the next time you see him, after the raid though, of course. The time of departure is nigh now, however, so you should put on your anti-electron suit," he said as he picked it up from the corner and brought it to me.
It was a subtle dark brown and looked more like a normal suit of clothes than an electron reflecting suit, but then again, I thought, why would it be a strange looking apparatus? Why would an advanced technological age necessarily be devoid of any sense of fashion, although that would be assuming that any civilization had ever had one. Fashion is more a characterization of a culture than a basic and unchanging principle, for a desert people would wear clothes that would be most uncomfortable to a people who lived in the snow. Clothes may not make the man, but the man certainly makes the clothes, and you can judge a person by what they wear so far as it is in their power to decide what that is.
After putting on the suit I found that it fit perfectly, and above that, I found it to be very comfortable, including the head piece, which formed closely around the skull and was not at all noticeable or obscuring. In fact, as it was made of a plasma that allowed everything through except lone particles, it was so uninhibiting that a moment after I had put mine on I had completely forgotten about it. The only other part of the suit that stood out at all was the long, metallic buckle that secured the belt, it having a bowie knife hidden within it in an unnoticeable and inconspicuous manner. Bernibus had put on his as I had put on mine, and as I looked away from the mirror that was opposite the door, I saw him dressed the same as myself, yet because the suit so blended with his fur, it was hard to tell which ended where.
Finding that we were both ready, we repaired to the entrance hall. Along the way I asked Bernibus of his wife, Wagner's sister, of whom I had heard little and seen nothing. He was quiet for a pause, and then said:
"She was an angel, what else can be said?"
"Was?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yes, she was killed by the Zards on a border raid, as we were at that time living apart from the Canitaur mass with a few friends. She was less aggressive than her brother, and, much to his disapprobation, we lived with a group of separatists, believing that war, physical conflict, is never the right answer to ideological conflict. Wagner excommunicated us in his anger, though his sister was very dear to him, and after she died he was struck with remorse and made me his deputy Kibitzer. He felt that it would somehow do her honor, as it would recognize us as having been married and make me his brother-in-law, which is an important relationship traditionally, as he has no other siblings. So here I am, technically second-in-command, but because of my soft lining, I have no real command."
"You would not attack Nunami, then?" I asked.
He chose his words carefully, saying, "More pain will not negate the pain already in existence, yet war is not always avoidable, and sometimes it is even necessary."
When we reached the entrance hall, where the raiding party was to meet, we found that there was already assembled a majority of the force, including Wagner. The party was only twenty strong, as the atomic anionizers were to do the main work and the planned raid required stealth and secrecy, not force or might. Within a quarter of an hour all the stragglers had arrived and all the anionizers were accounted for, so Wagner gave a short debriefing to ensure that all the members were on the same page. We were to sneak into the city when the populous was distracted by the fire on Lake Umquam Renatusum, which was to be started at midnight. We would plant the atomic anionizers at the right spacing so as to bring down the whole city once we were escaped, using the remote control provided for that very purpose. The suits would protect us from the blasts, and, as a precaution, the remote had an automatic five second delay between being pressed and exploding the bombs, though it was more for form than practicality. After he finished we set off, being arranged two abreast per row, there being ten rows. Bernibus and myself were partners, for we had become close friends in the few days that I had spent among the Canitaurs, while Wagner was once again the leading guide and Taurus the rearguard.
After crossing the chasm that separated the hall and the entrance tunnel, we came to the long defile that formed the latter and passed through it swiftly, the lofty archer guards remaining as stern and immovable as when I had first come through. We then came to the winding stairs that occupied the hollowed innards of a massive and ancient tree, of which kind many were to be found in Daem, being at least fifty feet thick and 700 feet high, such gigantic trees that were never seen elsewhere, yet constituted the whole forests of the northern lands. I found that the stairs were as long as I had remembered, taking us a great while to ascend to the top of the tree, and when we had made it, we, especially myself, were dazzled by the effulgent light of midday. After having been out of the sun's reach for the last few days I was completely unprepared, though the shock helped me by curing me of the disillusionment that comes from not seeing sun, moon, or stars for any length of time. Taking a rest for a few moments on the seats on the platform, we collected our strength. After our brief repose was completed, we set off again with renewed vigor across the treeway on which I had first come to the Canitaur's fortress. You will remember that the road was made by the securing of five or six foot platforms to the intertwined branches of those great trees, over which one could travel with ease and be safe from exposure to those below by the thick foliage that grew on the trees and was carefully manicured for that very purpose.
Soon we reached the first platform I had seen, which we had come upon from below, but we did not descend there, instead keeping on by the treeway in the direction from which we had come that night, that being southward, towards the lake, the savanna, and the Zardovian capital, Nunami. The air was warm, with a slight breeze as we went along, and that, mixed with the plentiful flora about us and the songs of the treetop dwellers, rendered the whole feeling of the walk peaceful and happy, though its end was not to be such. I soon forgot the worldly concerns that plagued me as I was soaking in the simplicity of nature, not a simplicity of form, for all things are incomprehensively complex, but simplicity of meaning.
After a time I began noticing changes in our surroundings that indicated we were drawing nearer to our goal, namely, the trees lessening in proportions, the terrain becoming flatter, and the air growing moister and more vibrant. Still, the trees continued to spring up from the ground like great earthen tentacles, for while their size diminished, it was not by enough to change their demeanor, the trees anywhere on Daem being great in size.
The sun journeyed with us, and by the time we reached Lake Umquam Renatusum, twilight's last agony was being performed in the heavenly theater, and the rippling waters mirrored it, adding only a strange, flowing texture. The lake's current caught my eye with its subtle oddity, for it was amiss and it appeared upon close inspection that there was an undertow, as if there was an underground river flowing into the lake and bringing about its swirling currents.
Bernibus saw me looking down at the waters from the lofty road with a puzzled look, and asked me if I was wondering about the water's current. I replied that I was, and he told me that it was the fervidus flamma being pumped into the lake through the underground aqueducts, which, of course, was for the purpose of igniting it to decoy for our raid. Once it was explained it made sense, yet I looked at it anyway, for it was still a gorgeous and inspiring view.
We were moving quickly, however, and it soon was out of sight, and I again turned towards our destination with apprehensions of failure. They seemed to place great faith in my presence, as the emissary of Onan, and while I was, I was also Jehu, and I wasn't confident with my own abilities. But it was upon those the situation mostly rested, it being the resolve of the gods after the Homeric period to take a more removed role in the lives of men. I wonder how many from my own times were divine agents, for better or worse. Either way, my main concern then was making the correct decisions, for I rightly believed that my involvement would decide the matter, although not in the manner I had anticipated. As I looked about myself to reconnoiter the feelings of my comrades I was fruitless, for they all wore impermeable countenances, though that was itself an indicator of their resolve.
Within an hour after the fall of darkness we reached the outskirts of Nunami, or rather, its edge, for it was walled in with massive stone walls and battlements, with a sturdy gate of twenty foot width being placed at the northern, southern, eastern, and western ends. The trees hung right over the walls, and as such we were able to take positions from which we could descend into the city when the time to do so came. Yet we were still rendered invisible by the thick foliage.
Night's zenith blew in slowly on the wind like the belabored breaths of a dying man, and after a period of worry, it came: midnight, the appointed hour. No sooner had the moon reached its utmost height, shrouding the lands in a shadowless vortex, than a great blaze erupted from the northern lands, and it rose almost instantly to its estimated height of five miles. It was a terrible sight to behold, for any flame is a captivating display of inorganic life, but a pillar of flame several miles high is more than just an enlarged specimen, for it plays host to a great horde of phantasmal apparitions that wrestle ferociously with one another. As the flame shot upwards it cast a great light down on everything that rivaled the illumination of midday. At first I feared lest the light should show our silhouettes to the Zards, as we were between them and it, but it did not, or at least they took no notice of it if it did, for we were quite undetected in our hiding place.
Our worries were far from over though, for now came the crucial point in our plans: in order for our small force to infiltrate the city and place the atomic anionizers, the Zards must not only have been distracted and preoccupied with the blaze, but they had also to leave the city almost empty and go to the lake itself, for if a cry was raised, or any substantial resistance attempted, the complex procedures to detonate the anionizers properly, so as to level the city but not the surrounding country, may have been hindered. There were several factors on our side though, the element of surprise being the foremost, for in their excitement the Zardovian resistance would likely mistake us for a regular sized army and flee in fear at our supposed superiority, especially since the presence of me, the kinsman redeemer, was known to the Zards. Also, the Zards were known to be curious and careless and ruled by the desire for excitement, meaning that if an entertaining undertaking was possible, they would pursue it, no matter how dangerous or ill-advised.
Within a moment after the flame was lit, all of the Zards outside, which were many, were gazing with silent wonder at it, and in the second moment, all the rest had joined them in their confused contemplation. But the third moment witnessed a drastic change in their behavior, for their initial bewilderment wore off and suddenly, with a united prelude of the drawing in of a breath, they all began speaking at once, resulting in a clamorous din that lasted for a few moments, before things hushed again and we could hear a few individual voices discussing loudly. Though we couldn't make out their exact words, they were apparently conferring with one another about what action to take. Our breathing became slow and heavy and our brows were knit tensely, for we knew that the fate of our mission rested on what they did then, whether or not the long planned decoy would work.
It was an anxious moment, and one with a heavy burden attached to it. Fortunately, though, as our fate was decided, it was done so in our favor, for the Zards began exiting the city in a great multitude of scales that swept along the savanna like a tidal wave over a sandy coast. They came out fast and strong, and through each of the four gates, though only the northern was fully visible to us, the others being too far to be seen distinctly. Still, we could see them rushing out of Nunami at a quick pace, not hurried, as if frightened or finicky, nor slow as in deliberation and meditation, instead it was a steady trot that they took, allowing them to move safely and swiftly.
The tide of Zards swept steadily past us, and it was a good half an hour later that the final ones had left the gates and the city far behind. Most had taken some type of weapon, a pitchfork or club or occasionally a sword, for the threat of war was a constant, but none of them had any idea that their only danger was behind them. It was not all in the clear though, for a patrol of guards equipped with long spears and clothed with a tough, leathery armor were making their way to and fro along the tops of the walls, where there was a platform of about five feet across that served as a road to the soldiers in their watches. It was evident by their countenances, though, that the guards now on duty were more interested in the fire than in their immediate vicinity, thinking, no doubt, that the laurels were to be won there and not at Nunami, and as such, they paid little heed to the walls, instead walking with their necks craned precariously to the north.
We were able to jump unto the wall silently from our concealed roost on the treeway when the nearest patrol had passed by. From there we went along the wall a short way until we came to a battlement, there taking the downward leading steps that brought us to the ground. Once there we were pleased and hopeful at what we saw: everything was abandoned, and no Zards were in sight save those on the walls, whose gaze was cast elsewhere. We set to work, then, according to our preset plan, which was to break up into groups of two and cover the city with our atomic anionizers, so as to spread the destruction as evenly as possible. Wagner and myself were partners, and we took the central district, near the government's center, the palace, and the Temple of Time, which rose above the city like a great tree amidst a desert. It was, in fact, the very structure that had so stood out to me during my journey through the prairie upon my arrival, and once again its sobering sensation struck me, and I found myself staring up at its top, a full 800 feet high, the bottom being an ornate and elaborate temple. The middle, which supplied most of its height, was a long, round tower, and at top there was a spherical pinnacle which had what looked to be a room in it.
Wagner soon called my attention back to our work, and we busied ourselves with planting a bomb at the base of the palace, using a smaller type anionizer, which, I noticed, was set just right so that while all of Nunami would be leveled, the temple with its great tower would be beyond the impact and left standing. Just as we had set it correctly, we heard a high-pitched whistle, which was the preconcerted signal among the raiders to use if any danger was nigh. We looked up directly and saw its reason: a squadron of Zards had been garrisoned inside the palace and had not left like the others, apparently because its sole purpose was to protect their king, who did not leave the city, being preoccupied with business and not seeing the flames. When he did go to the window, he saw the fire, and rushed to see what was about, but instead of finding out, he ran into us, who were right outside the palace.
Wagner dashed wildly through the streets in an impressive show of dexterity, and did a wall-jump between two lofty buildings to gain the wall. The others had done likewise, having been trained by a lifetime of conflict to have nerves of lightning speed and earthly strength. Their instincts had come in subconsciously when they had seen the cause of the alarm and they escaped, without thinking of me in the critical moment. I lacked such strength and speed of mind and was caught as soon as I had seen the squadron, aided, probably, by the fact that upon seeing me the king had become excited and rushed at me with great speed. When Wagner had first turned around and saw me their prisoner, he looked crestfallen and hopeless, for he had no way to rescue me. He held the remote control for the atomic anionizers in his hand and was about to set them off and make good the plan, but before he could, our eyes met for an instant, and we connected beyond time and space, experiencing a strange intra- personal deja vu. All was silent and still in that instant, and I saw him struggling inwardly: would he detonate the anionizers and make good his long awaited plan, or would he retreat and leave the city unharmed, for though I was wearing the electron reflecting suit, the collapse of all the high rise buildings would litter the ground with debris from them, and all on the ground would be crushed. Would he spare me from death, or his people? In that instant his face spoke more than many others' do in their entire lifetime. It was cut through with a contrasting countenance, and yet inside of his eyes there was something foreign to them shining through, something that I had never seen on his fretless features before: evil intent. I could not tell if it was natural to them and simply well hidden, or if it was an alien expression, but it was fearfully expressed, and his eyes seemed to say, even at that great distance, that he took a third course, that he would save me, but not for my sake, instead for his peoples'. And then it passed, for he looked away, replaced the remote to his belt, and leapt to the ground, where the other Canitaurs were awaiting him. I saw him no more until the situation was much changed.