This Week’s Prompt:20. Man journeys into the past—or imaginative realm—leaving bodily shell behind.
The Research:Out of Body, Out of Time
Splendid was the city of Uri-Gaol, high in its prime. Its walls were strong, laid down such that even the seven sages could find no fault with it. Blessed where its people, greatest among the nations of the world, jewel of great Atlantis. Its temples were adorned by conquered idols, its men well versed in the tools of war, its sages knew the movement of the stars.
Yet the crown did not rest on an easy head. Long the Rah paced up and down his halls, wondering at the passing of shadows or the most minor of mumblings. He was tall even for that age, towering over thirty feet in height, his hall shaking every so slightly with every step. But still he stared out into the sea at night.
“Can it be this is all? What more do we have to strive for? And if this is zenith, high noon for the world, when will the descent come?” He would ask to the empty and cold stars. No reply came, not from them nor from the ones priests said set them in motion.
After many nights of worry, he sent his finest ship and his warriors with fiery arrows out once more, the first time in a century. Many recalled fathers who served in the wars before, when Hyperborea stood apart or when far flung colonies sought to rebel. But no, the Rah sent them forth with a simpler aim.
“A seer, a seer like the oracles of old. Find me the greatest who might peirce that final veil of time, and tell me when Uri Gaol may fall, and how such fate might change!” he proclaimed form his enameled throne.
So they set out, over steppe and sea, surveying the wild peoples and settled lands. The found men who saw the future in the order of the stars, women who understood the whispering of leaves and markings on trees, priests who produced portents in pigs stomachs, and prophets who saw it in the movement of birds. The captain of the ship was displeased with these, and asked what sage they all held in common.
The mob gathered in the great ship was silent for a time, then abuzz with murmuring. Great scrolls were drafted by each esteemed visionary, listing backward all the esteemed sages they knew, and how they had died or where they had gone to last. The compilation stretched from room to room, until at last, a common name was found. To the distress and grumbling of all.
“What has taken you now? Or did you not predict this? The captain said with a laugh as the quiet discussion dulled to angered faces.
“It is a man we have all heard of.” one of the astrologers said slowly.
“A man who knows many things, or claims to, about lands to be and kingdoms that will come.” One of the tea women said, biting her lip.
“But his methods, they are unteachable! His precepts go without reasons!” the first continued.
“One day he tells this future, the next day another, as if such things vary based on the wind and weather! Such a man is hardly wise.”
There were murmurs of agreement amongst the gathered diviners. Yes, they had heard of this man, this Tammuz, who claimed outrageous things as truth and obvious things as lies. He once proclaimed that there would be a time without kings from atop his great tower. That one day, Not even the great princes of the earth would still stand before might Time, hound of the Gods. That the wonders of the sevenfold light might be lost forever, that cities of black stone and vile intent would stand on the dust of mortal men.
None of the prophecy was pleasing to the captain of the guard. But it did not matter, this Tammuz was alone in any certainty. He brokered no debate and predicted no thing small enough that others had pressed their sight as far. And if he was charlatan or mad man, he would better entertain the Rah. Thus over the complaints of the crowd, he was sent for.
The men found Tammuz atop his tower of limestone, alone on an island in the great sea. He stared ahead, rising only one they landed. He was an emaciated man, his face long and his mouth too wide. His eyes were shrunken but clearly open, small dots of vision on his tanned face. All along his body were drawings, crude and childish, of people and places. They rambled into each other, some sprawling cites suddenly the roof of a house, who’s windows were man’s face and glimpses into poorly pictured woods.
“Who has come to hear my announcements? Men of battle? Your days are numbered always and forever. Abandon the stupid pieces of metal and become goodly statesman. Then you may at least have pride in your waste.” He said, jumping to his feet and grabbing one of the men by the shoulder.
The warriors with their shining metal armaments looked at each other in confusion, but eventually made it understood that the Rah of Uri-Gaol wished to see him and hear his sage words. Tammuz stared at them for a time, as if amused by some joke they didn’t hear, before suddenly snapping awake and laughing uproariously.
“Then why does he call for me! I am no sage, no. But I will come, and see Uri Gaol, like one visit’s his gardener before he dies.”
And so in darkness, the ship returned to the pacing Rah, who was certain something had gone amiss. Envoys abroad assured him until pressed that there were no enemies, and he was not yet certain if the paltry chieftains and princelings were really disgrunteld and jealous or if his ministers invented them to placate him and hide the real danger. But the arrival of his prized ship brought the sun kissed lord some comfort, or the closest thing a man such as he can bear, a feeling that certainty is coming. Either doom or delight, the die forever cast.
Needless to say he was shocked to behold Tammuz.
“And what is this?” he declared rising from his throne in uproar. The captain of the gurad step forward to speak.
“This is the single man all diviners gave recognition, if not respect. He alone gazes far into the abyss where only the gods might know, or at least he alone claims to.”
“I can speak for myself and my own counsel,” Tammuz said, standing tall and smiling wide, “please good Rah, I am no mute mumbler what must meander through the grains of sand and glass to find what is and is not true. I set my mind and body to the heavens, and toss my self hence, to see the worlds to come. Like a man on a ship monitoring the waves, I know what will be and how each shift moves them. Let me do my work and all shall be well.”
The Rah relented, and Tammuz sat then there on the stone floor, fixing his gaze forward into the throne of the Rah and between the seven lights. Tammuz sat and watched.
Days passed, and the Tammuz remained as still as stone. The courtiers of the Rah walked around the strange man, whom spiders slowly built webs upon. Messengers came forth with tidings, averting the line of his gaze. Eventually it was addressed.
“Majestic Rah, who the sun has set upon the earth,” the man from the west had said, robed in brilliant green and gold cloth, “why does this man stand here, unopposed?”
“Worry not, aspirant, he has set his mind to future things, that I may know we reign forever,” the Rah said with a wave of his hand.
“If you wish to be free of doubt, Rah of the Heavenly Mandate, I may supply answer. I know men who can grant you warriors who cannot be defeated, I myself have forged swords that never fail and who’s wound never heal, and other wonders that drive away the darkness of war.”
“What of plague?” the Rah asked, stroking his beard. “Have you wonders for these?”
“Not I, it is not my trade. But ask of the lands in the East, closer to mighty Meru where the Gods once lived and walked. They may have something.”
“Bring your works to my palace, and I shall send to the east.”
Unbeknownst to the Rah, their words disturbed Tammuz sleep, and for a moment he was nearly started awake and his mind nearly returned to the current day, but it was not to be. So the ships went out east, to find a man who could make similar wonders. One who might make elixirs granting wise men eternal life or who knew how to restore the dead with but a draught. And there they found a woman, dressed in blue and silver, who before the Rah said such things.
“Of plauge and age, worry not. I have beheld the most eternal things, the unchanging desert and the unbroken mountain. From them many things can be learned, that Uri-Gaol will stand forever more.”
And she brought peaches stole from the gardens of lost gods, and books written in blue that told the secrets of the heavens. And the man in green and gold returned, with blades of fire that fought by themselves, and a host of men with heads of lions and bears and tigers. So fierce where they that none, the man promised, would stand against the king, not even the gods who’s city was overhead.
And the clamour of alchemists running at the bidding of the woman, and the roars of the beastly soliders, and the clang of the mystic swords, and the out cry of the priests newly revitalized made the silent hall ring with noise. And in it’s midst sat Tammuz, buried in cobweb and dust, such that he resembled a hill of decay. But still he would not wake.
As the ships rose once more to war, that Uri Gaol not fear its neighbors by standing alone on the world, Tammuz did not wake. When the Rah’s court took bestial paramours, Tammuz did not rise. When the sorcererers in green and blue wove new creatures to fight for the king, scaley goats to provide for them, and great serpents to pull his barge through the heavens, Tammuz did not rise.
It was not until the Rah again was in his hall, his paranoia abated at last by pleasures and destruction,that Tammuz stirred from the pile. The moon moved before the sun, as the sages had said it would. A pair of brilliant lights shown out of the pile. And it stirred. Out came Tammuz, his drawings changed with time. His body was like a corpse, maggots crawling through his eyes and flies out his mouth. His forests were burned along his chest, and his skin stretched paler than the moon. His eyes were not the placid eyes of the dead but glowed with a brilliant light, blinding to those who did not burn brighter by the seven rays of heaven. And when he spoke, his joy was still there, though his voice sowed terror.
“Oh Rah, I have seen plentiful futures for Uri-Gaol, forgotten by later days. I watched as it shifted and shattered, as you sowed your own doom. But this you already knew. Who hopes to evade prophecy, without knowing he fulfills it? No, but I saw farther, past when the mountains sink, and when this ocean is a desert, and when the desert beyond is an ocean. Oh the terrors that will be wrought, the canals of blood as many struggles with man over the scraps of kingship you have not squandered. And the beasts will remain and feast upon the carrion, and alchemist will make dark wonders out of sight.
“Oh Rah, I have seen multitudes of dooms upon Uri-Gaol and the heavens above. I have seen how darkness will wrap itself in splendor, how plague will come with trade, how war will come from within, how nature herself abhors you. I speak for the oldest house, the house I saw at the edge of time and who’s owner command rings from all edges. By his might was I held down, by the terror of his house did I survive.
“Oh Rah, thrice on three times will the world rise and die. Know that no generation hence will recall Uri-Gaol, for it will be less than a ruin, less than even a myth or legend, but rather only a place dreamed of in the distance. Know that the nightmares made flesh will be your legacy, who once may have been wise. Know that I and those who follow me, who bear the sigil of death and are born of decay, will linger alone in this place when it is buried beneath the waves.”
And each word Tammuz spoke bore plauge and storm out into the world. Each syllable an aeon of past and present misery washed over the Rah and his court, a lotus unfolding to show a darkened core. There was no weeping, for tears trembled. The court merely stood, all other speech render moot by the litany from beyond. And so they remained, until Uri-Gaol sunk beneath the sands and seas.
I will not deny, my fellow writers and gravediggers, this prompt took many attempts and I am still not entirely pleased with the result. It has some touches, in this latest form, with my attempts on Dunsany and eternity from a time back, and the letter to the commander of the faithful. It strikes me as worse than either of those however. Still, this stiching will have to do. Some day later I might expand this, dive deeper and pull together a better work. But for now, we must move on to the next prompt, the next corpse, the next untold terror.
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