Everyone makes choices, sometimes right,
AN ACCOUNT BY THE SCHOLAR, MITORNOS ALBERCA, FROM A PARCHMENT FOUND IN THE PERSONAL EFFECTS OF ONE, VLADMIR IONESCU, DECEASED, OF PRAGUE.
I fear that I have lived too long. This is a strange statement for one of my kind, a man of learning who ultimately judges his own life by all the knowledge he has gained through the years; nevertheless, I feel that I have lived too long, seen too much and learned things that no man who is basically good should ever come to know. When I speak of good, or perhaps, goodness, I mean specifically the ability of an individual to distinguish between what is morally right and that which is morally wrong; and to use this discernment as a guide upon the former path. The man who is intrinsically a good man will go about his business, yea! even his most outrageous pleasures and so long as he refrains from the ill-usage of another human being, so long as he harms no one or steals away the rights of no other, then he remains, for all his intent, a good man.
Once, not so long ago, I was good. My position in the court of Carcosa was that of royal historian and I was held in great honour and esteem with whomever I had dealings. I say that this was not so long ago. In truth, it seems like ages past, another life altogether . . . for now, I have lost faith in my goodness. I no longer place trust in MY ability to discern good from evil. I do not know whether or not I am good. The laws of the land would call me a murderer and I have been promised death as punishment; but if murder takes the form of an act of love and mercy, is it yet murder? I do not know the answer to that question. My knowledge, the knowledge of three score and seven years and the wisdom I have attained to with that knowledge cannot aid me in unraveling it. I know only that I shall go to my death having saved those I loved most dearly from the pain and horror of a death much worse than the one I provided. That is all that matters to me. I am old. I shall welcome the end of my existence. I have lived through a great change and I cannot bear that change; besides this, my crime has effectively removed all my reasons to continue living. I have no further purpose to justify it. But I digress needlessly. I write to assuage my conscience; that the telling of this, my last history, shall extirpate me of my crime. The tale must be told so that someone, someday shall read it and upon reaching its conclusion, put it down and say, "God bless him for his love and his courage." You see, with unflinching determination, I murdered my only son, his wife and their three small children!
Carcosa was once a land of peace and great beauty. From the high towers of her city, one could look out over leagues and leagues of pristine countryside, unblemished by man, unravaged by his wars of his strivings. Each morning the sun would rise above the purple and white peaks of Hreng-al-Shamir in a blaze of glorious brightness that glistened on the snow-covered upper slopes like a mantle strewn all over with diamonds. In the earliest light, the shepherds of the city and the surrounding villages would gather up their flocks to graze the green meadows that rolled like velvet carpets to the hills; meadows that were rich with luxuriant grasses and spangled with a multitude of varicolored blossoms whose sweet scents filled the air with soft fragrance. Here and there across the plains were groves of fruit trees, little gardens of quietude where one could sit for hours with naught to disturb his thoughts but the faint lowing of cattle in the distance or the mellow trillings of birds as they floated through the overhanging boughs. Apart from the two mighty rivers that girdled the land, there were also little streams of clear, bubbling water that murmured gently through the shaded groves and danced with beads of crystal fire upon reaching the sunlight.
And in the midst of this idyllic garden stood the proud, gleaming white walls of the city, towers raised high to the cerulean sky, imposing and yet harmonious with all in the simplicity of its architecture. To the city came all the farmers of the outlying districts with their goods and each day the markets and bazaars were full with smiling, dark-haired folk who basked in the healthy glow of prosperity. Stalls echoed with the cries of the winesellers and the cloth merchants whilst others rang with the hammers of the craftsmen and the artisans in metalworking. Musicians strolled about with their flutes, children sang and played happily in the streets. Withal, Carcosa was a land of plenty and joy. Looking out from the window of my prison, I see only shadows of what once used to be. The streets abound with phantoms that I know are but the wistful conjurings of my memory. The fields are dark and dreary, the skies sullen with clouds and the mountains that were once a flashing herald to the dawn are now nothing more than a ponderous wall of lifeless stone upon the eastern horizon. My gaze falters and I turn away. I cannot look out from my window for long. My heart begins to bleed with sorrow and tears ever well up in my tired eyes. I have lived for almost a year since the change. He who caused it knows that there is no greater torment for me than to look back and remember . . . and so he will not yet let me die for my crime.
I went hurriedly from the Library of Kings with my papers clutched tightly to my breast. A month had gone by whilst I prepared the obscure history I now held. All that remained was a final transcription before I might go to my friend, He who was King in Carcosa, and present it to him as a gift for his own personal use. I could already see the look of pleasure that I knew would light his face. He too would have been an historian if his birthright had not made him a king. A parchment such as the one I should present him would fill him with joy.
No sooner had I entered my modest dwelling on the Street of the Ancient Mysteries than I hurried to my writing table in the study, calling to Zared, my housekeeper, for a samovar of tea. Apart from him, I lived alone, my son having wed the daughter of Nimbros Omre the woodcarver and gone to live in a house of his own. However, upon opening the doors to my study, I could hardly have known anything of loneliness.
Through the wide, triple panes of the window there flowed a bright stream of warming sunlight, filling the room with a honey-coloured glow. It glanced from row upon row of neatly bound scrolls with gilt edges and winding-rods of carven silver. A breeze wafted the sweet scent of hyacinth blossom into the room and outside in the garden, I could hear the chirruping of sparrows, the chuckling of parrots. How could I feel alone in such a place, surrounded by sweet scent, sweet music and the knowledge of centuries? I sat down at my worn, carven desk of ambrosia-wood, Zared brought my tea, and soon I was once more happily at work upon the final stages of the history.
When next I looked up from my scrolls, the light was all but gone from my windows and the songs from the garden lulled to a peaceful silence. I lit the wick of my lamp and wrote the dedication upon my finished work by its wavering light. Zared came to me as I lay down my quill.
"My Lord," said he, "there is without a messenger of He who is King in Carcosa. If it is your wish I shall bring him to you here."
For a moment I smiled at the coincidence of my friend's messenger arriving at the same time as I finished his history; but when I saw the gold and sable livery of the messenger and the gravity of his countenance, that smile faded from my lips like a bird flitting into twilight. He who was King, He who was the King and also my friend did not send word to me thusly. I did not have to hear the message to know what it would be . . . and that I should not be bidden to come at my own convenience.
"Good day to you, most learned one," said the messenger as he bowed before me. I have come to you from He who is King in Carcosa and He summons you to appear before Him at once in the chambers of audience. If it is your wish I shall remain to accompany you thither; elsewise, I must be gone for my rounds this night are long and there are many to be summoned."
I did not detain him any further but sent him on his way. I did not want his company. Custom forbade him any further speech whether or not he knew other information regarding the one who had been summoned; but the sternness of his bearing did not auger well for my audience. With a sigh, I bound up the history on its winding-rod and placed it in one of the open racks. I did not know then that my friend would never see it . . .
The night was abnormally cool and windy as I stepped from my door into the bright moonlight that bathed the Street of the Ancient Mysteries. I gave it scant thought for I was lost in pondering upon the nature of the audience I was to have with my king. I wrapped my robes more tightly about me and hurried on, anxious to know the reasons behind the ceremonial summons, filled with misgivings that all was not as it should be. Once more I passed the library on the Street of Kings and so came quickly to where the palace stood tall and white in the centre of the city. As I neared the gate, I recognized the warden on duty and nodded to him courteously as I walked by. Suddenly, I found my way barred by two crossed halberds.
"State your name and your business this night, sir," challenged the gate-warden. I turned to him incredulously. We knew each other well enough as I had always had the freedom of coming and going as I pleased within the palace. He held up a hand as I began to protest.
"State your name and your business, sir," he intoned again, but added, "So have we been instructed to challenge all who would pass the gates tonight."
I felt a gathering of ill omen in his words but there was naught to do but comply.
"Very well. I am Mitornos Alberca, royal historian. I have been summoned."
"You may proceed," nodded the gate-warden. "He who is King in Carcosa awaits you, Mitornos Alberca. He bids you come with all haste directly to him in the chambers of audience."
The halberds were withdrawn and I went on. The courtyard was very quiet, not a soul to be seen where usually passed the scurry of grooms and servants upon the white and gold-paved court. As I reached the postern that was my customary entrance to the inner keep, all went suddenly dark and looking up, I saw that a mountainous bank of clouds had obscured the moon where they roiled swiftly before the turbulence of the upper atmosphere. A faint rustling of wind swept through the branches of the orybus trees that dotted the courtyard, carrying with it a sharp, piercing chill. I shivered as it crept through the light fabric of my robes and stung at my skin. Somehow, it seemed to find its way into the palace for my discomfort was barely lessened by passing through the door.
The many flights of winding stairs I climbed as quickly as I could for I was not so young as once and could no longer dash up them as I had done in the play of youth. Still, that memory served to stave off the creeping chill in my bones with a warmth and a smile. I reached the audience chamber and heard the page announce my presence. Then I stepped through the doorway.
I saw him kneeling before the small altar of Yhtill, the goddess of Wisdom, his greying head bent in prayer to her image. Long tapers of fawn-coloured cerumen burned gently to either side, casting tiny motes of subdued light upon the rich embroidery of his vesture. So had he always bent in prayer during the years of his sovereignty. It was his thought that a scholar who would be a king should not be lax in his devotions to those deities who had it in their power to impart the necessary qualities of leadership. Perhaps he had done well at this, for the wisdom of his reign could only have come from Yhtill. In my heart I felt him to be the very finest Lord that Carcosa had ever known . . . and the finest of friends as well.
As the last echo of the page's voice was lost in the tapestries of the chamber, he rose up stiffly from his knees and turned to greet me. My shock was great, for we had grown old together and now, the lines and wrinkles on his face were stark and frightening to behold. His strong hands reached out to take mine and though I knelt to kiss them as I persisted in doing, he did not smile as he was wont to smile at my traditional show of loyalty and obeisance. His eyes were sunken in his face, glowing but tired. He did not go to the dais and his throne, bidding me to sit close by his right hand; instead, he drew me to a small table by the hearth and sat there across from me in silence. He sighed and spoke.
"I am sorry, friend Mitornos, that my summons was so unlike my previous requests to see you. I do not know why I ordered it. Belike it was a foolish fear that, for this once, you would not come so quickly . . . and I felt I must speak with you. As it happens I do not think you will say as much as I, nor wish to when I have done."
What is this? Whose is this voice that speaks to me in cracked, strained notes of despair? Where is gone the wry, self-directed amusement, the strong tenorous laughter of a man who is a monarch yet thinks of himself as a jester in the role of a king? Where is gone the calm assurance that has made the jester so much a king in spite of himself? His voice had trembled when he spoke and his hands, too, they had trembled where they rested with mine upon the table.
"I have asked you to come in order that I may say good-bye to you, Mitornos, my dearest friend. I do not think that I shall reign beyond this night. Indeed, with what I have learned most recently, I wish that I had never reigned at all. This scrap of knowledge has hurt me terribly, brought all my strivings to naught, yea! taken away the greatest of my triumphs and replaced them with the bitter dust of failure. I am tired of it now, it means nothing. For over forty years I have had no name save 'He who is King in Carcosa.' I miss my name, that by which you called to me when we played together as children . . . Nay! Do not say it! I cannot bear to look back, not now. I fear you shall feel the same in a short span of time . . . and in this, I shall have failed you, my brother in spirit if not in blood, and this I shall know to be my greatest failing.
"Know you my son? Aye, you have met him once or twice, heard of him. He is to be king, Mitornos! Do you hear? He is to be king and it shall be ere another hour has passed you by! Would that I had never spawned him or his cringing, cowardly ambitions upon this land. He works for my death, good friend. Scarcely more than a boy, he fears Death more than aught else upon this earth; yet he weaves a web of Death for his father so that he may be king all the sooner. I cannot tell you how he shall murder me. I know, but I will not speak of it. You will know soon enough."
I listened with growing apprehension. He was not mad yet his words were beyond reason. Well I knew the tales told of the prince Alhazreth for my own son had once been his friend, even as we, my king and I, had known similar, though unbroken friendship from our youth. Frightening were the accounts of deeds attributed to him: stories of unspeakable acts of cruelty and malicious retribution for imagined insults . . . but to contemplate the murder of one's own father was too terrible a crime of anyone . . . I thought.
"I see you do not believe me, my friend," he sighed again. "But it is inevitable that I shall die by reason of his efforts before this night is over. I pray that you shall somehow be spared what comes in the aftermath of my death for I know it will not be pleasant. Carcosa as we have known Carcosa shall pass away this night, nevermore again to see the light of peace and contentment.
"I must command you to leave me now. I have risked your life by speaking with you, though I have summoned others here who have aided my son and whose lives I have chosen to be forfeit with mine. I cannot stop Alhazreth but I may at least strip him of his allies. Yhtill guide me, I am past Wisdom. Good-bye to you, Mitornos, my dearest friend. Now go!
He rose up with his old dignity and pointed to the doors. This once, he commanded me against my will but he was my king and I had no choice but to obey his command. I bowed to him and left the chamber, saddened and afraid for him.
Without were clustered a group of noblemen, both young and old, all of whom I recognized and knew to be opposed to the king and his policies. They stood haughtily as I passed them, disdainfully mocking me with curled lips and sneering smiles. I thought to myself that if these were the men whose lives had been chosen forfeit, then Carcosa would scarcely miss them . . . though I wondered that my friend could truely take their lives in such a cold, heartless manner.
Retracing my steps back to the postern door, I found that try as I might, I could not open it. Finally, I summoned all of what small strength was yet mine and it burst outward suddenly, sprawling me upon the paves of the courtyard. I struggled to rise to my feet but having done so, I was buffeted by the wind and thrown heavily back against the door, stunned. The courtyard was in a turmoil. The wind had risen to a monstrous shrieking gale that whipped shards of ice and drops of stinging rain over the walls of the palace. The orybi, just yesterday full and blossoming with their delicate, lavender-scented flowers, were stripped and bare, some even torn from their plots of earth and strewn over the paving stones. The clouds above were like writhing serpents, scudding through the sky in huge bulks until they were ripped asunder by the wind. Thunder rolled down from the heavens in waves of ever-increasing volume. Torrid lightnings rent the veil of darkness with long, jagged streaks of flame and in utter disbelief, I saw the round globe of the moon, free from the clouds for an instant, glow with an unearthly light. It seemed to grow, expand until it was thrice larger in its diameter than a minute before . . . and then, incredibly, with one final blaze of light and a peal of thunder that rocked the very earth beneath my feet, it was gone from the sky!
In that same instant, the winds slackened to a whisper and dispersed. The ice and rain ceased to fall with a last stinging blow and the stars shone again in the night. I thought that my eyes had played me tricks, that the moon had simply been obscured again by clouds . . . but the clouds, too, were gone excepting only a ridge of them that had retreated to hang above Hreng-al-Shamir . . . and for all my desperate, searching glances, I could no longer find the moon anywhere in the sky. With a cry of dismay, I turned and stumbled up the stairways a second time, back to the royal audience chamber. The doors were open, a crowd of soldiery and palace servitors milling about the room. At one end, the dais and throne were a heap of blasted stone and splinters, the altar of Yhtill a smoking pool of slag and wax. The walls and tapestries were scorched with heat . . . and in the centre of the chamber were the corpses of the king and thirteen noblemen, all of whose faces were black and swollen from whatever it was that had strangled the life from their bodies!
I left the palace, made my way out into the Street of Kings, numb with cold and shock. Grief mingled with the unwillingness to admit the actuality of all that I had seen, but the streets were thronged with thousands who would echo my grief and verify the worst for me as they milled about like frightened sheep.
"The King is dead!" they cried, and to add to their own terror, "Doom is upon us! Shamir save us!"
My senses were soon dulled and I strove to find my way out from the mob in a haze of exhaustion and sadness. They were sheep, these people of Carcosa, my people. The numbness gave way to tears for them and for the man who had been my king and my friend. He had been right, for it seemed that Carcosa now truely passed into darkness. Centuries of peace had illy prepared her people for the passage. I could not allow myself to fall prey to their panic. Somehow, I managed to find a doorway that offered shelter from the tide of humanity that raged about me. It was here that my son found me.
"You are unhurt?" he asked calmly. I nodded, proud that he had not become hysterical like the rest. He seemed oblivious to them, intent upon something else in his mind. Still, he put a protective arm about my shoulder as we stood in the doorway, an island of rationality in a sea of madness.
"Alhazreth has shown himself at the palace, proclaiming himself king," he said bitterly. "They see the moon gone and they go mad with fear. They call upon Alhazreth to save them now, unknowing that he is the author of their terror, forgetful of what they have always known him to be . . . cruel, ambitious and totally without mercy or sympathy. He has openly admitted that he murdered his father with sorcery."
"Then it is as my friend said it would be," I whispered. "Darkness has come upon the land and there is magic in Carcosa, even as there was magic many lifetimes ago."
"I have known it all along, father," answered my son, and I felt his hand upon my shoulder tighten its grasp imperceptibly. "Why do you think I left him his accursed friendship? He has long delved into the relics of the Hasturian profligates, seeking the key to immortality in their ancient writings. He has sacrificed the moon in price for his throne, the gods alone know what shall come next. As it stands, he is furious now that he has learned of the deaths of his thirteen henchmen. He did not take them into his confidence but he did not expect them to die with his father. He swears all Carcosa shall suffer for it, claiming each and every life as his own to do with as it would please him."
"There is yet hope, my son," I muttered, vainly trying to stave the hopelessness that welled inside me.
"I know him, father," said my son, shaking his head. "He has mastered the ancient arts beyond the mastery of any before him . . . though I have done my best to stop him. Come, I will take you home."
Together we went, arm in arm, neither of us speaking nor caring to speak. The way to my house became less crowded as we entered the quarters of the intelligentsia. Here the sounds of despair were muffled, the violent fear of the masses expressed only with a silence that was every bit as frightening for all it concealed. Rooftops were crowded with the scholarly elite, peering up to the heavens in search of something that no longer existed. Lights glowed in many windows where others sought understanding in the wealth of knowledge contained in their libraries. Two thoughts came to me then; that my son had already played some part in attempting to thwart Alhazreth, and that Carcosa was at the mercy of that madman in spite of my son's efforts. Now I knew why my king had prayed that I be spared what followed in the wake of his death. Already, something inside me was dying.
Within the city, the coming of the dawn was traditionally announced by a chorus of trumpets that gathered themselves into a vast harmony of joy and gladness as the sun rose over Hreng-al-Shamir. The next morning, there were no trumpets nor did I expect to hear them ever again. The sun rose, but it was not the same sun that had risen aforetimes. It was cold and bleak, shedding a glare that was sterile and useless.
The thoroughfares had remained full with panic-stricken people throughout the night, their numbers growing with the influx of farmers into the city from the outlying villages. Gradually, the sound of their terror was stilled and though they yet went about, wandering aimlessly, it was easily seen that their simple souls had been gutted by fear, that their silence was the result of being battered by things beyond their comprehension. The daily routine was gone from Carcosa as surely as the moon was gone from her night sky.
On that second day, as I stood unmoving from the window that overlooked the Street of the Ancient Mysteries, heralds came to proclaim that Alhazreth was now and forever King of Carcosa. They received no indication from the listless crowds that their words had been heard, yet they went on in their proclamations. On that second day, attended by submissive soldiers, Alhazreth himself rode through the streets in a gilded chariot, robed not in the traditional robes that his father had worn before him but rather, in the yellow vestments of a high priest of Hastur, the faceless god from Carcosa's earliest beginnings. The horses that drew him along were shod with serrated iron, the wheels of his chariot affixed with scythes that turned the paving stones to rivers of blood wherever he went his way through the fear-struck citizenry. His horses trampled and heedless of those he maimed and crippled, Alhazreth laughed at their whimpering cries of pain and dull surprise. When dusk finally settled, hundreds lay dead and dying in the streets, ignored by even those of their own family. Alhazreth had, with his magicks, taken the souls and spirits from the mob, leaving them alive but with a mockery of life's animation.
With the coming of night, he was seen on the uppermost tower of the palace with his hands uplifted, his voice chanting and his face contorted with the blasphemous mouthings of his spell-workings. The clouds came again, flickering with inner lightnings as they crept from the east. One by one, I and all who were yet untouched by Alhazreth's soul-stealing saw the stars flare and then expire into blackness as they were engulfed by the clouds. Soon, there were no stars left in the sky.
"Their light has been tapped for further sorceries," said my son when he came to me briefly that night. "Pray to Shamir that I have yet a chance to stop him."
He was gone even before I might tell him that I would pray. Thoughts of my son troubled me through that third day when the canopy of clouds turned it to a murky greyness and the walls of the city began to blacken. If I had any fear, it was for him. I did not know what he intended nor could I caution him or try to dissuade him from his purpose. Whatever he planned, I sensed it might well be Carcosa's only gesture of defense or defiance against Alhazreth. I was not a coward, but I could not bring myself to offer him help. I had grown weary, too weary to do anything but sit and watch as everything I had ever known was destroyed in the onslaught of Alhazreth's wizardries . . . yet in my heart, I did pray that my son would succeed. When I had said that there was hope, he had not contradicted me and so I clung to what small hope was held in that.
On the fourth day, my garden began to wilt and discolour in the grip of some spell-wrought blight. I went out from my house and saw that it was the same throughout the city, even to the fields that surrounded it for leagues in every direction. By mid-afternoon upon the fifth day, the process was complete. What had been my garden was now, simply, a tangled mass of ooze and corruption that gave forth a miasmal stench of ultimate decay. What had been a bright, gleaming city of flowered, tree-lined avenues, full with prosperity and peace, was now but a rotting pit of putrescence, a necropolis in whose streets lay the corpses of thousands. The once green pasturage of the meadows was a blackened waste where untended herds of sheep and cattle sank slowly to the earth without a sound, struggled briefly, and died.
I had thought to have seen the last of my country's indignity and destruction. My mind could conceive of nothing more to add to Alhazreth's work. Indeed, I began to wonder if his sorcery had even left us as a part of the world we had once known; if he had spirited Carcosa into another realm, a realm of darkness and oppression where even Life was too great a burden to bear. It was whispered that the votaries of Hastur had indeed aspired to such a monstrous act, ages ago before the ascendance of the worshippers of Shamir . . .
There were a few of us though who yet remained in control of our senses and our reason; this despite the certainty that reason had been rendered useless. We found each other, gathered in my study to wait for the coming of another dawn.
The sixth day we watched as the clouds deluged the earth with vitriolic rains, boiling the already polluted streams and churning the mighty rivers to virulent froth. Birds fell screaming from the sky, their feathers eaten away by the acrid vapours that filled the air. The corpses in the street began a swift decomposition and Life descended to the final stages of decline and death. From the bowels of the earth there came intermittent rumblings that lasted through the day. As night drew on they came more strongly and with increasing frequency, causing tremors and quakes that visibly shook the entire city.
Suddenly I could feel the tension. A dull, monotonous rumble failed to reach its peak, mounted continuously to a roar of forces being reined by a power that could only be Alhazreth's thaumaturgies. The roar was alive with an infernal anger. The tide was unleashed. The earth erupted into Chaos!
The clouds that had hung leadenly for days exploded with thunder, rippling tongues of fire down to blister and destroy. The mountains to the east hove up and burst apart in showers of flame and rivers of molten rock. The city was riven, buildings crashed into rubble, walls cracked and crumbled to dust and from the rifts that appeared in the scourged meadows and the chasms that yawned in the streets there flowed up the nethermost slimes and poisons of the earth's core. Our courage failed us and we fled to the cellars, there to await our own deaths when my house would come crashing down upon us. The night was long, unending. Through fear or despair, we ceased our conjecturing, our stubborn attempts to explain, to ferret out last glimmers of hope. The pitiful light of our candle seemed to cower in the face of our resignation. From sheer exhaustion of mind and body, we all slept through the holocaust . . . and I wondered whether my son and his family had survived even this far into the night.
The morning of the seventh day brought an answer to my question as I and my fellow scholars stumbled up from the cellars to see the product of Alhazreth's ambition. To have sought to describe the utter desolation that greeted our eyes was too much for anyone to bear. It was the consummate end of all things. The mountain of charred ruin that had been Carcosa was silent, almost peaceful, as if finally allowed respite from the forces that had leveled her. The clouds remained, but they were no longer threatening.
Through the destruction a woman toiled, tears staining her face as she cried out my name. As she drew nearer, I saw that it was the wife of my son. Sobbing, she related how they had also found the safety of their cellars.
"And the children?" I asked. "What of your husband? My son?"
"The children live," she groaned, "but he has gone with a dagger to the palace to slay Alhazreth. Please stop him. My family is dead. You, the children, he are all that I have left."
Fiercely, desperately she implored me with her eyes. Through her grief and terror I saw that Love yet remained alive and it renewed in me some of my will to continue living. I comforted her, sent her back to the children, there to wait until I brought my son. Sight of her had likewise heartened those who had survived with me and together we went off through the wrack to find my son.
The palace, too, was a smoking ruin, other survivors hanging about it in cringing clusters, whispering cautiously amongst themselves. As we approached, someone shouted and pointed to where my son dragged the body of a man to the top of the rubbish heap. I called to him and he looked up. Madness was etched into every feature of his face.
"Write another history, father!" he screamed. "Do not let it be said that the family Alberca struck not in defense of Carcosa!"
And he plunged his dagger once into the breast of Alhazreth's body, turning hysterically to those who watched him in fearful silence.
"People of Carcosa, have ye eyes with which to see? Alhazreth is dead!"
But his eyes were blind with madness as he struck again with the dagger.
"People of Carcosa, be there life in ye to rebuild? Alhazreth is dead!"
A third time he buried the blade to the hilt in the corpse of the wizard but as he knelt over the body, confusion spread over his features and he staggered back in dismay. There was no blood on his blade!
"Can it be that I am too late?" he giggled, staring at the sliver of metal that gleamed dully in his hands. "Can it be that he has . . .?"
In answer, the sky growled with low thunder and all eyes turned upward. It was Alhazreth's final metaphysical labour. The clouds drifted apart to reveal two suns of dim, scarlet fire!
"Gods! I have failed," muttered my son, staring first at the twin orbs and then at the dagger. "He has drawn the life of one sun and made two lesser ones in its place. He has . . ."
"IMMORTALITY. IT IS THE WILL OF HASTUR. I AM LORD OF CARCOSA. YOU AND YOURS ARE MINE."
It was a toneless, lifeless voice that came from the pile of rubble. In yellow robes scorched and tattered stood he who was once Alhazreth. Three knife wounds gaped wide upon the pallid whiteness of his breast. His hands twitched with necromantic vigour, his lips moved in a parody of articulation.
"I AM DEAD, YET I LIVE. BY WORD OF HASTUR I AM IMMORTAL."
He fixed the lustreless sight of his eyes upon my son, a mirthless smile of triumph upon his dead face. The dagger fell from nerveless fingers as he shrank away from the figure that towered balefully above him. He turned and he ran.
Long after all had fled, I stood like stone, the echo of that awful voice lingering in my ears. "You and yours are mine," it had said. The implication in that terrified me even more than Alhazreth's return to life. I had seen the light in his lightless eyes, trembled at what he might do to my son and his family and in that moment, I gave up all thought for my life. I had but one duty left before I could relinquish it. I picked up the dagger that my son had let fall and went to where his house had once been. There I descended to the cellar. His wife looked up at me from where she sat beside the sleeping children. I told her that soon, her husband would come, that all was well. She ran to me, embraced me with tears of gratitude. For a moment I hesitated, but the words of Alhazreth rang again in my ears to strengthen my resolve. I slipped the dagger between us . . . and into her heart. She would have cried out in surprised pain, her face a mirror of disbelief. I held her, lowered her gently to the floor, forcing myself to bear the reproach in her eyes.
"Forgive me, daughter," I sobbed. "It is the only way."
She understood then, turning her head slightly to the three small forms who lay sleeping in the corner.
"Yes. It must be done."
"Try not to wake them," she sighed and closing her eyes, she was dead.
I went to each of the children, the blurring tears in my eyes not enough to hide their faces from me. They slept peacefully, the fear and horror of the past week blissfully forgotten in their innocent sleep. The dagger did its work swiftly, they did not wake. They would sleep forever now, the calm sweetness on their faces undisturbed, unmarred by any more terror. I sat and waited. My son returned, stumbled to his knees before me, his head cradled in my lap.
"Father, I have failed," he wept. "Alhazreth lives forever."
From above, I heard the voice of the King, ordering my son to deliver himself and his family to Justice. My time was short. My son clung to me. I could not reach his heart! I drew his head back to where his eyes met mine.
"Peace," I whispered, and drew the blade across his throat.
Gently I let his head sink back into my lap as his blood stained my robes and the resurrected minions of the King swarmed into the cellar . . .
Created: August 14, 2001; Updated: August 9, 2004