The Day of War
Midnight had fallen on Metro City, as Dan made his way into Temple Row. The temples silhouetted in the purple dark sky had an ominous, ghostly glow about them. People were trickling into Temple Row with Dan, though no one spoke to each other. Everyone walked along the path toward the oldest site of Temple Row, the Shrine of Domardor, the doors into which were wide open and letting a pale red-orange light flow out onto the pavement and sidewalks. Dan, alert and on his guard, went with the crowd into it.
Once inside, Dan observed a multitude of people gathering about the main space of the building, a kind of massive court yard around which were pillars arranged in a gigantic circle, about a hundred yards in diameter. Dan looked up, and was perhaps the only person in the midnight assembly to do so. The vaulted ceiling in the daylight boasted a mural of star spangled sky, all in gold illumination on a deep velvety blue sky, and in the midst of which was a maternal Tulu, bearing the Light near her breast. But now, amidst the fire glow––for that was the cause of the orange-red light––and decreasing spectrum of light, was seen only darkness in the vault. Dan returned his eyes to the earth, and looked about himself. There were, again, a motley assortment of people about the yard of Domardor, young and old and middle aged, formally attired, casual, poor dressed, but all made a peculiarly singular impression upon Dan’s mind: everyone he saw, everyone he looked at neither smiled nor frowned, neither laughed, nor cried, neither spoke nor were apparently attentive to anything, all were simply there, walking in, and standing about, as if with inhuman patience, waiting for something or somebody to arrive. The impression was, again, singular, and most disturbing to Dan. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, he acted as everyone else, and assumed a blank stare and passive posture, and just stood still in the crowd.
Presently something happened. The gigantic doors which were propped open by cinderblocks were shut in on the crowd in the court yard, with a loud clank and a locking of a big bolt. Dan became uneasy, but his uneasiness concluded in positive dismay when next the fires which had been lighting the court yard the whole time were extinguished, and a heavy pitch black settled on Domardor. The most alarming thing about it, Dan thought, was that no one took notice, seemingly, for Dan couldn’t see anyone’s face, nor feel anyone either. All he heard were steps, hundreds and hundreds of feet moving all along the stone floor, shuffling about. Dan noted, too, that the steps were loud, but diminishing in intensity every second. He did not move, for he knew not why he should nor where he should go. Though the court yard was an open area, he had no way of knowing which way to go before he ran into a pillar.
Consumed in these distressing thoughts, and feeling quite alone and helpless, Dan nevertheless kept his composure, remembering what Tulu had spoken to him, that he would not endure any harm. Two things happened next which made Dan’s heart leap up into his throat: the first, the floor beneath him started to rumble with a tremendous violence. Not like the shaking of an earthquake but like the trembling of thunder beneath his feet. He heard––and saw!––forming below his feet, and going out creating a fire glow of cracked stone all around him, a perfect and ever widening circle. The cracks gave way and stone all around Dan caved in and collapsed, falling into a fiery abyss far below. The court yard all alight by the subterranean inferno, Dan now saw he stood in the precise middle of Domardor, encircled by row upon row of people in perfect circular formation around him. Now, hundreds of fire-lit faces looked upon Dan, though, as before, without emotion, without volition even, just staring at him.
Dan had his opportunity, the pamphlet didn’t lie. He was known. He was now quite literally the center of attention. But what to say to a crowd without will or feeling? What was the point, Dan thought to himself, as he stared back at all the empty faces. The rumbling of the floor had soon ceased, and the steady glow of flames from below cast silent shadows of the crowd all along the perimeter of the walls of Domardor. But in and out of the silent, still shadows on the walls passed another shadow, long, winding in and slithering around the shadows of the persons of the crowd on the wall. Dan watched its form move about like this for a time, heart beating fast, though rather composed all things considered. Then he heard the shadow speak.
“Who’s this? An enemy in our midst!” said the voice, soft like distant thunder, but sharp in tone like one enraged! Dan made no reply, not for fear exactly, though he was afraid, but because he was trying to plan his escape, and didn’t know what then just to say to the voice. “I say, who’s this!”
“Daniel Goodman! Though you know who I am and why I’ve come, don’t you, Fallen!” shot out Dan boldly. “You can’t harm me!”
“Easy now, Danny, easy! We don’t want to hurt you, oh no, we want to help you, Danny,” came the voice again, now louder as if it had come closer.
“Help me? With what I wonder? Defiling my conscience? Offending the Lights? Destroying myself?” Dan was heated now, as the voice had that effect on his spirit.
“We know better than to think you’d fall for that sort of thing, no, no. You’re not like these, you’re so special,” and upon the last syllable, the voice sounded so snakelike Dan thought it was more hissing than voicing words. Dan fought off another shudder, and emboldened himself to speak again.
“I demand you let these people go! Give them back their minds and hearts!” Dan said, roaring like a lion now, which was immediately followed up with a most hideous and noxious cackling laugh you’ve ever heard, which made the flame in Dan die down a bit.
“These people are ours! These as well as more besides!” hissed the voice. “Their souls are ours!” and as it spoke, the single shadow from which the voice spoke splintered or frayed into a dozen just like it, all snake-like and slithering about the crowd of shadows like snakes through blades of grass.
“Then what do you demand of me?” asked Dan. “Why have you brought me here? You know you can’t keep me!”
“No, we cannot. But we can keep you from our prey! We’ve shown you how easy that is yesterday in the Steel Mill. Miss Luis Mayberry is quite in hand, and plays her part rather well, don’t you think? Glitter-boy?” and then cackled again more hideously. Dan was made more determined, not daunted by these taunts.
“What have you brought me here for! To show me a fool?” Dan returned, his face all aflame and glowing red.
“You’re that without our help, boy!” came the voice. Dan had an inspiration.
“You’re bluffing, you buffoons in the shadows! If you could do something, you would’ve by now. You’re just trying to keep me from getting my message out, from fulfilling my mission to Tulu!” and at that, the shadows seemed to writhe about horribly like a worm in a bird’s beak. Dan observed them closely.
“That’s not nice!” said the voices, hissing more loudly than before, such that their echoes resounded throughout Domardor. “And lies!”
“Then why have you brought me here, then?” Dan responded.
“To strike a bargain. These all you may have,” at this the serpent-shadows curled around the shadows of the crowd, “If you give yourself to us,” with an emphasis on the last word, which rang throughout the court yard, and up into the vaulted ceiling where Tulu sat enthroned upon a crescent moon.
“Three-hundred and thirty-three souls––hearts, minds, and spirits––Danny! Think on it! What chance do you have to save more? None!” hissed the shadows, slithering now back and forth as if pacing impatiently, waiting for Dan to answer. Dan just stood there in the middle of Domardor, amidst fire and shadows, without a chance to accomplish his mission. The people of Metro City were enslaved by a power quite beyond them, and, it seemed to Dan, beyond himself. Surely there must be a way out, for why would the Lady Tulu have sent Dan on such a hopeless mission? These thoughts consumed Dan as the snake-shadow creatures paced back and forth. “What will it be, Danny? Say what it will be!”
“Alright, alright! What do you want with me?” Dan said finally.
“We need a sacrifice for our dread Master, Ferater the Black, and you fit the bill, buddy boy!”
“The bill? What do you mean?” Dan asked.
“Innocence!” roared the venomous voices, at once happy and hateful.
“What does he need a sacrifice for?”
“To commemorate your Light Lord’s holocaust, of course! Three-hundred and thirty-three centuries ago this Friday we influenced your ancestors to burn him alive! Now we want to do the same to you!” Dan stood there for a long while without uttering a word. He looked out on all the faces of the crowd: blank stares looking back at him from across the chasm of flame and abyss. “If it were Tulu’s will that he should undergo a like passion as Her Son, why didn’t She say so?” Dan thought. “Why would She guarantee me safety, if She wanted me to give my self over to death?” Thus pondering these deep matters, Dan took no notice of the slithering snakes again pacing for want of patience. His gaze ascended from the pitiful crowd to the vault of Domardor, where the Queen of the Stars sat overseeing all, though Dan saw not her form.
“If this be Thy will, give me a sign, O my Undying Queen!” Dan prayed, after which the shadows writhed again, and slithered low around and in between the legs of the crowd, as if hiding in terror. Dan stood there for a moment or two, then all a sudden a great sound was heard, as if from the depths of his heart or else a thousand miles away, distant as the stars themselves, yet near at hand as a bee buzzing around your ear. The shadow serpents seemed not to hear, for they remained unmoved near the legs of their spiritual captives. Steadily the sound, like a tidal wave of silver coins rolling along the earth, sounded more distinct every second, until Dan could make out what appeared to be a melody, a trumpeting fanfare he thought it sounded much like, but different, more tuneful than a brass instrument, more solid, sturdy and forceful––if such a sound could be conceived of in the imagination of sense. The call had the singular effect of rousing Dan to a spirit of animation and courage he’d never known before, either in Aerlan or during his life here. It was a trumpet call, a battle cry and call to arms, to fight and to die!
Dan got the impression from the sound from Heaven––since it was undoubtedly an answered prayer and confirmation of his course of action––that, were the Fallen to hear even a measure of the trumpet call, their very being would implode for fear of it and cease to exist. Perhaps it was a mercy they couldn’t hear it. As the sound subsided to a dull and distant roar, then to a far off hum, then silence once more, Dan thought it proper to make his reply now.
“Attend, Vipers!” Dan shouted, strong and determined. “You shall have your sacrifice! What do I receive in return? What are the exact terms here?” The slithering forms came out from the crowds and slunk slowly up the curvature of Domardor’s ceiling, and as they did so, Dan lost sight of the shadows going higher up, into the darkness of the vault.
“You shall free the three-hundred and thirty-three here present to listen to you,” came the voices from the darkness above, “And after which, we shall have you to do with as we please!” Though Dan could not see, he had the distinct impression that the shadowy forms were curling around the painted bodies of the Infant Lu, and His Mother, Tulu above in the vault as they spoke.
“You won’t interfere? You won’t influence them to evil, or twist my meaning in their minds?” Dan asked, head up-turned, shouting in the dark.
“We won’t, we promise!” hissed the voices.
“Your promises are as good as rotten eggs. No. I’ll have you swear an oath by which you’ll be bound forever!” Dan spoke with such authority, the snakes merely replied with a timid, “Yes.”
“Swear to the agreed upon terms, that these present three-hundred and thirty-three persons are free to follow my directions to make it to Mt. Óle this Sunday, to be saved from the coming deluge of fire, that you shall not interfere with my message to them, neither actively opposing me, or indirectly, through altering of external circumstances, e.g., impaired hearing, simulation, or distractions, etc., that, in a word, these three-hundred and thirty-three souls are free from your influence, and free therefrom forever! And, finally, that I shall be free from your bonds for the duration of a day, to preach my message to these here present,” Dan said, his authority as demonstrable as before.
“We so swear,” came the voices from above.
“So swear upon your Ferater Dark Lord, that, upon the reneging of stated terms by any of your company, such terms of contract are immediately voided, and neither party subject to said terms.”
“We so swear,” hissed the voices again.
“And that if in the event of reneging by any of your company, your torments of fire and misery thus far experienced heretofore, henceforth shall be multiplied by a million, without end unto eternity. Swear it!” The pause was lengthy, the silence audible. Finally:
“We swear to it all, Danny Boy! Now have back your bleating sheep!” Rang down the voices from above and all about Dan’s head, and suddenly the fires ceased as the chasm closed, and the doors flung open, revealing a pale blue dawn of a new day.