Chapter 2: "Forbidden Secrets"
Once Kyli had made her decision, she threw herself into it wholeheartedly, studying Arkingham's books with singleminded intensity. Often that intensity was needed, for none were easy reads. Some were scholarly works written for a highly educated audience in a pedantic, dry style, while others might have been written by madmen who considered things such as grammar, language, and sentence structure to be minor inconveniences at best. Some were centuries old and used a form of Parmanian which was often very different from that used in the present, while others were apparently translated out of another language, further impairing understanding. It took a great deal of concentration for Kyli to make any progress in understanding them.
Mason's History of Sorcery Cults looked like the most innocuous of the lot, so she started with that one. Almost immediately she found a reference to Xayn. It seemed that he had been the high priest of a widespread and feared cult based in Kadary in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries AW. Xayn's cult had practiced blasphemous rites devoted to some kind of monster-god, including sacrifice of living Parmanians and the magical conjuring or summoning of their god's demonic servants. Eventually, the cult's activities grew so vile that the armies of Zema, Molcum, and Piata united to hunt it down, slaughtering priests and followers alike in an orgy of death nearly as repulsive as the cult's own rites. Xayn himself was burned at the stake for his crimes.
Near the end of the section there were notes written in the margin; Kyli saw that the handwriting was the same as in her uncle's letter. Arkingham's comments were speculative; his theory was that the Testament of Xayn had been written during the cult's last days to keep the occult knowledge alive in case the worst happened, as it had.
Reading about Xayn was almost enough to change Kyli's mind about her course of action. The man had apparently been a hideous fanatic, unless Mason's sources were highly biased, whose evil had been sufficient to unite three separate political entities—and Molcum was a Motavian town, yet they and the Parmanians had been able to put aside their biases and work for the common good? That, above all, told how horrid Xayn's practices must have been.
Yet, regardless of how palatable it might or might not be, there could be truth from such a source. That was the grim thought that came to the girl as she sat at the library desk, trying to decide whether to open the Testament of Xayn that sat before her. Her uncle had hoped she'd have an open mind; was that what he meant? That she'd be willing to search the writings of a monster in order to find out something important?
Kyli looked at the inset sigil on the Testament's cover. A queer feeling possessed her, and she held out her uncle's pendant, looking at them side by side. She was wrong; the two runes were entirely different. Even the materials were different; the pendant was of common gold and copper, while the book's rune was made of a strange, silvery metal that gleamed without being polished. Kyli let the pendant fall back into place around her neck.
I can't start judging ideas by their source alone, she finally reached a decision. I'll read and decide on my own.
She opened the Testament of Xayn.
It didn't take long for Kyli to wish she hadn't. The tome was, as she'd expected, written by Xayn, a kind of autobiography mixed with scripture. He'd laid out his dark beliefs for all to read, and their substance was frightening indeed. Xayn claimed that ages ago, an immensely powerful force had been sealed away in a reality outside that in which the Algo solar system existed. This terrible dark force was a being of ultimate evil, and was scared by monstrosities only slightly less fearsome than itself. When the stars were right, these beings could escape their prison and enter Algo's reality and strive to weaken the soul from this side. Similarly, with certain magical spells and rituals, it was possible to create a temporary rift in the seal to contact or summon the Dark Force or certain of its minions.
The truly frightening part of Xayn's mythology, though, was the revelation contained in the Testament's fourth stanza. It was couched in airy, mystic language, which Kyli had to fight to understand, but the gist of it was that not only had the minions of the ultimate darkness worked for eons to destroy the seal that bound their master, but that they had already done so! When next the stars turned, whether it be years, decades, centuries, or millennia in the future, Dark Force would be released fully from its prison to rule in Algo and throughout the universe. All life would be crushed out, save for those of the darkness' chosen followers.
This was the secret of Xayn's hideous religion. He had become high priest of his monstrous cult because he was convinced the dark god he had devoted himself to would triumph in the end of things. Perhaps it was despair, the fear for the future that had driven him, or perhaps it was greed and the lust for power. Either way, it was horrid to read of the blasphemies Xayn had committed in his master's name.
The entire concept was hideous, alien to everything Kyli had been taught. There was no reason why she should have believed it, the words of a probably insane fanatic, just because they were written down in an old book.
Xayn was put down for daring to reveal the truth.
Was it so? Was the world no more than a sham, a feeble veneer that covered ultimate horror—a veneer that was soon to be torn away?
Kyli's fingers trembled as she turned page after page of the centuries-old book, amazed at how intact the paper was. Time had affected it only slightly, as if the twisted creed it outlined would not submit to such an ephemeral thing as a few hundred years. Almost against her will the girl kept on, lighting a lamp as the sun set in the west, absorbing knowledge of the Hakenlefts, the Gi-le-Fargs, the Gy-Laguiahs, the Imagiomages, the Dark Riders, and the Soldierfiends, all minions of the ultimate darkness. Kyli read of the Outerbeasts, who crawled wormlike in the spaces between one reality and another, and of spells that could contact the alien minds of these minions and even call them into the world when it was not their time. She read the forbidden seventeenth stanza, but an inner voice guided her past the trap that lurked there for the unwary. Was it her uncle's influence from beyond the grave? Or was it something else? There was Arkingham blood in Kyli's own veins, the same blood that had made her uncle a sorcerer. Perhaps, she thought, there was a link between her and the dark book, something kindred that made her aware of the dangers Xayn had left for the unwary.
The girl's head snapped around at the intrusion, her concentration shattered.
It's nearly midnight, Kyli. You've been reading for hours; you didn't even stop to eat."
"I didn't? No...no, I guess not. I didn't even feel hungry; I still don't, except to learn more."
Arah blinked, the Motavian's red eyes wide.
"Kyli, you've never cared for books; what's in those things that draws you like this?"
Kyli shook her head.
"You wouldn't understand."
Arkingham's niece sighed.
"All right...but don't say I didn't warn you." So she told Arah what she'd read. Not everything, of course; somehow the worst of the horrors seemed flat and unconvincing when Kyli thought of describing them aloud. The printed page had its own magic, it seemed. She told Arah enough, though, to make the Motavian's beak gape open in shock.
"Kyli...are you saying that you believe this."
"I...don't know." She could sense the doubt in her friend's voice. "My uncle must have; it's the only thing his letter could have meant. I don't know what he wants from me, though...it isn't in the Testament. Perhaps when I read the Menobe Writings I'll understand."
Her hand was already reaching for that ancient book when Arah touched her shoulder.
"Not tonight, Kyli, please? You need rest, then a decent meal. You won't do yourself any good if you wear yourself out, and you probably wouldn't be able to understand what you were reading, anyway."
Arah had that stubborn look on her face that told Kyli her Motavian friend wasn't going to give her any peace about it, so she gave in, grumbling. Once in bed, though, she found that she couldn't sleep from thinking about the accursed lore she'd read. It was a need, burning in her mind, almost like an alcoholic's need for drink. Each page had brought a strange feeling of revulsion mingled with the almost erotic thrill of the forbidden, of knowing a secret no one else did.
Was this how her uncle had felt when he had begun to study the occult? If so, Kyli could understand why he'd been ostracized by family and neighbors. There was a compelling, dark radiance to these nightmarish things that made all else pale by comparison. What meaning did day-to-day living have for her when Dark Force lurked on the threshold?
Before long, she was out of bed again, creeping through the darkened house to the library. Kyli relit the lamp, and began to read the Writings. This book, it seemed, was a translation; the original author was a Dezolisian, the keeper of the wizard's citadel called Menobe on that far-flung planet. Its reputation was so fearsome among the commoners of Dezolis that it had been one of four structures known since antiquity as the "torture palaces." The translator could only speculate on the gruesome acts perpetuated by generations of sorcerers that had inhabited the vile keep.
The book itself, though, contained few details of these acts, except by implication. The Menobe Writings, originally titled Menobee Bee^aa, were as far as Kyli could tell, a kind of sorcerer's handbook to be given to each Menobian initiate. Laid out in a cold, emotionless tone that was almost more frightening than Xayn's religious adorations, were spells, rituals and rites, runes and symbols. Kyli found the meaning of the symbol on her pendant; it simply meant "guraasejpaa^o," or evil, believed to be the sign of Dark Force.
She also discovered what the pendant was for.
There was a magical ritual called the Devotion set forth in the Writings. It was more than a spell; it was a kind of gateway to power, an investiture by which the magician invited the power of the Dark Force to fill his or her body, changing it and giving it magic beyond measure. The Devotion required a number of specially prepared items; the pendant was one of them.
Now Kyli understood. Arkingham had feared the coming darkness and had chosen to ally with it, becoming the conqueror rather than the conquered. That was his plan for Kyli, too; he would save his niece from the horror lurking beyond by allowing her to join with it.
It was the only way.