Voice From Catland
December 7, 2019
I feel it necessary to recount in this chronicle my meetings and dealings with Dr. Augustus Orsen who by now has likely fled the country. Whether he was a real doctor or not begs the question, as he never revealed any official credentials, but I predict the title played a part in the circulation of some of his papers among the school’s students and faculty. As an Instructor of the faculty I was quite aware that our school was, if I daresay, in a more “liberal” region of the township than some others, and students often looked for an excuse to expose themselves to many kinds of rather perverse material, much to the dismay of myself and the other Morality Prefects.
I won’t go into much detail regarding it, but suffice to say that that oft-circulated literature bore offense to the moral character and integrity of the Institution’s name, and so I and the other instructors cracked down harshly on those conspirators we discovered to be spreading filth. Up to a certain point, the literature was of a predictable nature with even more predictable distributors, and it did not take much time for us to dispatch of them. But suddenly, starting around the late fall of the semester, I began to discover something far more sinister in the bags and drawers of some students.
Following a lecture on Industrial Economy, I watched from outside as the students shuffled out of the hall. It was usual to discover contraband during the chaos of the crowd, as it was during those frantic moments one could quickly slip an envelope into another’s pocket and quietly escape unnoticed. To my luck, I had some of the keenest eyes in my whole unit, and I do say with pride that I was personally responsible for a vast majority of the wrangled hooligans we handed over to the Guard. But, I digress. I spotted the deed amid the throng of uniformed boys, and kept my eyes firmly planted on the receiver; the supplier would be apprehended shortly after I interrogated the former.
The boy, a thin sandy-haired youth checked his surroundings and I averted my eyes for a moment, blending into the crowd but keeping him in sight. He appeared not to notice and started walking along with the rest of the boys towards the dormitory wing, and I continued to stalk from behind. Eventually I pursued him to his room, and I ducked behind a corner a final time to make absolutely sure it was his own, that he would turn the key and walk through the door (each student had their individual dormitory keys which they were explicitly forbidden to give to others). Predictably he did so, and I marked the number on the door for later identification. I waited and watched from behind the corner, assuming he had just gone in to stow the insidious document, and sure enough the youth exited his dormitory (with a rather incriminating expression on his face, I might add) and departed with brisk pace down the opposite end of the hall.
The moment was nigh; I strode toward the youth’s dormitory and turned the lock with the Prefect skeleton key. At first glance, the room was an average male dormitory: neat, organized, unadorned by any extraneous paraphernalia. I made short work of the search and found the envelope in a few minutes (the hiding spots of students are so predictable these days!) With the document secure in my hands I made sure the room looked as I had found it, and departed to my office to read the forbidden material and determine appropriate punishment.
The next morning I sent a letter for the boy, one Peter Shepley, to come to my office immediately or risk dire consequences. He arrived around 8 a.m as I was again reading over the stack of papers I confiscated from his dormitory. I took off my spectacles and looked up; he looked very unnerved and “dodgy”, as they say. I noticed with irritation that his uniform was about a size too large for him.
“You requested my presence, Instructor?” he piped.
“A little rude not to extend proper morning’s greetings, don’t you think Mr. Shepley?” I replied.
“My apologies. Good morning, Instructor.”
“Good morning. Sit.” I motioned to the chair in front of the desk, which he gingerly slinked into.
“I’m sure you’re quite aware of why you’re here, Mr. Shepley,” I said. It was always a bit of a thrill to see them squirm, which he did, but didn’t open his mouth.
“You must have been looking for…this, this morning?” I held up the bound yellow papers in my hands for Shepley to see.
“Sir, I never knew nothing of it!” The boy nearly jumped out of his chair. “Some of my friends got it just for a laugh sir, I don’t even know what’s written in there! They just said ‘Oi Peter, there’s some quack trying to publish some funny papers, eh?’ and they were right laughin’ about it, sir, I was just curious, I swear!”
I paused and looked at him. His face read innocently enough, just another dumb boy. These papers were no laughing matter however.
“Please don’t have me expelled sir, I promise I’ll never allow any of that filthy stuff near my dorm again!”
“Calm down, Mr. Shepley. I will not have you expelled. But you must tell me some things now, and they must be true. Understood?”
He nodded and swallowed. I gestured toward the document in my left hand.
“You say you haven’t read a word of this?”
“No sir, not even the frontispiece, sir.”
“Well, Mr. Shepley, I have, the entirety of it as a matter of fact. And I can tell you that you are one lucky boy that I confiscated this from you in time.”
“This document…A Treatise on Magicke, by this Dr. Augustus Orsen…is filled with impurities most foul. With evil. And I can assure you there is nothing to laugh about here. So I say to you, Mr. Shepley, that you are to go to your friends and tell them to burn any copies of this they may have. And if I catch even a whiff that you or your friends are reading any more unorthodox material…”
“Yes, sir! I’ll tell them!” he said. “As soon as I leave this office!”
I knew for sure that he would, and they would. Fear is a tantamount tool at this Institution.
“One more thing, Shepley. If you have any information regarding this Dr. Augustus Orsen, I want you to disclose it,” I said.
“All’s I know is he’s some quack that lives in the Old Burg. Neither me or my mates have ever seen ‘im.”
“How did your friends collect this material?”
“On the street corner of Baxton, every Thursday at 5 a.m., sir. There’s some funny fellow in a black mask, bird-like, just handing it out to passersby. Says he’s a personal assistant, or some such. I’ve never seen him myself.”
“You may go, Mr. Shepley, thank you for your cooperation.” I leaned back and put on my spectacles.
“Thank you for letting me go, sir! And I’ll make sure to tell my mates to burn the papers!”
“You’d better do that. Now hurry off, wouldn’t want you to miss your studies, now do we? Good day.”
“Good day, Instructor!” with a smile of relief the boy got up and hurried out of the office.
A nice enough youth. Probably burst into tears outside the door. I looked over this document, A Treatise on Magicke one more time. No, this was no joking matter. Racy tales of erotica were one thing, this was another. I put a note in for my Morality Prefects to perform extra monitoring over Peter Shepley and his friends and to report any further suspicious activity. Today was Wednesday evening. That meant it was tomorrow morning that this black bird man would be on the street corner a few blocks off from the university, spreading this…unnatural material. I would forego my Instructor duties for the next few days. I picked up the telephone, turned the dial for my Chief Prefect and explained to her that she would be in my office as of Thursday morning. I now had a higher duty of investigating the source of this malignancy inside the Institution and to purge it. I gathered the papers, put on my coat and went home to rest. At 6 p.m. it was already dark.
I rose early, and after a quick breakfast headed out into the fog and cobblestone roads. The sun had not shown her face yet and I walked through a thick mire of darkness, guided by the sickly yellow light of lamp-posts. The street corner that Shepley mentioned was about an hour’s walk, and there were no stage coaches in sight, nor a single other human soul. It was still the devil’s hour and the factory towers that rose beyond the Residential Roofs had not started pumping smoke yet; I could almost piece together a star or two in the sky out of the smoke that hadn’t dissipated. The wind soared monstrously, blowing scents of rotting fruit, incense, pigs’ blood, and carbon monoxide. I trudged on, putting on an Old War gas mask I had cheaply bought, and my nostrils flared with the smell of rubber. After some time walking at last, my vision was startled by a pair of small shining lights in the distance. I squinted, and through the heavy fog I spotted a figure standing solitary beneath a lamp post ahead of me. It did not look human; something was wrong with its face.
I approached closer with trepidation in my step, and I could feel the creature’s burning white orbs that were its eyes turn on me. It stood perfectly still, with its head bent like a nun; it seemed to be wearing a narrow tricone hat, and had no face. Shepley was right in that it looked like a bird, with some sort of protrusion in the head. As I neared, I saw it holding what looked to be a pile of papers in one arm. The silence of the dark morning was broken by curious rasps that emanated from the figure’s face. It did not move when I closed in on a short distance to confront it, and I saw that the figure was wearing a breathing mask like I was. A curious design, nonetheless.
“Good morning,” I said.
The figure did not stir; the curiously raspy breathing did not cease.
“Do you know of a Dr. Augustus Orsen? I am looking to find him.” I fished out a bound copy of A Treatise on Magicke out of my pocket and showed it to the figure, whom bent its head and scanned the document with circular glowing bulbs. It wasn’t very cold, but I shivered from head to toe when I heard it speak.
“You may follow,” it said in a distorted whisper. I noticed beneath its long hook-like nose, the mask had a number of small silver holes in place of a mouth. It took its glowing eyes off of me and proceeded to walk. I followed a certain distance behind, and let the black figure guide me through the dissipating mist and craggy narrow alleys of the burg.
After some time there were no lamp posts to be guided by, and the figure who led the way illuminated the path with its eyes. We had entered into some region of the burg with very few dwellers and most of the buildings had dilapidated into rat-infested ruins. The howl of a stray cat resounded somewhere in the distance. In some of the cragged alleys I noticed husked bodies, skin and bones, unmoving. Caught the plague, no doubt. I took care to memorize certain landmarks in order to find my way back, and if need be, to revisit (though I certainly didn’t want to). After some half an hour or so of walking, the faintest glimmer of light came reaching out from the horizon, and I found a new courage in my heart. The figure stopped in front of a great ancient white mansion, overgrown with vines. I noticed a single light at one of the upstairs windows. I cleared my throat.
“Thank you, for guiding me,” I said.
The figure said nothing, just stared at me with its accursed round spotlights. The raspy breaths did not stop. Seeing there was not much conversation to be had here anymore, I approached the door and banged on the rusted brass knocker. The door creaked opened, and I stepped through with hesitation. My guide continued to gaze at me until I closed the door behind me.
The main hall lay in total disarray, with various broken ceramics, veiled sculptures and paintings, and trash strewn all around the floor. The chandelier rested in the middle, shattered. Looking up, I saw the light coming out of the upstairs west wing, so I ascended the broken down staircase, taking care not to get dust on my leather shoes and carefully watching my step. It seemed with each step I took, the entire house groaned in agony. When I reached the top, I turned to the light, seeing it emanate from a door near the end of the hall. I felt the blood pound in my veins like the door-knock of a nightly Guard visit. What sort of a Doctor resides in such a disgusting place? Well, naturally, a Doctor that composed the document that I carry. While I knew fear then, I maintained control knowing that this confrontation was for a necessary cause. Taking off my breathing mask, I knocked on the wood.
“Come in,” came a male human voice. I came in.
The state of the room compared to the mess downstairs gave me a shock. The walls were painted a royal velvet red, and there was a curtain over the window with golden trimming. Roman busts stood on black marble tables, and a beautiful brass gramophone let out the sweet baroque melodies of J.S. Bach. A fireplace on the left side of the room bathed me in warmth, and a large book case enclosed it on either side, filled to the brim with large volumes. In one of the corners there was a finely polished wooden desk, evidently of briar, and at this desk sat a man dressed in very fashionable and yet, antique, attire. The man held a quill in his hand and had not yet looked up at me, as he was busy writing something.
“One moment”, he said.
My fears were allayed partially by this professional display. Already the filthy house, the spotlight-eyed beaked, masked figure were fading from my thought. The man wrote a few additional sentences, lay the quill aside and closed the lid on his inkwell. Turning to the side, I saw a face that was neither young nor old, with a light brown scruffy beard and green eyes. He smiled.
“My apologies for keeping you waiting, sir,” he said, standing up and reaching out his hand. “I am Doctor Augustus Orsen.”
“Were you expecting my visit, Doctor?” I asked, shaking his hand. His grip was firm and confident, full of youthful energy.
“No I can’t say I have, sir,” he said. “Though I do get visitors now and again by the nature of my work. Please, sit down.” He offered me a red bergère chair which I accepted. He opened a glass jug of wine.
“Would you like some wine?” He asked.
“At such a devilish hour, Doctor?”
He gave out a quiet chuckle.
“Of course, what am I thinking? Tea then, perhaps?”
“I’m quite alright, thank you very much,” I said.
“As you wish sir,” he put away the jug and took seating across from me in his desk chair.
“Now may I inquire, if you please, as to the nature of your inquiry?”
“Yes, Doctor, I’m afraid I come as bearer of bad news,” I said.
“Oh? What may that be?” he raised his eyebrows and looked at me with such sincerity that I almost doubted why I was there. But feeling the bound package in my pocket, I held fast and took it out.
“I come to inquire about this,” I said, handing him the composition under his name. “You see, I happen to be an Instructor at the Institute and I discovered this in the hands of some of my students.”
“The Institute, you say?” He looked over the bound package.
“Ah yes, A Treatise on Magicke. I wrote this one a number of months ago. What seems to be the problem, sir?”
“The problem Doctor, and I say this with the utmost respect: I cannot allow this material within my walls and I kindly ask that you cease spreading it to my students.”
“I see. May I ask of your name, sir?”
“It’s James. Montague,” I said.
“Mr. James, I had absolutely no intention of sharing my work with minors who would hardly understand a word of it. Indeed, only my closest colleagues on this subject are allowed permission to read it. Frankly, Mr. James, it makes me quite upset knowing that my restricted work has been allowed to pass into unwanted hands!” His expression changed to that of serious concern. If it was not your intention, why did you not express the same shock when I showed you the paper?
“I am glad that it was not your intention, Doctor,” I said. “And yet, the work was given out by what seems to be a person associated with you. Do you have a personal assistant or courier of some kind, whom you charge with sending out or distributing your papers?”
He leaned back into his chair.
“Well, yes. What of it?” he asked.
“My students say that they got a hold of this paper from him. That he stands on a street corner every Thursday morning and hands them out to passers-by. I actually arrived at your house this morning by his guidance.”
He pursed his lips and furrowed his brow.
“That is…shameful. To smear and spread my name like so? To young men who are still learning their arithmetic? Shameful, how positively shameful.”
“You did not command or approve of this action then?” I asked.
“Absolutely not,” he snapped. “As I have mentioned, my work is composed strictly for my colleagues abroad. Mr. James, I want to thank you for bringing this to my attention. It would require immediate disciplinary action on my behalf.”
“I thank you for your cooperation, Doctor,” I said.
“You may call me Augustus.”
“This assistant of yours…odd fellow.”
“Yes, he has a certain condition. He does not travel during the day when the general public can see,” he said.
“Does he have a name?”
I had to take a pause, not knowing how to follow that up. Orsen waited a little bit, then smiled widely.
“I have to ask, Mr. James. Now that you have actually read my paper, what are your thoughts?”
“I’m sure my thoughts have no value to your area of expertise,” I said.
“I’m afraid, my dear sir, I have a little bit of an egotistical streak. A weakness, yes, I know. But still, I am curious. Did you find it…informative?”
“Frankly Doctor, I did not like it at all. You do seem a very pleasant man yourself, but I will not lie to myself or to you about the fact that I found the paper to be morally repulsive.”
Orsen widened his eyes, but continued smiling.
“I appreciate a firm and honest opinion, Mr. James. It is so easy to attain praise in academia in this age, where even the lowliest most unintellectual rubbish will be deemed by the general public a masterpiece. Wouldn’t you agree, sir?”
“Yes, I suppose so. I try to combat such lowliness within my school for the same reason,” I said.
“And I have great admiration for that, Mr. James. You say that you found my treatise to be ‘morally repulsive’?”
“Without a doubt.”
“You must have a very good sense of morality then?” he asked.
“I…I am a man of God.”
“Ah, a rarity of our age, especially in position of Instructor. I commend you. So, you consider yourself good?”
“We are all sinners, yet I do my best to live by virtue,” I said.
“But you know of the nature of evil?”
He stood up and strode towards the bookcase behind me and began to finger the spines of the volumes there, evidently looking for a particular one.
“It is such a fine subject of debate, I think. The objective versus the relative, the nature versus the nurture, the ideological action versus the action without ideology. I have wrapped myself in this subject and made it my expertise because I think it is so engaging; to dig into the very black heart of humanity itself.”
I did not answer.
“Mr. James, have you by chance ever heard of the ancient city of Kyrul?” he asked. I heard him take out a volume and begin to flip pages through it.
“No, I cannot say I have.”
“It does not exist anymore. Indeed, the fate of that city was so terrifying that its history was struck out of the archives, and those brave sailors that had uncovered it vowed to never speak of it to anyone.”
“Yet, you are speaking of it now,” I said, beginning to feel a heavy weight on my heart.
“Yes, because human promises are very fragile locks, ready to pop open with the simplest of tools: gold, women, torture. Take your pick. In any case, only a select few know the history of Kyrul, and we make sure not to tell of it to anyone.”
“If this is some attempt to initiate me into your organization, or whatever it may be, I refuse to listen,” I said.
Orsen came back to his seat, looking into a large black and dusty volume. He peered up at me with a smile.
“Nonsense, Mr. James. I am not kidnapping you into any organization against your will. I simply deem you to be a man of character, a man that I can see will not disclose of this history to any simple soul. I can see in your eyes, that you are very curious.”
I thought about the proposition.
“As there is no contract that I can see, and you claim I am free to be on my way after hearing this information, I would like to hear it,” I said.
He grinned, baring his teeth.
“Very good, Mr. James, very good.”
He started to turn the book-pages in a casual manner, his brow furrowed in thought.
“No doubt you are interested as to the relevancy of this… subject? Of Kyrul?” asked Orsen.
“I would suppose it has something to do with what you had just mentioned. Regarding the nature of evil,” I said.
“Precisely. And you shall see why the topic is of relevance when I begin recounting the history to you.”
I leaned back in my chair, pondering over what a character I had stumbled upon.
“Proceed. I have no engagements today,” I said.
“Excellent”, Orsen said. “But first, have you had breakfast? I’d hate to be a terrible host when I have a man of such intellect in my home.”
“Yes I have, and I much appreciate your offer. You are indeed a kindly host.”
“Perhaps you are feeling up to a fresh brew of coffee now?”
“Well…” I paused.
“It is of the highest quality, with cocoa harvested from Ethiopia. I highly recommend it,” Orsen said.
I conceded. “Alright, Doctor. Let’s have it.”
Orsen got up from his chair, leaving the massive tome on the glass table between our seats. He turned off the gramophone music and began to make coffee. Meanwhile, I felt at liberty to pick up the rotting gray volume and flip through it, with some trepidation. I found myself surprised, and strangely not surprised at the same time when I saw the contents.
“I doubt you’ll have much understanding of the symbols!” called Orsen over from the other side of the room. “It was written thousands of years ago, and to this day it remains the only printed text containing Kyrulian. But not to worry, I have learned it well enough to recite to you orally, in our common tongue.”
“I expected nothing less, Doctor,” I remarked in a playful tone. Regardless of his hospitality, I could not say I felt comfortable sitting there. But indeed, I was curious of what he had to tell me.
“Here we are,” said Orsen, handing me a white cup of porcelain with very black coffee in it. “Milk and sugar on your terms,” he smiled.
“Now, let’s begin. First off, Kyrul was not a natural settlement, as we might understand it now.”
“How do you mean?”
“It was an experiment. There lay a dormant island in the Arabian Sea, totally uninhabited, and absolutely splendid in every conceivable way. Indeed it was so splendid, that the group of sorcerers that landed there thought of this experiment on the spot, and gave it its name then.”
“You are a superstitious man, Mr. James, no doubt you will indulge me. The sorcerers that landed on Kyrul happened to be great philosophers from Sumer, and together they constructed an entire language system composed of the symbols you have seen in this book. For you see, this group of sorcerers were charged by King Enmerkar of Uruk, who had become enraptured by poetry, to find and bring back a complete understanding of the nature of evil, and not to return until they had done so. After they had seen the island, they agreed: that they would bring with them a large swathe of illiterate slaves, bring them to the island, and set them free.”
“I believe I see where this is going,” I said.
“Oh no, Mr. James. You do not.” Orsen gave me such a piercing stare that I felt my heart leap in panic for a split second, and I avoided his eyes.
“May I continue? I can assure you there will be plenty of time for questions,” he said.
“You may. I apologize.”
“Before the slaves however,” continued Orsen, “the sorcerers brought with them many masons of the highest skill from the various Mesopotamian kingdoms, and they ordered them to build a city on the island, of humble size, but a city nonetheless. But with one catch: To vacate a large open space situated directly behind the city, for the room to create a great monument. These masons toiled day and night upon this monument under the watchful gaze of the Sumerian sorcerers, and as they toiled, they felt a great weight on their souls that they knew would never be lifted.
“At last, after ten years of labor, the city and monument were complete. And in the rising sun, the sorcerers saw the produce of their twisted minds: a gargoyle, perched upon a pillar spanning a hundred feet in length. A slender, blood-starved beast of limestone that gazed with the most burning hunger across the streets of the city below. The carpenters trembled in terror at their work, not yet knowing of their horrid upcoming fate; for the sorcerers had a final plan, a master plan, for the gargoyle. When the sun had vanished below the horizon and the workers had fallen asleep, the sorcerers had them seized out of their beds and tied by rope to the monument.
“The carpenters struggled and fought, but they were no match for the mercenaries that had come by a secret ship as they slept. They were tied in a line across the span of the monument, and ropes had secured back their arms, legs, and heads, preventing all movement. And it was the first of many starless nights that night. The sorcerers pulled copper shivs from their robes, and they uttered the phrase ‘Lak verrash, kellah h’rot’: ‘This blood we give, to see the world.’ Upon uttering this phrase, they strode forward and cut the throats of the carpenters, and their blood rained upon the gargoyle’s pillar.
“For you see, the sorcerers had conceived of the perfect plan to know the nature of evil; with the sacrificial blood of the carpenters, they were able to put an enchantment upon the gargoyle they constructed. That enchantment would make sure, that upon any act of evil that occurred beneath the gargoyle’s gaze, its mouth would grow, limitless; its hunger for blood increasingly consuming. In that starless night, bathed in innocent blood, the sorcerers saw the gargoyle’s mouth expand just a few feet, and they knew that they were successful in their construction. With the knowledge that all was in function, they gave the command to their mercenaries to ship the slaves over from the other shore.
“When they had arrived, they announced to the slaves that they were now freed; that they could live in paradise, and in harmony; create business, create art, marry whom they wanted, and to have children. However, they said, they must take care not to commit evil, for they were being watched by a god, represented by the gargoyle. If they would, then they would be judged. Receiving this knowledge the slaves, now free men and women, were elated, and rushed towards their new homes, paying little mind then to the gargoyle that loomed over them. And watching these men and women run off and engage in various new pleasures, the sorcerers smiled; and they retired to a small abbey they had built for themselves on the edge of the island, with the intent of tracking the progress of their project.”
I sat silently absorbing all this, a hand upon my chin.
“I see you have questions,” Orsen said. “Please, ask.”
“Whether this story is an elaborate fiction is not currently a concern of mine, so I will not trouble you about that. However before we continue, I struggle to reconcile with the exact meaning of ‘evil’ that these…sorcerers, had enacted upon their gargoyle. What counts as evil under its gaze, to grow its mouth so? What is the definition?”
“That is an excellent question,” he said, “Indeed one of the questions that drives my study so fervently. Now we may engage in discourse, Mr. James. Let me ask you first then, what is your personal definition of evil, so we have something to start with?”
“Evil is sin in the eyes of God,” I said.
“And what is ‘sin’, precisely?”
“It is what violates our common law, and what violates our own souls as men.”
“So then ‘sin’ is a part of a system designed to prevent the initiation of force, and to distinguish a man from animal?”
“And a sinful man is one closer to animal than human?”
“And an animal does not have a soul, and does not have the grace of God?”
“No, it does not.”
“But an animal does not know of God?”
“It does not have the capacity, or self-awareness. No.”
“Does a man who is close to animal, lack also the capacity or self-awareness to know of God?”
“Well…a modern man does, and should know, as he was created in God’s image.”
“Ah, but it is here that we may begin to draw distinctions, my friend. Can an animal commit evil, Mr. James?”
“No, it cannot.”
“Because it does not know of morality or of God, correct?”
“We can agree then, that even if an animal kills a human child, it has not done evil?”
“It has not; it has merely operated on instinct.”
“And if a man who is so like an animal that he too knows not of morality or God, kill a human child, has he done evil?”
“If the man is so disposed of sense that he does not know of basic moralities, he cannot have committed evil.”
“And what do we do with animals that harm us?”
“We kill them.”
“Out of revenge?”
“No; because it is a danger.”
“And do we feel satisfaction in killing the animal?”
“No; for it is our fault for even approaching it.”
“And we would do the same to a man disposed of sense, who seeks to harm us?”
“Yes, as he cannot be tempered.”
“And we would not kill the man for revenge?”
“No; like the animal, he is merely an object of danger and instinct.”
“Even if it is a man who has killed fifty? A hundred?”
“If he is dispossessed of all knowledge of morality or God, he is like the animal. And it is our fault for allowing him to exist and take more lives.”
“We can agree then, Mr. James, that some men cannot do evil no matter their sin, based on their mental temperament?”
“Yes. I will concede to you.”
“So to do evil, a man needs to know God?”
“And the greatest sin then, is to make a personal affront to God? To insult Him with knowing sin?”
“Thus, it is here we reach our tentative conclusion that I will summarize for you: a number of years ago I met with a philosopher named Crowley, and we had a discussion very similar to the one we are having now. At the end, I was still confused as to what exactly is ‘true’ evil as we know it? As we just discovered together, some men cannot do evil. But some certainly can. And why exactly do they do it, if they know that morality and God exist, and that they will burn in eternal hellfire for their sins?”
“Tell me, Doctor.”
“’True’ evil, as Crowley put it, is not simply the actions of an animal; it is the pursuit of forbidden knowledge possessed only of angels. To commit evil, a man has to attempt to rise above his mortal nature as God designed him, for he thinks he is better than God. And so, the man replicates the fall of the arch-angel, Lucifer, who beckons the man with the forbidden knowledge that he himself has attained and corrupted from the whispers of the Lord.”
“I have never thought about it that way; it is illuminating.”
“To return to our history with the discovery of evil, we can observe with better judgment what exactly occurred in Kyrul,” Orsen said.
“Yes, I understand better now the nature of the sorcerers’ gargoyle. You mentioned that the city existed for only a few months after being constructed?”
“For seven months, exactly. Ironic, isn’t it? Now before we dive back in, would you like some more coffee?”
“Actually Doctor, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to step out for the afternoon. May I return in the evening? I’m very much interested in the rest of the tale.”
“Please, Mr. James. Do whatever you like. I do have some work to occupy me in the meantime.”
“I will see you in a few hours then. Good-bye!”
Dim rays of sunshine radiated through the thick black smog in the sky, and it was quite warm out. In these hours the air was clean, more or less, so I didn’t bother with the cheap breathing mask and took some deep breaths; Orsen’s story began to lay some heavy weight in me and I wanted to get away, at least for a while. I knew I’d be back, and I hated myself for it, but at least now I knew I could do for a walk. Spotting the monolithic brass towers of the Industry Sector past the tiny shacks and crooked streets that surrounded me, I headed into that direction. Oddly enough, no one was out here even during the day. A stench of death filled the air, and I quickened my step. After some time of walking, I saw people and stagecoaches traverse the cobblestones of the City, and I felt immense relief to feel their presence. I approached a driver.
“Good afternoon. Could you take me please to the main gate of the Industry Sector?”
The journey was not particularly long; along the way we passed the Institution, where I saw a crowd begin to assemble in the courtyard. I heard shouts and saw a glimpse of fire erupt, but my vision was covered by the eyes of Prime Benefactor Rand, who stared off from an enormous poster that adorned the wall of the Eastern Wing. The architecture around the stagecoach grew exponentially as we approached the IS, with less civilians and more Guards around. The driver let me off at a great brass arch from which extended a walkway in the middle of the Great Factory Complex. A Guard stood there, its face veiled in a gas mask, uniform adorned in rich blacks and golds, topped with a pickelhaube helmet. I flashed my Institute identification at it and it stepped aside.
I came here often for walks; there were rarely ever people about, and the sheer size and brutality of the Complex provided good background for personal reflection. Yet as I looked at those golden, smoke-belching towers of the Complex now with all its metallic veins, its black-tinted windows, I did not feel the same comfort I had before. I felt like something was watching from behind those windows. I knew the Guards who stood immobile at their preset spots were tracking my every movement. The Benefactor had told us that they were “improved” men, but that was a lie. Whatever the hell they were, they were not human. They also told us the Great Factory produced munitions for the War, that it produced advanced computers that could calculate ten steps ahead of the enemy, but I was smarter than that. A sickness was spreading across this township, and the towers filled the air with toxic aromas that smelled of iron…but such thoughts were dangerous in close proximity, and I started to reflect again on Orsen’s story. A stone gargoyle that feeds on human evil… just an absurd metaphor. I don’t believe for a second such history exists but had been hidden away for millennia. And yet still…something was definitely off with Orsen. The more I listened to him speak, the more I stared into his piercing green eyes I felt a malevolent presence breathing down my neck. I felt like some invisible noose was tightening not just around my neck, but the world around. I did not want to be in that house…yet I needed to know what happened with those slaves. Touching the cross in my pocket gave me an insisting notion that I had to hear the end of the tale. On the way back to the Old Burg I saw posters indicating multiple missing children. The sky had taken on a brown hue, and I put on my breathing mask.
“Welcome back, Mr. James. Had a pleasant walk?”
“Pleasant enough, with the weather we’re having. Dr. Orsen…you’re not from here, are you?” I said.
“No, indeed. I’m a foreigner in these parts.”
Always with that accursed smile.
“Where do you hail from?” I asked.
“Different places…it’s hard to remember. Most of them aren’t around,” Orsen said. “Anyway, I’m sure you’d like to hear about the history of Kyrul.”
“Yes. It spanned just seven months you said?”
“Correct. Let us go through these seven months chronologically,” Orsen said. “On the first month after arrival, the freed men and women of Kyrul separated into couples. Some of them may have been married already, and some of them had simply fallen in love. Many of them had their own children already. These couples picked a house of their choosing and began to discuss what trade they would engage in. Some went off to catch fish, others began to chop down trees to create tools. And some of these freed men, were alone and had no wives. As well, they possessed no skill in handicraft, nor fishing, or anything else.
“So these men looked on in jealousy on their fellow citizens, and in some began to grow a seed of rage. Some of these men powered through their impulsive will and joined the rest, learning new skills from their peers. Still, some remained as bitter outcasts and they formed their own circle, plotting how to take their own women and perhaps build a different society, but they did not yet know how; they saw the gargoyle staring above them, and they thought of the judgment it would enact. They were very curious about it. So as an experiment, the more intelligent leaders of the outcasts sent some of those who were of significantly lower intelligence out into the village to kidnap a number of women and bring them back. Those they sent were absolute brutes; more animal-like than man certainly, and the leaders knew this and used it to their advantage.
“At night, the brutes kidnapped several women from their homes as they slept, and some of them murdered their husbands. When they brought the women to their caves, they did unspeakable things to them. And the leaders did nothing to stop it; for they were curious. Eventually the brutes had had enough of their amusement, and killed the women. When the sun arose the next morning, the leaders saw that the gargoyle had grown larger, that its mouth hung lower and wider. They gazed on this sight, and they pondered on what to do next.
“Meanwhile, on the first day of the second month, the men and women of Kyrul discovered the grisly crimes of the previous night, and they declared revenge. Thus, these men and women organized themselves into raiding parties and they searched exhaustively around the island for the perpetrators. Some of those animal-like men they found and captured. Not beholden to any laws, they enacted their justice on the brutes with visceral revenge when they discovered what they had done. Under pain of the most wrathful tortures, the brutes named their leaders, and having received their knowledge, the Kyruleans executed them and vowed to prescribe tortures even worse upon the leaders. As this occurred, the gargoyle grew ever larger, with its mouth expanding around three times in size from the blood-letting that it saw.
“In the third month, it was discovered that the Kyruleans had in their wrath, captured and executed some wrong suspects, leaving behind widows and orphans who did not know why their fathers were slain. These and others in the city began to hear whispers from no one, began to see shades flickering on the walls in the corners of their eyes. All had seen the gargoyle’s change, and they were afraid. Some feebly declared that all blood-letting should be stopped, but these were no match for the dark whispers. Each man and woman began to perceive and identify enemies, and those original brute leaders used this to their advantage for recruitment, not yet aware of what their crimes would cost them. More murders occurred that evening, some isolated in the back-alleys, some were the work of new gangs that arose. Still, the gargoyle grew.
“In the fourth month all skilled labor and regular life had ceased, and these former illiterate slaves began to panic. Reports came that the dead were seen walking the streets at night, and many Kyruleans banded together in their fear and wanted to leave the island. But alas, there were no ships or boats for them to escape on. Some realized the true purpose of the gargoyle and they began to worship it and manifest themselves into cults. Indeed, many of those young slaves who had lost entire families in the conflict began to see how fragile humanity was, and how flimsy its morality under pressure. And they sought to please their god, committing acts of utter depravity beneath its starving stone eyes, and by this time it had multiplied twice in its original size, dwarfing the city below. Its mouth hung like a great fanged cavern that nestled vampire bats.
“In the fifth month all semblance of civilized society had been lost. Many houses had been burnt down, its inhabitants tortured and murdered in the name of the all-destroying gargoyle. Some still had the strength to form distinct small tribes, and they remembered about the sorcerers that had sent them here, and they were full of rage. They scoured the island and found their abbey in a dark cove near the coast. They captured the sorcerers, who offered no resistance, and they asked them: How do we escape the evil of men? How do we escape the gargoyle? The sorcerers laughed, for now they knew they had discovered what they had been searching for on this island. They responded: There is no escape. There is nothing to do. There is nothing to be. And there is no one to know. Receiving this reply, the Kyruleans burst into tears and slaughtered them. The gargoyle was now a mountain.
“In the sixth month, the Kyruleans were stricken with what seemed to be a sort of brain disease. They held conversations with dead friends, foes and family members. They began to see spirits striding amongst the trees, watching them with bright yellow eyes. Children dreamt of how angels came to see them; they thought they were saved, but then they saw the angels had their innards hanging out of their stomachs, and they screamed. Many began to kill themselves, either drowning in the sea or bashing themselves with rocks. Some realized that they were part of a great experiment, and this included those original leaders of the murderous brutes. They had already resigned their fates, and they finally understood what God had not intended for them to understand. There was very little island left anymore, as the pillar supporting the gargoyle had collapsed, and its gargantuan mass, dwarfing even the largest empires, eclipsed that of the island. Anywhere they would look, the Kyruleans would only see the dark chasm of its mouth.
“Finally, on the first day of the seventh month, all understood what needed to be done. And so the murderers, the torturers, the rapists, along with the innocents, the women and children all held hands together; and all walked in unison, in a final rite of self-annihilation, into the belly of the gargoyle, where they ceased to exist. The gargoyle, engorged on human evil and human suffering, became too heavy for the island to support, and so it collapsed into the ocean depths along with the stone monstrosity, struck forever from the annals of known history.”
My heart pounded in my chest, and I felt beads of sweat stand out on my forehead. With my hand trembling, I removed my glasses; they had grown foggy.
“And yet, Doctor, the history exists?” I asked.
“Yes. For you see, Mr. James, the Sumerian sorcerers knew what would happen, and they planned accordingly. Most were slaughtered, yes. But a very small number of them managed to escape just before Kyrule’s destruction,” Orsen said.
“Escaped…” I murmured. A strange glint glowed in Orsen’s emerald eyes and I felt an unknown power stare at me from behind them.
“While this was a totally fascinating tale, Doctor,” I began, “unfortunately I cannot believe something like that ever happened. Man was not created by God to be such a satanic beast as you describe.”
“Ah, and now we arrive at the truth of the matter,” Orsen said, looking very hungry in a disconcerting way. “We are both men of God, you see, but in completely different ways.”
“How can you be a man of God?” I asked. “No man of God would write what you had written in that treatise. Child sacrifices, the drinking of goat’s blood…”
“You are a man of God in the sense that you are deceived in the belief that God is alive and cares about you!” Orsen said, baring his teeth. “But in my many years of study, what I had come to discover would drive any regular man insane. And that is the knowledge that we are God’s abomination. When He conceived of our unholy existence, God could not bear the thought of such a creation! And so, He committed the greatest cosmic suicide, shattering into trillions of mirror shards that now walk this earth, screaming and laughing in an endless illusory parade of mindless mirrors.”
“Stop it,” I said.
“Understand, Mr. James that those Sumerian sorcerers had a plan, and it was a good plan, for their time. But they did not go far enough. They could not see ahead! For them, the discovery of evil had been the conclusion, not the method.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Hold him fast,” Orsen said, and I felt clawed hands grab onto my shoulders, digging into my flesh. I felt warm blood begin to ooze through the sleeves of my shirt. Turning around, I saw that it was the creature with light orbs for its eyes and a beak, and I screamed. Orsen continued to stare at me, and his face…shimmered, for just a few moments, and I glimpsed something there that was not of this world. From the doorway entered a creature that looked alike to the one whose claws rent my flesh.
“Bring the specimen,” Orsen said. “We are going to show Mr. James the truth of this world.”
The blood I was losing gave me a fever and my vision began to shake, details from around the room disappearing one after the other. Orsen looked to be wearing different clothes…a robe of some kind.
“Feeling a little lost, Mr. James? Not to worry; have some of this. It’ll wake you up.” He approached with some sort of cigarette and put it to my lips. Immediately I smelt that it was opium, and I tried to rid myself of the agent with deep breaths, but it was no use; I felt all my muscles and joints loosen, and the air took on a viscous nature. The second creature came with something in its clawed hands, something producing soft moans. I focused my eyes and saw that it was a little girl, no more than eight years of age, and I recognized her from the posters of missing children.
“What…what are you doing?” I sputtered.
Orsen produced some sort of powder from his robe and threw it into the fireplace. The flames there flared with unnatural force, taking on new shapes and to my horror, I saw a grotesque face emerge there, resembling a predatory animal of some kind. Its eyes darted wildly, and the licks of flame resembling a tongue slobbered with hunger.
“Annabel, my little lamb,” Orsen said, placing a bronze basin in front of the girl, “are you ready to meet the Great Friend?”
“Great Friend, Great Nothing, my mother’s forsaken, a blueblackbluegatedeath for me,” said the girl, Annabel.
Orsen pulled a shiv out of his robes.
“Stop!” I cried, with all the weakness of my voice. The blood still coursed down my shoulders from the creature’s claws, but the pain had been numbed. Annabel saw the shiv and started to cry and scream, but the creature held her tightly.
“I still want to see the stars, O Heavenly Father!” she cried. Orsen placed the blade against her throat.
“Lak verrash, kellah h’rot” he uttered, and I turned my head away. The scent of blood filled the room, and I heard an accelerated pat-pat-pat of liquid hitting the metal of the basin. I could not stomach my nausea and tasted bile in my mouth. The gargoyle in the flames emitted a roar and the room was engulfed in the light of flames. Orsen approached me with some kind of book in his hands, and he opened it, slapping my face and shoving it into my vision.
“Look upon our work, Mr. James!” Orsen cried, flipping through pages of murders, wars, genocides, mutilations. On the final page, there was a photograph of the Great Factory Complex of our City. “Look on the wonders we’ve built! In Kyrul, this tiny population of slaves brought an entire island to the ocean floor with its evil, and thus signaled to us what needs to be done with the world. You may say that the Kyrul experiment was a mistake; any sane man would say so. And we agree, that it was too small an impact. And now perhaps you understand, Mr. James, that this world is a mistake, and together we will make sure that the cosmic gargoyle will let the world walk together into final, eternal annihilation.”
The creature’s grip loosened, and I sprang from my chair and out the room disoriented and half-blind with feverish blood loss, hearing Orsen’s laughter echo behind me. Outside, I looked up and saw the starless night sky stretching over me like a great black maw, and in the distance the monolith of the Great Factory Complex belched smoke.