Tower Beyond Time

Chapter 1   Servant of The Unfathomable

    Melgor Erdin woke. He lay with his eyes closed, unwilling to confront reality again. It seemed but an instant since he had lain on the couch in the gloom of the Hall of the Transcender, yet he had an overwhelming conviction that he had slept for ages, perhaps eons. Reluctantly he opened his eyes. He sat up. Nothing had changed. The hall stretched away on all sides, its walls, if it had any, lost in the gloom. Above him likewise, the space was bounded only by the opacity of distance. A misty nebulosity swirled slowly across the floor concealing even that from his gaze. Silence enfolded him, a silence he felt compelled to break.
    "Did you waken me?" He spoke into the emptiness which surrounded him and from that same void came back the soft and measured tones of the Transcender.
    "I woke you. My creator's deliberations are complete."
    "And the verdict?"
    "The Unfathomable is confident that matters can be adjusted."
    "Everything can be restored to its former state?"
    "Perhaps not in entirety, but the disruption can he minimised. However, you must follow the instructions I give you implicitly."
    "And if I refuse?"
    "The Unfathomable wishes to counteract the misfortunes which have befallen your world, and other worlds, as a result of your existence. It appears this can be done only with your willing cooperation. If you will not give this, the responsibility for continued chaos of countless planets and innumerable lives throughout the three tetracontinua and the pentacontinuum will he yours and yours alone."
     "That is a monstrous calumny," cried Melgor Erdin. "The blame rests entirely on your creator. Without his meddling there would have been no disruption. It is no fault of mine."
    "Had The Unfathomable chosen not to act as he did it is true that many things would have been different - the least of these, perhaps, being that you would not have existed. No creature can escape the responsibility for his own existence."
    "I did not ask to exist," murmured Melgor Erdin.
    "Precisely. No being can bring about his own existence, so to deny the responsibility for that existence is tantamount to denying the possibility of responsibility. That surely is an untenable position."
    The man was silent.
    "The Unfathomable commanded me to show you something. At least postpone your decision until you have seen what it is my creator is anxious for you to experience."
    "Why must I see for myself? Can you not describe it? I have endured enough."
    "I do not know what it is. I know only what you must do."
    Melgor Erdin sighed.
    "I am weary," he protested.
    "Yet you have slept for millennia."
    "And now you wish me to see the consequences of my actions, magnified by time?"
    "My creator has not confided motives to me, but there must be more to it than that I think. The Unfathomable is as the name implies, but there is the offer of hope. Dare you refuse it?"
    The man rose.
    "I will see."
    "Follow the path."
    An avenue cleared in the mist, and Melgor Erdin saw a line of red squares leading away across the hall. He walked slowly in the direction it indicated and felt no surprise when it brought him to an opaque cylinder, slightly taller and broader than himself. It glowed with a cold light of its own and within it there moved shapes which vanished as he tried to identify them. This he knew was the jar that rested in the topmost chamber of the Tower of Jeratana, the central spire of Castle Kada. If he were to enter the jar, he would step from the extra-spatial Transcender into the world of Gildon, the world of his birth but from which his nature had exiled him. Now that remote being The Unfathomable desired that he return there, doubtless to gaze upon destruction and suffering engendered by his creation. Abruptly he took courage and reached out his hand. It passed easily through the surface of the cylinder and he followed it.
    He was in the familiar room that housed the jar and which was otherwise bare. He turned to stare at the cylinder that was the gateway to the Transcender, but it bore the same appearance as it had from the other side. He stretched out his hand towards it and was unsurprised to find the surface now unyielding. He would not be permitted to return until he had seen whatever it was The Unfathomable wanted him to see.
    He opened the heavy wooden door and stepped out onto the landing. A small circular window was before him and he looked out. It was the season of the red sun Auvara and the sky was filled with rosy light. Peering down he could see a mass of scarlet cloud that hid the ground from view. With increasing trepidation he began the long descent of the tower, past the chamber which contained the globe filled with the trapped energy of primeval cosmic rays; past the room in which a vial of black glass glowed with a drop of sun substance separated from the vitreous walls by powerful forces. Lower down were objects less singular, but of great beauty - paintings, statuettes, rare crystals, precious metals, books full of the knowledge and the fancies of the ages. Glancing into them, Melgor was reassured to see that the rooms and exhibits appeared all as they had in bygone days. Then he remembered that one of the properties of the tower was that it seemed to isolate its contents from the effects of the flow of time in the world beyond. It was a mystery which Melgor Erdin had discussed with his adoptive grandparents, the Emperor Tandar and the Empress Karyopa, but it remained a mystery. All they could agree on was that it seemed in some way related to the presence of the jar in the top of the tower, and Melgor suspected that it was a manifestation of the temporal properties of the Transcender itself.
    These memories and others occupied his mind as his body continued the monotonous descent, past rooms now larger, some full of arcane machines or instruments, others crammed with collections of strange flora and weird fauna, garnered from the many worlds of the Dimavatan Empire.
    The returning exile was now down to the level of the clouds and he saw the windows of the building beaded with moisture, but his eyes could not penetrate the murk. On and on, down and down he went. He took the tight spiral which branched off from the outer staircase and led steeply down through the centre of the spire, away from the windows. As in the days of old this stairway glowed with a pearly light from hidden sources.
    At last Melgor Erdin reached the base of the tower and, stepping into the entrance hall, made for the door to the outside world.
    He was brought to an abrupt halt by the sight of a drift of sand spilling in through the open doorway. It convinced him with greater finality than perhaps anything else could have done that disaster had struck at Yara, the capital of the Dimavatan Empire. Slowly he trod through the soft sand out into what had been the courtyard of Castle Kada. Even then he was unprepared for the full extent of the devastation. Nothing remained of the castle but piles of shattered masonry, and heaps of rubble. With leaden heart he tramped across the wind shaped dunes to the gaping gateway and stared out over what had once been a great city.
    His feet sank ankle-deep in the wind-fined sand, the alluvium of the ages. Now even the wind was dead.
    The light filtering through the banks of high cloud only dimly illumined the scene before him but he could see enough to know that Yara was now a desert. Deserted Yara, vanished Dimavata; Melgor Erdin mourned their passing with a bitterness which sprang from the knowledge that it was his existence which had brought about the fall of the once eternal Empire, had brought old age and presumably death to those believed to be immortal, that imperial pair, Tandar and Karyopa.
    Yet he had striven to repair the damage. He had directed the war against the Nadablans; he had been the architect of victory. And when the foe from beyond had retreated, he had reunited the sundered Empire. He had reconquered the seceding provinces, had regained Amant and Tathagor, had quelled the pirates of Yogipal, brought rebellious Sitratha to heel, had freed the rich provinces of Nabala, Vaganarat and Dilangor from the usurping tyrant Dhisavar. With armies raised from loyal Vidra and Slakan he had relieved Slurod and brought justice to Tumbra and Ralavar, had released Zelavar and Nivar from thrall, and made treaties of peace with the daughter worlds of Tailada and Undrava and the lesser planets, all but Camulashivanava which had vanished during the time of temporal turmoil, and had not reappeared.
    He had begot an heir Arkator on Alandra the daughter of Tandar and Karyopa. When at last he was forced once more into the exile of the Transcender, much had been accomplished and the future of Dimavata had seemed secure. Now he feared all the strife had been in vain.
    Lightning flashed from lowering clouds, momentarily illumining the sombre scene - crumbled towers, choked streets, sagging walls, heaps of dressed stone, and everywhere the sand creeping, flowing, wind-driven through deserted thoroughfares and empty homes, a suffocating blanket of black grains. Despairing, he turned his back on the desolation. The inside of the Tower of Jeratana was lit as always by its own subdued glow and by it, Melgor Erdin saw for the first time the statue. It had not been there when that last time he had raced through, desperate to reach the room of the jar, to leave Gildon and so spare it the time-quakes which occurred whenever he stayed too long in this world - or indeed any world. That was the curse which lay upon him. He had no time to call his own, and therefore no place, for his existence filled space with events, increasing the time flow, unbalancing it.
    The Unfathomable had guided him through the Transcender to the cosmos of his parents, the five dimensional continuum and the world of Anren. But there was no place or time for him there. He had visited the four dimensional continuum of the world of Shon, a cosmos resembling that in which Gildon existed, save that time's arrow there pointed in the opposite direction. For a while he was at rest. In conformity with the time conservation law which linked the two continua, his existence at first served to redress the balance between the two which his life on Gildon had upset. But he outstayed his allotted span and brought temporal dislocation to the world of Shon also. Fleeing, he took with him his lover the beautiful Lu-se and so further complications arose.
    With an effort he shook off these memories of a past which, seeming but recent to him, was nevertheless aeons old. He approached the effigy and with a further shock realised it was a representation of himself. Again his mind raised memories. Almost his last words to his second wife, Alandra, had been spoken on this very spot as she stood holding their child Arkator. He had said that the chamber seemed designed to accommodate something which was no longer there - or rather he had realised with what he now saw was prescience, something which was not yet there. After his abrupt departure, the deficiency had been made good by the installation of this effigy of himself. There could be no doubt of its identity, for on the base of the stone figure was inscribed in letters of gold the legend Melgor Erdin.
    For long he stared at it and he knew that he had seen all that The Unfathomable had meant him to see.
    Wearily he climbed back up the tower. It was a long ascent and in his mood of depression, tedious. Nevertheless he was sorry when he reached the topmost landing, for during the climb he had felt his fate to be in abeyance. Now he must face it. He entered the room of the jar and approached the noctilucent cylinder. He stretched out his hand and the surface offered no resistance. He stepped through and was back in the Hall of the Transcender.
    He waited a moment while his eyes adjusted to the gloom. Vapour swirled about his knees. He wondered again what function it performed. Was it part of the thought process of the Transcender? Was it a form of sensory apparatus? He could ask the machine - if machine it was - but some puerile reluctance restrained him. Instead he made what he knew to be a redundant statement.
    "I have returned."
    "I am glad." There seemed real warmth in the Transcender's response but Melgor Erdin discounted it.
    "I have seen, but I have not understood," he continued. "What is it that your creator wishes me to do?"
    "The Unfathomable has instructed me to ask you to return to Gildon at an earlier epoch."
    "And what am I to do there - or am I simply to observe once more the evil fruits of my accursed life?"
    "You sadden me when you speak so," chided the Transcender, and once again it seemed to Melgor Erdin that there was humanity and compassion in the voice of his mentor, but still he mistrusted it. He remained silent.
    "You must do whatever seems right to you," went on the Transcender.
    "Right in what sense?" Melgor Erdin was querulous, and slightly ashamed of himself for being so. "Do you mean morally right? Or right for your creator's plans? Or right for those whom history has betrayed? Which do you mean?"
    "You must do whatever seems right to you," repeated the Transcender.
    "Very well," sighed the man. "But do not hold me responsible if I make matters worse."
    "You will hold yourself responsible," answered his interlocutor and Melgor Erdin knew this to be the truth. He was given no further time for introspection however.
    "On the table nearby is a small device. Take it and strap it to your wrist. When you feel its warning you must return without delay. In that way further time-slips can be avoided."
    A small patch cleared in the mist and the Gildan saw a low table, apparently floating above a tiled floor. On it was a metal disc fixed to a strap. Melgor took it and fastened it to his wrist. The mist swallowed up the table immediately and a path opened to his left. He followed it and came once more to the cylinder, gateway to the universe where, in the galaxy of Ipato, the planet Gildon traced out its complicated path about the many coloured suns of the Vindo cluster - the yellow Kanthara, and Auvara the red; hot white Lindara and the dark star Lumerin; blue Astara and Shavara the orange sun.
    Stepping through the portal he arrived in the tower room, a place he had come to loathe for its associations. He wasted no time in opening the heavy wooden door to the landing. The pure yellow light of Kanthara poured through the circular window before him. Looking out he saw the air was clear and far, far below he could just make out the dark spread of the imperial city of Yara, intersected by thin lines which he knew to be broad tree filled avenues, resembling parks more than roadways. His heart lifted a little as he began the descent of the tower, up the stairs of which he had so recently trudged, but this time his step was lighter and he spared a glance or two for the exhibitions and collections he passed. He kept to the outer stairway, rejoicing in the warm golden glow of the yellow star.
    His good spirits were damped slightly by the sight of his statue standing in the entrance hall of the Tower of Jeratana. Evidently The Unfathomable had released him at a time later than that which had preceded his hibernation. He stepped out of the hall into the courtyard of Castle Kada. He was relieved to see the ancient fortress was in good repair, better perhaps than when he had last dwelt there. Nevertheless there was something not quite right about it. No windows looked out on the courtyard; the walls surrounding him were eyeless and this gave them a sinister appearance. Striding across the open space he looked up at the Tower of Jeratana. That noble building was well fenestrated. Whoever had blocked up the openings in the rest of the castle would need to have been powerful indeed to meddle with the structure of the tower, an edifice older than the castle, older than the city, older even than recorded history and, as Melgor Erdin alone knew, destined to exist aeons after all the rest of the castle had been reduced to dust.
    Still, there was little comfort in that. The Tower of Jeratana stood for purposes alien to the desires and ambitions of Melgor Erdin and those he loved. He walked across the courtyard and through the vast gateway that led to the sloping way down into the city and stared in disbelief.
    All about the ancient home of the Emperor stretched the city of Yara, but a city blinded in the same fashion as the castle. Buildings without windows, doors shut fast; and the great avenues which had brought the trees of the forest into the heart of the metropolis were now roofed in with a black material which reflected the yellow light of the sun. There was no sign of the citizens of the capital of the Empire of Dimavata, if such it still was. Was the city deserted or were its inhabitants locked within their sightless buildings? There seemed only one way to find out and so the returning exile began to walk down the slope which led from the castle gateway to one of the covered boulevards.
    He had covered about half the distance when a movement caused him to halt. From the mouth of the avenue emerged a large vehicle, running on caterpillar tracks and fitted with a black visor at the front. He watched as the vehicle approached. It reminded him of something which for the moment he could not place but the elusive memory disturbed him. The tracked machine drew alongside him and stopped. For a while nothing more happened. Melgor Erdin studied the vehicle. It stood higher than he did, and was constructed of a greyish metal.        It was scrupulously clean, even to the caterpillar tracks which had picked up no dirt or dust in their ascent of the ancient causeway. Once again Melgor Erdin felt uneasy. The sky was bright with the yellow beams of Kanthara, a season which normally brought great exuberance to Gildon - a profusion of multicoloured flowers, rapid vegetable growth, and a flamboyance of avian plumage that out­ did that of the seasons of all the other suns. But Melgor could see no flowers. When last He had visited Gildon, the castle courtyard was a mass of foliage and exotic blossom, every window had its carefully tended window box. Now there were no windows, no boxes, no flowers. He looked at the fissured surface of the old roadway. In ancient times each crack would have had its miniature flora and the users of the highway would adjust their steps to avoid crushing them so dearly beloved had flowers been. Now the way was sterile, not even moss encroached on its rugged paving.
    He raised his eyes and scanned the horizon. Not a tree was to be seen. Perhaps the coverings of the avenues hid tree lined walks but he could not persuade himself to believe it. And there were no birds. Where the air had been full of their twittering and melody, now it was silent. Once their bright shapes had swooped and dived heedless of passers-by. Now all was still; the highway itself was deserted unless the machine was taken into account.
    Abruptly a door opened towards the back of the vehicle. Melgor Erdin peered in. He saw a small windowless space fitted with a seat. It was not inviting. A trumpet shape on top of the vehicle swung towards him and a series of guttural sounds were emitted. At first the man thought the Transcender had failed to adjust his speech centres to understand the language of this age, but then he realised that it was his own lack of wit that had left him expecting the old Gildan tongue. When the vehicle spoke again, the meaning penetrated and Melgor Erdin recognised that it was a mutated form of the argot of his own day.
    "Please get in. We will take you to the safety of the city. There you will meet the Elders."
    Melgor Erdin hesitated; yet what alternative was there? Until he knew more about the current epoch he could not judge what was expedient for him to do and what was not. Instinctively he mistrusted the cell-like compartment offered to him, but there was no knowing whether instinct was a reliable or unreliable guide in the present circumstances. He resolved to follow logic instead. He was here to involve himself in this period and he had limited time in which to do anything, so he must seize the opportunity offered. He climbed in. The door slid shut behind him, leaving him with only artificial illumination of the clean white quality of Lindara. It was so close a mimicry of that sun's light that he was not surprised to notice his hands begin to take on the black skin colour of the season of Lindara in place of the deep tan of Kanthara.
    The machine swung round and trundled back down the causeway. A screen lit up in front of Melgor Erdin showing him what was obviously a view from the front of the vehicle. At the same time a voice spoke.
    "Thank you for your co-operation. When we reach the city, you will be asked to enter the decontamination unit. There is nothing to fear. Please follow the instructions you will be given at the time. Then we shall be able to converse face to face."
    No reply seemed necessary, so Melgor Erdin remained silent. When the vehicle reached the foot of the ramp it rolled towards what had once been a broad and leafy avenue through Yara but which now resembled a bare dark tunnel, whose entrance was masked by some kind of curtain. As the machine passed through this veil he beard a sharp crackle, and sparks coruscated off the metal surface of the vehicle. Evidently the curtain was invested with a form of energy. Once they were through the barrier, he discovered the avenue was not after all dark but was as brilliantly lit as the inside of his compartment. The trees really had vanished however, and the broad street was paved with a silvery metal.
    The machine ground on for a short distance and then turned into a side road. It halted by a large building. Moments later the door to Melgor's compartment slid open and he saw that an exit tube was now attached to the side of the vehicle He stepped gingerly into it but found it strong and rigid, so strode determinedly along it, arriving quite quickly at a desk. A screen behind this displayed a request that he enter a cubicle, remove his clothing and place it in the chute he would find. His body would then be cleansed and dried and his clothing returned clean and sterilised. Somewhat dubiously Melgor Erdin complied. He was surprised to find the showering, lathering, rinsing and warm air drying to be gentle yet refreshing and invigorating despite being entirely automatic. He had to admit to himself that his clothes also benefited considerably from his hosts' attentions.
    He was directed to leave the decontamination chamber by a second door which opened from the back of it into another corridor. Two men were waiting for him. Melgor Erdin was relieved to see that this reception committee at any rate was human.
    They spoke in unison and in a dispassionate tone. They seemed to the returning exile to be very old and frail and he ascribed their lack of enthusiasm for his advent to this circumstance.
    "If you are not too tired, we should like you to meet the Elders now," continued one of the men.
    "I should be happy to do so," answered Melgor, wondering if the term "Elder" was to be taken literally. It was difficult to imagine anyone being older than the pair who confronted him. Together the three of them walked slowly, very slowly, along the passage for a short distance and entered a room.
    It was not a large chamber and contained only a U-shaped table and perhaps twenty seats, each occupied by a man or a woman whose lined features and grizzled hair suggested to the visitor that they were indeed older than his escort. These latter two sank thankfully on to chairs flanking the door. The Eldest of the Elders spoke in a voice as thin as the wind across the wilderness and in short sentences interspersed with laboured breathing.
    "Please sit."
    Melgor Erdin took the only remaining seat which had been set at the open end of the U.
    Another door opened and Melgor Erdin was pleased to see a younger person at last, not indeed as young as he felt himself to be, but not at any rate aged. The attendant came up to him, awe and some apprehension in his expression. He half bowed, handed Melgor a document and then, bowing again, retreated whence he had come.
    Melgor glanced at the thin sheet of metal he had been given. It was covered in printed words. He looked at the oldest of the old.
    "Aloud?" he asked. The Eldest of the Elders shook his head silently and closed his eyes. Melgor glanced round the table and saw that almost all the assembly were sitting, eyes closed, whether asleep, in deep thought, or simply resting, there was no way of guessing. He looked back at the sheet he held and began to read it.
    "In the reign of Tandar, the once immortal, was born Melgor Erdin and he brought change into the world, both good and evil. In that time the Eternal Empire was invaded by the fierce Nadablans, but under Melgor Erdin's leadership they were repulsed. When the Empire of Dimavata was rent by internal dissension, it was Melgor Erdin who reunited it. These things were the good. The evil sprang from the aging of the once immortal Emperor and his consort, Karyopa. When they died, internecine strife was renewed and the Empire finally fragmented. Long before that Melgor Erdin had departed, whither no one knows. He entered the Tower of Jeratana but is there no longer. His grief-stricken wife had sculpted a statue in his honour and placed it in the entrance to the tower. It was said, and many still believe, that Melgor Erdin is not gone for ever but merely sleeps in the halls of the gods, and will one day return, once more to bring change to Dimavata. But whether that will be for good or ill, men dispute."
    Melgor Erdin looked up. The Eldest of the Elders opened his eyes and spoke once more.
    "That is the legend of Melgor Erdin. You resemble his effigy. You came from the tower. Do you claim to be he?"
    "I am he," answered Melgor in the same archaic manner.
    A barely perceptible sigh murmured round the table, like dry leaves rustling in the cool wind of the season of Lumerin the dark sun.
    "Your claim presents many problems," almost whispered the Eldest of the Elders. "Is it true? It would be simpler if it were not. Then the only decision to be made would be how best to dispose of you; the only question unanswered would be why you should attempt such a fraud." There was a long pause after this extended speech before the ancient spokesman resumed. "If your claim is true ..." He held his hands out, palms up in a gesture of hopelessness, shaking his head in disbelief and sighing once more. A few other of the Elders shook their heads in sympathy. Some nodded but Melgor Erdin suspected that this was with sleep rather than in assent. More time passed in silence before the Eldest of the Elders began again.
    "If you were Melgor Erdin we would not only have to decide what to do with you. We should have to re­evaluate our beliefs; reconstruct our theories; rethink our plans. If you prove the legends true, all our efforts have been grounded in falsehood."
    "Would that matter?" For the first time one of the other Elders spoke. The Eldest considered the question carefully before replying.
    "Not necessarily."
    Melgor Erdin began to feel irritated at being thus discussed, as though he were solely a problem instead of a person. The overwhelming odour of age threatened to stifle him. Clearly the term Elder was no mere honorific. The government of Yara must now be a gerontocracy and presumably conservative to the point of being totally moribund. If all their deliberations proceeded at so pedestrian a pace there could be few decisions made in a day. He decided that he bad been patient long enough. The time had come to jolt these ancients into activity of some kind, otherwise he might be recalled from Gildon before he had achieved anything.
    "I am Melgor Erdin," he repeated, "and I have come to change the future."
    A shudder ran through the meeting, confirming his expectation of their conservatism.
    "That must not be." The Eldest of the Elders recovered first from the shock of Melgor's revolutionary statement. "I do not believe you are Melgor Erdin. He is a myth, a story to which the people cling, source of deluded hope. You are an impostor. You represent a plot of the Timewave. You will pay the penalty." The Eldest abruptly ceased to speak and leaned back in his chair breathing stertorously.
    "Everything must change," asserted Melgor Erdin more gently. "We cannot prevent change but we can guide it, channel it towards good rather than evil."
    "That is our responsibility," stated the Eldest. "We cannot share it with anyone. Only the old have wisdom and we are the oldest of the old. We have the greatest wisdom. There is only one older and wiser than we, the Emperor Tandar himself."