Shallice and Morband: Chapter 4

Before the break of morning, Paltrus was at the gate of Arrburdak with no distraction from enemy soldiers.  Paltrus had received word that Polius and his men were not to be found anywhere near the enemy.  He was pleased to hear this, but did not know to where or why they would have left.  He gave little thought to this before continuing his journey.

The gate was easily opened.  It was no larger than the gates at Enoth or the Talian Capital.  There were designs and patterns carved into the gate that were every bit as eloquent as those carved into the columns of the White Chapel, with colorful branches and leaves of extinct flora that did not seem familiar to Paltrus.  There were pictures of travelers being greeted by the inhabitants of the city.  Paltrus felt more welcome passing through this ancient gate than he did passing through the gates of the Palace of Champions.

As the gate was opened, not one bit of dust fell from it, as if it had never fallen into disrepair or disuse.  The mine could not possibly be kept clean, but the gate repelled anything that naturally disgusted those who passed through it.  The open gate revealed a city equally pleasing to the eye.  There were tall towers, spiraling towards the top of the cave, which seemed to be as distant as the sky itself.  These towers were built of some smooth stone and supported by flying buttresses, as well as by each other.  There were arched doors and windows with no glass, and through them anyone on the road could clearly see the insides of the towers.  In the doors and lower windows one could see lounging furniture and lecture halls.  Through the higher and much larger windows, one could see massive charts of constellations and complex stargazing equipment.  The roads were polished and colored with pictures of great events in the life of the city.  Yet in the midst of this colorful display, everything was touched by a green and blue light.  The light did not seem to be very bright, but still revealed every detail of the intricate city much more clearly than the light of the sun would have done.  Great distances could be seen as if close.  It seemed that such a light could be seen by a blind man.

Paltrus and Talius led their men into the city, and could see no borders.  The city itself spread as far as they could see in every direction excepting only the gate.  It could easily be seen that this city was beneath all of Bel-Tharad.  Talius looked ahead and saw a round tower that had four large windows on a single story that were higher than most of the other towers reached.  Out of these four windows emanated the green and blue light that touched the entire city.

“There!” said Talius, “The Flame is in that tower.  It is called the Tower of the World.  We must scale that tower!”

“Then to that tower we will go,” Paltrus said.  Then, turning to the soldiers, he said “Guard the entrance.  I will go alone.”

“Alone?” Talius asked.

“Is there anything of danger in the tower according to the lore?”

“No, it should be quite safe, but–”

“Then the only danger is from the enemy behind us.  You shall stay here and command the men while I retrieve the Flame.”

After a silent moment, Talius said, “Yes, my lord.”

Talius and the soldiers turned their attention away from the tower and towards the gate behind them, and Paltrus continued towards the tower.  Looking up into the windows, Paltrus stared at the light coming out of them.  The source was apparently not stationary, as the light seemed to slowly move.  In some areas it was more blue, and in others more green, but always moving.  As his horse continued towards the tower, Paltrus was in a trance, at times thinking he might have seen a corner of the Flame itself, and not just the light emanating from it.  When he thought he saw it, his heart jumped, and he was overcome with ecstasy.  Being in his trance, he hardly noticed that his horse had slowed to an easier pace, yet the seconds still passed as if hours.

Paltrus was roused from his trance, though slowly, by the sound of metal against metal and yells of pain behind him.  Still slowly, he turned his horse towards the gate.  There seemed twice as many soldiers as before, and they were fighting amongst themselves.  One of the two apparent factions was far more successful, as the other was almost destroyed.  Among the dead was Talius, but he was the only one there, living or dead, that was not wearing Dhelian armor.

While the fight continued, Paltrus heard hoofbeats from another direction, this time from between the Tower of the World and a neighboring tower.  He turned and saw Polius upon his horse, in full armor, with desperation in his eye and a mace in his hand.  He came at Paltrus, and before Paltrus could collect himself from his trance, he fell.

Paltrus awoke from a dream.  In this dream, a red fire was in his mouth, and Paltrus could not remove it.  In pain, Paltrus tried to quench the fire with water, but streams would do nothing to it.

Paltrus did not wake from this dream onto a bed, but onto a cold stone floor.  The stones were cracked and jagged.  Dirt and pebbles found their way into his torn sackcloth clothing, pinching and cutting his skin.  This pain, however, was overshadowed by the far greater stiff pain in the muscles of his back, which prevented him from sitting up with ease.

When he managed to sit up with much difficulty, he looked about him to find that he was in a room that was very dark, with only a small amount of light in his immediate area.  There were no walls or ceiling to be seen because this dim light did not reach them, if they were even there.

Out of the darkness, Paltrus saw on his left a wolf approaching him.  On his right, a panther approached him also.  Both were showing their teeth, which were stained with blood.  Before they reached Paltrus, he again fell into a dead sleep.

“Well, we have a number represented as i such that i squared is negative one.  Similarly, let’s assume, as nonsensical as it may be, that we may have a number, say b, such that b multiplied by zero is one.”

“But that seems to violate a basic rule of multiplication.”

“That is why I call it a ‘nonsense number.’  See what I mean?”

“Ah, yes, I follow.”

Paltrus woke to voices in unfamiliar accents, and opened his eyes to look at the ceiling above him.  As his eyes cleared, he saw an unpolished yet smoothly laid out stone ceiling; similar to the floor he was lying on.  The most peculiar thing, though, is that as he looked up towards that ceiling, directly above him, was a bed.  It was simple and common, made and clean, but sitting upside down on the ceiling as a normal bed would on the floor, as if gravity pulled it up instead of down, and someone decided to put such a bed there in case such a person ever visited.

“And though it may be nonsensical, some interesting things may occur from such a number.  If we were to divide the number five by zero, we could say that that is equal to five multiplied by b.”

“And six fifths multiplied by nine zeroths would be fifty four zeroths, or fifty four multiplied by b.”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Yet, all of these numbers would be essentially the same.  And they would require us to ultimately redefine continuity.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

Paltrus started to pull himself up to a sitting position.  He saw that he was in a room that resembled a cave by its walls, but resembled a small stone house by its floor and ceiling.  In front of him were two doors on either side of the room, and on the far side of those doors, against the cave wall, were two bookcases that contained several books, small sack bags, and apparatuses that were foreign to Paltrus.  Between the bookcases, Paltrus saw a wolf and a panther sitting on small round stools.  The seats of the stools, however, were against the ground, and the wolf and panther were sitting on the legs of the stools, which Paltrus thought seemed to look quite uncomfortable.

The both of them were drinking from teacups that they held upside down.  Holding their saucers in one hand, they tilted the cups towards their mouths just the same as most would do with a tea cup in the other hand, except that it was upside down.

There was a table between the two.  This table, however, had its topside resting on the ground with its legs in the air, seeming to match the stools.

Paltrus’ eye was caught by a bit of tea flying out from the wolf’s cup, up towards the ceiling.

“Oh, bother!” said the wolf.

“We shall need to clean that before it stains the ceiling,” said the panther.

“Would you mind if I borrowed your stool?”

“Not at all.”

Paltrus watched as the panther stood on his hind legs and set his cup of tea precariously on one of the legs of the table that were up in the air.  The panther then handed his stool to the wolf, who also set his cup of tea on another leg of the table.  The wolf accepted the offer of the panther’s stool and set it upon his own.

Climbing to the top of the stacked stools, the wolf could still not quite reach the ceiling.  He then reached below the stool he was standing on and pulled up the stool on the ground, somehow managing to keep the stool on which he was standing from falling.  There was now nothing between the stool on which he was standing and the ground.  He then placed the stool that was previously on the ground on top of the other stool, and climbed on top of that.

He was now within an arm’s reach of the ceiling, but again reached below and pulled the lower stool up on top of the higher stool, and climbed on top of that.

It was now clear to Paltrus why an arm’s reach of the ceiling was not close enough to clean the spilt tea.  The wolf, being, after all, a wolf, cleaned up the tea with his tongue.  Then, in the same way as he climbed up through the air, climbed down by putting one stool beneath another until he had reached the floor.

Upon reaching the floor, the wolf looked towards Paltrus and excitedly said, “Oh, I’m glad you’re awake!  We’re about done with our tea, but we’ll direct you to the minister that brought you in just a tick.”

Trying to nod, Paltrus succeeded only in staring.  Seeming not to notice, the panther said, “We’d offer you some tea, but you would probably not rather like it.”

The wolf then grinned, showing not the crimson-dripping, sharp teeth of a wolf, but the flat, brown-stained teeth of a man who drank a great deal of tea.  The wolf and panther then quickly finished their tea, lifted up the table, set their cups underneath, and with a smash dropped the table on top of the cups.

“We can clean them later,” remarked the panther.  Paltrus was disappointed in hearing this, as he was anxious to see the sink.

“Follow me, please,” said the wolf, grinning.

Paltrus stood and followed the wolf through the coarse wooden door on his right into a large, empty room with polished wooden floors, ceilings, and walls.  The room was particularly bright, as a large window allowed bright sunlight into the room, hitting a large chandelier hanging from the ceiling and allowing light to dance on every surface in the room.  This window was on the side of the room opposite of the door in which Paltrus entered the room.  The wolf, though, turned to the left and headed towards one of two open doors.  As the wolf approached the door to the right, Paltrus saw another wolf approaching him through the door to the left.  No; this wolf was not a different wolf, but the same wolf.  As the wolf leaned through the door on the right, Paltrus could see the wolf facing him through the left door.

“Could you follow me, Mr. Paltrus?”

“Ah, yes, my apologies,” said Paltrus.

The wolf chuckled and said, “No need to apologize, Mr. Paltrus.  Many people become confused the first time they enter this room.”

Paltrus followed the wolf through the left door, and back into what appeared to be the same room through the right door.  He then followed the wolf back through the door that he originally entered the room by, but now into a room that he had not yet seen.

The room was fairly bare by means of furniture, containing only two chairs on opposite sides of a very plain-looking wooden desk.  This furniture, though, was right-side up, unlike the room in which Paltrus awoke.  The walls and floor of the room were lavishly decorated not by means of paints, but by different colors in the building materials themselves.  The colors were all dark colors, but created aesthetic patterns.  The patterns these colors made were curving and pleasing to the eye, but Paltrus could not identify them with branches or leaves or anything else that he might have seen before.  They did seem to have a form of some sort, rather than being aesthetic for its own sake, but it seemed to be an original form.  There may have been such decorations on the ceiling, but it was so distant and the room was so dark that Paltrus could not see the ceiling.  The dim blue light only allowed him to see what was directly in front of him.

Paltrus heard loud ticking, and could see that along the walls were a single row of clocks.  None of the pendulums on the clocks were moving in spite of the loud ticking, and none of the clocks seemed to agree on the time of day.  Each clock was slightly different from the clock on its left and the clock on its right.

From the opposite end of the room, a door was opened and in came a fox in a particularly elegant court outfit.

“Ah!  Mr. Paltrus!  How are you this evening?”

“I, uh, I am very well this evening, I suppose.”

“Very good, very good.  Have a seat and I’ll be with you in a moment.  I’m sorry to keep you waiting, but we’ve been very busy lately with a lot of new people like yourself coming in.”

Paltrus sat and watched the fox remove his overcoat and place it on some unseen coat rack.  The fox came and sat down at the side of the desk opposite Paltrus, but he was facing away from him.

“Mr. Paltrus,” said the fox.  “Mr. Paltrus, could you turn around, please?  I would like to speak with you, sir.”

Paltrus turned around to see a desk with the fox on the opposite side, this time facing towards him.  He turned back again to see that there was no desk where he was facing before.  Finally, he turned his chair back towards the fox, who was lighting a pipe.  The fox’s match lit itself not by means of a torch, but by merely scratching the side of a small box, and its flame traveled along a path through the air into the fox’s pipe.

The fox puffed his pipe for a bit and pulled some papers on the desk towards him and began to write with a feather pen.  On the desk, Paltrus now saw the source of light in the room.  It was a candle on the desk, lit not by fire but by water.  Paltrus reached out his hand and touched the water that danced like a flame.  It was pleasantly cool to the touch.

“Oh!  Mr. Paltrus!” said the fox.

Paltrus immediately pulled his hand away.

“It’s best if you don’t touch that, Mr. Paltrus.  I know you cannot feel it, but it is painful.”

Paltrus responded by bringing his hand down to his lap.

“No doubt,” said the fox, “some things here seem odd to you.  That is nothing to worry about.  Because you have never been presented with things as they are, you cannot see things as they are even when they are presented to you.  As you become more accustomed to seeing things as they are, things will seem to make some sense.  However, it is impossible in this world of Extension to see things entirely as they are.  Therefore as long as we are here, nothing will seem quite right.  We have ourselves to blame for that.

“My name, as it may be, is Warren Herbert Why.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask.  Asking questions will help ease the process as well as accelerate it.  Please bear in mind, however, that my answers, while better than any that you will have already heard, are imperfect.”

Not knowing what else to ask, Paltrus simply pointed towards the wall and said, “What are these clocks?”

“These clocks are the most honest clocks in Extension.  Each is as honest as any of the others.  But they are still entirely inadequate, as you can see.  They contradict each other; therefore no more than one of them can be right.  As they are now, each is equally wrong.  They are honest, however, in that together they present their best guesses, all of which are honestly wrong.  And they know this.  They shamefully present themselves, knowing full well that they are wrong and knowing full well that they are stupid.  They may not be right, but they are vastly superior to the dishonest and arrogant clocks elsewhere in Extension.”

Paltrus seemed to notice that the ticking seemed to be much quieter than it previously was.

“How are they better?”

“They are better in that they admit this and do not claim their falsehoods to be true.”

“But they do not tell anyone what the time is.”

“I’m afraid I do not follow.  What do you mean?”

Paltrus did not know how to respond, and now the ticking was much louder than it ever was.

“Ah!” said Mr. Why,” I know now what you intend to say.  You mean they do not spread the lies about ‘Time,’ the falsehood told to us by our physical senses.  ‘Time,’ I am afraid, is not quite what you think it to be.  There is some truth in ‘Time,’ yes, but it is far more dynamic than it seems to be.  I apologize for forgetting, but it has been quite some time since I’ve studied ‘Time’.  But I am afraid that we’ve discussed ‘Time’ for so long that we are nearly out of it, especially since we have been short on it since the time we’ve entered the room.”

“How did I come to be here?”

“You did not come here at all; you were brought.  Not by me, though I was among those who helped.  You were brought by the One.”

“What is the One?”

“The One is our Lord.  It is to Him that we owe our existence and any amount of goodness.  Even those who love the Un more than they love Him would not exist without Him.  It is quite incredible that He would humble Himself enough to help us.  He is He That Is.  He is the essence of existence itself and goodness itself.  Therefore, we define everything that exists by its relation to Him.”

“How so?”

“If we say that something exists, we mean that there is a quality within it that originates from the One.  Sometimes we specify what that quality is.  If none of its qualities are from the One, then it does not exist.  And in that case, it does not have any qualities at all, because all qualities that anything could possess are from Him.”

Confused, Paltrus asked, “What is the Un?”

“The Un is everything that is not of the One.  Everything that is no thing.  Nothing in the Un exists, but is nonexistence.”

“You seem to refer to it as if it exists.”

“Our pitiful language used in Extension requires it.  But Un is nothingness.  When we say something is of Un, we mean that something that should be there is not.  Nothing can be entirely Un, because then it would no longer exist.  Everything that is, is of One.  Everything that is not, is of Un.”

“I’m still not sure I understand.  How can something be Un, yet not exist?  If it ‘is’ anything at all, then it must exist, or it could not be a member of anything, not even Un.”

“I’m afraid we have our meanings of words mixed up again.  When I say something is ‘Un,’ I mean something in the same way that I say that water in a pond may be dirty.  There is no part of the pond’s water that is not dirty, but it is not nothing but dirt, or else it would not be water at all.  When something is Un, there is no part of it that is not infected by Un, but there is something in addition to the Un, or else it would not exist.”

“And by Un you mean that something is not there when it should be?”


“And if something is entirely Un—”

“There is nothing that is entirely Un, because that thing would be no thing at all.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand.”

Paltrus thought for a few moments before he said, “Why did He bring me here?”

“I am afraid I do not know.  There are some things we do not understand and some things we do not know.  I neither understand nor know why you are there or why I am here.  We don’t know why He chooses those whom He does, but we do know that there is a reason.  We might be told at some point, but there are more pertinent issues at present.  I do wish I could answer your question.  I also wish I knew the answer.”

“If I don’t know the reason I am here, can I be told what happens now that I am here?”

“Oh, yes.  You will meet the One. He will tell you that which you will wish to know, even if you do not understand it.”

Paltrus had never thought about meeting this mysterious madman called “the One,” but he knew it may answer many questions.  Mr. Why continued.

“Like I said, I do not know why the One has called for you, but it must be important.  He rarely asks us to venture so far into the Unknown Lands.”

“Why were you in the unknown lands?”

“That is where we found you.”

“I was in the unknown lands in the South?”

“You were in the Unknown Lands to the North.”

Paltrus then became confused.  He never knew of any lands beyond the Spreading Sea.

“I’ve never heard of any northern unknown lands.”

“You’ve lived there all of your life.”

Paltrus’ confusion was not alleviated, but the nearly-forgotten ticking of the clocks was now so loud that it was nearly paralyzing.  Mr. Why began to speak, barely audible over the clocks.

“You believe that you are the prince of a land called Dhelian in a region called Bel-Tharad.  We, however, have a different name for that region, that land, and your god.  The region we call Barisch-Nittook, the nation we call Morband, and what you call Dhelianos, we call Morbannius.  Others call him Prometheus, and still others Beelzebub.  You accepted his Un name as a title, Sel-Dhelius, which is derived from Dhelianos.  My Lord was kind enough to bring you to the Southern Lands of Shallice.”

Paltrus could barely speak over the ticking of the clocks, but said, “You are the barbarians of the unknown lands.  The unchartered lands whose people resist civilization despite the attempts of noble innovators who try to bring you happiness.  I suppose you call our land unknown because you want to ignore something different from yourself.”

“Every citizen of Shallice was previously a citizen of Barrisch-Nittook,” said Mr. Why.  “We don’t ignore it, and we don’t resist it because it’s different from us.  We resist it because we used to be a part of it before our eyes were opened.  We do not care if something is different from usWe are not the standard.  We only care if something is different from the One.”

After a brief pause, Mr. Why continued.

“We do not refer to Barrisch-Nittook as the Unknown Lands because we refuse to know anything about it.  We refer to it as such because after trying very hard to know everything we can about it, we realize that there is very little to actually know.  It is too full of Un.”

In much pain from the noise, Paltrus said, “I know those lands.  I have spent my life seeing the majesty of the White Chapel and the Palace of Champions.  I have seen that it is good.  And I’ve seen the historical records, and why I shouldn’t trust you.  Your disgusting huts and self-destructive lifestyles.”

“You seem to rely on what you see quite a bit.  But are we in a hut?  Do I seem impoverished of my needs?”

Paltrus could not deny the intricacy of the room.  The complexity of the designs on the walls alone surpassed that of anything he had known before.

“They cannot both be true.  At least one of these two must be a lie.”

The ticking stopped.  Paltrus looked up to see that the clocks no longer had hands to point to any of the numbers on their faces.

“The ticking stopped,” said Paltrus.

“It never started, actually,” said Mr. Why.  Paltrus looked over at Mr. Why and noticed that he looked less like a fox and more like a human being, but still with fur and whiskers on his face.  Paltrus felt a burning pain in his hand, and he saw that the candle was now lit by fire.  “But it is good that you notice that.”

Mr. Why looked through his papers before saying, “We found you being attacked going into Arrburdak.”

In this confusion, Paltrus had forgotten about what happened in Arrburdak.

“What happened after I fell?”

“It is not what happened after your fall that is important, but the fall of almost fourteen hundred years ago.  Your kingdom has not been without the Flame of Man.  Its power has been in Morband since its inception long ago.

“You believed that the Flame makes known that which is unknowable.  I tell you now that it does no such thing.  It creates a falsehood.  Something that is unknowable cannot be known.  The Flame is not merely a paradox; it is a contradiction.

“The Flame has destroyed the nation of Dhelian, turning it into Morband.  This did not occur as recently as Polius’ capture of what he believed to be the Flame.  Your King has known of the Flame for quite some time and used it to his advantage, as did his fathers.  The reason you did not know of it until Talius told you is because only the King of Morband knows of its existence, aside from those of us in Shallice.  He has not only knowledge of it, but possession of it.  The Flame has created the entirety of the imbalance in Barrisch-Nittook, what your people would mistakenly call ‘peace’.”

Paltrus noticed that as Mr. Why spoke, he gradually became more human.  He slowly lost the fur and the whiskers and became what appeared to be an ordinary man.

“The Flame is of Un,” continued Mr. Why.  “It deceives its wearers and those who would gaze upon it.  Only those with the protection of the One can resist its power since its first triumph.  In truth it has only the power to destroy.  First others, then itself once everything else is gone.”

“Will it succeed?” said Paltrus.

“Partly.  For that matter, it has already partly succeeded.  Even the Flame of Man itself is only the offspring of the Flame of Morbannius.  The smiths of Arrburdak did not create the Flame as you have been told.  Morbannius fashioned the Flame of Man using the Flame of Morbannius to give to your ancestor.  This man was the founder of the nation of Morband, and the destroyer of Arrburdak.  He was also the first to be reclaimed by the One after his misdeeds.”

Paltrus paused, considering the things that Mr. Why was telling him.

“What will the Flame do now that Polius has secured it?”

“What Polius discovered was not the Flame itself.  It was merely an instrument of the Flame, known as a Pendant of Fire.  His discovery will cause nothing that does not occur on a daily basis in Barrisch-Nittook, though possibly on a negligibly larger scale.”

“Is the Flame the reason I am here?”

“Very likely, but as I said, I am uncertain.  However, the Flame is not the only enemy of the One.  There is also Morbannius.  The demon is controlling Barrisch-Nittook through the Flame of Man.  And the Flame of Morbannius is controlling him.”

Paltrus had no more questions that he could fit with words.  He stared at the desk in front of him, and saw a letter on the desk, signed as “W.H. Why.”

“Are you ready to meet the One?” said Mr. Why.

Paltrus looked back up at Mr. Why and said, “Yes.”

Chapter 5

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