Out Of The Waters — Snippet 09
The creature was tearing a path into the island, hurling increasingly large pieces of soil and bedrock into the ocean behind it. Its hundreds of tentacles worked together, waving like a field of barley in a breeze. They groped down into the land, then wrenched loose great chunks of it.
“Master?” said Varus as he jotted down details of the creature’s legs. They were all serpentine, but some had scales, some had nodules like a gecko’s skin, and the rest included a score of different surfaces and patterns. “It…. Does it look to you as though it’s growing larger as it proceeds?”
“Very well observed, Lord Varus,” Pandareus said approvingly. “Note that the channel behind the creature is narrower than the front which his body is cutting now. Perhaps it’s devouring the rock, do you suppose? Though that doesn’t appear to be the case.”
Varus could see his companions in the Tribunal, but the audience in the belly of the theater was either hidden by the vision of destruction or had vanished into the blur that extended from the visible margins. Except–
Where the orchestra had been, the three strangers who accompanied Tardus were sharply visible. They glared at the creature as it tore its way through whatever stood in its way. The mixture of fear and fury in their expressions reminded Varus of caged rats, gnashing their chisel teeth in a desire to chop and gash in the face of certain death.
“Lord Varus?” Pandareus said without any hint of emotion in the words. He raised an eyebrow. “Is this your doing, I wonder?”
“No!” said Varus, angry for an instant. Then, when he had analyzed his response, he was embarrassed.
“I beg your pardon, teacher,” he said. “I was afraid you might be correct. I am afraid you might be correct.”
“You have mistaken a question for an accusation, my lord,” Pandareus said dryly. “The teacher who failed to train you out of that defensive reflex is to be censured. Furthermore, my question was rather hopeful.”
He gestured with his open left hand toward the vision. The monster was wreaking destruction at an accelerating pace.
“I’m quite certain of your good will toward Mankind generally and toward me in particular, you see,” Pandareus said. “I would have been glad to learn that you had brought this thing into being; because if you did not, I have to be concerned about the intentions of who or what is responsible.”
The creature lifted a block of land greater than its own huge bulk, spun it end for end in its tentacles, and sent it crashing into the sea. The vision dissolved in spray.
Varus flinched instinctively, but the gout of water seemed not to reach the Tribunal. He had an impossibly good view of what was happening, but none of his other senses were involved.
“Master,” Varus said, “if I knew what was happening, I would tell you; and if I could stop it, I….”
The words dried in his throat. Pandareus and, on Varus’ other side, his family, were fading into a familiar gray mist which replaced the spray thrown up by the vision.
He was not moving, but reality shifted around him. He knew that he was walking through a foggy dreamworld in which other shapes and beings might pass nearby without him seeing them; but he knew also where he was going and who would be waiting when he arrived there.
Varus climbed up from the fog; it lay behind him in a rippling blanket, as though it filled a valley. The ancient woman sat under a small dome supported by pillars. Framing the top of her high-backed chair were two huge boar tusks.
No pig is that large! Varus thought. It would have to weigh more than a ton.
The ivory was yellow, and the tips had been worn by heavy use. He remembered what Apollonius claimed that Hercules sent the tusks of the Erymanthian Boar to Cumae.
“Why do you come to me, Lord Varus?” the old woman said. “The power is yours, not mine.”
“Sibyl, I know only what is in books,” Varus said, using her proper title. “Tell me what I saw in the theater.”
Then, because he knew his body remained seated with his family in the Tribunal, he said, “Tell me what I am seeing.”
The Sibyl turned her head, looking down the slope opposite to the direction from which Varus had approached her. He followed her eyes to the scene he had been viewing in the theater, but now he watched as if from a great distance above. The creature ravaged an island or rather a series of six rings, each inside the next larger and all touching or nearly touching at the same point of the circles.
Volcanoes, Varus realized. Or anyway, a volcano which had erupted six times on successively smaller scales. The craters were nested within one another, but cracks in their walls had let in sea to create a series of circular islands.
Even the most recent event must have been far in the past. Except where crystal palaces sparkled, heavy jungle covered the rims of the cones and their slopes above sea level.
The creature itself had grown to the size of an island as it demolished the linked cones. Varus remembered waves washing over the sand palaces he had built on the beach at Baiae when he was a child.
“You see Typhon destroying Atlantis,” the Sibyl said. Her voice was as clear and unemotional as the trill of nightingale. “The Minoi, the Sea Kings of Atlantis, were not such fancies as Plato believed when he invented stories about them. But I know only what you know, Lord Varus.”
I didn’t know that! Varus thought. He grimaced. She knows what I think, whether I speak or not.
“Mistress?” he said. “Is it real, what we see? Is it happening?”
Spray and steam concealed whatever was left of the ring islands. Will the creature break through to the fires remaining under the surface of the sea? And if so, what then?
He doubted that Typhon would be harmed even by a fresh eruption. As for Atlantis, it could scarcely be more completely uprooted than it was now.
“It may have happened, Varus,” said the Sibyl. “There are many paths, and on this path Typhon destroyed Atlantis.”
“What happened next?” Varus said. He looked into the old woman’s eyes. Her skin was as wrinkled as that of a raisin, but her features nonetheless had a quiet dignity. “After, after Typhon destroyed Atlantis, what did it do?”
The Sibyl turned her palms up, then down again. “If Typhon destroys Atlantis, will it not destroy this world, Lord Varus? Who but Zeus with his thunderbolts could halt him?”
The linked islands were a sludge of steam and drifting ash. Typhon, larger by far than the monster of his first appearance, crawled eastward. The setting sun threw his shadow across a red-tinged sea.
“Mistress?” said Varus. In this place he no longer had his notebook. He regretted that, because holding it would have given him something to do with his hands. “Is Zeus real?”
The Sibyl laughed. She said, “I know only what you know, Lord Varus. Are the Olympian gods real, philosopher?”
Of course not, Varus thought, though he didn’t open his mouth. I’m an educated man, not a superstitious bumpkin.
The Sibyl laughed again. “Then let your philosophy console you!” she said.
The mist rose, lapping Varus’ waist and stretching wisps toward the Sibyl’s chair. He could feel words of closure trembling in his heart. Before they could burst from his mouth he cried, “Sibyl, was the Erymanthian Boar real? Did Heracles kill it?”
Without turning her head, the Sibyl lifted her right hand and caressed the great tusk beside her head. She said, “You are a clever, educated boy, Lord Varus. Something was real, and someone killed it. If you wish to say they were the Erymanthian Boar and Heracles, who is there to stop you? Not I, surely.”
“Open the Earth and the World to me!” Varus’ lips shouted. His soul plunged through ice and fire until it filled his body again. He rocked on his stool and would have fallen if Pandareus had not caught him by the shoulders.
The illusion had vanished. The actor playing Hercules sprawled sobbing against the stone backdrop. Others of the performers huddled together or had fled from the stage.
The entire audience was on its feet, stamping and shouting, “Saxa! Saxa! Saxa!”
Father must be very pleased, Varus thought. I wish I knew as little about what happened as he does, so that I could be pleased also.