Paradigms Lost — Chapter 39
Chapter 39: But Wait, There’s MORE!
“I wonder if I would have thought that,” Verne concluded, “had I known what would come to pass.”
For the second time that night, I was speechless. After battling vampires and werewolves, I’d thought I was ready for anything. Even Kafan’s story was, well… modern. Elias Klein had been a thoroughly twentieth-century vampire. Virigar, the Werewolf King, was at home in this world of computers and automobiles. Kafan’s mad scientist and secret labs were just a part of the more paranoid tabloid headlines.
But this was like opening the door to my house and finding Gandalf and Conan the Barbarian in a fight to the finish with Cthulhu and Morgan le Fay.
Syl, of course, was in her element. Lost civilizations, Eonae the Earth Goddess, magic, no problem. “So what happened?”
“Raiakafan, naturally, was perfect for a Guardian — one of the warriors whose job it was to protect the Temple and the priests and lead the defense of the city. The fact that he wasn’t a woman caused great opposition, but even his worst enemies had to admit that in pure fighting spirit and skill, he had no real equal. He had difficulty with the more diplomatic and intellectual demands of the position, but he was by no means stupid and managed to pass those requirements as well. In the end, not only did he become the High Guardian, but he married Kaylarea, daughter to the High Priest Seirgei. Kaylarea, in her turn, became the High Priestess, chosen vessel of the Lady, so that in truth one could say that Raiakafan married the Lady Herself.”
I could see Kafan blinking. Obviously much of this was as much news to him, with his foggy memory, as it was to us.
Verne looked off into the distance, seeing something in his distant past. He looked slightly more pale and worn than usual — probably because of all this stress. “Then came the Demons. The same ones, I thought, who had destroyed Atlantaea so long ago. In the fighting, Kaylarea was killed, Raiakafan and his children Sev’erantean and Taiminashi disappeared, and Atla’a Alandar was devastated. Five years later, just as we were finishing the reconstruction, the Curse fell upon us.”
Verne nodded. “An enemy of mine finally devised a… punishment suitable enough, he thought, for my daring to oppose him long ago. The curse he placed upon my people was what produced the race of vampires such as Elias Klein. It was a mockery of the Blessing of Eonae; I drink blood to remind me intimately of the ties between all living things; I partake on occasion of the life force, freely given, of others because that life-energy is what separates the world of matter from that of spirit; I am, or was in the beginning, harmed by the Sun because I am tied wholly to the Earth and other powers are excluded from me; only when I grew into my strength could I face the power from which other life drew its strength. And only things living or formerly living can harm me, because only life may touch that which draws upon its very essence. All these aspects and more were twisted and mocked in the Curse. My people …”
He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw for some moments before he continued. “My people, for the most part, destroyed themselves in the madness of the Curse; the few who ‘survived’ were twisted by the magic into becoming something else. The Curse sustains itself by life-energy, so even when virtually all magic disappeared, it continued, though its sufferers were weakened. And, in the end, I myself became so embittered that for a very long time I very nearly became the same as those made in my twisted image. A diabolical and, yes, most fitting vengeance.”
I shook my head and finally looked up. “Okay, so let me see if I get this story straight. You were the high Priest… er, Speaker for Eonae, what we’d call Gaia. The spirit of the Earth itself. And Eonae talked to you, for real. That’s where you get your power. And Kafan here was a little boy who trained to become palace guard. How long ago?”
“Approximately five hundred thousand years.”
I gagged. “What? Half a million years?! Are you completely out of your mind, Verne? There weren’t even people back then, at least not human beings like we know today!”
“I told you,” Verne said calmly. “Much of what science knows about that era is wrong. Not because your scientists are stupid or are, as so many foolish cultists would have it, looking in the wrong places or ‘covering up’ the truth. No, the truth is far, far more frightening, Jason. Your scientists are looking at falsified evidence. The geological record… the traces of the greatest civilization ever to exist… all of them erased, and rewritten, rewritten so as to make it as though they never existed at all, to expunge from all memory the knowledge of what was.”
I tried to imagine a power capable of such a thing; to wipe out every trace of a civilization, to remove fossil traces of one sort, replacing them with another… I couldn’t do it. “Impossible. Verne, you’ve flipped your vampiric lid.”
“If only it were so simple. Do you understand now, Jason? Why even after all this time I must be terribly, terribly careful not to reveal the truth to any save those who absolutely must know it? Power such as that is beyond simple comprehension. Although much of that power would now be useless here, with magic closed off from this world, still there remains the potential for unimaginable destruction.”
I searched Verne’s face, desperately hoping for some trace of uncertainty, insanity, self-delusion. Even a lunatic vampire was preferable to believing this. But there was no trace of any of those; just a grim and haunted certainty that this was truth, truth known by one who had lived through it. Like a delayed blow, another fact slammed into me; that meant that Verne was that old, older not just than any civilization we knew of, but older than the very species Homo sapiens should ever have been. Old enough to have seen the mammoths come and go, to have watched glaciers flow down from the north to invade the southern plains and retreat again, like frozen waves on a beach. And becoming more powerful with each passing year… and yet still terrified of the powers that had destroyed the world he knew.
I shook my head and leaned back. “This… this is awfully hard to take in, Verne.”
“I understand. Do you understand why it is necessary to tell these things to you?”
I rubbed my jaw. “Not completely. I see the connection — that is, that you’ve got two separate histories here for the same man, both incompatible with each other. But why it’s necessary that I be made aware of more than one of these histories… no, I’m not quite clear on that.”
“Neither am I,” Kafan said.
Verne sighed. “Because we need you immediately for something having to do with the first, and because the very existence of the second means that anyone involved in this may have to face the legacy of that past. Jason, think on what I’ve told you. Five hundred millennia ago, my adopted son and his two children vanished from the face of the Earth. All my powers and those of the Lady could not tell us where they had gone, or why. Kafan’s people are long-lived, but they age. Yet Raiakafan is scarce older than when he disappeared. His presence here is utterly impossible, as is this other life. Somehow he was returned here. But if my son can return, I cannot help but worry that this means that the enemies against which he guarded us have returned as well. So I cannot, in good conscience, bring you into this without making you aware of what dangers you may face.”
“It’s simpler than that,” I said after a pause. “If these people were willing to wipe out entire civilizations, surely they’re the kind that prefer to be ‘safe than sorry’; because I know you, they’d likely kill me anyway, just to be sure.”
“Indeed.” Verne nodded. “And to be honest… my friends… I lost my faith — in myself, in the Lady — long ago. In great part, you, Jason, allowed me to start accepting myself again. In the past between that of the Sh’ekatha and the time we met, I did things which repel me, which were the very antithesis of what I am. Yet… yet her blessing was never truly withdrawn from me, though it could well have been. Her last Speaker survives still… And that which was lost may be regained now, as she wished. But I will need friends. And those friends must know that which they may face.”
“I’m warning you: I’m not religious, and despite all this paranormal weirdness going on around me, I don’t believe in gods of any kind.”
Verne smiled. “Raiakafan claims the same thing, these days. Yet it does not matter if you believe in the gods; it only matters to those who do believe… and whether the gods believe in themselves.” He sat back, the light emphasizing the vampiric pallor that lay beneath his naturally darker skin. Despite his smile, I could see how tired he looked. It was pretty clear that no matter how cheering this resurrection of his son had been, he’d been under an awful strain.
“Okay, Verne,” I said. I glanced up at the time — damn. There went any chance of opening the shop at a reasonable time. Oh, well… cosmic revelations don’t happen every day. “If I have any questions on this… I’ll think of them later. What can I do for you?”
“A simple question with a simple answer. Two answers, actually. First, Raiakafan needs an identity — a safe one. While I of course have my own contacts which provide such things for me, I’d rather that our identities not share that kind of tie; that is, if either of us is found out, I’d rather that it didn’t necessarily bring the other one down with the first.”
“Faking ID isn’t exactly in the WIS rules… but you’re right, I know people who can arrange it. Jeri might, too. And the second thing?”
Kafan answered. “Find my children. Find Seb and Tai. And Kay and Kei.”
I smiled slightly. “So we’re back to the thing you originally wanted to hire me for; to find someone. At least this is something I’m ready to deal with. Since we’re obviously not going to be going to sleep at a reasonable hour anyway, why not come down to WIS right now and we’ll get full descriptions set up in the machine so I can start searches?”
“If you want to, Raiakafan, go ahead. Jason wouldn’t offer if he didn’t mean it.”
Kafan looked at me. “You are sure you don’t need to sleep first?”
I snorted. “I probably should sleep, but after all this? I don’t think I’ll be ready to go to bed until tomorrow night. Come on; the sooner we locate your kids and get you settled in, the more all of us will sleep.”