Authors: Tanith Lee
One came forward
then, and stood over the physical soul of Lak Hezoor, or all that was left of
it (it was not very much). The deranged vision of the hunted creature could
discern but little, yet this single object it did see with utter clarity. A man,
slim and tall, clad in night itself, with hair that was night, and night in his
eyes. And the dreadful beauty of him was like another torture added to what had
gone before, like acid sprinkled into gaping wounds. Lak screamed with greater
wildness at it, at the piercing embrace of the acid, but Azhrarn the Prince of
Demons raised his hand, and Lak could scream no more.
“What thing is
this?” said Azhrarn. There was no cruelty in his voice which was in its
contrasting turn so beautiful it even soothed the victim, momentarily. “This is
only a man. I was deceived.” And yet, the voice which had no cruelty in it was
all cruelty. It smote against the soul’s broken core and the soul longed for
death. “You may inform your brothers,” said Azhrarn, “you met with the Vazdru
under the earth.” And that said, he moved away; he vanished.
restraint vanished. The mawled soul began to scream more terribly, and in the
midst of its screaming it was hurled down into the River of Sleep.
And where was Oloru, instigator of this? And
was Oloru, that he had been able to escape it?
It would seem that, like Kazir in the story, this poet also had a mission in
the Underearth. For some bizarre reason he could not enter by himself, so Lak
must bring him, but being in, Oloru was at liberty to journey and to busy
himself as he desired.
Oloru had no
soul, astral or otherwise. He had that within him which passed for and was the
equivalent of a soul. It is possible, if not certain, he might under slightly
dissimilar circumstances have penetrated the kingdom of the demons, but then he
must have done so in his actual form. And in such guise, the whole place would
have felt him as an oyster feels the twinge of grit. Decidedly it was the hint
of Oloru’s presence that had disrupted and alerted the brooding inactivity of
Azhrarn, and brought him forth pitiless, a hunter on the road. Which carnage
had provided an opportune diversion.
Once the topaz
die removed itself from Lak Hezoor, it had spun away in an opposite direction
to that towered pile of steel and shattered stars, Druhim Vanashta. The demon
city was not its destination. As it went, the image of a die went, too. The
article which was the atypical essence of Oloru turned to a slender rod of
yellow radiation, vaguely purplishly limned.
Hours it ran,
months, years, or half a minute. By which unabsolute time it was dashing over a
transparent landlocked sea. In the sea were islands, some small, some treed,
some high as the sky-which-was-not-a-sky, and all throbbing stained-glass
reflections in the water. And then there was another isle, in a fog.
The rod of amber
and amethyst jumped into the fog and out the other side of it. Where, a mite
disheveled, it dropped at the feet of an Eshva handmaiden who had been
waiting—though for what?—on the shore.
had befallen the collective Eshva exiled on this island. Demons, they had as a
rule a preference for beauteous mortal form, in which garb they took to the
earth and overwhelmed humanity. But, precisely because both Vazdru and Eshva
were capable of a multitude of shapes, their intrinsic nature was obviously not
any one of them. The Eshva on the island, who had started as pale-skinned
exquisite males and females, with eyes of darkness and long black hair that
domiciled silver snakes, had pined and faded away to basics. She—or it—at the
feet (they were not feet) of whom or which Oloru had thrown himself was now
only a slim vertical of effulgent lapis lazuli.
when the radiant rod brushed against this effulgent vertical, a reaction
vertical swayed, bending down. Secondly, the rod was raised in what became,
gradually, two slender hands. Lastly, from the gaseousness an alabaster face
emerged, with eyes.
“It lives,” said
the Eshva, of the rod. She did not speak in any way recognizably. Her eyes and
a motion of her fingers said the words. But Oloru heard her. In her almost
existent hands he shone, and shivered. So she clasped him to her, enthralled at
the sensations he imparted.
Anything out of
the ordinary was a novelty on the island. No wonder the Eshva was quickened. No
astonishment either that, handmaiden as she was, she next, her find most
lovingly clasped, began to make her way toward the hollow cliff where dwelled
her Vazdru mistress.
was lying, as so often, in her sleep of negative unbeing, on the bed with
pillars of red jade. And as she did this, let it be stressed, she looked most
fabulously and startlingly beautiful. So much ran in the family, you could say.
The worldly version
of what then took place, goes as follows: A delicious waiting-woman bursts into
the mansion of her gorgeous lady and cries: “See, princess. I found this
fascinating artifact on the beach. Do pray examine it for yourself.” But,
contrary to anticipation, the lady does not stir. She lies prone on crimson,
her eyes fast shut. And in a little while the delicious maid droops, losing her
own interest in all things.
There the Eshva
hovered then, once more an upright translucency, before she disappeared altogether,
to resume a melancholy vigil for nothing on the shore. The radiant rod was left
lying by the bed.
He is alone now, alone
with the one he came seeking.
No other is near. No
demon dreams mischief is running amok here in the land’s very womb. Even Azhrarn
does not dream it, as he rides in chase, his hounds and court around him, after
the illusory wraith of Lak Hezoor—mistaken for another’s taint, or burnish.
begins to be a rearrangement of molecules. The amber and amethyst blaze up and
go out, and from the void of extinguishment springs a young man, expensively
dressed and with silk gloves; with silk gold hair, low-burning
eyes, and handsome, oh indeed, enough to
scorch the island. And this glamorous gentleman stares a long moment at the
loveliness asleep, or negated, on the coverlet. (He saw her last when she was a
child. The promise of her infancy now fulfilled seems to take his breath away.)
Then he leans down to her and his beautiful hair brushes her beautiful throat.
He sets his lips gently to the lids of her eyes, through which, even closed,
the irises reveal themselves in a glaze of rapturous blue. But then he places
his lips more gently and more firmly upon her own. He kisses her. At his kiss,
the whole tuned cliff lets forth a strain of melody, as if the pent-up singing
of years has passed through it.
And she, of course,
opens her eyes.
beauteous and amazing maiden,” said Oloru, in a voice so low he might hardly be
said to speak, “your father hates you and neglects you. But I am your guardian,
and maybe you remember me.”
The blue eyes
(what a foolish word is “blue”—oh for an adjective of the old first earth to
describe them) looked back and through and deeply into the amber eyes of Oloru.
She said nothing. But as with an Eshva, her eyes said, “No, I do not remember.
But you may attempt to remind me.”
“Yes. But not
here or now. Here or now I am at risk. I leapt most happily into danger for
your sake. Pity me. Make me safe.”
He had taken both
her hands in his gloved ones. She did not resist. She lay there looking at him.
She, that her mother had named Soveh (Flame), and her father, in an instant’s
mocking unkind correspondence, Azhriaz.
Then she did speak. One
Oloru now kissed both
her hands. And she, very quietly as he did so, brushed his hair with her mouth.
To be abandoned, then to be claimed—what other explanation is required?
Oloru felt that lightest
butterfly kiss, and raised his head to gaze at her again. He told her how easy
it was for her, and for himself if with her, to escape—not just the island, but
from Underearth. And when she smiled,
No, not so,
he said, “Only think. He is Azhrarn. But what are you?
it seems this caused her to think in truth.
She left the crimson
bed. Her hair swept the earth. She looked up at Oloru where he stood beside
her. She kept one of his hands, the right, relinquished the other. Like
children they ran down the stairways of the lacework cliff, down the slopes of
the island, and came to the shore.
There, some way off, the
debodied Eshva still waited. Azhrarn’s daughter murmured something, and the
Eshva drifted obediently, listlessly away.
Seaward of the shore,
only mist was visible. Azhrarn’s daughter, Oloru’s ward, cupped her hands about
her mouth, and she whistled. It was not a human, nor even a fleshly demoniac
note. It was the shrill of a silver pipe shaped like the thighbone of a hare.
She had heard it once, when first her father brought her underground, and could
mimic it exactly. It summoned transport.
Sure enough, in seven
heartbeats, a darkness hurtled through the mist, bringing with it the spray of
the sea-lake over which it had run. A demon horse, black, and azure-maned,
which stopped beside them but yet pawed the ground to be off again.
The daughter of Azhrarn
looked at Oloru: “I am equipped to leave. You?”
“You are able, if you
will, to picture how I came here. The rest is yours to decide. I am at your
mercy, but there is no other state in which I could wish to be.”
“O flatterer of demons,”
said she aloud. Then she snapped her fingers. Doubtless she felt intimations of
her power in that moment. For he, and he was someone to be reckoned with, was
gone, came back otherwise, and fell into her hand a topaz die. Flirtatiously
then she placed the die in her mouth, under her tongue for safekeeping.
She mounted the
demon horse. Her impulse told it where it should go.
It broke out
again through the island’s mist, trailing streamers of that veil, and sped over
the water to the farther shore.
All this time,
and she had never thought to do such a thing, or that she could. To be
abandoned, to be claimed, what other explanation is required?
lands, then, past the shining city, grazing its walls with the winged wind of
their passage. None knew her, or what she did. But
knew it. As she rode, black lightning under her and a jewel in her mouth,
Azhrarn’s daughter felt the soul of that wicked kingdom gather itself in
incoherent outrage. Through the diamond air came spoor of hatching storms. The
waters of pools and fountains ruffled and roared. Forests of trees like
spangled bones stretched out their hands to catch her flying hair, but she
struck them aside.
of Underearth she recollected. Three gates, the innermost of black fire, the
secondmost of blue steel, the outermost of agate. Beyond these, the scoured
vein of a dead volcano opening to a country of lit volcanoes—the earth’s
She came to the first
father, the ruler there, all three gates had flung themselves wide. But before
Azhrarn’s daughter they did nothing. And the horse, reined in, snorted, and
raked the ground, now with one forefoot, now with the other. She sensed too,
this fleeing girl who was so much more than any fleeing girl, the gathering of
the thunder at her back. What now?
Under her tongue,
the die tickled her like juice from a lemon.
It reminded her
of something so obvious that she shook her hair, being unable to open her mouth
and laugh. For though the Demon was her father, her mother had been mortal, and
something besides, the child of a solar comet.
She said it, the fleeing
girl, with her brain only. But the authority of this inimical symbol, to which
she had such rights, and which no other here would ever seemingly conjure, was
like a blow. It crashed against the gate of black fire, searing a hole in it,
and through this hole she forced the horse to go, though it did not like to.
The gate of steel was next, and to this gate also Azhrarn’s daughter displayed
the image in her mind, and the gate recoiled, withered, and she plunged through
it. The gate of agate, a diplomat, had already prudently unlocked itself and
let her ride by without fuss.
Above her now the
funnel of the volcano, showing no light, nor suspicion of anything.
The horse was
spent. She slipped from it and let it trot away, head hanging, back through the
gates before they could heal themselves.
No longer needing
to ask questions, Azhrarn’s daughter lifted her arms and touched the cool air in
the volcanic chimney. And into it she summoned a volcanic wind, a smoldering
sail fringed with great embers. It whirled down about her and bore her aloft,
up and up and up, through the funnel, up and up and out into the sky of earth.
Earth’s was a sky
of darkness, too, underlit by the furnaces of the burning mountains. Yet in the
east miles off one mountain burned that was not a mountain. (Dawn.)
The wind, her
slave, carried her some way before, robbed of its fire-born impetus, it sank.
On the hillside where it left her, she stood and watched the dawn, Azhrarn’s
daughter. She watched alone and jealously, for she had been, it seemed to her,
a thousand years denied this sight.