Chapter no 65 – I Dare Not Meet in Dreams

Empire of Silence

“WHY KEEP COMBING OVER the site if the whole place has been mapped and cataloged?” I asked, clambering up the black steps after Valka and Sir Elomas. We had been at Calagah for some weeks, and each day I went down into the cleft with Valka, Tor Ada, or Elomas. We walked the close, darkened halls for hours. I was only a guest, an amateur, and so I mostly

shadowed Valka and the scholiast or assisted the technicians in moving equipment.

Sir Elomas stopped at the top of the stairs, shaking his tea flask to

activate the heating element embedded within. “Because we’re not sure if it is, boy!” He grinned, white teeth flashing as he unscrewed the cap. Above us, the angled, irregular pillars stretched and curved like thorns. The man

seemed so ordinary, so common, so out of place against that alien blackness, drinking his tea. “Whoever built the damn place . . .” He shook his head. “There are entire chambers we’ve found with neutrino detectors sealed behind meters of solid rock. Not buried, but built that way, like

someone cut in through the bedrock and slipped space inside. That’s why I’ve got people hauling gravitometers all over.”

My muscles still ached from helping to carry those gravitometers the day before. I’d known they were scanning for new chambers, but . . .

“Sealed chambers?”

“Entirely separate. Built sealed,” Valka put in. She popped one of her glowspheres and set it drifting, faerie-like, in her wake.

Curiosity piqued, I asked, “Was there anything in these chambers? Or were they—”

“Empty as the rest,” she replied. “Emptier. The main halls had some Umandh stuff when the Normans first moved in. We’ve drilled down to a

few along the countryside, enough to get probes in.”

But for the light of Valka’s glowsphere, it was totally dark in the tunnel. I fumbled in my coat for my hand lamp, following the spectral forms of my companions down and around a bend. “Why would they build separate


“I think ‘how’ is the far more interesting question, do you not?” Valka asked, glancing back over her shoulder.

“I’d swear the tunnels move, Doctor,” Elomas grumbled, planting his hands, tea flask and all, on his hips. “I’m already lost.”

The Tavrosi glanced back over her shoulder again. “We’re not even to the dome yet, sir.”

Elomas laughed too loudly for the close hall. “I know, I know. But you know what I mean.”

“I do,” she murmured, leading us out into the domed chamber I’d seen on my first visit to the ruins. “’Tis easy to lose one’s way down here.” One of the gravitometers stood on its tripod in the middle of the floor, pendulum swinging steadily back and forth, indicators blinking red and green.

We went on for a little ways, following Valka’s light deeper into the tunnels, past a couple of technicians applying new strips of glow tape to the walls. The air hung chill upon us, and here and there we splashed through puddles on the floor where it stepped down or lay cracked and sunken by time. Nothing seemed to move, and the only sound besides our own was the faint drip of water. Condensation fell from the ceiling to patter on the floor as the glowsphere and my hand lamp sent awkward shadows juddering over walls thick with circular anaglyphs like the ones from the dome, like the ones from the Umandh hovels at Ulakiel. I caught myself imagining the blind, tentacled creatures feeling these marks left by Valka’s ancient xenobites. What had their strange communal mind thought of this place? Of the beings that had built it?

“I still can’t believe this is real,” I whispered. We’d stopped in another branching chamber, this one low and rectangular with a forest of pillars

sprouting with no pattern from the floor. Some didn’t make it fully to the ceiling, and others tapered before touching the floor, useless as broken fingers.

“You’ve been here for weeks,” Valka breathed.

“You never really get used to it,” said Elomas at the same time. He

shivered. “I’m just glad the Chantry hasn’t decided to frag the place from

orbit. Inquisition has some nasty weapons, you know.”

I ran a hand over one of the columns, feeling the faint tracery of lines there, both embedded and raised and without pattern. “If they did that they’d be saying there was something to hide. Say what you will of the priests, but they’re not fools.” Valka snorted, though whether with

amusement or derision I knew not. I moved off toward the far end of the hall, keeping my hand lamp pointed in front of me to avoid the tangle of black pillars. “I don’t think they care what those of us stuck on this miserable rock think.”

“Easy now!” the affable old knight chided. “I live on this miserable rock!” He broke off a moment, and I heard the rattle of his tea flask unscrewing. “You are right, though. It’s trade over the gravity well that

concerns them. Let old Elomas and the foreign witch dig in the ground, so long as they keep their heads down and don’t find anything.” The knight’s voice sounded far away, muffled. “And don’t get me wrong—I’m keeping my head down. I like my blood on the inside.”

A circular arch broke the wall ahead of me, opening into darkness. I turned, speaking over my shoulder. “Why do you do this, sir?”

“Sponsor the dig?” Elomas asked. I could just make out his white hair haloed in the light of Valka’s sphere. “Are you seeing the same ruins I am seeing? I thought you were a scholar, Lord Marlowe. Look at this place!

And besides”—he spread his arms as if he might embrace the forest of black stone all around us—“this place is a mystery. The only mystery worth solving on this world, at least. You know, when I was your age—this was before the Cielcin invasion, mind you—I used to travel all up and down the Perseus, where I was born. Out on the frontier at the rim! I saw everything I could. Dozens of worlds. But I’m old now. I’ll take a quiet adventure in my own backyard, thank you. Even if the bleeding galaxy’s falling apart.”

It was the sort of thing that was not easy to respond to, and I covered my quiet by wandering a ways away from the two of them. I was standing nearly in line with the round door when I said, “You don’t think the war

will really come here, do you?”

The silence that fell on the chamber could have choked a man. We were all thinking back to the radio report nights before. Cielcin in the heliopause. In the system. But Valka surprised me, saying, “’Tis not the first time the Pale came in-system. Your Home Defense Force caught a scout several years back, right after I arrived.”

“I didn’t know that!” Elomas exclaimed. “Where’d you hear that, girl?”

I could almost feel Valka’s shrug in the inky air. “In the palace, a couple of high tide seasons ago. Elomas, come and look at this, would you?” Her tone was perfunctory, almost disinterested, and so I did not hurry to follow the older man but stood as a lost child in that place of alien stone. It may

seem strange to say—after all, I had been in the place for weeks and had

stood in that very room many times—but still I could not take it all in. I felt the unknown architects like an oppressive weight, not on my mind but on my genes. The press of my augmented mortality hung on me like a yoke

when I contemplated the length of time these ruins had been here, nearly a thousand times the lifespan of human civilization. What had they been like, these ancient builders and gods? Had they been mightier than we? A great power bestriding the stars in their fiery youth? Or were they weaker? They had colonized fewer worlds than man, it seemed, and terraformed none.

Perhaps they were only early and not great at all.

A breeze blew soft against the back of my neck, ruffling the wild hairs there and making me turn. The yawning doorway stood open at my back, the hall beyond lit by the greenish glow of the tape striping the walls.

Frowning, I left Valka and Elomas to their examinations and passed through the arched doorway into the round hall. The floor rolled beneath me, for the hall there was a tube, and I splashed through what little seawater had not been drained away. I had not been this way before, so I moved slowly,

casting the beam of my hand lamp up and around, carving deep shadows on the anaglyphs. They coated the walls here, circles of varying sizes lying tangent to one another like clumps of soap bubbles. They looped up over my head and under my feet so that I stood inside a tubular passage covered in shallow, graven circles, some recessed and others convex, stippling the

surface of the stone.

Remembering the safety protocols Elomas had drilled into me during our stay at Springdeep, I shouted something back to the others about where I was and waited for a reply. Satisfied, I pressed ahead, pulling a small glowsphere from the pocket of my bridge coat. Hand lamp in my teeth, I popped the seal and shook it to activate the light source and the tiny Royse repulsor. I tossed it gently down the hall, watched it go past rank meters of tunnel until it slowed in the air and stopped. Mindful of the chill waters

along the bottom of the tunnel, I followed the wall, running my fingers

along the black stone, feeling the ridges and grooves the Quiet had carved there in a time beyond counting.

After a few minutes of slow walking, I came to where my glowsphere had slowed to a crawl, hovering in the air. So I snatched the orb and tossed it farther ahead, scanning for pitfalls as it went. I repeated this process for a couple of minutes, moving farther up the passage. Having done this a full

six times, I elected to turn back.

And froze.

A crack yawned out of the wall I’d just passed, wide enough that a man might fit through it sideways. I stood utterly still for a long moment, sure I had not seen it when I’d first come that way. The entire tunnel was little more than two meters wide. I could not have missed it, I swear it by all the art in me. One boot splashed into the water as I staggered toward it, having doubled back to snag my glowsphere. A light in both hands, I peered into the crack and saw that it was not a crack at all.

It was a passage. The walls were smooth and glassy, unmarred by the

carved anaglyphs, and reflected the light in ripples starkly white against the inky stone. This was no stress fracture but an intentional feature of the ruins. How had I missed it? I aimed the hand lamp inside, catching sight of a chamber beyond and what looked like steps. That was strange. In all my time in Calagah, I hadn’t seen any steps except the ones leading into the ruins outside. I squeezed through the crack and looked around. The meager beam of my hand lamp couldn’t pick out the roof above. I knew from

studying Valka’s holographs that we weren’t much more than a hundred feet underground at this point, but it seemed the darkness above was the naked Dark of space, forever open, starless and yawning above me. Curious and in need of better light, I threw the glowsphere upward, knowing I would not be getting it back. It sailed higher, spreading its white-gold light over the trapezoidal room I had just entered. The gleaming orb sailed up and up and up—and did not stop. Unsettled further, I stood staring at what the light had illuminated.

There were steps, but they were only the steps of a dais—three of them

—that fronted the . . . the mural on the wall opposite. I only caught a glimpse of it by the light of the glowsphere, for a moment later the device went dark and crashed to the floor not four meters from where I stood.

Dead. That could not be—these glowspheres were meant to shine for days down in that abyssal dark.

“Valka!” I called out. “Sir Elomas! Have you seen this?” I broke off, embarrassed, sure they could not hear me. “Of course they’ve seen it,

Marlowe,” I spluttered, looking back over my shoulder. “They work here.” I was talking to myself—never a good sign. I would turn back in a moment.

Just a moment. My hand lamp had not gone out, and I turned it on the image embossed on the far wall. I widened the beam of my lamp as far as it would go, but even so I could not take in the totality of the single glyph

carved fifty feet high.

It was a circle like the others, and yet unlike them, for within its boundaries was carved no subdivision, no geometric form or arc. The circle was plain and smooth save for where at the lowest point of its arc it was broken by a single ray that widened to a wedge as it approached the floor. I moved toward it. For a moment I thought I heard footsteps, thought Valka

and Elomas had come looking for me, but when I turned I could see no one. The light reflected from my lamp seemed to shine out of the black stone as if it had come from within its depths, and I saw my thin reflection there, a ghostly shape. I mounted the three steps of the dais, reaching out a hand to caress the single ray carved into the wall. The stone within the wedge had been chipped back two inches from the smooth face of the wall, marbled

and rough beneath my fingertips.

I almost felt I could see the ancient mason with his chisel, so undimmed was the carving on that wall. It struck me then that this whole chamber was dry. Not drained as the tubular hall had been, but dry, as if the waters of the sea had never made it to that place. I let out a breath, and it misted the air, turning white as temple smoke. How did we ever think we were alone in the universe? How did we ever think we were the princes of it? What antique

arrogance had driven that superstition and cast the Chantry in its image? As that carving dwarfed me, so its implication—the implication of all that strange stone—dwarfed us all. Again my breath frosted the air, and I

felt a sudden chill steal over my bones. I decided that I had tarried long

enough and was about to leave and find my companions again when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye, or thought I did. There was nothing. Only my reflection. Then the cold took me, bright and piercing as it had been that first afternoon on the steps outside, as if someone had driven a spike of clearest ice through my arm and crucified me. For a moment all thought fled me, even the instinct to pull my hand away from the wall.

My reflection moved, stirring in the wall. It looked right at me, and its

eyes were not violet like my own but perfectly, astonishingly green. Though I did not move, it reached out its other hand for me, and I felt the cold wash over me like a wave, pouring from my extremities to my deepest core. The pain shone in me, not white-hot but blue, so agonizing that I forgot to cry out, so brief I did not have to, though I knew it must stop my heart.

Those green eyes fixed on me, and I half imagined I felt a hand take mine where it splayed against the wall. I tried to scream, but my jaw would not work. My knees buckled, but I did not fall. Those eyes. Those terrible green eyes staring at me out of my face—was it my face? I could see nothing but those eyes. They filled the universe, became the universe, and behind them and through them I beheld countless suns. They scattered like embers and blew out, all but one. Toward it I fell and into a city whose

spires and bell towers recalled the castle of my home, but all the buildings were strange. I heard a great wailing, as from an infant, as I stood beneath the vaults of a mighty chapel. There a cradle stood amid shattered statuary, and I approached, but the cradle held nothing but air. The image crumbled, and I fell backward through thick mist. As it parted I beheld a great ship

studded with statues of men and gods and devils. She stretched across the heavens and drowned the unfixed stars.

And I saw the Cielcin standing in rank and file amidst the black of space itself, marching in the night. How bright their spears! And the song of them was like the flash of cruel lightning. Where they passed, the stars fell and planets went up like smoke. And I beheld one greater than the rest. Silver

was its crown, and silver the inlay of its black armor, and its eyes were terrible as the worlds burning in its wake. The great ship with her statues overshadowed that Pale host and plunged into the nearest star like a knife descending.


I was blind, though in that brightness I sensed a presence. Shapes moving invisibly, casting no shadows. I tried to cry out, but the words would not come, for I had forgotten them. I felt nothing, heard nothing. Knew nothing.

Save three words.

This must be.

I fell backward from the dais like a toppled tower and skidded on the

smooth floor as if I’d been thrown. My body ached from remembered cold,

though the sensation itself had altogether fled. Groaning, shivering like a dead leaf as the hot blood hammering in my veins, I sat up. I had thrown my hand lamp in my terror, and I crawled over the cool stone to recover it like some frightened bait beast in the arena before the azhdarch or the lion pounces.

“Valka!” I cried, forgetting Elomas in my astonishment and pain. “Valka!”

I needed to tell her, to tell her what I had seen.



She was not in the room with the forest of columns, nor was Elomas, and though I called for both, neither answered. Nor were they in the room where the gravitometer stood on its tripod under the graven dome. I ducked down several of the side passages, following glow tape and the light of floating

spheres until I felt sure I should have found them, crying out all the while. I resolved instead to return to the surface and followed the slanting passage back up into the light of day. The sun blinded me after my time below ground, and I stood in the thin southern sunlight, remembering the cold.

“Where the hell have you been?” Turning, I saw Valka hurrying across the sandy base of the cleft, her red-dark hair snapping in the wind. She picked up speed as she approached me, grinding to a halt mere feet away. I tried to speak, but she punched me in the shoulder. “I thought you’d fallen down a shaft and broken your neck! Elomas went to wave Springdeep for a search party!”

I blinked at her. “What are you talking about?”

Valka didn’t seem to hear me. “Do you know what the count would have done if we’d let you die out here?” She combed her fingers through her hair in agitation.

Taking a careful step away from the doctor, I raised placating hands. “Valka, what are you talking about? I couldn’t have been gone more than twenty minutes.”

Her mouth hung open, and I could only stare at her as she said, “Hadrian. You’ve been gone for six hours.”

I opened my mouth, closed it. My denial died on my lips when I noticed the sky. The sun was setting, had already vanished behind the top of the

cleft. A few broken words spluttered out of me, and I shook my head.

“That’s not . . . There was a room off the round hall. I . . .” What was I

supposed to say? My reflection stirred again in my memory, moving in the blackened stone without me.

This must be.

I had never seen Valka frown more deeply. Confused, she said, “Hadrian, there isn’t a room off that tunnel.”


“’Tis the way to the eastern complex. There are no branchings.”

I shook my head. “No. There was one.” And I described the massive glyph above the dais and the narrow door. Valka’s face darkened,

confirming my worst fears. I withheld the rest—the voice, my vision—for the moment. I still shook with the memory of it. A thin, hard line formed between her brows, and I broke off my narrative, saying, “You must have walked right past me.”

Her nostrils flared. “Walked right . . .” Her voice trailed off, and she half turned away.

I looked down at my feet, taking a moment to reevaluate the situation.

Had she been afraid for me? Worried? Had she been acting out of fear? Was she still? I did not want to lie to Valka. I knew what I had seen: the mysterious door, the too-high roof of the chamber. I had seen my reflection move, had seen its eyes, green as death and alien. Had seen . . . other things.

It could not be real. I must have dreamed it. We returned to the tunnel, water pooling about our ankles. Four times we walked the length of it, and four times we found nothing. “It doesn’t make sense,” I said, shaking my head. “It was here. It was right here.” I pressed my hands against the black

stone wall, fingers digging into the Quiet anaglyphs. Then, more weakly, “It was right here.” Looking round, I caught her staring at me, the light reflecting in her golden eyes like a cat’s. She had a quizzical look on her face, as if she were trying to frown and chew the inside of her cheek at once. “I’m not lying.”

“I don’t think you are, but . . .”

“There was a dais just through here.” I pointed at the wall. “A huge

chamber the size of Chantry sanctum. Maybe . . .” I was getting desperate. “Maybe Elomas is right. Maybe the walls move.” She shook her head, half turned to go. “I’m serious, Valka! Really! There’s this . . . mural. One of the glyphs, only it must have been fifty feet high. I touched it and—Do you remember when we first got here? When I touched the step and it froze my

hand?” Her face darkened, but she said nothing. “It happened again. I touched the glyph, and . . .” I told her everything. Earth and Emperor protect me, I told her.

She didn’t speak at first. That was the worst part. She didn’t laugh or

strike me. She didn’t even cross her arms. Valka stood there like one of the statues from my vision, unmoving and unmoved. It was dreadfully quiet in that tunnel with only the dripping of water and the faint sounds of our breathing to break the silence. There was a mountain of it. An ocean,

concealing by its mass and charge all that I had seen and learned.

Her nostrils flared, and she looked away, lips pressed together. “You’re unbelievable.”

“I’m sorry?”

“After everything you did with Gilliam, after I let you come down here to Calagah, you have the audacity to lie to my face. If you got lost in the tunnels, just say so. You don’t have to posture for me. I’m not impressed. ’Twasn’t even a good lie!” She broke off before her voice could rise to a

shout. “Visions? Visions! Marlowe, your idiot people might call me a witch, but that is your superstitionI am a scientist; I believe in verifiable, measurable things. Not ghosts. We are dealing with an extinct civilization here. Not . . . whatever the fuck you’re playing at.”

I bit back a rebuke and implored, “Why I would I lie? Especially after Gilliam?”

“Because you are an ignorant savage from a backward country who still believes in fairy stories,” she snapped. “Because you’re bored. Is roughing it in the country with us small folk not enough for you, my lord? Do you miss your fancy wines and oiled houris?”

“That is not me,” I almost snarled, and for all her stridency Valka

stepped back a pace. I did not point out that we were hardly roughing it

with Sir Elomas’s servants in tow. I did not point out that it was she, not I, who made use of the palace body servants. I was crushed, but I would not be petty. “That’s not me, and you know it. If you don’t believe me, fine. I’m sorry I told you, but by Earth herself, I am not lying to you.”

Violet eyes held golden ones, but only the gold ones blinked.

“Say what you like,” she sneered, and she turned away, muttering, “Barbarian.”

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