THE CLOCK OF DREAMS
For Barzai the Not-So-Wise, who proved--however involuntarily--that what goes up need not necessarily come down again.
Myself, I've never been much of a dreamer, never traveled far past Ulthar; but I have watched caravans fording the Skai, and I have sat in the smokeroorn of the Inn of a Thousand Sleeping Cats and listened to the tales of my betters. I suppose most dreamers have. It's true, though, that there seem to be fewer of us around these days. Time was when a man of the waking world could guarantee that if he boarded at an inn in the land of Earth's dreams, sure enough he would find a fellow dreamer or two from the world of waking mortals; and wouldn't the tales fly thick and fast then? Yes, they surely would.
You would hear magical names of men and places--names to set your pulses pounding and your imagination tingling--and thrill to the telling of tales of heroic and fantastic deeds. And someone would be bound to mention Kuranes or Randolph Carter ... or Richard Upton Pickman. And while you might shudder at the hinted fate of the latter, certainly you would also gasp in awe at the adventures of the others. Ah, those were the dreams ...
Still, I suppose I shouldn't complain too bitterly, for when I come to think of it I heard two of my favorite tales quite recently, and as coincidence would have it I heard them at the Inn of a Thousand Sleeping Cats ... in Ulthar.
The first was a strange tale and complicated, a tale of all the worlds of space and time, of strange dimensions and planes of existence beyond the ken of most men. A tale of motes in the multiverse swirling beyond barriers neither spacial nor temporal, nor of any intermediate dimension recognized by mortal man except in the wildest theories of science and metaphysics. A tale of paths between the spheres, dim corridors leading to equally dim and conjectural lands of elder myth ... And yet all of these seemingly inaccessible places were just around the corner to the time-clock.
Indeed "time-clock," as Titus Crow had long since recognized the fact, was a completely inadequate misnomer for that--machine? A plaything of the Elder Gods come down the ages from lands beyond legend, from a time beyond time as men reckon it, the clock was agateway on--on everything! It was a door to worlds of wonder, joy and beauty--but it was also a dark pothole entrance to caves of innermost, alien evil and shrieking, unnameable horror.
The first tale I heard was the story of how the clock came into Henri-Laurent de Marigny's hands in the first place, and it is a tale already told. But for the sake of the unacquainted I will briefly reiterate it before taking up the second of the two stories proper. Before even that, however, I had better tell what little is known of the time-clock itself.
Certainly the clock's history is strange and obscure enough to whet the mental appetite of any lover of mysteries or would-be sounder of unfathomable wonders (which you must be, else you would not be reading this). First, tracing the existence of the weird--conveyance?--back as far as possible in the light of incomplete knowledge, it seems to have belonged to one Yogi Hiamaldi, an Indian friend of the ill-fated Carolina mystic Harley Warren. Hiamaldi had been a member, along with Warren, of a psychic-phenomenist group in Boston about 1916--18; and he had sworn before all other members of that group that he alone of living men had been to Yian-Ho, crumbling remnant of eons long lost, and that he had borne away certain things from that grim and leering necropolis.
For reasons unknown, the Yogi had made a gift of the clock to one Etienne-Laurent de Marigny (perhaps the greatest ever American occultist and the father of one of the heroes of the story to follow), who kept it at the New Orleans retreat where his studies of the arcane sciences formed his primary purpose in life. How much he discovered of its secrets remains unknown, but after the elder de Marigny died the clock was sold, along with many another antique curiosity, to a French collector.
Here there is a gap in the history, for while many years later Titus Crow bought the clock at an auction of antique furniture in London, all of his subsequent attempts to discover the whereabouts of its previous Parisian owner were doomed to failure; it was as though the man had simply vanished off the face of the Earth.
Now then, of Titus Crow himself--a man with a positive genius for the discovery of dark lore, lost legends, and nighted myth-patterns, who will also feature prominently in my tale--much is known; but for now suffice it to mention that his protracted studies of the clock over many years of his life were such that the device became something of an obsession with him. Often in his earlier years Crow would sit in his study in the night, his chin in his hands as he gravely pondered the enigma of the peculiar, coffin-shaped, oddly tickingmonstrosity in the corner of the room; a "clock," of sorts, whose four hands moved in patterns patently divorced from any chronological system known or even guessed at by man, and his eyes would rove over the strange hieroglyphs that swept in intricate designs around the great clock's face.
When he was not at work on less baffling cases, always Titus Crow would return his attentions to the clock, and though usually such studies were in vain, they were not always complete failures. Often he believed himself on the verge of a breakthrough--knowing that if he were right he would finally understand the alien intricacies governing his "doorway on all space and time"--only to be frustrated in the final hour. And once he actually had the doubtful privilege of seeing the clock opened by two men of equally doubtful repute and intent, whose affairs in the world were fortunately soon terminated ... but then at long last there came a genuine clue.
It was while he was working for the Wilmarth Foundation--a far-flung body of erudite men whose sole avowed intent and purpose was to rid the world, indeed the entire universe, of all remaining traces of an aeon-old evil, the surviving demonic forces and powers of the Cthulhu Cycle of Myth--that Titus Crow visited Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. There, in one of the carefully guarded, great old occult volumes in the university's world-renowned library, he finally recognized a sequence of odd glyphs which at first he was startled, then delighted to note bore a striking resemblance to the figures on the dial of his huge clock. Moreover, the book bore translations of his own hieroglyphed passages in Latin!
Armed with this Rosetta-Stone knowledge, Crow had returned to London, where soon he was at work again disinterring many of the clock's centuries-buried mysteries. And he had been right, for that incredible device was indeed a vehicle: a space-time machine of sorts with principles more alien than the centers of stars, whose like we may at least conjecture upon.
Of his work on the clock at this time, he wrote to his friend and colleague, Henri-Laurent de Marigny: "I am in the position of a Neanderthal studying the operational handbook of a passenger-carrying aircraft--except I have no handbook!" And Henri was unable to assist his learned friend, for while his father had once owned the selfsame clock, that had been when he was a boy, and he could remember nothing of it. Titus Crow, however, was never a man to be denied anything once he set his mind after it, and so he had persevered.
And little by little he discovered all of the clock's peculiar secrets. He learned how to open its frontal panel, without suffering any of themany possible consequences, allowing the strange lights that invariably illumined its interior to flood out in eerie shades that dappled his study with alien hues. He knew how to attune himself "telepathically" to the device's sub-ethereal vibrations: how to "make himself one," as he had it, with the clock. He was aware of the nature of the "commands" he must give to the clock to guide it on its journeyings through temporal and spacial voids, so that the time soon came when he believed he might attempt his first flight in the weird vehicle.
All of this knowledge came to Titus Crow in the very nick of time, for no sooner was he physically ready to test his theories than just such a test was forced upon him. It happened when he and his young friend de Marigny (also a member of the Wilmarth Foundation) were staying at Blowne House, Crow's sprawling bungalow home on Leonard's Heath in London.
The two of them had grown to be very painful thorns in the sides of the deities or demons of the Cthulhu Cycle, and at last the prime member of that cycle, dread Cthulhu himself, had discovered a way to strike back at them. Dreaming hideously in R'lyeth, his "house" drowned somewhere in the vast Pacific, Cthulhu worked his evil plot through Ithaqua the Wind-Walker, Lord of the Snows. For while Ithaqua himself was unable to go abroad beyond barriers immemorially imposed by the Elder Gods--that is, while he was restricted in his movements to the Arctic Circle and its adjacent environs, and to strange Boreal starlanes and alien worlds--nonetheless he was still undisputed master of all the world's winds. And now he sent elementals of the air from the four corners of the sky to attack Titus Crow's home.
Left with no choice but to risk the doubtful sanctuary of the timeclock--as eerie shapes of evil formed beyond the shattering windows, monstrous forces that pounded at the shuddering frame of his bungalow retreat until Blowne House fell about his ears--Crow stepped beyond the open front panel of his vehicle and bade de Marigny follow him. And when that "freak localized storm" had expired and the house was discovered in ruins, perhaps not surprisingly no trace could be found of the two friends; neither of them, nor of the weird clock.
Well, to cut a long story short, Titus Crow made good his escape from those monstrous minion winds of Ithaqua into the far future, traveling almost to the End of Time itself before finally he mastered the clock's many intricacies to control its flight. But as for de Marigny, he was not the adept that his friend was. Barely was their craft "out of port," as it were, before de Marigny was "washed overboard" into terrible temporal tides--to be fished from the Thames more dead thanalive ten years later! Though the flight in the time-clock had seemed to last mere seconds, and while Crow's younger friend had aged not at all, nevertheless ten years had sped by; which caused de Marigny to wonder just how far his friend had finally traveled--and was he perhaps still traveling?
It was not long before he was to learn the answers to these and to other questions.
Upon recovering from his fantastic ordeal, de Marigny went back to his old London home, and there one night a short time later Titus Crow also returned to the world of men. Ah, but this was a much-changed Titus Crow, for he had undergone a transition. Younger, stronger, wiser (though de Marigny found the latter hardly credible), the new Crow had seen marvels beyond belief, had traced his own lineage back to the very Elder Gods themselves. And now lie had returned to Earth for one reason only: to offer Henri-Laurent de Marigny the opportunity to join him in Elysia, the home of the Great Gods of Eld. As an inducement, if such were needed, this is how Crow had told his friend of his adventures:
" ... I've been trapped on the shores of a prehistoric ocean, Henri, living on my wits and by hunting great crabs and spearing strange fishes, dodging the dinosaurs which in turn hunted me. And a billion years before that I inhabited a great rugose cone of a body, a living organism which was in fact a member of the Great Race that settled on Earth in unthinkable aybsses of the past. I've seen the cruel and world-spanning empire of Tsan-Chan, three thousand years in the future, and beyond that the great dark vaults that loom at the end of time. I've talked telepathically with the super-intelligent mollusks of soupy Venusian oceans, which will not support even the most primitive life for another half-billion years; and I've stood on the bleak shores of those same seas ten million years later when they were sterile, after a great plague had destroyed all life on the entire planet ...
"Why, I've come close to seeing the very birth of the universe, and almost its death!--and all of these wonders and others exist still just beyond the thin mists of time and space. This clock of mine sails those mists more bravely and surely than any Viking's dragonship ever crossed the gray North Sea. And you ask me what I mean when I talk of another trip, one involving yourself?
"When I return to Elysia, Henri, to the home of the Elder Gods in Orion, there will be a place for you in my palace there. Indeed, you shall have a palace of your own. And why not? The Gods mated with the daughters of men in the old days, didn't they? And won't you onlybe reversing the process? I did, my friend, and now the universe is mine. It can be yours, too ..."
Soon after that Titus Crow took his departure from Earth yet again, but this time he used the time-clock more properly as a "gateway," passing through it but yet leaving it behind until de Marigny should make up his mind one way or the other. If he decided to brave the machine's dark unknown, the way would not be easy. De Marigny knew that. But visions previously undreamed of had opened in his mind, and wonders beckoned and enticed him more magnetically than ever the Sirens lured Ulysses.
For de Marigny was a lover of mysteries no less than you, the reader, and as such could he possibly refuse the proffered challenge? Could you?
The Call of Kthanid
De Marigny had first flown the time-clock two weeks earlier under Titus Crows expert tutelage. Now Crow was gone--back to Elysia and the incredible girl-goddess he loved there, Tiania--and de Marigny had decided to follow him, alone.
Crow had done a marvelous job of instruction during the brief flights he had shared with his friend in the clock, and de Marigny was by no means lost in regard to controlling that fantastic machine. It was simply a matter of "meshing oneself" with the thing, so that the clock became an extension of its passenger's body and mind, an extra limb or sixth sense ... or both.
Thus, while half the world slept and darkness covered the land, Henri-Laurent de Marigny set out to prove himself worthy of a new and higher life in Elysia; and he did so in the only way open to him, by pitting himself and his vessel against all the currents of space and time. The world, all unawares, dwindled behind him as he cruised out into the void in his strangely hybrid craft, his almost "human" machine, and a wild enthusiasm and exhilaration filled him as he piloted that vessel in the direction of Orion. Somewhere out there--somewhere in the distant void, behind invisible hyperdimensional barriers--he knew that faerie Elysia waited for him, and it seemed only reasonable to de Marigny that since Elysia lay "adjacent" to Orion, that star should mark his starting point.
On one thing de Marigny had already and irreversibly made up his mind: though Titus Crow had told him that in the event of insurmountabledifficulties he could always contact him through the clock, he would not do so unless his life itself were threatened. From what he knew of it there seemed to be only one way into Elysia for a creature not born to it, and that was the way of peril. Only those who deserve Elysia may ever enjoy her elder wonders, and de Marigny did not intend to be dependant upon Titus Crow for his--birthright?
His birthright, yes--Elysia was his birthright, Crow had hinted as much. What was it his friend had said to him? "Lover of mysteries you are, Henri, as your father before you. And I'll tell you something, something which you really ought to have guessed before now. There's that in you that hearkens back into dim abysses of time, a spark whose fire burns still in Elysia. And one more thing you should know.
"Those places of fantasy and dream I've mentioned--they're all as real and solid in their way as the very ground beneath your feet. The Lands of Dream, after all, are only dimensions lying parallel to the Worlds of Reality. Ah, but there are dreamers and there are dreamers, my friend, and your father was a great dreamer. He still is--for he is a Lord of Ilek-Vad, Counselor to his great friend Randolph Carter, who is himself a just and honored king!
"I intend to visit them there one day, in Ilek-Vad deep in Earth's dreamland, and when I do you can be with me ..."
Musing on these things that Crow had told him, physically and emotionally weary now that the initial stage of his flight was successfully completed and the journey safely underway, de Marigny lay back and watched with his mind's eye--which was now a part of the timeclock's equipment, a mental "scanner" of sorts--as the stars visibly moved in the inky blackness about him, so tremendous was the velocity of his craft as it hurtled through the airless, frozen deeps.
"As real and solid as the very ground beneath your feet," Crow had said of dreams. Well, if Titus Crow said it was so, then it was so. And hadn't Gerhard Schrach hinted much the same thing back in the thirties, and other great thinkers and philosophers before him? Certainly they had. De Marigny could remember Schrach's very words on the subject:
" ... My own dreams being particularly vivid and real--to such an extent that I never know for sure whether or not I am dreaming until I wake up--I would not like to argue which world is the more vital: the waking world or the world of dream. Certainly the waking worldappears to be the more solid--but consider what science tells us about the atomic make-up of so-called solids ... and what are you left with?"
And with thoughts such as these swirling in his head, and the fascinating panoply of vasty voids sprinkled with a myriad jewels in his mind's eye, de Marigny bade the clock speed on and drifted into a sleep; a sleep which seemed eagerly to open its arms to him, and one which was far from dreamless.
Beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt the slumbering de Marigny's dreams were not natural ones, and but for his previous knowledge of Elysia, passed on to him through Titus Crow--particularly of the Hall of Crystal and Pearl, wherein Kthanid the Elder God Eminence had his seat in an inviolable sanctuary beneath a great glacier--certainly he must have considered himself the victim of a vilest nightmare. For the thing upon which he suddenly found himself gazing was a shape of primal horror, the blasphemous shape of Cthulhu himself--except that it was not Cthulhu but Kthanid, and where the former was black as the pit the latter shone with the light of stars.
Thus, while his subconscious body hurtled through the star-voids within the spacetime-defying matrix of the great clock, de Marigny's dreaming mind was present in that very Hall of Crystal and Pearl which Titus Crow had described to him in so much detail. And he saw that Crow had painted an almost perfect picture of that magnificently alien palace beneath the ice of Elysia's "polar" regions.
Here was the massive high-arched ceiling, the Titan-paved floor of great hexagonal flags, the ornate columns rising to support high balconies which glowed partially hidden in rose-quartz mists and pearly hazes. And everywhere were the white, pink, and blood hues of crystal, strangely diffused in all those weird angles and proportions that Crow had spoken of. Even the hall's centerpiece--the vast scarlet cushion with its huge, milky crystal ball--was just as Crow had described it. And of course, Kthanid was there, too ...
Kthanid the Eminence, Elder God and cousin to Great Cthulhu--indeed of the same strain of cosmic spawn that bred the Lord of R'lyeh--moved massively in the Cyclopean hall. His body was mountainous! And yet his folded-back, fantastic wings trembled in seeming agitation as Kthanid paced the enormous flags, his great octopoidhead, with its proliferation of face-tentacles, turning this way and that in what was plainly consternation.
But for all that this Being was alien beyond words, what might easily have been horrific was in fact magnificent! For this great creature, bejeweled and glittering as though dusted with diamonds, stared out upon the hall through huge eyes that glowed like molten gold; eyes filled with compassion and love--yes, and fear--almost impossible to imagine as existing within so terrible a fleshly house. And those eyes returned again and again to peer intently at the lustrous crystal upon its scarlet cushion.
It was because of Kthanid's eyes that de Marigny knew--was certain--that there was nothing to fear here, and he knew too that this was much more than merely a dream. It was as if he had been called into the Elder God's presence, and no sooner had this thought occurred to the dreamer than the Eminence turned and stared straight at him where his disembodied being "stood" invisible within the vast subterranean vault.
"Henri-Laurent de Marigny," a rumbling but infinitely kindly voice spoke in the dreamer's mind. "Man of Earth, is it you? Yes, I see that it is. You have answered my summons, which is good, for that was a test I had intended to set you before--before--" The mental voice faded into uncertain silence.
"Kthanid," de Marigny spoke up, unsure as to how to address the mythical Being, "I see that you are ... disturbed. Why have you called me here? Has the trouble to do with Titus Crow?"
"With Titus, yes, and with Tiania, whom I love as a father. But come," the great voice took on urgency, "look into the crystal and tell me what you see."
Disembodied, nevertheless de Marigny found that he was capable of movement. He followed Kthanid to the edge of the great cushion, then moved on across its silken expanse to the center. There the huge, milky crystal ball reposed, its surface opaque and slowly mobile, as a reflection of dense clouds mirrored in a still lake.
"Look!" the Eminence commanded yet again, and slowly the milky clouds began to part, revealing ...
The dreaming de Marigny gazed upon a scene that filled him with icy dread, a scene he could understand even less than he could believe it. The crystal on its scarlet cushion now burned with red fires of its own, and dark shadows danced as flames leaped high above fourhugely flaring, blackly-forged flambeaux. These torches stood at the corners of a raised dais or altar, atop which a great reddish mass--a living, malignant jewel at least three feet across--pulsed evilly as it reflected the ruddy light of the torches. The thing seemed to be an impossibly vast ruby; and guarding it, patroling the round-cobbled square in which the dais stood, were several squat, strangely turbaned figures with awful wide-mouthed faces. At their belts these guardsmen wore viciously curving scimitars, and as they moved about the foot of the raised altar de Marigny saw that they paused occasionally to torment two ragged figures whose limbs were roped to irons hammered into the steps of the dais.
The horror and sick shock that de Marigny experienced had its source in these two figures; for one of them was certainly his great friend of olden adventures, Titus Crow, while the other--ruddily illumined in the light of the flaring flambeaux, fantastically beautiful even in her present distress--must be the girl-goddess Tiania, late of Elysia. Then, as suddenly as it had come, while de Marigny tried desperately to commit all the vision's details to memory, the milky clouds rolled back across the crystal's surface and all was gone.
Away in the time-clock, still hurtling through the star-voids half a universe away in space and time, de Marigny's recumbent form sweated, tossed and turned; while in the great Hall of Crystal and Pearl his disembodied subconscious turned imploringly to Kthanid the Eminence to ask: "But what does it mean? Where are they? And how did this--"
"Hold!" The great Being turned abruptly and for a moment his huge eyes were slits, glittering with something other than compassion or love. Kthanid was every inch a God, and de Marigny sensed that for a moment he had been very close to witnessing the release of awesome energies. The Elder God's frustration was a living force that the dreamer felt as surely as his waking body would feel the warmth of sunlight or the chill of a bitter wind. Then the golden eyes blinked rapidly and Kthanid's towering form trembled violently as he fought to bring his emotions under control.
"Hold, de Marigny," the mental voice finally rumbled again, this time less forcefully, "and I will explain all. But understand that every wasted moment increases their peril ..."
Then the great voice seemed almost to become resigned, as if giving a telepathic shrug. "Still, what other way is there? I must tell youas much as I know, for of course you are their one hope of salvation. Indeed, you will be the instrument of that salvation--if you are able. Have you the strength, de Marigny? Are you the man Titus Crow believes you to be? Would you really presume to enter Elysia? I tell you now. I am not unjust--hut I love those two. Bring them back to me, and I will welcome you to Elysia as a son. Fail me, and--" again the mental shrug, "and you remain a child of Earth all your days--if you live through your ordeal!"
"Whatever needs to be done to help Titus Crow--yes, and his Tiania--I' ll try to do it," the dreamer fervently answered. "Wherever I need to go, I'll go there."
"You will need to do more than merely try, de Marigny, and indeed there is far to go. When I have told you all I am able to tell, then you must be on your way--immediately."
"And my destination?"
"Earth?" the dreamer gaped. "But--"
"Earth, yes, for your own homeworld is the only safe stepping-stone to your ultimate destination, to the place where even now Titus Crow and Tiania face unknown terrors." For a brief moment Kthanid paused, then he turned his golden eyes in the dreaming de Marigny's direction. "Obviously your mind is receptive to telepathic attraction, man of Earth, else I could not have called you here to Elysia. But tell me, can you dream? Can you truly dream?"
"Can I dream? Why, I--"
"Your father was a great dreamer."
"Titus Crow has told me much the same thing, but--" de Marigny began, then paused as an astounding thought came to him. "Are you trying to tell me that Titus and Tiania are--"
The great Being nodded: "Yes, they are trapped in Earth's dreamworld, de Marigny. To find them, free them, and return them to Elysia unscathed, that is your quest. One man against all Earth's dreamworld--which is also the land of her nightmares!"
Dreams of Doom
"There is a way," the Eminence continued, "by means of which I can rapidly impress upon your mind all that I know of your ... destination. It may be unpleasant in that you could be left with a headache, but other than that it is not dangerous. There is also a way to speed the process up immeasurably, and ... But no, I fear your mind is not ready for that. It would probably destroy you."
"Crow has told me how you--revealed--certain things to him," de Marigny answered. "Right here in this hall, I believe. I am ready for whatever it is you have to do to me."
"Titus Crow's capacity was unbelievably high, even taking into account the fact that the strains of Eld ran strong in his blood. With him the process was very quick, almost instantaneous, but I would not dare to attempt such a process with you. That is not to belittle you, de Marigny: it is simply that if you are incapacitated, then nothing can save Titus Crow and Tiania. But in any case, your education will not take too long; my knowledge of Earth's dreamland is regrettably limited. The reason for this will soon become amply clear to you. Now come to me ..."
As the dreamer drifted toward the alien Eminence, so that great Being's face-tentacles seemed to reach out to touch his disembodied mind. "Steel yourself," came Kthanid's warning in the instant before contact was made.
... And immediately gates of strange knowledge opened in de Marigny's mind, through which streamed fantastic visions of nighted myth and legend, released from Kthanid's mental storehouse of lore concerning Earth's dreamland. And though it was perfectly true that the Eminence knew comparatively little of that subconscious dimension, still it seemed to the disembodied Earthman that the Elder God must surely be omniscient in the ways of human dreams.
For as rapidly as his mind could accept it, de Marigny became heir to a wealth of information previously known only to certain seasoned travelers in dreamland, a dimension whose very fabric existed for and was sustained only by the minds of Earth's dreamers. He saw the continents,hills and mountains, rivers and oceans of dream, her fabulous countries, cities, and towns, and he saw the peoples who inhabited those ethereal regions Amazingly, he even recognized some of the places he saw, remembering now adventures believed forgotten forever in olden dreams, just as the night is forgotten in the light of dawn's rays.
And so knowledge passed from the mind of the great Being into the mind of Henri-Laurent de Marigny. He was shown the Cavern of the Flame where, not far from the gates of the waking world, the bearded, pshent-bearing priests Nasht and Kaman-Thah offer up prayers and sacrifices to the capricious gods of dream that dwell in the clouds above Kadath. Yes, and an instant later, whirled away to the Cold Waste, he even glimpsed Kadath itself, forbidden to men, but was offered no guarantee of that hideous region's location. Not even Kthanid knew for certain in which area of spacetime Kadath lay.
Snatched away from Kadath in the space of a single heartbeat, de Marigny traversed the seven hundred steps to the Gates of Deeper Slumber; and beyond those steps the Enchanted Wood with its furtive Zoog inhabitants was made known to him. He was given to understand how the Zoogs--small and brown and indeterminate as they were--might be very important to his quest, for they were not unintelligent and their knowledge of Earth's dreamland was prodigious. Moreover, the Zoogs were reputed to have access even to the waking world, knowing the two places where the dimensions of dream and reality merge; though mercifully, in consideration of their doubtful appetites, they could not journey far beyond the mysterious places of their own dimension
Then the Enchanted Wood and its burrow-dwelling Zoogs were gone, and de Marigny was shown the resplendent city of Celephais in the valley of Ooth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills. And he knew that Kuranes, himself once a legendary dreamer, reigned in Celephais, and that King Kuranes was renowned in all the lands of dream as the only man ever to transcend the star-gulfs and return sane. Gazing down upon Celephais from on high, de Marigny saw the glittering minarets of that splendid city and the galleys at anchor in the blue harbor, and Mount Aran where the ginkgos swayed in the breeze off the sea. And there was the singing, bubbling Naraxa with its tiny wooden bridges, wending its way to the sea; and there the city'sbronze gates, beyond which onyx pavements wound away into a maze of curious streets and alleys.
But de Marigny was given precious little time to study Celephais, for no sooner had he glimpsed the city and its surroundings than he was whirled away, high over the Cerenarian Sea, whose billows rise up inexplicably to the heavens. There, among fleecy clouds tinted with rose, he was shown sky-floating Serannian, the pink marble city of the clouds, builded on that ethereal coast where the west wind flows into the sky; and he marveled at dream's wonders as he saw below, through breaks in roseate clouds, hills and rivers and cities of a rare beauty, dreaming gorgeously in brilliant sunshine.
And once again the scene quickly changed--so rapidly, indeed, that de Marigny was thrown in an instant from daylight into darkness--and now he knew that the land below him was none other than the icy desert plateau of Leng, and he saw the horrible stone villages whose balefires flared up so evilly. Then, coming to him on an icy wind that seemed to freeze his very soul, he heard the rattling of strange bone instruments and the whine of cursed flutes, while a distant chanting of monstrous implications chilled him further yet.
For a moment, peering down in starkest horror, he thought he saw some inhuman thing writhing and blazing upon a stake in the heart of one of these balefires, while in the red shadows around, monstrous figures jerked and cavorted to the hellish, wind-whipped music. De Marigny knew that the thing in the fire--whatever it was--screamed hideously as it roasted, and he was glad that the icy, howling wind kept those screams from him; and more glad when suddenly he was rushed away once more to other, less terrible visions.
Now he was relieved to behold the templed terraces of Zak, abode of forgotten dreams, where many of his own youthful dreams lingered still, gradually fading as all dreams must in the end. But before he could look too long or wistfully at Zak's dim visions, he felt himself borne irresistibly onward, to pass beneath twin headlands of crystal which rose up to meet high overhead in a resplendent arch; and then he found himself above the harbor of Sona-Nyl, blessed land of fancy. But since it could not have been deemed too important that he should look long upon Sona-Nyl, once again he was snatched away, without pause, on across the Southern Sea toward the Basalt Pillars of the West.
Now, some say that splendid Cathuria lies beyond the spot where those black columns tower from the ocean; but wiser dreamers are sure that the pillars are only a gateway, one which opens to a monstrous cataract where all dream's oceans fall abysmally away into awful voids outside the ordered universe. De Marigny knew these things at once, and he might have had the answer to the enigmatic problem had he not found himself once more suddenly and without warning whirled away to the Enchanted Wood. Patently there was something else in that dark place that Kthanid would appraise him of, for now he found himself in an exceptionally unfrequented part of the wood, where even the Zoogs rarely ventured ... and he was soon given to understand the reason for their caution.
Here the great squat oaks were very much thinned out, all of them dead or dying, and the whole area seemed covered with unnaturally luxuriant fungi, springing up from the dead ground and the mush of fallen, rotten trees. And there was a twilight and a silence here such as might have existed since time began; and in a sort of clearing a tremendous slab of stone lay on the forest's floor, bearing in its center a Titan iron ring all of three feet in diameter.
As de Marigny was shown the strange moss-obscured runes graven into the vast slab's surface, so the timeless quiet and oppressiveness of the place seemed to swell beyond endurance. He gazed upon those graven runes and, finally understanding, shuddered; for while one set of the glyphs was patently designed to keep something down beneath the slab, a second rune seemed to have the power to cancel out the first.
Then de Marigny's very soul shrank down within him, as if some monstrously alien symbol had been held out to it. And now he seemed to hear his own voice repeating a warning couplet from Abdul Alhazred's abhorrent Necronomicon: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die ..." And he knew that there must be something singularly evil and damnable here, a connection between this hideous slab lost in an ensorcelled wood ... and all the dread demons of the Cthulhu Cycle of Myth!
De Marigny was already more than well-acquainted with the CCD (the Cthulhu Cycle Deities, so designated by the Wilmarth Foundation) and now in an instant, faster than Kthanid might have implanted such knowledge in his mind, there flashed through his memory the pantheon as he knew it:
First there was dread Cthulhu, prime member of the CCD, prisoned in drowned R'lyeh somewhere in the vast and unknown depths of Earth's inscrutable Pacific. Then there was Yogg-Sothoth, the "all-in-one-and-one-in-all," a creature hideous beyond imagining--so monstrous indeed that his true shape and aspect are forever hidden, behind a mask or congeries of iridescent globes--who inhabits a synthetic dimension created by the Elder Gods to be his eternal prison. Since Yogg-Sothoth's prison dimension lies parallel to both time and space, it is often obscurely hinted of him that he is coexistent with the entire span of the former medium and coterminous in all the latter.
Then, high and low in the ranks of the CCD and their minions, there were the following Hastur the Unspeakable, an elemental of interstellar space and air, and allegedly half brother of Cthulhu; Dagon, an ancient aquatic survival worshipped once in his own right by the Philistines and the Phoenicians, now lord and master of the sub-oceanic Deep Ones in their various tasks, chiefly the guarding of R'lyeh's immemorially pressured tombs and sunken sepulchers; Cthylla, Cthulhu's "secret seed," his daughter; Shudde-M'ell, Nest-Master of the insidious Cthonian Burrowers Beneath; the Tind'losi Hounds; Hydra and Yibb-Tstll; Nyogtha and Tsathoggua; Lloigor, Zhar and Ithaqua, and many, many more.
The list was a long one and contained, along with these actual, physical representatives of Cthulhu's cycle, several purely symbolic figures endowed with equally awe-inspiring names and attributes of their own. Chiefly, these were Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Shub-Niggurath, which symbols the Wilmarth Foundation had explained away thus:
Azathoth, the "supreme father" of the cycle and described as a "blind idiot god"--an "amorphous blight of nethermost confusion blaspheming and bubbling at the center of all infinity"--was in fact the devastating power of the atom. It was nuclear fission, particularly the great atomic explosion that changed the perfect peace of the primal NOTHING into a chaotic and continuously evolving universe: Azathoth--the Big Bang!
Nyarlathotep--as his imperfectly anagrammatical name had early suggested to Titus Crow (albeit that this fact was entirely coincidental) was none other than the power of telepathy, and as such was known as the "Great Messenger" of the CCD. Even after the rampaging members of the Cthulhu Cycle were put down and "imprisoned"or "banished" by the Elder Gods, Nyarlathotep had been left free to carry the messages of the CCD one to the other between their various prisons. How may one imprison purely mental power, telepathic thought?
Shub-Niggurath--known in the pantheon as a god of fertility, the "black goat of the woods with a thousand young"--was in fact the power of miscegenation inherent in all the CCD since time immemorial. For in the old days did not the gods come down to mate with the daughters of men?
So, de Marigny saw again in his mind's eye all of these things and knew the truth of them, these and many other facts concerning the CCD. And he knew, too, why Titus Crow had braved the trans- or hyper-dimensional voids between Elysia's and Earth's dreamworlds--a voyage undertaken in the past only by two great seekers after knowledge and one fool, of which trio only one returned sane--for Crow's errand had been of the utmost importance. It had been to put an end to Cthulhu's incursions into the dreams of men. For since men first walked the Earth as true men they had dreamed and peopled the par- . allel dimension of dream with their own imaginings; and Cthulhu, seizing early upon his opportunity as he lay in dark slumbers of his own in sunken, blasphemous R'lyeh, had achieved a certain mastery over dreams long before man mastered the mammoth.
But from the start Earth's dreamland had proven alien to Lord Cthulhu and had resisted him; for his were dreams of outer voids beyond the comprehension of men, and as such could invade human dreams only briefly. Also, many of dreamland's inhabitants--not the human dreamers themselves but the living figments of their dreams--were friendly toward men of the waking world and abhorred those concepts Cthulhu would introduce into their strange dimension of myth and fancy.
So the Lord of R'lyeh cloaked his schemes concerning Earth's dreamland in mysteries and obscurities, patiently going about his aeon-devised plan in so devious a fashion as to wear away the barriers of men's dreams, even as great oceans wear away continents. In this way he gradually introduced many utterly inhuman concepts into the dreamland, nightmares with which to intimidate the subconscious minds of certain men in the waking world. Thus, while Cthulhu himself could enter the dreamlands briefly, the evil concepts of his miniondreams would fester there forever; his, and those of his likewise "imprisoned" cousins of the same dreadful cycle.
All of these things concerning Cthulhu and the CCD flashed through Henri-Laurent de Marigny's mind in a split second, but in the next instant he was snatched away yet again to visions just as strange if not so fearsome. And yet these, too, were fearsome enough.
He saw Ngranek's peak, and the great face carven in the mountain's gaunt side. He saw the hideously thin and noisome outlines of horned bat-shapes with barbed tails, flapping not altogether vaguely about the mountain, and he knew that these the night-gaunts that guard Ngranek's secret. Then, as some of them flew closer, he saw that which made him shudder horribly; they had no faces!
But the bat-shapes did not acknowledge his and before they could draw too close he was rushed away again over the Peaks of Throk, whose needle pinnacles are the subject of many of dream's most awful fables. For these peaks, higher than any man might ever guess or believe, are known to guard the terrible valleys of the Dholes, whose shapes and outlines are often suspected but never seen. Then he soared down, down, and down, until his ears were filled with a vast rustling of Dholes amidst piles of dried-out bones ... He knew then that this place he had swooped down to was none other than the Vale of Pnoth, into which ossuary all the ghouls of the waking world throw the remains of their nighted feastings; and he trembled violently as the rustling ceased momentarily--almost expectantly--just as the chirruping of crickets ceases at the tread of human feet.
But now the things de Marigny was experiencing were hastening one after the other through his mind at a dizzy pace, blurring as they went down upon his memory in fragmentary, erratic fashion. He was snatched up and out of the Dhole-infested Vale of Pnoth and away across dreamland in a frantic rush. In rapid live saw the oaken wharves of Hlanith, whose sailors are more like unto men of the waking world than any others in dreamland--and ruined, fearsome Sarkomand, whose broken basalt quays and crumbling sphinxes are remnant of a time long before the years of man--and the mountain Hatheg-Kla, whose peak Barzai the Wise once climbed, never to come down again. He saw Nir and Istharta, and the charnel Gardens of Zura where pleasure is unattainable. He saw Oriab in the Southern Sea, and infamous Thalarion of a thousand demon-cursed wonders,where the eidolon Lathi reigns. He saw all of these places and things and many more ... and then there came a terrific, sickening whirling of his soul--following which de Marigny found himself dizzy and utterly disoriented back in the throneroom of Kthanid the Eminence in Elysia.
Journey Into Dream
"But why?" de Marigny asked the great Being. "Why did Crow go into Earth's dreamland, and how? And what possessed him to take Tiania with him? And where exactly are they? I need to know these things if I'm to--"
"Hold, man of Earth," Kthanid cut him off. "As to your first question: I had thought to make that amply clear in what I have shown you, but obviously I failed. Crow went into Earth's dreamland to put an end to Cthulhu's insidious fouling of the dreams of men. He went where it was his birthright to go, just as it was his birthright to enter into Elysia. He went because the Lords of Elysia--which you know as Elder Gods, of which I am one--cannot go there themselves. We would be just as alien in your dreamland as is Cthulhu, and for that reason we will not enter it. If ever the time arrives when we we must enter it, then the visit will be as brief possible--as brief and unobtrusive as we can make it. There are reasons other than those I have mentioned, and one of them is this: the gateway between Elysia and the world of Earth's dreams has two sides. If we entered from Elysia, who can say what might or might not follow us back through the gate when we returned?
"As to why Titus Crow took Tiania with him, she would not let him go without her! And it will be to my eternal sorrow if aught of evil befall them, for it was I laid them to sleep here, and I assisted their dreaming minds across nightmare voids to your Earth and its dreamland." As he spoke, Kthanid moved across the great hall to a small and curtained alcove. He drew aside the drapes to show de Marigny the forms of a man and woman where they lay in crystal containers, their heads resting upon silken cushions.
As his spirit eagerly drifted forward, it was as much of a "physical"shock as it could be to the disembodied de Marigny to gaze upon the recumbent form of the man with whom he had shared so many strange adventures ... and upon that of Titus Crow's woman, the girl-goddess Tiania. Despite the fact that he knew what he had seen of them in Kthanid's crystal was only a dream manifestation of the two, nevertheless it was an eerie experience to see their living, breathing bodies here in the Hall of Crystal and Pearl. Recovering himself, he moved closer.
Crow's handsome, leonine face and his form were well enough known to de Marigny, but Tiania was very new to him, a stranger. He looked upon her, awed. Kthanid felt the awe of de Marigny and understood the emotions the Earthman must feel. He knew that no mortal man could look upon Tiania and not be moved. And he was right. Tiania's figure and face were indescribably beautiful. Her eyes were closed now in dreams that brought troubled lines to her pale-pearl brow, but de Marigny was almost glad that she slept this uneasy sleep. He felt sure that to gaze into her eyes would be to drown quite helplessly. He knew that he could never forget her, that he would know her wherever and whenever he saw her again.
Her hair was a lustrous emerald ocean, cascading down the spun golden strand of her cape, and her mouth was a perfect Cupid's bow of pearl-dusted rose, lips parted slightly to show the whitest teeth de Marigny had ever seen. The girl's face formed a slender oval in which arcing emerald eyebrows melted into the verdure of her temples. She had elfin ears like petals of rare blooms, and a nose so delicate as to go almost unnoticed. She radiated a distillation of the very Essence of Woman, human and yet quite definitely alien. She was a woman, yes. and not a goddess--but certainly the stuff of the Gods was in her. And she was the same woman he had glimpsed in Kthanid's crystal, helplessly staked out on the steps of the ruby altar in the distant world of Earth's dreamland. And just as she lay here now in this strange casket, so she had lain on those basalt steps--side by side with Titus Crow.
De Marigny turned suddenly to Kthanid to implore: "But why don't you just wake them up? Surely that would get them out of there?"
Seeming quite human now, or as human as he could in his alien form, the great Being shook his head. "No, de Marigny, it cannot be done. I have at my command every physical and psychical means by which such a recovery could be attempted, but they cannot be awakened.Do you think I have not tried? Something has them trapped there in Earth's dreamland, a force which defies every attempt I make to recall them. Here their subconscious bodies lie, rapt in evil dreams from which I am powerless to rouse them. The problems are many, de Marigny, and they are rare. First there is this unknown force that binds them to Earth's dreamland. Then there is the fact that they are separated from Elysia by vast alien voids of dream and all the horrors such voids harbor, and finally--"
"We do not know their exact location. The same force that binds them to dream prevents detailed observation. I cannot name the region in which they are trapped. And Earth's dreamland is vast, de Marigny, wide-ranging as all the dreams of men have made it."
"Then where do I begin?" de Marigny asked, perplexed. "When? How?"
"Do not be too eager, Earthman. And, yes, perhaps I myself am too fearful for the safety of Tiania and your friend. What you saw in the crystal was a possible future, a possible occurrence yet to come. It has not gone so far, but in all the worlds of probability it will. I have searched the possible futures of Earth's dreamland as far as I dare, but only that one future ever presents itself for my viewing, and that one future draws ever closer. It is most certainly the same force that binds Titus and Tiania in dream that threatens their very existence."
"Their very existence? But how can any real physical harm come to them when their bodies are here? I don't understand."
Again (sadly, de Marigny thought) Kthanid shook his head. "You seem to understand very little, Earthman."
"You have to remember, Kthanid, that I'm not a great dreamer."
"No, you are not," the Eminence answered, again sadly. Then the great Being's thoughts brightened. "But your father was; indeed he still is. And I believe that one day you will be, too."
"That's all very well--and I thank you for your faith in me--but with all due respect, it doesn't help us much right now, does it? Look, you keep mentioning my father. I don't remember a great deal of him, but if it's true that he lives on in Earth's dreamland, well, surely he would be able to help me."
"Etienne-Laurent de Marigny? Oh, yes, doubtless he would help you. Indeed, I am certain he would find a way to go to the aid of your friends--if he were able."
De Marigny waited for Kthanid to continue, then shook his head at the great Being's silence. "I still don't understand. My father is a lord in dreamland, surely. Trusted counselor to Randolph Carter, and--"
"Yes, that is so," Kthanid interrupted, "but there is a problem."
Kthanid offered what de Marigny took to be a nod, then continued. "Ilek-Vad, where Randolph Carter wisely rules--and not only Ilek-Vad but Celephais and Dylath-Leen too they are beyond my power to scan. This was not always so. Until quite recently, an Earth-year or so at most, I could look upon Ilek-Vad and Celephais in my crystal, but no longer. Dylath-Leen is different. For many years, there has been some sort of screen about Dylath-Leen. Of two of these forcefields--I suppose that is what they must be--those about Ilek-Vad and Celephais, I know only this: that nothing gets either in or out. I do not wish to alarm you, young man, but for all I know of those places their inhabitants are no more, they may well have been stricken from the dreams of men. As for the third city, Dylath-Leen, I believe that the same force which obstructs me in attempting to locate Titus Crow and Tiania is also responsible for my inability clearly to scan Dylath-Leen. Yes, perhaps there is a connection there, de Marigny. Perhaps--"
"Perhaps that's where they are, in Dylath-Leen."
"It would seem possible. You must look into it as soon as you can. Meanwhile, listen well to what I have to say. Remember that there are levels of dreaming, de Marigny, and that our lost friends must be in the very deeps of dream. A man might waken easily from the shallower levels, and he may be awakened even as he sinks into the abysses. But Titus and Tiania have penetrated to a region from which--for some reason as yet unknown, perhaps that force I have mentioned--they cannot escape unaided.
"In effect, this means that right now Earth's dreamland is more real to them than the waking world. Wherever they are you must find them; you must rendezvous with them there in the possible future that you saw in my crystal. It will not be easy."
"Then let's waste no more time. Tell me how to go about it."
"Yes, yes, in a moment. But before that there are certain things you must commit to memory. Firstly: in Ulthar there is a very ancient man named Atal. Seek him out and ask him what you will. He is wisealmost beyond wisdom and good beyond goodness. Secondly: beware of manifestations of Cthulhu or his devil's brood that you may come across, and remember that in the dreamlands even purely symbolic concepts may take form. Be particularly wary of Nyarlathotep! Thirdly: remember that you have Crow's flying cloak, and you have the time-clock, too. These should prove to be great weapons against any terrors dream may confront you with. As for the clock: why, Titus Crow can use that device in ways that confound even me! Finally: never forget that while many things are far simpler in dream, others are maddeningly difficult, almost impossible. Now, do you think you can remember these things?"
"Yes, and everything else you've showed me."
"Good. As to how you may reach Earth's dreamland: first you must return to the time-clock, which you will then pilot back to Earth. I will of course assist you in your return to the time-clock, but from then on you will be on your own. I suggest you go into orbit about the planet Earth, after which ... you will simply go to sleep. But as you drift into sleep you will command the clock to carry you in the direction of dreamland! Then you will sleep--and you will dream, de Marigny, you will dream."
The Eminence paused, and after a moment de Marigny asked: "And is that all?"
"That is all. Anything else would be a waste of time, superfluous, possibly dangerous. I do not know enough of your dreamland to say more. Now you must go back to the clock. Your quest begins, de Marigny. I wish you luck."
Suddenly the great Being's face-tentacles spread outward from his face like the rays of a bright sun, and the light of stars blazed in his eyes De Marigny--or rather his Ka, or whatever it was of him that Kthanid had called to his glacier palace in Elysia's frozen regions--was instantly dazzled. When finally he could see again, the scene before him was rapidly shrinking, dwindling down to nothing, so that soon even Kthanid was only a tiny, alien, jeweled creature that finally shrank away and vanished. Then there was nothing but a rushing darkness that seemed to last forever; and yet he knew when the rushing stopped and he found himself once more within the matrix of the time-clock that his journey had taken less than a second. Indeed, it had been instantaneous.
Without wasting a single moment, he turned the clock about and raced back through the voids of space toward the world of his origin. His heart began to beat wildly and his head started singing with exhilaration as he thought of the quest before him, and the reward at quest's end--to enter Elysia! Not once did he contemplate failure ...
Some time later, in the Hall of Crystal and Pearl, Kthanid stood where de Marigny had last seen him. Now, however, no bright fires lit his golden eyes, and the lighting of the vast chamber itself was greatly subdued. Within the Eminence an unseen battle raged, and he trembled violently as he sought to calm himself. Of course he had done the right thing ... or had he? After all, he owed no loyalty to the Earthman de Marigny ... but then, neither was the man an enemy. Nor was his willingness to be faulted. Yet, if the problem was looked at in the right perspective it was immediately apparent that in the great scheme of things Henri-Laurent de Marigny was utterly insignificant. On the other hand ...
For what must have been the fifth or sixth time since he had sent the disembodied de Marigny back to his Earthly body in the time-clock, Kthanid went to the huge cushion with its milky crystal and peered into translucent depths that quickly cleared to his gaze. And as before he drew back from the scene which repeated itself within the crystal's all-scanning eye. It was that same cruel scene de Marigny had gazed upon earlier, at least in all the details of its background. But whereas before two figures had lain stretched out on the basalt steps of the ruby dais, now there was only one. Kthanid could see the man's face quite clearly, and once more he trembled mightily as the battle within him welled up again. The fear-filled yet grimly determined face in the crystal was that of Kthanid's most recent visitor--Henri-Laurent de Marigny!
Finally, something gave within the great Being's heart; a decision like none he had ever made before was made. He uttered a word which only the Elder God themselves might ever repeat or understand, then snatched his eyes from the scene in the crystal. And in the next instant his golden eyes blazed brighter as, tapping the tremendous sources of his body's alien energies, he sent his mind racing out on a Great Thought across strange transdimensional gulfs and light-years of space.
Straight to the time-clock where it raced in orbit around the Earth Kthanid's mind sped--but too late. De Marigny was already fast asleep in the warm womb of his weird vessel. And while that vessel registered his body's presence, Kthanid knew that the real de Marigny was somewhere else, inhabitant now of Earth's mysterious dreamland. It was as it should be, as Kthanid had planned it to be, and yet ... What use to call him back from dream now?
Feeling within himself a treachery as alien to his emotions as they were to those of the Earthman he felt he had betrayed, the Elder God rushed in a fury back to Elysia. There he closed his palace and his mind to all would-be visitations and sat alone in the vast Hall of Crystal and Pearl.
The Quest Begins
Night merged slowly into dawn in dreamland. To the east the very faintest of flushes tinted the sky gray, which was as well, for otherwise the night, except where it was studded with the bright jewels of fireflies, was of the very blackest.
At first de Marigny was disoriented, dazed; a lassitude was upon him. It was pleasant to do nothing but stand and admire the night and the first stirrings of a distant dawn. Then, as he drifted deeper into dream, he felt the night's chill and shivered at the luminous mist that began to swirl up eerily about his ankles. Then, he remembered his mission, and realized his supreme mistake. He was ... alone! True, he still had Titus Crow's flying cloak about his shoulders, but where was the time-clock?
Suddenly complete realization of his plight filled him. He was lost in a nighted mist in some unknown region of Earth's vast dreamland, with only the fireflies for company and a ground mist that lapped at his ankles. And somehow he had lost his greatest hope of ever completing his mission; somehow he had left the fabulous time-clock behind him in the waking world.
How had it happened?
What was it Kthanid had said he must do? Yes, the Eminence had said: "Command the clock to convey you in the direction of dreamland."Well, he had done just as Kthanid had directed ... hadn't he? Then, remembering, de Marigny groaned and cursed himself for a fool. The instructions he had given the clock had been wrong. He had simply ordered it to transport him to dreamland. And it had done just that. Without really knowing what he was doing, de Marigny had discovered Crow's method of using the clock more truly as a "gateway." For right now that alien vehicle was still in orbit around the Earth where he had left it, and de Marigny was stranded in dream just as surely as the friends he had come to rescue.
Perhaps if he had kept his head--if he had given the problem a little more studied thought--he might have seen a solution. For he was not yet too deeply drowned in dream to strike out for the surface, to waken himself up. Things are rarely perfectly clear in dream, however, and de Marigny was not an expert dreamer ...
As the sky gradually lightened and the fireflies blinked out one by one, the adventurer found himself at the top of a great flight of steps that went down into a sea of mist. De Marigny knew those steps from older dreams forgotten until now, and more recently from his telepathic session with Kthanid. They were the seven hundred steps to the Gate of Deeper Slumber, beyond which lay the Enchanted Wood and those regions of dream which he sought.
De Marigny gritted his teeth and pulled Crow's cloak more warmly about his shoulders. Somewhere down there, beyond that wood at the foot of the steps, somewhere in those dreamlands spawned of the fantasies of a million dreamers, Titus Crow and Tiania of Elysia were or would soon be in desperate need of help, in peril of their very lives. There was only one course of action open to him.
Cautiously de Marigny descended the seven hundred steps and passed through the Gate of Deeper Slumber, and as the mist began to disperse and dawn grew more strongly beyond the trees, he set out through the groves of great gnarled oaks toward the far side of the Enchanted Wood, where he knew that the Skai rushed down from Lerion's slopes to Nir and Ulthar on the plain. Often as he pushed on through the wood, de Marigny heard the sounds that Zoogs make, but he saw not a one and was glad for that.
Often, too, he stumbled upon places where the trees were fallen into decay, and the ground was soggy with its burden of rotten oaks and alive with phosphorescent fungi. He would skirt these diseased areas, knowing that in one of them a massive slab of stone set with aniron ring of fantastic girth stood sentinel over nameless Cthonian things of hideous connections.
The wood was a fearsome place indeed, but while de Marigny was tempted again and again to use his flying cloak to climb above its suspected but unseen terrors, he refrained from doing so. He could not say what eyes might be watching him; he did not wish it known that a dreamer with a strange and wonderful flying cloak had entered dreamland. In any case, the sun was up now and the fears of the dark wood were disappearing along with the last wisps of mist.
It was a bright morning when he finally, wearily came out of the wood and set off across the rolling plains for Ulthar. He skirted Nir late in the morning, and as the sun approached its zenith crossed the Skai by means of an ancient wooden bridge. Hungry now, he was tempted to stop and rest at one of the many farms that dotted the plain; he had little doubt but that the friendly folk of these parts would find a meal for him. He did not stop, however, for the urgency of his mission was driving him relentlessly onward. And he did not know how long he had to effect the rescue of Titus Crow and the girl-goddess Tiania.
And so Marigny came to Ulthar, the City of Cats, where an ancient ordinance has it that no man may kill a cat. It was quite obvious to the dreamer that this was indeed Ulthar, for even the outskirts were crowded with felines of every variety. Sleek females sunned themselves atop sloping roofs; young, careful-eyed toms kept cool while guarding their territories in shaded doorways; kittens tumbled comically in the long grass of the ornate gardens of rich personages. He paused very briefly in the suburbs to watch some of the kittens at their play; but then, having questioned a shopkeeper as to the whereabouts of the Temple of the Elder Ones, he hurried on into the city proper.
The Temple of the Elder Ones stood round and towering, of ivied stone, atop Ulthar's highest hill; and there, just within the temple's vast outer door, de Marigny was politely questioned by three young priests as to his purpose at the temple. He answered that he was from the waking world, that he sought audience with Atal the Ancient on very important matters. And when, in answer to further questioning, he told them his name the young priests grew wide-eyed indeed. One of them went hurriedly off into the dim and mysterious heart of the temple to seek an audience for de Marigny with the ailing high priest.
Finally the dreamer was taken to an inner sanctum where in a bedout finest silks lay the frail and weary shell of dreamland's wisest and oldest inhabitant. Now the younger priests departed, bowing themselves from the presence of their master and his visitor. Atal very gently propped himself up on his pillows to beckon de Marigny closer. When he could see the man from the waking world more clearly, he smiled feebly to himself, nodding in silent acknowledgment.
Eventually the ancient spoke, and his voice was like the rustle of late autumn leaves. "Yes, yes--you are truly the son of your father."
"You knew ... you know my father?"
"Aye. Etienne-Laurent de Marigny, Lord of Ilek-Vad and Advisor in Chief to the king, Randolph Carter. He is your father, is he not?"
De Marigny nodded in answer, studying the trembling ancient where he lay. Atal's face was like a tiny wrinkled walnut; his head had a sparse crest of white hair; a long and voluminous beard like a fall of snow flowed down over the covers of his bed. And yet the eyes in the wrinkled face, faded as they were to the point of being colorless, had lit with an inner intelligence as they recognized the dreamer's lineage.
"Aye," Atal continued, "he came to see me once, your father, when first he entered dreamland to dwell here. A wise dreamer, and a fitting counselor to Randolph Carter. He came merely to see me, to honor me, but you--"
"I come to seek your help," de Marigny promptly answered, "in order to discover--"
"I know why you are here, my son," Atal whispered. "And I know who sent you. Am I not the high priest of the temple, and is this not the Temple of the Elder Ones? When the light of life flickers out in this old, old body, then it is my hope to move on to greater marvels, to immortality in Elysia, where I may continue to serve forever the elder Intelligences of my faith." The old man paused to peer again at de Marigny where he stood by his bed. "It is true that They sent you, those elder Beings, is it not?"
Once more de Marigny nodded, and when Atal spoke again his voice was very low, as if he wished to conceal his words even from the air of the room. "Aye, I knew you were coming--you, instrument of Kthanid, great Voice of all the Gods of Eld--and I know where your friends are!"
"Titus Crow and Tiania?" De Marigny leaned closer, his eyes intent upon Atal's, aware of the ancient's fragile and trembling form.
Now it was Atal's turn to nod, and when he spoke again his voicewas a low, fearful, broken whisper. "They are on their way to Dylath-Leen, of which place I ... I fear to speak. They are held prisoners of creatures whose very presence in dreamland is a blasphemy!"
"When will they get to Dylath-Leen? Is there a way I might intercept them en route? Who are these creatures that hold them captive, and where is Dylath--"
"I know much of Dylath-Leen." Atal's dry whisper cut him off. "But there is one who knows much more. He was once a dreamer, just like you, but now he is an inhabitant of Ulthar. He dwells here with his wife, two fine sons, and a daughter of great beauty. I can tell you where his house is--but, de Marigny--"
"I have a feeling that time is running out quickly for your friends." For a second or two the ancient's eyes seemed to gaze through the dreamer, as if they looked upon distant things, but then they focused upon him once more. "Now you must eat. The food here at the temple is plain but wholesome. You are welcome to take a meal, but then you must be on your way. Please clap your hands for me; my own are not very strong."
De Marigny clapped his hands once, and almost immediately one of the young priests entered the room. Atal told him to arrange a meal for their visitor, then lowered himself down once more onto his pillow. The audience was over.
Then, as the dreamer began to follow the young priest out of the room, Atal called out: "Oh, de Marigny--I almost forgot. I have something for you, which you must take with you." He reached beneath his pillow to take out a small, strangely shaped vial.
"It is a very potent liquid brewed here in Ulthar, in this very temple. Unknown in the waking world, and rare enough here in dreamland, it has the property of awakening dreamers from even the deepest slumbers. One sip will return a dreamer to the waking world in seconds--aye, and all he brought through the gates of dream with him. To the true inhabitant of dream, however, the potion is a deadly poison; for of course it 'awakens' such inhabitants to the world in which they do not exist! It can be seen that they must quite simply ... disappear."
For a moment de Marigny looked stunned as the implications dawned on him--then he cried out: "What? A potion to awakendreamers? Then I could take a sip right away, return to the time-clock, and then--"
"No, my young friend." Atal held up a quieting hand. "The potion is not yet quite ready. It has to ferment. I had it brewed as soon as I knew you were coming, for it came to me in a vision that you would need it. But you must wait for at least another day and a half a day before it will be safe to use. By that time, if good fortune goes with you, you ought to have found your friends."
Later, as the first stars came out in the evening sky, de Marigny walked the cool streets of Ulthar to the house of Grant Enderby, late of the waking world. Enderby was the man who could tell him about Dylath-Leen, perhaps help him in his search for Titus Crow and Tiania.
Dylath-Leen ... The very name conjured up strange pictures in the dreamer's mind, and as he walked the darkening streets and watched the lights coming on in friendly, small-paned windows, he wondered why Atal had been so loth to speak of the place. Well, before the night was out doubtless he would know well enough.
Following Atal's directions, de Marigny soon came to the path that led to Grant Enderby's house of red stone and dark oaken beams. And the red stone walls about the garden bore testimony to Enderby's calling here in dreamland, the fact that he was a quarrier, and his sons in his footsteps. The walls were broad and straight and strong, as was the man who built them.
And so the dreamer knocked upon the oaken door and was welcomed into the home of this one-time man of the waking world; and after his host's family were all to bed, de Marigny sat alone with Grant Enderby and listened until the wee hours to the following story ...