John Brunner – The Traveler in Black

This figure was growing. It was rising as though from the depths of the earth, and all four heads of the Quadruple God were striving to fasten their eyes on it at once.

Gracefully, considering its incredible bulk-thanks to an afterthought of Eadwil’s-the bloated colossus raised its arms into a menacing posture. From the camp of the men of Acromel, the naked eye could not detect the fine silk cords governing its motions.

And then this construct of inflated wineskins, of paint and cane and waxed fabric supported with hot air, spoke with the massed voice of all the citizens of Ryovora, a voice like the crashing of a waterfall.

“Go away!” said the monster with terrible emphasis.

And the Quadruple God burst his chains, stamped on the torch-bearers, and fled.

Only once was his panicky progress interrupted before he regained the familiar sanctuary of his temple at Acromel on the far horizon. That was when a gaunt and scarecrow-like person rushed into his path, crying in a voice which though thin and reedy caused cracks to open in the surface of the land, and strange colors to muddy the clear blue of the sky.

The Quadruple God trampled this nuisance with three of his eight massive feet, and left nothing but a smear like a crushed beetle to mark the spot.

Triumphantly, the people of Ryovora went forward in the wake of the people of Acromel, and with their ad-hoc weapons wrought considerable havoc among the laggards. Not the most tongue-tied of them was Brim the locksmith, who spent more breath on yelling praise of his own perceptiveness than on catching up with the rearguard of the enemy.

But certain of his fellows who had been lukewarm in their acceptance of Bernard Brown as a ready-made god turned aside to surround Brim in a hostile manner. “Nonsense!” they said emphatically. “If we had not been lured by fools like you away from our customary trust in common sense, we should have seen what he saw and done what he advised, anyway.”

Then they set about Brim with meticulous thoroughness, and impressed the extent of his stupidity upon him, in such fashion as to ensure he could never again overlook these various mementos. That chore attended to, and the other party in utter disarray, they returned with satisfaction to their homes. By that time the aura of blue depression which had pervaded the atmosphere these many weeks past had dissipated; the cause for rejoicing which this gave them made them forget altogether about Bernard Brown.

The Margrave and his nobles assembled again in the Moth Garden, and the people began to reclaim the offerings they had set before Bernard’s altar, to feast on them and deck themselves in gaudy ceremonial attire. To preoccupy the nobles, though, there were still problems, and Eadwil spoke of the most pressing when they were met.

He said, “I think, sirs and ladies, that the age for enchantments is passing.”

The Margrave nodded. So did several others. Some of them glanced at the place which had been-very briefly-Tyllwin’s.

“Regard it this way,” said Eadwil musingly. “In its nature enchantment, magic, whatever term you give the art, is a survival of the chaos which we know reigned before time. But the imprint of that chaos is fading from the world. The confusion which causes stone idols to walk, elementals to be personified in storm-clouds, humans to blend with animals and spirits to speak from fire and water, is gradually succumbing to that same hard sense on which we in Ryovora traditionally rely.”

“Well spoken!” applauded the Margrave. Eadwil gave him a sidelong glance and concluded thus.

“Manuus is-was-whether as Tyllwin or himself, a master of chaos. So are we all in lesser degree. But the greatest master of all has proved to be a simple stranger lacking all acquaintance with the esoteric arts. Colleagues and friends, magic is of the past. Rationality and logic will rule the future.” He bent his gaze below the table. “My feet, I may add, have not burned since I arrived at this conclusion. So I think I shall forthwith take steps to set right the other disadvantage consequent upon my command of magic. Excuse me.”

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