Bernard pondered for a while. At last he shook his head and sighed. “I guess I’m actually dreaming,” he said. “I can’t believe a word you say.”
“Congratulations, and thank you,” said the black-clad one dryly. “That you can speak thus is an earnest of my eventual success. Sometimes it seems a very long way away.”
“What will-if this is the right way to put it-what will happen then?”
“I don’t know,” said his companion. “Why should I care? I’ll have finished my appointed job. And since you have now finished yours…”
When he was alone, the traveler in black stood awhile leaning on his staff of curdled light, gazing at the wreck of Manuus’s castle.
He decreed it out of existence. Since Manuus no longer held it tenaciously in being, it disappeared. Across the site the grass grew green and orderly.
The traveler wished that Bernard had not asked his last question. It was discomforting. Now and then he regretted that he must inevitably find out its answer.
Yet it was not in his nature-and his nature was single-to undo anything he had done. Therefore, inexorably, he was approaching that ultimate moment.
He shrugged, and then there was nothing but the knoll and the afternoon sunlight, while people made merry in Ryovora.
BREAK THE DOOR OF HELL
“I will break the door of hell and smash the bolts; I will bring up the dead to eat food with the living, and the living shall be outnumbered by the host of them.”
-The Epic of Gilgamesh
Time had come to Ryovora.
The traveler in black contemplated the fact from the brow of the hill where he had imprisoned Laprivan, more eons ago than it was possible to count. Leaning on his staff made of light, he repressed a shiver. Single though his nature might be, unique though that attribute certainly was, he was not immune from apprehension; his endowments did not include omniscience.
Time had come to that great city: Time, in which could exist order and logic and rational thought. And so it was removed from his domain for ever, vanished from the borderland of chaos situated timeless in eternity.
The task for which his single nature fitted him was the bringing forth of order; accordingly it might have been expected that he should feel the satisfaction of achievement, or even a mildly conceited pleasure. He did not, and for this there were two most cogent reasons and a third which he preferred not to consider.
The first, and most piquing, was that his duty lay on him: this season followed the conjunction of four significant planets hereabout, and he was setting forth to oversee that portion of the All which lay in his charge, as he was constrained to. And he had grown accustomed to terminating his round of inspection at Ryovora. Lapses and backsliding from common sense had occasionally minded him to alter this habit; still, he had never done so, and to discover that Ryovora was elsewhere annoyed him somewhat.
The second reason was not annoying. It was alarming, and dismaying, and unprecedented, and many other distressing epithets.
“In sum,” the traveler in black announced to the air, “it’s unheard-of!”
Another city had arisen in the borderland of chaos, and it was stamped all over with the betraying mark of Time.
How was it possible? Carried in some eddy whose flow ran counter to the universal trend, so that from reason and logic it receded to the random reign of chance? Presumably. Yet the means whereby such an eddy might be created seemed inconceivable. Some great enchantment would be required, and in the grip of Time enchantment was impossible.
“A contradiction in terms!” exclaimed the traveler, speaking aloud again to distract his mind from the third and least palatable reason for regretting the loss of Ryovora. It was known to him that when he had accomplished his task all things would have but one nature; then they would be subsumed into the Original All, and time would have a stop. Beyond which point…
He glanced around him at the hillside. As ever, among the sparse-leaved grey bushes, dust-devils were sifting their substance, fine as ashes, over the footprints he had left on the path. Raising his staff, he tapped with it on a rock: once, twice, and again.