The Dark World

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Call of the red witch

I COULD not sleep. The suffocating breathlessness of late summer lay like a woollen blanket over me. Presently I went into the big room and restlessly searched for cigarettes. My uncle's voice came through an open doorway.

"All right, Ed?"

"Yeah. I can't sleep yet. Maybe I'll read."

I chose a book at random, sank into a relaxer chair and switched on a lamp. It was utterly silent. I could not even hear the faint splashing of little waves on the lakeshore.

There was something I wanted —

A trained rifleman's hand, at need, will itch for the feeling of smooth wood and metal. Similarly, my hand was hungry for the feel of something — neither gun nor sword, I thought.

A weapon that I had used before. I could not remember what it was. Once I glanced at the poker leaning against the fireplace, and thought that was it; but the flash of recognition was gone instantly.

The book was a popular novel. I skimmed through it rapidly. The dim, faint, pulsing in my blood did not wane. It grew stronger, rising from sub-sensory levels. A distant excitement seemed to be growing deep in my mind.

Grimacing, I rose to return the book to its shelf. I stood there for a moment, my glance skimming over the titles. On impulse I drew out a volume I had not looked at for many years, the Book of Common Prayer.

It fell open in my hands. A sentence blazed out from the page.

I am become as it were a monster unto many.

I put back the book and returned to my chair. I was in no mood for reading. The lamp overhead bothered me, and I pressed for the switch. Instantly moonlight flooded the room — and instantly the curious sense of expectancy was heightened, as though I had lowered a — a barrier.

The sheathed sword still lay on the window-seat. I looked past it, to the clouded sky where a golden moon shone. Faint, far away, a glimmer showed — the Need-fire, blazing in the swampy wilderness of the Limberlost.

And it called.

The golden square of window was hypnotic. I lay back in my chair, half-closing my eyes, while the sense of danger moved coldly within my brain. Sometimes before I had felt this call, summoning me. And always before I had been able to resist.

This time I wavered.

"The lock of hair clipped from my head — had that given the enemy power? Superstition. My logic called it that, but a deep, inner well of conviction told me that the ancient hair-magic was not merely mummery. Since that time in Sumatra, I had been far less skeptical. And since then I had studied.

The studies were strange enough, ranging from the principles of sympathetic magic to the wild fables of lycanthropy and demonology. Yet I was amazingly quick at learning.

It was as though I took a refresher course, to remind myself of knowledge I had once known by heart. Only one subject really troubled me, and I continually stumbled across it, by roundabout references.

And that was the Force, the entity, disguised in folklore under such familiar names as the Black Man, Satan, Lucifer, and such unfamiliar names as Kutchie, of the Australian Dieris, Tuna, of the Esquimaux, the African Abonsam, and the Swiss Stratteli.

I did no research on the Black Man — but I did not need to. There was a recurrent dream that I could not help identifying with the dark force that represented evil. I would be standing before a golden square of light, very much afraid, and yet straining toward some consummation that I desired. And deep down within that glowing square that would be the beginning of motion. I knew there were certain ritual gestures to be made before the ceremony could be begun, but it was difficult to break the paralysis that held me.

A square like the moon-drenched window before me — yet not the same.

For no chill essence of fear thrust itself out at me now. Rather, the low humming I heard was soothing, gentle as a woman's crooning voice.

The golden square wavered — shook — and little tendrils of crepuscular light fingered out toward me. Ever the low humming came, alluring and disarming.

Golden fingers — tentacles — they darted here and there as if puzzled. They touched lamp, table, carpet, and drew back. They — touched me.

Swiftly they leaped forward now — avid! I had time for a momentary pulse of alarm before they wrapped me in an embrace like golden sands of sleep. The humming grew louder. And I responded to it.

As the skin of the flayed satyr Marsyas thrilled at the sound of his native Phrygian melodies! I knew this music. I knew this — chant!

Stole through the golden glow a crouching shadow — not human — with amber eyes and a bristling mane — the shadow of a wolf.

It hesitated, glanced over its shoulder questioningly. And now another shape swam into view, cowled and gowned so that nothing of its face or body showed. But it was small — small as a child.

Wolf and cowled figure hung in the golden mists, watching and waiting. The sighing murmur altered. Formed itself into syllables and words. Words in no human tongue, but — I knew them.

"Ganelon! I call you, Ganelon! By the seal in your blood — hear me!"

Ganelon! Surely that was my name. I knew it so well.

Yet who called me thus?

"I have called you before, but the way was not open. Now the bridge is made. Come to me, Ganelon!"

A sigh.

The wolf glanced over a bristling shoulder, snarling. The cowled figure bent toward me. I sensed keen eyes searching me from the darkness of the hood, and an icy breath touched me.

"He has forgotten, Medea," said a sweet, high-pitched voice, like the tone of a child.

Again the sigh. "Has he forgotten me? Ganelon, Ganelon! Have you forgotten the arms of Medea, the lips of Medea?"

I swung,' cradled in the golden mists, half asleep.

"He has forgotten," the cowled figure said.

"Then let him come to me nevertheless. Ganelon! The Need-fire burns. The gateway lies open to the Dark World. By fire and earth, and darkness, I summon you! Ganelon!"

"He has forgotten."

"Bring him. We have the power, now."

The golden sands thickened. Flame-eyed wolf and robed shadow swam toward me. I felt myself lifted — moving forward, not of my own volition.

The window swung wide. I saw the sword, sheathed and ready. I snatched up the weapon, but I could not resist that relentless tide that carried me forward. Wolf and whispering shadow drifted with me.

"To the Fire. Bring him to the Fire."

"He has forgotten, Medea."

"To the Fire, Edeyrn. To the Fire."

Twisted tree-limbs floated past me. Far ahead I saw a flicker. It grew larger, nearer. It was the Need-fire.

Faster the tide bore me. Toward the fire itself —

Not to Caer Llyr!

From the depths of my mind the cryptic words spewed. Amber-eyed wolf whirled to glare at me; cowled shadow swept in closer on the golden stream. I felt a chill of deadly cold drive through the curling mists.

"Caer Llyr," the cloaked Edeyrn whispered in the child's sweet voice. "He remembers Caer Llyr — but does he remember Llyr?"

"He will remember! He has been sealed to Llyr. And, in Caer Llyr, the Place of Llyr, he will remember."

The Need-fire was a towering pillar a few yards away. I fought against the dragging tide.

I lifted my sword — threw the sheath away. I cut at the golden mists that fettered me.

Under the ancient steel the shining fog-wraiths shuddered and were torn apart — and drew back. There was a break in the humming harmony; for an instant, utter silence.-

Then —

"Matholch!" the invisible whisperer cried. "Lord Matholch!"

The wolf crouched, fangs bared. I aimed a cut at its snarling mask. It avoided the blow easily and sprang.

It caught the blade between its teeth and wrenched the hilt from my grip.

The golden fogs surged back, folding me in their warm embrace.

"Caer Llyr," they murmured.

The Need-fire roared up in a scarlet fountain.

"Caer Llyr!" the flames shouted.

And out of those fires rose — a woman!

Hair dark as midnight fell softly to her knees. Under level brows she flashed one glance at me, a glance that held question and a fierce determination. She was loveliness incarnate. Dark loveliness.

Lilith. Medea, witch of Colchis!

And —

"The gateway closes," the child-voice of Edeym said.

The wolf, still mouthing my sword, crouched uneasily. But the woman of the fire said no word.

She held out her arms to me.

The golden clouds thrust me forward, into those white arms.

Wolf and cowled shadow sprang to flank us. The humming rose to a deep-pitched roar — a thunder as of crashing worlds.

"It is difficult, difficult," Medea said. "Help me, Edeyrn. Lord Matholch."

The fires died. Around us was not the moonlit wilderness of the Limberlost, but empty grayness, a featureless grayness that stretched to infinity. Not even stars showed against that blank.

And now there was fear in the voice of Edeyrn.

"Medea. I have not the — power. I stayed too long in the Earth-world."

"Open the gate!" Medea cried. "Thrust it open but a little way, or we stay here between the worlds forever!"

The wolf crouched, snarling. I felt energy pouring out of his beast-body. His brain that was not the brain of a beast.

Around us the golden clouds were dissipating.

The grayness stole in.

"Ganelon," Medea said. "Ganelon! Help me!"

A door in my mind opened. A formless darkness stole in.

I felt that deadly, evil shadow creep through me, and submerge my mind under ebon waves.

"He has the power," Edeyrn murmured. "He was sealed to Llyr. Let him call on — Llyr."

"No. No. I dare not. Llyr?" But Medea's face was turned to me questioningly.

At my feet the wolf snarled and strained, as though by sheer brute strength it might wrench open a gateway between locked worlds.

Now the black sea submerged me utterly. My thought reached out and was repulsed by the dark horror of sheer infinity, stretched forth again and —

Touched — something!

Llyr… Llyr!

"The gateway opens," Edeyrn said.

The gray emptiness was gone. Golden clouds thinned and vanished. Around me, white pillars rose to a vault far, far above. We stood on a raised dais upon which curious designs were emblazoned.

The tide of evil which had flowed through me had vanished.

But, sick with horror and self-loathing, I dropped to my knees, one arm shielding my eyes.

I had called on — Llyr!

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