Awake in the Night Land

Awake in the Night Land by John C. Wright Read Free Book Online

Book: Awake in the Night Land by John C. Wright Read Free Book Online
Authors: John C. Wright

    Weeks of darkness passed. It is not just for food and drink and warmth I hungered, but also for light, for rest, for a place to set my heavy weapon down and never to see it again (and yet I never put it from my hand; not to eat, not to drink, not to evacuate my bowels, and certainly not to sleep).
    I yearned for salve to sooth my feet where my boots, perfectly fitted when I was hale, fit me but ill, now that my flesh had shrunk from hunger and cold, and chafed me.
    I yearned for clear, warm water with which to wash my eyes of the grit and tears that had frozen there, tiny icicles on my lashes. The smoke-holes I had to approach to stay warm enough to live would choke me, and make my eyes water; and I dare not cough, for fear of what might hear me; I could not wipe my eyes with the icy-cold metal of my gauntlet, and I dared not take my gauntlets off, because this needs both hands, and to put my weapon down, even for a moment, I had been trained not to do. So I would weep when gritty sulfur fumes would blow into my face, and I would look at my supply of water-generating powder, and know that I had not enough to last for drinking as it was.
    But laying down to sleep on the cold ground was the worst part of it.
    For I was afraid.
    I was afraid to put my back to the ground; and afraid to close my eyes, even though, in the gloom of the Night Lands, my open eyes showed me little more than deceptive plumes of flame erupting from distant earth-cracks, or wavering little light, like St. Elmo’s Fire, that sizzled from peak to peak of glassy crater-pocked hilltops, or the blotchy shine seeping from soil deadly to tread upon. It was not merely the monsters that I feared, though Night-Hounds and giant slug-things were terrible enough, it was the Powers for which we have no names.
    I could sense them moving through the upper air, or running like buried streams through the ground underfoot, ancient, malignant, and terrible. At times they whispered to each other, and I could hear them in my heart, though I could not make out words.
    Their hatred for mankind, their terrible hunger, beat in the air like a drum, like the pressure of a storm about to break; and I could sense their malice moving across the night land, creeping from hill to valley, from crater to lava-bed, from glacier to fire-pit, restless, inhuman, extraterrestrial, infinite.

    As I passed through the diseased Land of the Abhumans, crawling from ditch to ditch, and hiding in the ash of cold crater-mouths, I saw the race destined to replace us, walking on their back paws with large steps across a land the dark powers had given them. They were stoop-shouldered, crooked-legged men with powerful chests, and arms as thick as my leg. Their nails were black like iron, and their hairy pelts were thick and coarse, like the pelts of shaggy wolves from a former age; their mouths were like the muzzles of baboons, with canines keener than my dirk. They had no tool more complex than the thigh-bone of a Night-Hound; that they used for truncheons. Their dams and their spratlings were equally unlovely.
    But it was not their crudeness that repelled me; it was the wisdom in their eyes, their wolf-eyes glowing green beneath thick brow ridges. I saw in their expressions a cruelty, a haunting and solemn cruelty, humans are not prone to know.
    As I passed through their lands, they grew aware of me, and hunted me.
    With the abhumans on my trail, I was driven east, back toward the Pit of Red Smoke. I entered the rocky and broken terrain surrounding the lip of the pit, a land of cliffs and standing stones. The land here was tormented, as if giants with axes had split the ground and flung huge boulders each every way, (though our records show no trace that they had ever done any such thing here), and often I came across rows of pillars and the rubble where walls had been.
    Over several watches the abhumans hunted me, and I needed to rely upon my memory of the maps I had studied in the House

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