The Fall of the Three Cities
(Annals of the Jinns—8)
by R. H. Barlow
Far to the south of Phoor and bordering upon Yondath extends the vast jungle land. The River Oolae enters it at several points, making travel by boat difficult between Phargo on the desert its outlet in the unnamed land. Where the jungle ceases it gives way abruptly to a vast and mighty plain.This open country is now desolate and entirely uninhabited. Nothing but the six-legged and grotesque monster-things called rogii roam its interminable fields of waving grass. Yet once this lower south-land was a populous and fertile plateau, from the swampy morasses of Yondath even unto the mountains and Zath, where dwell the fungii-masters. How it came to be so barren is told in antique myth, and when people hear the fate of the land beyond the jungle they shudder and make prayers in the air with the small finger.
This then is the tale of the fall of the cities of the plain—they that were called by men Naazim, Zo, and Perenthines.
Naazim lies now a waste, nor is there any trace of Perenthines. But one can yet find ancient ruins of Zo, and the vandals of Time have not entirely effaced the elaborate carvings of amber which lie half-buried in the concealing grass near where the vast pool was once constructed in the center of the city.
The whole thing started when the magician Volnar refused to leave Perenthines. He had been a most successful and prosperous sorceror until the deplorable case of the fishwife whose hair all fell out and took root in the ground before her house. This the people took to be an evil omen, and it was really quite difficult for them to break into his low, strange house after his refusal to depart. They were all disappointed he had gone. They did not know of the black tunnel beneath where he kept his magical supplies. So after searching hopefully around the house some one set it afire, and they made merry by the embers, diverting themselves lustily during the pale night while he fled with only his vengeful thoughts for company. The curious manner of his attire together with the black-edged mantle of crimson caused him to resemble a great moth flapping across the wasteland between the cities. By the time the last flagon of wine lay untidily upon the paving before where his house once was, and while yet his pet mondal moaned inconsolably about the ashes, for his persecutors had been unable to capture the highly edible pet, Volnar arrived at the gates of Zo.
The brilliance had begun in the northern sky, and the three suns were nearly risen. Soon would the far mountains be illuminated in yellow light, and Zath shine its metal towers like the armor of a weary knight sprawled upon the hills. The black stone of the precipice directly under the fasthold served only to set it off. Soon too would the rich rice fields of cultivated vegetation gleam pleasingly and the jungle come to animated life. But not yet were the gates open, for it had been the rule in Zo to keep fast-closed, till full dawn, ever since the Night of The Monster in neighboring Droom, close unto the mountains. There was a smell of spice hanging in the air, for the breeze was small, but this loveliness was wholly wasted upon the angry little sorceror as he chaffed before the giant gate. His robe was bedraggled from the mud and he was wearied of no sleep.
"Ho, guard!" he shouted irritably, "can you not let an honest traveler within your cursed village before high noon?"
This was on the whole a misrepresentation for his traveling was unintentional and he was by no means honest but he did not consider the moral aspect of the matter.
After a time sounds of distant shuffling reached his ears, and after prodigious squeakings and bangings a sleepy-faced man gave him entrance. Volnar entered the handsome city and made his way along the vast paving-stones of yellow and brown, and at length arrived at a lodging-house, the lighted lantern yet glimmering in the shadow of the sleeping town.
For a long time none saw the bearded little sorceror upon the streets of Zo. He purchased an old house with curious artificial gold of his own contriving—a secret of wizardry he held to be pleasingly unique—and busied himself most industriously in the dank, ill-lit cellar. Twice he ventured forth, after nightfall, to obtain certain odd ingredients from a man to whom he was known, and the man (who had no ears, but patches of fur that he concealed beneath his head-gear) saw what was up, and left the city straightaway. Volnar worked on with his charms and spells, occasionally sighing for his abandoned mondal, and frequently pondering upon his revenge.
He pottered amidst his instruments. The thin cold light streaming through a crack in the rocky ceiling was aided by that of the small fire beneath the pot of bulging iron. Yet though with even these the gloom was little disspelled, Volnar did not care, for his eyes were familiar with darkness, in which his long apprenticeship had been spent. That students of the dark lore were not appreciated had become increasingly clear to him, ever since the night of his departure from Perenthines. Consequent discretion called for subterranean quarters. These he had obtained, and thus did he work upon the Doom for Perenthines. And before he had completed the strange substance that bubbled so obscenely and which cast off the odour of fresh blood mingled with some nauseating aroma, Volnar sent a messenger to Sarall, the Lord of Worms, to obtain a certain ingredient most accessible to maggots. Frequently did he consult the parchments that were said to have been copied from the Hsothian manuscripts by a slave of the Lord Krang very long ago, and elaborate care was exercised upon the concoction.
Then, at last, it was completed, and Volnar gazed speculatively about the cellar, thinking for some time. He arose from his lengthy vigil, and poured the contents of the pot into a cylinder of unglazed pottery, deftly sealing it with enchanted gummy material of moist black. While the stuff was inside it continued to seethe audibly, although it had been off the fire for some time. And this jar he bore with extreme caution as he turned the immense iron key in the cellar door.
The sky was a starless void when he entered into the street, intent upon his mission. As he hurried through the silent city, accompanied only by his shadow, a successive lifting of vapor-mists revealed the moon of ashen blue, but it was quickly obscured again. The air was chill and in ceaseless motion, faintly disturbing his crimson robe. His footsteps echoed hollowly upon the paving, and he felt that everyone must surely hear him, but he was not accosted. A lone pedestrian abroad for no good purpose emerged from the mist abruptly, but passed Volnar unseeing and soon was lost in the fast-gathering dimness. It was very late now, and he was relieved when he approached the central part of the city with the cylinder beneath his arm, for it was increasingly heavy and the contents unruly with new animation.
Soon he reached the handsome marble pool that was the center of Zo and the marvel of the three towns, but which is now but a faint indentation in the waving grass. The water was very still, and he let the thing in the urn slide noiselessly into the pool. It sank unhurryingly to the bottom, expanding, more solid now, and drifted away in the dimly-hidden water. Whether it had moved of its own volition or was borne by a current, none but the inscrutable little man could have told. Volnar gazed after it, and apparently satisfied, departed.
He did not return to his lodging, but made directly for the mountains upon a stolen rogii which attained a remarkable speed for its bulk. And while the fate of the three cities moved slowly about the pool, the magician traveled ceaselessly towards Mt. Boriau. After the man and his steed had approximated the nearer peaks, they stopped, and Volnar knew he was within safety. Therefore he watched searchingly the far dim mass that was the grouped cities. Nothing could be discerned, but the watcher knew evil forces were at work, forces none could halt or evade save by direct flight, and who was to wake the sleeping towns? He chuckled grimly, and hoped his pet mondal was not within the doomed area. Then he made his way more slowly toward the crags of Boriau.
During this while the strange substance grew and distended in size and weight until it restlessly filled the large pool. It had assumed no definite shape, but life was unquestionably within the vast prehensile tissue that groped at the edge of its confines. It was as yet unable to release itself and venture in search of food, but the time was not distant. A chance pedestrian, with his m8oth-like cloak that was of the type common in those days went slowly by and did not fully realize what was happening when he saw the thing droolingly emerge from the pool. The hundred evil eyes peered loathesomely as it extended an awful limb and seized him, intent upon the process of absorbing nutrition.
Nor was that the end, for it roved the streets unsated, growing, devouring throughout the night, and in a few horrible hours had depopulated the cities that were so hostile to sorcerors....
Volnar, it is told, went unto the black crags near Zath, though discreetly distant from the inhabitants of that fearful place, and with occult aid constructed for himself a castle of black stone in a very short period, wherein he dwelt the remainder of his existence. This was not long because of his ungrateful creation's abnormal longevity and appetite.
The Fall of the Three Cities