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The Dying Earth
Turjan of Miir
Turjan sat in his workroom, legs sprawled out from the stool, back against and elbows on the bench. Across the room was a cage; into this Turjan gazed with rueful vexation. The creature in the cage returned the scrutiny with emotions beyond conjecture.
It was a thing to arouse pity--a great head on a small spindly body, with weak rheumy eyes and a flabby button of a nose. The mouth hung slackly wet, the skin glistened waxy pink. In spite of its manifest imperfection, it was to date the most successful product of Turjan's vats.
Turjan stood up, found a bowl of pap. With a long-handled spoon he held food to the creature's mouth. But the mouth refused the spoon and mush trickled down the glazed skin to fall on the rickety frame.
Turjan put down the bowl, stood back and slowly returned to his stool. For a week now it had refused to eat. Did the idiotic visage conceal perception, a will to extinction? As Turjan watched, the white-blue eyes closed, the great head slumped and bumped to the floor of the cage. The limbs relaxed: the creature was dead.
Turjan sighed and left the room. He mounted winding stone stairs and at last came out on the roof of his castle Miir, high above the river Derna. In the west the sun hung close to old earth; ruby shafts, heavy and rich as wine, slanted past the gnarled boles of the archaic forest to lay on the turfed forest floor. The sun sank in accordance with the old ritual; latter-day night fell across the forest, a soft, warm darkness came swiftly, and Turjan stood pondering the death of his latest creature.
He considered its many precursors: the thing all eyes, the boneless creature with the pulsing surface of its brain exposed, the beautifulfemale body whose intestines trailed out into the nutrient solution like seeking fibrils, the inverted inside-out creatures ... Turjan sighed bleakly. His methods were at fault; a fundamental element was lacking from his synthesis, a matrix ordering the components of the pattern.
As he sat gazing across the darkening land, memory took Turjan to a night of years before, when the Sage had stood beside him.
"In ages gone," the Sage had said, his eyes fixed on a low star, "a thousand spells were known to sorcery and the wizards effected their wills. Today, as Earth dies, a hundred spells remain to man's knowledge, and these have come to us through the ancient books ... But there is one called Pandelume, who knows all the spells, all the incantations, cantraps, runes, and thaumaturgies that have ever wrenched and molded space ..." He had fallen silent, lost in his thoughts.
"Where is this Pandelume?" Turjan had asked presently.
"He dwells in the land of Embelyon," the Sage had replied, "but where this land lies, no one knows."
"How does one find Pandelume, then?"
The Sage had smiled faintly. "If it were ever necessary, a spell exists to take one there."
Both had been silent a moment; then the Sage had spoken, staring out over the forest.
"One may ask anything of Pandelume, and Pandelume will answer--provided that the seeker performs the service Pandelume requires. And Pandelume drives a hard bargain."
Then the Sage had shown Turjan the spell in question, which he had discovered in an ancient portfolio, and kept secret from all the world.
Turjan, remembering this conversation, descended to his study, a long low hall with stone walls and a stone floor deadened by a thick russet rug. The tomes which held Turjan's sorcery lay on the long table of black steel or were thrust helter-skelter into shelves. These were volumes compiled by many wizards of the past, untidy folios collected by the Sage, leather-bound librams setting forth the syllables of a hundred powerful spells, so cogent that Turjan's brain could know but four at a time.
Turjan found a musty portfolio, turned the heavy pages to the spell the Sage had shown him, the Call to the Violent Cloud. He stared down at the characters and they burned with an urgent power, pressing off the page as if frantic to leave the dark solitude of the book.
Turjan closed the book, forcing the spell back into oblivion. He robed himself with a short blue cape, tucked a blade into his belt, fittedthe amulet holding Laccodel's Rune to his wrist. Then he sat down and from a journal chose the spells he would take with him. What dangers he might meet he could not know, so he selected three spells of general application: the Excellent Prismatic Spray, Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, and the Spell of the Slow Hour.
He climbed the parapets of his castle and stood under the far stars, breathing the air of ancient Earth ... How many times had this air been breathed before him? What cries of pain had this air experienced, what sighs, laughs, war shouts, cries of exultation, gasps ...
The night was wearing on. A blue light wavered in the forest. Turjan watched a moment, then at last squared himself and uttered the Call to the Violent Cloud.
All was quiet; then came a whisper of movement swelling to the roar of great winds. A wisp of white appeared and waxed to a pillar of boiling black smoke. A voice deep and harsh issued from the turbulence.
"At your disturbing power is this instrument come; whence will you go?"
"Four Directions, then One," said Turjan. "Alive must I be brought to Embelyon."
The cloud whirled down; far up and away he was snatched, flung head over heels into incalculable distance. Four directions was he thrust, then one, and at last a great blow hurled him from the cloud, sprawled him into Embelyon.
Turjan gained his feet and tottered a moment, half-dazed. His senses steadied; he looked about him.
He stood on the bank of a limpid pool. Blue flowers grew about his ankles and at his back reared a grove of tall blue-green trees, the leaves blurring on high into mist. Was Embelyon of Earth? The trees were Earth-like, the flowers were of familiar form, the air was of the same texture ... But there was an odd lack to this land and it was difficult to determine. Perhaps it came of the horizon's curious vagueness, perhaps from the blurring quality of the air, lucent and uncertain as water. Most strange, however, was the sky, a mesh of vast ripples and cross-ripples, and these refracted a thousand shafts of colored light, rays which in mid-air wove wondrous laces, rainbow nets, in all the jewel hues. So as Turjan watched, there swept over him beams of claret, topaz, rich violet, radiant green. He now perceived that the colors of the flowers and the trees were but fleeting functions of the sky, for now the flowers were of salmon tint, and the trees a dreaming purple. The flowers deepened to copper, then with a suffusion of crimson,warmed through maroon to scarlet, and the trees had become sea-blue.
"The Land None Knows Where," said Turjan to himself. "Have I been brought high, low, into a pre-existence or into the after-world?" He looked toward the horizon and thought to see a black curtain rising high into the murk, and this curtain encircled the land in all directions.
The sound of galloping hooves approached; he turned to find a black horse lunging break-neck along the bank of the pool. The rider was a young woman with black hair streaming wildly. She wore loose white breeches to the knee and a yellow cape flapping in the wind. One hand clutched the reins, the other flourished a sword.
Turjan warily stepped aside, for her mouth was tight and white as if in anger, and her eyes glowed with a peculiar frenzy. The woman hauled back on the reins, wheeled her horse high around, charged Turjan, and struck out at him with her sword.
Turjan jumped back and whipped free his own blade. When she lunged at him again, he fended off the blow and leaning forward, touched the point to her arm and brought a drop of blood. She drew back startled; then up from her saddle she snatched a bow and flicked an arrow to the string. Turjan sprang forward, dodging the wild sweep of her sword, seized her around the waist, and dragged her to the ground.
She fought with a crazy violence. He had no wish to kill her, and so struggled in a manner not entirely dignified. Finally he held her helpless, her arms pinioned behind her back.
"Quiet, vixen!" said Turjan, "Jest I lose patience and stun you!"
"Do as you please," the girl gasped. "Life and death are brothers."
"Why do you seek to harm me?" demanded Turjan. "I have given you no offense."
"You are evil, like all existence." Emotion ground the delicate fibers of her throat. "If power were mine, I would crush the universe to bloody gravel, and stamp it into the ultimate muck."
Turjan in surprise relaxed his grip, and she nearly broke loose. But he caught her again.
"Tell me, where may I find Pandelume?"
The girl stilled her exertion, twisted her head to stare at Turjan. Then: "Search all Embelyon. I will assist you not at all."
If she were more amiable, thought Turjan, she would be a creature of remarkable beauty.
"Tell me where I may find Pandelume," said Turjan, "else I find other uses for you."
She was silent for a moment, her eyes blazing with madness. Then she spoke in a vibrant voice.
"Pandelume dwells beside the stream only a few paces distant."
Turjan released her, but he took her sword and bow.
"If I return these to you, will you go your way in peace?"
For a moment she glared; then without words she mounted her horse and rode off through the trees.
Turjan watched her disappear through the shafts of jewel colors, then went in the direction she had indicated. Soon he came to a long low manse of red stone backed by dark trees. As he approached the door swung open. Turjan halted in mid-stride.
"Enter!" came a voice. "Enter, Turjan of Miir!"
So Turjan wonderingly entered the manse of Pandelume. He found himself in a tapestried chamber, bare of furnishing save a single settee. No one came to greet him. A closed door stood at the opposite wall, and Turjan went to pass through, thinking perhaps it was expected of him.
"Halt, Turjan," spoke the voice. "No one may gaze on Pandelume. It is the law."
Turjan, standing in the middle of the room, spoke to his unseen host.
"This is my mission, Pandelume," he said. "For some time I have been striving to create humanity in my vats. Yet always I fail, from ignorance of the agent that binds and orders the patterns. This master-matrix must be known to you; therefore I come to you for guidance."
"Willingly will I aid you," said Pandelume. "There is, however, another aspect involved. The universe is methodized by symmetry and balance; in every aspect of existence is this equipoise observed. Consequently, even in the trivial scope of our dealings, this equivalence must be maintained, thus and thus. I agree to assist you; in return, you perform a service of equal value for me. When you have completed this small work, I will instruct and guide you to your complete satisfaction."
"What may this service be?" inquired Turjan.
"A man lives in the land of Ascolais, not far from your Castle Miir. About his neck hangs an amulet of carved blue stone. This you must take from him and bring to me."
Turjan considered a moment.
"Very well," he said. "I will do what I can. Who is the man?" Pandelume answered in a soft voice.
"Prince Kandive the Golden."
"Ah," exclaimed Turjan ruefully, "you have gone to no pains tomake my task a pleasant one ... But I will fulfill your requirement as best I can."
"Good," said Pandelume. "Now I must instruct you. Kandive wears this amulet hidden below his singlet. When an enemy appears, he takes it out to display on his chest, such is the potency of the charm. No matter what else, do not gaze on this amulet, either before or after you take it, on pain of most hideous consequence."
"I understand," said Turjan. "I will obey. Now there is a question I would ask--providing the answer will not involve me in an undertaking to bring the Moon back to Earth, or recover an elixir you inadvertently spilled in the sea."
Pandelume laughed loud. "Ask on," he responded, "and I will answer."
Turjan put his question.
"As I approached your dwelling, a woman of insane fury wished to kill me. This I would not permit and she departed in rage. Who is this woman and why is she thus?"
Pandelume's voice was amused. "I, too," he replied, "have vats where I mold life into varied forms. This girl T'sais I created, but I wrought carelessly, with a flaw in the synthesis. So she climbed from the vat with a warp in her brain, in this manner: what we hold to be beautiful seems to her loathsome and ugly, and what we find ugly is to her intolerably vile, in a degree that you and I cannot understand. She finds the world a bitter place, people with shapes of direst malevolence."
"So this is the answer," Turjan murmured. "Pitiable wretch!"
"Now," said Pandelume, "you must be on your way to Kaiin; the auspices are good ... In a moment open this door, enter, and move to the pattern of runes on the floor."
Turjan performed as he was bid. He found the next room to be circular and high-domed, with the varying lights of Embelyon pouring down through sky-transparencies. When he stood upon the pattern in the floor, Pandelume spoke again.
"Now close your eyes, for I must enter and touch you. Heed well, do not try to glimpse me!"
Turjan closed his eyes. Presently a step sounded behind him. "Extend your hand," said the voice. Turjan did so, and felt a hard object placed therein. "When your mission is accomplished, crush this crystal and at once you will find yourself in this room." A cold hand was laid on his shoulder.
"An instant you will sleep," said Pandelume. "When you awake you will be in the city Kaiin."
The hand departed. A dimness came over Turjan as he stood awaiting the passage. The air had suddenly become full of sound: clattering, a tinkling of many small bells, music, voices. Turjan frowned, pursed his lips: A strange tumult for the austere home of Pandelume!
A woman's voice sounded close by.
"Look, O Santanil, see the man-owl who closes his eyes to merriment!"
There was a man's laughter, suddenly hushed. "Come. The fellow is bereft and possibly violent. Come."
Turjan hesitated, then opened his eyes. It was night in white-walled Kaiin, and festival time. Orange lanterns floated in the air, moving as the breeze took them. From the balconies dangled flower chains and cages of blue fire-flies. The streets surged with the wine-flushed populace, costumed in a multitude of bizarre modes. Here was a Melantine bargeman, here a warrior of Valdaran's Green Legion, here another of ancient times wearing one of the old helmets. In a little cleared space a garlanded courtesan of the Kauchique littoral danced the Dance of the Fourteen Silken Movements to the music of flutes. In the shadow of a balcony a girl barbarian of East Almery embraced a man blackened and in leather harness as a Deodand of the forest. They were gay, these people of waning Earth, feverishly merry, for infinite night was close at hand, when the red sun should finally flicker and go black.
Turjan melted into the throng. At a tavern he refreshed himself with biscuits and wine; then he made for the palace of Kandive the Golden.
The palace loomed before him, every window and balcony aglow with light. Among the lords of the city there was feasting and revelry. If Prince Kandive were flushed with drink and unwary, reflected Turjan, the task should not be too difficult. Yet, entering boldly, he might be recognized, for he was known to many in Kaiin. So, uttering Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth, he faded from the sight of all men.
Through the arcade he slipped, into the grand salon, where the lords of Kaiin made merry like the throngs of the street. Turjan threaded the rainbow of silk, velour, sateen, watching the play with amusement. On a terrace some stood looking into a sunken pool where a pair of captured Deodands, their skins like oiled jet, paddled and glared; others tossed darts at the spread-eagled body of a young Cobalt Mountain witch. In alcoves beflowered girls offered synthetic love to wheezing old men, and elsewhere others lay stupefied by dream-powders. Nowhere did Turjan find Prince Kandive. Through the palace he wandered, room after room, until at last in an upper chamber hecame upon the tall golden-bearded prince, lolling on a couch with a masked girl-child who had green eyes and hair dyed pale green.
Some intuition or perhaps a charm warned Kandive when Turjan slipped through the purple hangings. Kandive leapt to his feet.
"Go!" he ordered the girl. "Out of the room quickly! Mischief moves somewhere near and I must blast it with magic!"
The girl ran hastily from the chamber. Kandive's hand stole to his throat and pulled forth the hidden amulet. But Turjan shielded his gaze with his hand.
Kandive uttered a powerful charm which loosened space free of all warp. So Turjan's spell was void and he became visible.
"Turjan of Miir skulks through my palace!" snarled Kandive.
"With ready death on my lips," spoke Turjan. "Turn your back, Kandive, or I speak a spell and run you through with my sword."
Kandive made as if to obey, but instead shouted the syllables bringing the Omnipotent Sphere about him.
"Now I call my guards, Turjan," announced Kandive contemptuously, "and you shall be cast to the Deodands in the tank."
Kandive did not know the engraved band Turjan wore on his wrist, a most powerful rune, maintaining a field solvent of all magic. Still guarding his vision against the amulet, Turjan stepped through the Sphere. Kandive's great blue eyes bulged.
"Call the guards," said Turjan. "They will find your body riddled by lines of fire."
"Your body, Turjan!" cried the prince, babbling the spell. Instantly the blazing wires of the Excellent Prismatic Spray lashed from all directions at Turjan. Kandive watched the furious rain with a wolfish grin, but his expression changed quickly to consternation. A finger's breath from Turjan's skin the fire-darts dissolved into a thousand gray puffs of smoke.
"Turn your back, Kandive," Turjan ordered. "Your magic is useless against Laccodel's Rune." But Kandive took a step toward a spring in the wall.
"Halt!" cried Turjan. "One more step and the Spray splits you thousandfold!"
Kandive stopped short. In helpless rage he turned his back and Turjan, stepping forward quickly, reached over Kandive's neck, seized the amulet and raised it free. It crawled in his hand and through the fingers there passed a glimpse of blue. A daze shook his brain, and for an instant he heard a murmur of avid voices ... His vision cleared. He backed away from Kandive, stuffing the amulet in his pouch. Kandive asked, "May I now turn about in safety?"
"When you wish," responded Turjan, clasping his pouch. Kandive, seeing Turjan occupied, negligently stepped to the wall and placed his hand on a spring.
"Turjan," he said, "you are lost. Before you may utter a syllable, I will open the floor and drop you a great dark distance. Can your charms avail against this?"
Turjan halted in mid-motion, fixed his eyes upon Kandive's red and gold face. Then he dropped his eyes sheepishly. "Ah, Kandive," he fretted, "you have outwitted me. If I return you the amulet, may I go free?"
"Toss the amulet at my feet," said Kandive, gloating. "Also Lac-codel's Rune. Then I shall decide what mercy to grant you."
"Even the Rune?" Turjan asked, forcing a piteous note to his voice.
"Or your life."
Turjan reached into his pouch and grasped the crystal Pandelume had given him. He pulled it forth and held it against the pommel of his sword.
"Ho, Kandive," he said, "I have discerned your trick. You merely wish to frighten me into surrender. I defy you!"
Kandive shrugged. "Die then." He pushed the spring. The floor jerked open, and Turjan disappeared into the gulf. But when Kandive raced below to claim Turjan's body, he found no trace, and he spent the rest of the night in temper, brooding over wine.
Turjan found himself in the circular room of Pandelume's manse. Embelyon's many-colored lights streamed through the sky-windows upon his shoulder--sapphire blue, the yellow of marigolds, blood red. There was silence through the house. Turjan moved away from the rune in the floor, glancing uneasily to the door, fearful lest Pandelume, unaware of his presence, enter the room.
"Pandelume!" he called. "I have returned!"
There was no response. Deep quiet held the house. Turjan wished he were in the open air where the odor of sorcery was less strong. He looked at the doors; one led to the entrance hall, the other he knew not where. The door on the right hand must lead outside; he laid his hand on the latch to pull it open. But he paused. Suppose he were mistaken, and Pandelume's form were revealed? Would it be wiser to wait here?
A solution occurred to him. His back to the door, he swung it open.
"Pandelume!" he called.
A soft intermittent sound came to his ears from behind, and heseemed to hear a labored breath. Suddenly frightened, Turjan stepped back into the circular room and closed the door.
He resigned himself to patience and sat on the floor.
A gasping cry came from the next room. Turjan leapt to his feet.
"Turjan? You are there?"
"Yes; I have returned with the amulet."
"Do this quickly," panted the voice. "Guarding your sight, hand the amulet over your neck and enter."
Turjan, spurred by the urgency of the voice, closed his eyes and arranged the amulet on his chest. He groped to the door and flung it wide.
Silence of a shocked intensity held an instant; then came an appalling screech, so wild and demoniac that Turjan's brain sang. Mighty pinions buffeted the air, there was a hiss and the scrape of metal. Then, amidst muffled roaring, an icy wind bit Turjan's face. Another hiss--and all was quiet.
"My gratitude is yours," said the calm voice of Pandelume. "Few times have I experienced such dire stress, and without your aid might not have repulsed that creature of hell."
A hand lifted the amulet from Turjan's neck. After a moment of silence Pandelume's voice sounded again from a distance.
"You may open your eyes."
Turjan did so. He was in Pandelume's workroom; amidst much else, he saw vats like his own.
"I will not thank you," said Pandelume. "But in order that a fitting symmetry be maintained, I perform a service for a service. I will not only guide your hands as you work among the vats, but also will I teach you other matters of value."
In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."
"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers thepattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."
So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.
"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."
In spite of these other studies, Turjan spent most of his time at the vats, and under Pandelume's guidance achieved the mastery he sought. As a recreation he formed a girl of exotic design, whom he named Floriel. The hair of the girl he had found with Kandive on the night of the festival had fixed in his mind; and he gave his creature pale green hair. She had skin of creamy tan and wide emerald eyes. Turjan was intoxicated with delight when he brought her wet and perfect from the vat. She learned quickly and soon knew how to speak with Turjan. She was one of dreamy and wistful habit, caring for little but wandering among the flowers of the meadow, or sitting silently by the river; yet she was a pleasant creature and her gentle manners amused Turjan.
But one day the black-haired T'sais came riding past on her horse, steely-eyed, slashing at flowers with her sword. The innocent Floriel wandered by and T'sais, exclaiming "Green-eyed woman--your aspect horrifies me, it is death for you!" cut her down as she had the flowers in her path.
Turjan, hearing the hooves, came from the workroom in time to witness the sword-play. He paled in rage and a spell of twisting torment rose to his lips. Then T'sais looked at him and cursed him, and in the pale face and dark eyes he saw her misery and the spirit that caused her to defy her fate and hold to her life. Many emotions fought in him, but at last he permitted T'sais to ride on. He buried Floriel by the river-bank and tried to forget her in intense study.
A few days later he raised his head from his work.
"Pandelume! Are you near?"
"What do you wish, Turjan?"
"You mentioned that when you made T'sais, a flaw warped her brain. Now I would create one like her, of the same intensity, yet sound of mind and spirit."
"As you will," replied Pandelume indifferently, and gave Turjan the pattern.
So Turjan built a sister to T'sais, and day by day watched the same slender body, the same proud features take form.
When her time came, and she sat up in her vat, eyes glowing with joyful life, Turjan was breathless in haste to help her forth.
She stood before him wet and naked, a twin to T'sais, but where the face of T'sais was racked by hate, here dwelt peace and merriment; where the eyes of T'sais glowed with fury, here shone the stars of imagination.
Turjan stood wondering at the perfection of his own creation. "Your name shall be T'sain," said he, "and already I know that you will be part of my life."
He abandoned all else to teach T'sain, and she learned with marvelous speed.
"Presently we return to Earth," he told her, "to my home beside a great river in the green land of Ascolais."
"Is the sky of Earth filled with colors?" she inquired.
"No," he replied. "The sky of Earth is a fathomless dark blue, and an ancient red sun rides across the sky. When night falls the stars appear in patterns that I will teach you. Embelyon is beautiful, but Earth is wide, and the horizons extend far off into mystery. As soon as Pandelume wills, we return to Earth."
T'sain loved to swim in the river, and sometimes Turjan came down to splash her and toss rocks in the water while he dreamed. Against T'sais he had warned her, and she had promised to be wary.
But one day, as Turjan made preparations for departure, she wandered far afield through the meadows, mindful only of the colors at play in the sky, the majesty of the tall blurred trees, the changing flowers at her feet; she looked on the world with a wonder that is only for those new from the vats. Across several low hills she wandered, and through a dark forest where she found a cold brook. She drank and sauntered along the bank, and presently came upon a small dwelling.
The door being open, T'sain looked to see who might live here. But the house was vacant, and the only furnishings were a neat pallet of grass, a table with a basket of nuts, a shelf with a few articles of wood and pewter.
T'sain turned to go on her way, but at this moment she heard the ominous thud of hooves, sweeping close like fate. The black horse slid to a stop before her. T'sain shrank back in the doorway, all Turjan's warnings returning to her mind. But T'sais had dismounted and came forward with her sword ready. As she raised to strike, their eyes met, and T'sais halted in wonder.
It was a sight to excite the brain, the beautiful twins wearing the same white waist-high breeches, with the same intense eyes and carelesshair, the same slim pale bodies, the one wearing on her face hate for every atom of the universe, the other a gay exuberance.
T'sais found her voice.
"How is this, witch? You bear my semblance, yet you are not me. Or has the boon of madness come at last to dim my sight of the world?"
T'sain shook her head. "I am T'sain. You are my twin, T'sais, my sister. For this I must love you and you must love me."
"Love? I love nothing! I will kill you and so make the world better by one less evil." She raised her sword again.
"No!" cried T'sain in anguish. "Why do you wish to harm me? I have done no wrong!"
"You do wrong by existing, and you offend me by coming to mock my own hideous mold."
T'sain laughed. "Hideous? No. I am beautiful, for Turjan says so. Therefore you are beautiful, too."
T'sais' face was like marble.
"You make sport of me."
"Never. You are indeed very beautiful."
T'sais dropped the point of her sword to the ground. Her face relaxed into thought.
"Beauty! What is beauty? Can it be that I am blind, that a fiend distorts my vision? Tell me, how does one see beauty?"
"I don't know," said T'sain. "It seems very plain to me. Is not the play of colors across the sky beautiful?"
T'sais looked up in astonishment. "The harsh glarings? They are either angry or dreary, in either case detestable."
"See how delicate are the flowers, fragile and charming."
"They are parasites, they smell vilely."
T'sain was puzzled. "I do not know how to explain beauty. You seem to find joy in nothing. Does nothing give you satisfaction?"
"Only killing and destruction. So then these must be beautiful."
T'sain frowned. "I would term these evil concepts."
"Do you believe so?"
"I am sure of it."
T'sais considered. "How can I know how to act? I have been certain, and now you tell me that I do evil!"
T'sain shrugged. "I have lived little, and I am not wise. Yet I know that everyone is entitled to life. Turjan could explain to you easily."
"Who is Turjan?" inquired T'sais.
"He is a very good man," replied T'sain, "and I love him greatly.
Soon we go to Earth, where the sky is vast and deep and of dark blue."
"Earth ... . If I went to Earth, could I also find beauty and love?"
"That may be, for you have a brain to understand beauty, and beauty of your own to attract love."
"Then I kill no more, regardless of what wickedness I see. I will ask Pandelume to send me to Earth."
T'sain stepped forward, put her arms around T'sais, and kissed her.
"You are my sister and I will love you."
T'sais' face froze. Rend, stab, bite, said her brain, but a deeper surge welled up from her flowing blood, from every cell of her body, to suffuse her with a sudden flush of pleasure. She smiled.
"Then--I love you, my sister. I kill no more, and I will find and know beauty on Earth or die."
T'sais mounted her horse and set out for Earth, seeking love and beauty.
T'sain stood in the doorway, watching her sister ride off through the colors. Behind her came a shout, and Turjan approached.
"T'sain! Has that frenzied witch harmed you?" He did not wait for a reply. "Enough! I kill her with a spell, that she may wreak no more pain."
He turned to voice a terrible charm of fire, but T'sain put her hand to his mouth.
"No, Turjan, you must not. She has promised to kill no more. She goes to Earth seeking what she may not find in Embelyon."
So Turjan and T'sain watched T'sais disappear across the many-colored meadow.
"Turjan," spoke T'sain.
"What is your wish?"
"When we come to Earth, will you find me a black horse like that of T'sais?"
"Indeed," said Turjan, laughing, as they started back to the house of Pandelume.
THE DYING EARTH. Copyright 1950 by Hillman Periodical, Inc. Copyright © 1978 by Jack Vance.