by Harlan Ellison
When Kettridge bent over to pick up the scurrying red lizard, the thing that had been waiting in shadows struck.
The thing rose nine feet on its powerfully muscled legs. It had an iridescent, glistening fur, and if resembled a gorilla and a Brahma bull and a Kodiak bear and a number of other Terran animals. But it was none of these creatures.
The comparison was as inaccurate and as brief as Kettridge’s last moment of horrified awareness. He saw one of the thing’s huge paws crashing down toward him. Then the brief moment ended, and Kettridge lay unconscious.
Thought: This is the prelude to the Time of Fast. In bulk this strangely formed one will equal many cat litters. It is warm and does not lose the Essence. When the Essence-Stealer screams from the heavens, the strangely formed one will be many feastings for me. Safety and assured Essence are mine.
O boon at last granted! To the Lord of the Heaven I turn all thought! Lad-nar’s Essence is yours at Ending!
The huge creature bent sharply from the waist and scooped up the man in the form-fitting metallic suit. It brushed in annoyance at the belt of tools around the human’s waist and looked over one massive shoulder at the sky.
Even as Lad-nar watched, the rolling dark clouds split, and a forked brilliance stabbed down at the jungle. Lad-nar squinted his eyes, unconsciously lowering the thin secondary lids, and filtering out the worst of the light.
He shivered as the roar screamed across the sky.
Off to his left another blast of lightning slanted down, striking a towering blue plant with a shower of sparks and a dazzling flash. A peal of thunder followed it. The jungle smoked.
Thought: Many risings and settings of the Great Warmer it has taken this Time of Fast to build. Now it will last for many more. The Great Warmer -will be hidden, and the cold will settle across the land. Lad-nar must find his way to the Place of Fasting. This strangely formed one will be many feastings.
He shoved the man under one furry arm, clasping his unconscious burden tightly. Lad-nar’s eyes were frightened. He knew the time of Death and Forbidden Walking was at hand.
He loped off toward the mountains.
The first thing Kettridge saw when he awoke was the head of the creature. It was hanging terrifyingly suspended by the light from the storm. The roar of the rain pelting down in driving sheets and the brilliant white of the lightning heightened the dreadfulness of the huge creature’s head. The wide, blunt nose had three flaring nostrils. The massive double-lidded eyes seemed to be lighted from within by fires which blazed up in them like flickering twin comets. It had a high, hairy brow, and there were black half-moons under its cheekbones.
It seemed to be snarling. Certainly its pointed teeth could not have been bared more maliciously.
Kettridge was a man past the high tide of youth. He was not a strong man. At the beast’s snort, he lost consciousness for the second time.
There followed a short stretch of half-slumber, confused, tormenting. Finally Kettridge blinked several times and raised himself on his elbows.
Lad-nar was still sitting with his powerfully muscled legs crossed—sitting just inside the mouth of the small cave regarding Kettridge steadily.
“What—what are you?” Kettridge groaned. “We weren’t expecting anything so large. The survey said…” Kettridge’s voice quavered into silence.
Thought: What is this? The strangely formed one speaks in my head! He is not one with the cat litters. They cannot speak! Is he a symbol, an omen—from the Lord of the Heaven?
What is it you ask, strangely formed one?
Kettridge felt the surge of thoughts in his mind. He felt it smash against one nerve after another, sliding down in his head as the questions reverberated like an echo from far away.
My God, the thing is telepathic!… “You’re telepathic!” he murmured, hardly daring to believe it could be true.
Thought: What does he mean? What do you bring to me, strangely formed one? What is it that you say to me and that I hear as a Reading of the Essence? How do you speak? Are you from the Lord of the Heaven?
Lad-nar’s thick, leathery lips had not moved. The fanged mouth had not even twisted in speech. But to Kettridge it seemed that there must be a third being in the cave. A speaker who roared in his mind, in a voice sharp and alert.
Thought: There is no one else here. This is the Place of Fasting. Lad-nar has cleansed it of all previous Fasting Ones. You do not answer. There is fear blended into your Essence, as it has always been with the cat litters. Yet you are not one with them. Speak! Are you an omen ?
Kettridge’s lips began to tremble. He stared up in awe at the startlingly bright, double-lidded eyes, suddenly realizing that the creature was more than telepathic. It was two-way receptive. It could not only direct thoughts into Kettridge’s mind. It could just as easily pluck the ideas from his reeling brain.
“I—I am from earth,” whispered Kettridge, sliding up against the warm stone wall _of the cave.
Thought: The Heaven Home! I might have known. The Lord of the Heaven has sent you to me as many feastings.
In the space of a few short seconds, as Lad-nar spoke deep in his mind, Kettridge received a complete mental picture of the being’s incredible life. He had known there were living creatures on Blestone—many animal oddities in a barbaric hiding state. But the preliminary survey had not prepared him for any life of so complex a nature. Obviously Lad-nar’s race was dying off.
Kettridge tried to blank out his thoughts but was terrifyingly unsuccessful.
Thought: You cannot hide the speaking in my head.
Kettridge became frantic. He knew exactly what the thing planned to do. He had received a cold mental image of the creature crouched mercilessly above him, ripping his right arm loose from its socket with a cruel purposefulness. The picture was hideously clear.
Thought: You have seen the feasting. Yet you are not like • the cat litters that squeal in fear every moment that I feast on them. If you are not to eat, an omen from the Heaven Lord—what are you ?
Kettridge felt his throat muscles tighten. His hands inside the heat-resistance gloves clenched. He felt his age settle around him like a heavy mantle.
“I’m an alien ecologist,” he said, knowing he would not be understood.
Thought: That has no meaning for me.
“I’m from Earth. I’m from one of the other—” He stopped, drawing in his breath quickly and pulling the resilient hood of the suit against his mouth with an effort. The being could not possibly know about the other planets. It could not see a single one of the stars. Only occasionally could it see the sun. The dense cloud blanket of Blestone hid space forever from its gaze.
Thought: Urth! The Heaven Home! I knew! I knew !
There was a jubilation, a soaring happiness in the thought—an emotion at once incongruous and terrifying. But blending with it was a humanness, a strange warmth.
Thought: Now I will sleep. Later I will feast.
With the single-minded simplicity of the aborigine, the creature put from its mind this revelation of its religion and obeyed the commands of its body. Tired from hunting, Lad-nar began to sleep.
The thoughts dimmed and faded out of Kettridge’s mind like dwindling smoke wraiths as the huge creature slipped over onto its side and sprawled out in the gloom, completely blocking the open mouth of the cave.
Kettridge’s hand closed over the service revolver at his belt. It was reassuring to realize that the charges in the weapon were powerful enough to stop a good-sized animal.
Grimly he looked at the nine feet of corded muscle and thick hide that lay directly in his path. Then his gaze swept the narrow confines of the cave. It was just possible that he could kill before it could rip him to shreds. But did he really want to kill Lad-nar?
The thought bothered him. He knew he had to kill—or be killed himself. And yet…
Outside the lightning flamed and crashed all around the cave. The long storm had begun.
Through the thin slit between the rocks and the creature Kettridge could see the sky darkening as the storm grew. Every moment there was a new cataclysm as streamers of fire flung themselves through the air.
Blestone’s atmosphere was an uncomfortable-to-humans 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and the creature’s body heat was almost certainly as high. The very nearness of the creature would have effectively ruined the aging career of Benjamin Kettridge had not the Earthman’s insulated suit protected him.
He hunched up small against the wall, uncomfortably aware of the rough stone through the suit.
He knew that the beam from the Jeremy Bentham was tuned to a suit-sensitive level, but he knew also that they wouldn’t come to pick him up until his search time expired. He wasn’t the only ecologist from the study ship on Blestone. But they were a low-pay outfit and secured the most for their money by leaving the searchers in solitude for the full time.
The full tune had another six hours to run.
In six hours Lad-nar would almost certainly get hungry.
Kettridge ran the whole thing through his mind, sifting the facts, gauging the information, calculating the outcome. It didn’t look good. Not good at all.
He knew more about Lad-nar than the creature could have told him, though, and that at least was a factor in his favor. He knew about its religion, its taboos, its—and here he felt his throat go dry again—eating habits, its level of intelligence and culture. The being had kept nothing back, and Kettridge had some astonishingly accurate data to draw upon.
Not quite what you signed up for, is it, Ben? Startled by his own mental speech, he answered himself wearily, No, not at all.
Kettridge wondered what Lad-nar would think were he to tell the Blestonian he wasn’t a blue-plate special, but a washed-out, run-down representative of a civilization that didn’t give one hoot about Lad-,nar or his religion.
He’ll probably chew me up and swallow me, thought Kettridge. A more bitterly ironic thought followed: which is exactly what he’ll do anyhow. It would take a powerful weapon to stop him.
It seemed so strange. Two days before he had been aboard the study-ship Jeremy Bentham, one year out of Capital City, and now he was the main course at a Blestonian aborigine’s feast.
The laughter wouldn’t come.
It wouldn’t come because Kettridge was old and tired, and knew how right it was that he should die here, with all hope cut off. Lad-nar was simply following his natural instincts. He was protecting himself. He was surviving.
Which is more than you’ve been doing for the last ten years, Ben, he told himself.
Benjamin Kettridge had long since stopped surviving. He knew it as clearly as he knew he would die here on this hot and steaming world far from the sight of men.
Think about it, Ben. Think it over. Now that it’s finished and you tumble out of things at sixty-six years of age. Think about the waste and the crying and the bit of conviction that could have saved you. Think about it all.
Then the story unfurled on a fleeting banner. It rolled out for Ben Kettridge there in a twilight universe. In the course of a few minutes he had found life in that shadowy mind-world preferable to his entire previous existence.
He saw himself again as a prominent scientist, engaged with others of his kind on a project of great consequence to mankind. He recalled his own secret misgivings as he had boldly embarked on the experiment.
He heard again the sonorous overtones and the pith and substance of his talk with Fennimore. He heard it more clearly than the blast and rush of the thunder outside…
“Charles, I don’t think we should do it this way. If something were to happen—”
“Ben, nothing whatever can possibly happen—unless we become careless. The compound is safe, and you know it. First we demonstrate its applicability. Then we let the dunderheads scream about it. After they know its worth, they’ll be the first to acclaim us.”
“But you don’t seem to understand, Fenimore. There are too many random. factors in the formulae. There’s a fundamental flaw in them. If I could only put my finger on it—”
“Get this, Ben. I don’t like to pull seniority on you, but I have no choice. I’m not a harsh man, but this is a dream I’ve had for twenty years, and no unjustified timidity on your part is going to put it off. We test the compound Thursday!”
And Fenimore’s dream had overnight turned into a nightmare of twenty-five thousand dead, and hospitals filled to overflowing with screaming patients.
The nightmare had reached out thready tentacles and dragged in Kettridge, too. In a manner of days a reputation built on years of dedicated work had been reduced to rubble. But he had not escaped the inquests. What little reputation he had left had saved him—and a few others—from the gas chamber. But life was at an end for him.
Ten years of struggling for mere survival—no one would hire him even for the most menial of jobs—had sunk Kettridge lower and lower. There was still a common decency about him that prevented utter disintegration, just as there was an inner desire to continue living.
Kettridge never became—as did some of the others who escaped—a flophouse derelict or a suicide. He just became—anonymous.
His fortunes ebbed until there was nothing left except slashed wrists or the bottle.
Kettridge had been too old by then for either. And always there had been the knowledge that he could have stopped the project had he voiced his doubts instead of brooding in silence.
Finally the study-ship post had saved him. Ben Kettridge, using another name, had signed on for three years. He had actually welcomed the cramp and the squalor of shipboard. Studying and cataloging under the stars had enabled him to regain his self-respect and to keep a firm grip on his sanity.
Ben Kettridge had become an alien ecologist. And now, one year out from Capital City, his sanity was threatened again.
He wanted to scream desperately. His throat muscles drew up and tightened, and his mouth, inside the flexible hood, opened until the corners stretched in pain.
The pictures had stopped. He had withdrawn in terror from the shadowed mind-world and was back in a stone prison with a hungry aborigine for keeper.
The huge furred body twisted, sighed softly, and sank back into sleep again. Kettridge wondered momentarily if the strength of his thoughts had disturbed the beast.
What a fantastic creature, thought Kettridge, It lives on a world where the heat will fry a human and shivers in fear at lightning storms.
A strange compassion came over Kettridge. How very much like a native of Earth this alien creature was. Governed by its stomach and will to survive, and dominated by a religion founded in fear and nurtured on terror! Lightning the beast thought of as a Screamer from the Skies. The occasionally glimpsed sun was the Great Warmer.
Kettridge pondered on the simplicity and primitive common sense of Lad-nar’s religion.
When the storms gathered, when they finally built up sufficient potential to generate the lightning and thunder, Lad-nar knew that the cold would set in. Cold was anathema to him. He knew that the cold sapped him of strength, and that the lightning struck him down.
So he stole a cat litter and hid himself for weeks—until the gigantic storms abated. The high body heat- of the creature dictated that it must have a great deal of food to keep it alive when the temperature went down. When a cat litter wasn’t available, the logical alternative was to kill and eat an alien ecologist.
This was no stupid being, Kettridge reminded himself.
Its religion was a sound combination of animal wisdom and native observation. The lightning killed. Don’t go abroad in the storms. The storms brought cold. Get food and stay alive.
It was indeed strange how a terrifying situation could bring a man to a realization of himself.
Here is a chance, he thought. The words came unbidden.
Just four words. Here is a chance. An opportunity not only to survive—something he had long since stopped doing consciously—but a chance to redeem himself, if only in his own mind. Before him was an aborigine, a member of a dying race, a cowering creature of the caves. Before him was a creature afraid to walk in the storms for fear of the lightning, shackled by a primitive religion and doomed never to see the sky.
In that split moment Ben Kettridge devised a plan to save Lad-nar’s soul.
There are times when men sum up their lives, take accounting, and find themselves wanting. Lad-nar suddenly became a symbol of all the people who had been lost in the Mass Death.
In the mind of an old and tired man, many things are possible.
I must get out of here! Ben Kettridge told himself, over and over. But more than that, he knew that he must save the poor hulk before him. And in saving the creature he would save himself. Lad-nar had no idea what a star was. Well, Ben Kettridge would tell him. Here was a chance!
Kettridge moved up flat against the wall, his back straining with his effort to sink into the stone. Watching the Blestonian come to wakefulness was an ordeal of pure horror.
The huge body tossed and heaved as it rose. It sat erect from the thin, pinched waist and raised the massive wedge-shaped chest, the hideous head, the powerful neck and arms. A thin trickle of moisture dripped from a corner of its fanged mouth. It sat up and thought: Lad-nar hungers.
“Oh, God in Heaven, please let me have time! Please allow me this one little thing!”
Kettridge found himself with his hands clasped on his chest, his face raised to the roof of the cave. For the first time in his life he felt tears of appeal on his cheeks.
Thought :You speak to the Lord of the Heaven. Lad-nar seemed awed. He watched, his huge, brilliant eyes suddenly grown wide.
Kettridge thought at the beast: Lad-nar! I come from the Lord of Heaven, I can show you how to walk in the storms! I can show you how to—
The creature’s roar deafened Kettridge. Accompanying it came a mental scream! Kettridge felt himself lifted off the floor by the force of the blow to his mind and hurled violently back against the rocks.
The aborigine leaped to his feet, threw his taloned hands upward, and bellowed in rage.
Thought: You speak that which is Forbidden! You say that which is Untrue. No human walks when the Essence-Stealer speaks in the night. You are a fearful thing! Lad-nar is afraid!
“Heresy, I’ve spoken heresy!” Kettridge wanted to rip off the metal-plastic hood and tear his tongue from his mouth.
Thought: Yes, you have spoken that which is Unclean and Untrue!
Kettridge cowered in fear. The creature was truly enraged now. How could it be afraid when it stood there so powerful and so massive?
Thought: Yes, Lad-nar is afraid! Afraid !
Then the waves of fear hit Kettridge. He felt his head begin to throb. The tender fiber of his mind was being twisted and seared and buffeted. Burned and scarred forever with Lad-nar’s terrible all-consuming fear.
Stop, stop, Lad-nar! I speak the truth! I will show you how to walk in the storm as I do.
He spoke then—softly, persuasively, trying to convince a being that had never known any god but a deity that howled and slashed in streamers of electricity. He spoke of himself, and of his powers. He spoke of them as though he truly believed in them. He built himself a glory on two levels.
Slowly Lad-nar became calmer, and the waves of fear diminished to ripples. The awe and trembling remained, but there was a sliver of belief in the creature’s mind now.
Kettridge knew he must work on that.
“I come from the Heaven-Home, Lad-nar. I speak as a messenger from the sky. I am stronger than the puny Essence-Stealer you fear!” As if to punctuate his words, a flash of lightning struck just outside the cave, filling the hollow with fury and light.
Kettridge continued, speaking faster and faster, “I can walk abroad in the storm, and the Essence-Stealer will not harm me. Let me go out, and I will show you, Lad-nar.”
He was playing a dangerous hand; at any moment the creature might leap. It might dare to venture upon a leap, hoping that Kettridge was speaking falsely and preferring not to incur the wrath of a god he knew to be dangerous.
“Why, Lad-nar? I can show you how to walk in the night, when the Essence-Stealer screams. I can show you how to scream back at him and to laugh at him too.”
Kettridge reminded himself that the creature was indeed clever. Not only did it fear the wrath of the Lord of the Heaven and his screaming death. It knew that if it let the man go, it would have nothing to eat during the coming cold days.
“Let me go, Lad-nar. I will bring you back a cat litter for your feasting. I will show you that I can walk in the night, and I will bring you food. I will bring back a cat litter, Lad-nar!”
Thought: If you are what you say, why do you speak to the Lord of the Heaven?
Kettridge bit his lip. He kept forgetting…
“Because I want the Lord of the Heaven to know that I am as great as he,” he said. “I want him to know I am not afraid of him and that my prayers to him are only to convince him that I am as great as he.” It was gibberish, but he hoped that if he kept talking the creature would shuck off the thoughts rather than try to fathom them.
The Earthman knew he had one factor in his favor: Lad-nar had never before heard anyone speak against his own god and to do so with impunity immeasurably strengthened Kettridge’s hand.
Kettridge hit Lad-nar with the appeal again, before the creature had time to wonder.
“I’ll get you a cat litter, Lad-nar. Let me go! Let me show you! Let me show you that you can walk in the storms as I do!”
Thought: You will go away.
There was a petulance, a little child sound, to the objection, and Kettridge knew the first step had been achieved.
“No, Lad-nar. Here is a rope.” He drew a thin cord of tough metal-plastic from his utility belt. His hand brushed against his service revolver, and he laughed deep in his mind once more as he thought of how useless it had become.
He would not have used the gun in any case. Only by his wits could he hope to win through to victory. There was more at stake now than mere self-preservation.
“Here is a rope,” he repeated, extending the coiled cord. “I will tie it about myself. See—like this. You take the other end. If you hold it tightly I can’t escape. It is long enough to enable me to go out and seek a cat litter, and to convince you that I can walk abroad.”
At first Lad-nar refused, eyeing the glistening, silvery cord with fear in his heavily lidded eyes. But Kettridge spoke on two levels, and soon the creature touched the cord.
It drew back its seven-taloned hand quickly. It tried again.
The third tune it grasped the cord.
You have just lost your religion, Kettridge thought.
Lad-nar had “smelled” with his mind. He had sensed a cat Utter fairly close to the cave. But he did not know where the living food supply had taken refuge.
Kettridge emerged from the dark mouth of the cave into the roaring maelstrom of a Blestonian electrical storm.
The sky was a tumult of heavy black clouds, steel and ebony and ripped duty cloth. The clouds revolved in dark masses and were split apart by the lightning. The very ah- was charged, and blast after blast sheared away the atmosphere in zigzagging streamers.
Kettridge stood there with the pelting rain washing over ward against the pull of the cord. He was forced to shade his eyes against the almost continuous glare of the lightning.
He was a small, thin man, and had it not been for the cord he might easily have been swept away by the winds and rain that sand-papered the rocky ledge.
Ketteridge stood there with the pelting rain washing over him, obscuring his vision through the hood, and leaving only the glare of the storm to guide him.
He took a short step forward.
A bolt slashed at him through a rift in the mountains and roared straight toward him. It materialized out of nowhere and everywhere—shattering a massive slab of granite almost at his feet Kettridge fell flat on his stomach, and the crack of thunder rolled on past him.
The effect on his body was terrifying.
Immediately he went deaf. His legs and hips became numb, and his eyes reflected coruscating pinwheels of brilliance.
Thought: The Essence-Stealer has screamed, and you have fallen!
The rope tightened and Kettridge felt himself being drawn back into the cave.
“No!” he protested desperately. The pressure eased. “No, Lad-nar. That was the Essence-Stealer’s scream. Now I shall make my power felt. Let me show you, Lad-nar!”
Kettridge seized on the lightning blast for his own purpose. “See, Lad-nar! The Essence-Stealer has struck me, but I am still whole. I will rise and walk again.”
Everywhere the lightning burned and crashed. The whole world seemed filled with the noise of crashing trees and screaming elements.
He arose shakily to his knees. His legs were weak and numb. But his eyes were starting to focus again. At least he could see now. He half rose, sank back to one knee, and rose again. His head felt terribly heavy and unanchored.
Finally he stood erect.
And he walked.
The storm raged about him. Lightning struck and struck again, but his courage did not desert him.
Soon he came back to the cave.
Thought: You are a god! This I believe. But the Lord of the Heaven has sent his Essence-Stealers. They, too, are mighty, and Lad-nar will lose his Essence if he walks there.
“No, Lad-nar. I will show you how to protect yourself.” Kettridge was sweating and weak from his walk, and the numbness extended through his entire body. He could hear nothing, but the words came clearly to him.
Very deliberately he began to unseal the form-fitting suit. In a few minutes he had it off, and it had shrunk back to a pocket-sized replica of the full-sized garment. The storm had lowered the temperature almost to freezing point.
“Lad-nar, take this,” Kettridge said. “Here, give me your hand.”
The creature looked at him with huge, uncomprehending eyes. The Earthman felt closer, somehow, to this strange creature than to anyone he had ever known in all the lonely years of his exile. Kettridge pulled his glove on tighter and reached for Lad-nar’s seven-taloned hand. He pulled at the arm of the form-fit suit, and it elastically expanded, stretching to twice its original width.
After much stretching and fitting, the creature was encased in the insulating metal-plastic.
Kettridge had an impulse to laugh at the bunched fur and awkward stance of the massive animal. But again, the laughter would not come.
“Now, Lad-nar, put on the gloves. Never take them off, except when the storms are gone. You must always put this suit on when the Essence-Stealers scream. Then you will be safe.”
Thought: Now I can walk in the night?
“Yes, come.” They moved together toward the cave’s mouth. “Now you can get a cat litter for yourself. I did not bring one, because I knew you would believe me and get your own. Come, Lad-nar.” He motioned him forward.
Thought: How will you walk without the suit?
Kettridge ran a seamed hand through his white hair. He was glad Lad-nar had thought the question. The multiple flashes of a many-stroked blast filled the air with glare and noise.
Kettridge could not hear the noise.
“I have brothers who wait for me in the Great House from across the Skies that will take me back to the heaven Home. They will hurry to me, and they will protect me.”
He did not bother to tell Lad-nar that his search tune was almost up and that the Jeremy Bentham’s flitter would home in on his suit beam.
“Go! Walk, Lad-nar!” he said, throwing his arms out. “And tell your brothers you have screamed at the Essence-Stealers!”
Thought: I have done this.
Lad-nar stepped cautiously toward the rocky ledge, fearful and hesitant. Then he bunched his huge muscles and leaped out into the full agony of the storm which crashed in futility about his massive form.
“One day Man will come and make friends with you, Lad-nar,” said Kettridge softly. “He will come down out of the sky and show you how to live on this world of yours so that you won’t have to hide.”
Kettridge sank down against the inner wall of the cave, suddenly too exhausted to stand.
He had won. He had redeemed himself—if only in his own mind. He had helped take away life from a race, but now—he had given life to a race.
He closed his eyes peacefully. Even the great blasts of blind lightning did not bother him as he rested. He knew Lad-nar had told his brothers.
He knew the ship would be coming for him.
Lad-nar came up the incline and saw the flitter streaking down, with lightning playing along its sides in phosphorescent glimmers.
Thought: Your brothers come for you!
He bounded across the scarred and seared rocks toward the cave.
Kettridge rose and stepped out into the rain and wind.
He ran a few steps, waving his arms in a signaling gesture. The flitter altered its course and headed for him, its speed increasing with great rapidity.
The lightning struck.
It seemed as though the bolt knew its target. It raced the flitter, sizzling and burning as it came. In a roar of light and fire it tore at Kettridge, lifting him high into the air and carrying him far from Lad-nar.
His body landed just outside the cave, blistered and charred but still struggling.
Thought: You have fallen! Rise, rise, rise! The Essence-Stealers…
The thoughts were hysterical, tearful, torn, and wanting. Had Lad-nar been able to shed tears, Kettridge knew he would have wept unashamedly. The old man lay sightless, his eyes gone, his senses altogether torn from him. The Essence ebbed.
He thought: Lad-nar. Others will come. They will come to you, and you must think to them. You must think these words, Lad-nar. Think to them, SHOW ME A STAR. Do you hear me, Lad-nar? Do you…
Even as Lad-nar watched, the Essence flickered and died. In the creature’s mind there was a lack, an abyss of emptiness. Yet there was also contentment, a strange peace. And Lad-nar knew the Essence of the God Who Walked in the Night was strong and unafraid at Ending.
The aborigine stood on the rocks below the cave and watched the flitter sink to the stone ledge. He watched as the other Gods from the Skies emerged and ran to the charred body on the stones.
Through his head, like the blind lightning streaking everywhere, the words remained, and repeated…
Thought: Show me a star.