Rage of a Demon King
Raymond E. Feist
THE SERPENTWAR SAGA
Chapter 24 - Darkmoor
Calis studied the gem.
He was so engrossed in it he almost failed to notice the appearance of four figures in the great hall of the oracle. He glanced at the oracle's attendance, and as they displayed no distress, he assumed there was no danger.
He looked at the new arrivals and saw his father, resplendent in his white and gold armor, standing beside Nakor, Sho Pi, and a man dressed in the raiment of a monk of Ishap. Calis forced himself away from studying the gem and rose to greet them.
'Father,' he said, hugging Tomas. Then he shook hands with Nakor.
Nakor said, 'This is Dominic. He is the Abbot at Sarth. I thought he would prove useful to have with us.'
Thomas asked, 'You were engrossed in the gem when we arrived.'
Calis said, 'I am seeing things in it, Father.'
Thomas said, 'We need to talk.' He glance at the others and said, 'But first I must pay my respects.'
He crossed to the great, recumbent dragon, paused next to the gigantic head, and gently touched it. 'Well met, old friend,' he said softly.
Then he turned to the senior-most of her companions and said, 'Is she well?'
The old man bowed slightly. 'She dreams and in her dreams she relives a thousand lives, sharing them with the soul who will occupy that great body after her.' He motioned to a young boy, who came to stand beside Tomas. 'As I do with my replacement.'
Thomas nodded. 'Most ancient of races, we have transported you from one doom to another.'
'There is risk,' said the old man, 'but there is purpose. We know that much.'
Thomas nodded, and returned to Calis and the others.
Dominic looked past Tomas with wide eyes. 'I never would have believed.'
Nakor laughed. 'No matter what I see, I never imagined I've seen it all. The universe offers endless surprises.'
Calis said, 'How is it you all managed to arrive together?'
'Long story,' said Nakor. He produced a Tsurani transportation globe and said, 'Not many of these left. Should get some more.'
Calis smiled, 'Unfortunately, the rift to Kelewan is on Stardock, and last I looked it's now firmly in the hands of Kesh.
'Not so firmly,' said Nakor with a grin.
'What do you mean?' asked Calis.
Nakor shrugged. 'Pug asked me to think of something, so I did.'
'What?' asked Tomas.
'I'll tell you when we survive this coming ordeal and the fate of Stardock has some meaning.'
Thomas said, 'Calis, what did you mean about seeing things in the gem?'
Calis looked at his father in surprise, and asked, 'Can't you see them?'
Tomas turned his attention to the Lifestone, an artifact he knew in some ways more intimately than any living being on Midkemia. He let his mind relax and watched the cool green surface, and after a moment saw a pulsing light, faint and hard to apprehend if one tried too hard. After a moment he said, 'I see no images.'
'Odd,' said Calis. 'They were apparent to me the first few moments I looked at it.'
'What do you see?' asked Nakor.
Calis said, 'I don't know if I have words. But I think I'm seeing the true history of the world.'
Nakor sat on the floor. 'Oh, this is most interesting. Please, tell me what you think you see.'
Calis sat, as if to compose his thoughts.
Suddenly Pug and Miranda appeared.
Tomas welcomed his old friend and Miranda, motioning for them to sit.
'What is it?' asked Pug.
Tomas said, 'Calis is about to tell us what he sees in the Lifestone.'
Calis glanced to Miranda and to Pug, and for a moment he held the magician's gaze. Then he smiled. 'I'm pleased to see you both again.'
Miranda returned his smile. 'As we are to see you.'
Calis said, 'I must speak of the Lifestone.'
Nakor turned to Sho Pi and said, 'Memorize every word if you want to continue bearing the mantle of disciple.'
Calis said, 'The Lifestone is Midkemia, in the purest form, a reflection of all life that has gone before, is now, or will be, from the dawn until the end of time.
All fell silent as Calis considered his words.
'At the beginning, there was nothing and then came the universe. Pug and my father bore witness to that creation, as I have heard the story.' He smiled at his father. 'Several times.'
'When the universe was born, it was aware, but in a fashion so far beyond what we comprehend that we have no adequate concepts to understand that awareness.'
Nakor grinned. 'It's like ants carrying food to their nest, while overhead a dragon sits atop a mountain. The ants have no concept of the dragon.'
Calis said, 'More, but it is not an entirely faulty comparison.'
'This awareness is more than any of us - all of us together - could comprehend. It is so vast and so timeless…' He paused. 'I don't think I can say more about it.
'When Midkemia was formed, it was home to powers, basic forces of nature. Mindless, they were forces that built up and tore down.'
'Rathar and Mythar,' said Tomas. 'The Two Blind Gods of Creation.'
'As good a name for those forces as any,' agreed Nakor.
Calis said, 'Then came a reordering of things. Consciousness arose, and the beings that were mindless became purposeful. It is we who define the gods, in a fashion that makes sense to us, but they are so much more than this.
'The order of the universe is like a gem with many facets, and we see only one, that which reflects the existence of our own world.'
Pug said, 'It is shared with other worlds?'
'Oh yes,' said Calis softly. 'With all worlds. This is one of the key reasons why what we do here has a profound bearing upon every other world in the cosmos. It is the primal struggle between that which we label good and that which we call evil, and it exists in every corner of creation.'
He turned to look at the others in the great cave and said, 'I could speak for hours, so let me distill what I think I have discovered.'
Calis composed his thoughts, then continued, 'The Valheru were more than just the first race to live on Midkemia. They were a bridge between immortal and mortal. They were the first experiment, if you will, of the gods.'
'Experiments?' said Pug. 'What kind of an experiment?'
'I don't know,' said Calis. 'I can't even be certain what I'm saying is true, only that it feels true.'
Nakor said, 'It's true.'
All eyes turned toward the little Isalani. He grinned. 'It makes sense.'
Pug said, 'What makes sense?'
Nakor said, 'Has anyone besides me wondered why we think?'
As the question came seemingly out of the blue, everyone exchanged astonished glance. Pug laughed. 'Not recently, no.'
'We think because the gods have given us the power of apprehension,' said Dominic.
Nakor shook his finger at the Abbot. 'You know that's dogma, and you know the gods are as much the creation of mankind as mankind is the creation of the gods.'
Pug asked, 'So, then, what is your point?'
'Oh, just wondering.' Said Nakor. 'I was thinking of that story you told me, about when you and Tomas went to find Macros, and you saw the creation of the universe.'
'And?' asked Tomas.
'Well,' began Nakor, it seems to me you have to begin at the beginning.'
Pug stared at the little man and burst out laughing. Within seconds everyone was laughing.
'See,' said Nakor, 'humor is a property of intelligence.'
'All right, Nakor,' said Miranda, 'what are you talking about?'
Nakor said, 'Something started it all.'
'Yes,' said Dominic. 'There was a primal urge, a creator, something.'
'Supposedly,' said Nakor, 'it was a self-creation?'
'The universe just decided to awake one day?' asked Miranda.
Nakor pondered the question a moment. 'There is something I think we should always keep in mind: everything we talk about is limited by our own perceptions, our own ability to understand, in short by our very nature.'
'True,' agreed Pug.
'So to say the universe woke up one day is perhaps at one and the same time the most apt and the most incomplete way of putting it,' said Nakor.
Dominic said, 'This sort of debate is common in the courts of the church. The exercises in logic and faith can often be frustrating.'
'But I think we have something here few of your brothers have, Abbot,' said Nakor. 'Eyewitnesses to creation.'
'If that is what they saw,' said Dominic.
'Ah,' said Nakor, and he could barely contain his glee. 'We cannot be sure about anything, can we?'
'"What is reality?" is a common question in those moots courts I spoke of,' said the Abbot.
'Reality is what you bump into in the dark,' said Miranda dryly.
Nakor laughed, then he said, 'You've talked about this big ball thing blowing up to make the universe, right?'
'So, what if everything was inside that ball?'
'We assume it was,' said Pug.
'Well, what was outside the ball?'
'We were,' aid Pug quickly,' and the Garden and the City Forever.'
'But you come from within that big ball,' said Nakor, and as the others watched, he stood and began to pace, animated by being on the brink of understanding. 'I mean, you were born ages into the future from the creation, but from stuff inside the ball, if you see.'
'What about the City Forever?' asked Miranda.
'Maybe it was created far in the future; what do you think?'
'By whom?' asked Pug.
Nakor shrugged. 'I don't know, and for the moment I don't care. Maybe when you're a thousand years old you're the one who makes the City Forever and sends it back to the dawn of time so you and Macros have someplace to sit to watch the universe being born.'
'Baby universe and thousand-year-old magician,' said Dominic, obviously trying to be patient and losing the attempt.
Nakor held up his hand. 'Why not? We know traveling through time is possible. Which bring up, what is time?'
They al glance at one another and each began to answer, but soon all fell silent. 'Time is time,' said Dominic. 'It marks the passage of events.'
'No,' said Nakor, 'Humans mark the passage of events, Time doesn't care; time just is. But what is it?' He wore a delightful grin as he answered his own question: 'Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.'
Pug's eyebrows rose. 'So in the ball everything was happening at once?'
'And then the universe changed!' said Nakor with glee.
'Why?' asked Miranda.
Nakor shrugged. 'Who knows? It just did. Pug, you told me when you found Macros this last time, he had begun to merge with Sarig. Was he Macros or was he Sarig?'
'Both for a short while, but he was still mostly Macros.'
'I wish I could ask him, "As you were merging, did you lose your sense of being Macros?"' For a moment Nakor looked genuinely regretful, but then his grin returned as he said, 'I think it safe to say that the more you become one with a god, the less you stay you.'
'Then I understand,' said Dominic.
'What?' asked Miranda.
'What this madman is driving at.' The old Abbot put his finger to his head. 'Mind. The spirits of the gods, the "everything" he talks about as "stuff." If everything was occurring at once, before this creation, then everything was everything. No differentiation.'
'Yes!' said Nakor, delightful at the Abbot's observation.
'So, for reasons we will never know, the totality of creation acted to differentiate itself. This "birth" of the universe was a means for the universe…' The Abbot's eyes widened. 'It was the universe attempting to become conscious!'
Tomas eyes narrowed. 'I don't follow. Humans are conscious, as are other intelligent races, and the gods are conscious, but the universe is… it is, that's all.'
'No,' said Nakor. 'Why humans? Why other thinking creatures?'
'I don't know,' said Pug.
Nakor's expression turned serious. 'Because becoming mortal is the means by which the universe, this "stuff" I talk about, becomes self-conscious, self-aware. Each life is the universe's experiment, and each of us brings back knowledge to the universe when we die. Macros attempted to become one with a god, and learned that the further you get from mortality, the further you stray from that self-consciousness. Lesser Gods are more detached from "self" than mortals; Greater Gods even more so, I wager.'
Dominic nodded. 'The Tear of the Gods allows the Order to communicate with the Greater Gods. It is a very difficult task. We rarely attempt it, and when we do, often the communications are incomprehensible.' The old Abbot sighed. 'The Tear is a valuable gift, for it lets us work the magic that proves to those who serve us that Ishap is still living, so we can worship and work toward his return, but the nature of the gods, even that one we worship, is far beyond our ability to know.'
Nakor laughed. 'Very well, now if this universe was born the day Macros, Pug, and Tomas were watching, what does that say about the universe?'
'I don't know.' Admitted Pug.
'It's a baby,' said Nakor.
Pug laughed. He couldn't help himself. 'The universe is several billion years old, by my calculations.'
Nakor shrugged. 'That may be a two-year-old universe for all we know. What if it is?'
'What's the point?' said Miranda.
Tomas said, 'Yes. While all this is fascinating, we still have some problems to solve.'
Nakor said, 'True, but the more we know about what it is we're involved with, the more we have a chance of solving those problems.
'Agreed, but where to begin?'
'I asked earlier, why do we think? I may have some idea.' Nakor paused, then continued, 'Suppose for a moment the universe, everything in it, and everything that ever was or will be is linked.'
'We share something in common?' asked Dominic.
'No, more than that; we are all the same.' Looking at Pug and Miranda, Nakor said 'You call it magic. I call it tricks.' To Dominic he said, 'You call it prayer. But it's all the same thing, and what it…'
'Yes?' prompted Pug.
'That's where I run into a problem. I don't know what it is. I call it "stuff." He sighed. 'It's some sort of basic thing, something that everything is made up of.'
'You might have call it spirit,' suggested Dominic.
'You might have called it laundry,' said Miranda dryly.
Nakor laughed, 'Whatever t is, we're all part of it, and it's part of us.'
Pug was silent for a moment. 'This is maddening. I feel as if I'm almost at the edge of understanding something, but it's just outside my grasp.
'And what does this have to do with putting things right?'
'Everything. Nothing. I don't know,' said Nakor agreeably. 'It's just I was one with Ashen Shugar.'
Nakor said, 'I think so. The universe is alive, a being of impossible complexity and vastness. It is, for want of a better term, a god. Maybe The God. I don't know.'
'Macros called it The Ultimate,' said Tomas.
'That's good!' said Nakor. 'The Ultimate God, the One Above All as the Ishapians call Ishap.'
'But you're not talking of Ishap,' said Dominic.
'No, he's an important god, but he's not the Ultimate. I don't think this Ultimate even has a name. He just Is.' Nakor sighed. 'and you imagine a being with stars in its head, billions of them? We have blood and bile, it was worlds and comets and intelligent races… everything!'
Nakor was obviously excited by the image, and Pug glanced at Miranda, seeing her smile reflecting his own amusement at the strange little man's pleasure.
'The Ultimate, if you will, knows everything, is everything, but He's a baby. How do babies learn?'
Pug, who had raised his children, said, 'They watch, they are corrected by their parents, they mimic -'
'But,' interrupted Nakor, 'if you're a God, and there's no Mama God or Papa God, how do you learn?'
Miranda was caught up in the discourse and began to laugh. 'I have no idea.'
'You experiment,' said Dominic.
'Yes,' said Nakor, and his grin became even wider. 'You try things. You create things, like people, and you turn them loose to see what happens.'
Miranda said, 'So we're some sort of cosmic puppet theatre?'
'No,' said Nakor. 'God isn't watching us on a celestial stage, because God is also the puppets.'
'I'm completely lost,' admitted Pug.
'We're back to why we think,' explained Nakor. 'If God is everything, mind, spirit, thought, action, dirt, wind' - he glanced at Miranda - 'laundry, everything that is and can be, then each thing He is must be accounted for as having a purpose.
'What is life for?' he asked rhetorically. 'It's a way to evolve thought. And what is thought for? It's a way to be aware, a stage between the physical and the spiritual. And time? It's a good way to keep things separated. And lastly, why humans, and elves, and dragons, and other thinking creatures?'
Dominic said, 'So that spirit can be self-conscious?'
Nakor said, 'Right' He looked to be on the verge of doing a dance, 'Each time one of us goes to Lims-Kragma's hall, we're sharing our life experience with God. Then we go back and do it again, over and over.'
Miranda didn't look convinced. 'So you're saying we live in a universe where evil is just as much this God's fault as good?'
'Yes,' said Nakor. 'Because God doesn't see it as good or evil; God's learning about good and evil. To Him, it's just the odd way certain creatures behave.'
'Seems he's slow,' said Pug dryly.
'No, He's vast!' insisted Nakor. 'He's doing this over and over a billion billion times a day, on a billion worlds!'
Tomas said, 'At one time Pug and I asked Macros what the point was if we live in a universe this vast, this complex, should one little planet succumb to the Valheru. He told us the nature of the universe changed after the Chaos Wars and that a reemergence of the Valheru into Midkemia would change the order of things.'
'I think not,' said Nakor. 'Oh, I mean it would be a very unhappy situation for everyone on Midkemia, but eventually the universe would right itself. God is learning. Of course, billions of people could die before something happened to set things right again.'
Miranda said, 'You make it all sound so pointless!'
'If you look at it that way, yes' said Nakor. 'But I like to think the point is we're teaching God to do the correct thing - we're correcting a baby - and that good is worth struggling for, that kindness is better than hatred, that creation is better than destruction, and many other things as well.'
'Anyway,' said Pug,' it's far more of an academic question to the people living in the Kingdom.'
Calis said, 'Nakor's right.'
All eyes returned to Calis. 'He has just made it possible for me to understand what it is that is being done and why I'm here.'
Miranda asked, 'Why?'
Calis smiled. 'I need to unlock the Lifestone.'