About a week ago, I posted the first half of this scene, which is located in my previous post. I had to split it up because otherwise it looked freakishly long for a blog, and I left the first half posted for a while so everyone would see it. Here's the second half, featuring Ach'magut, the Overseer.
Eighteen hundred years ago
Bookshelves rose over the room, so high the top of each tower was hidden by distance. The human stood frozen, staring at the shadows between the shelves.
The darkness shifted and reality itself shook as the Great Elder heaved itself closer.
He could see it only in silhouette: a formless, shifting mass that was more of a distortion than anything he could wrap his mind around. It looked almost like one of the ten-legged spiders he'd seen before, only with far more legs. But as far as he could tell in the distance, none of those legs were the same shape. Some of them were tentacles, hundreds of paces long, that stuck onto the nearby book-towers and hauled the Elder's bulk forward. Other limbs had shapes that were harder to discern.
As it lurched forward, its presence grew stronger. The human had felt Nakothi's presence on more than one occasion, and her proximity made his skin crawl with its twisted blend of vibrant life and rotting death. This sensation was utterly different.
It was as though he understood everything in the world, but each fact only stayed for a fraction of a second before it left him entirely. He saw himself as a piece in a greater plan, sitting on a throne, and with only an instant more thought he could understand the steps leading to that future. Then the vision vanished, and he realized each of the bookshelves was also a load-bearing pillar. He could see how the weight was distributed, like a latticework of glowing lines scattered in each shelf. From this perspective, the library was hypnotic in its perfection, but he lost that vision as quickly as he'd lost the other.
He understood the exact distance between him and each of the Elderspawn spiders, and from that instant calculation, he understood they were arrayed in a very specific pattern, according to a singular design. They were not individuals as he understood the concept, but expressions of a single mind.
An instant later, that idea made no sense to him, leaving only a memory he couldn't understand.
Bits of language drifted through his mind, his thoughts translating themselves in words he'd never spoken. Time stretched, distorted, and spun by; time itself seemed a ridiculous concept, mortality a silly and unnecessary construction.
His confusion would have become panic if not for the pieces of absolute information that kept striking, dispersing his fears before they had a chance to form. He'd reach for his bone dagger, only to realize how stupid he'd look by drawing a weapon. Upon being faced with ultimate knowledge, why would he first react with violence? That would be denying what he sought.
Then he would shake it off and come back to himself again, moving for his weapon, and his thoughts would freeze in a splash of cold logic. An improvised weapon made of bone against a godlike Elder? He might as well not draw it. A display of hostility had a greater chance of getting him killed than actually protecting him.
The fit passed, he finally got a grip on his dagger, and he realized the Great Elder had arrived while he was distracted by his own mind. He had been swallowed up.
Or so it seemed. The Great Elder was nothing but limbs, ending at a single point he couldn't distinguish. An uncountable number of shifting digits and fleshy protrusions hung in the center of the library, hanging from tentacles and claws that grasped the nearby shelves. Stalks of flesh surrounded the human from all sides: stalk-eyes scanning his face, a sixteen-foot tongue flicking lightly over the skin of his arm, a flower-like trumpet pressing itself against his chest to hear his heartbeat.
Some of them were sensory organs he could recognize, or else intuit from the aura of knowledge that seemed to hang around this Elder like a cloud. Others were more obscure. One spidery arm ended in what looked like a metal prong that hummed and vibrated as though struck. Another tendril vented a cloud of coppery-smelling gas that flowed around him like a spirit, then returned. What were they sensing? The entity's entire body seemed designed to constantly reap a harvest of information.
When the words came, they brought with them absolute comprehension of their intent, making all other speech seem slow and clunky by comparison.
A DEVIANT. INTERESTING. BIOLOGICAL DEVIATION?
Elder fingers prodded, pressed against his throat to check his pulse, stared him in the eye from an inch away. Before it occurred to the human to respond verbally, the voice continued.
NO. BIOLOGICAL UNIQUENESS NEGLIGIBLE. PSYCHOLOGICAL?
This time, the Elder waited for the human to respond.
His first impulse was to fall to his knees. All the humans knew Elders tended to spare slaves who followed orders, and who were more helpful than troublesome. He wanted to live so badly his knees trembled, seeking the floor.
But he remained standing. He'd made a determination before leaving Nakothi's territory: he would find a way to work against the Elders, or he would die trying. This could be the beginning of either one of those fates.
“Before we begin,” he said, “what should I call you?” His voice sounded woefully inadequate next to that of the Great Elder, but it didn't quake. For that, he was proud.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ANOMALY CONFIRMED. MORE INTERESTING. One or more of its limbs let out a whistling sound, like a flute. I AM ACH'MAGUT.
That last word came loaded with more meaning than the rest of the Elder's statements combined. It wasn't just a name, but a description.
He was Ach'magut, the custodian of knowledge. The guardian of thought. He with an eternal appetite that can never be sated. He would know everything, and by knowing it, control it. By controlling it, know it. There was no such thing as destruction, only the conversion of existence from one form into another, and Ach'magut was one who craved to understand everything in all its forms.
He watched all, guided all, supervised all, discovered all. As Nakothi was the Dead Mother, he was the Overseer.
Its voice sounded masculine, so the human had started to think of it as a 'he,' but the name came with a forcible reminder that the Great Elder was neither male nor female. It reproduced in a manner the human could not even remotely comprehend. Still, the word “it” made him think of an object, and the Elder was certainly alive. In a way, it made ordinary men and women seem dull and lifeless by comparison.
For the sake of his own sanity, the human decided to continue thinking of Ach'magut as a 'he.'
“I am...” the human started to introduce himself, but he stopped when he realized he could never define himself as the Great Elder had. Other slaves had referred to him by name, of course. He'd come to realize that people could not interact with anything without naming it. Even Nakothi's Handmaidens had called him individually on a handful of occasions. But he had nothing like a standard name, because there had been no need for it.
The other workers on his usual shift called him “Miner,” “Ditch-digger,” or “Rock-hauler,” because those were his usual duties. The woman who had kept him safe as a child called him “Clean,” because he was always cleaner than the other children. Every person in his life had a different name for him.
But until this moment, he had never realized he had no name for himself.
The buzzing metallic fork, the one that grew organically from one of Ach'magut's tentacles, hovered by his ear. It sounded like a nest of wasps.
NAMELESS. ALONE. DEVIANT. INTERESTING.
“...I am one who comes here looking for knowledge,” the human said.
It was a gamble. The Great Elder could pity him as a fellow knowledge-seeker or punish him as a potential competitor. Judging by what he'd felt as the Elder approached, he suspected that it would consider all possible reactions and choose one based on some alien set of criteria.
In this case, the limbs shivered like a tree in the wind. One bulb spat out a cloud of spores. Time itself stretched for a long instant, and the human could practically feel possibilities branching out from this moment as the Great Elder deliberated.
Whether to break him down into his components, press him into service, or let him do as he wished in the library.
Finally, the verdict came.
CHANGE COMES FROM DEVIATION. UNDERSTANDING COMES FROM CHANGE. DEVIANCE CANNOT BE PREDICTED.
Ach'magut delivered these lines not as an expression of his own thoughts, but almost as though they were a riddle. He delivered them like a prophecy, as though he'd told the human everything.
“Do you want something from me? Is this a deal?”
A jet-black eye on a stalk swiveled around the human’s neck, studying him from multiple angles. I AM NOT THARLOS. WHAT I WANT IS NOT CHANGE FOR ITS OWN SAKE. I WANT THE FUTURE.
And in those words, the human saw the future, or at least an Elder vision of it. All knowledge, all wisdom, unified into one organism. A single, perfect consciousness that could bend in on itself, searching its own infinite contours for further inspiration.
The idea was so incomprehensible, so fundamentally impossible, that the human’s mind staggered back. Ach’magut believes that I am the path. Or at least one step in that direction.
So be it. If he had to walk the same road as one Elder to uproot the others, he would do it with a smile on his face.
The Elder limbs withdrew back to their origin, and Ach'magut began his strange, swinging crawl as he progressed back into the distance of his unimaginably vast library. Now that he was moving again, he once again threw off bits of information like sparks from a fire. The human knew the exact number of bookshelves in the entire building one instant, and the next, he understood the complex ecosystem of air, moisture, mold and insects among the books.
SHOW ME THE FUTURE, FORMER SLAVE, Ach'magut said, leaving the room behind him.
The Great Elder's definition shook the human from his bones outward, rocking his body and mind. He was a slave no longer. He had well and truly left servitude behind.
From here, he could lead.
Of the Cradle series
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