FICTION / FANTASY /GODS
These are tales from the final battles between life and non-life,
between the great killing machines we came to call berserkers and
humanity, all that it was or had ever held dear.
MASQUE OF THE RED SHIFT
IN THE TEMPLE OF MARS
Something was driving waves of confusion through his mind, so that he knew not who he was, or where. How long ago what was happening had started or what had gone before it he could not guess. Nor could he resist what was happening, or even decide if he wanted to resist.
A chant beat on his ears, growled out by barbaric voices:On the wall there was painted a forest
And he could see the forest around him. Whether the trees and the chanting voices were real or not was a question he could not even formulate, with the confusion patterns racking his mind.
Through broken branches hideous to behold
There ran a cold and sighing sind
As if a storm would break down every bough
And downward, at the bottom of a hill
Stood the temple of Mars who is mighty in arms . . .
And he saw the temple. It was of steel, curved in the dread shape of a berserker's hull, and half-sunken in dark earth. At the entrance, gates of steel sang and shuddered in the cold wind rushing out of the temple, rushing out endlessly to rage through the shattered forest. The whole scene was gray, and lighted from above by an auroral flickering.
The northern lights shone in at the doors
For there was no window on the walls
Through which men might any light discern. . . .
He seemed to pass, with a conqueror's strides between the clawlike gates, toward the temple door.
The door was of eternal adamant
Bound lengthways and sideways with tough iron
And to make the timple stronger, every pillar
Was thick as a barrel, or iron bright and shiny.
The inside of the temple was a kaleidoscope of violence, a frantic abattoir. Hordes of phantasmal men were mowed down in scenes of war, women were slaughtered by machines, children crushed and devoured by animals. He, the conqueror, accepted it all, exulted in it all, even as he became aware that his mind, under some outer compulsion, was building it all from the words of the chant.
He could not tell how long it lasted. The end came abruptly--the pressure on his mind was eased, and the chanting stopped. . . .