Reuben was senseless again, drunk on Lÿhhraa, until they landed and he tumbled from her arms onto something coarse and black and burningly hot–so hot Reuben heard himself scream a little bit–and when he stood there was fire and smoke and coal and soot-licked vats of glowing, bubbling liquid over immense fire-beds, and all around there was a bitter, acrid smell like burning earth or singeing fur or summer caught on fire, the effect of which was nearly enough to knock Reuben over–in fact, he might have let it if the stuff underneath his feet didn't threaten to burn off his skin with prolonged contact. Suddenly the place began shaking and as Reuben struggled to keep his balance, as the vats' contents sloshed round and about and out down their soot-streaked sides, as enormous falling rocks began tumbling from a dark, unseen ceiling, there echoed through the place a sound like nothing Reuben had ever heard before: a deep, wild, terrifying laugh.
The laugh of Mmsnnyo, earth-god, He Who Remembers.
The laughter stopped, the shaking ceased–not entirely; the vats' glowing surfaces still trembled in fear, and far above Reuben could still hear pebbles falling–and Lÿhhraa stood with a pale face turned towards the only entrance or exit in sight, an enormous, black, yawning cave of even greater darkness, from which came sliding a black-as-black shadow, ten feet tall–no, three feet–half an inch–twenty miles–a quarter of a meter–Reuben looked away, the sight made him dizzy–and of such solid blackness that not even the light from the fires and vats could break it or lighten it; it slid along the wall, along the floor, along the ceiling, through cracks and crevices in the surrounding rocks, until finally it lurked behind a vat very near to the mad goddess and the staggered Dreamer–Lÿhhraa spat at the fire and raised a thin, ghostly hand, which seemed to glow in the eerie light–or almost to transmit it, like the wax of a burning candle–
"Mmsnnyo!" she yelled. "Draw nigh, our brother Paag has sent a Dreamer."
"Oh, for me?" said the shadow, sliding out into the open. "He shouldn't have."
"Yes, I know. That's why he didn't," Lÿhhraa said, watching the shadow slowly take on form and color and depth until it was a man that looked like a shadow, rather than a shadow which looked like a man. The god slowly approached.
"If he is not for me, then why has the great Paag sent him?" he asked, eyes on the Dreamer. Reuben shifted uncomfortably.
"I brought him," said the goddess; "oh behalf of Paag. It seems he has forgotten something–the Dreamer, I mean–and it seems that something was, or is, or will be if it is not now, important."
"I do not follow."
"His mind, Mmsynno, his mind." She tapped a long white finger against her temple. "It has forgotten something."
"Are you sure you did not take it?"
She laughed dryly. "Your humor astounds me, brother. But when it comes to men's minds, I prefer to take the whole thing."
"That is not the only thing of theirs that you prefer to take in its entirety," Mmsynno said.
A touch of paleness entered her pale cheeks. "You swore you would never speak of that one." A great darkness came into her clear, clear eyes, and even though it was not directed at him, Reuben felt a nauseating terror take him over.
The earth-god laughed madly. "No, but can I forget it? No! I rembember everything!" He began singing it, like a child. "I remember everything; I remember everything; everybody knows, and let nobody forget, that Mmsynno the earth remembers ev-ry-thing!" The sound echoed and echoed across the rocks, growing more and more crazed as it faded. "I remember . . . I remembeIr emember I re memberIrem em . . . I rememberI re mem berIremembe rIreme mber . . . rememI ber I remIemb IerIr emIemb erIr . . . bIe rIr em Iemb erIb I . . . I . . . berI . . . I . . . "
Mmsynno suddenly turned back to Lÿhhraa, who was looking paler and paler every moment. "Tell me, dearest sister, what shall I do for you?" Toxic honey dripped on every word.
She slowly motioned to Reuben. "Take . . . him," she whispered, "and find . . . the thing he's for- . . . " –a deep, high, rasping breath– " . . . forgotten." Her hand dropped to her side.
Mmsynno smiled sweetly, stickily. "And what about your shackle? Are you ready for me to file it off?"
She shook her head weakly, long hair barely moving except at the crown–and even there the movement was slight-to-none. "No . . . " she gasped. "The answer . . . is always . . . no."
And with that the goddess disappeared, leaving Paag's Dreamer alone with the god of memory.
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