Do not call up what you cannot put down. No precept of the magical arts is more important than this one. It commands the magician to invoke no power without first considering the dire results likely to come of that invocation, and then preparing an adequate defense against every contingency that may arise. More than one good sorcerer’s life has been saved by following this simple rule. But mistakes in sorcery often affect more than the sorcerer who makes them. His family, his community and even his world may also suffer for his foolishness. Therefore it is not enough to apply this rule to one’s personal actions alone. The conscientious sorcerer must also apply it to the actions of those around him, and, if need be, prevent those actions by whatever means may be required.
I will not soon forget the chain of events that brought this great truth home to me, Eibon of Mhu Thulan. I was traveling by camel through the sandy desert north of Tscho Vulpanomi. I had heard of the lakes of boiling asphalt that are the notable feature of that distant land, the southernmost of all the Hyperborean continent, and I wished to behold their natural wonder for myself. The desert above is flat and empty, allowing the observer to see incredibly far in any direction he chooses, but showing him next to nothing in every direction he looks. So my surprise may well be imagined when, chancing to turn my eyes toward the east, I saw what appeared to be a dark stone figure reclining along the far horizon, a gigantic and naked human figure lying on its back in the desert sand!
No one could look on such a sight and not wish to know more about it. But when I turned to question my guide he showed some reluctance to answer me. Even when pressed he would only say that the figure was unlucky to look at or talk about, and that only by ignoring it could we put ourselves safely beyond it. Yet even his evasions stoked the fires of my blazing curiosity.
“This promises to be more interesting,” I said, “than a lake of boiling asphalt. I must examine it more closely. But I will not ask you to accompany me to a place you find so fearful. You tell me Tscho Vulpanomi is no more than a half-day’s ride from here. Go on ahead and await me there. I will rejoin you before sunset.”
I did not wait for his reply, but turned my camel at once toward my distant goal. Yet I was still some way from understanding how distant it really was. I traveled an hour in its direction without closing or even seeming to reduce the emptiness between it and me. The figure only grew larger the farther I advanced, until it filled half the horizon before me. But no matter how large the figure grew, it lost no part of its human appearance. It only grew truer to that appearance the closer to it I came, until I could no longer entertain the idea that it was any kind of natural formation. Perhaps it had been natural once but modified since by some other agency. Perhaps by the army of tiny human figures I now saw working around its base.
At this point my camel, which had borne me so far without complaint, suddenly declined to bear me farther, and no amount of cajoling could break its iron resolve. “Must we part company also?” I said to it. “No matter. The remaining distance is not so great that I cannot cross it on my own two feet. But wait here for my return.”
Thereafter I continued on foot and alone. I felt I could do so in relative safety, for while the flat and barren sand offered little in the way of actual cover, those I approached were too occupied with their own business to give a thought to mine. But I was too optimistic in my appraisal, for no sooner had I made it than two small figures broke free of the rest and started walking toward me. A moment later they stood side by side in front of me. Their appearance should have been threatening, yet it struck me as only sad. They were freakishly tall and skeletally thin, with empty eyes and expressionless faces. They were both quite naked, even of hair, and their skins were burned almost to blackness by the scorching desert sun. Neither spoke, but each raised a single long arm and pointed a finger behind him.
“You wish me to accompany you,” I said. “Under normal circumstances I would think twice before accepting so doubtful an invitation. But since my curiosity drives me in your direction already, I cannot do better than follow you. Lead on!”
And so they did. They led me on to the great stone figure, first directly toward the upper left arm, then indirectly around the shoulder toward the neck. We passed many workers along the way, all of them in the same sad state as the two who conducted me. But unlike my conductors they showed no interest in me. They continued in their silent occupations, picking at the dirt and rocks in which the giant figure was half embedded, and carrying away the rocks and dirt they had already picked. Yet they worked so slowly at these colossal tasks that I guessed they would still be at them for many years to come.
Between the shoulder and the neck arose a wooden stair, a ragged line of steps and ladders scaling the giant figure to its top. My conductors took me up this stair, one going close before me and the other coming close behind. As tall as the figure had seemed from the desert floor, it was so much taller now that we climbed above it. The horizon behind us grew higher and higher, and the diggers beneath us lower and lower, until the former looked like the rim of a deep silver bowl and the latter like ants at its bottom. It was a relief to reach the top of the figure and see it laid out before us like a vast plain of stone. It was only when I looked beyond this plain that I saw what it truly was: the upper shoulder of a man so large that three hundred men laid end to end would not have equaled him.
My conductors led me along the shoulder to the throat, and over the throat to the cliff of the chin, and to the foot of a tall wooden structure standing directly beneath it. The sight of this structure gave me pause, for it was little less imposing than the figure that supported it. It was an open framework of wooden beams, rather like a siege tower, but a siege tower full of wheels and ropes and nets of hanging boulders. An arrangement so complex must undoubtedly have a purpose, but there was no time now to determine it. We climbed a wooden ladder up one side of this tower, to step onto a wooden deck that reached just short of the enormous chin. And here I found a wide array of seven thick cables running out of the tower, across the deck and over the chin, to disappear at regular intervals between the stony lips.
“Confess!” said a man’s voice close beside me. “Confess that you have never beheld a sight as great as this one!”
I quickly turned to find the speaker. For a moment I wondered if he was referring to himself, so dramatic a figure did he cut. He was nearly as tall as the naked diggers, but unlike them he wore a light and flowing hooded robe more suitable to this desert land. Only his face looked out of it, as hairless as the diggers’ but not nearly as thin and dark. His eyes were an outland blue. His stance suggested that he had been waiting here for quite some time, and that he had been watching our slow ascent of not only the tower but also the figure under it. I wondered why I had not observed him before. But there was little of either of us to observe against the scale of our vast surroundings.
“I do confess it,” I replied in perfect honesty. “I consider myself a student of the world, one who has traveled its length and breadth to see its many wonders. But in all my travels I have never seen a wonder as great as this. I am Eibon of Mhu Thulan.”
“And I am Omneron, formerly of Cerngoth. I welcome you, Eibon, to my present home.”
“May I take it, Omneron, that you are the one who has brought me here?”
“I am. My elevated position gives my vision an unparalleled range. I saw your approach over the western sands almost from the moment you began it. I knew of course what drew you here. And I instructed my servants to bring you up so that you could observe it at closer hand.”
“And may I take it also that you are the discoverer of this figure?”
“Alas, I am not. The figure has been well known in this part of the world for many centuries, though local superstition has kept it from being visited or even much discussed. But it has not always been as accessible as now, for the desert so covered it that little remained above the surface. So although I did not discover it, I am the one responsible for its present uncovered state. And I am the one who will be responsible for whatever is heard of it hereafter.”
“Its uncovering alone was an heroic task. I cannot imagine the volume of sand and rock you had to displace. I can barely comprehend the scale of the figure itself.”
“The scale of the figure is vast indeed. It has the length of three hundred and twenty men, with breadth and depth in proportion. Its weight is incalculable. Weight, as you may know, is not based on volume alone, but also on the density of the object being weighed. And the density of this figure exceeds that of man as much as stone does flesh.”
“It must have been an important god to elicit the tribute of such a portrait. Which does it represent?”
I thought this question was a reasonable one, certainly no less reasonable than the others I had asked. Why then did Omneron look so surprised?
“I beg your pardon, Eibon. I thought you understood. The figure represents no god, for the simple reason that it is not a representation. It is the god itself.”
“The god itself?”
“Do you question it? Why? Surely you are not one of those who doubt the gods’ existence. It must be the godhead of this figure alone you doubt. But I promise you will doubt no longer when you have examined the evidence fully and fairly, for it is as large as the figure itself. Its dimensions I have already given. It is far too large to have been carried here in one solid piece, yet there are no joints to indicate that it was ever in more than one. But it cannot have been carved from local stone, for there is no stone like it anywhere in the world. No force on earth can cut or break it, yet sufficient force can stretch or bend it if judiciously applied. A figure from outside the world, a titanic figure that can only have entered the world under its own colossal power. What explanation can there be to tie these things together? Clearly there is only one. The figure is a god.”
“There may be something in what you say,” I admitted. “But you cannot expect the world to accept it without more solid proof than this.”
Omneron looked at me strangely.
“It is interesting you should say that, Eibon, for in a moment you may see that proof. I am about to begin an experiment which, if it ends as I believe, will provide us with proof so solid that not even you will question it. If the figure is stone it has never lived and can never live again. But if it is a god it can never die, though it has lain unmoving as a stone for many millions of years. And I will awaken it.”
“And how will you do that?” I asked.
For answer he thrust his hand into the loose robe over his heart, and withdrew an ornate leather case. This square case was fully as long and wide as the spread fingers of the hand that held it, but only as deep as the palm.
“This case contains a gong,” he said. “It is no ordinary gong, nor would an ordinary gong serve my need. For it is not the volume of sound that matters. The sleeper has endured the thunders of the sky above and the earth below without any disturbance to his sleep, and what sound can a man produce that would be the match of these? It is not the volume that matters but the tone: a special tone that can penetrate the atoms of dead flesh, exciting and attuning them to its own peculiar vibration, awakening them to that mysterious motion which is life. I have discovered such a sound. And I have devised this means to produce it.”
“But if you possess the means,” I said, “then why have you not applied it?”
“Because it is not as easy as it sounds. The ears are the obvious points of entry, yet I found I could not use them. The god’s head, like the rest of its body, is deeply embedded in cradling earth that time has turned to solid stone. The ears are buried completely. And even if I could dig down to them I would only find their channels blocked, as I found the nostrils before them. But my studies in human anatomy have established the presence of a second set of auditory channels, leading from the inner ears into the upper throat. Since the god follows the human form in all external ways, he likely follows it in internal ways as well. And since the mouth is as far above the earth as the ears are below it, a bit less effort is required to open it.”
“Which brings us to the wooden tower,” I said.
“Yes. That also is my work. Its construction was nearly as laborious as the unearthing of the god beneath. Every timber was cut and shaped in the forests of the north. Every cable and fitting was made to my own specification in my own private workshops. Every component was transported many miles over land and water to be assembled here. But although its structure is complex, its function is very simple. There on the front is a great spoked wheel, not unlike the wheel that steers a ship. Turning that wheel will retract those cables which are fastened with hooks between the lower teeth. This retraction will tip the jaw forward and downward, opening the mouth. My plan, then, is to open it just wide enough for me to enter it. To lower myself to the upper throat midway between those auditory channels. And there to strike my life-restoring gong.”
“Your explanation, Omneron, is clear and concise,” I said. “Perhaps it is too concise. For you have not said why you will do these things.”
“Why? Is it not obvious? Eibon, you are a student of the world, familiar with its wonders and its horrors. I hardly need point out to you that the world is not as it should be, that it has fallen far from the state of perfection for which its creator made it. For every faith under heaven agrees that the world did not arise of itself, that it needed a creator to shape it from the primal chaos, even as a pot requires a potter to form it from the formless clay. And every faith under heaven knows that, almost from the moment of its creation, the world has suffered from its creator’s neglect. How can this be? How can the creator, who made the world with such obvious care, have left it to slide untended into darkness and depravity and decay? Every faith has grappled with this question for as long as faiths have been. Many answers have been propounded, each more convoluted than the last, from the grand interference of rival gods to the petty willfulness of men. Yet the real answer is very simple indeed. After the wearing work of creation, the weary creator rested. He has rested ever since. But now his long epochs of rest and neglect are both about to end. For I, Omneron of Cerngoth, have uncovered his sleeping body. I, Omneron of Cerngoth, am going to waken him. Thus I, Omneron of Cerngoth, will restore the world to its original perfect state.
“So there you have it, Eibon, my grand experiment in all its scope. And there you have the other reason I instructed my servants to bring you here. My servants are well enough in their way, but they have no minds of their own. They can only perform the actions I command of them. And while my experiment threatens little in the way of actual danger, I would feel more secure with an intelligent and resourceful man to back me. I am therefore pleased to offer you, Eibon of Mhu Thulan, this glorious opportunity to lend me your able assistance.”
Here Omneron stopped and awaited my reply. Perhaps he expected me to praise him for the brilliance of his plan, or perhaps to thank him for his generosity in allowing me a part in it. Either way he would be disappointed.
“You have clearly given some thought to this,” I said. “But have you given any thought to what will happen if you succeed? You say the world is imperfect. No doubt it is. But we, and all we know in it, have grown up out of that imperfection. If you succeed in your plan of awakening its creator, what will happen to our world then? At the best he will change it greatly. At the worst he will discard it for its imperfection and begin his creation anew. Either way there will be no place left for such imperfect creatures as you and I. No, Omneron! I cannot in good conscience take part in your experiment, and I cannot advise you to do so either. I can only urge you to give it up, to re-cover the figure and leave this place. Or better still, to leave at once and let the desert cover it by itself.”
But even as I spoke these words I realized they were useless. Omneron’s face grew hard.
“I should have expected this reaction,” he said. “If history teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that all great men have received such advice from the timid and short-sighted ones who would turn them from their work. But all great men have ignored their advice, and I will ignore yours. I will do more than that. I will grant you a favor that those other great men did not grant to their doubters and detractors. I would have welcomed your cooperation, but I do not require it to obtain your aid. Do you see my servants standing there? You must realize by now that they are no ordinary men. They are the bodies of the dead I recovered from their desert tombs, the bodies I recalled to life to prove the efficacy of my gong. They are mindless because they died too many years before I raised them. But I believe I can get better results from a subject who is fresher.”
I looked back at the two tall figures standing like statues a little way behind me. The living dead? What other explanation was there for their slowness, their stiffness, their looks of dull despair? How dull was I not to have seen it sooner? And was this what Omneron planned for me if he found there was no other way to secure my cooperation?
“There is no need for such drastic measures,” I said. “I bow to your superior logic. I will be happy to assist however I can in your grand experiment.”
“I am pleased to hear it,” Omneron replied. “For now we can begin.”
He looked to his servants and barked a short command. They went at once to the great spoked wheel and began to turn it on its heavy axle. It turned very slowly and painfully, with much groaning and creaking of wood and rope. But it did the work required of it, shortening the straining cables and tipping the great jaw out and down. I looked between the parting lips to see what lay beneath them. But beyond the gigantic stony teeth and the tip of the stony tongue, there was only a deep and impenetrable darkness.
When the jaws had opened sufficiently to allow the passage of a slender man, Omneron barked a second command. His servants tied off the wheel with a loop of thick rope lying ready beneath it, and turned to stand like sentries on either side of it. Then he turned his attention to three other ropes lying in coils on the deck. The first was a slender line attached with a hook to a small cloth bag. Into this he tied the leather case that held his gong and striker. The second coil was fixed to a wire cage in the shape of a sphere, a hollow sphere enclosing a dangling copper lamp. This he lit. The third coil was the largest and heaviest, a lengthy ladder of sturdy rope. This he dragged to the open mouth and let fall inside it, so that it hung into the darkness below.
Next he put off his loose and flowing garments so that only his loincloth and sandals remained, and he stood before me nearly as naked as his servants though far less sunburned and lean. “It is better thus,” he said. “The robe would have hindered me in climbing and my limbs must be free. You of course need no such preparation, since I alone will make the descent. You will remain behind to carry out such instructions as I call up to you. And the first of these is to lower the lamp behind me as I go, so that I need not juggle it whilst I climb.”
At last he seated himself on the stony lip and swung over and behind it. I watched as first his chest and then his shoulders and finally his head sank behind the swelling curve of the gigantic tongue. But even then I could see the glow of the light that followed him, even then I could hear the sound of his voice calling back his instructions and observations. His voice was somewhat softer now, muffled by obstruction and distance. But I could not help wondering if it was also softened by awe at his gloomy and cavernous surroundings.
“Omneron!” I called. “I cannot see you. Are you still there?”
“Yes, Eibon, I am here. I had a difficult few moments getting over the tongue, but I am past it now. Now it rises like a swelling cliff above and before me, and the hard palate rises like another cliff behind. I descend between them like a spider on a thread. Will the thread be long enough, I wonder? Now the hard palate gives way to the soft, and the soft palate also passes above me. And now the auditory openings appear in the walls on either side. I have reached my destination. Eibon, tie off the lamp!”
I wound the slack of the rope around a wooden cleat set in the deck for that purpose. “The lamp is tied off,” I called.
“Very well. Then it is time for the next step. But first I must make myself more secure. I slip my legs between the rungs of the ladder, so that I am supported by my buttocks as well as my feet. Next I thrust my head and arms between these higher rungs, so that I am also supported by my shoulders and neck, with my hands free for ready use. Now I am quite secure. A sailor in his rigging is not so secure as I. For the sailor can be upset by the wind, but there is no wind here. Though who can say what wind there will be when the great god awakens and draws his first breath! I am ready. Eibon, send down the gong!”
“It is coming now,” I called. And I began to lower on its separate rope the bag which contained the gong. But the cloth bag did not descend as easily as the wire cage had done. I had to play the rope to keep it moving, much as an angler plays his line to attract the interest of his fish.
“Confound you, Eibon! Where is that gong? Wait, I see it. But it comes too far upon my left. You must move it back again. Now the rope is within my reach, but the bag is past me. You will have to draw it up. Never mind. I have the rope. I will draw it up myself. There, the bag is in my hands. Now all I need do is untie and open it. But wait! There is something wrong here! Damn you, Eibon, what have you done? Eibon, answer me! Eibon! EIBON! EIB—”
And that was all. That was the last word Omneron said, the last word he would ever say, as I had foreseen from the first. Even as he sank beneath my sight, I drew a dagger from my sleeve. Even as I lowered the lamp behind him, I sawed a deep cut in one of the seven ropes that held the great mouth open. Even as I dropped the bag to him, I made a similar cut in a second rope. And even as he called to me, I touched my blade to a third. I did not need to do more. For at that very instant the three cut ropes gave out as one, and the four uncut ones gave with them. Lips, teeth and jaws clapped thunderously shut, biting off Omneron’s final word and sealing up all further sounds forever.
The rest of my story is quickly told. Omneron had not exaggerated when he said that his servants had no minds of their own. Without their master to guide or direct them, they had no thought to block my escape or interfere with me in any way. I departed quickly by the shortest route and soon put the sleeping giant behind me. Within the hour I rejoined my waiting camel, and shortly before sunset we arrived beside the boiling tars of Tscho Vulpanomi.
I had told my guide I would meet him here, and presently I would do so. But first I had a more pressing obligation. Alone I proceeded beneath the darkening sky to the uttermost edge of the bubbling tar. And from this edge I cast two metal objects into its bottomless depths. May no man find them and be tempted to see Omneron’s grand experiment to its disastrous end.
Gary Myers fell under the shadow of Lovecraft at the tender age of sixteen and never completely escaped it. His first Cthulhu Mythos story was purchased by August Derleth in 1969. His first collection was published by Derleth’s Arkham House in 1975. His books include The House of the Worm, a cycle of dream fantasies in the manner of Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany; Dark Wisdom, a cycle of Lovecraftian horrors in a more modern vein; and Gray Magic, a novel-length episode of Eibon of Mhu Thulan. Gary lives in California with his wife Jennifer, their cat Mocha and a large collection of fantasy books and movies.
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Story illustration by Anthony Pearce.