Monday, January 01, 1990

Devil's Hour: A Tale of Alyria

1329....1330...1331.... The Keeper’s breath was heavy as he entered the meditation chamber atop the tower of Kron. He paused to catch his breath, a difficult task while trying to speak the True Name of Pheric. “3A....FF....57....32....AE....2A...,” he gasped. It was his first night to perform the Rite of Perpetual Vigilance. (As a novice he had nicknamed it the Rite of Thumb Twiddling, which had earned him a beating.) He clutched the oil lamp—no electricity for the Rite of Perpetual Vigilance—and the ritual hourglass. For the first time he took a closer look at the room. It was small and bare. A single window looked over the city. On the floor below it was a kneeler and a single lever. Two small shelves flanked the window. The Keeper knew what he had to do. Kneeling on the kneeler, he placed the lamp on the shelf on the left side of the window and the hourglass on the shelf on the right side. Then he made the sign of the Gear. “Pheric (blessed be), be pleased to preserve your people and your city through this hour.” As he finished praying, the bell of Kron sounded.

It was like nothing the young Keeper had experienced. The entire room shook and reverberated with the sound. Twelve times Kron spoke, and each time the Keeper shuddered. Then, suddenly, Kron was silent. The Keeper was so nervous that he almost forgot the next part of the rite. Whispering a prayer to Pheric, he pulled the lever.

Kron clanked to a halt. Looking from the window, he could see the lights going out across the city. The factories ground to a halt. Soon all was silent. Trembling slightly the Keeper reached out to the hourglass and turned it over. Fine black sand began running from the top half into the bottom half. The Keeper watched it eagerly. It would only be an hour. He groped in his robe for the Gear around his neck and began to pray the Cycle.

A noise interrupted him. It sounded like a scream. He jumped and looked out the window. The Weeping Moon had risen and was passing through the sky, shedding blood-red light and blood-red rain on the land. But the Keeper could see nothing. Again the scream. Now the Keeper knew what he was hearing. The Howling Lands. Home of the Restored who were too brain-dead to be useful, turned loose to wander the wild, forever mindless, forever moaning. The Keeper shuddered. What a fate.
The sand ran slowly. Several times the Keeper nearly fell asleep, his head on the windowsill. Each time he shook himself awake, berating himself for his lack of devotion. Just a few more minutes....

A drop of some liquid spattered on his head. Startled, he looked up and was spattered by another falling drop striking his forehead. With a cry he fell backwards. He landed in a most undignified position and scuttled away from the window. He wiped his forehead and his hand came away red. Tales from his boyhood returned. Demons walked the night during Devil’s Hour. What if one was on the roof, feasting on unholy food? Part of his mind was screaming, gibbering, wanting to do nothing more than flee. But his Keeper training reasserted itself. There are no such things as demons. The peasants tell such tales, but true men of faith do not believe such nonsense. Laughing in embarrassment at his reaction, he returned to the kneeler.

By the time the hourglass was finished, his eyes were heavy and bloodshot with the effort of remaining awake. Even now, he would need to be awake at five for Matins. He rushed through the last prayer, bowed, and grabbed the hourglass and lamp. “1331 steps between me and my bed,” he thought. Time to get started. 1.... 2.... 3.... 4.... 5.... “3A....FF....57....32....AE....2A,” he intoned as he marched down the stairs. He wiped his forehead on his sleeve. The red liquid was still there. He would definitely need to take a bath before Matins. His voice and lamp faded into the darkness as he continued down the stairs.


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