AN EPILOGUE: Doubt & Wonder (Part 2)

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Moor watched as a glass tank was revealed, slowly rising with puffs of dust and steam

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Moor watched as a glass tank was revealed, slowly rising with puffs of dust and steam. Within the tank stood a small and withered man, his body and limbs wrapped in strips of black cloth. He was bald and pale-skinned. His eyelids were sown together with twine and his lips were fused around a glass tube that connected to a box held in his thin-fingered hands. The box was diamond-shaped and dark, but the symbols carved into its surface glowed with a dull purple hue. A second glass tube ran from the box and disappeared into the withered man's temple. Thick fluid travelled along both tubes.

A second click was followed by a long sigh, and the man in the tank spoke. 'Greetings.' His voice, stony and emotionless, came from all places at once.

Viktor Gadreel was the first to reply. 'Where is Lord Spiral?' he demanded.

The answer was matter-of-fact. 'I am to instruct you in the Lord Spiral's absence.'

Moor looked around the table. They all knew the abomination in the tank, and knew him well. His name was Voice of Known Things, and not one of them would dare refute him, for he had been created by Lord Spiral to speak the truth. Voice of Known Things was incapable of mistake or lie, and his word was the word of their absent master.

'The war has reached its conclusion,' the emotionless voice continued. 'The Timewatcher's army has proved too strong, and Her Thaumaturgists have pressed their advantage. Our allies among the Houses of the Aelfir have been broken and scattered. Even as I speak, the Lord Spiral's enemies are clinching the final victory.'

'Then the war is lost,' Tabet whimpered. Her eyelids fluttered, struggling to stay open. 'Lost ...' Blood dripped from her earlobe onto the shoulder of her cassock.

Gadreel growled defiance. 'No. I will not accept that.' He jabbed the bloodied cloth towards Voice of Known Things. 'The Great Labyrinth can still be ours – I refuse to sit idly by while our lord falls.'

Harrow, his facial burns weeping and ugly, hissed between chattering teeth, 'Yes. Better to die in battle.'

Moor remained silent. Only he understood there was more to this situation than his comrades realised – or so he thought until he noticed Mo Asajad, smiling at him through the glass tank. The other three had not grasped the obvious: none of them would have been saved if it did not serve some greater purpose in the war.

'You will do only as the Lord Spiral commands,' Voice of Known Things said. It was simply a statement: the truth. 'The war for the Great Labyrinth is lost, but your master does not lose hope in the face of defeat. Never again will he bow to the rule of the Timewatcher and Her Thaumaturgists, and nor will his generals.'

A moment of silence passed before Asajad said, 'How then can we serve our lord in these times of despair?'

Fluid gurgled along the glass tubes, and Voice of Known Things replied, 'No despair can last forever.' He turned his head to Moor, as though those ruined eyes could see him. 'History will record that each of you died during the final days of the war. That is as intended. That is as it should be.'

He allowed a further moment of silence to pass, and the glow of the symbols upon the diamond-shaped box in his bony hands intensified. 'The plans of your master have not changed, and your orders remain the same.' It seemed his words were directed at Moor alone. Then, 'Your flesh is the sacrifice, but your souls are reserved for the Lord Spiral's will. In this matter you have no choice.'

'And never could we conceive of refusing him,' Asajad said. Her voice had become whispery, excited.

'Indeed,' Moor added.

He felt a thrill that banished his pain and fatigue. Gadreel, Harrow and Tabet seemed perplexed as they stared at the abomination in the glass tank, but Moor understood where they were being led, as he had always known. For the first time, he returned Asajad's mirthless smile through the glass tank.

Once again the stony, emotionless Voice of Known Things spoke from all places at once.

'You are the vanguard of the future. You are the last of the Genii.'

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