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M. Rythiov

(written in 2560)

This novel is a fictional autobiography of Xarágatha Renerico Piorro Phænor Semblum, last emperor of the Wendem. Although ostensibly an apologia for his own misdeeds and faults, as the emperor who presides over the collapse of a once-great empire, the ‘author’ becomes sidelined into describing the achievements or otherwise of many of his predecessors. This extract is taken from the story of Phabulum.

Having conquered Paectiole, their great leader Phabulum is seeking to assert Wendem authority over the whole of the island, including its mysterious hinterland. Qyphron-Xækror, the Golden City, is a fabled fortress, finally captured after a long siege and many bloody battles. Phabulum is taken around the vanquished city by his Chief General, Manxœphra, and shown its treasures.

Then they came to the temple, a rambling monument yet all the more emphatic for this, standing bleak in its ruination. They entered its open shell and stood awed by the overgrown, tussocky space of sepulchral calm. At the far end, where once an altar had been raised to the powers of strange, shadowy gods, there stood a vast monument, which drew the men towards its magnificent austerity as if with some deep-rooted power of hypnosis. They stood before it, their heads back, contemplating its massiveness, hardly daring to disturb its solemnity by their breath.

‘What does the inscription say?’ murmured Phabulum.

‘Apparently to the effect that this is a monument to the gift bestowed on Man by Nature; that this is raised in honour to human creation and thought, and that the dereliction of temples will henceforth mark the embellishment of Nature,’ explained Manxœphra, reading from the strange script.

‘Interesting. So they turned their backs on the old culture in which they had achieved their state of rationality, and lived from then on only for Reason...’

‘It would appear to have been that way.’

‘And this monument became the new altar of their faith? Fascinating!’

‘Isn’t it? Now, if you come this way, you’ll begin to see the real miracles of this Golden City.’

‘But why Golden City, exactly? It all looks awfully stark and bare to me.’

‘Manxœphra just smiled knowingly, and led Phabulum behind the monument, where a gaping, black cave led to steps into the darkness beneath the hill. Around this, a grand gateway had been hewn out of the rock itself onto which the temple had once backed.

 ‘It was from here that we first emerged from below, once we had captured the city. We had seen most of the the city’s treasures by then, but this was still a wondrous place to emerge into. This gateway is the main entrance into the city.’

‘You mean to say that Qyphron-Xækror is an underground city?’


They descended into the darkness, and emerged after some moments first into narrow, winding passageways, half-lit by candles in square openings or above shadowy doors and recesses, then into wide avenues, golden-bright with burning lamps, and lined with houses and shops set into the solid earth. On the ceilings glinted gem-studded mirrors, from which yet more ornate ironwork-lamps hung.

Aghast, Phabulum let Manxœphra lead him through these streets into wider avenues where grass and flowers wound up the middle of the street, and through open squares, where carved pillars supported the roof of solid rock, rising like the tree-trunk sentinels of normal parks. Soft, warm light was reflected and refracted all around the pale stone of the buildings in the coloured depths of precious gems implanted into the rock. One alleyway was paved with burnished brass and mosaics of priceless stones.

© Copyright Paul David Holland 2017