A Dream Within
by Danielle L. Parker
Perhaps because the world is waxing old, I have chosen to face the past: I, Athol Daedulus, seventy-ninth of the ilk, am a collector of the forgotten, a scryer into dust and old tomes, a philosopher of bones. I have upon my desk as I write now a small bronze figurine, a pensive man musing upon a skull he holds in his hand: the inscription on its base is in a language few but I yet read, and it is a name. What inspiration Hamlet drew from his contemplation of mortality I do not know, but it is fitting he sits there, where I contemplate my own, and humanity’s, and the wrinkles upon the face of our dear decaying Earth.
My dear friend Cestus is fond of arguing that the essential nature of Man has not changed throughout the millennia, and once, in jest, he seized upon my little figurine to illustrate his point. At one time he might have swayed me. That was before I had reason to know that what calls itself human in these days might more properly choose another name.
I have never had the courage to tell him this story. But of late I have noticed my limbs are stiffening, and the clockwork of my intellect hesitates... I am getting old, in short. So perhaps it is no matter if I at last set down a history that may yet seize my heart. Though tonight, perhaps, is not a comfortable time to begin.
Outside my window the huge dull ball of the sun is setting behind the city that my seventy-eight ancestors also viewed in its rotting magnificence; my servant has let the fire go low, and my hands are cold and stiff. Almost I imagine I see already the silhouette of the last being my failing eyes shall perceive upon the wall... But it is another I hope for. I have been hoping to meet that other for a long time now.
So to my story. (There is an ink-blotch here; my hand shook). In my 56th year I was in the prime of my strength and reputation. My treatise on the 4th century of the New World — to us now unimaginably ancient — had been respectfully received by the Society, of which I am an emeritus. Its members generously met my request for support of an expedition into the ruined city of Stygia.
You, Hamlet, would not recognize the name of that city as any real place. But we have always called it Stygia. It was the greatest city of the New World, and its towers have stood for thousands of years like an oak split by lightning yet still standing defiant. How mighty were its builders, and how vast the population in the days of its life! They built spires to the heavens, and upon Earth cast darkness so profound that neither flesh nor green endured. But I am getting ahead of myself. Hence the name of it, for stygian is the darkness at its feet.
Two expeditions had been mounted in previous centuries, one led by my own progenitor, Athol Daedulus the seventy-sixth. It was fortunate that my namesake was a mature man who had already engendered his heir, for he never returned. Nor did any soul from the previous Orcrytesian expedition return. Thus you will understand it was with due soberness and much care that we prepared the third venture.
You may think us foolish to risk another foray into disaster. But that may be because you are not a philosopher at heart. To see each day of one’s life an abiding mystery, a storehouse of secrets more precious than treasures, is to burn in an insatiable desire to understand. At least it was so for me. And that desire grew too strong for me to contain.
I had also another motive, which was sympathetically received by my honorable peers. I had of course the desire to learn of my ancestor’s fate. Up the stairway to the East Wing, in the huge rambling estate that I live in, there are painted images of all of us, with myself in the last spot, as the eightieth has not yet reached his maturity. Except for the slow changes in dress and the vicissitudes of our individual lives, we are all alike, of course. If you think I should mention the varying hand of the painters, well, we were each of us painted by Leonard Vincius. There is no greater portraitist.
But I always felt closest to the seventy-sixth Daedulus. I fancy there is a different expression in his brown-black eyes, shadowed by our cave-like brow, than in any of the rest. I see the same restless spirit in my own eyes. If you are astonished that in seventy-nine generations one does not fully know oneself, well, perhaps there are depths to Daedulus that only we suspect.
I have digressed again. So. For fear that the earlier expeditions had failed through some fault in temperament or compatibility, we chose our party with great care, and wisely selected a contingent varying from the earlier ones.
Timothius Eotia was my right hand, a member of our Society long honored for his deliberation and reliability. It remained to be proved whether that was a wiser choice than the one the seventy-sixth Daedulus made in Antonius Laedulus.
Helena Orcrytes, a participant in the first and second expeditions, could not be denied: she also yearned to know the fate of her ancestors. In fact, I valued her organizational brilliance and tenacity highly, and she became our quartermaster.
After much serious thought I proposed Sirius Bellarus as the last member of our party. Sirius had not been a participant in either of the previous expeditions, and though his dark and powerful intellect cannot be denied, his ilk are known also for a sardonic and bitter humor I feared might set ill with others in times of stress. Yet if any were capable of understanding the mystery that must lie in the heart of Stygia I thought it might be he.
He consented to my proposal, and thus our small party was formed: Timothius Eotia, Helena Orcrytes, Sirius Bellarus, and of course myself. I felt — even of Sirius — that it was a company to be proud of, and as wise a choice as my ancestor made in selecting his own party.
We held many long meetings to discuss our goal. Some plans of the city have survived through time, though none complete, and none of us in turn knew how well those guides overlaid the ruins of our own time. As it happened, the Orcrytesian expedition selected for its hope a great Museum said to exist in the heart of the city. Helena, the thirty-second of that ilk, believed such might reveal the clouded history of Man to our view.
My own ancestor, however, of course also hoping to succeed where the first had failed, proposed a different target. In that city was also a legendary center of research and medicine. There he looked for a more direct and scientific answer to the question of Man. But as you already know, his choice of the place called NIH was no less disastrous.
I did not wish to set a lesser goal than my illustrious predecessors had, and I desired most fervently to learn the fate of the seventy-sixth Daedulus. So as you will guess, I argued that we should follow in the steps of the first Daedulian expedition.
Timothius, prudent and wise, argued that we should make only a small foray into the city, followed by more extensive probes as we learned of its dangers. Helena understood the powerful pull on my spirit and supported my aim. Sirius, cynic that he is, viewed all our choices as equally doomed: so we agreed at last. My will prevailed, and we fell to diligent preparation for our journey that lasted some months. I set my house in order and bid adieu to my spouse, my dear Penelope, so beloved that Daedulus has never wed another, and my companions did the same.
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Copyright © 2012 by Danielle L. Parker