The eye of renithi, p.1
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       The Eye Of Renithi, p.1
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           Aaron Clausen
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The Eye Of Renithi
Of Renithi

   

  A Tale Of Mars

   

   

  Aaron Clausen

  Copyright 2011

  Despite my every effort and desire, I can recall all that has happened to me on that terrible world that I now race away from. The injury which took away my face and my sight has not robbed me of my mind, or of the terrible memories and that mad, aching desire. The doctors believe I am insane. I wish to God I was.

  I was once Bryce Carlisle; a tall, handsome, fast-talking no-good son-of-a-bitch who made what one might call a living selling little pieces of Mars' past. Out of a foolish sense of pride, or perhaps simply guilt, I called myself an antiquities dealer, although looter would have been closer to the mark.

  Sitting in my small den-like shop on the Street of Cartwrights, I passed the days paying a pittance for statues, trinkets and other relics of at least dubious origin. The demand for anything that even looked ancient back on Earth was so insatiable that even a two-bit player like myself could keep himself in booze and women off the proceeds. My ambitions were sufficiently small, so this life was adequate to my needs. That is until a package came from a man I had not seen in five years.

  It was an otherwise ordinary Martian afternoon, unbearably hot and dusty, when there was a knock at the door. When I managed to rouse myself, there was nobody there, just an oddly shaped brown package. On closer inspection, it was a crudely fashioned envelope, made out of animal hide and sewn shut by thick yellow spider silk, doubtless from one of those monstrous creatures that inhabited the mountains of the southern hemisphere. On the front written in large letters was my name, but there was no hint of the identity of the sender.

  The package was quite heavy for its size, so I took it to my work desk, where a bright oil lamp burned. Gently I cut the spider silk and emptied the contents on to the desk. A golden disc, glittering in the lamplight, and a folded piece of paper were all that the envelope contained. Putting the letter aside, I carefully analyzed the palm-sized golden disc. The front of the disc was a horrible, leering head, with a single slitted, reptilian eye, the suggestion of a crooked nose and a mouth filled with two rows of sharp teeth.

  While crudely rendered, I recognized the face immediately as the image of the Martian goddess, Renithi, known as the Lady of Decay and the Mistress of Death. Her cult was banned in many places, and generally looked upon unfavorably even by the worshippers of other unsavory deities. On the back I found several strange characters; a script that bore only the vaguest similarity to the writing used in any part of Mars I knew of. I could read none of it, and finally gave up and turned to the folded paper.

  The letter was written in some dark, flaking ink. The words were smudged and some were almost gone completely. It took me some effort to decipher it, though it was written in English.

  Dear Bryce,

  How I wish I was up north sharing a spicy mug of Burat ale with you. It has been too long since we talked, and I would give a good deal to talk to an Earthman.

  I imagine you are wondering what the gold disc is. Let me tell you that I have found it! I have found one of the Twelve Kingdoms of Irat-nojir. Such a city you have never seen, greater even in ruins than the mighty citadels of Vakorum and Niamene. There is treasure enough for ten thousand life times. This piece of gold is the smallest fraction of what awaits you.

  Head for the trading outpost of Zimukat and look for a local named Kul. He knows the way and is trustworthy.

  Yours,

  Charles Wong

  September 29th, 2002

  The letter was eight months old, but it was the name that had me looking in wonder. Charles Wong and I had come to Mars seven years before, much younger and filled with the same ambition to come out of Mars rich men. We had parted ways a few years later under less than friendly terms, and in the intervening years, I had seldom thought about him. It didn't bother me that the letter had taken this long to get to me. Things moved slowly on Mars, even in the more settled areas. It did make me curious as to why Charles would tell me, of all people, about this marvelous discovery.

  Three weeks and several hundred silver pieces later, I was sitting in a small pub in Zimukat bartering for supplies and information. I was beginning to have my doubts that Charles Wong had found anything. The locals insisted that only desert and desolation and death by sand storms and barbarians were to be found to the south. But my old desires clouded my normally unimaginative but reliable instincts.

  I found Kul, a short, ruddy-haired, dark-eyed Martian who obviously had a good amount of Barbarian blood in him. He spoke very little, which suited me fine. I made my living off of Martians, but had little love for them. He told me in short, terse sentences that Charles had sent him back up north with the package and had instructed him to wait for me. Kul merely shrugged noncommittally when I asked why he had waited all these long months.

  Over Kul's objections I hired another local, a good-humored fellow named Nazrah, who owned a young slikal, just eight feet tall and fifteen feet long. The lizard-like slikal were the universal beast of burden on Mars. Well, almost universal. Where slikal weren't available, there were always slaves. I had no particular objection to using Martian slaves. It was just that slikal were more reliable and could go much longer without food or rest.

  Nothing even in the driest salt flats of the north could have prepared me for this land. The Martians called it Nedu-Jadar, and while a few barbarian tribes wandered the wastes, it had long had an evil name. Legends told of the Twelve Kingdoms of Irat-nojir which had once controlled a land flowing with diamonds, gold and silver. There were also rumors of human sacrifices and other perverse rituals. Most learned Martians lumped these tales in with dozens of other fanciful stories of lost civilizations. A week of following Kul, and I was coming to the same conclusion.

  Days turned into weeks, and finally I began to despair of ever finding the city that Charles' letter had told me of. Kul became more anxious as Nazrah and I began to tire of the seemingly endless toil. Even the slikal, bred for the worst that Mars could muster, was becoming restive. We grumbled and questioned Kul, but he would hear none of it. "You must come, Carlisle. Only a little further and you will come to your destination."

  Finally, fed up, I decided to go forward another day and then turn back north, poorer but wiser. Nazrah seemed happy with this, but Kul only looked at us bitterly. Then, as if just to restore our flagging faith in Kul, we caught sight of mountains; great black spires that looked like the sharp fangs of some terrible giant. Nazrah stopped dead in his tracks, a look of fear on his face. Kul, on the other hand, actually smiled a little.

  "We stop here, Carlisle." Nazrah said. "Old terror dwells in those mountains."

  "What lies in those mountains, Kul?" I asked, feeling a pinch of anxiety at Nazrah's reaction.

  "Just ruins, Carlisle." Kul answered. "Some have superstitions, but that is nonsense. Surely a man of Earth does not believe silly stories, does he?"

  Nazrah only muttered about "old terror" and "the fire that burns the soul". He seemed to consider even standing in sight of those mountains to be a grave risk. Nothing could convince him to go forward, and he even refused to lend us his slikal. He went so far as to offer to give me back his pay, which I refused. Instead I convinced him to stick around for seven days. "If we come back safe and sound," I said, "I'll give you a share of the treasure." Nazrah reluctantly agreed, and set up camp at the bottom of a dry riverbed, out of sight of the mountains.

  The next morning Kul and I set out, and a day's hard toil brought us to the feet of these mountains. It was a dead land, with only a few blighted-looking patches of lichen as any evidence that life could survive here at all. Long ago there might have been streams and forests, but the thought o
f that only made the land seem emptier, like a skeleton picked clean. Kul spoke even less than usual as he picked his way through gullies and down cliffs, his eyes rarely looking away from those ragged spires.

  With the mountains towering overhead, we pitched the tent as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, a scarlet color that looked disturbingly like blood. A cold, biting wind blew down from the heights, bringing terrible sounds like the screams and moans of tortured victims. I took the first watch as Mars' tiny moons began shining like brilliant stars. Kul took the next watch, and as I crawled into my tent I saw him kneeling and speaking in a low, almost inaudible voice. He looked to be praying, which I thought a little strange, since I had not seen him do it before. That night I slept with my pistol at my side.

  When I awoke, I found it was already towards mid-morning. Curious and a little angry, I called out to Kul with no answer. Struggling out of the tent, I found no sign of my guide. In a fit of fury I kicked down the tent and cursed this awful place. A smarter man would have turned back, but the thought of enough treasure for ten thousand lives had infected me like some disease, and I resolved, with a most vulgar oath, to go on.

  I struggled late into the afternoon up a narrow canyon between two tall dark peaks before I stumbled on to the remnants
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