05. Twilight at the Well of Souls - The Legacy of Nathan Brazil

05. Twilight at the Well of Souls - The Legacy of Nathan Brazil by Jack L. Chalker

Book: 05. Twilight at the Well of Souls - The Legacy of Nathan Brazil by Jack L. Chalker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack L. Chalker
that—he needed double the population of all 1560 hexes, not just in the South.
    And as for himself . . . Ortega rocked back on his giant serpent's tail and folded all six of his arms in contemplation. Ulik, of course, would go with the majority. He had voted that way, the way he knew his own people would vote. The word would go off to them shortly by courier while he stayed here, stuck in this luxury prison.
    That's what this was, he decided. Prison. It wasn't the first time he had thought about that concept. Brazil would be trapped in such a prison, probably one of the unused embassies. It annoyed him that they were voting to try doing to Brazil what had been done to him.
    Trouble was, of course, that he had done it to himself. Committed himself to this cold, sterile prison rather than face death. Pushing toy armies around tables, putting pins in maps, that would be his battle, his campaign, his war. It might as well have been a billion light-years away, he thought. And yet, to go out there meant death, sure, certain, probably quick death.
    He recalled the ancient legend of his original people, the legend of Faust. And when the demon Mephistopheles had been ordered back to Hell, he had replied, "Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it."
    Ortega looked around his comfortable office.
    Why, this is Hell, he echoed the ancient line in his mind for the millionth time, nor am I out of it.
    No wonder Brazil was batty. Nobody, he thought, understands that man more than me. He wished he could talk to the strange little man now.
    He wished he could talk to somebody.
    Why, this is Hell . . .
    THE GREAT HALL OF HOLY ANCESTORS STOOD EMPTY; barren stone carved out of solid granite far beneath the surface, without ornamentation, without light, yet a perfect cubical space some two hundred meters in any direction. Silent, tomblike, it waited.
    Suddenly a portion of one wall glowed eerily, and something, a presence, came through into the chamber. It glowed with its own eerie white phosphorescence, a pale, smoky thing like a piece of ghostly satin rippling in an unfelt wind, its only features two jet-black ovals at the top of its rounded "head" that must be some kind of eyes.
    And yet it seemed to have mass, and some weight, for once through the seemingly solid rock wall it adhered to the side, then slowly made its way down to the floor of the place, always in contact with the wall's edge. An observer might think it was floating, yet closer examination would show that it did need contact for movement, and was neither as ghostly nor as insubstantial as it first appeared.
    Now other forms oozed in from different points in the four walls and also through the ceiling and up through the floor. All converged at the center of the Great Hall. Twelve in number, they looked identical: glowing white shapes each the same roughly two meters in height, all looking like people dressed in some kind of sheet—rounded head with two eye-holes, then the shape tapering down, seeming to bulge a little at the middle, then fanning out to a wide, flat base.
    No words nor glances were exchanged. They stood there, waiting, waiting for something—or someone.
    Suddenly from one of the walls came still another like themselves, yet not quite like them, either. It seemed larger, more formidable, and, in some inexplicable way, more ancient.
    "Peace be unto the brotherhood!" proclaimed the newcomer, standing in front of the others and now raising what seemed to be insectlike forelegs, sucker-tipped and etched along the leg with wicked-looking spikes. The appendages were invisible when folded.
    The others slowly raised their own and chanted, "And to you, most revered and holy leader."
    The one who was so obviously in charge now underwent a slight change. The ghostly head moved slowly back, the "eyes" moving with it, revealing a head and a face, a vicious, ugly face, with bright multifaceted eyes that seemed to generate their own light, flanked by a sharp

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