|Gamera against The Great Old Ones
Author: Jim Ryan Hamm PM
Features Gamera and draws from the events of the Showa-period films, 1965-1971, rectifying their sillier elements. I've attempted to place the character in a serious mythological context, positing the kaiju as an agent of primordial forces—an Elder God.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 15,034 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 11-16-09 - Published: 06-04-09 - id: 5110706
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"In the time of my grandsires had the Ice whelmed Polarion; in the days of my father Mu Thulan had been lost to men; and now (say the hardy travelers who had dared risk the wrath of the Cold Ones, those white spirits of the ice, or their dread Master, the abnormality: Rlim Shaikorth), even the spires of sunny Varaad are sheathed in sparkling frost, and the jungles wither, blasted by the cold."
~ Athlok, from a translation of Fragment MXI of the Pnakotic Manuscripts
(Lin Carter, "The Acolyte of the Flame")
Lincoln Sea, northwest of Greenland, 1980
"Looks like a huge worm's made its appearance, Sir," chirped the voice of Captain Matt Church, informally known to his flight mates as Deacon.
"Cut the jokes, Harpoon Three," chided Major Caleb Travares, using his flight lieutenant's operational designation. "This isn't an exercise." During engagements, Travares was Harpoon One, leader of renowned 466 Intercept Squadron—nicknamed Harpoon Squadron—part of AIRCOM's 11 Wing Polaris based outside Yellowknife. The Harpoons flew CF-104s, deadly supersonic jets nicknamed "Widowmakers" in perfect formation over the craggy Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Harpoons Two, Four, and Five, were known respectively as Fisher (an outdoorsman), Solo (a sci-fi buff), and Bowler (because of his favorite hat). Travares deflected his flight mate's continuous attempts to stick him with a handle. Since he once flew a CF101 Voodoo, Deacon shamelessly tried to get people to call the Major "Papa Doc." Deacon thought it was clever while the rest of the squadron thought it was racist. Travares, a man of Dominican descent, was simply not in favor of being associated with the infamous Haitian dictator.
"Come on Doc," whined Deacon, "you can't believe the Alert guys. Most of those shoes ain't seen the sun in weeks. They're stir-crazy." Deacon was referring to a call issued from Canadian Forces Station Alert, a communications and signal intercept station just over 800 kilometers from the North Pole. A few hours earlier, CFS Alert caught an S.O.S from Greenland's Blæst Gående oil platform. That distress call was suddenly silenced—though they did pick up a suspicious, encrypted mobile phone signal about fifteen minutes later. Alert had sent a helicopter to investigate and the crew reported that the rig appeared derelict. Approaching close to ground, the helo crew discovered the workmen's bodies, then became frantic. The last communiqués CFS Alert picked up from the panic-stricken recon team were "ghosts in the snow," "frozen bodies," "bio-anomaly," and, yes, "giant worm."
Later, Alert's radar picked up a massive, unidentified object within 21 kilometers and closing—moving across the polar ice at a pace comparable to the cruising speed of a heavy tank. Further, the object gave out some bizarre signal noise. The Harpoons, the closest interceptors, were given the order to "kick the tires and light the fires" and scrambled out of Yellowknife. Years ago, Canada and the US would have had more planes in the air in the Arctic Circle. While the USSR still posed a threat to North America, the Cold War seemed to be waning, or at least seemed less likely these days to be decided by air jockeys and their lawn darts.
Travares radioed back to base that his guys were flying low, as commanded, at "cherubs three." Despite the falling snow the Major reported, "we should have visual of the unidentified object in under a minute."
The squadron resented this assignment, especially the uncomfortable anti-exposure gear they all had to wear—but all were intensely curious. Nearly every pilot had a "friend of a friend," ostensibly stationed in the Far East, who'd engaged something whose appearance and proportions grew ever more terrible as the story circulated. From the mid-Sixties to the beginning of the Seventies, weird tales of "bio-anomalies," casually known as monsters and kaiju, were all the rage in the Asian media. In the West, the stories were debunked as a result of the so-called "Guilong War;" efforts by Communist China to disrupt Japan's extraordinary economic growth. Allegedly, while the U.S. was mired in Vietnam, China assailed Japan with destructive experimental weapons that incited mass hysteria. Many Japanese, influenced by the famous "Gamera" hoax of 1965 and their own superstitions, blamed "kaiju" for the disasters. But now in 1980, in Japan as anywhere else in the world, admitting a belief in monsters was to be dismissed as a crackpot. The Major agreed with the assessment. The fuzzy photographs, the always misplaced physical "evidence," the tabloid interviews with daft eyewitnesses and sham scientists—none of it added up. Why did people believe in nonsense? mused Travares. Giant monsters. Voodoo. Little green men. Sasquatch. Ghosts…
For a split second, the Major thought he saw a figure pressing up against the right side of his cockpit bubble. Obviously a hallucination, he thought. The pilot knew that the idea of a man outside the window 300 meters up at a thousand kilometers an hour was ridiculous. The man, as it appeared for the moment it existed in Travares' mind, was wearing a colorless Canadian Forces Info-Ops uniform. His bluish-white hands and face pushed against the glass panels as his body floated behind him, irrespective of the sheering winds and g-forces. After shaking off the phantom's afterimage, Travares commanded, "eyes open Harpoons."
"Can't see anything in this goo, Doc" grumbled Deacon, referring to the snowfall, "giant worms or otherwise."
"That's it, Harpoon Three!" yelled Travares, "I've had it with your…"
The Major's reprimand was cut off by a sudden flash of white light at the flight's 9-o'clock, where Deacon was holding his place in the arrowhead formation. All the squadron's instruments told them the same thing—that Harpoon Three's lights just went out. Deacon's plane dropped like a stone and crashed onto the ice sheet with a dull thud. "Deacon's bird should have lit up like Christmas, Major!" stammered Solo, noting the lack of an explosion. Their fighters were heavily armed—all packed a formidable compliment of missiles.
A shift in the wind parted the snow, and the Harpoons all caught the sight of an enormous, horrific face, a mere 80 to 100 meters below them. None had to guess that the impossible entity which they each bore witness was the source of the flash. Fisher made the "I can't believe it" whistle. Bowler yelped, and knew that if he survived this, his future nightmares would involve giant eyes resembling milky coagula. Solo shrieked, before stammering "n-now there's an eleven pucker factor!" The rest of the squadron knew that meant poor Solo had lost control in a manner that would make peeling off his flight suit nasty business. None of the Harpoons could blame him. On that particular scale, they were all pushing ten.
Travares kept his head, tried to ignore the imaginary specter that reappeared on his Widowmaker's canopy, and commed base that they had engaged "the anomaly." Procedurally, control would then leave the intercept to the flight's jurisdiction. The pilots needed to concentrate. They were already losing it. This time, however, was different.
"Harpoons," returned a calm, unfamiliar voice. "This engagement is officially designated Top Secret. The nature of your target must not be discussed. Period. You will not be debriefed by anyone with less than a General's rank or Level Three Government Security Clearance. Good luck gentlemen. Control out." Each of the Harpoons thought the man sounded way too young to be giving them orders.
Though the Harpoons crowded the channel with questions for their leader, all chatter was drowned out by the raging wail of the smiling, slug-like abomination that appeared and disappeared behind the billowing curtains of snow. To Travares, it suggested an ill-trained soprano recorded on a scratchy 45, played backwards on a stadium PA. What they could see of the landscape was just as disheartening—jagged ice forming treacherous crags and towering cliffs. The worm crept peristaltically through the canyons near sea level.
"Confirmed, the anomaly is headed to the ball," radioed Travares, "the ball" signifying Alert Station itself, designated thusly because of its distinctive, disco ball-like radomes. Meanwhile, the spirit he was stubbornly ignoring appeared to be climbing through the glass hatch, and was about halfway into the CF-104's cockpit.
The flight managed to turn in formation, dropped their noses toward the slithering colossus, and began to unload their M61 Vulcan cannons. The revolving guns each blazed forth a fusillade of 20 millimeter explosive rounds. The screaming shells were powerful enough to saw off a mountaintop, and the fighter pilots could not imagine any organism, especially one as seemingly soft bodied as the monster worm, surviving their onslaught. Before impacting the sickly, semi-translucent flesh of the gore-weeping creature, the giant bullets passed through a wavering field of air surrounding it. Their molecular integrity seemingly undone, the shells shattered, dropped, or bounced harmlessly off the creature.
"Keep your heads guys," urged the Major to his squadron, as they lifted up and around again toward the entity. They'd try missiles now. "Uglier looking things in the ocean. Nothing but a big…"
"Orders, Major!" reprimanded the mysterious voice on the radio. Travares wondered who this pencil-pusher was. The imaginary ghost in his cockpit crowded behind him and reached toward the controls. The instruments and panels frosted over and became nigh-unreadable. A blinker alerting the pilot to temperatures detrimental to the machinery and his life had come on. Travares noticed none of it. When the Major glanced over his shoulder, the spectral man in the Info-Ops jumpsuit scrunched its pallid face in a bestial scowl. What remained of his teeth were like thorns. "So… cold," gasped the spirit.
The White Worm carried on nonchalantly. It seemed it was no longer paying any mind to the renowned Harpoons.
"O-okay guys," managed Travares, swallowing his fear. "Let's light this candle. Fox three at..."
"N-no can do Major!," interrupted Solo, before he burst out laughing. "Got stowaways with me!" To Travares' horror, Solo ejected while his plane barrel-rolled toward Fisher. Fisher attempted to jink away as Solo's chair, cackling pilot yet strapped in, shot up into his jet's intake. For a split second, Fisher's turbines sputtered and struggled to grind up the gory mass. The delay prevented him from clearing the spinning path of Solo's out-of-control jet. Just before the explosive collision, the Major thought he saw two bluish-white figures in the open cockpit of what had been Solo's plane, each oblivious to the rushing air or the imminent crash. Both seemed to wear oil rigger coveralls.
Travares' own uninvited copilot smiled as the fires of the collision reflected off him. It was as if the figure was made of ice and snow. The wraith suddenly turned its head toward him, widened its dead eyes, and sank its ruined teeth into Travares' shoulder. The uncanny chill he felt was like icy fingers fondling his internal organs. The pain in his shoulder, though, was as hideously plain as the gout of blood painting the inside of his CF-104's canopy. No longer able to pretend the phantom was imaginary, the Major launched his guided missiles in the general direction of the overgrown grub and ejected.
His chair unfurled a parachute, and Travares was jerked back and dragged slowly away from the fray by the winds. Two missiles he loosed, but there was one explosion, far afield of the White Worm. The other just bounced off the leviathan without detonating. A dud perhaps, or neutralized by the shimmering air shielding the creature. His plane continued to cruise toward the north. It would come down sooner or later. Snow and distance was soon to spare him any further eyewitness to the disaster.
The last thing the Major saw was Bowler making a beeline toward the enormous slug as it vermiculated through a narrow ice chasm. A barrage of missiles and explosive shells preceded the hellbent pilot. At first, it looked as if the suicide run would have little effect on the White Worm. The artillery appeared useless. Rather than a blaze of glory, plane and pilot quietly began to come apart upon contact with the monster annelid's invisible shield. Due perhaps to the heat of the concentrated barrage, or the aircraft's mass, the core of the jet managed to pierce through the shimmering cloak of air, colliding with the serpentine body of the entity. For a moment, the White Worm's expression registered surprise before it keened in pain. Its globular eyes erupted in crimson spews. Shockwaves from the bombardment boomed off the ice canyon's cliffs, which became further compromised when the thrashing creature smashed its colossal bulk against them.
Travares saw the White Worm engulfed in an avalanche of icy shards, but its hideous, inverse wailing continued to carry over the frozen sea. It was slowed, Travares knew, not stopped. Bowler, thought the Major, why didn't you eject? God bless you, my friend. We CAN hurt that thing. He saluted.
As the wind carried him from the monster's deafening cries, Travares tried to put the deaths of his comrades from his mind. Tears would just freeze on his face, but oh how they wanted to flow. Remember your training. Travares tried to think of something positive, and the last few minutes' calamity began to wither away from his consciousness. He found himself very glad for his anti-exposure gear. He wondered why he still felt so cold; remembered the suit breach and wound about his shoulder, which he stemmed with his hand. He had lost a lot of blood. How? He couldn't recall anymore. Have to patch that mess up when I land, he mused. Good thing the chair has a first aid kit. Travares thought that he might actually make it home alive. During the long trip down, the Major kept himself optimistic by thinking about his kids, their mom, and the tropical warmth of his father's beloved island. What he couldn't ignore, however, was the voice behind him.
"S-so… very… cold," it rasped.
How much time had passed? A nigh-immortal, Gamera measured its existence by broad spans. It could sleep for what was to it a moment and new life-forms might have developed, fulfilling ecological niches forsaken by long extinct predecessors. The planet it was spawned to protect could face geological upheavals that seemed devastating from an epochal perspective, but were gradually adapted to by those whose perceptions were less farseeing. It had lived to witness seas boil and cool, continents form only to break apart and sink, species evolve and then disappear, distant suns brighten and wink out. Gamera, though, was designed to be conscious of what was, to its mind, microscopic moments in time. Without this awareness, it would have been difficult for the Black Guardian to regard humanity at all. Empires arose and fell for every thump of its massive heart—what would a human lifetime otherwise mean to such an ancient force?
Its ability to focus upon infinitesimal fragments of time also served the reptilian demigod well in moments such as these. Gamera knew it could ill-afford more than a few hours rest, though its battered body demanded days. While it regenerated quickly in slumber, the dragon turtle awoke retaining severe damage to its bio-metallic shell. Gamera's carapace was a wreck. Its plastron was still horrifically perforated though it was no longer bleeding. The colossus's supernatural organs had reconstructed themselves, barely—they only possessed a limited functionality before which they would burst.
Gamera swam in the manner of a freshwater turtle beneath the ice cap, seeking out an area thin enough for it to break through to the surface. It still needed to consume flame and combustible fuels to reignite its internal furnace.
Gamera extended its senses, shifting its great human-like eyes back and forth. Rlim Shaikorth had stopped moving, but Gamera knew the Old One still lived. Perhaps the mortals had detected it and found some way to slow it down. There were no significant settlements this close to the pole; but the White Worm was headed to a base that harnessed radio waves. Gamera had passed over it on the way to battle, electromagnetically obfuscating its own presence as it did so. The station was sparsely inhabited. Should the champion of the Eld manage to obtain the fuel it needed from the ruined refinery, the mortals at the base could be saved. If it failed, the fires Gamera hungered for would instead need to be coaxed out of the base, its personnel, it judged, were an acceptable sacrifice.
The fading Travares, still nestled in the ejection seat, jolted at the sound of muffled pounding and tremors. The Cold Ones lingered about him, now a quartet. In his semi-consciousness, they clawed at him, and the Major could vaguely feel their ghostly fingers across his flesh, sometimes upon his eyes, his heart, or brain. But their ability to become solid enough to harm him had its limits. The spirits resembled the White Worm's victims—two were dressed as oil riggers, another, the same one who followed him from his fighter jet, wore its familiar Info-Ops uniform. The last, in an AIRCOM flight suit, was Deacon, his once happy-go-lucky features contorted in agony.
Physically, the wraiths seemed made of nothing more than granules of blue-white ice. Their forms, or parts of them, would randomly disperse and drift off just before they recomposed themselves. Despite their weightlessness, the Cold Ones did not seem to be at the mercy of the air, floating with or against the wind as they pleased. They could harden no more than bits of themselves, and then only through concentration. By gesturing with his ground flare and shouting, Travares was able, barely, to keep the ghosts from pulling apart the shreds of parachute bandaging his shoulder, biting him again, or clawing out his eyes. They still made it difficult for him to access the survival kit from its compartment on the ejection chair. The Major didn't have much time, survival kit or no. He was getting very sleepy, and once he dropped his flare, he knew the specters would rip him apart.
Again the thud and a vibration. Travares had no idea if he was on solid ground or an ice sheet. Whether it was an earthquake or a whale trying to break itself a breathing hole didn't matter—he'd be dead soon. The Cold Ones weren't phased. Another great thump resounded from below and Travares lost his grip on the flare. He didn't feel as if he had the strength to unbind himself from the chair in order to reach it. The Major's fleeting energies were all but spent retrieving the flare in the first place and lighting it, then in reeling in the parachute and wrapping it around his bloody shoulder.
The Cold Ones drifted toward him, their ravenous mouths open as if to feast.
There was another great thud and the ground buckled. Travares' chair bounced up and landed on its side. All around him echoed the creaking and cracking of shifting ice. The snow-forged apparitions closed on him, but their path was suddenly obstructed by a great, white, hornlike object that stabbed up out of the ground. There were two—its twin had come up with it, a half dozen or so meters away. At last taken aback, the wraiths dissipated and reformed well away from the things. The dual protrusions ripped across the ice, remaining equilaterally distant as if they were attached to some infinitely larger thing below. Great water-filled rifts in the icecap formed in their wake as they swiveled and crushed. The giant tusks, for that is what to Travares they appeared to be, sank back into the sea. They left behind a swirling lake of broken ice, over a dozen meters in diameter.
The quartet of Cold Ones circled around it, single-minded in their desire to eviscerate the stubbornly still-living pilot. Deacon was at their lead. Travares finally made a Herculean effort to free himself from the upended chair. "Come on Deacon," said the battered Major, forcing a smile, "Come on, man, you remember ol' Papa Doc, right? You can call me that if you want. Don't bother me a bit."
"So… cold…" the phantom replied, "so… hungry…"
Within two meters of his prostate body, the ghosts flowed in for the kill. But the helpless pilot was focused on the recently excavated lake behind them, and the monstrous, crocodilian claw that reached out from it. The mighty hand, clawed and scaled like a reptile yet bearing a human-like thumb, scooped up the oblivious Cold Ones and closed upon them. Can ghosts be crushed? wondered Travares, and decided that, yes, indeed they can! when he heard their hoarse voices cry out before fading away.
And what is this thing burying its killing claw in the ice in front of me? What is this monster, hauling its bulk up through the portal it chewed, first its dragon head with boar tusks… Then the rest, its shell with saw-tooth edges widening the gap, breaking its way to the surface? It is huge! The thing howls, its voice sounds like a hundred trumpets out of tune. No way. It can't be. It crawls over, cautious to my presence, I'm a bug to it. It looks right at me, those intelligent eyes move back and forth. What does it want?
Gamera, saltwater and ice cascading off its shell, climbed out of the sea on all fours. It then stood upright and bellowed again. It was wary of the dying human before it. The man seemed helpless, but the super monster knew that it might require his knowledge and his tiny hands. It expected the human to be grateful for eliminating the Cold Ones who besieged him. If only it could make the empathically blind mortal understand its desires…
"GAMERA! Holy $%! You're $%ing real!" After the prosaic musing of his fevered mind, his mouth gave way to the colossal reality standing, godlike, over him. It was nearly impossible for Travares to do anything but curse. "What other $%'s the government keeping quiet?" he shouted, as if the giant turtle could answer. "Santa Clause around here somewhere? $% orders. My kids aren't going to believe this $%." Giant worms and ghosts were one thing. A media phenomenon widely and aggressively written off as a hoax was another. Maybe too aggressively, considered the Major.
Gamera dropped again to all fours and planted the hand that crushed the Cold Ones at Travares' side. He could feel its anomalous warmth. The turtle-like giant moved its head from side to side. Its pupils rolled and it grunted a cloud of steam. Travares was beginning to think the monster was waiting on him. Bolstered by the beast's body heat, the Major finished undoing the latches binding him to the chair. He lit another flare, and Gamera voiced a long, deep, reptilian growl.
While accessing the first aid kit to dress his wound, Travares looked up and said, "l-look, uh, not sure if you know English or if you can hear me, but are you here to kill that worm thing?" Gamera glared down at him and grunted again, belching another cloud of steam. Travares stitched up his shoulder with a needle heated by the flare. "Because," he managed to continue, "it radiates absolute zero cold. But it's not airtight. If you concentrate heat or matter on one spot, the field fights to keep up."
The dragon turtle regarded him, seemingly quizzically.
"O-okay, I, well… thanks," said Travares, opening another compartment under the ejection seat. "I'm going to get my radio going, and I think the Americans are going to be here soon." The pilot imagined that it would not be long before another squadron arrived, probably from the Thule base in western Greenland. Or, at least, a search and rescue craft. As he struggled to activate the radio, the leviathan took the pilot up in his scaly hand and set him among the fore scutes of its carapace—just behind its neck. "Hey!" protested the Major, but Gamera was already lumbering on two legs toward Blæst Gående, quaking the ground with a determined tread.
Of the Nakotiqa, all forty-three had set out from their campsite, abandoning it to the elements. The forsaken Inuit—mostly women, elders, the malformed and disabled, and a few young children—were clad in thick dark leathers trimmed with furs. Six near-skeletal muskoxen were loaded with their meager possessions, and a pair of mange-stricken elk drew a sleigh of trade goods. The somber throng, all who remained of a people who beheld the breadth and totality of time, who survived through a not-insignificant fraction of it, followed close the old angakkuq Oogroq and his son, now chief, Arluk.
Thickly bearded Arluk, aged yet hale and heavily built, was draped in what had earlier been his father's mantle. The strange white hide of the mono-horned, bear-like beast, six clawed limbs fluttering in the breeze behind him, lent the hunter a regal, if savage air. It was Arluk who clutched the enchanted whalebone rod in his strong, mittened hands, having had it and the cloak presented to him before the tribe in a quick ceremony. It seemed to his people as if the hunter drew especial warmth from the hide or the wand. For despite the arctic chill, the new chief's downy chest was exposed to display his grey, flame-shaped nevus. Arluk showed no aversion to the cold, nor any of the cynicism that had previously characterized him—his deep-set eyes were reddened with purpose.
The wizard Oogroq danced through the snow with an uncanny vigor, just behind his son. The old man had donned a fearsome mask. It was three times as long as the wearer's face and twice as wide, made of driftwood and trimmed with feathers and bones. Superficially, it resembled a human skull, albeit a hideously distorted one, as if it were stretched from its scalp and chin. The mask's face was bleached white and highlighted with faded blacks and blues, as was the plumage which haloed it. Within its blackened eye sockets were painted red stars. The angakkuq likewise wore a pair of oversized gloves, both were white and had elongated fingers as long as he was tall. Oogroq would break every now and then from his cavorting and the mask would appear to split open from a hinge located on the tip of the head. Behind the bisected skull was yet another, smaller face—a crude blue-grey starburst with eyes and a smile. When he opened the mask, Oogroq would look menacingly from side to side.
Long gone from the old man's garb was the gold crucifix he wore for nearly half a century. This was a night for the spirits and the magic of old, and the white man's savior would proffer no succor.
The procession ascended a great rise, a soaring plateau. They had traveled many kilometers upon the ice cap, but now land lay beneath their weary feet—albeit land encrusted in rime. None, save perhaps the shaman, had been to this hidden islet nor navigated the narrow path that coiled toward its zenith. After many woeful steps, the piteous people and their beasts arrived at the top, and were momentarily gladdened at the chance to rest—to touch the sky and to gaze out across the vastness. The children among them reached higher, tiny hands innocently hoping to scoop up the aurora in its liquid green-blue brilliance.
But Arluk, with a poise befitting the Inuto lords of old, gestured further inland with the whalebone rod. The wand's inscriptions appeared to his followers' tired teary eyes as if they flickered and writhed.
The tribe came to the lip of a caldera, and their final destination lay within a great, pitch-black crater. None could see the bottom through the shadows cast by the depression's inner walls, but it seemed far deeper down than their climb up. The new headman, showing nary a sign of fatigue, ordered his people along and reassured them that the journey was near its end. The prancing old wizard incanted in the secret tongue, and the weather-beaten Nakotiqa suddenly found themselves renewed—as if they had awoken from a quiet night's rest with a belly full of seal.
A narrow ridge spiraled down the cavity's interior slopes. The faint, flickering lights of the Inuits' lamps made shadows churn about them as they descended, doing little to illume their path. The animals soon refused to be prodded any further into the abyss, and all the tribe shared their hesitation. Arluk, still clad in the skin of the mono-horned demon, looked angrily among his company, then turned to his father.
Oogroq chanted and danced again. The crater's darkness fled from green, mephitic fires that erupted off of huge torches arrayed upon the walls and floor. At the nadir of the bowl-shaped hollow a great circle of five marble stones was revealed, each marvelously carved with curvilinear inscriptions and intricate bas-reliefs. The delicacy of the carvings was preserved as if time itself was in this place halted, none seemed touched by erosion. The Nakotiqa, long surrendered to primitivism, marveled at the sophistication of their ancestors. To have carved these monuments was to have possessed a lore they had long forgotten. None but the shaman could read the sigils, but all understood the story told by the bas-reliefs. Winged heroes and majestic giants, some with the heads or bodies of beasts, were depicted in conflict with things, fiends of terrible aspect—tentacled, twisted, and amorphous.
"Behold!" roared the masked angakkuq in the tongue of his tribe, and a symbol revealed itself in platinum lines on the ground between the graven plinths. It was a star. Its five radial arms warped sunwise from a central eye of fire.
"Fire and Ice, Defender and Doom, clash at the turn of the age," pronounced Arluk in a voice that echoed endlessly about the chasm. He widened his arms, glanced about his followers and said, "Nakotiq brothers and sisters, we meet here our destiny. Fear not, grieve not, for the Great Spirits, and the Grey Flame, guide us to salvation!"
Enraptured by their chieftain's words, the Nakotiqa formed a circle of hands around the Elder Sign. Arluk approached the glowing glyph's eye and raised the whalebone rod. The old wizard Oogroq stayed outside the circle and went to each of the oxen and elk in turn, opened the skull face of the mask to reveal the starburst face beneath, and silently struck them dead with an exhalation of breath.