There are places far away from the cities, towns, and country lanes that go nowhere, where small isolated farmsteads stand surrounded by fields, bogs and woods. The Dark Stranger passed by these.
There are places far away from the farmed lands of the country, where the soil is poor and sheep are the only watchers as storms fall from the mountains onto wide empty moorlands. The Dark Stranger moved passed these places too.
There are vast swathes of forests, jungles and steppes where men rarely tread and only then in foolhardiness or madness.
The Dark Stranger considered one of these, but quickly moved on.
The place the Dark Stranger stopped his search was far, far away from anywhere worth noting. If this place doubled or even trebled the number of life forms that inhabited it then you would, maybe, describe it as ‘desolate’. There was a building here, but no one alive except the Dark Stranger (and it was debatable if he were truly alive in the human sense of the word) knew of its existence. The building was low, stone clad and sunk deep into the frost bitten ground as if it were one solid block. Even if it had had windows the view would have been of a bleak landscape stripped bare by sub-zero temperatures and shaved clean of vegetation by biting north-east winds. This building represented the Monastery of Shush.
The Monastery had first been built in the latter part of the nineteen century when this forgotten part of Outer Mongolia was under the nominal rule of the Tsars. It was the home of one mad monk, who had previously written several enchanted and dangerous books and, in a rare revelation of sanity, had resolved to hide away from the world, to keep his madness to himself and to keep one of the books he’d penned out of the wrong hands (which was everyone’s hands).
A small metal door, no bigger than a T-34 tank lid, which in fact it was, opened up into a short tunnel of thick concrete, cemented stones and, finally, layers of yellow bricks. It was pitch dark inside what was a tiny cell of a room deep in the structure. The Dark Stranger didn’t need illumination to see but out of habit he switched on his battery lantern anyway, its thin white light falling on an almost empty space as cold and as bleak as the outside steppe.
“Hello,” said the Dark Stranger.
The old man, who was sitting like a crossed-legged spectre on the floor, didn’t answer. His eyes were closed and a low, almost inaudible hum was omitting from his pursed lips.
“I’ve had to return it,” spoke the Dark Stranger, “It has become self-aware again.”
“It was careless to remove it from here in the first place,” whispered the old man. “Potato,” he added.
“Yes, I can see that now. It has done a great deal of damage.”
“It has done no damage at all,” whispered the mad monk without raising or lowering his tone at all.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked the Dark Stranger; it was rare that he didn’t know something and when he didn’t know something his curiosity piqued.
“Books cannot do damage, and the Temporal Tome is just a book,” replied the Mad Monk.
“It entrapped a young boy and used him to open a gateway. There was loss of life and much destruction,” the Dark Stranger stressed the loss of life, even though he knew that the Mad Monk had lived through a millennia where life was cheap and lost easily.
“It did no such thing,” stated the Mad Monk. His eyes were still shut and in between talking he continued his mantra.
“Tell me,” said the Dark Stranger, his curiosity shifting toward dread.
“The book is just a book; the boy was always going to do what he did. The book does not give power, it only uses what already exists.”
“I don’t understand…” said the Dark Stranger for the first time since Cuba.
“No, you don’t. …. Potato.”
They remained quiet for a long time after that. The Dark Stranger unwrapped the Temporal Tome and placed it on the floor before the Mad Monk. The Tome could not do any damage here. The monk’s mind had been emptied of imagination and desire when creating the Tome and no other living soul was present for hundreds of miles.
“It’s coming from the other side of the gateway,” postulated the Dark Stranger as he sat with his cloaked back against the frozen wall.
“Yes,” replied the Monk.
“Why? Why one God and then another? Why use the boy?”
“The mind of a child is a powerful thing,” stated the Monk.
“I said that.”
There was another long silence and finally the Dark Stranger reached out and turned over the cover of the Temporal Tome.
“Don’t let it tempt you,” said the monk, his tone still cold and low.
“I want nothing,” answered the Dark Stranger, more to himself than anyone else.
“NOT TRUE.” The Mad Monk’s voice was shaking and loud, as if a great effort had to be made to make it sound out.
“I want nothing from you,” said the Dark Stranger aware that he was now talking directly to the Tome.
The Monk’s voice tried to laugh but the sound was broken like a skipping record.
“GREAT MINDS ARE COMING, COMING THROUGH THE GATEWAY YOU HELPED OPEN WIDE. YOUR LITTLE FREAK SHOW AT BOTOLF AND THE PHILIPS BROTHERS HAVE ENDED THIS GAME OF YOURS.”
“We will resist, we will always resist. Whatever it is you think is coming to destroy this reality, we will resist.”
“THEY’RE COMING … ALL OF THEM.”