The Old Master

3075 BC — Kesh, Sumeria

Servants press themselves against the stone walls and bow their heads as he rushes past in fury. He bursts into Moatallao’s suite with enough energy to send the heavy doors banging against their stops. The large room is filled with servants, male and female, household, garden, and trade, all clustered around the great bed, and, now, all looking back toward the younger master of the house. The angry younger master.

“Everyone out. Now,” he says, and people begin to move, their pace quickening as he stands aside to let them pass. They move awkwardly, caught between the desire to maintain decorum in the presence of impending death, and the need to hurry quickly past the younger master.

Finally they are gone, the last two bowing their heads while pulling the large doors closed again, with obedient thoughtfulness.

Te-Nen’s breath catches in his throat. The long, frail frame in the white and gray bed looks as if its life has already departed.

Then the pale eyes open, and they are the color of the distance over a mist-blown sea of long ago.

The skin of the ancient face is translucent, as white as the gauzy sheets of the bed. His long hair no longer has its natural platinum sheen, but is the simple white of the snow on the mountaintops.

After an absence of two weeks’ travel to Moatallao’s tin interests among the Hurrians Te-Nen has returned to find that his master of forty years, a man who has walked the Earth for seven millennia, who remembers the time before the Flood—is dying.

“What,” Te-Nen manages to say, “what has happened? Why do you not heal yourself? Take life! Either from the crystal or the blood, but take it!”

The ancient man smiles slowly. After many seconds he opens his mouth to speak but it is more seconds yet before he can muster the breath to do so. When at last his words come, they are as faint as a whisper.

“Is it so easy?” he says.

“Has it not been for your long life? Has it not been for me, since you taught me? Am I not still young who should by now be old?”

Hearing himself use the word ‘old’, his confidence falters. He is now fifty years of age: less than an infant compared to the man who is lying before him.

Dying before him.

“I am sorry,” Moatallao says weakly. “I thought I could last long enough to complete your education. But I have lost the thread. I have little time now.”

“But why?” Te-Nen demands. “As I said, why not take life? See! I will bring you the crystals myself!”

He turns to match action to words, but the old man speaks again.

“Save the crystals. For yourself. I am beyond their help. A leaky vessel. The power flows out of me now as quickly as it flows in. More quickly. Sit now. Sit. We have little time. And two lessons yet that I must teach.”


“You believe that you have defeated death, having reached four twelves and two of years while retaining your youth. Beware, for it is not so.

“In the vast subtleties of our bodies are hidden two clocks whose expiry brings death. And only now at the end do I begin to wonder – is there a third? Which even I have never suspected? A clock not of the body but of the soul?

“The first clock came to men only after the flood. The story of its origin will be your final lesson. You already understand something of the nature of the first clock, by virtue of having defeated it. It is the first clock that kills men at the age of sixty and ten or sixty and twenty years. In your meditation you have seen the ribbons of knowledge that coil and uncoil in the center of all the particles of your body. You have seen the fuses at the end of each ribbon that shorten as a common man lives his life, as the particles split and give birth, each new generation having a chance to shorten the fuse. You have seen the way that old age begins when the fuses burn too short. And above all, you have learned how to halt and even to reverse the shortening of those fuses by the application of the force of life and the imagination.

“But now I have told you that this clock, this burning of the fuses that brings men their age, only came to men after the Great Flood. Does this mean that men before the Flood were immortal? No, it does not. It means that there is a second clock.

“The second clock works upon the same ribbons of knowledge as the first, but it works by a different and far more subtle mechanism. The second clock, which once was the only one, works in the foldings of the ribbons which cause their knowledge to influence itself, adding here and there locks and gates that affect the way that the knowledge is used to maintain life. These locks and gates are like a second form of writing, not changing the original ribbons, not changing the directions they give, but adding a gloss above them – a gloss that says ‘Do less of this.’ or ‘Wait until later to do this.’ or even ‘Do this only after accomplishing that other.’

“This other form of writing is not like the first form, the main form. Yet it arises from the main form acting upon itself. This is a technique of the gods who wrought the human form, as well as those of beasts and plants, and its full capability passes human understanding. Yet this is the technique which you must understand well enough to halt its implementation of the second clock.

“If you fail, you, who now think yourself immortal, will yet die in the manner that men died before the Flood. You will live to be five hundred or six hundred, possibly seven hundred years. Then the second clock will take you and tell all the particles, the small rooms of life in your body, to cease their function, and you will age and die within three months, or five.”

“But how?” Te-Nen asks. “Is the effort similar to the defeat of the first clock?”

“Similar, in that you must learn the subtleties of the writing, yet different in that those subtleties are vastly greater. Also different in that the second clock will not yield to the simple brute application of life, but only if that life is focused through a sufficiently learned will, and reason.

“I hope that you will succeed, but even could I stay I could help you no further. This gate cannot be taught as can be the first. At this final gate, every man must pass alone, or, more likely, fail alone.

“But the final lesson concerns the origin of the first clock, and the import of that origin. I have told you that the first clock came to men only after the flood. Now I will say more.

“The Flood was not a natural cataclysm but a deliberate act, and its authors were also the authors of the first clock. The Flood was not a disaster but a conquest, and the first clock that slays common men is the yoke of the conquerors upon the necks of mankind.

Te-Nen sits back in his chair.

“A deliberate act? But I have seen, in your mind, the flood waters rising in the docks and quays of your first home, in ancient Atlantis. Surely none but the gods themselves can bid the waters rise.”

“And the ones of whom I speak,” Moatallao answers, “are the gods indeed, or so they named themselves to mankind in the ages after their arrival. They are the conquerors of this world. When Atlantis was yet young we knew them not.”

“They—came? As men come and go?”

“They did not come as men come floating in wooden ships or riding upon beasts. They sailed here from beyond the curves of the world, where there is no air. They sailed long among the stars, their ships cutting the great darkness in which the stars are fixed.”

Te-Nen stares in rapt attention. In his visions he has seen the darkness above the sky and learned that the world is a sphere that floats among the stars.

“They have human form, but they are powerful enough to assume what forms they please. And they command powers other than those of the sorcerer.

The old man halts and closes his eyes and Te-Nen leans forward in his chair wanting to hear more but afraid to interrupt Moatallao’s rest. It was only two years ago that he first achieved sufficient control of his astral travel to view the Earth from a great height, high above the clouds. It was the most terrifying and at the same time exhilarating experience of his life and he has wished to see it again ever since. But before he can decide between waking Moatallao and letting him rest, the ancient man resumes speaking although his eyes remain closed.

“Long ago,” he says weakly, “when Atlantis ruled the seas, ice was upon the world. A hundred leagues north of the lands of the Cucuteni the ice cliffs could be seen, blue and white in the sun. Once, our historians said, the ice covered all the world to the north, a thousand times the land of Sumer, to a depth of twenty cables. The ice was vast but it was in the north where few of our mariners dared to sail. They traded instead in the wide lands of Amexem, of Ba-Kur across the western sea, and with the horse lords of the Igi-Nim.

“But when I was a young man the northern ice had already begun to recede. No more than a cable each year, but slowly the ice cliffs moved, and slowly farmers among the northern peoples could plant their crops earlier each year.

“It was then, when I was less than your age now, that the Sky Gods struck. I learned many years later. They sent great missiles against the ice in the far north, in the east and in the west. Missiles larger than houses, speeding faster than arrows. The ice cliffs shattered and water came plunging down rushing in torrents ten leagues wide, and the water multiplied itself as it cascaded down the ice.”

Moatallao’s old eyes open again, staring into his memories.

“In a day and a night, Atlantis drowned. Then the Earth shook, and the mountains burned and the sun hid its face for a year, and even the savages of the wild lands starved.

“As the savages starved, the sky-gods attacked again. Among the survivors they released vapors that caused men to fall ill and many more died. Yet the illness was not meant to kill, but to change men’s seed so that their children would be changed. This was the beginning of what we now call the first clock: the changes to the ribbons of knowledge in men’s bodies that now cause them to age and die in a single sixty of years, or sixty and ten. It was not understood at first.

“Only then, after they had visited the greatest woe upon men, did your gods come to the Black-Haired People. An and Ki, En-Lil and En-Ki, Nan-Na and I-Nan-Na, Utu, Nin-Ur-Ta, and Nin-Hur-Sag.

“And when they came,” the old eyes move and focus upon Te-Nen, “they introduced themselves as saviors, come to help in men’s time of need. But they came only to the barbarians of the under-lands, for all of Atlantis was drowned.”

The old eyes begin to flutter shut, but now Te-Nen does lean forward to interrupt, daring to touch the thin coverlet and beneath it Moatallao’s terribly thin arm.

“Then the gods,” he says urgently, “are not gods? They are conquerors no different than kings?”

“They are very different,” the ancient man says. “Powerful beyond our understanding, in the power of the spirit and of the world.”

“But then why have they come, if there were none of their kind here to defeat? The Black-Haired People must be no more than savages to such beings. If they are mere conquerors, what glory can there be in such a conquest? What can they desire from us? Do they wish merely to be worshiped?”

“Yes,” Moatallao whispers. “Have I not shown you how to take the energy of life without killing the donor?”

“You have,” says Te-Nen, frowning.

“How do you accomplish this?”

“I engage the attention, so as to prevent the astral body from defending itself with barriers. Then it is a simple matter to draw the energy of life outward from the donor.”

Moatallao nods. “And how could you accomplish the same act upon a thousand at once?”

“It cannot be done. No one is powerful enough to entrain the attention of so many at once.”

“True. But. What if you could stand before such a crowd when they open themselves to you of their own choice? What if they were to expertly and purposely suspend their will and entrain their attention upon you with all their might?”

“Well,” Te-Nen frowns, “perhaps then I could indeed learn to sip life from all at once. What does it matter? Such a thing would never happen.”

“Go to the festival of I-Nan-Na in the springtime,” the old man says, “when a thousand supplicants are praying to her priests for her blessing in the coming year, and think again.”

Te-Nen leans back in his chair, his gaze fixed on Moatallao’s face.

“Then multiply that multitude by all the temples of all the gods in all the land of Sumer, as well as the lands of the Hurrians, the Martu, and even unto the distant land of Kemet in the west.”

“Then,” Te-Nen is whispering himself now, as though fearing to be overheard, “the foreign gods also are not true gods? They do likewise?”

“The foreign gods are the same beings. They merely give themselves different names in different lands, and collect their energy from the millions. This is why they came, and conquered. Not for glory, but as farmers come to tame a new land and turn its wild kine into their tamed cattle.”

The old man’s eyes drift shut again.

“I cannot imagine,” Te-Nen says, “what the beings who have called themselves our gods could do with such quantities of the energy of life. But whatever their abilities, if they are not truly gods then they are mortal as we are. Stay with me! We will fight against them together!”

The mist-gray eyes regard him silently and they have depths that cannot be seen in the eyes of common men. Usually Te-Nen is able to forget that the man whom he serves is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the lands of Sumer, whose saw his youth two sixties of sixties of years ago in the legendary past. Most times it is easy to imagine that he is simply an old man like some others that can be seen occasionally riding sedan chairs in the streets and markets of Kesh.

This, however, is not one of those times.

“When you have taken the energy that sustains your body, have you ever killed to do so?”

“You know that I have,” Te-Nen says.

“Have you ever deceived one of your donors, leading her to believe that you wished merely to make love with her?”

“Of course!” Te-Nen scowls.

“As have I, in the past. But then how are these beings different from us? They merely do likewise, on a greater stage. Yes, I mourn for lost Atlantis. But I do not hate these beings, these Nine who were the author of that loss. Nor should you.”


“No anger. No thought of revenge. These Nine are now the only force in this world who wish to build. Do you not see? They made the land of Sumer, and its kingship. They made the land of Kemet to the west and the kingdoms of the Hurrians to the north. They destroyed only so that they could remake in their own image. Would you not do the same? It is in your heart to build also. I have seen this. Then do not scorn the rulers of the world. Watch them. Learn from them. Someday, even come to serve them.”

“But then why not you as well?” Te-Nen squeezes the old man’s arm. “Why not continue through the centuries?”

The old man nods weakly.

“Maybe it is the third clock that I have theorized: that of the soul. I have traveled far, and after so long the past comes to outweigh the present. It is no longer in my own heart to build, but only to recall old glories, old dreams. I tell you how to think of the new gods, but I cannot. I cannot help but feel it is no longer my world, but theirs. So a century ago I felt the life force ebbing out of me, leaking out no matter how quickly refilled, and I knew my time had finally come. I only hesitated for one more hope.”

“What? What was it?”

“That I might find a boy,” the old man smiles. “An heir, if not of my body then of my soul. One that I could teach.”

He slowly takes his hand out from under the blanket and grasps that of the younger man. Every bone in the old man’s hand is visible.

“Do not despair,” he whispers. “Do not forget.”


It is an hour before the young master emerges, and from the look on his face everyone knows that the old master Mu-Ta-Lu is no more. Looking into the bed chamber they see the long, frail old body lying still in slanting sunlight.

Yet the young master is not consumed by grief but desires action. He does not order a mourning period but merely issues commands for the disposition of the body, and then continues.

“I will take my evening meal in the counting room,” he tells several of the house servants. “And bring me all records of the tin mining.”

Te-Nen stalks off toward the counting room where he once worked as a boy. He has long wondered about the land of Kemet, and his interest was reignited by Moatallao’s mention of the distant land today. Recently united, it now beckons as a land of peace and stability at a time when it is obvious that the many cities of Sumer have chosen war over peace. Skirmishes between Nip-Pur and Da-Gan have already occurred, and all other cities are buying weapons and training soldiers. Once it begins, the instability could last for decades or even open the door to barbarian invasion.

Te-Nen knows that above all he must find a peaceful land in which to begin his meditation, study, and experiments toward the defeat of what Moatallao termed the second clock.

There is great work to do.

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