"Tell me of the thing," the shaman said.
"It lives in the—" I started.
"No!" The stick came down hard on my knuckles. "Begin with how to stop it, how to keep it held. Always. What it is can wait until after."
I rubbed my hand, and began again. "The people must always be ready. They must keep their eyes to the South, to watch for the Everman. They must keep their eyes to the East, to watch for the City People, who pick among the ruins for toys they cannot understand. They must keep their eyes to the seas, for things that come across the waters are a deadly threat. They must keep their eyes inward, for the greatest threat comes from men who know.
"No man may enter the antechamber but that he comes to light the fires once more, or else that he is a shaman, going for a vision quest. He will enter with one other, and neither may leave except with the other. When they leave, they close the doors shut tight behind them.
"At all times will there be five guardians at the door, chosen from the people and trained in war. They will keep their spears sharp. When one sleeps, another comes to replace him. Their dogs will sleep at their feet, ready to challenge any who comes from outside or within." I looked up at the shaman. "Now?"
He nodded. "You know how to keep it held. Now you may say what it is."
"The Espy, called a Wonder by the ignorant, holds the number of a thousand thousands. It is of the kind called kahtar, the all-consuming." I took a deep breath. "There are two parts of the espy. Of the first, which we shall call the Aleph, is a dream of butterflies. They are held off by the burning of certain herbs, and it is therefore that we keep the fires lit, remain watchful should they go out. The dream of butterflies gives a man visions, strange scenes of times far past. I myself have seen these visions once. I saw men and women dressed strangely, in long, white coats. They spoke in a language I did not recognize."
"And of the other, the Beyt?" the shaman asked.
"That is the most dangerous part, though in seeming it is nothing but an old man. In other lands, he is called a god, or a devil. We know he is just a man who has lived very long, and that is what gives him power." I closed my eyes. "He was one of the first to leave the Home Ceitu. We do not know how he came to live so long. Perhaps through the efforts of the Everman. Perhaps from another Espy hidden deep in chambers we have not seen. It does not matter. He lives. That is enough. And he knows the secrets from the time before. His knowledge is a poison that must be kept from the world, and that is why we keep him held, as our ancestors did before us."
"Good enough so far," the shaman admitted. "You've echoed the words of others, admirably. But a shaman cannot simply speak like a parrot. You have been inside. You have seen the Beyt. Add to our knowledge. Tell me what he told you."
"He… He asked me to help him escape. He promised me great weapons, riches beyond my dreams. I refused, for we know him for a liar. He told me he was imprisoned unjustly. He cursed me, and then cursed Geyre above and Kalef below for holding him there. I… I fled. I am not a brave man. I make no excuse for this. My companion found me, and we left the chamber." I turned my face in shame.
"You did nothing wrong," the shaman said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "Many who have gone in have not returned. The dream of butterflies and the old one are strong, and we know they wish to get past us. We serve. We contain. We protect."
"Protect," I echoed. "Until the gods return."