BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
I — my name is Fyodor — have been hunting. At first, I hunted like we all did, with bone-tipped spears, stalking through the caveman night to try to get a glimpse of monsters. Later, my tools got stronger, and I hunted with experiments and analyses, needing to label what I had found. However, since then, I have been hunting with the strongest tools of all, in halls of experience, down blind alleys of myth and rumor, searching for understanding.
I have found many answers. The world is cut open before me, like a dead mouse on a student’s desk. Time and space are relative terms, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. As my knowledge has grown, they have become less and less significant. I was taught, as you probably were, to see time as a line, another arrow-straight dimension like the directions of space. I was taught a lie. Time — like space — is far more complicated, curved and twisted, as befits the entrails of the universe.
For instance, as I write these words, I know I am sitting in this small, cheap room, sheltering vainly from the bitter cold. I can see this much. Outside, I can feel the rumble of tired trucks carrying material through the filthy Novgorod streets. But I can also smell the stench of burning incense in a hut on the steppes, where an old, old shaman has just showed me his spirits, and through the bathroom door, I can hear a Manipulator screaming as the poison I have fed her snuffs out her life. I do not remember which of these things is happening now and which is memory — if, indeed, any of them are now, even this room around me. When we were split, my mind split too.
I would like to start at the beginning, but I may have to end with it, instead. That has been my quest, you see — to find where it began. They set me the question.
The Manipulator is screaming as she dies. The poison should be fairly painless, but something in her recognizes the inevitability of her death. Why does she fight against death? Why do we all fight against death? Is it all just fear of the unknown? It could be that the Dark Ones were once people whose fear of death outweighed their humanity. If so, that might provide a useful line of approach to the problem.
Elsewhere, across five thousand years of time, men spin tales of gods, and monsters, and heroes. Stories, like men, are born, compete, and die; but in the process they give birth to other tales, and pieces of truth are hidden within their corpses. In a dingy cafeteria in London, Emma rests her hand gently on my arm, and tells me of a great evil waiting to eat the world. Back in America, door locked against the oh-so-frightening outside world, my apprentice pores over an ancient scroll, horrified by what he reads. Across the world, cogs and wheels trapped within paths of my shaping twist around, their struggles revealing not only their own hopes and fears, but the fate of humanity itself. Friedrich Nietzsche had an idea of the truth, of course, and poor, doomed Howard Lovecraft, but neither of them were able to win through.
In the mean while though, it is October, and I am walking in across a park in an unattractive part of Kolpino, just outside the city my grandfather knew as Leningrad. A group of young men, four shaven-headed fools, are attacking a smaller, older man. From the taunts they shout between blows, I gather that he refused to pay them extortion money. Not an uncommon incident. I wonder, ‘Should I help him?’ It will do him no good if I am punched and kicked too.
One onlooker feels differently. He proves to be something of a Good Samaritan, rushing up to the young men and pulling them away with almost berserk fury. He grabs one youth by the back of the shirt and pulls; the youth goes flying. Suddenly, a voice shouts in my mind, in words of fire, “WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?” The veil of illusion dimming my sight rips away, and in an instant, I can see the corruption. Nothing will ever be the same again.