Upon yellow-stained parchment the words

The old ones are patient, and not so easily fooled.

. . . kept his wits, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would reign yet today as lord of the earth. When the kingdom of Solomon, wisest of rulers, was divided by his heirs, Nebuchadnezzar conquered the lands of the Hebrews, along with many others, and took their male youths hostage, both high-born and . . . .   . . . were marched east and sent to study the Chaldean sciences—what the Hebrews called ‘the black arts’—in the hopes that a whole generation would be converted to the Babylonian faith only to return to the lands of their ancestors, marry, multiply, and so erase without bloodshed the famously fanatical cult of Yahweh. For Nebuchadnezzar desired a Babylon eternal.

It was one of these sons of Abraham, a boy named Daniel . . .   . . . excelled at his studies above . . .   . . . and was allowed to interpret the king’s dreams, an honor normally reserved for the High Priest of the Temple of Marduk. But so impressed was Nebuchadnezzar that he dismissed his minsters’ objections and kept the young man’s counsel day and night, often walking with him through the hanging gardens he had built to please his queen . . . had barely noticed them.

I’m not sure Nebuchadnezzar liked what he heard. For Daniel referred to the king as ‘the destroyer of nations’ and said Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom, his great legacy, would crumble and fall and be supplanted by mightier empires still, until at last a pinnacle was reached, a precipice from which the world itself would tumble.

The Book of Daniel is full . . . some as obtuse as a pale mirror, and it’s only with . . . You can believe Daniel was a charlatan, or you can believe that his vagary was intentional, that he had witnessed something so terrible, so frightening, he dared not say it outright . For in truth, Nebuchadnezzar was vexed by visions beyond reason . . . where he prayed to his gods first, as all men do. He prayed to the sky god Marduk, who had slain the many-headed chaos dragon and so forged civilization. He prayed to Enki and Ishtar and Enlil. But the gods and goddesses of Babylon were as silent as their stone-walled temples, as still as their marble-faced statuary, and the king despaired.

In a fit, Nebuchadnezzar demanded his priests call upon different gods, older gods whose names had passed from memory but whose crypts could still be found deep under the twice-ancient cities of Ur and Uruk, now part of . . .

And so seals were broken and hymns were sung and sacrifices were made, and with them, a portal was forged, and through it, the old gods were called. After a gap of thirteen days, they answered, and a deal was struck. The Nameless Ones, the ancient lords of the earth, promised the king that his beloved Babylon would never die. He had only to record a tome, which would be whispered to him, one chapter at a time, over a period of six days and six hours and six minutes—a gift to all humankind from the lords of night.

The king agreed and set . . .   . . . but he was not a fool. He knew that which was whispered to him was nothing less than a return to ancient bondage, the architecture of eternal night. So he locked himself in his chambers for many weeks, there to trick the tricksters. He honored his word to the letter but recorded the tome in a language that had never been spoken: its alphabet, his own devising; its grammar, allegory; its syntax, so recursive and arcane that he had hope it could never be deciphered. And when finally he emerged, shrunken and disheveled, to test his creation before the wise men of his court, there were none who could decipher it, not even the brilliant Daniel, and Nebuchadnezzar retired, believing he had preserved . . .

But even a king is human. He couldn’t easily forget the murmurings in the dark, nor the strange and abominable recipes he had transcribed into a stillborn tongue. In the end, history tells us that King Nebuchadnezzar went mad and took his own life. There is no mention, by Daniel or any others, of the book he had composed while locked in his bedchambers, feverishly scratching until his reed split and his fingers cracked and his own blood flowed as ink. But I’m certain they knew of its dark purpose. I’m certain it was why Daniel had called the king ‘the destroyer of nations.’ I’m certain it was why he filled his eponymous chronicle with cryptic warnings about the end of days. For he dared not speak the truth. He dared not reveal to the world that such a book existed. For in the king’s madness, it had disappeared.

. . .

And as for Babylon, she is the name long given to decadence, which rules everywhere.


 

I’m posting the chapters of my forthcoming urban paranormal mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS, in order until the book is released. A blend of hard-boiled whodunit and contemporary urban fantasy, it’s been described as “Tolkien meets Dashiell Hammett for dinner in the present day.”

You can sign up here to be notified when the book is released.

The next chapter is: I saw my first dead body the summer we moved to Atlanta.

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