(Fiction) Babylon Eternal

“The Bible tells us that after the kingdom of Solomon was divided and so fell to the Babylonians, the author of the prophetic Book of Daniel was taken captive, along with a number of other Hebrew youths from many notable families — hostages you might say, to insure against future revolt. They were sent to study the Babylonian sciences — what the Hebrews called ‘the black arts’ — under King Nebuchadnezzar himself in the hopes that the young men, a whole generation, would be converted and that they would return to the land of their ancestors, marry, multiply, and so erase — without bloodshed — the famously fanatical cult of Yahweh.

“The young Daniel was said to excel at his studies above all the others — not just his fellow countrymen but the Babylonian scribes as well. Such was his talent, he 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 minister’s objections and kept the young Hebrew’s counsel, walking with him day and night through the castle.

“I’m not sure he like what he heard. For Daniel referred to the king as ‘the destroyer of nations’ and said Nebuchadnezzar’s own kingdom would be the first to fall.

“The Book of Daniel is full of that — cryptic statements about the end of days. Since ever it was penned, it’s been used to validate every crackpot theory about the end of the world. Most of its ‘predictions’ are as open to interpretation as your average fortune cookie. But not so the fate of the king, for the rule of Nebuchadnezzar was documented in a number of historical sources. There is little doubt that he went insane, and no doubt at all that his successors sputtered only briefly before Babylon fell to the mighty Persian conquerer Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, which the Greeks would famously resist a century later at the battle of Thermopylae.

“You can either believe Daniel got lucky, where he missed with all the rest, or you can believe that he had inside information. You can believe that he was a fool, or you can believe that his vagary was intentional, that he had witnessed something so terrible, he dared not say it outright — the sign of an end he knew would come, just not how and just not when.

“For in truth, Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed by the sterling youth and so vexed by his prophecy that he did the unthinkable. But not at first. First, he prayed to his gods, to the sky god Marduk, who had slain the many-headed dragon, Tiamat, and so ‘created’ the world — which is to say, taken it out of darkness and chaos.

“But Marduk didn’t answer, and so, under the weight of prophecy, the ailing king instructed his priests to call upon the dark lords of the underworld.

“And they answered.

“And a deal was struck.

“The Dark Ones, the ancient lords of the earth, who had sent Tiamat as their emissary and governor, promised the king that Babylon would never die. But their aid had a price. Nebuchadnezzar, the once-wise ruler and master of the magical arts and sciences, had to record a tome, which would be whispered to him, once 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.

“They call us ‘dusk walkers,’ you see — half in light, half in darkness. I suppose the idea was that if they gave us a big enough sword, we’d use it to cut ourselves down. If anything, the 20th century would suggest it was a wise strategy.

“The king agreed to the terms. And so it was the Necronomicon, the Book of Shadows, was born.

“But Nebuchadnezzar was no fool. He knew that which was whispered to him was nothing less than the architecture of the eternal night, a return to ancient bondage. And so he tricked the tricksters. He honored his word but recorded the tome in the alphabet of a language that had never been spoken — a language of his own devising, a language of deep allegory and intractable complexity, a language so recursive and arcane that he had hope it would never be deciphered.

“But the old ones are patient. And not so easily fooled. Had he kept his wits, Nebuchadnezzar would reign yet today. But even a king is mortal, and the old man couldn’t so 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 quill ran dry and his fingers cracked and his own blood flowed as ink. But I think they knew of it. I think that’s what Daniel saw in his visions. That’s why he called the king ‘the destroyer of nations.’ That’s 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 such a book as that 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.”


rough cut from the revisions to my forthcoming occult mystery, FEAST OF SHADOWS

cover image by Nekro