What a freak, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!

--Blaise Pascal, Pensees

hortly before dawn they reached the mountain where the sphere had come to rest. It had broad shoulders and before the sphere's arrival had been the tallest, most imposing mountain in the range. Upon impact the sphere had destroyed the summit, producing a tremendous cloud of dust and smoke which, carried by the wind, billowed upward and stretched over many miles before dissipating in the morning sunlight. Before the dawn they had seen the greenish glow illuminating the base of the cloud from a far distance. Like a beacon in the night it had beckoned them, drawing on their curiosity. As they neared the top and began to appreciate the circumference of the crater rim, they were amazed by its vast size.

His lieutenants sensed the barbarian leader's excitement as they struggled up the final yards of the mountain's steep, barren face. Although hardened by lifetimes of killing and pillage, they were uneasy in the presence of this gigantic, mysterious object, whose origin and purpose were unknown. At the same time, they recognized that their leader felt oddly bound to it, and this added complexity heightened their anxiety and bewilderment. But years of campaigning under his hard discipline made them quell their fear and follow him without question. Besides, no one in his highly competitive inner circle wanted to be the first to question his judgment. Faces dusty and grimly determined, they did their best to conceal their fear.

They were almost to the rim when the earth shook violently beneath them. Their eyes widened in terror as enormous founts of steaming, sulfurous green lava were suddenly ejected from the crater above them and swept down the mountainside in inescapable waves.

At this, the barbarian leader was suddenly cast into confusion. He was struck by a powerful blow of fear and betrayal. He had interpreted his dreams and the sphere's presentation to him and his people as a sign that he had been chosen, selected to serve as its agent. He had thought that his encounter with the sphere would be a personal exchange on a parity that would acknowledge his power, intelligence and importance. Approaching the summit, he had known that he would do what it asked, certainly; however, he had believed that he would have the choice to serve. Now he realized that whatever happened would be completely the result of its will, not his, and that he would have no say or decision-making authority. Worse, he was frightened at the sudden realization that he was in the presence of an overwhelmingly malignant being who, playing on his pride, had easily tricked him; trapped his people; and whose evil made his rapacious deeds, and those of his tribe, seem trivial and insignificant. He was, in short, terror-stricken. An animal instinct for survival, and the tiny remnant of his psyche that, although long suppressed, still loved the good, made him turn and flee. But there was no escape.

In a matter of seconds, the entire tribe was completely engulfed and overwhelmed by the green miasma, which swept them down the face of the mountain like tiny insects washed away by a cloudburst. Under its reeking surface, a corporal degeneration rapidly occurred.

He arose from the stinking mire as it dissipated onto the surrounding plains. The morning sun still shown on the horizon, but to him it would never look the same again. He raised his head and gazed at his followers. His eyes no longer looked human at all; instead, they were yellow, with white cataracts where his irises and pupils had been. His incisors had grown long and sharp. His skin, like that of his tribesmen, had taken on a repulsive, greenish-yellow hue.

"Death," he uttered in a low, powerful voice. Then he cried at the top of his lungs, "Death! Death to all who oppose us!" His people responded with a resounding roar of approval. He was now the sphere's High Priest, its Chosen One. And although the motives underlying its plans had not been revealed to him, he would do its bidding and bring destruction to the inhabitants of the North.

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