The animals gathered, one by one, outside the final city of Man, furtive, curious, and afraid.
All was dark. In the west was a blood-red sunset, and in the east a blood-red moonrise of a waning moon. No lamps shined in the towers and minarets, and all the widows of the palaces, mansions, and fanes were empty as the eyes of skulls. All about the walls of the city were the fields and houses that were empty and still, and all the gates and doors lay open.
Above the fortresses and barracks, black pillars upheld statues of golden eagles, beaks open, unmoving, and still. Above the coliseum and circus, where athletes strove and acrobats danced and slaves fought and criminals were fed alive to wild beasts for the diversion of the crowds, and the noise of screams and cries rose up like incense toward heaven, statues of heroes and demigods stood on white pillars, glaring blindly down.
Within other walls were gardens whose trees were naked in the wind, and the silence was broken only by the rustle of the carpet of fallen leaves wallowing along the marble paths and pleasances.
Above the boulevards and paved squares where merchants once bought and sold ivory and incense and purple and gold, or costly fabrics of silks from the east, or ambergris from the seas beyond Fortunate Isles, and auction houses adorned and painted where singing birds and dancing girls were sold to the highest bidder, or given to the haughtiest peer. And here were gambling houses where princes and nobles once used gems as counters for cities and walled town, and the downfall of nations waited on the turn of a card. And there were pleasure houses where harlots plied their trade, and houses of healing where physicians explained which venereal disease had no cures, and arranged for painless suicides, and houses of morticians where disease-rattled bodies were burnt in private, without any ceremony that might be bad for business.
And higher on the high hill in the center of the city where the libraries of the learned and the palaces of the emperors and kings adored as gods. But no history was read in the halls of learning and no public laws debated in the halls of power.
Not far outside the city was a mountain that had been cut in two, crown to root, by some supernatural force. On the slopes of the dark mountain, in a dell overgrown and wild, two dark creatures met, peering cautiously toward the empty city: A black wolf saw a black raven sitting in a thornbush. “What is the news, eater of carrion? Did you fly over the city and spy out where the corpses are?”
The black raven shrugged uncomfortably. “I thought it unwise to intrude. What of you, bold corsair against the sheepfolds of Man? Man has always feared your kind. Surely you crept into the unwatched and unguarded gates? Surely you were not afraid.”
The wolf was embarrassed and turned away. “Surely I am not a fool.”
“Who, then, can go into the city?” asked the raven.