─But what is that whisper?
─Ah. Then ye hear it?
─Aye. ’Tis thin and eerie, mingling with the waves, and seemeth to come from great distance. I know not the language thereof, but I hear great rage therein.
─As well ye might. We stand near the spot at which the wizard Zigan-Uvalen bested a demon sent against him by an enemy. ’Tis the demon’s whisper ye hear.
─Tell me the tale.
─It is after this wise…
Zigan-Uvalen woke to a stench of brimstone, a crackle of flame, and found himself staring up at a fearsome ebon face, lapped in blood-red fire, horned with curling jet, fanged in razor-sharp obsidian.
“Wake, Wizard!” the apparition boomed. “And make thy peace with thy gods, for I am come to devour thee!”
Zigan-Uvalen sat up and pinched himself thrice.
“Without introduction?” he asked, having verified that he was truly awake.
“Well, ’tis customary, in the better magickal circles.”
“Aye? Then know this: I am the Demon Ormaguz, summoned from the hottest corner of the deepest pit of Hell by your most puissant and malicious enemy, the wizard Muran-Egah. I have been dispatched by him over many leagues of plain and ocean to wreak his long-meditated, slow-readied, at-last-matured vengeance on thee.”
“Very well. And what are your qualifications?”
“Aye. Are ye worthy of him who sent you, O Demon Ormaguz?”
“Aye, that I am! And will now dev–”
“Nay, nay!” The wizard raised a supplicatory hand. “Take not offence, O Ormaguz. I ask merely out of form. ’Tis customary, in the better magickal circles.”
“Then know this… Well, of formal qualifications, diplomas, and the like, I have none, ’tis true. But I am a demon, thou puny mortal. I have supernatural powers of body and mind, far beyond thy ken.”
“I doubt them not. At least, I doubt not your powers of body, in that ye have travelled so very far and very fast this very night. Or so ye say. But powers of mind? Of what do they consist?”
“Of aught thou carest to name, O Wizard.”
“Then ye have, for instance, much mathematical skill?”
“Far beyond thy ken.”
“Infinitely far, wizard!”
“Infinitely? Then could ye, for instance, choose a number at hazard from the whole and endless series of the integers?”
“Aye, that I could!”
“Entirely at hazard, as though ye rolled a die of infinite sides?”
“Aye! In less than the blink of an eye!”
“Well, so ye say.”
“So I say? Aye, so I say, and say sooth!”
“Take not offence, O Demon, but appearances are against you.”
“Ye are a demon, after all, unbound by man’s pusillanimous morality.”
“I speak sooth, I tell thee! I could, in an instant, choose a number, entirely at hazard, from the whole and endless series of the integers.”
“And speak it to me?”
“Ha! So that is thy game, wizard! Thou seekest to occupy me with some prodigious number whilst thou makest thy escape.”
“Nay, nay, ye misjudge me, O Demon. Let me suggest this. If ye can, as ye say, choose such a number, then do so and recite its digits to me after the following wise: in the first second, name a single digit – nay, nay, O Demon, hear me out, I pray! Aye, in the first second, name a single digit thereof; in the second second, name four digits, which is to say, two raised to the second power; in the third second, name a number of digits I, as a mere mortal, cannot describe to you, for ’tis equal to three raised to the third power of three.”
“That would be 7,625,597,484,987 digits named in the third second, O Wizard.”
“Ah, most impressive! And your tongue would not falter to enunciate them?”
“Nay, not at all! Did I not tell thee my powers are supernatural?”
“That ye did, O Demon. And in the fourth second, of course, ye would name a number of digits equal to four raised to four to the fourth power of four. And so proceed till the number is exhausted. Does this seem well to you?”
“Aye, very well. Thou wilt have the satisfaction of knowing that ’tis an honest demon who devoureth thee.”
“That I will. Then, O Ormaguz, prove your honesty. Choose your number and recite it to me, after the wise I described to you. Then devour me at your leisure.”
─Then the Demon chose a number at hazard from the whole and endless series of the integers and began to recite it after the wise Zigan-Uvalen had described. That was eighteen centuries ago. The demon reciteth the number yet. That is the whisper ye hear from the sea, which rose long ago above the tomb of Zigan-Uvalen.