White Lark, for she was able now to tell Mink her name, led the way to the fearsome, steaming valley where only the most venturesome went for valuable body paints. It was a long, very difficult journey, since it lay half-way to the Rain Mountain volcano, across mostly glaciers and mountains, with few open valleys and clefts where they might find provisions. Many Snow Striders--which the Inuit of the North called the Tornnarsuk--hung about the route as well, and also liked to go down and roll in the salts and paints of the steaming valley.
Mink did not dare be truthful with her, especially since she called him “Handsome Otter,” the name which the Kiowa had written on the Sacred Bull’s Hide.
Fortunate for them, the winter storms were over, and they made good progress, with the ice in good condition for travel. Wherever steam vents broke through the ice cap and carved out pockets of life, they found refuge and rest. Sometimes they found bands of tribes, but they were always welcomed, though Mink remained wary and ill of ease, his hand on his weapons the entire time they were with these other people, sharing their lodges, caves, or tipis. Valuable news was exchanged, and they learned that the Flying Horse had been seen, but not for quite a while. Most thought Mink was more foolish than brave, and tried to dissuade him. But Mink could not back down before White Lark, even though he was experiencing second thoughts the closer they got to the end of their journey.
Yet, full of fears, he had only to go to sleep with his medicine pouch under his cheek, and in the morning the medicine of the Black Stone was in his brain, firing his spirit onward.
Many bands had passed through before them on the way to the Rain Mountain, braving the dread landscape of flying rocks of flame and smoking and glowing lava vents to gather highly prized black obsidian, which provided razor edged arrows and knives and could be traded for a horse or anything else that was needed. At last they came to the place. It had no name, but it was unmistakable. A vast sinkhole in the glaciers, carved out by constant upwellings of steam and water and smoke. A forest grew so tangled and thick in the valley that visitors chose to walk around it on trails. Swamps and oozing quicksands made crossing it a deadly journey for the foolhardy. Caves honeycombed the slopes. Looking in one and another, White Lark and Mink found cooking council and cooking fire pits, very old. Sometimes the heat vented through the cave floors, so that fire was not needed. Around these the bones of past feasts and scraps of woven baskets and even potsherds were thickly strewn. The people who had lived in the caves had long since departed from the “earth mothers” that had kept them during the wandering of the Earth among the lights of heaven and the subsequent dearth. Here and there they found rock chapels with wooden crosses dedicated to the same God that Mink’s mother followed. Mink made a face and turned away to more interesting things. He preferred the former ways of his people, before the Black Robes and their Book had gotten a firm hold among them.
Stepping over a well-gnawn skull, Mink poked about anyway and was rewarded with several obsidian spear heads that someone had hidden in a leather pouch in a cleft on a big rock, intending to return, no doubt, but somehow unable. With these wonderful cutting tools, he had only to gather saplings from the forest below the cave entrance. What a great spear he could make now!
White Lark set to work preparing the place for occupancy, once she saw Mink intended to stay on.
Mink went off, then returned dragging a snow sheep for dinner. Having grown accustomed to lack of hunters, the ewe was napping when he came upon it. They feasted, then White Lark set to work to fashion new moccasins and leggings. First, she had to clean and scrape the hide, then stretch it to dry on hot rock, with other rocks to hold it down.
Singing as she did so, she had just stretched it out beyond the cave entrance when she saw something and grew still. Colored like a rainbow from rolling in paint pots, Snow Strider, drawn by the smell of roasted sheep, was coming up. Grabbing a rock, White Lark threw it back into the cave, alerting Mink. Mink’s eyes widened as he stepped outside. Grabbing his bow, he let fly an arrow with an obsidian point that could pierce through many layers of hair, skin, fat, sinew, and flesh and reach vitals. Snow Strider, however, was rearing to his full eleven-foot height as Mink shot, and the arrow missed and struck his paw.
Shaking his paw with the arrow in it, Snow Strider looked about and saw Mink. Forgetting the meat scent, he started into the cave after Mink. Just then a rock hit him White Lark had thrown. Mink let another arrow fly, this time catching Snow Strider in the belly. Roaring, weaving his wounded paw, Snow Strider reared again. White Lark threw another rock. At such close quarters, there was no missing so large an animal. Breaking off the arrow in his teeth, Snow Strider shook its head, then fell to its fours and charged, sending Mink scrambling back as fast as he could go into the cave.
White Lark dashed in after Snow Strider, stopping to seize more rocks and throwing them. Climbing up for Mink, Snow Strider reached the unwounded paw into the hole where the Paiute had vanished, but he could not feel anything. Roaring, looking about with his mighty head, the bear caught another rock on the snout. Seeing White Lark beneath, Snow Strider slid back down on his rump, then turned and lunged after her.
Mink, looking down, watched it happen. In a flash Snow Strider had White Lark, who could not run fast enough. Whipping her about in his jaws, Snow Strider continued running for the entrance, and outside it continued to toss White Lark around, thrashing her against boulders. He was biting and tearing at her neck when there was a searing flash that threw Mink backwards. Then rocks were falling everywhere, and thick dust enveloped him.
It was some time before Mink could escape the cave. Dust clouds slowly settled, and with eyes weeping from dust Mink, blinded, stumbled out, found some water to wash his eyes, then looked and saw only pieces of rainbow-colored pelt thrown here and there at great distances. Of White Lark--nothing. He gave up searching and sat on a stone, wondering what he should do. This place was very dangerous. Not only did it attract the giant Snow Striders, but it blew them up. He would have to move on immediately, though it was the place to wait to wait for the Flying Horse-Bodied Man.
It was too late in the day. Mink went back into the cave, found a safe spot high up, and spent the night, an arrow lying across his bow. In the morning, all he wanted was to get far away from the spot. He crept to the cave entrance, then slipped out. Suddenly, though he had heard no one, he found a man--old and wizened like an elder--standing half an arrow’s flight away. The old one came forward, then sat down on a stone, allowing Mink to circle him warily to see what sort of visitor this was.
The Paiute had never seen one like this. A strangely patterned half-blanket covered the man’s shoulders, decorated with odd, knotted strings. What tribe could he be? Was he from across the water between the Two Bears? That would explain his strangeness. How old he appeared too! Mink knew he had never seen so ancient an elder as this. Skin was like leather held under water for a very long time!
“Just as you choose, you move from place to place on your own,” the old one said to Mink.
Mink looked with amazement, for the visitor could speak Paiute!
The old one smiled. “I took the time to learn your speech. I am the teacher you will need to do the great things you have in your heart. Have you not been told of me? Well, it was difficult to track you down, but even before I should be training you, I am here! As it is written, ‘Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law, that You may give him rest from the days of adversity until the pit is dug for the wicked.’ ”
Mink was not going to take counsel from a stranger, however old. “I have no need of a trainer!” he spat out.
Daniyel smiled again. “So! You have heard the Voice of God, for he told you I was your trainer.
You need training. I can see that plainly. You need to be put to the test, again and again, with training, coaching, and challenges to your endurance. Otherwise you will go wrong all your life!”
Mink refused to reply, and the old man continued.
“I must tell you, you are the Letter S--though only the Almighty knows why!”
Daniyel’s obsidian eyes seemed to pierce Mink’s blackness and expose it to the light. “The young woman who attended you has died. She need not have died here and would have lived a long time and borne you fine children--except you could not do things the right way at the right time.”
The old commander sighed, then spoke again. “I’ve come, nevertheless, to train you, but I have a feeling you are still not ready.”
The mention of White Lark irked Mink. He could no longer restrain himself. “What is your name and your tribe, Old One?” he demanded hotly.
Daniyel’s eyes grew stern. “If you think you have no need to be trained, then you do not need my name and my people’s name.”
Already feeling exposed and uncomfortable, Mink grew angrier. He would accept no more impudence from the stranger. Giving a war whoop, he rushed at Daniyel, struck and pushed him to the ground. Daniyel fell hard, his head striking a rock.
Mink leaped over to the fallen man, examined him, then thought, “Let the Snow Striders have this dried up stick!”
He started off. He had only gone a few feet when he sensed movement behind him. Expecting a Snow Strider, he whirled around and found the old man gone--leaving no sign he had ever been there.
Then Mink knew that he had struck down a dangerous and deceiving water-panther. Congratulating himself, he continued on his walk, to climb to safer ground to wait for the Flying Horse.
Mink’s vigil finally rewarded him. A distraught Chiron abandoned his TZBV ice cave, and as he flew he happened to pass Mink. He was intending to continue on to the Rain Mountain, to throw his despairing being into the boiling caldera hidden by the clouds at the top of the summit, but he saw the man looking up at him.
“Is it the human-fragment returned to the Upper World?” Chiron wondered. But, no, that could not be, he saw at once. This fragment was not the one. The other was fair of skin and hair, and lame in its feet. This one was dark and sleek and quicksilvery in movement--very different.
He turned, beating his wings slowly as he sought to catch an updraft from the boiling steams of the cauldron below.
Another flyby of the eagle-feathered youth, a last look at each other, and then Chiron soared away.
Mink, seeing the Flying Horse departing, ran and climbed the slopes, chasing Chiron, who
glanced back and was touched to see the man’s vain efforts.
“What could he want from me?” Chiron wondered. It was a last movement of his despairing heart, but it somehow deflected him from his death-wish. Aimless now, he drifted back, letting the updraught go, and finally settled down, with great beatings of wings to steady his landing among the rocks of the vast slope.
At length the man continued to run and fall and slide again. Finally, the man stopped, when he saw Chiron standing and observing him.
It was the strangest sight on earth, this pair slowly and warily observing each other as Mink edged closer bit by bit. Alive to the change, Mink felt everything altered by the Horse Monster. Its yellow-striped wings, the bluish-green-glowing body, the powerful man’s torso, shoulders and arms. The silver-maned head. The monster was more than he had heard said of it, standing at least thirty two hands high, twice that of a normal stallion. How so large a body could ascend into the heavens, Mink did not attempt to understand. He only saw it with his own eyes and knew it was no vision.
“Let him shoot me through the heart!” Chiron thought. “I would welcome his arrow, and it would save me a long, tiresome journey.”
But the man did not shoot at him as he half-expected. Instead, he seemed to gaze and gaze and could not get enough of looking.
“What is so odd about me?” Chiron wondered, beginning to feel self-conscious. He looked at himself, and he was the same as ever.
Mink, his Black Stone pushing him to the extreme edge, came even closer. The eyes of the Paiute would-be champion and the Blue Centaur met.
Chiron’s expression was questioning, but Mink’s was full of unspeakable longing and demand.
Chiron gave a start. He had seen that expression before in a man-fragment. It had gotten him into much trouble. His huge silver hooves shifted restlessly in the loose scree, and he began to move away.
With a cry the Paiute, seeing his chance dissolve, threw a rope, rushing forward at the same time.
The rope dropped around Chiron’s torso. He could tear it off in a flash, but he did not. Instead he caught the rope and pulled the man toward him, and Mink flew through the air since he would not let go. Tumbling and falling at the Centaur’s hooves, Mink looked up, expecting the monster to stamp him into the ground, but Chiron began to laugh.
It wasn’t something he had done in a thousand years, but he could not help himself. He laughed!
But he soon stopped, bending to seize the man who had dared to throw a rope on him. He could have crushed him in his mighty hands, but he still held back. Dangling Mink before his eyes, Chiron looked at him. This went on, then Chiron slowly set Mink down on his feet. Then, weary of this game, the Blue Centaur ran forward, and with a tremendous racket like dozens of heron wings that threw Mink back, the monster was airborne.
Mink could only stare after the flying Horse. He had come so close, but lost it! Tears streamed from his eyes, and he did not even know it.
Yet the next day, he waited at the same spot, hoping. He waited there a following day as well, careless of the wandering Snow Striders. He could have spent his time gathering the valley’s palette of paints form the steaming pools, but he had no interest in anything else but the horse-man monster.
More dreary days passed. His mighty eagle-feathers, tied to his armbands and his hair, drooped lower and lower. Then he saw the Blue Horse coming toward him from the skies, and he knew in his heart that he would soon ride him.
4 Uwe’s Last Farewell
Preparations for the Game of Gladiators were completed on a glacier. The security dome drawn by power crystals formed an inescapable arena, a perfect hemisphere, for the contest between the Royal Chimaera and Prince Kala. Never before deployed--designed to protect the Royal Family should there be an assassination attempt that somehow penetrated all the other defenses--the hemisphere would serve Elektra’s purpose and pleasure.
Most of Elektra’s twelve thousand Atlanteans took their places in the decorated stands set in a ring circling the arena. On a high, raised dais was set Elektra’s throne. Just as she was getting ready for her entrance, a message was brought to her stateroom. She was delighted hearing the report. Another “human butterfly” sighting!
“Bring it to me!” she ordered the officer. “We will wait for it.”
Capture of a human butterfly was worth the delay, she decided.
Several hours later, her officer returned! He had captured a blue centaur and a human barbarian covered with feathers. The report was so interesting, she went immediately to see for herself. On the spot she changed the day’s schedule of events. Kala could wait. She would give Kala’s shield to the human-armed Centaur, together with a spear. He and the barbarian youth could would then be pitted against her Chimera.
“What a spectacle that will make!” she thought. Of course, there was no chance her monster would be disgraced and beaten by the pair.
Elektra went and took her place on the throne. Trumpets were blown. The game of Gladiators began with a cheering roar from the Atlanteans. Everyone who was not standing guard in the assembled fleet was present as spectators. No one thought the game would last more than a few moments, with the Chimaera chasing the paired combatants around the Hemisphere, finally incinerating them with its fire.
Elektra, however, stared aghast at what actually happened. The Chimaera, with no dignity and fierceness, backed away from the approaching Blue Centaur while his rider struck the fire-breather with arrow after arrow. Suddenly, still without letting loose its fire, flapping its way up the inner face of the Hemisphere, the Chim was out!
A power crystal had flickered at a fatal moment, leaving just enough space. Screaming, shouting came from the stands, as the Atlanteans rushed in a panic toward the ships. But the Chimera was paying them no attention. A creature of habit to the end, it dove toward the open hold of the harvester that had captured it, where the surprised guards immediately tried to fend it off with laser weapons.
While this happened, and Elektra had risen from her throne, powerless to stop or change a single event, Chiron flew toward the same spot that the monster had exited. He too flew free of the hemisphere, together with the eagle-feathered Paiute, but instead of continuing the pursuit as Mink wanted the Blue Centaur flew off. Alarms came from the ship into which the Chimera had sought refuge. Fire shot out the open main hatch. Then an explosion rocked the ship, sending shrapnel into the nearest starships. It was now clearly time for the empress to flee for her royal life if she wished to save it.
Just as the running Elektra entered her flagship, the harvester exploded completely, engulfing its two neighbors, which exploded and in turn destroyed ships berthed alongside.
The fleet was doomed. Not only was it too late to lift off, but only one ship--Elektra’s--was allowed an escape shuttle. In such a dire emergency, with confusion raging around her, Elektra kept her head. The survival of her Succession foremost in mind, she rushed into the shuttle and pushed the escape button.
Blasted away from her ship, she stood before the screen and watched her fleet detonate on the ground. The power crystals, one after the other, had been pressed to the critical point and were taking out her entire force.
“No!” she screamed into the screen. It was not the ships, nor her people, that concerned her at that moment. She was losing all her power crystals, save one, the pitifully small specimen that ran and powered the shuttle.
Her entire power base destroyed before her eyes, Elektra could scarcely comprehend what she was seeing. But it was clear her crystals were gone, and she sank down on her knees, immobilized by the enormity of the sudden disaster. Without the crystals there was nothing---nothing---nothing! No White Land, no Imperial Throne, no rule over the whole Earth. And no Empress Elektra!
What should she do next? Then she remembered something--the Crystal of Poseidia. It was, she knew, still intact, together with the Hidden City. With them in her grasp, she could secure control of the surface world.
She turned to the instruments, to turn the craft southeasterly.
Suddenly, a light flashed at her and a voice spoke.
“Ah! The mouse has got the cat!”
Elektra, forgetting her royal majesty, screamed. “Who are you? How did you get on my vessel?”
She listened to a maddening chuckle, long-drawn, before the voice spoke again. “Vengeance is sweet, despite what they say! Let me say, you miscalculated, Commander! You really thought I’d enter your hostile territory without taking precautions, like all the other agents.”
Elektra was beside herself with fury. She wanted to smash whatever produced the voice, but she knew the enemy had gotten into the ship’s mind crystal, and how she would stop it now was beyond her knowing. She was forced to listen.
“Who is this?” she demanded.
But the intruder ignored her for the moment. The shuttle shifted course. Elektra felt it.
“How dare you meddle with my ship and enter my presence without my permission!” she cried.
“Now, now, why get so upset, Queenie?” the mocking voice replied. “I just don’t think you need to land and cause the world any more trouble. You see, you’re going to take a little swim in cold water. Do you have a Mae West life jacket? You’re going to need one--desperately!”
Goaded, Elektra could not restrain her fury. She spat, before replying. “You worm! You insect! I will squash you beneath my foot when I catch you!”
“No, no, that will never happen. I am quite certain I’m dead by this time. But not quite. I still have control of your shuttle. And I’m directing it out over the water, as you see.”
Elektra, with her dark-lined eyes, could finally see! The sight reduced her to a meaningless cipher, a powerless zero. Then she was thrown on to her side. The shuttle had lurched, turning first one way, then another. Then, it settled down, and began to descend.
Elektra clawed herself back to the screen, and her golden eyes widened at what she saw coming--the embrace of ice-flecked waves!
She had not directed the navigation system to take her there. She knew that. But the speeding shuttle was already swinging her out over the waters of Atlan, the White Ice Sea that separated West Bear and Turtle Islands from the island continent for which she had great plans.
Her voice, formerly so assured and commander, seemed scarcely hers when she spoke again, pleading, “Tell me, why you have changed course? Why are you doing this to me?”
There was a long pause, during which Elektra suffered agonies.
At last the taunting voice, grown somewhat weary of the game, relented. “Well--I suppose I’ll tell you. You might as well know before I drop you in the drink that I am Uwe Hantsbo--Knight Errant Astronomical at your service! Remember me? I was the one NRA agent who gave you some slight trouble. You see, I had experience with ‘mind crystals’ of our own, so that prepared me for cracking into yours. What a strange gizmo, too! But I got in, as you can tell, and it took me twenty years of my prime. Here I will stay until we crash together into--”
Elektra, recognizing the hated human microbe speaking to her, crumbled back to the floor. She lay clutching her knees. “No!” she cried. “Let me go! Why should you care now, since you are dead?”
But the voice no longer replied to her cries. She pressed her hands over her face. She didn’t need the viewing screen to see the waves beneath the descending shuttle.
Yet Elektra was not the type go gently into the night that Uwe Hantsbo had prepared for her. She lunged up, seized the controls, and tried to turn the shuttle.
They refused to respond. Locked.
“No use trying to regain control!” the laughter boomed in her ear. “This is your flying casket--sorry, it isn’t jewel-encrusted gold or crystal, such as you bloodthirsty vampires from Atlantis prefer. No, you’re not getting out of this. It’s quite lonely being a star, isn’t it? I know how you feel. So we’re going down together---together---together--”
Yet the likes of Uwe Hantsbo had miscalculated too. The power crystal flickered. Uwe’s control was cut for a moment. Immediately, having counted on this, Elektra slammed down the manual control, and the shuttle was hers—only a moment too late.
The loss of power sent the shuttle tumbling. Elektra was thrown down on the instrument panel. Speeding first one way and then the other, the shuttle straightened up, then rocketed toward a range of mountains fronting the western coast of Atlantis. It was going so fast that it would have smashed to molecules, but the power cut out completely. Gliding, it dropped toward the sand dunes, but came to one it couldn’t possibly clear.
A few moments after the crash, there came explosions and a fireball that rose and could be seen for several days journey by caravan. Those setting out from as far as New Constantinople could see it. But that name was now little used or remembered. The multitudinous, cosmopolitan city of the Romany was no more. Shrunk from former glories to a dirty, flyblown caravan town, traders and caravaneers called it “Multan,” a term of derision, due to all the mules’ hides treated in stinking tanneries set up in former palaces and temples.
5 The Wandering Paiute
Mink, riding high on success, decided to return to his people and sit among them as a great chief. But first he intended to give them an even greater story than chasing the fire-breather and, shortly after, seeing the place it had fled erupt in flames and explosions that surely destroyed his people’s enemy forever. And what greater feat could he boast of than flying to the Cloud Tipi Country the elders spoke so yearningly of. He would go there and walk about and meet the Paiutes (there would be no other tribes than his, he was assured) who had died and whose spirits had been carried up on eagles’ wings to the Cloud Tipis. Surely, they would make him their chief after he told them all his mighty deeds!
It was not so easy, however, to communicate this wonderful adventure to Chiron. They had not worked out their language gap sufficiently. Even though Chiron could decipher Mink’s language, it was another thing understanding his tangled, emotional thinking and the absurd demands he made.
“No! Not that way! This way!” Mink shouted in Chiron’s ear. The Blue Centaur had sped away from the exploding starships, then turned southeast toward Mink’s home country.
Chiron was amazed. He could not see why the youth would not want to return to his own people now that his mission was accomplished. But no, Mink kept jabbing his bow at the heavens, as if he meant Chiron to fly into the Empyrean--the very place where no Centaur had desire or right to go!
The more Mink shouted, the more Chiron realized what the Paiute wanted. But Chiron had no desire to kill them both by flying into the jetstream. It was too tiring, carrying a man, and besides that, the winds were savage and cold. And even if they should climb beyond the upper river of air and somehow reach the heights of the Empyrean, what would that gain them? No doubt the mighty beings that inhabited it would throw them back down to the ground.
The Flying Centaur kept to his course, and then Mink did something he should have first considered. Chiron, enraged, felt Mink’s heels kicking him in the lower ribs. This was too much for even the long-suffering centaur. He dropped like a stone, Mink holding on for dear life. When it seemed they would both plunge into a glacier, Chiron spread his wings and glided to a stop. He gave a shake just before he landed, however, and Mink tumbled off. Without stopping Chiron flapped mighty wings and soon was soaring high out of reach of Mink and his razor-sharp arrows.
Chiron, watching Mink shrink to a tiny, shouting dot, was not sorry. He knew then that their cooperative venture had ended, and any further connection would go badly. It was unfortunate, he reflected, that he could not have trained the youth in the ways of Philosophy. Philosophy might have tamed his unruly spirit, and given him needed balance. The Queen Mother of Knowledge and Wisdom, Philosophy bore noble children--Mathematics, Logic, and Language, which in turn gave birth to the fine arts of Music, Painting, and Competitive Games of Strength, Mental Agility, and Character-Building.
Centaurus was nearing his destination, TZBV, when he ran into deadly cross-fire.
The incoming half-Diamond circled the planet, deciding on the best place to land. At the same time, the Mind Crystal of Poseidia, was scanning the upper atmosphere, trying to determine the source of the disturbances that had destroyed Elektra’s fleet. Not that it wished to go to her aid! The Crystal wasn’t that friendly to her interests, though she was the foremost Atlantean, according to its latest scan of royal genealogical records. Instead, the Crystal had formed a plan to supplant her and rule the planet. It was, thus, convenient that something or someone had attacked and terminated Elektra, drawing the curtain with a bang on her planned Restoration. But what had done it? The Crystal had to find out first before it could implement any of its plan.
Sending up extremely low radio frequencies into the ionosphere, the Crystal beamed a spy lens into being that was so powerful that it could penetrate the earth to several miles. Nothing above the ground, nor hiding below, could escape. With the every hemisphere of the globe divided into quadrants, the Crystal started a methodical scan, and so it caught sight of the star-stone intruder just as it appeared over Earth. In full alert the Crystal mustered its tremendous resources to do battle, if necessary.
“Who are you?” it queried the alien as coldly as a future Najana in a colony of lost Earthlings ever questioned her rival sister Heena. But the alien kept coming, meanwhile exhibiting burst after burst of sparkling radiance. “Entity, identify yourself!”
When there was no reply, the Crystal fired a warning shot, yet the intruder kept speeding toward the surface like a comet or star. Was it a threat? The Crystal scanned the alien and decided instantly that it could be, since it encountered a living, beetle-like creature in the star’s center that, unlike no terrestrial insect, radiated tremendous, pulsing energy. Suddenly, the alien beetle-star responded to the probe ray, with a lightning-like blast of energy that struck the ground, forking down deeply as if to penetrate to the Crystal’s lair.
The first bolt caught the Crystal prepared. It already knew the foe possessed powers of a size challenging to its own. Fully engaged, the Crystal fought back. It send massive lasers against the Diamond, which deflected them and returned fire with even greater bolts.
The intensity of the exchange lit the entire northern sky at night brighter than the aurora borealis. Horns locked like two Pleistocene arochs in mortal battle, Diamond with Master Power Crystal, the struggle ran north and south, as the Tarantula Crystal tried to keep the Beetle Stone from getting any closer to the subterranean city but could not.
Splitting glaciers like so much soft cheese, vaporizing the straits, dividing up East Bear/Turtle Island into two fragments, the conflict grew all the more heated as the two combatants pressed toward each other’s jugular.
The Blue Centaur was just one of many casualties. He was sliced completely through, his man-torso divided from his horse body. Stripped of his wings and legs, his man’s torso plummeted toward the ground. He hit a slope of loose snow and tumbled down thousands of feet of a mountain. Leaving a glowing blue smear behind him down the slopes, what was left of the once mighty Chiron finally came to a halt.
After a time the shock wore away and his eyes opened. Wiping his face of snow so he could see, he tried to get to his feet, but found he had none. None! Then the full truth dawn on him. That searing flame that struck him as he was flying--one glimpse beyond his chest told him everything he needed to know. He lay his head back for a moment, sighing. Against his chest lay the smashed Detex clock, hanging open and its Acroprint paper disc fluttering, revealing TZBV’s hidden wisdom, the five series of 1-2-3-4-5’s in the blocks of time allotted to each champion. One champion, No. 5, had missed most of his Detex checks, which threw the entire series into doubt of a good finish. Unfortunately, Chiron was no longer able to look into the matter.
He felt no pain, strangely. Was there any Yarrow that could heal such a wound as this? he wondered dazedly. No Milfoil? No Knight’swort? By any name, there was none, to be sure, in these ice-locked mountains.
He lay there for quite some time, slowly considering his calamity, mastering his panic with the self-control he had practiced since the earliest times in his Philosophy. Even in his truncated, severely wounded state, and suffering the shock and chill of his long fall, it still would take something more to kill an immortal. He might freeze, but he would not die. Encapsulated in a cage of glacial ice, gazing out from it as long as the Earth lasted, was not his desire. No, he decided, it was best to crawl back to TZBV if he could. He had no desire to spend the rest of his days fighting off wolves and bears where he was.
Enormously powerful as he still was in his arms and upper body, he found he could drag himself over the snow and ice, and so was not completely helpless. He had known where he was, but now the topography was confusing from the ground.
Pain wracked his arms and shoulders, but, mercifully, he still felt nothing at the point where his horse-body had been cut away. Shock was his anesthetic. What had cut him twain? He had no idea. He only knew that one moment he was flying homeward and the next he was a fragment of his former self, tumbling down a mountainside.
Stopping to rest, he considered where he might be, or if he was exhausting himself for nothing by
taking a wrong direction. Somehow, a sense of where the northwest mountains lay grew clear to him, and he continued.
Meanwhile, as he struggled below, the whole sky was filled with lightning and lasers that collided and released blast-furnace heat that shattered glaciers, sending avalanches into the valleys with such great blooming rumbles that the whole landscape shook and reeled beneath him. He wondered what could be shaking the world to pieces, since he could sense in the north village after village of sleeping humankind being buried all across both islands of the Turtle and Bear. But his own pain and struggle left him no time or energy to ponder the phenomenon. Like a migrating, dying beast he had his sights on home, though it lay a long journey from where he had crashed.
A day passed, then a night came, and it too passed as Chiron struggled against overwhelming odds. Like a swimmer, he thrust his arms forward, pulling himself forward as a Dutch youth once had done thousands of years before h im. Surprisingly, he made good progress with his butterfly crawl on level places, and got up flying speed on downward slopes. But his desperate efforts put him at grave risk and many times he was nearly swept to his doom by avalanches, each time narrowly escaping a grave in a thundering river of ice and snow by frenzied thrashings of his mighty arms. Though it would have been so easy to lie back and let himself be buried deeper than any boar grizzly, polar bear, saber-toothed snow tiger, or wolf pack could reach, his one thought was to gain the refuge of TZBV. There he would reside, cultivate Philosophy and preserve a modicum of dignity in his badly crippled state. It would be good to live quietly in his little sanctuary of peace and calm, especially after having been captured by his former masters and forced into the ring with the nasty likes of the Chimera, sneaking coward that it was.
Not knowing whether it was dream or something real, he saw himself at last gaining on the entrance to TZBV. The glaciers round it looked familiar, so he knew it was the place. He had never thought it particularly secluded and difficult of access when he had his whole body and a set of wings. Now it was impossible to reach, for the entrance lay half up a sheer ice wall rising three miles. There was no way he could get to it, either by sliding down from above or tying to scale the heights from below.
Why hadn’t he thought of this? he wondered, in a daze. He might have saved himself much trouble and suffering if he had not forced himself to make the effort to return.
So tantalizingly close, but utterly unattainable!
Chiron, weary as he was, could not help huge, blue tears that welled up in his eyes, freezing instantly at the corners. If he could only die--die quickly! Darkening to a blue that was almost black, the Centaurus sank down upon the ice, gasping more with despair than exhaustion and pain.
His eyes squeezed shut, he failed to see the Radiant Glory Cloud of white sparkling hue that absorbed the entire glacier before him. After a moment the Radiance dropped down three transparent pillars of crystal with a soaring crossbeam of the same light material. Then something from the Cloud of Glory flew out, a shape like dove, and a Voice spoke, falling like sweet dew or honey into Chiron’s tortured being.
I will save you. I am the Lord God, Creator of all things. Are you
not My handiwork? Take courage. I will help you, for you will serve Me
as My warrior and the people’s deliverer.
Chiron, trying to grasp the words in his spirit, would have leaped to his four feet, if he still had them.
Astonished, his eyes round like platters, he looked for the source and fell back as he saw the very Source of all things, in that he glimpsed a likeness, a figure, Three Pillars joined at the top and enthroning an indescribable, blinding Glory beyond which created eyes could not go.
“Surely, this place is Paradise, where the Majesty on High dwells, and I did not know it!” Chiron thought, fighting a sense of overwhelming unworthiness and weakness that made him almost faint. He was undone! What could the Omnipotent Lord God mean by speaking to him? Ws he not an Atlantean, a monster turned out from one of their dark and perverted nurseries? Yet the Voice claimed him as God’s handiwork!
Chiron’s heart turned over as he stared at the Pillars and the white-shining dove that flew before them. He wanted to believe what he had just heard. It offered him hope and cheer. Could he speak to the Lord God appearing before the world in majesty? Dare he? What did the Lord God want him to do, and how would He save him? A servant of the Most High? Chiron’s brain whirled and all his flesh and mind seemed turned to helpless, palpitating jelly.
But the half-man’s destiny rested in the grasp of the Almighty, for next Chiron watched as the Three Pillars became the likeness of a Hand whose finger simply touched the glacier and mountain and it smoked and trembled to the core.
Seeing this, Chiron thought he had gone mad. He could not go to the Mount of TZBV, but somehow, touched by the Finger of God, TZBV and the mountain of ice were coming to him. The glacier-wrapped mountain was coming apart! With rumbling retorts, sections split off and tumbled downwards. What had glaciated in the south, then pulled northwards, only to be sent west toward the straits, now broke free of the ice. Chiron, clinging to his spot, glimpsed many strange things riding the crest of the oncoming avalanche. Expecting to be swept away, he failed to see in the first showers of flying ice that slid, Palmoni the Wonderful Numberer, come to his aid with outstretched measuring rod, dividing the mighty stream as if an invisible sword were cleaving it in two.
Passing Chiron in waves of ice and snow, Colonia Libertad’s poor orphanage and wooden church with red plastic windows, the wall of the church torn away and revealing a mural marked “Jordan River and the Tree of Life.” A war museum’s Vintage W.W.II bomber aircraft, intact or nearly intact, and twisted, half-dissolved armored personnel carriers and flying spheroids of the time of Chillingsworth. Mondrian’s “Black, White and Red” and Jan van Scorel’s “The Flood”--remnants of some lost art gallery.
Tons of canned cling peaches and soft drinks from a secret, subterranean army base PX. A crate of Andy Warhol’s silk-screens of Chanel No. 5. London Bridge, transported to the shores of an artificial Lake Tavasu in the late 20th Century.
A complete luxury dinner train reserved for fashionable, rich patrons that had slipped a rail once upon a time just as the smooth jazz ensemble was playing “Hippies Standing on a Street Corner.”. A tractor-trailer full of Henkel’s Brillenputztucker that crashed through a guard rail high in the passes back in the 20th Century. A cement copy of Stonehenge, several Rodins, even the throne of Queen Marie of Romania--all scrapings from a far-off Marysville rail baron’s estate on the now ice-covered Kolumbia.
Another church, this one impressive in size and architecture, the entirety of the San Xavier le Bac mission with its Papago Indian paintings and carvings. Macy’s Betty Boop, sadly deflated on a float of ice. Some long-ago auto fancier’s collection of rare classics such as the Jeffrey truck, the Twyford, the Paige-Graham, the Columbus, and the Apperson Jackrabbit....here seemed no end to the marvels and curiosities moving streams of ice had gouged out of the earth and preserved for all time.
A small metal box containing some summer camp earnings and a booklet, “Songs of the Yellowstone Camps.” Perhaps the queerest sight of all--a flood of wax heads, all humans, tumbled from crates, where they had been packed and labelled, such as “Napoleon, Military Leader, Fr. Emperor,” “Virginia Woolf--Br. Author,” “Pablo Picasso, Sp. Painter,” “Joseph Djugashvilli, Russ. Generalissimo,” “Johnny Carson, Am. Television Host, Comedian,” “Curt Cobain, Am. Punk Rock Musician”--and many others, all mixed together just like everything else.
Then Chiron, standing on his hands, at last saw something familiar appear--the guard hut of TZBV, followed by the office building and the plant--the entire polygon, in fact. Instead of rocketing past, it slide to a halt, and Chiron gazed, unable to believe what had happened. But there it was! The air cleared of the flying crystals, and no more glacier and mountain descended into the valley. After all the rumbling and roaring, there was total silence. All sign of radiant Divinity had vanished--Three Pillars, Dove, Hand and Finger--all except for TZBV and the little metal box lying at rest before him.
Grown curious, and greatly anxious to return to familiar ground, he picked up the box, put it aside to look at later, then crawled past the guard hut and kept going until he reached the plant.
Overwhelmed with nostalgia, his homecoming nevertheless pained his great heart as he thought of the youth he had thrown to the ground. How much there was to be learned at TZBV! What treasures he could have shared with the stiff-willed, eagle-feathered youth, if only he had been willing to learn! Now, after the revelations of the last moments, he could unlock the secret meaning of TZBV’s Three Pillars. Like the One he had just seen, TZBV’s were joined by a single crossbeam of metal. They stood, he believed, for the Lord God who had just appeared above and before his eyes. Even as he looked at them they shone with a measure of the former Radiance.
Moving on, Chiron found even more revelation awaiting him. The octagon that lay not far from the Three Pillars--he had thought it was the a philosophical power crystal. Not far from it lay a polygonal reflection pool containing two small octagons and two polygons of different sizes. But this octagon was obviously not for sheer contemplation. Within it lay a ring of twenty four upright metal posts he thought had once held letters that powered the colleges. At this point, he might have speculated, but he acknowledged that he had reached an impasse and refused to pass over without more information on the subject--despite his great excitement when he first set eyes on the octagon. But even without speculation, he could see there were twenty four posts, and that struck him somehow as insufficient. After all, the sacred language of TZBV was composed of twenty six letters. Where were the missing two, and which were they?
Now he saw how dimly he had apprehended the truth when, approaching the octagon, it began to glow as if someone had thrown an activating switch. Twenty four letters shone before his eyes, and he instantly realized which were missing. But were they missing? He sensed the letters A and Z were also present while invisible to his eyes. An insight flashed. The reason why they were not visibly part of the ring was that they were the most important. Profoundly sensitive to the workings of the octagon, the philosophers of Divine Wisdom had declined to treat the First and the Last as ordinary letters, reserving them to the Realm of the Empyrean. They did well to treat them so. The A and the Z was the Anointed One Himself, the One who would draw everything to a close, when all had been reckoned to reach the desired cosmic sum.
The Lord God, the One of the Three Pillars who deigned to call Himself the A and the Z, was pleased to lend his power to the octagon--for what reason Chiron could only speculate. Yet he suspected the octagon’s power was measureless, when activated. There was nothing that could not be accomplished with the alphabetic diamond and dynamo! Nothing!
Even this was insufficient explanation, he soon saw. Who had activated the ancient philosophers’ power grid? Seeking the answer, he moved closer to the octagon and felt a Presence that caused him to fall back, overwhelmed a sense of his own unholy state.
Crushed in his spirit, Chiron realized how much presumption he had fallen into. He did not dare to breath, as the jewel-like number-letters radiated a blinding array of colors. Then, the sight stopping his heart, the A and the Z made their appearance.
At the sight of them Chiron sank down, fainting. Then he felt a touch on his shoulder, which shot tremendous strength back into him. Rising up to see what had done it, he saw instead that the octagon had began to turn slowly around. It seemed to Chiron like a kind of solemn dance, with one jewel-letter passing toward another, and the two moving back and forth, and all combining and passing each other in incredibly complex movements and figures that strained Chiron’s intellect to the breaking point. From the first movements that served as a key to understanding the others, Chiron was led from “You Will Recover All,” to “Rosebud” and “Dubesor” to the letters and names of all the champions as well as the mathematical figures that each letterman had won in combat.
Entranced, Chiron began crawling toward the letters like a wide-eyed child. The next thing he knew they had clustered round him, infusing him with more desperately needed strength. He found himself within the circle, the jewels dancing in algebraic figures around him--a revolving, on-going tapestry.
Then a Voice spoke.
Will you serve Me? I will make you My son. I am the A and the Z,
the Word Who does wonders in the Earth and in the Heavens. I will
make you my sharp threshing instrument, and you will thresh the Crystal and
the Diamond, and there will be nothing left but chaff, which the winds
will cast into the sea. And I will spread my wings over you and restore to
you what the Beetle and the Hairy Creeper have devoured. You shall walk
before me in the glory of My garden, and I will make you the Keeper of the
my fiery stones, and you will walk in their midst, with your voice, horns and
tabrets making melody forever, and much fragrance.
Yes! Yes! Chiron cried with all his heart. The latest brush with his creators, the Atlanteans, had
brought back all his distaste for them. They nothing but tyrants, riddled with arrogance and presumption; besides their cruel acts, their Philosophy had lost all moorings in the Truth, preferring the visible god of Mechanism to the magnificence of the Invisible Godhead. Atlantis may have brought him into being, but they were only using and perverting materials that the Lord God had spoken into existence. Their crime was to think there was no Lord God and they only sat upon the Throne of the Universe. But they were very powerful, even in their error and sin. How could he escape their clutches? There was but one recourse open. Who else but the Lord God the Creator could set him free? How God would do that, he had no idea. He only wanted to be free. Free!
In instant reply to Chiron, as if he had been chosen a champion letterman in place of the lost “S,”
empowering verses from the Book and its manual flooded his mind and spirit.
Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes....Sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!....Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments...
Treasures of Divine Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, which the Tarantula and Dung Beetle nearly devoured, along with the latest tactics meant for Mink’s use, now flowed to Chiron. Meanwhile, the war with unconditional surrender understood continued between Diamond and the Hidden City’s Mind Crystal. Concentrating on the Crystal’s power source, the triangle off the coast of East Bear Island, the Diamond’s victory seemed assured. Though the Crystal held the trump card--a 100 million watt pulse--it knew its power grid would be destroyed, rendering it powerless for all time to come, and so it was obliged to hold back the coup de grace.
But neither was given the opportunity to continue the battle. Immediately after Chiron’s enlistment,
the octagon lifted and began soaring above the glaciers. Flashing blue, it was highly visible and signaled to both contestants that a third party, utterly unknown to both, had entered the game. Of course, it took the Tarantula and Beetle by surprise. A magnificent blue man appeared in the skies, standing like a Titan on a flaming octagon that clove the skies and the magenta and pinkish-gold of the sunset like a great blue buffalo-hunting spear of the Paiute! Was it yet another human butterfly, a specimen of the human Papilionaecae, come to meddle in things? Before they could react with defensive or offensive strategies, each received a trident-shaped burst of energy that easily exceeded 100-million watts--the energy produced by a single quotation from the Book of the War of Heaven and Earth.
The Diamond exploded, and the Crystal crashed. For them and their causes, it was the end. Among the human population, no one had any idea at first that they had been delivered of two cosmic plagues at one stroke by Chiron the Thresher. It just seemed like Thunder Cloud Beings at war with Sky-Panthers in an unusual display of frightening powers against a background of a sunset deepening to mauve and violet and purple. Many parts of the Earth lay in smoking ruins, and the glaciers were melted in many places, sending devastating floods down onto the lower elevations. The trauma and hard times of the Re-Location had been bad, but this also produced much additional suffering for the survivors. Entire tribes were wiped out. The Paiute were among the more fortunate, for several bands escaped nearly intact, their villages out of the way of the avalanches, walls of mud and water crashing down the river valleys, lightning bolts striking everywhere, choking clouds of dust and mist--there seemed no end to the upheavals.
Staying clear of floods and the avalanche territory, Mink’s ability to slip through tight spots served him once again. Where many before him had failed to reach to find refuge, his feet walked the plains safely and looked about until he tracked down his people’s band.
The first moments of his homecoming did not go well, and it got worse after that. Mink stared at the astonished faces, growing so angry he spat out his words. He turned to his mother, whose eyes, darkened all round with grief, gazed at him with mingled surprise and joy.
“What does this mean?” the impatient youth shouted, his eagle feathers cocked like a prairie rooster’s crest. “With my own mighty bow and hand I have delivered you all from the fire-breather, and I come and thee is no one waiting, no rejoicing, no prepared feast, no eagle feathers given me?
At this rebuke a number of women ran off to find something for him in the cooking pot.
“But there is no feast prepared,” his mother explained, “because how could we know you were coming? We had heard nothing of you for a long time.” The widow paused. “I thought--we all thought--
you were dead, slain by the Otoe who killed Handsome Otter and those with him.”
“But--” Mink burst out, then clapping a hand over his mouth. He thought furiously, then turned away. When he was ready to show his face, he confronted his mother again on what she had just said.
“Tell me more of this, how Handsome Otter and the ones with him were killed by the Otoe.”
His mother sank to the ground, and her voice was low and hard to follow. She glanced up at the tipi hole, as if she could see the spirits of the slain young men curling up like smoke and passing outside into the sky.
“When you did not return, we sent Lone Coyote back though he was not so willing to return. He found them all dead, where they had been killed. There was plenty sign of the Otoe before he got to the place where they died. It was the Otoe that Handsome Otter and Lame Deer and Jumping Rabbit passed through on their way to find you, to tell you to return home, for the elder said you were wrongly provoked by Yellow Fang and you should be forgiven and--”
Mink’s face purpled like the pulp of the chokecherry, and he could scarcely breathe. The arrow in his side? He had not really seen it, to be able to identify its maker. Was it an Otoe’s?
He staggered out of the tipi, then ran toward the river. He never reached it but threw himself down in the tall grass.
When he regained his strength, he ran again, never looking back. He ran until he collapsed, then lay where he was until he revived. Then he ran again. He did this over and over until his leggings and moccasins wore away. His hair too had turned pale, like a man who aged long before his time from some terrible sorrow. But with Mink it was not grief, for he did not feel sorry and mourn Handsome Otter and the others. No, it was horror--for his hands, when he looked at them, dripped with blood that seemed to cry with the voices of his dead brothers.
Finally, he reached the Golden Plain, the Painted Desert heartland of the West Bear Navaho, and he was not far from the Ship Rock, which was formed like the stern of a sinking canoe. A red-crested wave of basalt swept from the Ship Rock, as if the stain of a past crime had spread out from the ship to the entire world, hardening as an everlasting memorial.
Crossing the plain, the wandering, fallen “S” was stopped by a rumble and shaking that threw him to the ground. Thick dust and rocks splitting in the air were thrown up by blue flames that cut through the plateau. A fissure then opened and ran through the rock which had congealed thousands of years before when a comet turned everything to a molten liquid of orichalc. After that the liquid cooled and set like metal in the pouring rains. A shallow, warm sea spread over the basin. Growing on the strange element of orichalc the comet had brought to Earth, fresh water scallops, anchovies, and tubeworms unwittingly discovered the secret of the Atlantean Titans’ original power and size and grew mightily, fashioning many-chambered shells that were marvels of height and beauty. Now half of the plain thrust upwards and a chasm opened before him, twenty feet across and hundreds of feet deep.
Yet Mink would have tried to leap it except that the same Finger of God that etched a latter-day Oosterschelde across the plain, telling the Paiute to go no further, touched Mink himself. Last of his possessions, Mink’s bow and medicine pouch containing the jetstone flew and tumbled away on the ground, swept by a wind that hurled them into the gaping Crack of Doom.
Gazing west, the transfixed Mink shuddered under the Finger of God as his body, from his chest to his feet, petrified. At the same time his heart stiffened and froze, since it was already cold as the Black Crystal that had just plummeted into the depths of the Earth.
Years afterwards, passers-by said the man in the stone pillar could be heard speaking on very quiet nights, uttering a name that some thought was a bird in the Paiute language.
Hearing of the “Speaking Pillar of Stone,” Mink’s mother journeyed until she found the place. Convinced it was indeed her son, she remained at the site, weeping and praying for his release. Then, after her death, people began to talk about her too. A pillar nearby Mink’s eroded and revealed a woman’s face. The face was said to weep real tears, and they said it was the stone warrior’s lost lover, while others said it was the old woman who had spent her last years there claiming to be his mother. No one could decide which it was, and so people saw what they wanted to see in the two pillars.
It may still have been midnight, the dread Medianoche, but beneath a sky blazing at night with the Blue Centaur and Trident, a Butterfly, a Blue Bird, and a Golden Bowl, the two strangely paired pillars shone beautifully in the reflected glory. The Golden Plain’s iridescent colors played across the figures, colors of the fabled orichalc that the emperors and empresses of lost Atlantis prized above all their gold and jewels--for what reason they best knew, since knowledge of orichalc and its properties had long been lost to ordinary men.
Long, long since a white star first met a red star in fatal convergence, here were two pillars, a man and woman in stone, facing across an unbridged chasm toward a horizon that was seemingly beyond their grasp forever. No wonder the woman in the second pillar of stone wept tears! If the weeper was seeing things as they actually were at that time, then it made no difference that she was made of stone--for when all men are blind stones may see what they cannot.
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