Chapter Twenty Five
The water came as a roar in the darkness, making itself visible only as a pale mass. It quickly covered its old exposed bed and rattled the rubble beneath the shallow cave as it flooded past. It also crested upwards on that loose slope, almost looking like deadly cotton candy in the dark. However, its great mass was not deep enough to rise high enough to enter their shelter. It only suggested visually that it was going to do so.
Mark stared at it breathlessly. Its sound was so loud that now it became an intense silence, all else was lost in it. That ferocious noise growled with the rubble it was moving and the boulders that now were tumbling against each other, moving downstream. It waved its grey remembrances of splashing and tumbling scarcely a few inches below the floor of their shelter. Reaching forward., Mark touched its surface with his outstretched hand, which caused him to exhale sharply at the cold pressure of the racing water.
"We're still safe," he said aloud. But even he had trouble hearing the words.
Night had come with the storm and the men shivered in the double darkness. The rain had become lighter, which relieved their minds of thoughts of further immediate flooding, but they were not completely reassured. They gave only a small amount of thought to the river rising again, for such thought left no room for action. Instead, each man pulled himself into as small a bundle as he could and protecting himself in one way or another from the rain, attempted to keep whatever body warmth that he had from dissipating. The three Tibetans huddled together against the back wall under one blanket. The marine wrapped himself in water-repellent poncho while the yogi sat cross-legged and mumbled incantations. Mark Miller hugged his knees in a seated position and cursed to himself, his teeth chattering.
"What the hell am I doing here?" he shivered, feeling the water dripping down his face from his saturated hair.
He tried to think of warm things. First, it was the sun. But clouds obscured it. Then it was a fire. But the rain put it out. His shivering reminded him of muscles everywhere in his body. He tried to tighten and loosen them. It worked for a while, but as water ran past his eyes, past his nose, over his lips. He lost the ability to concentrate.
"How much time has passed? A minute? An hour? Can I last the night?"
The rain was slowing but did not stop. Mark could hear the yogi chanting. It made him think of the dead Tibetan, Sherpa.
"For some reason," he thought, "that makes me angry at the yogi. But why?"
His puzzlement and questioning of the anger did not lessen it. He turned and looked into the darkness. He could see nothing. He only could imagine that he saw the figure of the near-naked man, sitting where the sound was emanating from.
"Damn!" And he looked back towards the ghostly water in front of him. Rivulets ran past his eyes on tendrils of hairs.
The anger mixed with the bright imagery of Sherpa's burial-mound warmed him for a short while. But he was paying too great a price for it. His stomach churned and he fought nausea, so he had to give up thinking of it. He also had to give up the anger and the warmth which came with it.
At that shivering moment, he became shocked into another awareness.
"That last drop of water on my forehead!" he thought. "It went up, not down!"
He reached up swiftly and pulled off the slug-shaped creature.
"A leech! Augh!"
And just as quickly he began to feel about his face and his hair for others and he found two more.
"The river!" he yelled amidst the roar of the water. "It's washing along leeches out of those trees!"
After the first moment of panic, he sent his hand carefully down his legs and his other arm, searching for the blood-drinking creatures.
"They're not intelligent, they're not intelligent," he repeated to himself. "They are almost completely mindless, attracted by warmth..."
He flicked a few from his clothing and felt reassured that he was ahead of the invasion of the blood-drinkers, when he heard the marine cursing at the leeches. That made him smile with a small bit if self-satisfaction.
"They're not going to get to me! It's all psychological ... after all, how much blood can they get?"
That soliloquy was short-lived, for he suddenly felt one on his lower lip! He opened his mouth, bit it in half, and spit it out.
"Damn leeches! Damn leeches!" he screamed, shuddering.
It was then that he heard the marine sergeant laughing. But he was not sure that it was in response to his own exclamations. Perhaps the marine's laughter was sardonic, concerned with the destiny or the karma which had brought them all to this now leech-infested shelter. Soon this stopped.
Despite the stimulation of his concern with the leeches, which he imagined were in great numbers about him, Mark Miller finally fell asleep. In that sleep, he dreamt dreams.. Through those dreams he received his greatest physical comfort during that long wet night. They made him oblivious to the wet and cold.
It was also in those dreams that he received a look at the path before him.
Chapter Twenty Six
It was not raining in his dream. In fact, it was the next morning and bright sunshine was pouring down into the narrow canyon. Mark could see that the water was receding. It was still rushing downstream, but now only reached half way up the fall of rubble beneath their shelter. As he watched, it receded even further, before his eyes, like a sped-up film. Soon the stream was that, a shallow stream, gurgling amongst the rocks and boulders which it had tossed about so easily the night before.
The Tibetans led the way and Mark followed. With him came the marine and the yogi. This time, the yogi came last. Mark gave this no special significance, not caring even to look at the man. The rain of the night before had washed most of the grey ash from his body, except for stubborn white streaks on his forehead. His body revealed itself now as a deep golden color.
There was no path except the stream, along which they had to wade in the water ankle-deep. This made no difference since they were all soaking wet, including their packs and weapons. The former dripped and squeaked against them as they walked. The sun soon was baking the moisture out of their possessions and out of their beings.
In the dream, Mark missed landmarks and contemplated mists and moistures rising from the trees edging the canyon. He saw the color of the rock walls changing and growing pale as the fluids were burnt out of their depths. The waterfall, therefore', was a surprise to him. It put an end to the path that they were following. Luckily, Tenzin was there before him, with Rinjin and Thubten, blocking his way, or he may have gone walking past the edge of the precipice which yawned before them.
"This must have been quite a waterfall during the storm!" said Sergeant Fields. But no one answered him. The water trickled over the edge and vanished into the mists which were rising from below. There was no way to say how far the droplets fell.
Rinjin was directing Thubten to search towards the left, beyond some twisted trees which were hanging over the brink. They had obviously been dislodged by the force of the flood.
"Here!" the Tibetan had called to his chief. "Here!"
Behind the broken branches and the twisted remains of a dozen trees he had found a crack in the cliff-face, a horizontal slippage which could be called a path. If Mark had not seen the Tibetans step onto it, he would never have followed it. At most, it was two feet wide. He followed the others reluctantly at the promptings of the marine.
Far below, the path widened, but not soon enough to suit Mark Miller. For, although they moved carefully along this shelf, the rising clouds from below hid the entire landscape, adding ignorance of their actual height to their cautious nervousness. The Tibetans did not seem to be as concerned and moved quickly ahead, descending to the cliff base. They were waiting there when Mark arrived at the stone-strewn area. He noticed a few scrubby bushes but not much vegetation. The rising clouds were the basic 'reason that he could not do much observation. They were thickest below a rounded crest of rock and if he looked up, he could see that they collected as they rose, hiding the cliff down which they had just come. He could still not tell how much of a plunge it would have been. Somewhere to his right he could hear the soft sound of the waterfall, but it too was out of sight in the shrouds of whiteness.
"Allright?" asked Rinjin, glancing about as if counting the men,, and without waiting stepped away, moving downwards amongst the scrubby plants. Mark quickly stepped after him, surprising the other two Tibetans, and leaving the marine and the smeared yogi to bring up the rear.
Rinjin saw this and smiled. It was a soft and invisible smile. However, Mark noticed it and felt an invisible smile move within his own lips in answer.
When the walking reached a place where the clouds could no longer command, the landscape opened up. It became a huge upland valley with a broad shallow river. Meadows on the far side rose, tier by tier, to vanish into grey slate colored torn-edged mountains. The men's side held less green, and large boulders suggested the graveyard of ancient glaciers. That guess on Mark's part proved to be correct, but the primary glacial terrain was much further north of their position at that time. Now their ever-present companions were the waterfalls, all greater than the first one which had accompanied them down the face of the precipice. They were sentinels, one after another, coming out of the clouds and striking some distance away from them, lost in the materials of old cliff falls. Streams trickled out generously for them to wade, testing their icy waters. That is what they did as they moved northwards, keeping that picket fence of giant waterfalls on their left as they moved. It did not amaze Mark that there were so many of them. He accepted their white brilliance as he did the warmth of the sun, which baked his back and wrinkled his clothes into dryness. He bounded along after Rinjin, not thinking of the altitude, not thinking of the others who stumbled after him. Thubten and Tenzin shook their heads, smiling at the sight of him moving ahead of them, keeping pace with Rinjin. The marine did not think much of it. The yogi scowled, watching where he put his bare feet.
At one rest stop, Mark squinted across the river, the waterfalls, like blots of lightning, at his back.
"Rinjin!" he said, sheltering his eyes with one hand and pointing with the other.
"Hmmm?" asked the guerrilla leader.
"Across the river-over there," he said. "Aren't those
horses? And men?"
Rinjin squinted in his turn. He shook his head.
"Now! Where did they go? I could have sworn that... said Mark.
Rinjin stared at him coldly.
"You must have been mistaken," he said.
Mark did not argue with that stare.
The yogi's eyes shifted from target to target, not pausing for long on any one thing. They caught Mark's glance, but turned away from the sheer flow of anger they found there.
"Time to go!" said Rinjin.
Again he and Mark led the way.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Beyond the debris of the ancient glacier, they crossed the river. Mark and Rinjin were still in the lead, much to the annoyance of Sergeant Fields.
"How did he become such a rabbit?" the marine muttered to himself. The yogi came stumbling afterwards, now almost clean of all ashes, but still filthy and disheveled, hair matted and tied in a greasy untyable knot atop his head.
"We cross here," said Rinjin, wading into the cold water.
Mark and the other Tibetans entered the water after him. The two other Americans, however, hesitated.
"Are you crazy? We'll be swept away!"
"He knows what he's doing," called back Mark, now up to his waist in the pushing water. "There are sand and gravel bars here!"
"How the hell do you know?" called the soldier, but no one heard. He entered the glacial water.
They made their way out into the river. It grew deeper and more treacherous as the current pressed against them. Mark could feel pebbles escaping from beneath his feet. Rinjin turned to look back once or twice and pressed forward until they were almost neck deep, arms raised with their weapons above the water. Mark felt pebbles slipping away beneath his feet as he wobbled and bounced in the current. Each time he moved upward, he thought that when his feet reached downward again there would be nothing there.
They were out in the middle of the river, six almost invisible heads decorating the surface of the moving water.
Sergeant Fields did not think about anything. He only moved forward. There could be no luxury of thoughts. They would join the water's southward pressures and help them to sweep you away. He just perceived. He just concentrated upon the heads and raised weapons before him. Water splashed his face., but he ignored it. It struck his eyes, but he did not blink. He could not lose sight of his guides! Then he made a mistake. He speculated. He thought. He conjured up conceptualizations. They almost drowned him.
"Rinjin," he thought, to comfort himself, "knows this place. He'll get us across safely!"
It seemed harmless to succumb to such reassurances. However,, they distracted him enough so his feet, arms and body did not work together. The current caught him and tumbled him over. His head was under water and his feet were up and thrashing! How could he catch himself? He could not. He was being pulled away!
Before he was swept away helplessly, two hands caught him and he felt himself put right-side-up. One-belonged to Thubten and the other to Tenzin. His sputtering mouth and nose coughed and found air again. It took him only a few moments to realize that the water was now shallow. He was lying on his side in only a foot of water as the river splashed by. They were on a high gravel bed! Thubten and Tenzin knelt next to him smiling. The marine did not wish to consider the order of events if the gravel bed had not been there. How likely would his rescue have been in deep water? He shook this out of his head, as he shook the water out of his ears.
Rinjin and Mark stood for a moment in the knee-deep water, as the yogi made his way up onto the gravel bed. Then they nodded to each other and re-entered the deeper river. Soon they were two heads on the current heading for the other shore. The marine was reluctant to join them in the river so quickly, but he had no choice. When the two Tibetans went, he was close by. He had a vested interest in being near them. The yogi seemed also to be reluctant, but he also followed'. the last head in that row of rosary beads on the water.
As they travelled north on the other shore, the grey slate-colored mountains pressed in towards the river. There was less and less room for walking among the sharp slabs which the mountains had dropped centuries before. To the north, nothing could be seen but the brilliant cloud-banks that seemed to be tumbling down like some giant frozen surf.
Soon, the grey stone walls began to have fissures and openings. These cracked open from the level of the river and vanished into the horizontal clouds above. Some were shallow and some were deep. All, however, were dark and cold looking. They had passed dozens of these when Mark noticed that they were becoming more evenly spaced, one after another, taller, sharper, and deeper. This reminded him of something. He looked back, back to the southwest, across the river, and he saw the long wall of waterfalls, white and shining. They were even more like strokes of lightning from a distance.
"And these are like lightnings, also," he thought, walking past them. "But they are negative ones, empty ones, black and cold!"
The small group was dwarfed by the stone walls. They were chilled by the winds which came from the black cracks as they passed them, one by one.
"They're like entranceways ... long cave entrances ... Cold. Dammit! Cold!" Mark could not help but comment out loud.
Those words encouraged the marine to shout ahead to Rinjin.
"Rinjin! When do we stop? Rinjin!"
The figure ahead stood atop a large boulder and looked back at the others.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
The marine bristled.
"No. It's not that! Where are we going?"-
The words were a mistake. The Tibetan leader turned and continued.
"You should have said you were tired," said a voice at his elbow.
He snapped around to stare at the yogi, who was almost on top of him. He wanted no advice from this man!
"Shut the hell up!" he returned.
SVA YAM pressed his lips together and promised himself that the marine would have a horrible death.
"Let us go! Let us go!" called Tenzin to the two stragglers.
Mark was far ahead, close to the moving Rinjin. That did not please either of the two Americans. They were joined in the one act of walking but in no other.
That was how it was in Mark Miller's dream.
He moved now and then to pick off or brush away a leech, but without waking. He slept further and dreamt further.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Before many of the entrances of the black cracks, the negative lightnings, were large slabs of dislodged materials. Rinjin examined many of these, but only those of an extremely large size. While he did this, Mark sat and watched, puzzled. He did not ask what his friend was doing. If he wanted him to know,, he would tell him. Sometimes Thubten and Tenzin would arrive before their leader was finished, and under his unspoken direction, they would scrutinize the surfaces of the slabs. Top and bottom, they would examine and then, shaking their heads at some negative conclusion, they would begin walking again. Fields and SVA YAM never were in time to see the examinations, although occasionally they arrived as the search was given up. Thus, Mark was the only one of the Americans that was given this special mystery to ponder.
Mark Miller did not have to ponder the mystery long. At one fissure's entrance, Rinjin examined a stone slab and quickly broke into smiles, shouting for his two companions to join him and to verify his find. They came scrambling past the American and soon were rubbing their flattened hands across the face of the stone, shouting and laughing.
"Laksana! Laksana!" was one of the words, but Mark could not make out the others. He approached the stone to discover what was causing all the excitement. But even near it, he could see nothing special.
The marine and the yogi had made some effort to reach the noisy Tibetans at the stone. They looked back and forth between themselves and Mark before the marine asked,, "What's the rumpus? For a minute I thought a helicopter..."
"I don't know," answered Mark. "They just ... "
And he was interrupted by the yogi whose dark expression was at odds with his blue eyes.
"The Laksana, you fools. They have found the laksana!"
They had no chance to ask him how he knew, or what it meant, for Rinjin gestured them to the stone.
"Here," he said, grabbing the marine's right hand and pressing it against the stone. "Touch this!"
Fields did so and pulled away, unsure.
"Nothing but cracks. Is that what this is about?"
Rinjin frowned and looked at the yogi.
"Come here! Quickly!"
The near-naked man did so without question, pressing his palm on the flat surface and moving it in circles to cover a larger area.
"Ah!" said Thubten, smiling and looking at his leader for approval. But Rinjin said nothing, looking into the fissure, the dark opening of the negative-lightning-crack. A wind began to blow out at them from that fracture, softly at first. Then it grew in strength.
The yogi laughed, looking at the darkness.
Rinjin frowned and waved him aside.
"You!" he said, pointing at Mark, and then pointing to the stone.
Mark pressed his hand on the stone, and imitating the circular motion of the yogi without thinking, caressed the stone's surface.
"There are marks here," he said, "invisible, but manmade. A circle, a square ... I think ... A circle in a square ... A triangle within a triangle-something ... something ... in the center ... the center..."
"NO!" shouted the yogi, pushing away his hand, startling them all but causing Tenzin to reach for his weapon. They all froze in place, all eyes upon the yogi, waiting for his next move. None came. Whether or not any would have come remained unknown, for the scene was interrupted by a sound deep within the dark crack. At first, it seemed as if rocks were falling far away. But then these rumblings blended together into one long soft sound, a voice, a wail, or.
"A horn!" Mark said, looking at Rinjin.
The Tibetan leader was smiling. He adjusted his pack and started making his way into the dark fracture in the slate-colored rock wall. Without a word, Mark went after him.
Sergeant Fields shook his head in puzzlement as the Tibetans began to move. He grabbed Tenzin by his arm.
"What is it? What was that?"
Intentionally or due to misunderstanding, the Tibetan did not answer his question directly. The marine asked about
the sound. The Tibetan spoke of something else, which was foremost in his mind.
"Our home. It is the entrance to our home."
And with that he shook off the marine's hand and moved amongst the rock debris, leaving the soldier even more puzzled than before he had asked his question. In his hesitation, he saw the yogi leap past him and after the retreating figures. That caught him unawares and forced his body to respond, moving after them, the last in the line. The clouds were lowering, the sun was eclipsed, and the black entrance appeared as a huge wound in the earth. He did not wish to be left behind. He quickly followed the others into that cold dark place.
In his sleep, Mark pulled off a leech.
Chapter Twenty Nine
In the shadows of the cleft, the figures remained in sight of each other. Whenever Rinjin felt he was outdistancing the others, he slowed or stopped completely. This allowed Mark and the Tibetan to have a few moments alone, standing and waiting.
The fissure was enormous and impressive in its grey coloring. Mark stared up its sides, until he could see no more due to the lowering clouds.
"Where are we going?" he asked Rinjin, whose eyes were upon him. The Tibetan's expression was soft and unusual, which was what encouraged the American to ask his question.
"Home," he answered, looking into the darkness of the fissure.
In spite of his puzzlement, Mark squeezed out another question. "Your village?"
Rinjin did not answer immediately, somber-faced. But then there was a hint of a smile.
"Village, fields, forest, temples..." he 'said.
"Where ...." began the American, but the Tibetan interrupted him by continuing his unusual flow of words.
"Fortress," he smiled, "homes, people, warriors."
Mark smiled back in sympathy. The other's face seemed to glow.
"My kingdom. Your kingdom, too!" The Tibetan gestured towards him.
"An adopted citizen? Thank you, Rinjin!" Mark replied, beginning to wonder about the effusiveness which was so out of character for the guerrilla leader.
"No, no!" said Rinjin. "What I said... What I meant..."
What he said and what he meant was not clarified. For the others arrived at that point. -And with their arrival, Rinjin stopped talking and set off amongst the rocks, deeper into the fissure. Mark was right behind him, almost stepping into his footsteps.
The clouds lowered, making it feel as if they were in a wide cave whose ceiling was slowly lowering itself upon them. They gained a few feet now and then, as Mark noticed the rock floor slant downward away from that misty mass of moisture above them. The steepness of the incline grew and the clouds were left lost overhead, somewhere in the greyness. Rinjin was almost leaping from stone to stone and Mark had difficulty in keeping up with him.
"What's the rush? Can he see what he is doing?" he gasped to himself, leaping quickly after his friend.
Then suddenly, he stopped. He almost ran into the Tibetan, who now stood still contemplating a series of ruptures in the rock. The huge fissure was gone. Instead, there was a series of perhaps five splits in the rock, each like a knife-slash in some dry wood. Each was no more than ten feet high and six feet wide. They angled down into the darkness which welled up from them like a dense black fluid.
Mark looked at Rinjin.
"Is he lost?" he thought, studying the still man. "This can't lead anywhere!"
But the Tibetan was only waiting for the others to arrive, clattering over loose rock.
"The third one!" he called over his shoulder in Tibetan.
"The third one," he said in English, immediately gesturing with his hand, "from the right!"
Mark thought that the words were a strange way to indicate the central rupture, but then he saw that there were actually six openings. There was a smaller, hidden one on the right.
Rinjin moved into the rupture, with Mark fast behind him in the darkness.
"Dammit!" he said when all light and all detail vanished before him.
"Damn!" he heard the marine cursing somewhere behind him when he entered the inky night of the earth, in his turn.
Mark felt that he was going to fall when he felt the grip of his friend's iron-like hand. "Stop," said the Tibetan, "and wait!"
Mark heard these instructions being given to the other two Americans by Thubten and Tenzin.
"Do not look back, only ahead," continued Rinjin.
Mark obeyed and did as he was told.
The darkness seemed to move, black on black. Grey on grey.
"Wait," cautioned his friend again.
He heard other mumbling instructions behind him, being sure that they were the same.
After what seemed a long time in the darkness, the Tibetan leader loosened his grip and said to Mark Miller, "Now you may walk."
Mark hesitated, for he could see no better than he had before.
"I ... I ... still can't see!" he insisted.
Nearby in the darkness, Rinjin snorted.
"Don't be silly! Look towards me!"
The darkness had a dual quality. One darkness was the cave. Another darkness was the shape of the Tibetan.
"Now follow what you see of me!" said Rinjin's voice, moving away from the American.
"I ...." Mark started to object. But then he found his body obeying, following the black ghost in the ebony cave. He shuffled his feet, fearful of falling since the floor slanted. Soon the black ghost was joined by a grey flame, a fixed, rigid flame. It was an opening somewhere ahead towards which the Tibetan was leading him. It grew and greyness soon replaced ebony. Soon he could see the features of his guide in the shadows. They were smiling.
"Do you remember this?" asked Rinjin.
Mark did not answer, since he did not understand.
He moved in his sleep but did not awaken.
In his dream, soon they were all together in the grey flame-like space. The marine was about to object but held his tongue.
"Do you remember?" Rinjin asked of the soldier and the yogi.
Neither spoke for a moment.
The marine said, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about!"
The voice of the yogi, accompanied by the white lines in the greyness, spoke softly.
"Yes. Surely, I do! Very familiar .... It seems that ...
Rinjin's voice snapped in the greyness.
"You overdo it, yogi!
There was a shuffling of boots and the shadows began to move again. This time, a rose color appeared hovering in mid-air, but down below their line of vision. The floor slanted towards it. The men followed that slant, using the slight differentiations of color and light which they had available to them.
They broke out into a rose-colored grotto which almost dazzled them with its comparative brightness. Mark had to cover his eyes to shield them. The Tibetans had done so before leaving the greyness.
Everyone's eyes soon grew accustomed to the colored light. It bounced around them but it was difficult to discern its source. The rock walls., worn with the flow of water, were its color, but so was everything else. The marine,, the yogi, Thubten, all of them were the color of the grotto. Looking up was difficult, since it was most brilliant there.
"Is it a cloud? Is it a haze, or just bright light?" Mark questioned himself. He could gain no answer with his eyes.
"We cannot stay here," said Rinjin. "It is not safe!"
The other two Tibetans had their malas in their hands and were saying their beads. Mark inadvertently reached up to touch the rosary he had around his neck, but quickly removed his hand. He glared at the yogi who ignored him. The marine studied the walls, pursed his lips and shrugged.
They all left that rosey grotto quickly. And as quickly the color changed, becoming yellow, then pale blue and
then what seemed to be daylight. The light, whatever it was, came from above, and Mark assumed that the grotto was somehow open to the sky and the illumination was actually daylight filtered down through clouds and mist. If he had thought about it at all, he would have realized that that could not have been the truth of the matter. They were too deep within the mountain for such bright light to penetrate. And it was too late in the day, if it. were still day at all, for such brightness. Then he put the source of the light out of his mind, off his list of puzzles, for he was faced with the scratches.
"What are these lines?" he asked Thubten, who was walking close behind him. The Tibetan shrugged.
"There is nothing to say.
Mark frowned, puzzled.
"Nothing to say? That he can or that he will say?"
He did not voice this question, for the scratches were revealing themselves more fully as they walked through the passageway.
They had started as long slashes, the height of a man, one after another, row upon row. They were obviously made, and not natural cracks in the stone. Something, or someone, had spent energy gouging the surfaces to their right with long lines. They were not idle marks, but intentional ones. They went on by the hundreds, unchanging.
But somewhere, unnoticed, they had changed. They were doubled and they were closed at either end, like long thin sticks. These verified the manufactured nature of the others. And these also seemed to be numberless.
"Alike. All alike," thought Mark Miller as he almost ran past them trying to keep up with Rinjin. He heard the others behind him moving equally as fast.
And somewhere, unnoticed,, the lines had changed again. They now had circles atop the previous sticks. Mark must have seen dozens of these before they had registered upon his mind. He almost stopped but Thubten gave him a shove.
"Move! Move on!"
The light was now growing more brilliant. Mark accepted this gladly, but he could hear the two Tibetans behind him begin to say their prayers as they hurried along. Rinjin was ahead of them by ten feet or so, not glancing back at all.
Far ahead, Mark could see that the passageway's height was being revealed in the brilliant light. It was as if high mist were evaporating and a huge chamber was being revealed., even though the ceiling was still obscured in brightness. They raced towards a far wall, a dead end, which changed the tunnel into a semi-spherical chamber. The scratched figures ran along ahead of them, reaching that wall before them. In that light, everything was seen. And Mark did not know what to look at first.
The scratched shapes caught his eye and he followed them to the wall where they stood around the waiting Rinjin. The marks had turned into full figures. There was no doubt about it. They were engraved lines of ancient warriors! In armour, in plumed headdresses, with sword and spear, with bows and arrows, they were an army of ancient Tibetans! He could see their faces! They were scratched line-portraits of distinct individuals! A great series representing an army.
At the end wall, when he looked, his eyes were caught. It rose like a great slab of agate, cut and shining. Within the convolutions of colors rose a giant figure eight, but it was no number. It was built of prongs with a central axis piercing both upper and lower hemispheres. At the juncture between the two was a flat central core, upon which swirled a dizzying whirlpool of colors. Rinjin was an ant before it.
Mark stopped in his tracks, awed by the shining device. It wavered before his eyes, since he could see into it, within it, causing it to move, in his eyes, into the space of the chamber.
"Hurry!" called Rinjin. "Hurry! Before they come to 1 if e! "
The men ran towards the guerrilla leader, the Americans not understanding his words but sensing his urgency. Mark's eyes were glued to the huge agate design. His attention was diverted by the pistol shots. He spun around to see the marine firing at the wall.
"What the ...
Thubten pushed him forward.
Mark stumbled forward toward Rinjin, but not before he saw that the wall had become animated. The scratched figures were moving! There was agitated movement where there had been nothing before. The figures were unsheathing swords, poising to throw spears, stringing arrows to bows.
"Impossible!" he cried as he reached Rinjin, the other two Tibetans close behind him. He looked back to see that neither the marine nor the yogi had moved. The soldier was firing his pistol point-blank at the wall, screaming something unintelligible while the yogi was raising his hands and chanting at the top of his lungs. Mark's mind reeled as he saw flights of arrows leave the wall and clatter about the two men. By some miracle neither was hit.
"You fools!" shouted Rinjin to them. "Here! Come here! It is your only chance!"
They came running, wild-eyed, through a barrage of missles clattering around them. The marine's gun was empty and the yogi was bleeding at the shoulder.
"Down! Down!" shouted Thubten to them,, throwing himself flat to avoid the flights of arrows.
They all joined him, flat on the stone floor before the giant shimmering agate design, just as the warriors stepped away from the walls and advanced into the room.
It was thus that Mark Miller dreamed in the shallow shelter in the tree-lined canyon. The flood-waters raged within a few feet of him, but only the rainwater touched him.
The next morning, when he awoke, the bright sunshine was pouring down into the narrow canyon. Although the water was still rushing downstream, Mark could see that it was receding. It only reached halfway up the fall of rubble beneath their shelter and even as he watched, receded further.
"Like a sped-up motion film," he said.
Soon the stream became shallow enough for them to wade into and continue on their way. They were wet and uncomfortable as it was, so it made no difference that they had to walk in the water. It was the only path which they had.
The Tibetans were in the lead, working around the boulders which lay everywhere and which, last night, had been tossed like pebbles. by the flood-waters. Mark was immediately after Tenzin, with the marine following and the yogi last. He did not give the near-naked American much attention beyond noticing that most of his ash cover was gone, except for the smeared white lines on his forehead. He still remained dirty and unkempt, with matted hair piled high. Anger arose whenever Mark looked at him, so he did not look very often. It was too much of a drain of energy. He concentrated on his feet. He felt his pack squeaking in its wetness and felt the
warmth of the sun pulling the moisture out of his body. It was also taking the moisture out of the trees as mist and the water out of the rock walls, changing their colors.
They reached the end of the trail. It was a drop over the cliffside. The stream continued in its resigned fashion, falling over the edge to an unseen destination.
"This must have been quite a waterfall during the storm!" said Sergeant Fields. But no one answered him. The Tibetans were searching amongst the debris of fallen trees which lay twisted and smashed, some clinging upside-down to the edge of the precipice. They found what they were seeking and soon the group was moving along a crack in the cliff-face, a horizontal slippage which only a madman would call a path. They must have all been mad, for soon they were all descending upon it, however reluctantly.
"Move onto it," said the marine. "We have no choice!"
Rising clouds protected them from the knowledge of their actual height. That was some consolation.
When they reached the bottom, wrapped in clouds and an invisible landscape, the order of march changed. It was Mark who became second in line, after Rinjin in the lead. It was to continue in this fashion for most of the trek that followed. It made a smiling bond between Miller and the Tibetan leader, continuing into the landscape which opened up before them, a huge upland valley with meadows on the far side of a broad river, framed by ragged grey mountains which looked as if they had been chopped and torn from fossilized wood. The near side was boulder-strewn and edged with cloud-topped ramparts yielding a series of waterfalls.
"White! How white!" thought Mark following quickly in the footsteps of the guerrilla leader.
These slashes of wet lightning became their ever-present companions, sentinels, which saluted them until they cleared the glacial debris.
"Rinjin!" called Mark. "Across the river!"
"What is it?" returned the other.
"Never mind. I thought I saw ... I saw horses and men. But I must have been mistaken."
Rinjin and Mark kept the lead, moving with great familiarity in the terrain. The marine and the yogi had a more difficult time.
"How does he move so fast? It seems that he knows this place!" mumbled the soldier. The yogi's eyes merely flashed and stabbed at different targets.
To Mark there was a familiarity to the line of march. He had begun to feel it at the end of the upper canyon, when they faced the precipice. He was more sure of it on the horizontal slippage, the narrow path down the cliffside. But he could not pin it down. The tantalizing quasi-memory gave him energy which he utilized keeping in step with Rinjin and leaving the others behind. But it was a clouded remembrance which eluded him, which did not arrive at a final conclusion of recognition.
"How did he become such a rabbit?" the marine wondered. But he got no answer. Instead, Rinjin was instructing them to enter the river.
"We'll be swept away! Are you crazy?" the hesitating soldier cried.
Mark followed the Tibetan, sending the last retort at Sergeant Fields.
"Don't worry! There are sand and gravel bars here!"
"How the hell do you know?"
As Mark entered the current with its treacherous cold fingers, he wondered himself.
"How do I know?"
Soon they were neckdeep, weapons raised above the water, pebbles slipping from beneath their feet. There was only time for action and not thought about action. Far away from shore, in the middle of the river, six heads decorated the surface of the shifting currents like beads on a rosary. They moved and bobbed up and down, as if some giant hand of destiny was praying, counting them off with its fingers, each in turn, and then starting all over again.
Fields had almost been lost. If it had not been for Thubten and Tenzin, he would have drowned. If it had not been for the close proximity of the gravel bar, it might not have been possible for their hands to reach out and save him. Despite the close call, everyone plunged into the river again, however reluctant some of them might have been.
As they travelled north on the other shore, everything was hauntingly familiar to Mark Miller. He could not under stand it. The grey slatecolored mountains pressed in towards him near the other shore of the river. Great slabs of sharp stone spoke to him as if they were old acquaintances, but they had dropped from the mountains decades, centuries or eons ago. The brilliant blank clouds to the north gave no reassurances of understanding. They poised like some giant sculpture of a tidal wave, only wavering in miragelike ripples of the light. The stone walls began to open with giant fissures that dwarfed the travellers. The horizontal clouds began to lower, clipping the tops of the openings. Some were very deep. And cold! And dark! They had passed dozens of them, evenlyspaced, one after another, taller, sharper, and deeper. Mark looked back to the southwest across the river and he saw the long wall of waterfalls, like strokes of lightning from the distance.
"And these," he thought, "are like lightning also! But
they are negative! Empty! BLACK and COLD!"
The small group passed the entranceways. Cold!
They passed the openings. Cold!
"Rinjin! Can we stop?"
"Are you tired?"
"No. Where....Where are we going?"
The yogi sneered and the marine bristled.
"Way the hell up!"
And the yogi promised the marine a terrible and slow
Mark moved ahead quickly, easily on the energy of remembrance. But the remembrance was wordless.
Fields and SVA YAM were never in time to see the examinations. They would begin walking again by the time the others had arrived. But one time Rinjin and the other two Tibetans laughed and shouted, rubbing a huge slab. "Laksana! Laksana!"
"What's the rumpus?"
"I don't know" said Mark.
"The Laksana, you fools!"
"Here," said Rinjin, "touch this!"
And the marine said that it was nothing but cracks.
"Come here! Quickly!"
And the near-naked man pressed his palm on the flat surface, moving it in circles. A cold wind had come from the fissure.
Mark Miller had done the same the felt "....marks here. Invisible...a circle ... a square and in the center....
But he had been interrupted by the yogi. Nonetheless, a sound had come from deep within the earth.
"A horn!" Mark said, looking at Rinjin.
Quickly they all began to travel down into the fracture of the rock wall.
"What is ... asked the marine.
"Our home. It is the ... " said Tenzin.
The clouds were lowering, the sun was eclipsed and the black entrance appeared as a huge wound in the mummified side of some prehistoric rock-monster.
They faced the five which were not five, after Rinjin said they were going to his kingdom, his forests and people. Mark's also. But he did not agree that Mark was an adopted citizen.
They set off amongst the rocks deeper into the fissure.
Clouds lowered.... steepness of the incline grew...somewhere
in greyness. Rinjin was almost leaping from stone to stone
and Mark had difficulty in keeping up.
"What's the rush?"
"The third one!" said Rinjin and entered dense fluid blackness.
In the crack, the central crack, it was blackness on ebony. It became black on grey and then only grey.
"Do you remember this?" asked Rinjin.
This time Mark could give an affirmative answer. But he did not, for he did not understand why he remembered.
The marine answered the same question, "I don't know what the hell you're ..."
The yogi answered, at length, until Rinjin quieted him.
Entering the rosecolored light of the grotto they were almost blinded. Was it a cloud? Was it a haze? Bright light?
"We cannot stay here!" said Rinjin. "It is not safe!"
They all left that rosey grotto quickly. And quickly the color changed to yellow, then pale blue and then to daylight. But it could not be daylight...
"What are these lines?" asked Mark.
"There is nothing to say!" answered Thubten as they hurried along.
The slashes became double slashes., close-ended. They continued by the hundreds, and grew circles atop them. They went on by the hundreds.
"Alike. All alike," thought Mark Miller as he almost ran past them, trying to keep up with Rinjin. He heard the others behind him moving as fast.
"Move! Move on!"
The light was growing more brilliant, which made the Tibetans behind him say their prayers as they hurried along. Rinjin did not glance back.
The passageway's height was revealed as mists evaporated and a huge chamber appeared with a dead-end wall. The scratched figures ran along ahead of them, reaching that wall before them. They turned into full figures, ancient warriors armed with all manner of weapons!
The wall! The wall! Mark now remembered! It came from his dream! All of this ... the trail, the river, the fissures! He had been through this before!
The wall rose like a great slab of agate, cut and shimmering. The convolutions of colors, golden and blue, created a giant abstract figure, like a figure eight, like pronged bells, one mirroring the other, rightside up and upside down. A central axis ran through them and they seemed to move, deep within the stone, being semi-transparent. Rinjin was before it, calling them.
Mark was frozen in his tracks by the shining device, and also by the knowledge of what was going to happen in a split second. What had happened before in his dream!
"Hurry!" called Rinjin. "Hurry! Before they come to life!"
He remembered. And Rinjin knew! He knew all along!
They began to run towards the Tibetan, Mark's eyes fastened onto the agate design, as if his life depended upon it.
And arrows flying!
The walls were animated,, moving, and Sergeant Fields had fired at the threatening spectacle. The yogi screamed incantations. But neither bullets nor spells stopped the spears and arrows. SVA YAM was wounded in the shoulder!
"You fools! Come here! It is your only chance!"
They ran with arrows falling about them, throwing themselves down flat on the stone floor with the Tibetans. The huge agate image shimmered and glistened above them.
"Damn!" shouted Mark, seeing the warriors step away from the wall and advance into the room. "Here they come again!"
Chapter Thirty One
They lay face-down on the stone floor, their ears filled with the sounds of arrows clattering about them. Thubten cried out in pain when he was struck in the leg.
Rinjin turned on his stomach, facing the agate wall, his eyes wide and perspiration pouring down his face.
"Do as I do!" he commanded, as an arrow hit into his pack. But it did no harm. Mark could see the shaft quivering above his back and at first he thought his friend had been mortally wounded. He looked back to see the warriors advancing, stringing their long bows and firing high salvos, creating a rain of arrows. They thudded about him, one piercing his sleeve, some quivering above him in his pack as if he were becoming a porcupine.
"AUM!" started Rinjin, his arms extended towards the quivering agate wall. And at the same time, he began to crawl towards the design, ignoring the approaching archers.
"AUM VAJRA CITTA HUM!"
"This is insanity," thought Mark. "It is his death prayer!"
The other two Tibetans began to chant as well, crawling towards the shining agate.
"Aum Vajra Citta Hum!"
"Aum Vajra Citta Hum!"
Mark had never heard that mantra before, yet he wondered about its familiar ring. Had he dreamt this too?
"Use your guns!!" shouted SVA YAM the yogi, clutching his bleeding shoulder.
"It's no use!" whispered the marine. "Try a goddam spell on them!"
Mark watched the crawling Tibetans and made no move to imitate them.
"Poor superstitious..." he began, when he saw something which he could not believe.
Rinjin's outstretched hands had vanished into the agate wall!
The colors shimmered around his arms, slowly encompassing them as well! Mark could see them become colors themselves in the stone for a moment and then they vanished.
"As if, beyond..."
Rinjin was gone! He had melted into the wall!
"AUM VAJRA CITTA HUM!" the other two Tibetans chanted, crawling.
"Quick!" Mark called to the soldier and the yogi. "Look!"
They turned from the archers just in time to see Thubten and Tenzin melt into the wall and vanish.
"What .... ?"
"The prayer!" shouted Mark. "Recite it! And follow me!"
"What is it?" Fields cried.
Mark shouted it aloud, as if to demonstrate, and crawled towards the agate shimmering wall.
"AUM! VAJRA! CITTA! HUM! "
"Aum! Vajra! Citta! Hum!" repeated the marine.
"Aum Vajra Citta Hum!" said the yogi, over and over.
Arrows were put to bow-strings.
Mark vanished into the wall.
Strings were pulled back.
Fields vanished into the wall.
SVA YAM vanished into the wall.
Arrows clattered on the empty stone floor.
Chapter Thirty Two
Once within the wall, Mark was tossed upwards as if on a current of air. He could see strands of color all about him. Agate! Stone! Luminous stone! He was moving about in it as if it were molten. But it was cool. It was cold! It was like colored winds which lifted him, turned him to stand, suspended in mid-air, mid-color!! He could not see himself, or any part of himself. In fact, he was not sure there still was a self to be seen. About him, humming and growling, were sounds which he could not understand at first. Then he realized that they were amplifications of his own voice! It was chanting the mantra which Rinjin had shouted at him for his salvation. AUM VAJRA CITTA HUM! His hands, he now felt,, were still outstretched., but above his head. He was vertical and moving in little circles. He felt he was growing larger and larger. The colors became golden and blue. He could recognize their configurations. It was the agate figure! It's central axis went through him like his spine, like a huge spine, the backbone of the world! He spun and gyrated, like a top. The colors of the design's center ran into his torso and everything grew cooler and clearer. It was not stone. It was not body. It was light.
AUM VAJRA CITTA HUM!
He understood the white waterfalls. He understood the dark fissures. Positive and negative merged just below his ribcage. He had no body in a bodiless world. He was one body in a merged universe.
AUM VAJRA CITTA HUM!
Chapter Thirty Three
The other side was also a huge chamber. Overhead was the same brilliance. Rinjin stood waiting for them, smiling.
"Good! You listened to me! You are safe!"
Thubten and Tenzin stood further off, nodding in agreement.
The marine's voice made Mark turn to see him walking through the agate wall.
Aum Vajra Citta Hum. W-What ............What?"
"Welcome to safety!" laughed Mark Miller.