Chapter Fifty Nine
Mark awoke in pure blackness. It was so deep that thoughts were like beacons within it. An idea of a color flashed like a lighthouse. The remembrance of hues and tones became mental flowers that decorated the space around him. He could almost reach out to touch them. They were like flowers in the springtime.
"Tulips! Dogwood!" he said aloud. "How beautiful they are this season!"
Tulips and dogwood blossomed, but nowhere where he could see them.
He felt his head and shoulders, they ached and were bruised. He felt the ground beneath him. It was not slabs of rock. It was not the stones of the patio.
"Where am I?"
The ground was bumpy and slanted. He felt moss with his fingers. He crawled on all fours to examine it. The angles and tilts of the surface confused him. He felt a lightheadedness. What was the direction of up? He could not settle that.
He still had not answered that question when a long tongue of fire came from above somewhere. It struck the ground near him, doing two things. It illuminated his surroundings and threw him off balance. He started to tumble and he could not stop. He was tumbling down the thousand-step staircase! He had seen that in that flash of light. But he could not stop!
Down the steps he tumbled, toward the canyon below!
The tongue of fire burnt a slash across the wall next to the marine. It swung around to strike at Mark, but he was already falling from the window edge.
"Darkness! Soft darkness!" was the cry which they heard him call out.
And soft darkness did come. But not until the automatic rifle's bullets were seen ripping the figures in the thanka to shreds and knocking off splinters of the ornate dragon tea-table.
Soft darkness came to engulf them. Unlike the images of tulips and dogwood outside, down below with a dazed Mark, here the images were sword flashes of bullets flying, starting and ending their short flights within the room. Here was a lashing line of flame which flew and snapped like a bull-whip. Accompanying it all was the shouting of the marine, leaping from side to side in the room with his weapon blazing, with the flaming whip striking the places where he no longer remained. In the flashes of light, it could be seen that the marine and the yogi were alone. The Tibetans were no longer in the room.
Bullets knocked over the butter lamps with their dim lights and the wicks sputtered, but did not go out. The shredded thanka flapped in the turmoil of air made by the jets of fire. The wooden walls were beginning to burn.
"Very convincing!" Sergeant Fields observed, just before he made a backwards leap onto the stairwell landing to escape a swing of orange heat. "I'm going! Getting too damn hot in here!
With a final burst from his automatic rifle, he dropped it.
"Too hot!" he cursed. "Even for an illusion, the weapon's too hot to hold!" He leaped into the darkness of the staircase., crashing down and stumbling out of the building before the yogi knew where he had gone.
The long flame came seeking him and struck out the window blindly. It landed near the dazed Mark and sent him stumbling down the long staircase. At that same moment, the flames broke through the walls of the wooden building. The heat was getting very great. The yogi decided to vacate the building before it was too late. He did not think of stopping the fire.
On the side of the mountain, in the underground kingdom of Vajravati, a huge torch illuminated the twisted staircase. Smoke poured upwards and was sucked higher and higher, lost in the constellations of the dark unseen rock ceiling. Stars seemed to twinkle there as the flying embers popped and jumped, rising in the upward thrust of heat. Far below, there were gleams of light in the form of lightning. An everlasting thunderstorm seemed to be continuing in the canyon-lands.
However, no sound of thunder could be heard over the crashing of timbers, over the sharp cracks of foundation stones.
The yogi paused at the head of the stone staircase, no fire coming from his mouth now. Thoughts crossed his face as muscular twitches and then his smoke-stained face smiled.
"Time to go down to my kingdom. The other two must have died in that inferno!"
SVA YAM, the yogi, was premature in that calculation. His jitteriness at the sudden appearance of Thubten at his side emphasized that. One part of him did not believe that he was free of them. Not so easily. One part did believe it.
"Thubten!" he addressed the Tibetan.
"Yes! SVA YAM?"
"Am I not the master?" he questioned, more demanding than questioning.
"Why not?" the Tibetan replied. "If the other two are dead. You are the master of Vajravati!"
The yogi smiled, wiping his forehead with his stained white shirt. He did not notice the bullet holes in the broad sleeve, where bullets had narrowly missed him.
He also did not notice the marinet scrambling down the staircase in the darkness, wrapping his left hand in a piece of cloth torn from his shirt.
"Damn rifle!" he muttered as he went. "Burnt my hand! It should not have overheated!"
He tried not to think of it as a siddhi-created weapon. For then he would have to face the reality of the blisters on his left hand. He concentrated on where he stepped, for the further down he went, the more obscure his path became, as the flames from the burning building fought to reach deeply and, bit by bit, lost.
Chapter Sixty One
The staircase twisted and Mark continued to tumble in a straight line. He felt himself plunge out into space and gasped as he prepared for oblivion. His hands flailed outwards and struck plants which he could not grasp. After a sickening sense of falling, even though it was not far, Mark landed on his side with a crash. Loose rubble moved beneath him and he slid on a slope, finally stopping feet first against some solid forms. He was no longer tumbling!
"Ah!" he cried, half moaning. He did not dare move, for he did not know how close he was to some final plunge down the cliffside He sent his next dozen moments inhaling and exhaling, perspiring ferociously, and muttering to himself.
"Lucky! Lucky! You did not break your neck! You did not break any bones! Ah. Ah!"
His breathing had almost become normal when he heard sounds which set his heart thumping like some ritual drum.
Squinting in the darkness, he could see that he was on the steps again!
"They zigzagged away from me and right back again!" he smiled. He tried to move off the path but his aches slowed him. He could not move fast enough. The sounds came right to
where he lay and stopped. He could make out a figure. It was observing him as well.
"Well! Get it over with!" Mark Miller snapped at the shadow.
The shadow laughed down at him.
"Don't be so uptight, Mark!"
"Fields! It's you!"
"Yes," replied the marine. "What did you think! That the yogi could go anywhere without flames squirting in every direction?"
Mark staggered to his feet.
"I ... I was afraid that ... that..." he stammered.
The shadow of the marine held him by his right elbow, and looked back upwards, towards the glow above. The burning building was out of view.
"Take it easy. It's me! Don't worry."
In the dim light Mark could see that the marine's clothing was torn and that his left hand was bandaged. He asked no questions, fearful of the answers.
"Where is the yogi?" he ventured in spite of his caution.
"I don't know," answered the marine, guiding him to the downward side of the staircase, and I don't want to find out! This siddhi stuff is rougher than I thought! We've got to be moving. He might decide to head downhill."
"The darkness! protested the American to the pressure of the soldier's thrust against him. "We'll fall down the stairs! We can't see!"
"Correct that!" the marine said. "You're good at night and day!"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't be a fool!" snapped the marine, now with concern in his voice. "You turn it on and off like a light-switch! We need to escape into the valley!"
"But I can't ...." started Mark.
"Do it or we may be dead!" Fields said through his tightly-clenched teeth. "I don't know how much time we have!"
"Daylight," said Mark, "would be too bright. He would see us!"
"Pre-dawn, pre-daylight, dammit! Anything!" growled Sergeant Fields.
"Ah!" exhaled Mark Miller,, full of doubts.
"This is ridiculous!" he thought.
"Quickly!" said the marine, pushing him into the darkness like a blind man, his feet stumbling, searching for steps, perhaps finding the abyss instead.
"Ah!" Mark exhaled again. "Pre-dawn,, then! Let it be the light before the dawn! It is that light!"
"Good boy!" laughed the marine, as in the dimness, in the greyness, made of shadow and pearl greys, they could see a few steps ahead. High above them was darkness with only a few stars moving into new constellations as they watched. Mark could not understand those stars. It was the continuation of the burning building, timbers into embers, embers into flying sparks, flying sparks into stars, moving beneath the rock sky of Vajravati.
"The big dipper!" gasped Mark, pointing. But then it was gone.
"Let's go!" urged the marine, pushing past the other American and then pulling him by his elbow when Mark dragged his feet., looking up, trying to recognize familiar constellations.
However., that was not possible for the light was getting too bright too quickly for anyone to see stars in the sky. It soon would all be blue, a cerulean blue which turned into a cobalt blue. All blue.
Chapter Sixty Two
The yogi did not move quickly. He suspected that at least the marine was alive, probably down the staircase somewhere. But he was in no hurry to pursue him in the darkness. The siddhis were getting too real, in either direction. He was not sure if there was a balance, whether there was still the possibility of each cancelling the other's power out. The marine might be able to ambush him and do him some serious harm. Perhaps not. Perhaps he was dead. But then, the other? Was he alive? Were they alive joined together to ambush him, to kill him with their combined energies? He could not be sure and did not rush down in pursuit.
When the valley began to lighten, so soon after it had become dark... he was even more cautious.
"One of them is alive!" he cursed to himself,, squinting down the twisting staircase.
It was too difficult for him to see its entire length with its twists and turns. It was like a flat scaley creature that wound its way down the steep landscape, every so often hiding behind boulders, exhaling white mists which eventually hid it completely.
"It's head is hidden," thought the yogi. "It's fangs are hidden and poisonous! I shall not rush down into those deadly coils!"
SVA YAM's doubts became the good fortune of the soldier and Mark. He lingered near the destroyed house, pondering his next move., while the other two scampered and leaped headlong down the man-made staircase.
"Careful, careful!" gasped Mark, trying to slow the marine in his breakneck speed.
Sergeant Fields kept glancing backwards, up the broken line of stairs.
"We don't have enough time! He may catch up any moment!" he shouted.
"But!" wheezed Mark, "We'll fall-and that ... and that! ... will get...get ... us! My lungs ... ah...are ... ah! Bursting!"
The marine stopped, grim-faced, hands on hips, moisture on his forehead, scanning the path above them with narrowed eyes.
"Okay! For...for ... a moment!"
Mark could now see clearly, as he rested, that the soldier's left hand had been burnt. The cloth of the shirt made a poor bandage.
"His flames burnt you?" asked Mark in sympathy.
But the marine did not take it well. He glared at his companion and tore at the bandage.
"What makes you think I've been burnt? I'm fine!"
The cloth fell away and there were no blisters.
Chapter Sixty Three
"What is that noise?" asked Mark, looking up. Darkness was again advancing.
The marine followed his glance, hearing the same roaring wind, the same moaning and fluctuating screaming advancing down the staircase. In the darkness, they saw the glow. It was bright yellow-orange and came bouncing downward like a ball on the staircase. However, this sphere was all aflame, all blazing with the heat of the sun, throwing aside sparks and crashing heat against the stones as it progressed. Stones scattered from the impact, tumbling for a ways before they propelled themselves into the emptiness and became silent. Silent, until they struck far below amidst
a muffled clatter.
"Look out!" Michael Fields screamed as the tumbling mass fell, bounding, towards them. The darkness was gone, everything was yellow-orange. The heat burnt grasses before it.
"We must escape!" Mark shouted-in the rising din of wails and screams. "Duck! It's our only chance!"
The two Americans threw themselves flat against the stones of the staircase. The flames leapt forward.
All the voices in all the tales of hell were screaming and crying. They were carried downward with the heat. Approaching the two men, the ball of fire crashed down., cracking and scorching rocks, and leapt outwards again, wailing and screaming in triumph or defeat. The wave of heat which it sent ahead of it now was sucked after it, causing a wind which pulled against the two men. They began to slide within its suction., began to slip down the stairs, clutching and clawing at the stones. But the wind weakened with the departure of the falling fire, the screams echoed down the mountainside and they stopped moving. Darkness flooded back.
"W-what the hell was that?" asked Mark. He could sense the marine near him from his heavy breathing, but could not see him. A moment later the other man answered slowly.
"That,, my friend, was SVA YAM! If he had been a little more observant, he could have fried us to a pair of cinders!"
"Are you sure?" asked Mark.
"Reasonably sure," answered the shadow, standing up and moving towards the upside of the staircase. This puzzled Mark.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"If that was SVA YAM," said the marine, "we can go back' up and get away, out of Vajravati!" Mark said nothing for a moment; The marine did not move.
"Well?" asked the soldier. "Are you coming?"
And what if that was not SVA YAM," asked Mark, "but just one of his toys? He might be up there waiting for us."
"Hmmm," said the shadow, "you might be right. But I might be right, too."
"If we go back up, it might be the end of us," continued Mark.
Mark could not see the shadow nodding, but he heard it speak.
"The safer course is to continue down," said the voice. "We can retrace our steps when we know there's no ambush."
They moved carefully downward, following the glowing trail left by the burning ball. The vegetation was burning or in embers) the steps flaked with shimmering bits of rocks. They could see each other's faces in the reflected light, left by the passage of the tumbling fire, left by the passage of the yogi SVA YAM.
Chapter Sixty Four
The staircase ended abruptly. It had levelled off to raise itself into a flat platform which reached forward to cross the chasm of the canyon below. The staircase had become a bridge. As a bridge it straddled the emptiness and then arching back had anchored itself on the other side. What its designers had done was clear in-the brightening light. It had been a wonderful accomplishment, using only the stones and rocks.
"But now it is gone!" cried Mark, staring at the great gap in its central portion. The marine gnashed his teeth and spit to the side. "The yogi!" he snapped. "He did this!"
Mark gingerly stepped onto the bridge, focusing on the broken stones further out.
"No," he said, "there are no burns, and the breaks are eroded,- weathered. A long time ago! He didn't do this."
"Maybe he fell!" laughed the marine hopefully, looking down into the canyon. "Maybe he didn't make it!"
Mark stared down into the canyon below. It was still far below, but large objects could be seen, even some of the stones of the staircase which had fallen there in the darkness. His eyes moved to and fro.
"No yogi down there, either. He must have bounced over the break in the bridge."
"Damn," said the sergeant, contemplating the interruption to their progress. "If he can get across, so can I!"
He stepped forward along the remaining portion of the bridge.
"Hey!" cried Mark. "Are you crazy? That's a thirty foot gap!"
The marine did not seem to hear him. He reached the end of the stones and stood at their edge, balanced before the openness, with the tips of his feet overhanging space. He
lifted his arms above his head and flexed his knees, as if he were going to dive into a swimming pool.
"Fields!" shouted Mark,, not believing his eyes. But his cry was in vain. The soldier moved into the air smoothly, making a graceful line. His body moving through space did not reach the other side. It fell short and like a diving bird curved downward towards the canyon. This was all that Mark saw. When he realized that the marine had not reached the other bridge portion, he inadvertently covered his eyes with his arm., not wishing to see him crash against the rocks.
In the silence which followed, his body shook and trembled until he had to look again. He saw the broken bridge projecting into space. He saw the gap. He hesitated, then looked down into the canyon. There below were the ancient fallen bridge stones and pieces of the staircase, but no crushed body of the marine. There was no sign of him at all. Mark stared, looked right and left, and shook his head in disbelief. He scanned the sides of the stone walls,, multicolored and smooth, half expecting the marine to be clinging to some ledge. But that was not the case. He looked for his body on all sides, but none was to be found.
"I ... I just can't," he said, "see him! That's all! I just can't see him! Is he alive? He can't be alive! But he must be alive! Or...or ... where did his body go?"
Mark lay there, at the edge of emptiness, staring and mumbling for a long time.
"Why did he do such a fool thing? What did he think, he could do anything? What did he...why did he...?"
He felt very alone and very vulnerable. His mind was numbed and his head was heavy.
"Why did....what am I going ... How.... ?" he mumbled, and he fell asleep lying there precariously on the edge of the broken bridge, above the stratified canyon.
A thunderstorm began to move up the canyon.
Mark began to dream.
Chapter Sixty Five
In his dream, Mark watched the storm approaching. Slate grey clouds obliterated the far walls of the canyon below and flooded inwards following its hollow, its contours. A cool wind reached where he sat high above, and soon he could hear the rumble of thunder. There was no evidence of lightning for a long time. However, when it did appear, it was like yellow snakes which ran and divided between the rock walls in the distance. They leaped and divided, caressing the walls, but not touching each other. And afterwards, long afterwards it seemed, their voices, low and tumbling, like avalanches and rock-slides, came to his ears. He watched, fascinated.
Soon the storm filled the canyon beneath him and came overflowing upwards to engulf him and the bridge, as well as the staircase above him. The wind grew fierce and cold, but there was no rain. It struck at him, billowing out his Tibetan clothes, causing his hair to fly out behind him. It blew into his mouth when he opened it, causing him to become breathless.
He wondered if the stones beneath his feet could stand this additional strain, and was about to step back when the lightning arrived. It came suddenly and from all sides. Blazing and blue white, the lines of crackling energy rose upwards from the storm and downwards from the storm, to surround him like tremulous columns of some architectural wonder. He did not seem to be amazed at how long they retained their shapes. He studied their twisted electricity, the flow of moments of energy down their sides. He saw them slowly crack apart and fall sideways across the canyon, on either side of the bridge. They remained there, joining the two sides until one invisible bolt came from overhead with a crack of sound which made Mark feel that his skull had been opened. It fell, connecting both sides of the bridge, shimmering and iridescent. The great shudder of sound moved Mark forward and he stepped onto the bridge of light. He walked to the other side. He laughed as he walked, studying the tumbling grey clouds all about. The energy softened beneath his feet and dissolved. But not until he was safely across. He laughed and laughed, continuing on the path that the stones indicated, following them downward into the canyon which was all alive with the writing in mid-air, the indecipherable words of the lightning, the vajra.
There was very little rain and very little water. Mark followed the dried riverbed, made of damp sand and the debris of fallen rocks. In the flashes of light which made his way clear between the convoluted walls , he could see the entrances to many caves, high on the cliffsides. They appeared as pockmarks, as freckles, as gaps and wounds. They were tears in the body, yawning mouths and unfinished faces, but large and small they existed there as if to remind him of something which he could not remember.
Dancing before him in the blue lights which came and went with the lightning flashes, but which lingered longer than would seem possible, Mark saw the shadows of creatures. He did not know what they were. Their sighting caused him to stop and to try to make out their forms more clearly.
"Almost human," he thought. And then as they jumped and moved, coming closer, he realized something horrible.
"They're not! And they've seen me!"
He turned to run back up the sandy canyon, but discovered, revealed in the blazing blue-white light, that a dozen more of the shapes had been following him and were blocking his exit. They were coming closer, dark fuzzy shadows coming closer! Above their heads they seemed to be waving weapons. Grunts and groans could be discerned between the rumbles of rainless thunder. Looking back, he could see that the first group was approaching to close the trap. He did not know what to do.
Looking at the smooth canyon wall, Mark stared at the discolored streaks.
"Like lines of blood," he thought. "Just like on the building," he glanced upwards, "up there!"
He ran towards the rock-face. He did not look behind him., for he knew that he would be followed. He could afford no time for glancing back.
"Perhaps there are cracks," he thought. "Perhaps there are fissures that parallel the lines!"
But when he reached the wall his hands found them to be as smooth as glass. They had been polished by years of floodwaters, caressed beyond a satiny finish, burnished into the slippery gloss which caused his heart to sink.
"Grrau! Grrau!" came the mouthings of the creatures. They were almost upon him!
"Rinjin!" cried Mark. "Help me!"
But even as he cried those words, Mark remembered the Tibetan saying that he could only teach him to read the book, nothing else. This caused him to remember and to say aloud.
"A square of Earth seen as rising,
"A circle of Water seen as rising,
"A triangle of Fire seen as rising,
"A semi-circle of Wind seen as rising!"
The ground beneath him seemed to shake, and Mark felt himself rising, his back flat against the wall, as if on some invisible elevator. He stared down at the mass of black, the furry creatures merged into a dense screaming shape. He was too stunned to feel relief. He was too puzzled by his
body lifting upwards above the canyon floor. This confusion sped with him as his rising body accelerated. It did not end when he suddenly stopped and fell over backwards into an opening.
He had landed in one of the caves decorating the canyon cliff-face.
He had no time for self-congratulation, nor for relief. He crawled away from the cave entrance and sought the darkness of the interior. He did not know how he had gotten there, so he did not know if the dark creatures could follow him. He was taking no chances. There were only intermittent flashes of lightning illuminating the ragged opening. Soon these and their companion, the thunder, wandered away, growing weaker and fainter until they were gone altogether. Inky darkness prevailed.
Mark sat in silence for an indeterminately long time. He sat waiting. Not for the creatures. No, not that. He sat waiting for something else. Then it came. From deep in the interior of the cave came a sound. He listened to it but did not move. Then it came again. It was the sound of a door opening. There were the sounds of wooden bolts being thrown aside and the squeak of metal hinges. As these sounds became most evident, a crack of yellow light appeared, as if the mountain was being slashed by a molten golden sword. The sword itself was moving, spreading, and transformed itself into a rectangle, a doorway full of light. It was empty of any form. Mark was not surprised. He had been waiting for a long time in self-contained silence. He stood up and strode to the doorway, whose luminous goldenness was sharp to his eyes.
The corridor beyond the doorway seemed to be man-made. It could easily have been mistaken for a passageway in the interior of a house. The walls and ceiling were wooden and painted, and only the floor was rock, but its stone had either been meticulously worked or was naturally flat. Mark gave none of this much attention, passing even the flaking murals of flowers and trees without a glance. He as concentrating on counting his steps.
"Thirty one., thirty two!" he declared, and although the corridor continued, he stopped and waited.
Again there were the sounds of wooden bolts and metal hinges. But this time they were overhead. H e looked up smiling, as a portion of the ceiling opened like a trap door, being pulled up away from him. High above, he could see a square of blue-white. A shadow of a person was there and was dropping something. He stepped aside to avoid being struck by the falling rope.
Grabbing it with two hands, Mark swung himself upwards, leaving the golden corridor, pulling himself into the darkness overhead. Soon he was climbing upwards, swaying now and then, using both hands and feet to make his way upwards into the light above. The golden square shrank beneath him but he gave it no thought. He smiled as he climbed. Soon he crawled out of the trapdoor into a wooden-floored room. There was a low platform near a tea-table, a wide door which looked out onto snow-covered mountains. On the wall was a thanka of the Buddha Vajracitta.
"You are back!" laughed a sweet voice. It was a woman's. Now standing, he turned to face her. A red-haired young woman ran into his arms, laughing.
"Yes," Mark said., smiling at the brown-eyed woman, "I'm back, Susan!" They embraced, kissing on lips", on cheeks, on necks. They laughed and embraced. A cool breeze came from the mountains and flickered the butter lamps before the thanka.
Chapter Sixty Six
Mark dreamt. He was in the canyon again and he was being pursued by the dark creatures. They were hurling weapons at him and these clattered about him in the darkness. When the lightning flashed, he saw none of them any clearer and he could run no faster. And now they were coming from both sides! He made a dash for the canyon wall, hoping for a way up. But the walls were as smooth as ice, and just as slippery.
"Grrau! Grrau!" came the growls of the shadows.
"Rinjin!" cried Mark. "Help me!"
But no help came. He tried to remember the book.
"A square ..." he thought. "A square of what? Fire? Water?"
The furry creatures were grabbing him and pulling him away from the wall. "A SQUARE!" he shouted. "A square of wind!"
But nothing happened to save him. Claws were gripping and arms were encircling him, pulling and dragging him back to the center of the canyon. He felt a furry hand across his face, trying to stop his words.
"A square of Earth seen as rising!" he shouted.
The hand, callused and rough like a paw, closed itself over his lips. He continued to shout through it.
... a ... (circle!) of water!....(seen) ... as rising!"
The beasts were tearing at him with their claws. He felt wounds in his arms, and the flow of blood. He tore away the restraining hands.
"A triangle of Fire seen as..." he pushed away another hand, "rising!"
They knocked him to the ground, his head was spinning as he felt them striking him with their fists.
"A semi-circle of... They were pounding his chest, all the air out of his chest! "WIND!" he gasped, continuing, "Seen as rising!"
Lightning crackled around them. It seemed to emanate from the body of the prone man. The furry shadows fell back, smoking and singed. Mark rolled away from them, leaping to his feet, running for the canyon wall. As he began to rise in the Air,, he felt stones striking all about him. One hit him on the head and he lost consciousness.
He was unconscious An indeterminately long time. When he awoke he was in a room with a window overlooking tall finger-like mountains, topped with snow. On the wall was a thanka with the Buddha Vajracitta as the subject. Leaning over him was a beautiful young woman with blazing red hair. Her brown eyes looked worried, but quickly flashed happiness when he spoke.
"I'm back! I'm back) Susan!"
"Oh, darling!" she said, leaning down to embrace him. "I was so worried!"
"Nothing to worry about," he smiled, propping himself up on one elbow. "Look what I have!" And he carefully reached inside his Tibetan shirt with a scratched hand, withdrawing a small object.
"The agate vajra!" she cried, her eyes glistening with joy.
"Now we can leave Vajravati safely!" he continued. "Neither the yogi nor the marine can stop us!"
"But", asked the woman he had called Susan, "what if they try? What if... They have powerful siddhis!"
Mark Miller frowned.
"Then I'll have to kill them both!"
Chapter Sixty Seven
Mark awoke. It was daylight. He shook his head in puzzlement.
"Fields jumped! He's dead, somewhere! I......I dreamt."
He looked down at the canyon floor. It was the same, but different.
"What did I dream? I can't remember."
The bridge was broken, the same, but different.
"Why are the bridge and the canyon so peculiar?" He felt his head as if feeling for a wound caused by some flying object. There was no blood to be found. Then his eyes widened, staring at the stone bridge.
"I'm.... I'M on the other side! I've crossed over!"
He stood and stared at the canyon from this new angle, befuddled. Still shaking, he followed the stone path and descended, step by step.
The steps did not lead to the canyon floor, but skirted around it. There were a series of high ravines, cracks amongst the convolutions which led beyond twisted eroded folds of stone. Mark made his way in that direction, not noticing when the man-shaped stones stopped being in evidence, following the least line of resistance until he was travelling through a misty forest of stunted trees. They groped up and down smoothly-curved hillsides, blanketed in fuzzy moss coverings. Mark travelled through this fur-like forest and finally came into an open countryside of terraced hills.
"Farmland!" he cried aloud. "There must be people nearby!"
The evidence of people was easier to find than the people themselves. The terraces were widespread, growing plants which he could not identify. But that was no surprise, since he knew little of agriculture. Just the presence of cultivated fields made him happy, as he walked around them, searching for the sight of workers or dwellings.
A long pole with a fluttering piece of cloth up the length of it caught his eye.
"A prayer flag!" He grinned and quickly made his way towards it. As he approached, he found that the hill upon which the flagpole stood had blocked the view of a square white building just over the crest on the other side. The landscape beyond it was wrapped in white clouds hiding any view of anything else, near or far. But this one building was enough for Mark. He gleefully ran down the well-trodden path to the building. He almost shouted with joy, for he was now escaping a great sense of loneliness which had sat upon him like a granite rock. A house! People!
It was double-storied and not as large as the stripestained one up on the mountainside. In fact, it was very much smaller.
"But no matter!" laughed Mark, bounding up the wooden outside staircase and crashing through the doorway without thinking what anybody inside might think of such an entrance. But he was spared any awkwardness, for the room was empty. The house was empty.
"Out working, I suppose," he said, looking out through the carved window, glancing at the fields. "Guess I'll just wait."
So he waited. And waited.
The daylight turned to twilight and Mark stared at the
hillside with the pathway down which he had run. He could no longer see that trail, only the shape of the larger forms. He frowned, puzzled, and leaned his chin on his arms, which rested on the windowsill.
"Where are they?" he asked the darkening cobalt sky. "Is this place completely empty?"
It was in this position that he fell asleep.
And as he slept, he dreamed.
Chapter Sixty Eight
The groans and wails of creatures from hell came through his dream. But only the sounds, not any of the poor tortured victims themselves. Waves of purple clouds came and went, leaving the scent of moonlit flowers and the touch of dampness under furry trees.
"Are there no people?" asked Mark in his dream.
And in his dream he arose and went to the door. He could not open it and this gave him a sense of panic, of being trapped, until he heard the grunts and scratchings on the other side. Then he was relieved that the heavy door would not move. He backed away from it, carefully, looking for something he could use as a weapon. This search took him to another room, which he had not noticed being there when he was awake. This room was a storeroom, with some potatoes piled in a corner loosely, like a pile of large gravel. A staircase leading down through the floor got his attention and he had mixed feelings about it. Could anything get into the house that way? Was there something he should see down there?
Curiosity was the strongest of his mixed feelings. He carefully descended. Below the house he found a maze of rooms much too large to be under the house. Most of them were obscured with dusty drapes and only one, a ways off, seemed to have a flickering light. He put his hand before him to break the spiderwebs and stepped into the room of light. He stopped dead in his tracks. Standing on a platform facing away from him were three robed and hooded figures. Even though they had their backs to him and although the robes brushed the wooden planks upon which they stood, Mark knew that they were women.
"I don't know how I know," he said in his dream.
He walked around them, noticing the thickness of the dust which had collected on their robes. He shuddered to see the three quiet faces in the shadows of the hoods.
"Yes, they are women. And alll of them are beautiful," he thought. "Each in a different way."
He stared for a while and either his hand moved or the cloth moved by itself. The hoods-fell back and revealed the faces of the women. Mark inhaled and did not exhale for the time the dust took to settle slowly onto the floor, slowly shifting down from the shoulders.
"Yes, they are beautiful," thought Mark. "But they are dead! They must be mummies!"
His eyes ran quickly to and fro, stopping at all three faces. The short dark-haired woman with bangs over her forehead. The face framed by the billowing golden curls, which fell past her shoulders, now freed, of the hood. The redhaired one...the one upon whose pale face he was reluctant to stop gazing. He looked away, but always looked quickly back. And when he did, he lingered with his glances there the longest.
"The line of her upper lip," he thought.- "It is a pity she is dead!" He almost had his eyes moistening at the thought. "Such a sweet looking face!"
Without realizing it, he reached forward to touch her cheek. At the contact with it, he jolted. It was warm! It was soft!
"She's alive!" he said aloud,, not removing his hand.
And when he did so, she opened her eyes, turning their glistening brown irises upon him. Her lips moved imperceptibly into a smile and she whispered.
"Master!" she said in English. "You have returned for me! "
Startled, he pulled back his hand. In his awkwardness., one of his fingers caught on a string at the throat of the robe. It pulled and untied itself. And in an instant, it had fallen off her shoulders, leaving her standing there completely naked. He gasped at her beauty, her rounded breasts with deeply-colored nipples, her curved hips, the indentation of her navel, like a little whirlpool on her flat stomach, which led to softer places, with a down as red as the hair on her head. Mark blushed and stammered.
"I ... I..." but he could complete no sentence before the woman stepped from the platform, reaching out with her two arms.
"Mark Miller!" she cooed. "Mark! Here are my arms!"
They embraced in Mark's dream.
They embraced until he awoke in the empty-room, in the empty house.
"Susan!" he cried'. awakening alone, awakening to the empty room. "Where are you?"
Chapter Sixty Nine
The loss of the dream and the woman called Susan made
Mark inattentive. He did not see the figure of the Tibetan coming down the brightly-lit trail. He did not hear him at the door, or sense his presence in the room. He was trying to remember his dream, not so much to understand it, but to make it linger, make the image and touch of the red-haired
woman continue into his waking reality.
"Mark Miller," Rinjin had to say, to bring him back to the room.
"Oh!" His puzzled eyes joined his lips in recognizing his friend. "Rinjin! What are you doing here?"
The Tibetan squinted, pursing his lips.
"The question is, more correctly, 'What are you doing here?" he said. "What happened on the mountain-side? Are the other two dead?"
"I doubt it," sighed Mark, and he explained the series of events starting from the burning house, downward, including the leap of Michael Fields, but excluding the dreams: the girl in the room, the girl under the house.
"How did you cross the bridge, the broken bridge?" puzzled Rinjin, watching Mark's face for tell-tale signals of truth or lies.
"Oh, that," Mark shrugged, still struggling with the image of the woman he had embraced in his dream. "I crossed it on a bridge made of lightning, in my dream!"
Rinjin roared with laughter and slapped his thigh. Mark stared at him angrily.
"What's the matter? Don't you believe me?"
"Of course! Of course!" laughed the other, calming himself. "But you would never say that you had used siddhi' while awake!"
"I don't know siddhi!" snapped Mark, scowling.
"So you say! But a dream is so convenient a cover ...
"Dammit! Rinjin! I just dreamed that. I don't know how I got across!"
"Yes, yes," Rinjin said smiling, trying to assume a poker face.
After a long silence, the Tibetan spoke again.
"The soldier and the yogi are still alive. I must advise you that you are in danger while they live."
Mark Miller did not want to hear this type of warning. He argued that it had been said before, that only one of them could leave the house. All three had left, so there was a contradiction in the Tibetan's words. If two of them could survive the descent of the third, how valid was any further prediction?
"Nonsense," he said. "I don't want to hear any more of
"A balance of energies, perhaps," whispered Rinjin. "But it cannot last long. The true master will kill the other two!"
Mark glared at the Tibetan. He felt he could not recognize the other as he spoke. Was the man insane? Why was he trying to set them against each other? It had caused so much trouble already! That madman of a yogi! Using his tricks to try ... to try ... to spit fire! To roll down the mountain-side as a ball of fire! To try to kill him! Illusions? But even so, even if they were illusions, the yogi had tried! Had the Tibetans influenced his thinking? Would any of this have happened without their words of division? He turned to stare at Rinjin, who calmly waited for questions. Stubbornly, he would not give him the satisfaction. He would ask no questions.
Mark waited. A breeze brought unfamiliar smells from the terraced farmlands.
"Where are the people?" he thought.
"The people are asleep," said Rinjin to his unvoiced question. Then, still unquestioned, he continued to answer questions.
"This is Vairavati, the kingdom of the Master."
He did not look directly at Mark, but beyond him, as if he were reading from the wall behind him. It seemed so much like that was what he was doing that Mark turned to see the writing. None was there.
"The Master of the Mandala," continued Rinjin, "who created this land., this underground kingdom!"
Mark's eyes lit up and he nodded, silently.
"The master left us long ago, his subjects: all his people and the 84,000 cloud warriors, some of whom you have seen in the caves. He is to return soon. We know this. The lama has analyzed the constellations and he is to return.
"Some of us were sent out to wait for him. We would find him near the upper canyons above Tagnath. He would resemble none of the images which we have of him. We would have few clues. But his eyes would be blue!"
"He would be the master of illusions and images! He would be powerful with siddhis!"
"That's all very well!" interrupted Mark. "But I know that I'm just plain me. I know none of that stuff!"
Rinjin continued as if he did not hear him.
"The master will not know himself. He will be unaware of himself, but he will manifest powers and slowly remember! We will have to be patient! "A difficulty arose when three men were found! Three sets of blue eyes! Three men not remembering! only one was true, the others false! They were evil deceivers! Trying to snare and weaken the true Master!"
Rinjin's eyes seemed to roll into his skull, but then roll downward again, his lips trembling. Mark grew somber in his listening. It was more than he wanted to hear.
"We do not know which one he is! Only he does! He will have to demonstrate this by his powers! All three have powers, and the strongest will obviously be our returning ruler! The other two will die!"
Mark grew angry. He did not wish to participate in some game to the death. He did not wish to be recognized as this so-called master. But he even more strongly did not wish to be killed.
"And, he blurted out, "I have no wish to kill the yogi and the marine!
Suddenly, it was as if Rinjin's face was released from a deep frozen sleep. It became flushed, and the eyes fixed themselves calmly, even with a look of sympathy, upon Mark Miller.
"Then one of them will kill you, to establish his right to rule."
Mark sneered, even while he felt a constriction in his stomach.
"What makes you think that either one of them will play this game?" Rinjin shook his head sadly. .
"They play already! They have been told this, also! Both wish to rule Vajravati! They pursue each other even now with deadly stratagems!"
"What the hell for?" shouted Mark.
"The kingdom, the mandala, the world! All power resides here! The yogi wishes the Great Siddhis buried in the cracks of these rocks! The soldier wishes the 84,000 cloud warriors ....
"What for? What would Fields want warriors for?" Mark continued.
Rinjin stared at the American.
"The master, whichever one he is, will take the 84,000 warriors out of Vajravati, into the world!"
"Oh my god," Mark mumbled. He could see clearly how appealing that would be to the marine, the betrayed soldier, the man who held bitterness in his mouth, and whose temper was so easily triggered.
"Damn!" he said. "Damn! And if..." He hesitated to ask, but was compelled to follow the string of words laid out before him. " ... if ... I am the-the ... Master of the Mandala...what will I do?"
Rinjin smiled, half-believing that Mark Miller was beginning to remember his true identity.
"Then you will gather the great siddhis, and you will take the 84,000 cloud warriors out into the world! These two armies at your call will make you invulnerable, and you will march out and do with the world as you please! All will fall! You will conquer all!"
"And,," Mark said quietly, "if I don't do this, the marine or the yogi will?"
"Yes," laughed Rinjin, his eyes aglow.
"And if they, or one of them, is the master, he must kill me first?" mused Mark. "Not much of a-choice."
"Yes," nodded the Tibetan. "And two of-the three queens must also die!"
"Huh?" Mark's eyes darted to the other's broad face. "What do you mean?" The coldness of his lips almost answered him before Rinjin spoke.
"Three queens await the Master of the Mandala. They are asleep. They have been brought for him to choose one. The other two will die!"
"They are asleep?" Mark questioned. "Their hair. Is one dark, another golden haired, and...?"
"The third has hair the color of fire."
"I insist that you take me to the lama!" declared Mark Miller to Rinjin.
"That is not permitted!" answered the Tibetan, looking at the ripples of the grain, the erosion of mountains'. the images of clouds, in the floor boards. "Why do you wish to see him?" He stole a look at Mark.
"Those women! Are they Americans?" Mark asked, glaring at the other.
"Americans? Not Americans? What does it matter?" shrugged the Tibetan. "Does it make any difference to you?"
"No, no. Not that way!" snapped Mark. "When did they get here? How long have they been, as-if you call it, 'asleep'?"
Rinjin smirked and squinted.
"Are you afraid that they are too old? 'Do not fear! it is only recently that they have been gathered!"
"Gathered!" asked Mark, aghast at the word. "Are they like fruit on a tree? They're human beings!"
"Of course, of course! As you say," replied Rinjin. "But it is only since shortly before the army and the helicopters came to Tagnath!"
Mark wrinkled his forehead and concentrated.
"But the dust," he thought. "It was so thick." Then he fixed Rinjin with a sharp glare,. "How long has that been? How long have we been away from Tagnath?"
The Tibetan shrugged. He covered a smile.
"You must compute time for yourself. It never meant much to me. Perhaps Thubten would give a different answer from any which I might give you. So I hesitate to flatly designate any number."
The conversation irritated Mark, who strode to the door. Rinjin stepped after him.
"Where are you going?" was his worried question.
"Follow me!" growled Mark. "Follow me and find out!"
Mark was past the wooden stairs and moving down the path before Rinjin spoke again. He came running after him.
"Wait! Where are you going? It can be dangerous!"
Mark did not turn, but followed the path across the terraced hillside. Rinjin kept apace of him.
"I will see the lama! And then, I will find those women!"
"You cannot!" shouted Rinjin.
"I will find where those women are hidden!"
Rinjin stopped and put his hands on his hips, shouting after the retreating figure of the American.
"Not by walking! Not in this air! Only in a dream!"
The effect of the words was to stop Mark Miller. He spun around.
"What do you mean?"
"The lama is not open to you! The women are not open to you!" called the Tibetan. Mark waited for him to continue. "You must dream your way to them!" Mark slowly closed the space between them.
"They don't exist in the real world?" he asked softly.
The Tibetan shook his head in disbelief at the words.
"Do you not know anything?" he asked. "Real world? Real world? Where is its edge? Of course, the real world! There is nothing else!"
These words did not promise any easy answer from the Tibetan. Mark decided upon a new approach. He had to see the women. He had to see the red-haired woman again! He calmed himself, as well as he was able, hoping that the fierce beating of his heart would not reveal itself to the eyes of the Tibetan, through a telltale pulse, through a fluttering of an artery on his neck.
"Here goes," he thought. Smiling, he spoke.
"Very good, Rinjin. You are very careful! My congratulations to you! You shall be rewarded!"
Rinjin looked at him suspiciously.
"What is this change? Why are you so calm?
How can you reward me?"
"It is as you say," answered Mark, with all the care that he could bring to his breathing, to his physical bearing, his bones, his muscles, his nerve endings. "I am the Master of the Mandala! You are a good servant to be careful with secrets. For I could have been one of the deceivers!"
Rinjin squinted, frowning. Then after an eternity of breath holding on Mark's part, the Tibetan smiled into a deliriously-broad grin.
"Oh! Master! You remember!" And he threw himself down on the path before a very startled Mark Miller. Rinjin's arms were out before him, stretching out before his completely prone body. They reached out to touch Mark's feet. Mark almost pulled away.
"Dammit!" thought Mark, disliking the action intensely. "How do I get him to stop?" Then he remembered that the lama had said something and he voiced similar words. "Stop. It is not necessary! It is not necessary!" Rinjin was slow in obeying, rising to his feet with his eyes aglow and fixed upon Mark's face.
"But why, Master? It is our custom!"
"Ah, yes," said Mark. "But we must not let the other two know of my self-awareness!"
"Yes, Master," nodded Rinjin submissively.
Mark gave a sigh of relief and felt that he had to cement his new authority into place.
"You must obey me in this, Rinjin! And do not force me to reveal myself too quickly!"
Rinjin nodded, looking down upon the dust of the path which held the imprint, ever so faintly, of an outstretched man, with his arms out before him.
Mark paused and then continued, feeling confident that his plan would work.
"Now., I will see the lama!" he said.
Rinjin's head snapped up. In his eyes was puzzlement, even a speck of doubt rekindling itself. Mark spoke quickly.
"This is my command! I shall see the lama!"
The puzzlement did not leave Rinjin's face but he was trying to hide it. He was nodding with his eyes averted.
"Yes! As you say. You will do whatever you please!"
The Tibetan walked past Mark down the trail down which the American had been progressing. He did not look back. He did not say anything further. Mark quickly moved after him before he lost sight of him. This developed into very quick walking as Rinjin moved ahead. They approached a large rocky hillside, where the path seemed to be lost amongst boulders, but which kept reappearing after vanishing, time after time. Up this slope, Rinjin seemed to scamper and was soon dozens of yards ahead of Mark Miller.
Mark struggled after him, trying to keep his eyes on both his guide and the rocky path at the same time. He could not. He had to look at his feet. He had to look back for Rinjin. Sometimes his feet slipped. Sometimes he lost sight of the man leading him upwards amongst the rocks. Plants became the exception as he struggled up the slope which was quickly becoming barren. His breath was coming in great gulps, and perspiration was upon his brow. Mark's greatest concern was that Rinjin would think that this slowness on his part would be proof that he had been lying, that he was not the Master of the Mandala!
Looking up, Mark saw the figure of Rinjin looking down from high above. He stood waiting on a projecting rock, scowling down at him. Panic struck Mark. He had to do something! He had to make some show to convince Rinjin that he was what the Tibetan thought he was!
He remembered from the manuscript.
"Before physical and metaphysical states, There is the natural state of knowledge, Neither existent nor non-existent, Neither here nor there!
The brilliant sunless landscape grew flashes of light. It bounced from the rocks, it emanated from the cobalt above. It dazzled Mark's eyes so completely that he felt himself lose balance. He tottered in that brilliance, and caught himself. Then that light subsided, withdrew, and the hillside was without glare. Nothing blinded him. He could see.
What he saw made him shudder. For now he was looking down upon a projecting rock, far below, upon which stood a miniature Rinjin, facing downhill. He was above the Tibetan! He was standing on the path far above his guide, who still had not discovered where he had disappeared to. Mark's eyes were blinking off the bouncing light, as his lips began to smile.
"I don't know how I did it," he laughed, "but Rinjin is in for a surprise!"
He kicked a pebble and waited for its tumbling to be heard by the Tibetan. He looked up, and his sneer was gone.
"Come on, Rinjin!" laughed Mark. "Come on! I'll lead you!" And with that the American scampered up the hillside, with the gleeful Tibetan moving upwards after him as quickly as he could.
"Wait, Master! Your servant is coming!"
Mark reached the bare crest first and looked down over the ridge. The barren rocks dipped into a slope that met at a white water stream. Then the slope climbed sharply on the other side. It was steep with a zig-zag pathway that climbed steadily until it reached its destination, the massive walls of a huge monastery. Its rooftops were golden, sitting upon projecting beams of wood which had been painted blue. There were buildings, one above another, one hiding behind, or growing out of, another. Following the lower trail, and sitting upon the rooftops themselves, were a series of masonry monuments, with glistening spires, crested with crescent moons and flaming sun-discs, all sitting upon hemispheres, sitting upon steps, sitting upon cubes.
"Chortens of dead Masters of the Mandala, leading to the Gompa of Vajravati!" whispered Mark Miller;
Chapter Seventy One
Mark whistled as he started down to the stream. In his head he made up lyrics to go with an improvised tune.
"It is not emptiness, it is not manifestation!
"It is not timelessness, it is not eternity!
"Not blessed! Not cursed!
"Ho, ho! On the road to Vajra-vati Gom-pa!"
Far behind, he could hear Rinjin cause rocks to rattle, but he did not look back. He set with his eyes the path to the monastery and then forgot about it, hopping from rock to rock. Avoiding gaping holes.
"It is without beginning, it is without end!
"It cannot be measured,, it is not measureless!
"No changing! No decline!
"Ho. ho! On the road to Vajra-vati Gom-pa!"
He paused at the white water, looking for a bridge.Finding none, only the ruins of an ancient one, he made his way across on rocks placed conveniently by the stream's forces. On the other side, he moved quickly again. He only looked at the great walls once. Their pierced windows, their rectangularly key-shaped openings stared past his coming. He ignored their staring. His mind we nt elsewhere as his body went up the zig-zag path.
"Who are those women of my dream?" he thought. "Rinjin knew! He knew about them, yet would not tell me where they were located. But that was before I told him that I was the Master he was waiting for! Some laugh! But he bought it. I should have asked him them, again. But ... but what did he say? Only in dreams. Only in dreams could I locate them. Locate her. It's only her, really, that I want to see again. Who is she? Where is she? In my dreams? But Rinjin said she was real. Real? What the hell is real around here? Like that hill! How did I get above him on that hill? It convinced him, but how did I do it? Am I dreaming now? Is that what Rinjin meant? That he and I were in a dream and the red-haired woman was to be found in the real world? That's ridiculous!
"This is real! I dreamt her. I dreamed about her in some underground place. Dusty and waiting. She called me 'Master'. Ah. If that were only true! Susan? Was her name Susan? But yes, she was in other dreams where I escaped the creatures, when I returned with the agate vajra! One, I could hold in my hand. Agate vajra. Where did I get it? In the canyon, in my dream, in a lightning storm of white writing. I escaped and, and, she knew me! 'Darling!' she said. Oh, that is so much better a word than 'master''
"But how can I find her again? It seems hopeless! Rinjin won't tell me. Perhaps, the lama will. If he exists! Dammit! He has to exist! He'll tell me. I'll let him know that I am the Master of the Mandala and he'll have to obey. Tell me where she is!
"But what if he doesn't believe me? Damn...He has to! She's there somewhere. So beautiful! So sweet! I...I have to find her! He will have to tell me. I'm the Master of the Mandala.. after all! He couldn't refuse. Could he?
"The yogi! The marine! What if it is true? That only one can live? That they want to kill me? 'I'll have to escape. The hell with this place! I'll go up the stairs, retrace my steps! But the warriors! Is that what Rinjin meant? I couldn't escape, that they're blocking my path? I don't know. I don't know! "Hey! If they want to be the master, they can have it! I'll just escape! They won't catch me! I'll go without their knowing! I'll go now!
"But the red-haired woman! Where is she? I can't go without her! Dammit! I can't leave her behind! Behind here to ....
"To what?- So that yogi can kill her? No! Not that! That sweet face! That sweet ... He can't hurt her! I allow it! I....I ....must find her. First! I must find her and awaken her. Then, then, leave this place!, I will find her and then the two of us can escape. Sweet-faced Susan! Yes. That's what I will do! I've got to find her, even if I must pretend that I am trying to win out over the other two, that I'M a candidate for the Master of the Mandala!"
Mark had come to the base of the wall. A staircase led up to a heavy wooden door. It was closed.
"Mark Miller!" a voice called from above. He could see no one, but he could recognize the voice of the lama, Chujel Ngugen. He squinted upwards at the white wall.
"Open this door!" he shouted. "Or I will destroy it!"
"And who are you to command of us anything?"
Mark threw out his arms over his head, his fists clenched,, as if holding invisible daggers, and shouted, "I am returned! I am the Master of the Mandala!"
The door swung open.
Chapter Seventy Two
Mark made his way up the dark stone stairway, guided by a dim light ahead, unseen by him but splashing stone greyness upon steps ten to twelve feet before him. The staircase was partly man-made, with flat areas which had never felt the tools of men, the natural rock of some buried hill upon which the monastery now sat, and which the structure completely hid.
"How much of this mass is building?" wondered Mark, as he carefully moved upwards.
At one point, the darkness was thrown aside by an opening in the mortar and wood overhead. He was looking at a patch of blue which let light into the bowels of the building. He stood at the bottom of an architectural well, seeing windows above, on either side, as the walls struck upwards. That was for a moment only. Then he walked into the dimness again.
The corridor split into three parts, one going directly forward while the other two turned sharply to the right and to the left. There was no-indication as to which of the three was the way he should follow. He paused and considered his next move. In doing so, he looked down at the stone floor. He could just barely see that the passageway to the left's stones were whiter at the center,, were worn to the point that the edges towards the walls were higher. "Aha!" he thought, and at the moment of recognition, he did an unexplainable thing. He took the less-worn passage to the right.
The way soon became encased in wood. Wooden floor, ceiling and walls. But this did not last long. He entered another one of the architectural openings to the air above. It was a courtyard with a series of porches overlooking the spot where he stood. It rose in five or six stories above him. He did not count them, for he was overwhelmed by a great sense of sadness as he looked about, seeing the painted Buddhas.. thirty-six of them, surrounding him at courtyard level, seeing the many doorways, from as many cells, lining the porches above him. There was a hint of dust in the air, a hint of mold and emptiness.
He shook his head and carefully put one foot upon a wooden staircase which led upwards. It held his weight.
"Doesn't look any the worse for wear," he muttered as he climbed to the first level. He skipped that landing and went two more, seeking out a particular doorway. When he found it, he glanced across the courtyard at a black door on the opposite side and nodded his head. Then Mark Miller put his eye to the small opening of the window which pierced the door to an ancient., long-since gone, monk's cell and squinted into its interior. A tiny opening which acted as a window faced him from the opposite wall. It let in little light, for it had to penetrate the massive outer wall of the monastery. Mark waited until his eye could focus in the dimness.
"Ah!" he said, recognizing a linear image scratched into the wall. "Vajracitta!',' he whispered. Before it were a series of metal cups, which once had held water, but were now empty. Also there sat butter lamps with limp remnants of wicks. The butter had long-since burned away. He nodded at the low bed with its coarse blankets, neatly folded. He lifted the latch to enter, but discovered that he could not. Glancing down, he saw an ornate lock, padlocking the doorway. He almost reached into his shirt to find a key, but stopped, since he knew none was there. He nodded and remained there squinting into the room. Moisture gathered in his eyes and the light from the tiny interior window swam in his vision,
creating circles. Glistening within the circles, around the circles, were faint rainbows, as the light split. But the rainbows were square! Mark did not think that this was strange, for he was more intent upon opening the door and entering the cell of the long-departed monk, to touch the manuscripts, to re-fill the water cups, to re-light the lamps.
What did gain his attention was a noise. It came from the opposite side, the black door. It was the squeak of hinges! He whirled around to see who was there. And he saw the yogi, SVA YAM, standing there, smiling. Behind him the door to the cell was open.
Scowling, Mark called across to the other man.
"What are you doing here?"
The yogi lifted his hand, holding some object, and laughed. "It is I who should ask you that! For I knew where to look!"
Puzzled, Mark began to move along the porchway, to reach the other side.:
"What are you talking about?" he asked.
Again, the yogi lifted his hand.
"I have the Drilbu! You did not look in the right place!"
Mark continued to approach the other around the porch. He saw that the yogi held what appeared to be a bell. It had a knobby handle, which even from a distance he could recognize as the upper half of a vajra.
"What do you mean?" he continued to ask, as he came around the last corner of the wooden structure and to within ten feet of the yogi. The yogi gestured for him to stop, which, out of a strong sense of danger, he did.
"Hold," said SVA YAM. "I now hold the bell! It is proof that I am the Master of the Mandala! I knew where to look!"
"Yes and no, answered Mark, frowning and staring with fixed attention at the bell in the yogi's hand. It was shiny and hard-looking, metallic-looking. No. Perhaps jade.
"It's agate!" snapped a voice in Mark's mind and he took a step forward.
"No!" shouted the yogi. "Do not come closer until you tell me where the vajra is!" Mark laughed and moved his other foot. The yogi screamed a string of indecipherable syllables. The hand holding the bell shook and a series of quivering notes came pouring across the space separating them.
Even as the delicate notes surrounded Mark's head.. penetrating his mind as a cloud of pin-pricks, he was laughing aloud and trying to move forward.
"You fool yogi! If you were the Master you wouldn't have to ask me any questions!"
The yogi made quick motions with his wrist and sent a cascade of sounds out of the delicate bell. They swam forward, surrounding the body, the bones and the nerves of the advancing American. They shot through him like electricity, seeking and scrambling for a place to pour forth as light. However, they found no exit and, coursing through him, caused him to shudder and to stagger forward. In his lurching, Mark saw the beams overhead tilting and swirling. He could not understand their movement until he saw the porch railing move past and saw the flagstones of the courtyard far below racing towards him!
"I'm falling," a quiet part of his mind said. "Only if I had the agate vajra!" He fell, tumbling. "Yes! Now!"
Mark's vision blurred and he felt a soft jolt as he landed on his feet, unharmed. He felt something in his right hand, and glancing in confusion at it, saw that it was an agate vajra.
"What? What happened?" He could not believe that he was standing on the flagstones unhurt. Looking up at the porch above, he saw that the yogi was gone, the black door closed again. He could hear a bell somewhere in the distance.
"Impossible!" he said to himself, and at that moment he felt that his right hand was empty. His eyes verified it. The stone vajra which had saved his life was gone!
Chapter Seventy Three
Mark retraced his steps to the place where the passageway had divided into three parts. This time., he took the left-hand path and found that it quickly rose and emptied itself into a rooftop verandah, open in the center to the cobalt blue above, suggesting no other walls or rooms in its neighborhood, speaking instead that it alone, with its covered edges, existed with that blue in some space neither up nor down, but certainly all alone, divorced of mountains or river, rock or plant. The walls were painted yellow and orange, top portion and bottom, splitting sharply at waist level, containing no images, and no references to the massive monastic building which held them high in the air above the valley floor.
Mark had paused there a moment only, when he heard voices. From three separate corner doors tame the Tibetan warriors whom he had known so well at Tagnath. Rinjin entered alone, with his head nodding, a slight smile on his lips. Thubten and Tenzin came from their respective doors, each carrying either tea-table,, tea utensils, or small pillows. Immediately behind them, from separate corners, came the yogi SVA YAM and the marine, Michael Fields. Each was talking to the individual Tibetan with him, and fell silent when he saw Mark Miller.
It was the marine who found his voice first.
"AH!" he said, stepping forward with outstretched hand in greeting. "You've made it here!" The yogi held back.
Mark was shaking Michael Fields' hand rather reluctantly. He tried to study the sergeants face and was rewarded with a glimpse of an expression, which passed like a small cloud high on some plateau, twisting and fleeting, which did not match the jovial strength of his handshake.
"What was it?" Mark thought, remembering Rinjin's words about the struggle beginning between the yogi and the marine for the title of Master of the Mandala. Did it now include him? Was it true? Had the marine been sucked into their hypnotism, into the game which the Tibetans had thrown them into? Play or die? Was that it?
"You did not die on the mountain?" asked the yogi, politely, stepping forward and making a false bow. "Welcome to Vajravati."
"Who are you to welcome anyone to..." started Mark, when the marine grabbed him by the elbow and directed him to one of the pillows placed near the tea-table. "Enough of that," smiled Sergeant Fields. "This is neutral grounds, in the gompa we cannot fight." Glaring, Mark sat down. "Or kill each other?" he snapped, his eyes blazing at the yogi, remembering his recent fall. "Or kill each other," continued the marine. "For it is not possible in here. A waste of time."
All three men sat, drinking tea, avoiding the floating butter or relishing its semi-melted thickness, depending upon which person was drinking which cup of tea. They drank in silence for a long while. Rinjin finally spoke to Thubten. Tenzin was all attention.
"Does the yogi understand?" Thubten nodded.
"Does the soldier?" he asked Tenzin, who did not have the chance to respond, for the marine interrupted. "Sure. Sure. Let's get on with it!"
"And so does Mark Miller," said Rinjin, much to Mark's surprise. He put his tea cup down on the table with a loud
thud. "Wait a minute! I don't know what you're talking
about! I don't understand anything!"
Rinjin turned a scowling face upon him.
"Yes, you do! I've told you. This denying tactic will not help! It must be settled!" Mark shook his head in disbelief. Both the marine and the yogi were glaring at him with distaste.
"C'mon, Mark. Don't be so chicken! Take it like a man!" said the marine.
The yogi did not speak.
"What? What are you talking about?" the American asked.
"Dammit!" Fields said, standing up. "You can't avoid it! The prophesy! One of us is their Master. Come home to take over!"
"So what!" answered Mark. "Who cares what they say?"
"Come back, to take them out into the world. To take over! "
"Magic warriors!" whispered the yogi. "To conquer, again."
"Again?" Mark retorted, surprised by the use of the word. "When did it happen before?"
Now it was the yogi who stood. He walked away from the table and stared up at the cobalt blue, his arms stretched down tightly by his sides, the outstretched fingers shaking.
"Oh,, ISHTADEVI! Thank you for bringing me home! Again I will lead the cloud warriors out in their awakened conquest of everything! Everything before them!"
"Every few thousand years," the marine was saying, ignoring the yogi's posturing. "It happens throughout history!"
"Why do you believe them?" snapped Mark. "How can you swallow that crap?"
It was the marine who now stiffened. His eyes glowed and his upper lip curled back.
"It's true! They've been waiting for their warrior chief! Me! And I'll lead them...."
"You're crazy!" shouted Mark, jumping up, glancing at the yogi to make sure that he was not up to any tricks.
"Throughout history!" the marine shouted. "I've led them throughout history! The hoardes of....
"Bullshit!" snapped Mark, turning his back and striding towards the door next to which Rinjin stood. The marine shouted after him.
"I was going to spare you! Spare you! But not now! You've insulted the Master of the Mandala!"
Mark stood in the doorway and said one sentence before he vanished through it.
"You don't even know what a mandala is!"
The expression which crossed the marine's face proved that Mark was right. It was followed by one of sheer hatred for Mark Miller'. for he had exposed Michael Fields' ignorance.
The yogi had not moved from where he stood, looking upwards, mouthing prayers, and dropping sparks from his fingertips upon the floor of the verandah.