Chapter Seventy Four
Rinjin was close behind Mark when he left the room. He followed him without words as they climbed higher into the building, finally coming out of the stairwells onto a huge flat rooftop. Snow-covered finger-shaped mountains were in view., the valley was not, it was so far below. On the rooftop, which was edged with low walls, decorated with golden cylindrical forms, were five small buildings. They had curved rooftops with golden dragon faces at the corners and sat confidently on the plane of the roof as if they were on solid ground, ignoring the volume of mortar, wood and stone which lifted them so serenely into the cobalt blue. Mark squinted into the glare of that blue but could see no cracks in the haze. With no more than a moment's pause, he walked to the central building in the complex of five. He moved around large dark square openings which made airshafts and wells of light into the body of the rest of the monastery. He did not look down to see if he could find the open verandah where he had left the marine and the yogi.
Mounting the steps to the central building, Mark stopped when confronted with the glistening design on the door. It was gold upon gold with darker lines of inlaid metal, silver, which had oxidized black. He heard Rinjin chuckling behind him. Spinning around, he questioned him with his eyes.
"The master remembers?" questioned the Tibetan. Mark did not answer, wearying of the game.
"Master treated the soldier well! Sergeant Fields does not know what a mandala is!"
Mark reluctantly nodded, and shrugging, turned to look at the intricate designs on the door. Squares, circles. Flames and doorways. Dancers and musicians. Lamas and warriors. Spiritual beings. Monsters. Couples in embrace.
"And this is a mandala?" he half-asked, but knew that it was without Rinjin answering. "A design for reintegration."
"Partially that, Master," whispered Rinjin. "Tell me the rest."
"The rest?" mused Mark,, his eyes travelling amongst the twists and turns of the bullseye-like design. "There is too much to say. Rinjin, you must wait to get that answer. Wait." His eyes rolled upwards and became heavy-lidded. They focused again. "To find.... " he said, "to find the center, one center. To find the center of reality, one center," he said. "To see, perceive that center, one center," he said. III, must move inward." His eyes rolled, following the lines of dancers, of lamas, of flaming rainbows. "And within that mandala, the diagram of concentrated mind, that map ... no ... circuit! That circuit for re ... re ... " he said. ' 'Ah! First it is return! Then after return and confronting of the central ... ah... identity, the Buddha Vajracitta ... After that, after that! Ah!" He pushed with his two hands and the door swung easily inwards without a sound. Light splashed downwards from windows on the roof. If flooded the large empty room, revealing nothing.
"But it is not empty," said Mark, stepping inside, leaving Rinjin on the steps waiting. The doors swung silently closed behind him., leaving him alone within the fifth building.
As he stood waiting, his eyes slowly widening, he saw the design. It was painted on the floor, a huge colorful curve of figures. A square of architectural details. Corners. Curves. A series of circles. All full of figures, dancing, sitting, reading, making love. A complex set of concentric bands of alternating colors, fluctuating rainbows. It was at least twenty feet across. At the center he thought he could see a figure. But all of this was horizontal and difficult to see.
"Horizontal makes it difficult to see," he said aloud.
With those words, there was an unheard buzzing, an unseen vibration which left him and entered the floor, entered the painted design. It caused the colors to lift and to sink. It caused the floor to rise and to fall. He stared at this without any concern. He watched as portions of the design rose and others fell. The mandala was becoming three-dimensional. The figures became erect, dancing in circles. Walls rose beyond them, of indeterminate size, palace walls, monastery walls, rings of guardian warriors, monsters, lamas, saintly scholars, voluptuous courtesans. This was all large and all small. Mark stepped forward to move past them, over them. Through them! They were as if immaterial and he was the only substantial thing there. They danced, chanted, sang and gestured. He moved through them and upward as if mounting a man-made mountain, teir-by-teir, moving toward that central figure which now rose before him in glistening familiarity. Shining like a large mirror, a three-dimensional glass with a figure which became clearer as he approached.
He did not think it strange. He did not think about it at all. He stepped forward and melted into the mirror-like figure.
"It is easy," he said aloud, smiling. Then, turning on his heel., he faced the closed doorway. "This is the mandala and I am at its center!" With those words, the various bands of figures began to spin about him clockwise. This began slowly at first, with buildings, mountains and stars. Then dancers, warriors and lamas! Constellations and galaxies! What a blur they became! He grew dizzy and sat down, legs crossed and hands on his knees. His eyes grew heavy but did not close. The colors blended and converged. They separated one into another. Red, blue and yellow went into white. White went into brilliant clear light. This light was like a living tendril of lightning. It entered him suddenly. It entered him through his left eye.
Mark was as if asleep in his seated position.
Chapter Seventy Five
"Welcome, said Lama Chujel Ngugen.
Mark looked up at him. They were in the large room with the mandala. It was a painting on the floor and Mark sat at
its center. The lama stood at its-edge near the doorway.
"How did you get here?" asked Mark. "I thought I could not reach you."
The lama looked over his shoulder and then back at Mark.
"It seems that you have gotten to this place," he answered.
"Does that mean that I am dreaming?" quizzed the American.
"Who knows which is dream and which is wakefulness?" shrugged the Tibetan. Mark felt an irritation at this apparent evasiveness.
"Speak more clearly!" he demanded. The lama cocked an eyebrow in amusement at the American's tone.
"As the Master of the Mandala you command it?" he asked softly.
Mark shook his head, standing.
"No," he said. "I will not demand it. Just talk to me plainly!"
"No need, is said the lama, stepping back into the darkness near the great doorway. "You will know everything. eventually."
"If I live," said Mark.
"Yes," laughed the lama. "If you live!"
Mark stepped across the mandala, shaking his fists in the air.
"Enough of that! Tell me! I now command it!"
"Mark Miller commands?" asked the shadow of the Tibetan. "No," Mark stopped in place.
"The Master of the Mandala demands it!"
"Whoever you are," said the voice, "I will tell you."
Mark hesitated to move lest the words be interrupted. The dim figure poured out an explanation, with hardly time for breathing.
"There is little time for delay. The conjoining of the proper forces is at hand! If you are the Master, you will understand and fulfill what I have to say. If you are not, it will not matter. One of the other two, as the true awakened Master, will awake all the rest and pour out into the world! Everything will be in his hands! Life and death!"
Mark shuddered at the words but did not move. Mad. They were mad. And the yogi and the marine were infected with their deliriums! The lama continued.
"There is no escape! The Master will live and the others will die! The Master knows the necessity of both bell and the vajra! He will have both of them. With them he can leave Vajravati. Without them, none can leave! He will collect his warriors and leave to conquer the world! Cloud warriors!"
Mark hesitated to interrupt, but he cleared his voice and asked, Where are the women, the queens? Where are the sleeping women?"
There was such a long pause that he thought he had made a mistake. He squinted into the darkness. The lama was still there. Finally he spoke. "They are nearby. All one need do is to go there," he answered.
Mark was about to ask how this was possible, when he realized that he was in the room of the painted mandala alone. The lama was suddenly gone.
Dammit!" he thought. "Now what?"
He approached the huge doors and found that they would not move. He found himself pressing against them to no avail.
"Move! Dammit! Move!" he told them, and they flew open. He almost fell forward.
Instead of finding the rooftop with Rinjin waiting for him, he found the entrance to a dark subterranean maze of rooms. Wooden beams held up an unseen, but felt, weight of mountains. Large dusty curtains, torn and in shreds, separated various sections and doorways to deeper rooms within rooms. It was very familiar. This was where the women were! He hurried through the doorways, his heart beating quickly, his breath faster in his new haste.
"Susan!" he said aloud, for suddenly he was facing three robed and hooded figures. Dust sat heavily upon the dark cloth. He leaped forward to touch the hood. It fell back,, revealing her beautiful face. The eyes snapped open, unseeing. This froze him to inaction.
"Susan," he whispered to the red-haired woman before him. But there was no response from her. However, there was a response in back of him. Laughter. He turned in agitation to see both the marine and the yogi a few feet behind him. "The women won't awaken to any but the Master of the Mandala," smiled the marine, stepping forward. Mark gritted his teeth watching.
"Like this," laughed Sergeant Fields, loosening the hood of the blonde woman, causing her hair to tumble onto her shoulders like a cascade of golden water. The marine touched her cheek and the eyes opened, also unseeingly.
"She does not see you," sneered the yogi, stepping up to the third figure. The hood moved, the dust filled the air for a moment and the dark, short-haired woman opened her eyes. She did not see the yogi.
"You will see me!" commanded the marine to the blonde woman. Her byes blinked in confusion. "I am the Master of the Mandala! You will embrace me!"
Mark scowled in disbelief as the robe fell from the young woman, revealing her full figure, her slender waist and wide hips. She stepped forward without expression, with her arms out to the marine.
"No!" said the yogi, and the woman froze in place. It is I who am the Master awaited!" He spoke to the dark, shorthaired woman. "I am the Master of the Mandala! Embrace me!"
Mark was confused. If the yogi was correct, then they were all at his mercy! He would kill them. He would kill the red-haired woman as well. Or he would take her?
"No!" said Mark Miller as the dark-haired woman threw off her robe, revealing a tight-muscled slender nude body, about to take a step forward. "I am the Master of the
Mandala! AWAKEN!" he declared,, turning to the red-haired woman, who still was as if asleep. "You will embrace me!" He commanded without realizing what he was saying. Her robe fell., as in the dream, revealing softness and curves, hollows and downy hair. She fluttered her eyelids, and focused on him. He watched apprehensively as she lifted out her arms. He put his hands upon her waist. Her full lips parted, as in his dream.
Suddenly, her right hand shot out, slapping him hard.
"Who the hell do you think you are?!" she shouted. "Get your hands off me!"
"I...I ... stuttered Mark at this unexpected turn of events. At the same time, he heard the shrieks of the other women. He looked to see them, the brunette and the blonde, pushing away the yogi and marine respectively.
"Where am I?" cried the blonde woman.
"What ... what's going on!" demanded the brunette. The redhead seemed about to strike Mark again.
The yogi was shouting furiously.
"Stop! Or I will kill you all! Stop!" Mark saw that his fingertips were glowing! Flames leapt to the dusty wooden beams. Smoke began to fill the cluttered chambers. They would burn to death! They would choke!
"I can escape," thought Mark, "but she can't!"
In the smoky confusion, he reached out and grabbed her wrist.
"I can't let these women die!" He whirled and shouted to them, "Stand close! I'll get you out! NAI GA! HAPI He chanted,, and spun in the enclosing smoke, feeling their nude bodies close to him as air melted, as stone shifted, as bodies rose and travelled in space.
They were suddenly in a cool, spacious room, with a large window overlooking finger-shaped mountains capped with snow. There was a great jabbering of voices about him. It seemed to Mark from their sounds that there should be many more than were really there. But no, it was only the three women and himself. He was silent, but they were shrieking and shouting enough for a dozen. "Who, how, what?" seemed to be the most frequent words. Mark had to quickly step away from them or be scratched to death. From a safe distance he gestured and put their attention upon clothes lying nearby. In dressing, they were a little quieter. When completely covered with colorful shirts and Tibetan dresses, they were almost serene. Except for their confused eyes, their frightened eyes, their glaring, angry eyes.
Mark gave a sigh of relief that they had escaped the smoke and flames. He did not question the method. That is how things happen in dreams, he thought. And as in such events, he had to face other problems.
"Who are you?" demanded Susan, once dressed and feeling less vulnerable. The other two women remained silent to hear the answer.
Mark Miller tried to explain, but could not get very far. The short-haired woman was full of fury.
"Why did you bring me here? How did you pull it off? The last time the last thing I remember is being in an ashram in India! Where are we?"
"Yes," said the blonde. "I don't understand."
"Look," said Mark, "Wait a minute and maybe I can tell you...
"How dare you kidnap us!" accused Susan. do you have in... "
"Hold it! Hold it! It's not my fault!" he cried, wondering why he could not control his own dream any better than this. "I didn't do it! Wait, and I'll explain!"
It took a little more convincing, but finally they listened. He was not able to explain details, but he told them what he could. Rinjin. Vajravati. Lama Chujel Ngugen. An underground kingdom waiting for the Master of the Mandala. One of the three women, however they got there, would be chosen for the queen.
"Queen?" smirked the dark-haired woman. "Imagine, little old Gloria., a queen!"
"I dunno," said the blonde woman, shaking her long hair off her shoulders.
The red-haired woman frowned.
"How did we get here?"
"I told you," insisted Mark. "I don't know. They must have agents outside to run errands for them."
"I don't mean that." she continued. "Here. This room.
"Sounds fishy to me" she said.
How did we get out of those burning rooms to here?"
"I don't know," said Mark, looking out the window.
"But you did it, didn't you?" Susan asked directly. He could not lie. "Yes I did. But I still don't know how. It's like., It and he hesitated to tell them that they were all in a dream. "It's like a dream," he said.
The women calmed down and did not ask as many questions, much to Mark's relief. After they had eaten the food which Rinjin brought, Mark managed to find out a little about them.
First of all, they did not know each other at all. They were as curious about each other as Mark was about them. All had been in Asia when something happened which had brought them to Vajravati. They did not remember many details of the occurrence. They were somewhere else and then they were in the rooms, in the robes.
Gloria Hill, the dark-haired one with bangs, had been travelling in India, studying meditation at one ashram or another. All of this was at a high level of expenditure and comfort. She worked hard at her yoga, but did not believe in extreme austerities. It was from an ashram in northern India that she had been "gathered". She remembered a Tibetan woman showing her a charm on a necklace, and falling asleep. But that was all, until she awoke to the confusion of smoke and flames. The story of the hidden kingdom and the expectation that some long-lost Master would return intrigued her.
"Just like something that I've been looking for," she said.
Mark ignored her remark.
Tammy Richardson's story was less complex, but similar. She was a tourist at the capital, travelling about with romantic plans, and activities. She liked travelling and meeting people, especially men.
"Who knows, I might meet a rich prince, right? A girl can meet lots of nice people, and I have. None of them were princes, but they were nice! Nice to me, anyway!"
A beggar woman had played to her on a one-stringed fiddle and put her to sleep. She awoke in the confusion, with Mark saving her.
"Are you a prince?" she asked hopefully. "Maybe the Master of the. Mandala is like a prince? An American girl became queen of Sikkim! I would like to become a queen. Do you think.... ?"
Mark did not listen to her finish, so he did not think much about what she said.
Susan Knight's story was a little more complex. The major difference was that she consciously had been looking for Vajravati.
And Susan told Mark Miller her story.
Chapter Seventy Six
She did not know the name of the kingdom. She had heard of it by various names. The most prominent name being Shambala.
This was the same error which the yogi had made.
As a graduate student in anthropology, she had heard of the various mythological kingdoms of the Himalayas. And as a good student, she knew that all legends have a seed event, or truth,, which starts them. She went searching for that seed. She had hoped for grants to help her, but they never came. When her widowed father died, he left her sufficient money for her to do field work on this interest. It was not very much money, so if she did not succeed within a limited amount of time, she would have to give up her plans. She started to look in earnest.
The legends put the legendary kingdom many places. It was placed anywhere from Kashmir to Mongolia. A wide search area. Much of this was narrowed down for her by the nature of politics. Borders were closed, so her choices were fewer.
"One place became as good, or as bad, as another to start," she said. Mark gazed into her beautiful eyes, and wondered if such glistening was a prerequisite to being a doctor of anthropology.
She chose Kashmir as a place to start.
"There were many stories about underground kingdoms," she explained, almost beginning a short lecture, with both Gloria and Tammy losing interest. "I thought perhaps that this meant that the original kingdom had been buried in some giant earthquake. You know how delicate the Himalayas are in that way!" Mark shrugged, not understanding what she meant. "They refer to it as underground from Kashmir to China! I decided to look in Kashmir, since I couldn't go to China. I couldn't go to Tibet either!"
In Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, she had no trouble in finding someone who would take her to the entrance, to the cave which "stretched to China". It was a traditional spot for enterprising Kashmiri, just as bonafide a tourist spot as the edifice which was claimed to be the tomb of Christ.
"He came to Kashmir, you know. After his death and resurrection, he came here," Susan had been told.
"It is very lovely here," she had said., without a smile. "I don't blame him." But it was the cave story which intrigued her more than the tomb. She felt that she might be being taken in with this one, but she had no choice. There were not many clues which she could follow. Also, there was not very much time.
"Take me to the cave," she told her swarthy salesman guide.
"Ah, with pleasure," his eyes glowed.
"But first, we must go to the airport," she said.
"Why?" asked the fearful Muslim, afraid that his customer would escape on a plane.
"My equipment!" she instructed. "You said that it was bottomless!"
"Yes, bottomless! It goes to China!" he said, pop-eyed.
"Well, I'll need equipment if we're going down."
"Going down?" questioned the man, startled. "We are going down! In-to it?"
"Yes, why else did you think that I hired you?" puzzled Susan Knight.
"Ah," said the Kashmiri, "we will also stop for my nephew. It is he who will go down with you. I will stay up tog! Up-top! That way I can di-rect, di-rect safely. Ah, safe-ly!"
"Okay, let's get the equipment!" said Susan.
They drove to the airport.
Chapter Seventy Seven
Neither uncle nor nephew was happy with their new patron. Susan Knight was determined to descend into the bottomless pit. She took the story of the "tunnel to China" seriously! They wondered what they could do about it. If something happened to her they could be in serious trouble.
"Mmsahib,, it is oh-kay to look at cave, but for-bidden to go down in-to," the uncle hesitantly told her.
She was furious.
"What do you mean? Why did I bring all this equipment from the airport?" She waved at the ropes, at the scuba gear. "We made a bargain and you will stick to it!"
The nephew came to the rescue of his uncle before the angry woman could say anything further.
"It is possible. Yes. Possible! But Mmsahib must go, go to, the Secretariat Building and get a permit. Permit! That calmed her and she went to the government building. It was the beginning of many trips. All of them seemed to be getting her nowhere. One department handed her to another, telling her it was not their jurisdiction.
"Oh, that is the Department of Mines," said one.
"That is the province of the Department of Archaeology," said the Department of Mines.
"That is the Department of Tourism," said the Department of Archaeology.
"Department of Military Affairs," said Tourism.
"Military Affairs?" quizzed Susan.
"Yes. Military. The army is in charge of such things," Tourism repeated.
"What can we do for you, young lady?" asked the major, after Susan had seen the sergeants at six doors, the captains at three desks.
"Oh no," laughed the major, after hearing her request to descend into the bottomless cave, the "tunnel to China". "That is the Provence of the Department of Mines!"
"MINES! But I've been there!"
The major shrugged and shook his head in a yes-no manner
Susan returned to the Secretariat., returned to the Department of Mines, returned to the same shuffling from desk to desk which she had experienced earlier. But this-time she was shifted onto another track.
"Go to the Chief of Police," she was told. This surprised her, but was encouraging, since it was a new place.
An armed guard was at the door. and after she had given him a brief description of her request--permit, bottomless cave, scholarly study, and her tribulations--Secretariat. Departments of Mines, Archaeology, Tourism, Military Affairs-he entered the Chief of Police's office. Since the guard had not spoken any English, she wondered if he had understood anything. As it turned out, he had not, and she had to repeat herself when she entered the chief's presence.
It was a little startling when she did so. For he was acting as a magistrate, or so it seemed, over a family case. A woman was on the floor., in a colorful bundle of fabrics, hiding her face and sobbing, with an occasional backward pointing of her left hand at a man standing nearby between two guards. There was intense testimony being delivered. When Susan entered., it all came to a grinding halt at a word from the chief., who stood up behind his hardwood polished desk and smilingly gestured Susan to sit down. Everyone else froze into a wax works tableau, and remained equally as silent.
The chief ordered tea. Susan glanced at the others, but they might as well have been asleep.
"What can I do for you?"
"I wish... " she started her story, realizing that the guard had understood none of it and merely reported that an American woman with red hair wished to see the chief. He had responded immediately.
"Would you like two lumps of sugar?" he interrupted her story after the tea had been poured into paper-thin china cups. She had a sinking feeling that he too did not understand English, or was not listening.
"What about the permit?" she asked at last, having had one cookie too many.
"Ah," he twirled his great mustache. "That is the jurisdiction of the Military De-part-ment!" Susan flushed with anger.
"I've been there!" she snapped. "I've been everywhere! Isn't anyone in charge?"
His smile left his face and she caught him glancing at the frozen tableau. They seemed not to have noticed this American woman speaking angrily to him.
"I will call them for you," he smiled, but a smile which was overly-polite. "One moment."
He dialed a single digit and spoke rapidly into the receiver.
"...yes ... Military Department? Ah cha!" He glanced at Susan and smiled in what she supposed was to be a reassuring gesture. It did not make her happy.
"Yes.." he said into the receiver. "Yes-yes," and then went into a stream of Hindi. She watched him intently and he turned to her with his hand on the mouthpiece. "Do you understand Hindi?" he asked. She shook her head to the negative, and he grinned a genuinely-happy smile. "Good!" he said. The flow of Hindi returned with glances at Susan at intervals, somber expressions, and sly grins. A nod or two. Expressions of deference to the authority at the other end of the line, even though they could not be seen by the other. "Yes. Yes." And he hung up the receiver.
"Miss-s-s Knight," he started, folding his hands upon the desk and appearing to put on the face of a father confessor., which was difficult with his dandyish mustache. "It seems that you have been going to the wrong departments." Susan said nothing. "I have discovered the correct one." She began to smile. "It is the Department of the Interior." The smile fell.
"Are you joking?" she asked, about to go into a tirade of foolish words which would not help her case at all. But the chief stopped her. He put out his hand palm outwards and waved it slowly as if to say, "No-no". His eyes he lowered in mock offense. "It is true! You are a foreigner in our country. This case is properly handled by the Department of the Interior."
Susan was silent for a moment. Then she realized that everyone was waiting for her to leave. She rose to her feet.
"And where is the office for this department?" she asked quietly.
"In New Delhi, M'msahib," he grinned in obvious delight, a gold tooth showing.
"Delhi? I can't go back to Delhi!" she said aghast at the news.
"Then." his smile softened., "perhaps you may telegraph for permission. There is a wireless station in this building."
"Thank you," she said, not feeling very hopeful. The round of put-offs was now going farther afield. "Thank you for the.... tea."
"You are wel-come," he said, and he turned to the tableau, grinding out a series of statements in Hindi to the huddled woman on the floor even before Susan had left the office. She heard loud sobs and the interjection of another angry man's voice. The door closed behind her. She hoped she had not affected the outcome of that case in any way.
At the telegraph office she agonized over the wording of her message. Finally it was sent. She could expect an answer no sooner than three days. Three days!
She paid the uncle and the nephew to guard her equipment and hoped for the best, that it would not vanish. Then she walked about the city absorbing its ancient sights, avoiding its contemporary hucksters.
"Paper mache? Carvings?" They were everywhere.
After she had exhausted the old Life and Time magazines at her hotel, she walked with the pilgrims up Shanka Charya to the tenth-century fist of a temple. It was hot and physical and kept her mind off the telegraph office.
"No., M'msahib., no answer has come from Delhi,, as yet," were the words each time she looked in at the telegraph office. "But it's been four days!" "Nothing. Nothing. One must wait."
When it finally came, it was bad news. A descent into the cave would only be possible if plans were made a year in advance, if there was at least a group of six, and if a liaison officer could be found to go down with them. "We would be willing to cooperate enthusiastically under such circumstances with your project." Susan fumed and felt a wretched despair. She drove to the cave wondering if the equipment would still be there. Uncle and nephew had been loyal and everything was in order. As she approached, they came bouncing joyously out to see her.
"You have the permission?" They laughed when she took the telegram from her pocket. At that moment it struck her. They probably did not read English! "Yes. Why not?" she thought. "Before anyone finds out, it would be over!" She waved the paper at them, forcing a grin.
"Yes.. " she said. "Here it is! See? Department of the Interior!"
"Ah cha! Ah cha!" Even if it was possible that they could read it., she did not give them a chance. They had just enough time to see who had signed the telegram, nothing else.
"Let's get to work!" she said, anxious not to lose the time her bluff had given her. "Let's enter the bottomless cave!"
Chapter Seventy Eight
Susan and the nephew entered the cave. At the appropriate spot, with the rigging in place she was lowered into the blackness, swaying, feet in the air, head-lamp glowing but revealing nothing but the nearby rock wall. Lustrous calcite crystals had collected on parts of that wall on its overhangs, amidst its moisture. They shone brilliant encouragement to the red-haired woman.
"Beautiful!" she said as she moved past them. There was no echo, the space swallowing all sounds. To her surprise, too soon for her., did her feet strike solid bottom. Shining the light about, she saw a flat rock-bed with no further apertures descending downward. "The end of the trail, already?" Searching further, she found a silent body of water. it seemed fresh, but did not contain any noticeable current. "Got to get beyond that!" she declared, returning to the surface.
She returned, bringing a reluctant nephew wearing a spare headlamp, and her heavier scuba gear, mask, flippers, and oxygen tanks. The young man had not known what she was planning when she had brought him into the "bottomless" cave. When she explained that she was going to enter the dark water., he almost panicked. "You will drown!" he protested. She laughed and pointed at the equipment. "Don't worry," she said. "I will be able to breathe. Your job is a back-up. In case of an emergency." "E-mer-gen-cee?" he mocked,, his head-lamp shining upon the crystals growing nearby. "Yes," she explained. "If I get into trouble. if you feel this guide-line shaking and tugging ... You are to pull me in!" "I see," his face said. She was a little concerned that he did not understand. "Can't be helped," she thought. "I'll take no chances, anyway."
"Turn around." she ordered the nephew. Puzzled, he did SO. At the sound of a belt-buckle striking stone, the nephew looked over his shoulder. His light struck the figure of Susan Knight, casting harsh shadows. She was taking off her clothes. "Turn around!" she repeated, which he did instantly. "I'm changing into my wet suit!" Shuffling sounds. "Okay. You can look!" The nephew was slow in responding and surprised by the dark figure the woman had become. Her red hair was just vanishing into a dark rubber helmet-like hood. Her headlamp was on the ground, shining up at her, causing her to look like a creature from another world. He stared at her feet. "Flippers!" she laughed, but he did not understand. Soon she had on the oxygen tanks and face-mask. She 'Waved farewell to him and vanished into the dark water. There were bubbles for a while but then he saw no more., as they moved away from the shore. That was the last that he saw of her.
The guide-line moved through his fingers slowly.
Chapter Seventy Nine
Susan did not swim long in the dark water. With her underwater lights she made her way under rock barriers and came up into a large chamber. The water was only at one corner of the crystalline cave. Her light bounced off the ceiling a dozen feet above. It brought dazzling colors to her eyes. Before her was a feast o-f crystals. On the ceiling, on the ground. There were the lavenders of flourites, yellow-whites of calcites, as if blooming in crevices. They were everywhere. Surprised, she smiled at their beauty, pulling herself up out of the water. Removing the oxygen tanks and mask, she gingerly stepped forward, awkward in her flippers. At her feet were revealed one inch square sulfur crystals reaching upwards on thin stems. "Must have been volcanic here once," she thought. She reached down to touch one of the top-heavy stems. The warmth of her hand cracked it to pieces. "Oh!" she said aloud. "Oh! Oh. oh..." came the echo. She shone the light about, finding a clear arm of rock floor which lea to a narrow opening at one end, away from the water. It seemed to penetrate into another chamber. Gingerly, she made her way through the rounded rock rubble which was strewn on the opening's floor. "Getting hot," she thought, removing her headpiece, allowing her red hair to tumble out. She zipped the front of the suit open down to her waist. Light bounced, but in this new place there were no crystals to reflect it. The walls were flat and seemed to make a sharp line where they met the ground level., which was a dirt and sand mixture. This was curious to Susan, so she went closer to study that meeting of wall and ground.
"Well, I'll be .." she exclaimed when she got closer to the wall. Upon it, she found scratches. Long scratches that went upward, out of view of her light. Scanning there, she found that each two parallel scratches was topped with a circle. This continued in a series along the wall, as far as her light would reveal. "This is no natural phenomenon!" she smiled, half-fearful of her discovery. "They seem to be changing, semi-cartoon-like," she said, following the wall, revealing images slowly in her portable light's limited area. "God! It's getting hot down here!" She pulled at the opening of her suit, to allow more air to enter it.
Just then, she faced a scratched figure which was more than lines and a circle. "A face!" she cried, shining the light upon its faint marks. "Barely visible," she laughed, "but you're really there!"
It was at this moment of confrontation with the image of the face that Susan was startled by a sound. It came from the other chamber. It was a splash. "What..." she asked, puzzled. "What was that?" She shone the light at the opening which connected the two chambers, but saw nothing. "Could that fool nephew have followed me? No, not possible. That swim was too long underwater. He could not have made it." These thoughts did not calm her beating heart. She made her way back to the first chamber. It glistened as before. Everything seemed the same. Everything was the same except for her pounding heart and the absence of her oxygen tanks!
She leaped to the water's edge, crushing and scattering sulfur crystals in every direction. Putting her face into the water, eyes wide, and shining her light into the depths, she looked for her oxygen tanks. It was in vain. Coming up for air, she felt a presence near her. Slowly turning and looking up from her prone position.next to the water, she gave a gasp as her light revealed a figure standing close at hand. It cast huge shadows against the chamber wall, allowing only the revealed crystals to glitter and sparkle. It was a man--a Tibetan warrior in ancient armour, a quiver full of arrows strapped to his back, a long bow strung across his chest.
The man's face moved with the light which shook in her hand. He reached down with an arm with many moving shadows. The crystal ceiling blinked and broke these into other forms. He said something which she did not understand. But it was obvious that he wished her to stand. She hesitantly reached up with her hand and his strong fingers gripped her wrist.
She was petrified. "What what ?" she thought. "Who? What ... does he want?" He spoke again, still incomprehensible to her and at the same time brought his two hands together in a clapping gesture before her startled face. Dust flew out from those hands and engulfed her face. Dust entered her lungs and she began to swoon. Sparkling dust ran everywhere in her body and she began to fall. The words came again. She could not hear everything.
"What was it that they said?"
"What was it? What?"
She lost consciousness.
Susan could not be certain of what happened after that. She was carried somewhere. Far away. She saw lights. Heard voices. She was in the hands of women. She did not see them clearly. Perhaps they were Tibetans. She did not know. But far away. Lights. The women removed her wet suit. They bathed her and dried her. They seemed to giggle over her red hair, combing and combing it. Perfumed ointments were massaged into her skin and she was dressed in a long hooded robe. Somewhere, somewhere, she was in a wooden beamed room, a room within other rooms. She almost awoke. But she could not awaken. Her eyes remained closed. She heard voices. "Shouldn't we prepare her further for the Master?" a woman's voice asked. "No," returned the voice of a man. "The Master of the Mandala will have no need of our help." "Lama Chujel," the female voice continued., "How do we know that this woman is to be the queen?" "Only the Master knows," continued the male voice. "He will choose. He will awaken her." "And what of the others which we will gather?" "Who knows?" said the man. "Death, or toys for him to play with. Sexual toys or death!" Susan could not understand half the words. She did not consider that in her unconsciousness that she could understand them, that they spoke in a language which she could understand! But what language was it? Who was the Master? What-what was going to happen to her? She fell into a dreamless sleep ...."Well, that's it," she said, grinning a little sheepishly at Mark. "That's what happened!"
Hmmmm,, Mark mused. "Doesn't tell us too much. When did this happen? How long have you been here?"
The dark-haired woman Gloria laughed a short barking laugh.
"That's stupid! How the hell do we know how long we've been asleep? It could be weeks!"
"Or years!" sobbed Tammy Richardson, her face in her hands. "We could be victims of suspended... ah...suspended..." She looked up with tears in her eyes.
"Animation!" snapped Gloria Hill, unsympathetically.
"I doubt it,, it said Mark, trying to reassure the blonde woman.
"Who knows?" shrugged Susan Knight. "There's no way to tell. Is there?"
A short silence filled the room. It was broken by Gloria, who set out to explain things to herself, but did it aloud.
"The way I see it is ... Well. We were kidnapped and brought to this place as ... female...contestants in a queen contest. Right?"
"Not a contest,, exactly," said Mark in a low voice. But Gloria did not seem to hear him. He glanced at Susan and she smiled back at him.
"One of us girls," continued Gloria, walking back and forth by the window and waving her hands in the air, "is to make it big, and marry this Master guy? Right? Become his queen? Well, that doesn't give us much choice. We don't even know where we are, or how to get out! Who'll win? And what will happen to the other-two girls? Hmmm?"
"We may be in Shambala," interjected Susan. Mark shook his head but said nothing.
"We're going to be killed!" continued Tammy, sobbing to herself. "Or worse! One will be Queen and the other two thrown into a harem!"
"They don't have harems!" said Susan.
."Nuts to you! How do you know what they have or don't have, if we don't even know who they are or where we are?" snapped Gloria, scowling at Susan.
"They're related to Tibetans, somehow! Buddhists! Buddhists don't have harems!" she snapped back at the standing dark-haired woman.
"You don't know! You don't know any more than we do!" shouted Gloria.
"We're in Shambala! I'm sure of it!" insisted Susan.
"Uh,," interrupted Mark, hesitating to get into the sharp exchange. "This is not Shambala. It is Vajravati."
"See? What did I tell you?" spat Gloria.
Susan scowled at Mark.
"What are you saying?" she asked angrily, feeling betrayed by the blue-eyed American.
it ... uh... just a fact. This is Vajravati," he continued.
Susan pursed her lips.
"Then where is Shambala?" she insisted.
Mark shook his head and looked at the wood-grain in the planks on the floor. They ran into the infinitely large and infinitely small distance.
"I don't know anything about ... " he began.
"You can say that again!" snapped the angry Susan.
"Ha!" laughed Gloria, turning her back upon them and staring out at the finger mountains, with her arms crossed tightly across her chest.
"A harem! A harem!" she repeated over and over again.
Twilight was not slow in arriving. Mark was relieved when it did. The change of light and color seemed to calm everyone down.
After tea, Mark went for a walk, leaving that one room, to enter another and stand upon a long porch overlooking a cloud-filled valley. Susan joined him.
"I'd like to apologize," she said to him. "I was to annoyed with that... that...Gloria, that I couldn't stand seeing her be right about anything. I'm sorry."
"That's allright," he said nervously, looking away from her brown eyes down into the mists of the valley. "You've been through a lot."
They stood there silently, he studiously ignoring her closeness. She seemed to draw even closer as the light faded. Her hand touched his arm.
"Is it true? Only one will live? And that the others might die?"
He turned his face to hers.
"God! She can't die!" he thought. Her brown eyes reflected the last glimmerings of light. "And... and... he thought, "she can't become someone else's queen!"
"I don't know. I've told you all that I know," he answered aloud.
The darkness grew and her face became only a silhouette.
"But you told us very little," the shadow continued.
"Ah," he said, exhaling. "Perhaps even too much!"
"What do you mean?" her voice seemed to tremble.
The dark shape which was Mark Miller touched her hand with his.
"This is a strange place. Peculiar things happen. I don't understand them all. But I know it is dangerous!"
The young woman was silent. Mark pressed her hand tightly.
"But I'll tell you this. I'll help you as much as I can! "
Then it struck Susan.
"You're likely to be killed too! But how..." she said.
"No more questions!" Mark answered. "It all revolves around this Master of the Mandala thing!"
Susan felt his arm tremble for a moment. Then he was completely still. He did not move at all for a long time.
She felt as if she was holding the hand of a mountain, a planet. It only moved the way the stars swam in the sky, invisible to careless persons who did not observe with sharp perception. She felt comfortable and safe, and tried to see his face in the darkness. Nothing was to be seen, only a great darkness., No eyes, no mouth, no features. But it did not frighten her, it only gave her courage. Finally, she could hear his breathing.
Staring at the darkness, she said in a whisper to him. "The Master of the Mandala."
She felt that the mountain stirred, it turned its head to look at her. She lifted its hand which held hers and kissed it lightly.
"Good night," she said, and made her way back to the room where the other two women were already sleeping.
While she was dozing off, smilingly, she visualized Mark Miller's face. "A nice face," she thought. "Nice eyes...nice..." and she slept.
Mark Miller stared at the darkness. He made the dawn come and go quickly. In a matter of minutes. "Whatever minutes are," he thought. Then it happened again in a matter of seconds. He did not marvel at this, merely observed the changes. Then he wished back the deep twilight and darkness.
"For that is when I saw her last,," he whispered.
He stood like that, a dark shadow over Vajravati, for a long time. Then he thought it was time for the stars to come out. And the big dipper appeared.
"Susan," his voice whispered. "Susan."
Chapter Eighty One
At daylight the building began to shake.
"Earthquake!" screamed Tammy, as the tea-table went sliding across the room Gloria went tumbling after it, screaming for help. Susan clung to the edge of the window, watching the finger mountains rocking, as if waving goodbye. "Mark! Mark!" she shouted for help. Mark heard her from the porch where he had remained all night. He leapt into the shaking building.
"What is it?" he cried, watching everything shuddering.
"Earthquake!" mumbled Tammy, huddled against a far wall. Gloria was next to her, shrieking. The tremors were quieting. The room was straightening itself and becoming level.
"What do you think of that!?" came Sergeant Fields' voice as he entered from the far side.
"What the hell is going on?" growled Mark.
The marine sneered and waved his hand out in a semicircle to indicate the room.
"I thought I'd make a grand entrance. What do you think? Good, huh?"
"You're a fool!" snapped Mark. "Playing with that siddhi stuff!"
Sergeant Fields' face darkened, frowning at Mark, ignoring the frightened women.
"You're the fool! I'm to be the Master and you keep asking for trouble! How many times can I let it slide? You're not at all respectful! No respect!"
"Give it up, Fields!" snapped Mark. "You'll go crazy if you believe that stuff!"
"CRAZY!" the marine snarled,, his blue eyes glazing and looking half-dead. "Put it away, fellow! I'm the real boss! I've got the power and... and..."
"Who are you?" the quiet voice of Tammy Richardson squeaked from where she lay on the floor. The marine's eyes turned to her.
"Aha!" he said. "There you are! I've come for you!" His features softened into a mere grimace. She seemed not to notice, getting to her feet.
"My name is Tammy Richardson," she said, as he stepped towards her.
"I am the Master of the Mandala," the marine pronounced. "You are to be my queen. The queen of Vajravatil"
Susan and Mark looked at the scene with open mouths,
unable to speak. Gloria pressed her lips tightly together.
"Goodness!" said Tammy to the marine, as he lifted her off her feet. "This is exciting! I'm to be a queen after all!
With thunderous laughter, the figure of the soldier holding the blonde woman began to spin. It became a blur and was gone in the blink of an eyelash. A voice lingered in the air. It said, "I will destroy you later! I do not wish to stain the occasion of my taking my queen with your blood! But soon... soon!"
"Wow," said Gloria, shaking her head as if to clear some water out of her ears. "Some show. Was that the Mandala Master?"
"If it was," said Mark, "our goose is cooked."
"Don't you know?" asked the short-haired woman.
Mark shrugged, feeling drained.
"Seems to have a good store of tricks," continued Gloria.
"Maybe that's all they are, tricks!" said Susan. The dark-haired woman looked at her and said nothing. "Fool," Gloria Hill thought. "Some scholar, who doesn't know the power of yogi and siddhi attainments."
"Perhaps they are tricks," said Mark, answering Susan. "But they're rough stuff nonetheless!"
"Will he be back?" asked the red-haired woman.
"Yes!" laughed Gloria. "If he tried out his new bride, he'll be back in a flash looking for something with some talent!"
Mark cocked an eyebrow at her. Susan could not keep her tongue still.
"And you're the one?"
"Yes., 'I grinned Gloria, closing her eyes and licking her lips.
"Experienced?" asked Susan. "More like, worn out!" she declared.
"Damn you!" snarled the short-haired woman, leaping for Susan's throat. They both fell to the floor. Mark was furious. They tumbled past him.
"Hey! Stop it. STOP IT!" he shouted.
They froze in mid-tumble, hair flying, feet in the air. He gasped at the sight. They were absolutely still, skirts flared out, as in a cinemagraphic still frame, mouths open, eyes wide.
"Well I'll be ... And he walked about them, studying them. Susan had prevented Gloria from clutching her throat by grasping both arms just at the wrists. They might as well have been painted marble, lacquered wood, or carved jade figures. Real, yet unreal. He wondered if he should release them from whatever he had done to hold them.
"But how?" he wondered aloud.
"Like this!" came a voice. It was SVA YAM, in the doorway, gesturing and laughing. The two women relaxed, separated and floated into the air, pausing before the doorway, hanging as if from some unseen wires. They continued to sleep.
"What are you doing here?" asked Mark as casually as he could manage. The yogi nodded at the women.
"I've come for my bride!"
"I won't let you take her!" snapped Mark. This gave the yogi's face a puzzled expression. "Oh? Who do you think I mean?" started Mark and this brought laughter from the yogi.
"No. No. thank you. I want the dark one! You can keep the other! I want strength and potential. She's had training! She ....
"You want Gloria Hill?" stammered Mark, staring at the yogi, who was now gliding vertically up into the air, floating towards the short-haired woman where she remained suspended in the room.
"Is that her name?" sneered SVA YAM. "It does not matter! She suits my purposes!"
"And the other one?" Mark asked., looking up at the floating yogi, who was gathering the dark-haired girl into his arms.
"What? This one?" sneered SVA YAM. He glanced at Mark scornfully. "You can have her!" He snapped his fingers and Susan began to fall. Mark leaped forward to catch her. He barely made it, but the impact made him fall off-balance and hit the floor.
The yogi began to float off with the dark-haired woman, out the window. Over the clouds of Vajravati.
"You love that one?" asked Mark.
"Love? What has that got to do with it! She's mine!"
"Then you'll leave this woman-You'll leave me alone?" he called after the yogi who grew smaller. The other called back. "Of course not! I will come back to kill you later! Ha ha!"
Mark had a sinking feeling. He saw Gloria awakening in the arms of the yogi. Delight crossed her face.
"Yes, yes! But allow me to kill her!"
"Of course, my consort, of course!"
Susan awoke, staring at the vanishing figures.
"It's impossible! Impossible!" she cried.
"Nothing is impossible in a dream," said Mark Miller.
"This is no dream!" cried Susan.
"It has to be! It ... started Mark, as the figures of SVA YAM and Gloria vanished.
Susan grabbed his arm and gave it a squeeze. "How does that feel?" she asked. "Convincing," he said. "But..." She sat up and grabbed him by the shoulders, moving her head quickly to his. Her lips met his and pressed hard. They moved over his. He was taken off-guard and fell back from his seated position. His hand flew out to catch himself.
"Ouch!" he cried.
"Did I hurt you?" she asked, grinning.
His eyes popped, looking at his right hand.
"No,, no. It was ... it is ... a splinter! It got a splinter from the floor!"
Her smile vanished and her face seemed to be full of expectancy. Well?" she asked.
"It's real. A real splinter! All of this is..." he answered.
Im real, she said, cupping his cheek in the palm of her hand. "All of this is real." She looked softly into his eyes, tapping his cheek gently.
"The marine? The earthquake? The floating yogi .... Mark babbled. "What do we do now?"
"It's up to you," said Susan softly. "The next move is up to you. Escape. Die or ....
"Or what?" he asked, staring at her beautiful eyes, fearful that he would not be able to protect her against the forces stirring in Vajravati.
"0r, " she said, looking a-way at the mists surrounding the finger mountains, "become the Master of the Mandala!"
"Easy enough to say!" Mark replied. "But there are problems in that direction."
"Such as?" she asked, tilting her head and brushing back a wisp of hair from her forehead.
"They've got all sorts of powers!" he replied.
"You seem to do pretty well," she pointed out.
He shook his head, avoiding her eyes.
"I'm not sure that I'm even doing it! It might be someone else, Rinjin or the lama! It doesn't come when I want it to!"
"You sure?" she asked quietly.
He did not answer, but addressed another aspect of the problem.
"We had better escape! That's our best bet!"
"Then why are we staying here?" she asked, gesturing, to the topsy-turvy items in the room.
"For now,," he glanced about, "it is our best move. Wait. They won't come back here."
Her eyes widened and she was about to speak.
"Tea, Master?" asked Rinjin, who had reappeared.
"Yes. But first, don't you agree that this is the last place they'll look for us?" asked Mark.
Rinjin smiled, righting the fallen table.
"Yes. It would be foolish to stay here. They believe that you are wiser than that!"
"Uh ... see?" Mark asked Susan, unsure if he liked the Tibetan's answer. "'It'll buy us some time!"
"If you say so," mumbled Susan, waiting for Rinjin to pour the buttered tea.
Outside in the valley there were loud thundering noises. Mark stood at the window to look out. But he could see nothing. Dark smoke seemed to be mixing with the low white clouds. The noises cracked and thundered. "What is it?" he asked. Rinjin nodded.
"You were right," said the Tibetan. "They are looking for you elsewhere."
"They're making that racket?" asked Susan.
"Yes, answered Rinjin simply.
Mark's face took a grim set. He wondered how long their safety would last. The sounds were thunderous, but it was clearly not thunder. Explosions. Explosions all over the valley!
Susan could see his concern.
"You said that you had some siddhi. What kind, for instance?" she asked to take his mind off their danger.
"Day and night," he mumbled. "I can make one into the other."
"I beg your pardon?" she asked, eyebrows rising.
"I told you it was peculiar!" he said, hunching his shoulders.
"Ah. can you demonstrate for me?" her brown eyes asked.
"I .... I don't know about that!" He felt awkward.
"Please," she said., here eyes trapping his in a fixed gaze.
"Okay," he shrugged.
"It should be twilight. It is twilight!"
Twilight came, slowly greying the valley.
"Marvelous!" she clapped her hands and Mark felt a surge of happiness.
"Wonderful!" she said, and he glowed, grinning from ear to ear. "That is great."
However, even in the midst of this appreciative praise,, Mark noticed something. "Listen!" he said. "I don't hear anything," Susan said. "That's just it!" he commented. "No thunder! No explosions! They have stopped. Why?" "Time out for darkness?" quipped the red-haired woman. Mark
frowned, listening intently. "Strange." He stared down into the darkening valley. "Let's try this," he said to himself aloud. Susan was puzzled. "Daylight. It is daylight!" And light began to blossom, shadows fleeing. The thunderous explosions began shortly thereafter. "Hmmm," frowned Mark. "Now this!" he said to himself again, ignoring the questions of the woman at his side. "Twilight. Twilight is!" The shadows lengthened, the room darkened. The explosions stopped. "You're right! Susan! They can't do it after dark! We're safe between twilight and daybreak!"
Rinjin entered with a butter lamp.
"When your power is supreme, all-encompassing, they are weak and divided,," he said, as if to the flame itself. Mark merely glanced at the Tibetan.
Mark had some small doubts about. the accuracy of his conclusions. While Susan slept, he sat and wondered. "If I'm wrong, I won't get a second chance."
Hours into the darkness, he decided to test his theory again.
"Light," he whispered. Light crept over the valley. He heard no explosions. That silence troubled him. He watched the valley from the window.
"Is it light?" asked a sleepy Susan. He glanced at her and marveled at her rumpled beauty. "Yes," he said, watching.
Then it came. The clouds lifted and he saw great slashes of orange licking at the terraced hillsides. He
squinted to make it out.
"What is it?" asked Susan, joining him, touching his elbow.
"Lava! One of those damned guys is cracking open the mountain!"
He stared and thought he saw figures.
"They're fighting each other! Boulders are flying, thrown by one of them. The marine, I think! The yogi is melting all the stones! Dammit! When they finish with each other., they'll look for us! We've got to do something."
,"What's that!?" cried Susan, pointing. Mark spun to look. High over the fighting there appeared black shapes. "Helicopters! What are they doing here? How did they... Oh! The marine! They're his!"
"Look there! Giant birds!"
A black cloud of birds was descending on the dozen helicopters. The machines spat out tracers, one after the other, setting feathers afire. Missles exploded within the flock of birds. Bones shattered. But all the birds did not fall. Some went swooping in and crushed the helicopters in their claws. Neither one seemed to be winning. They separated, re-grouped, and were about to plunge at each other again. It was then that Susan gave a soft cry.
"Look! There's a blonde woman in that helicopter!"
"It can't bet it said Mark. "How would she know how to fly one?"
"And look! That bird is coming this way! Directly towards us! Do you think that .... ?
It grew larger and larger. Dark feathers blotted out the blue.
"On it! In that saddle! Look!" shouted Susan.
They could hear the flapping of the wings. They could feel the wind generated by its giant movements.
"Gloria! She sees us!" cried Mark.
On the bird, indeed, was Gloria, but hardly recognizable. Her face was smeared with blood and she was naked to the waist, a leopard skin about her loins. A necklace of bones swung around her neck., In one hand she held a thighbone club and in the other the agate bell. She was screaming with her mouth wide open, but they could not hear her through the sounds of the moving wind and feathers.
"Heading straight for us!" Susan said, falling to one knee, half hiding behind the window frame.
Mark gnashed his teeth.
"Here's the real test!" he said. "Twilight! Darkness!
Perfect darkness fell as if someone had flipped a switch. There was a great rushing of wind and the room shook, but soon it was gone, far off, as if gliding. The red glow of lava and rockets lasted a moment and then faded quickly, as if a dying afterimage, a spot from the sun, a shape against a window.
"It worked!" gasped Mark, his arm around Susan's shoulder. He tried to lift her to her feet in the dark,, but her body merely shuddered. "Awful," she said, "Awfully close!"
"It's okay," he laughed. "I've turned off the war!"
"But will it last?" she asked. "As long as I wish," he grinned, speaking more confidently then he felt. "As long as darkness lasts."
"But how long will that be?" asked Susan, moving closer to him.
"Don't worry," he said, seeing a star appear. "Don't worry." He heard Susan's breathing change, and knew she was asleep. But what if he slept? What if he fell asleep? His eyelids grew heavy. He caught himself. He nodded. Soon he slept. The darkness seemed to fluctuate.
Chapter Eighty Two
In his sleep, Mark Miller dreamed.
He did not know where he was. But he knew that somewhere near him was the lama, Chujel Ngugen.
"Okay, where are you?" he asked the nebulousness of his dream.
"Here," the lama answered, becoming clear in the darkness, in the undesignated place.
"I've got to save Susan!" Mark said to the Tibetan.
"Save her then.." smiled the lama.
"How can I? With the marine and the yogi out after me?"
"They wish to be the Master of the Mandala!" stated the lama, grinning, his earring swaying slightly from his ear.
"The hell with that! I just want to live! I want Susan to live! They can have it! Tell them to let us go! shouted Mark at the silently-poised figure.
The lama shrugged.
"It is not up to me," he said. "Escape if you can. But I doubt if you can. They know that only one of you may live!
"Crap! I don't like these rules!"
"I did not make them," smiled the lama. The three of you created the situation."
"Dammit! Double talk!" snapped Mark. "But I'm going to make a new set of rules! Just like I make night and day! Susan and I will escape from Vajravati! You will tell me how to do it! Now! Speak!"
"Are you commanding me as the Master of the Mandala?" asked the lama.
"Yes! Sure! Why not! Tell me how to get out of the valley!" growled Mark at the smiling lama.
"Yes, Sire," the lama gave a polite short bow. "It will change nothing. But I will tell you. However, these are dangerous steps which you take!"
"Enough of the soft-soap! Give me details! Tell me!" ordered Mark.
"You will need both the vajra and the drilbu, the lama said, and began to fade from sight.
"Wait! What do you mean?" asked Mark of the fast dissipating image of the lama.
"Without the agate vajra, without the agate bell, you cannot pass over the staircase, cannot pass through the cloud chamber of the warriors, pass through-pass..."
"Where are they?" cried Mark to the darkness.
"The yogini called Gloria has the bell. The vajra is in the bridgeless canyon full of lightning storms. Descend there as in your dream, but remember, thirty-two steps.. only thirty two steps, or you are lost forever...."
And the lama was gone.
Mark jolted awake. It was daylight!
And flying directly towards the room was a huge black bird, with the fierce dark-haired woman astride it!
"Ha!" she cried, tossing a looped rope through the window. It snared Susan and pulled her from the room, dangling beneath the great bird, struggling and shouting, the rope about her waist.
"Susan!" cried Mark., helplessly.
The bird flew towards the flames of the lava-flow. It flew lower and lower., the laughter of the dark-haired Gloria coming back to him from the distance.
Mark was about to call for darkness, but he held back.
"She'd fall into the lava!"
Staring, he watched the bird swooping downwards, the woman dangling from beneath the bird. A series of tracer bullets zipped past her in her helpless position. A half dozen helicopters were attacking! Batteries of rockets were opened and short walls of fire flew from the machines to the feather-cloud of beak and claws.. They exploded at its chest, throwing the wild woman rider out into the air, arms flailing. With her went the roped Susan. Both were plunging downwards to the river of burning rock! The helicopters zoomed in., avoiding the falling bird, circled under the-falling women, and stopped.. The women stopped too, as if in midair. Mark squinted into the distance, shaking his eyes against the smoke and the flames.
'"Nets! Susan has been caught in a net! Gloria as well!" Mark observed with relief. "She's alive!"
But his sense of relief was short-lived. The planes moved away, almost out of sight, carrying their airborne prisoners with them. He saw them landing at a distance from the lava flow, gently upon a ruined terraced hillside. He saw the marine., far away. He saw the blonde woman running forward with him, to pull the two women out of the nets, and to hustle them somewheres out of sight.
"She's alive. But for how long?" he sighed. "Twilight," he commanded. Shadows embraced the' hills, mists rose to hide them from sight.
Frowning, he strode back and forth, trying to think of a plan.
"I don't know enough!" he hissed in the darkness of the room. "But how much do I know?" He flexed his fingers, trying to make sparks the way that SVA YAM seemed to do so easily. None came. "What do I know? At least let me know that! What can I do? Let me see it!"
Mark felt as if he had touched a live wire. The current jolted him and ran from the top of his head to his feet. His head seemed to rattle and he closed his eyes against the intense feelings which shook him. When he opened them. a rectangle of light hung in the space beyond the window. It seemed to be over the valley, but Mark knew that it was only in his mind. It was edged in shimmering bands of rainbow colors, squared rainbows. Within the rectangle, images came and went. He watched carefully, trying to comprehend them, trying to remember them. They sang. They chanted. One changed into another. He thought he saw himself, as a being made of mirrors, a being made of lightning and thoughts. He saw Susan, and she represented brilliant space, infinite voidness, but free of darkness. She was thunder and words. Blueness and syllables. Squares opened into circles and these mounted sideways into dimensional structures,, rising higher with a pair of beings at the center. Words and lightnings! Coming together again, he thought. Sending forth again! Overcoming, overcoming!
The light began to fade, when he asked of it;
"Where is Susan?" And suddenly he could see her, in a wooden house with Tammy Richardson and the marine. "Mark will take it easy with you here," the marine was saying. Tammy held a sub-machine gun aimed at her. "Yeah, no tricks!" "What are you doing, Tammy?" asked the red-head. "Why don't you let me go?" The blonde shook her long hair energetically. "No way! Michael has to capture your pal, or he'll never get to be the Master!" Susan started to speak, but held her words back.
"Pigs!" snapped a voice, and Mark saw the image of a disheveled., stained Gloria Hill. He could hardly recognize her in her semi-nude, bone-decorated state. "SVA YAM will kill you all!" The marine slapped her across the face. "Quiet! The yogi will do nothing while we have you! He thinks he's the Master, and he has chosen you for his queen. He doesn't want anything to happen to you!" Tammy was giggling. "Looks like I'm the new queen of Vajravati!"
Mark could see that Susan was studying the blonde carefully. "We've got the bait," said Fields. "Now one or the other will come this way!" Mark kept studying the image of Susan. She was looking at something near the dark-haired yogini. What was it? The agate bell! She was trying to edge towards where it lay on the ground. Could she get it? Mark wondered. And if she did, what good would it do her?
"I must help!" he thought. "A distraction! I now know what I can and cannot do!"
He called up a thunderstorm. Its wind went sweeping through the darkness around the house where the prisoners were held. Fierce hail began to fall. Lightning crackled over their heads like falling lines of calligraphy, like insane electrical weeping willows wrestling with serpents. Everyone dove for shelter. Susan leaped for the agate bell,
rain drenching her as she stood holding it above her head. The dark-haired yogini screamed an unintelligible curse and the ground began to crack around Susan's feet, about to swallow her up! She seemed unperturbed, the bell shaking in her hand, her face illuminated by the writhing of the lightning-strokes, leaping horizontally across the terraced hillside. She began to sink into the ground.
"Take me to Mark Miller!" she cried. Blackness came between lightnings, rumbling came, like the sounds of earthquakes or moving mountains. When electricity flashed again, she was gone! A huge muddy hold. reached into the earth where she had been standing.
Mark gasped. Not so much from her disappearance but from her appearance at his side! Drenched, and smiling, she pressed herself against him in a tight embrace. "How do you like that?" she laughed. "I love you close to me!" he replied. She moved her face a few inches away from his. "I mean my little bell trick! Not the hug!" "I like them both!" he exclaimed over the loud thunder in the valley. The flashes of light illuminated their grinning smiles. "Ah!" he said. "I'm glad you're safe!" She threw her arms around his neck, giving him a hard kiss. Pulling back she said,, "Just command me, and I'll do as you say!" Laughing, he pushed back some wet hair from her forehead and said, "I command you to embrace me!" She had a short fit of laughter, caught herself, and before she pressed her lips to his again, said "As you command, oh Master of the Mandala!" They embraced and they embraced.
The lightning and thunder continued in the long darkness. Mark did not sleep. Susan did not sleep.
Both she and he knew what they could do. Mundane act or magical act.
They embraced and embraced.
Chapter Eighty Three
"Rinjin!" Mark called, some time later.
.The Tibetan was slow in appearing, making shuffling noises and coughing. Susan giggled at his behavior. A little light from a butter lamp entered the room first, as if in slow motion.
"It's all right, Rinjin!" said Mark. "Come in."
"Yes, Master.." the Tibetan gave a half-bow from the waist, the light bobbing with his motions. Mark could have sworn that the warrior was smiling.
"Rinjin, friend," Mark addressed the other. "How is it that earlier, on the mountainside, the yogi could function with his rolling fire, in the dark, but now he cannot?"
The light played on the Tibetan's face.
"You are getting stronger," was his simple reply.
"How? I haven't been doing anything," Mark insisted.
The Tibetan did not move his head, but his eyes went to the red-haired woman. "Su-san," he said. "Su-san Knight has made you stronger, as a good queen always does."
Susan blushed in the semi-darkness.
"Be that as it may," continued Mark. "I have a request of YOU."
"Whatever you like, which I am capable of doing," Rinjin replied, placing the light on the tea-table. It cast three flickering shadows upon the walls.
"Is there a trap-door in this room? Can I reach the canyon down through it?" Mark asked.
"Yes and no,, it answered Rinjin. "There," he pointed to the floor, "is the door you ask of. But down below are corridors. It is easy to find the meditation chamber on the cliffside. Difficult to get ready, reciting what you recall of the manuscript! Difficult to find the agate vajra ...
"How do you know what I'm after?" interrupted Mark Miller.
"Difficult to escape the dark people! And remember, from your dream, only thirty-two steps to find the door again!"
"Dream? How do you know of the dream?" protested Mark. But Rinjin did not answer. He was moving toward the blue-eyed American, with a sad expression on his face.
"This is the last you will see of me," he said, this form."
He was about to pass to the left of Mark Miller, when the other threw out his arm to stop him. "Wait! What do you mean?"
The American felt a slight impact, as if a small bird had struck his arm in the dark, a soft fluttering, and then, nothing. He whirled to see where the Tibetan had gone. But that portion of the room was empty. Only two shadows danced on the wall, his own and Susan's. Rinjin was nowhere to be seen.
"W-what!" stuttered Mark., looking at his arm where he had felt the flutter. There was a glowing circle between his wrist and his elbow. It was white. It became yellow. It grew grey, and vanished. "Rinjin!" he said, looking around the room. "Where are you?!"
In the silence, Susan bit her lip.
Mark felt for the edges of the trap-door. It was easy enough to find. In the yawning opening, looking down to a golden square, a long rope already dangled. He began to lower himself over the edge.
"Wait," Susan whispered, kneeling at the edge of the opening. She gave him a light kiss on the lips. "Be careful!"
"Sure, sure" he grinned. "Take care of the bell. I'll take care of myself. Nothing can hurt the Master of the Mandala, after all!"
He lowered himself down the rope. Once below, he called up.
"Okay! Pull it up! I don't want any strangers using this entrance!" The rope vanished up above him. He heard the openings close, but did not look back, moving down the corridor.
"Here we go," he said. "We're off to see the Vajra! Wherever it is!"
Chapter Eighty Four
In the cave overlooking the canyon, Mark sat. He tried to remember the manuscript which Rinjin had shown him. "What did it say?" In his struggle to remember, he also was concerned that his concentration did not lull him in any way, distract him, or allow him to slip into sleep. Then there would be real trouble! First for Susan and then himself. He could not let anything happen to Susan. He stared into the darkness, trying to visualize the pages, trying to remember the sounds, comprehend their meanings. It was difficult.
"Difficult," Rinjin had said, and Mark's memory of his saying that made it seem that he was saying it aloud within the same cave where he sat. But Rinjin was not there. "Where has he gone? Rinjin! Help me to remember!" "Of course., if were the words Mark heard and he jolted. "But it can't be Rinjin's voice! He is not here!" Mark fixed him mind upon the manuscript. He began to remember fragments. "It is not emptiness, it is not manifestation! "It is not timelessness,, it is not eternity! "Not blessed! Not cursed!" Mark nodded,, the words seemed to be coming easier: "It is without beginning, it is without end!
"It cannot be measured, it is not measureless!
"No changing! No decline!
"Ah! Ah! Aum Vajracitta Hum!"
Mark nodded in the darkness, struggling to keep his eyes open:
"Before physical and metaphysical states,
"There is the natural state of knowledge,
"Neither existent nor non-existent,
"Neither here nor there!"
"It is coming now! Quickly!" And Mark looked down into the canyon. Shapes moved there, but they gave him no concern.
"Produced by no cause, destroyed by no circumstance," he continued smiling.
"Never spoiled by circumstances, no cause present!"
He stood and looked up the dark canyon. A storm seemed to be stirring there.
"Pure spontaneity of the void-like knowledge,
"Echoes self-sounds as unhindered space,
"Reaches everywhere, with names as mere indications,
"Great Primeval Purity, tranquil and unaffected by anything.
"Self-existing since time's birth, free from cause,
"Delusion and Defilement, the First Buddha."
The shapes in the canyon were massing below the cave. They seemed to be figures, dark people.
"Difficult," reminded Rinjin's voice. Mark stared.
He continued to remember. It-seemed to be sounding in his mind with his Tibetan friend's voice. He did not puzzle over this. He listened to his remembering of remembering: "The body of phenomenal manifestation are lights, "These are the Five Wisdoms, plus one, "No counterparts are reflected elsewhere, "Already perfect in the self-characterized mandala sphere,., Mark smiled and clapped his hands. "Wonderful! Wonderful! I remember! I remember!" He descended easily to the canyon floor, scattering the shadows before him. They fled, and at a distance, hung back,, watching. He ignored them and moved up the canyon. It was then that the storm struck.
Chapter Eighty Five
The canyon became alive with the writing of lightning. It was temporarily indecipherable to Mark, but this did not concern him as he followed the dried riverbed. There was very little rain and very little water. In the flashes of light which made his way clear between the convoluted walls, he could see entrances to many caves high on the cliffsides. They appeared as gaps and wounds, tears in the body of the rock, yawning mouths, and unfinished faces. Blue light flashed everywhere.
The canyon widened and narrowed in turn. Everywhere he felt a soundless thunder which never became audible. The light hung over the rocks like curtains, like electrical waterfalls temporarily still, only to pull away, upwards or into the smooth rock walls. He began to move over a pile of ancient rubble, the debris of prehistoric cataracts. But everything was smooth, everything full of voluptuous lines caused by the flow of long-dead floodwaters. The writing of the lightning ran to and fro, between the walls, hanging in mid-air like some great white ball, before evaporating into moments of darkness. Deep blue darkness. He made his way.
"Somewhere ahead," he thought.
"Vajra! The agate vajra!"
He came to a dead end. The closed canyon wall confronted him. Puzzled, he paused, waiting. Then in the clap of a single crack of thunder, after his eyes blinked, he could see. A hairline crack was in the wall. It began to glow and spread, like the petals of an opening flower. A white flower. A blue flower! A blue-white flower! Many petals! All unfolding, the canyon all unfolding, blossoming in the brilliance which came from within. Something was returning.
"What is it?" Mark cried'. shielding his eyes against the brilliance. Out of the unfolding flower of rock appeared a dazzling object. "What is it?"
A huge vajra glowed, towering before him, as if molten. It shimmered and cooled, blinking like an electrical storm, as if far away. He heard soft thunders as if a voice murmuring, cooing or humming.
"The agate vajra!" He trembled, reaching for it, although it was ten times his size. He did not consider that. He put out his hand.
"Ri Kyi Pa!" he cried to the vajra, which had begun to spin before his eyes, like a top, like the design deep in the mountain.
"Mountain Reference Person!"
And his hand reached out, growing larger as it did so. It became huge, like some great fleshy cloud in the light of the vajra. And his arm joined it. And his body joined his arm! He became larger than the canyon, larger than the spinning agate vajra! He laughed and laughed.
"That helps!" he chuckled, reaching for the vajra with his right hand. But he was surprised when he could not grasp the furiously-spinning form. Puzzled, he pulled back his giant hand. Looking at his other hand, he nodded. Then with his left hand, he reached out to grasp the vajra. He captured it easily.
With it pulsing in his hand, he turned to return down the canyon. He discovered that his giant size had him trapped. He nodded three times and shrank to his normal size, the vajra shrinking proportionately. Then his departure was easily accomplished in the light provided by the flashing storm.
As he returned., he became aware of the shadows. They no longer held back. "They see me!" he thought, feeling a sense of panic. The furry forms moved quickly towards him.
"Grrau! Grrau!" came the mouthings of the creatures. They were almost upon him! He began to runt stumbling on the rocky riverbed.
"Help me Rinjin!" he cried, but then remembered that Rinjin was gone. He had to depend on himself and whatever he knew.
The book! He knew the book!
"A square ... a square..." he began. A furry hand grabbed his mouth. He could make no sounds!
"Mmmm mmph!" he struggled. "Grrau! Grrau!" The hands had claws! "Grrau!" He had to do something quickly! Mark bit the hand! The bite drew foul-tasting blood great gush. Mark spat it out as the creature pulled howling. He himself leaped for the cliff-face. "How can I get up! Yes! The Book!"
"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!"
Immediately he was safe, up in the cave. Intermittent flashes of lightning illuminated the ragged opening. Soon the storm moved away, growing weaker and fainter, until it was gone. Inky darkness prevailed.
Mark sat waiting for a long time. The sound eventually came. Somewhere wooden bolts were being thrown aside and there was the squeak of metal hinges. 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.
Luminous goldenness was sharp to his eyes. He took steps.
He waited. The trap-door opened. There was a square of blue-white above him. A shadow of a person threw something down. He climbed the rope, out of the golden square into the room with the tea-table, a view of snow-covered mountains and a painting of Vajracitta.
"You are back!" laughed a sweet voice. A red-haired 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 painting.
Mark looked over Susan's shoulder.
"The mountains!" he gasped. "I can see the mountains!
It is daylight!"
"It must have just happened!" cried the woman in his arms.
"How?" frowned Mark. "I didn't tell it to! I didn't sleep! How could it happen?"
The building began to shake and there were sounds of nearby explosions.
"Listen! The sounds of rocket-fire!" said Mark. And before he had even finished speaking, there was a great jolt to the building and bits of falling flaming roof crashed against the painting of the Buddha Vajracitta. It exploded into a moment of intense orange flickering and was gone.
Mark and Susan stared as the burning room began to tilt and to slide.