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3

Like a pearl, softly the morning was, and rained He could not remember the line. He saw the soft pearl light and tried to recall, and rained like But this did not matter. The poem was not important now. It was the light that was relevant to him. The lightOberand pushed up from the cloud and discovered himself, bruised and soreheaded in the tunnel of darkness with the fresh light, so pearly, raining at the tunnel's end a long way off. He should go that way. And he must go on his knees for there was not the room in this cave to stand up. He was in the mountain, in the wall. He had fallen in there through a place of sand, and somehow under it was the cave and the air; he had lived, and there the light was, he had only to crawl. In the light he could see the plain. He crawled, hurting and breathing, forward. After five minutes the outline of the cave mouth grew concrete and exact, and beyond it a dripping pre-dawn mist, and out of the mist a fern cast its tendrils like a dagger, a fern so large it surprised him. But he crawled on, and drew level with it, and from there he beheld the place outside the cave, which was not the plain.

First, perfect stasis, dim reflection of water polished under smoke, tricklings and susurrous unseen, and the nets of things flung over, and the pylon of a tree where flowers clung that were the size of flowers in a dream. Next, motion: Birds lifted from the shallows, while their pale shadows sank away from them like ghosts. They were very big, with the heads of anvils, and the leather slap of their wings tore water drops from the air. Then through the mist the creature came, quite slowly, gracefully, like a vehicle of armor, wet like silk. It was a giant lizard. Reaching the water, it glided through the colossal reeds, which bent from it in the action of courtiers. It dipped its slender and enormous head, and drank. It was beautiful as a thing fashioned, with the life blown into it by magic, and at its delicate step, the ground had moved.

Oberand watched the lizard drinking. It armor made towers upon its back. He did not know its name. Its eye was like a jewel. Ripples spread in a muscular glittering from the firm licking of its tongue that was the length of his body.

He had reached the Valley of God.

There was no exit from the valley. Inside four weeks he knew this. He had become, again, a new and different man; he did not care, he had resigned himself to death or madness, and to life. He had met Eshlo in the dark, and the true truth of Eshlo. Which was romancer and liar. For somehow Eshlo had guessed the existence of the valley, perhaps even found the clues to the valley, but he had never entered it. For if he had, demonstrably, he could never have come back to write his account. The genius of perceptive imagination was Eshlo's gift, what he had handed over to Klein, and to Oberand. No more.

Oberand had searched systematically along the inner rim of the mountains. He was more thorough and more experimental than in his outer searching of a way in. There was nothing, of course. There was no route from Eden, save God made it, and ushered out there with a flaming sword.

Once this problem of escape had been dealt it, all vestige of rules or ethics was sloughed from Oberand, and he was free.

Perhaps because Eshlo's dream adventure had been charted, Oberand had ceased to calendar events. On the journey to the mountains, and in the camp, he had kept a journal. But that had been left behind. He made and attended to no device for the recording of time. The season did not alter, and he had no constant but for the recurrence of day and night. Dawn was not as he had ever seen it, neither sunset. The dream had been made leaf and flesh and feather.

He lived (the mere necessity) through lessons already learned. He set traps in which small rats and lizards, once or twice a tiny type of pig, enmeshed themselves, and these he killed with the pistol, as at other times he shot things that ran before him. He rationed these meals, knowing that with the end of his ammunition he must resort to other more brutal methods. He did not like to kill, but hunger made him able. And at last he would have to do it with a stone. Among the plethora of growing stuff he found roots and pods and berries, which he ate. He had no means of judging them, and some caused him violent sickness. One species laid him up for two days with a fever. He considered if he might die, yet did not believe it. And always he recovered. The fruit of the garden was mostly to be eaten, he had not yet come on the Forbidden Tree.

At first he sheltered in the cave tunnel from which he had first emerged. Nothing troubled him there save for inquisitive rodents (food) and once a fly with wings of jewelry gauze, larger than he from shoulder to shoulder. It startled him, but did not haunt him long.

During his search around the inner base of the mountains, the valley was hidden from him by the fern forest, which began between ten and twenty feet from the rockside, with here and there a break or glade such as that where he had seen the great lizard. Swampy places and dips of silver water lined these glades, but nothing else came to drink there that he saw, except for infrequent, peculiar birds. Others he beheld in the air, birds like a sort of enormous swan, and again arrowings of the bat-winged anvil-heads, which seemed to emanate from a distant smooth height that emerged only in the clearness of midday far above the cycad forest. His search of the mountains for an exit point was instinctive and foolish and actually alien to the person he had become. While it took his days and his thoughts, he understood it was futile, unimportant. Although he saw no further lizards or mammals of the valley at that time, apart from those little ones that supplied his traps, he heard them. Their voices were various, thin and sweet, or trumpeting and terrible. They could not be compared with anything. He sensed there would be huge beasts that fluted and sang, and smaller more fearful things that roared, ate organs and muscle, and drank blood.

When he gave up the search and his freedom came, Oberand took the few items he had constructed, the pillow of rolled dried fern and the best traps, and went down into the forest. So far he had come across several shoots of pure and drinkable water splashing from the rocks, although the pools were consistently full of salts and slimes.

Initially the cycads detained and distracted him. He must cut a way with the knife. He moved by a chain of pools where the giant spangled insects were swarming. He did not know what they were at, perhaps mating like dragonflies above a fountain in a park of Paradys.

The cycads harbored groves of magnolia and laurel. Conifer trees rose in dark pagodas. The scent of these mingled through the heavy, curious air. The sunlight began to stream in shifting smoky shafts, between embroidered eyelets in the canopy.

Oberand watched in wonder. This world was imbuing him, its smells, the lens of its mist where sunrise and sunset dissolved their fires, from which mountains came and went like ships lost at sea.

Oak trees appeared, around which lianas roped and spiraled, and flowers like faces looked at him. Water droplets, the warm dews of the forest, sprinkled from bough to bough, so the atmosphere was filled always by this sound and sense of gentle rain.

He went slowly, and found in the mud the footprint of a mighty creature, perfect as if sculpted for him, although already the moss was growing in it.

Then the forest parted. He saw across the valley.

It was rimmed by mist, was a lake of mist, from which its shapes rose, a map of jungle forest, and silken troughs of open land. The great mountain cone ascended from it, and today a twisted skein of white extended from a vent. It was a volcano, sinisterly sleeping. Even as he stared, a flight of birds went upward. Beyond, a steel-shining water. And on the curve of the misty skyline were twenty waterfalls (he counted), descending in pristine lines like frayed thread.

A bird passed overhead and its shadow enveloped him. It was enormous. He felt no fear in the presence of something so extraordinary. He was in the country of the god. And did the god live on the volcano-mountain? A new goal now. Oberand had reached the unreachable, was here in the unreality he had always known to exist. The god, then, also existed. Did he walk through the Garden in the cool of the day? Which of the cries of the valley heralded his passage?

He had been alone for years. He had learned that each man is alone, even in company. He missed nothing of civilization in the valley, not even books, for his books had all been the valley, had something of the valley, and here the valley had become his book at last, open and to be read. He did not mind the random and ill-cooked food, it interested him. His body, which had hardened and improved on his journey, had now reached a peak of fitness and energy that delighted him. His eyes were never tired, his eyesight had sharpened. Noises he had sometimes heard in his head had vanished in the constant natural sound of the valley. Everything was better.

It took almost a week of angling descent for Oberand to reach the valley floor. There, he had only the volcanic cone for his guide. A herd of cattle, huge and black with devilish horns, burst out of the mist and over his path on the morning he came down. They were the size of elephant, and filled him with joy. One hour later he saw three lizards, upright and grazing on the trees, with long serpentine necks, tiled with plates like burnished iron. Their bodies moved very little, their heads were busy with the leafage. Once one of them spoke. Its voice was of the sweet bell-like sort he had heard from above.

That night, in his shelter of reeds and steams, Oberand dreamed of the god walking through the valley. The great lizards lifted their heads to see him pass, and he rested his hand briefly upon them in blessing. To him they were tiny, like squirrels in a shrubbery. The earth did not quiver at the footsteps of God, it was his constant movement that caused a ceaseless, now unnoticeable tremor, which turned the world.

Oberand worked toward the cone of the volcano. Cycads grew again on its slopes. The water beyond he judged for the inner land-locked sea of Eshlo's descriptions. For Eshlo, who had never entered the valley, had yet somehow been here, so much remained obvious.

Oberand was by now mad. It was a fact. Much of his freedom came from it. It was sanity that had caused unhappiness, as so often it does.

Time, then, in the valley, unspecified. The beauty of the days of traveling toward the mountain cone, the sights and wonders, the giant snakes, the feeding vegetarian towers of lizards, a fish in a lake like a fearsome sword, the snows of the birds, the cattle that roamed the valley like soft thunder. The sun coming up in tempest, going down in such colors the sky was another country, with other mountain ranges, other seas, other airs. And the nights of stars.

He missed Andr'e just a little. He would have liked Andr'e to have seen certain of the wonders. Andr'e would have respected them, Andr'e who had not believed, would have accepted the magic instantly. But Andr'e had not fallen through the sand into the mountain wall, Andr'e was not there.

Oberand had begun to see something white, dully gleaming on the lower slope of the volcano, where the cycads grew.

The way up the volcano was a zigzag of lush and grassy tracts. Among the cycads, it had absurdly the charm of a wild orchard, and miniature reptiles darted from the path like rabbits. The sea lay beyond the body of the mountain, a sheet of light at the edges of vision. Oberand climbed, eating the fruit of the vines, which he recognized from below. And in a dusky grove he found a headlong pillar. It was gigantic, and broken in many pieces lying with gaps only of a foot or so between them, ribbed and veined, yet freshly white. He guessed the length of the pillar covered half a mile, and not far behind, between the cycads and the vines, were four others.

Standing at a break in the trees, Oberand saw other evidence stretching away, parallel to the places through which he had climbed. A tier or sloping plateau of the mountain cone ran out, with a white line on it like the base of a toppled barricade, and further below was something similar, hidden until now in the patches of forest. Above, as he moved onward, a vast gate reared up, parting the sky. Oberand did not stop, he went to the gate, and under it, and trod across a fissured bridge that in places raised him perhaps twenty feet from the ground, and came into a hall. Nothing remained of it but the arched struts which once had held its masonry. Their whiteness burned and turned the sky between to darkness. The height was limitless. That was of no consequence. He knew what he had found. It was a temple, of colossal bigness, erected to the god of the valley. He sat down on the grassy floor, and gazed at the arches of pure whiteness, where the moss grew and the lianas festooned themselves. Again, he wished that Andr'e had seen this. Presently Oberand lay on his back and watched the darkened sky between the arching ribs.

The temple had collapsed, and the forest moved over it like a slowly turning wheel. Everything was eaten away but for this marvelous fretwork, its bones.

Oberand felt emotions that had no name.

After an interval, the light altered, and the sun was setting. He made a fire there in the grass on a flat white scale of the temple. He ate some of the meat he had cooked the night before, and drank water from the bottle.

I have found a temple to the white god of the legends. I do not pace it out in cubits or miles. It is of exceptional size and surely that is all one needs to know. Besides, I have no one to show it to, no means of sketching it, no means even to write of it. And so I simply write this in my mind. And perhaps, by going over these phrases again and again, as doubtless I shall come to do, I will memorize them.

There is the remains of a walled avenue leading to the temple, and about two-thirds of the way along it I found the fallen pillars. Probably other pillars have weathered or been absorbed entirely by the forest, for surely others there must have been. Everywhere are great plates and chippings, everything so white, and oddly crenellated, and often split by the ravenous plants of the region. The gateway and the bridge puzzle me. I can find no steps, and only a crumbling of the material of which the temple is madeI do not know what that isenables me to get up and down. The hall is awe-inspiring and staggering, like a glimpse into outer space. Even if it could be measured exactly, its circumference could only baffle, it is so huge, and yet so perfectly constructed. What walls hung from those alabaster struts? What windows pierced them? And what creatures moved about here, to worship?

Beyond the arch-vaulted hall is a white mass at some distance, over a ravine in the mountain. Here, too, there must have been a linking bridge smoke from the volcano sometimes rises in the ravine. I cannot so far reach the farther building, which is very overgrown. I think it must be a shrine, some holy of holies. This is frustrating. But possibly, approaching from another direction of the cone, I may find a route over.

I am very excited. I do not begin to grasp what may happen now. Sometimes the mountain rumbles faintly. Perhaps it will erupt. I feel so well, so fulfilled and gratified, so optimistic, I do not believe it can go on. But my traps continue to feed me, although now I have resorted to the method of the stonemy bullets are all gone. There is water from a rill just above the temple hall.

When I remember the City I do not credit it. It does not exist for me any more. The world has gone and there is only this.

Tomorrow I will go down to the lower slopes again and try to find a way across the ravine, to reach the shrine.

As the sun was rising, Oberand was woken by a disturbance from the forest. Something too large had entered one of the traps, and was destroying it.

Oberand went out of the temple hall and beheld a tusked pig wrenching itself out from the trap in a shower of wood and broken vines. It rolled hot eyes at him, then bolted away, the creepers unweaving over its back.

At that moment an ink black shadow fell on Oberand, covered him and all the ground, cold and depthless as sudden water.

He looked upand saw a whirlwind.

Out of the whirlwind flashed a wing beat, the writhing and whipping of a snakelike tail, also eyes like fire, a scimitar beak open to reveal the little pointed endless teeth, and claws of steel that gripped. They had him. The pain of them was numbing and unrealistic, and even as he tried to pry himself away, to fight this demon of the upper air, it soared and bore him with it, up between the railings of the cycads, into a vortex of sky.

Oberand heard himself shouting. He flailed and beat at the demon. It was a bird from the volcanic cone, massive, and feathered as if with wire. Its talons held him more tightly than any trap. It peered at him with its soulless mechanical eyes, seeing only his meat, not caring that he fought it.

Already he was fifty feet above the earth. It was hopeless. Oberand ceased to shout. He found he had voided himself in utter terror. Tears of pain and fear ran down his face. The bird dived upward, obliterating gravity, bearing him to some nest high on the cone, where it would kill and feed on him.

The calm of death smothered Oberand. It was as if every sensation and every thought were extinguished together.

He looked down and saw the shape of the world of the valley under him. From the claws of the bird he was granted a vision of the mountain, laid sideways and flat, combered with its forest, wreathed by its smokes and steams, and there the sidelong plateau where the temple stretched downward against the sea. And Oberand, in the claws of murder, saw what the temple was. It was the skeleton of an enormous man, a giant to whom the giant beasts of the valley were small things, like fowl and squirrels. A giant fallen, the tibias and fibulas of the legs an approaching avenue, the pelvis a mighty gate, and the smashed metacarpals of one hand, five toppled pillars. The rib cage made the hall of arches, and over the smouldering ravine was the detached head of the shrine, its two eyes forever wide, its teeth choked by the reclaiming vines. The god lay on the mountain, the god of white bone. Held high in the air in the claws of murder Oberand looked and saw, and an irresistible smiling lifted his face against its bones. Carried toward his horrible death, he could not keep back a terrifying laughter.


| The Book of the Dead | What a tomb this one is. Visible for a mile around, from the right positions, towering between the graves. It was designed by a well-known artist, also responsible for a quite remarkable portrait of t