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datatime: 2022-11-27 04:22:17 Author:rWPwrVDw

"I could hear my heart beat. I could feel the sheer humiliation of cowardice. I didn't dare say the name Akasha. I knew that this thing I had touched had a man's form. It was Enkil.

"And slowly I turned my eyes in the direction of the door, and it was a woman I saw standing there. And not merely a woman, but a magnificent bronze-skinned Egyptian woman as artfully bejeweled and dressed as the old queens, in fine pleated linen, with her black hair down to her shoulders and braided with strands of gold. An immense force emanated from her, an invisible and commanding sense of her presence, her occupation of this small and insignificant room.

"And then she was gone.

"I revolted against all of it because if I was anything, I was an individual, a particular being, with a strong sense of my own rights and prerogatives. I could not realize that I was host to an alien entity. I was still Marius, no matter what had been done to me.

"In the hour that followed I was to remember the strength and the speed I'd known in the forests of Gaul, and had not used since. I went out from the city to where the stars provided the only light, and I walked until I came to a ruined temple, and there I began to dig in the sand. It would have taken a band of mortals several hours to discover the trapdoor, but I found it quickly, and I was able to lift it, which mortals couldn't have done.

"My hands touched something hard before me. And I rested, catching my breath, trying to command myself. Then my hands moved on the thing and felt what seemed the chest of a human statue, its shoulders, its arms. But this was no statue, this thing, this thing was made of something more resilient than stone. And when my hand found the face, the lips proved just a little softer than all the rest of it, and I drew back.

"The one who was there did not go away.

"I could hear no more from either of them than you heard from them when I took you down to the chamber here on the island. And I thought I might expire on the spot from fear.

"Five nights after I'd left the Elder, when all these thoughts had had time to develop in me, I lay resting in my bedroom, with the lamps shining through the sheer bed curtains as before. In filtered and golden light, I listened to the sounds of sleeping Alexandria, and slipped into thin and glittering waking dreams. I wondered if the Elder would come to me again, disappointed that I had not returned -- and as the thought came clear to me, I realized that someone was standing in the doorway again.

"My heart was knocking in me uncontrollably. I went into the garden looking for her. I leapt over the wall and stood alone listening in the empty unpaved street.

"I closed my eyes, trying to gather my wits, form some plan of action that didn't include turning and running like a madman, and I heard a dry, crackling sound, and against my closed lids saw fire.

"In the barren chamber behind him, she sat on a stone shelf, with her head at an angle, her arms dangling, as if she were a lifeless body flung there. Her linen was smeared with sand, her sandaled feet caked with it, and her eyes were vacant and staring. Perfect attitude of death.

"I was left finally with one thought and one thought only: if I was connected to this Mother and Father then I must see them, and I must know that they were safe. I could not live with the thought that I could die at any moment on account of some alchemy I could neither control nor understand.

"Some of the madness dissolved in me. I stopped longing for my mortal family. I stopped being angry at that cursed thing in the cellar temple, and I thought rather of this new strength I possessed. I would live for centuries: I would know the answers to all kinds of questions. I would be the continual awareness of things as time passed! And as long as I slew only the evildoer, I could endure my blood thirst, revel in it, in fact. And when the appropriate time came, I would make my companions and make them well.

"'Help me, Akasha,' I whispered. I put my hands out in front of me and tried not to feel mortal fear of the blackness in which I was as blind as an ordinary man.

"I could hear no more from either of them than you heard from them when I took you down to the chamber here on the island. And I thought I might expire on the spot from fear.

"In the hour that followed I was to remember the strength and the speed I'd known in the forests of Gaul, and had not used since. I went out from the city to where the stars provided the only light, and I walked until I came to a ruined temple, and there I began to dig in the sand. It would have taken a band of mortals several hours to discover the trapdoor, but I found it quickly, and I was able to lift it, which mortals couldn't have done.

"'Help me, Akasha,' I whispered. I put my hands out in front of me and tried not to feel mortal fear of the blackness in which I was as blind as an ordinary man.

"My hands touched something hard before me. And I rested, catching my breath, trying to command myself. Then my hands moved on the thing and felt what seemed the chest of a human statue, its shoulders, its arms. But this was no statue, this thing, this thing was made of something more resilient than stone. And when my hand found the face, the lips proved just a little softer than all the rest of it, and I drew back.

" Yet there was the sand on her feet and on her linen. She'd come to me! She had!

"I could hear my heart beat. I could feel the sheer humiliation of cowardice. I didn't dare say the name Akasha. I knew that this thing I had touched had a man's form. It was Enkil.

"I started to run towards the old section where I had found the door. I meant to get into the underground temple and find the Elder and tell him that he must take me to her, I had seen her, she had moved, she had spoken, she had come to me! I was delirious, but when I reached the door, I knew that I didn't have to go down. I knew that if I went out of the city into the sands I could find her. She was already leading me to where she was.

"Some of the madness dissolved in me. I stopped longing for my mortal family. I stopped being angry at that cursed thing in the cellar temple, and I thought rather of this new strength I possessed. I would live for centuries: I would know the answers to all kinds of questions. I would be the continual awareness of things as time passed! And as long as I slew only the evildoer, I could endure my blood thirst, revel in it, in fact. And when the appropriate time came, I would make my companions and make them well.

"Now what remained? Go back to the Elder and find out where he had put the Mother and the Father. And see these creatures for myself. And do the very thing the Elder had threatened, sink them so deep into the earth that no mortal could ever find them and expose them to the light.

"Someone was watching me. I could feel it. To see this person I had but to turn my head. And then I would have the upper hand with the Elder. I would say, `So you've come out of loneliness and disillusionment and now you want to tell me more, do you? Why don't you go back and sit in silence to wound your wraithlike companions, the brotherhood of the cinders?' Of course I wouldn't say such a thing to him. But I wasn't above thinking about it and letting him -- if he was the one in the doorway -- hear these thoughts.

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