The Firebird XII

The Guide and the Tunnel 001


Again we made our way through the crowd of busy watchers; and as we went, I noticed that, while thoroughly occupied with their individual tasks, these shining people kept their eyes fixed upon the highest ridge of the sheer blue wall of the valley.  It was in this direction that my guide led me.  Upon reaching the foot of the azure cliff, she stretched out her hand and touched its icy surface with her fingertips, gently, tenderly, almost as if she were touching a living thing.  And at her touch it was as if the wall became a living thing indeed.  Its color changed from blue to shades of red and rose and pink; its hard, rocky face grew soft and supple and then began to melt away, leaving a passageway into the mountainside.  She took my hand and drew me inside.

I expected to find myself in darkness once we stepped beneath the arch, but the tunnel was more than adequately illumined by the shimmering form of my guide and the glow of the rock itself.  In this light I could see that the rock continued to melt away before us precisely at the rate at which we continued moving forward.  At every step it withdrew another yard further into the cliffside.  The dead-end of the passage was never more than three feet ahead, and if ever we stopped for a moment, it too would stand still and wait for us to proceed.  The words of the small gray bird came back to me then:  “Take one step and then another;” for at any given moment we had only enough space to do just that and no more.

On and on we went in just this fashion until I became aware that we were climbing slowly upward through the heart of the mountain – not because I could see it, but because my steps became more labored.  Up and up we climbed, higher and higher for a very long time, until at last the passageway broke out into the light.

We emerged into the outer air and stood upon the narrow crest of the mountain.  A strong and steady wind blew cold from the east, whipping my hair about my face.  I put my back to it and looked out over the valley of blue glass whence we had come.  It was filled will the bright but silent shapes of the watchers.  From such a height they appeared to me no more than a great gathering of motionless fireflies.  They were like thousands and thousands of winking and twinkling candles filling up the blue basin below.  But I knew that their eyes were upon me.

“Look to the east,” said a familiar voice at my ear.  I turned to face the stinging wind.  What I saw nearly took my breath away.

At my very feet the ridge fell away sheer into a fathomless darkness of mist.  At the sight my disturbing dream came flooding up into consciousness.  But then I raised my eyes and saw below me the great dark sea stretching away to the horizon.  I could hear its breakers crashing on rocks that lay shrouded in the fog.  The luminescence of the mountains was not strong enough to penetrate the mists nor to reach very far out to sea; but along the horizon, at the very edge of all that could be seen or known, I saw a faint red glow rising.  And then I heard several voices chanting:

“He comes!”

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