THE ISLE OF MAGIC

by

Thomas Rindt

 

    There is a mist which gathers offshore; in part it consists of ocean vapors swept up into fast flowing winds generated far out in the open sea, far beyond the scope of any known land mass, a yearly swirl attuned to the planet's clockwise movement on its axis: but only in part do the particles of mist lifting from the shoreline as if a demon rising out of the surf owe their being to these yearly winds.  The greater bulk of this fog-like cloud comes not from the weather patterns, not from the solar annuity, not from the empty reaches of ocean, but from a land mass exactly mid-way between the continent - with its shore, its lush shoreline, the great river, the Luxor, its majestic mountain range, the Clara Lux, its parched valley beyond the mountains, its limitless desert farther still - and the maelstrom where the trade wind is plucked from the air to be whirled into a tropic storm.  Precisely midway lies an island, a forbidding fortress of walled rock a mile high surrounding everything lying within, a natural haven from the universe.  The Isle of Magic, it is called.  Beneath this self-encased mass of rock sits a huge dome of seabed contoured upward more than ten miles from the ocean floor, held convexed by huge deposits of magma which have buckled from the otherwise easy contour of the planet's interior to form a mound.  In the center of this island, blocked from all outside view, lies a great region topographically diverse yet as smoothly harmonious as if it were a great city carefully and intelligently laid out to maximize its natural elements.  There are valleys, there are forests, there are even mountain peaks - all hidden behind mile-high walls of solid rock; rivers flow, hot springs bubble, tar pits smolder, quick sands maneuver inch by inch amidst stretches of swamp.  It is an assortment of features, in an assortment of conditions.  A complete world, in isolation.

"It was always there" is said by everyone regarding its origin; "and it will always be there" is said of its ultimate disposition.  "It was formed when the first petals of hydrogen congealed into the layers about which the other elements of creation arranged themselves, each according to its nature.  The primal solidification began here, beneath the Isle of Magic."  An ancient inscription, carried away from the island, gave this account of its genesis to all the people of the continent - the brown-eyed coastal dwellers, the blue-eyed inhabitants of the valley, the dark-skinned hill people, even the earliest settlers along the terraced slopes of the Clara Lux: they all believed the inscription.  God had told them it was true and that their immortal souls' salvation depended upon their believing Him.  They could not know that it had been carved in jest, this ancient inscription.  They knew only that it was a holy relic - the holiest of holies - handed down from generation to generation, passing, as all the sacred relics passed, from hand to hand according to which tribe ascended to rulership over the rest of humanity.  God Himself placed it into the hands of the ruler of whichever ascendant tribe laid claim to it.

"It must be won," God ordained, and set the criteria with which to judge who was entitled to it.  A gray obelisk, small, measuring no more than twelve inches from top to bottom and seven inches across, smoothed edges suggesting roundness, it contained, horizontally, the inscription attesting the Island's eternity.  The key word - "creation" - God always pointed out to His people; implicit in that term was a Creator.  This function He imputed to Himself, saying He had always lived, and had created everything there was, and, as such, should be worshipped.

"Worshipped?  Simply because He created everything?" the race of sorcerers who inhabited the Isle of Magic asked when they heard of their inscription's strange history.  Even if He did - what is there to worship?  What inherent in the act of creating warrants adoration?  It is absurd on its very face!"

They had only contempt for God.  They suffered His periodic thefts of their wares only to study the uses He made of them, and this only to the extent of discovering what would happen when, predictably, He embroiled mankind in His schemes.  There lay the variable: how would mankind behave?  Would it attempt to extricate itself from the imbroglio, as a very early race had done?  Or would it play along, even expand upon God's original plan in a kind of frenzied attempt to please Him - as it most often, but not always, did?  Mankind, too, it appeared to these sorcerers, had grown progressively more predictable, almost to the point of becoming a minor image of the Deity.  The game of watch and see was beginning to be tiresome.

"Let us create something spectacular for Him to steal - something to add perhaps a new dimension to His megalomaniac obsession with power!" the sorcerers resolved.

But what? they wondered.

In the center of their island was a volcano.  It linked directly to the great pool of magma below the surface; a shaft led to the center of the planet.  Huge billows of steam were siphoned from an underground cavern, thousands of miles in circumference, into which sea water continually poured, to lie in a pool upon a superheated layer of rock, a thin layer heated from below, in turn heating the water until it burst forth in a never ending jet of steam ascending a thousand miles into the sky, traveling on trade winds which it strengthened in an unceasing westerly stream of air, settling down upon the shore of the continent like a ghost momentarily caught in a psychic aura, its hidden shape made manifest by the medium through which it passed; then almost vanishing, just its tail left behind, then reappearing on the next wind, and so on forever, haunting the shore perpetually.  The crack in the seawall never breached further, but neither did it mend: the sea always filled the cavern; nor did the rock ever cool: the sea always turned to steam.  The volcano, all there was visible from behind the walls surrounding the island, never ceased spewing the ocean from its deep shaft; steam constantly cloaked the very top so that no one ever saw what lay at the rim, overlooking the planet's vast cell of generation.  Its top third was barren rock; below, gradual vegetation opened to rich valleys where an endless variety of foods, grasses and trees grew, valleys whose richness had become as much a legend as the island itself, valleys a thousand feet deep in ancient soil made living with streams of magma a million years ago when the great volcano had erupted for its first and only time, with a violence so great that the island sank to below sea level, the surrounding cliffs became wrenched from the rest of the land, mountains, and part of the ocean was diverted to a cavern opening onto the volcano's shaft to spew forth, heated from within, as steam.  The sea now kept the volcano cooled to where it no longer threatened eruption.  The valleys were secure.

Nearby, in a gorge down one side of the volcano, was a tar pit a hundred feet in diameter.  For some reason no silt had washed here, it remained sunken to its level a million years ago, before the eruption.  At its periphery, where a kind of shoreline, black like macadam and almost solidified, had built up, numerous bones and teeth and other objects had over the eons washed ashore on the rhythmic flow of nearly imperceptible tar waves; tiny bits, mostly, though occasionally a full size bone - clearly a limb or rib or a backbone or a skull - could be found along this ghoulish shore.  These bones the sorcerers had studied and concluded to be human; they belonged to the same species as those who inhabited the continent.  Whether forbearers or simply distant relatives could not be discerned; only that they were of a common type structurally.  In either event they implied a link between island and continent, if only coincidental.

The bones, except for those taken in study, had been left lying along the tar lake's shoreline.  There were thousands.  No use had ever been found or even suggested for them, so there had been no incentive to disturb the bulk of them.

"Perhaps we can use these," one sorcerer pointed out as he walked above the pit looking down, his interest piqued by the marvelous shapes the random arrangement of bones created.  Where jagged pieces came together, a wild beast seemed formed; where smooth bits coalesced, gentle creatures appeared as if in bas relief; and where the two cuts combined, something vaguely human emerged.

"We can make something from these," the sorcerer went on to explain.

"Something God will wish for Himself?" he was asked.

"That may be," the sorcerer replied, not having specifically had that end in mind but, now that it had been mentioned, quick to see the possibilities.  "That may very well be."

They were once living, the bones; they could perhaps again be made to live, or appear to be alive: this was the sorcerer's thought.  Like each of the others, he had a special interest, toward which he applied his skills even more zealously than toward the rest of their enormous range of interests.  They were magicians, but of a very high order; they did not appear before audiences, as human magicians were expected to; neither did they endeavor to develop clever devices for creating illusions; nor did they attempt sleights of hand in order to deceive: none of this, for they were not magicians by training but rather Magicians by nature.  They were a race, a species, an entity entirely unique among the inhabitants of this planet - just as their island was unique among all habitations.  They did not learn their skills: they possessed them as characteristics no less inherent than their shape or color or features or patterns of cellular organization.  They were endowed with their many fabulous abilities just as other creatures were endowed with certain natural potentials, the difference being that, where potentials could go untapped, undeveloped, their skills, being as fundamental to their functioning as breathing or digesting food, came ready made and could no more go unused than their lungs could on a whim collapse or their stomachs sour what they ingested.  They were of all beings the most perfect.

God and the Devil both knew this.  The lesser deities knew it also.  Beneath the sea, a region of calm existed, a place where a great underground cavern, not unlike the one beneath the Isle of Magic, permitted a flow of air along a sea lane.  Here, minor deities, driven first from the continent by God, who, calling Himself William after a corruption of the mammoth idea which dictated His every thought and move - the idea of will - had set Himself up as absolute ruler; then driven from the vast marshes where the Devil, named Jessamyn by God, a name pidgeoned out of a cruel slur, "Yes Man," held domain and practiced his endless seductions on every creature which came near - here, in this great cavernous air pocket below the ocean, deities, forced into a minor status by virtue of having been driven from the surface of the planet by God and Satan, had laid claim, had built a kingdom, had declared dominion over everything beneath the planet's surface and everything which passed through the sea.  The Sea Gods, as they were known, always - from the beginning of their retreat to the depths of the ocean - maintained the sea to be their province, theirs to rule and to do with as they saw fit; but for them, they said, nothing would happen to distribute water, wind or mist; everything touched by weather or washed by waves, both of whose actions they claimed to create and threatened to destroy should their power be denied, owed something to their agency; and therefore any conveyance upon the sea implied a corresponding acknowledgment of their power.  Nothing might traverse the ocean without first giving them proper homage.  They jealously guarded their domain and devised mechanisms for observing everything ten thousand miles in any direction and twenty thousand feet above the surface.  They could not, however, peer through or over the thick wall of mountains encircling the Isle of Magic; and although it lay squarely inside their Kingdom, they made no attempt to claim it or to extract any manner of allegiance from the Magicians: they knew too well the limits of their power.  So that whenever the Magicians set out by boat to explore the myriad uninhabited islands scattered, like breadcrumbs soaking in a pie pan, across the face of the ocean, no fees or tolls were demanded or even discussed, no dire consequences followed the slight to their authority, nor did harsh words ascend from the bottom.  For of what use were punitive measures against the most perfect beings on the entire planet, beings who had mastered, simply by existing, every conceivable skill, from the transmutation of matter to the teleportation of entire land masses to the very creation of life from inorganic cells, all done through the power of machines, seldom more than hand tools, which they could not have failed to produce had they tried?  Beings whose hands - whose very flesh - by instinct built devices capable of total metamorphosis of all there was: what good were edicts issued from a cave a thousand feet below the surface of the ocean against such as these?  The Sea Gods - as God and Satan before them - discovered very quickly the limits of Absolute Power; and, like their superior deities, learned to live within those limits, content enough that the Magicians sought neither dominion nor domination.

The Magicians, fascinated with every species of creature, every genus of plant, every crevice of every rock, every sand dune, every star above, every configuration of sea or land or sky: with everything there was: these Magicians looked everywhere for things to study, took whatever interested them, made of it whatever they wished, for they had only to wish it - to think it, and a device was envisioned, together with the means for realizing its execution, and the thing was made.  They scavenged the planet seeking the products of existence, and searched their own minds for ways of discovering the mechanisms of existence.  Tables gotten out of trees, houses from stone, pottery from beaches: these, the everyday utensils of their life, together with the most wildly exotic creations, represented their accumulated store of knowledge, knowledge which, one bit added to another throughout the eons, opened even newer horizons, enabling the accumulation of yet more, and more - always more - knowledge.  It was their way.

The bones collected from along the tar pit were brought back to the Magicians' cottage, where they were laid out upon a gray wooden slatted table which had been made from a huge desolate tree on an island halfway between the continent and the Isle of Magic, a tree unique among all the genii of trees, a gnarled tree, oddly standing, as if at some point it had been dug up, moved and re-planted, a tree having served once as a marker, a tree the central piece in a monumental deception, for it was this very tree, having once caught the Magicians' eyes and having been re-shaped to a table, which God had used long ago to mark the spot where the severed and sliced body of Satan had been buried and which spells cast by Satan had caused to move to another place so that, when God wrenched a mountain from this island and, using magic stolen from the Magicians, transported it to the middle of the Clara Lux Mountains to stand, 19,000 feet tall, as His queen, He unwittingly uncovered Satan's grave.  The tree then, so instrumental in restoring the integrity of Satan's physical body, became an item especially prized by him; and when he was restored and his body made whole again and beautiful again through an artful deception of God, he returned to the island to establish as the center of his kingdom this place where his release from the sepulchered bondage God had wrought had taken place.  But the tree was gone.  At first confused, then aghast, he became enraged; great curses he bellowed into the sky.  His instinct was unerring; he knew exactly where his tree had been moved.  Of this entire planet but one spot held or could hold it.  Yet it was not there, where he knew it to be.  Over and over he cursed, vowing to retrieve it if he spent the rest of eternity doing so, and vowing to get even with whomever had taken it.

"Despoiler!" he cried.  "Fiend!  Monster!  Murderer!  Madman!  You will pay for this blasphemy!  I swear it, on all I hold sacred, you will pay for this!"  His curses done, the vile ugliness come over his face quickly disappeared into the sensual beauty which was his usual expression, beauty incredible beyond anything else in existence, beauty hated and cursed by God as evil, beauty that once seen no living thing could turn away from, even long enough to worship the Heavenly Father: so, God reasoned, it must be evil, such beauty, and He condemned it and destroyed it, thinking it buried nineteen thousand feet under the ground, where it would never again plague the planet or distract man from his primary duty toward his Creator.  "I will find you," Satan swore over a splinter he discovered still in the ground, all there was left to mark where his tree had stood.  He took up the splinter and slipped it into the opening of his sex and began his quest, his sex his pointer leading him to his tree, or whatever remained of it, and to whomever had desecrated hallowed ground by stealing it.  An eternal quest to right a very grave wrong.

The bones lay unassembled on the table made from Satan's tree.  As the Magician looked down at them, a variety of possible combinations paraded before him.

"What are you waiting for?" he was asked.

"Why don't you assemble them?"

"What have you decided to make?"

He gave no answer, but remained staring at the bones.  It was not that he was trying to select the most suitable form so much as that he was attempting to anticipate the mind of God, since it was to entice their theft he had collected and endeavored to assemble the bones, so it became crucial to fix upon a form most likely to pique the Deity's interest.  It did little good, then, to recreate their original assembly; nor was it of value to mimic the race of Magicians, since God would not be able to distinguish the imitation from the real.  What would God want? what would please Him? who could He make use of? and, most of all, what manner of use would be made of it?

Something fearsome? the Magician wondered.  Perhaps.  Something benign and gentle?  No, never!  Something fearsome.  A dreadful creature, with great claws and razor sharp fangs. Yes, the Magician concluded, just such a creature.  Fearsome, dreadful to behold, a monster.  Very tall.  Very strong.  A great beast.

"Which He will proceed to further terrorize man with!" the Magician whispered aloud.

"What concern is it of ours what use He makes of it?" the others asked upon hearing their fellow Magician's misgivings.

"Let Him do with it as He pleases!"

"What is man to us that we must look after his well-being?"

"Is he not God's responsibility?"

"Has he not chosen God as his lord and master of his own volition?"

"Then why trouble ourselves with his fate?"

"Let the bones of his ancestors be rattled in his face!"

"What is it to us?"

Despite the arguments his peers put forth - and they were all valid arguments - the Magician still had misgivings.  He could not bring himself to dissociate entirely his creation of the monster with its ultimate use, nor was he convinced that the essential purity of his intent excused his releasing such a beast upon an unsuspecting mankind.  Am I not responsible for what I create? he asked himself.  Does not the mere knowing its potential for harm constrain me, even to the point of not creating it?  Must it be created simply because it can be?  To whom or what am I obligated?  To myself only, that my ego might be gratified? to truth, that it be literally served? to the creation itself, that it be given its chance to exist?  Why must I create it at all?  Why?

"Well," the Magicians asked.

Not wanting any longer to create the thing, yet neither wishing to disappoint his peers simply because of points of conscience too fine perhaps to be universally understood, even among these the most perfect of beings, the Magician decided to effect a compromise.

"I will create the creature," he said, reluctantly.  "But I will add an extra ingredient.  I will endow it with a special quality.  It will have a metabolism which functions only in the very coldest climate, so that it cannot become a threat to mankind.  This creature - and however many the Deity might come to clone from it - will not long survive in temperate climates.  It is consigned to live out its existence upon only the very highest peaks of the Clara Lux, and to never stray below fifteen thousand feet.  Under these terms only will I consent to its creation."

With these words, the Magician began his work.  While he worked, his peers discussed his strange behavior and the still stranger condition he meant to impose upon his creation.

"Why?" they all wondered.  "For what reason does he trouble himself with mankind?  And why impose such unusual terms upon the Deity - and unbeknownst to the Deity too!  Where can be the amusement if the creation can only survive where man cannot live?  Had we not better interfere at some point? sabotage if we must his work so as to get it right? will he not thank us when he comes to his senses?"

"But how would we go about it?" they wondered.  First, they devised a plan to get the Magician away from his work table.  A child - and it was well known that the Magician was concerned with the fate of children - was transported from the continent, a child selected at perfect random, a child plucked as by a hurricane from its sleep in the middle of the night and, carried across half an ocean, deposited gently outside the Magician's doorstep.  It awoke, and began to cry.  Hearing the noise, the plaintive lost sobs of this frightened, confused child, the Magician set his work aside to see what had happened.  He opened his door; there, lying in a heap with her face buried beneath her tiny bare arms, was a little girl or no more than four or five years.  He spoke - "Do not be afraid" - and the gentleness of his voice calmed the child, whom he then carried inside and attended to, with food, should she wish it, and water, for she was very thirsty, and with a warm smile.  Soon she had fallen asleep.  He placed her on a huge blue pillow whose soft pile soothed her as she slept and gave her dreams of being still at her home.  In her dreams she saw the cattle her village kept, looked into their deep brown eyes, caressed the tufts of their brow, spoke friendly words, and felt the silent heat of their answering breath; and she was at peace.  The Magician left her to finish his work, unaware that anything had been done during his absence.

They had crouched without noise around his table, coming from a door at the rear.  Quickly, they endeavored to undo the mechanism he had implemented.  Discovering precisely where the mechanism was and what its most sensitive part was, they sought a tiny sliver of some sort to wedge at that precise point: this, in order to short circuit its effect upon the creature.  Time was everything; they could not take long finding what they sought.  Then they all saw it: a tiny splinter in the grain of the Magician's table, so tiny he would not notice its having been pried loose.  Even so, it took great effort to wrench it from the wood; they all worked in unison upon a lever they had instantly devised until finally the splinter was freed.  A sound arose from where the splinter had been, a kind of deep moan, as of something in great agony; the table - if that was what had made the noise - then fell silent.  The splinter was wedged into the mechanism, almost invisible.  Their work done, the Magicians left, just as their peer was returning to finish his creation.

The skeleton lay stretched along the table.  Yellowed bones, bones bleached a ghostly white, some stained with tar that would never remove, chips in a few pieces, an occasional gash: from the accumulation of a million years, a random distribution of imperfections set the frame which the Magician's magic would soon flesh out.  Against the blue stained walls of his workshop all around, the skeleton assumed a heightened visibility; where the wall showed through vacant spaces between the bones, the blue looked like chips of lusterless sapphire sticking onto the plaster.  And the lamps, one directly above the table plus one at either end of the room, mandated an array of shadows which cast the bones into relief upon the table, shadows even upon other bones and, where a protruding bone lay optimally before the light, reaching to the walls, so that all about the room appeared manifestations of this as yet inanimate thing.  Particularly the lower portion of its skull was well situated to throw its image against the room.  Not that many, many skeletons seemed present, but that many facets of the one which was here came into play, as if hinting its potential.

Very soon after the Magician's return, it was done.  The creation lay completed.  It reached nineteen feet in height, its arms spread eight feet, its hands could easily hold a coconut apiece; fingers of pure sinew held three inch claws fast, sheathing their clubbed tips; very large ears, flared nostrils and huge protruding eyes prepared it for quick and accurate perceptions; and, from its mouth, two fangs protruded almost to its chin, an overbite forcing all its teeth - sharp and fang-like too - into perpetual exposure.  At a given command it arose from its table.  It initiated no activity; patiently it awaited.

"Who is that?" a voice asked: the tiny voice of the child stolen away in order to divert the Magician from his workshop.  She had awaken and been lured by the brilliant light under the door; she had silently crept in.  The creature, silhouetted in profile against the wall, did not frighten her, though even from this veiled perspective its fearsomeness showed already.  But she was from the continent, where owing to one thing or another violence was quite common, and she had learned to associate terror and torment not with shapes such as this creature's but with her own kind - and even more so with the Deity, in whose image and likeness they were all made, and who could, in a blind rage, commit the most gruesome acts of mayhem.  A great towering beast held no fear over this child.

"This is a creature," replied the Magician.

"Oh," said the child.

That same night, as the Magician slept and the child, in another room, dreamed one nightmare after another of her native land, a presence crept in and, when it left, the creature too was gone.  God had come for it, exactly as the Magician knew He would, and had stolen it.  By morning, He was high atop Mount Wilhelmina, coaxing this highest of all peaks in the Clara Lux, this His chosen bride, into giving birth to the creature He had brought from the Isle of Magic.  Halfway across the ocean, the Magicians, monitoring His activities, shook their heads in contemptuous amusement of His antics.

He hurriedly mated with His mountain Queen; then, locating the cavern He took to be her womb, deposited the creature that it might be expelled in a mighty paroxysm of labor, induced by a rockslide deep within.  The creature shot out like spittle and went sailing halfway down the mountainside.  The Deity raced after it and, just as it was about to strike a tree, grabbed it into His arms, cradled it against His breast, and began rocking it.  "There, there!" He said.  The creature growled a few times then went silent.  Looking up into God's eyes, it fell asleep.

Beyond the Clara Lux, far to the west, beyond the lush green valley, a great desert stretched to the outermost reaches of the continent, limitless in sands which piled into dunes, un-piled, re-piled to form new dunes, never staying long in one arrangement.  The winds, generated far to the west in some unknown, uncharted terrain, whether land or water no one knew: these winds, dry, hot and blowing sometimes with a fury, sometimes gently, swept the sands into eternally changing patterns; where there were dunes one year was hard ground the next and dunes again the next after that, nothing lost, nothing gained.

The desert people knew this.  Their children, before they could walk, understood the impermanence of sands; and, as they imagined the universe itself to be composed of gradients and variants of sand, naturally sensed infinity itself as an ever-changing flux.  They felt every nuance of every breeze before they could even speak their own names; and the wind too they took to have universal meaning, to be the medium of change and the designer of all matter.  They were of the wind and sand as much as of flesh and blood.

Tents the desert people inhabited found temporary refuge amidst the shifting terrain; and, like the terrain, were constantly on the move, one year - if even so long as a year at a time - in one place, gone to another place the next, perhaps back in the same general locale the next, and so on, always following the nomad instincts of their world.  No one ever despaired of picking up and moving on; children joined the excitement of dismantling whole villages; they watched keenly as tents they had lived their whole lives in collapsed into a deep brown carpeting and were folded into neat packages which were loaded onto carts to be hauled away by the beasts of burden - watching, but never despairing, for their contentment lay in obeying the dictates of the desert, not in establishing permanent enclaves resisting the persistent demands of the winds and sands.

"We are moving!" the cry went up among all the village children, cries of joy: a deep, absolute joy born of acceptance and therefore of love for the great forces which shaped their lives as surely as they shaped the desert and everything else within the universe.  "We are moving!"  As the sand and wind dictate: as they too move.

God was never really accepted by these desert people who, though they knew of Him, and had a certain awe of His many achievements, never thought of Him as someone to worship or to fear.  His claims of having created the universe, which they knew the motion of wind in its play upon sand had created, were dismissed as lunacy.  "Yes," they admitted, "He can perform many wonders - for we have seen Him move mountains and alter the course of rivers and even divert the mountain breezes which in winter reach to the very shores of our desert; but that in itself does not warrant so extravagant a claim!"  Therefore, His persistent demands to be worshipped were dismissed out of hand.  They worshipped nothing, let alone any sort of being; they lived, and they revered the nature of things - and that was enough for them, even it if were not enough to satisfy the demands of the Deity.

God had tried to make them see, but time and again they rejected the many proofs He put forth to substantiate His claims.  Some, He had tried to lure to to the foot of the mountains that He might shower rocks upon them, or to the great river across the mountains that sharks might feed upon them or to the mountains themselves to be hurled to their deaths - all, that their people might be better convinced of His omnipotence.  But they could not be tempted to leave their precious desert, even for a better world, a more stable world, a world where they could build great things, and set up a great kingdom, and rule over all the rest of mankind.  Such a world was an abomination in their eyes, compared to the infinite peace and happiness of living with the great forces of existence.  They could not be persuaded to abandon their way of life; and, so far removed from the dangers of rock and steep precipices and ravenous beasts, there was nothing God could do to win their devotion.

But a child had been born to the Deity.  His Queen Wilhelmina had given birth to a great creature, with claws and fangs and iron-like sinews.  A docile, senseless creature, but one which could perhaps be made fearsome, with a little prodding, a little patience, a little care, a little love.  And once its temperament was made to align to its form, it could be duplicated, again and again, until an army of nineteen foot tall beasts might exist to do God's bidding.  Then - then! - would the people of the desert come to respect and love their creator, as they should, and to sin no more.

"No!  No!" God cried.  "Don't play with this lamb!  Rip it to shreds!  Thou fool, can you not disembowel it where you now pet it!"

God tried very hard to teach His offspring the ways of the world.  At last - at long, long last - after many more generations of people had migrated to the gentle urgings of their desert - at last God's work was done.  His offspring was metamorphosized into the monster it had appeared to be all along.  No more did it play, or pet, or romp with the animals of the Clara Lux; it stalked them, one by one, and, when it caught them, ripped them apart with its claws, tore open their throats with its fangs, lapped their blood with its rasping tongue, and left in its wake nothing save their carcasses.  It was at last, at long, long last, ready to take the Word - the sacred Truth of God - among the heathens.  Then, and only then, summoning all the spells He remembered, did God cause to emanate from it a legion of brothers that they too might do His holy Work.  Readied, on a day late in autumn, God summoned His army.

"Go now!" He commanded.  "Teach them my ways.  Chastise their sinfulness.  Deliver them to me that they might come to see at last the Truth of my eternal Love!  Go!  Go now!"

He led them to the edge of the desert.  "Go!"  He pointed their way.  "Do my bidding!  Go!  Go!"

Above, all the smallest rays of the spectrum had collected and smeared, as if the bottom of the sun were turned upright, concentrates of pure blue where clouds went from white to invisibility; among the clouds, in every vacant space, was the same color of deep ocean water.  The whole sky seemed weighted with blue intensity; showers of blue might have dropped upon the desert, the sky was so saturated.  A person looking up might be surprised to see the sun pursuing its usual course: how could it traverse so impermeable a medium?  Yet there it was.

Perhaps it was this extraordinary sky which made such easy victims of the desert people.  Perhaps they had failed to note the powerful army advancing into their world until it was too late to escape: too late for all to make their escape.  A hundred, perhaps more, were caught off guard: easy victims.

The creatures God sent to win the hearts and minds of these people were slow, cumbersome things barely able to keep from tripping over their own feet, as ludicrous in motion as they were fearsome in appearance.  Nevertheless, they had managed to entrap a handful; and swiftly tore them apart and lapped their blood before it had time to seep into the desert sands.  The rest escaped.  It was pointless to pursue them just yet, so God rallied them to a huge sand dune, where He joined them.

He hated it here, with this slippery sand He could barely maintain His equilibrium in, sand which got into His sandals and rubbed His toes raw.  "Only fiends could live in such a place!" he said in anger.  "No wonder they have resisted my demands.  I will surely not have them build my temple here once they're caught, but will instead carry them off to the mountains where the terrain is firmer underfoot!"  God regrouped His army and set up bivouac inside one of the tents left behind in the hasty retreat.  "Small, unappealing," He observed of His temporary headquarters contemptuously.  Nevertheless, He fell asleep, but was awakened in the dead of night when a powerful wind came up from the west, where the people had fled, and overturned His tent.  Cursing the wind, the sand, the universe, the very order of things - cursing creation itself, He crawled from under the flattened tent.  A final puff of wind, before stillness returned, blew a handful of sand into His face.  Again He cursed, as His mighty army stood gaping in helpless bewilderment at their fallen leader.

The child dreamed all this, exactly as it happened, even as it was happening.  Awakening in a fright, she told the Magician, her guardian, of her dream.  She described to him the creatures she had seen, the face and attire of the Deity, the peaceful look upon the faces of the people; she described the wet-work afternoon sky and how it threatened to spill through blue streamers onto the desert floor; and the terrible carnage, the still squirming carcasses, the tearing of noise from flesh, the seeping of deep red into the sand as if a painting had magically spread over the network of dunes.  She described, too, the Deity's ordeal beneath the fallen tent, the mouthful of sand, the dumb brute wonderment of the huge creatures.  And one more thing she saw, a thing no one on earth had noticed before: she saw a splinter sticking inside a device implanted deep within one of the creatures.  And still more, this magical child, inadvertently brought here to direct the Magician's attention from his workshop, this little girl of immense vision, saw in the splinter a single grain, and in this grain a link to the table sitting in the Magician's workshop.  It could have come from nowhere else but that table, the splinter sticking in the creature.

When he had heard her dream through, and calmed her back to sleep, the Magician went to his workshop to inspect the table,  He, who had never been startled in his life, not by anything - it was not his nature: he sprang back as if bitten by a snake.  For when he found the place where the splinter had been broken off, and went to touch the spot, the table gave a heave, throwing his hand aside; and, as it did this, it hissed at him, a deep, menacing growl-like hiss which gave him his first and only taste of fright.  He left the room, having discovered what he came to learn.  The splinter had indeed been torn from the table, just as the child dreamed.  He locked the door to his workshop behind him, and began planning what to do.

"So my device," he mused, "is inadvertently - or perhaps deliberately - sabotaged.  My creature is not confined to the icy realm of mountain peaks; it goes at will, even into the desert.  No one is safe.  The creature is entirely at the Deity's disposal.  I have erred very greatly in catering to the whims of my fellow Magicians.  I must right this great wrong.  I must journey across the sea, I must go to the continent, I must seek out this creature, I must retrieve the splinter, so that the device I implanted will be free to do its work.  I must save these desert people from the monster I have created.  Tomorrow, at daybreak, I set out."

What of the child? he wondered.  And as he posed this silent question, a small voice came from the dark beyond his room saying "I will go with you.  So too must the table, for otherwise you will never free the splinter."  He knew, the Magician, not to question the wisdom of this wondrous child.  Everything was done just as she said it must be.  She was gotten ready, the table was moved from the workshop.  At the first ray of dawn, they set out in a boat - the Magician, the child, the table - to cross the ocean.

Arising out of the morning mists, the great mountains surrounding the island appeared like the walls of something upon a cloud.  Nowhere did there look to be any sort of break in this ring of rock big enough to permit even a tiny boat passage to the sea; so that when a swirl of mist for a moment moving away from the cliffs revealed a boat with three somber forms, there seemed nothing but optical illusion to explain the sudden apparition.  Like a lightening bolt petrified, a narrow opening slowly receding into the mists behind had given a way beyond the island; and like a strange abutment the little boat swam on, though no one would have guessed where it had come from.

Rarer and rarer grew the mists until, at a point some hundred miles distant, they all but vanished, a mile's worth remaining behind to pierce the sky.  The sea was tranquil; and now that the darkening shadows of the island had been traversed, rays of sunlight angled their way across the surface, their passage awash with myriad sparkles rising gently up, falling gently back.  The hands of a child took turns touching where the beams of sunlight sparkled, as if in them - in their feel against sensitive palms - could be read a mariner's map; as if each fleeting, changing spark were a point along a drawn route on old parchment, each furrow separating one from another wave a sea lane.  Often the child raised her hand, taking turns with each hand, to point a slight alteration in the route: "Go here," she would say.  The boat, under the Magician's helmsmanship, would then silently shift its direction to align with her reading of this map at her fingertips.  "Go here."  A thousand subtle variations in order to keep pace with the ocean; in order not to veer from the course laid out in morning waters; in order to stay afloat, to remain at the helm, and to prevent the helm's becoming victim to the whims of chance.  A long, tedious journey across a thousand miles of open sea, in a small tub of a boat, guided only by the homing instincts of a child.  There was never a doubt they would succeed.

"Who goes there?" a mighty voice asked.  This voice had risen from the sea; the very depths of the ocean seemed to have entwined its pitch, to have given it ever greater force; so that, emerging from amidst the endless roll of waves, it came as spoken thunder.

No answer from the boat.

"This is our domain!" the voice informed the mariners.  "This sea is ours!  Speak who you are!"

Again, no answer.

"Pay the toll we demand!" came the voice's next command.

Still, no reply from the boat.

A pause, while the sea gods considered the intrusion, and the refusal to comply with their demands.  Below the sea, in their cavern, they looked at one another.  Never before had anyone ignored them, or challenged their right to rule these the waters they had laid claim to.  Never had it been done.  Never.  So why now? they wondered.  Their periscope was too faint to permit their looking inside the mariner's minds.  Had they know this was one of the Magicians from the Isle of Magic, they would have simply said "You may pass," and been done with it, salvaging what pride they could.  However, they did not know; and, seeing the child, they assumed it was a human trespassing their domain.  Yet no human, in all the eons of commerce, had ever dared ignore them.  What prompted this one to? they wondered.

"Halt!" they made one final demand.  "Or suffer the consequences!"  But their threat had no more impact, save as a sequence of very loud noises, than their previous demands. The boat kept its course.

At last came a response from the boat: "Be silent," said very calmly, nearly as a whisper.  The Magician had spoken; and, as he did, a device drawn from the tone of his voice dropped down into the water, sank, and, momentarily, settled inside the amplifier the sea gods used to issue their edicts, sealing it shut forever, a kind of tuning fork, this device, blocking all sound from leaving.  Below, however, the sea gods, unable to hear their commands amplified anyway from the great depth of their cave, never knew what had been done; and till the end of time, they kept on issuing one after another command which they expected to be obeyed, but which to their horror never was again.

The boat passed through, no longer plagued with troublesome noises.  Only the rustle of water being pushed along, from below, by deep currents and by gentle winds above.

On an evening, beneath a clear sky, whose myriad sparkling lights seemed to have leaped from the sea as if jeweled fishes, lights that appeared dripping wet, and shivering against the cold black universe - beneath this sky, the little boat washed ashore.  They had reached their destination.  The continent was at their feet.

In the distance, visible only as an absence of sky, of stars, of clouds, the Clara Lux Mountains rose up.  Before long they would abscond with the morning sun's rays; the snows of their peaks would blister, would seem to crack open, would spread a golden glaze halfway  down the mountainsides, and anyone watching would be awed at how benevolent these mighty peaks must be to turn such beauty upon the world.  The malevolence of the mountains would be forgotten: the evil seeming shadows angling across the valley and reaching almost to the desert's edge: the other - the hidden - side.

"How many of God's thefts do these represent?" the Magician could not help wondering aloud.  "How many islands have had their cores ripped open so that a new 'bride' might be levitated, turned upright, set into place?  How many lush green places have been buried under a sea of loosened mud?  How many creatures have watched in horror as their plains were uprooted?  how many have starved for want of sustenance, rushing madly after forests still clinging to monster clods soaring beyond their reach?  How many ice blue lakes have turned green then brown then dried up altogether as their sources and outlets were damned shut?  How much of this world was wantonly barbarized so that a creature calling itself 'God' might drop seed into crevices and from caverns pull things stopped tight, calling the whole hideous enterprise 'mating' and 'gestation' and 'giving new life?'  So much, all of this: for a stand of rock along a divide!  A holy place...hallowed ground...made from the compost of islands, plains, lakes and soft shorelines!  They are damnable, these peaks - damnable!"

The boat was pulled ashore.  The Magician, who could have easily coaxed it with spells, who could have levitated it or just as easily disintegrated it, instead took hold of its prow and with physical effort managed to get it past the waves which had set it on the beach and, when the tide rose a little higher, would have drifted it back into open waters.  The child watched, in reverence, this very ordinary task performed by this most extraordinary being.  She understood his powers, and why he chose not to use them here.

Once secure, the boat was voided of its contents; the wooden table was hauled out and, a rope tied about its two front legs, dragged from the shore line onward.

"I prefer not to use magic here," the Magician explained, not really to the child, for he knew she had already guessed as much, but simply to put his thoughts into words.  "Behold," he gestured toward the Clara Lux, "the many wonders of Magic applied to a land unprepared for it, unable to comprehend or to handle it, or resist the power of those who employ it!"  He thought: is it the misuse or is it the Magic itself which is evil?  Is it perhaps not too great a force for a real world? and ought it not to be obliterated so that it cannot be used to do harm to living things? and in respect of being its guardians are we not as guilty as this Deity who terrorizes humanity with it?  But why ask such questions at all?  The Magic is there; to ignore it is simply to put off the inevitable.  The very powers that exist in nature, that drive it, that within it and through it create worlds and all manner of things, also destroy everything they touch.  The first time a tree grew or a worm breathed or a wave broke upon the shore, the fate of all matter was sealed.  So be it.  All I can do now is try and minimize the suffering wrought inevitably out of creation.  Existence will in the end cease regardless what anyone does.  The beauty of things moving, and growing, and simply being cannot but fall victim to eternal decay.  The dark - that endless, endless blindness faithful only to its own bloating grasp - shall in time have it all; and, having it all, all becoming extinct, shall have nothing.  And we who do Magic, toy at the edge of the terminus, as if it will not one day pull us too inside.  This God here, who through suffering and pain and fear has established a mighty kingdom: He too will be drawn in, along with His throne and His scepter and His sword, indistinguishable from His victims, His subjects, His desecrations.  A sealed bubble blackened from within; all that ever was or ever will be, shrunken to the size of its ultimate significance, locked away inside nothing.

"Give comfort, child, to the afflicted," the Magician advised his young protégé.  He smiled down as he said this.  Together they walked in silence until coming upon a small house at the edge of a clearing.  It was empty.  He told her to go in and to wait there for him.  But she nodded no. 

"You will not find the way," she said.  Reluctantly, he agreed to take her along, even though he knew this would be the most perilous phase of their journey.  They rested the remainder of the night, in the empty house, and left at daybreak.

It was summer, and the mountain passes were not blocked by snow; only the steep crags were a problem, but with care, and with the kind of vision this child exhibited, it was possible to avoid perilous maneuvers along the way, so that within a short time the Clara Lux was crossed.  Ahead lay a great valley, wrought, as if of pure emerald, into the delicate shapes of fern leaves, tree branches ripe with summer, and tall grasses which hid the rich ground, while here and there a shoot of ruby or sapphire flowered into lustrous petals.  A kingdom made plant by plant at the foot of the mountains spread a hundred miles outward; beyond - visible even from the foothills - a great desert reached endlessly into the continent.

It was mid-day when the travelers crossed the Clara Lux; no shadows obscured this region.  Unhindered, standing still a moment before starting down, they beheld everything.  Several days elapsed before the valley was traversed.  Then, emerging from a forest of ferns, they stepped upon a sandy clump.  It will not be far, they both knew.  Another mile or so brought the desert.

Even from here the carnage wrought upon a people resisting God's Plan stood visible, eloquent testament to mankind's sense of the natural order of things.  Pools of blood baked to a rusty turn under the summer sun.  Bowels and hearts and brains gleamed, still moist, in the light; and, where the slaughter had been wreaked earlier, caked with a slowly blackening crust of decay.  A few bones, too, strewed the dunes, too raw to have bleached yet.  Hair, bloody at its roots for having been pulled from living scalps, blew upon the winds.  Eyes stared blindly and ears listened in deafness.  Tongues, screams still upon them, seemed to be lapping at the sands.  Fingers, toes, no more grasping or clutching or twitching, but only lying, upturned, always upturned, as if waving at the overhanging clouds.  Slivers of skin, covered, uncovered, covered again in sand.  Almost all the people of this desert had been torn apart, in a vain attempt to sanctify them.  In the distance, near the horizon, the beasts were advancing upon the last few survivors.  The people were growing tired - even these, the strongest, could run no farther.  They would soon join their brothers and sisters on the desert floor.  They would soon be given the same ultimatum all the others had been given: renounce their sinful ways, accept God as their lord and master, as their Creator, as their protector.  Or else perish the same way the others perished.  They knew they would choose to be ripped apart, especially now, when to accept God would be to turn against the others, who lay heaped across the desert, indistinguishable one from another.

"We will perish if we cannot escape," they all vowed.  "We will not desert our values, or abandon our world, just that we may live as God's subjects; nor will we turn traitor to our friends who lay mangled at our feet."  They reached at last a point where they knew they could go no farther.

"Let us wait here for death," they all agreed.  And, settling down upon a dune - a single dune was enough to hold them all - they smiled at one another and nodded their affirmation of the way things were.

The beasts loomed larger and ever larger before them.  Their flesh quivered in terror; but deep inside they were at peace.  They felt - for they would always feel it however faint it grew - the eternal breeze which blew across the desert, their beloved desert; they sensed the grandeur of an endless spread of stars across the span of time; they knew they were part of so great a thing that no suffering could destroy that tie, and death, the cruelest kind of death, the most senseless death, had no power to alter the gentle workings of this universe they had always relished, and were now comforted by.

Barely a step separated them now from God's beasts.  At the rear was God Himself, a bit out of breath.  He approached, gave His ultimatum, listened for the reply.

"No," they all said.

God shrugged.  The wages of evil, as He knew only too well, were hard wages, and the heart given over to evil grew hardened.  "Evil," He whispered, "must be punished.  By your sins are ye known.  I can do nothing to save you from the fate your sins have ordained."  With this, He turned and walked away a few steps, then turned once more.  At a signal from Him, His beasts advanced the final step, each taking up a sinner in its huge hands.

The flesh bled and convulsed as great claws and fangs tore at it; the throats cried out; the tongues, hitting fast against the roofs of these sinners' mouths, made anguish into a sound which pierced the desert stillness.  Slaughter descended as far into them as their flesh went.  But even so their souls were at peace.  They would soon fly to the great constellations a billion times away.  And they knew it.

The last two left alive awaited their fate.  One man and one woman sat on a dune, neither watching nor hearing their friends' slaughter.  They were looking into one another's eyes, and responding to the smiles of love they saw looking back at them.  Four great hands, full of claws dripping blood, reached for them.

Then stopped.

All motion, save the imperceptible stir of loose sands, ceased.  Not a beast moved.  The Magician and his guide had arrived, not in time to save the whole of the survivors, but in time to save these last two.  There was no way of knowing which of the army of beasts was the Magician's creation: they all looked and acted alike, so that not even its creator could tell his handiwork from God's.  The child, however, pointed.

"This one," she said.  Her word was not questioned.  The Magician drew the table alongside the beast and, barely perceptible, the flesh of its neck began to throb, and suddenly a tiny splinter sprang from a vein beside its throat.  This splinter, as if drawn by a powerful magnet, sailed the distance to the table and settled back where it had been taken from. 

The beasts were rendered helpless.  Not because any power of locomotion had been wrest from them, not because their vitality was in any way hindered, but because they grew suddenly hot - burning, agonizingly hot.  And being creatures entirely of sensation, they felt the searing heat of the desert as if it had turned to an oven.  From no principle had they stopped their slaughter of these final two sinners, no sense of conscience suddenly came upon them, nor had they grown squeamish or sick of slaughter; they were simply hot.  Their attention was in a flash diverted from the pleasure of ripping human flesh apart to the agony of a deep burning in their own flesh.  They turned and ran, like wild maniacs let loose; they fled toward the mountains, instinctively choosing the right direction.  Out of the desert, wailing, some screaming their scalding terror, they ran, faster than the wind.  And on into the valley, through it, beyond it, to the foothills; from there up the mountainside, as high as they could go, without stopping.  They needed no rest, they were all powerful.  They knew they must get to the cold, and they did.

The Magician stood between the last two survivors and the carnage at the foot of the dune, so that they could not see.  He pointed to the western horizon.

"Go," he said, his voice as soft as the night sounds of sand rubbing against the tents which once dotted the desert.  The man and the woman took each other by the hand and, turning, obeyed.  Walking away, the last of the desert people disappeared below the horizon into a different world.

Taking the child by the hand now, the Magician said "Let us return."  Across the Clara Lux, west to east, back the way they came, the Magician and the child made their way.  The child once again led.  Nothing - no clue, however small, no detail of the path they had taken to reach the desert - was lost on her.  The tiniest bushes - barely formed saplings whose branches looked like stiffened twine strung irregularly; half frozen flowers, barely enough to bloom, their petals as if a colorful display of snowflakes, yet doomed from a too early frost; shoots of browning grass whose centers still held the summer; great cone bearing trees in careful rows, each identical to the others; even the gray chalked boulders that had rolled everywhere from some convulsion eons ago - everything was in the child's memory, everything helped direct her soul.  Not one step failed to be re-traced, so that when they arrived, they had reversed their original journey almost perfectly.  It was morning, and the sun they had once beheld glazed against the great peaks now shone full upon them, imparting a golden aspect to their faces.

"We did well to save that many," the child said, as if sensing the Magician's despair at what had been done.

"Perhaps," was all the Magician replied.

They entered the small house where they had stayed before.  The table, its splinter rejoined though protruding from its original place the way a thorn sticks from a rose stalk, was put to one side of the main room, up against a dark planked wall, across from which stood a gray wooden cupboard beneath a window.  Though it was morning, the child was sent in to rest.  The Magician stood looking out the window wondering what he must do now.  Not far, and at enough of an angle from the horizon as to be visible from the house, the river Luxor flowed in silent yet somehow sinister majesty.  Deep into its current the Magician tried to fix his gaze, as if to hypnotize himself.

"There is something evil about this land," he whispered.  "As if it has arisen from some hideous malevolence hidden and buried deep within the planet.  Perhaps there was never hope for humanity.  Perhaps I and my fearsome creature were merely temporary instruments for effecting man's massacre out of an infinity which might have been employed.  Perhaps, great as my guilt is, it is nothing compared with my impotence to cause or especially to prevent destruction.  Perhaps, in my foolish arrogance, I am no better than this Deity who imagines Himself to be, and is believed by mankind to be, the first cause and the final object of all that is.  Perhaps there is no more wisdom than there is goodness.  Perhaps the only approach to goodness is the abandonment of wisdom; and the only wisdom the letting go of goodness.  If there can be neither.  Can there be neither: can there be neither?"

Evening, when the child awoke, and found the Magician still astride the window, still deep within the waters of Luxor searching out the mysteries of life, without wasting a single thought on finding these answers or even in supposing there to be answers - that evening, he knew what he must do.

The child knew also, as she had always known.  "I will manage," was all she said.

"Go therefore," she needed not to say and did not say, "and seek out the headwaters of this river.  Find its source.  For it will always, however much smaller or more remote it becomes, lead you to yet a higher source, and a higher, and a higher.  You will never reach its ultimate source.  But you will never stop searching.  Therefore go."

The Magician kissed the child, one kiss on each of her great eyes, and left to begin his quest.