Alas, Mag Challenge is “on the back burner for a while.” I miss it. I’ll just have to challenge myself, then, I guess. . .
Gianni passed from deep, dreamless sleep to wakefulness in the twinkling of a star. The darkness was as still, as deep, and as silent as stone.
Without thought, he rolled out of the cocoon of warmth within the heavy woolen covers, off the thick felt pallet where he slept, and onto the cold stone floor. He put out his hand, found his robe and shrugged its fleecy softness over his bare skin. Through total darkness, he walked barefoot across the ancient stone floor in the direction from which the call had come.
The chamber in the students’ hall at Cho Oyo where he had been living for the past eight and a half years was cut from the living stone of the mountain. It was a simple, windowless cube 9 feet on a side. If he took more than two paces in the direction he was walking, he knew he would reach the chamber wall, but he trusted and without pausing, he took a third step. What should have been cold, hard, unyielding stone was nothing more than cool mist. He took another step, and another, through cool, vaporous, utter darkness that bore the scent of cold, rain-wet stone. He was aware of the lofty wool of his robe, the mantle of his hair falling into ringlets over his shoulders and down his back, the cold, damp stone beneath his bare feet, the misty air heavy with the smell of rain on raw stone.
As he walked, the darkness relented slightly and a pinpoint of light appeared in the distance. It grew larger as he approached it until it became a glowing orb of moon-white light lying on a floor of deep grey slate. Beside it sat an ancient woman in a brocade robe of midnight blue chased with silver embroidery along the closure flap and around the collar and cuffs of the full sleeves. Her right foot was up on the seat beside her, and her outstretched arm rested on her knee. Her neck was encircled by a succession of longer and longer necklaces strung with large beads of turquoise, amber, and silver. On her wrists she wore large silver cuff bracelets studded with turquoise. Heavy pendant earrings set with turquoise and golden lumps of amber hung from the long lobes of her ears. She was tiny, elfin, and her wispy, pearl-grey hair was bound up into a topknot. The passage of countless smiles had left deep ruts around her mouth and the corners of her bird bright eyes were crinkled with laugh lines.
He had never seen her before, nor had he any idea who she might be. Still, he bowed to her respectfully, and as he did so, he noted that on the floor in front of her was a large brass bowl full of pure white sand.
“They tell me you sing very sweetly,” she murmured, and unseen spaces soaked up the soft sound of her voice. “Will you sing for me?”
He bowed in assent. “What shall I sing?”
“Your favorite song.”
That made him smile. A breath in and out to prepare the chest, a second breath to refill it, and then he began to sing a song first sung in the dark caves of earth deep in the womb of time. He had a clear, light tenor, with a tone as pure as an organ pipe, and he had been trained in the art of singing in vast, stone spaces. So attuned was his ear that he remembered the sound of his own voice when he had spoken just now and what the space around him had done to it and, without thinking, had modulated his singing to fit that space. He launched each ancient phrase from his throat and let it soar out into the empty, stone-shaped darkness. He has loved the song since his mother first sang it to him as a babe in her arms, this queen of songs, with its odd melodic turns, and arcane intervals of pitch, this hymn to the Mother who is the Gateway through which the soul comes into the world. He sang it once, for the joy of singing it, a second time for the joy of hearing the sound of it, and one time more for the thousands of threads of memory it set thrumming in his heart.
“Ah, I thank you for giving me the pleasure of hearing you sing,” her soft voice whispered. “It is my favorite song, too.”
“Thank you for giving me the pleasure of singing it for you,” he replied, and meant it.
He was convinced now they were in some sort of large stone chamber or cavern within the mountain itself However, Cho Oyo was not only a school and a temple, but also a place of retreat. He had heard that the old ones came here when the years of the world began to weigh too heavily upon them. Perhaps she was such a one.
The soft sssss of scales on stone, shadows shifted, and he realized that the glowing orb had begun to roll slowly away. A large claw arrested it. That was when he realized what she was sitting on was alive. And scaled. A cold chill puffed through him. When he looked back up at her, the corner of her mouth was trying to wriggle free and curl upward.
“Have you learned to form crystal yet?” She asked then, glancing down at the bowl of sand on the floor between them.
“Will you make me a crystal chime?”
He knelt to do so. The bowl was heavy with sand, and the metal was cold between his hands. He placed it before him and slipped his hands up his sleeves, settled himself, brushed a tendril of power across the sand, found a single grain and melted it. Carefully, he selected another grain and another. With careful brushes of power, he grew the droplet of molten quartz a few grains at a time. When he had enough, he began to modulate the heat to let the crystalline lattice form and a shard of crystal began to take shape. The quartz in the sand was not completely pure and he had to pay close attention to snatch away the impurities — bits of iron and crumbs of manganese — lest they warp the lattice he was building. It was as much an exercise of concentration as it was an exercise in the skillful manipulation of power.
It took him well over a hour to form a sliver of carefully faceted crystal about five inches long, but when he finally let it grow cool enough to handle, he was pleased with its shape. He pierced the end of it, pulled a hair from the back of his head, and threaded it through the hole. Holding it by the hair, he let it dangle and pinged it and discovered it to be slightly off pitch. Frowning, he shaved a microlayer of crystal from each facet and pinged it again. It took him several adjustments to get the tone just right, but when he was done, it pinged a perfect G four octaves above middle C.
He pushed the bowl away, rose to his feet, and presented the crystal to her. She picked it up by the hair he had strung it on, and held it dangling before her as she studied it intently. The light from the glowing globe on the floor speckled her with rainbows.
Quite abruptly, she tossed the crystal up, caught it in her hand and flung it toward the ceiling. He followed it with his eyes as it arched up into the darkness and saw, to his surprise, the upper darkness was perforated by myriads of twinkling pinpoints of light.
“A worthy addition to my collection,” she said then. A single crystal pinged a high G into the silence. A moment later, a shimmer of crystalline pings swept down from the ceiling, Not stars, then, but hanging crystals, more than a thousand of them, gently chiming in the breath of a breeze that sighed through the vast, empty darkness. The random beauty of the sound made him laugh with wonder and delight.
Cho Oyo is the only place on dry land where nine leys come together. Their children have come here to be taught for millennia and Tsong Xap has taught more than a thousand of them.
The heavy wooden sanctuary door groaned on its hinges as the old monk pushed it open. Before the Goddess’ great stone presence, is a nonagon 27 feet across demarcated by iron bars set flush into the living rock of the floor and aligned so that each of its nine corners marks a ley. At its center is inset a nine pointed star of iron at the spot where they converge. This morning there was someone standing atop the star, looking up at the ceiling and laughing quietly. Tsong Xap recognized the torrent of dark mahogany curls even before he was close enough to see the face it mantled.
Giannangelo di Ludovico Buonarotto Simoni was the name this man child had been cumbered with. His face was famous because another angel stole it and put it on a statue, and in the contrariness of genius, the expression that this other angel gave it was not the one of wonder and delight that softened it now, but the grim determination of a man with a rock in his hand, who knows he can hit whatever he aims for, and has just bet his life on it.
The next instant, Gianni realized he was not where he was an eye-blink ago. Inexplicably, he was now in the sanctuary, and his teacher was standing in front of him. “I think I was dreaming,” he murmured, blushing.
The old monk suppressed a smile with some difficulty. This was not the first time one of his students had awakened to find they were not where they were when they went to sleep. Cho Oyo was an old, old place rooted deep into the earth, a place of vast power, a place where the line between dream and reality had a tendency to become hazy.
As they stood there facing one another, the great World Bell that hung at the heart of the temple tolled its single sunrise note. The sound of it sailed out across the air like ripples across a pond. When the surface of the world was still once again, Tsong Xap said quietly, “Breakfast with me on the terrace and tell me of your dream.”