From all around him, through him, even from his own center came the melodies of Eck. Rolling, timeless spheres of sound, glowing globules sparkling, spinning. Flowing, shifting waves, sparkling tide of light, incandescent truth, wisdom, freedom, charity…and clarity. Roaring sea, beat of drum, rippling running water, buzzing bees, piercing note of flute, up scale and down, blended yet differentiated in his consciousness.
Below him lay the physical shell, sprawled apparently lifeless at Tunnel entryway. Extremely indifferent, he examined it for signs of survival. Still functioning.
“Certainly it requires endurance, Garrhan.” The voice arrested his attention. “There are many parts of they task to perform ere that bit of clay is done.”
Shining, radiating golden light in an aura of splendor, the Mahanta smiled at him. Except for that light, he appeared as any Ptolian. Perhaps eleven feet in height, medium but strong build, with purplish skin set off by a plain brown tunic. Every local tunic was made similarly, a combination shirt and short pair of pants made in one piece, sleeves ending at mid-bicep, legs ending at mid-thigh. Short boots. Jet black hair to his shoulders. But eyes a piercing blue, not Ptolian violet.
Garrhan the Sure was swept from casual contemplation of the body below, finding contentment as always in this great Being’s company. “Your presence never leaves me, great one,” he responded, “yet it is always somehow a greater joy to find you in these God Worlds of Eck. As you know, I will welcome the day I can dwell here permanently.”
“Of course. That is natural.” The Living Eck Master grinned. “No one who knows true freedom could be otherwise. But come, look.” He swung an arm casually, pointing to scenes below them that suddenly appeared from nowhere, as if they stood atop a mighty peak, surveying the entire world.
Garrhan looked. He saw his mate toiling in their fields of alfalfa and the one remaining field of whotol. She took alfalfa tea thrice daily to supplement her health, as he had taught her. Meals were not as sumptuous as before, since no Clan member could or would dare to barter for items to round out a full menu. Her semi-restricted diet was almost adequate, yet not quite. Ptolian bodies needed bluevegs and a bit of animal protein. Garrhan saw. Marna worked bravely, yet fatigue oozed from her pores. At this rate, she would be unable to rise by cycle’s end, her body lying in near-starvation while alfalfa parched unharvested. His heart went out to her; he suddenly yearned to reenter the body and seek whatever sustenance his Ptoliana might require, regardless of risk.
“Courage be to you, and peace.” He lifted his eyes to the Luminous Being, who spoke gently, reassuringly. “Things are not always as grim as they might seem. Look again.”
A curious scene unfolded. Gar saw a particular hut at Central Village edge. Inside, a Ptoliana prepared a large bundle of foodstuffs. “Huh!” Easily startled he was not, but to see a Clan member preparing obvious contraband, a bundle such as could mean her own death if caught…he had grievously underestimated his own people. True, most of them were held tightly, enslaved to Council approved ways of thinking and acting only in accordance with their own mental fetters. Yet this female clearly thought for herself. Not least in his surprise was recognition. That hut belonged to none other than Ghian the Great, Spokesman of the Clan. The small boy helping her was Ghian’s own son. And…yes, it could not be denied, rub his eyes as he might. The female was Karra.
“You are surprised to see Eck channels in unsuspected places. Now you see that your deserving mate will be well cared for, despite all odds. I assure you that Karra will get through, although the surprise may be more shocking to Marna than any lack of proper food!” His eyes twinkled, then he erupted in a booming laugh at the look on Gar’s face.
Still numbed by Karra’s kindness and courage, Garrhan surveyed other scenes. Here Azanus trained Scouts; there Barule, Lainus, Lasin, and Karima drilled swordfighters.
What?!?! Dense, fetid jungle, scattered clearings, war huts such as he had never imagined, let alone seen. Why, for defense they were superb. And what an enemy! Strong, stocky, bluish purple, with endurance, courage, will to fight, emanations of great violence. And bows. He had learned of bows and many other weapons during his time on Earth, of course, but it was still unsettling to see these mini spear launchers on Ptolia in such numbers. Apprehension trickled through him.
“They call themselves Jindanians, after their god and temporal ruler, Jinda. You know God as Sugmad, the ancient name for the Absolute. Jindanians go no further than worshiping their leader. Your own Clan is no more enmeshed in Council Law than are Jinda’s people entangled in their own ritualistic beliefs. Cause and effect are bringing a war to this planet the likes of which has not been seen in seven hundred cycles.
“Jinda commands three thousand archers of repute, plus nearly nine thousand able to wield knife and sword. Offspring of a colonizing starship, they have prospered until they now burst jungle seams and look with greed upon your own people’s open plains. Each side underestimates the other for lack of proper scouting. Even if scouting were adequate, however, prejudice would still likely prevent accurate evaluation. You, who recognize now the formidable abilities of each, can foresee much bloodshed. By no accident have you been trained on Earth in the way of life known as Eckankar. You have no part in the conflict below, except to offer succor as offered by Spirit. Yet, as the observer of a play, you can see the futility of it all, as well as the similarity between this and many Earth wars we studied together. Many you have known in the flesh will fall. Do not join them. Such mortal alliances are behind you; they belong to other lives, other times.”
Listening, the Sure One was stunned…yet the lesson was not finished. “Your task will now intensify. You may at times collapse from exhaustion, physical energies drained until there is nothing left in reserve, stretched beyond anything you ever thought possible. Each time, as you rise from that exhausted state, you will find yourself rejuvenated, filled with energy beyond that you previously possessed.”
A wave of the Mahanta’s hand, and the listener saw Dennos. A burst of loathing surged through him. That creature down there was a Clan member, yet it was obvious he had told all he knew to his captors. The Quaverer’s survival was in itself testimony to his betrayal; no captor so savage as Jnda would keep a useless prisoner. The cell was a tiny box with no light, no toilet facilities, and very little air. Foul with his own filth, tunic smeared, blue hair unkempt and matted, Dennos of the South segment faced death as welcome relief, crying in misery that it was still denied him.
“Be no so hasty, Garrhan.” His teacher enumerated several points sharply. “First, he is Soul even as you and I. Second, his death would serve no good purpose, yet his life shall. Third, he is closer to me at this time than any other being on Ptolia save yourself. Fourth, you owe him a great debt from other lives that must be paid.”
Shame rolled through him. “I have erred…how must the debt be repaid?” Although he did not really have to ask. He knew.
Their session was finished. Gar surveyed the jungle scene below minutely, fixing to memory each placement of cell, war hut, trail, and Evening Circle, even serpent path and garox scent.
Enough. On the Tunnel floor, a body stirred, lifting aching limbs one at a time, stretching, shaking itself. Moments later, there emerged into the Ptolian night a lean warrior dressed in tunic, boots, and war belt. With only a quick glance for his little hut nearby, Garrhan the Sure, budding swordsman of the Sugmad, turned and made his way South.