I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS



I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS, by Raphael Ordonez

 

Death Destroyer submit

 

Upheld by glee over an abyss of dread, the audacious, black-and-white-painted sacred clown raced up the big slope where blue grama and sagebrush waved beneath a turquoise sky. This night he would win the acclaim of his brother-clowns for generations. He would prank the gods in their very house. Already a legend among the Peoples of the Valley, grown impatient with the divine play of ritual, Awa Tseh meant now to piss on the doorstep of Akihwa, the Great Mountain, the Center of All. Such was his depravity, such his adoration.

The uplift that skirted the mountain frowned before him, a crumbling wall rimmed with pines. The sun dipped behind the peak’s snowy crown. A chill wind drifted past, ghosts’ breath out of the shade, hissing through the outcrops that broke the slope’s smooth swell. Here Awa Tseh halted, leaping to a boulder to look back.

Sunshine still filled the Valley. The Great River snaked down from the north, idling beside the villages before dropping into its southern defiles. Green and gray and gold carpeted the corridor, dotted with junipers like black balls. His own pueblo lay huddled at the edge of Akihwa’s shadow, a broken ring of cubes stacked beneath Nakaheh Tukeh, the mesa that crouched like a bull buffalo in the plain. Far beyond, at the opposite wall of the rift, foothills flamed in the sun, piled one upon another to pine-black fastnesses.

He dropped to the earth and ran again, climbing into a canyon’s mouth, entering the maze of defiles that divided mesa from mesa at Akihwa’s foot. Juniper gave way to pinyon, pinyon to fir. Sunlight faded swiftly from the fine, fragrant air. The trunks became gray pillars.

A night bird called. A fox barked. But Awa Tseh’s booted feet made no noise on the sandy, needle-strewn floor. The air grew cold, and Awa Tseh shivered. He wore only a belt and a loinclout and painted bands of gypsum and charcoal.

He made, not for the peak, but for Inouoyt, a ruined town at the head of the deepest canyon. According to the old men of his pueblo, their people had come into the Middle World through the sipapu of its great kiva, of which their own was but a copy. There the dead were still wont to linger when admitted from the Lower World to the ranks of the Cloud People above.

His way took him high up a wall of porous tuff carved into fins and caves. He crossed a saddle dividing pillar from cliff, and then there it was: a ring of tumbled-down stone squares and circles surrounded by fields long fallow, with squat towers climbing the cliff beyond, and, above these, houses peering like swallows’ nests from the honeycombed rock.

The dark mass of Akihwa loomed over all. A shelf of stone hung over the canyon at the foot of the forest that mantled the mountain. There, it was said, the first man and the first woman had stood to watch their first sunrise. Nimblest of clowns, Awa Tseh reached it in the dark before dawn. He pulled himself over the last ledge and stood there, panting.

Without ceremony, he lifted his loinclout and urinated into the canyon.

Light flickered through the forest behind him. It was too early for dawn, and the light came from the west, not the east. But there had been no thunderstorm that night. He turned. This was no fire. His loins shrank with dread. He had transgressed too far.

Shapes went back and forth in the twilight. Noises sounded both near and far. Then, with a brazen yell, a towering shape that flamed all colors together rushed at him out of the lighted void, brandishing a thousand weapons in its thousand hands.

Clown to the last, Awa Tseh performed a backflip off the ledge. Even as he fell, the infinite in his soul dove down alive to wondrous depths, deeper even than the Lower World, where he saw the multitudinous, omnipresent Spider Grandmother weaving the worlds’ fabric out of nothing.

He was nothing but cinders when he reached the floor.

 

#

 

Pi Tigua opened her eyes. A silent figure stood in a corner of her square room, lit neither by the moonbeams falling through the roof nor by the embers that pulsed on the hearth, but giving off a radiance of its own. It had no eyes, but she knew that it watched her. From afar it watched.

“Go,” she said lowly, sitting up and gathering her blanket around her. “You are not welcome here. You had my father’s answer. It has not changed. Go!”

Her foster-sister Koitseh appeared in the doorway that led deeper into the sleeping house, thrusting the curtain aside with one hand. The apparition vanished. “Again?” she whispered.

“Again,” said Pi Tigua. “He taunts me. Death, destroyer of worlds.”

It was a month now since the strange tidings had come out of the western pueblos: the clown, Awa Tseh, consumed by fire at Inouoyt; almost all his brethren slain in their search for him; a power out of Akihwa that seized the peoples one by one; a sickness fallen on beasts of field and forest. And only three days had passed since the return of the war party led by her father, each survivor shorn of his left foot, her father dead.

Now this bad spirit had begun troubling her.

“Why do you call him ‘destroyer of worlds’?” Koitseh asked, speaking lowly, as though dreading the answer.

“He boasts of his exploits. He travels from world to world, growing more powerful with each one, devising strange dances by which he consumes all life before moving on. He has come now to the Middle World to mine it, and I shall dance the dance, he says, unless I…join him.”

Koitseh stepped down into the room and sat beside her sister. “Why you?”

“He…I do not know.”

For a few moments they sat together in silence, comforting one another. Pi Tigua, mature beyond her years, had only just come of age, and her hair was still arranged in the towering butterfly whorls that marked passage to womanhood. And yet already she was famous, more famous even than Awa Tseh, for the work of her hands, her black-on-black pottery. Her masterpiece, an olla jar the size of a pumpkin, with a horned serpent twisting in a band around its glossy surface, sat beside the hearth.

Koitseh, though older, acted the part of a younger sibling. She had come from another pueblo as an orphan and been adopted into Pi Tigua’s household. She was married now, but her husband was too old to fight.

“What will you do?” she asked.

“What else can I do?” Pi Tigua asked dully. “In the south, it is said, the clans reckon kinship by the mother’s blood, and the household is the woman’s. Here it is not so, nor has it been for many generations. Even if I did resist the Destroyer as my father desired, the people would not follow me.”

“You are wrong, sister,” said Koitseh. “Old women may shake their heads, but our people would follow you to certain death.”

“It would be certain death, with no men but boys left to fight.”

“Will you hear me out, if I suggest a thing to you?”

“What is it?”

“Go to the Corn Maidens.”

“The Corn Maidens!”

“Before the katsina-men with their masks and images came into the Valley, brought here from the west, all the peoples honored the Corn Maidens. There are six of them for the six colors of corn. They resort in the Great Tree of Tschimayo. Before they came to us, the peoples of the Valley wandered from place to place, clothed in bark and eating seeds. The corn we eat now is the Maidens’ flesh, given for the life of the world.”

“Why then did the crops not fail when our people forsook them?”

“They wait patiently in silence. The katsina-men seek to put a face to all things. They want each thing to have a name, to speak in a voice they can hear. But the true things are beyond all naming, beyond all use. The clowns, the delight-makers, remember this.”

“It is said that the Destroyer slaughters the clowns wherever he goes.”

“You see? He fears them because they laugh at him.”

“Some say that Awa Tseh the clown brought this on us. That he summoned the Destroyer from the Lower World, or provoked the Destroyer by his antics.”

“I do not believe it, sister.”

“Koitseh, if I were to let our people know that I go to Tschimayo to consult the Tree, it would be better to have done nothing at all.”

“Then do not tell them. Let us go at once. I know the way well. The night is young. We can reach it by daybreak. But you must take an offering.”

Pi Tigua pointed to the olla jar.

“The beautiful one? You only just finished it!”

“You see? I go in earnest. Help me dress and see to my hair. I will look my best for these Corn Maidens.”

 

#

 

A few hours later they were climbing the eastern foothills. The domes of red rock glowed like big ovens in the warm moonlight, dotted with junipers that aspired like black flames to the golden star-field.

The women had left the village, which stood in the plain amid a menagerie of stone outcrops, without anyone but Okaya, Pi Tigua’s inquisitive young brother, marking their departure.

“Go back to bed, little lizard,” Pi Tigua had told him. “In the morning, tell the people that I have gone to consult in the hills what is best to be done.”

“Koitseh has been telling you some of her stories,” the boy had said.

“Hist! Little lizards are wise to tell what they have been told, and not what they have dreamed in the night. Go now!”

She wore a manta of creamy white cotton embroidered with scarlet along its edges. It passed over one shoulder and left the other bare, a sash cinching it at her waist. A necklace of carved turquoise rested on her breast. The whorls of her hair swept up in two great saucers on either side of her head. She bore her pot on her hip, going barefoot as befitted a supplicant, though miles lay before her.

Koitseh, the taller and thinner of the two, went similarly attired, but with soft leather buskins on her feet. They followed a loquacious, ice-cold stream amid groves of cottonwood. Effigies stood like lone sentinels atop the glowing hills.

“Guardians of the Tree,” Koitseh whispered.

Their way wound up into a deep basin. Even from a distance and at night, Pi Tigua could make out the Tree, a green tower many hundreds of hands high. Its foot, broader than any house, grasped the sandy floor with gigantic, far-reaching roots. From a triangular opening between two living buttresses, a double row of junipers ran up to their path. An ancient pit house with sloping earthen walls and a ladder protruding through the roof stood a little to one side. Dried wreaths and other offerings hung in a shelter of sticks nearby.

“Once, long ago, a man journeyed into the south,” said Koitseh. “There he met a tribe to whom earth was meat and drink. From them he received a seed and a parcel of earth. He returned and buried them here. The Great Tree sprang up, a ceiba, an offshoot of the World Tree, which connects all worlds and admits passage between them. A well of sacred earth lies within.”

“I will speak with the Corn Maidens.”

“Let me rouse the caretaker.”

“If these Maidens are as patient as you say, they will not mind my ignorant ways. We have no time for rites, sister. Stay here or come with me.”

“I…will stay here,” said Koitseh.

Holding her precious pot, Pi Tigua walked down the avenue of junipers and entered the cave of living wood. Black growth groaned all through its pulsing knots and fibers. The sweet rush of life beat like moths’ wings against her face. She descended into a knobby pit with a well of red earth at its nadir, set the pot down, and looked up. The honeycombed cavity reached high up the trunk’s axis.

There were no words; there was no speech. Their speech sank into her mind, their words into the depths of her heart.

Several minutes — hours? — later, she emerged without her pot. There must have been a light in her face, for Koitseh prostrated herself on the ground.

“Did you hear them?” Pi Tigua asked softly.

“Hear? Whom?”

“They said we must hasten to the banks of the Great River and take the southward path. Into the hands of the sixth person we meet we shall put the command of a war party.”

“A party of boys and old men?”

“It shall be composed of all the peoples of the Valley. The Destroyer threatens all. All must join against him.”

“We are to fight, then?”

“We are to fight.”

 

#

 

They skirted their village, reaching the river in the afternoon. Koitseh had left a message with Okaya to prepare for a guest. Now they followed the path down the river’s deepening cleft.

First they met a trader from a distant land. He wore a pack on his back and a hopeful look on his face, not being apprised yet of the Valley’s troubles.

“One,” said Pi Tigua.

Next they saw an old woman come down to get water.

“Two,” said Pi Tigua.

Then they overtook a young couple fleeing the Destroyer. The woman carried a small baby.

“Is that two, or three?” whispered Koitseh.

“The child that has just opened its mother’s womb has no name,” said Pi Tigua. “Two. We are at four now.”

They went on. The shadow of the bluffs crept across the water. They came into a more open place, and saw a stranger making his way up from the south. They retreated to a grove of cottonwoods and peered out from behind the smooth trunks amid showers of white fuzz.

The man’s skin was brown. Not the warm red-brown of the peoples of the Valley, but the glossy brown-black of a buffalo’s bald flank. Black hair hung in tangled locks from his head and, what was stranger still, coarse, reddish hair grew even more thickly on his face. The man went bare-backed, whipping himself betimes with a yucca-fiber thong into which chunks of cholla cactus had been woven. He sobbed, crying out in a strange tongue as the spines ripped at his flesh.

He led a long-necked bird twice a man’s height, a flightless creature with tiny wings and powerful legs. Black feathers formed a back-swept crown above its blue jowls and pink wattles. The women froze, for the bird’s enormous bill and the claws that tipped its toes had a predacious look, and its yellow eyes, though tiny, seemed to catch the slightest movement. But it followed its master docilely enough, loaded down with goods, led by a yucca-fiber halter.

“That is the strangest thing I have ever seen,” Koitseh whispered once the pair was out of sight. The man’s lugubrious wails could still be heard. “Is that…five?”

“Yes,” said Pi Tigua. “Five.”

“You are certain the newborn does not count?”

“Y-yes,” said Pi Tigua.

They waited a few moments, then continued. The path went close to the water now as it skirted a shoulder of stone. Rapids filled the air with spray. The women rounded the bend, and came up face to face with a mad old man playing a reed flute. He took it from his lips and grinned mirthlessly, and they saw that he had no teeth.

Without a word the women glanced at one another, turned, and ran, calling out for the brown stranger with the great bird.

 

#

 

Francisco Carvajal y Lopez, lost son of Borinquén, vagabond of the Tashyan wilds, conquistador in his own mind, had recently turned penitente, mortifying his body for the atrocities he had committed in his bloody search for God, gold, and glory.

After a period of convalescence among the pueblos below the vast escarpment dividing the Valley from the open desert of the south, he had tried preaching for a short time. But his catechism was so ill-remembered and mixed with santería, soldiers’ superstition, and half-understood lore picked up in his travels, and his grasp of the local language so incomplete, that his hearers had merely listened with polite incomprehension and hastened him on his way.

“Bah,” he’d said. “What was I thinking? Am I a bald-pated friar, or a swearing, whoring son of a she-goat?” So, finding that austerity impressed the people where long speeches did not, he had taken up his current mode of life. And it went well with him. Each time a painful memory from his long, rapacious quest came to mind, he scourged himself, and the needling of the cholla spines exorcised the demon.

“Forgive me, Mother Most Amiable,” he groaned aloud, pursuing the river path northward. “It is true that I sought only to follow whither you led. My sin lay in being so presumptuous as to haggle with you once you saw fit to beset me with disasters. Dog that I was, I sought to trade my loyalty for so much gold. True, I did forego my hopes at last. For long months I went forward with no thought of gold whatsoever. But then, on a day I shall forever rue, I found a nugget the size of my fist, and I cursed you bitterly.”

He struck his heart three times.

“For that moment of weakness I have suffered calamities without end, the last of which was my sickness among those mud-villages from whence I have but recently escaped. And now I scourge myself. See my self-punishment, and have pity on me.”

He whipped himself once again. It was to be the last time that day, for suddenly he heard voices. He turned to see two young women running toward him, one with hair arranged in big whorls. They knelt on the path before him.

“What’s all this?” he demanded in the language of the southern pueblos.

“Sir,” said the girl with the whorls, “we beseech you to accept our hospitality tonight.” She spoke the same tongue, though stiffly.

Carvajal struck his breast. “I want no comfort! Do you hear? I want God! I want poetry! I want danger and goodness and sin!”

“But sir,” said the girl, catching his eye, already in possession of the key to his soul, “we offer you a greater danger, a greater punishment, a greater glory than you could ever inflict on yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come with us and find out.”

“What is your name, little girl?” He took her hands and raised her.

“My name is Pi Tigua. I came of age last winter. This is my foster-sister, Koitseh. Ours are the People Who Dwell Among Stone Animals. What is your name?”

“I am Francisco Carvajal y Lopez, but my friends call me Moreno. Is your village far? You two can ride Papagallo.”

“Is that…your bird’s name?”

“Let me muzzle him. He’s tame enough, but temperamental, and can kill with one peck. There. First you. I got him from a man who’d raised him from a chick.”

“What did you trade for him?”

“Nothing. The bird bit his head off. Now you, silent one.” He lifted Koitseh up behind her sister, settling her amid bundles of supplies and weapons. Among more outlandish implements, the women recognized a well-made bow and a quiver of arrows, one of which stood out for its black shaft and raven fletching. “Now, then,” Carvajal said, “tell me the way.”

“Follow the river,” said Pi Tigua, and they set out.

“I came here over the Endless Water, from far in the east,” said Carvajal. “I have followed this river for months. I crossed vast, empty lands in the south, but” — he shook his head, and his soul, seared by the infinite, peered madly through his eyes — “that is a time better not spoken of.

“What is it you want me for, eh? Let me guess. An enemy tribe is going to raid your village. You need someone to pull your menfolk together and fend them off, or you won’t make it through the winter. Am I right? Set your mind at ease. I’ve had experience in such matters.” In his sudden elation, it was easy to overlook the fact that this was, strictly speaking, not true.

“It is a brave man or a foolish one who travels among peoples with whom he has no part,” Pi Tigua said.

Carvajal spat. “I am a half-breed. I have no people. I belong everywhere because I belong nowhere. First I tried to fit in with my mother’s people, then with my father’s, but none would have me. Then I sought to live alone, but that way lies madness. So one day I said to myself, Hell! I’ve got only so long in this world. Now I go around, sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong, not concerning myself with whom I’ll offend, because, after all, I’m certain to step on someone’s toes. I have my own life to live. If someone doesn’t care to make room for me, then that’s their problem, not mine!”

Swept along by the force of his own words, he had begun shouting. Suddenly he realized this and glanced at Pi Tigua. Was there a hint of irony in her eyes? He scowled, but then laughed abruptly. “Eh, that’s how I talk. It’s my way.”

“That expression,” she said. “‘Step on someone’s toes.’ We have no such saying. I like it. That is just what a stranger among a strange people does. He steps on their toes.”

“Well, then, forgive me in advance if I step on yours. I mean no harm. I’m just trying to understand this mad world in which I find myself.”

“My father often said that one cannot look at a thing without changing it.”

“Wise man.” He fell silent a moment, then said, “It were better to drive me out of your land and fight these raiders yourselves.”

“Our path is set, Moreno,” said Pi Tigua.

They emerged upon the high plain and swung toward the east, away from the river, over patches of red earth, through thickets of blue-green sagebrush, across fields of waving grass. The sun sank behind them, throwing their shadows far forward. Akihwa’s black shadow reached out to the Nakaheh Tukeh, the dark mesa to the north. A tiny speck that was no vulture circled high overhead with curious insistence.

The village lay in a hollow amid stony downs dotted with wind-carved outcrops. Its two great houses stood in irregular crescents on either side of a rushing stream, piled three or four levels high in places, red adobe walls flaming against the turquoise evening sky. They had no doors at ground level, and the only windows were tiny openings glazed with sheets of mica. The people stood atop the first tier, eyeing their strange visitor. Carvajal observed few young men.

“You haven’t told me everything,” he said, helping the two women dismount. “The raiders have already been here, haven’t they?”

“My father led a war party against our enemy. Those who survived were suffered to return, but maimed. The enemy demands our obeisance. He could easily crush us, but –”

“Coronado,” growled Carvajal. “Has he been here? A man like me only…not like me. With armor of metal, and riding a hoofed beast. I think he’s dead, but if he’s not –”

“The enemy of my people is no man, Moreno.”

“You had better come out with it,” he growled. But he rejoiced in his heart. Men of flesh and blood filled him with uncertainty, but ultramundane intelligences and demons of the outer dark, which, he had decided, must lurk thick as fleas just beyond the veil of the rational universe, generally proved more tractable.

“All this world is at stake, Moreno,” said Pi Tigua. “Only the People Who Live Among Stone Animals stand between it and utter annihilation.”

She turned from him and spoke long to her people, who were wary of strangers at all times, and doubly suspicious of this bird-riding, self-scourging monster. Carvajal quickly became bored. He didn’t care for speeches in any language, unless he was the one delivering them, and he caught only snatches of the speech of this pueblo.

In a terrace before the larger of the two structures, three circles on the earth marked the perimeter of three kivas, each with a ladder protruding through a square hole in the center. A dog worried a bone in their midst. Carvajal began watching it, hoping to attract its attention.

The dog was very small and very fat, with tawny hair and pointed ears. Carvajal jerked his foot. The dog looked at him. He tapped the side of his leg with his fingertips. The dog looked away. It got to its feet and waddled over to a water-filled gourd. It began to hack, trying to cough up a bone fragment, perhaps.

An old man had wrested the people’s attention from Pi Tigua. He wore an expressionless mask and bore a feathered staff. “More priests,” grumbled Carvajal. “Well, at least they have no auto-da-fé here.” The man began pointing at him. Carvajal returned his attention to the dog.

The dog had begun quivering all over. Its short legs were rapidly lengthening into spindly stalks. Its eyes bulged, its ears fanned into big bats’ ears, and its snout broadened into a crocodile grin. But its trunk shrank to a furry lump, for nothing had actually been added to the animal. An unseen hand had merely shaped it like a potter working a ball of clay. It vomited, expelling a quantity of yellow jelly, and then, doglike, began eagerly gobbling it up again.

All eyes but Carvajal’s were on Pi Tigua. She had just silenced the old man and was beginning a counterargument. No one else noticed the dog’s metamorphosis. It looked now like a giant four-legged spider with the head of a rabid bat. Laconically, Carvajal drew a rust-spotted falchion from among his things on the bird’s back.

The dog shrieked and charged. Koitseh saw it and leaped before her foster-sister, baring her throat, but the dog made for Carvajal instead. His blade flashed, and the dog’s head flew over Koitseh’s upturned face. The body went mad, dancing about like an injured spider. Carvajal kicked it over and pinned it wriggling to the earth, then went over to the head, which was still snapping its jaws, and set his heel on it. The rubbery skull creaked and popped, and bundles of yellow bladders spilled out.

Carvajal looked around at the people. “This kind of thing doesn’t take hold overnight. You’re in trouble, and you all just stand there, haranguing each other. Well, here I am. If you want help, talk to me.”

 

#

 

But they did not want help. Not his help, at any rate. Following the masked katsina-man’s lead, they shut their homes against the vaunting outsider, leaving Carvajal with the two women.

Now night had fallen. Stars peered down into Pi Tigua’s dwelling, a warm, whitewashed room filled with the fragrant smoke of a fire on the hearth. Three bins partitioned with sandstone sheets occupied a corner, each with its mano y metate. A walled-in doorway that had been turned into a shallow cabinet displayed Pi Tigua’s pottery.

Pi Tigua and Koitseh knelt on a woven mat, and Tyope, Koitseh’s elderly husband, reclined on a built-in bench. Okaya, a boy of ten, sat unnoticed in a dark corner, his big black eyes fixed on the stranger. And Carvajal himself sat on a block of wood, munching unconcernedly on a piece of dried pumpkin, his muscular legs sticking out before him like two brown logs.

“Don’t bother your head about it,” he was saying. “They’ll sing a different tune once the fighting begins. By my mother’s beard, I never saw a people so wary of strangers. If I’d gone through an act like that for any of the tribes down south, they’d be feasting me by now. Well, no matter.

“Once, long ago, I saw something similar to that dog of yours. It is a sickness, and passes from beast to beast, or even from beast to man. But in men its effects are different. The head becomes filled with bladders, but the body often does not change, at least not at first. Rather, the spirit is colonized by the one who sent it.”

“Here the sickness flows from the Destroyer, who turns all he touches to his own use,” said Pi Tigua. “This is the first sick animal we have seen here. The men of our war party returned with hints of such things, but a shadow has fallen on them, and they say little. Some have sickened and died; the rest sit silently before their fires.

“The Destroyer appeared one moon ago in Inouoyt, which lies below Akihwa, the mountain where the Cloud People resort before flying over our land. We think he came up from the Lower World. Our tales tell of the time before we ourselves climbed out of the Lower World, and some speak of such destroyers wandering its dark plains.”

“That should not have been spoken before a stranger,” said Tyope.

“So the katsina-men would say,” said Pi Tigua, meeting her foster-sister’s gaze. “Secrecy serves their ends. But in Koitseh’s clan it was not so. Was it, sister?”

“We remembered the Corn Maidens,” said Koitseh, as if that were answer enough. “How can Moreno help us, my husband, if we do not tell him what is needful?”

Tyope stared into the fire. “Then tell him what is needful.”

“And only what is needful, eh?” said Carvajal. “Don’t worry, old man. I won’t spread your secrets. I have little use for priests, but I know that certain matters shouldn’t be prattled about.”

“It was the clown Awa Tseh who first came upon him,” continued Pi Tigua. “The brothers of his kiva found his ashes in Inouoyt. The sickness had spread over the canyon by that time. The clowns were set upon by monsters, and those who escaped sickened and died. Now their people are enslaved by the Destroyer. They labor for him while their own crops wither.”

“What does he set them to?”

“Some dig strange stones up out of the earth. Others labor about his dwellings.”

“Tell him of your dreams, sister,” said Koitseh.

“They are not dreams,” said Pi Tigua. “The Destroyer visits me in the night. He…wants me. Not as a slave, but as a…” She looked away. “As a bride, I think. That is why he does not attack.”

“He is a man, then?” Carvajal asked.

“N-no. I do not know what he is. When he visits me he appears like the dolls we give our daughters at festival time. But I think that is only a shape he assumes to woo me. He is both wise and foolish, and knows not what these things mean to us. He tells me that he has come to our world to consume it. In so doing, he will destroy it, and afterward move on. So he has done for countless ages. He says there are many worlds all lying alongside one another, not merely the three of which our stories speak, and that he has been the death of many.”

“You say this war party of yours was defeated, and yet you want to set me at the head of another. Who will be in it? You three?”

“The other peoples will join us.”

“Why did they not before?”

“We did not have you to aid us.”

He laughed. “All the caballeros of Hispania could not aid you.”

“With an outsider as our leader, no one people can be said to take precedence over another. Only you can bring us together.”

“If you say so.”

“Will you lead us, Moreno?”

He shrugged. “Do I look like a caballero?”

 

#

 

Two days later, clad in the few bits of armor he still possessed, Carvajal strode through thickets of sagebrush and juniper, accompanied by such of the People Who Live Among Stone Animals as were able to bear weapons and had hearkened to Pi Tigua’s slow persuasion. He led Papagallo by a rope, with Pi Tigua and Koitseh seated as before. The sky glowed like polished turquoise, but a sheet of white cloud approached from the north.

“Who are these Corn Maidens?” he asked. “Goddesses?”

“It may be,” said Pi Tigua. “I do not think so. Koitseh knows more. My own people have almost forgotten them. We follow the katsina-men now.”

“Purveyors of foreign gods, I gather.”

“I do not understand the way you use those words. The way of the katsinas was opened to us many generations ago. It puts a name and a face to all things. Some say that it makes the world small. A name is a handle; it can be a tether or a net.”

“If you don’t like it, why don’t you go back to the old ways?”

“What is there to like or dislike? There is a time for begetting, and a time for bearing. There is a time for looking, and a time for seeing. There is a time for naming, and a time for hearing. Of these, hearing is the better part, and seeing, and bearing. When I make my pots, I hear and see and bear. But I do not dislike the way of the katsinas. For it, too, is life.”

Precipices and pillars ringed Nakaheh Tukeh’s flat summit, the only break occurring on the eastern rim, where a swell of land sloped up from the plain. As the People Who Live Among Stone Animals reached its foot, they began to glimpse bands from other villages and the nomadic tribes of the east. Boy runners had spread news of the rendezvous far and wide. For the first time in history, the peoples of the Valley would act in concert.

The clouds slid across the sky as they ascended the grassy slopes, flowing around the crown in dark, wet wads. One by one the bands disappeared into the ceiling. Carvajal stroked his beard as his own group entered. “Is this bad or good, I wonder?” he muttered.

Koitseh’s old husband Tyope acted as guide through the maze of pillars and cliffs, up grassy spits and slopes of scree. Carvajal toiled behind, face beaded with sweat, Papagallo padding on great splayed feet beside him. The darkness deepened. The party peered anxiously around. Some began to whisper that a trap awaited them above.

Then, suddenly, the air turned golden and white, and they emerged from a blanket of drifting fleece onto the mesa’s bare summit, which appeared to float northward like an unchained island in a foamy sea. Snow-crowned Akihwa faced them from the west.

The other bands had begun gathering at the center, where a low outcrop called Meeting Rock stood. Pi Tigua and Koitseh slid off the bird. Their group approached the gathered warriors, who parted before them, staring with studied incuriosity at the man from another world.

From the top of the rock, Carvajal watched as band after band swelled the host. Some men went bare-chested, with embroidered kilts and leather buskins, wearing their hair in tiers, tied at the back with string; others wore only loincloths, and braided their hair or let it flow freely. Most bore bows or small spears. A few had stone axes. None carried the cunning weapons of the southern empires. These were no warlike peoples.

The bands fell silent one by one, waiting to hear what Carvajal would say. “Now,” whispered Pi Tigua.

“Men!” he shouted. “We come here to hold a council of war. Let each band select watchers to stand as lookouts around the mountain’s rim.”

Tyope and Koitseh translated into the different tongues. Those chosen set out from the party. “Report back if those clouds begin to break up,” Carvajal called after them. “I want to see the lie of the land. Why didn’t anyone tell me you have weather like this?”

“We never do, at this time of year,” said Tyope.

“Do you mean to await the enemy here?” someone called.

“And risk being hemmed in? No. We have neither the numbers to defend this place nor the supplies to stand a siege.”

“But the Destroyer holds Inouoyt,” someone else said. “He has the advantage if we approach from the canyon floor, and the paths over the land above are long and winding.”

“We must draw him out,” said Carvajal. “The village of the clowns lies abandoned before us, between Nakaheh Tukeh and the canyon’s mouth. I propose to send a war party up the canyon. Let it be just large enough to take seriously, and composed of the swiftest runners.”

“The plainsmen,” said Tyope.

Carvajal shook his head. “There should be some from all the peoples here represented, so that no one may say his group bore the brunt of the fighting. The war party will engage the Destroyer’s forces, then withdraw. Let them retreat to the abandoned town. There the rest of us will lie in wait, to ambush the Destroyer when he comes in pursuit.”

“And who will volunteer to lead this bait?” asked a voice from the back of the crowd, speaking in the tongue of the southern pueblos. “You, Moreno?”

“Yes,” he said, drawing himself up. Belatedly, the note of sarcasm went home. Shading his eyes, he peered over the crowd. “Shotaye!”

“You are all fools to entrust yourselves to such a man,” said Shotaye, a tall chieftain. “I came from my village to warn you. He spent three months among us, eating our food and drinking our water. He is a filthy layabout, a dog who chases both girls and matrons, a madman who preaches alien gods, and the forerunner of an invading army.”

There was a low rumble as the words passed from mouth to mouth. Carvajal set his hand on the hilt of his falchion, ready to bluster or fight as need be.

“If anyone is a fool,” said Pi Tigua, who sat on a rock at Carvajal’s feet, “then it is me.” She spoke quietly but forcefully, and all fell silent at her words. “And if I am a fool, then it is for following the command of the Corn Maidens, who set my feet on this path. It was they who chose Moreno, not I.”

There was some subdued muttering at this, but the argument had force.

“Don’t worry, Shotaye,” said Carvajal, grinning. “I’ll be the bait. You can join me, if you think you’re man enough.”

“Shit-eating coyote,” said Shotaye. “The only reason I don’t bury my axe in your brain right now is that I am a guest among these people. You stand under their protection. They will remember my words when they find it as hard to get rid of you as we did.”

A lookout approached from the western rim.

“What’s he want?” Carvajal growled.

“He says the clouds are breaking up,” said Tyope.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Carvajal leaped to Papagallo’s back. “Come on!” The sentry led him to the mesa’s edge. The war party, now several hundred strong, streamed after.

Gaps had indeed opened in the cloud-blanket, but they were still ragged and narrow. “I can’t see through that,” Carvajal complained as the warriors bunched up around him.

“Look!” the watcher cried. Everyone followed his gaze. The canyon-carved highlands at Akihwa’s foot rose up from the clouds like a convoluted coastline from a surging sea. In the sky above them, a thing that was like a bird but not a bird became visible, circling and swooping high over where the abandoned town lay. Aside from it and the drifting clouds, all lay still. The quiet was almost palpable.

Without warning, Carvajal bellowed: “The enemy approaches! These are no natural clouds! We hardly have time to prepare!” He set to dividing the warriors into fighting clans, naming them, at Pi Tigua’s prompting, for the colors of corn. “Make a perimeter around the rim!” he cried. “Red Clan to the south! White to the east! Blue west, and Yellow north! Have fires lit. Let all not fit for fighting return to Meeting Rock. Rainbow Clan, guard them. And Black, stay by me.”

They all started running. The clouds began separating into white clots now, only to reveal a sea of ravening beasts that surged up the lower slopes of the mesa to fall like breakers against the base of the tumbled cliffs and spread out to north and south.

Carvajal dismounted. The Black Clan gathered around. Most hailed from Payokone, a southeasterly pueblo experienced in plains warfare, and bore spears or axes. “Get ready to join your ancestors,” he said. “We’re going to make a sortie.”

“Will you not ride your bird?” asked the young Payokone leader.

“I may be a lazy dog, but there are some things I’m not. He’ll fight alongside us. Be sure to give him space.” He strapped a pair of rusty metal spurs to the bird’s legs. “There now. Come, my lusty cock, and come, my war-boys. Let’s sell our lives dearly, eh? It’s a good day to die.”

 

#

 

Moving silently and swiftly, the Black Clan descended the cliffs and pillars to the grassy lower slopes in the east. Keeping the wall close on their right hand, they circled the mesa, south then west. The enemy’s flank came into view as it pushed slowly around the base.

“What is our plan?” grunted the man beside Carvajal.

Carvajal glanced sidelong at him. “Shotaye!”

“I wanted to see what idiocy you intend. Well?”

“My plan is to see how far we can get, cutting a path around the hill, west, north, east.”

“That is a crazy plan.”

“I’m glad you like it! Santiago y cierra, my boys!”

With a war-cry the party surged forward, Carvajal leading the charge with Papagallo. They drove like an arrowhead into the enemy host. Beast after beast reared up before them, compactions of tooth and claw and knotted flesh, prodigies and nightmares born from the sleep of reason. Falchion in one hand, spear in the other, Carvajal cut down all that came within reach, now hacking, now thrusting, shouting in horror and joy. Papagallo stalked at his left, dealing death with kicks and spur-slashes. Shotaye fought at his right, wielding both antler and axe. The Black Clan mowed down their foes like stalks of corn, bathing themselves in yellow ichor. The beasts maneuvered at random, turning only when attacked, and not one man had yet fallen.

“We’ll cut down the whole army at this rate,” Carvajal shouted.

But things changed as they rounded a spur to the western slopes. The mindless host paused in its career, recollected itself, and bent its energies on exterminating the foreign body in its midst. Two of the men fell at once. Seven others were separated and driven into a cleft, where they turned at bay and fought for their lives. The wedge forced itself painfully forward.

Already beasts had begun scaling the cliffs. The defenders above threw them off one after another, but defeat seemed only a matter of time. Arrows and spears whistled by overhead. Big rocks thudded past, hurled from the heights. The spy in the sky swooped this way and that, its many wings spinning madly.

The Black Clan shrank from moment to moment, dragged down by beasts, falling to stray arrows or stones from their friends. A monstrous elk impaled Shotaye on its antlers. With a gurgling cry he brained it and dropped to the earth in a gout of blood. The remaining warriors made a dash for the cliffs, only to be pulled back down and torn apart.

Swearing ferociously, Carvajal sprang on Papagallo’s back, wheeled once or twice, and struck out for the northern slopes, trampling attackers into the earth. He rounded a corner. There the beasts staggered blindly uphill as before, and let themselves be cut down.

 

#

 

He found no sign of Pi Tigua at Meeting Rock. “Where is she?” he demanded.

“Directing the men,” said Tyope. He stood supported by Koitseh, his thigh gored. “She’s with the Blue Clan now. We thought you were dead.”

Carvajal rode to the western rim. Pi Tigua stood on a boulder, quietly giving orders. Yellow and Red had joined Blue, for here the fighting was thickest.

“Look,” she said when she saw him.

Far away, near the abandoned village, Carvajal descried a moving tower like a curved, tapering obelisk. Appendages waved all over its sides. Carvajal took them for men’s arms. “Is it a…siege engine?”

“That is the Destroyer,” said Pi Tigua.

That’s the Destroyer?”

He looked again. The tower was no engine, but a living being, or, quite possibly, both. The appendages were part of Its body, and each bore a different implement: some weapons, some tools, and some devices of a more dubious nature. It roved hither and thither on fleshy pads, shimmering at the center of a rainbow from another universe.

“I told you he was no man,” said Pi Tigua.

“You didn’t say he was one of the anakim.” He scanned the sky. The spy still swooped overhead. “Who are the best archers here?”

“The People Who Live Where the Water Goes Through. In the Yellow Clan.”

“Call them over.”

She did so, and the men gathered around. “Look at that thing flying out there,” said Carvajal. “That is the Destroyer’s eye. Down below, whenever we were out of its sight, the beasts were as leaves blown in the wind. Not until we came under the watcher’s gaze were we attacked. Aim your arrows at it and it alone. The one who brings it down will have songs sung of him.”

Pi Tigua translated. The men set arrows to strings and waited. The watcher remained out of bowshot.

“Damn,” said Carvajal. He stroked his beard.

“What now?” asked Pi Tigua.

“Get all the old people over here.”

She gazed at him. “Why?”

“Do it! Let the Rainbow Clan come with them.”

She sent a runner. The elders soon arrived with their escort.

“Does everyone know what a spider looks like?” Carvajal asked. “A head, a body, six legs?”

“Eight, Moreno,” said Koitseh.

“Eight, then. All you old ones, start gathering rocks. Use them to make a spider-design on the earth.”

“What are you doing, Moreno?” asked Pi Tigua.

“Relay the order. You’ll see. Let the warriors form a perimeter. You hear that, men? Set your backs to the old ones and guard them with your lives. Whatever you do, don’t let that flying thing see what they’re doing.”

Pi Tigua finished speaking. The people just stood there, bewildered. “Go!” roared Carvajal. “Archers, get ready!”

The elders set to work. Carvajal mounted his bird and went stalking back and forth, hurling abuse at them. From afar, the eye appeared to note the intense activity. Closer and closer it came. The Rainbow Clan closed ranks, terrified and uncomprehending. The spy seemed to hesitate for a moment, then shot by overhead, a bulbous eye suspended from a whirling crown of papery, iridescent wings.

“Now!” cried Carvajal. Before the word left his lips, a cloud of arrows left the archers’ bows. Some pierced the watcher’s single eye, others its wings. It faltered and fell, striking the earth and rolling over and over.

Carvajal chased it down and netted it. The thing wriggled like a loathsome fly, watching him inscrutably with its big, glassy lens. He leaped off his bird and came down on the ball with both feet. It crunched and popped. A noxious fluid seeped out.

A cheer went up around the mesa’s rim. The beasts had suddenly given back. Finding that fire now terrified them, the men lit bundles of grass. The monsters hurled themselves headlong from the cliffs to escape the waving torches. Wild with joy, the clans began pouring off after them.

“Stop!” cried Carvajal. “We’ve only won a respite! Now’s the time to retreat!”

No one listened. Even Pi Tigua had descended to the grassy slopes, running with the men in fey exultation. Soon almost all the mesa lay empty.

“Damn,” Carvajal growled. He flung himself on Papagallo and drove straight for the edge. The bird leaped off, fluttering its ridiculous wings, came down on a shoulder of rock, absorbed the shock with bent legs, and leaped again. It landed in a sagebrush thicket and set off at a run.

The Destroyer still strode like a giant before the empty town. As the fleeing monsters came within reach of Its inaudible voice, It hurled them back against the pursuers, driving a wedge of them at Pi Tigua’s disorganized forces. The embarrassed warriors found themselves shouldered aside, leaving Pi Tigua exposed.

The Destroyer advanced. From his vantage point, Carvajal could see little over the confused clots of beasts and men. But when the Destroyer abruptly changed course and, faster than he could have believed possible, beat a retreat toward the canyon mouth; he knew what had happened.

A few moments later he reached the empty town. Pi Tigua was gone.

 

#

 

The path to Inouoyt ran like a river of poison from the bowels of Akihwa. The undergrowth, orange and withered, crumbled into flakes as Papagallo pounded past. Of the trees, nothing remained but blackened trunks. The stream stank and steamed, wriggling sluggishly from one toxic pool to the next, spreading iridescently over congealed deposits of bright yellow and rust-red. Here and there the sandy floor had been melted into cakes of green glass.

Carvajal mounted at last to the saddle between pillar and cliff. The site of old Inouoyt lay below, its plan still discernible in the network of processors, assemblers, and annihilators that now covered it. Steam wafted up from holes. Kilns belched poisonous smoke. A tiered structure like a clockwork pyramid stood over what had been the great kiva. The Destroyer was climbing to the summit, Its fleshy pads rippling up the incline like a starfish’s feet, and Pi Tigua lay limply in Its arms.

Carvajal drove his bird down, scattering human thralls with his cactus whip, and leaped to the earth at the tower’s base. The Destroyer was settling Itself into a receptacle at the apex. The structure came to life, pipes humming and lights pulsing, as though forming a part of the Destroyer’s body. A sphincter opened toward the top, revealing an orifice lined with waving white tendrils. The Destroyer lowered Pi Tigua to it, and the wriggling mass received her.

Carvajal scrambled up the side, cursing under his breath, to find Pi Tigua half swathed in the sticky feelers. He began slashing at them. The Destroyer’s arms waved in a frenzy. The thralls below went mad like ants in a disturbed nest. But the tendrils clung to Carvajal’s blade and skin, and he was hopelessly ensared within seconds. He felt his sword’s handle leave his palm.

A voice buzzed against his eardrums, weirdly high-pitched and mechanical, but forming words in Hispanian. “Why do you impede Us?”

“Do you have to ask?” Carvajal growled, irritated by the tickling in his ears. “Did it not occur to you that we might resent our world being destroyed?”

“The one you call Pi Tigua comes of primitive stock. Their mode of expression is freighted with unfortunate connotations. We express Ourselves in it as well as We may. With you We may be more precise. We are not a destroyer, but a preserver. We are an outthrust nerve of the great God-Brain, sent here to observe, to gain knowledge, and to maintain what is good.

“Pi Tigua possesses the mind of a demiourgos, that is to say, a fashioner, a manipulator. The God-Brain is the true home and destiny of all manipulators. We seek only to withdraw what is essential to her being and bear it back to the God-Brain. Would you obstruct her apotheosis?”

“I would, you damned devil of hell!” Carvajal shouted, having understood little of this.

“Very well,” said the voice, speaking mildly but firmly. “Stand aside.” Carvajal found himself released by the tendrils and tumbled unceremoniously back to the pyramid’s base. The Destroyer went back to Its feeding.

“This calls for the Black Arrow,” said Carvajal. Gently, he drew it from the quiver on the bird’s back. Its black shaft terminated in a razor-sharp obsidian head to which a small a bundle had been tied. A wick of match cord protruded from the bundle.

Pi Tigua had all but vanished now. Carvajal strode over to a foundry, wincing at the heat, and lit the cord on softened metal. It began hissing and popping. He nocked the arrow, pulled the string to his ear, and took aim.

“I have something to say!” he called. He waited, but the Destroyer ignored him, so he went on. “You might very well be a god’s emissary. But, if so, you’re a stupid one! Pi Tigua is no manipulator. She’s a maker! There’s a difference, you know!

“You think her tongue is too simple. In a way you’re right. It leaves no room for your kind of lies. When you say ‘observe,’ she hears ‘ravish.’ When you say ‘protect,’ she hears ‘destroy.’ She heard you clearly enough. The clearest promise of your best intention is a death-threat.”

“If that is the case,” the voice said sweetly, “what does she hear when you speak?”

“She — shit!” The spark had almost reached the pouch. He released the string. The arrow shot in a lazy arc and buried itself among the Destroyer’s clustered limbs. A muffled explosion rocked the tower. The Destroyer sagged to one side. Its arms twitched all over and fell limp. A tarry substance oozed through cracks in Its sides.

Carvajal climbed up to Pi Tigua and drew her gently from the orifice. One by one he peeled the tendrils away. Her eyes fluttered, then snapped open. She stared blankly into the sky.

“Pi Tigua!” he whispered.

She looked at him. “Moreno! For an instant, the Destroyer and I were one! Listen to me! The Destroyer’s heart is also his eye. When his eye opens, this world ends. You must cut it out and bear it to the Corn Maidens!”

“His heart is his eye?”

“It lies at the center of his body, looking out but not up. Go quickly!”

He took up his falchion, which lay where the tendrils had dropped it, and scrambled to the top. He cut his way into the Destroyer’s tissue, finding it something like flesh, something like metal, and something like fresh cheese. Bundles of valves and bladders tumbled out with a stench like boiled cabbage.

Stepping gingerly into the gash he had made, he slashed through a tough membrane, opening an inner coelom. Purple organs dangled down in soft folds like drapes of liver. Pushing them aside, he stepped within, and laid hands on an orb resembling a giant fish egg. It trembled as he drew it from its socket and settled heavily in his hands.

He returned to the edge, falchion in one hand, the Eye in the other. “I have it.”

“Then ride!”

“You must show me the way.”

A moment later they were galloping through the complex, bounding over the slaves who lay where they had fallen, lifeless, after the Black Arrow’s detonation. Carvajal let Papagallo choose his own pace, knowing how far they had to travel. But the walls flowed swiftly past, and they reached the open valley as the sun touched the western peaks behind them. Bands of men gathering the dead for burial and beasts for burning looked up in surprise as they shot past. They circled Nakaheh Tukeh in the red sunset, rested beneath wheeling stars, and went on.

The Eye radiated a strange heat that wearied Carvajal’s flesh. He clutched it ever more tightly, shielding Pi Tigua with his body. They passed into the red foothills and came at last into the vale of Tschimayo. Papagallo stumbled and fell to his knees. Carvajal and Pi Tigua tumbled off.

The ceiba towered luminously in the night. “The Tree,” said Pi Tigua.

Carvajal strode into the mighty bole and made his way down the funnel of roots. The olla jar still sat beside the well of earth. He looked up. Golden light played over the shaft, filtering through the cells that honeycombed it. He set the Eye in the jar, took it up in one arm, and began climbing.

Each cell contained a living diorama, a moving, palpable picture. As he ascended, he realized that these were images — or perhaps more than images — of actual events in other worlds, junctures of crisis or tragedy. All the universe in its myriad strands groaned as with the pains of labor, birthing monsters from many wombs.

He saw worlds like his own. In one, a Hispanian army slaughtered the nobles of a golden empire in a green vale amid high peaks and clouds. In another, Cortés somehow conquered Meshico instead of glutting its hungry altars, abetted by perfidy and disease.

In a third, a lake like lay like a sapphire in a jade bowl, streaked with whitecaps and clouds. A fierce female warrior, distorted by the warping of space, clung to the inside (or was it the outside?) of the cell. The haughty curve of her lineaments marked her a daughter of the southern empires; a single long lock hung over her ear from an otherwise shaven crown. For a surprised moment they gazed at one another. Embarrassed, Carvajal held up the pot and grinned. “Its heart is its eye,” he explained.

The space shifted, or Carvajal did, and she vanished, giving way to a man like a plains warrior stalking panther-like through an emerald glade, with a breastplate of bone, a buffalo-hide shield, and a warpaint-daubed broad face. Then he, too, moved out of sight.

Other cells might have looked into the remote past or the remote future. A race of nudibranchs colonized jungles from the sea, raising black basalt altars beneath a bright sky, while things like giant bats wheeled overhead. An avian race warred with ophidian sorcerers as both regressed into bestiality. A black, coleopterous people rolled giant rubies beneath a dark blue sky strewn with stars. In this last, one of the great beetles plainly saw him, and he went hastily on.

At last he came to a cell that held only night. He pushed the Eye toward it in its receptacle of clay. The pot seemed somehow to fall away from him and fly off into space, though still enclosed by the cell. There was a flash, and an inexorable force pulled the hollow in on itself. The tree shuddered, groaning in every fiber, and the opening, fused shut, wept tears of red sap through its seam.

 

#

 

Carvajal stood in a dim place, a black earthen vortex beneath a starless sky. A shimmering web reached across the pit, and a crystal Spider sat upon it, attended by six figures that he could never afterward describe. A figure like a man sat cross-legged before them, barred black and white, hair drawn up in two crazy tufts. A Presence brooded over the web, turned in on itself, pondering, dreaming.

The Spider spoke to his understanding: “So you are the one who shielded Our beloved, she who sings with her hands. It was she who unknowingly attracted the Brain of Ogo, she and her brother in spirit, the clown at Our feet. The Brain chose your world before far richer ones, for It succumbs to cosmic lassitude, and seeks to fill the void by assimilating those who have what It lacks. Wise fool!

“In thrusting the Eye through the Tree, you saved your own world and destroyed another. But unless the seed falls to the earth and dies, there can be no new life. The Eye began the collapse of that world into the primal germ, formless, lightless, but not dead. By now, many turns have been added to the coil of its new life.”

For an instant, Carvajal glimpsed a space furled in a grain of corn. It exploded like a kernel on a hot stone, streaked with albumen whose clots of white fire danced in its expanding folds.

Gradually, he became aware that he clung to knotted wood with his eye to a chink in the bole. He drew back and shook himself, his vision of the Spider flowing away from his mind like a dream upon awakening. The cells all lay dark, empty. He had a slight nosebleed. “Damn,” he said, sniffing.

He slid down to the well and took up a morsel of earth. Moved by an impulse he did not understand, he swallowed it. It tasted much as he might have expected, though it had a curious substantiality, and seemed to relieve the strange weariness brought on by the Eye. He went out.

The People Who Live Among Stone Animals had come, led by Koitseh. They knelt before the Tree in silence. No one noticed Carvajal’s emergence. He strode silently through their midst. Pi Tigua rose and saw him then, but said nothing.

Carvajal had intended to live with them, perhaps permanently, but Shotaye’s words still stung. In one day he had saved a world, destroyed a second, and given birth to a third. He didn’t know what effect his presence would have on the pueblo, but he suspected that it wouldn’t be good.

He mounted Papagallo and took up his whip of thorns. After a moment’s hesitation, he rode over to the pit house. He noticed the mask of the katsina-man among the other offerings in the shelter. He hung his whip beside it and rode away down the valley, fingering his fish-bone rosary.

Behind him, a wail went up as the Tree began falling to pieces.

 

______________________________________________________

Raphael Ordoñez is a mildly autistic writer and circuit-riding college professor residing in the southwest Texas hinterlands, eighty miles from the nearest bookstore. His short stories have appeared in several magazines, and his paleozoic adventure fantasy novels, Dragonfly and The King of Nightspore’s Crown, the first two in a planned tetralogy, are available from Hythloday House. He lives in a rickety old house with his wife and three children, within sight of the grave of a famous gunfighter, and blogs about fantasy, writing, art, and logic at Cosmic Antipodes.


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