“Behold, this dreamer cometh . . . let us slay him . . . and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
Six travelers across time encounter a mysterious city, and are forever changed. Is it a place of illusion, a hidden dream, or a path to redemption?
A star warrior goes into the city on a planet where souls disappear. A healer sings the songs in his heart but to his village he is a demon–he seeks the walled city of his dreams as sanctuary. A modern physicist looks at the city as a world of high towers, filled with corruption, where power and money are gods. A young Chinese couple fear imminent attack by marauders and escape into the desert and mountains to find the crystal city they believe is their refuge.
For Enya, the narrator, the city was once a utopia. It is lost to her, a place that now appears to her only in visions when she listens to cylinders of ancient music. Within the music are songs, voices from many dimensions, the others telling her their stories. Her life becomes intertwined with theirs and the borders of time shift.
Who is she, the voices ask?
I listened to the music again today, the old cylinders that Radha left behind. Most of them have dried out in the desert air, so I’m left with three I can count on. I went to the clearing where there is a circle of boulders and a cave set into a rise in the land. I walk to it each afternoon, step inside the circle of stones and feel a change, the same each time, a feeling that is strange, in a way, as if I had only the sense of a single moment, each one at once, so that I always stay longer or for a shorter time than I think. The cave is worn at the edges with the floor inside beaten down until it has become hard. I keep thinking I must enter and explore it before the weather gets too cold.
Sometimes I stay there until dusk and sit on the day-warmed sand and watch the desert. If the twilight haze is heavier than usual, a blue and mauve indigo, the sand seems like a sheet of white silk in the distance. Less often, a trick of the light, the strewn rocks and brush merge before my eyes and I see the city again, as it once was, rising out of the darkening plain. Memory is a deceiver. Or is it something else? In that circle there seems no room for deception. Do I create the city, so that it is there, after all, because it is what I want to see?
I set up the cylinders on one of the boulders. It was early, too hot for me, but I needed to listen. “Each voice has a name, someone is singing, each one alone, and that is what you will find, the separate sounds, but in time you will see them together, at once,” Radha said, as she gave the entire collection to me.
“What about you?” I asked her, “What will you do without these?”
“I have the sounds, now,” she answered, tapping her head and her heart “and I can listen to them whenever I want. As it will be with you, when you’re ready.”
The cylinders were all in order, and meant to be known in sequence, but that’s impossible now. There is only the third one, the fifth, and the last one, the seventh, which I’ve never opened. I took the third one today, and laid it down on the rock, one end facing west, as she had told me to do. “Make it a ritual,” Radha said, “to help you listen. Otherwise, it is too easy to think of something else and miss a phrase. Even a single note can change all the rest, if it goes unnoticed.”
I still don’t know what she meant. The sounds are sweet or filled with passion or hardly felt, and sometimes seem to me without purpose, and there are a lot of notes that I miss. Yet I find if I let too much time pass, there is a restlessness, a yearning, even, to hear them again.
The harmonies move into the air one at a time and join at a point beyond me, invisible convergence, and what had been whole notes vanish, fused together into another, unfamiliar cadence. The voices come first, or seem to, and then I think they are instruments after all, for what voice could reach and move in swelling waves like the soaring wings of an eagle in the noon sun? Yet how quickly the notes fall back to me, whispering, sliding around and through the spaces between the random stones, but always circling back to me. When it is over, each time, I feel a loss. Because I haven’t listened well enough, Radha might tell me, if she were here.
At night the light is soft in my single room. The arch of the window looks out on the blackness that grows deeper beyond the reflection of the lamp. I hear the wind only, no creature calls. I use a feather I found on the ground as my pen, though there are other tools here. The slight scratching sound it makes on the paper soothes me, like hushing a child.
Tell what you know, Radha declared often. And I answered that I could only explain what I remembered. “No,” she insisted, “Tell what you know.”
I am not sure that the words I choose are the right ones, but they are the only ones I have.
When I resist my own voice, I go again to the clearing and open the third cylinder and I listen to the others and through their voices I see their worlds. Through them I begin to understand. Yes.
Book categories: Metaphysical/Science Fiction