Chapter Excerpt

Lord of Light

Chapter One

It is said that fifty-three years after his liberation he returned from the Golden Cloud, to take up once again the gauntlet of Heaven, to oppose the Order of Life and the gods who ordained it so. His followers had prayed for his return, though their prayers were sin. Prayer should not trouble one who has gone on to Nirvana, no matter what the circumstances of his going. The wearers of the saffron robe prayed, however, that He of the Sword, Manjusri, should come again among them. The Boddhisatva is said to have heard ...

He whose desires have been throttled,
who is independent of root,
whose pasture is emptiness --
signless and free --
his path is as unknowable
as that of birds across the heavens.
-- Dhammapada (93)

His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Maha- and the- atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god.Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit. Silence, though, could.

Therefore, there was mystery about him.

It was in the season of the rains ...

It was well into the time of the great wetness ...

It was in the days of the rains that their prayers went up, not from the fingering of knotted prayer cords or the spinning of prayer wheels, but from the great pray-machine in the monastery of Ratri, goddess of the Night.

The high-frequency prayers were directed upward through the atmosphere and out beyond it, passing into that golden cloud called the Bridge of the Gods, which circles the entire world, is seen as a bronze rainbow at night and is the place where the red sun becomes orange at midday.

Some of the monks doubted the orthodoxy of this prayer technique, but the machine had been built and was operated by Yama-Dharma, fallen, of the Celestial City; and, it was told, he had ages ago built the mighty thunder chariot of Lord Shiva: that engine that fled across the heavens belching gouts of fire in its wake.

Despite his fall from favor, Yama was still deemed mightiest of the artificers, though it was not doubted that the Gods of the City would have him to die the real death were they to learn of the pray-machine. For that matter, though, it was not doubted that they would have him to die the real death without the excuse of the pray-machine, also, were he to come into their custody.How he would settle this matter with the Lords of Karma was his own affair, though none doubted that when the time came he would find a way. He was half as old as the Celestial City itself, and not more than ten of the gods remembered the founding of that abode. He was known to be wiser even than the Lord Kubera in the ways of the Universal Fire. But these were his lesser Attributes. He was best known for another thing, though few men spoke of it. Tall, but not overly so; big, but not heavy; his movements, slow and fluent. He wore red and spoke little.

He tended the pray-machine, and the giant metal lotus he had set atop the monastery roof turned and turned in its sockets.

A light rain was falling upon the building, the lotus and the jungle at the foot of the mountains. For six days he had offered many kilowatts of prayer, but the static kept him from being heard On High. Under his breath, he called upon the more notable of the current fertility deities, invoking them in terms of their most prominent Attributes.

A rumble of thunder answered his petition, and the small ape who assisted him chuckled. "Your prayers and your curses come to the same, Lord Yama," commented the ape. "That is to say, nothing."

"It has taken you seventeen incarnations to arrive at this truth?" said Yama. "I can see then why you are still doing time as an ape."

"Not so," said the ape,whose name was Tak. "My fall, while less spectacular than your own, nevertheless involved elements of personal malice on the part of -- "

"Enough!" said Yama, turning his back to him.

Tak realized then that he might have touched upon a sore spot. In an attempt to find another subject for conversation, he crossed to the window, leapt onto its wide sill and stared upward.

"There is a break in the cloud cover, to the west," he said.

Yama approached, followed the direction of his gaze, frowned and nodded.

"Aye," he said. "Stay where you are and advise me."

He moved to a bank of controls.

Overhead, the lotus halted in its turning, then faced the patch of bare sky.

"Very good," he said. "We’re getting something."

His hand moved across a separate control panel, throwing a series of switches and adjusting two dials.

Below them, in the cavernous cellars of the monastery, the signal was received and other preparations were begun: the host was made ready.

"The clouds are coming together again!" cried Tak.

"No matter, now," said the other. "We’ve hooked our fish. Out of Nirvana and into the lotus, he comes."

There was more thunder, and the rain came down with a sound like hail upon the lotus. Snakes of blue lightning coiled, hissing, about the mountaintops.

Yama sealed a final circuit.

"How do you think he will take to wearing the flesh again?" asked Tak.

"Go peel bananas with your feet!"

Tak chose to consider this a dismissal and departed the chamber, leaving Yama to close down the machinery.He made his way along a corridor and down a wide flight of stairs.He reached the landing, and as he stood there he heard the sound of voices and the shuffling of sandals coming in his direction from out a side hall.

Without hesitating, he climbed the wall, using a series of carved panthers and an opposing row of elephants as handholds.Mounting a rafter, he drew back into a well of shadow and waited, unmoving.

Lord of Light. Copyright © by Roger Zelazny. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
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