her walls?

I stood by the pasang stone, trying to understand. I was confused, uncertain. Now that I had not seen the lights of Ko-ro-ba, as I would have expected, it struck me more forcibly that I had not even seen the lights of peasant cooking fires glowing in the hills surrounding the city, or the torches of rash sportsmen who hunt the sleen by night. Yes, and by now I should have been challenged a dozen times by Ko-ro-ba' s night patrols! A monstrous chain of lightning exploded in the night about me, deafening me with the shock and roar of its thunder, splitting the darkness in violent fragments, breaking it to pieces like a clay bowl struck with a hammer of fire, and with the lightning, the storm descended, fierce cold torrents of icy rain whipped by the wind.

In a moment I was drenched in the icy water. The wind tore at my tunic. I was blinded in the fury of the storm. I wiped the cold water from my eyes, and thrust my fingers in my hair to force it back. The blinding fury of the lightning like a whip of electricity struck again and again into the hills dazzling me for an instant of crashing agony, then vanishing again into the darkness.

A bolt of lightning shattered on the road not fifty yards before me. For an instant it seemed to stand like a gigantic crooked spear poised in my path, luminous, uncanny, forbidding, then vanished. It had fallen in my path. The thought crossed my mind that it was a sign from the Priest- Kings that I should turn back.

I continued forward and stood where it had struck. In spite of the icy wind and rain I could feel the heat of the stones through my sandals. I raised my eyes to the storm, and my spear and shield, and shouted into the storm, a defiant puff of wind hurled against the forces that seemed arrayed against me.

'I am going to Ko-ro-ba!' I cried.

I had hardly moved another step when, in a flash of lightning, I saw the sleen, this time a fully grown animal, some nineteen or twenty feet long, charging toward me, swiftly, noiselessly, its ears straight against its pointed head, its fur slick with rain, its fangs bared, its wide nocturnal eyes bright with the lust of the kill.

A strange noise escaped me, an incredible laugh. It was a thing I could see, could feel, could fight!

With an eagerness and a lust that matched that of the beast itself, I rushed forward in the darkness and when I judged its leap I lunged forward with the broad- headed spear of Gor. My arm felt wet and trapped, and was raked with fangs and I was spun as the animal squealed with rage and pain and rolled on the road. I withdrew my arm from the weak, aimlessly snapping jaws.

Another flash of lightning and I saw the sleen on its belly chewing on the shaft of the spear, its wide nocturnal eyes unfocused and glazed. My arm was bloody, but the blood was mostly that of the sleen. My arm had almost rammed itself down the throat of the animal following the spear I had flung into its mouth. I moved my arm and fingers. I was unhurt.

In the next flash of lightning I saw the sleen was dead.

A shudder involuntarily shook me, though I do not know if this was due to the cold and the rain or the sight of the long, furred, lizardlike body that lay at my feet. I tried to extract the spear but it was wedged between the ribs of the animal.

Coldly I took out my sword and hacked away the head of the beast and jerked the weapon free. Then, as sleen hunters do, for luck, and because I was hungry, I took my sword and cut through the fur of the animal and ate the heart.

It is said that only the heart of the mountain larl brings more luck than that of the vicious and cunning sleen. The raw meat, hot with the blood of the animal, nourished me, and I crouched beside my kill on the road to Ko-ro-ba, another predator among predators.

I laughed. 'Did you, Oh Dark Brother of the Night, think to keep me from Ko-ro-ba?'

How absurd it seemed to me that a mere sleen should have stood between me and my city. Irrationally I laughed, thinking how foolish the animal had been. But how could it have known? How could it have known that I was Tarl of Ko- ro-ba, and that I was returning to my city? There is a Gorean proverb that a man who is returning to his city is not to be detained. Was the sleen not familiar with that saying?

I shook my head, to clear it of the wild thoughts. I sensed that I was irrational, perhaps a bit drunk after the kill and the first food I had had in several hours.

Then, soberly, though I acknowledged it as a superstition, I performed the Gorean ritual of looking into the blood. With my cupped hands I drank a mouthful of blood, and then, holding another in my hands, I waited for the next flash of lightning.

One looks into the blood in one' s cupped hands. It is said that if one sees one' s visage black and wasted one will die of disease, if one sees oneself torn and scarlet one will die in battle, if one sees oneself old and white haired, one will die in peace and leave children.

The lightning flashed again, and I stared into the blood. In that brief moment, in the tiny pool of blood I held, I saw not myself but a strange face, like a globe of gold with disklike eyes, a face like none I had ever seen, a face that struck an errie terror into my heart.

The darkness returned, and in the next flash of lightning I examined the blood again, but it was only blood, the blood of a sleen I had killed on the road to Ko-ro-ba. I could not even see myself reflected in the surface. I drank the blood, completing the ritual.

I stood up, and wiped the spear as well as I could on the fur of the sleen. Its heart had given me strength.

'Thank you, Dark Brother of the Night,' I said to the animal.

I saw that water had gathered in the concave side of the shield. Gratefully, I lifted it and drank from it.


I began to climb now.

The road was familiar, the long, relatively steep ascent to the crest of that series of ridges beyond which lay Ko-ro-ba, an ascent that was the bane of strap-masters of caravans, of bearers of burdens like poor Zosk, the woodsman, of all travellers afoot.

Ko-ro-ba lay in the midst of green and rolling hills, some hundreds of feet above the level of the distant Tamber Gulf and that mysterious body of water beyond it, spoken of in Gorean simply as Thassa, the Sea. Ko-ro-ba was not set as high and remote as for example was Thentis in the mountains of Thentis, famed for its tarn flocks, but it was not a city of the vast plains either, like the luxurious metropolis of Ar, or of the shore, like the cluttered, crowded, sensuous Port Kar on the Tamber Gulf. Whereas Ar was glorious, a city of imposing grandeur, acknowledged even by its blood foes; whereas Thentis had the proud violence of the rude mountains of Thentis for its setting; whereas Port Kar could boast the broad Tamber for her sister, and the gleaming, mysterious Thassa beyond, I thought my city to be truly the most beautiful, its variegated lofty cylinders rising so gently, so joyfully, among the calm, green hills.

An ancient poet, who incredibly enough to the Gorean mind had sung the glories of many of the cities of Gor, had spoken of Ko-ro-ba as the Towers of the Morning, and it is sometimes spoken of by that name. The actual word Ko-ro-ba itself, more prosaically, is simply an expression in archaic Gorean referring to a village market.

The storm had not abated but I had ceased to mind it. Drenched, cold, I climbed on, holding my shield obliquely before me to deflect the wind and make the climb easier. At last on the crest I waited and wiped the cold water from my eyes, waited for the flash of lightning that after these long years would reveal my city.

I longed for my city, and for my father, the magnificent Matthew Cabot, once Ubar, now Administrator of Ko-ro-ba, and for my friends, the proud Older Tarl, my master-at-arms, and Torm, the cheerful, grumbling little scribe who regarded even sleep and food as part of a conspiracy to separate him from the study of his beloved scrolls; and mostly, I longed for Talena, she whom I had chosen for my companion, she for whom I had fought on Ar' s Cylinder of Justice, she who had loved me, and whom I loved, dark-haired, beautiful Talena, daughter of Marlenus, once Ubar of Ar.

'I love you, Talena!' I cried.

And as the cry parted from my lips there was a great flash of lightning and the valley between the hills stood stark and white and I saw the valley was empty.

Ko-ro-ba was gone!

The city had vanished!

The darkness followed the flash of lightning and the shock of the thunder shook me with horror.

Again and again the lightning flashed, the thunder pounded in on me, and the darkness engulfed me once more. And each time I saw what I had seen before. The valley empty. Ko-ro-ba was gone.

'You have been touched by Priest-Kings,' said a voice behind me. I spun about, shield before me, spear ready.

In the next flash of lightning I saw the white robes of an Initiate, the shaven head and the sad eyes of one of the Blessed Caste, servants it is said of the Priest-Kings themselves. He stood with his arms in his robe, tall on the road, watching me.

Somehow this man seemed different to me than the other Initiates I had met on Gor. I could not place the difference, yet it seemed there was something in him, or about him, that set him apart from the other members of his caste. He might have been any other Initiate, yet he was not. There was nothing extraordinary about him, unless perhaps it was a brow somewhat more lofty than is common, eyes that might have looked on sights few men had seen.

The thought struck me that I, Tarl of Ko-ro-ba, a mortal, here in the night on this road, might be looking upon the face of a Priest-King. As we faced on another, the storm ceased, the lightning no longer shattered the night, the thunder no longer roared in my ears. The wind was calm. The clouds had dissipated. In pools of cold water lying among the stones of the road I could see the three moons of Gor.

I turned and looked upon the valley in which Ko-ro-ba had lain. 'You are Tarl of Ko-ro-ba,' said the man.

I was startled. 'Yes,' I said, 'I am Tarl of Ko-ro-ba.' I turned to face him.

'I have been waiting for you,' he said.

'Are you,' I asked, 'a Priest-King?'

'No,' he said.

I looked at this man, seeming to be a man among other men, yet more. 'Do you speak for the Priest-Kings?' I asked.

'Yes,' he said.

I believed him.

It was common, of course, for Initiates to claim to speak for the Priest-Kings; indeed, it was presumably the calling of their caste to interpret the will of the Priest- Kings to men.

But this man I believed.

He was not as other Initiates, though he wore their robes.

'Are you truly of the Caste of Initiates?' I asked.

'I am one who conveys the will of the Priest-Kings to mortals,' said the man, not choosing to answer my question.

I was silent.

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