A pause seemed to interrupt the roar momentarily and my stomach dropped. I had reached a waterfall in the jagged canyon, and I was now in the dark air with all that debris, dropping quickly into the twisting slots. The fall felt forever. Then with a slam and explosion of pain the trunk caught like a bone in the stone throat of the tight, and the branch in my foot cracked off. Again I was falling, this time into swift waters that followed the initial violent front of the flood.
For a while I was under, while my lungs craved to explosion beneath the coffee-stained boil of black. I could not force my eyes to open, against what I knew would be stinging, sandblasted grit. After several crumpling impacts with the canyon and large debris, I dropped once more into a free fall. This one stretched even longer, and with the added mathematical horror I calculated the velocity, terrified.
I dropped and dropped, first resisting the sheer scream at the back of my nerves. Then I succumbed to it, bellowed aloud. I yelped as loud as my howl would allow. My hand was stung with poison through the palm and now my foot was punctured; these stigmata should have seemed suspicious but all I had within me was a scream.
The sound stretched out behind my fall, chasing me down and scattering long echoes into every corner and crack. It became an eagle’s cry, a trilling flute, and then I struck the water, where my scream pushed back the drowning boil until I could resurface. Heavy shapes pounded past beneath me, and driftwood all but choked the top. I drew my arms up to protect my face and pulled in a burning lungful of dawn. I held like this and bobbed downstream with the churning logs while the sunrise hid just beneath the rim.
The canyon widened out and water slightly slowed. Gradually the steep walls dropped until I reached a shallow flood-plain stretching for miles. Looking out I saw no sign of civilization- no gas stations, houses, not even a rusting junker abandoned in the wastes.
Across this space, from behind the far rim of redrock hills, something began to emerge. Heralded first by an enormous tentacle of energy that uncoiled into the sky, a blinding curvature crept up, bulging like a blister on the skin of space. Around its rim flared curls of fire, jets that stretched away for what seemed miles, coiling back like slow lightning returning to ground. As it continued to expose its radiant surface, these coronal discharges were lost in the overpowering glare of the thing itself.
My pupils shrank against the blast of light. This was no sunrise, I knew, and this was not the sun.
It rose like a predator, eating the night and consuming the stars in the sky. It was a hissing ball of golden light, an enormous jittering flare. It dripped gleaming liquid that spattered on the desert flat. Blocking the bulk of the unbearable glare with a hand, I could discern feathery plasma around the orb which spread like wings on either side. This image resounded in a memory, of history and hieroglyphs engraved in stone. It was the winged wheel of a gone time, the sky-chariot of a dead god. Its glare was frightening, and eerily familiar. It grew larger as it moved across the hardpan, gaining on my position with sudden intent. The wings at its side flexed and spread feathers. Hot slag sizzled out of the light, leaving a trail of fresh glass in the desert behind.
With breath caught in my thickened throat, I choked back awe and fear, held my ground even as my own blood fled from my face and fingers. My eyes were wide and rimmed with dirty tears, pupils minute in a sea of bloodshot white. My mouth was dry and my teeth crunched grit as I bit back my fright. Of all the wonders and horrors I had seen in this land of delirium, this single presence was the apotheosis, the stunning summit of all I had ever dreamed. It reached me in some interior sense, and awoke some dormant organ akin to my heart and mind, a third eye in my flat region of forehead. This bright in my eyes, including this newfound third, was a beam of information, a communiqué from far inside that searing orb to the deepest part of me. It stuttered out eons, whispers of history, of ages gone and those to come; of orbits, rotation, ecliptics, and drift.
As it neared I could hear its noise; a dim hum composed of one part sound and nine vibration, lower than audible but felt in the teeth and chest. The sizzling drips fell with the dying hiss of frying snakes. It was enormous, larger than any aircraft, and yet it gave no impression of mass. Energy scintillated like a second skin across the unseeable hull of bright, and the feathering wings were gossamer phased with gold. Intermittent sparks cascaded over the sphere, forming odd geometries. Then it slowed and stopped, hovering a few hundred yards away. Again it spoke, in broken words, of prayer, intention, and the treasure of knowledge. It existed at the behest of its pilots, given form by their current desires, and thus shone bright like a winged sun, a star chariot. It dominated the sky and chattered out those hissing, warding sparks.
While I watched from behind the safety of a boulder, the sphere itself began to slightly dim, and the sparkling lines and forms that danced on its surface revealed themselves to be complex sacred symmetries. The whirling runes and ley-lines revolved and spun down, until I could see that what had appeared as a sphere was actually a pair of pyramids overlapping to form a star. This star tetrahedron, counter-rotating in on its self-intersecting spin gave the illusion of a solid, spherical shell. At rapid speeds the energy that seeped from the centrifugal pull were drawn out into this whirling shell, much like the trail of electrons will form a basic, resistant sphere as material’s inner workings spun in orbits unseen.
Now slowing, I could discern that within those great, spinning energy fields there were shapes caught in half-shadow. I could tell little about these distant figures save that they were alive, moving with purpose.
The wings of the sky chariot spread to their limit, then collapsed in a fold as the two pyramids spun to a halt. Balanced at their base, they seemed less substantial than a dream. It lowered, until the discharges from its field lit the sand beneath it. As everything slowed, that sand patch cooked, and within minutes a thin disk of new glass had formed just below.
The roar of energy and force wound down to an oscillating whine, then died to a moan, a ghost of a hum, and within minutes, gone. Everything grew very still. Nothing crept through the wire-like desert scrub. Nothing sang songs at the dying night.
With a shuddering chuff a bright slit lined the lower edge. The light that came through was like a sheet of blue glass, a wide cobalt laser that grew taller as a panel slid silently up on the half-seen hull.
One by one emerged the processional of figures that I had seen in my dream the night before. In the dream I watched as they danced, demigods that seemed half animal dressed in armour of hammered gold. Did that not foretell of their intrusion into my waking life? Now here they were, emerging from some mystical craft and coming towards the very canyon that had just spat me out.
Behind me the water had slowed, over the initial flash stage, and it was more like a thin, snowmelt stream than the monster river roaring me over and out through the night. My body had been punished, to some unknown interior limit. My mind was the same, in a state of shock, its pain receptors blown and cohesive logic formed only on occasion.
I took an inventory of damages before looking back at the bright exit and what was making use of it.
The being in front carried something in its hands that shone white light around them. It sparkled off of bronze scales, golden feathers. Strange eyes shone from each.
Among the column I recognized an eagle, a lizard, a bat.
From the pages of myth and tabloid these beings strode, each one an agent of some animal-human composite. I saw the jackal-headed Anubis striding from that glowing portal, and behind him a host of slave-beings in tow. They drug unearthly burdens behind in their tracks, ransom that this god of death had once succumbed to. All these being bore a weight of glamour, a sheen of wealth unheard of on our world or the next. The creatures wore armour of gold, silvered inlay studded with precious stones. Even from where I hid I could tell that a great deal of their power was derived by a sublimation of precious metals and gemstones. They had magic, of a sorts to be certain. Where these animal men actually the demigods of legend? I did not at that time know.
I watched as the line stretched out, more and more of these breathtaking beings stepping through that tetrahedral port. Skinwalker, Manitou, Mars and the Lord all seemed to emerge from that slit in reality that formed about the counterspinning shapes. I dreamt and yet was awake, hypnotic in the grip of the sheer force of might that shone from these creatures. They had dominion, I felt this and still do. They had rights to this world that no man could grasp, only kneel and succumb to. A lump formed deep in my throat as one by one all the gods I knew stepped from the Mer-Ka-Ba chamber.
The feature each one shared is that they heaved under a burden, a weight of obvious treasures and chests whose contents remained more anonymous than their struggling trouble to carry.
By me they all walked, and I crawled to the deepest dark of the shadow I could find. Quiet as they were to noise, I crept into a hole in the sand that dipped beneath the stone. From there I peered at the brilliant parade, reminded of times as a child, in dream-parks all night and the young misunderstanding of prayer.
I could not believe the rattling procession of metal and bone that corrupted and blessed the narrow corridor of stone. That was the crack that had minutes before thrown me headlong away from the crags and bone-shattering quicks of a flash flood. Now the processional thundered up, through the mud and across slicks I hoped to circumvent.
At that time I knew that I must be here to witness this, it could not be heat-induced delirium. I was here to note that Gods still rode their chariots across our skies. They still fought in the cloudbanks above us and let thunder discuss their eternal struggle with anyone who would hear. They hammered in the waterfall at the back of a cave, they howled with the crying beasts who mourned beneath the moon.
Before me strode forms I had seen only in pictograms, strange beings of shadow on stone, and a herd of ghost buffalo thrummed lumbering through with buckskinned braves behind them. It was a stampede of a sort not matched before by the crashing pressure of flood. This flood of energy spanned the breadth of space, expanded time, and erased moments wasted in the grasp of disregarded pasts.