Sunday afternoons in the Cranston household were traditionally a quiet time...literally. As part of both spiritual discipline and psychic training, Lamont Cranston had decreed when his two children finally learned thought projection that no one was to speak with their physical voices after Mass on Sundays until after sunset. The first person to break the silence had to buy dinner for the rest of the family that night. And though both of Lamont's children were now college age--nineteen-year-old daughter Lane and twenty-one-year-old son Lamont II--they both still lived at home, and had to abide by the household rules. So, four people sat in the living room in total silence--Lamont reading the paper, Margo stitching a sampler, and Monty and Lane working on homework--as a fire crackled in the fireplace and a steady spring rain fell outside.
Four sets of eyes darted about the room, looking at the other three. Somebody's about to have to buy dinner, Monty commented.
Probably you, Lane returned. I'll bet it's your Irish lass Annie.
Margo, the only telepath in the room who wasn't a natural projector, shook her head. It still amazed her that both her children had inherited not only Lamont's strong projective nature, but his natural gift for mimicry, even with their mental voices. Lane had wrapped her psychic tongue around an Irish brogue to imitate the accent of Monty's girlfriend, Anne Mulroney. It could be for you, too, she reminded her daughter. That handsome psychology professor you've been studying with, perhaps?
Lane glared at her mother. Mother, please.
The phone stopped ringing. Then, the click of heels on the marble floor indicated Andrew, the majordomo of the house, had entered the room. "Excuse me, Mr. Cranston, but there is a telephone call for you."
Everyone looked Lamont's way. Looks like dinner's on Dad, Monty commented.
Not necessarily. Lamont turned to his butler. Tell them I'm not here and take a message.
Andrew, long used to his employer's psychic powers and the weekly projective exercise, shook his head. "The gentleman on the line is calling from Darjeeling, sir, and was insistent that he speak with you immediately. He said to tell you that Gyatso Kasha needs to speak with you about an urgent matter."
Lamont dropped his paper, and all color drained from his face.
Margo immediately reached out a hand to her husband. Lamont? What is it?
Lamont could barely remember how to project. He once more looked at Andrew. Gyatso Kasha? Are you certain that's what he said?
"Absolutely, sir. I asked him to repeat it twice so I was certain of the pronounciation."
Margo clutched Lamont's hand tightly. She'd already read her husband's mind to pick up what was troubling him so, and now she looked shocked. Are you certain that's who it is?
He nodded, then took a deep breath to gather himself. I'll take it. Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew bowed respectfully, then left the room.
Lane and Monty looked at each other. Lamont Cranston was the very model of strength, power, and composure. Even at sixty-one, he was still carrying out the mission he'd been given as the price for his redemption years ago, still terrorizing criminals as The Shadow, though Monty and Lane were now working alongside him, learning the techniques and skills that would enable them to carry on their father's mission when Lamont could no longer continue. To see him this shaky was unnerving, to say the least. And neither knew what could chill their father like this.
Lamont took one more deep breath, then reached for the telephone. "This is Lamont Cranston," he said into the receiver.
"This is Dr. Bernard Coxswain," the voice on the other end replied. "I'm chief of the Darjeeling Refugee Center on the Tibet-Sikkim border. Sorry to disturb you, sir, but a group of Tibetan monks just arrived a few hours ago. We've been checking them over--some of them were quite ill--but one of them, an older monk named Gyatso Kasha, kept insisting that he needed to contact you..."
"Is he all right?" Lamont cut him off.
A pause, as if the doctor hadn't expected such a strong reaction. "A bit worse for wear, but in good condition, compared to some of the others in his party."
"Let me speak to him."
"Of course, sir. He's right here."
Another pause. Lamont could hear the short wave microphone changing hands, and a headset being slipped on. Then, a voice Lamont hadn't heard in thirty-two years. "Lamont?"
Lamont gasped, as if he'd forgotten to breathe for a minute. Then, he responded, incredulity in his voice. "Marpa Tulku?"
Lane and Monty exchanged another look, this one stunned. Marpa Tulku? they both asked almost simultaneously. Both of them knew who Marpa Tulku was, and the significance of him in their father's life--but a Tibetan monk calling here?
Lamont could almost hear a smile in the voice coming from the other end of the conversation. "It is good to hear your voice again."
"And yours." Lamont crossed himself quickly and gave silent thanks for more evidence that The Lord did indeed answer prayers. The growing conflict in Tibet over the past few years, with reports coming out of China that the Red Army was destroying temples and other religious institutions in their effort to obliterate an entire way of life in that independent region, had worried him tremendously. Just today he had found himself wondering if his old master was still safe as he read yet another story of renewed clashes between Tibetan civilians and Chinese Military near Lhasa. "I've been reading the reports...keeping up with the news...are you all right?"
A hesitation, then weariness in the monk's voice. "We are safe. It has been a long journey."
Lamont's mind drew a quick map of the region, and realized how far from Mount Kailasa the monks of The Temple Of The Cobras would have had to travel to reach Darjeeling. A two-month journey on foot, easily, he realized. And through the mountains in winter..."Are you sure you're all right, Tulku?"
Another hesitation. "I am as well as can be expected, Lamont. More importantly, most of us made it out of Tibet alive." Another pause. "And given the circumstances of the past few years..."
Lamont's blood ran cold. Protecting and training the gifted adepts of Tibet, protecting the secrets of the ancient monks who saved The Temple Of The Cobras from attack generations earlier by clouding the advancing armies' minds to its presence, guarding the temple itself...all of that was Marpa Tulku's sacred mission. And conducting it in the face of the horrors of the assaults on the rest of that country had to have taken a great deal out of his master. "Tulku, I'll be there before the week is out."
Another hesitation, then humility filled the voice on the line. "I cannot ask you to come here..."
"Of course you can. But you don't have to. My life belongs to you. I could no more refuse to come to your aid than I could stop breathing. Put Dr. Coxswain back on the line."
Lamont could almost hear the monk bowing in gratitude. "Thank you, Lamont."
"You're more than welcome. Get some rest, Tulku. You've earned it."
"There is nothing earned in this lifetime, Lamont. But I am quite tired." A pause. "I will see you soon. Here is the doctor again."
The sound of headset and microphone being switched again came through the phone, then the British-accented voice he'd heard first came back on the line. "This is Dr. Coxswain," the man said.
"Doctor, are you aware of who your newest refugees are?"
"No, sir. Should I be?"
"The man I just spoke with is The Marpa Tulku, one of Tibet's highest-ranking spiritual leaders. Whatever he asks for, whatever he needs, give him. I will guarantee you will receive more than enough compensation, supplies, and whatever else you need to replace what you will use. Do you have a point of contact in the United States, or the U.N., working with your camp?"
"Yes, sir--Benton Hartcourt, a member of the U.N. Humanitarian Council. He's also been working with various governments around the world on finding homes for these refugees. They are clearly fleeing genocidal conditions, and something must be done for them."
Lamont smiled. Hartcourt was a long-time agent. It was always good to have friends in high places. "All right, I'll get in touch with him. Do whatever it takes to see that Marpa Tulku and his students are taken care of. I'll have replacement supplies shipped out there shortly."
"Thank you, sir."
"No, thank you. I appreciate your call. Good-bye, Doctor."
"Good-bye, Mr. Cranston."
Lamont hung up the phone. For a long moment, he sat quietly, disbelief and wonder in his expression.
The Tulku's alive? Monty finally asked.
Lamont nodded. Thankfully, gloriously, yes.
But I thought the Tulku who taught you is dead, Lane noted.
That incarnation is. Lamont smiled slightly. Tibetan Buddhists believe in the concept of passing the Dharma--the knowledge of one generation passes to the next, the one known as the Dharma Heir. Each generation of Marpa Tulku knows when he has met his successor, and trains that successor to uphold the duties required. Then, when the master dies, his successor inherits all his knowledge directly. He fought back emotions. Gyatso Kasha was the successor to my teacher. We trained together. He was pretty jealous of me. It wasn't until I was almost ready to leave that we made peace with each other. A slight laugh. My God, that was almost thirty-two years ago. He was just a kid then--fourteen, fifteen at most.
That makes him 46 or 47 years old, Margo realized.
And that's old, for a Tibetan. Especially if you've hiked through mountains in the dead of winter to escape the advancing Red Army.
You said something about going over there?
Lamont nodded. He needs me. I don't know what I can do for him, but you should have heard the need in his voice. I could almost feel it.
Margo gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. Don't sell yourself short. He's scared. He had to organize his students and flee his homeland--probably on a moment's notice. He crossed brutal mountains in the dead of winter, probably lost some students along the way, and now he's in a foreign country in a refugee camp, exhausted and probably ill. He's got to be terrified. Of course he would need his finest student by his side. She put aside her stitching. When do we leave?
He looked at her. I can't ask you to go over there...
Yes, you can. I'm your wife. Whither thou goest, I will go, remember? I'm not letting you go over there alone. Besides, I'd love to meet the man who saved my husband's life. She patted his hand. So make plane reservations for two...
Three, Monty added.
Four, Lane finished.
Now wait a minute..., Lamont began.
I don't want to hear it, Monty interrupted. Remember us, the ones who are in training to do what you do? You think I'm going to pass up a chance to meet your teacher?
What he said, Lane agreed. If we're both going to take on your mission, we need to understand that mission. And who better to explain it than the man who gave it to you in the first place?
You two have school, Lamont noted.
So we'll miss a couple of weeks, Monty replied. We'll explain to our teachers that we were observing current events close up.
The point is, we're going as a family, Margo stated firmly. We're Cranstons. We're bound together by a gift we all share--and that we all owe in some way to The Marpa Tulku. And I want to meet the man who started it all.
Lamont sighed. There was no time to waste in argument. Then I'm off to The Sanctum. We've got a lot of work ahead of us over the next few days.
Five days later, a Land Rover bumped up a winding mountain pass, its engine laboring, as it led a caravan of supply trucks to the Darjeeling Refugee Center. It had taken almost three million dollars and as many agents as Lamont could find in the supply chain to get customs cleared and supplies ready for transport to the remote protectorate in the northeastern portion of India. But it was done, and now much-needed food, blankets, and medical supplies were on their way to help the camp deal with the influx of Tibetan refugees.
"How much farther?" Lamont asked the driver, an Indian refugee camp worker named Rajanee Supha who'd come in to Delhi to meet them.
"About another five miles," Supha replied. "Difficult going in this terrain."
"At least we're not walking it like the refugees are."
"True. How so many of them survived the journey, I will never understand."
Lamont felt his blood run cold. He knew those Tibetan mountains firsthand--how difficult they were to cross, how brutal the winter weather conditions could be. Few trees and grasses to burn for warmth, always the danger of treacherous ice floes and unstable snow caps that could tumble into avalanches, thin air which made breathing difficult--the obstacles were enormous. The man he'd known as Marpa Tulku could survive anything--in fact, he seemed to thrive under adversity. But a man in his late 40s, accompanied by students he would inevitably feel responsible for, fleeing an army bent on their destruction...Lamont found himself wondering whether anyone was strong enough to survive under those conditions.
And then there was The Marpa Tulku himself. When Lamont had last seen him, he was a fifteen-year-old senior initiate named Kasha. Kasha was moody, arrogant, competitive, childish, and rebellious--in short, everything a tempermental fifteen-year-old normally was, Lamont had discovered after raising two children. But he was also an incredibly gifted receptive telepath who had made great strides in his projective abilities before Lamont's departure in 1927--strides that were due at least in part to Marpa Tulku putting the two of them head to head, forcing them to push each other farther and make each other stronger for the missions they would each have to take on. Kasha and Lamont had moved in less than a year from tutor and student to rivals to equals, forging an uneasy peace before Lamont's return to America. In the 32 years since, Lamont had heard from this incarnation of The Marpa Tulku exactly once--when the monk sent an initiate to warn Lamont of impending danger from another rogue student--and Lamont was not at all certain he would even recognize the man who now bore the name of his old master. But at the same time, he could not turn away from his old master in a time of need...no matter who it was who had summoned him.
Margo clutched Lamont's hand tightly as they sat side-by-side in the front seat of the Land Rover. In the nearly 26 years they'd known each other--the last 23 as husband and wife--she had seldom seen him as nervous, as tense, as worried as he was right now. They were psychic soulmates, yin and yang, the strong projector and equally strong receptor joined together forever. He had brought out her psychic powers, strengthened and polished her strong receptive side, taught her the techniques of thought projection, and gave them a closeness few other couples could ever hope to achieve. Their two beautiful, smart, strong, psychic children were testimony to the depth of their love for each other--and their skills at being the parents each wished they'd had growing up. Now, in what had to be one of the most emotional moments in his life, Margo once again reached deep inside herself and found the strength to be the calm center for her beloved husband. He's fine, she reassured. We'll be there soon enough. Relax.
Lamont put his arm around Margo and pulled her close. Have I ever told you that I would be absolutely lost without you? he mentally spoke.
A few times. But I never get tired of hearing it.
They moved to kiss.
Hey, hey, hey, Monty's mental voice called from the back seat. None of that mushy stuff here. There are children present.
Lamont looked in the rear view mirror at his son. In my day, children were seen and not heard.
Kind of hard to be heard back in the days before spoken language, Lane teased.
Lamont gave them a mock scowl. Watch your tongue or I'll hit you with my cane.
Everyone laughed nervously.
"There it is," Supha said. "Just ahead."
The family looked forward.
A ramshackle village of tents and makeshift buildings appeared just over the horizon. Conditions already looked dreadful, and they were still a distance away.
The color drained out of Lamont's face. From spoiled rich kid to bloody barbarian to repentant initiate to master of darkness, Lamont had lived many different lives in many different lands. But he could not even imagine trying to exist in these conditions. Escaping to here had to be better than staying behind and being slaughtered by the Red Army. But not by much.
Supha looked over at him. "Don't feel bad," he offered. "That was my first reaction to seeing the camps, too. Most of the camps along the border grew out of the temporary villages the escaping Tibetans made for themselves. Trust me, this is an improvement over what was here."
Lamont nodded. The mission now was to offer what help he could to his old master. He had to keep focused on that. He had to be that tower of strength that Marpa Tulku had been for him so many years ago. Nothing else mattered. He kept reminding himself of that as the convoy drew ever nearer to their destination.
Supha pulled to a stop near a more sturdy building. "Supply building," he remarked. "Last stop on this ride. The hospital where your friend will most likely be is that large tent ahead."
"Thank you," Lamont offered. He opened the side door, then helped Margo out.
Monty and Lane climbed out of the back seat of the vehicle, and then the four Cranstons stood together. Ready, Dad? Monty asked.
Lamont nodded. As ready as I'll ever be. He took Margo's hand, then led the way toward the hospital tent.
What they saw when they reached the tent and went inside was a sight they were not prepared for. Row after row of beds filled with sick and dying Tibetans, young and old alike, met their gaze. Frostbite, starvation, disease, war injuries--there was nothing not represented. The few doctors and nurses present were moving from bed to bed, offering what little comfort they could to most of the patients.
Lane cringed. Monty looked away. Margo buried her face in Lamont's shoulder. Lamont forced himself to look straight ahead, forced himself to look for any sign of his old master.
An older gentleman approached them. "Mr. Cranston?" the man said in a British-accented voice.
"Yes," Lamont said, recovering his senses. "Dr. Coxswain?"
"Indeed." The two men shook hands. "I just heard we're getting a delivery of supplies. None too soon, I must say. A group of Tibetan nuns arrived late last night. We're absolutely overrun, and short on everything."
"There's more coming," Lamont stated. "This was just what I could get shipped out immediately." He turned to his family. "Dr. Coxswain, my family--my wife Margo, my son Monty, and my daughter Lane."
Coxswain shook hands all around. "Sorry for being so abrupt with you...I can't thank you enough for your generous donations. Trust me, everything will get put to good use."
"Glad to hear it. Is Gyatso Kasha in here? I would very much like to see him..."
Lamont froze at the sound of that voice in his head. Then, he looked around frantically.
Across the tent, a man in his late 40s, with the wisdom of the ages shining from weary eyes, crossed toward him. The placid, calm smile on his face belied the deep emotions welling within him.
Lamont was having less success keeping his emotions in check. Marpa Tulku, his mind whispered as he began closing the distance between the men.
Teacher and pupil met in the center of the room. Then, Lamont knelt and bowed deeply before his master.
Monty and Lane stared. Never in their lives had they seen their father so humbled. But the incredibly strong psychic power flowing through the room helped them understand why almost instantly.
Rise, please, The Tulku said, having trouble keeping his mental voice calm as he took Lamont's hands and practically pulled him to his feet.
For a long moment, the two men stood face to face, clasping hands, unable to focus their thoughts enough for even rudimentary psychic conversation. Then, they embraced tightly, as if neither could believe the other was real.
Margo began crying softly. Lane embraced her mother, letting her own tears flow.
It is so good to see you, Marpa Tulku told his prize student.
I never gave up hope that I would see you again, Lamont replied. Never.
I am certainly glad one of us did not.
You taught me that anything is possible...and nothing is impossible.
You always did take your training seriously. The two men pulled back to look at one another. Marpa Tulku looked amazed. You are so different from the last time I saw you.
Lamont couldn't help but laugh. So are you.
Ah, yes. The Tulku looked himself over. One of the disadvantages of changing bodies every generation is that former students have a difficult time recognizing you.
And 32 intervening years have a way of adding to that difficulty.
The Tulku nodded his agreement. But on you, they look just fine. A gentle smile. I am so glad you are here. Thank you for coming.
Lamont smiled. I don't know what I can do for you. But I'm at your service, for however long you need me.
The Tulku glanced over Lamont's shoulder. I see you did not come alone.
Lamont smacked himself in the forehead. Where are my manners? He looked back and gestured for his family to join him. Marpa Tulku, may I present my family--my wife, Margo...
Margo curtsied to the monk. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Marpa Tulku.
The Tulku nodded respectfully to Margo, then looked at Lamont. A female adept. Rare indeed. Did she learn her projective skills from you?
She's a quick study. He looked to Monty. My son, Lamont the second...
Monty bowed before his father's master. I'm honored, Marpa Tulku.
The Tulku nodded respectfully. Like father, like son.
Lamont couldn't help but show parental pride. He has all of my good qualities--and, hopefully, none of my bad ones. He looked to Lane. And my daughter, Lane.
Lane executed a deep curtsying bow. It's a privilege and an honor, Marpa Tulku.
The Tulku nodded. Another female adept, with the strength of both her parents.
The closest thing to a balanced adept in the Cranston family, Lamont agreed.
You trained them?
As well as I could. He shook his head. I'm still no teacher.
Monty felt something sweep into his mind, something so powerful it nearly floored him. A second later, Lane felt a similar rush of psychic energy. Each put a hand to their temples in awe.
The Tulku swept out of their minds, then turned a smile of pride to Lamont. You underestimate yourself. They are quite well-polished...and very strong.
Lamont looked away modestly. Their strength I take no credit for. What they've learned from me, they've learned because they wanted to. He smiled at his children. They want to continue my mission. Why, I'll never know, but they do.
Dr. Coxswain came over to the group. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Mr. Cranston, but we need some help over in the women's ward. Mrs. Cranston, if you or young Miss Cranston could possibly spare us some time..."
"Of course," Margo replied. "Come on, Lane. Let's leave these men to talk."
Lane looked at her father. Think loudly if you need us, Dad. Then, she gave a curtsy to The Tulku and followed her mother out of the tent.
Monty longed to stay and talk with Marpa Tulku. But he sensed his father needed time alone with his old master. Think I'll see if they need help unloading the trucks, he said. Call if you need me, Dad. He bowed respectfully to The Tulku, then headed out of the tent himself.
The Tulku turned to his former student. Your son is most perceptive.
Lamont nodded. He was looking forward to meeting you.
But he understands that you would like some time alone with your teacher.
Lamont nodded again. I feel so selfish.
The Tulku shook his head. Old friends need time to get reacquainted. We have not seen each other in 32 years, and you want to share your accomplishments with me. I am honored that you still hold me in such esteem.
Lamont couldn't help but laugh, astounded. You're joking, right? Of course I hold you in high esteem. Why wouldn't I? I owe you my life. I owe you everything.
Another smile, this one the mysterious smile of knowledge that hid more than it revealed. You have learned so much on your own...skills that I could never have given you here. And you have conveyed those quite well to your wife and your children.
I did my best. Any advice or assistance you could give my children would be most appreciated...when you feel up to it, of course.
An indulgent smile. I am much better than I was when we spoke five days ago. I have had time to apply a tumo summoning...and time to offer thanks for the safety of this camp. Just changing back into robes has helped the spirits of most of my students greatly--we have been wearing peasant clothing to avoid detection for months. He gestured toward a far tent flap. There is a small temple just across the camp from here. I have been staying there since my arrival. Come--we can talk there.
Teacher and pupil left the tent together.
Our teacher missed you greatly, Marpa Tulku told Lamont as he poured boiling water into a teapot and steeped some leaves wrapped in cloth in the pot. Literally, he did not come out of his chamber the day you left. A sigh. He prayed for hours on end, until he knew you were safely through the poppy fields. Kasha was very confused.
Lamont found it intriguing that Marpa Tulku referred to his former identity in the third person. But, then, Lamont tended to refer to The Shadow as another person as well. Part and parcel with maintaining a sense of self amid the duties of the mission, he supposed. That first day riding through Ying Ko's poppy fields was one of the most terrifying things I've ever been through, he replied. I hadn't realized I'd have to pass that way, and knew that you probably did know it and just chose not to tell me so that I'd be forced to face my past head-on again. And I was really angry about it. He shook his head. But it made me stronger. And that was the whole point. I'd have to handle myself on my own when I got to America, and I'd have to face down my past on my own. It was a good lesson.
The Tulku poured tea for the two of them, then joined Lamont on a prayer mat on the floor. The water here is not very clean. One must boil it to avoid getting sick from it. The doctors here know that, but many in the camp forget to properly cleanse their water before drinking it, so dysentery is quite prevalent here. Thus, this tea is very hot. Let it cool for a bit.
Lamont nodded his thanks and spent a moment inhaling the steam off the cup. It felt good in the cold air of the mountains around them. Then, he took a sip. Mm-m. Darjeeling black tea.
I specifically asked for some. Dr. Coxswain was quite surprised. Normally, refugees who come into the camp ask for butter tea almost as soon as they get here. But I know you do not like the taste of it, so I asked for something you might like better.
Thank you, Kasha... Lamont immediately stopped the thought, then bowed his head in shame. I can't believe I did that. Marpa Tulku, I am so sorry...
The Tulku put his hand under Lamont's chin and lifted it. Look at me.
Lamont lifted his eyes.
It has been years since anyone called me that name. It is almost refreshing to hear. A gentle smile. You need not apologize. I am, after all, not The Marpa Tulku you remember. Not physically, anyway.
Lamont looked awed. But mentally...I could never mistake those thoughts, that power, that voice. I can't believed I slipped up. He thought for a moment, then spoke again. How does it feel? Do you feel different than you did when I knew you as Kasha?
Very different. A wistful smile. Kasha was insufferably arrogant, self-centered, and rude. It is a wonder none of his students tossed him off the mountain. But he grew a great deal after you left. A deep sigh. As Kasha, I was quite jealous of you. You had everything. You were strong, powerful, with a projective mind that on its weakest day could still outstrip mine. And you had Marpa Tulku's full attention...and you flaunted that status openly. There were times I wished you would just go away so things would get back to normal. But when you left, I realized how much I missed you. I missed rising to the challenge you presented. I missed the sound of your voice ringing through the temple when you would accomplish some new feat. But I knew I would never be able to live up to you in Marpa Tulku's eyes. I can assure you that not a day went by that our teacher did not think of you in some way. He prayed for you daily, spoke of you constantly, missed you sorely. I could not compete with your memory. No one could.
I never meant to hurt you, Lamont told the man before him.
I know that now. But I did not then. And it took a month before I felt strong enough to broach the subject with Marpa Tulku. Another wistful smile. I felt so foolish after I learned what my mission was. To think that I had expended so much energy being jealous of you, when I should have been using that energy to learn patience, humility, and dedication to my training. I begged Marpa Tulku's forgiveness for my arrogance and hubris. He told me he forgave me...as long as I learned something from the experience. Believe me, I did. Three months later, I learned hypnotic mind clouding, completing my initiate training. I was ready to learn the real skills of being the chosen servant of adepts, the chosen protector of the ancient secrets, the chosen guardian of The Temple Of The Cobras.
How long did it take?
Three years. Three long, hard years. But when it was over, Kasha sat at Marpa Tulku's right hand, training students, testing adepts...and choosing candidates for redemption. He took a sip of his tea.
Lamont felt himself shaking. Kasha chose Khan.
The Tulku nodded. Kasha truly believed he was redeemable. Marpa Tulku did not. But Kasha convinced him otherwise, and so Khan was brought into our midst.
Lamont looked stunned. Why? Could you not sense how completely evil he was?
I could. But Kasha drew strength off that raging anger, and thought it could be tamed. What Kasha failed to consider was that Shiwan Khan could naturally sense arrogance, and was drawing strength from Kasha as well. An ironic smile. It still amazes me that Kasha believed you were completely unredeemable but was willing to take a chance on Shiwan Khan. It was a hard lesson in humility.
Lamont forced himself to remain calm. But was it a lesson Kasha had to learn at the cost of the twentieth Marpa Tulku's life?
The Marpa Tulku learns to not fear sacrificing his own life. It is, at times, beneficial for the greater good that he do so. But that does not mean he must not do everything he can to avoid placing himself in that situation. Another ironic smile. In your case, facing down the anger with calm strength and confidence worked. In Khan's case, it was exactly the wrong thing to do.
Lamont looked at The Tulku for a long moment, trying to calm his emotions, feeling the energies coming from his former master filtering through the air...and seeing the difficulty the monk was having in conveying all of this to him. Any anger he felt was quickly drained away by the sheer humility coming from the man before him. I am sorry, Marpa Tulku. Forgive me for questioning you.
Of course I forgive you. You have a right to be angry with Kasha. Believe me, Kasha was very angry with Kasha. A hard sigh. For a while, Shiwan Khan had us all fooled. He was eager to learn, eager to grow, eager to know everything. And Marpa Tulku attempted to encourage him along by telling him about you, about your transformation from the dark Ying Ko to the powerful Shadow. But our teacher sensed he was losing Khan shortly after Khan learned to mind cloud. He could sense the building arrogance and anger becoming a threat. One morning, our teacher sent Kasha to town with a new senior initiate. He told Kasha that The Marpa Tulku would have to deal with Khan and set him on the right path, or lose him to darkness. A slight tremble in the monk's hands, as if still unnerved by the memory of that last day. I failed. I failed as Kasha to recognize the threat and stay behind to help our master. And I failed as Marpa Tulku to stop that raging evil. Khan ripped Phurba out of our teacher's control and ran it right through his heart, then stole Phurba's stand and many treasures and ran away. Somehow, our teacher hung on until Kasha returned. Kasha wanted to go after Khan, but our teacher convinced him not to. "It is out of our hands now," he said. Then, we clasped hands, he breathed his last...and I became Marpa Tulku. And it was as if there had been no other. At that point, I realized that it was out of my hands. There was only one person who could stop Khan, who could drive his dark and shadowy evil into the light, where it could not survive. A smile of pride. I had faith that my finest student could handle the challenge. And my faith was not misplaced.
Lamont looked away, embarrassed. You might not have been so proud of me had you actually witnessed the struggle.
The Tulku gave him a stern glare. I told you years ago that you would never be able to rid yourself of your darkness. I also told you that the temptations in your world would be strong, and that you must never forget the consequences of failure. You faced your darkness, and the temptations presented to you, with courage and conviction...and you were able to overcome them. A sympathetic smile. I know it was difficult for you. You had to handle emotions you had not expected to feel and still maintain your strength in the face of those emotional reactions. I seem to recall Kasha giving you a lesson in that years ago.
Lamont gave a chuckle at the memory. Senior initiate Kasha had taunted junior initiate Lamont about his arrogance and overconfidence, attacking both verbally and physically, finally forcing Lamont to strike back in anger. Kasha retaliated, and Lamont defended himself with the quickness and reflexes he had been learning from Marpa Tulku, finally lifting the senior initiate into the air with one hand and tossing him aside like a rag doll, then bowing respectfully to him and returning to his chores. Only afterward did Lamont learn that the whole situation had been a carefully-crafted lesson in maintaining control in the face of emotional reactions. I must admit to drawing upon that lesson quite frequently. Maintaining my self-control during all of that was very hard.
Especially when you learned Khan had stolen Phurba...and how he had managed to do so.
Lamont nodded. I had never been so angry. When he bragged how he had killed... An ironic laugh. I almost said "how he killed you".
An indulgent smile. It is difficult to separate the generations. In my mind now, there is no separation. The life experiences of twenty previous generations mingle with the current one. But each student usually only sees one generation. So, your difficulty is not unexpected. He paused. One of the difficulties I face is that I remember all the things I did before my enlightenment. Kasha was very cruel as a student and a teacher, arrogant and rude...especially to you. After the passing of the Dharma, I saw you in an entirely new light...how you struggled with your past, how hard you worked, how respectful and grateful you were for your second chance at life. And I felt very ashamed of all Kasha had said about you, done to you, felt toward you, and more. A deep breath. So, I apologize to you, Lamont, for all Kasha said and did to you. You did not deserve that kind of treatment.
Lamont looked taken aback, and it took him a moment to find his mental voice. Thank you, Tulku, but you needn't apologize to me. We all do things in life we regret. Believe me, I am well aware of that. But I am honored that you felt you could share that with me. I know it's a burden you've probably carried for years.
Marpa Tulku took a deep breath, then sat up straight. And I will forever bear the burden of my mistakes. But I truly believe all things happen for a reason. It was necessary for our teacher to die so that Kasha could begin his mission--and grow in knowledge and wisdom. It was necessary for Shiwan Khan to escape from us and come to America to face you--so that you could find the strength within yourself to fight back against your darkness, fight the temptation to misuse your gifts, and to allow others into your life. The Tulku fought back emotions. And it was necessary to leave Tibet so that the knowledge and secrets of the masters could be saved for future generations.
Lamont reached across and took his teacher's hand. I'm so thankful you're safe. You don't know how much I've worried about you. Not a day's gone by in the past few years when I've not wondered if you'd managed to survive the day. And every time I'd read a story in the papers about another uprising in China, I'd get chills. I am so grateful you're here, you're away from the dangers, and that I got a chance to see you again after all these years.
The Tulku gave his student's hand a squeeze. As am I. Even 32 years later, I can assure you that not a day goes by where I do not pray for your safety, speak of your accomplishments...and miss your presence. Seeing you again has been an answer to prayer, a blessing that I hope I am someday worthy of receiving.
I'm honored. Believe me when I tell you that you made that much of a difference in my life as well. A pause. What happened to make you finally flee, though? What was the last straw? This war's been going on for what, eight or more years now? Why did you leave when you did?
A deep breath, as if gathering strength. I did not want to leave. I was willing to stay behind until the very end. The very first Marpa Tulku set the example for all of us on sacrificing self for the greater good of the region; the twenty-first could do no less. I had sent many students away--Sato, who became one of my finest teachers, established his own monastery near the border with Nepal, and many of my students were sent there to continue their training in safety--but there were still over 100 monks and initiates who stayed behind to continue their training and defend their home. A shiver. Every temple around us was destroyed. I learned of the deaths of many of my former students, now monks and priests in temples throughout Tibet, during this time. But because of the blessings of the gods and the great gift they bestowed on The Marpa Tulku twenty generations earlier, we were able to protect The Temple Of The Cobras and save it and its residents from destruction.
Lamont now understood the weariness in The Tulku's features. He knew from personal experience that the constant use of hypnotic projective telepathy was physically and mentally exhausting even for a natural projector like himself. But Marpa Tulku was a receptive telepath, albeit with strong projective tendencies. To have been constantly clouding and concealing the temple from eyes below and above for over eight years... How much help did you have?
Enough. Throughout that time, I had around twenty or so students who could mind cloud. The number varied as students left and other students rose to take their place. Most of the burden fell upon me, but that is as it should be. Another deep breath, drawing strength to continue. Two months ago, His Holiness The Dalai Lama came to The Temple Of The Cobras. Naturally, I was deeply honored. He, however, had come on an urgent mission, and ordered me to read his mind. I did...and his thoughts told me that the Red Army had discovered they had missed a temple in their purge. Because it kept disappearing from view, however, they were unsure of its exact location. But ten regiments were on their way to the region to find and destroy the temple--and would be there in a day. We would have to leave immediately. He told me to take the Darjeeling pass and it would lead us to Sikkim, where several Tibetan refugee camps were already set up. He told me that the survival of the secret was more important than the survival of the structure, and that I had to get to safety. Then, he looked at me and said simply, "I was never here." And, as quickly as he came, he left.
He was afraid he was being followed.
A valid fear. There were Chinese spies everywhere...soldiers in every town...airplanes constantly on patrol...you took your life into your hands if you chose to leave your home. My students had to go to the market in peasant clothing so as not to betray that there was still a monastery nearby. His Holiness took a great risk to come in person.
But had he not come, you would have stayed behind.
Yes. It was my duty to do so. That is why His Holiness came personally to order me to leave. No matter how powerful The Marpa Tulku or his monks become, one cannot disobey His Holiness. Within three hours, we packed everything in the temple on horses and wagons and left under cover of darkness. And I never looked back. That was two months ago, almost to the day.
How many of you left that night?
One hundred and five, including myself.
How many made it here?
A pause. Ninety-five. A sip of tea to gather strength again. Five of those did not survive the first night in the camp. Another ten are seriously ill. But most of us are recovering well from the long journey. I am especially grateful my successor, Ngawang, is one of them. He was able to get out of bed for the first time today and has been helping tend to the others in the hospital.
Lamont suddenly felt very selfish. Tulku, I'm keeping you from your duties...
No, you are not. I needed this. You have no idea how much I needed this. He looked shaky. Though we were all grateful to reach shelter, to receive much-needed medical care, to eat for the first time in several days, we were all very frightened. This was a foreign land. Most of my students speak very little English. We were truly homeless, bereft of all that was familiar and secure. And I could hear the camp officials asking what in the world were they going to do with this influx of refugees--the camp was becoming overrun, there was no place to put us, no government had stepped forward to offer sanctuary. I prayed for an answer, a way I could ease the situation, and a vision of you suddenly appeared. I begged Dr. Coxswain to contact you in New York. He could not believe one of us actually spoke English, much less had a contact in America. We did not have a phone number, but he finally managed to get through to an American operator and connect to you. When you told me you were coming, it was exactly what I needed to regain my focus. I could now focus on my own healing and my students' healing--you would handle meeting the camp's more urgent needs. I understand Dr. Coxswain got much-needed inventory today.
Lamont nodded. And more is coming. This is just what I could get shipped out immediately. A curious gaze. But you could have asked for money and supplies over the phone. You clearly wanted me here. What else can I do for you?
Marpa Tulku looked humble. I need a very large favor, one I am not certain you will be able to grant.
Lamont looked even more curious. Tulku, if you asked for the moon, I would find a way to get it for you. What do you need?
The Tulku sat up tall and looked Lamont in the eye with a meek gaze, managing to convey both regality and humility simultaneously. While this camp has been a blessing for us, we cannot stay here forever. And we can never go back to Tibet--not as long as the Chinese are bent on our destruction. His Holiness stated that the secret of The Temple Of The Cobras must be preserved for future generations, that the mission must go on, even if it goes on in another location.
And you need a new home.
Lamont smiled. Anywhere in particular?
The Tulku almost looked embarrassed. America. I do not know if it would be possible--it would be a substantial culture shock to my students, and we would have to have a great deal of help getting settled over there, plus the cost would probably be astronomical...
I'll take care of everything.
The Tulku looked over at him curiously. I understand that money can buy a lot of things, but there is much more to a large-scale immigration than just paying the relocation costs...
No, no, Tulku, you don't understand. I will take care of everything. I will get in touch with the right people. I will get legal assistance to help with citizenship and asylum questions. I will get the bureaucratic hurdles cleared. I will get the transportation scheduled. I will pay all your costs, whatever they are. Tulku, The Shadow has agents all over the world, in all walks of life, some in very high positions of power. How do you think I got all those supplies organized, transported, and through customs in just five days? Certainly not with my hypnotic personality.
Though that helped. Now The Tulku was smiling.
Lamont gave a wry smile. I have never forgotten that I do what I do because it is a lifelong obligation to the man who saved my life thirty-three years ago. I pass along that obligation to those whose lives I save.
Lamont shook his head. The Shadow's agents. One of whom is an influential billionaire named Lamont Cranston.
The Tulku poured fresh tea for both of them. You have made quite a name for yourself.
Lamont looked embarrassed. I've done my best.
An indulgent smile from The Tulku. Modesty does not become you.
That got a ringing laugh from Lamont. No, it doesn't. I still have to fight overconfidence.
I still tell all my students about you. I no longer use your name, of course. I learned the hard way that doing so endangered you recklessly. But my students all know that the legendary Shadow was redeemed from the darkest depths of evil to become my finest student.
Lamont looked amazed. I'm still your finest student? It's been 32 years. Surely in that time you've found someone else...
The Tulku shook his head. No one. Some have come close to your level of power. Others have managed to match your discipline. Still others have shown flashes of your boundless enthusiasm. And many were as stubborn. But no one has ever surpassed you.
Not even Kasha?
A wry smile. Kasha was not stronger than you--not projectively, anyway. He was simply more balanced and better trained.
As it should be.
Indeed. An awed smile. I am amazed how much you have changed since you left.
Lamont chuckled as he ran a hand through silver hair. 32 years of hard living have a way of doing that.
I do not mean physically. Physically, you merely look older. I would have recognized you on sight had you not spoken a word. But mentally...
Lamont felt his master sweep into his mind, a stream of thought energy unlike anything he'd felt in years. It swirled through his psyche, leaving nothing untouched. He could not have concealed anything from The Tulku if he'd tried. It was more power and control than he could ever dream of having.
The Tulku swept out of Lamont's mind. The expression on his face reflected the amazement he felt. You have grown so much mentally. The things you have learned to do on your own, I could never have taught you here. And the strength of your mind is simply incredible. Were you aware of how much strength you have gained?
Lamont looked confused. What do you mean? I know I've learned a lot through trial and error, and gotten more focused and more proficient with my powers through the years...
The Tulku looked amused. You were not aware. You have become so comfortable with projective activities and release techniques to balance the energy levels in your mind that you stopped recognizing the signs of growth. Lamont, you are more than twice as strong as you were when you left me. I have never met an adept who grew so much this long after their awakening. Simply amazing.
Lamont looked stunned. For a moment, he forgot to breathe. My God, his mind finally whispered.
The Tulku nodded. It is not unusual for adepts to get stronger with age. Their minds utilize their life energies more efficiently than unawakened minds do...and as the physical strength ebbs, the mental strength takes over. But you have grown much more than I would have expected. You are truly one of the most gifted adepts I have ever met. He shook his head. I shudder to think of what would have happened had I not found you years ago. All this power would have driven you mad.
Or gotten me killed.
And killed others as well.
Lamont bowed his head. I truly do owe you everything.
Then perhaps you can do me another favor.
Lamont looked up. Name it.
I would very much like for my students to meet you. They have heard much about you.
Of course, Tulku. I would very much like to meet some of your students as well.
The Tulku nodded his thanks. There is more.
Lamont smiled broadly. Ask away.
They have had no training for two months now. I believe a demonstration of projective telepathic skills after the midday meal would do them a world of good. And I can think of no one more capable of demonstrating the broad range of those skills than you. I would understand if you refused--you have your identity to protect, and you are probably tired from your journey...
Lamont could not hide his eagerness. I would be honored to assist you in a lesson...on one condition.
And that is?
I would like for my children to be included in your lesson. They've been eager to meet you and would benefit much from a lesson from Marpa Tulku.
Marpa Tulku smiled. Of course. I am eager to spend time with your children. Just the brief touch of their minds intrigued me. I would enjoy seeing their natural skills...and I will gladly offer any assistance they desire.
Lamont bowed gratefully. Thank you, Tulku.
At that moment, Monty and a young Tibetan entered the room. Speak of the devil, Monty wisecracked, then stopped himself. I'm sorry...that was pretty rude...
The Tulku smiled. I have been called worse. He turned to Lamont. He has inherited many of your traits.
Now Monty really looked embarrassed. He bowed humbly. Forgive me, Marpa Tulku. I meant no disrespect.
Of course, Monty. I am not unfamiliar with American idioms. A nod to the young Tibetan. I see you have met Ngawang.
Monty nodded. He was nice enough to show me where you would be.
Ngawang bowed deeply before The Tulku. You sent for me, Tulku?
The Tulku nodded. Yes, Ngawang. I would like to conduct a training session after the midday meal. I believe it would do all of us some good to exercise our minds.
Of course, Tulku. Where shall I bring everyone?
In here will do. The Tulku turned to Lamont. Lamont Cranston, may I present Shao Ngawang, my finest teacher.
Ngawang nodded to Lamont. It is nice to meet you, sir. Your son and I have been having a very pleasant conversation. It is rare to find a Westerner who understands thought projection.
Monty smiled. It's even rarer to find someone outside my own family who does.
Not among Marpa Tulku's students, it isn't. Lamont nodded respectfully to Ngawang. Thank you for bringing my son here, Ngawang. I'm glad to see you're feeling better.
Monty turned to his father. Dad, the trucks are unloaded and are on their way back to Delhi to wait for the next shipment. Dr. Coxswain has space set aside for us in the camp workers' tent to stay the night. And Mr. Supha said to contact him when we wanted to leave.
Thanks. Where's your sister?
Helping Mom in the mess tent.
I'll talk to her at lunch, then. The Tulku has been gracious enough to allow all of us to join the afternoon training session.
Monty looked eager. Really? Cool.
Lamont started to get to his feet, then let out a low groan as he got to one knee. Come give your old man a hand, Monty.
Monty came over and helped his father to his feet. You O.K.?
Lamont stretched tiredly. I'm getting a little old to be sitting on the ground any more.
The Tulku looked amused as he rose to his feet. I have no trouble. But then, I am not used to sitting on velvet cushions and leather sofas.
Lamont raised an eyebrow. Are you calling me soft?
I am merely implying that it has been a long time since you have spent appreciable time on stone floors.
A confident smile. Creature comforts haven't made my mind soft, though.
An indulgent smile. Save that energy for this afternoon's lesson. I can guarantee you will get a good workout from my students.
Lamont once more looked eager. Looking forward to it.
Ngawang's eyes widened as he looked at Lamont. Tulku...is this...
The Tulku nodded. Yes. This is the man I told you about.
Ngawang turned pale. I did not realize... He knelt and bowed deeply. Forgive my disrespect...
Lamont looked embarrassed. Rise, please. I'm just a former student.
Ngawang shook his head. That is not what I have been told. You are Marpa Tulku's finest student, the powerful master of darkness and sentinel of shadows. I am honored to even be permitted to touch your mind.
Monty looked at his father and raised an intrigued eyebrow.
Lamont gave his son a cautioning glare. Then, he smiled at Ngawang. I'm flattered, Ngawang. But rise, please. I'm just as honored to meet Marpa Tulku's finest teacher. How long have you been with him?
Ngawang rose, then looked modest. Marpa Tulku is most generous with his praise. I arrived at the temple less than a year ago. I only learned thought projection four months ago.
But you have progressed quite far in that time, The Tulku encouraged. You are already quite proficient at sound projection and telekinesis, and were making good strides in psychic defense. And your students have learned much from your gentle manner. A sigh as he turned to Lamont. The exodus has set many of my students behind in their training. It will take months for them to return to form.
Then this afternoon's session ought to be good for them, Lamont noted.
Indeed. A pause as chimes rang in the air. And that is the signal for the midday meal...which should be much better today due to your generous donations. Come--let us give thanks for your arrival.
Monty stayed behind with his father as The Tulku and Ngawang left together. I didn't know you were so revered, Monty noted.
No smart comments, Lamont warned.
No, I'm serious. I had no idea--I really thought Mom was kidding when she said something about The Tulku wanting his finest student by his side. You never told me about this. Why not?
Lamont looked embarrassed. I didn't want it to sound like bragging. I come across as arrogant and demanding enough as it is.
Monty gave a wry smile. Yeah, you do. But I think that's neat. No wonder The Tulku wanted you here.
Lamont looked even more embarrassed, then gave Monty a hug. Come on. Let's go eat before I get a swelled head or something.
Father and son left together.
The midday meal was a simple meal of cooked grain and spices. But there was plenty of it to go around, thanks to the food shipment that arrived that morning. Lamont and Monty arrived at the meal tent and found Margo and Lane serving food. Lamont made eye contact with his wife as he and Monty stood in the food line and gave her a warm smile. They've got you busy, Lamont remarked.
Some of us worked this morning instead of catching up with old friends, Margo replied.
I'm sorry. Do you need help?
She smiled warmly. I was teasing you. How is The Tulku?
Weary. That's the best word I can find to describe it. He looked absolutely exhausted, on the verge of collapse. We'll talk more about it later. He next made eye contact with Lane. Sweetheart, The Tulku is conducting a training session this afternoon. He's invited you and Monty to attend.
Oh, wow! Lane replied. Thanks, Dad!
You're welcome. Margo, you're invited, too.
Think I'll just watch, Margo replied. I doubt I'm even as skilled as some of the juniors I've met.
No, you've mastered thought projection. That makes you a senior initiate.
Margo rolled her eyes. Thanks. I feel so much better about that.
A chuckle as father and son came to the front of the line and mother and daughter served lunch.
"Mr. Cranston?" Dr. Coxswain called.
Lamont turned to see the doctor waving to him from a table, indicating he wanted Lamont to join him. He and Monty came over to the table, followed by Margo and Lane, now finished serving.
"I can't thank you enough for the food and supplies you sent," Coxswain said. "You don't know how close we were to sheer disaster. The supply chain for the camps is stretched very thin."
"There's more on the way," Lamont noted. "The next shipment should be here within a week."
"But if the population keeps growing at this rate," one of the nurses noted, "we'll be right back where we were or worse in less time than that. We've got to get some of these people out of here."
"But where can they go?" Lane asked. "You can't send them back to Tibet..."
"Actually, technically, we can," Coxswain replied. "Not that we will, of course, unless the Indian government forces us to. But they're in this country illegally. Most of them have no identification papers. Some of them don't even know their own birthdays so that we can get them legal papers. How we're going to get them resettled is beyond me."
"I spoke to Benton Hartcourt about this before I left," Lamont said. "He said the U.N. is well aware of what's happening, but there's so much bickering among the member nations whom this affects that it's hard to get anyone to agree on what to do about it. I was going to put in another call later this evening when it's daytime over there."
"Good. Maybe someone can get some results." Coxswain watched as Marpa Tulku walked from table to table, visiting with refugees, offering a gentle hand, or a prayer, or kind words. "Your friend is truly remarkable."
"That he is," Lamont agreed.
"I admit to knowing almost nothing about the Tibetan religious hierarchy beyond the Dalai Lama," one of the nurses said, "but every refugee in this camp has been absolutely in awe of him. He doesn't say very much, but apparently whatever he says is enough."
"It was actually a stroke of good luck that he came to us," another nurse pointed out. "The monk who had been the priest of the temple here died just a few hours before your friend and his party arrived. I don't know what we would have done without a priest here--the Tibetans take their religion very seriously."
"It's the center of their lives," Lamont said. "Religion is not something they do once a week or a few times a year--it is their way of life. And the Chinese are going out of their way to destroy that, because it's a threat to their concept of communism."
Coxswain looked over at Lamont. "I noticed the way you deferred to him when you saw him in the hospital. Are you Buddhist?"
Lamont shook his head. "No. But..." He hesitated. How to say this in a way that didn't betray his secret? He gave it a moment's thought. "He saved my life years ago."
Coxswain looked curious. "How so?"
Lamont sighed. "It was the mid 1920s. I was..." Once more he hesitated, then came up with a way to say it. "I was a prisoner. A prisoner of a Tibetan drug lord who stole my identity, my money, my life. But he kept me around because I amused him." He thought for a moment more, trying to calm his emotions. It was, in many ways, the truth--between the enslavement of opium addiction and the darkness that manifested itself as Ying Ko, he truly had been a prisoner. "The Tulku rescued me and brought me to his temple. He nursed me back to health and helped me find myself again. Without him, I would not be alive today." He looked at Coxswain. "So if The Marpa Tulku asked for the moon and the stars, I'd find a way to get them for him. But he would never think of doing such a thing. He thinks he's created some kind of horrid inconvenience for me because I came here when he dared show vulnerability and ask for help." He smiled toward The Tulku. "He taught me years ago that it was no shame to ask for help. Maybe he needs to remember that lesson himself."
There are times I do forget, The Tulku's voice replied in Lamont's mind.
Lamont gave his teacher a respectful nod. That makes two of us.
All of Marpa Tulku's students who were well enough to be out of bed gathered in the camp's temple after the midday meal, joined by the Cranstons. The room was filled mostly with junior initiates, and proportionately fewer seniors and monks. Many of the students looked suspiciously at the Westerners in their midst.
Margo looked at Lamont. This is taking a risk, she noted. If one of those camp workers decides to look in...
They won't, Lamont reassured.
How do you know?
A twinkle in his eyes. The Shadow knows.
Margo raised an eyebrow. Did you...
...suggest that there were other more pressing things they needed to be doing? Yes. The Tulku also added some suggestions for the other camp residents. Suffice it to say no one will be looking in on us who can't be trusted with the secret.
Margo sighed. I still worry about you.
I know. He kissed her head. No one here's going to hurt any of us.
Trust him on that, Mom, Monty added. I saw the respect The Tulku's students have for Dad. Unbelievable.
Yeah, well, for people who "respect" us, they're sure giving us the evil eye, Lane noted.
They've got secrets to protect, too, Lamont reminded his daughter. Trust has to go both ways or it's not really trust at all. Most of them have no idea who we are. They only know about The Shadow, not Lamont Cranston.
The door to the small temple opened, and Marpa Tulku and an older monk came through it.
Immediately, every initiate began bowing. Lamont joined them.
Monty and Lane quickly followed their father's example, remembering that for today at least, they too were Marpa Tulku's students.
Margo, unsure of what to do, offered a respectful nod and curtsey.
The Tulku gave her a smile, then turned to the rest of his initiates. Sit, he stated.
Everyone took a seat on the floor.
The Tulku looked around the room. It is good to see so many of you up and about. I am most thankful for the shelter and the wonderful medical care we have received here. Some of you were near death when you arrived. But just today, Ngawang was able to get out of bed for the first time and is doing very well. He smiled at the young initiate to his right, then turned to the older monk. And on my last round through the wards, Tsepon insisted on getting out of bed to join us for this lesson.
Suddenly, Lamont recognized the monk as one of Marpa Tulku's few projective telepathic students. Tsepon had been in the temple during his training years ago, and Lamont had helped guide some of his early activities when Kasha and the other receptive teachers could not assist Tsepon with his psychic growing pains. He gave Tsepon a broad smile.
Tsepon's eyes widened, and he turned to The Tulku for confirmation that he wasn't seeing things. Tulku...
The Tulku nodded, then turned back to his students. We have many people to thank for our survival. You may have seen the four people in the back of the room. They are the Cranston family, our most recent benefactors, whose generous donations of food, medicine, and supplies will enable this camp to care for us and many others for several days beyond what they would have been capable of doing otherwise. I am particularly grateful for their arrival, and humbled by their generosity. A smile and a nod Lamont's way. For those of you who have not reached out your minds to theirs yet, I assure you that our secret is quite safe with them...for they, too, are gifted adepts who are sworn protectors of the secret of The Temple Of The Cobras.
Margo felt the touches of several adept minds at the edges of her psyche. She touched her temple in awe. She was used to the touch of Lamont's powerful telepathy, and had watched and felt her children growing and strengthening through the years--but nothing like this had ever touched her mind. It was simply incredible.
Monty and Lane also found their psyches being probed. The raw psychic energy flowing through the room was unbelievably strong. Neither had spent any appreciable time around other adepts except for their parents--to experience this kind of openness and power was nearly overwhelming.
Lamont also felt his mind being probed and kept his defenses up. But the sensation of being surrounded by gifted adepts of all kinds brought back many old memories. It felt so good to be around peers again. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed it.
The Tulku smiled at Lamont once more, then turned his attention back to his students. You have all heard the story of the redemption of Ying Ko numerous times, the transformation of one of Tibet's most feared warlords into the powerful master of darkness and defender of innocents known as The Shadow. Many of you have expressed a desire to know more, to possibly meet him, to touch his mind and learn from his strength. Until just a few days ago, I have always said that it was not possible for you to do so, for he had his own mission and his own life to lead, far from us. But I have once more received a lesson in humility from the gods, a lesson that anything is possible...and nothing is impossible. He took a deep, cleansing breath, then turned his attention to Lamont. I am deeply honored to welcome back into our midst my finest student, The Shadow...Lamont Cranston.
All eyes turned toward Lamont.
Lamont stood and nodded respectfully to the students.
Every student in the room bowed deeply. Many shook with fear; others displayed awestruck expressions. Mental whispers of amazed phrases filled the air.
Monty and Lane looked at each other. Lamont Cranston always seemed surrounded by an aura of power and confidence, energies that naturally radiated out of him and made him a tower of strength even when not cloaked in shadows. It was strength that they had always taken for granted, that they thought every trained adept had or could develop. But now, surrounded by monks and initiates who spent their lives immersed in psychic training, they realized that what their father had was unique and special. It cast him in a whole new light for them.
Please...as you were, Lamont insisted. I am the one honored and privileged to be among you. A smile toward Tsepon. It's good to see you again, Tsepon. You've come a long way since the last time I saw you.
The older monk once more bowed deeply. I have always strived to follow your example, Lamont Cranston. But I sense now that I have fallen far short. Welcome back.
Lamont turned to The Tulku and bowed. Marpa Tulku, I am at your service. What may I do for you?
The Tulku nodded to Lamont. I require your assistance in conducting a projective telepathy demonstration. Come forward.
Lamont walked to the front of the room. A sea of initiates parted as he did so, giving him a clear path to his former master.
The Tulku could not resist a smile of pride. Shall we begin with a round of psychic defense?
Lamont looked at the building around them. I don't know--do you think the walls can stand up to it?
The Tulku raised an eyebrow. Such arrogance.
Lamont shook his head. This is confidence, not arrogance.
Then let us see if your telepathy is as strong as your confidence. The Tulku gestured across the room.
Lamont took off his coat and gloves and handed them to Ngawang, then stepped back. Ready when you are.
Of that, I have no doubt. With that, The Tulku sent out a whirling projection toward his pupil.
Lamont met it halfway with a projection of his own.
Every student in the room gasped as the two sets of thought waves collided, retreated, then began pressing each other. The temple filled with palpable energy from two directions, swirling and twisting in an intricate dance around each other. Even those trained in telepathic projection could not imagine creating this much strength and energy in a single day, much less controlling it in this fashion.
Your reflexes have improved, The Tulku noted. You used to wait until you were struck first before reacting.
You don't survive thirty-two years as the sentinal of the shadows and not learn how to react quickly, Lamont replied, then turned up the projective force just slightly. The Tulku's projection began to fall back under the pressure.
You have gotten more subtle, too. You never used to be able to make such minute adjustments in your projective strength. The Tulku increased his own output, and now Lamont's projection was retreating.
Subtlety is a skill you have to have to function undetected among non-adepts. Lamont pushed back just as hard and once more gained the upper hand.
For years I have been praising your raw strength. Do you still have it? The Tulku doubled his output.
Lamont's energies retreated for just a moment, then roared back even stronger than ever as Lamont doubled the strength of his own projection. Does that answer your question?
The students were dumbfounded. Monty and Lane looked amazed. Even Margo was awestruck. Margo had seen The Shadow's powers up close and personal for years, felt the amazing strength of his telepathic projections, seen him do things that were impossible for a normal man to do. But seldom did Lamont let his powers go to this extent. It was nothing short of astounding.
The Tulku looked pleased. You remember your lessons well. But I still have one distinct advantage over you. An increase in the projection.
Lamont matched it and increased over it. You really think so?
Of course. I can still hypnotize you.
A strong burst hit Lamont like a truck and planted him flat on his back, then pinned him to the ground.
Dad! Monty called out, alarmed.
Lamont concentrated harder, trying to keep the outward projection going while opening his receptive side as wide as it would go. Easy, Monty, he told his son. The Tulku isn't holding me down. But he's clouded my mind to make me think he is. I used to waste my energy pushing back at this point. Now, I know better. He kept focusing his mind to open it up, to find the subtle clouding suggestion and sweep it out.
Slowly, the suggestion became audible. Lamont wrapped projective energy around it and pushed it away.
Impressive. The Tulku pushed it back.
Lamont sat up, pushing back against the intrusion and shoving it out of his mind. Oh, no, you don't. You won't get back in that easily.
The Tulku raised an eyebrow. You have gotten stronger. To hold the strength of that output and still open your mind that widely takes a great deal of skill. Do you have anything left?
Every student was absolutely astonished as Lamont got to his feet and doubled the pressure once more. What do you think? he replied, a smile of supreme confidence on his face.
The Tulku looked suitably impressed as he matched Lamont's output, creating a swelling wave of energy that filled the room. I think that if we keep increasing the projections, the walls truly will be in danger.
Shall we call it a draw, then?
Simultaneously, the two energy waves dissipated. Teacher and pupil nodded respectfully to each other. Awed voices chattered through the room.
Lamont cast an eye toward his family.
Wow, Lane's voice whispered.
Whoa, Monty replied in a soft tone.
Are you all right? Margo asked.
Lamont took a moment to gather and refocus his mental energies, then gave a smile to his wife. I haven't had a workout like that in a very long time. He bowed deeply before his former teacher. Thank you, Tulku.
Rise, The Tulku said, then turned to his students. This is an example of what a trained, disciplined mind can accomplish. Lamont is naturally strong, stronger than any projective telepath I have encountered before or since. But even the least projective telepath can be taught to do what you just saw. Strength will take you a long way...but strength without discipline is easily overcome. To accomplish the many projective telepathic skills requires discipline and balance. He looked to Lamont. Have you recovered enough for another exercise?
Lamont smiled broadly. I could go all day.
The Tulku smiled back. Do not tempt me.
Lamont and The Tulku spent the remainder of the daylight hours engaged in projective demonstration after projective demonstration, bringing many of The Tulku's most promising senior initiates up to speed with efficient projective techniques and leading juniors through psychic strengthening exercises. Monty and Lane even got to try their hands--or, rather, their minds--at challenging The Tulku's stronger senior initiates, and Lamont was pleased to see how capable they were of holding their own and even surpassing some of the better-trained seniors. The interaction rejuvenated many of the students, and the camp mess tent workers received quite a surprise when senior initiates offered to cook the evening meal and juniors cleaned the kitchen afterward. After dinner, the Cranstons went separate ways--Lamont headed off to the administrative building to radio Benton Hartcourt, Margo returned to the women's ward to help the nurses tend to patients, and Monty and Lane were offered a private lesson by Marpa Tulku in the temple.
About an hour later, Lamont stepped out of the administrative tent and stretched tiredly. The cold night air was crisp and invigorating, and the sky was incredibly clear. The stars were beautiful, twinkling like diamonds scattered across black velvet, and the calm, peaceful sensation they generated felt very soothing to his overworked mind. He patted his pockets until he found a cigar inside his coat, then pulled it out and lit it and took a seat on a bench outside the administrative building, reclining and looking up at the sky.
You must still be tense, Margo's voice called.
Lamont looked around for a moment, then spotted his wife approaching. You almost never pull out one of those unless you really need to unwind, she continued.
Lamont gave her a smile. Been a long time since I've pushed my psyche that hard, he admitted. Some of those initiates really gave me a run for my money. He patted the bench beside him.
She took a seat and fished through her purse for a cigarette, then lit it and drew a long drag off it, finally blowing it out slowly and firmly.
Looks like I'm not the only one who was a little tense, he observed. You never smoke any more unless you're under a lot of stress.
She sighed. There's so much pain and suffering here. I had no idea. The poor nuns, especially...some of them tell stories of Chinese soldiers raiding convents and having their way with the helpless younger nuns, then killing them or taking them along as concubines. It's absolutely horrible. Another drag, another sigh. Any word from Hartcourt?
Lamont took another puff of his cigar. He's been pushing a lot of buttons and calling in a ton of favors. But he thinks by the end of next week he should be able to get political asylum for Marpa Tulku and his students.
So they're coming to America?
That's Marpa Tulku's desire, anyway. It's why he wanted me to come here--he wanted to ask for that favor in person.
Where will they go?
He shrugged and took another draw from the cigar, blowing it out slowly. I'm not sure. That's the part I still have to work out. Clearly, it'll need to be in the mountains, isolated as much as possible. It'll have to be large enough to hold the eighty-something students and monks now in the temple and still have room for others in the future. And it'll need to be carefully designed to meet the spiritual needs of the students and their teacher--this is, after all, still religious training.
We do own that resort in Frost Valley, she reminded him. That might do for a temporary place until whatever temple The Tulku needs can be built.
He nodded. Now there's an idea. He kissed the top of her head. Every now and then, I am reminded of why I married you.
She smiled back gently at him. You'd have thought of it eventually. You're just very tired right now.
That I am. He held her close.
She leaned against him and relaxed. I think our kids were impressed with what they saw earlier. I know I was.
Lamont nodded. Some of Marpa Tulku's students can do amazing things.
I wasn't talking about them. I was talking about you.
He looked over at her. Oh?
You don't normally show off your powers like that. The kids have probably seen flashes of that when you were training them, but I know it's been years since I've seen you let go like that. It probably felt good to be challenged for a change.
He nodded. I'd forgotten how much I missed that kind of interaction. And with the amount of energy I have inside my head, I really need to be pushed that hard on occasion or else I have to vent all of it and it goes to waste. A sigh. I wonder how I'm going to manage when I finally do retire.
Margo looked at him for a moment. I do believe, Lamont Cranston, that is the first time you've ever actually said the word "retire" to me.
He smiled wryly. I'm getting old, Margo. Kasha was just a child last time I saw him--he's not even ten years younger than you now. Tsepon, that older monk, wasn't even ten years younger than me when I helped train him years ago--now he's the oldest one in the group. That young monk Ngawang, Marpa Tulku's successor, is almost young enough to be my grandchild--I'll bet he isn't even fourteen. He took a long pull off the cigar, then blew the smoke out in a hard sigh. I have a lifelong obligation to fight the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, but I honestly don't know how much longer I can keep this up. I'm 61 years old...none of the Cranstons or the Lamonts have ever lived this long.
Are you afraid to die?
He shook his head. I'm not looking forward to it, but death itself doesn't scare me. If it did, I couldn't do half the things I do, because I'd be afraid to do them. Another sigh. What I'm really afraid of is being unable to carry out my mission and not living up to my obligation because I'm physically incapable of doing so. I don't want to leave anything undone.
And you think Marpa Tulku would never forgive you for not being able to continue.
He saved my life. If he ordered me to climb Everest, I'd do so without question. He ordered me to carry out this mission. To say "no, I can't" would be shirking my responsibilities, and that is unacceptible.
Have you spoken with The Tulku about this?
Lamont shook his head. He's got enough on his mind.
Margo gave him a stern glare. Lamont, you owe it to him to at least discuss this with him. He doesn't seem an unreasonable man; he might be able to help you come to terms with this, or give you a way to continue even after you physically can't stalk the night any more.
And if he doesn't?
Cross that bridge when you come to it. She finished her cigarette, then patted his hand. I am exhausted. Think I'll go turn in. Coming?
In a bit. He kissed her. What would I do without you?
She pushed a strand of silver hair off his forehead. Spend a lot of time talking to yourself.
He raised an eyebrow. Isn't that a sign of insanity?
Only if you argue with yourself.
I hate arguing with myself. I always lose.
They both laughed, then kissed again, and then she left for bed.
Lamont took another puff of his cigar, then leaned back against the side of the building and looked up at the night sky. He'd definitely have to speak with The Tulku about all this, but it could wait. Right now, his mind needed to slow down and relax. And he could think of no better way to do so than the way he used to do it as a senior initiate--let his mind drain as he meditated by starlight.
Lamont was still studying the sky two hours later when the laughter of his children reached his mental ears. He looked across the camp.
Monty and Lane were crossing toward the staff tent, conversing in excited thought patterns about their training session--how invigorating it was, how they wished they could have more time with Marpa Tulku, how they hadn't realized how much they didn't know and still had left to learn.
Lamont watched them with a wistful smile. He could still remember the day each of them had been born, holding each of their tiny bodies in his hands for the first time. He remembered the way they used to run and play as children, fight as pre-teens, work together as teenagers as their awakened minds became aware of their common heritage. It didn't seem possible that Monty was soon going to be through with college, that Lane was almost a full-grown woman, that they were both fully-awakened projective adepts who would soon be ready to begin their own life missions...
Feeling your age, Lamont?
Lamont nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of that voice, then noticed The Tulku now sitting beside him. I cannot believe you can still sneak up on me, he mentally sighed.
The Tulku gave him an indulgent smile. It is not so hard when you are distracted.
Lamont watched Monty and Lane enter the staff tent to settle in for a night's rest. Children...a visual reminder that time does indeed march ever onward.
The Tulku nodded. When most of your memories are hundreds of years old, time is all relative. But I am reminded every so often that none of us are getting any younger.
Lamont gave a smile to his master. Except you.
I do not get younger. I merely exchange bodies every so often. It keeps me fresh for the next generation of adepts.
Lamont nodded toward the staff tent. How did they do?
The Tulku looked at his former student. They both remind me a great deal of you--eager to learn, anxious to grow, confident in what they can do, but not always confident in who they are inside.
Lamont looked curious. In what way?
Both of them feel a certain degree of inadequacy--Monty moreso than Lane. Monty feels he can never match your power and your strength, and wonders if he will ever be skilled enough to handle your mission. Lane knows she will never be able to match your strength, and feels no pressure to do so. She, however, wonders if she is a disappointment to you because she is not the strong projector her brother is.
Lamont looked astonished. I've always tried to let them develop their own strengths, their own skills. I never wanted them to feel any pressure to overtake me--and I certainly didn't want them to feel the pressure of taking on the mission if that wasn't what they wanted to do. I hadn't realized they felt that way. I've always been so proud of the way they've developed, the way they've grown. Tulku, what can I do to help them?
The Tulku gave Lamont a warm, gentle smile. You already give them what they need--your love. Even self-imposed expectations can be as daunting as any imposed by a teacher, and it is not unusual for still-growing adepts to wonder if they will ever be able to live up to what they see as impossible expectations. And both of them are still growing. A slight chuckle. I should not have been surprised by this. They are, after all, Cranstons. She is nearly done--her projective side is deepening so that she will gradually become more projective and less balanced. He, on the other hand, is still growing steadily, even eight years after his awakening. His projective side is expanding and deepening in ways I would not have believed possible if I did not know he was your son. His capacity for learning is amazing. He will never match your power. But he will come very close. A gentle smile. You should be most proud of your children, Lamont. They are fine reflections on their parents--strong, well-disciplined, well-trained. They have the ability to do anything they want in life. You should feel honored that they want to follow your example.
I do, but... Lamont groped for words, then projected again. But I do what I do because I have to. It's my penance for everything I've done. It's my burden, my debt to society. No one should have to shoulder that debt, and yet they both act like it would be some kind of honor to take it on. I don't understand.
That is because you still feel yourself unworthy of the blessings you have received. A smile. I believe the American idiom for it is "Catholic guilt".
A hearty laugh burst forth from Lamont. That about sums it up. He shook his head. Why, Tulku? I don't understand. Why do they want to do this?
They have a different perspective than you do. You see your mission as penance for the man you were. They see continuing it as honoring the man you are. Another smile. You have trouble understanding this because you did not want to be like your parents. You saw them as a negative example. But do you not think you and Margo have provided a positive example for your children as to how they should handle the great power, the great wealth, the great responsibilities they have been given?
Lamont looked a long time at his master. I guess I've never looked at it that way.
No. You were too busy raising two wonderful children to look at it that way. He turned serious. But they still require more training before they will be fully ready to take on your mission. They need more strengthening, more receptive sensory stimulation so that they will be able to use all their skills instinctively. Being taught by a projector has helped strengthen them in ways that would have taken them much longer to learn under me--but their receptive skills are not as proportionately sharp because demonstrating that is not your strength.
Lamont nodded. Would you be willing to teach them?
Of course. A smile. Teaching a new generation of adepts helps keep me young. And I admit I have missed the challenge of a Cranston mind to keep me growing and moving forward as well.
Lamont gave his teacher a smile. I believe I was just complimented.
The Tulku looked sternly at his former student. Do not allow your ego to get in the way of your humility.
Lamont bowed his head. I'm sorry. Forgive my arrogance, Tulku. I'm honored that you would even consider training my children.
And I am honored that you still hold me in such high esteem. But I am disappointed that you do not feel you can tell me everything.
Lamont found himself chuckling ironically. I can never hide anything from you. A hard sigh, then he met his master's gaze. Tulku, if I could no longer continue my mission...if I stopped because I had become physically unable to keep going...would that be dishonoring you?
The Tulku looked placidly at Lamont. What do you think?
Lamont bowed his head. It would be.
Yes, it would. If you stopped working toward your mission, it would be an insult to me. Worse, it would be a slap in the face to your God who gave you such tremendous gifts. He lifted Lamont's face. But there are ways to accomplish your mission that do not require stalking the night until you physically drop. The way you have been guiding and training your children, the way you have enlisted others as agents, the way you use your hypnotic powers to sway the errant thoughts of men--all of that is also part of your mission to drive evil from the shadows and into the light, where it cannot survive. Those are things you can continue to do even as your body inevitably weakens with age. In this way, you can continue your mission long after you become physically unable to perform as The Shadow. A smile. You have no reason to fear disappointing me as long as you stay focused on using your skills to their maximum ability.
Lamont looked relieved. And I thought I'd come here to help you.
The Tulku gave a gentle smile. You have been worried about this for a long time. You have lived longer than others in your family history, and are starting to feel your mortality.
Lamont shook his head in amazement. I keep forgetting you know everything about me. A sigh. My parents were killed in a car wreck, but they were both close to the age where most of the Cranstons and the Lamonts died. None of my grandparents lived past 60. And as far back as I can research, no one on either side of my family lived very long into their 60s. And I must admit that worries me.
The Tulku gave him that mysterious smile again. How did they die?
Lamont looked confused. I don't know how all of them died. Most of them died of strokes, or cerebral hemorrhages, or some other brain disease... Suddenly, it hit him. ...because they were unawakened telepaths with energies they couldn't control.
The Tulku nodded. This is another reason most awakened telepaths become stronger and more skilled with age. They can control their life energies--the energies do not continue to build uncontrollably, with no outlet. This is not to say you will not die at a relatively young age, because no one can predict that. But...
...but because I'm awakened, because I know how to balance and release my energies to keep my mind focused and clear, I don't run as great a risk that the buildup of energy will cause serious problems. He looked amazed, then smiled broadly. Oh, my God, you don't know what a relief that is! This is just incredible! Thank you, Tulku, thank you!
The Tulku looked amused. If you keep getting louder, Lamont, you will wake everyone in this camp.
Lamont nodded, then reined in his mental voice. I know, I know. I still think very loudly, even for a telepath.
I'll say, Margo's voice interjected. Tulku, order him to go to bed. He's exhausted.
The Tulku could not help but chuckle. Far be it for me to disobey your wife, Lamont. Let us both retire for the night. We will continue this discussion in the morning.
Both men stood, then Lamont bowed before his master. Thank you, Tulku.
The Tulku nodded. You are most welcome. Sleep well, Lamont.
With that, both men went their separate ways.
The next morning, Marpa Tulku's students once more filled the mess tents to cook, much to the delight of the camp workers. It amazed the doctors and nurses, many of whom had been there since the darkest days of the first refugees arriving, how much life filled the camp now that there appeared to be hope for a better future for some of them.
Margo, however, felt a bit out of place. Between the chattering mental voices in Tibetan, her children's excitement about their lessons the night before, and Lamont's sheer enjoyment of being surrounded by peers and reunited with his master, Margo found herself the odd woman out. She kept to herself during breakfast, feigning fatigue, and after breakfast took a walk to the edge of camp, wondering if coming along on this trip had been such a good idea.
Good morning, Margo.
Margo turned to see Marpa Tulku approaching. She gave a respectful nod. Good morning, Tulku.
The Tulku returned the nod as he joined her. I hope I am not interrupting.
Margo gave a polite smile. Oh, of course not. I was just...er, admiring the view.
The Tulku gazed out toward the mountains. It is an awe-inspiring sight from here. When I first arrived at the camp, I spent hours meditating out here. It is the first time I have ever seen the Tibetan plateau from below.
Margo looked intrigued. Really? You'd never been off the mountain before?
All of Tibet is atop a plateau. In twenty-one generations, this is the first time I have ever been below it. A sigh. It is an experience that I am certain will broaden my teachings...though I cannot help but wish there were another way to gain this experience.
Margo nodded. Sometimes the best lessons come from the hardest circumstances.
The Tulku raised an eyebrow. That is very wise. Who told you that?
My mother. She sighed. My father was a research scientist. We moved around a lot. I hated having to pack up every year and head to another town with another university and another group of friends. She would give me a hug and tell me that I was going to learn so much in my new town, in my new school, from my new friends. I once told her I'd rather learn in my old town, in my old school, with my old friends. That's when she told me that sometimes the best lessons come from the hardest circumstances. She shook her head. Why am I telling you this?
The Tulku smiled. Because you are feeling out of place and need someone to talk to. And I sense that I am part of the reason you feel the way you do.
Margo laughed slightly. Lamont was right. It's impossible to keep anything from you.
The Tulku took a seat on a nearby rock. One does not train adepts for over a thousand years without knowing how to penetrate each of their defenses. A pause. You have been avoiding me all morning because you are jealous of me and did not want me to see it in you. You believe it is irrational to feel this way, and yet you feel it.
Margo started to deny it, then realized it was useless to argue. I suppose it's a bit like meeting your husband's old girlfriend, she finally said. There's a part of his life that I will never be able to relate to, a part only you understand and can ever share with him. And yes, I'm feeling a little lonely right now. She laughed derisively. This is so stupid...
No, it is not. It is perfectly normal that you feel as if you are missing something. I am sorry I have triggered such a response in you, because it was certainly not my intention. A look of humility came over the monk's face. In fact, I owe you a great debt, Margo Lane Cranston.
Margo gave another dismissive laugh. Oh, really?
Yes. A pause. I was married once...twenty-one generations ago. He looked wistful at the memory. Her name was Lia, and she was as delicate as a flower. We were drawn together as if we were two halves of the same life. I was blissfully happy...until she died one winter morning giving birth to our first child. A sigh. I felt betrayed, angry with the gods for torturing me so. Not only had they taken my only love, but they had also taken my son. I raged for days on end, wanting some answer as to why this had happened to me. No one would come near me. I was as violent and dark as a man could be. And then, I was struck down by an explosion of energy, filling my head with visions, understanding...and enlightenment.
Margo looked amazed. You had an awakening. And you survived it on your own?
I do nothing on my own. The gods surround me everywhere I go, during every trial, through every circumstance. And they had taken away my earthly loves to open my mind to a much greater love...and to give me the ability to open others' minds in the same way. Another wistful smile. On their orders, I founded The Temple Of The Cobras, a sanctuary for the adepts on the Tibetan plateau. They are all my children--all twenty-one generations worth. From the youngest to the oldest, the weakest to the strongest, they are all my precious children. Protecting them as they grow and training them to take on their life missions is my whole life. When they leave me, they carry a part of their lives in the temple with them. And a part of them remains behind in my heart.
Margo gave him a wise smile. I thought I recognized that look you gave Lamont when you first saw him again. It's the same look my father gave me when I told him I was getting married...that look of "My baby's all grown up".
You are most perceptive. Another wistful smile. He has changed so much. He is so much stronger, so much more mature, so much more sure of himself than he was when he left me. And I have you to thank for much of that.
Margo looked confused. Me?
Yes. You have given him many things he lost when he left the temple. Stability. Focus. Unconditional love. Without you, he would have self-destructed years ago. With you, he has a reason to continue, a reason to fight against overwhelming odds...a reason to come home safely every night. The Tulku stood, then bowed respectfully to Margo. And so I owe you a great debt, Margo Lane Cranston, for giving all of that and more to Lamont. Thank you.
Margo blushed. Now I really feel stupid for being so petty.
The Tulku stood. Do not feel that way. Were our positions reversed, I might feel out of place and neglected as well. A gentle smile. Now, is there anything I can do for you?
Margo laughed. Not unless you can teach me Tibetan or cure this headache I've gotten from endless conversations I can't understand. She leaned against a tall boulder, rubbing her temples, trying to banish the noise in her head.
The Tulku crossed to her. Learning Tibetan takes years. But perhaps this will help. He gently touched her temples. Relax.
She let out a long, slow breath.
Something swept into her mind, a level of power she had not felt from anyone other than Lamont. She gasped as it swirled around inside her head, turning the pain outward, easing stress instantly.
The Tulku released her temples and withdrew the energy wave. There. That should help.
Margo started to thank The Tulku for easing her pain, then realized that she was starting to hear words she recognized in the endless stream of conversations surrounding her. Wait...I can understand some of this now! How?
The Tulku smiled. A hypnotic suggestion filled with some of the most commonly-used Tibetan words and phrases. You will be able to at least follow the thread of some of the conversations now. That should keep you from feeling quite so out of place.
She bowed respectfully. Thank you, Tulku.
You are most welcome. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a lesson to teach. You are welcome to come, of course...
She shook her head. Thanks, but I think I'll pass. Besides, the medical tent could probably use another pair of hands.
I am certain they could.
The pair bowed to each other, then went their separate ways.
For almost a week, the Cranstons pitched in at the Darjeeling Refugee Center as volunteer workers, helping in the hospital, mess tent, supply tent, and anywhere else that needed a pair of hands and a strong back. Lamont spent his days working with Marpa Tulku to provide training for the young initiates, and his nights on the radio contacting Benton Hartcourt and other agents along the way who could help in the process of getting the hurdles cleared for The Tulku and his students to come to America. Lamont was determined to stay behind until Marpa Tulku's situation could be resolved, but encouraged his family to return to America and to their lives. But none of them would hear of it--Margo refused to leave without her husband, and Monty and Lane both wanted to stay and train under The Tulku for as long as possible. The Tulku was more than happy to have them both as students, offering the Cranston children extensive lessons in the evenings. It was a busy, invigorating week for the powerful psyches that were now inhabiting the camp.
One morning, as Margo was working in the hospital, a badly-injured teenage Tibetan boy stumbled through the door. Immediately, doctors and nurses surrounded him. "Young man, are you all right?" a nurse asked in Tibetan.
"Help...please," the young man replied. "Others trapped...monastery attacked a month ago...Chinese army chasing us...help..."
The staff got him up on an examination table, and Margo got a bowl of water and some clean cloths to begin cleaning his wounds. "To care for you," she said in the little bit of Tibetan she had learned to pronounce.
"Please," he replied in a fading voice, "others are worse than me...we need help..."
Margo gently patted his shoulder and eased him to a horizontal position. "I don't speak enough Tibetan to understand you. But I'm here to help you. Try to relax." She reached inside her psyche for a bit of hypnotic telepathy to calm his frightened nerves.
He looked at her, eyes wide. You can project, his mind said in halting English.
She looked back at him. So can you, she replied. Are you a student of Marpa Tulku?
I was. He looked desperate. I am from The Temple Of Niban. Master Sato is our priest. When the attacks on the monasteries began, Marpa Tulku sent many of us to faraway temples to continue to study in relative safety. Now we have had to flee our temple, and my master and many others are trapped across the border...the Chinese have them surrounded...they need help...please, tell the doctors...
She gently patted his shoulder. I'm not sure anyone here can help. But I know someone who would very much like to hear your story. She concentrated her projective powers. Lamont...I need you.
Immediately, her husband was inside her head. Margo? What is it? Are you all right?
Good, you heard me. Is The Tulku around?
He's right here with me. What is it?
One of his former students just came into the ward, badly injured. Apparently, he just escaped from Tibet. And he's got a story to tell that The Tulku probably would be interested in hearing.
We'll be right there. He dropped the connection.
She turned to the young man. Relax. Someone you know is coming.
He nodded. Thank you.
Margo looked up from cleaning the wounds as she heard Lamont and The Tulku conversing psychically. Over here, she called out.
The two men looked toward the vibrations, then crossed the room. The Tulku's eyes widened as he recognized the young man. Choephal! he said anxiously.
The monk looked toward his master. Marpa Tulku, he whispered in a reverent tone. Oh, thank the gods...
Whoa, Margo said as Choephal tried to get off the table. Not so fast. I'm not done with you yet.
Do not hold me back, Choephal said angrily. I must show respect for my master...
Choephal, lie still, Marpa Tulku encouraged. Show respect for yourself and your caretakers first. In this way, you show your respect for all that your teachers have taught you. He put a gentle hand on Choephal's shoulder. Why have you come here? You were sent to The Temple Of Niban to continue your training--what happened?
We were attacked a month ago, Choephal stated. Many of the brothers were killed. We have been trying to escape, but the Chinese have the border to Nepal sealed off. We were told the Darjeeling pass was our best hope for reaching safety. But the Chinese know this, too, and are starting to close in on groups escaping that way. Master Sato and twenty initiates are pinned down not very far over the border. He will not leave them, though they keep encouraging him to do so. Since I was the only one other than Master Sato who could mind cloud, I was sent to find help. Please, Tulku, you must send someone to help...Master Sato will not leave anyone behind, and I fear they will all die...
The Tulku patted his former student's shoulder sadly. I wish I could. But I cannot.
Who says you can't? Lamont interjected.
Margo looked at her husband. Lamont, no...
Lamont turned to Choephal. Where are they? How far back across the border?
I am not sure, Choephal replied. It took almost a day for me to come here, but I had to avoid the army...
Look into my eyes.
Choephal did so--and a powerful projective wave swept into his mind. Oh, my--how have you learned to do this? Only Marpa Tulku and Master Sato can penetrate my mind so quickly and easily...
It's a long story. Lamont swept back out again. I know where they are now. It isn't that far from here--ten miles, maybe a bit more.
The Tulku looked over at Lamont and pulled the information out of his mind. If that is where they are, the terrain is quite rough. It will be difficult to get them out of there.
I'm more worried about the Chinese army than the terrain. It'll be hard to avoid the snipers.
The Tulku nodded. Then I will go alone.
Lamont looked stern. Like Hell you will. Have you forgotten what His Holiness told you--why you escaped in the first place? You can't go out there. But I can.
Margo concentrated hard to generate enough energy to break up the discussion. Have you both lost your minds? she mentally shouted.
Her husband and his teacher turned to her.
She looked angry. You are talking about crossing into China, for God's sake! This is not a training exercise, and it's not tracking a mobster down New York's streets! You are talking about taking on one of the world's most powerful armies to rescue a handful of monks--that is just insane! She turned to Lamont. You can't go. It's too dangerous. She then turned to Marpa Tulku. And don't you dare ask him to, either! He's already given his life to you--what do you want, his blood?
Lamont looked askance. Margo...
Choephal looked stunned, then angry. How dare you speak to the master in that fashion...
The Tulku held up a silencing hand. Enough. He turned to Lamont. Your wife is right. I will not ask you to go. It is my responsibility to protect my students, and I must accept that. I will go alone. He left the ward.
Lamont looked at his wife, who had turned away and was now sobbing. He gently took her by the shoulders and led her off into a corner. Margo, listen to me. I know you're worried about me. I know you don't want to see me get hurt. He turned her to face him. But I cannot just abandon my mission. Marpa Tulku saved my life 33 years ago. Now, it belongs to him. If he asked me to go to the ends of the earth, I'd do it without question.
But why this? she cried. You'd have to really stretch some definitions for this to even be considered a part of your mission. Lamont, you could get killed. You can't go...
He held her close. I know you're scared. Believe me, it's not something I'm wild about doing. But I've lived 33 years longer than I should have because he saved me. He pulled back and looked into her eyes. We both agreed when we got married that this was part of the risk we both took. We both agreed there would be no regrets, no complaints when the mission kept us apart. And we both agreed that there would be times we'd disagree about the level of risk I should take, but that the mission came first regardless. And like it or not, this is part of that mission. There is a dark and shadowy evil falling over Tibet. I have to do my part to keep it at bay. Sato is an old friend, and I cannot leave him to die when I could possibly do something about it.
She fell into his arms sobbing. I know, her mind whispered. I know. But I don't want to lose you...
Sh-h. He held her close.
They stood that way for a very long time, wrapped in the love they felt for one another.
Told you we'd find them here, Lane's voice said.
Lamont and Margo turned to see their children approaching. What are you two doing here? Lamont asked.
I heard you guys fighting, Lane replied. Kind of hard to miss, actually.
We weren't fighting, Lamont frowned. We were having a discussion.
A nice loud one, Monty noted. About whether or not Dad should go with Marpa Tulku to rescue those monks trapped on the other side of the border.
Margo looked at her husband. Ever regret teaching them all this?
Lamont shook his head. They'd have gone crazy if I hadn't. Now, they can drive us crazy.
We heard what you said, Dad, Lane told them. And we agree. You can't let Marpa Tulku go alone. It would be too much of a risk.
Lamont nodded. I'm glad you understand. I promise I'll be careful...
Yeah, I know you will, Monty interrupted. Because we're going, too.
Lamont looked sternly at his children. Now wait a minute...
Absolutely not! Margo added.
Mom, in case you've forgotten, I am over 21, Monty said. I'm old enough to make my own decisions. And I am going.
You are not strong enough, Lamont stated firmly.
Wanna bet? Monty retorted. I may not be as mentally strong, but I can run circles around you physically. You are in no shape to be climbing these Tibetan mountains by yourself.
And if he's going, I'm going, Lane added. You're going to need all the help you can get. Another pair of hands and another projective mind can't possibly hurt.
Lamont looked stern. This is not your responsibility. It's not your mission...
Monty and Lane both rolled their eyes simultaneously. They'd both heard this song so many times they had it committed to memory. It's not your debt, it's not your burden, they both projected in a mocking tone.
Now Lamont was angry. Don't take that tone with me. I can force you to stay behind...
Don't even try it, Lane warned, pushing back against her father's strong suggestive powers.
Stop it! Margo interrupted. Don't do this to each other! She turned to her children. Lane, you don't have anything to prove to anyone. Monty, neither do you. Bad enough that your father wants to go off and get himself killed--I will not let you two just throw your lives away out of some misguided need for approval!
Lamont gently hugged his wife, then looked at his children. You really want to do this, don't you? he asked. You want to be a part of this, to put your skills to a real test that you can't get anywhere else.
Monty nodded. We need to. It's the only way we'll ever know if we really are ready.
Lamont sighed hard. He'd discovered he was ready to take on his mission when he used his powers instinctively to help Marpa Tulku in a real-life threatening situation, not a training exercise. He'd tried to keep his children away from threatening situations, letting them help The Shadow in smaller, easily bounded ways up to this point. But they would have to reach the level where they could respond instinctively to any situation if they were to ever take on his mission--or even begin their own. And there was really only one way to do that--enter a real situation where doing so would mean the difference between life and death. He turned to Margo. I promise to bring them back in one piece, he told her.
Margo looked askance. No!
Lamont took her gently by the shoulders. You've always trusted my judgment. Trust it this time, too. They need this. And The Tulku needs as much help as he can get.
Margo buried her face in her hands and fought back her emotions. Then, she gathered herself and looked at Lamont. You'd better bring them back in one piece.
Lamont kissed her. I will.
She turned to her children. And you bring him back in one piece, she ordered.
Monty smiled. Absolutely. He gave his mother a kiss on the cheek.
Lane hugged her mother. Don't worry, Mom. I'll make sure they both stay out of trouble.
Lamont turned to his children. The worry and paternal protectiveness in his expression had been replaced by determination and confidence. Come on. We've got work to do.
The three Shadows left the ward together.
About an hour later, Marpa Tulku led Lamont, Monty, and Lane to the edge of the camp. Just over those hills is the border with China, The Tulku told them. It is patrolled heavily. Getting past them will require a great deal of stealth and subtlety. If there is any doubt in your minds as to whether you can achieve that degree of subtlety, erase it now or turn back, for there can be no reluctance or uncertainty. Twenty-one lives are at stake.
Lamont nodded and turned to his children. This isn't New York, and those aren't street thugs across that hill. We won't have any weapons, or any agents. We'll have nothing except our wits and each other. Last chance to change your minds.
Monty shook his head. Not on your life. I'm ready.
Lane steeled her resolve. Me too.
The Tulku nodded to the trio. Then let us begin.
Anyone watching at that moment would have seen four people dressed in Tibetan peasant clothes and cloaks dissolve into nothingness as four mind-clouding suggestions were cast out like nets over the area.
The Tulku looked at the three Cranstons. Hold your thoughts clear and close to you. Let nothing pass through except the mind-clouding suggestion. I will search for Sato and listen for his replies. You will make certain no one notices anything. Understand?
Lamont nodded. Lead the way.
The Tulku headed off toward the border, followed by the three Shadows.
Lamont was rather gratified after a bit of walking to hear confused Chinese conversation, with one soldier telling another that he was certain he saw something slide across that rocky trail just on the edge of their surveillance area and the other accusing his partner of mixing heroin with his tobacco. He glanced back behind him.
Monty and Lane were holding their own nicely. Monty would occasionally reach back and offer his sister a hand over an especially steep ridge, but for the most part, Lane was keeping up with the pace.
Lamont's eyes kept moving constantly. There were any number of caves, crevices, and outcroppings where snipers and soldiers could hide and watch the borders, and if Choephal's report was to be believed, the Chinese were starting to use those hiding places to close off the Darjeeling pass. More than once, he found himself wishing for his chrome .45s--being armed would certainly make this a bit more even. But bringing them to India had not been an option, and so he had to settle for using his razor-sharp senses and years of experience to protect his former master.
The Tulku, about five steps ahead, stopped suddenly and held up a hand.
Lamont turned and gave the same gesture to Monty and Lane.
Everyone came to a stop. Lamont turned to The Tulku. What is it?
Soldiers just ahead, The Tulku replied. And bright light between us and them.
Lamont came up to his master and looked over the outcropping of rock. Sure enough, there was a small patrol of Chinese soldiers across the ridge from them watching an open valley before them. Wonderful, Lamont frowned.
Now Monty and Lane had joined the pair. Oh, lovely, Monty noticed. How are we going to get across there?
We need a distraction, Lamont replied. Something to scatter them...
What kind of animals are indigenous to this area? Lane asked.
Not very many, The Tulku replied, then saw where Lane was going. But there is a legend of a monstrous creature who protects the hills. The Tibetan word is "yeti". The British explorers who first claimed to have seen it called an "abomitable snowman".
Lane smiled. What does it look like?
Legend says it looks like this. The Tulku looked into her eyes.
She looked startled at the image that suddenly popped into her mind. That would scare me. Wonder if it'll scare them? She looked out toward the troops across from them.
Lamont turned to his daughter. Easy, sweetheart. Watch your focus.
Lane nodded, then looked toward the troops again. She focused on the image of the Yeti that The Tulku had projected into her mind, then put that image, complete with sound, into the forefront of her mind and projected it across the ridge.
A shout of terror echoed through the valley, followed by others. The soldiers fled their post and hurried into higher crevices and ridges, shouting in Chinese about the Yeti coming after them.
Lane kept following them with her eyes, shifting the image toward them as she did. But this was harder that she thought it would be, and she felt herself tiring mentally.
Lamont noticed the projective energy coming from her ebbing slightly. Watch your focus, Lane. Your energies are dropping.
I know, she replied. Get across there now--I can't hold this much longer.
Monty, take The Tulku and go, Lamont ordered.
Monty looked worried. Lane, are you O.K.?
Monty--come, The Tulku said. We must get across now. Your sister has bought us valuable time--we must not waste it. He looked at Lamont. Do not linger long.
I won't, Lamont promised.
The Tulku headed across the valley.
Monty gave one last look to his father and sister, then headed across with The Tulku.
Lamont watched to be sure the two of them crossed safely, then turned to his daughter. Lane, look at me.
I'll drop this if I look away, she said in a shaky mental voice.
That's the idea. Look at me.
She turned her gaze to her father...and felt his mind sweep into hers. Oh!
Easy, sweetheart. Lamont now had the images and sounds of the imaginary Yeti clear in his mind, and he turned toward the troops and resumed Lane's projection. Go, Lane. Focus on keeping yourself hidden. I'm right behind you.
Lane took a deep breath, refocused her clouding suggestion, then headed across the valley.
The troops were now completely terrified by the angry roars of the Yeti, which seemed to be coming from all directions. Their fear filtered through the valley and strengthened Lamont's confidence as his mind absorbed the psychic vibrations. He smiled broadly and gave one last burst of projective sound, then headed across the valley.
The last thing he heard were the sounds of terrified soldiers looking for a creature that only existed in their minds...and the minds of a handful of clever telepaths.
It seemed like they had walked for hours, but they'd only covered a few miles due to the rocky terrain. A rickety old bridge had led them across one particularly dangerous gorge, and now they were several miles deep into Tibet, but still quite a distance from where Choephal had said Sato and the others were hiding. The Tulku was constantly stopping and calling out mentally for Sato, and getting no answer. The temperature was dropping as the day went on, and the evening hours were fast approaching. If we don't find them soon, Monty said, we'll have to settle in somewhere for the night. It's going to be next to impossible to find them in the darkness.
The Tulku turned to Lamont. You have not taught them projective sight yet?
It was on my agenda, Lamont replied.
Lane looked amazed. Don't tell me you can use your mind to see in the dark?
Absolutely. I discovered that skill quite by accident when I was your age. Lamont sighed at the memory. The battlefields of France were particularly dangerous at night, and the trenches were very dark. I had the worst headache one morning and collapsed, then came out of it in the hospital later that night and discovered that I could see almost as clearly in near-darkness as I could in broad daylight.
It was Monty's turn to look amazed. How?
Projective echoes draw a general outline, so that my eyes can use the available light to fill in the details. Lamont shrugged. It was a pretty amazing discovery for something that I didn't realize I was doing or even could do intentionally. It's been a real benefit to my mission, but it's not something I know how to teach because I have no idea how I learned it in the first place.
And I never bothered to enhance your skills because you were already quite developed with its use, The Tulku observed. I teach it only to advanced students because it is a skill that requires a great deal of projective energy and control.
Monty shook his head. The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.
The more I learn, the more I realize I'll never learn, Lane added.
Lamont gave a smile to his daughter. Don't think that way. You're both more than capable of learning this, or anything else you choose. Good grief, if you can learn to mind cloud, you can learn almost anything. I can guarantee you mind clouding was the hardest skill I had to learn. Everything else was easy by comparison.
You did not think that at the time, The Tulku reminded him. I remember quite clearly your nightly laments that you would never be able to force me out of your mind, clear your thoughts, use your mind as a weapon. Thought projection only seemed easy to you later, when you learned to do so much so quickly.
Lamont grimaced slightly. That's because I had no idea what you were trying to teach me to do. The way you kept twisting my mind, generating chaos--I had no idea it was a way of getting me to fight back, push outward. Once I figured that out, I knew what I had to do to accomplish anything else you were trying to teach me--find a way to wrap my projective energies around the situation.
Monty gave his father a knowing smile. So you weren't always so smooth, huh?
Lamont turned to The Tulku. Tell me I wasn't this sharp-tongued.
That would be an untruth. The Tulku gave a serene smile to Monty, then continued up the next ridge.
Lamont shook his head, then followed his teacher.
The two younger Cranstons had just caught up to the two elders when The Tulku held up a cautioning hand. What is it? Monty asked.
I thought I heard something. The Tulku closed his eyes and concentrated. Sato...can you hear me?
After a long moment, a very weak projection replied. Tulku...I can hear you...please, send help...
Lamont had already traced the thought path with his mind and was now trying to follow it with his eyes. Down there, he said, indicating a hidden ice and rock cave.
I hear it now, Lane said. There's a couple of them calling out, but they're all really weak.
Then let's get down there. Monty started down the ridge.
Lamont grabbed his shoulder. Not so fast. He pointed at a ridge across from the cave.
A Chinese army sharpshooter was positioned between some rocks, his gunsight trained on the open area around the entrance to the cave.
That is what Choephal meant when he said they were pinned down, Marpa Tulku observed.
And why only a mind-clouder could get through there, Lamont noted. But the sun's at the wrong angle to try it now. Too many shadows.
The Tulku glanced up at the sky, then across at the sharpshooter. Then we need additional cover. He knelt and prayed intensely.
After a moment, clouds began to drift in overhead. The bright sunlight began to fade away as the sky became more overcast. The wind picked up considerably.
Lamont watched the sharpshooter shrug himself deeper into his hooded coat and squint in the failing light as he tried to find a focus through his gunsight.
The Tulku bowed reverently, then stood and dusted off his cloak. That should take care of the shadows.
Wow, Lane whispered, awed.
That's incredible, Monty added in the same tone.
Lamont gave his master a knowing smile. A cynic would note that evening storms are common in Tibet this time of year.
The Tulku gave Lamont a mysterious smile. Yes, but does the cynic know why they are so common?
Lamont almost laughed. Touche.
The Tulku looked at Monty and Lane. Make certain your clouding suggestions are clear and precise. We can afford no mistakes. Move quickly and carefully.
Together, the four of them made their way down the ridge to the cave entrance and hurried inside.
Huddled against the far wall of the cave were a handful of monks and initiates, looking fearful at the sounds they could hear and the darkness of the forms they could not see. "Please...spare us," one of them begged. "We are just priests...we mean no harm..."
We are not here to take your lives, Marpa Tulku replied. We are here to save them. He swirled into visibility.
An older monk, lying weakly against a rock, looked up in amazement. Marpa Tulku, his mind whispered. Oh, thank the gods...I truly thought I was going mad when I heard your voice...
Marpa Tulku knelt next to the monk. You are not going mad, Sato. The gods truly do answer prayer. They answered mine. He gave a glance behind him. You may recognize my assistant.
The next swirl of blackness that cleared revealed Lamont Cranston. Hello, Sato, he said warmly, kneeling down to greet his former brother. It's been a long time.
Sato's eyes widened. Lamont Cranston? I thought you were gone forever...Marpa Tulku always said that we would never see you again...
Lamont gave a warm smile. Marpa Tulku also said that anything is possible...and nothing is impossible. He looked behind him. Sato, may I present my children...my son Monty, and my daughter Lane.
Two more Cranstons resolved themselves on either side of their father. It's nice to meet you, Master Sato, Monty noted with a bow.
Hello, Master Sato, Lane added, also bowing.
Sato looked amazed. A new generation of Cranston adepts...oh, my... He turned to his students. Pay homage and honor to The Marpa Tulku, and to his finest student, the master of darkness...The Shadow.
Immediately, the young monks and initiates bowed deeply, whispering prayers of thanksgiving to the gods.
The Tulku nodded. Rise, please. It is good to see so many of you again. You do not know how long we have prayed for your safety.
Sato looked at The Tulku, as if still uncertain whether he could believe his eyes. How did you find us?
Choephal arrived at the Darjeeling Refugee Center this morning, The Tulku replied. I have been there a week now. We were able to find you through his memories of his journey.
How many of you are there? Lamont asked.
Sato looked sad. There are only twenty of us, he said softly. Namba, my youngest student, died a short while ago from his injuries. We have been travelling for a month now. Most of our number were killed in the raid on our temple. Many more died along the way. The Chinese army is relentless...even now, they have this whole area under surveillance. Only a mind clouder can get past them...
Or a shadow. Lamont smiled confidently. When the sun sets, we need to get out of here. Can you walk?
I will force myself to. Sato took his walking staff and stood it upright, then leveraged himself to his feet.
Instantly, his students were around him protectively. He waved them off. No, he told them. I can do it. The gods have sent us a great gift. Let us not waste it. We will have to move swiftly and quietly. He gestured to The Tulku and his three charges. Whatever they say to do, you must do it. Do not question, do not hesitate. Obey them as you would obey me, for they will lead us to safety.
Monty swirled into the shadows again and moved toward the entrance to the cave. The sun's almost down, he said. I can see the pink at the edges of the clouds.
Very good. The Tulku turned to Lane. Do you think you can lead the way back toward the camp?
Lane nodded. If they'll follow a woman.
The Tulku gave her a gentle smile. You do have ways of forcing them to do so.
Lane giggled. That I do.
The Tulku turned to Sato. Organize your students and follow young Lane. She will lead you to the border. I will keep our movements concealed. He turned to Lamont and Monty. Your job will be to make certain the Chinese stay well behind us. Understood?
Father and son nodded. Understood, Lamont replied.
Then gather your strength, Sato ordered his students. We are about to cross into dangerous territory. May the gods guide us to safety...and bless the strength of their servants.
Lamont crossed himself quickly. Amen.
The pink-edged clouds eventually turned dark as the sun disappeared over the horizon, leaving a sable-tinged sky of dusk. With an eye toward the ridge where the sharpshooter had been, Lane Cranston took a deep breath, steeled her courage, and cast out a mind clouding suggestion.
Many of Sato's students gasped. Most of them had only seen Marpa Tulku or Sato perform the feat; to see a woman not much older than themselves vanish from their view was nothing short of amazing. "Master Sato...how is it that a woman can learn this?" one of them asked.
Sato smiled with the wisdom of a calm master who had seen amazing things for years yet learned not to take any of them for granted. Even a woman can receive gifts from the gods, he replied. Especially if her father is one of the most gifted adepts I have ever seen.
Lane smiled. All right, she said, trying not to let herself get too caught up in the amazement that surrounded her. Everybody stick close, and follow my mind's signals. This is going to be tricky. There's only one shooter, but he's practically overhead. Master Sato, are you ready?
Sato nodded, then cast out his own clouding suggestion. Lead on, Miss Cranston.
Lane took one last look outside, then cautiously stepped out of the cave.
Nothing. The sharpshooter didn't even change his position.
Lane turned to the cave. Come on.
Marpa Tulku stepped to the edge of the cave and cast a wider clouding suggestion, blending the figures who were starting to emerge from the cave with the darkness around them. Quickly, he urged. Do not linger.
Gradually, the last of the twenty monks left the cave. Marpa Tulku turned to Lamont and Monty. I can hold back to make certain they do not see you, he offered.
Lamont shook his head. Keep up with the others. We'll be fine.
The Tulku nodded, then stepped out of the cave. Take great care.
Monty nodded his thanks, then turned to his father. Ready?
Lamont took a deep breath. Ready as I'll ever be.
The two of them cast out their own clouding suggestions, then stepped to the edge of the cave.
The sharpshooter who had been watching them was standing and stretching now, as if tired of being in one position for so many hours.
Let's go, Lamont urged.
Father and son stepped out of the cave.
A second shooter came to relieve the first, then settled down into his position, peered through his scope...and suddenly chattered in excited Chinese.
Lamont looked up at the sound--and spotted a red lens on the gunsight on the new guard's gun. An infrared gunsight! he realized. Get moving--we've been spotted!
Monty scrambled up the ledge in front of them. Lamont followed.
The shooter drew a bead on Lamont.
Lamont looked up and gave the shooter a mental shove backward.
The soldier lost his balance just as he squeezed the trigger. The gun fired wildly.
The bullet struck a rock adjacent to Lamont, and he lost his footing.
Dad! Monty shouted, reaching down instinctively and closing his hand around his father's left wrist.
Lamont grabbed at a nearby rock outcropping with his right hand and held onto it tightly as he regained his footing, then twisted his wrist and clasped his left hand around his son's wrist to secure the handhold.
The soldier looked as if he couldn't believe he'd fallen, then got up, secured his footing on firmer ground, and readied his aim once more.
Monty fixed a dark gaze on the soldier. Drop your weapon! he ordered.
The soldier looked confused, tapping his ear as if he'd heard something strange.
He doesn't speak English, Lamont reminded his son. Pull it out of his hands.
Monty concentrated his projective powers on the rifle and began swirling them around it.
The soldier struggled with his rifle, lost his footing...and tumbled headfirst over the ridge to the ground below.
Monty cringed. My God...
Lamont felt the confusion in his son's thought patterns. It was the first time Monty had been forced to kill in self-defense, and he was now stunned. Help me up, Lamont called to him.
Monty realized he still had hold of his father's hand. He pulled Lamont up toward him.
Lamont got a better foothold on the slippery slope and finally made it to the top. Thanks, he told his son.
Monty nodded, still looking shaky. Dad, I didn't mean to do that...
I know. Lamont glanced behind them at the man lying dead on the ground below them. Killing should always be a last resort, regardless of the darkness of the evil you face. But sometimes it's necessary. And this was one of those times. He gave his son's shoulder a squeeze. Now, get moving. We've slowed them down, but they'll pick up our trail fast, especially if they have more of those infrared scopes. Let's go.
Monty nodded his agreement. There was still a lot at stake, and they weren't out of danger yet. He took one last deep breath, then joined his father on the trail to freedom.
Lane was more than a bit alarmed by her father's report that the Chinese had night scopes on their guns and were now able to track even their clouded images. She tried to hurry the students along, but some of them were so weak from their month-long journey that they were having trouble walking, much less putting any urgency in their movements.
They reached the rickety bridge across the gorge. Lane remembered how the bridge had shaken with just the weight of the three Cranstons and their teacher on it; there was no way twenty men plus the four of them would be able to cross it at once. They would have to go in shifts. Tulku, she called out. The bridge--what should I do?
The Tulku frowned. We will have to go in small groups, he realized. Lane, take two of the brothers with you. Sato, organize your students into groups of three; as quickly as the last one steps off the bridge, send the next group. I will be the last to cross. Lamont and Monty are not far behind, but they are occupied with the pursuing soldiers. Make haste and get across.
Lane grabbed two of the smaller students. You...and you. Come on.
The monks began their trip across the shaky bridge.
It seemed to take forever for them to get across, but the moment they stepped off the bridge, Marpa Tulku sent the next group. Go--now!
Sato selected three more. Make haste, he told them. We must keep moving.
Lane, on the other side, kept scanning the hills. I don't like this, she said. I can hear someone coming.
Scatter them, Marpa Tulku ordered. The sounds of the night can be terrifying to those on a hunt. Make them even more so.
Lane nodded, then cleared her mind. The Tulku had pressed her especially hard in the week of exercises and training to learn to use both of her skillsets equally well. Lane had always depended on reflex use of her receptive side to augment the projective skills she'd learned from her father, and now she was being told that the projective side had to become just as reflex-reactive. She thought for a moment, then focused the Yeti sound into the front of her mind and projected it as hard outward as she could.
The sound that echoed through the hills was impressively loud, and apparently appropriately terrifying. The monks near her shook nervously, and the thoughts she could hear encroaching before were now retreating. That ought to hold them for a while, she told The Tulku.
Indeed, The Tulku replied. But stay alert. Men often augment bravery with weaponry. He looked to see the last group crossing over, then looked behind him and concentrated on reaching out to the pair of Shadows bringing up the rear. Lamont...Lane says there are soldiers ahead in the hills. She has scattered them, but they may return. Stay alert as you cross the gorge.
We're on our way, Lamont replied. Unfortunately, company's not far behind us. Get moving--we'll hold them off as long as we can.
Be careful. The Tulku hurried across the bridge, then turned to the students. Lane, keep moving toward the border. No matter what, do not stop. Your father says the Chinese are just a few steps behind them.
Is he all right? she asked.
They are both fine, The Tulku insisted.
Lane looked toward the hills ahead, then back across the gorge. I'm worried about them. Something doesn't feel right. There's something in the air that I can't quite place.
The Tulku nodded his agreement. There is indeed an evil in the air that is troubling. All the more reason to get back across the border as quickly as possible. Go, Lane. Take the others. I will be right behind you.
Yes, Tulku. Lane gave one last look back across the gorge, then gathered Sato's students and headed off into the darkness.
The Tulku looked back once more. There was a suffocating evil encompassing the area, as if something or someone was bound and determined to stop the exodus. It was the same evil that had surrounded The Temple Of The Cobras for most of the past eight years. And it chilled him to the marrow. He knelt and said a quick prayer for the safety of the escaping monks and the safety of the protective Shadows. Then, he rose and headed off to catch up with Sato's party.
Lamont and Monty had their hands full with the Chinese. Lamont had tried every hypnotic trick in the book to back them off, and Monty had thrown in a few he hadn't thought of, but they were still coming, still relentlessly pursuing them. There was something odd about the way that even their strongest suggestions were swept away after only a few minutes, but Lamont had no time to muse about it. They had to get across the gorge ahead of the Red Army, for there was no telling what would happen if the soldiers got to the bridge before they were across it.
Some snow-covered brush at the edge of their path caught Monty's eye. Do you have a match? he asked.
Lamont pulled a box from the Cobalt Club out of his pocket. What do you have in mind?
The beginnings of an illusion. Monty shook the snow off the brush, then lit a match and got one of the branches burning.
That brush is too wet to burn for very long, Lamont warned his son.
Monty looked at him with a twinkle in his eye. But they won't know that.
Now Lamont was smiling. You are more devious than I gave you credit for being.
Monty returned his father's knowing look. Thanks. It's a trait I inherited from my father.
Lamont grimaced. Get moving. They're right behind us.
Monty lit one more match and started one more small blaze, then took off for the bridge, Lamont on his heels.
They were halfway across when the first shot whizzed by them. Both ducked and nearly fell off the weak bridge.
Get across! Lamont ordered his son, then threw a whirling projective telekinetic blast toward their pursuers.
The first soldier to come into the clearing went flying when struck by Lamont's burst of energy. But soon others were beside him, readying their guns with night scopes.
Lamont made it across just as the next set of shots were fired. We have got to do something, Lamont noted. They'll be on us any second.
Get behind the rocks, Monty said, already climbing over an outcropping.
Lamont joined him. Now what?
Time to make use of that illusion I created, Monty replied. Can you make that bridge disappear?
Piece of cake. Lamont gave a glance to the bridge and focused his energies.
On the other side, one of the Chinese soldiers headed for the bridge to cross after the fleeing figures--only to stop when it suddenly disappeared. "Xiao--the bridge!" he shouted.
Their leader stepped to the front and saw the bridge was gone. "It is a trick!" he pronounced. "A trick just like all the others, generated by those escaping sorcerors. The bridge is still there. Get across and find them!"
"But the bridge is gone...," another said.
"Are we supposed to just step into thin air?" still another asked.
"It is still there!" Xiao boomed. "I will show you!" He walked toward where the bridge had been and started to step forward.
Suddenly, something slammed into his chest and threw him backwards, crashing him into a boulder. A heavy fog rolled in, engulfing the chasm.
Now the soldiers were very nervous. "The Tibetan gods are angry," one of them said. "I tried to tell you it was not wise to attack a priest."
"You are too superstitious, Chang," another retorted.
"It is not superstition, Peng," the first soldier informed him. "I have seen Tibetan priests do remarkable things--speak without a voice, vanish into thin air, create monsters out of rocks..."
"Sorcery," Peng scoffed. "That group probably includes a naljorpa or some other magician. He will eventually get tired. We will wait him out."
Just then, the bushes that had been smoldering burst into flame.
More nervous chattering. "Quickly--someone put out the fire!" one of them shouted.
A soldier reached for a handful of snow to toss onto the flames, but was driven back when the fire lashed out at him, now raging stronger than ever.
"It is a trick!" Peng proclaimed.
"Then why do I feel hot?" another replied.
"I feel it too," still another answered. "The gods are very angry--they are trying to consume us!"
"Impossible!" a doubting soldier snapped back.
A flame leapt toward him, just missing his face. The heat he felt made him cry out.
Now the fire had formed a wall, encroaching on them, blocking any retreat.
"We must get out of here!" Chang cried out.
"But we cannot see the bridge!" another shouted. "It is gone!"
Suddenly, a portion of the fog seemed to whisk away...and the bridge appeared out of nowhere.
"Aha!" Peng shouted triumphantly. "I told you we could wait him out! Now, we must attack!" He raced for the bridge.
The soldiers assembled behind him and charged after him, shouting angry epithets toward the escaping Tibetans as they started to cross the bridge.
By the time they realized that the shouts from Peng were screams of terror, it was too late. The entire platoon fell headlong through what to the very end appeared to be a solid bridge, tumbling to their deaths below.
Xiao, lying stunned next to the boulder, slowly sat up just in time to see the last of his men falling off the ledge and through the bridge. He could swear he heard a wicked, cackling laugh ringing through the valley as they fell. He looked around.
A wall of fire hovered over the trail they had come through. But it was an odd fire, with no warmth. He stared at it for a long moment, trying to find its source.
After a moment, it faded away, leaving only a smoldering bush behind.
Xiao bowed his head in frustration. A group of highly-trained soldiers had been fooled by a conjurer's trick. It was not real. None of it had been real. Xiao had seen too much of this growing up in the Kailasa valley to not recognize the signs. He looked toward the chasm.
The fog was still covering the area, and the bridge was still gone.
Xiao strained to see. Whatever illusion this was, it was particularly strong. But Xiao knew from experience that the best way to overcome an illusion was to use the other senses to convince the eyes of reality. He crawled to the edge of the chasm and began feeling for the bridge supports.
His hand touched something wooden. He felt forward just a bit more.
Another board felt palpable under his fingers.
Xiao crawled over to where his hand had touched, then stepped out into nothingness.
His foot stopped its descent as he stepped onto a board.
Gradually, the fog over the chasm lifted, and the entire bridge was visible. He strode across it carefully and was most grateful when he reached the other side safely. He stopped and looked around.
The area was empty. But a series of footprints led off toward the Sikkim border. And Xiao knew that if he followed those prints, he would end up caught in another of the conjurer's illusions. So, he had to find a way to cut them off before he walked into their midst. He pulled out a terrain map and checked it with a small flashlight.
There was another path that cut around the upper edge of the Darjeeling pass that might allow him to gain the upper hand. Xiao checked his weapon, then hiked off for higher ground in pursuit of the fleeing Tibetans.
Lane got to the top of the ridge that it seemed like she'd been climbing forever and was gratified to see lights and rough outlines of buildings across the way. Tulku...we're almost there, she called back.
Excellent, The Tulku answered, his tone relieved. I will be up to join you in a moment.
Lane took a look down the ridge. Uh-oh. She held up a hand to stop the monks, then realized that unlike The Tulku or her family, the monks behind her could not see her. Hold up, she instructed.
Sato relayed her stop command in Tibetan and came up beside her. What is it? he asked.
Lane jumped as if startled, then relaxed. I keep forgetting you're a mind clouder too, so you can see me.
Sato gave her a wise smile. You are quite good--almost as good as your father. If I had not felt your thought patterns before you clouded, I would not have been able to sweep them from my mind.
She blushed. Thanks.
Sato looked around. Why have we stopped?
She pointed down the ridge. Border guards, she replied. And they have searchlights. We'll need The Tulku's help to distract them.
Sato nodded his agreement. Even after years of practice, I still have trouble clouding others' presence. I am not certain how Marpa Tulku does it.
The Tulku came up next to them. Generations of practice, Sato. A smile. Watch and learn. He looked down at the guards below.
One of them began waving a hand in front of his face, as if trying to clear something from his vision. The other began making similar motions. The waving became more pronounced, and the guards began to squint noticeably.
You're generating a fog? Lane asked.
A fog so thick they will not see their lights penetrating it, The Tulku replied. Be careful in your descent--the path is steep, and the rocks below are dangerous. But you must quickly get across the border. I will wait here for your father and brother--they are not far behind.
Lane closed her eyes and concentrated. Mom...we're on our way. Tell the doctors there are twenty monks on their way who need some serious medical attention. She then turned to the group behind her. Come on--sanctuary is just ahead.
Sato relayed her words to the monks, and they all moved with renewed vigor toward the border.
Marpa Tulku watched carefully as Lane, Sato, and the others climbed down the slippery, rocky path, then cross quickly but cautiously in front of the guards, making their way across the Tibet-Sikkim border toward the safety of the Darjeeling Refugee Center. He knelt and offered a prayer of gratitude when the last one made it across.
The cold steel of a rifle barrel in the back of his head jolted him to reality. How...? he mentally asked.
"You left an indentation in the snow when you knelt to pray," the gruff Chinese voice behind him responded.
The Tulku tensed. Only an adept would have heard that thought. And he recognized the thought patterns of the adept behind him. Leiping Xiao, he said calmly.
"Marpa Tulku," Xiao replied. "You will forgive me if I do not bow. I have orders to stop you, not genuflect in your presence."
The Tulku sighed hard. You were once such a promising student. But you were seduced by promises of a greater glory that was hollow. You did not understand the emptiness of Mao's words.
Xiao shoved the invisible form in front of him in the back with his rifle. "Do not speak that way of Chairman Mao. He has a greater plan to preserve China, to save it from splintering influences." He backed up a step. "You might as well drop that clouding suggestion. You know I will eventually find a way to resist it."
The Tulku became visible to Xiao and calmly looked at him. The kneeling monk could have been anyone trained in mind clouding, he said.
Xiao shook his head. "But none of your students are as powerful as you. And none would have stayed behind to make certain their students crossed safely before crossing over themselves."
The Tulku mentally kicked himself. This was a trap, he realized. The Chinese somehow discovered I had escaped and constructed a trap to lure me back.
"Not quite. It was assumed when The Temple Of The Cobras was found empty that you would attempt to hide with your disciple Sato at The Temple Of Niban while you prepared to escape over the border to Nepal. That is why that temple was attacked with such vigor. But we learned just a week ago that you were not among the monks who had escaped from there, but rather were already across the border at Darjeeling. The radio transmissions from there have been most interesting--our intelligence service has many hours of your rich American benefactor Lamont Cranston on tape begging for help on your behalf." An amused chuckle. "But your secret cannot be allowed to fall into American hands. It must be kept here, where it can be used to train an army to attack swiftly and invisibly. That is why one of Sato's students was allowed to escape--so that you would feel you had to come back across and rescue such a renowned priest and the students you had sent to study there in the mistaken hope that they would be safe from the Red Army. I have been heading up the regiment that had Sato's party under surveillance because I am reasonably immune to your powers. You taught me quite well how to listen for interfering thoughts and resist them. My only regret is that I did not finish my training so that I could train others and become a hero in the People's army, so that taking you prisoner would not be necessary. But, alas, it is." He cocked the rifle. "Now, on your feet. It is a long way to Lhasa, where examiners are awaiting your arrival."
The Tulku stood, then took a deep breath and looked Xiao in the eye. You may be immune to some clouding suggestions, he said calmly. But that does not make you immune to all.
Xiao aimed his rifle right at The Tulku. "Do not force me to..."
The sentence never reached completion as a hard elbow cracked him in the back of the head. Xiao pitched forward, then whirled around.
Out of the darkness came a right cross that connected with his jaw and sent him sprawling. He got to his feet, then aimed his gun at the darkness and fired off several shots.
Something unseen rammed into his stomach, then grabbed hold of the rifle barrel and whipped it out of his hands, smacking him across the face with the butt of the gun.
Xiao stumbled, then grabbed wildly in the air as he slipped on the steep ridge behind him. His hand connected with Marpa Tulku's cloak, and he held on to it for dear life.
The Tulku lost his balance and started to fall. He reached forward, grabbing for any handhold he could find.
A pair of strong hands closed around The Tulku's flailing arm and pulled him hard away from the ridge, and The Tulku fell face-first atop a snow bank.
Xiao lost his grip on The Tulku and his balance on the edge of the ridge, screaming as he fell away.
A second later, there was a sickening thud, then silence.
Lamont Cranston sat up and pushed away the snow from both himself and his master. Tulku--are you all right?
The Tulku wiped snow off of his face, then nodded. Well done.
Thanks. Lamont looked across the way. Good job, Monty.
Monty tossed away the Chinese rifle he still held in his hands. I knew that exercise in snatching the broom away from you had to be good for something, he observed.
Lamont gave a smile to his master. A teacher named Kasha tested my self-defense skills with that technique years ago.
The Tulku nodded his approval. And you still claim you were not meant to teach.
Well, he didn't exactly teach with it, Monty noted. He used to smack me on the backside with the broom when I couldn't get it away from from him. It took me months before I was fast enough to get it away from him before he could use it on me.
There are many ways to learn, The Tulku observed. Alas, Xiao never did learn to use his gifts properly.
Lamont sighed. Those who sow iniquity shall reap iniquity.
Monty came over and offered both elders a hand. Looks like the fall distracted the border guards. We may never get a better chance.
Then let us not waste it. The Tulku dusted himself off, then looked down the ridge. Come, both of you. Your family and my students await.
The three men dissolved into the darkness again.
Margo stared into the darkness at the edge of camp, straining to see something, hear anything. Lane's return had been quite a relief, particularly when her worst injury was a bruise on her knee from slipping on a rocky slope. But her husband and son were still out there, still missing even though Lane had said they were just minutes behind her. It frustrated her that she couldn't hear Lamont's or Monty's thoughts; they had to be just a short distance away, but she couldn't even detect the energy of a clouding pattern.
You'll catch your death of cold standing out here.
Margo looked around at the sound of her husband's voice--and was rewarded when a shadowy darkness cleared to reveal three tired men hiking up the road toward the camp. She raced toward them.
Lamont caught her in his arms, embracing her tightly.
For a moment, there was no need for psychic conversation as two hearts bonded. Husband and wife held each other close, rocking in each other's arms, grateful to see each other again.
The Tulku smiled. I believe I will check on Sato and the others in the ward, he said softly.
Neither Lamont nor Margo acknowledged the comment as they continued to exchange wordless affection.
Monty chuckled. Forget it, Tulku, he said. Their minds are clouded to anyone except each other.
The Tulku nodded. As it should be. Everyone needs something in their lives to give them strength and focus. I found mine generations ago. I am ever so grateful Lamont has found his.
Monty sighed. Maybe someday I'll find mine.
A wise smile from The Tulku. I believe you already have. I sense someone named "Annie" who is never far from your thoughts.
Monty looked taken aback. Tulku!
The Tulku gave another wise smile. Do not try to deny it. You think very loudly, even for a telepath.
But not for a Cranston, eh?
No, indeed. The Tulku gave a glance to Lamont and Margo. Try not to let them stay out here too long. Even in spring, Tibetan nights can be quite chilling. With that, he walked away.
Finally, Lamont and Margo broke their embrace. I believe our son is feeling a bit neglected, Lamont observed.
Never, Margo said, turning to Monty. Come here.
Monty gave his mother a warm embrace. I brought him back in one piece, he joked. Just like you said to.
She gave her son a tight hug. My baby...
He rolled his eyes. Mom, please.
She gave him a scolding glare. You'll always be my baby. Even when you're his age, you'll still be my baby. And I'll still be worried about you.
You won't have to worry about him, Lamont interjected, smiling with pride. He did great.
Now it was Monty's turn to smile with pride. To hear that tone in his father's mental voice after a night stalking the shadows meant the world to him.
"There you are," a British-accented voice called.
Lamont looked up to see Coxswain approaching. "We've been looking for you for hours now," Coxswain continued. "Benton Hartcourt is on the radio for you. He's called twice already this evening. He's very eager to talk to you."
Lamont raised an eyebrow. "Good, because I'm eager to talk to him as well." He gave Margo a quick kiss and his son's shoulder a squeeze, then headed for the administration building.
Lamont took the headphones and microphone from the radio operator and gave a silent suggestion that the man needed a smoke break, then put the headphones on once the tent had cleared out. "This is Lamont Cranston," he said into the microphone.
"The sun is shining," Benton Hartcourt's voice responded.
"But the ice is slippery," Lamont replied. "What's the latest?"
"Sorry I wasn't available when you called yesterday, but I think you'll understand why in a minute. I just got back from Washington this morning. Our fellow agent at Immigration just finished getting the necessary signatures last night. The United States is prepared to offer Gyatso Kasha and his students political asylum."
Lamont crossed himself and offered a quick prayer of gratitude. "That is the best news I've heard all day. So it's all done?"
"It's all been approved, pending actual interviews with all of them. We just need to know when they're coming into the country, where, and how many, so we can have enough people there to talk to them and get the paperwork processed. And I take it we need translators?"
"That would be very useful. The Tulku--Kasha--speaks English, but very few of his students do. If you could find Tibetan translators, that would be ideal--if you can't, most of them speak at least passable Mandarin Chinese."
"I'll get right on it. How many people are we talking about--still around 100?"
Lamont did some quick mental math. "That sounds about right. I need to take another count, though. Another group of his students just arrived from just west of Lhasa."
"Good night, sounds like the place is overrun!" A hard sigh. "We have got to do something about this. Not 'we' meaning you and I, of course--good heavens, your donations to the camps and your sponsoring of the immigration and resettlement of 100 Tibetans is a herculean effort, above and beyond the call of duty."
"Not hardly." Lamont sighed. "I wish there was more I could do."
"The fact that you've enabled us to support others in their flight to freedom is more than enough, Mr. Cranston. I think once that first group gets processed and resettled, it may pave the way for other nations to offer similar assistance. Already the Indian government has inquired about obtaining assistance for the refugees on their borders."
"The ideal situation wouldn't require any resettling at all," Lamont said sharply. "The ideal situation would be for the Chinese to get the Hell out of Tibet."
"Yeah, well, that's not going to happen in our lifetime. The Chinese believe they have a historical right to Tibet, and they claim it's their territory. And no one's going to risk World War III over an ethnic struggle in a land where that sort of thing's been going on for a thousand years. So, we'll all have to do what we can."
Lamont nodded sadly. "You're right, of course. Thank you, Mr. Hartcourt. You don't know how much you've helped. Let me make some arrangements and get back to you."
"Sure thing. Take care."
"You do the same. And thanks again."
The line went dead. Lamont stood quietly for a long moment, pondering Hartcourt's observation. He'd already fought in one War To End All Wars, lived through another, and seen a "police action" in Korea end in a stalemate. And now the U.S. was sending "advisors" to Indo-China to aid in their fight against communism there. Was there no end to the shadowy evil of war falling over the world? What good could one person possibly do any more?
Eager psychic chatters reached his mind. He glanced out the window.
Several of Marpa Tulku's students were surrounding him as he walked through the camp, grateful for his safe return, eager to see the brothers who they thought they had lost, offering silent songs of praise to the gods for the great gifts they had been given to rescue their brothers and bring them to safety.
Lamont smiled. Now there was one man who had done a world of good. And as long as there was good that needed to be done, someone would have to do it. He tapped the shortwave radio button and followed the nearby instructions for reaching an international operator. "Yes, operator? Get me Pan-American Airlines in San Francisco..."
An hour later, the last of the phone calls were complete. A caravan to bring the monks to Delhi would arrive in the morning, and a plane would be waiting there to fly them to San Francisco. Benton Hartcourt promised to have translators and immigration officials present in San Francisco when they arrived. Now, there was nothing left to do but rest up for the journey. Lamont stretched in the cool air outside the administration building, then dropped down on the bench outside and reclined against the wall, looking up at the stars and letting his mind drain.
Does the sky look different in America?
Lamont looked over at The Tulku, who had swirled into visibility next to him. It's hard to see the stars in the city, he replied. Too many lights. But northwest of New York City are the Catskills, a mountain range that's a lot smaller than what you're used to. I mean, the tallest mountain in the Catskills is just a foothill in the Himalayas. But it is so quiet and peaceful out there. And the stars look outstanding. Whenever I need to regain my focus, I head out there.
Could we live there?
Lamont nodded. That's my plan. I own a vacation lodge in a small town called Frost Valley, not far from Slide Mountain, tallest mountain in the Catskills. You'll be staying there while whatever temple you desire is being built, wherever you want it built.
The Tulku looked taken aback. We will not need any special treatment, Lamont--anything will do...
You'll have the whole place to yourself. I've made certain of that. I gave the staff an indefinite paid vacation while you're there, so you can conduct training in peace. There's a small market in town, easily within walking distance from the inn. Anything you want or need, I'm just a few hours away--call me and I'll take care of it.
The Tulku looked humble. I have not yet thanked you for all you have done for us.
No need. Lamont smiled at his teacher. It's not even a down payment on all I owe you.
The Tulku shook his head. But you have gone far beyond what could possibly be expected of you. You saved my life up on that ridge.
I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I owe you my life.
The Tulku looked at Lamont. I believe it is I who owe you my life.
Lamont's eyes widened. Tulku, no...
Yes. You have saved my life, Lamont Cranston. It now belongs to you.
Lamont shook his head. No, I would never even presume to think that...
Why not? Is that not the tradition you were taught, the tradition you have upheld for 32 years? Why would you not hold me to the same standards you would hold anyone else?
Because you're my teacher. You're the one who taught me everything I know. You're the one who gave me everything I have. How could I possibly...
The Tulku put a hand on Lamont's shoulder. Lamont, I would be honored to be one of The Shadow's agents. You have served me far beyond even my wildest expectations of you. Allow me to serve you the same way.
Lamont looked at the fire opal ring on his left hand. I suppose an agent's ring would look good on your hand.
It did for twenty generations.
That got a chuckle from Lamont. That it did. He stood and stretched. We'd both better get some rest. The caravan will be here tomorrow morning to take us to Delhi.
The Tulku raised an eyebrow. All of us?
Lamont nodded. All of us. You're going to be granted political asylum, Tulku--you and your students. Your new life is just days away.
The Tulku bowed his head in humility. Then I truly do owe you my life.
Lamont put a gentle hand on his teacher's shoulder. I prefer to think of it as giving me a chance to give my children the same experience I had--training from the finest teacher.
And I will have the honor of challenging and being challenged by a strong Cranston mind again.
Lamont smiled eagerly. I can't wait.
The Tulku smiled equally eagerly. Nor can I.
Despite his fatigue, Lamont found he couldn't sleep. He rose from his cot in the staff tent and headed for the mess tent, manned 24 hours a day to help the doctors and staffers get through their shifts caring for the escaping Tibetans. He headed over to the large coffee urn and picked up a mug.
Join me for a cup-a-joe?
Lamont turned around to see Monty at a corner table, leaning against the tent wall. What are you doing up? he asked his son.
Probably the same thing you are--trying to calm my mind enough to sleep. Monty sipped from his mug. Of course, this stuff isn't helping.
Lamont took a sip, then made a face. I've had mouthfuls of dirt that tasted better.
Monty raised an eyebrow. Do I want to know about that experience?
Probably not. He dropped onto the bench across from Monty. I haven't thanked you yet for all you did.
Monty shrugged. I wasn't so useful. I almost got The Tulku killed.
Unpredictable men do unpredictable things. You couldn't have known Xiao would grab The Tulku's cloaks.
But if you hadn't been there, he'd have fallen over the ledge.
Lamont shook his head. You wouldn't have let him. You were already starting toward him. I just happened to be closer.
Monty sighed. I've still got a lot to learn.
Yes, you do. Lamont put a reassuring hand on his son's shoulder. But you're already better at this than I was when I started out.
Monty laughed. Oh, sure.
No, really, Lamont reassured. Just ask The Tulku. He'll more than happily describe how raw I was when I left. Trust me, Monty, your reflexes and skills are sharper than mine were when I started out. You've still got a lot to learn. But you'll have plenty of chances to learn through experience when you take over.
Monty looked over at his father, eyes wide. Dad...what are you saying?
Lamont took a deep breath, then met his son's gaze. What I'm saying, Monty, is that I'm getting too old to be doing this any more. Being The Shadow is a job for a younger man, a adept with both the physical and mental strength to keep up with the ever-changing evil that lurks in the hearts of ever-changing men. I wasn't sure if you were ready before we got here. But I'm sure now. He took another deep breath. So, Lamont Alexander Cranston II, whenever you are ready to take the reins, I am ready to hand them over to you. Are you ready to begin your mission?
Monty forgot to breathe for a second. He'd always felt himself an inferior psychic talent in comparison to his powerful father, always wondered if he'd ever be ready or even able to handle the demands of being The Shadow. To hear his father's affectionate praise, hear his confidence, was something that was almost overwhelming. Truthfully? he said finally. Not yet. I'd like to finish school first, then go through a little more training with The Tulku, if he'll have me as a student. There's still so much I have yet to learn. But you don't know what it means to hear you say that you think I'm ready. I know I'll never match your strength or your power. I only hope I can match your dedication to your mission.
Lamont gave a proud smile to his son. You're well on your way.
The two men toasted each other.
Are you sure you won't come with us, Sato? Lamont asked the next morning as the large group of Americans and Tibetans prepared to leave.
Sato shook his head. This camp needs a priest. I learned long ago that my calling was to minister to the needs of others. And as long as there are refugees fleeing the dangers, someone must stay to minister to them. He bowed humbly. But I would not be able to do even this much without your help and the help of your children. You have saved my life, Lamont Cranston, and I will be forever grateful. Thank you for everything.
Lamont took Sato's hands and pulled him to his feet. Take great care, Sato. You'll be in our prayers.
Sato nodded. And you will be in mine. They shook hands.
The Tulku came over to Sato. You are a valuable friend, Sato. The adepts of Tibet owe you a debt of gratitude for providing them sanctuary.
Sato bowed his head in shame. I only wish I could have protected more of them. The Red Army was on us so suddenly that many of them never knew what happened.
Perhaps that was for the best. The Tulku took Sato's hands. You have been given a great gift of strength and empathy. You will be a blessing to those fleeing this oppression. Thank you for all you have done.
I could never have done it without your wisdom and your teachings. Sato bowed deeply to his master. Thank you, Tulku. May the gods guide your journey. And may we someday meet again.
The Tulku nodded to his friend. If not in this lifetime, then the next, surely.
The young monks preparing to depart offered last bows to Sato and last words of thanks to the staff, then climbed in the trucks to depart.
Lamont turned to The Tulku. Ready to go?
Not quite. He looked shaky. I need a moment.
Lamont nodded and stepped away.
The Tulku gave a long, sad look at the Himalayan Mountains off in the distance before bowing for a final prayer, letting both deep distress and humble supplication pour forth from him to the gods who had protected the Tibetan plateau for centuries. Then, he got to his feet and sighed. The roof of the world. That is what both the Chinese and the British called Tibet, because of its extreme height and towering mountains. There are those who think that tulkus spend entirely too much time above the world and not enough time in it. Perhaps this is a way of forcing humility upon us.
Lamont shook his head. You can't believe that, Tulku. What has been done to you, to your people, is an abomination. You mustn't blame yourself for this.
The Tulku looked chilled. There were two hundred monks and initiates in The Temple Of Niban a month ago. Only twenty made it out alive. Ten years ago, China announced their intent to "liberate" Tibet. Ten years later, they have enslaved an entire nation and destroyed countless temples, and the death toll is in the thousands. There were less than three thousand temples standing when we were forced to flee. I will be surprised if any of them are still standing ten years from now. And I just heard a rumor this morning that His Holiness has fled Lhasa and is attempting to escape. He turned to Lamont. All things happen for a reason. But I am having a great deal of trouble understanding the reason for all of this.
Lamont put a hand on his teacher's shoulder. My priest once told me that bad things happen to good people because evil despises good and wants to see it suffer at every turn. I'm not sure I believe that. But I do believe that good does eventually triumph. It has to. Otherwise, what I do would be pointless.
Marpa Tulku gave his prize pupil a long appraisal. You are a wise man, Lamont Cranston.
Lamont smiled gently. I had a great teacher, Marpa Tulku.
The Tulku took one last look at the Himalayas, then turned to the caravan. I have received a great gift from the gods, an answer to prayer. Even an incarnate lama cannot take a second chance for granted. So, I must use it wisely. Which means it is time to leave.
Lamont nodded. Let's go.
Teacher and pupil walked slowly toward the caravan and climbed into the lead Land Rover.
The caravan pulled out of the camp, carrying over 100 monks and initiates to freedom.
[EPILOGUE: In the spring of 1959, clashes between Tibetan students and the Chinese army in Lhasa forced 23-year-old Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, to flee to India, where he established the Tibetan government-in-exile. In 1960, the International Commission of Jurists issued a proclamation denouncing the Chinese occupation of Tibet as illegal, stating that "acts of genocide [have] been committed...to destroy the Tibetans as a religious group." In 1964, the tenth Panchen Lama, Tibet's second highest-ranking spiritual leader, refused to denounce the Dalai Lama despite pressure from the Chinese government. He instead gave a speech calling for Tibetan independence and issued a harsh 70,000 word document accusing the Chinese of pursuing a policy aimed at "genocide and elimination of religion;" in response, the Chinese arrested and tortured him, finally releasing him from prison in 1978. In 1979, when China finally reopened Tibet to outside visitors, observers reported that only 8 of the more than 2700 Buddhist temples active in 1959 were still standing. In 1995, a report on massive Chinese human rights violations--including several heinous murders of imprisoned Tibetan monks and nuns--narrowly missed adoption by the United Nations, much to the dismay of the Dalai Lama and human rights activists all over the world. Today, His Holiness and the Tibetan government-in-exile reside in Dharamsala, India; Ma Chongying, Deputy Director of the Minority And Religious Affairs Bureau in Tibet, said recently that "[w]hen the Dalai Lama dies, he dies. There will be no replacement." The eleventh Panchen Lama has been missing since 1995; the Chinese abducted the Tibetan-chosen boy, a six-year-old named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, and foisted their own choice, Gyaltsen Norbu, on the Tibetan people. This story is dedicated to the Tibetan people and their struggle for independence...KAM]