The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Thirty-five: Down In the Valley

        The magnificent stag emerged regally into the meadow from beneath the treeline, alert eyes searching the shadows, tasting the slight breeze, sensitive ears twitching. It commingled confidence and caution — master of its habitat, yet still prey should lifelong vigilance relax for even a moment. The forest afforded more natural cover, but the open expanse was a waiting banquet that allowed the use of its great speed if threatened.
        Satisfied that no danger was near enough to matter, it began to search out favored morsels in the thick grasses. Gradually, it worked his way to a little clump of bushes sheltering a shallow depression near the center of the field. Within the pool of shadows they cast lurked another shadow, unmoving, patiently waiting, feeling the approach of the animal without betraying the slightest clue of its existence.
        Sara slowly descended from the air over the edge of the trees, trying to decide whether or not to interfere in what appeared to be a potential life-and-death struggle. In another few seconds, the hunter would spring. While she hesitated, the deer detected the slight rustling sound of her cape and turned its head to look straight into her eyes. It was a distraction the watcher had been waiting for, and Sara kreened the sudden release of tension in his legs as he pounced.
        "Run, Bambi," she cried out, "Run!"
        The stag needed no translation and bounded away for the safety of the trees with astonishing swiftness. But it vectored away from Sara rather than its real threat, and this proved to be its undoing, as Sara watched, horrified that her warning had had unintended consequences.
        The hunter was hardly less swift, and had the proper angle on its prey, leaping unerringly upon the back of the beast, twisting its head around by wrenching its spreading antlers — its pride turned into its downfall. The end was mercifully quick, as a stone knife found its mark in a practiced move. Spurting blood stained the grasses as the great animal's life drained away.
        The triumphant hunter raised himself over his kill, spread his arms wide and began to sing. He sang his praise for the beautiful animal he had killed, and his thanks for the bounty of the earth. He wept for the life he had taken, and honored its memory. He dedicated its remains to the endless cycle of life and celebrated the joy and happiness of a successful hunt.
        The haunting passion of the song touched Sara, stopping her in her tracks as she approached him from behind. Her heart had gone out instinctively to the doomed animal, but she realized that there was a rightness to this act that transcended sympathy. It was an act as old as life itself, pure in its intent and in perfect harmony with the great web of existence. The ending of one life supported another. The joy was not in taking a life, but rather in accepting it as a precious gift.
        The ceremony ended and the work began. Transfixed, she watched as the nearly naked savage began the practical affair of butchery, skillfully stripping the hide and dismembering the carcass, taking care that nothing would go to waste. He was powerfully built, tall and brown, with straight black hair to his shoulders, radiating a manly beauty and inner strength that was unearthly in its intensity. She could sense that he was aware of her, but chose to attend to his duties before acknowledging her presence. She couldn't bring herself to spoil the sacrament in which he was engaged.
        Finally, the job was done and he turned to her, the light of his countenance as it was revealed to her causing an involuntary feeling of reverance for this Great Spirit who honored her with his presence.
        "I know you did not mean to," he told her bemusedly, "but you flushed my deer with the skill of a she-wolf. I will give you the liver and heart, and as much venison as you can eat. I will keep the hide, though."
        "N-no, th-thank you," Sara stammered. Conflicting emotions tore at her. Was this another angel, she wondered? The effect he was having on her was — very strange. He was obviously no mere mortal. Her kreening of him revealed no human form, only essence and light made somehow tangible.
        "Well then," he told her, "Help me take this to my camp. You have a great many questions to ask — which is a shame on such a good morning as this."
        He wrapped most of the remains in the hide and slung it over his shoulder, letting her carry the trophy antlers, still attached to the head. Grimacing, she gingerly held it as far away from her body as she could and followed him into the woods. The camp was not far, thankfully.
        He washed himself unselfconsciously in the river, kindled a fire by twirling a stick on a piece of dry bark, set strips of flesh to dry into jerky, spread the hide in the sun, spitted a chunk of still-warm meat over the flames and offered Sara some ripe wild berries and mushrooms, which proved to be delicious. His chores had a naturalness and rightness to them that relaxed Sara, making her feel that she was somehow at the center of a sublimely primitive universe whose spiritual guide was one with Nature itself. When all was put right in his little world, they talked.
        "You are not of my people," he said, sitting comfortably cross-legged under a beech tree. "I do not think you are of their people," nodding at the far rim of the shallow valley visible through the branches.
        "No, I'm from another, uh, star, I guess," she said. "I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I don't think you're exactly a human, either."
        "Of course not," he replied. "I am what they make of me. You were sent to live with the human beings, though. You have their spirit, but are not one of them."
        "I try to be," she said.
        "And you are not one of us."
        "I don't know who you are, and I don't think I've met any others like you — except maybe the angel, but that was before I got here." So long ago, it seemed.
        "Who are you, anyway?" she asked. "And what's up with all the soldiers being brought here? Everybody up there thinks this place is full of demons and there's gonna be a war, like the end of the world and everything."
        "Demons!" he said, greatly amused. "That is their own doing. I am not surprised."
        "Are you a 'demon'?"
        "Do you think I am?"
        "I think," she said slowly, "that you're part of something that is being made up by my freeze-dried alien alter-ego. You're some kind of character in a virtual reality dream…"
        "A dream!" he said, laughing. "Have you not had dreams before? Were they like this?"
        "Not usually," she admitted. "Once, though — it was as 'real' as this."
        "But you were alive then," he told her.
        "I'm not sure what I am, now," she said.
        "Don't you know? In this place, all the people believe they are dead and that they are here to struggle with their spirits. I am here for my people, to honor them."
        "Then what am I doing here?"
        "You are on a spirit journey. You must find your real name and your totem."
        "I already have a name," she said. "Two of 'em, actually."
        "Yes. A given name and a revealed name. Your true name comes from within you, and your spirit quest is to discover its meaning."
        "Oh, I think I know its meaning…"
        "But you have not accepted it yet. It is linked to your totem, which you have not fully embraced."
        "My totem?"
        "The symbol of it is upon your breast."
        "That? The 'S'? It's the Cryptos idea of a joke. I never asked for it."
        "You cannot ask for a totem that pleases you. It is not a whim. It is the token of your spirit guide, and takes its power from that source. Is not the inspiration for your true name and your totem taken from a creature of power?"
        "It was taken from a comic book — you know, made up, not real, just a story."
        "A creature of the imagination. The very best kind, I think. Like me," he laughed.
        "Look, you may as well know that I'm having a very difficult time taking any of this seriously…"
        "Very wise."
        "…and this whole Armageddon thing just turns me off. I don't believe in it, even if I might believe anything else. I guess that maybe I'm supposed to learn something from all of this, but I don't see why it has to involve war and death and everything. I mean, even if everybody's already dead around here — whatever that means — having to put them through that kind of ordeal again isn't fair. All those people I've met — there's so many of them! — believe they're who they are, and even if they're some kind of bogus simulation, I still feel for what they might have to feel and I don't like it. I don't want to believe any of this, but it just doesn't go away. If I'm dreaming this, then that tells me something about myself that I don't like — and if it's somebody else's imagination, then I don't much like whoever it is for this, either."
        She finally ran out of steam and lapsed into a sullen silence.
        He sat thoughtfully for a while, then told her, "I think I see your problem. You are trying to think too much."
        Sara was exasperated. "Well, what am I supposed to do?"
        "Try to do less thinking. You should feel, instead. Watch and listen. Breathe the air. Enjoy the morning — and then enjoy the afternoon. Your journey is not ended yet. You should go to the city and see what you can see there. But don't expect to learn something. Just experience whatever happens and try to trust your vision."
        "Gee, thanks," she muttered. "Everybody who oughtta be able to tell me something always talks in riddles."
        "Or maybe," he said, smiling at her as if she were a favorite child who just didn't understand what the grownups were trying to tell her, "Maybe you listen in riddles."

        He set her on a narrow path through the woods that led straight to the city, cautioning her not to stray from it. There were many branches forking away, all seemingly much easier than the one she was on, but they invariably ended in brambles or pits, leading nowhere.
        There were other creatures or beings to be glimpsed as she went. A hairy drunken man-thing with horns on his head and cloven-footed goat-legs scampered between the trees, in lecherous pursuit of a young fat girl riding a centaur. An ancient oriental fisherman tottered by, flashing a snaggletoothed grin at her, his catch dangling from a pole over his shoulder as his wooden sandals clop-clopped on the path's cobblestones. A great, black shaman, headdress wreathed in glowing smoke, intoned a mysterious ritual over a pile of meaningful bones. Tiny membrane-winged creatures of light and mischief flitted through the overhanging branches. A green-garbed, red-bearded midget with buckled shoes, a derby and a pugnacious expression smoked a wee pipe under a giant oak. The trees themselves sighed with intelligence, and half-buried stony boulders by the side of the road were sensitive to subtlety and nuance.
        These were signs and portents, she realized, visitations and apparitions from a tangled mess of folklore, some unrecognizable and others merely silly. If she was indeed on a spirit quest of some kind, then why not encounter bizarre omens? The deerkiller's advice mingled with the angel's — 'trust your imagination' and 'try to do less thinking'. It seemed to be good counsel for now, so she just smiled and waved at the occasional dragon and pop-eyed tribal boogeyman. They had their own ritualistic business to attend to and either ignored her or waved back.
        The forests and meadows were not extensive — a mere anomaly in the otherwise barren rockscape and riparian marshlands — so she came to the city soon enough. It straddled the river that flowed through the bottom of the valley, its high wall enclosing it completely. A riot of bright buildings in every conceivable style of architecture peeked over the parapets. The gate at which she arrived was ornate beyond reason, inlaid with silver and gold, gems and pearls. It was closed.
        Under an awning beside the gate, a distinguished-looking bearded patriarch was perched on a high stool behind a podium that supported an enormous old book. He was obviously the gatekeeper, keys dangling from the sash of his robe. He appeared to be dozing.
        Sara approached him carefully, not wanting to startle him, and not wanting to be so rude as to simply fly over the gate and into the city. Since there was a custodian, she would honor their customs. Maybe he could tell her where she might go in the city, who to talk to, or give her a clue as to what was going on.
        "Ahem," she cleared her throat politely. His head bobbed up and his eyes flew open, clearing slowly as he focused on her. He blinked a few times and shook himself slightly, then sat upright, trying to affect a businesslike demeanor.
        "Name?" he queried brusquely.
        "Uh, Sara, sir," she responded. "Sara Corel."
        He thumbed through the book, muttering, "Corel…" several times, peering closely at her at intervals as if to confirm some identifying characteristic.
        She tried to be helpful. "That's Sara with no 'h', Corel with a 'C'."
        After a few minutes of apparently fruitless search he announced, "No Sara Corel scheduled. Date of death?"
        "Um, I'm not really sure I died, exactly. I'm probably in some kind of suspended animation, or I'm just imagaining this."
        "Date of birth?" he tried.
        "Well, I wasn't really born, either. I just sorta thawed out one day."
        He looked exasperated. "Place of origin?"
        "Wish I could help you. Certainly not Earth, though." She was beginning to enjoy being the one with all the nonsensical answers for a change.
        "Phylum? Genus? Species?" he demanded.
        "Haven't the foggiest."
        "Animal, vegetable or mineral?" he went on, practically in desperation.
        "None of the above, I'm afraid."
        He paused to consider for a moment, then asked her, "Mortal?"
        Now it was her turn to be stumped. "I don't really know. Guess I won't find out until I actually drop dead someday. Which," she laughed, "I might be, huh? So maybe you can tell me…"
        "You're wasting my time," he snapped, annoyed. "Who put you up to this? Michael? Gabriel? I should have known right away you weren't a human soul."
        "Now, wait a minute," Sara protested. "Maybe I was some kind of robo-freak back on Earth, but I think I was just as 'human' as anyone else, at least as far as my feelings and everything. I mean, give me a break, here. I'm sorry if I'm not in your book or anything, but nobody 'put me up' to anything. I just came down here to see if I couldn't try to talk to someone about what's going on, and the hunter guy in the forest back there told me to follow the straight and narrow path to the city and here I am."
        He looked her up and down. "You're not a supernatural manifestation?"
        "A what?"
        "A mythological creature, diety, power, principality, attribute, demigod, archetype, karmic essence, apparition, anima, demon, shade, specter, phantom, faerie, legend or idol?"
        "Not completely," she said uncomfortably. "I'm an artifact that's maybe based on something kinda mythological — but I think I'm human, mostly."
        "Hmm," he stroked his beard. "That might be different. You came here with the people up there?"
        She nodded.
        "Well, you're not one of us, and you're not in the Book." He sighed, "And that's all I have to go on."
        He thought for a moment and finally shrugged. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll provisionally pass you inside, and you can talk to some of the Higher Powers."
        "Thanks! That sounds reasonable to me, uh… What did you say your name was?"
        "I am called Peter," he replied, as the gates opened wide to the accompaniment of a silvery fanfare. She entered the city.

        It was a city of heart-stopping splendor. The golden streets were lined with beautiful houses of every possible kind, row upon row of stately mansions and finely-wrought villas, neighborhoods filled with elegant manors and courtly estates. There were colorful gardens and tree-filled green parks everywhere, with fountains and statues in abundance, each more glorious than the last.
        Quaint shops offered every delectable treat imaginable, gorgeous clothing in styles from every culture and era, books and trinkets, diversions and pleasures, needful things and triviata — all unattended and free for the taking, an endless cornucopia.
        There were playgrounds, but no schools. There were theaters, but no police stations. There were bicycle shops, but no garages. There were libraries, but no hospitals. There were bandstands in the parks, but no factories. There were public forums, but no offices.
        Neither were there houses of worship — no churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, altars, pagodas, seminaries, stone circles, sacred groves, mystic grottos, shrines, cloisters, kivas, ashrams, sanctums, monastaries, chancels, adytums, chantries, convents, abbeys, priories or cathedrals. Perhaps none were needed here.
        It was a shining place, a place of peace and fulfillment, a reward unto itself. There was grace in its design, and perfection in its accomplishment. Nothing was broken or incomplete or less than marvelous.
        As Sara wandered the boulevards and thoroughfares, she passed Roman courtyard villas, Tudor wattle-and-daub oak-beamed townhouses, Park Avenue brownstones, Hollywood movie-star haciendas, columned Greek palaces, Babylonian hanging gardens, dry and cozy caves, Nordic greathalls, onion-domed dachas, grand yurts, nomadic tents of silks and fine brocades, exquisite Japanese rice-paper teahouses, mosaic-embellished Arabesques, ornate Victorian gabled gingerbreads, wrought-iron balconied French Quarter shotguns, Gothic stonewalled keeps, Ante-Bellum plantation houses, and thick-walled adobes.
        She did not, however, encounter any inhabitants. The streets were empty. The shops were deserted, the parks abandoned. There were no locks on any doors, but Sara could kreen that the wonderful houses were unoccupied. Everywhere, there was silence.
        It was a colossal ghost town — with no ghosts.
        Maybe there's an air raid drill, thought Sara. What with all the ordinance surrounding the valley, it wouldn't be a bad idea. It was hard to imagine that such a place would have bomb shelters, though.
        There was still the inner city, a place of splendid monuments crowning a tall hill overlooking the residential outer environs. The unseen, inhuman power she had felt the first night — that had always been in the background of her special senses — emanated from there. It was her obvious destination, and she wondered how she would be greeted by the 'Higher Powers'.
        Just to be on the safe side, Sara decided to clean out an ice cream parlour before journeying on. There was a corner shoppe featuring a lot more than 31 flavors, and they all proved to be amazingly delicious — her idea of Heaven, anyway. She didn't think anybody would mind.
        Halfway through her project, nearly lost in rapture, she kreened something flying close overhead and rushed into the street, hoping it wasn't some kind of military hardware launched prematurely by a trigger happy and nervous soldier on the valley's rim. She caught a glimpse of the hurtling object and rose to follow its flight — then stopped suddenly in surprise only a few feet off the ground as she got a better look. If she'd been any lower, it's possible Sara's jaw would have hit the pavement.
        The flyer sighted Sara at the same time and quickly reversed course, dropping from the sky to land in front of her. Sara sank slowly to the ground as she stared unabashedly. They eyed one another.
        The woman in front of her was unusually tall and statuesque, gloriously blonde and blue-eyed, incredibly fit, tanned, and appeared to be not much older than Sara. Her clothing left little to the imagination, emphasizing her voluptuous curves in a manner just short of blatant. It was mostly white and short, adorned with highly polished silvery ornamentation stylistically representing a warrior's fighting harness. Her demeanor was proud and haughty, and her stance bespoke power and determination. A voluminous red cloak swirled behind her.
         Sara was astonished. The girl had flown unaided, executed a better-than 20-g turn and landed hard enough to cripple a human. And her costume!
        Good lord, Sara thought, reminded of one of her favorite popular Internet story sites. A Velorian.
        A mythical supergirl by another name, born of humans bred to genetic perfection by an imaginary alien race, whose fantastic exploits were chronicled by a world-spanning group of voluntarily obsessed authors whose stories were read by thousands — including Sara, a devoted fan. Could it be?
        Sara gushed, "Hi. I'm Sara Corel. Boy am I glad to see you! I was beginning to think there wasn't anybody around here at all. Do you live in the city? Where is everybody? You know, you remind me of me, sort of. Did the Cryptos send you, too? Or are you really a Velorian? Or maybe an angel? That would fit in with some of the others I saw in the forest. This is really great…" She babbled on, feeling like an idiot, while the other woman regarded her imperiously.
        When Sara finally shut up, the woman let the silence build to a crescendo before disdainfully inquiring, "Is it good?"
        Totally embarrased, Sara realized that there was a considerable amount of ice cream on her chin, mostly raspberry fudge ripple. And her hands were sticky, too.
        "Yeah," she replied, not knowing what else to say. "You want some?"
        "If you have left any," said the golden warrioress.

        She followed Sara back into the shoppe. Between the two of them, its stock was doomed, since her appetite proved to be nearly the equal of Sara's. They indulged themselves in a silent orgy of high-calorie bliss. After all, sharing a meal is always a good way to get to know someone. She eventually introduced herself between tubs of ice cream.
        "I am Brunhilde Odinsdottir, Sara Corel."
        "Pleased to meet you, Brunhilde. You fly pretty good."
        "An attribute it seems we share. It is not a common one for those lacking wings."
        "No kidding. Listen, I've seen some of the other 'manifestations' wandering around, and from what Pete told me at the gate, you guys are based on myths and superstitions and stuff, right?"
        "Aye, but I am unfamiliar with yours."
        "Well, I came in with the humans up on the plateau…"
        "Human?" Brunhilde exclaimed. "You?"
        "Sorta. Well, maybe not exactly. Human spirit and all that, but artificially made up to resemble someone who seems to have a lot in common with you. Jeez, we look like we could be related or something."
        "I had noticed."
        "I'd always figured I was modeled after this comic book character, because of the 'S' and everything. But if you're mythological, the closest I can figure is that maybe you're Velorian, which I wouldn't think is old enough to qualify. And anyway, they were originally modeled after the same comic book — unless there's a deeper inspiration that I don't know about."
        Brunhilde shook her head. "I know not of these Velorians. I am a Valkyrie, shieldmaiden to the Aesir of Asgard."
        "Wow! Cool," said Sara. "I know about you guys. You're supposed to carry off heroes from the field of battle and take them to Valhalla."
        "I and my sisters," she admitted.
        "I always thought you wore armor, with iron bras and horned helmets, and carried spears, and were — well, uh, most of the opera singers who played you all were pretty hefty, if you know what I mean."
        "We have no need of armor, since we cannot suffer injury. And our spears are the flashing lightning of our wrathful gazes which no creature may withstand."
        "Yeah, and you're strong, too, I'll bet. You sure look it."
        "We were created to be the strength of the Allfather's right arm."
        "Hah!" Sara said. "You are just like Velorians. I guess we have a lot in common."
        "How so?"
        "Well, that's me. Flying bulldozer and everything else." She dug a raisin out of her waffle cone and flipped it into the air, then fired off an ear-popping laser blast that vaporized it in a flash. Brunhilde looked appreciatively at Sara for a moment before reciprocating in kind, elicting something from her eyes that was more akin to an electrical zap.
        "Wanna arm wrestle?" Sara challenged amiably.
        Brunhilde dubiously offered her arm and Sara promptly engaged her, both of them steadily increasing the pressure as they took each others' measure. The Valkyrie's incredible musculature swellied under the strain to impossible proportions until finally her eyes widened in astonishment at the apparent ease with which Sara held her own.
        "By Odin!" she finally exclaimed. "You could best Thor himself!"
        They both laughed and clasped each other with the delight of meeting a kindred spirit. They chatted like schoolgirls while they continued to stuff their faces.
        Brunhilde talked about her sister Valkyries and the constant ritualized intrigues among the gods of Asgard, and what it was like to live with the other gods in the Celestial City. For her part, Sara recounted the story of her Cryptoalien origins and how she arrived on the Earth and tried to explain about the character they modeled her on and the concept of Susan as a robot supercomputer.
        Brunhilde shook her head. "That is of an era unknown to us. We supernatural beings are more static than mortals, having little need of human instrumentality. We exist as soulless unchanging archetypes in the realms allotted to us, serving as spiritual inspiration rather than mundane genius. It seems your otherwordly creators, or creatures like them, are not unknown to us, though."
        "Really? You've met the Cryptos? What are they like?"
        "We only know that an agency not of the middle-earth appropriated the bodies and souls of a number of our fairest maidens, promising by their seed to make them into a race which could challenge the gods. We know naught of the outcome. Whether it is your makers or an alternative mythology, we cannot say."
        "That's just like our own Internet Scribes write about the origins of the Velorians. And you and your sisters turn out to be just like they're supposed to turn out. That's eerie. Like what Soloman called a 'Cosmic Inspiration Resonance'."
        They were silent for a while.
        Sara finally asked, "So, where's all the people?"
        Brunhilde sighed. "It is wonderful, is it not? Ice cream every day, as much as you want, any flavor you can imagine. Verily, a Paradise in every way, with no want and perfect contentment."
        "It must be harder to get in here than I thought."
        "It is all too easy. There are few souls who do not try it. Some endure unending bliss for a time, but there is an inevitable realization that all come to."
        "I think I see where you're heading," Sara said. "Gets boring after a while, huh?"
        "The challenge is lacking. Once rested, the soul seeks awakening. That cannot happen here."
        "So they split. I can see that. Must be some kind of recycling center around here somewhere, I guess. Any idea what happens to 'em?"
        "My father would know. His attributes include knowledge."
        "I'm guessing Asgard is on the hill in the center of the city?"
        "Aye," Brunhilde replied, "with the greater portion of the godhomes."
        "The monumental stuff, right? The Field and Stream types are out in the boondocks where I met Chief Running Riddle."
        "You perceive aright."
        "Tell you what. Why don't we pay your Dad a visit? And maybe the rest of the god gang up there. I'm on a mission to spy on you guys for the Army and maybe see if I can work out a deal, and I'm also s'posed to be on a 'spirit quest'. I was headed that direction anyway. Maybe you can give me some of the inside scoop on the way and show me the scenic tour."
        They left together when the ice cream ran out.

Chapter Thirty-six: All the Heavens of Earth

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© Patrick Hill, 2000