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The Guardian
8. A gift and a door

"Did you notice that ?" Rhissa asked suddenly. Nlaminer was writing something in his notebook and asked only, "What ?"

"Turn around," she said. "But try not to show your emotions." Her voice was completely calm, evem dreamlike. He turned his head.

A leviathan, a fishlike creature, was swimming after the raft, following them at a distance of several hundred feet. Its size was unthinkable; perhaps four or five hundred feet long, with a fat belly and bulging eyes four or five feet wide. Nlaminer froze; the size of that "fish" was enough to paralyze him. It seemed grotesque, toylike but for its size. Without loud splashes it followed in their wake.

"When did it appear ?" Nlaminer managed to ask, hypnotized by the alive eyes of the monster. It stared at the raft and its passengers with a keen interest. Nlaminer knew at once it could be quite impossible to stop that giant.

"A minute ago," she replied unworriedly. "Out of nowhere. Now you don't see it, now you see."

Nlaminer handled his emotions promptly. The only thing that could seem dangerous was the size of the leviathan. But it swam without signs of aggression, as if waiting for something.

"I wonder," Nlaminer said thoughtfully, "What does it want ?"

Rhissa opened her eyes and sat up. "I think it's just curious.

Hungry monsters won't wait too long; besides, there's something unusual in this pretty little fish."

"The size is unusual enough, I'd say."

Rhissa smiled and waved her hand to the "smiling" giant. It slapped its tail against the water, hurling rainbows high in the sky.

Rhissa turned to Nlaminer. "You see ? It just sends us its regards."

They observed their new companion and it left them as suddenly as it joined them before. One mighty splash, and the leviathan was gone.

"The host sends us his greetings, I think," Rhissa added.

"The host ? Who is the host here ?"

She paused for a moment. "We will see."

Nlaminer looked around. Their raft was entering a natural haven.

Magnificient rocks were supervising the narrow pass between them and a sandy shore. While they talked about that giant, their goal appeared before them without warning. A large wave rose from the sea and placed the raft carefully far on the shore. The passengers rolled upside down; but that was not the only surprise. A path, paved with opal stones, led up over a small hill. The mountain's foot rose from the very shore; low hills occupied the rest of this land. They both raised their heads; white clouds were rolling slowly down the mountain sides. A wind, coming from beyond the hill, brought them a fragrance of flowers and they were dizzied by a tumult of odors. Clover, buckwheat, lavender, primrose, dogrose... flowers of all seasons mixed in a beautiful wave which flowed over them. The wave passed and they looked at each other with surprise.

All around them was silent. Only seagulls, always hungry, crowed and yarked above their heads. This gave Nlaminer an illusion of his standing on the top of the ancient Ladder, looking down into the encircling sea... The vision of the lighthouse island came and left.

Rhissa felt a momentary disquiet in her companion and touched her hand to his elbow. "Don't let the past rule the present."

Her words came as if from hundreds of miles away. He shook the delusion from his eyes and listened again. Nothing new. Wind whispered in their ears; a flowery fragrance remained, though not as strong. He bowed to get their possessions.

"I think we are told to follow this path," Nlaminer said. "And I think it would not be too bad to do that."

They came down the blooming hills. Eternal summer dwelt here; there were no other seasons. Colors were the brightest they had ever seen; springs murmured down the slope of the hills. The path coiled and twisted as they wandered deeper inside this new island. The mountain, crowned with a brilliant white cap, looked not threatening but welcome.

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