The woman bites down on the stick. She tries to keep from groaning, screaming, crying as much as possible as she pushes the new incarnation from inside her. The room, its white walls made yellow by candle light, is silent. The midwife gives her an encouraging pat as she begins to crown. A gathering of abbots looks on impassively. After an eternity, the silence is broken by the rudely awoken. The incarnation gives a high wail, his eyes screwed shut. Before the incarnation can open his eyes, he is whisked away to an identical white room, unpolluted by the world.
The daily lesson begins. This one is about the nature of non-being. The teacher with the wrinkled face begins with a parable of a fish out of water. The young incarnation sits upright nodding along, answering queries by rote. He is imagining what a fish, this thing that lives in water, is. Images, as representations of the polluted world, are forbidden. The only thing he has seen in water was a mote of dust once. He imagines grasshoppers and ants, small men with thin legs, grass, thick and short, like his hair. The moon, the unblemished white of his walls.
It has been an eternity, or just an hour. His need to eat, to drink, to sleep, have dissipated as the incarnation has become enlightened. The need for candles, irregularly dripping, black soot-bringing, has gone as he glows with the light of knowledge. He has been taught all that the abbots can teach. It is time now for the incarnation to maintain reality solely through his meditation. The door to his cell sealed, painted like the walls, as it was for his predecessors. Some days, when his mind wanders for a split second, he thinks of the moon and wonders.
"Kill them all," commands the king as the yellow banner flaps noisily against the clear sky. Feeling his years, he now tries to make right with the gods, erasing past transgressions. He has hunted the heretics from his lands to here, their last stronghold. The mountain monastery comes alive with the shouts of ten thousand warriors. The gates fall easily, and within minutes, the army is inside. The monks do not resist and are slaughtered to a man. The kings smiles, seeing the gods' work being done. Every golden artifact looted, every altar desecrated, every room ransacked. All except one.
It has been an eternity since the incarnation heard the sounds from the wall. It has been ten thousand years or maybe a day since the screaming. He does his best to put it out of mind, to fixate on the paradox of reality. But to no avail. For the first time since he was sealed within, he turns his gaze from the perfect white wall to the door. He moves to it and feels a soft, cold draft from outside. After an eternity of consideration, he opens it, taking his soft white glow with him into the ruined monastery.
It is no longer an eternity, but a time that he wanders among the ruins. He is overwhelmed. He sees many of the brittle stones, garbed in the robes of the monks. He sees hair springing from between the bumpy stones. He wanders, taking in new sensations with his feet, his hands, his cheek. Stepping out into the courtyard, there is a soft, rhythmic chirping sound. But he does not hear it. He sees only the white orb in the dark blue sky, imperfect and cratered. After a time of gazing, he goes back inside and returns to his cell.