The Heptateuch of Eve - Part 7
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Tweed Caldera, Australia
Iskander the Exile, May 1, 2022

A mass of blue-green stars exploded above Iskander as he broke the water’s surface, gasping for air. They were unstable stars, twitching and shimmering even as the lights behind his own eyes stopped swimming and faded from his vision. He floated on his back in the cold water, lungs exhausted, to watch these strangely persistent lights. They appeared much closer than stars. Above them curved a continuous surface that hung with fine strings of glowing gossamer. He was in a cave; the stars were bioluminescent glow worms crowding the roof.

Rock walls on either side of him echoed with the sound of falling water, growing louder as the dark pool narrowed at one end. With slow weary strokes, Iskander dipped below the waterfall, emerging beyond into a brighter space where the air smelled of smoke and damp vegetation. The rock alcove curved upwards and opened to the outside world. It was early morning, a thick forest silent in the dim grey light before dawn.

Iskander scrambled up the bank, letting his black neoprene diving suit dry as he rested on a mossy rock. A thick web of tree roots snaked around the water’s edge, supporting a distant canopy of subtropical foliage. The narrow cave stream spread in a clearing before him, disappearing completely behind a tangle of palms and tree ferns. A single bird call rang out like a bell in the distance. Time to get to work, he thought.

Evading the Jailors had not been easy, but Iskander’s tactics had managed to gain a lead on their tracking methods. The Way he had used through the Timor Sea was unstable enough to prove a challenge for his pursuers, but not impossible to navigate with the right equipment. With luck, his encrypted missives were still secure. He figured he had a few hours grace at least, hopefully enough time to find what he was looking for in this place.

Moving quickly, he climbed through steep bushland until he reached the crest of a ridge above the canopy. From here, he could clearly see the circular rim of the extinct volcano where he stood, eroded over millions of years to the wooded basin of the Tweed valley below. The basalt spire of Mount Wollumbin rose in its midst, the only remains of the volcano’s central lava vent. To the east, the caldera sloped toward the coastal plains, smoke from a distant bushfire obscuring the sea.

A sudden rush of air, followed by a dull thud, made him startle. He watched undergrowth shake violently as something heavy crashed down the slope and vanished from sight. Iskander looked up, searching the branches of a towering bunya pine. Several identical trees spread along the ridgeline in a colonnade, their straight arms radiating in even tiers. The perfectly vertical trunks reminded him of pillars, and he smiled as the memory of the Serapeum flashed across his inner vision. Some things were built to outlast even Alexandria, he thought. And how grateful he was for that foresight.

Enormous pinecones the size of watermelons clung to the bunya’s upper branches, making him step back cautiously as they swayed dangerously in the breeze. He was certainly lucky to have missed the earlier fall. This time, he saw the cone as it dropped heavily a few paces ahead, rolling awkwardly before coming to a stop at his feet. It was a round, green ovoid with sharp, tightly-packed segments that overlapped like dragon scales. Or a dragon’s egg, he thought.

He picked it up and carried it with him down the ridge, heading for a location familiar from the topographical charts he had referenced while in the Wanderer’s Library. Although his sense of direction was certain, the knotted roots and thick scrub of the terrain made his descent more arduous than anticipated. Soon he met a break in the trees, to where an unsealed fire trail hugged the slope. Under a pile of branches nearby, he located the old Troopy utility vehicle that had been stashed by friendly agents. It shuddered to life as he turned the key in the ignition, and soon he was making fast progress into the valley. As he entered the outskirts of a small country town, he flicked on the local radio.

“…instructions of the police if you encounter any roadblocks. I repeat, all residents of Tweed Valley are advised to evacuate immediately. Fires are moving fast from the northwest. Tweed Heads residents are urged to head to shelters in Coolangatta. Please follow any instructions of the pol…”

Dammnit, Iskander cursed to himself, pulling into the main street to park beside a garden supply store. He was running out of time. An assortment of grizzled hippies were crowding the pavement. A tattooed biker stood staring up at the yellow sky, a smouldering joint held in his whiskery lips. Undeterred, Iskander slid past him and into the supply store. A young woman in a patterned raincoat peered out at him from under her hood.

“Iskander? Is that you?”

“Tambisha. Quick, there’s no time.”

“You’re telling me!” Her green silk headscarf glimmered in the darkness as she knitted her brow, exasperated. “Do you have the Ark?”

“Yep. Here you go,” Iskander checked his periphery before thrusting the bunya cone into her hands. “I’m pretty sure it will work. No refunds though, sorry.”

She shrugged, and promptly stowed the bunya cone into an oversized duffle bag. “A deal’s a deal.” Searching for a moment amongst the folds of her silk scarf, she produced a rolled joint and gave it to him. “Careful though, this Vorehole stuff is strong.”

They could see more people outside the empty store, the crowd massing around a thin woman in tie-dye robes standing on the roof of a sedan. She was shouting through a crackling megaphone, her hair stuck in sweaty strands to her forehead. A flash of grim recognition apprehended Iskander.

It was Sharon Greve. He was certain of it. Either the Jailors had found no further use for her, or she was engaged on some Fifthist side mission after his own plans were foiled during her interrogation. But that didn’t concern Iskander any more; he had a more important appointment to keep. He coughed as dank clouds of weed smoke, barely disguised by sandalwood incense, floated in waves from the crowd.

“Because the bloody Government will never tell you the real truth.” Sharon continued to howl into the receiver, “They want you to stay scared, they want you to run! But I’m not bloody scared: I’m ready, Hallelujah I am! Ready for a one way trip to the stars!” The crowd shrieked their approval, echoing her fervour. A chant erupted across the street, “Alpha centauri or bust! Alpha centauri or bust! Let this mutha BURN!”

Tambisha tugged at Iskander’s arm as he watched them. “Look, I’m going to be fine from here.” She darted a look at the ecstatic Sharon, “But you’d better leave, before Mrs. Messiah over there recognises you.”

Though it was barely midday, the light was quickly deepening to umber, and the smell of bushfire was getting stronger. A flash of lightning turned the sky to sudden white, while a squall rained down bits of shadowy debris. Iskander reached out to catch one in his hand. It was a charred leaf, the form reduced to a fine network of fragile lace that crumbled to ash in his fingers.

“Until next time then. Thanks for sticking around.” he said at last. Tambisha dashed back into the store, her raincoat vanishing behind stacks of fertiliser. Iskander returned to the street, crouching low before he reached the car.

Once inside, he held up the joint she had given him, and quickly tore away the white paper to reveal a pale green peridot gemstone. She wasn’t lying, this really was the good shit. Vorehole here we go.

Blonde dreadlocked figures outside the car began banging on the glass windscreen, laughing at him. “Running away are ya? Bloody coward. Got no spine for the Great Starfish in the Sky? No siree!” Iskander avoided eye contact, tapping the horn to clear his exit, before driving away from the town centre.

The Troopy picked up speed as he realised the roads were empty. With only Sharon’s loyal followers left in town, the rest must have left as soon as the evacuation call went out. Already he could see the glow of flames on the far side of the road, and the thickening smoke haze made him engage his headlights. Helicopters could be heard thrumming overhead, louder than the road noise. Fire service water bombers, hopefully. He risked hoping that was true.

A road sign pointing the turnoff to the Kingscliff appeared to his left, where a red glow revealed a bank of cars waiting to cross the Tweed River bridge. A flashing police car and two black military vans were parked alongside a checkpoint, with barriers blocking incoming traffic. Uniformed figures with field helmets and flashlights were checking motor licences along the line, waving the cars through the barricade one by one. This was clearly no evacuation. Iskander was going to have to think fast.

Noticing a gap between two cars a little way ahead, he decided to make a break for the bridge. He floored the accelerator and swerved through the clearing to the opposite lane, sending officers flying out of his path. The barricade barely made a sound as the Troopy burst onto the bridge, black and yellow striped sections splintering as they flew up over the windscreen.

Checking his rear view mirror for his pursuers, Iskander’s vision exploded suddenly in a blinding flash. The atmosphere cracked like a whip, and in a moment he saw the bridge shatter in a column of electricity. Time to buy a lottery ticket, he thought. Lightning really does strike twice.

Spot fires burned along the road into the beachside town of Kingscliff, but he saw no other traffic. The shops along the boulevard stood empty, doors banging in the wind, their staff and patrons long gone. Outsized novelty sculptures on their roofs advertised an assortment of local businesses: a grinning face with a banana crown for Tropical Fruit World, the fish and chippery’s enormous tap-dancing Mr. Prawn, while a blue whale with comical red eyes and a plastic plume of spray towered above The Baked Whale pie shop. In the orange sky behind it, Iskander watched a black helicopter swoop towards him.

He lurched the Troopy onto the curb of the boulevard, turning down a narrow pedestrian arcade. A rocket fired from the helicopter, striking the gigantic whale sculpture and sending it crashing off the roof to skid across the street in a shower of sparks. A bad omen, Iskander thought as squinted through the smoke. The peridot gem flickered with a green glow from his breast pocket.

Hearing the chopper continue along the boulevard before making a turn, he broke cover into a back alley, veering toward the nearby headland. As the road ended abruptly, the bulk of the sea cliff appeared before him, so he parked hastily and continued on foot up a narrow path. Two helicopters were chasing him now, one circling back from the boulevard while the other approached along the northward beach.

He reached the top of the headland and peered down. A steep cliff fell to crashing white waves, seagulls riding the updraft of air that was cold on Iskander’s diving suit. He turned his face back toward the town. The helicopters were almost overhead, and a melee of black military vans were speeding up the boulevard. Jailors, intent on their fugitive, and probably satisfied to incarcerate his smouldering remains.

In the water below, a dark shape was rising to the surface, seagulls scattering in the spray. The peridot gem flared a single beam of green light towards it, as two wide jaws suddenly split the water into a shuddering abyss. The enormous eyes of a giant ichthyosaur blazed as it reared its head, hundreds of small fish streaming into its pelican-like gullet. Iskander the Exile jumped, following the peridot beam straight down.

He fell through solid air, passing looming waves and rows of sharp teeth that seemed to go on forever. Amongst the rush of salt spray and wet, fleshy breath, he the teeth soften, transforming around him into the flapping pages of books. Their papery surfaces caressed him as he fell, a glowing green light streaming through library aisles of darkness.

Begin transcript:


Cain Returneth Unto Eden with News of The Lord God and of The Adversary

So a span of some weeks did pass while the people of greater Aeshu neither heard nor saw from the star brothers, and they worried also for the lack of news from the birds, beasts and fish of the waters, until one evening a lonely figure appeared against the rising of the moon, and by his bowed head they read foreboding like the coming of an ill wind.

Adam was with Eve in the garden when Cain made his return from east of Eden, which at that time was called Bel, for it was a place of exile where none dwelt. And they did welcome him with tears and close embraces, as Adam brought linens to warm him, so Eve gave sweet liquor to his lips. And he took of their succour, until a more restful aspect became him.

So the elders of Eden were about to depart when Cain gestured that they should wait. And his face was flushed with passion, and the people listened in awe as words broke from his lips like tongues of flame from the embers of a dying hearth-fire. He who had been silent so long, now appeared fluent in their speech, and all gathered there were amazed at the miracle. Then Cain spoke through tears to his elders of the forsaken place beyond the verdant city, where the lonely curlew cries in pools of still water, “I am returned.”

Though his voice was gosling-new and broken, even so the words of Cain were clear to Adam as to Eve, who marvelled at the sound and listened close, asking only, “But where is your brother Abel, that lately went to seek you in the wild?”

To which Cain replied through fresh tears, “Am I my brother’s keeper? Alas, for the Adversary hath claimed him in the deep, and would my life have likewise drowned in black water, but that I took flight by the grace of a Great Spirit of another kind.

“For as the cruel Adversary did pursue me with tooth and claw, so a spirit of air and light did lift me up and grant me speech, breath of my breath, heart of my heart, and bade the creature forfeit me. But Abel hath fallen to his hunger, likewise he will fall whosoever dares enter that forsaken place where the curlew gives her warning.

“That once were two are now one, that once were twin stars are now shadow and flame, as my brother hath fallen to the Adversary. So I was borne up by He who breathes light into my words. He is the Lord God, and I his humble servant.”

Then Eve thought awhile, retiring with Adam to his tent to ponder the strange reports of Cain. As night fell and the stars awoke, she spoke in hushed tones to Adam, saying, “These are strange omens upon thee, as falling stars foretell the turning of a new age beyond the earthly sphere, and where it leads none can say. Pray, star-gazer Adam, what do you make of it?”

To which the eunuch Adam answered her, “Mother Eve, your life hath been long as mine hath brevity, though my beard is now long and ash-grey and my eyes grow dim from searching the heavens.” All the while, the subtle Cain lay hidden then in the darkness to listen to their confidences.

Adam spoke further, and through the tent fold he made gesture to the hill beyond the forest of Eden that flowered in the night, “This I surmise: that the Tree of Knowledge which beareth golden fruit, and the Tree of Life which beareth silver, are in their way both sun and moon made earthly. Let us eat of their gifts, if the season is right, and gain our course of action.”

Cain stepped from the shadow then to reveal himself, and spoke up in sudden fury, crying, “Hearken, you heathen conspirators, for I am the servant of a great power, and you must listen and repent of this speculation!

“Through me the Lord God has proclaimed an augury, that all the fair things of Eden you may take, except the fruit of these two trees, which the Lord has forbidden me as well as to you. For the Adversary is curled at the shining root, and his fatal poison swells on the shining bough.

“Bring instead a sacrifice to the Lord God that dwelleth in the Second Kingdom of Heaven, that he might forgive us our negligence, and the Adversary shall make no further sport.”

And Cain was so ardent in his speech that he trembled with a holy indignation, and many of the people of Eden awoke and gathered near to listen. So Cain grew in confidence and cursed them for their ignorance. For in his heart he bore jealous hatred of the ministers at the Temple of Champions, where the images of the seven beasts marked the pillars there to tell of the age before the great flood.

“Truly, you are sinners before the Lord, as you worship the two trees and have graven images of beasts in stone. And for this I have been sent by the Lord God to give you warning, that unless you abandon your wickedness you shall be cast into the fires of the Adversary. For you have been commanded by the Lord God of the Second Kingdom of Heaven to submit to his authority alone. And whosoever does this in his heart shall be saved and have eternal life, but whosoever does not will be thrown into the pit like a broken wine jar.”

So to demonstrate his sincerity, Cain took a rod of iron into the Temple. And there he struck it against the pillars and broke each face of the graven champions, and none dared approach him in his fury.

Then the scribes of the Temple exclaimed in protest, “But why have you come to cause division among us? And why do you say these things against the customs of our people, when we have given you shelter from the storms in heaven?”

To which Cain answered, “I am a messenger of the Lord God who dwelleth in the stars of a greater Heaven than the first, and he has sent me unto this place that it may be purified by his spirit. If you doubt me, take as proof the miracle that the Lord God performed to grant me my voice. For as I am his spokesperson I speak only truth, and do not devise myths in the manner of my fallen brother Abel. For that was his undoing, and he has paid with his life.”

“A great debt you owe to the Lord God for showing his mercy in allowing you to choose the right path, for he loves all who submit to him. And if you give the Lord God your life, he will save you from the Adversary who pollutes this land, for in his great generosity has the Lord God created a holy city in the highest heavens beyond the stars, where you shall dwell in eternal bliss after this sinful world is cast to fire.”

So there was great confusion and murmurings among the people, for many were moved by the conviction of Cain’s words, and each began to fear their neighbour. And some of the people who had been born from the fallen star also joined with him, and the burning aspect of passion returned to their eyes.

But Eve departed their company to follow the advice of Adam, and went into the garden to seek the silver heights of the Tree of Life. There she saw shining fruits upon the bough, and also the nimble serpent of silver that guarded them.

So Eve spoke to the serpent, saying, “Wise serpent, great confusion is sown amongst our people, and wild stories put fear into their hearts. Will you grant me a fruit of this sacred tree, that I may seek advice from our ancestors?”

And the serpent replied with its silver tongue, “Wise mother, if you would eat of this fruit, you would know the truth of the matter. For the Tree of Life maintains a record of all who have lived and died in this world, and its fruit shall bestow you their memory.”

So Eve took the fruit and ate, and at once a vision overcame her. For she saw the body of Abel in the dark waters of the reflecting pool, and the moon caught upon its surface. And she saw the hidden shame in Cain’s heart, and knew of his treachery. And she understood that by inventing wild stories he hoped to absolve himself of a burden of his guilt, and place upon the people of Eden the duty of his own atonement.

But Cain had followed her and hid himself in the shade, and he saw all that occurred. Thus he knew the peril of Eve’s understanding, and hardened his heart against her. So he departed quickly to the ends of the garden wherein the Tree of Knowledge grew, and it shone with light like the noonday sun, and golden apples hung upon its boughs. And alike to the other tree there dwelt a golden serpent at its root.

And though the serpent rose up to stop him, Cain struck it with the rod of iron, and killed it. So from its tongue of gold he drew a subtle poison, and devised by careful means to place it on the golden fruits that grew upon the lower branches.

And Eve returned to the people as the dawn was breaking in the East, as Cain returned to them from the West. So Eve spoke then to the people to end their quarrelling, saying, “Oh people of Eden, I have gained a vision from the Tree of Life, and come to bring an end to your confusion.

“For Abel was not taken by an Adversary, but was drowned in a deep pool in the land of Bel because he sought his brother. And though it is a great misfortune, only Cain knows this truth.”

Then Cain spoke his turn, asking the people to discount her words. “These are lies from the silver tongue of a wicked woman, who would keep you here under her dominion, and continue to live in your sin. For the Adversary has granted her sorcery, as the fruit of the Tree of Life shall cause death to all but those who are servants of the dark power. And if it is true that she has eaten of the fruit and survived, this is but further proof of her wicked sorcery.”

Then Adam protested, “But Cain, if the season is right to try these fruits, by them we may come into our inheritance. Why do you slander the testament of Eve, who has guided us these many years from Saul unto the land of Aeshu?”

To which Cain replied, “If this is what you believe, then you will surely agree to test this conjecture by a proof. Eat of the Tree of Knowledge, if you will it, as Eve has eaten from the Tree of Life, and we shall see who is right.”

So they followed Adam to the Tree of Knowledge that shone like a golden spear in the morning light. And there he saw the golden apples of the sun hanging on its lower boughs.

And Adam asked, “But where is the serpent that guards this tree, that I may ask permission to eat?”

Then Cain replied, “It has departed in shame, for it is an agent of the Adversary, and I have come with the rod of iron. All darkness flees from the true power of the Lord God.”

Thus the people were awed at these answers from Cain, and feared the wrath of his iron rod. Some warned Adam against touching the fruit, while others demanded he eat, and thereby reveal the truth of the matter for all to see.

So Adam took a golden fruit and ate. And at the instant the fruit touched his lips, Adam transformed before them as if passing through many years. First, his hair turned grey, and from grey to shining white, whereupon it fell from his head in frail strands. His body bowed low beneath the sudden weight of years, and his eyes grew dim under his brow, and he was blinded.

So did his flesh waste to nothing before their eyes, unto a heap of bones, and thereafter the bones became a heap of dust. So in the span of some little time, the people saw Adam age through many generations until he was returned to a pile of earth.

And though Eve cried out in sorrow, Cain was victorious, saying, “See the evil of this deed, and the fate of those who would act against the will of the Lord God? For this fruit has been forbidden to you as it is to me, and its boughs bloom with unholy poison.”

And Cain bade the people turn against Eve, calling her a sorcerer and a liar, and by his burning rod of iron he drove her out of Eden and into exile. So he claimed victory over the Adversary, and the people became repentant as they heeded to his warning.

Because of the sacrifice of Adam, Cain resolved then to win the people to him entirely, and he announced a memorial to honour their scribe. Cain gathered the dust of Adam and made for it a vessel of clay. By his instruction, the people cut down the accursed trees of Gold and Silver, and with their boughs he built a pyre. And on this altar he placed the vessel of clay, and with his rod of iron Cain set the pyre to flame.

From the wild lands beyond Eden, Eve cried out for her companion, and tore her hair, and rent her fists upon the dry earth in sorrow. From a high hill she saw the two trees fall to the axe, and saw the flames of Adam’s funeral pyre grow taller. And her despair grew still greater, for not long had the pyre been set than a spark fell down upon the dry garden, and soon the whole of Eden was spread with wildfire.

And sulphurous fire rained down upon the garden of Eden, and a cloud of black smoke rose up to block out the sun, so that all the living things that could not escape that place were soon destroyed. Eve saw the people flee out into the dry plain beyond the garden, yet Cain alone stood unmoving against the flames, for his sight was blind with passion.

So Eve ran to meet the flames, and at her back blew a strong wind from the mountains of Bel. And the wind was cold, and shook Cain from his stupor, so that he fled along with the others onto the plain.

But Eve continued unto the very heart of the fire, for wheresoever she went the great wind followed her, and turned the flames back unto themselves. And though the inferno blazed with a powerful heat, it soon expired, and all that remained of Eden was a waste of smoke and ash.

What happened to Eve, none could tell. The fire was extinguished, yet no trace remained of her upon the earth. So the people supposed the flames had taken her, and that after so many generations, she had returned to her mother Masseba in the depths.

But others felt drops of rain upon their faces as they gathered on the plain, and they saw black leaves fall from the sky, which came to land like manna upon the earth. And upon each leaf was marked a song of their people. Yet the people gathered what they could, and departed Aeshu in sorrow. So they supposed that Eve had departed Eden for another aeon, and had left them these signs from the heavenly waters as a token of remembrance.

Yet Cain was of the position that these great figures had been taken by the Lord God, and he sought supplication from the people thereby. So Cain pronounced Eve his true mother, and Adam his true father, and bade the people bear witness to the great mercy of their Lord God.

And he instructed them to abandon vainglory, and to humble themselves before his great power, and to give thanks to the Lord God alone. For he assured them that the Lord God was now satisfied with the sacrifice of their forebears, and would not punish them further if they would keep to the path of righteousness. And he carried the rod of iron as a shepherd leading his flock, and they followed him.

So Cain did lead the people out of Eden and into a new country, and he was made their hierophant. And so while the songs of Eden were made divided and confused, still the people carried them and honoured what remained. And Cain did grant them this favour, and consecrated the songs with a sacrament of his own tears.

Cain went with his people into the dry desert beyond the mountains of Bel, and thus it was the Second Kingdom of Heaven. And they made a new ark to carry the sacred flame, though now it burned as a covenant with the Lord God.

The Garden of Eden was forgotten, and nothing remained of the Temple save a heap of stones. As the ages turned so the soil returned to life, and cool waters flowed again where wild animals came to drink. The tomb of Adam split, and from the clay vessel there grew a grapevine.

And for many generations, only the small creatures of the field, which had never known the forebears of Adam, gained the providence of this fruit. But in ages hence it would be cultivated and pressed into wine, as its taste was bitter, so would it incline the wise to some remembrance of these stories, for by the vintner has it been written.

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