San Rafael Mountains, California
His moving hands cast sharp shadows on the arid earth.
He was tall and graceful, powerfully built but surprisingly delicate, pushing and stretching his arms and body in an harmonious display of Tai Chi high in the crisp mountain air.
Mike Delaney was dressed in a loose fitting black silk suit. He was barefoot. His eyes were partially closed and his facial expression fathomless. The casual observer would never guess how much deep emotional pain and suffering was being suppressed beneath his inscrutable exterior.
Behind him towered the San Rafael Mountains and in the distance the smoke from a controlled chaparral burn drifted slowly into a brilliant blue sky. In a clearing below lay the monastery and the long dirt track that led to its gates and then on for miles of wilderness to the coast.
He moved with fluid grace and power, his energy compressed into a ball in his solar plexus, able to explode in an instant to deadly effect. His focus was fixed on his shadow, etched with clearly defined contours on the outcrop before him.
Suddenly, he noticed the edge of another shadow merging with his. It was fragmentary. Fleeting. It almost blended, but not quite. There was no sound, no breath, not even a footfall, yet he knew something or someone was behind him. No animal could have been that silent. Delaney's hearing had been trained to detect the smallest sound. He altered his balance imperceptibly, moving his weight onto the balls of his feet, 220 pounds of trained muscle condensing.
When he moved, it was with bewildering speed for such a big man yet not even a grain of dust rose from the earth as he turned, sank his weight, blocked and prepared to strike. What he saw as he spun caused him to hesitate. Such hesitation, he knew as soon as he paused, could cost him his life. Instead he relaxed and smiled at the elderly monk smiling up at him, his simple white robe plucked by a slight breeze. Delaney noticed the moving fabric, realising it was this and not lack of skill that had alerted him to the play of shadows.
The little monk seemed to move yet appeared motionless. But it was an optical illusion. As Delaney raised his striking fist, the monk drifted out of range yet Delaney, for all his consummate skill, did not see his feet move.
"Brother Rama," Delaney greeted him. "I still can't see how you do that."
"Can you hear the Earth breathe, Michael, or feel the universe expand?" smiled Rama. He paused for a moment. "I am personally very pleased you have come back to us, even for a short time."
"There was nowhere else I could think of going," said Delaney.
"We did have hopes that you would join the brotherhood," said Rama. "Don't forget, you spent two years here with us as a novice. Are you sure now, with all that has happened to you since then, that you wish to live in the outside world?"
"I'm certain, Brother Rama," Delaney answered. "There are things I have to do. But you know I carry everything I have experienced here within me, don't you?"
"Yes," replied the little monk. "And that knowledge will never leave you." Rama paused and looked steadily into Delaney's eyes. "You know how sorry we all are for the pain you now feel. You know where to come if you ever need to talk, or cry."
Delaney said nothing. He took a deep breath.
Rama continued. "Oh, there is a telephone call for you. We only have one telephone as you know and it seldom rings. It caused a good deal of excitement amongst the brothers, I can tell you. I explained to the caller that I would have to come and find you so he would have to hold on for a while."
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