0191: The Grove
There was a strange battle taking place inside his mind, he realized, as he tried to reconcile the physical shape he was seeing to the image that he was absolutely certain it represented.
Lamont glanced over his shoulder to get his bearings. Some three hundred feet away he could see the simple ivory column of the lift shaft in the center of the tower, but without that consistent point of reference, he felt that he would soon be hopelessly lost. The combination of winding paths, sloping artificial hills and valleys, and the staggering variety of strange and exotic features created an effect that was both sublime and disorienting.
“We’re nearly there,” Constance said. She was leading them toward a feature that had the appearance of a grove, where a ring of columns that were silvery in color but organic in shape concealed whatever was inside them. The branches of the tree-like objects merged to form a single canopy, almost like a natural gazebo, about twenty feet high and the same diameter. There was a slight elevation in the iridescent tiles of the path that they had been following where a tiny stream trickled beneath it. The stream wound its way into the arched space between two of the silver columns, and it was here that Constance stepped off the path and beckoned them into the grove. The canopy over their heads had a glass-like quality through which all the colors of the rainbow seemed to sparkle kaleidoscopically as they moved. This formed one subtle source of light in the partially enclosed space. The other source of light came unexpectedly from the water, which took on a luminescent quality in the center, where it formed a small circular pool. This created an eerie, bluish uplight that reminded Lamont of the deep azure clouds in the gas giant around which they were orbiting. The association, however, was drowned out by the startling object rising from the center of the pool.
It was carved out of a marble-like stone in such a way that it seemed to emerge organically from the living rock, as if it had grown as a natural formation rather than being expertly carved by intelligent hands—as indeed it must have been.
It, or rather, she. To Lamont, the form was unmistakably feminine. Slender, shrouded, featureless, as if draped in a cloak, with no discernable legs and only a hint of two hands clasped in an attitude of supplication. There was a strange battle taking place inside his mind, he realized, as he tried to reconcile the physical shape he was seeing to the image that he was absolutely certain it represented. The shape was four-sided and symmetrical, so that the suggestion of arms appeared on all sides, with what he saw as an uplifted head being a simple cowled dome at the top. Practically abstract. And yet. And yet…
The whisper stumbled unbidden from his lips.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”