The form broke free from the bright haze that enveloped it, as if encouraged by his request. It approached slowly, deliberately, feline-like, swaying a little from side to side, but drowsily, as if in a dream. Drake heard the sound of nail or claw, he knew not which, clicking along hard stone, growing louder and more distinct.
He could almost make it out now, but it was more of an intuition than a clear vision, like a shape glimpsed out of the corner of one’s eye by cells more sensitive to movement than to light—a shape which the mind had more to do in the making, than the eye in seeing. It was indeed feline in movement and in appearance, like a giant cat, only larger and more graceful. Drake’s heart was bursting at the wonder of it. It seemed so close now, though distance was hard to judge. He reached out his hand, beckoning it forward. It hesitated a little, as if cautious of approaching the pleading man.
“I have sought you all my life,” Drake said. He was moved beyond words; tears were running down his cheeks, and there was no trace of fear in him. “Please, please come closer. Let me see your face.”
And perhaps because of the eternal loneliness, perhaps because its very existence was to serve, it allowed itself to come up to the kneeling figure, and turn its face towards him.
It was the face of a man.
Drakes’ eyes widened with surprise, then recognition. It was as he had always known but dared not utter. This was the living Sphinx. This was the guardian of Kings made incarnate. He devoured the detail of its form; the low sweep of its tail, the long crescent of its back, the solid rectangle of its head.
Slowly, tentatively, hungry for knowledge, he reached out and touched the glowing pattern on its forehead, the same pattern he had discerned on the chamber floor. It felt warm and comforting. And was that the sound of purring coming from deep inside its throat?
The light began to change. Imperceptibly at first, it brightened till it was no longer comforting. He wished it would lessen, but it increased instead, pricking his eyes like a thousand pins. He shut his eyelids, but could not escape the pain.
A thousand voices started chattering in tongues he did not understand. Why was this happening? Had he somehow offended this creature of the gods? He bowed his head and tried to pull his hand away from its forehead but it was stuck fast. A burning sensation shot up along his arm again, but this time it was more violent than before. His whole body seemed to catch fire. He let out an anguished scream, but the sound barely carried past his lips. He turned his face up to it, supine, pleading for an end to his suffering, but all he received was a shimmering gaze from the Man-Lion, its human eyes filled with the sorrow of the aeons.