The Gate Further East
In the still-luminous sky, the thing was immense. . .
One of the novel's briefest episodes, as well as with the fewest named characters, it begins with one of our author's direct addresses to the reader, which seems distilled from an ocean of personal experience.
On his journey to find the Doorsa's master, Kit has reached Lake Baikal, the largest body of fresh water in the world, limpid to its mile depth, so stunning to behold, so dangerous to navigate that it appears part of a supernatural order included provisionally in this lower, broken one (769:8) On seeing it Kit feels unworthy of his quest, wants to begin it again, though when he turns to say this to Hassan, the man the Doorsa sent to guide him that far, he realizes Hassan has disappeared.
The journey in fact began with Hassan guiding Kit and Dwight Prance to the Prophet's Gate, an enormous, perhaps constructed, arch of tremendous age, set in the center of a maze of canyons that only Hassan could have led them through. Passing through the Gate, both the actual and symbolic start of his journey, Kit has a brief vision of a city, bright yellow and orange which quickly vanishes.
The trip by camel across central Asia is beautifully rendered; of oases, wolves, herds of wild asses and tall stands of flowering hemp. By now the reader has also been on a long journey of his or her own into the novel, and may feel a striking sympathy, in wonder and endurance, with Kit's expanding spirit.
Sans Hassan, Kit and Prance reach Irkutsk, a mining town very alike in many ruckus details with those Kit knew in Colorado. They meet with one of Halfcourt's operatives, Swithin Poundstock, who supplies the lads with maybe 2,000 counterfeit gold English sovereigns, with the profile of a young Queen Victoria, to spread among the natives as they journey further north.
As they do, Kit witnesses Prance talking of Shambhala with the locals, in their own languages, as a means of impressing them with the sources of the western monarchs', Czar and Queen, power. After a while they begin to bicker. Prance, clearly, has a greater mission than graduate studies in religion, one allied with the faceless powers of the secular world. Exasperated by Kit's naivete, Prance gives him a crash course (pg. 777:12-40) in the history of worldly, especially American, power's war against the realm of the spirits.
We see that Prance, like Scarsdale Vibe, is a Christian soldier who has grown steadily less Christian and more soldier as he goes along, and Kit despairs that his vision of Lake Baikal was not enough to stop him from falling now into this bickering numbness of spirit.
From Neddie: What is up with those rock fragments putatively being thrown off by the Gate? "...Shedding pieces of itself from so high up that by by the time they hit the ground they'd be invisible, followed by the whizzing sound of their descent, for they fall faster than the speed of sound.... At any moment a loose fragment might fall too fast for Kit to hear it before it slashed into him...."? Could Our Artificer be more blatantly alluding to a falling rock[et]?