Part IV: Rites of Darkness
1. The First Spell
After saying good-bye to Gavin and Aurora, Kirk and Jennifer turned around and saw that the sidewalk was now crowded with people leaving Open Secret. They wended their way through the throng, and as they got near the door Jennifer encountered some of the friends she had seen inside before Kalianna's spiel. After a bit of chit-chat, they told her that Kalianna was still onstage and would lead an encore chant at any moment. She said to Kirk, "Would you like to go in for it?"
"I don't know," he said. "What if she turns into a demon again?"
Jennifer's friends looked shocked. She took Kirk gently by the hand and said, "Maybe we can talk about it inside."
The metal detector had been moved aside, and they slipped into the store through the thinning crowd of people going the other way. Most of those who remained had moved up to the front seats. Kalianna seemed to be talking casually and joking with Rachel and the audience. Kirk and Jennifer sat in the back, far enough away from the others that they could talk quietly between themselves.
Jennifer said, "So what exactly did you see when Kalianna was spieling?"
"At first it was great," he replied. "I saw her grow till she filled the universe, then her heart was the Divine Oneness, and I was flowing into it."
"Wow," said Jennifer, "that's just what I've experienced every time I've sat through one of her spiels, even on TV and listening to her recordings. But you said that it somehow turned bad ~ you saw her wrathful form."
"Right, and she was sucking me down into a hellish pit right in her own bowels."
"That's pretty scary!"
"But I snapped out of it an instant before I would've gotten swallowed up."
"I wonder why that happened?"
"Good question. I'll bet Gavin and Aurora did something psychic to rescue me."
They were interrupted as Kalianna began to chant, accompanied by Rachel on the keyboard. It was just a crooning susurrus at first; then words began to emerge, and her followers joined in: Om Namah KaliMa, Bolo Bolo Jaya Ma, Mahadevi Aum.
Jennifer winced and clutched the sides of her head with her hands. "What's wrong?" asked Kirk.
"I. . . I'm not sure," she said, almost gasping. "The chants. . . they don't seem to feel good like before. In fact. . . they hurt my head. How about you?"
Kirk shook himself, making fists and tensing his muscles momentarily. "I'm okay," he said. "I think I just instinctively girded myself against it. But hey, why we don't just get out of here?"
"Wait," she said, "it seems to be passing. But what's going on? Why isn't the Kirtan uplifting me any more?"
"The people up front seem to be into it," said Kirk. They were all chanting loudly, and appeared to be in various states of ecstasis.
Kalianna ended the chanting in a climactic crescendo. She smiled at her swooning devotees and said, "Since we're down to the hardcore faithful, shall we do a little magic?"
"Yeah, magic!" shouted several people in unison. Then a man called out, "Let's bring on the Singularity!"
"Thanks, Marv," said Kalianna. "You knew what I had in mind 'cause you've been in on these rites before. But let me just tell the rest that we're going to call on the gods to magically assist our scientific brethren to make the breakthrough we're all waiting for."
Rachel began playing a strikingly different kind of tune, evoking dark recesses of the continuum; it was loud and intense, almost martial in its cadence. Kalianna strode boldly around the stage, and after circling it three times she began to chant mysterious sounds. It struck the ears of Kirk and Jennifer as a rasping, dissonant gobbledygook, which gradually became louder. Kalianna perched in a spread-legged stance in the center of the stage, swept an arm outward, and in a deafening voice chanted: NAHEMA.
Kirk and Jennifer felt a wave of negative energy roll over them. Icy shivers ran up their spines, the hackles went up on the backs of their necks, then the hair on their heads, or so it felt. Suddenly the room seemed like a fetid trench in the pit of hell. The floor was crawling with horrid things, the walls undulated with fearsome shapes, and the other people took on a demonic cast. The two of them jumped from their seats in unison and moved toward the exit ~ but right behind the last row of chairs they bumped into something they could not see. Jennifer almost fell backward onto the floor, but Kirk grabbed her around the waist and brought her up. They put out their hands and found that they were faced with an invisible barrier. It was smooth and hard, and they could not get past it. Little sparks emanated from their palms as they ran them along the unseen surface, as if it were an electronic fence. They looked at each other in disbelief. "We seem to be a captive audience," said Kirk.
They turned and looked at Kalianna. She was still gesticulating though not chanting, and in the flow of her motions she skewered them with a direct stare. Her eyes flared red and her mouth contorted into a malevolent grin. Kirk and Jennifer clutched each other in frozen terror.
2. Angels and Demons
Kalianna began circling the stage again, chanting in a repetitive sing-song. Kirk and Jennifer sat back down out of sheer necessity ~ their knees felt like they had turned to rubber. With a great effort, Kirk got a grip on himself and tried to clear his head from the hypnotic effect of the chant. After a moment he said to Jennifer: "Hey, didn't Gavin give you an app or something that you can use to make a distress call?"
Her face lit up. "Yes, the Aegis! But wait, he explained why it can only be used in a terrible emergency ~ life or death, he said."
"We may be getting pretty close to that point, don't you think?"
She took out her smart phone; the eye was still on the screen, staring at her unblinkingly. She looked at it a moment, then clutched the phone to her heart. "Not yet. Let's hold off a bit and see what happens next." Kirk looked distressed. She said, "I'll have it ready. It only takes an instant to activate the signal."
Suddenly Kalianna made a louder chant in a dramatic voice: LILITH! She drew out the syllables, then repeated it over and over with different inflections. The small crowd joined in, and some of them spoke out in sing-song voices, wailing ecstatically: "Oh, Lilith, Goddess, Kalianna! Our Messiah, Goddess Savior!"
Kalianna ceased chanting as her worshippers continued. Again she waved her arms in patterned movements. Kirk and Jennifer were still wrapped in a fearful, protective hug, and they gasped as they saw streaks of fiery light spewing from Kalianna's fingertips and making shapes in the air. First there appeared a five-pointed star upside-down. "Whoa!" said Kirk, "I guess that's the bottom-line symbol of black magic."
"Well," said Jennifer, her voice trembling, "people who actually practice magic say that an inverted pentagram like that isn't bad in itself ~ it can be used just to make a spell stronger. But in this case. . . ."
"It's totally fucking evil!"
"Right! And we're probably targets for it."
Kalianna shifted her stance and chanted a different name: KALIGAR! The crowd took it up again: OM Namah Kaligar, Lilith Kali Kaligar, oh lovely Goddess-form, Kalianna-Kaligar!
Kirk and Jennifer felt a reality-shift in the room. They knew intellectually that the change was in themselves and their perception, but this detail did not allay their heart-sinking horror as Kalianna morphed into her hideous demoniacal form as the Dark Goddess. Struggling to get a grip on himself, Kirk said, "I guess that's Kaligar."
"I never heard that name before," said Jennifer. "Maybe it's a Hindu correspondence of Lilith. A lot of people idolize her as a mythic champion of woman-power, but in this situation I remember that in actual Hebrew scripture she was said to be the original source of evil in the world, and the bride of Samael, who is sort of like Satan."
Kalianna drew another pentagram in the air, and in the same booming gutteral voice chanted GAMALIEL! A flickering form became visible in the space around her. Kirk thought he could see bat wings, and Jennifer shuddered at what appeared to her to be insectoid appendages. It began to coalesce into a presence on the stage, undulating around Kalianna, or Kaligar. Now it appeared to be snake-like, but gradually Kirk and Jennifer could make out that the scales had a metallic aspect. It took on a humanoid shape, with two arms, two legs, and a head. Its face was still nebulous, but it made their skin crawl to look at it. "Whatever it is," said Kirk, "it's obscene."
The audience obviously didn't think so. They were clearly enraptured, and were chanting: "O Gamaliel, beautiful angel, manifest unto us!"
Kirk said, "Man, they sure have a sick sense of esthetics!"
"They can't be seeing the same thing we are," said Jennifer. "They're under the Kalispell, like we were before."
Now Kalianna chanted ADRAMALEK! The crowd repeated it with a resounding military beat: "A-dram-alek, A-dram-alek, A-dram-alek! Grow your archangel form!"
The thing on the stage got bigger and more substantial. It was dancing with Kalianna, who was also in a magnified form. Its arms were definitely snakey, and its legs were machined metal. The rest of its body was likewise mechanical, bristling with bizarre technological appurtenances. A wave of familiarity washed over Kirk and Jennifer, and they exclaimed in sync: "It's the Macrobot!"
3. The Rites of Baal
The bizarre dance of Kalianna and the Macrobot continued for a couple of riffs, then they spun apart and the creature stood at center stage with its arms half outstretched in a macabre mockery of a gesture of blessing. In amazement, Jennifer said to Kirk, "How can the Macrobot be here in this little room?"
"It may be a projected image," he said ~ "a doppleganger. Or maybe just a mini-version, a Microbot."
"Look!" she said, pointing to a spot above its head. There was a cylindrical vortex of energy coming down through the ceiling, evidently infusing the robot with power.
"It's like a psionic extension cord," said Kirk. "I wonder what's on the other end?"
They both peered intently, and their senses became enhanced enough to apperceive the vortex going up into the night sky to its source: a towering dark form that radiated evil. "And there's the Macro version," said Kirk ~ "the big daddy Macrobot, which this junior demon is wired up to."
They looked back to the stage, where Kalianna made a graceful bow to the 'bot. She chanted HARAB SERAP! Then she said: "Great Archangel, what boon can you grant your devotees?"
It sang an answer in a rumbling mechanical voice as
Rachel backed it up with grating techno-punk: "Ask and it shall be given! What would you have of me?"
Kalianna waved at the crowd and chanted, "What do we want?"
"Freedom!" they replied ~ "liberation!" The room shook with the force of their sing-song shout.
"Freedom for who?" sang Kalianna. "We want it for all, but for who especially do we need liberation?"
Again the audience gave its reply in a resounding chanted roar: "For women! For women! Freedom, liberation, once and for all, for all the women of the world!"
"It shall be done!" said the Macrobot. Kirk and Jennifer could barely endure the ghoulish effect of the mechanoid voice as it continued: "Your souls are contained in defective instruments produced by the random accidents of life in its primitive organic stage. I shall give you the gift of perfect instruments, bodies not subject to the enslaving constraints of biology as you know it. You shall live for two hundred, five hundred, a thousand years and more ~ perhaps forever. Thus the need for replacement instruments will be sparse, but even the few new people we may wish to bring into being can be conceived and gestated in perfect wombs, not the lubberly ones inside female bodies. Thus women will be free at last from this heaviest burden of their gender."
The audience, men and women alike, burst into a singing chant: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank BAAL CHANAN! We're free at last!"
"What was that name?" said Kirk.
"I don't know," said Jennifer, "I never got into magic very much. But it sounded Hebraic, like a lot of the magical chants."
The crowd answered the question as they began chanting "Baal Chanan" over and over.
"So the first part is Baal," said Kirk. "That was one of the titles of Yahweh in the Old Testament, but was later applied to competing deities, which the Hebrews characterized as demons."
Jennifer said, "Yes, I have an impression of Baal as a demon-god, but I didn't know that he used to be Yahweh."
Kirk laughed in spite of his fear. "That's one way to put it. But there's something else about Baal that I can't quite recall, something pretty ugly."
"What did he look like?"
They were mutually stunned into silence as they grasped the immediate relevance of this obscure historical fact, and turned their eyes back to the stage.
The Macrobot and Kalianna started to dance again, as they and the audience chanted repetitive mantras featuring the various names of Kali and the demon-angels she had invoked. "Baal" began to resonate loudest of all, and then Kirk and Jennifer beheld another numenal spectacle, as a whirlwind arose and spun around the two figures on the stage. "It's coming from the metasphere," said Jennifer.
"You're right," said Kirk. "I can't see it as clearly as with the pellucid viewer, but I can sense how it sort of blew in from that outer layer."
"Look," said Jennifer, "something's taking form in the flux." Living beings appeared in the whirlwind, indistinct at first, then gradually taking on the semblance of a large array of humans. A background was dimly visible in the metasphere, looking something like a cliffside dotted with caves or a latticework with openings. The spectres kept trying to swarm toward the holes, but the two dancing sorcerers wove a spell to seal them up. This caused much distress to the floating beings.
"I've got it!" said Kirk ~ "they're souls of the dead seeking rebirth."
"What?" said Jennifer, surprised. "How can you tell?"
"Have you ever read The Tibetan Book of the Dead?"
"I tried a couple of times; it was too dry and archaic for my taste, but I know the gist from secondary sources."
Kirk continued, "After the souls flunk all the tests in the Bardo and fail to get liberated, they seek refuge in what look like caves but turn out to be wombs. They enter in and get reborn."
"Wow, I recall that now. And you're right, it does look like that. So why did Kalianna and the Macrobot close up the wombs?"
"Wait, look ~ they're changing." As they watched transfixed, the bereft souls began to twist torturously in the air and contract. They got smaller until they all coalesced into a new form. "Babies!" said Kirk.
"My God, why did that happen? The souls couldn't get reincarnated so they turned into. . . unborn babies?" Jennifer looked at Kirk, and saw him freeze as his face went ashen. "What's wrong?" she said, alarmed.
"I remember what the rites of Baal were. They sacrificed babies to him." Jennifer's mouth fell open in horror. And then they saw it on the stage.
4. Demon Feast
Surrounded by the numenal babies, the two figures on the stage stopped dancing again. The Macrobot began to morph until it took on the distinct semblance of a brazen pagan idol with the head of a demonic bull, humanoid hands with distended claws, and a furnace in its belly billowing with black smoke from the flames within. The MacroBaal loomed large on the stage as Kalianna wove a spell that drew the small souls slowly but remorselessly toward the blazing chamber, until one by one they were engulfed. There came the gut-wrenching sounds of babies dying, amplified as the ghostly wails of those who are already dead.
Kirk and Jennifer clutched each other in stupefied anguish. She buried her face in the cloth of his shirt, but couldn't blot out the hideous shrieks of torment. Kirk kept watching wide-eyed and noted a smirk of satisfaction on the idol's ugly face, which deepened noticeably at every death-wail. He saw that Kalianna was having a similar reaction, easier to discern because she still looked human. "What a mindfuck!" he said ~ "they're both relishing the sacrificial deaths, getting energy from them."
Jennifer braved a look, and saw it was true. Her voice was a bare squeak as she said, "They're eating the souls of the unborn babies!"
"It sure puts a new light on the reasons for all those bloody sacrificial episodes in human history. Somebody or something was always getting fat on the juice, the energy released at the moment of death."
"What's wrong with the other people?" said Jennifer. "They don't look upset at all ~ in fact they look happy."
Indeed, they were lost in bliss. Among the sibilant sighs came a voice saying, "How beautiful!" And another: "Right up into the arms of God!"
Kirk said, "Sounds like they're being fed another beatific illusion."
When the last baby soul had been consumed, the furnace of Baal gave a hearty belch. The Macrobot reassumed its normal diaboloid shape, then with Kalianna gave a deep bow to a burst of applause.
Kalianna and the Macrobot resumed their macabre magical dance. Amidst the gyrations and gesticulations, the dominant repetitive chant seemed to be BELPHEGOR. Kirk and Jennifer wondered what kind of hideous demon bore this name, so they were surprised when the image of a large beauteous face began to coalesce above the stage. Its body then began to appear, but the being was so big that its waist was at stage level, with the rest hidden below. There was a bright glow in the region of its heart; the light intensified until it became a golden sun-disk radiating love.
"It's a trick," said Kirk, "an illusion."
"You're probably right," said Jennifer. "Everything we've seen so far should make us think that this is a devil in disguise. Yet the love from that heart-sun is so intense… I feel like it's pulling me into it."
"I feel it too ~ just like what happened with Kalianna. We have to resist! We have to see through the illusion! It's not the love of our mother, it's not the light of God ~ it's something dark and diabolic that wants to destroy us!"
As if in response to this declaration, the golden sun went through a ghastly change: it turned black. The force that was drawing them into it increased exponentially ~ and now it was not the ecstatic attraction of love, but the sucking maw of a black hole. The giant angelic being whose heart was the Sun had morphed into a horned devil with a sadistic leer to match its black heart.
They tried to brace themselves against the pull, but knew it would be futile. "Time for 911!" shouted Kirk.
"I've got it," said Jennifer. Her phone was in her hand, and her trembling thumb sought the Aegis-eye. But suddenly a glint flashed in the eye of the Macrobot on the stage. As Kirk watched in horror, it swept up its hand, pointed a finger, and shot a bolt of black light at the phone. It struck at the same instant that Jennifer's thumb pressed the eye. There was a sizzle, and a wisp of smoke arose from the screen. Her heart froze as she saw that the eye had closed.
6. The Black Sun
Kirk and Jennifer gripped each other in a desperate hug, resisting the ineluctable pull of the Black Sun. But then something happened that instantly overrode their paltry defenses: they were lifted off their feet and drawn floating through the air toward it. It was happening to others in the audience as well ~ the first few people appeared to fly right into the sun and were seen no more. "This can't be happening!" cried Jennifer.
"That's exactly right," said Kirk, "it's another illusion. But how do we break out of it?"
As he said the word "illusion," they both noticed that the whole room had taken on a surreal quality ~ it expanded into a nighttime landscape, which then fell away and they seemed to float right up into outer space. The sun, or black hole, had become a gigantic sphere; it seemed farther away, but they were being propelled toward it at a prodigious speed.
Somehow, in the teeth of her fear, Jennifer was struck by an idea. She had to shout to tell it to Kirk because of the maelstrom swirling them headlong into the black sun; she said: "Maybe there's another way we can call for help!"
"Like what? Like how?"
"Magic. We can fight fire with fire. If we can't send an electronic SOS, we can send a psychic one. We can invoke RamaSpirit and ask for help ~ y'know, like a prayer."
"Sounds a little too far out," shouted Kirk, "but hey, at this point we have absolutely nothing to lose. What exactly should we say? Gavin and Aurora didn't tell us any chants, did they?"
"I don't think so… I can't remember. I…." She clutched her head.
Kirk said, "Jennifer, what's wrong?" Then he felt it too ~ something was terribly wrong inside him, besides the horror of what was happening outside. He said, "I feel like I'm coming apart at the seams. I can't think. What were we just talking about?"
Jennifer felt like her very heart was sinking into the black sun, before it could even swallow her body. She stuttered: "I d-d-don't know. I thought there might be a way we could get saved, but god-fucking-damn, I can't remember."
Kirk was stunned. He said, "You don't talk like that! What the shittly-fiddly-fuck is happening to us?" Then he
clamped his hand over his mouth as he realized that he had done it too.
With an enormous effort, Jennifer pulled herself together enough to say: "The black sun ~ it's causing exactly the opposite effect as the Supernal Sun, the heart chakra. Instead of making everything come together in love, it's
tearing us apart, fragmenting us, disintegrating our personae, evoking the lowest, slimiest parts of ourselves."
A look of appalled recognition flashed across Kirk's face ~ then it seemed to go blank. He started flailing his arms, breaking Jen's grasp on his hand. He began blathering incoherently in monosyllables, then blubbering like a baby. Jennifer had only a moment to register the shock of the spectacle before she, too, lost the coherence of her consciousness. Now it seemed like they were only seconds away from getting sucked into the bowels of the Sol Niger, and were utterly helpless to do anything about it, or even to think. Everything looked totally black.
7. Distress Signal
Jennifer's arms flailed limply, just like Kirk's. Her hand happened to touch the Aries Heart pendant, and closed around it of its own accord. She blinked, and knew herself again. There was a great deflating whoooosh; she felt as if she were being sucked down the funnel of a tornado, and the next instant she was back in her chair, her hand clutching the sigil as if her life depended on it, or her soul ~ for indeed it did.
The room was back to normal, though the Macrobot was still clearly visible with Kalianna on the stage. Jennifer looked around her and did not immediately see Kirk. She was gripped by a sickening fear, and wondered if he had somehow been swallowed bodily into the black sun ~ but the next moment she spotted him writhing on the floor amidst overturned folding chairs. She practically leapt on him, grabbed his hand and placed it against the
Aries Heart pin on his shirt, and held it there. He began to come around within a couple of seconds, and sat up with a violent start. Jennifer somehow managed to keep his hand pressed against the pin, and said: "The Ram-heart is saving us! For God's sake, don't let go of it!"
Kirk collected himself, reoriented to the surroundings, and said, "It looks like you were right about the magic ~ and the sigils have it!"
"Right ~ the power and energy of RamaSpirit is manifesting through them, and we didn't even have to ask. But what do we do next?"
"Well, let's ask now. Looks like the heart is the key. We're in a really bad mess here, and we desperately want to get out of it ~ so we just plead for rescue with all our heart."
"Wow," said Jennifer, "that sounds like the perfect adjuration!"
"Is that what it's called?"
"Yes, but let's do it quickly, before something else happens!"
Kirk glanced at the stage and said, "Uh-oh, too late for that ~ it's already happening."
The members of the audience were back in their seats; if any of them had vanished into the mystic sun, it was not apparent. Kalianna and the Macrobot were dancing again, and uttering a heart-piercing series of chants of which the refrain was GOLAB-USIEL. The floor of the stage turned into a simmering bed of fire from which arose snakes, salamanders, flaming serpents. They flew into the air and circled around the dancing figures.
Kirk snapped out of the momentarily mesmerizing effect of the spell and said to Jennifer, "Okay, let's do it."
"We'll chant 'RamaSpirit', right?"
"Sounds good." He took Jennifer's free hand in his own, as they both gripped their Aries Hearts fervently.
At that moment Kalianna gestured upwards, and the serpents coalesced into one gigantic, hideous snake. With a shriek she arced down her hand and pointed dramatically at Kirk and Jennifer. The snake hurtled toward them, a diabolic fireball.
At the top of their lungs they chanted in unison: "RAMASPIRIT, HELP US!" A field of force instantly radiated out of the sigils and formed a sphere around them. Its surface was a barely visible sheen in the air, but the head of the serpent smashed against it and fell away in a bloody pulp onto the floor.
The pair had but a second to rejoice. Kalianna's jaw dropped in outraged astonishment, then she and the Macrobot stared at them with a baleful hatred that froze their souls. "Damn," said Kirk, "what are they gonna do now?"
"Don't even think about it!" said Jennifer. "Let's just keep chanting for help."
And they did. Hugging each other, grasping the sigils, they pleaded: "RamaSpirit, help us! RamaSpirit, save us! Please, please, RamaSpirit, get us out of this! Ramar, help us! RamaSpirit, RamaSpirit, we really need you now! RamaSpirit, RamaSpirit, Dharmalove troth!"
Gavin and Aurora had just gone through the security station at the border of the Green Zone and crossed into Sonoma County. They were joking about what would happen to any Norteños or bandits who might dare to attack the SUV, when suddenly Gavin scowled and pulled over to the side of the road. "What's wrong?" said Aurora.
Gavin was silent for a moment, touching two fingers to his forehead. Then he said, "Kirk and Jennifer are in trouble."
"Already? What's going on?"
"They went back into Open Secret."
"Oh no! Why would they do a foolish thing like that?"
"Didn't know any better, I guess. We should have warned them. It's all my fault."
"It certainly is not, Gavin!"
He smiled sardonically. "Yes, I know, but it's still my responsibility. Are you ready to incorporate Athena?"
"Well, I'm more of an Aphrodite gal, but I'll do my best!"
"You'll do fine. Let's get psyched ~ we have to get down there fast."
They joined hands, stared into each other's eyes momentarily, then settled back on the seat. Anyone with psychic vision would have seen a sphere of power, a force-field, radiate out from them and encompass the vehicle. If any non-psychic person looked at them through the window, he would think they were asleep; but he would be wrong.
Kirk and Jennifer did their best to keep their cool and continue the RamaSpirit adjuration while Kalianna and the Macrobot launched the next magic spell ~ for they knew it would be aimed directly at them. There was another round of barbarous chants, of which the keynote seemed to be the name ASMODEUS. This time it was Kalianna whose shape began to change: her body grew in mass and girth until her clothes ripped along the seams and fell off, like when the rage of Bruce Banner morphs him into the Hulk. But Asmodeus, the demon of lust, was far more hideous. The heads of divers animals sprouted from different parts of her torso ~ a lion, a lizard, a camel, a zebra, and more.
Somehow this conglomerate creature began to walk. It was now so huge that the floor shook with its thudding steps and books fell from their shelves. With a platypoid foot it stepped down from the stage and osmosed forward.
The audience parted before it, their reverential faces showing that the ambling obscenity was to them another angel of light. Its progress was slow but remorseless, knocking aside empty folding chairs as it headed straight toward Kirk and Jennifer.
The two of them huddled together and gripped their sigils, desperately trying to keep up the chant while their hearts sank to their heels and their skin crawled with terrified revulsion. "Dharmalove troth," they repeated, "Dharmalove troth!" Asmodeus paused in her tracks, as if their love and their dharmasphere was holding her back. But something insidious was happening within them; their protective embrace of one another suddenly became erotic, and their hands moved of their own accord upon one another's flesh in mutual titillation.
"My God!" said Jennifer, "what's happening?"
"It's making us horny!" said Kirk. "Evil can't conquer love by force or fear, but it can turn it into lust."
"We have to resist! We have to be strong, and chaste, and… and…." Jennifer's words died in her throat as the hellacious desire welled up like a serpent inside her. She grabbed Kirk's head from behind and planted a kiss on his lips, her tongue driving deep into his mouth and her other hand groping for his phallus. He pushed her away in the teeth of his own sexual frenzy. In an instant they realized that their Aries-Hearts had slipped from their hands, and that the monster was upon them.
The triumphant leer of Kalianna could be seen in the treacly face of Asmodeus. From her shoulders two beastly heads reared up, gaped opened their maws, and glommed down as if to swallow the heads of Kirk and Jennifer into their fetid gullets.
9. Magical Battle
An instant before the jaws of the demons closed on the heads of Kirk and Jennifer, a brilliant light flashed out of nowhere directly between Asmodeus and her intended victims. It ballooned into a large sphere, pushing her violently backward. Inside the sphere were a man and a woman decked out in battle garb. "It's Gavin and Aurora!" shouted Kirk.
"We're saved!" cried Jennifer.
"Not yet," said Gavin. "We've got a fight on our hands."
The writhing mass of Asmodeus rolled all the way to the base of the stage, transmogrifying back into Kalianna along the way. Her followers were in disarray; some of them screamed in terror at the unexpected intrusion and assault on their mistress. She leapt to her feat, and the Macrobot stepped down from the stage beside her. Gavin pulled a pen from his pocket and held it before him as he faced his adversaries. It grew longer and broader, and became a sword, shimmering with etheric radiance.
With a blood-curdling shriek Kalianna charged toward him, sprouting the four extra arms of her namesake, each wielding a different weapon. The Macrobot, meanwhile, morphed his right hand into an enormous pistol, or possibly a miniature rocket-launcher, and leveled it to fire. Gavin held off the first fury of Kalianna's assault with adroit swordplay supplemented with magical force. At the same moment, Aurora threw herself in front of the Macrobot and held up a shield which deflected the missile. The creature was furious, but before he could retaliate Aurora shifted the shield so that it caught his gaze. Like the shield of Perseus it was a mirror, and the Macrobot recoiled in fear from his own reflection, as if seeing for the first time how hideous he was.
Kirk and Jennifer were riveted by the spectacle of the occult combat. Then Kirk said, "Hey, maybe Kalianna is so distracted that she let down the barrier."
"Yow, that's a thought," said Jennifer; "let's find out."
They quickly stepped back past the last row of chairs, but their outstretched hands again came up against the invisible but impenetrable wall. "So much for that," said Kirk.
"Look," said Jennifer, "there are two security guards in the other room. Why aren't they coming in here to see what all the ruckus is about?"
"They don't seem to see it or hear it," said Kirk. "They're just casually shooting the breeze."
"I'll bet the barrier has something to do with it."
"Or maybe Gavin and Aurora cast a spell of their own so that Kalianna's goons wouldn't come in to help her."
The battle continued. One of Kalianna's weapons was a flail, and as she fought with Gavin the barbed end of it struck the Macrobot on the arm. This seemed to rouse him out of his shock, and he suddenly swung a massive metal fist at Aurora. She dodged aside by a hairsbreadth, but her shield was knocked from her hand. She conjured a spear and hurled it at the behemoth, but it bounced harmlessly off his metal hide. "Damn," said Kirk, "she's out of her league against that thing!"
Aurora switched to a different tack: she waved her arm as if pulling a cloak around herself, and suddenly she disappeared. The Macrobot swiveled around looking for her, until he was struck in the head by a ball of light, no doubt thrown by the invisible hand of Aurora. It dazed him momentarily, but he recouped and held up a device built into his hand which radiated a pulse of energy. It revealed the figure of Aurora, perched on a platform that held speakers for the music. She leaped into the air, but didn't fall. A flurry of sparks appeared around her, and when they dispersed it could be seen that she had shrunk to a fraction of her normal size and sprouted fairy wings. She buzzed around the Macrobot like a mosquito; he flailed his hands trying to swat her, but she was too swift. "Go, gal, go!" said Jennifer.
"She's holding her own," said Kirk, "but what now? Fairy dust against heavy artillery?"
"Look up at the ceiling ~ she's making something happen."
The pixie-like Aurora was flying in circles along the length of the coil of energy which connected the human-scale Macrobot in the room with the gargantuan version in the metasphere above. This caused the vortex to condense, until it was a very physical-looking cord. She pointed her finger downward, and the mystic cord followed the arc until it coalesced into an actual electrical cord plugged into the base of the wall at the back of the stage. The Macrobot looked stupefied at the spectacle.
Aurora dropped gently to the floor and reassumed her familiar shape. The Macrobot moved to strike at her in rage, but suddenly drew up, for he was at the end of his cord! He moved backward protectively to prevent it from popping out of the wall. Aurora proceeded to harass her adversary with a series of magical jolts from a small wand, each time darting beyond his reach which was now limited by the length of the cord. Then suddenly she dove between his legs. He swung around and was about to stomp her with a massive metal boot, but she was too quick ~ she yanked the plug from the socket. The mechanical monstrosity ground to a halt in his tracks, his foot upraised; he teetered for a moment, then toppled over with a thud and lay on the stage inert.
10. Beginning of the Endtime
The fall of the Macrobot sent a numenal wave rippling through the space. When it swept over Gavin and Kalianna, they paused their battle and looked around as if to take stock of the change in the situation. Kalianna appeared distressed and uncertain. Aurora approached them as if to join the fray at Gavin's side, but he held up a hand to halt her. He raised his sword in the air, but not in a threatening move toward Kalianna. Instead he swung it in a circle pointing upward, and in a loud, sonorous voice chanted: OM NAMOH BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYAH!
He seemed to grow in stature, though not to an extravagant degree. The sound of hoofbeats could be heard approaching, but nothing visible arrived. And then Gavin's skin turned an iridescent blue.
Kalianna drew back in shock. She said, "Lord Vishnu! No, it can't be ~ your time is not yet!"
In reply Gavin chanted: OM NAMAH RAM JAYA, KALKI AHAM!
Kirk said to Jennifer, "Do you have any idea what those chants mean?"
"The second one means something like 'All hail the victory of Rama.' He was an Avatar of the God Vishnu. But I guess in this case it could also mean 'the victory of the Ram.' And that last phrase was 'I am Kalki'."
"So who's Kalki?"
"The last Avatar of Vishnu. Prophecies say that he'll come in the Hindu version of the endtime, and overthrow the corrupt empire of the Kali Yuga."
"Kali, huh? So are we watching the fulfillment of the prophecy here, or what?"
They were interrupted, or answered, by Kalianna as she shouted defiantly at Gavin/Kalki: "Then so mote it be ~ we begin the final war! But I and my allies will thwart the prophecies and create a world undreamt of by man or God!"
11. Apocalyptic Shift
In the next heartbeat Gavin's sword flashed in a fluid arc and knocked the weapons out of three of Kalianna's arms. She recouped and struck back, but Gavin was still moving at preternatural speed and evaded the blow. Somehow he maneuvered between the snaky mass of writhing arms and touched the point of his sword to her heart. She cast off her remaining weapons and threw back her arms in a desperate yielding gesture, a look of shock on her face. Energy crackled from Gavin's arm through the sword and into Kalianna's body. She morphed from her demonic Goddess-form back into her human appearance, four of her arms retracting into her torso. Gavin withdrew the sword, made a quick thrust with it upwards, then tossed it into the far corner of the room.
Kalianna could hardly believe that her adversary had disarmed himself, but she wasted not an instant and attacked him bare-handed, spouting curses and articulating spells. They fell into a furious round of conflict. Each occasionally landed strategic blows with hands and feet, but it was mostly a clash of magical energies, with balls of flaming plasma and beams of bedevilment flashing helter-skelter betwixt the two. The audience watched the battle in a state of awestruck incredulity and fear, for they were clearly in danger from the fusillade. Aurora leaped onto a toppled bookshelf and began making mystic gestures with her hands and chanting mantras. As if with peripheral vision, Kirk and Jennifer could see that she was creating a crystalline sphere around the two combatants, which contained the errant energies and protected the other people.
There was a momentary lull, as the antagonists stared at each other, as if catching their breath. Then Kalianna held her hands open-palmed toward Gavin and let loose the psychic equivalent of a blast from an atomic cannon. Gavin responded in the same instant with a similar gesture, forming a shield which stopped the deadly force just inches in front of him. He furrowed his brow and funneled his might into pushing the bristling wall of death back toward its source; it was slow going, as Kalianna steeled herself and tried to force it forward. They both began to move toward each other, their hands generating the opposing forces which met in what now looked like a flat thunderhead crackling with electroid discharges and emitting a ghastly whine.
At last their hands met, and their fingers closed in a mutual deathly grip. The arcane energies still crackled from between their hands, and filled the room with an aura of pending apocalypse.
Their faces beaded with sweat and their eyes narrowed to slits, but neither one could force the other back a step nor cause the slightest flinch. Kirk said to Jennifer: "It looks like an unstoppable force has met an immovable object."
After what seemed like an eon, Kalianna said in a gasping breath: "We're exactly matched ~ it's a stalemate. Let's negotiate a strategic withdrawal, and return to the field another day."
Gavin didn't let up on his grip, but widened his eyes as if considering the offer. Then he said, "I know of a better ground than Har-Mageddo or Kurukushetra ~ O Savit Amor!"
The closing words were chanted, almost sung, not in rancor but in rhapsody. Kalianna looked stunned. She stared into Gavin's eyes, and found in them something that caused her malice to melt away. She loosened her grip and said in astonishment: "My Lord and my God!"
They fell into each other's arms, and there they stood, embracing like a pair of long-lost lovers. All the onlookers gaped in speechless amazement.
Kalianna drew back a bit from Gavin's shoulder. She was crying. Some of her followers gasped. He stroked her hair and murmured soothing words that none but she could hear, and wiped away her tears. She looked at him in wonderment and said, "I seem to have been under a spell or a delusion or something, and now… now I'm waking up."
He broke into a delighted smile and said, "Are you starting to remember things?"
"I… I'm not who I thought I was."
"Yes, that's right. These trappings are not your real form nor your true color."
"I'm not the Black Goddess! I'm… Savitri, Goddess of the Sun."
"Ah, my dear one, you've remembered your name! What else can you recall?"
"I remember you! From so long ago that it seems like the beginning of time. Then when I blink and think again, it seems like only yesterday."
"And here we are, united again."
"Thank God! Thank God I woke up in time. I wanted to do something terrible ~ I feel so ashamed!"
He tightened the hug momentarily and said, "It's not over yet. You're going to forget."
"Alas, yes. This is just a brief, blessed interlude that will prefigure the final climax."
"My Lord, can't you deliver me from my folly once and for all?"
"Only with your consent. Do you give it?"
"Yes! Yes, oh yes!"
There was a pause as they stared into each other's eyes. Then he kissed her, and she responded.
Jennifer was well aware of the power of Gavin's kiss. She watched enthralled as the kiss went on and on. Then she saw something change. In spite of her foreknowledge she was startled, and tightened her grasp on Kirk's hand. "Do you see it too?" she asked.
Kirk was also rapt in wonder. He said, "The two of them are surrounded by a glow. It's really intense around their heads."
"I think it's actually radiating from the kiss."
"You're right, I can see that now. And Kalianna is changing, at least her face."
"Do you think it's just a kind of visual effect from the glow?"
"Maybe, but it sure looks like her flesh has physically changed."
For another second they stared, then said in spontaneous unison: "She's white!"
In stark contrast to the radiance that now dominated the room, a quantum of macabre black energy was percolating up from the depths of the earth like obsidian lava through a fissure, and congealing in the ground directly below. It began to burble ominously and emit fiery sparks, as if approaching critical mass. Instead of exploding, it shot a jet of inky force up through the floor and into the room, where it struck the prostrate Macrobot and reactivated it.
The creature stirred cautiously, casting its gaze around the space. It saw Gavin and Kalianna embraced in a sphere of white light. It looked further, and noted that Aurora's attention was fixed on the spectacle. Carefully, quietly, it repositioned its body to set up a tactical act. When the movement came it was swift and sure: the Macrobot swiveled its arm and fired its hand-cannon point blank at Gavin.
The blast struck him on the side of his back; the trajectory was intended to avoid hitting Kalianna. Even so, it knocked Gavin off his feet and threw him sprawling onto the floor. He was physically stunned and emotionally shocked, but within seconds he recovered himself and sprang erect. Kalianna had been thrust back against a bookshelf emptied by the earlier struggles. She reflexively steadied herself with her arms on the shelves, and looked very dazed. The color came back into her face, and then her mouth twisted into contorted rage. She was her old black self again.
"Deceiver!" she screamed at Gavin. "You ensorcelled me with a spell to deflect me from my mission and allow the Earth to fall to your endtime horde!"
Kalianna and the Macrobot advanced to attack Gavin, but Aurora stepped to his side and together they generated a psychic shield which stopped their foes and blocked their psionic blasts.
"Take care of business," said Gavin to Aurora. "I'll hold the fort."
She raced over to Kirk and Jennifer and said, "Time to split. Get going!" She hustled them past the last row of chairs, and they were exultant to find that the barrier had vanished. "Go!" she said, pointing to the exit; "don't even look back till you're out of harm's way."
Kalianna could not get past the shield, but she yelled, "Stop them, they're terrorists!"
A large black security guard appeared. Aurora waved her arm in a circling motion around Kirk and Jennifer, and said: "Just keep going, he won't see you."
They heeded her words and walked right past the guard, who looked confused. "Stop who?" he shouted to Kalianna ~ "ain't nobody here."
As the two of them hurried through the doorway, Kirk couldn't help taking a quick look back over his shoulder. He saw the forms of Gavin and Aurora vanish in a burst of light.
14. Kindred Spirits
The street was now deserted except for Kalianna's security guards. The first one they passed didn't seem to see them. "I guess we're still invisible," said Jennifer. "Should we just take off and run?"
"Too risky," said Kirk; "if anyone could see us, we'd look suspicious. Let's just keep walking fast."
They got to Fourth Street, crossed the intersection, and finally passed the edge of a building which put them out of sight of Open Secret. They sighed in relief but still hurried their pace. They encountered one of the regular downtown guards, who made eye contact with them and said stiffly: "Good evening. Is everything all right?"
"Oh, we're just fine, officer," said Jennifer. "Thanks for asking." They kept walking but didn't look back.
"I guess we've shed Aurora's cloak of invisibility," said Kirk.
"Yes," said Jennifer. After a few more steps she risked a look backward and was glad to see the retreating form of the guard ~ and no posse coming after them from Open Secret. She put her arm around Kirk's waist; he reciprocated, and they walked along half-hugging each other.
After another block, Kirk said: "Everything has changed."
Jennifer rolled her eyes to heaven and stroked her brow with her free hand. "My God," she said,
"My God! I can hardly grasp the enormity of it."
"Me too. I'm just trying to get a handle on what's next."
"Well, for one thing, you're sure not driving back to Novato tonight."
"Really? It's okay if I stay over?"
"Of course ~ brother."
He gave a joyful chuckle and said, "Yow ~ our relationship has changed. I can hardly believe I feel perfectly happy about sleeping on your couch."
"It's a really nice couch ~ wonderfully soft and comfortable."
They both laughed and hugged each other a little tighter.
End Volume One
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