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January 12, 1938
BLOOD BEASTS PRIME
The silver-haired, seven year old Sicilian awoke knowing something was very wrong. She was in a large dormitory in the London England Shelter of the Antediluvian Sisterhood of Flowery Anthea. Nothing wrong with that of course. It was where she was supposed to be. Almost everyone else was asleep though.
But that was only part of what was wrong.
They, little sisters like her, premenstrual ones who still thought witches were slavering, warty old hags that cooked kids in gingerbread ovens, were supposed to be under the protective aegis of their older sisters. Not the really illuminated ones, the ones who had daughters of their own and were thereafter judged worthy of receiving advanced training.
They were busy elsewhere, -- weaving, she overheard the gossiping grannies say when they thought no one could overhear them, their silken webs for the Bat of Beelzebub. Or was it the perfidious Fly of Flames Foreverlasting, as her paternal grandfather might put it?
She was not very good when it came to vocabulary; usually slept through what passed for catechism amongst those of Flowery Anthea, truth be told. Which was probably why she was awake in the middle of this dank, full moon night.
One of the ones asleep was her own mother, Leonora D'Angelo, whom she was taught to address as Sister even if their true relationship was an open secret. That was yet another part of what was wrong. Sister Mom may have been only thirty but she was on the cusp of full enlightenment. If anyone should be awake it was her.
The only other one actually awake was a fifteen year old Prussian girl whose first name she could not recall but whose last name sort of rhymed with cow dung. She was opening the window above her bunk. It was a foggy night and odious wisps of the city's choking smog wafted into the dorm.
Then they took shape, became a man, -- a night creature, shrouded in darkness, with glowing red eyes and bright, impossibly sharp teeth. That was when the little girl was sure she was not dreaming, though she now wished she was.
This was a Blood Beast Prime -- a vampire!
The Trilithon was three far-beyond-Cyclopean, far-beyond-merely-megalithic stone-implantments reputedly hewn by the gods themselves and upon which they constructed massive temples essentially to themselves. Over the course of multiple millennia temples fell and were either rebuilt or replaced by human hands.
About all that was left these days were the ruins of the Temple of the Sun, of Helios, Jupiter, Zeus or, some said, of Iranian Mithras, -- the Great God guarantor of Hittite contracts among his many, many other ever-so-antique attributes. That and the remnants of a Parthenon-like structure dedicated to Bacchus, the well-travelled orgiastic god of not just the Mediterranean Basin.
The members of the Godling Guild, while in awe of these impressive leftovers from Imperial Rome, were not there as tourists. They were inveterate wayfarers. Were here because of the Tholos of Thoth, of Hermes, of the Messenger of the Gods.
A circular foundation shaped like a British Bandstand, a carousel, a church belltower, or even Stonehenge, although it was not composed of standing stones, the Tholos was probably the last vestige of what the gods themselves built here. However, the Godlings' leader, the Mithraic Magus, believed a huge omphalos, a 'raised navel', once stood on this very spot.
Years before, some of his slightly older contemporaries and their predecessors in the Guild unearthed a much-reduced version of one of these vaulted egg-shaped, beehive or anthill-like ovoids at Delphi on Mt Parnassus in Mainland Greece. It had to be pieced back together but, imperfect as it was, seemed to match a sister object, that of Sais, which Herodotus described while visiting Egypt shortly after the Greco-Persian Wars some twenty-five hundred years ago.
Tholoi, a word which did mean beehives, were neither tombs nor temples, the Magister explained to the others. Though rare, they were found on all the continents of the world with the possible exceptions of Antarctica and, as yet, Australia.
For example, he believed the kivas of the Anasazi were Tholoi, as were the distinctive domes of Angkor Wat and the so-called Olmec mounds observable, though as yet unexcavated, in Mexico. He had seen one in Mayan Tulum, on the Caribbean Coast, which was dedicated to the Rain God, and another not all that away, albeit inland on the Yucatan Peninsula, at a place called Chichen Itza. It was huge, much bigger than the one in Tulum, but like the others it no longer functioned the way the Magister believed it once did.
Or like this one would!
Additionally, he had no doubt Tholoi would eventually be located in the high Andes, -- a beehive-like structure he had read about, but not seen, in Cuzco sounded very promising. Certainly there were a number of them already identified in Mesopotamia, where he currently lived, in neighbouring Persia, where he had spent much of his formative years, and in Egypt, where he anticipated the Wingless Sphinx would eventually reveal a much more than an enigmatic smile.
Were three in Mainland Greece: at Mycenae, at Olympia, and at Delphi. One was on the Island of Samothrace, the ancient cult-centre of Cabiri Mysticism, and evidence was currently being gathered in Crete that pointed to their existence there as well, -- particularly on the southern plains of Mesara where the dynasty of the legendary Rhadamanthys, Son of Zeus and Europa, Judge of the Dead, Laird of the Laughing Lands of Elysium, once ruled at Phaistos.
The one in Olympia was either built or partially rebuilt by Philip of Macedonia. It was finished by his son, Alexander the Great. The one in Delphi was once attached to the Temple of Athena, well down the slope of Mt Parnassus from where the Pythian Oracle held her seances, -- for that was what they were.
Though probably its inspiration, the Delphi Tholos was not to be confused with the comparatively minuscule omphalos also found there. And it was in the Grave Circle of Mycenae that Schliemann discovered the justifiably famous Gold Mask of Agamemnon a quarter century ago.
Supposedly the Godling Guild was founded during Medieval times. Earlier than that actually, if it really did date to the time of the Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. Not that the Knights Templar were poor, -- certainly not during the Thirteenth Century --, or, according to a pope in the early part of the Fourteenth Century, necessarily Christian.
The Mithraic Magus did not claim their branch of it was anywhere near that old. He was not even sure their branch was started by Freemasons sometime either immediately before or just after the American Revolution as some of his colleagues believed. Was not one for making outrageous claims. Which was part of the reason so many of those with him were with him right now.
Most of the Tholoi that various Godlings identified during the previous century and more that their Guild had been active were both empty and appeared to have always been empty. Yet they were undeniably once elaborate structures; ones truly befitting the gods. Which was probably what they were, -- not so much domiciles, that was what the temples were for, or shrines, though that was undoubtedly part of their purpose, but meeting rooms where the gods and their loyal followers held counsel. Were much more than even that however, the Magister assured them.
They were literally way-stations not much different than railway stations. They were where gods got off and got on their cosmic express throughout the void; the Weird or the Grey, as he most commonly characterized between-space. They were the long searched for entrances and exits to Big Shelter, -- portals to the very domain of the gods and goddesses, the demons and monsters of ancient mythologies and pagan faiths.
Were something truly enlightened Ants knew all about but, for their own reasons, were determined to keep secret. Secret no longer, he promised them. This one was about to become open again!
Once the Pythian Oracle sat in a chair upon a tripod erected overtop a fissure in the earth within a never-discovered cave on Mt Parnassus. This was not Delphi, however. It was the relatively recently discovered Treasury of Atreus on the outskirts of the Mycenae Acropolis/Palace from where King Agamemnon, commander of the thousand ships that went to Troy, may have over-lorded a semi-united Greece.
Another so-called Tholos Tomb, this one may actually have been a tomb at some point in time. Its massive dome was almost as high as its diameter, thirty or forty feet, and it had a side room that contained two stone slabs that seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever. It was into that antechamber that the twenty-eight year old Sicilian witch took her much younger sister only in part to help her celebrate her seventh birthday.
When they came out of the room they were anywhere but inside the eggshell of a Tholos!
This was a cave so immense they could not perceive its extremities. There was far more than just a fissure in its centre. There was a broad and possibly bottomless depression filled, the witch knew, with bubbling Brainrock mixed with molten Stopstone and become something one might call Brainstone or Stoprock, -- the stuff of Samsara, the Universal Substance.
The tripod was three land bridges meeting at an apex over the centre of the lava lake. While they may have been a natural phenomenon, she did not think that the case. Reckoned they had been constructed. Not by man though. Not even by her fellow witches. By the ancient gods and goddesses. By devils!
The incredible cavern was lit without torches but with more than just glowing Brainrock/Stopstone and ordinary phosphorescence. That further suggested not natural but supernatural agents at work. Except, although those on the outside would have difficulty explaining it any other way, this was not a magical place.
The Sicilian-Italians, silver-haired big sister and dark-haired little sister, stepped on the bridge at their feet and walked toward the apex. The fumes from the cavity might have been hallucinatory. Figures were forming in and out of the air. Were uniformly female but some were positively grotesque, scarcely even humanoid. One was formed entirely out of smoke; another cow-headed with six anthropomorphic breasts. All but one had three eyes and that one seemed to be all eyes.
Where the three appendages of the land bridge met stood a gurgling cauldron, a miniature version of the caldera underneath it and filled with the same miraculous substance. The Italians were not the only apparent mother-daughter pair arriving there.
A Metis American, a French-Native woman the elder Sicilian had known for something like twenty years, was also there; had no doubt come hither via one of the circular kivas of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Her daughter was a half-breed born of half-breeds. Rather plump, she did not look quite so vaguely oriental as her somewhat older sister did, but she was an oddly beautiful child. Had two-toned red hair, a blood-rich crimson with almost pink strips running through it. Also had both a brown and green eyeball.
The other two there likely only pretended to be related. The eldest one, a Black Sea Russian or Armenian, had no seven year old daughter that either the Italian Angelic or the Metisse knew about, -- and they had known her for even longer than they knew each other. Neither did her three legitimate daughters, though the eldest had a nine year old boy and a four year old girl.
What was more, her 'daughter' looked more a mixture of the two Angelics and the two-toned redhead than she did her 'mother'. Had ovular facial features similar to the former two and two-toned hair similar to the latter one, -- only she had silvery strips in her otherwise black hair. Had different coloured eyeballs as well.
The Scythian was easily twenty years older than the Sicilian witch and a good decade the Metisse's senior. Was also much more highly skilled. Had to be wearing a Serpent Splendour, a seeming that gave her the look of a woman in her late twenties and therefore around the same age as the elder Angelic. The vampire of 1895, the one slain by the Italian-Sicilian when she was not much older than her baby sister was now, had been her first husband. Its brother was her current one.
A wanderer of both the weird and the wonderful, she was a one-time rival of the two Sicilians' mother; was, like Leonora, a Sister Superior of the Antediluvian Sisterhood before a bout of madness Antheans diagnosed as Maenadism led to her disgrace. Supposedly approaching seven years sane again, possibly as a direct result of having the girl-child with her, her abilities were undiminished; might even have been ameliorated by the experience of losing then recovering her mind.
As such she could have come from literally almost anywhere. The last time she had written to either of them it was from the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia, from a place she called Pazyryk. Neither of the other women had heard of it before; could not find it on any map. The former Godling described it as having something to do with the Mongolian-born Temuchin, who was better known in the west as Genghis Khan.
Fifteen hundred years before the Great Khan began his decades of brutal conquest, it may have been a far-flung outpost of the Persian Empire. Long, long before that, however, it may have been the birthplace of what eventually became the Chinese race, -- after Anthea's Ark landed atop Mt Ararat and humanity's great diaspora of approaching six thousand years ago began in earnest of course.
And Ararat was Mama Rhea's matrilineal last name!
Since it was the Scythian, Rhea Ararat now Sangati again, who had arranged this little get-together between-space, it fell to her to take the lead. She gripped her uncomplaining, self-proclaimed 'daughter' under the armpits. Lifted her above the bubbling cauldron then dropped her into it.
The three women, two remaining children, and all the spectral shapes surrounding them held their collective breath, assuming devils bothered to breathe. Girl vanished into the obscuring steam. Did not resurface. Obviously Eden Nightingale was not a Great Goddess and, if she was not one, then neither were the other two: Mnemosyne D'Angelo and Cybele St Synne.
Too bad. All of them, even the devils, had such hopes!
The Valley of the Visionaries, Spring 1920
It was exceedingly rare, though not entirely unheard of, for a woman to have two children, by separate pregnancies, within the same calendar year. Then again Pandora Mannering was literally bred and subsequently brought up to be that rarest of all individuals, -- the human mother of the Three Great Goddesses Reincarnate. Except it had not worked out quite that way.
Her first child was a boy and, even though she was ready, willing and theoretically able to become pregnant next to immediately, there was no reason to believe her second issue would be any different. The Anthean Sisterhood was taking no chances.
It issued the Summoning of Weir!
Palestine, Winter 1920
Jesus Mandam was born in Bethlehem shortly after midnight on Xuthros Hor's Feast Day. He was the first child born because of his parents', -- at least his mother's --, sexual promiscuity during the lost daze at the tailend of the Summoning nine months earlier. He was hardly the last one, though.
Nor was he even the last one born that Xmas Day!
Elsewhere, in the Weirdom of Cabalarkon, as Augustus Nauroz Somata, heir-apparent to the Mastery of Weir, looked on proudly, his young, ever-whimsical, but nevertheless strong-willed wife was giving birth her second child in a year. It was a girl this time but it was only one.
One too many, said the Scythian entering the birthroom completely unannounced. With her was her apparently seven year old sister-daughter, a child with two different coloured eyes and otherwise jet black, silver-streaked hair.
'Devolve her! Devolve them both, Tralalorn!' The apparent child, this Tralalorn, suddenly had a third eye. She obliged this apparent mother of hers, this seemingly Rhea of the Ararats, who had also developed an extra eye just as suddenly.
An instant six or seven year old himself, Augustus charged the two devils. The Scythian materialized a moon-sickle in her left hand. Sliced it through the neck, shoulder and chest of the on-rushing Master-In-Waiting.
'Thus die all who defy me!' whatever-she-was shrieked archly.
Whether he died or not, Augustus was no longer there. And neither was his corpse!
New Mexico, 1933
The two nearly thirteen year old aboriginal runaways finally reached Chaco Canyon in December 1933. Since it was a few weeks shy of their joint birthdays, they merely slept together; kept each other warm in the circular kiva. Sunrise, which was also the girl's last name, came. Naturally Solace was awake to greet it.
She spotted another girl, a silvery blonde, white-skinned child who could not be more than six or seven, appear as if out of nowhere in a nearby keyhole-shaped kiva. The two locked eyes. The younger one put a finger to her lips and whispered, 'Hush! Go back to sleep.' Then promptly vanished again.
Solace Sunrise was having none of that. Rousing the boy she was running away with, a boy whose last name was Sundown, she rushed him to the keyhole-kiva. Naturally, the little girl was no longer there. But something else was, -- a fingernail-sized polished stone that glistened faintly.
In a moment of inspiration, she grabbed her Johnny by his hand and stepped on the glowing pebble. Then neither of them were there either. Were in the Swampland of Louisiana some twelve hundred miles away as the crow-creature flew.
Or somewhat more as the car drove.
Central Africa, Very Early 1936
"What is it, Magister?"
"You hacked it out of the jungle and you don't know what it is, Alex?"
"What is the nearest town to here?"
"Bukoba, I think."
"And what does that mean? In the old tongue, that is."
"Haven't the foggiest notion. In any tongue!"
"'Bull's Belly', you ignoramus. And that must be why. It's a miniature Tholos, -- an omphalos!"
"A Tholos Tomb for Pygmies?" wondered Barsine, Joseph Mandam's lone daughter.
"Does looks kind of like an overfed beehive," allowed the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the one who had found it.
"Or an anthill covered with snail slime," said one of the others, a shapely, even beautiful Italian woman.
She had finally caught up to the spry seventy year old, his over forty years younger, until the Summoning unfairly unacknowledged grandnephew, Alexandros Kinesis, and the old man's two identically-aged, hale, hearty, and tryingly enthusiastic offspring by, to look at them, different mothers. It was the Mithraic Magus' devoutest desire that Alexandros the Apprentice and Barsine, the sunshine of his life, would eventually marry.
Others with them had different ideas, -- including though not necessarily limited to those of the marital variety. One was the speaker, Mnemosyne D'Angelo, then twenty-six. Not that she had designs on Alex herself. On the contrary, she was too much the Afrite to have designs on anyone in particular. She just didn't believe blood-relations, a daughter and a grandnephew, should risk having children together.
Memory's dark hair was cut short partially to offset the intense heat and humidity of the Congo; partly to annoy her pompous papist of a brother, Raphael D'Angelo, who lived in Rome and thought it somehow immoral for women to cut their hair.
Of course Papa Rafe's youngest of three sisters was nothing if not immoral. When you were raped at the age of ten, almost eleven, by the very man you were currently sharing a cot with, how could you not be?
"Ask me it's more like a Rokh's egg," cracked that man; the half-oriental whose oldest acknowledged daughter married the immoralist's intolerably moral brother a year or so after the Summoning.
"That's Rokh, as in Roc, as in the mythical Persian bird of prey," Sedon St Synne elaborated. "Not Rock as in you, Hot Rox. Nor rock as in St Peter. Or the proverbial solid as one, though that's what it appears to me to be."
"Clever as ever, Sed-son," congratulated the aging Magister somewhat begrudgingly. He did not like to encourage St Synne but the still vibrant sixty year old did have a certain boyish flare to his wit. "Why don't you come up with something useful for a change. Besides daughters, I mean. Assuming it's hollow, which most of these oversized navels are, how do you propose we get into it?"
"And blow the bullion into bouillabaisse?" The usually serious Mithraic Magus grunted delightedly at his own humour. In amazement at his own amusement.
"Magic?" suggested Jesus, the Magister's son.
Old Joe seemed to consider that. "The occasional blood sacrifice has been proven efficacious in the past, Jess. I've heard the victims tend to dispute that but, still, it never hurts to ask I suppose. So, any of you lovely teenage virgins care to volunteer for the blade?"
"Don't look at me any more," said Rox, Roxanne Heliopolis. She was another of the fifteen or almost fifteen year old Summoning-Aged girls there, a Cretan Greek, -- an Etocretan, as her now dead parents referred to themselves. "I'm, um, an acrobat."
"Especially on the high wire," appreciated Alex.
"Sounds like fun," exclaimed one of the near-naked native porters' purported children, a precocious black-as-midnight six or seven year old by the name of Auguste Moirnoir. "Only, instead of a sacrificial knife, cut-anything as I'm sure it is, why don't we use this?"
The boy, whose gift for understanding and learning to speak languages he could never have heard before was nothing short of marvellous, reached into his rucksack and removed a remarkable, not to mention recognizable, object, -- a golden sickle!
"Where did you get this?" demanded Etzel Sangati, a burly, five and a half foot tall midget-bear of a Little Egyptian.
The born-Gypsy grabbed the moon-sickle away from the apparent child and showed it to his two half-sisters by the long dead Rhea Ararat, Mata now Avar and Medea now Annulis. They examined it then handed it around to some of the other avowed witches in the Magister's entourage. All agreed it looked the genuine article.
"Who are you really?" required the eldest of them, the primary teacher of most of the teenage girls and the mother of one of them.
Moirnoir was no more a stranger to her than he was to Mandam, St Synne, and some of the older others there with them. Mystery Might, as the Magister sometimes called Clymene nee Catreus Atreides to her face, was simply asking the question those who did know of him had wanted an answer to for a decade and a half. Rather than responding, the Utopian revenant assumed the aspect of a crucified man against the whorl-ridged shell of the omphalos.
With nary an incantation, without a word to the wise as it were, Magister Mandam took the golden moon-sickle from Mystery. Then, almost as if he, the most fanatical, most religiously nonviolent of all men, had done it a dozen times before, ever-so-gently plunged it into the fey boy's chest, -- through the perhaps not-quite-living horror's essentially absent heart.Whether he died or not, the Black Death was no longer there. What was there, what remained behind, was his shape in the form of a keyhole-like doorway into the not-so-diminutive Tholos Tomb that was more like a womb. Jesus Mandam was the first but hardly the last one to step through the ungodly gash between-space.
Jess went no further, just stood there and gawked at what he beheld therein. As the others on the expedition to retrace Alexander the Great's footsteps joined him, they too were awestruck. The omphalos was much bigger than a beehive. That much was true. But what was inside it dwarfed anything that could have, should have, been inside it.
This was a cavern so immense they could not perceive its extremities. There was far more than just a fissure in the centre of it. There was a miniature lake filled with a bubbling white-hot liquid. Only one of them had ever seen its like before. She was barely seven at the time but her Sicilian-born mother had not named her Mnemosyne for nothing.
Memory of the Angels, Memory of the Devils, Memory of the Grey, stripped off her clothing and dove into the steaming veritable cauldron of a crater. Those there with her held their collective breath. Then she surfaced.
"Come on in. It's like warm milk, -- must be pumice or clay or some such, I guess."
For the first time in the better part of two thousand years, mostly ordinary men and women swam in Cleopatra's Bath!
The massive bull lowered its horns, pawed the ground and prepared to charge. The bare and barrel-chested Prussian nobleman reached into his holster, removed a pistol, and shot it in the head. The bull looked surprised as it crumbled to the ground.
What it was was stunned. The pistol was a dartgun, the dart an anesthetic; the kind of thing African pygmies had been spitting out their blowpipes since time almost before time.
The comparatively short but exceedingly strong-looking gypsy, he with his forked goatee and curled up moustaches, the one who affected the fur garb of a barbarian warlord, approached the Prussian. They spoke in English, a language both men could understand better than each other's native tongues even though the gypsy, along with his two half-sisters, had spent considerable time in Germany over recent years.
"That is hardly what I meant, Baron von Alptraum."
"You wished me to capture a bull singlehandedly, Count Molech. What did you expect me to do, -- wrestle it to the ground and knock it out with my fist?"
"Something like that, yes. Have your men deal with the beast as we agreed then come into my tent. We shall drink to your splendid triumph over nature at its most ferocious."
A tent raised in a cow pasture outside the City of Rome was odd enough, but this was a large tent, like a yurt or Bedouin caravansary. Lavishly furnished in oriental rugs and carved furniture, in it also were priceless ornaments, statuary and such like made of gold, lapis lazuli, and polished bronze. There too was the transparent display case apparently filled with the objects Tyrtod von Alptraum coveted more than anything else in the world.
Count Molech, the stage name of Etzel Sangati, was one man and his manservant was the only other one there. He was odd too, this fellow Etzel addressed as Djinn. Dressed like one as well: in a turban and silken garments, as if he was a genie straight out of Aladdin's lamp or a Persian Magus. Which was what Sangati's absent nephew was supposed to be. They had no vehicle that von Alp had seen either, -- so how had just the two of them transported, erected, and outfitted something this size?
It was tempting to order his men to kill the two Near Easterners and remove everything in the tent. The well-educated aerostatic engineer and not so well-financed industrialist had brought a dozen of his private guard with him in case he felt like doing just that. Not a one of them was among the teenage Summoning Children, including his own daughter, he had also brought with him to Rome. Like him, they were heavily-armed, part-time soldiers.
Of course it could all be junk, copies of the real things. The case was not called a Tantalus for nothing and, even if he dressed like one, Etzel was no fool. So Von Alp resolved to play the game a little longer. To do otherwise, to kill Sangati, even bloody him up a bit just to show who was boss, would annoy his mother-in-law. That was never a smart idea, especially now that Hulga of the Volsungs was the only one with any ready cash left in his family.
"That's blood!" Tyrtod gasped as Etzel's Djinn poured them both goblets full of the stuff.
"Freshly squeezed," laughed Sangati. "Surely you're not squeamish, heroic Lord Leonine. What did you expect, -- Coca Cola? An investiture without blood, hah! You have been at enough of these by now to know better. Down the hatch." Etzel emptied his chalice in one glug.
"Mithrants were no effete Christians," he continued after he licked his lips and moustaches with that disturbingly long tongue of his. "They banned women from their rituals, drained their victims before they sacrificed them, drank their blood and ate their flesh, often without cooking it. You will not be required to do anything like that until and unless you aspire to reach the top level. Mine!"
The Baron was sure Count Molech was not the only top level Mithrant in the world; knew for a fact, for example, that no matter how high a level he claimed to have achieved he was still secondary to the absent Magister, Joseph Mandam, in terms of authority. Nevertheless, Sangati was probably the top dog in Rome right now and did have the Tantalus.
Wouldn't do to overly alienate him, therefore. Still, he could not help but find much of this pagan revivalism, so popular in his homeland since at least Wagner's time, borderline farcical. Was no wonder he had relinquished his position as Grand Master of the Teutonic Brotherhood so readily.
Let Hitler have his mystical pretensions, his SS Secret Society; let Donar Lancz run it, at least unofficially. So long as it did not get in the way of his own private business ventures, he could care less.
"Cretins and carnival con-men," von Alp shook his steel-grey hair and head as much in disbelief as disgust. "My mother-in-law must be mad to patronize you. Hell, I must be mad to put up with any of this Mithraic bullshit."
It was a grim joke, no grimmer than the taste of the gunk pouring down his throat as he swallowed the stuff in a series of gulps. When he was finished, he slammed the goblet upon the table between them and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt.
"Not bad," he managed to choke out. "Certainly beats some of the swill my wife cooks. Did you really eat your father back in the Vale of the Visionaries?"
"After saving us from the horrors of Nikaya, he knew he was done for, power-drained as he put it. He gave himself to me so that I might survive and have the opportunity to become a Mithraic Pope. When the time comes, I shall do the same for my son."
"Got to have one first."
"Oh, I shall. It is as good as done."
"So, if what Horrid Hulga says is true and I was to shoot you in the head, with a bullet, not a dart, you would not die?"
Mithraism had seven steps. Tonight von Alp would achieve the fourth one, that of the General or Lion, Master of Men. The Persian or Magus, Number Five, acquired a Mastery of Earth Magic, whatever that was, -- he hoped it had to do with great wealth. Number Six, the Heliodromus or Sunrunner, mastered Sky Magic, again whatever that was, but the Pope or All-Father supposedly conquered death.
"On the contrary, I would not be hit. I no longer exist entirely on this plane of pain."
"But you exist in enough of it to make babies."
"A father must have a son. The signs are finally propitious. Tomorrow night I shall reenter the fray, as it were."
"And we shall have the Tantalus."
"A lord must have warriors."
"Aryans do not serve gypsies."
"So says a Prussian more Slav than German."
"If lord I have, it is peace and prosperity for all."
"Ah, yes, the old Xuthrodism credo of God is Man and Man is God. For the Good of All, etcetera, ad nauseam. But I take your point. Lords too have their masters of course, but I find your honesty most gratifying. I shall bear it ever in mind."
"Bear it wherever you please."
The Melanchlaeni Magician, as he billed himself, seemed to consider that for an inordinate amount of time. "I could demand an oath of fealty, -- which you would gladly give. You would give anything, even your own daughter, to have the Treasury of Aesgard. But, once you had it, you would bend every effort to slay me."
He reached out his unholy grail for Djinn to refill with the same noxious liquid. "As it happens, however, I have no immediate need of your daughter, nor your wife's virgin sister. What I do have need of is vast wealth. Yet the Hoard of the Nibelung, which I thought would provide it, turned out to be something quite different." He paused to take a sip.
"I should have realized it. Had my mother, the woman who raised me that is, been alive to instruct me, I would have. Certainly I would not have wasted so much of my time, given my vow, -- which, unlike yours, is inviolable --, to your Maenad of a mother-in-law, in order to get hold of her worthless heirloom."
"Worthless to you."
"Worthless to me, yes. Because of my blood."
"But anything but worthless to me and mine. Because of our blood. Yet you did. And, as you said, your word is your bond."
"Oh, Hulga Cow Dung shall have her kiss once I have my son. And you shall have the Tantalus once all your chosen ones are initiated. Generals must have their soldiers. Or have I said that already?"
"Not in so many words but, tonight, the last one will be inducted into the second level, that of the Mithraic 'nymphos' or bridegroom stage. Which shall thereafter bind him to me. And you have already received a substantial downpayment from me. I am now, how do the English say it?, land rich but pocket poor."
"You do look a little wan. Care for another drink?"
"In the year of the Lord 376," the philosopher told the patriarch over pre-dinner drinks at the get-acquainted gathering put on by the Alliance of Man that evening, "Ignorant Christians seized the grandest cave-temple of the Great God Mithra. It was right here in Rome; on Vatican Hill, no less. Seized it and all its treasures.
"I say ignorant because it was an act of religious zeal. They had no idea what they had and probably could care less. Some old-timers, possibly Xuthrodites, did, however. They secured the treasuries, which were housed in Tantaluses, transparent display cases supposedly sealed by magical means.
"These treasures were the spoils of war, of Roman conquest, -- as you probably know, Mithraism was the dominant religion of the Roman soldiery. Those who salvaged them sought to return them to their rightful nations."
"And they were lost."
"Two have now been found. I hold the keys, the Signet Rings, required to open them. Have had since the Summoning, although I only discovered their importance late last summer when our Treasury was found off the coast of Trigon, the Aegean Island where I spend most of my leisure time.
"But I am more than just a simple Ringkeeper, I am a Ringleader. Would prefer to provide them to my own people. Nonetheless, they are yours, -- once you have killed the lecherous, devil-sent bastard who lusts after my baby sister, Argiope Bright Face.
"Once you kill Etzel Sangati!"
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