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The Moloch Manoeuvres
JANUARY 12, 1938
WAYLAID IN THE WEIRD
'And all the while the brew in the bronze cauldron boiled and frothed white; in it were root-herbs gathered ... and pebbles from the farthest shores, ... hoar-frost taken at the full of the Moon, a hoot-owl's wings and flesh, a werewolf's entrails also, and the fillet of fenny snake, the liver of the stag, ... the eggs, the head, of the crow whose years run for nine generations.
'All of these were in the cauldron .... And the barbarian woman stirred them ... with a branch of olive, dry and dead, and the old dry branch ... turned green, and green leaves sprouted along its length, and suddenly it was laden with fruit.'
-- From Ovid, 'Metamorphoses'
"Then your namesake cut old Aeson's throat with her moon-sickle," said Hulga Volsung, whose married name was Faust. "All his old blood ran out through his wound but he drank in the new stuff through his mouth and thereby became forty years younger again. I know the story, Medea. But I also know what your namesake convinced old Pelias' daughters to do to him. You shall not convince mine to do the same to me."
The Alliance of Man's reception was still going on downstairs in the ballroom, but it was mostly just the old people drinking and chatting informally while the young people danced. Unless they were taking each other off to their Alliance-paid private rooms, those that had private rooms, for some less public forms of interaction. Was a get-acquainted gathering, after all. The real serious discussions, what to do with the Summoning Children, would take place tomorrow afternoon at the official Assembly of Man.
Hulga was avoiding both activities. She would be one of the pivotal voices heard and wanted a clear head for the session. Besides, there were other issues that required her attention tonight, -- a telegram to Seth Kephren, her last contact with the now seemingly disastrous expedition she had partially funded to the far-Eastern Belgian Congo, being the most important to her mind.
That Medea Annulis, who had followed her up the stairs to the hospitality suite Faust's German contingent had arranged, and paid for, was speaking about much the same thing could not be coincidental. Maybe she was a clairvoyant, a legitimate Sibyl. That was something fifty-seven year old Hulga never doubted, although most of her family did.
But maybe, just maybe, Medea was more than that. Maybe she was as she always claimed to be: the genuine article, a witch not just in tune with the supernatural, the otherwise inexplicable, but intimate with it; even more, was a potent part of it.
Her long dead mother certainly had been.
"That Medea, the one from Colchis, was prone to tricks, nasty ones too, but never forget she was also a mighty sorceress. This Medea, me, of Ararat, is no simple trickster either. Would that I were allowed I would show you the most miraculous of places, the most wondrous of animals, the most awe-inspiring of sapient beings. What worked for that Jason's father will work for you.
"I know where the ingredients are, -- even where I can find the entrails of a werewolf, the wings and flesh of a hoot-owl, and the head and eggs of the crow-creature Ovid, like the writers of the Bible in Babylon, comparatively not all that long before him, refers to so naively. Mine is the only way you will ever become young again, crone. Or do you wish to receive my brother's kiss of immortality and live forever a sickly sixty?"
"Even if all you say is true, and I too have heard rumours of what Celts call the Otherworld, others call Never-Neverland, and Ants call Big Shelter, there are better ways to attain rejuvenation that having a bath in a witch's cauldron, especially that of a witch named Medea. Do not forget, I knew your mother and Olympias as well as I know you, Mata, and Etzel; probably even better than you did yourself.
"Like mother like daughter, I'd guess. Certainly that was the case with Olympias, -- and Mata, when she was still young and vibrant. It wouldn't surprise me if you salvaged Rhea's moon-sickle from the Vale after she and your eldest sister vanished nearly twenty years ago during the Summoning."
"Would that I had the opportunity to know my mother as you did. What I most remember about her was that she was beautiful, one who never aged, -- not until after the Summoning anyhow."
"Wait a minute! You're saying she survived."
"If she didn't, someone very much like her did. So did Olympias, albeit not for as long. She died giving birth, though who to I never found out. Might have even been my son but I doubt that. You see, not only does he look like me but I've met his father and it isn't Doc Jay."
Although Doc Jay, Jason Annulis, was along on the Summoning, Medea did not marry him until a couple of years later and still had not altogether convinced him Apsyrtus was their son. Not surprisingly, -- since she had convinced herself he wasn't!
"You think you've met his father you mean."
"How very perceptive of you. You're right of course. I no more remember what happened back then than anyone else does."
"Nonetheless, -- most remarkable. Do you know how they survived?" Medea shook her head. "Is she still alive then?"
"No, not in the same way anyhow. My mother was murdered in '23. But someone very much like her certainly is still around. And not only doesn't she age any more but, if it is Rhea, she's managed to reverse what little she aged after the Summoning as well."
"In Aeson's bath?"
"Understand, I can't say that for sure but I know she used it regularly before the Summoning. What I am offering you is based on her recipe, for want of a better word. Regardless of whether she's still around or not, considering Rhea was nearly sixty when she was hacked apart right here in Rome, I would say that's a strong recommendation for my proposal."
"Your Rhea was a regular Kala of the Hindus, Medea," recalled Hulga, who was never convinced the woman named Norma, who was brutally murdered in 1923, was the Rhea she knew when she was growing up. "She murdered and ate her many husbands. Murdered and ate any baby boys she bore but for the last, -- if Etzel is hers, which I doubt very much." Medea thought the same thing but Hulga was starting to annoy her so she didn't interrupt the older woman.
"Bathed in the blood of infants she slaughtered. Conducted hideous initiation rites for post-pubescent maidens. And, if they failed to pass the menstrual mustard as if were, she would cut them apart and bathe in their blood too."
"You're making that up," Medea finally protested.
"I am repeating what I have heard. That is what I'm doing! Do you deny any of it?"
"My mother was unlucky in love, that much is true. I heard that none of her husbands lived to see their fortieth birthday; certainly my father, Aeetes Tauri, did not live even long enough to see me born. But, like your Faust did a dozen years later, he died during wartime, -- on the other side of the continent during the Russo-Japanese War, as it happened.
"The closest I came to having a father was Bleda Sangati, the brother of my mother's first husband, Azrael. Rhea loved him dearly. From the time of my birth until his death in the aftermath of the Summoning we travelled far and wide in his gypsy caravan."
"Lucky Bleda," remarked Hulga. "At least he had the temporary good fortune to be over forty when he hooked up with her."
"Etzel was their child, Mama Rhea's last. So much for her killing any of her boy babies, -- he was it!"
"Then who was your mother?" Hulga knew Medea and Etzel were born too close together to have come from the same womb. She also knew that, for Sangati to be what he claimed to be, then his real mother must have died giving him birth.
"All right. So maybe Etzel wasn't her child but she no more ate him than she did me. And, as for bathing in blood, if she did, it was menstrual blood, donated by her Korant followers. Though I think that's a load of bull too."
"An unfortunate choice of words, given what our men are doing right now. And she wasn't so much a Korant as a Hellion, after our Hel, your Hecate, -- a female supremacist. Some of her followers got so caught up in their dancing and such like ritual frenzies they turned into the equivalent of Bacchant Maenads.
"Lost their reason altogether; thought they could fly, dove off cliffs, went skinny dipping in frozen-over lakes, tried to walk through bonfires, wrestle with big hungry bears, -- all the usual madness! Oh, some died all right. I know that for a fact."
"You know, or do not quibble with rumours of it? Same as you did not quibble with my assertion that I knew where to find werewolves, hoot-owls, and crow-creatures? I am not jesting."
"No, that I do believe. But you see, neither am I. I do not need to enter your version of Aeson's Bath."
"You've found a fountain of youth?"
"Is that so fanciful? There are those who say your brother's kiss is fanciful. I know differently. I was a young woman at the time but I was on your Rhea's side during the Victorian business a few years before the turn of the century, -- when Azrael was on the prowl for me!
"Ironic, isn't it? Here we are, talking of werewolves and vampires as if there is no doubt they exist. Someone enters the room, they'd think us mind-gone maniacs. But it isn't absurd. If Columbus' crony, Ponce de Leon, went south instead of west, he might have found the fount hundreds of years ago."
"I wondered if that was what you were talking about."
"You wondered correctly. However, just for the sake of argument, say I chanced your regenerative cauldron, what would you want as pay back? I gave your brother probably the greatest secret in the history of the western world, the location of the treasure trove of the Nibelungs, in return for his promised kiss, -- which he has yet to deliver on obviously. What can I give you?"
"The members of my family, with the possible exception of Mata, have always had grand ambitions. Olympias figured her eldest child had the makings of a new Alexander of Macedonia. Which he may well have, though I have yet to see any evidence of it. Etzel is a little more basic. As he puts it, all he needs is a son but all he wants is to be fabulously wealthy, a not-unreasonable desire given what he can already do.
"Knowing that, you extracted his promise rather artfully I felt. However, the treasury did not turn out to be quite the cash cow he anticipated. As you likely expected, what's in the Tantalus has proven next to useless to him. I would have something more useful to all of us, -- your daughter Valfreja for my son Apsyrtus!"
From Medea's earlier assertion that Apsyrtus was her child, that she had a more than just strong suspicion as to who his father was, Hulga anticipated something like this was coming. "Your family already has one of my daughters, -- Astrid!"
"By a carefully arranged series of marriages worked out mostly by you and Mama Rhea. I propose a more direct link, me to you. Grant this and we become blood. Blood does not bloody Blood. Not where I come from at least."
"You know Freya's not my actual daughter?" Medea acknowledged she had heard as much. "That her mother died giving her birth?"
"As your son died before he even came out of your womb, yes. I heard that as well. So has my brother. He does not believe you, -- thinks you're advertising false goods again; hoping to trade your baby for the Tantalus now that it has proved to be what it is. I, however, do believe you. Which is to say I could care less; her ancestry is irrelevant for my purposes."
"Then why not hook him up with someone else, -- Laodice Atreides for example?"
"Because it's you I really want, you with your never-ending ambition and complete ruthlessness. Your Freya and my Apsyrtus shall have the most magnificent of children; ones who shall become my Erda to your Uranus; my second Kronos to your second Frigga; your azuras to my devas.
"Through them the gods and goddesses, the demons and monsters of antiquity, shall return to their rightful place in the Cosmic Machine. Thus shall the triple god, Thrygragos Varuna Ahriman Mithras, and the triple goddess, Trigregos Devaura Demeter Sapiendev emerge anew.
"Divine Coueranna, she who is simultaneously virgin, mother and crone, shall rule as she did before, -- alongside her mate, the Astronomer, the Judge, he who is time, place, and wisdom. Thus shall the unnatural dual alliance of Xuthros the Flood and Anthea the Flower be forever abolished."
"You're right about your family having grand ambitions. Put pomposity aside for the nonce, Medea, and consider your words. Etzel wants to be the richest man in the world and Olympias figured her son could rule it. But you've managed to go them one better, haven't you?
"You think your grandchildren will be the Six Great Gods reincarnated as two: the blood-pumping heart that is Coueranna and the directing will that is the Astronomer, -- the 'Gragod' and the 'Gregod' if I understand your terminology, the instigative Male and Female Entities of legend."
"Our grandchildren," Annulis corrected her host. "And it is no legend. I has happened in the past and will happen again."
"All the same none of it sounds much like your mother. Oh, she would go for the Great Goddess bit, but she wouldn't be too pleased about all this emphasis on sons. Whatever else she may or may not have been, Rhea thought men were cattle; those who took everything and gave nothing back."
"Other than shit and sperm," Medea qualified,not that she necessarily disagreed with the Volsung matriarch in her assessment of her mother. "Guess you go with what you've got. Aeson's Bath is yours to have, sister. Reject it at your peril but know I shall never harm you. Not if you give your Freya permission to marry my Apsyrtus. We shall rule through them."
"Need some practise veiling your threats, dear. Not that I'm particularly worried about anything you could do to me. You're more ass than brass."
"I do not appreciate being mocked."
"Neither do I," the fifty-seven old woman cautioned her much younger guest. "Why should I waste my time, or Freya's, with your scatter-brained son when I can go direct to the source of your family's power, -- to your brother, to the Maker himself?"
"As I told you, Etzel believes Freya is your child; is therefore not what he requires. Besides, he is spoken for already. Tomorrow night at midnight, after over seven years of patient waiting, he will have all he needs. Unlike the Tantalus he found where you said your mutual ancestors dumped the Hoard of Nibelung, Loxus Ryne's wealth is something he can use."
As she had already picked up from speaking to Count Molech downstairs at the reception, Hulga took Medea's words as confirmation of one of her greatest dreads: that Sangati would deal with the Xuthrodite patriarch and cut her family out of the picture entirely. Can't say she blamed him, or her. Before the Summoning she, Hulga, had directed a disproportionate and ultimately fruitless amount of her energy into arranging a marriage between Abe Ryne and her very own Astrid.
Oh, the Moloch would still give her the kiss she so desired; the one he and, if one could believe him, he alone could provide. But he would probably kill her the very next moment, -- as he had said himself, even immortals had to work at remaining alive. Unless she took steps to secure his continued support of course. And Medea was as good as tying her shoelaces.
The other thing Medea was as good as telling her was that the patriarch had more than just the wealth Etzel coveted so cravenly. He had a Summoning Child, one who was still a virgin, whose mother had definitely died giving her birth, who knew what she was getting into because Sangati would not force himself on anyone and, consequently, was as prepared as Freya was when it came to taking the same risks in return for the same rewards, a Vampire Maker's kiss.
She would also be of the Moloch's blood, -- but wouldn't she have to be if she was Bleda's daughter? Sangati, no other way to look at it, was after his half-sister. Could not get much closer to your own blood than that. Not unless the woman who died having her was of your blood as well. Was that it, was that who the Great Man had, -- Olympias Kinesis's hypothetical daughter?
Even if he had, what of it? Olympias was Azrael's daughter, but she wouldn't have been a virgin, and Etzel was quite specific about requiring a virgin. Of course he had not actually stated that the girl's mother had to have been a virgin when she conceived her but it followed, didn't it?
Not that that meant much. All the post-pubescent, pre-menopausal women who answered the Summoning and went to the Vale of the Visionaries, those that survived at any rate, -- herself and Medea, who was only fifteen or sixteen at the time, included --, emerged pregnant. Many of those women never found out who their inseminating mates had been but not very many of them had died either.
One of the sexually overactive men back then may have been Bleda Sangati; even if he was only fifteen or so at the time, may well have been Etzel himself, for that matter. Was he after his own daughter? Would he know his own daughter if he met her? How would Ryne have got hold of her? Where would he have kept her all these years? More to the point, why would he have kept her? Did Abe Ryne even know about Blood Beasts Prime and Vampire Makers?
There had been other simultaneous Summonings. She knew that for a fact. Thus, when it came right down to it, the possibilities for Sangati were next to literally endless. Yet, as the counterfeit count also told her, he had been promised a bride with much closer ties to him than Argiope Zeross, who was only related to him because her brother Angelo wed his ostensible niece Megaera, -- Meg being one of the two reasons Olympias could not have been a Virgin Bride during the Summoning; the other being Alexandros.
Said he had been promised this annoyingly nameless blood relation by the Mithraic Master Magus himself. Hulga knew who that was of course: Joseph Mandam. Knew he was once married to the patriarch's four years gone twin sister, Mary Magdalene Ryne, and that he had wisdom he never shared. But that did not mean much either. No, the Magister would have had to provide proof that the girl in question was Etzel or Bleda's daughter.
Trouble was, how could old Joe provide proof of anything? Even if it took the form of his inviolable word of honour, a man like him would never give that away untruthfully and no one, with the unreliable exception of Memory of the Angels, had any recollection of what really happened during the Summoning. No one that Hulga knew about in any case. Looks were deceiving and the results of medical testing were notoriously open to 'expert interpretation'.
How could Sangati accept anyone's claim over hers? She had thought it through so carefully long before she made it, albeit on Freya's behalf. She had been in the same hospital as Gilda Dre'Ath was when she had her Maxwell. Her boy had been stillborn yet, as Fate would have it, on the same day another girl, a street waif maybe, had a beautiful golden-haired child, Valfreja. Had died having her. The nurses had simply switched them, a dead one for a living one. Happened all the time, didn't it?
So who did the patriarch have? Who could the Magister have told Sangati about? Who would either Ryne or Mandam take the chance sacrificing, because whomever it was would die having Etzel's child as surely as her mother had having Bleda's? And why? Loxus Ryne was already arguably the richest man in the world. Was young, a couple of years shy of forty, and seemingly in good health. Had the Moloch promised him a kiss too? Had to have. Was about the only thing Ryne's gold could not buy off the shelf. Or anywhere else, except from Sangati.
Goddamn it, whole thing was too maddening to even think about! If she knew who the patriarch had, Donar Lancz would kill her for her. He would do anything for her. Fancied Freya for his himself, didn't he? But she didn't, -- didn't much fancy him herself, not for Freya. Especially not, were she healthy, when there other far more suitable suitors for her. Was no choice. She had to reach an accomodation with the likely mendacious Medea.
"I have two granddaughters, Tanith von Blut and Brunhild von Alptraum. They are Summoning Children, exactly the same age as Freya and your Apsyrtus. Both are bright and capable young women. Both would be a good match for your son and we can't be absolutely certain either of the Tyrtods were their respective fathers. I shall speak with Astrid and Berchta in this regard."
Medea Annulis, she of the Ararats, was not a very good dealmaker. Was more like a midwife, sooth said. Was someone who brought the deals others wanted to fruition. Had her sibylline convictions, though. And was prepared to act upon them.
"I would have your Freya, her and her alone. But I am not an unreasonable witch. I will wait until Etzel consummates his marriage before I demand her. You will see I am correct; we shall both see since, thanks to my brother's kiss, we both shall live for centuries. Good evening to you, Hulga of the Volsungs."
It was only instinct that told the Summoning Child to hesitate before he stepped out of the shadows in order to follow Medea Annulis down the corridor.
As usual, he was not misled.
Another young man, one he had not seen for going on seven years, suddenly appeared in the hallway as if out of nowhere. This one knocked on the door of the hospitality suite and was admitted by a shocked-looking Hulga Faust. She obviously had not been expecting him either.
Once the door closed behind them, the teenager slipped out of the shadows and, chancing the brightly lit hallway, loped after Medea. A faintly glowing speck on the carpet caught his eye. He bent over and picked it up. Although he had not seen one of them for four years and a bit, it too was familiar. Knew immediately what it was, -- a witch-stone!
It was his understanding a man could not utilize one of these things. Not solely by himself, that is, and no woman had stepped out of between-space holding his hand. Unlike his instincts, his understanding was clearly imperfect.
Was getting to be a mite much. Witches were one thing, he knew they were about, had dreams about them, but a warlock was something else, -- all the more so a warlock named Jesus. He put it back and went after the Annulis woman. As he had suspected, he was already too late. Medea had vanished.
He sniffed the air; something had just died somewhere close by. Maybe it was Hulga, he flashed hopefully. No, not yet at least. The smell was not human, a rat maybe, down in the alley. But there was another vague scent. Could it be?
Was his childhood bride still alive?
Not all the treasuries of the ancient world were contained in magically-sealed Tantaluses. One, a hoard of finely-fashioned gold and silver objects, was discovered around sixty years earlier on the bank of the Amudar'ya or Oxus River east of the Caspian Sea. As such it came to be known as the Oxus Treasure.
If, as the joke went, it had been in a Tantalus once, that was no longer the case.
In 1880 the treasure was stolen from the Afghans who found it three years earlier. The robbers were tracked down by the British, however. Consequently, surprise, surprise, much of it ended up in the British Museum. Among those pieces was a gold model of a car or chariot drawn by ponies.
Though the dates of the trove were never precisely fixed, the garments worn by the figurines of the slave and his mistress standing within it were clearly Median. That probably meant they were pre-Achaemenid, -- Achaemenids being the Persian dynasty from which sprang the Zoroastrian King Darius in 522 before the common era.
The Medes were at the height of their power from about the end of the ninth century to the middle of the sixth. It was a Median king in alliance with the Babylonians who finally toppled the Assyrian Empire when they seized Nineveh around 600 BC.
That the Oxus Treasure was Median in origin made sense because Ecbatana, the Median capital, what was now Hamadan in Northwestern Iran, was directly south of the Caspian Sea, albeit a thousand or so miles away from where the treasure was found. Nevertheless, the area was well-within the extent of the Median Empire since traces of its presence had been found as far east and north as Tibet, Western Mongolia, and Southern Siberia.
While it was true that some one hundred and seventy pieces from the shattered treasure chest wound up in Britain, once in a while other parts of it turned up on black markets in such places as Turkmen SSR, Iran, and Afghanistan. Another car or chariot-shaped trinket, minus the horses and other figurines, caught the eye of Etzel Sangati when he was in Baghdad in early 1937.
One of those he was with reckoned it was from the Oxus Treasure, but that was not the main reason Sangati bought it. Neither was it because it was likely Median in origin. Nor that it reminded him of a horned sun disc. No, he bought it to give to his slightly older sister, Medea Annulis, because he recognized it as magical, -- as usual for wont of a better word. And Medea, being Medea, might be able to make it work for her.
The Medea of Jason and the Argonauts fame was one of the most fabled women in the ancient world. Among her many claims to notoriety, besides rejuvenating Aeson and tricking Pelias' daughters into hacking up their own father, she murdered her children by Jason, fled to Athens, hooked up with Aegeus, another aging king, and tried to poison his son, Theseus, Slayer of the Minotaur.
When she was discovered in the act she fled to Asia in her dragon-drawn car or chariot. There she either settled in an area not that far south of Colchis, where Father Aeetes still ruled, or took over his subjects, who migrated somewhat to the south and east. In any event these people came to be known as the Medes, -- after her of course.
As she had with Olympias many years earlier, as she had when she married Mata into the Avar-Schroff-Volsung Family, Mama Rhea took great care to set her Medea up to be all she could be, -- an incarnation of Medea of Colchis no less. Seemed to be working well too, as anyone who had seen her leave Hulga's hospitality suite in the hotel and tried to follow her might have realized.
Medea Annulis did not go outside the hotel. Not in any normal way. Did not go down the stairs to the lobby; did not go up them either. Instead she stepped into the Shadowland between space. This Shadowland had a number of names. They included the Weird, the Grey, Samsara, the Universal Substance and, very much inaccurately, the Inner Earth. Which had more than a few alternative names of its own; Big Shelter and the Otherworld being only two of them.
Within that nebulous, nearly non-space, her car awaited her. Conceivably it was the same winged chariot that Medea of Colchis, what was now Kolkhida in Georgian SSR, rode in ancient times. Was different from the one in the British museum in that it was silver rather than gold and its basket was circular rather than rectangular. Its forks were distinctly horn-like, however, and while it had wings they were ornamental, flaring out of the sides of the basket just above the wheels.
It did fly, though not by itself, and it was magical, -- after a fashion. Most witches did not practise magic. Reason most people thought some of the things they did had to be magical was because there was no other logical explanation and, ignorantly, they presumed logic did not apply to witchcraft.
It did, -- but advanced witches seldom shared their peculiar kind of logic with anyone except other sisters and then only after they had been thoroughly initiated into their secretive rituals. Which was only logical. Initiation rituals were far more meaningful when a Sisterhood actually had secrets that could be revealed.
When Count Molech, her maybe-brother, more likely cousin, gave the car to her for her birthday last year, it was about the length of her hand. Once she took it into Shadowland however it grew to its present size, about the same as a regular chariot. All it lacked were a couple of fire-breathing dragons to pull it, and her, through between-space. Etzel somehow managed to provide approximations of just that as well.
Neath and Lathe, two winged serpents with horned, Medusa-like heads and scaly but otherwise human, female breasts, were coiled at the car's foot, reposing, awaiting her whip and her commands. Her half-brother, if he was even that, never fully explained how he came across these dull-witted shape-shifters; claimed only they had been haunting him since the events of Samhain Season 1923.
Medea took that to indicate he had in effect inherited them from Mama Rhea shortly after her murder, mutilation and subsequent immolation. Knew what they were: Gorgons or lamia. Once natives of the Outer Earth, of Libya in North Africa, they were not to be confused with the generally male lamassu often depicted in Assyrian times. Was little doubt those human-headed, bull-bodied, winged, and sphinx-like creatures were related to them, though.
Lamia could no longer subsist outside the Weird except for brief moments. Even then, in their original human forms at least, that was only at night. Could not breathe fire or turn folks to stone either; not that she had witnessed at any rate. In fact, except as psychopomps, the graceful but anything except cuddly-looking monstrosities were not much use for anything.
They could pull the car, however; could transport Medea and those she brought with her great distances through the internal world. Whereupon they could step back into the external world. And they could do so at incredible speed, out-pacing a modern day airplane. How they managed to do this, she had been taught, was to think of space in terms of a piece of paper.
If it was laid flat out, to go from one spot to another you had to cover a certain amount of area. Fold the paper, and the two spots were that much closer. Of course you still have to cover the same amount of area should you travel linearly but psychopomps could fold space the same as you could paper and in effect jump from one from spot to another.
As remarkable as that would sound to a non-initiate, in this respect too they were more conceit than anything else. Other witches, not even ones who had attained a high level of skill, could go through between-space on their stepping stones. Could bring others with them simply by holding their hands. Medea could do this as well but she liked having the beasts at her beck and caw.
Of course they had to be fed, which was a bit of a hassle given they fed on soul-stuff and, probably only for the time being, there were not very many readily accessible battlefields, -- their usual pastures. She therefore had to tether them just beyond graveyards and hope that there had been some fresh burials that day.
Even so, there were times, usually around a full moon, when they demanded fresh meat. Unbaptized children were a particularly sought after taste-treat of theirs Etzel told her when he turned them over to her. What was more, if she did not provide it, they would take on their most common nocturnal form beyond Shadowland, that of a hoot-owl, and hunt for their own supper.
The moon was very nearly full; would be fully formed next night, -- which was part of the reason Sangati was getting married then. This left Medea in a bit of a quandary. Count Molech had already told her he wanted to borrow them back for the ceremony. Wanted them in good shape too, just in case he needed their support for reasons unspecified. Medea was pretty sure what those reasons were though.
He, the Mighty Maker, might need protection. More to the point, he might want someone killed. And that was something he dare not do himself, not for another night at the earliest and, if he wanted to be sure, not for another nine months after that. Medea was not one for killing either. Had heard it was habit-forming. Not to mention risky, -- people tended to fight for their lives.
Besides, cradle-robbers were even lower than grave-robbers; even lower than snakes in the grass, come to think of it. In the past, whenever a full moon came around, she'd give Neath and Lathe a bunch of money and a few nights off to do as they pleased. So long as they solemnly swore to return to her when the Moon started to wane, she could care less how they sated themselves. Lamia, like vampires and most other kinds of devils or demons of not just lore, were bound by their oaths.
She did not have that luxury this time around, though. Not if she wanted to remain in Etzel's good books. Which she did. Wanted his Maker's kiss as badly as Hulga Faust or, presumably, Loxus Ryne did. At thirty-three she was not getting any younger and, like the Volsungs' matriarch, she was wary of climbing into Aeson's Bath. Was especially wary of slitting her own throat.
While there may well be other Makers out and about, -- Summoning Children, chances were, given the prevailing theory that Bleda Sangati was poking just about every woman he could lay more than just his hands upon back then --, none of them had turned themselves as yet. And she was not about to start testing out the odds-on favourites. If they were not Makers, they would die!
She got into the back of her car and flicked her whip. The lazy lamia uncoiled languidly and stretched for a bit before finally flapping their wings and taking flight. Medea knew where there were a couple of babies. Though they had undoubtedly been baptized by now, beggars could not be choosers. The horrors would have to make do with what they got.
Thus, through the Grey, she whipped them onwards toward the spacious, three-level villa of the Family D'Angelo within easy walking distance of Vatican City. If someone had to be munched for them to be lunched, who better than the grandchildren of Sedon St Synne, that two-faced pusillanimous Priapus with the two-faced name? Family had cost Medea her mother, hadn't they?
Of course there might be some other less familially complicit young innocents staying there this weekend for the Assembly of Man but, hey, if they overate, well, who said you couldn't curry future favours by currying flavours today? Come to think of it, probably no one had ever said such an asinine thing.
Medea of the Ararats thought of herself as a trailblazer!
"So my mother named me, yes."
"Knew I'd seen you before. You're another Summoning Child, aren't you? Dragon Joe's kid by Mary Magdalene Ryne. The primary one, so I've been given to understand. At least primary as in first born. What are you doing here? More to the point, how did you get here? Last I heard you were in Tibet."
"Nepal actually, Mother Hulga. As to what I'm doing here, well, I was hoping you would give me some advice."
"And would you heed it?"
"I would consider it."
"Consider your view as to who I should kill first," answered the young man. He calmly reached into his pocket and pulled out a Luger P-08 pistol. This he rested on the bridge of Hulga's nose.
"Though I've pretty much already decided to start with you!"
The winged serpents reared up suddenly; very nearly tossed Medea Annulis out of her car. She cracked her whip against the lamia's backs. The horned, draconic creature barely responded; looked about, snapping their serpentine jaws seemingly at nothing, -- and nothingness was most of what composed the Weird.
Then the reason manifested herself on the chariot, put a cut-anything, filed-flint knife against her throat. It was a dark-haired, reddish-skinned woman. Medea had rarely seen the likes of this one. Neolithic, virtually prehistoric, was the first thing that came into her mind; a North American Indian Princess was the second thing.
"Lead them home, old-timer," said the Pocahontas apparently to the void. "Take them to Big Shelter. And you, Hellion," she breathed into Annulis' face, "Be happy I have not learned to kill yet."
Medea was no edentulous weakling; was far from toothless. She had been trained in unarmed combat, was considered very good at it, -- even Clymene Atreides said as much. She elbowed the American Aboriginal in the jaw, levered her off her chariot. Watched her tumble through the Weird.
Sometimes Shadowland was more melanous than murky, more dark than desultory. This was the first time it was more bleached than bleak. Something very white, very bright, some kind of bird, an enormous albino eagle perhaps, came into between-space, out of between between-space. It gathered the Indian into its mass then arched back at Medea and her two gruesome Gorgons. Could this be a Harpy? A Fury, more like!
Something, a stone perhaps, glanced off her shoulder. There was a word for the spear-slinging weapon the Neolithic was using against her and her lamia. Medea could not remember it, but she knew a warning when it was given. If only she was a sorceress; had some handy-dandy spell she could instantly conjure up in order to turn her foe into a toad or pig or some such.
The fabled Circe of Aeaea, the Island of Wailing Souls, had been Colchian Medea's aunt. Like that Medea's father Aeetes and their other sister Pasiphae, wife of Minos and mother of the Minotaur, Circe's father had been the Sun God Helios whereas their mother was the nymph Creta or Perseis. But this Medea's Mama Rhea did not have any sisters she knew about; none she had ever met, and that was for sure.
Not knowing what she up against, Medea whipped her changeling dragons in the only direction she, they, would find safety. Over the Aegean Sea, what should have been hours but was actually only minutes later, just before they reached the nexus that led to the truly Inner Earth, the transcendent eagle of the Grey fluttered before the Gorgons.
The Neolithic's face made up its face, then her head was its head. "I could have killed you anytime I wanted, Ophidian. You better be grateful I chose not to; better stay well away from me in the future. Better yet, don't come out here ever again!"
"You didn't kill me because you daren't," spat back Medea, risking her wrath. "You're an Antling pacifist, aren't you? Killing goes against all your training!"
"Think so? If you want to stay and play, you'll soon find out differently. If I'm an Ant, it's a Red One, -- as in the colour of your blood!"
"You're one of those cocksure Summoning Children too, I see."
"Consider me rather your nemesis. I'll be waiting."
"Forewarned is forearmed."
"Come back with four arms, Nihilist, and I'll learn surgery."
"That's Annulis, girl. And I will be back. Mark me on that!"
"No, no!" Hulga pleaded for her life. "It's Heliopolis you're after. He's Argiope's protector, yes, but he's also Sangati's bloodbrother. He will do whatever Count Molech requires. Wants to be made too. So does the patriarch and he has Virginia Mannering."
"Ginny's mother didn't die giving her birth."
"How do you know? Superior is just her foster mother. And who's to say Anita D'Angelo is actually Sophia's daughter or Laodice Clymene Atreides'? Either of them could be the one you want. And there are more!"
"Sedon St Synne does. Besides, one look at Nita and you can see what a ridiculous notion that is. If she isn't an Angelic then the rest of us are devils. And everyone knows Ginny's mother was Nita's paternal aunt, Celestine D'Angelo.
"The Celestial Superior wasn't killed until three years after her birth so there's no chance she's who the abomination's after. The D'Angelo cameo face is too distinctive and to look at the rest of her, well, it's pretty obvious who her father was as well. And it wasn't Bleda Sangati. As to the rest, they are their mother's daughters. But you are not Valfreya's!"
Hulga Faust felt her heart falter. Why had she let her men go away; why had she insulted Medea Annulis, probably the only woman who could stand against this paranoid teenage killer? What point was the promise of eternal life if she got herself shot before she got herself bit?
"You have made it a well-known fact that Freya's real mother died in the process of giving her birth, Cow Dung. And, other than Thalassa so-called D'Angelo, my half-sister Barsine Mandam, Argiope Zeross, Roxanne Heliopolis, and your baby, the only other one I can find who at least potentially fits the profile is someone named Solace Sunrise." Find was hardly the right word, as he was about to explain to the Volsung's terrified matriarch.
"Her mother was Louise St Synne. She disappeared during the Summoning and, according to St Synne, my mentor and Louise's husband, died bearing her around Christmas 1920. Unfortunately no one, not even St Synne, knows what's become of this Solace since he last saw her four years ago in the Rocky Mountains."
"Sed-son would know, that I'll grant you," braved Hulga, attempting to regain control of the situation. "Not that it matters right now. Put the gun away and let me see this list of yours?" Jesse did not put the gun away but he did pull it back, took the list out of his pocket, and showed it to her.
"Barsine's been forbidden Sangati by her father, the Mithraic Magus, whom everyone thinks is my real father though I suspect otherwise," he told her, running it down. "One does not trifle with the Magister, as I'm sure you are aware. Roxanne already has a child, which lets her out. And, while you're right that Count Molech is the bloodbrother of Rox's actual brother, Argiope Bright Face is still under Agenor's aegis. They won't cross each other.
"As for Thalassa, she has a twin brother, Aires, which probably makes her useless for Sangati's purposes. I hear they're tough stuff too and the Mighty Maker's a certified coward. Besides, most people think the Ants' Superior, Dolores Rivera, is their mother. She certainly didn't die giving them birth and since, by your own admission, Freya's mother did, we're left with you."
He laid the Luger squarely against her forehead again. "Do you pray, lovely lady? If so, make it quick."
"Wait!" she all but begged him. "None of this is conclusive."
"You have offered your adopted daughter to the living horror that is the Maker, woman. No one else was so craven. It's conclusive enough for me." He cocked the trigger.
"I said wait! Don't you see? It's a trap. There must be other Makers out there; females ones in all likelihood. Which means we don't need Etzel Sangati, -- only his seed! But once we have that, and Freya will know immediately if she's pregnant, we won't be able to get to him again.
"He's a way of hiding his soul, you see. Of keeping himself not altogether where he appears to be. But he'll need to be there, body and soul, if he wants to have a son. And he desperately does. When he's all there, when the deed is done, Freya's going to cut off his testicles and let him bleed to death all over her."
"She'd do that?"
"Of course she would. She is my daughter after all!"
In Rome, Italy, on January 12, 1938, the very day Pope Pius XI spoke highly of Benito Mussolini's government yet publicly rebuked Adolph Hitler, a cat in the catacombs not so inadvertently stumbled upon the investiture ceremony of a Summoning Aged Jewish boy into the rites of Cave Mithraism.
At the time, the cat in question had rainbow eyes.
Bast was black, belonged to twelve year old Claudia D'Angelo. Room did too. The D'Angelos' youngest children all had bedrooms on the villa's top floor, only a few doors away from their parents. Tonight, though, the room it came into was being used by Cloud's Aunt Mnemosyne. Memory, as everyone called her, was a little over a year shy of her thirtieth birthday, never married and very much the sexual adventuress.
Most people assumed she was brought up to be a devout Roman Catholic. After all her brother, Raphael, had been an ordained priest before he had to resign after getting Sophia St Synne pregnant during the Summoning, was a member of the Knights of St John Hospitaller, and continued to be a secular adviser to the Pope. As well, their much older sister, Celestine, had reputedly died in a convent a little over fourteen years earlier.
As for Memory's other sibling, the one between Rafe and her, Dolores was often addressed as Superior even though she was married and still in her mid-thirties. Of course not all superiors were nuns. Some were witches.
So how did she end up with a pagan name, that of a Titan no less and, at least according to some mythographers, the mother by Zeus, her nephew, of the Nine Muses?
"Do you really want to know?" the lovely, dark-haired, bottomless black eye-balled Afrite asked the man sharing Cloud's borrowed bed with her. Boy, more like. Since it was now past midnight this was just his seventeenth birthday.
"Hey, I'm not up to much else right now."
"So I don't just see." Before she could explain how she got her name, the cat came through the cat-door built into the window over the roof to the wider, next lower level of the house and leapt in with them; tracking blood on their bed sheets.
"Bad Bast!" Memory reprimanded her harshly. "Where have you been?" She picked up the creature and suddenly knew. That was when she screamed.
Had iridescent eyeballs too!
Some people walked in their sleep; others in their dreams. In a way one man could do both, and more, simultaneously, -- he could dream himself into others' dreams and, as he slept, could walk himself through Shadowland to their side.
As dawn approached Rome, this man appeared in the dream of Etzel Sangati. What amounted to a pleasant, anticipatory practise session for his long awaited wedding the next night quickly became an Alptraum.
"That's disgusting," the dream-man told the dreaming man. "You should have your brain scrubbed in caustic soda." To which the dreamer had no answer except to force himself to wake up.
Even then he was not alone.
"Can you not leave me in peace, Wanderer of the Weird?" Sangati asked the tumescent, naked, and all too familiar apparition of a man in his early sixties; a man whose blood was an attractive admixture of both Japanese Ainu and French Foreign Legion, Indochina variety. "I have kept my vow to leave you and yours alone, can you not do the same to me and mine?"
"It is yours who have forced me hither. Have either the Magister or I ever failed you? Have we not delivered everything we promised? Do you not live when almost anyone else would have you dead? Or do you truly think Djinn or this semi-solid spirit-casting stunt you perform so effectively can keep you safe should either of us wish it otherwise?"
"I am not in the mood for riddles, wayfarer. If you have a complaint against one of mine, speak it now."
"Would that I could read your mind instead of just walk in your dreams. Purely by chance, I was visiting my daughter and her children as they slept. Your most twisted sister, the one whose sanity is suspect at best, dared to approach them through the Grey, -- with your mother's creatures, the ones who respond to Medea only because you charged them to do so.
"They were hungry and fully intended to feed on Marcello and Gloriella or the world's latest Dre'Ath. Fortunately, Superior was there and had a powerful protector in the vicinity; one whom I have not seen in four years and love dearly, even if she is not of my own loins. She drove them away."
"Then no harm was done. Can I go back to sleep now? I've had a rather busy day and have an even busier one tomorrow."
"So I saw. I am by vocation a teacher, by avocation an explorer, and often by happy happenstance a peacemaker. Though I carry weapons and can defend myself even without them, I am not by nature a violent man. Neither is the Magister. But for this paltry ability there is nothing extraordinary about me.
"Joseph Mandam is an altogether different matter. Furthermore, there are those neither of us can rein in despite all our efforts to do so. One in particular, and you know whom I mean, seems to have been born a witch; one who needs no training. Which is remarkable in and of itself but all the more so since he is male.
"He can step through between-space; can step into your genie's Shelter, Mighty Maker, -- and he will, should I show him how to access it."
"Which you will not."
"Which, though your sister's actions tempt me sorely, I have not as yet done. He is a resourceful youth, however. Has learned what you could become; what you could make others into once you have a son of your own. He knows your intentions, your requirements in terms of a bride, and what will happen to her once she gives birth, be it to a son or a daughter.
"Equally so, he has either stolen from his father or deduced for himself a list of your potential victims, -- for that is what whomever you choose as your bride shall be --, and realizes all of them are Summoning Children. Add to that his belief that all those born because of the Summoning are his siblings, that the young women you lust after are therefore his sisters, and I'd say you are in serious jeopardy."
"He sounds more insane than Medea will ever be."
"Omniscience is another ability I do not possess, Mighty Maker," said the naked apparition; the ghost who was almost as physically present in Sangati's hotel room as Etzel was, -- which was not saying a great deal.
"How could they be his siblings?"
"Because he believes these selfsame Summoning Children, whom he refers to as supranormals, are divine beings; which he believes himself to be as well. He has also developed this peculiar notion that it is his lot in life to become their Saviour. Even refers to himself as the Mithraic Messiah in contrast to his father, the Mithraic Master Magus.
"Unlike another Saviour of the same name, however, he had not foresworn violence; is in fact a moderately accomplished shot and, purely by accident it seems, has determined you are peculiarly vulnerable to all things silver."
"So he is no more infallible than you are."
"We all have our faults, but he is full of youthful confidence and a concomitant sense that he is unstoppable."
"Are who what?"
"His sisters, -- in the secular sense?"
"Of course not; certainly not all of them. I know who is mine and who is not mine, Sangati. And I would no more let you anywhere near my offspring than I would let you near any of theirs. No, the boy is not perfect; he merely thinks he is!"
"Even I know you suffer from satyriasis, wanderer. That you sprinkle your seed indiscriminately. How can you know who bears your tainted fruit?"
"Take my word for it. I always take yours."
"Then you remember what happened during the Summoning?"
"Sometimes," granted the apparition. "But only when I dream."
Medea Annulis took herself through the cavity of Tiamat's third tooth. She would not come back that night but her lamia would. With someone else riding the chariot.
That someone else was under instructions from the someone who looked very much like Mama Rhea except she wasn't. That someone else was exactly the same age, to the minute, as a certain Memory of the Summoning and an Eden of the Nightingales.
Well, most of her was anyhow. The rest of her, the one possessing her, was so old at least one star had died, was destroyed more like, during her lifetime. For lifetime it was. That star had a name, -- Weirstar! So did the one possessing that someone else.
Dozens of them!
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