Now I will provide you with the tale of my very first adventures within the Black Lodge. Come back with me to the summer of ’84 and my hometown of Westerly, Rhode Island.
My mentor, Ross, and I were just getting to know each other. A week earlier, his lessons in astral projection had finally paid off when I left my body for the first time. This was when I was also beginning to learn the secret occult history from him.
“Today is August 14,” Ross said to my thirteen-year-old self. “It is a holiday all over the world. Do you know which one?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Victory Day. On this day in 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered to the United States, ending World War II. Because of time zones, the rest of the planet celebrates this on the 15th. For example, in the Koreas tomorrow is known as Independence Day.”
“So it was the moment when everything changed,” I said, “and the world as we know it was created!”
“Exactly,” Ross replied with a grin as we exited the park and began strolling through downtown. “Now pay attention. Your country was extremely reluctant to enter the war. Isolationist sentiment was in fact the majority opinion, until Hollywood movie propaganda won over the public mind. And then came Pearl Harbor. Japan’s surprise attack shocked the American collective consciousness like it had never been shocked before. A sleeping giant came to life, and its awakening cry was one of rage. Racist demonization of ‘Japs’ became the standard narrative, to the point where President Roosevelt ordered the construction of concentration camps for Americans of Japanese origin. No one was killed, but lives were wrecked. And then came the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan’s civilian population. The United States was victorious, yes, but you had mixed feelings as a nation about how you treated the demon Japs.
“Thus, when the rest of the world adopted Victory Day as a public celebration of the war’s end, America did not. President Harry S. Truman, who had ordered the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did not want to be seen as enjoying it. However, one of your United States broke from the rest and to this day is the only place in America the holiday is observed. Do you know where that is?”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Right here in Rhode Island!”
Ross stopped walking in front of the building housing our local newspaper, the Westerly Sun.
“Now here is a curious fact, Steven,” he said conspiratorially. “The collective consciousness of our planet can be controlled by occult means. Shocking events that change the world produce energy that can be used for magickal purposes. Key to using these events is knowing things that other people do not. For example, if I knew the secret behind the Kennedy Assassination, then everyone in the civilized world is subject to my manipulations. Their fascination creates a kind of cosmic coin which I can control if I happen to know things about its value that they do not. Regardless of what they spend it on, my account grows proportionally, secretly, giving me access to everything bought and sold psychically regarding JFK.
“Which brings me to this newspaper. It just so happens that this is where the news of Pearl Harbor broke to the world. The attack occurred on a Sunday morning Hawaii time, which meant that all the major papers in the country had already gone to press for the day. However, the Westerly Sun was late with its run because of very old equipment combined with coincidental inefficiency. I was told the story while visiting here the other day. The press guys were in the process of laying out the blocks for the front page when news of the attack came over the wire, and were able to change their headline at the very last minute. Thus the Sun was able to beat out the New York Times, Washington Post, and every other major news outlet in the world, because here they both heard the news and were able to create the record of it first.”
“That’s amazing,” I said.
“It gets better. The attack actually happened at 2:22 PM, Eastern Standard Time, but the Sun did not have enough headline print blocks to record it accurately- they had just two big versions of each number- and so the official historical record, the one that made it first into history, is actually a lie. The headline gave the time as being 2:23 PM. Thus one minute of the event was metaphysically stolen and hidden away in this small town. And so the entire dark chain of circumstances that would soon lead directly to the atomic bombs being dropped started here, because the coverage of the event is more important than the event itself. That stolen minute of history exists now as two astral coins of extreme value. This is in part why I came here to this place- to collect them.”
“Why are there two coins, if it was only one minute?” I asked.
“Knowledge is power,” he replied as we walked on. “You and I are the only two people in the history of the world to know this and know what it means. We each now have a coin containing the energy that changed the world. By revealing this to you on this public holiday, these coins have been magickally charged by the collective consciousness and thus we can use them if need be.”
“What would we use them for, and when?”
“Well, a year from now, I will probably have to use mine. I will be in Japan then, settling some very old scores with ancient sorcerers. My secret Pearl Harbor coin may be the only way to escape their Black Lodge fortress.”
And this, my friends, is the moment when I first heard the term.
“Black Lodge?” I asked. “What is that?”
“Last week I showed you The Perimeter- the astral double of the physical world, which I described as an infinite corridor running through eternity. If we were to step out of our bodies right now, we would be in that ghostly double zone. Alternate realities of our world run forward or back from that present position. But if you were to move along the other axis, stepping four dimensionally to either side, you enter the Lodges. Travel on the Right Hand Path grants entry into the White Lodge, where the angels and Ascended Masters of Light await. But if you turn to the Left Hand Path, your soul is drawn into the Black Lodge, a place of darkness where evil sorcerers and demonic fiends dwell.
“I’ve just returned from Tibet, the place where adepts from both of the Lodges originate. It is said that the White Atlantean and Black Lemurian groups both hid there to survive the Great Flood, and have puppeteered our civilizations from the Himalayas ever since. There are these particular Lemurians who go by the Tibetan name Dugpas. Their acolytes still maintain a few monasteries there, and it was at one of these that I recently caused quite a bit of trouble for them, resulting in the death of one of their revered sorcerers, who had been keeping an ancient Egyptian god prisoner inside the Black Lodge.”
Here of course Ross was referring to Qiamene, the instigator of our occult war.
“Now most of the Dugpa sorcerers,” he continued, “long ago left Tibet for the islands of Japan.
"With the help of demonic beings known as tengu, the Dugpas taught the ancient sword-masters their craft, creating the Samurai culture and the Empire it gave birth to.
"They’ve been secretly running the whole show in Japan for centuries, waiting to strike back against Atlantis and its offspring, the modern West. They yearn for the time when Lemuria ruled most of the world, from Arabia to Asia to the South Pacific. Eighty years ago, the sorcerers whispering in the ear of the Imperial Military finally had all the arms they needed along with all the political excuses required, and thus did Japan begin the march of conquest. It started with their war against the Russians. It took them only a year and a handful of battles to utterly defeat the largest nation on Earth. The Korean peninsula was added to the Empire and they just kept going from there. Their invasion of China in the 1930s led to utter domination of the Pacific by the time World War II came around. The Divine Wind or Kami Kaze, the energy channeled from the Black Lodge by the Dugpas, was at their backs the whole way.”
“Climaxing with Pearl Harbor,” I interjected, “their moment of triumph.”
“Yes. Which brings me back to my own current battle. I found the Dugpa hideout in Tibet thanks to some information acquired through the Hekate underground. This is a global network of witches, also aligned to the Black Lodge, whose home base lies deep in the tunnels under Moscow. They’ve been there for many millennia. During the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, they played an important role in his madness and magickal work, taking him deep inside the Black Lodge. These savage women are also Mistresses of all the Siberian witch cults who worship Hekate as Baba Yaga, the crone sorceress of the woods. You could say the Dugpas are the Lemurian Fathers and the Hekate witches are the Dark Mothers. For centuries these two groups worked against each other- the men puppeteering the Japanese while the women used the Russians. But that situation is no longer the case, thanks to World War II.”
“How did Victory Day change things?”
“Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen for a reason,” Ross said ominously. “They had long been secret centers of Dugpa activity. It was in a hidden Black Lodge temple in Hiroshima that the invasion of Manchuria was conceived, and Nagasaki is where the dark sorcerers posing as scientists drew up the inhumane experiments to be used by Unit 731, the Imperial Military’s torture lab. When the cities were annihilated in atomic fire, they took most of the Dugpas with them, leaving a large part of the Black Lodge in ashes.”
“So the sorcerers lost their bodies- why is that such a big deal for guys who feed on psychic energy?”
“Because, Steven, their plates were now empty and, even worse, radioactive. The world turned its back on their wartime horrors, ignoring it all as if it has never happened, which starved the spirits of the Dugpas until they were finally nothing more than wraiths with little power to enslave. The way the Black Lodge works is very Darwinian. In order to survive there, you need to be feeding off of the living. Terror, fear, madness, and other choices from the bandwidths of darkness must flow regularly into your place of power or you become nothing but a shade, haunting the occasional individual. The Dugpas once stood to control the planet through their mastery of Horror. Now, they are just footnotes in an occult conspiracy theory.”
“But they still exist, right?” I asked. “And you are still battling them.”
“Yes, but their power is now reduced to one dark fortress located in a radioactive wasteland. I picked this fight with them because my own affiliations tipped me off about their final Apocalypse plans. The Dugpas have a shocking new comeback strategy for the turn of the Millennium, one last attempt to overthrow the entire Black Lodge, and I will not allow it to happen.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I am going to enter the Dugpa fortress under the premise of some mission given to me by the Moscow Mothers. I will let the Japanese sorcerers capture me, and to free myself, I will offer them the Pearl Harbor coin.”
“What? You’re just going to give it to them?”
“Yes, because they will assume there is only one. It will be placed in a secure location inside the Dugpa fortress, where it will wait, collecting energy until the time of the Apocalypse. I will no doubt be long dead before then, but you, my dear student, will certainly be on the End Times stage, ready with your coin to strike at the right time.”
“What will I do?” I asked, worried.
“Bomb the hell out of them, just like Truman!”
On that night of Victory Day, 1984, we astrally projected into The Perimeter and then passed through the Door of one of his Cartouche cards- Anubis, the trump Ross had used to imprison Qiamene after stealing the spirit from the Dugpas earlier that year.
We emerged before a sinister grey pyramid in the middle of a crimson desert of scarlet sands sparkling beneath the stark white sky. The astral atmosphere was hot. I was only a little scared, more uncomfortable than frightened.
“Are you ready?” Ross asked my thirteen-year-old spirit.
“Yes,” I replied, convincing myself, “I am ready.”
He nodded, sending me a relaxing smile, and then turned, walking towards the thin black doorway. I hesitated for only a second before following. We stepped through into utter darkness, the floor feeling like hard stone or metal. I turned around and could no longer see the way out. This made me gulp silently to myself, but I held my resolve.
“Just keep walking forward,” Ross said from the inky dark behind me, so I spun back around and made my way slowly, the sound of his echoing footsteps guiding me. I was a bit confused, because we walked straight on for much longer than the apparent external dimensions of the pyramid should have allowed. Contemplating this made me somewhat more relaxed, although the darkness was still quite spooky.
Suddenly, there was a triangular doorway before us, Ross’s form silhouetted in front of me. Beyond was a room bathed in soft red light. He stepped through and I followed without pause, my curiosity having stamped out my fears.
It was a large, circular chamber, perhaps forty feet in diameter, with a domed ceiling that sloped up from the floor. The curved walls resembled an intricate cobweb, thousands of black lines twisting and intersecting along the smooth metallic surface. At random points along this web were imbedded hundreds of crystals glistening with pink and orange light, reflecting each other in a dizzying way. There was no apparent source for the even-hued red illumination flooding the chamber, unless it was from the crystal web itself. The floor was covered with a thick, foot-deep fog that flowed into and out of many elegant shapes. Ross strode into the center of the chamber, motioning for me to remain in the doorway.
He stood there for a moment, his back to me, and raised his hands, performing some quick motions with his fingers that I couldn’t see clearly. In response to this, the mist before him was shot through with sparkles and flashes of light. A sinister chuckle filled the room. Ross stepped back a bit as the glowing mist shot up to the ceiling, where it swirled and flashed for a few seconds, the laughter building with it. Then the sparkling cloud suddenly parted to reveal Qiamene’s astral form, which resembled the god Anubis- a humanoid figure with the paws, haunches, and head of a grinning jackal, dark-furred and menacing, sitting upside down, his piercing white eyes staring at us from above. I was totally held in awe by the strangeness of the creature, the unfamiliar reality that he represented. I stared into those cold, glowing eyes without fear, only fascination.
He floated down from his perch, rushing at me with his arms outstretched, then stopped about a foot from me, still hanging upside down. I was determined to show no fear as his inverted gaze penetrated my soul. I could actually feel his perception enter my etheric form, like rays of light passing into me, probing my mind. This created a strange intimacy between us, a cold but not all together uncomfortable connection. I invited his inspection, which seemed to please him, as he began snickering in an amused, playful way. Then he broke the gaze and spun around, twisting in mid-air, landing in a standing position between Ross and I.
“I have something for you,” Ross said to the spirit, “a little offering from the land of the living.”
Ross held his hands together as if in prayer for a moment, then slowly opened them. As he did this a purple glow emanated between them, a solid band of light which quickly changed shape to reveal the form of a medium-sized bowl. He placed it on top of the mists before him, the bowl resting on the surface of the fog as if it were solid. Next, he produced a shining silver dagger from within his dark bodysuit, and, holding his right arm over the bowl, he slit his forearm, cutting deeply with the blade. A fount of sparkling liquid flowed down, filling the bowl halfway. Ross's face betrayed no sign of pain as he did this. Qiamene knelt before this spectacle, greedily licking his chops as the astral blood flowed. I walked over and watched as well, mystified by the glossy sheen of the pool forming inside the bowl. I had no idea that spirits could bleed. Ross had said nothing about this little offering when we had been preparing for our journey, and my surprise seemed to delight him as he watched me watching.
Then, before I could even protest, Ross seized my own astral arm, cutting me just as deeply. The blade felt like ice. As my life's energy oozed out of me I felt no pain, just a dizzying feeling of vertigo and nausea. I tried to say something, but the sensation was too overwhelming. At last the dagger was removed, and I sank to my knees, watching as Qiamene slurped up the contents of the bowl. Ross laughed in his deep, cynical way.
When the spirit was done he jumped back, letting out a delighted, ecstatic yelp. I managed to gain enough strength and equilibrium to stand, shooting Ross a violated gaze. I was confused and angry. He smiled and pointed to the bowl, which still rested atop the misty surface at out feet. I followed his indication, and my anger subsided as I watched the bowl begin to glow intensely and expand, pulsing with multicolored lights. It tripled in size and then stopped growing. It no longer resembled a bowl; now it was a disk floating before us, shining and flickering.
Ross grabbed my arm and thrust me forward, so that I fell headfirst into the disk, the contact feeling like I was going underwater. I was entirely submerged in a rainbow of colors, floating in a weird void without shape or distinction. I screamed, my voice echoing into a thunderstorm of sound. In response to my exclamation Ross was suddenly before me, a reassuring look on his handsome face.
“It’s alright,” he laughed, “we’re going for a ride.”
“Where?” I asked, baffled by the oddity of our environment.
“Into Qiamene’s mind. That’s why we had to give up a little bit of ourselves. By ingesting our energy, he gave us a nice little tunnel into his being. I’ve done it with him once before. It’s quite safe, and extremely interesting. We’re still flowing into him, not quite there yet.”
The chaos of energies flashed once, a thankfully uniform blast of whiteness, and then we were standing in the middle of some primeval jungle, thick vines and huge trees surrounding us. It was night, yet the environment was so bright as to make things almost as clear as daylight. The plants glowed softly. Above us, the heavens were filled with a multitude of stars, much more than any sky I had ever seen. The chirpings and growls of several unknown animals could be heard, against a background hum of musical voices, a wordless chorus that seemed everywhere and nowhere.
“We’re here,” Ross said flatly.
“I don’t get it,” I murmured. “His mind is a jungle?”
“Well, yes,” Ross replied with a snicker, “in more ways than one. The soul of any living being, whether human, animal, or something else entirely- like Qiamene- is much more than you might guess. The experiences that you have through life are stored in your memory as an entire dimension of existence, your own unique and eternal world. It is the culmination of all that you have seen and done, linked together as one territory of mind- that’s what your memory is. Your soul is all of that, plus all of life that you have yet to experience. Time is geography. All that you have been and are yet to be is simultaneously present in your soul. This dimension is linked together by a metaphor, whatever construct you personally would collectively assemble your life within. In Qiamene’s case, the one symbol holding the parts of his being together is a jungle- the natural world.”
“But these glowing trees aren’t the same as normal ones, are they? I mean, this isn’t like any jungle I’ve seen on Earth.”
“Actually,” Ross replied as he began guiding me through the trees, “this is Earth, just not the Earth that you have seen. Remember that Qiamene views the same things that you do in his own way, with the senses and perceptions of another lifeform entirely. To him, the trees in your back yard glow just as brightly, and sing songs just as sweet. Our sense organs do not allow us to perceive them that way, though. Our eyes and ears only pick up a portion of what he sees and hears. Since this is his world that we are in now, we are seeing Earth as he has seen it.”
“So,” I asked as we moved through the pulsing forest, “where are we going?”
“To meet ourselves,” Ross came back with a chuckle. “We are going to see what Qiamene sees when he looks at us. It’s the one thing that I wanted to do the first time I was here, but I got kicked out for snooping around in dark, forbidden places before I had the chance.”
“And where exactly are these doppelgangers of us?”
“Baba’s monastery in Tibet, where I first met Qiamene, is where we will certainly find me. Your double can’t be too far from there. You see, the way that the memory puts things together in the unconscious dimension has to do with meaning and correlation. Things that are related are stuck together, located in groups.”
“So, since Qiamene associates you with Baba,” I said, working it out in my mind, “and me with you, I am probably at this version of Baba’s monastery, even though I have never been there. Or, if not inside it, I’ll be hanging around near it somewhere.”
“Precisely!” Ross exclaimed with pleased enthusiasm.
The terrain became more rocky and sparse as we progressed, the even grassy jungle floor giving way to a gradually sloping hillside. The trees were thin enough that I could see the top of the slope. It contained a series of buildings, pyramids, and towers. The glow subsided as the vegetation thinned, until it was almost dark out.
“The town up ahead,” Ross explained as we approached, “has got to be the sum of places and faces that Qiamene associates with his experiences with human channelers. Most of the people are going to be hard-core cultists who have worshipped him through the ages. Some will be benevolent and withdrawn, others may be crazed and aggressive, so say nothing, follow my lead, and if there’s any trouble, let me deal with it.”
“Can any harm come to us here?” I asked as we reached the top of the hill.
“No,” he replied. “We can return to our bodies in the waking world by a simple moment of concentration, in exactly the same way you would wake yourself up during a nightmare.”
The hilltop smoothed out to an even cobblestone surface. Four large pyramids, all at least three stories high, were spaced about thirty feet apart, marking the entrance to the town. Torches were placed in twin rows between the two center pyramids, forming a roadway of sorts that led further into the community. Voices and drums could be heard coming from inside the pyramids, but no one was visible.
Once past this Egyptian array the road began to resemble a city street, with huts of mud and straw to the left, and a series of smaller pyramids to the right, a pair of torches in front of the doorway to each structure. The architecture got steadily more varied from that point on: Split level houses of brick and stone; towers and parapets; log cabins and caves leading into dark underground places; open courts and temples both elaborate and simple.
It was in one of these, a Greek-styled affair with elegant arches and columns, that we saw the inhabitants of this strange town for the first time. There were five toga-clad figures gathered around an altar on which sat a sixth, naked man who was chanting in a low tone, his words inaudible. Although the priests were obviously human, there were a few odd things about them. Auras of purple and blue light surrounded them, as if their skin itself glowed. Rays of light shot from face to face, intersected in a dazzling rainbow crown about the head of the chanting man. Their bodies seemed to occasionally fluctuate, so that two or more versions of the same figure would appear to be superimposed onto each other, like a camera lens out of focus.
We paused to observe this spectacle for only a moment before Ross motioned for me to follow him onward. The crossroad ahead was lighted with more torches on both sides. To the left the street passed by houses of Victorian style, four and five story affairs with a classy, aristocratic feeling to their build. About half of the windows were lighted, but no sound came from inside. To the right, I could see castles and towers, interspersed with several churches. It was in this direction that Ross decided to go.
As we passed by the mostly stone buildings of Aztec design there arose from within a series of high-pitched screams and moans of desperation. It sounded as if people were being tortured in any number of gruesome ways. We quickened our pace, Ross seeming totally sure of our destination.
To our left, a door was flung open, and a teenage girl, naked and bruised, ran out into the street. She had a look of complete terror on her beautiful yet shifting face. Her aura was deep red, with shots of yellow sparkling up at various places. She saw us and immediately flung herself at Ross’s feet, babbling out a long series of imploring words. Ross knelt down, patting her head with a reassuring gesture. As he touched her the color of her aura changed slightly, becoming a softer, orange hue.
Then there emerged from the same temple a trio of black-clad, robust men wearing gold-plated masks shaped to resemble the Anubis jackal head. They emanated auras of sharp, intense blue light, and sent forth a feeling of menace and evil that caused a chill to run down my astral spine.
Ross stood, greeting them with a nod as the girl clung to his legs in vain desperation. Two of the masked figures seized her rather abruptly while the third pointed two large, opened hands in our direction. His palms seemed to be hollowed out, and there poured from them wisps of black smoke and bursts of red flame. Ross made no move to aid the girl as she was dragged, kicking and screaming, back into the church. Once this was done, the third priest closed his hands and followed them in.
Ross turned to me and shrugged.
“It is not our business to interfere,” he said matter-of-factly. “There was nothing we could have done anyway.”
“I know,” I replied, feeling pity for her. The knowledge that Qiamene had demanded human sacrifices did not really surprise me, but it did sober me a bit in my view of the spirit. I had come to almost like him, but this display made me rethink my appraisal.
“You don’t have to go any further if you don’t want to,” Ross told me. “You can leave anytime.”
“No, let’s continue, at least for a while longer.”
He nodded and we resumed our trek past the castles and churches of terror. I tried to block out thoughts of what was going on as the screams and pleas for mercy continued. Finally, after a few minutes, we came to a large, high-walled stone structure which had more of an Eastern than Western style. Ross stopped before this building, smiling.
“Here we are,” he said with satisfaction. “This is the monastery.”
There was no outer door, just an archway. We passed through this and into a large courtyard, black-stoned walls rising up all around. A series of wooden doors dotted the perimeter of the court, while another archway led under the wall directly opposite us. It was for this that Ross made with haste.
“Not exactly as I remember it,” he said as we hurried across the open space, “but then again, Qiamene doesn’t necessarily picture it with total historical accuracy.”
Once we passed under the second arch three sets of stairs appeared, two leading up to our left and right, a third going down in front of us. Ross paused for a moment before deciding on the set to our left. We ascended slowly, the steps curving to the left, continuing for about two stories before ending in a carpeted hallway lit both by torches on the walls. A strange multicolored glow shone from the carpet itself. Weak, tortured wails could be heard, and as I glanced down, I gasped. The carpet was a patchwork of faces, and it was from these hundreds of agonizing figures that the screams came. It was as if a whole legion of unfortunate souls was imprisoned there. Ross did not seem to be surprised by this discovery, as he knelt down to study the faces intently, as if looking for something or someone in particular.
“Get out of here,” I heard a voice say from behind us, “if you know what’s good for you.”
We both jumped and spun around at the same time. Standing at the far end of the hallway, an intense, demanding look on his face, was the Ross of Qiamene’s memory. His head blazed with an aura of red and purple light, creating a blinding halo which made me shield my eyes. His features were continually shifting from one grimacing stare to another, each slightly different than the last, all of them equally disturbing. His position seemed to alter as well, although he was standing still; it was as if he bounced back and forth between three or four parallel spots.
Ross regarded his double with a look of unconcealed distrust and menace. He raised his hands as if he were about to fight him, and spoke in a tone which made me very nervous.
“You know why I’m here,” he said to his doppelganger. “Don’t try and stop me.”
“Fool!” Qiamene’s Ross shouted. “You have no idea what’s really happening!”
“Damn you!” Ross replied, and they rushed each other simultaneously, clashing together in an explosion of sound and fury about twenty feet from me. They rolled around on the floor, cursing and fighting, a frenzied blur of light and action.
Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, the contact sending a hot flash through my spirit. I turned and stood face to face with my own doppelganger. His features were calm, confident, and inviting. His aura was a soft greenish-blue. Unlike Ross’s alter ego, this phantom of me appeared more or less solid, no fluctuations or shiftings of position.
“You must leave now,” he said firmly as the battle raged behind me.
“But why?” I asked.
In response to this his face split open, as if it were being torn apart from the inside, and out of it shot a multitude of heads, faces both human and otherwise, an insane hydra of beings. A hundred voices all called my name. I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t know what it meant, nor did I want to. I closed my eyes and prayed for escape, for a return to the waking world of sanity and substance.
I leapt awake in the motel room with a subdued scream. Ross’s body still lay motionless in the shadows next to me. I was shaking and felt totally disoriented. I tried desperately to forget the sight of all those heads erupting from my face, but the image was burned in my mind. I moaned.
Two nights later, I made ready to enter the Black Lodge once again.
Ross shuffled out the Anubis card and handed it to me as I got up from the bed and took a seat against the wall. I closed my eyes, breathing slow and deep for a few minutes, clearing my head of the anxiety and lingering fear. Once I was relaxed enough, I opened my eyes and raised the card to my face, studying it. In only a few seconds I could feel the door opening; Qiamene must have been waiting with eagerness. I concentrated on the image of the jackal, letting it mutate into my memory of his astral visage. I could hear his laughter, a faint whisper in the back of my mind. I closed my eyes again, laying the card down, and opened myself to him, surrendering my sense of self and body.
A sensation of weightlessness washed over me, similar to the curtain effect, as I saw with my mind’s eye the tunnel of blue light appear. I was passing into it. The glow was all around me. I sensed Qiamene’s presence approaching. In another second, I saw him, coming towards me, right in front of me, grinning in his sinister way. He passed through me then, becoming one with my own being. In that instant I saw me through his eyes, and it was the same image I had encountered in the dream monastery, greenish-blue aura, calm features. My face was pulsing, splitting. I fought with my revulsion as the image of Qiamene’s head burst from my own. I held back the horror with all my will.
Suddenly, the transfer was complete; I was standing in the bizarre desert that was his home. The pyramid beckoned me, a welcome distraction from the memory of that horrible face. I wanted to see the red-lighted chamber of crystals again, so I advanced confidently across the scarlet sands and through the doorway into blackness.
I walked on for a while, searching for the triangular doorway that we had used before, but I could not find it. I wandered through the dark for much longer than Ross and I had originally, so I assumed that I hadn’t traveled straight on. It was difficult to judge direction in the utter blackness, so I spun completely around and tried walking back the way I had come, hoping to find the rectangular door leading out. No such luck.
I stumbled about for what seemed to be forever, until I resigned myself to the conclusion that I was totally lost. Then I felt a shiver of panic as I remembered the warning Ross had given me:
You’ll have to go outside in order to leave.
Now I started to really panic. I ran, not knowing which way I was going, and called out, screaming for help to anyone who might hear. The darkness was becoming maddening. I thought I was going to lose my mind completely.
But suddenly, about ten feet from me, there appeared a hole in the black ground, a bright red circle glowing softly. I ran up to it, letting out a cry of relief, thankful for any distinction or hope of exit. I kneeled over the disk of light and contemplated my options. There was nothing to be seen underneath; it appeared to be solid. I passed my hand over it, feeling a subtle heat from its surface.
“Hello?” I called out.
I reached down, not surprised when my hand passed into the hole, feeling more heat on the other side. I withdrew my hand quickly; it was undamaged. So, I stood up, and, with a gulp, leapt into the hole, feet first.
I landed in a rocky cave, walls hot and steaming, as if they were made of just-hardened lava. A low, flickering red light filled the chamber. It was extremely hot, in a way too intense to compare to normal heat; it was a burning of the air, a feeling of being inside and part of fire itself. I was dizzy, disoriented, my head swimming. The cave couldn't have been more than ten feet wide, more or less rounded. I looked up, but the circular doorway I had used to enter was gone. I feared that I had, quite literally, gone from the frying pan and into the fire.
Greetings, traveler, I heard a deep, echoing voice say inside my head, welcome to my prison.
“Where are you?” I asked aloud, my feeling of equilibrium coming back as I adjusted to the heat.
Behind you, the voice replied.
I spun around and there was a baseball-sized crystal imbedded in the glowing rock. It glowed with an internal flame of many colors which danced behind it's intricate surface.
“You’re a crystal?” I inquired with fascination.
No, came the answer, I am the flame you see within. The crystal is my cell.
“Who- what are you?”
I have many names. You can call me... Zarathos. I am what you would classify as a djinn or fire demon.
I edged closer, staring intently into the crystal. As I watched the flames inside, I could just make out a pair of glowing yellow eyes staring back at me.
“And you are Qiamene’s prisoner?”
Yes. I was foolish enough to trust him once, a long time ago. He managed to bind me in a moment of weakness. I have escaped him and been caught again a few times since then. Will you free me?
I considered it for a few minutes. I did not want to piss Qiamene off, for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t want to ruin my relationship with him, and also because it might throw a monkey wrench into whatever plans Ross had going. I definitely wanted to avoid Ross getting mad at me.
However, I thought, Qiamene caught this demon more than once, so I suppose if he really wanted to he could again. Furthermore, Zarathos would be in my debt if I freed him, and Ross and I might need an ally against Qiamene in the days to come. After being inside the spirit’s mind I had no doubt that he could turn on one or both of us easily. So it seemed that Ross might be grateful to me, perhaps even proud, for making friends with one of Qiamene’s enemies.
Ross and I have already met, Zarathos suddenly broke into my musings, and I can assure you that he would be quite pleased with you.
“You can read my mind?”
Quite easily. He wouldn’t help me because he didn't trust my word that I wouldn't turn on him if he freed me. I don't hold it against him. He isn't a very trusting character to begin with.
“So why should I trust you? Why should I believe you?”
Because you are lost and you need my help to escape this place just as much as I need yours.
“I suppose you are right,” I answered. “But how do I know you won’t eat me or something worse?”
I give you my word.
I studied the tiny eyes burning behind the crystal surface. I felt no menace, only sincerity. My instincts told me to trust him. I had no reason to doubt them; and, I was lost without a clue, so:
“Alright. How do I free you?”
Simple. Smash the crystal against the rock wall.
It took me a minute to dig it out of the wall, as it was extremely hot to the touch and secured pretty well. Once I finally got it out, I held it up to my face, studying the demon once more. His eyes betrayed no evil intentions, only cold expectation. Convinced that I was doing the right thing, I grasped the crystal firmly in my right hand and then slammed it against the rock face. It shattered into a thousand fragments, disappearing immediately. As this happened, the fires within were released, and a shaft of red and orange flame shot out over my head. I turned and faced the demon, gasping with surprise at his appearance.
He was for the first second or two a six-foot tall shaft of flame with those glowing eyes near the top. Then he suddenly transformed, turning into the likeness of a muscular humanoid figure, silver-grey and shining in the dim crimson light, his head now covered with multicolored bursts of fire where hair would have been, possessing a set of gaping, fang-filled jaws. As this instantaneous change happened the piercing yellow eyes did not move or alter in the slightest.
“Thank you for freeing me,” his growling, echoing voice said, outside my mind now. “Allow me to return the favor.”
With that, he seized me with a pair of six-fingered clawed hands, and with a flash of golden light, we were now standing outside the pyramid, in the desert, exactly where I had begun. I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that I had been right in my character assessment.
“Now I must go,” Zarathos said to me. “I am very, very late for an appointment elsewhere. You have made a friend of me this day, Steven, and if you ever truly need my help, call my name, and I will be there. Farewell.”
“Goodbye, and thank you,” I said, as the demon shot like a rocket into the clear white sky above.