Crowley

Beneath the Sands

From Storm Constantine’s The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit.

(I’ve taken liberties with the grammer, as evidently her editor sucked balls.

This text is also Magically Triggered, so read with caution.)

***

The stony sand beneath our feet cooled for the night. Pebbles clicked in the shadows. Out there, in the desert, the cold and the dark creep up on you unawares. One moment it is balmy evening, the next it is a blue, gaunt, werewolf place.

Ahead of us, sand-sculpted ruins poked through choking, powdery folds; their carved summits eroded to formlessness. This must be the place Lianvis had spoken of. I could feel a hundred prickling emanations bouncing off my skin. It was a place that had felt Corruption’s gingery touch.

“How old is this place?” Cal asked the Darkness, his voice hushed with caution, echoing among the blind stones.

“God forbid it should answer you!” I replied in a quavery warble.
“I think we should hide.”

“We should fear least the creatures we can hide from around here,” Cal told me cryptically.

I knew what he meant. Perhaps this jumble of disintegrating stone had once been a holy place. There was something of a feeling like that still lingering. Dark holes that were stone throats led down into the ground. Very little remained on the surface; most of the walls had toppled and the sand had swallowed nearly everything. I did not want to go underground. There were many places where we could crouch unseen (by hara and men at least) on the surface.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Cal scoffed. “Nothing will happen out here!”

“We won’t be able to see, if we go down there,” I protested as reasonably as I could. It was true there were no lights, however dim, shining out from any of the tunnels.

“Well. Then we shall wait.”

We leant against a half-wall, warmth oozing out from the heart of the cooling stone into our backs. We did not have to wait long. Soon a line of shambling figures folded out of the dusk, lit by the steady, orderly beams of flashlights. We crouched lower as they passed us; four or five individuals. Men or Wraeththu? It was impossible to tell from our position. One of them was obviously Shasco. We could recognize the stumbling step and labored breath.

“Now we wait again,” Cal murmured, as their sounds disappeared into the Earth.

Perhaps you have heard someone say: “My heart was beating so loud I was sure others could hear it!” and have thought it a colorful, exaggerated way of simply saying: “I was scared witless”. You are wrong. It really does seem that way. Any moment I expected Cal to say, “For God’s sake, stop making that noise!” There was no logic reason for us to be there. If Lianvis found us, we had no excuse. If I had argued more persuasively with Cal back at the camp, I might have been able to talk him out of this reckless folly. I cursed my weakness.

Out of the Darkness came a muffled sound. Soft thuds, faint jangling. Horses.

“Two of them, I’d say,” Cal whispered, lifting himself a little.

“Don’t look!” I hissed, pulling him down. “It’s Lianvis!”

He had to know we were there! Had to! He was Al Gomalid! He must be able to sense my fear, at least. We heard them dismount; voices, the words indistinguishable. A horse snorted, hooves dancing on the cracked paving, its bridle jingling. We listened to the voices moving away. I had been holding my breath. Now I let it out, and my stomach ached.

“What now?” I asked.

“Oh, we’ll give them a few minutes to get involved in whatever they’re getting involved in.” Cal stood up.
“Cal!” I squeaked, tugging his arm.

“It’s alright,” he said, “there’s no-one here.”

I stood beside him. Lianvis and his companion had hobbled their horses. They looked at us from lowered heads with troubled eyes and pointed ears, snuffling and backing away. Tassels on thier bit rings brushed the ground.

“Which Tunnel do you think they took?” Cal asked me, looking round.

“Who cares!” I replied.

“That is not the spirit, Pellaz,” Cal chided me in a voice that betrayed not the slightest hint of fear. “You must learn to face danger with strength and courage. You won’t last long if you don’t.”

I will last even longer if I avoid danger, I thought.

“That one looks vaguely lit up,” I said, pointing.

Keeping to the Shadows, we crept toward it. No sound issued from the uninviting gloom, but a faint, ruddy, flickering glow. I felt as if we were being watched from every other Dark Entrance. Cal stepped inside and I followed.

Shallow, worn steps, dusted with sand, curled down before us. Many thousands of fett had trod here in forgotten times. It was possible that once this building had been well above ground, perhaps even a tower, before the desert had got to work with its enveloping tides.

We descended for some minutes, progressing slowly. At the bottom a corridor with a damp, sandy floor stretched forward. The ceiling had once been plastered. We could see, from the light of a single crackling torch hung on the wall, that most of it had fallen away. The stone beneath was pitted and cracked, but there was no rubble on the floor. It seemed to indicate that the place was used fairly regularly. Wall paintings, obscured by black mold, depicted orderly rows of figures marching toward the end of the corridor, their expressions frozen in haughty piety. I had expected to hear the sounds of chanting; the preliminaries of ritual; but the single sound that echoed toward us was worse than that. Much worse.

It was the last, desperate cry of the irretrievable soul; still recognizable as human or har. Just.

I froze in horror, and found myself gripping Cal’s arm. He touched my hand.
“Let go. Come on.”

The corridor was not really that long. At the end, the remains of huge, wooden doors sagged inwards. Beyond that, the Light was stronger. The gap between the Door lintel and the wood was so large, we could look through easily into the room beyond. It was a high-ceilinged chamber, columned, camerated. A temple.

Several figures stood around a central bowl of Fire. Lianvis, clothed only in his hair and a black loin-cloth, threw grains into the Flames, which spurted up amethyst, sapphire, and ruby. His eyes shone like a wolf’s in moonlight: reflective, milky and opalescent.

Ulaume, robed in diaphanous gray, stood at his Left side, holding a Metal dish.
His face was arrogant, yet disassociated; fronds of hair wafting about him as if in a breeze.

There was only one man there and that was Shasco. He stood a little apart from the others.

I counted 6 hara, including Lianvis and Ulaume.
Candles, thick as my wrist, stood upright in thick pools of their own wax upon the floor; illuminating the Circle and the Signs that had been chalked there.

Lianvis spoke a Word of Power, and Cold Light filled the entire chamber.
The candles guttered fitfully, as if the luminence choked their flames.
I could see then what had passed unnoticed before.

Curled up on the ground at Lianvis’ feet, mooving feebly like a weak puppy kept from its mother too long, was a child; presumably human. Ulaume clicked his fingers and 2 of the Hara stepped forward to lift the Boy.
His feet trailed in the chalk as if his bones were broken.
When the Light touched his Face… God knows I never wish to see such a thing again.

He knew he was to die. Wretched hopelessness was etched across his features, frozen in a rictus of a Scream. It must have been his cry we had heard at the mouth of the corridor. I wondered what they had done to him, for him to make such a sound.
There was no mark upon his body.

Lianvis stepped forward, his head thrown back; a Wolf’s Head; his eyes Beacons of Destroying Power.

Ulaume bent to untie the cloth about his master’s hips, and I could see the corded muscles in his lean thighs trembling with restrained energy.

Realization made me utter a single, shocked “NO!”,
and Cal elbowed me in the ribs to silence me.

I did not want to see any more. Lianvis’ face was changing into something Demonic; his lips pulled back, long teeth shining in the sulphurous radiance. His neck was twisting, twisting… his hair lashing like frenzied snakes.

The boy began to howl; to struggle. His feet paddled helplessly in the dust.

I pressed my eyes against Cal’s shoulder.
There was nothing we could do. Nothing.
Whatever power we posessed was no match for Lianvis in that State.

I clapped my hands over my ears, but it could not shut out the sound: the dreadful, dreadful cries, and Lianvis’ snuffling, guttural snarls.

Suddenly Cal pulled me upright. Whirling nosies, shrieking out from the chamber, broke up his words, but I made out “Now…now..the Power…him…the Power…BACK!
BACK!”

Relling backwards, we started to run. The appalling, scraping screeching chased us down the corridor.

Oh the smoke! The stench of burning flesh!

I shouted, “Does he know?! Does he know?!” as we ran.
Cal did not answer.

Blue Light flooded the tunnel as we reached the bottom of the steps. Slipping, grazing myself against the stone, I scrabbled up after Cal. His long limbs were sure and swift above me.

Outside, the stillness of the Night was unnatural. Cold air hit our lungs with a breathtaking chill, and I gasped, hardly able to breathe.
Cal hauled me out of the Tunnel, dragged me across the paving, and threw me down behind the Wall we had first hidden behind, covering me with his body.

Arcane words ripped from Cal’s throat, his breath wheezing and shuddering.
It was a simple Protection. I was in no position to augment his strength with mine.
I tried only to press myself into the stones; to become invisible.

For a second or two there was only Silence.

Then, the Night exploded with Sound and Blue Luminence.

Cal buried his face in my hair. I could feel his heart racing manically in his chest against mine.
“Oh God oh God oh God…” he kept repeating.

I had never seen him afraid. We hugged each other, eyes shut tight.

Something formless and huge spurted out of the ground; out of the Tunnel.
Its Light burnt through our closed eyelids.
Stricken with Terror, I held my breath again, feeling the awesome, devilish Fever pulsing round us: Lianvis, transformed into Elemental Power.
We were lucky that in that elevated, Supernal state, we were beneath his notice.

With a dismal Scream, he shot toward the Stars;
fizzing and hissing like a Monstrous Rocket;
Air cracking around his Phantom Shape in Shards of Lightning.

I opened my eyes, and looked up over Cal’s shoulder.
[The Lightning] filled the sky:
Lianvis, barely recognizable as him,
[with] the Suns that were his Eyes.

I felt him look right into me, mocking.
He could have reached down and pulled us off the Earth.
But the Night just filled up with his Demon Laughter, and the Light that was his Greedy Soul reached up for the Sparkling Darkness.

He blazed away from us like a Comet.
A Word sprang uncontrollably to my mind.

I still don’t know why exactly (this happened), unless it was some kind of obscure presentiment concerning later events in my life.

The word was this: AGHAMA.

Cal rolled off me and lay on his back, blinking at the Sky.
“Your idea.”
I said this, sitting up and brushing sand off my coat.

Cal closed his eyes and swallowed, clenching his jaw.

“We could steal the horses and leave,” I added, tentatively.

“What horses?” Cal said in a flat voice. I peeped over the Wall, and could see them lying there; could see the black humps of their bellies.

“Dead.” I murmured rhetorically.

Cal sighed. “There’s no cover on the way back to the camp. We’ll have to wait for the others to leave,” he told me.

I said nothing, although I could see no way we could get back inside Lianvis’ tent without being seen.

“Maybe we should just try to get back to our horses and get out of here,” I suggested.

Cal rolled his eyes. “Are you joking? We have no supplies, no idea which way to go. Lianvis would know then that we’d seen something. He wouldn’t let us get away.
No, we wait, and then follow the others back. Once we’re in the camp, we can bluff our way through if anyone sees us.”

“Cal, he knew we were here! He must have!”

Cal stared at me and then shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. No.”

We lay in the Dark, still breathing quickly. After a while, I asked.
“Cal, what happened in there?”

“Murder,” he replied. “Murder for Power.”

“Wraeththu essence is Death to humankind, remember? But it is a sweet way to kill for those on the Dark Path; a Sweet Way to feed on souls.”

Cal motioned me to Silence then, for we could hear them coming up out of the ground. I heard Ulaume curse when he saw the dead horses, and that was all.
There was no sound of conversation as they headed back into the desert.

I turned to Cal. I spoke to him. I said, “What are we, Cal?
What are we part of?”

He did not answer.

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