Storm King: Opening Moves (Episodes One and Two)

Copyright David Mullin 1996

Sunday; September 16, 1984

The fury of the storm drew me upward. I rose out of my body into the sky, my astral form unaffected by the strong wind that buffeted the clouds and rain. Lightning flashed about me, illuminating Blue Lake and the valley in which my body lay awaiting the return of my spirit. I caught a faint glimpse of the barren peaks of the high Sierras. Such mundane things held little interest to me as I immersed myself in the wondrous energies of the storm. Slowly, I released all sense of self and became one with the raw power of nature unleashed.

Very impressive, for a neophyte.

The voice came from behind me. My senses returned to me and I spun about. There, floating upon a cloud, was another ghostly figure. He was clad in ornate burgundy robes with gold worked into the fringes, and had long hair and a flowing gray beard that stretched to the cloud at his feet. I radiated surprise and fear. What is this? What do I do now? The figure smiled.

Do not be afraid, I mean you no harm. I was merely intrigued by the overt display of power I detected in this area and chose to investigate. Never before have I encountered a man with such an elemental spirit. Who is your Mentor? He seemed very unthreatening and peaceful.

Mentor? I don't understand.

Mentor. A teacher. Surely you have a teacher who guides you on a Path?

A Path? What do you mean? Who are you?

He smiled again. My name is my own, but you may call me Katar. A Path is a method to obtain spiritual growth and mystical enlightenment. Do you follow such a Path?

I shook my head. No. Not really.

He frowned. That is most unfortunate. One so gifted as yourself should not be without a Mentor. He gazed down, towards the place where my body lay. You have left your body undefended while you wander in the storm. Such carelessness is bordering on negligence and highly dangerous. But now, I must be going. Projecting this far is much too demanding for me and I must be returning to my own body. Farewell and well met! And he was gone.

The bond that connected me to my body drew me back. The weight of physical existence returned to me and I opened me eyes. Stiffly, I rose to a sitting position and shook my head. What had just happened? Was he real or just an illusion? Slowly rising to my feet, I stretched out my stiff body and glanced around the valley. The dark clouds blocked out most of the light, but I could just make out the mountains on the other side of the valley, beyond the lake. The rain had pretty much subsided and the storm had let up for the present. Time to go home. I shook myself to dislodge some of the water from my clothes and began the descent back to my truck.

"Jeff!"

The voice jolted me out of my reverie and I raised my head from the coffee I had been peering at. Greg Talbot was coming across the diner towards my table. I rubbed my eyes and tried to dispel the cobwebs from my head. Damn. I must be tired. I should have sensed him before he entered the diner.

Greg sat down and looked at me. "Long weekend, huh? Have a good time up with the storm?" His cropped, brown hair bounced as he waved for the waitress.

I smiled. "Yeah. You could say it was, ah, interesting."

Carol, the waitress, came. Greg ordered a cup of coffee. "I figured you'd be here. Did you hear?" He looked very excited about something, his blue eyes glinting. I was too tired to ponder it.

"Hear what?"

"We got it."

That pierced the veil surrounding my mind. "The defense bid? Great!"

Carol filled Greg's cup. He smiled at her. "Really. Seems that the Feds figure that the middle of nowhere is the best place for this sort of work." He sipped some of his coffee. "Tamarsonís scheduled a meeting for just after lunch to discuss the project with us." He looked at his watch and drained his cup. "Well, gotta go. Computer should be about finished and I want to see the results. Later." He dropped a bill on the table and headed out the door. I looked after him in slight amazement. Good God! Doesnít that man ever slow down? It couldnít be any later than nine and he was already running around. Probably been at work since seven.

I finished my coffee and dropped a dollar on the table for Carol before standing up. A ball of pain rolled up my spine and erupted into my head before dissipating. I grabbed the table in shock and shook my head to clear it. Some of the cobwebs came loose but I was still pretty disoriented. I regained some semblance of composure, paid my bill, and headed out of the diner. The fog in my head persisted until I was out the door where the cold autumn breeze jarred me awake somewhat. What the hell was that? Why am I so tired? A restless night doesn't usually leave me this wasted. I wonder if Iím sick or something. I pushed the thought aside and headed across the parking lot that separated Shellyís Diner from Computec.

There were still puddles on the ground reflecting the glass-paneled face of Computec. A brisk wind sprang up and shook the trees surrounding the parking lot, shaking some water off from them and blowing it in my face.

The sky was fairly clear, which was surprising after the intensity of the unseasonably late storm that had hung over the town the night before. That's what I like about Gardnerville--its weather. The high altitudes and the warm winds coming in off the desert to the northeast combine to make a variable climate ranging from fairly hot days in the summer to snow in the winter. Then, of course, there were the thunder storms that happen up in the mountains. That, I guess, is what really drew me here.

I walked into the lobby of Computec. It was surprisingly large for the size of the building, its hardwood walls and marble floor making the front desk seem small and insignificant. Jan, the receptionist, sat behind her desk to the left of the door. I said hello. She smiled back, pushing back her auburn hair to place the phone headset over her ears.

Then again, the job isn't too bad either. Greg and I were hired on as entry-level programmers two years ago, mere nobodies in a nothing company in Gardnerville, Nevada. The team work that had made us famous back at Cal Tech had so impressed our superiors, especially Tamarson, that weíve recently, as a team, been promoted to assistant managers of programming. And now, with this defense contract, we have a chance of moving up from being strictly small time.

Donald Tamarson. He's the reason weíve been noticed at all. A paradoxical man combining tolerance and a sense of humor with stern administration. He views Gregís energetic fidgeting and my own casual arrogance as the strange idiosyncrasies that all intelligent people display. The silliness Greg and I engage in, both on and off of work, is almost legendary amongst the rest of the staff, and he all but encourages it. He saw how well we worked together when left alone. All he was concerned with was results and he was willing to tolerate most anything to get them.

Greg was sitting in our office when I arrived, apparently having a disagreement with the computer. I tossed my coat on the chair of me desk and turned to his desk on my right. He had his terminal turned so that the sunlight streaming in through the window above my desk wouldn't glare off the screen.

"What's the problem?" I dropped into the chair in front of my desk and flipped on my own terminal.

"Goddamn machine just ate my data base. Two hours work down the drain." He was glaring at the screen like he wanted to toss it out the window. Computers never were his strongest suit. He's a mathematician, after all. I turned my chair around and leaned back to watch him across the office.

"Ate your quarter, did it?" I said jokingly. "What were you doing, anyway?"

"Trying to get a technical write up on a chunk of my world for the game Friday. Piece of shit survey program decided it didn't like the parameters I gave it so it crashed. Who designed this crap anyway?" He might have a lot of energy, but he could be a real crab in the morning.

"Greg, I did."

He lightened up a little. "Well then, there's the problem. They let you at the computer." He looked back at the screen. "Wonder what other mistakes you made."

I smiled and shot him with a rubber band. He ducked and sat back laughing. When we had subsided to a reasonable level of seriousness, he said, "So, what did I do wrong this time?" I moved to the terminal on his desk and started typing, all thoughts of exhaustion pushed aside.

Tamarson's office was a direct contrast of mine and Gregís. While ours had white painted walls and was cramped with two desks, his was paneled in oak, had a large roomy desk and a long table with enough room left over to putt golf balls, which he often did. Tamarson looked at the group of people seated around the long table in his office, his clean shaven face calmly intent. Sipping on a Coke, I leaned back in my chair and looked at him. Greg was in the chair next to me, sitting back with a clipboard in his lap. I smiled at that. Back in college, Greg had always gotten on my case about my lack of note taking.

"Just write something," he would say. "Humor me."

Once, just to show him, I wrote "something" on the page.

"All right, people, let's get started." Tamarsonís voice brought me back to the present and I redirected my attention to him. He straightened his sweater and ran a hand through his full red hair. "As youíve all probably heard by now, TRW has subcontracted the Data Encryption bid to us." He handed out binders to everyone. "These are the specifications that theyíve provided us with. I want you all to look them over and get back to me with time and manpower estimates by Wednesday morning. Margy, I want you and your team to compile a list of hardware requirements. Jeff, Greg," he looked at us, "I want you two to take personal responsibility for upgrading our security system. TRW looked over our current system and found them, shall we say, lacking."

Greg and I nodded.

Margy, the manager of hardware, looked up from flipping through the binder. "What sort of budget are we looking at? From what I can see in these specs, it could be pretty expensive."

Tamarson started to answer but I didn't hear. Pain erupted in my head and quickly spread down through my body, especially at the chakras, the psychic energy nodes spaced down the center-line of my body. The pain was intense and I struggled to maintain my composure, willing it to pass. It lasted only a few moments. I realized that I was sweating and shaking.

"Jeff, are you okay?" It was Tamarson's voice. He was looking at me, a hint of concern in his eye. Greg touched my shoulder. Pain radiated from his touch and I pulled away from him.

Struggling to clear my head, I said, "Yeah. Just a cramp. Must have been something I ate." It sounded pretty lame to me, but no one pushed the point. After a moment, Tamarson continued. I didn't pay any attention to him. The attack had shaken me and the fog of lack of sleep had descended into my head again.

After the meeting, back in our office, Greg looked at me sternly. "Okay, what's the deal? You were really tired this morning, more tired than Iíve seen you in years. You ate like a bird at lunch, then you all but double up in pain in the middle of the meeting and jerked away when I touched you."

"Nothings wrong, Greg. It was just gas."

"Gas my ass. What the hell is wrong with you?" He sounded angry, but I knew he was only feeling concerned and concealing it.

I lowered myself into my chair. "I'm not sure. Iíve been feeling...kinda off since yesterday. I didnít sleep very well last night and I just havenít felt like eating. I donít know, I canít explain it."

He cocked his head. "Something happened to you up in the mountains, in the storm. I could tell this morning but you didn't seem like you wanted to talk about it."

"I'd rather not discuss it. I doubt you would understand, anyway. Itís rather...unusual." I could see where this discussion was going and I didnít like it. In all the time we had known each other, I had never really told Greg exactly what I was, what I did. I was unsure of his reaction and didnít want to risk it.

He dropped into his chair and smiled. "Jeff, we've known each other for, what, four years. I know youíre into the occult, that you go up into the mountains during bad weather to Ďcommuneí with the storm, or whatever. What could you possibly say that would weird on me, huh?"

I looked out the window. He was pushing it and we both knew it. He didn't push very often, but when he did, he wouldnít let up until he was satisfied, no matter what the cost was. I was silent for a long time, considering my options, before I spoke. "Exactly what do you think I do up in the mountains?" I said softly.

He shrugged. "Don't know for sure. I always figured that you just liked powerful weather. Hell, I used to love thunder storms and wind when I was a kid. Just not enough to go out in them."

"That's not exactly correct." I took the plunge. "I go up to be with the storm, to experience it, to become it. The occult isnít just something I read about for the fun of it, I study it, practice it." His face showed the faintest glimmer of shock before becoming unreadable. "Iím what they call a Sensitive. A psychic. I have...powers that most people donít. I guess you could call it magic, although I donít think the term is accurate."

He picked up his drink and took a sip. His expression was stoic. "I see. And howóhow long have you been...", he waved his hands, "practicing magic?" There was a strong hint of disbelief in his voice but he was obviously trying to suppress it.

"A long time. Since I was thirteen."

He was silent for a long time and his expression was very distant. I had just told him that I was a magician or something and he was probably trying to decide if he would believe me or have me tossed into the funny farm. Finally he said, "Okay. So, what happened up in the mountains yesterday?"

"I had a...visitation."

He cocked his head. "By who?"

I furrowed my eyebrows. "I don't know. An old man. I was astral, my spirit projected out of my body, dancing in the clouds. I encountered the astral form of this man, who called himself Katar, and we talked briefly. He left and I fell back into my body. Iíve been feeling strange since shortly after I started back."

"Do you think this...manÖKatar, has anything to do with how you feel?"

I shook my head. "I don't think so. I didnít see or feel him do anything and I canít think of anything he could have done." I rubbed my eyes and ran my hand through my shoulder length black hair. "This is totally outside my experience. I really donít know what it could be."

Greg thought for a moment and said, "You're a reasonable man. Assuming that whatever is wrong with you is occult-related, come up with some theories."

I pondered this for some time. My mind seemed to be opposed to this train of thought but I forced my way though it. "I can think of two possibilities. The first is that I've strained myself so that my psychic defenses have become weakened. This, combined with the increased Sensitivity that always accompanies my out-of-body experiences, could result in an increased intake of psychic energy. In other words, I could be being overwhelmed by sensory input."

"Sounds like stressing out. If so, it should pass in due time. Correct?"

I nodded. "Probably. Yes, it should."

"And the other possibility?"

"Related to something Katar said. He observed that I had left my body undefended while I was astral and stated that this was dangerous. I remember reading that workers of magic Ďcast a circle' or set up some sort of wardings about them when they perform magic, to keep outside forces from interfering. Perhaps some sort of energy being, spirit if you will, entered my body while I was absent. It could have done some damage."

"Could it still be there?"

"I haven't noticed it. Then again, I havenít really looked. Tonight, I guess I should meditate and take inventory of myself. Check and see if I can find any sign to confirm either of my two models."

"Let me know what you find, all right?" He still looked thoughtful and distant

"Sure thing." We were both silent for a few moments. "You don't believe me, do you."

He smiled slightly and shrugged. "I believe that you believe. Right now, nothing else really matters. You think you're in trouble, so Iíll help. You deserve that much at least, the benefit of the doubt. I have an aunt who claims to be a Witch, calls herself a Wiccan Priestess. Says she practices magic. If she can make that claim, why canít you?"

"But, do you believe me?"

He looked at me seriously for a moment and then shook his head. "No. But I won't try to dictate your beliefs to you, or judge you by your beliefs. Weíve been friends too long for that. After this is over, weíll talk about the reality of all this."

I smiled slightly and looked into his eyes. "Okay, let's get to work."

It was dark, so very dark. And I was cold. And alone. The dank smell surrounded me and closed in about me. I was being crushed by the oppressiveness of the place. All there was was the pain. It radiated through my body, originating in my gut, where the shaft of agony pierced me.

And then It was there.

I couldn't tell what It was, only that It was there and that It was evil. It was part of the dark, a shadow of unspeakable terror. It moved about me, taunting me. The pain grew worse and I screamed...

I screamed and sat up in bed, only to double over as pain shot through me. It seemed to last an eternity, engulfing me.

When I came to myself again, I was curled in a tight ball next to my bed. My pajamas were soaked through with sweat and I was trembling violently. Fear flowed from me. What happened? The dream. The thing, so evil. I struggled to calm myself. Slowly, muscle by muscle, I relaxed and uncurled. I pulled myself into a near-by chair and rested.

Well, now I know.

When I had gotten home from work, I had meditated and gone deeply into my body. I had found only a slight imbalance in some of my energy channels, my chakras, nothing out of the ordinary. No psychic damage, no foreign presence. I had grounded out my energy, cleansed my aura as best I knew how, and gone to bed.

The dream, however, changed things. That was no normal nightmare, brought on by the pain. There had been a definite presence, an Evil. Why hadn't I found it? Can it hide from me inside of my own body? How do I combat something I canít even find? The fear, the shock of the dream, and the lateness of the hour began to catch up with me. I fell into an exhausted sleep.

I awoke with a start and almost fell out of the chair. The glimmer of a Presence vanished before I could react to it. The clock glared out in the near-darkness; 6:32. Going to be another long, tiring day. What am I going to do about this thing. I ran through the mental notes on all the books I had read and came up with some possible solutions. First, though, I need protection. Stretching my stiff body, I stood up slowly, almost too tired to stand, and took two steps before it hit me.

The room was dead.

I closed my eyes and extended my psychic senses into the room about me. Nothing; not a single wisp of energy. The box of crystals on my desk gave off just the barest flicker of radiance. I reached inside myself to check the stability of my body's energy system and could detect nothing. I dropped onto the bed to ponder this new development, worry creeping into my thoughts.

Obviously, whatever it is that's attacking me is draining off my energy. It Ďs creating psychic blockage that are negating my abilities and my Sensitivity. The realization came to me; it has removed my ability to fight it. Without my powers, however limited they may be, Iím helpless against it.

This knowledge left me feeling shocked and empty. A sense of dread rose to fill that emptiness. I pushed it back. No, I will not give up. Not until I can't fight or walk or think. Not until Iím dead.

I dragged myself to my feet and staggered to my desk. From the box of crystals, I selected a pendant which had been given to me by an Indian medicine worker out in the desert. It was an inch wide piece of jade, carved in the shape of a fighting eagle, set in silver with a two inch long, naturally formed, hexagonal quartz crystal extending from the bottom. "It is for protection," he had said. "I make it for man like you, man of power, man with white skin, but not white man." I never did figure out what he meant by that. I put the pendant on a white gold chain and clasped it about my neck. I don't know how much help itíll be against something that had already set up house-keeping within me, but what other choice do I have.

I took a shower and ate as large a breakfast as I thought I could stomach, then I sat down to work. I set about looking for something that could help me. The books I had were vague and generally unhelpful but I kept at it.

I was almost late for work.

Greg was there when I arrived.

I dropped into my chair and leaned back, exhausted by my walk into the building. He turned from his desk and watched as I shifted forward and rested my head in my hands, hair sliding forward to hide my face. Greg was instantly at my side.

"What the hell happened to you? You look like a walking corpse."

"You may be closer than you think," I said through my hands. I sat up and looked at him. "I had a nightmare last night. A bad one. There is definitely something inside of me and it's fucking me up pretty bad. Itís, uh, created blockage thatís ruining my ability to fight it." My voice was shaking.

He put his hand on my arm. "You sound like you've given up."

"No. Not yet. But if I have any more nights like the last two, I may not be able to get out of bed. I don't know what to do, Greg." Desperation was beginning to tinge my voice. "Everything I can come up with requires help, other Sensitives. I donít know any around here, and the ones elsewhere, I wouldnít want to get involved with this." I dropped any pretense of calm and looked him in the eye. "If this continues, Iíll be dead within a week. I donít know what to do and I donít know who to turn to."

He looked very surprised, then frightened and perhaps just a little angry. "You're serious about this dying stuff, arenít you?" I nodded. "I donít know what to tell you. You know, if you ever need me, Iíll be there."

Something he had said yesterday came back to me. "You said you had an aunt who was a Witch?"

"Yeah, so. Oh. I see what your getting at, Jeff. She won't be of any help. Sheís been dead for two years."

I lowered my head. "You're just a bounty of good news this morning arenít you." I tried to stand up and almost fell down. Greg caught me.

"You're in no condition to work, Jeff. Youíre exhausted and you look like hell. You should go home. Can you make it on your own?"

"I can make it, Greg. But what about Tamarson. He wants..."

"To hell with Tamarson. I'll tell him youíre sick. And Iíll take care of the time estimates for tomorrow. Now, get your ass home and into bed." There was no arguing with him.

The darkness consumed me, but I was not alone. The pain filled my body, but I was not alone. It was with me. The Evil. The demon. It laughed at my impotence and taunted me. It screamed curses at me and tore at my soul.

Then the light came.

It was a pure light, a Light of Truth and Salvation. It shined about a man who seemed very familiar, the man from a dream. It illuminated my prison; cold, gray stone walls with arrow slits looking out into darkness, an iron bound door bolted closed on the inside. I was shackled, spread eagle, to the wall opposite the door. I saw now, the source of the pain, a sword of black fire plunged through my midriff, my center-most chakra.

The Evil hid from the light, but it did not flee, merely concealed itself within me. The man grasped the sword and tried to pull it out of me, but it would not budge. His eyes met mine. I saw concern and compassion in them.

I would help you, but I can not do it here. My powers are much too limited in the Dream Land. You must come to me. If you desire my aid, come to the place where we first met, come to me where you danced with the storm...

I awoke slowly, gently. The pain was there, a dull ache in my stomach, but it was much less than it had been.

The memory of the dream returned to me. The man! Katar! Was that real? Did he really come to me in my dream? I sat up and looked at the clock. 7:42am. God, I must have slept for twelve hours! I dragged myself to my feet and headed for the bathroom. The shower didn't take long to warm up. The water beat upon on my face, clearing the remnants of sleep from my head.

Thoughts of the dream kept coming to me. Who is this Katar? Is he a real person or just a figment of my imagination?

My eyes wandered about the little kitchenette set off from the front room of my apartment before settling on the goldfish in a small bowl next to the sink. We regarded each other thoughtfully for a moment. Do I dare ignore a possible chance to free myself from the creature inside of me?

Okay, let's be rational. This is rapidly becoming a hopeless situation. The creature haunts my dreams, so that I wake almost as tired as before. Itís apparent that there is virtually nothing I can do to drive this thing from me. I need help. Katar is the only potential help Iíve encountered. Even if heís not real, Iíve got nothing to lose by driving back up into the mountains.

I pulled the receiver off the wall and dialed. A female answered, "Computec. May I help you?"

"Jan, this is Jeff. Let me talk to Greg."

"Hold on."

The phone went silent for a moment, followed by, "Talbot here."

"Greg, this is Jeff."

His voice became softer. "Good morning. How are you feeling?"

"Passable."

"How'd it go last night? Any ideas?"

"Just one, a long shot. I'm going out to follow up on it and wonít be in today. Cover for me, all right?"

"No problem. Call me when you get back."

"Sure thing." I hung up, dropped my dishes into the sink, and went back into my bedroom. After pulling on a pair of blue jeans, a sweater, and boots, I left my apartment. Some of the dirt caked to the lower half of the four-by-four fell off as I opened the door. Kicking the dirt off my boots, I climbed into my truck and drove away.

I took surface streets to the 395, the main highway that went from the residential area where I lived, north into Gardnerville and Minden beyond. I turned on it going south. Several miles later, just across the California border, I turned off onto highway 89 and continued through Markleeville. Five miles beyond the small town, I pulled off onto a small dirt road that took me through Pleasant Valley to the side of Blue Lake. There were no traces of where my truck had last sat, blotted out by the rain. I parked just off the road and started up the mountain on the north side of the lake, Raymond Peak. It was the same trek to the clearing where I had left my body to enter the storm, just a few days before. It was a two mile hike which I usually made with a minimal amount of effort; but this time, every step was a chore. My breath became quick and strained.

By the time I neared the clearing, I was almost exhausted. There was no one there, nor was there anyone in sight. I dragged myself the last few yards, dropped to the ground, and tried to catch my breath.

"Greetings," a familiar voice said.

I opened my eyes. Katar was standing inside the clearing, a few feet away. He was different from the other times I had seen him. He looked older. His hair was almost white. His beard was much shorter, hanging only to his chest. He wore blue jeans and a flannel shirt, which he seemed to feel out of place in. Did I fall asleep? How did he get here without my hearing him? I pulled myself wearily to my feet. "Hello. I'm Jeff." I extended my hand and smiled weakly. "Have a good walk?"

He regarded my offered hand and raised a curious brow. "A sense of humor. A good trait. Do not ever lose it. It may well save your life." I lowered my hand, somewhat taken aback by his seriousness. "Come. Stand in the center of the clearing and relax." I obeyed. He walked slowly around me, letting his hands float about me, an inch away from my body. His eyes were half closed. He muttered something very softly. He completed his circle and backed away, nodding to himself. "Just as I thought. An elemental, a demon, has entered your body. It has taken refuge within your psyche and is draining your energies from you. Left unchecked, you shall die."

His words startled me. "I hope your not just telling me this for my learning enjoyment. Do you know how to get rid of it?" My voice sounded slightly hysterical to me. My hands were shaking.

He nodded patiently. "Yes. But you will have to trust me. What I must do is difficult and if you fight me, it will not succeed." He drew a short knife adorned with a silver hilt. I eyed it suspiciously. "Do not be alarmed. This is a ceremonial weapon, not meant to draw blood except in the most dire of circumstances. It is a Banishing Blade, single edged for a singleness of purpose."

Using the edge of the knife, he quickly traced a six foot wide circle about us. "Relax. Open yourself to me. If you feel yourself fighting, let go. If you feel the demon fighting, do not oppose it. Maintain a passive energy flow. Do you understand?" I nodded. "Good."

He began. His movements were fluid, using the knife to elaborate his gesture. The words he intoned were in Greek, but his accent was too quick and fluid for me to translate what he was saying. The entire ritual was beyond me. He spun a web of energy around me, energy that I was slowly able to detect, to see. It was a strange energy, a type I had never encountered before. He moved to each of the four quarters and struck a pose, different in each direction. When he did this, a ghostly pentagram of dark green energy flung off into the distance. Just before he finished, all of the energy within the circle he had scribed was thrown into the distance. With it went all of the negative energy that had accumulated within me, but the demon did not budge.

Katar rested for a moment and kissed the flat of the knife before turning back to me. He looked at me with his piercing gray eyes for a time before speaking. "It is as I feared. The demon has bonded itself to you far too strongly and is using your psyche as a shield. In order to drive it from you, I would have to destroy your mind."

I looked at him apprehensively. "I don't think much of that prospect. Is there another option?"

He smiled. "Of course. You," he pointed at me with the knife, "must drive it from you."

"Me? I already tried that. I don't know how and donít have the power."

"Power?" He shook his head. "You have all the power you need. As for how; I will show you. It is a simple ritual, not nearly as complex as the one I have just performed. Take my blade." I took the offered knife. Not only did it have a silver hilt, but it had a large onyx stone set in the pommel, and was apparently hand made. I took a moment to marvel at the workmanship. "Now, face that way, east." He indicated a direction. "The ritual has three major divisions. The Kabalistic Cross, performed at the beginning and the end, and the actual banishment."

He began to describe the ritual in the exacting terms of a teacher, leading me through it step by step. I performed each segment and noticed that the results seemed very weak, but Katar indicated that this was because I was performing the ritual in broken steps. As I concluded the last phrase, I felt part of the energy in the circle crystallize and fall into the earth. I could see that if this ritual were performed correctly, there would be a void left within the are, completely free of any undesired energy. I hoped that I could do an adequate job.

Katar stood outside the circle and looked it over. "Not bad. Now; as I have shown you, perform the entire ritual."

I took a deep breath and let it out to relax. It helped, but not a lot. Inside me, I felt the creature go on the offensive, dropping all attempts at subterfuge. The pain began to grow within my abdomen, but I pushed it back. I took another breath and began.

I faced east and held the knife in my right hand as a sphere of light gathered over my head. Raising it up into this sphere, I caught a strand of energy on the tip of the blade, drew it down to the top of my head and intoned, "Atoh." Drawing a line through the center of my body, I connected the strand to the energy of the earth below, pointed the blade at my feet and intoned, "Malkuth." I brought the blade back up to my chest and then across to my left shoulder and intoned, "Vegadula." Then I drew a line across my chest to my right shoulder and intoned, "Vegabura." Finally, clasping my hands before my chest, I intoned, "Le Olahm, Amen." As I said this last, the lines that I had scribed solidified into vibrant lines of energy that revitalized me and pushed back the pain.

Taking a step forward, I scribed a five pointed star, using the blade of the knife and staring at the lower left hand point. I used the full reach of my arm, ending up with a pentagram of ghostly golden light about three feet across. Thrusting the tip of the knife into the center of the pentagram, I intoned the name Katar had given me to activate it's energy, "Yodhehvauheh." Energy sped out from me through the knife, flew off into the distance and then returned to the pentagram, which solidified into golden fire as the energy struck it. Starting at the center of the pentagram, I traced a line about to the south with the edge of the knife, leaving a trail of golden light. There, I scribed another pentagram and thrust the knife into its center, intoning, "Adonai." Again, energy sped out from me, and the pentagram solidified into golden fire. I traced around to the west, scribed a pentagram and intoned, "Eh-hey-yay." Lastly, I traced to the north, scribed a pentagram, intoned, "Agayla," and continued the cut back around to the east.

I paused to take a deep breath and try to relax. About me glowed four golden pentagrams connected by a golden circle. I kissed the flat of the blade to focus and began the next section of the ritual.

I gestured towards the pentagram in front of me and intoned, "Before me, Rafael." The ghostly image of an angelic form materialized behind the pentagram. It stood easily seven feet, and was clad in yellow robes that stretched to the ground and held a caduceus. A slight breeze stirred its feathery wings and brushed my face. Making a slight half-turn, I gestured to the pentagram behind me and intoned, "Behind me, Gabriel." Another archangel appeared just behind the pentagram, clad in blue robes and holding a horn of flowing water. The water flowed around my feet, cooling them. Turning back to the east, I pointed to my right and intoned, "On my right hand, Michael." Michael materialized behind the southern pentagram, clad in red and holding a flaming great-sword, point downward. The heat of his fire radiated out and warmed my body. Finally, I pointed to my left and intoned, "On my left hand, Uriel." A final Archangel appeared, clad in green robes, black leathery wings spread wide, a plate of fruit held in his hands. The smell of earth and plants reached me from that direction. I was startled by these details as I did not project them onto the forms of the archangels; rather, they seemed to take on a visage on their own.

I was now to the last phrases before the final Kabalistic Cross. I flung my arms wide and cried out, "For about me flame the pentagrams" and the pentagrams blazed in brilliant golden light, "and in the column shines the six rayed star!" As I said this last, six rays of light shot out from me, one striking the center of each pentagram, one going up, and one going down. As the rays sped off, all of the energy contained within the area bounded by the four pentagrams seemed to crystallize, to solidify, and as I performed the final Kabalistic Cross, all of the crystallized energy was drawn down into the earth like falling rain. I kissed the flat of the flat of the blade and took another breath.

Katar stood outside the void. I closed my eyes and felt down within me. The demon was gone!

"Very impressive, very impressive. Never before have I seen it performed so well the first time." He walked toward me and took the knife from my hand. "You truly should seek a Mentor, it is almost unethical to permit a talent such as yours to go to waste."

"Up till now, I have not been interested in a Mentor. I just didn't believe that there really was such a thing as magic. Iím not even certain I believe what I just saw." He cocked his head questioningly but didnít interrupt. "But, after what Iíve just been through, I may well reconsider. However, I donít know of anyone," I paused, "except you."

He looked surprised. "Me?" He laughed. "No, no, I am not much of a teacher. I have the knowledge, but not the patience. But, I do know of some. In Carson City, there is a Magical Order know as The Clan. I have...some influence with them, and I am sure that they would be more than willing to take you in."

"A Magical Order? You mean like the Golden Dawn?" I asked suspiciously

"Yes, very much so."

"Thank you, no." I had heard a great deal about that type of Order. I hadn't known they still existed, but I knew they had been popular early in the century.

He got an injured look in his eye. "Why? Do you have something against Mystic Orders?"

"Nothing against the Orders in particular, just against belonging to them."

"I see. And what exactly would that be?" There was a note of patient irritation in his voice.

"The oaths. Oaths of service and secrecy simply grate on me. I'm not real hot on swearing to serve something or someone unconditionally, and the concept of restricted information just seems absurd."

He nodded thoughtfully. "All right. It would be wrong of me to ask you to do something contrary to your Will. However, the Clan has a policy to teach any who are willing to learn, to a point, without any commitment on either part. Are you interested?"

My eyes brightened at that. A Teaching Order with no oaths. "I would be very interested in at least looking into it."

He smiled at me. "Good. Come, let us walk down and drive into Carson City to meet with my associates."

The hike down was much easier than the one up, although I was still very tired. Katar, despite his apparent age, took it effortlessly. God, he must be in a hell of a good shape, or be a lot younger than he looks. We reached the place where my truck was parked, and I was surprised not to see another vehicle.

I looked around to ensure that I was correct. "How did you get here? I don't see any other car or any tire tracks besides my own."

"I have my ways of getting around." He smiled mysteriously. "Some of them are quite astounding." He said it like he wasn't about to elaborate. I didnít push it.

We took the road back out to the 395 and headed north through Gardnerville and Minden towards Carson City. It was about a two hour drive, during which Katar was silent, staring out at the passing scenery as if he were somewhere else. I wasn't certain that wasnít the case. Katar struck me as being much older than any man should be, and in total control of his environment; like a force of nature. I looked forward to someday finding out just who he really was.

Finally, we entered the fringes of Carson City and Katar directed me to a house in a fairly new residential tract on the south side of town. I parked and got out.

It was a nice house, light blue with white trim, single car garage, and a well-cared for lawn. Katar led the way to the door and knocked. A light haired man dressed in jogging shorts and a T-shirt answered.

"Master!" he exclaimed in surprise, then he regained his composure. He looked at both of us and then lowered his gaze to Katar's clothes. He raised a curious eyebrow. "Katar, I see you bring me a guest. Come in, please." He led us into the living room. It was papered in green floral print and carpeted in a light green. A couch was against one wall, with a coffee table in front, a end table on one side and an arm chair next to the table. A hallway led deeper into the house and a door appeared to lead into the kitchen. The most striking feature of the room was its feel. There was a strong feeling of being closed in, overlaid by a soothing steady pulsing of the energy. He sat on the couch, as did Katar. I shrugged and took the chair.

"Well Katar, what have you brought me this time?"

"Mike, this is Jeff. I met him in a storm." Mike didn't seem at all puzzled by this comment. "He is in need of a teacher. I told him of the Clan, but he is not interested in taking Oaths as of yet." He quieted my comment with a quick look. "He is, however, interested in availing himself of your training facilities."

Mike regarded me thoughtfully for a few moments. I could barely make out the play of his aura against mine; he was probing my defenses. "He seems to have reasonable potential, but no structure to his energy. Then again," he looked at Katar, "he wouldn't be here if you didnít already know that." Katar smiled.

"True enough. I've already observed him in action, performing the L.B.R. The results were quite impressive. When can his training begin?" It disturbed me that I wasnít being consulted on this, but I figured that these were strange people in unusual circumstances. It would be best to let them work things out between them and put in my two cents later.

"I'll want to test him somewhat, to determine what he knows and how good he is, before I really teach him anything."

Katar nodded. "When can this be done?"

Mike shrugged. "Now will do fine."

Katar smiled, obviously pleased, and looked over at me, as if suddenly remembering that I was still present. "So, have you other plans for the day?"

I shrugged. "Not really. I didn't know when I would be back, so Iím not expected."

"Fine, then I shall leave you in Mike's able hands." Then to Mike, "I am somewhat drained. May I rest in your Sanctum?"

Mike nodded and Katar left the room through a hall way. I heard a door closing moments latter. ">From the looks, you must have just been tromping around in the mountains. You must be thirsty. Would you like a drink before we begin? Soda, beer?" He stood up.

"Coke, if it's not too much trouble."

"None at all." He went into another room and emerged moments latter with two drinks; a Coke for me and a Mountain Dew for himself. He sat back down on the couch and regarded me intently for a few moments. "Have you been practicing for very long?"

"For about ten years. Not practicing really, more like dabbling."

"Dabbling is a dangerous business," he said seriously. "You tend to know just enough to get yourself dead." Death again. First Katar and now Mike. What is it with this doom-preaching?

"So I found out. But, until just a few days ago, I thought that most of what I had read about was little more than myth. I figured that the sort of thing that I did was about all that was real. Never, save in my wildest dreams, did I imagine this."

"Kind of egotistical of you, don't you think, to figure that you are the only power in the world, that youíre at the limit of what is possible." His voice took on a sharp edge.

I struggled not to snap a retort. "Perhaps. I never gave it much thought and never met anyone to make me think otherwise."

He nodded at this, his voice softening somewhat. "Fair enough. Now, let's get started. Iím going to try to probe you and I want you to fight me. Let the energy build as high as you can. If the pain grows too great, let me know and Iíll stop. Okay?"

I shrugged. "Sounds all right to me. Go ahead."

Mike closed his eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled opened his eyes, and peered at me intently. I began to feel a slight pressure on my forehead as the energy of his aura extended and tried to force its way past my psychic barriers. The energy levels in the room slowly increased as the pressure grew stronger. The pattern of the energy became visible to me as the level increased still further. It was focused into a fairly tight beam of orange that stretched from his forehead to mine. It grew darker and more solid as the pressure became a pain, which steadily increased until it was almost unbearable. A voice inside me screamed, Stop! Give in and make the pain stop! I pushed the voice aside and concentrated on strengthening my barriers. The pain began to level off as my own energies came into play, a field of golden light formed about me, contorting and shattering the beam. Vaguely I saw Mike smile. The shards of energy reformed into ocher flame that danced around me, constricting from all directions. The tendrils of flame slowly punched holes through my gilt halo and the pain increased. My defenses abruptly collapsed and the world went black.

Consciousness returned painfully. My throbbing head was laid back in the chair and Mike was kneeling next to me, his left hand on my throat, his right on my abdomen. Pure white energy flooded into my body from his hands, stabilizing my internal energy system and cleansing my chakras.

After a few more minutes of this, Mike sat back on his heels. "Sorry. I got a little carried away. I'm not use to my subjects fighting back as well as you."

I rubbed my eyes slowly, the pain in my head not quite gone. I felt very tired. "It's all right." I reached for my drink and sipped it. The cold liquid felt good as it went down. "Howíd I do?" I blinked and tried to shake the fuzziness out of my head.

"Extraordinary. Considering that you're suffering from the after effects of an inhabitation, Iíd say you did very well. Your potential energy levels are high, possibly as much as an 06. Considering your lack of training, thatís pretty impressive."

"How did you know that I'd been Ďinhabitedí? And what do you mean by Ď06í?" The pain in my head made thinking difficult.

"I detected some of the traces from the spirit. Ď06' is a level in our system for rating magicians. Iíll explain it to you some other time. Right now, Iíd like to ask you some questions to test the extent of your knowledge."

"Fine by me, but I'm not thinking too straight."

He smiled. "That's okay. Just do your best. Iíd teach you on your energy potential alone." He spent the next half hour asking me questions on occult lore, which I answered to the best of my ability. He seemed satisfied by my knowledge. "You look like youíve had more than enough for one day, why donít you go and get some rest." He wrote down an address on a piece of paper and gave it to me. "Be there Saturday at noon. Weíll start your training then." He saw me to the door and we said farewell.

I unlocked the door to my apartment and went inside. The clock in my kitchen said 6:15, late enough for a drink. Turning on some music as I passed the stereo, I pulled a bottle of White-Zinfandel off the rack in my wine cabinet and filled a glass before sitting on the couch to rest. The wine dulled the pain in my head and helped to blot out the feelings of exhaustion.

Halfway through my fourth glass, the phone rang. I staggered to the kitchen and answered it. "Hello Greg."

"What, how?" He sounded flustered. "How did you know it was me?"

I smiled. "I'm psychic, remember? No really, who else would be calling me tonight?"

"Okay, true enough. How'd it go? You sound much better."

"I feel much better, although perhaps just a little drunk." I dropped into a chair at the kitchen table.

"Yeah, I thought I heard your slur. What happened?"

"Its a real long story, and I'm not really up to telling it right now, you know. Tell you what, Iíll meet you in Shellyís tomorrow around eight and tell you over breakfast."

"You'll be in tomorrow for work? Great. Iíll see you then. Go get some sleep, you sound like you could use it."

"You don't know the half of it." I hung up. Definitely a long day. Much had happened, too much. The rest of my drink went down easily and I stood up and went to bed.