The Cloud Arc
Blood. I’m trapped in a circle, a silly little circle…it’s such an insignificant, but big thing that swallows my pounding head. There’s ringing in my ears, there’s screaming in my heart and...I’m here again, where I was before. The heavy smelly place where I died but didn’t, where I loved but couldn’t and everything I wanted just dispersed into dust…garbage…meaningless crap. I doesn’t matter I know the blood will spill soon, enough to stop the screaming in my head, the boiling, the pain, that hasn’t gone away for so long…I can’t even remember when it started. Oh yes, I’m thinking about how the blood will flow, or will it splatter, drip or gush out in juicy blasts all over me? I begin to hit my or her head on the floor, over and over until I feel the my skin goes soft and the red stuff starts coming out. I don’t care. It’s the red stuff that will get them to do it. And I think…how will this all end? Our centuries’ long dance on this fucking lunatic’s floor…and I realize that I don’t care, as long as I can stop the pain…I just…don’t care.
Eric heard it first, an incredibly loud slamming, but it wasn’t the noise you hear when objects hit one another, it was the sickening sound of flesh hitting something hard. He signaled Daniel, who was nearby, and he came rushing downstairs. Eric opened the door first and saw Genevre’s form, slumped on the ground, her blood making its red way down the gaps in the floor tiles. He panicked, and went straight towards her. As he came close, his foot crunched down on something. Without looking, he realized it was the chalk that was used to make the circle. Another look and he saw Genevre was now sitting upright. Her blond hair tangled, hanging in clumps in front of her blood smeared face that broke into a grin as she parted her hair. Daniel stepped in the room, with Steven not far behind him. In a second they took in what had happened, seeing that Eric had broken the circle. But they didn’t see the important thing. Audas had prepared them for this eventuality, so they withdrew the objects they were given from their pockets. Each one of them held an object that had belonged to Genevre when she was in her original body that Audas had kept preserved for all this time. Only encircling her and bringing these objects close to her would restrain her. But, they didn’t see the important thing. They didn’t see her eyes.
Daniel edged toward her from the right, Steven from the left, holding their objects up. Genevre parted her hair again and looked at first Daniel, then Steven. That was all it took to hypnotize them. They weren’t great mages, after all. “Audas has only taught them a few paltry tricks,” Genevre mused placing her hand on Eric’s head, grabbing a clump of his hair, “But, they’ll do for now.” She let go and gave the three of them a satisfied look as started making for the door. “All the time I’ve spent resting has returned my prana to its full potential. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay in this body,” she eyed her filthy, blood splattered dress. “But I’m gonna make full use of it.” She motioned to the three men, who turned and followed her as she left her cell. Their own wills removed by the false heaven they’d seen in Genevre’s eyes. Genevre walked purposely down the ancient hallways. She knew them well, after all, she’d watched them from the other realm for so long. For so long…plotting, planning, waiting…With three zombie like soldiers in tow, Genevre paced quickly towards the meeting room.
“Austin told us his story, about how he’d met this light being, and then a very rich and influential Frenchman. Somehow it seems the light being had appeared to the old Frenchman in a dream as well. They soon set about setting up the Order of the Hermetic Cloud, but the reign of terror in France at the time made it almost impossible to carry out any activities, or establish contact with the light being. So Austin moved to England, with a huge supply of finances from the old Frenchman, and he found that many orders were already flourishing in England at the time. So he set to work right away, creating the Order of the Hermetic Cloud there and initiating hopeful magic users. Of course, his first task was to channel the light being and receive directions on how to operate. After recruiting quite a few mediums he came across a particularly gifted young woman named Hilda. It seems that Hilda’s channeling could reach far into the depths of the afterlife. So, with her help, he made contact with the light being again.” Kane finished and passed over to Audas.
“Yes, directly after our duel he told me about the first channeling of the ‘light being’. He said it nearly took the life of all the magic users present, Hilda in particular as she was the medium. A lot of prana was required and it took Hilda three days of being in a trance state without food or water to locate…him.” Audas paused for a while, snacking on another chip. The crunching sound resounded awkwardly in the large room. Audas smiled sheepishly and continued, “Anyway, when he manifested, Austin told me his exact words.” Everyone leaned closer, expectantly. “But I may have forgotten a few details…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Austin stared at the scene about him. The five magic users who made up the points of the circle had collapsed, their prana spent. Blood trickled from the noses of some, others were panting, their breathing raspy. Hilda sat cross legged in the middle, swaying from side to side, swaying to a macabre rhythm heard only within herself. Then, she stopped. Her eyes flicked open, but they weren’t her eyes. They had a reddish yellow glow and resembled those of an animal. “Austin!” A voice boomed. Austin couldn’t help but fall to one knee, as though it just seemed the right thing to do. “You have done well Austin. Our vision can soon become a reality. Liberty…that which people slaughter one another for, will be known to us.”
“My…lord. I am unsure as to how to continue our quest.” said Austin. “I have established the order, as you required, and I have many souls initiated into the order who share our ideals zealously. However, we are all unsure as to your…methods my lord. How do you plan to bring about this great liberation of the heart and soul? How should we assist you in this?”
“This is precisely the reason I have come today Austin,” clamored the light being, “As you have surely realized, I am a spirit, I do not exist in this physical realm of yours. Additionally, the realm I exist on is restrained. Therefore, what I can accomplish in the spiritual realm is limited. I need to transcend from my realm to the next stage. Once at the next stage, I can begin influencing the human realm and bring about great enlightenment across the world. However, the laws of the spiritual world are binding, thus a being in a certain realm stays there until his or her time is up and then goes back into transmigration. But there is one method of altering this problem.”
Austin wiped his brow and waited in anticipation, “What method would that be my lord?”
“Magic, Austin. It’s quite simple, magic deals with people’s prana, which is the very substance of life. By altering prana, you are in fact, altering life itself. As when you create a charm, or cast a spell. Something changes, because of the prana you have used. Of course, there are side effects. Prana is a person’s life, so one’s life may be shortened, or other consequences are possible through the use of prana. What I’m saying quite simply is that I need prana in order to ascend to the next level and to a higher dimension of existence. For this purpose, I have created the Order of the Hermetic Cloud. Members of the order are required to master the basics of manipulating prana and using magic. After they are initiated and reach a high attainment, they can then create a bond with me, as you have Austin, and I will receive a certain amount of their prana. The more magicians do so, the faster the possibility of my ascension becomes and when it does, all those who have been loyal to me will be the first to receive enlightenment when the time comes.”
The light being became quiet and Austin could sense that it would be leaving soon. “One last thing, my lord!” Austin shouted urgently.
“What?” enquired the light being.
“How should we refer to you…not having a name to tell my subjects, creates…doubt in some of them.” said Austin.
“I have gone by so many names…” the light being mused, “However Devanda should be the most appropriate. Tell your disciples they serve Devanda and that one day, our ideals will be fulfilled. When you have gathered more initiates, bring them to me Austin, so that we can taste the sweetness of freedom for which we have searched for so long…”. And with that Devanda withdrew and Hilda collapsed on her side as soon as his spirit departed.
* * * * * * * * * *
Esha opened her mouth, ready with another question, when she saw the door behind Audas fly off its hinges and splinter as it hit the wall, crashing to the ground. Everyone stood up as Genevre entered the room. Kane’s voice quickly shouted, “Don’t look her in the eyes! She can immediately hypnotize you with her gaze!” Esha and Shari stared at Genevre’s bedraggled dress, her blood caked clothes and the sharp, rusty meat cleaver she held in her hand. Anywhere but her eyes.
“Ooooh, you’re still smart Kane! Though my eyes won’t be able to affect you as you’re only using that vehicle, you haven’t taken it over have you? Aaaah, always so merciful, that’s my Kane…why, you make me wanna puke you hypocritical fucker!” She paused for a while, contemplating. “Nonetheless!” she started giggling to herself, laughing at some private joke no one else understood. “I’m sure my band of gorillas here will prove useful somehow…”
Eric, Steven and Daniel stumbled in behind her. Esha looked at them closely; their eyes seemed heavy, as if sleepy. She guessed that they’d already been hypnotized by Genevre and that she was going to use them to attack. Genevre stood back as the three men ran at them, and she turned her vision towards Audas. Eric reached Shari first. He held a piece of metal in his hand and Shari remembered the time the Morai had possessed her, and how she’d been cautious of cold iron. Shari guessed that was how this guy immobilized her before.
He swung a fist at her, holding the metal. Again, it seemed as though his actions were in slow motion…his fist was midway toward her and she’d grabbed his arm and elbowed him in the chest. The iron flew from his hand, but it didn’t deter him. He pressed on, pulling a gun from a holster on his belt. Shari watched closely as he raised the black muzzle towards her…waiting for the right moment. When he thought he had her in his sights, Shari could see the slight motion of his finger tensing to squeeze the trigger. She dropped to the floor and swept out her left foot. Knocked off balance he shot into the brick wall and fell hard to the floor. Before he could get up, Shari delivered blows to his groin, chest and head. He bundled up in agony, wailing in pain as Shari turned around to see what the others were doing.
Esha hit the old bookcase hard, something in her back definitely snapped. Blood welled up in her mouth and she let it trickle down her face. No time to worry about appearances now. Steven moved closer, his fist raised for another blow. Esha felt really scared. She wasn’t a fighter. Hell, she hadn’t even taken self-defense classes at high school. On the other hand, this guy was, and a pretty good one too. He’d already punched her twice and she hadn’t even touched him. She knew she had to think of something. Luckily, he’d been zombified by Genevre, so his movements were slower than they’d usually be. He punched at her again, and she quickly spun away as his fist struck the bookcase, splinters of wooden shrapnel spraying over her. He pulled his hand from the wrecked bookcase, hand streaming blood, and pulled a huge fragment of sharp wood with it.
“Shit,” thought Esha, eyeing the sharp piece of wood, “That doesn’t look good.”
Kane saw Daniel approaching him and saw the signs of hypnosis. Dilated pupils, heavy looking eyelids, slowed movements. Counteracting the magic would probably take longer than just knocking him out, so Kane decided on that course of action, especially as he didn’t want to hurt Kalem’s body in any way. Daniel stopped in his tracks and began scratching in his pockets.
“What’s this?” thought Kane. “He seems to still have the ability to judge the situation well, even though under hypnosis.” Kane shot Genevre a glance and noticed that she hadn’t moved from the spot yet. Then he realized what was happening, she was sending them hypnotic suggestions and guiding their actions telepathically. That could mean…Daniel pulled cellphone from his pocket. It looked ordinary enough, except for a magical symbol painted onto it that Kane had seen before. In a panic, he lunged at Daniel, trying to reach him before he could press the keypad, but he was too late. As he dialed, Kane simultaneously heard Kalem’s cell phone ring and a shock jarred through his body. As though being electrocuted, he convulsed violently and fell over, losing consciousness. When he came round, he saw that he was no longer in the conference room of the Order. Kane searched around frantically, but it was no use. He’d been somehow displaced from Kalem’s body and plunged into an unknown area of the intermediate zone. He remembered what the magical emblem on the phone was now. It could immediately send a soul out of a medium’s body, by interrupting the harmonious frequency between the two. He sped around frantically, looking for a way back…and realized how well Genevre had planned this and how great her magic had become.
Kalem’s head was cloudy. He pulled himself up and tried to get a look at the attacker in front of him when he felt a hand grab his hair and push his head to the ground. The cool feel of the barrel of a gun touched his scalp and he heard, “Don’t even think about it.”
Esha leapt out the way as Steven lunged at her with the sharp piece of wood. Each swipe she dodged was draining her a bit more. Her clothes were soaked through and sweat continually ran into her eyes, making it difficult to see clearly. Steven kept stabbing and jabbing at her, and even though she was probably more afraid than when she faced the jellyfish thing, she knew she somehow had to try calm down. She hid behind a bookshelf catching her breath. She could hear Steven approaching, though he was still a slight distance away. She took in gulps of air as if feeding on it and the sensation began again. There was a tingling in her palms. She gazed at them but couldn’t see anything, even though she definitely felt the energy gathered there. Steven appeared from the side of the bookshelves. On her feet Esha held her open palm out in front of her and pushed it hard into Steven’s gut. She heard a crack, like a firecracker exploding and Steven reeled back from the force of Esha’s blow. Clutching his stomach with one hand, the shard of wood in the other, he kept coming at her. Esha built up energy in her other hand, but this time tightened it into a fist. Stepping forward Steven jabbed at her again as she clobbered his jaw. A bang resounded and Steven fell back, smashing his head on the shelves before smacking down on the floor. Esha began smiling, until a sharp sting of pain made her peer down. The shard of wood had pierced her stomach deeply. She watched as crimson blossoms sprouted on her blue blouse and spread rapidly down, wetting her pants and seeping down her legs. Falling to her knees, the pain took over, an orchestra playing a harsh symphony that just wouldn’t stop. It just wouldn’t stop, until her mind couldn’t take anymore and everything around her grew dark.
Audas stood in front of Genevre in disbelief. The girl on the swings, her locks flowing out behind her and catching the compliments of the sunlight…was this her? The girl who’d fallen asleep on his lap studying a text in an ancient language that she had learnt at the same time. The girl who’d smiled at him, as if he were her father. How could this be her?
“Genevre…is gone.” Audus uttered as he stared at her.
She let out a laugh, cackling without stop for a few moments before it turned into a high pitched scream and then halted. “Ahhhh, what’s the matter Audas? You miss your cute, stupid, easily manipulated Genvere? You want that dense bitch to come back? She died, Audas…” Genevre grabbed her brow, as if she was acting out a grievous scene, “Yes, died! Of loneliness, of grief, of pain that lingered for long years without going away!”
She looked at Audas again, nonchalantly picking her nose, “But something didn’t die Au…das!”
Audas waited to see what she had to say. “My love for you! Yes, my love…to hate you! It hasn’t died, it’s gotten stronger and stronger and now it’s like a beast within me that threatens to devour my soul and do you know what? It can!” she titttered again, giggling away to herself. “It can, it can! As long as I see you suffer before you die Audas…even better, to send you to that place I was in…ahhh then I could perish and feel fulfilled!” She clenched her hands together, wishing on a deranged star.
Audas knew there was no other way. He clenched the shark’s tooth about his neck and began to chant. “Ohhhhh, I wouldn’t bother with that. Have a look over there.” Audas turned to see Daniel pointing a gun directly at Kalem’s head. “One word from me, and my gorilla over there will decorate the floor with his brains. Even you wouldn’t want that, now would you Audas?”
Clutching the tooth tightly for a second, he let it go again. He scanned the area, hoping to see Esha and Shari, but there was no sign of them. Audas watched Daniel pull Kalem up, still dazed, and begin to drag him towards Genevre. Audas felt Genevre slip her arm into his. She glanced up at him and gave him a smile that was meant to be cute but came off ...all wrong. “Come on Audas…there’s someone I’ve been dying to introduce you to…”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
India, before the birth of Christ. A lone owl sat perched on the outstretched limb of a tree. Before any flight, there was preparation, and timing. The bird’s muscles tensed up, wings prepared to spread out and make that first flap that brings about flight.
Walking away from his old life of asceticism and towards a different path, Devanda decided to take up his destiny that he’d left behind. His father was a Kshatriya, the ruling caste in the land and had wanted Devanda to succeed as the monarch after he passed away. At a young age, Devanda had hated the idea of becoming a ruler and was more interested in spiritual pursuits. Now, he’d changed his mind. As he walked through the familiar woods and valleys that led back to his father’s kingdom, he reflected on the how much he could do as a ruler, how much he could accomplish. He decided that he would lead his people to prosperity and that they would forever remember him as a great king.
After arriving back in his town his mother and sisters greeted him. His mother spoke with tears in her eyes, “My son, I thought you were lost to us!” His sisters, who were younger than him, stared up at their brother, as if he were a total stranger. Remembering his long hair, beard and rags, he decided to quickly go and straighten himself out. After a lengthy bath, he cut his hair to shoulder length and tied it back, then placed his fathers sacred thread on. Once again emerging from his quarters, his sisters recognized him and ran into his arms. He hugged each of them and then turned to his mother. She stared at the vacant throne that had been left empty since his father’s demise. Without hesitating, Devanda ascended the throne and told his mother to call in the ministers.
The owl leapt from the haven of the branch, into the eternal uncertainty of the air. The owl knew the air, but could never be its master. It knew the changes in the wind, the arc and curve of its movements, yet they retained their secrets. And so, the flight of the owl was always one that held danger.
Devanda was at first referred to as the ‘foolish ruler’. This was because his policies differed from the norm. Of course a ruler should care for his people, yet Devanda seemed to care for them more than himself. Usually a king would lavish his ministers with luxuries and treatment better than the common folk, however Devanda didn’t. He treated them the same as he’d treat a citizen in the streets. Some of the ministers used to whisper among themselves that he treated his family in the same way. Nonetheless, Devanda was loved by the people. He sometimes traveled out of the palace on his own, just to see the people, how they lived, worked, talked and loved. He wanted to take it all in. All the life around him…he wished to somehow suck it into himself and experience all there was to experience.
Instead of currying the favor of nearby countries and rulers, he established fair trade and relations between them. He dispatched any ministers that showed signs of wanting to use trickery or unfair means to gain more land and wealth. Devanda watched as his kingdom prospered and the years passed. Ministers from other countries would come from far and near, seeking alliances with him, business ties and friendship. He accepted all of them gladly yet steered clear of petty thieves and tyrants. He soon became known as the ‘Ruler of Infinite Wisdom’. One night he stood on the terrace of the palace, ready to go on one of his sojourns into the town, when he felt it. He’d been so busy all these long years, dealing with the country’s affairs, the ministers, trade, and he’d even married a princess from a neighboring kingdom. So, when that old familiar feeling came over him, he dismissed it as an illusion.
The owl confidently sailed the winds, as if somehow taming the air itself. Reigning in the gusts, conquering sudden thunderstorm flows, it glided on…sure. Hearing, before seeing it, the owl sensed its prey hidden in the grass below. It didn’t see what it was, its ears told it everything. Swooping down on the field mouse, the owl settled on it. In one move, the owl’s talons crushed its skull, spilling burgundy on the emerald floor. Next, its beak moved in to tear and rend flesh for its meal of the night. But it was unaware of a something. Something it should have picked up.
Devanda descended to the city and stopped outside a temple to one of the gods. Inside, a beautiful young woman with long, raven black hair knelt before the altar. Holding up joss sticks in her hands, their smoke rising like coiled snakes to the temple’s ceiling, she was praying. Devanda edged closer, trying to hear what this young woman was praying for. Listening as intently as he could, he was surprised by the words that came from her lips. “Oh Devanda, lord of the realm and certainly a deva descended from the heavens, please protect my family and keep my children from harm.”
Turning away, Devanda noticed his heart was pounding hard in his ribcage. He fled from the temple and back to the palace. Trying to outrun the emotions he knew he couldn’t. Trying to deny the wide smile that emerged on his face the moment the woman had referred to him as a god. And remembering…the clouded sky. Yes, the clouded sky that prevented him from seeing the sun.
The owl never even saw it. As the wolf jumped onto it, the owl’s entire body was squeezed within its jaws in a second. The owl realized that it had heard something, but for some reason, had ignored it. The fangs clamped down on it, rending its body in two in an instant. In those moments before its death the owl wondered what the outcome would have been if things had been different.
Devanda returned to his kingdom and continued to rule his people as the ‘Ruler of Infinite Wisdom’. He was loved by many, praised by the masses and aged and eventually went to his death bed surrounded by his loving people. Ministers and even rulers from other kingdoms were present at his death. Before passing from the world, to the wails and sobs of his family, and the blessings of the Brahmin priests that he would become a god, he could only remember one thing. The memory of the joy he’d felt at being praised, held in awe, venerated. In his mind’s eye, the sky was completely obscured by clouds and became dark, before he finally left the world. His spirit departed his body and he could hear the faint sound of an owl calling in the distance…