The smell of bacon and eggs woke Ninah up in the morning. Campers were preparing breakfast over open fire pits instead of heading off to the diner. Although the ground was damp from the nighttime air, there were buckets of water nearby in case of a stray spark from the fire pits.
The group sat together, some looking out toward the forest line, commenting in low tones. A few of the more talented magicians sent muttered spells toward the forest. Tychon made a big to-do about casting a Banishing Spell, and then sat at the fire, sure that his athame-waving did the trick. Ninah could see the energy falter about a hundred yards out. Unfortunately, he did have talent for walking the planes, so the others put up with him. Grandmother seemed to have the final word, and everyone minded what she said when she needed to take a stand.
In the morning sun’s light, Ninah could see individual colors of the castings drifting out across the field. They would dissipate before getting anywhere near the forest line. Ninah picked out the strongest of the senders, and noted that the more blustery magicians were also the weakest senders. And yet these were among the strongest magicians on the planet. Ninah frowned. There was something wrong with the way they were all doing magic, but she didn’t understand what she was missing.
No one else outside of her own group had that shimmer on them. The shimmer didn’t seem to have anything to do with abilities. All of their guests had Talent; empaths, plane walkers, and general energy workers. Ninah wondered if she had the shimmer, too; she was unable to see herself to notice it and the guys were unable to see it on each other. If she had to guess, she was sure she did have it. Without being egotistical about it, she was sure she and the guys were the strongest of the Talented. Maybe that had something to do with the shimmers, she mused. She then immediately doubted it and pushed the thought aside.
Seeing that people were already up and out, Ninah showered and dressed, taking her time. Irra would already be at the temple, making sure the initial cleansing had taken place before they gathered for ritual.
Most of the temple was complete; some of the walls were covered with sketched drawings, which would be painted in by Ninah. She had no gift for architecture, but she could draw most other subjects. The temple and the ground needed to be formally consecrated, though, so Irra decided that with all the strong magicians present, it would be a good time for the consecration.
When it was mentioned the night before, everyone took a trip across the street to examine the new temple site. An area in the back of the temple was being prepared as a community food bank and clothing needs, and the yard was being prepped for the spring planting of vegetables to be given to the needy along with supplies from the food and clothing banks.
The clan guests liked it and were excited about the idea; it had been too long since they had a real working temple.
Local groups had already requested space to hold the upcoming Lammas ritual at the beginning of August, so Ninah really wanted the ground and temple consecrated in time. She didn’t follow the Celtic calendar, as most neo-Pagans did, but the temple was for all so she had no problem with others using the space, as long as they cleaned up after themselves. Her own guys had mentioned rites later in the month for the Ghost Festival, the Middle Eastern version of Samhain for the Ancestors, which their group would host at the New Moon.
More locals and outer circle members had shown up in support and to do their own mourning with the group. Some people were meditating in the temple or in the yard, sitting with their incense and candles and gongs and bells, or going through tai chi steps. A few had the joy of the morning, and were dancing and laughing around the moon pole, which a few local children had tried to get in on, but spooked parents forced them away.
Ninah went into the temple, pausing long enough to verify that Irra was ready for her.
Irra had brushed his dark hair back from his face and exchanged his leathers for a white robe with the black hemp-rope belt of an exorcist. Ninah’s vision blurred for a moment, seeing him in a leather kilt and holding a sword. Not again, she swore silently, banishing the vision.
The air of the temple felt clean and sweet; for a man with so much darkness about him, he had a gift for cleansing space. She hoped he released the nasties, instead of hanging on to them. “Should someone else do this?” she asked him. “No one knows me. Perhaps Grandmother…?”
He was shaking his head. “This is your temple, Ninah,” he said, taking a step back to watch her in this new element. “You’re the priestess here. The clans will support you because Severance has vouched for you. Now you must prove yourself to them. Whether or not they accept you is immaterial; a Pagan temple and complex is needed. We have been too long without one.”
So. It was time.
Be calm, she told herself.
Standing before the altar at the northern end of the inner temple room, she forced herself to center. Just do it, she told herself; he isn’t Wiccan anymore than you are, so he won’t be expecting a Wiccan circle. This is for the gods, not Irra, so don’t focus on his oddness.
Feeling the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand up as she released her tension, she let the cool breeze wash over her. Ninah dropped her clothes to the floor and held her right hand up to the altar which had yet to be populated with the temple gods.
“Gods of this place, Ancestors, Spirits of land and sky, and the breath of Air between, we are present today to welcome you to this, your home on Earth. We ask for your blessings on this place and to all who enter here in peace.”
She took the white robe from the working table and pulled it on while Irra took her clothes and placed them neatly aside. Ninah took a golden bucket and a pine cone, and began to walk the path of the gods, sunwise, toward the north and then west, sprinkling water as she walked and chanted a barrier. Irra beat softly on a drum.
“Let light shine on this place, no shadows hidden, gods of sky, of earth, of the underworld, let all see and know the truth of this place. Let no evil pass through here, let none break this barrier, let no one alter this command…..” Over and over she chanted as she circled the space, making it sacred as she walked the path of the gods, setting a matrix of truth and transparency illuminated by the brilliance of the sun, Utu, and the moon, Nanna, and scorching the matrix into place with the purifying fire of Gibil.
Goddesses of different pantheons already lined the walls around them, each with Her own small altar. At the High Altar in the north, the date palm of Inanna, the queen of the temple, held court along with Ninhursaga, the lady of the mountainside, with small, hand-sized rocks piled in honor of the mountain Du-ku, which held up the universe and covered the ancestors. The Dark Queen, Ereshkigal, She who witnessed every living soul, and the gods Enki at a trickling waterfall into a basin which held fish, Ningishzida in a tall terrarium that held a bonsai tree and small grass snake, Nanna the moon atop the pole outside could be seen from a window high on the wall, and Utu the sun who danced in the fireplace along the east wall, were also welcomed and asked to attend with Their guidance and wisdom.
The temple itself was the womb of the Great Mother, Nammu.
Ninah sang praises to the gods of the temple, welcoming Their birth from the Great Mother. Other niches were empty, waiting for other gods to take Their place among Their Brothers and Sisters. Ninah was going to include Taranus, a Gaulish god, but Terry had shook his head, telling her he was fine keeping the pantheon unmixed; Taranus would be fine with Adad taking His place on His stormy seat for the general assembly. Terry took a portion of the yard and set up a Gaulish sanctuary with the help of the local Celts.
Once she had completed the circuit, she replaced the bucket and cone on the working table off to the northeast corner of the room, which was humming happily. Irra was next to the main altar, standing behind the large kettle drum, keeping beat for Ninah, his eyes glazed over from the elemental energy that buzzed around them.
She stood in front of him, looked at him for a moment, and then held out her hands. He took them in his. She and he were going to have it out, one day, and she was pretty sure it would be nuclear. For now, though, they closed their eyes and simply breathed, relaxing, in and out, until they were tuned into each other.
“Please open the doors, Irra,” she said. Yes, their fights and their sex would be explosive. He inclined his head, walked to the doors, and opened them. The group beyond were waiting patiently.
Their guests entered, dressed in whatever made them comfortable; street clothes or robes. When they had entered and gathered in the center of the room, they realized that one man still stood outside the door. It was Steve from Utah. He looked up and around, swallowing hard, and took a step back. Irra shut the door; the man’s clan would take care of the problem later.
“Thank you for being here,” Ninah said once people began to settle in a semi-circle around her. “My condolences to all of you who knew Karrin and called her friend. From the love I’ve seen expressed from all of you, I wish I had known her better, but I had only met her a few times. We know her spirit is here, we welcome her here to bless this space as we bless her spirit and her passing. May her journey to a new life be a peaceful one.” There were murmurs of acceptance and agreement, hands taking hands.
She gestured around the temple. “This place is dedicated to all gods,” she said. “All with peaceful intentions are welcome here. With so many people of different paths here now, I would like to continue the consecration of this temple and the land, with everyone putting their path’s energy into the matrix.”
The circle spread out. Multiple people in a magic circle was sometimes difficult to work with, and having eight strangers present was going to be even harder. All Ninah needed, though, was their energy.
“Think of your patrons,” she told them. “Bring out all your love for them. Irra and I will combine the energies and infuse the temple and grounds with them. Just release your energies to us, please don’t try and ‘help.’ It will only confuse our matrix.”
One man, John, raised a finger of a hand that was attached to another hand. “Ninah, we’re concerned about whatever’s going on in that forest,” he said. “Could we include that space?”
Everyone else was in agreement. “Yes, we can spread it out that far,” she said, glancing at Irra. Could they? It was further than she had attempted before. They’d try. Their first concern was the temple, however. She shook off the anxiety and took control of the energies.
Irra took his place behind the kettle drum and gave them a low beat. At first, the energy was chaotic nails on a chalkboard. It filled the room, swirling around them; a cyclone of energy without form or command. It was human nature to resist chaotic energy, to automatically reject it; those with experience knew that one needed to over-come that instinct. Rejecting it would only cause physical nausea and a headache. That swirling miasma needed to be gathered together, made to harmonize, so that it could be used toward a specific purpose.
Ninah forced herself to keep her heart open. Each aspect of the swirling vortex of colors and sensations needed to be experienced. She needed to know them, before she could blend them all together.
One by one, Ninah gathered strands of energy, weaving them until she could feel everyone’s energy synchronizing, blending one into another to harmonize beautifully. She took the energy gently to keep it from falling while being firm with it, commanding it, directing it into a spinning circle around the group, keeping it even, not too fast, combining the different colors, scents, and textures of the energies.
When they were strong enough, she began directing them up and over the group, encasing them in a bubble, and then expanding it in all directions until the temple and the grounds were covered.
When the energy bubble reached the field behind the store, the growling began. Something pushed back.
“No, you don’t,” Ninah said to it, and began to gather the energy into a tighter, stronger matrix.
There was a loud bang. Everyone jumped. The door of the temple had burst open. The sheriff stood there, hands on his hips, not happy. A man with long brown hair stood next to him, looking around with curiosity.
The man was younger than Rick, about thirty-five or so, Ninah’s age, and had a peaceful, calm energy around him. He was handsome, lips made for nibbling; unfortunately, Ninah could sense the cord the man had looped possessively around Rick. And Rick was too blind to see it.
The gathered energy abruptly disappeared, grabbed out of Ninah’s hands and dissipated faster than she had ever seen. The magicians almost doubled over with nausea at the abruptness of it.
“Are you people out of your friggin’ minds?” Rick spat at them.
The younger man was staring at Ninah, studying her. The rest of the group was restless and annoyed, muttering about rights violations. “You were yelling,” he informed her in his calm, soft tenor voice. He held out an arm, positioning his hand just above his head. “You are up here,” he said, and lowered his arm to his muscled chest. “You should be here. You will hear better from here, too. There’s no need to yell. Speak to energy as though you and I are speaking. Don’t speak to the black mold, though; it has no conscience, it simply IS.”
Ninah felt the truth within. “And for strength, reach deep, not out,” she said, looking into his blue eyes. Where did that come from? she asked herself. He nodded and smiled. “Who are you?”
“My name is Evan.”
The rest of the group came closer, glaring at Rick for the incredibly rude disruption. Irra had a ritual sword propped against his shoulder, waiting. Ninah had another one of those disconcerting double images, putting Irra into that kilt outfit in her mind again. What astounded her more was seeing Rick and Evan next to him in like outfits.
“Who are these people?” Tychon demanded. “Have you people never heard of religious freedom? How dare you interfere!” His strident tones echoed through the temple.
Rick wasn’t impressed. “Pipe down, boy,” he drawled. “I could care less what or how you worship; when you go pissing off the local aliens, though, you get my attention. Knock it off.”
The group stilled. “Alien?” someone asked.
“Did you think the black mold was born here?” Rick asked, spreading his hands at the world at large.
They all looked at Ninah. The image wavered on the edge of her memories. Darkness. Blackness. An energy signature that tasted like… salt. A wave of the energy salt being thrown from her hand at the blackness.
“It… salt is a poison to it,” she said. “That’s how people began using salt in magic rites.” She wavered and was caught, Irra on one side and Evan on the other. A chair was planted under her.
“When you stop using the wrong section of your brain, the imbalance will stop happening,” Evan told her. He put a hand on the back of her neck for a moment. Her nausea disappeared.
“Ninah, how do you know salt will poison it?” Grandmother asked, watching her closely.
“I.. I don’t know,” she said. It felt right, she knew that. The smell of salt, the iron scent, reminding her of the ocean, filled her head and nose. Most people used salt in their cleansing and consecrations, but she only used it in cleansing due to its corrosive nature.
“You will,” Evan told her. He pulled her gently from the chair and sat on the floor with her. “Everyone sit,” he said, waving at the floor. Dubious, they sat. Tychon, Oliver, and a couple others remained standing, arms crossed.
Instead of being nauseous with the sudden scattering of energy, everyone was redacted by a gentle blanket that had been cast over them by Evan. Ninah looked at Irra; he shook his head. He couldn’t sense the magic in Evan either, and yet he handled it as easily as walking and breathing.
Rick tossed his hands in the air and left the temple, muttering about priests with one-track minds.
“Listening and speaking on other planes is as simple as walking through a door,” Evan said, ignoring Rick. “Push your mind forward, not up. Using ‘up’ is like using a loud-speaker. General movement is forward, mind to mind is low.”
“Telepathy isn’t usable,” Tychon said in derision. “Maybe a word or a picture gets through but it isn’t practical enough to try and develop.”
*Is it not?*
Tychon jumped at the voice in his head. The majority of the group tried, once Tychon admitted to what he had heard. He was pale as he sat for his lesson.
Tychon, Oliver, Ninah and Irra, were able to hear Evan. He told the rest not to worry about it; most people were unable to Hear. Most of the others had strong empathy, though, and they should concentrate on strengthening it, which they could do by using the same technique. If they had used the correct section of their brains for their matrix weaving, they wouldn’t have been startled out of it when Rick had slammed the door open.
The lessons began with finding the correct center of the brain for such work and strengthening it.
There was something in Ninah’s head that knew where Evan was going before he said anything. It had nothing to do with his surprising proof of telepathy; it was more of a memory. Her very cells knew how to do everything he was saying and even began to smooth out some of the edges.
Next to her, Irra was also fighting the same self-knowledge. Irra didn’t like being caught unawares and was not at all happy with the new-comer despite the man’s obvious master-class abilities. Evan was a companion of Rick’s, though, so he would be accepted until proven unwelcome. He was fairly sure he had seen Evan around town a few times, being dragged to and fro by the twins. Irra grunted to himself –Evan had cast a glamour on himself so that no one quite noticed him enough to question who he was. Now that Evan had presented himself openly, the glamour was gone.
While speaking to the group as a whole, Evan spent time concentrating on Ninah and Irra. There was something about the two, as well as Severance, Shara, and Terry, who were not present, that rang loud bells within. Something in that small group was expressing an urgency to be brought forward.
“No, Rick, it’s here, ” he had insisted when they first began to examine the planet. Rick had wanted to focus on Area 51, a place even Thane found interesting, once they had perused the Top Secret records of the base. Evan’s senses, however, focused north.
“It’s Seattle,” Rick snapped. “There is nothing happening in Seattle except rain. Lots and lots of rain. Everyone knows where the ‘secrets’ are, and none of those places are in Seattle.”
Thane flicked his tail in irritation at the two, and called in his imirtu from Ka’ma and the imirtu from Nikkar. They both joined with Evan, looked at his visions, and agreed that Seattle was the main focus. Rick tossed down his comm link.
They were good, Evan thought as he instructed the Earthers; they were very good. The fates had brought them together for a very specific reason, even if it wasn’t clear to them, yet. Evan hoped it had something to do with the coming battle that he was sensing; without the empire’s guard, Earth was going to need her own warriors to fight that battle.
It was harmless enough for them to go around shouting at energy, but when they started pushing the black mold, things needed to be quickly taken in hand. Entire peoples had vanished into history when black mold was meddled with. He could take care of it, but Rick put his foot down, insisting that they not interfere unless absolutely necessary. When it came to this particular group of people, Evan decided he would do the insisting.