Chapter One

THE DEMON RIFT

A novel by Marjorie Noble

“68% of the Universe is dark energy. It is a complete mystery what it is.”

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

CHAPTER ONE

The End and the Beginning

Residence of Senator John Arnold

December 24, 2004, Redhill, Ohio

Bernie stood naked before the floor length mirror. Soon, its usefulness at an end, this body would be gone. He would miss its appetites, but not the discomforts of age. The wood floor beneath his feet was cold, aggravating the throbbing pain in both knees that had swelled from hours of kneeling in the rituals required for the next Great Offering. The Others had applied compresses to lessen the swelling, but they would have to re-administer them within the hour. All was ready. His white shirt and Armani suit hung, waiting; his expensive black shoes carefully polished. He wrapped himself in his plush robe and warm slippers. Moving to the Moroccan table, he began to eat his last meal as John Arnold. Arnold would die a hero, saving his beloved granddaughter, Madonna, who would emerge tearfully from the tragedy of the terrible Mall fire, where many hundreds perished.

Bernie remembered the screams from the phantom building that gave such pleasure and just as fondly, the delicious agony of the prison. Mourning the death of her brother and subsequent suicide of her alcoholic mother, the story of Madonna’s plight will move the hearts of the wealthy and influential. Ah, little Stella. How he looked forward to seeing her bewildered and heartbroken over the loss of her son then savoring her terror as the one whom she thought was her little girl inflicts prolonged suffering and painful death.

He looked forward to collecting debts. Cabrizzi, for example, he had plans for him. The loose ends, Alec and the security guard, he would give to the Others as toys. Bernie wondered what it was going to be like—being a woman. The Others appeared to the world as beautiful young women, but they were much more, objects of desire and instruments of death. Delicately, he had probed for signs of what would follow in the aftermath of the coming sacrifice, but nothing was revealed or even implied.

Whatever it was, it would be wonderful. No hint came forth of where the next vessel might be found. The clairvoyance of Madonna would be helpful in divining such important information. Perhaps the next vessel, yet to be born, will have access to even greater power than the Senator’s influence and the girl’s psychic gifts. The girl’s gifts were marvelous, but sadly underdeveloped. Wasted for now, but soon—oh—soon—a magnificent reward. As Bernie contemplated his years of sacrifices and rewards, he ate dessert—hokey pokey with blue sprinkles.

2

His Office is to discover the Virtues of the Birds and precious stones” (The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King)

The Moroccan Table

1884 London, England

“He’s a lecherous old one, mind you. What we done, he’d do to you if he could.” Matthew’s handsome face was full of concern. His caring was a lie, but she enjoyed the pretense.

“You sound just like Mum,” she sighed. She stroked the small wisps of blond whiskers on his face. He was nineteen, but could pass for younger and not much taller than she, Linda, was at fourteen. “I’ll be careful, as careful as can be.” Linda gave him a lingering kiss.

“So what do you think they do?” He asked. He was getting excited.

“Sex orgies,” she whispered, her eyes wide with feigned horror, “with them running about all naked . . . ”

“What a sight,” he said and he did a dance, miming a lot of flopping skin, “some of them old ones, bouncing about!”

Her auburn hair in disarray, the girl threw her head back and laughed. The sound of her shrill giggle carried throughout the stable and a horse began to kick its stall. Matthew sat up and looked to see if anyone heard. They were alone. Sighing, she collapsed into the fresh hay. In a nearby stall, a horse whinnied. Matthew put his finger to his lips. “Careful; we don’t want anyone to hear, do we?” He fell down beside her and slipped his hand under her starched white apron. Linda removed his hand and buttoned her blouse. She stood up, straightened her apron and frowned as she looked for telltale straw. While she made a careful inspection, the boy reached up and pulled her skirt. He was not ready for her to leave, just yet.

“That’s enough,” she said, “got work to do and so do you.”

“Tomorrow,” he demanded, tugging on her skirt, “you’ll tell me, spill all of it. Promise!”

“I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Mischief filled her brown eyes. “Or not!” His curiosity was her hold on him. His place being in the stables, he rarely came to the house. Something else, she was sure. Matthew Oldman something else will soon hold you. Looking down at his pleading face, she enjoyed the moment then freed her skirt from his grasp.

Walking briskly across the grounds, she smiled and slipped through the back entrance, pausing behind a closed door to hear her mother Rebecca complaining to Betty, “ . . . and I don’t know what to do. The girl won’t listen. If only her dad hadn’t died . . . ”

After adjusting her cap, she checked the clock. Almost two. Good. She’d spent less than half an hour in the stables. Opening a closet, she slid out the stack of embroidered robes and hurried into the laundry room. Seeing Mrs. Hamilton, she gave her a bright smile.

“All finished, Mrs. H., shall I put them in the library?” Linda glanced at her mother. Rebecca gave her a suspicious look.

I don’t care, thought Linda, whose exotic name came from her mother’s own dreams of a holiday in Spain. She’s almost thirty-one, Linda decided, and past it all. She has no idea of what it is to be young.

Mrs. Hamilton’s clipped speech showed her low opinion of her young subordinate.

“What do you think, girl? Use your brain. Of course, the library.”

Lord Towning’s annual gathering of selected members of “The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” (Cook called it the Heretic Order of the Golden Dawn) always put Mrs. Hamilton in a sour mood. The task of tending to over twenty weekend guests, their varied whims and special requirements taxed her limited patience.

Linda carried the ceremonial robes up the narrow stairs and onto the ground floor. She had spent the early morning ironing the flowing gowns, taking care not to snag the intricate embroidery. Down the marbled hallway, she could see that the tall doors of the library were ajar. Inside, several men were moving a massive table, recently delivered, especially for the coming event. “From Morocco—found it last year.” Linda heard Lord Towning boast. Linda wished he’d lost it after he found it. It was an eyesore and with all the curves, carvings and crevices (Matthew laughed when she described it), a nightmare to dust and polish.

The library itself was an inviting place where many windows let in the afternoon light. The graceful Oriental drapes pulled back, allowing light to fill the room. While perched on a ladder, swiping her duster across the innumerable books that lined the walls, or carefully rubbing the endless pieces of exotic art and treasure gathered from Lord Towning’s trips, Linda would often lay her duster down and descend the ladder. After checking both sides of the long hall and listening for footsteps, she’d close the door. Selecting a book from a lower shelf, the maid crawled into one of the plush chairs. She could barely read, but felt it only proper to have an open book in her lap. Nestled in the soft cushions, she pretended she was a lady. Only for a minute or two, she’d tell herself. Often, she imagined the family portraits hanging throughout the room, glared with disapproval at her liberties.

Bugger off, she answered, glaring back at the generations of wealth and privilege. She was better off than any of them. They were all dead. While she polished the Moroccan table, an idea had come to her. She would hide and find out just what went on during the “special event.”

3

The Demon’s Dance

“May I see it?” Voices startled her awake. A sliver of light reminded her of where she was. She huddled within the lower shelf of one of his lordship’s acquisitions, an ornate monstrosity. She chose it because it sat near the fireplace, and the lower half was large enough to contain a girl of fourteen years if she were willing to hug her knees to her chest. Her left foot was asleep, and her legs ached from being folded for over an hour.

Curious about what there was to see, she sincerely hoped that it wasn’t the part of Sir Charles he decided to show her one late afternoon in the hallway, before the appearance of Mrs. Hamilton prevented whatever his Lordship had in mind. Matthew went breathless with laughter when she described Mrs. Hamilton’s face. “Her bulging eyes popped out even further, and her mouth hung like it came loose from its hinges.”

“In time, dear lady, in time . . . ” said Sir Charles. The master of the house was a corpulent man in his early sixties with thinning white hair. A bald man with a curled mustache chuckled when someone made light of “Crowley’s obsession.” Another claimed to be offended and suggested that the topic be changed. There were “ladies” to consider. While one servant collected emptied champagne glasses, another served full ones. How many guests? Matthew would ask. Peering out as much as she dared, she counted. At least eighteen. She couldn’t see the entire room unless she risked discovery. Unthinkable. Though there were unfamiliar faces, many were frequent visitors. There were several foreign accents. French, she decided, and Polish, or . . . not important.

She was exhausted. Eighteen hours of ironing, dusting, folding and cleaning weighed in on her decision to hide. A woman ordered the servants to leave. Except for three beautiful women, the younger wives of wealthy men, the guests were impossibly old. Linda wanted to leave with the other servants. Hiding in this cramped cabinet, for what? Why would she want to watch foolish old rich people prance around, naked, the men with their wrinkled willies and the women with swaying, saggy breasts? She would make up a story, perhaps devil worship with human sacrifice.

As they enjoyed refreshments and speculated on what Lord Towning had planned for the evening’s secret event, the guests wore the robes she had spent hours ironing. Mrs. Hamilton had given her strict orders. “Lord Towning is very concerned that his instructions be followed. All of the embroidery, especially the images of trees and birds in flight must be free of any creases,” said Mrs. H., looking quite the witch with her widow’s peak. The housekeeper wore her light brown hair in a narrow roll at her nape, allowing no stray hair to escape. The hairline framed a high forehead. Linda, who followed current fashion, wondered why the older woman didn’t try to soften it with a fringe of curls.

Threads in the embroidery glinted as the robes passed through the light. Candles placed throughout the room caused a trick of the eye. The images seemed to move, the birds’ wings flapping. She was surprised to see the pattern on the creamy Oriental drapes matched that of the robes.

Drapes were drawn shut. Whatever happened in the candlelight would remain secret.

No, too late. The brass on the tall doors clanked as they opened and shut. The locks slid. “Now,” Sir Charles announced, pride heavy in his tremulous voice, “The Key of Solomon!” As if it were a newborn and he its proud mother, he held up a large book, laced with thick gold threads. An excited murmur arose.

“Silence!” He thundered. “We SUMMON Him. We CALL His dreaded army from Planes of Power. We summon—HE who grants new life! We summon—HE who devours the weak!” Chanting began as he moved through the room. “Place your offerings. Pledge your faith. Pay tribute,” he droned.

A curious “ping” caused Linda to open the door another inch. Each participant placed a small stone in a silver dish that lay on the table. A woman presented a large sack and pulled out a black rooster that was protesting by flapping its wings. Wielding a ceremonial knife, Sir Charles decapitated it and plopped the severed head into the silver dish as the woman caught the spewing blood in a silver bucket, causing several women to turn away as the hissing gush struck the smooth surface.

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The barrier undulated and shimmered as the blood flowed. Too small a death, the tribute was dismissed. 
They waited, hissing at the man and his droning praise. Praise, tribute and promise called it, but all 
was in order and there would be no rift. Their eyes burning, demons clawed the thinning wall, which was a barrier separating two different universes. Like pearls on a string, each universe was unique. One was home to the darkest of energies and the chaos of destruction. The other, our own, was a teetering mass of evolving creation, which sprang from a blend of order and chaos. Within the other universe, life of a different sort fashioned its own dark world. Intelligent and aware, this dark world seethed with hunger. It was already old when it found the barrier and through it, glimpsed our world. For eons, it observed Earth’s smoldering beginning, then its parade of life, and the rise of Man. Seeing an opportunity, it 
whispered into our dreams, cajoling, hissing its promises of glory and power, instructing on was needed to create a rift and form a bridge.
And there was another wall, and behind it, another universe of a different makeup with only wisps of    dark, and these wisps served to make its abundant light cool and beautiful. No pulsing chaos there, and no hunger. All three universes, pearls of singular brilliance, moved in unison along one of Time’s many strands.

.As women whimpered, Sir Charles demanded those in the room be quiet. Men trembled, mopping their brows, hiding their fear under embroidered linen. Fear and terror spread like a carpet, flooding the room as it seeped into the barrier, which began to soften. Dots of light stippled the murky surface and soon there was a tear. A squeal of rage sounded as a talon failed to widen the rift, hoping to make it large enough for some of them to pass through. But the rift remained minute and they knew it was fleeting. It would disappear soon. Though rage burned through layers, the tear kept mending and disappearing fast until . . .

THERE WAS ANOTHER!!

A new rift appeared, the result of one who had concealed herself. Uninvited, and though Linda cowered 
behind a wooden door,her fear revealed her presence. Wafting deliciously through the room, the girl’s 
terror and its promise of a feast tore through the wall. As it seeped through the barrier, eager tongues lapped Linda’s fear like mother’s milk. Soon, her fear would explode, ripping and widening the opening. Rolling flames would replace the dim light of the library. Ah, the girl had offered no tribute. Words 
offered no protection now. Now, there was only chaos and the elixir of pain, sweetened by terror. Death.

The legions howled.