It was past when Raven yawned and flipped off the TV. The silence
was deafening. She was alone in the apartment that she shared with her lover,
Henry Bagyar, affectionately known as The Beast, and
her best friend, the dark-skinned Annabelle Jackson, nicknamed Annie B. Bagyar had gone to
The room was not only terribly silent, but dimly lit as well by only a single forty-watt bulb in the table lamp. Mephistophiles, Raven's white cat, lay in her lap purring softly. "Well, Meph, old pal, maybe we should hit the hay. Who knows when those two night owls will be home." Nonetheless, she stayed seated on the sofa, dozing slightly, too comfortable to move.
Suddenly, Mephistophiles leaped up, hissed and stared at a particularily dark corner of the room. Raven strained her eyes to see what the cat sensed. She could just make out a dark figure. She shivered as a chill of fear traveled down her spine. It might be Celia Van Grimm, the vampire who accosted her monthly to suck her blood. Would this be the time that Celia lost control and caused her death? Despite the dread, like most vampire victims, because of the. perverse orgiastic ecstacy during the act, she was addicted to and desired the dark drink.
After a few moments, however, Raven realized that it could not be the vampire. There was none of the hypnotic voice in her head that she received when the vampire desired her. This was another entity altogether.
The figure approached until despite the gloom, Raven recognized her. It was her guardian dark angel, Morgaine. Morgaine had been an old friend who first became a witch and later a demon. She appeared whenever dangerous chaotic events were about to mess up Raven's life.
Raven rose, and they hugged. "What brings you to our earthly realm, Morgaine?"
"Tonight you're about to visit the place where I now dwell."
Raven's heart pounded rapidly, and her stomach soured. "Is my time is up?"
"Not that. My boss wants to see you. You will be returned to this plane of existence in a short time."
Raven let out a sigh of relief and allowed Morgaine to take her hand. The demon led her towards the dark corner where she had appeared. After a few steps, Raven realized that they were no longer in her apartment anymore. The darkness was absolute as though they were in a mine or a cave. Strange sounds and odors assailed Raven's ears and nose; there was the creaking of massive stones rubbing against each other, the moans, screams and cries of persons in pain, and other less identifiable noises. There was other sounds too, animal sounds, growls, screeches, but not like any animal Raven ever heard before. She wrinkled her nose at the stench of burning sulpher combined with offal and decay.
Morgaine led her along in the darkness.until they came to a temple whose exterior was lit by burning oil on stantions. They climbed the wide stairs to the top of a columned porch towards two enormous doors decorated with carvings of horrible creatures, death heads and arcane symbols. The doors opened slowly with a thunderous clang allowing them to enter a vast cave-like chamber with a domed roof at least thirty feet above Raven's head. The immense room reminded Raven of the palaces of ancient Oriental potentates she had read about. Murals depicted scenes of orgiastic sex between naked humans, demons and animals. Hundreds of massive pillars supported a domed roof covered with artistic paintings like the Sistine Chapel. Each black tile of the floor was embossed with an alchemic or magical symbol.
Flickering torches on sconces cast looming shadows, and a white mist floated along the floor. The center of this hellish hall was dominated by a woman-like creature who rode a dinosaur-sized lizard. She was naked with a gorgeous figure, long black hair, large breasts that stood straight out, skin as white as marble, and cat eyes that stared at Raven as though she could tell what Raven was thinking. Enormous bat-like wings enfolded her. Instead of hands she gestured with claws whose long nails were thin stiletto daggers.
Several beautiful naked women busied themselves grooming and petting the woman and her lizard. Long golden chains were attached to rings around their necks and to the floor. They moved about freely, but not at any distance from the throne. Enormous naked muscular black men with heads that were skulls with eyes and carrying spears twice as tall as their bodies stood guard.
The atmosphere was warm and humid, and a strong stench of rotten eggs emanated from somewhere. Perspiration dripped down Raven's back and between her breasts. The humidity and stench made her feel faint. It took an effort to keep her knees from buckling.
Morgaine bowed to the creature. Raven followed suit.
The entity said in a deep sultry voice, "Greetings Morgaine and Raven. I welcome you Raven to my kingdom. I am Lilith, the queen of the underground."
Not knowing what else to say, Raven said in a small voice, "Thank you, your majesty. Why have you summoned me?"
"I need someone from your dimension to perform a service. My slave Morgaine, whose opinion I esteem, recommended you."
Raven glanced sideways at Morgaine and thought, don't do me any favors, friend. Next time recommend someone else. "What is that you want me to do?"
Lilith did not reply. Instead she pointed at a beautiful dark woman. "Esmeralda."
Esmeralda approached Raven and handed her a rolled up parchment. Raven unrolled it. The only writing on it was the number 12202012.
After Esmeralda returned to her place, Lilith pointed to a lovely, buxom and athletic woman with auburn hair and freckles. "Lucinda."
Lucinda rolled a rounded stone with various glyphs and pictograms embossed on it until it stood on its bottom edge in front of Raven. Raven asked, "What is this?"
Lucinda replied, "The ancient Mayan calendar." She rolled the stone back to its place.
Lilith pointed at a tall and gorgeous blond woman, who could have been a showgirl in Los Vegas. "Sheila."
Sheila brought another scroll. When Raven opened it, she saw that it was the I Ching hexagram Chun or Kan Zhen, Water over Thunder. Sheila bowed, and Raven returned the bow and handed the scroll back. Raven asked Sheila what the hexagram meant.
Sheila replied, "The answer lies at the Sun Moon."
After Sheila returned to her place, Raven looked up at Lilith questioningly. "What does all this mean? Why have I been brought here?"
"It is written that you and some others must act to prevent a disasterous consequence for the world you call Earth. I commission you to do your part in the great enterprise of saving the planet."
"What is that you want me to do, your majesty?"
"My servant Myrdden will brief you."
"Where do I find this Myrdden?"
"In his cave, of course." Lilith laughed as though the answer to that question was obvious. "You may leave now."
As Morgaine led Raven away, she whispered in Raven's ear, "Trust no one. Those closest to you are betraying you at this very moment."
Raven looked at her. "Who do you mean?"
But Morgaine was gone. Raven was back on her own sofa. Mephistophiles was still on her lap. She wondered, "Was it a dream? If it was, it must mean something."
She went to the desk and wrote down the things that seemed to be important in the vision, "12202012, Mayan calendar, the Chun hexagram, Sun Moon, Myrdden, his cave, trust no one, betrayal." This last worried her. Who did Morgaine mean?
A few minutes later the door slammed and the voices of Bagyar and Annie B. laughing and joking about something were in the hallway. Raven wondered at how they always seemed to arrive back at the apartment at the same time although they each had gone on separate errands at separate locations.
Bagyar came over and kissed her on the cheek. Raven covered the last two phrases on the sheet with her hand. She said, "Have a good run, Henry?"
"Yes. Good," he replied in his gruff voice.
Raven turned to Annie B. "Have a nice visit with your old friends?"
Annie B. shrugged. "It was okay. But I've moved on, and they haven't. I no longer have much in common anymore. Thought you'd be in bed by now. What're you doing?"
Raven's pulse raced and the room seemed a bit warmer. She felt guilty about her suspicions and the words she had written down. "I fell asleep on the sofa and had a prophetic dream. I made some notes."
Annie B. looked over her shoulder. "A bunch of numbers, a bunch of lines, Mayan calendar, Sun Moon, Mrydden. Doesn't make much sense, does it?"
"Not at the moment. It's something I've got to figure out."
"So what was the dream?"
Raven folded up the paper and stuck in the pocket of her jeans. She related the events in the dream. Bagyar sat on the sofa listening too.
Afterwards Annie B. said, "Knowing you, you probably think that this Morgaine you believe is your guardian demon or something really brought you to visit with Lilith, the demon queen."
"My aura, perhaps."
"There you go with all the witchy stuff again, Raven. So this Lilith wants you to save the world. I know that a lot of craziness happened to us when we were in that weird house in Maine, but this paranormal stuff is B.S. I think you just ate something that didn't agree with you and had a nightmare. Forget it."
Raven knew that she would never convince Annie B. that what she experienced was not a dream. "Maybe you're right." She yawned. "It's late. Tomorrow's a work day. Got to open the office by ten in case I get a client." She rose and headed for the bedroom. "Goodnight, Annie B."
"Goodnight, Raven. Yeah, I've got to get up early too. I'm going to a job interview."
"I know you've been carrying me. I need to contribute."
"But you're a partner in my PI business."
Annie B. laughed and shook her head. "You need me doing detective work like a hole in the head. It's really not my thing."
"Okay. Whatever you want is all right with me."
They kissed and Annie B. headed toward her own room. As she passed the back of the sofa, she brushed her hand along his arm which was resting on the back. Bagyar glanced at her with a smile on his face.
Although Raven did not want to believe that there was anything going on between them, she felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Henry, you coming to bed?"
"Yeah," he growled and followed her into the bedroom.
After they put on their night clothes, Bagyar kissed her lightly on the lips. "No hanky panky tonight. I'm tired." He curled up on the floor in a mess of blankets. He preferred the floor to the bed.
"Me too. Goodnight, Henry darling." A lump came to Raven's throat as she slipped under the covers and a single tear rolled down her cheek. She chided herself that she was letting her imagination get the best of her good sense. There could be nothing between Henry Bagyar and Annie B. He was The Beast, and she only went for good-looking people.