Her eyes are losing focus. The muscles in their lids are slowly succumbing to the speaker’s basso mosquito drone that’s painting the hall in warm molasses. Her chin begins its steady descent, as her mind curls away, searching for the voice that beckons her.
It is the last seminar on the last night of a long three-day academic/museum collections conference hosted by her university. She had expected to be done and home to her cat, but was asked at the last minute by her boss to sit in on the talk. She arrived late and dropped into an aisle seat, nodding a smile at the handsome woman in the next.
“Have I missed anything?” she whispers.
“Ha!” the woman replies with a smile and they both settle back as the image of a database spreadsheet opens on the large monitor screen above the stage.
Her eyes slowly open. She is standing in a high vaulted catacomb, its wet, gray walls glinting orange in the flickering torchlight. Deep, shadowed niches are cut into the stone, rising floor to ceiling between dark passageways moving off in all directions. Before her is a waist-high stone plinth, its square, flat top patterned in polished colored stones. She stands before it unafraid, for she knows this is a time of calling, a summons to her Goddess.
She holds her hands out, palms up, hovering them above the objects on the altar which she can not see, but knows are there. Eyes closed, she breathes in air scented by sandalwood and deep time, waiting for guidance.
She feels the atmosphere shift and warm currents of air snaking around her naked body. She opens her eyes as they coalesce into a vaporous figure floating above her hands. It reaches down a finger of misty light and feathers it over her cheek, tiny sparks dancing across her skin. She feels each one seep in, pulses of energy rippling through her flesh, down her spine, spreading across her loins…
“What!” she blurts out, as her head jerks up and her eyes snap open, seeing a hand drawing back from her face.
“Damn, I’m sorry!” she says to the woman beside her, realizing her head has been resting on her shoulder as she slept.
“That’s okay, dear, I didn’t mind at all,” the woman murmurs with a little grin, “but you were starting to moan a bit. Truth be told, I nodded off, too.” She turns in her seat, their legs touching. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves, now that we’ve slept together. My name’s Claire, collection curator at the Nat,” holding out her hand.
“Kistin, bio science archivist here,” she answers, shaking Claire’s hand. As she does, she sees the small blood-red phoenix tattooed on the inside of Claire’s pale wrist. Holding the grip, she covers it with a fingertip, pressing against the warm flesh.
“We are well met, my sister,” she says softly, looking into Claire’s eyes.
“We are well met,” Claire echos, raising an eyebrow. She turns Kistin’s hand up, seeing her unmarked skin, “You are not sworn?”
“No. I am a wanderer. It is the path she has chosen for me.”
“Then we are indeed well met and by her hand. There is a rite to perform at tomorrow’s eve and you are to be my chosen.” She pulls out a scrap of paper, jots down a line, and hands it to Kistin. “Will you join with me?”
“Soul to soul, my sister, she has told me of it already. I will be there at midnight.”
The night is dark, with a full moon rising. She is walking a path edged by dense, tangled bushes and trees backlit by the glow of the city lights. The air is damp, but the day’s heat still lingers and she can smell the sweet earthy musk of the garden. She checks her time on her phone, looking at the glowing map showing the meandering route to her appointed place.
She starts off at a quickened pace when there is a rustle of branches further down the path to her left. She pauses again, as a coyote steps out onto the dirt track and stops, its head turned to her. She thumbs her phone light on, holding it low, off to one side. She can see it is a female, recently birthed, with fat teats showing through the tawny fur on its belly.
The coyote stares, its eyes glowing like sunlit amber. It raises its snout and snuffs in a breath, then turns and moves to a narrow path angling away to the right. It pauses to look back, then disappears into the shadows with a flick of its tail. The woman moves forward and follows her Goddess’ guide.
Kistin comes through a narrow gap in the bushes and stops just as the three quarter bell strikes and echos across the Natural History Museum grounds. Directly across a narrow access road there is a dark opening in the red brick skin of the old main building. She has been inside many times, but always through the main doors, into the elegant rotunda to cast her muttered prayers at the feet of the three Graces, frozen in a perpetual dance at its center. Tonight, however, her route and reason are of a different nature. She crosses the road and stands at the entrance.
“You are here, Kistin my sister, and in good time. Welcome.” Claire, her voice soft and warm, comes out to her from the darkness. She embraces Kistin and they share a kiss. Claire leans back and draws her fingers down the long shape under Kistin’s shirt, hanging between her breasts.
“You have brought your talisman, I see. Excellent. Shall we go in?”
The women enter the tunnel hand in hand.
“This is where we meet in the city. I am its current keeper,” Claire explains. “But it is also a public space and on each quarter’s moon must be purified to keep its sanctity. That is our rite tonight, sister, that is why you have been chosen and sent to me.”
They come to an elaborately cast bronze door. Claire ignores the blinking card reader on the wall and opens it with a large key. They pass in and go down the wide, blank-walled hall toward a glass-fronted security room lit by twinkling lights and the blue-gray glow of dozens of security monitor screens. As they approach, its side door opens and a woman of amazonian stature fills the opening, smiling broadly.
“Welcome my sisters. I was beginning to worry.”
“All’s well, Dorthea,” Claire answers, kissing her, looking small in the woman’s embrace.
“This is our wandering sister, Kistin. This is Dorthea, our guardian.”
Kistin comes forward and is enveloped as well. Dorthea holds their kiss and Kistin returns it warmly.
“Very well met, my sister,” Dorthea murmurs when their lips and tongues part.
“Indeed,” Kistin answers, giving her ebony cheek a soft caress.
“Ladies, the clock ticks!” Claire clucks with a smile, “Is all ready?”
“One second,” Dorthea says, waving them into the office. She moves to the bank of video monitors and switches half a dozen off, then taps at a laptop with two fingers. “You’re good now, Claire. No eyes, no ears. The Goddess bless you both this night.”
They descend in an elevator marked ‘Out of Service’, which grumbles and groans as it goes down. Its cage is small and Kistin can feel the heat of Claire’s body at her side. Like Claire, she has bathed carefully for the rite, leaving her skin free of artificial tinctures and social camouflage. Their mingled scent, with a tiny, delicious counterpoint of sweat, fills her nose. She feels her body warming as the car thumps home and Claire pushes open the door. They are in a small anteroom, its walls lined with floor to ceiling cupboards.
“We’ll change here,” Claire says, opening one for Kistin, revealing a thin white linen robe edged in gold hanging on a hook in the back.
The women, backs turned, undress and slip into their robes. Kistin turns and takes in a breath as she looks at Claire, her robe hanging open, revealing her ripe body. Her skin is as white as her robe, but sprinkled by a galaxy of burnt sienna freckles. Her breasts are full and slightly pendulous with large, pale pink areolas surrounding fat, prominent nipples, so different from Kistin’s smaller offerings with their tight, dark centers. Her waist is narrow, circled by a thin gold chain from which an old fashioned gold key dangles, swaying above a rich forest of russet red curls between her curving thighs.
Claire too pauses, sliding her eyes down Kistin’s long, thin body. Her small breasts sit high, with her amulet hanging between. She is lean, her rib cage showing above well-defined abs. Her hips are narrow, her legs long and muscled. There is a thin, silky dusting of blond hair over her sex, already tinged with color.
“Come, my sister. It is time,” Claire whispers, holding out her hand.
The two women pass out into the dimly lit main room. It is a large open space with a high vaulted ceiling supported by a grid of whitewashed columns giving it a vaguely church-like aspect. Two main aisles cross at the center and the four quadrants are filled with tall, open-frame collection racks backlit by yellow safety lights glowing along the outer walls. Strange jumbled shapes fill the shelves like fragments of a bad dream.
They come to the crossing where a large patterned square of cut stone is set into the floor. Claire goes to a dark oak trunk resting on a waist-high shelf of the corner rack and presses against it, opening its inset brass lock with the key she wears. She takes out a bundle of cloth tied with jute cords. She carries it to the center of the crossing and lays it out, a large circle of pale raw umber linen that covers the square corner to corner and carefully adjusts its orientation. Three lines of deep red runes circle its edge and the coven’s phoenix glints in dull gold from the center.
Going back to the coffer, she motions Kistin to join her and hands her two thick tallow candles.
“One above, one below, sister,” she instructs, lighting each. She lifts out two more and gives them flame, then puts them in place intoning, “One to the east, one to the west.”
She takes up a small wood casket and moves to Kistin at the edge of the circle. Taking her hand, she looks to the ceiling directly above.
“Mother of us all, we call to you. Guide us in our rite, favor us with your blessing. Let your Graces above watch over us on our journey.”
Slipping out of their robes, the two women step into the circle, Claire gesturing Kistin to kneel above the phoenix’s head, while she kneels below. From the casket she takes out a disc of transparent crystal.
“For the sky above,” she chants and lays it to Kistin’s right.
“For the earth below,” laying a second of deep green to her own left.
“For the water that quenches,” laying a third of aquamarine to Kistin’s left.
“For the fire that warms,” laying the last red-orange disc to her right.
She lifts out a darkly stained terracotta bowl and places it between them at the center of the cloth. She touches a match to the tied bundle of leaves it holds. She holds out her hands to Kistin and they both move forward until their bodies touch, knee to knee. Thin strands of smoke curl up between them. Claire takes Kistin’s head between her hands and tilts it down into the rising vapors.
“The Goddess has sent you here, wanderer, to become our sanctuary, to become this sacred place, that it may be made pure again. Do this now, my sister, open yourself to it and all that it holds, become its being, so I may cleanse you. Reach out and become…”
She fills her lungs, holding in the pungent mix of sage and rosemary and sativa. Her eyes close and the droning voice fades, as the Goddess spreads like a soft warm wave across her body. She feels her corporeal body being drawn up to stand above the censor with legs spread and arms out, but within herself, she is dissolving, becoming a white mist, expanding out across the open space.
She is there at the center, but not there any longer. She is flowing out, filling the room, touching and absorbing all that it holds, becoming all that it is. She is the remains of peoples long ago, the bones of ancient beings, the flora and fauna of the earth, the stones born in the fire of its birth. She is the walls and floor and ceiling. She is this sacred place, home to her Goddess, she is all of it.
And she bears all that besmirches it, too. All the moments of self-importance and betrayal, the deceptions and jealousies, the ignorance and lust, the sour touches of all and everyday human life. Each leaves a staining trail, a worm of gray impurity that nibbles and gnaws away at the sanctity of this place and all it holds. She sees them swimming in her mind and feels them wriggling on her flesh.
Claire stands behind, her fingertips on either side of her sister’s neck, feeling her warming skin, her slowing pulse, the trembling of her body. She waits till a low, rich moan begins, then starts her long, healing caress. Her fingers feather out across her vessel’s skin. Closing her eyes, she guides her sight out through her fingertips, seeking the streaks of darkness. She circles and probes, leaving nothing untouched, as she moves slowly up and down Kistin’s long, thin body. She ferrets them out as they shift and shiver, trying to slip away, but she is adept in their ways and holds them down, licking each away with her tongue, bathing her sacred locum.
She feels her mind’s sea of mist stirring, a pure white sphere of light dancing through it, each stroking pass it makes leaving a wake of tingling sparks. She knows its hunting purpose, to rid her of the impurities that dress her naked flesh. The light swims, relentless in its task, throughout her greater self and with each burrowing devilment it vanquishes, she feels a bolt of pleasure pulse into her body. Faster and faster the touches come and as they do, the mist glows brighter and draws in toward her quivering body.
Sounds well up in her mind’s ear, muffled, distorted, but calling out to her. Guttural voices, screeching animal cries, the whisper of opening flowers, the snap and crack of fire, overlapping and reverberating. The sphere about her creeps closer, its swirling currents pulsing and washing over her, fueling the sexual arousal burning in her. It reaches the edge of her self and every cell of her body seems to be on fire, falling inward to her core, like the shell of a collapsing star. Time and comprehension shatter as her otherness disintegrates in a burst of pure rapture, radiating out into the universe.
The wailing cry of release fills the vast room, echoing off the hard walls. Claire, her mouth engulfing Kistin’s inflamed sex, her fingers grasping the clenched cheeks of her ass, struggles to restrain her sister’s thrashing body. Her own heat and desire is coursing through her body and she knows her own time is near. She draws her sister down, painting her body with kisses as it descends. Kneeling between outstretched legs, she pulls Kistin’s talisman from its sheath. She brings the long tip of petrified mammoth tusk to her mouth and takes it in, lapping its smooth length with her tongue. Readied, she lowers it to Kistin’s glistening cunt and eases it in, deeply once, twice, three times. Struggling to hold off the fire that burns within her, she draws back and lifts the phallus above her head, its iridescence gleaming in the flickering candlelight.
“Mother of us all, hear me!” she gasps, “Your rite is fulfilled and we are pure again!” Her arm swings down in a long arc and with a single thrust, she drives it in until she can take no more. Madly stroking her engorged clitoris, her body seizes in seconds, as the orgasm she has been holding back explodes. Wave after wave of bliss floods her body as she sways in place. After long minutes, she brings the phallus to her lips, whispering a blessing of thanks and kissing its tip. Shakily, she moves forward and places it back in its sheath, then snuggles against Kistin’s supine body, joining her in sleep.
At the end of the long aisle, a door opens quietly and Dorthea, wearing her red Guardian robe, moves to her slumbering sisters. She opens a large, soft woolen blanket and draws it over their naked bodies, reveling in their beauty.
“Goddess, hear me,” she whispers to the ceiling, “You have blessed us with your wanderer in our time of need. She has honored us and honored you with her embrace of the rite. Watch over her, I ask, as I will watch over her now, as if she was one of our own.”
She looks down again at Kistin’s face with a smile and whispers as she puts out the four candles, “And if that means getting to spend some time alone with you girl, I am blessed indeed.”