A very cute, very lively baby girl with fine, spiky black hair and fuzzy black footie pajamas called the Spirit of Choice, who makes her dwelling in a first-floor waterfront apartment cluttered with junk that appears not to have been lived in for years. We stumble upon it running from the rain in the dark, and mistake it for an antique store. She appears to us in her own pool of warm light, and immediately starts to babble at us good-naturedly.
She is a divine champion of free will, and the wisdom in her deep dark eyes and her bewildering smile show us she is proud and unafraid.
Her parents were killed years ago–two middle-aged, ominous-looking italian men. As we explore the apartment we are menaced by their disembodied heads, flickering in and out and flinging furniture about with their minds in such a fashion as to make it clear they too are now beings of spirit–and powerful ones at that. They are defending their home, not from us, it turns out, but from a pair of scavenging intruders.
Still, we are convinced we ought to take Choice with us, living people being preferable to dead ones for taking care of a child goddess. She sits in my arms, in white footies this time, and with blond hair. She laughs and laughs as we bundle her up and carry her home.
We take her with us on a trip to a museum.
The contents of the museum are legion, ranging from post-impressionism to seventeenth century landscape to complex swamp habitats in glass cases and nine-hundred pound bengal tigers. The architectural space is spare, marble, modern and Jeffersonian. The building’s surroundings are salt marsh grasses and sandy forest ridges, a la the Brewster Museum of Natural History. We wander through only a part of it, taking in masterpieces of incredible value, and vow to return.
Purpura comes with us the next time, after I spent a good half an hour talking the place up. We pass again through the art wing, and then descend into the natural history wing which we only broke the surface of on our first visit.
A man-sized, incredibly dextrous green and yellow striped lizard prowls and strikes at the walls of its tiny plexiglass cage, mounted all alone against a wall twenty feet above the ground and forty feet from the balcony from which visitors must observe it. I stare at it a long time, wondering why such a marvelous creature should be thus caged, and why its presence here fills me with such misgiving. It searches the boundaries of its confinement with the wide, three-toed pads of its forefeet, and something in the way it shifts its chameleon eyes that only strikes me hours later as intelligence.
A rod, a staff, and a wand. The smallest is of nickel and bronze, with a small black orb at one end, and a three inch barb at the other. It is a weapon–a magical needle infected with paralyzing poison. The rod is of heavy, black-lacquered wood, with a smoky, umbrous crystal set in the head. It calls forth momentary lightnings. And the staff–the staff is tall, thin, and pale, lightweight and smooth and unadorned. It is mine–a symbol of the powers and the rank I have achieved. It cannot be taken from me.
A towering altar rises from an acid sacrificial pool in a vast, cylindrical room open above to a clouded sky portending storm. The abhorrent, bactrachian creatures are all around us–swimming in the pool, swarming along the monolithic columns and rotted, alien reliefs, and watching us, aloof, from the ringed walkways high above.
With the black rod I fling lighting left and right around us, driving the creatures back–but it can only keep us safe so long. Choice is crying in Erin’s arms. With every moment, the slathering fiends draw closer. It is time I unveiled my true power.
I place the staff in Michael’s hands, and draw the poison wand from my sorcerer’s robes. Then I turn and dive from the balcony.
Descending through the air my body shifts around me–I acquire for an instant the amphibious biology and awful countenance of the bactrachian cultists. With a switch of my powerful fins and an arch of my back I plunge up out of the water again and land, myself again, before the cultist lord. I strike him with the lightning rod, then cast it aside and draw the poison needle. I plunge it again and again into his single, swift-receding eye, and finally he shrivels up into himself, and passes away.
The creatures eye us warily. They are many, many more than we–but they fear me. Still, I know I cannot fight them here in their lair and hope to win–not without sacrificing those beside me, those who have not reached my rank. So with the girl, the child and the charlatan gathered around me, I make my way towards the light. I meet each slitted, gleaming eye as I pass. For now, it is theirs that turn away.