Evening, May 14, 2017
It was called Tava, or “sun mountain”, by the Ute. El Capitan, meaning “the leader”, by the Spanish. But its modern name “Pike’s Peak” comes from explorer Zebulon Pike, and his name in turn comes from the Biblical Zebulon, son of Jacob.
Moses says in Deuteronomy 33: “Rejoice, Zebulon, in your journeys. You call the people to your mountain, and there they will offer a sacrifice of the righteous.” Taken to refer to Mr. Pike, the journeys part checks out. The mountain part definitely checks out. The sacrifice of the righteous part is kind of obscure.
Sohu hoped, as she rematerialized on the summit of Pike’s Peak, that it didn’t have anything to do with her.
She had chosen her terrain carefully. She was north of Citadel West; Thamiel would have to come through here to get to her family. She could see in every direction. The bunker to her south, the highway to her north, the city to her east. If she had to do something drastic, she was far enough from human habitation that they would escape collateral damage. Poor, lovely Colorado Springs! It was so small from up here, still smaller than Denver after forty years as the capital. They all thought her father had decided to stay because of the bunker, or the air force base, or the nuclear silos scattered in the hills. But he’d stayed because it was where he’d grown up, and that was always the thing that scared him, losing his humanity, falling completely into his form of stars and fire and night. Colorado Springs was small and lovely and it was home, and even when he was two thousand feet underground in the mountain it had been near and that had made him happy.
What were the odds it would survive another twenty-four hours?
She felt it before she saw it, a low buzz that seemed to wax and wane like the beating of an enormous heart. Then it filled the northern sky, a cross between a black storm cloud and a colony of bats. She had seen Thamiel before, but never this, never an entire host.
It saw her. The dark cloud changed directions, headed right towards her. Its radius must have measured miles. Finally it was atop her, buzzing over her, like her own personal rainstorm.
A familiar form separated from the formless mass, and Thamiel slid through the air effortlessly to join Sohu on the peak. He opened his mouth to say something, but Sohu interrupted.
“Thamiel, if this were a book, and you were at the head of a demonic army, and the only thing standing in your way was a little girl, on a mountaintop, with a sword forged from a fallen star, how do you think it would end?”
“This again?” Thamiel snorted. “First of all, you don’t have – ”
The great sword Sigh appeared in Sohu’s hands.
” – your father’s abilities,” Thamiel finished, fluidly, with only the slightest pause. “And Sohu, I killed him. He resisted me for a season only, with a stupid trick, and in the end I killed him. The Other King got the empty husk, but I was the one who killed his spirit. Do you know why videos still work, Sohu? That wasn’t Uriel. That was me. I kept it working so that every month, I could send him videos of his wife, burning. Updates, if you will. I never missed one. I killed him slowly, protractedly, until finally the Other King stuck a sword through his chest and put him out of his misery. Now my powers are stronger. What do you think I will do to you? Be afraid, Sohu. I am the left hand of God.”
Sohu didn’t say anything, just rolled down her sleeve to show the scarred stump where her own left hand used to be.
Then she stepped into Yetzirah and struck. She called on the town to their east, its first streetlights starting to glow in the twilight gloom. Colorado Springs. Colorado is Spanish for colorful. Color comes from Indo-European *kel, to conceal. Spring. To burst forth. Colorado Springs. That which had been concealed, bursting forth. Revelation of secrets. The essence of kabbalah. Her hometown and her birthright. She filled herself with love for her city and her family and her people, and the essence of kabbalah arced out of her, filled the mountaintops with light.
Thamiel held out his bident, parted the glowing streams of meaning. Colorado, color, *kel, concealment. Cognate with Greek, kalypto, to conceal. To unconceal, to reveal, apokalypto. John had named his revelation Apokalypto, thence the modern Apocalypse. Revelation 9:3: “And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power.” With the practiced mastery of thousands of years, Thamiel took each line of force that Sohu fed him, channeled the semantic energies from Colorado to apocalypse and to the power given to demons to rule the earth.
She saw what he was doing, wouldn’t let him, raised her sword, traced two minus signs of flame into the air. Revelation 9:3 minus two, Revelation 9:1. “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.” The star that sought the key to the pit. The line of Comet West, Heaven touching upon Earth, the source of Sohu’s gifts and the meaning that drove her life. The meaning burst into sparks of starlight all around her, protecting her, wrapping around her like a cloak.
Thamiel rolled two of his eyes and made a motion with his bident.
The whole cloud of demons crashed down on her. The three great hosts of the hellish princes Adramelech, Asmodeus, and Rahab, all turned against a single human. It was like falling night, like rushing water. The shield of starlight crackled, started to crumble. She constructed forms and glyphs in Briah and Yetzirah, shrieked a desperate cry for help through the aether to anything that could hear. She couldn’t waste her real weapons on these things. She needed them for Thamiel. She had lost him in the cacophony. She traced desperate patterns to ward off the horde, surrounded herself with glittering polyhedra of light.
Then came a great wind from the south, and she saw an army of spirits, skull-like faces crowned with quetzal feathers. A Mesoamerican war-band crashed into the host of Adramelech. Sohu felt the assault on her subside as they turned to face these new intruders.
“You thought I forgot!” Samyazaz yelled into the towering nimbus of demons. He was in his true angelic form now, neither priest-king nor cactus, a brilliant creature of ivory-white wings and unbearably intense eyes. “Well, now it’s the apocalypse, and there’s nothing left to be afraid of, so you know what? I never forget! YOU DESTROYED MY ZIGGURAT, YOU TWO-HEADED CREEP!” The air rang with the thunder of their combat.
Sohu took advantage of the distraction, shot out from Pike’s Peak, ascended into the open air above, still searching for Thamiel. Asmodeus and Rahab’s hosts followed. They crashed into her in the cirrus clouds above the highest mountain, two tongues of dark flame that whirled around her among the noctilucent drops of ice. Sohu spoke words of fire and night, drove great spinning wheels of flame into the hearts of the horde, called the winds to scatter her assailants. She spoke the Names of God, the secret ones UNSONG had spent the work of decades gathering, and slashed huge swathes of destruction into the darkness. But slowly they began to close in again, the starlight weakening, Sohu’s breath and voice starting to fail.
Then the cavalry rode in. Hundreds of beautiful tall angels riding bright white horses, and…was that the William Tell Overture? At their head, wearing cowboy boots and a ten-gallon hat, rode Gadiriel, the Lady of Los Angeles. “YEEEEHAW!” she shouted, heedless of the Third Commandment. She fired her revolver twice, and each shot blossomed into a miniature sun. She saw Asmodeus, jumped off her horse, landed in front of him with her gun drawn. “I reckon you better turn around and go right back where you came from, pardner,” she drawled. “There’s a new seraph in town!”
Sohu didn’t wait to see what happened next. She flew through a hole in the darkness, still seeking Thamiel. He was nowhere to be found. The host of Rahab pursued, indistinct dark forms that looked from different angles like ravens, bats, or locusts. She tried to evade them, rose even higher, coursed through the ionosphere in a crackle of light into the dark spaces beyond Earth’s atmosphere, where the fixed stars and moon glowed unimpeded by any envelope of air. She let the lines of starlight intersect around her, reflect off each other, congeal into a luminous labyrinth of protection. Still the host of Rahab came against her, teasing through her vulnerabilities, wresting cracks in her own shield to match the cracks in the sky above them. And she realized then that she couldn’t stand on her own against even a single demonic host, that this would finally be the end of her.
Then a million figures shot up from the earth below on pillars of fire. Old men, children, women with flowers in their hair, all singing songs of love and praise. The people of San Francisco, who had passed while still alive into the eternity outside of time. All listening to her call, coming to her aid. At their head, still clad in a white NASA spacesuit, rose Neil Armstrong, who had returned from the space beyond the world as the Right Hand of God. He rocketed into the horde of demons until he reached Rahab, and grabbed his neck, and slew him. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 89:10: “Thou hast slain Rahab with thy strong arm”
Sohu plummeted back down to Earth, burned like a meteor as she pierced the heavens, landed back on the summit of Pike’s Peak, newly invigorated. “I’m coming for you, Thamiel!” she shouted, and she found him on the side of the mountain, landed with enough force to clear a crater, turned to face her adversary within the still-smoking arena. Still not quite time. She had to weaken him first.
Thamiel didn’t say anything, just called forth terror and nightmare. From Pike’s Peak itself he took a profusion of Ps and Ks. Apep and Kek, the two Egyptian gods of primordial darkness. Poop and kaka, two terms for human excrement. Pikey and Paki and kike and kook, all terms of fear and prejudice and hatred.
As it closed in on her, Sohu took the same letters and turned them into pikuach. Pikuach nefesh, to save a life, the holiest of principles, the one that took precedence over almost any other. Kippah, the cap worn by the holy to remind them that God was above them at all times, to protect them from the unbearable radiance of the Divine Presence. Cop. A protector, an agent of Law. Pope. The vicar of God on Earth. Kook. The first Chief Rabbi of Israel, who said that “the pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light”. Keep. “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments”. Kayak, her own word, on which she had begun her studies so many years ago. The shield of starlight flickered desperately, but did not give in.
Thamiel slashed at her with his bident; Sohu stepped back, and the bident struck empty air, leaving two glowing lines. Two. Sohu took the gematria, transmuted it into bet, added it to the kayak still gleaming above her, made it into kokab, star.
Thamiel removed the leftmost kaf from the word. Kaf. Palm. The left hand of God. The remaining letters he turned it into bakah, weeping. Job 16:16, “My face is foul with weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death.” From the verse Thamiel took foulness, and the shadow of death, and the number 616. That left him with a 1. “I have won”, he said.
And he had. The foulness and death, the Number of the Beast, the Left Hand of God, all the concepts were too tight, Sohu was too exhausted to tease any more meaning out of her. They closed together, tore apart her shield.
Thamiel raised the bident high. “Any last words?” he asked.
“Two…of them,” sputtered Sohu. “Knock…knock.”
“What?” asked Thamiel, his eyes narrowing. His second head bobbed back and forth in excitement and confusion.
“Knock knock,” said Sohu. “Don’t tell me you’re not familiar with the setup.”
“Who’s there?” he asked suspiciously.
Sohu woke up on a bed of cloudstuff, just as she had done thousands of times before. But today was different. Today was her last day here. She would get in the flying kayak and go home and cry at her father’s funeral and help her family. What she had learned would have to be enough.
She walked out of the little cottage. There was Uriel in his spot in the center of the storm, great gold eyes gleaming with excitement.
“THINGS HAVE HAPPENED,” said Uriel.
“Huh?” asked Sohu, still half asleep, rubbing her eyes. She wasn’t nearly awake enough yet to deal with the sort of weirdness Uriel was constantly springing on her.
“YOU ASKED WHY YOU SHOULD STAY AN EXTRA DAY. I TOLD YOU MANY THINGS COULD HAPPEN IN A DAY. NOW THEY HAVE HAPPENED. FOR EXAMPLE, THERE ARE SEVERAL NEW VERSES IN THE BIBLE.”
“Uriel, please. What are you talking about?”
“I DO NOT WANT YOU TO LEAVE ME, BUT I KNOW YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO COLORADO. SO I HAVE REARRANGED THE FUNDAMENTAL SPATIAL AND MYSTICAL ORGANIZATION OF THE UNIVERSE SOMEWHAT. IT WAS VERY HARD. I COULD NOT DO IT IN YETZIRAH OR EVEN BRIAH. I HAD TO EDIT ATZILUTH DIRECTLY.”
“…doesn’t that destroy the world?”
“USUALLY. THAT IS WHY I MOSTLY AVOID IT. BUT I TRIED VERY HARD TO MAKE SURE THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. IN THIS CASE ALL IT DID WAS CHANGE THE BIBLE. IT IS SO WEIRD TO BEGIN WITH THAT I DOUBT VERY MANY PEOPLE WILL NOTICE.”
“Uriel, everyone notices the Bible. People have been studying every letter of it for thousands of years.”
“What did you do anyway?”
“I HAVE CREATED A RITUAL THAT LETS TWO MINDS JOIN TOGETHER. NO MATTER HOW FAR AWAY, THEY CAN TALK TO EACH OTHER, SHARE THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES, FEEL THE SAME EMOTION. THEY WILL BE WITH EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME, BEYOND DISTANCE OR DEATH.
“…what does that mean?”
“I WILL SHOW YOU. I HAVE MADE A MAGIC CIRCLE. PLEASE STEP INTO IT.”
“This isn’t going to be like the time you made me eight years old forever and couldn’t change it back, is it?”
“LIKE THAT IN WHAT WAY?”
Sohu sighed. Conversations with Uriel would never be remotely normal. But they were something whose absence would leave a great gaping void in her life. What would it be like to live with ordinary people, who would answer questions with simple yeses or nos instead of asking for absurd specifics and then going off on tangents about which proto-Quechua root words it reminded them of? It was too awful to contemplate.
She stepped into the magic circle.
“REPEAT AFTER ME, BUT CHANGE THE NAME. I, THE ARCHANGEL URIEL, IN FULL KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONSEQUENCES…”
“I, Sohu West, in…bah…full knowledge of the consequences…”
And so they went, the archangel first, then the child, through the long ritual of the Sacred Kabbalistic Marriage of Minds. The winds of the storm around them went strangely quiet. The sun darkened, as if covered by clouds, then brightened as if reflected by a million jewels. The sky became a deeper shade of blue.
“FOR GOD IS ONE”
“For God is One”
“AND HIS NAME IS ONE”
“And His Name is One”
“AND WE ARE ONE”
“And we are one”
“AND IT IS DONE”
“And it is done”
Sohu felt something new in her mind, a presence, a spark of gold.
[Are you in my head?] she asked the archangel.
[WELL, I WOULD NOT SAY I AM LITERALLY IN YOUR HEAD, SINCE YOUR HEAD IS VERY SMALL. HOWEVER, IF YOU WANT TO USE SPATIAL METAPHORS TO GROUND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF CHASHMAL, YOU MIGHT SAY THAT…]
Thamiel raised the bident high, chuckled. “Any last words?” he asked.
“Two…of them,” sputtered Sohu. “Knock…knock.”
“Knock knock,” said Sohu. “Don’t tell me you’re not familiar with the setup.”
“Who’s there?” he finally asked, suspiciously.
Sohu closed her eyes. When she opened them, there was no sclera, no iris, no pupil. Just a sea of burning gold.
“URIEL,” she said.
“What?” asked Thamiel, jumping back. “How? What are you – ”
“YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO SAY ‘URIEL WHO’,” said Sohu.
“You’re dead! The Other King killed you, destroyed your machine, and good riddance! That’s why my powers are – ”
“YOU DO NOT SEEM LIKE YOU ARE GOING TO SAY ‘URIEL WHO’ SO I WILL PRETEND YOU SAID IT AND CONTINUE THE JOKE ANYWAY. THE ANSWER I WAS GOING TO GIVE WAS: ‘URIEL-LY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER THAN TO THINK I WOULD ABANDON MY FRIEND.'”
Then there was light.
Beautiful, multicolored light, ten colors, the seven colors of the earthly rainbow and the three extra colors you only get in Heaven. Ten colors corresponding to the ten sephirot and the ten fingers and the Ten Commandments and the ten digits of the number system and the ten pip cards of the Tarot and all the other tens in all the correspondences of the world. Thamiel tried to flee, but it consumed him, melted him like the sun melts snowflakes. All of the demons of the great swarm that hovered above Colorado Springs melted away in that conflagration, the release of all the stored energy of all the spheres, eons of careful collection loosed into a single brilliant flowering.
Sohu blinked again, and her eyes were deep brown.
[THAT IS ALL OF IT] said Uriel, in Sohu’s head. [THERE IS NO MORE DIVINE LIGHT.]
[It did what we needed it to.]
[HE IS GONE FOR A BRIEF TIME ONLY. HE WILL RETURN LATER.]
[Something else will have killed us by then, so that’s fine.]
[YOU ARE VERY PESSIMISTIC.]
[It’s the apocalypse. You wrote the Book of Revelation, didn’t you?]
[UM. I WAS GOING TO. BUT THEN THE JET STREAM STARTED FLOWING THE WRONG WAY AND I HAD TO FIX IT. I THINK I JUST GAVE JOHN OF PATMOS A BUCKET OF PSILOCYBE MUSHROOMS AND TOLD HIM TO WRITE WHATEVER CAME TO MIND.]
[Well, take my word for it, things are really bad.]
[I AM IN A GOOD MOOD. IT HAS BEEN THREE HOURS AND FOUR MINUTES SINCE MY MACHINE WAS DESTROYED. THIS IS THE LONGEST I HAVE EVER GONE WITHOUT HAVING TO FIX ANY CATASTROPHIC SYSTEM ERRORS.]
[I’m glad one of us is enjoying this. Let’s go help Nathanda.]
Sohu turned to lightning and disappeared. The last few ashes and sparks fell to the base of Pike’s Peak. The force of the battle had split the mountain in two.
[Author’s Note 10 is now up.]