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Von Schtorr advised his troops, “We are going to force him to come out. The moment he appears, aim for the head and the heart. You have to hit both at the same time. No matter who appears, fire at once, without hesitation and without thought. No matter whom you see. Even if it is the Kaiser himself. Even if it is your own mother.”
Von Schtorr brought a flame to the dried grass around the box.
As heat waves shimmered around the box and fire crisped the grass, the lid flew open. He could not see who was speaking. The person remained invisible to him as long as the rune was in use.
“You are making a terrible mistake,” cried a woman’s voice. It was trilling and beautiful, buzzing with vibrations that penetrated his being, unlike anything he’d ever heard, but somehow familiar. He was not expecting a woman. He was surprised to hear her speaking in German with a Swabian accent. He knew this woman from somewhere.
And then the woman began to scream.
The dark arena within the grove still filled with the oceanic drone of the planes in the topmost branches. But now the sound grew louder, and renewed gusts swept through the shadows. Cassiopeia craned her neck, hoping these were signals of coming rescue; that at least some contingent of the many planes under her command had gone searching for her, and they had been drawn to this place by the sounds of the trapped aerial combat and lingering gunfire. So she hoped… The sounds were growing louder still, and the winds assailed the enclosure. Leaves slapped her face. Dust stung her sensitive eyes.
But the sounds were not the sounds of rescue, and the winds signaled no delivery from the dreaded shadows. Above, the trapped Honorati planes were slowly loosening from their adhesive anchors. They were descending nose down, slowly, but insistently, drooling out of the canopy, bobbing up and down on rubbery tethers, penduluming back and forth. Their spinning propellers threshed the air.
Cassiopeia found herself twisting and dodging in place, avoiding the swaying, swinging planes with their pirouetting guillotines. She kept wide of the boy’s knives. He lunged again at her, heedless of the gauntlet of slicing planes, just as he’d been of the leveled gun. She looked into the crazed eyes, a crimson reflection of her own. He’d been crafted, she thought, to bear a savage likeness to Peyotr. A simulacrum with the obvious single purpose of murdering her.
“Why would I kill your soldiers? You have so many. I might as well be swatting your flies. I am a German patriot, like yourself. My only interest lies in you. I wish to entice you to join with me. To win you over. Or kill you. One or the other. Your soldiers don’t interest me. Killing them does nothing to advance my goals. Nothing gained toward the primary goal or its alternative.
“No. Some other shapeshifter did the killing. Someone trying to provoke you. Someone trying to alert you. To put you on my trail. To make you distrust me. Imagine that! A shapeshifter, pretending to me.”
He stared at her. Long and hard, he stared. His studded aqua eye-buds probed into her inviting violet eye-buds. “I think you’ve changed your face so many times, you don’t even know who you are anymore. You don’t even know which side you’re on. You don’t even…” He lost his train of thought. She was assaulting his olfactory glands with a volatile hormonal stimulant, full of ketones, lipids, esters, alcohols, and sucrose. The sweetness. Driving him near to madness.
He struck her again.
“You don’t have to hurt me. I’ll let you in on my inner most secrets.”
He found her unbearably beautiful, and hideous as himself.
“Why do I believe you when I know you are lying?”
Congrieve said, “You’ve got that wrong. You don’t understand the genius of our Constitution. To the outside world, it might look like our democracy is all about winning and losing an election. Picking up a majority. It ain’t that the side that wins gets everything and the side that loses has to grovel; not that the side that wins gets to rob the side that loses. It’s not that way. Some folks think that’s the way democracy is supposed to work— some of those that win, when they’re on the winning side, but it isn’t it really the way it works– most of the time. There are checks and balances that force dissimilar people to work together. America got strong by having a right arm that does its fair share of work and a left arm that does the same. Because we have so many different kinds of people living together under one system, we end up with leadership spread out over many different institutions, with leaders able to turn left or right or stay in the middle. Take hard turns when they need to. Quick reversals. Or steady as she goes. That’s what America’s all about.”
Ben-Zimra interjected. “There is a spirit at work upon the land. I can give it a name. This spirit is new to the land and knows nothing of your constitution. Its name is Thamiel. This demon embodies the principle which attacks the unified grandeur of the universe. Thamiel represents the force that venerates extremes of prejudice and perception. Thamiel represents the force that breaks the link between being and nothingness, consigning each to mutually exclusive isolation.”
Congrieve interrupted, saying to Cassiopeia, “Do you have any idea what he just said?”
“Both of you sound drunk.”
“It’s the stew. The taste is so strong, I keep forgetting how heavily they spiked it.”
“Thamiel—the illusion of duality. There are many things that appear to be separate and opposite, but are unified and joined as their nature—their actuality. So it is with light and darkness. The two seem to be opposites, but they have no meaning apart from each other. Light alone is blinding. And so, darkness. And so, winning and losing. And so the self alone, the self in isolation and the body of people that support the self. These things are one but appear as opposites in conflict. Thamiel is the spirit that defeats unity. You might think of Thamiel as a force, or a demon, or a myth infecting the mind, so that it takes on the appearance of a demon. O’Deal has aligned himself somehow with this demon, this force, this myth. And he exploits it in a strategy is to divide and conquer.”
Congrieve kept dipping into his bowl of stew. He should have been scraping the bottom, but still he found an unexpected intoxicating bounty. The meat seemed to biting back, soaked as it was with moonshine. He was full, but he kept eating. He was drunk, but he kept drinking. The doctor’s words worked upon him the same way. The message was vague and abstract, teetering on the brink of nonsense. The distorted brew of nouns and verbs were appealing in the way they made the parts he understood blur into the parts he didn’t. Somehow the concoction worked when you stirred it up.
“I don’t trust O’Deal completely, but I don’t think he’s the enemy. He seems American, though and through. I don’t see him siding with the Germans.”
“He embodies the sovereign importance of the individual. He embodies the indispensable, the indivisible individualism that has been elevated to be worshipped as a false idol. The self as the golden calf. So, in the manner that Corporal O’Deal selfishly serves himself, he compels others into believing he is serving them, that they will somehow benefit because he has become a totem that draws benefit to them as the benefit flows to him. A totem. For what is a totem but an instrument of magic that operates according to the laws of things that are similar. This is part of the laws of magic.”
The doctor was speaking softly, gently, persistently, in evenly modulated tones. The words were becoming more and more obscure in their intent, and yet, Congrieve found them oddly compelling. And then he vigorously shook his head, trying to jolt himself out of a dreamy fog. “You’ve completely lost me again. Maybe both of us are too drunk to be deciding who is friend and who is foe.”
“Because O’Deal draws energy by creating divisions, you cannot oppose him without furthering his malign purposes. I am trying to explain certain principles of magic, here, and the explanation itself defies ordinary logic. O’Deal uses forces based upon things that are alike, and the paradox is thus– these forces of the laws of similarity promote divisions and these divisions are getting worse and worse. O’Deal’s supporters venerate his selfishness. But the reality is that the self is always best served when the self is understood in its true context— its importance on its own as important as its part as part of everyone else. In balance. And so, it is, the needs of the self are best served when the needs of the self are balanced against the needs of everyone else.”
For a moment Congrieve felt himself blending into the mind of the Hebrew doctor, and a sensation he found utterly terrifying. He was losing his sense of self.
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. I see the way O’Deal has a gift for turning Americans against each other. It serves his purpose to keep us apart. But you can’t win a fight without taking sides.”
“Here is the paradox, the uncertainty that is the way God works. Sometimes the individual has so great a vision, he transcends beyond the limits of the self by identification with forces outside the self. But instead of unifying with those forces, instead of feeling the self in its proper place, as part of God, or as part of the universe, the self is fooled into thinking that it is all important. It is a vision of the self that is not in balance with the needs of everyone else because it believes it is elevated to a position of supremacy. It believes itself to be the center of all. A confusion of duality that should be unity. And so, it is with Corporal O’Deal. The force that inspires this vision is the spirit of Thamiel.”
“I don’t know about that, doctor. Seems to me that most people tend to think they’re important. No big deal. Not everyone who thinks he’s better than anyone else is possessed by a demon.”
“I speak not of ordinary pride. Not even of blind pride. But an actual disruption of proper forces. A similar kind of influence can happen sometimes with cells within the body, for we are speaking of an influence. Thamiel is a force of nature, though it might have to us the outward appearance of a demon. Thamiel may exert its influence upon a person’s body in the same way it influences a body of people, a society, a group, a culture.”
Congrieve was numb and drunk and uncertain about his own person and his loyalties. And the uncertainty he was feeling at that moment was far worse than the dangers he faced in war. It was as though he were being swayed away from all the sureties he had once cherished. There was a battle going on. A competition of some sort. He would have to take sides. Any side. It was preferable to have an enemy, even one created by contrivance of uniforms. Having a battle to wage was better than sinking into a stew of woe and banal uniformity. But who was the true enemy here? Who? The peculiar doctor in dark robes? His blood hued queen? The Germans? Corporal O’Deal? Congrieve was starting to think it didn’t matter. The enemy was everywhere. In everything. And he had to keep fighting. Fighting!
“You need to stop fighting me, Captain,” said the doctor. “Simply pay attention my words, and I will tell you of a lesson that might be gleaned from nature. A good physician can see the effects of the manifestation of forces of Thamiel through a microscope. It is a demonstration in the power of pure belief, a manifestation of man’s true relationship to God and his universe. It is visible. It is real, and I have seen it with my own eyes. The power of absolute belief. The meaning of the self, and the meaning of the universe. An individual cell might gain some sense of forces that lie beyond its restricted role; a physician might see this. It happens thus. The cell heeds a cosmic calling, endowing it with supremacy, akin to the supremacy of God himself. The very light and power of creation. And in heeding the cosmic calling, the cell finds a way to surpass its limits and gain vitality far beyond that which is ordinary. Such cells, on their own, by venerating their individual importance, can even live for eternity. A tiny cell can become immortal, distaining the illusions that would otherwise condemn the cell to death. Thus, it can happen if the cell believes in itself strongly enough. All it takes is pure belief in the self and confusion between itself and the forces that lie above time, and so the individual cell thus elevates itself. It becomes supreme. It becomes immortal.”
“So, all you have to do is believe strongly enough in yourself, and you’ll live forever?”
“These cells that never die are cancer cells.”