Of all the so-called "demons" of the Elemental Pathway, pouring into the earth in the last days, Og Azlah was generally acknowledged as having the most terrifying aspect of all. Certainly he was the most deformed. Not alone did his bloated mauve face itself resemble a mass of bleeding entrails but his entire being radiated a loathsome misfortune at least on the order of one suffering an incurably fatal and hideously disfiguring disease — a disease, moreover, obtained from nothing less [quoteright]han a lifetime of devoted depravity. He was the embodiment of shame and abandonment piled onto pain and terror. But his eyes of ice were worst of all. They penetrated, to the marrow, all things they fell upon. To look upon the countenance alone of this Forgotten One was enough to chill the blood even of a policeman, ambulance driver, clergyman or any other professional trained to withstand the ultimate in horror.
Og used his repulsion not merely as a tremendous advantage, greatly augmenting the power he already possessed as an Elder God in his own right. Human beings, may have lost all fear of gods, but they could not take Og Azlah in their stride! His unstated, and only incidental, purpose was to remind human beings that loathing is also part of reality and cannot always be ignored, but his true goal was to assist in the liberation of earth from the bonds of Hell. To accomplish this he served as winnower at the nethermost elemental level and separated souls into those which would survive and those which were to be annihilated. Some of the souls slated for annihilation might be redeemed through their spending a few eons in one of the less pleasant dimensions where they themselves could serve as winnowers. Most preferred annihilation, for to become a winnower was to suffer the dreaded "Death of Death."
Now the doorway of the Elemental Pathway, on earth, lies at the end of the lesser Hall of Eros. It must be admitted that it is through sex magic that adepts and wizards, even at this eleventh hour, hoped to hitch a ride on the back of one or another of these beasts as they pass back through the doorway. Such practitioners were under the growing suspicion that this was the only interdimensional doorway left and available on this planet. Indeed, it was even said by some that Og Azlah was the portal.
Unfortunately, sex was a pathway no longer available to Mr Jonah McManus, patient of Burn Ward 666 of the Municipal Hospital. But McManus was a long time student of the occult and his misfortune had thrown him into such a state of shock that it constituted a translation to another plane of the mind. While his body suffered in a suspension bed (to avoid contact with the burnt flesh), he was therefore present in astral body in an entirely different, but parallel dimension. And it was this realm that happened to be, for the moment at least, under the tyrannous spell of Og
"Who is the Magus that approacheth?" cried the Great Og Azlah as McManus swam through the primordial darkness towards the dark Pillar of Silence and Infinite Chaos, surmounted by the Vulture of the Chasm, Devourer of Souls. Somehow the correct words of the formula worked their way slowly from the deepest recesses of memory to McManus's tongue. And whether they were Hebrew or Ancient Egyptian or Prehistoric Atlantidean McManus himself could never have said, for he barely understood their meaning.
"The Universe is prepared for thy coming — although you come not by Will but by some undesired means."
"I come, O Great Forgotten One, by pain and ordeal and brink of death. But I come, all the same, with understanding and desire to proceed."
"We must consider the advisability of your passing. This is not the tradition. Most of your fellow creatures arrive here only through rituals of blood, through sex magic or through cocaine. Without such crutches ordinary men lack the courage to progress any farther. The way is razor-sharp and extinction and madness await those who misstep here."
The great black monster atop the pylon raised its wings briefly and then settled them back again, but gave McManus in passing a bone-freezing look from its flashing inhuman eyes. McManus knew that if he were to hesitate even for a second, to stumble or falter even ever so slightly, it would all be over.
"I am ready, O Forgotten One."
And with that he became the Ancient God, the Vulture of the Chasm, and entered into another Dimension of Realities.
* * *The light grew brighter, unbearably brighter. It became the fluorescent ceiling light of a hospital room. The pain was intense, but no longer unbearable. A staff doctor, previously unknown to Jonah McManus, stood over him, smiling behind a surgical mask. His eyes behind the mask seemed slightly sadistic.
"Welcome back to the living, you lucky devil! No, don't try to speak! You were rather badly burned in the hotel fire but you are going to be all right. We've given you a new face and some skin grafts and you'll be back to normal before you know it!"
McManus scrabbled for the mirror in his bedside table and looked at his face with a sense of tremendous relief.
It was not the face of Og Azlah. There were only two or three not unattractive scars around the eyes and some general temporary discoloration, but for the most part he looked almost better than he had before the misfortune. And then he saw that this was not his reflection at all. What he had taken for a mirror was but a photograph of someone else.
"I'll leave you to get some rest now," the doctor was apparently still smiling in encouragement under his mask, and yet McManus still mistrusted those eyes. Then the doctor switched off the light and left the room.
So he had been given another chance! But then what was all this about what was the word? — perichoresis? Was interdimensional travel only a fantasy after all? To have undergone all this nightmare seemed so pointless. Here he had gone down to the most elemental and terrifying planes of all, only to be brought back nearly exactly as he had been before and to the same old world of cars, overpopulation, greenhouse effect, television and nuclear arms. He had passed through the portal and there was no portal. It was the same world, as though he had merely passed through one of the ordinary doors of an ordinary terran dwelling! And to think the entire hotel had burned down because of his careless handling of the ritual blazer in his attempt to conjure up those demons of the Elemental Pathway! So many deaths to answer for!
Jonah turned over and sighed miserably. He looked out the window at the nocturnal sky. A thin crescent moon had just risen above the horizon, its blue rays so brilliant that they sparkled off the edges of the rooftops. The reflection, in fact, was particularly strong in one spot at the edge of the horizon. Indeed there seemed to be an increasingly ruddy hue of the entire sky in that direction.
And then he watched in mounting terror as a second moon, a red moon, rose in the sky, sister to the blue moon above it. And he turned then to the window opposite where he could now at last view a reflection of his own face. He looked in disbelief and then began mindlessly to scream...
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