Author’s Note: This post is dedicated to the ambient black metal band Fauna, whose album Rain provided the soundtrack for the chapter and the inspiration for its atmosphere. You guys rawk, seriously! \m/\m/

The car stopped. A light rain was heard outside the windows of Robin Conley’s ’94 Ford Escort…Highway 69 was foggy, dim, but not dark. “It’s beautiful, Jay…perfect weather to find another world in.” Robin opened the door, pulling on a blue winter coat  – not too thick, but cold enough for February – and stepping out of the red two-door. Like everything else she owned, the car was usable, not necessary luxurious, and definitely had a well-loved feel to it. Even her coat had a few spots on it…things she vowed to clean regularly but often missed.

Jay climbed out of the passenger side, the stereo still playing. It was a custom CD player, added to the little car’s older dashboard by Robin herself with a few tools and hardware hacks she’d picked up. Some sort of ambient music was on. Robin liked it for relaxing, and he had to say it wasn’t half bad…it wasn’t hard-driving explosive metal, but it was beautiful. “Or to get lost in.” His hair was somewhat tousled from his Marauders hoodie, but he was wearing the hood down for the moment.  Doubtless the rain would only make the short black crew cut messier – but that was part of his charm. He wore a black leather coat over the hoodie, warm and quite comfortable…lined with white wool. He might be small and somewhat frail, but bundling up was for sissies. Jay’s metabolism was quite capable of keeping him warm in this – he was rather proud of that. One of the benefits of being 14 and hungry.

Conleys were not well-dressed, immaculately groomed human beings – they were jeans and a T-shirt, I’ll comb my hair tomorrow and live today people. Chaos reigned where their family walked, and they liked it.

Robin made a “psh” noise. “Don’t be silly…I know where I’m going.”

“Yeah? Then why’d you pick this spot specifically?”

“I didn’t say I knew why I was going where I’m going…I said I know where I’m going.” Robin smiled.

“That sounds like you.” Jay had visions of “if you build it, they will come” and a giant mashed potato mountain going through his head…if he was led by an innate organization, a flow, in the chaotic state of the Universal Will, then Robin was tossed about by the waves, surfing wildly with no idea where she was going but a “YAHOO!” on her lips and the knowledge that she was surfing on chaos itself – because it was there.

Robin nodded. “You got it, bro.” She reached inside the car and turned the engine off, slammed the door. Then she handed Jay a flashlight and a power bar.

“Eat me?” He smirked.

“If you wanna look at it that way, I suppose.” Robin laughed lightly. “You know how fluid ritual is…if you need to eat something to shapeshift, you have food right there.”

“All I’ve gotta do is believe in it.”

Robin gave Jay a thumbs-up, oddly silent. Normally she was bubbly, alive…but the music and the sense of what they were about to do had brought her to a new aliveness, where the bubbly energy was contained under the surface like a cat waiting to spring, and instead there was only solemn awareness of the rainy, foggy afternoon, the woods, a fresh snow on the ground (not too thin, not too thick) – the coming Wonder. It was almost worshipful.

Jay picked up on this mood, astrally performing the Qabalistic Cross as they walked. Not all magic was performed in chambers with knives, circles, robes and incense…on the spiritual plane, magic done in your mind worked just as well. It was an old ritual, one of the Thelemite things…basically you touched your forehead, heart and shoulders, envisioning a cross forming from points of light on your body and sinking deep into the Earth while you intoned the Hebrew words for “Thou art the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory for ever, Amen.” It was vaguely Christian and also vaguely Thelemite…it gave Jay an organized sense of structure both mystical and traditional, and of course it grounded him. Grounding felt good…your body just relaxed and your mind grew sharper, perhaps to spot any White Rabbits that may lie in wait for you.

“One pill makes you bigger, and one pill makes you small…the ones that Mother gives you don’t do anything at all…” Robin sang softly, eyes slowly scanning the area for unusual phenomena, and astral senses reaching out for the vortexes her father had identified.

Jay followed behind her, sticks snapping under his feet as they headed into the woods. “Go ask Robin…when she’s standing tall…” He smiled.

Robin grinned. “You got me pegged. Quiet now…if the legends are true I don’t want to scare off any talking beasts that might be around here.”

Jay nodded. It was darker in the woods…he was worried he was gonna bump into a tree. See…when you turned fourteen you started getting way taller all of a sudden. And he wasn’t a big fan of being tall enough to hit a tree branch and get knocked out. “Can I turn on the flashlight?”

“At 4:30 in the afternoon? Don’t be a sissy, Jaybear.” Robin patted her brother on the arm.

“Yeah yeah…not everyone’s a gun-toting bad girl you know.” Jay made a mock scowl, still visible in the amount of daylight filtering through the trees.

“Not even me.” Robin pointed further into the forest, off to their left….a small stream ran diagonally towards them from the right, running over a few rocks right where her finger was pointing. It would be frozen, but for some reason – likely the increased energy in the area from the vortex – it ran too quickly to freeze over completely. “See that?”

Jay nodded. “A stream…those rocks look interesting.” He had to admit…nature was kinda cool.

“Noooo…do you see it?”

Realizing what she meant, Jay focused on the rocks and reached out for impressions of what lay above the level of sight…on the astral, so to speak. He breathed deeply, softly…

“Don’t focus so hard. Just see what comes to mind.” Robin smiled. She was always glad for a chance to teach her little brother some magic…his skills were in need of sharpening. But then, he was only 14.

Jay connected suddenly, feeling a sort of “ping” at the edge of perception and seeing purple lettering come into view on the largest rock, a flat gray affair about a foot long. “Holy crap!” He nearly lost the connection, but managed to stay focused long enough to read. “It says You are late and then there’s an arrow pointing across the stream.”

“Hmmmm.” Robin smiled. “Well, I suppose we can cross the streams…just this once, right?”

Jay laughed. “You are such a nerd, Sis.”

“Says the teenage kid who’s getting D&D books instead of girls and chickens out when it starts to get dark outside.” Robin punched Jay in the arm playfully.

“But who would you play D&D with if I wasn’t?”

Robin pretended to consider this as the two hopped the stream, only splashing a little bit of water on the legs of their jeans as they went. “I honestly haven’t a clue.”

Jay chuckled. “Yeah…that’s what I thought. Okay…let’s see what else I see down there, huh?” He smiled, peering into a rather misty-looking dark grove of trees, which just happened to come to his attention. He’d noticed that especially in a surreal or magical setting, some things just stood out and grabbed your attention…it was generally best to go with those things before you started hunting for less obvious clues.

Robin looked at Jay’s intent expression. “What? What?” Her eyes widened.

“You hear it too?”

For a very important date… The wind howled out from the grove, bringing the same purple energy with it. A shining ghost-breath of power, radiating from the ground itself…or what lay below the ground. Robin grinned, glomping onto Jay in an impromptu hug.

“WE FOUND IT!” Her voice was completely elated. Jay hugged her back.

“I guess we did. The question is…what do we do with it?” But he was too late, as Robin was doing a half-jig, half-mad dash toward the grove. He could only follow, soon catching up on spry young legs, even in the snow. “Oh yeah…we rush in where our Holy Guardian Angels fear to tread.”

There he was speaking of the better, “higher” self – all Thelemites were obsessed with the concept. Robin and Jay were into the idea of a better part of themselves, too…but they tended to be their own guides through snow-covered woods of life as well. Balance – not dependence – was the order of the day.

Robin pumped a fist in the air, still running. “You got it. What else did you expect from me?”

“I dunno,” Jay replied nonchalantly. He was beginning to tire…Robin was the sprinting around madly person, he was the taking it slow and calculating all the possible angles before he went and got himself killed in a hole in the ground person. Their two approaches were sort of contrary at times…but then, so were Hadit and Nuit, or any other divine duality that created stuff. They were the only two who could understand each other sometimes…there was a resonance between the two Conleys that went beyond any perceived personality conflicts.

Luckily for Jay, Robin was slowing up as she approached the black grove. Falling into a hole that had no definite end was the last thing she wanted – or being attacked by a wolf, or even a pack of evil cards. “Let’s see what’s around the area before we go in.”

“Oh, so now you’re playing Spock?” Jay raised an eyebrow, looking not unlike that particular manifestation of Logic…

“Yeah. I’m gonna let my little brother be Captain Awesome-Pants for a while.” Robin’s eyes were gleaming with worlds as yet unknown, and the light they shed on the world of everyday life. “You have the conn.”

Jay snorted. “I don’t see you doing every alien babe you come across…”

Robin smiled. “I never met an alien babe.”

Jay looked at her, aghast. “You wouldn’t…you’re not…”

“I didn’t say I was. I said I could be.” She grinned.

“Robin, don’t be gross please.”

“Oh yeah…forgot. You’re scared of sex!” Robin’s expression was that of mock horror, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, like Eris her mighty self…

“Ha. ha. Can we please get focusing on rocking Wonderland now?”

“Yeah we can, sourball.” Robin sighed. “Honestly you can’t take a joke at all, can you?”

“Sometimes I can.” Jay chuckled. “I’m just trying to be all mystical about the moment here, y’know?”

“Yeah I do. Now…” Robin’s voice took on a serious note. “First off, it seems to be a lot darker in here than in the rest of the forest…it seems like an energetic void of some kind. I can’t find any runes or anything…no spirit forms. Can you?”

Jay shook his head. “Nope. But the idea of going down a dark hole, in a dark grove that’s darker than the forest around it…that worries me a little teensy bit, don’t you think?”

Robin shook her head. “We’re all good. There can’t be more than one vortex out here, and since when was dark the same as evil?”

Jay raised a hand. “I didn’t say that…I said that energetic appearances can often betray the actual nature of a thing.”

“And black people are evil because they look like mud monkeys from hell, mmmmm?”

Jay sighed. “Dammit Robin, hermetic theory isn’t the same as all that. You ought to be smarter.”

He didn’t look too sure of this, Robin noted. “Yeah…but I made you think, right?” She smiled, quite impishly.

“Yeah you did. Are we going in your big hole of elemental evil or not?” Jay was getting exasperated. “I’m kinda cold, and tired of being rained on here…”

Robin nodded. “I’m sure it will be much more interesting inside the vortex, if not a bit warmer…let’s rock it and see what happens.”

Jay smiled. “That’s the funny thing…I don’t actually see a hole now that you mention it. I guess I was sort of expecting one.”

“So how do we get in? Riddle me that, smart one.”

Robin was leading him on, clearly…but he wasn’t sure what the answer was. Then – predictably, as it did so every two or three hours – his stomach rumbled. Audibly. Jay pulled out the power bar Robin had given him and ripped open the wrapper. “I’m hungry…so I decree the answer to be Eat Me.”

Robin nodded.”You’re smarter than I gave you credit for, little bro…I honestly thought I’d have to explain what these were for.” She pulled out her own and tore the wrapper off entirely, then stuffed it in her pocket.

“With my food habits? No way.” Jay laughed. “On three…two…one…”

Munching on the power bars, they both visualized themselves somewhere else. The exact place did not matter…all that mattered was that their goal was elsewhere, in a place of wonder and magic under the Earth. They focused on the vision, both chewing rhythmically, with intent…and suddenly the grove grew darker, deadly silent. An eerie mist grew up from the ground, swallowing their quiet forms. Into the vortex they went…Into the Swallowing Mist, leaving Rain behind as they began their Hunt…


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