'There will come a time, my dear Tara, when you must let him use his gift.' Anderson nodded to Tim Meriwether, who sat naked meditating on the edge of the dream bed in the cave. 'You have said it yourself that he is ready. He has progressed even more quickly than we had hoped once he made peace with the difficult circumstances in which he finds himself. In which we all find ourselves.’ He lifted his high priestess’s chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. ‘And it is possible that I may not always be here.'
She pulled away and continued to loosen the plait of her hair. ‘You’re my high priest. What, are you planning early retirement, maybe a holiday away from all this fun?’ As was common when he broached the subject of permitting Tim Meriwether to perform the task that fell to their masculine sex, in the coven’s dream magic, she made no pretense of hiding her irritation. In truth he knew her irritation was focused inward. Irritation was the most effective disguise Tara Stone could manage for her fear of becoming too attached to the living. In fairness Tara had done all in her power to see to the proper training of Tim Meriwether and Marie Warren, since they had been added to the coven. And they were quickly becoming formidable witches because of said training.
But on this one subject, she would not be moved. Tara Stone would not have intercourse with the living. She allowed herself sexual congress only with ghosts. And though Anderson, being himself a ghost, benefitted greatly from what Tim Meriwether referred to as Tara’s sexual neurosis, he worried about her still, worried about her as he had the entire 150 years they had been together. The burden she bore would have broken anyone else long ago, and yet she shouldered it. His heart ached for her at the thought. He brushed a dark lock of her lush hair away from her cheek.
‘I have heard that Tahiti is lovely this time of year, and I think I should quite enjoy a bit of warmth after the long Cumbrian winter.’
She gave him a look that told him she neither believed him nor was she impressed. ‘You’re a ghost.’
‘A ghost who is at this moment fully in the flesh, and I assure you, my darling, my flesh does not appreciate the cold any more than does yours.’
She forced a smile. ‘And yet your flesh is doing a lot more complaining about it than mine is.’
‘My dear Tara, you have once again successfully directed our conversation away from the topic I endeavored to broach.’
She shook her head slightly, and the last of the plait collapsed into a soft torrent of deep auburn which reminded him of the peaty waters in the fast moving streams on the fells. ‘Clearly not as successfully as I’d hoped,’ she said, ‘or you wouldn’t be bringing it up again.’ She took him by the hand and led him toward the dream bed. ‘Now, do you think we could focus on the magic we’re here for instead of my choice of sex partners?’
He thought it wise not to remind her that the magic had been precisely the topic of their conversation, aware as he was that in her heart she knew that fact even if she could not bear to admit it. And in truth, his timing had been poor. But Tim Meriwether was truly gifted in dream magic, while Anderson had come to practice it only by default being, before Tim Meriwether’s arrival, the only member of the coven equipped with a penis. Anderson was more at home in the Ether. He was trained in ethereal magic and, in truth, it had been many long years since he’d had need of what was now referred to as REM sleep, that sleep in which dreams occurred, that sleep which kept the living sane and healthy. Not for the first time he wondered if it might be more expedient simply to allow him to journey into the Ether and seek out with more direct methods the information they desired. But Tara had forbidden it as too dangerous at the moment. And in spite of the unease he felt, he would do his high priestess’s bidding.
He brought his attention back to the circle that had been cast earlier, and let the full weight of the magic rest against the flesh he wore as comfortably as the living wore theirs. He immediately felt his manhood stiffen and tense with the growing urgency of the rising magic. He became aware that Marie and Tim Meriwether were now entwined around each other, naked and sheened in perspiration in spite of the winter outside the cave. Through their act of pleasure, their task was to prepare the way for the magic that was to be worked. Sitting next to them with their arms around each other in a caress of their own were Sky and Fiori, theirs the responsibility of witnessing all that was to happen.
Anderson watched as Tim Meriwether positioned himself between Marie’s pale thighs. She moaned softly and lifted her legs to his hips. Tim’s buttocks clenched with his first thrust, obscuring, for a brief moment, the lovely back hole with which Anderson had grown quite familiar in the passing of the eight months since they had fought the demon together.
Could it have been such a short time since Deacon had been bound in the flesh, in the strange lifeless limbo in which Marie and Tim Meriwether had trapped him? Anderson’s stomach clenched as he thought of how very close he had come to losing the two he had so grown to love.
He knew them both intimately, and memories of making love with them served only to tighten the growing weight of desire in his own loins, as he knew it did with Tara and Sky and Fiori, as it was intended to do. It was the foundation set in motion, the drive to rut, the ancient need that brought humanity to the very edge of ecstasy while at the same time driving it to the brink of its own destruction. And in between ecstasy and destruction, the next generation was birthed into existence. And there, on that knife edge in between, the magic happened as it could happen nowhere else. Again and again Anderson had experienced it, always new, always wild, always almost beyond his control.
With the weight of the magic pressing in on him along with the desperate need it created, he shrugged off his robe and eased aside Tara’s, than drew her down onto the bed of cushions, kissing each of her heavy nipples before beginning his descent to the Gateway. He nibbled at the base of her sternum where her ribs yielded to the rise and fall of her belly, which tightened with the touch of his lips and teeth. The caress of his tongue forged the path to her navel, sinking in, darting, probing in sympathy with what his penis would soon do. He traced the soft goose fleshed skin down to the pillowed curls of her pubis, down to the very bud of her pleasure. In his mind’s eye he could see clearly the Gateway as he reverenced it with a kiss to the keystone. He worshiped at its entrance with long lavings of his tongue, preparing the way.
Tara curled her fingers in his hair and spoke words, ancient words, words that could be understood in no other context than that in which they now found themselves; words that would never be uttered in any other space but the space they now created in their intimate act.
And when he was certain the Gateway was fully open, fully inviting, he rose on his knees and positioned himself, one hand on his member, the athame in flesh, the other bracing himself. Then he entered the Gateway with a shifting of his hips and a sigh of pleasure laced with fear of the unknown, fear of the Dream World, which was always unpredictable, never completely safe in its revelations.
From a long distance, he heard Tara moan, heard the rush of her breath, felt her legs tighten around his hips, but he was already through the Gateway, speeding forward with each thrust deeper and deeper into the dream. It was familiar territory, a journey he had made with Tara many times before. He found himself poised there on the threshold of the unconscious waiting to be drawn under, waiting to uncover secrets. He felt a slight tightening in his chest, an acceleration of his heart, and the scraping of flesh against stone, solid and bruising. His pulse accelerated further. The hair on the back of his neck rose. Someone called his name from a long way off, but it was not Tara. His last thought before he was catapulted from the flesh with a force violent enough to take his breath away, if there had been breath left, was that he was no longer in the Dream World.
He was unsure if he had lost consciousness, but Anderson knew immediately, when he had gathered himself enough for the knowing, that he was in the Ether, though how he got there he could not tell. Immediately he cast the counting spell his mother had taught him when, at last, she agreed that even though he was no daughter, he had wit enough and was gifted enough in the Old Ways to walk safely in the Void. He had already crafted his own counting spell, for until she had relented, he had visited the Ether in secret without her permission. More efficient than his, her spell allowed him to set a small clock in the back of his mind, a clock that kept track of time in the World of Flesh, the only way to mark the passing of time in the Ether. If the counting spell were not cast, one could very easily die. While starvation set in, and the comatose body withered away in the World of Flesh, no time passed at all in the Ether. Time was simply not a concept in the Void.
And though he did not remember casting the special enfleshment spell, the one he always cast for himself in the Ether, he was fully in the flesh, albeit flesh that only had substance in the Ether. He was completely naked, and fully, nay, outrageously aroused. The pressure in his groin was both agonizing and exquisite. He reached for his manhood, knowing full well he was in need of wit that he did not possess when his lust was so great. But before he could stroke himself to release, a voice spoke out from the Void. ‘That belongs to me.’
He was not startled that the woman appeared out of nowhere. After all this was the Ether, but he was very startled, if most pleasantly so, that she was as naked as he, and it was no hardship for him to look upon her. Before he could utter even a cry of surprise, she knelt next to him, slapped his hand away and took his member into her mouth.
‘My dear woman,’ he gasped as her tongue snaked up the underside of his manhood. ‘I do not believe we know each other.’
She stopped pleasuring only long enough to reply. ‘We will very soon.’ Then she returned her efforts to his great need.
‘I fear this shall end quickly if you do not stop what you are doing.’ He tried, though only half-heartedly, to push her away. After all what manner of man saw to his own release before the pleasure of his lover?
‘I know you.’ As she spoke, she continued to stimulate him with her hand. ‘It may be over quickly this time, but then,’ she lifted her head enough to brush a quick kiss against his lips, enough for him to catch the tiniest glimpse of dark cinnamon eyes. ‘When it’s over we’ll begin again, and then,’ she gave him a squeeze. ‘Then I’m sure I’ll be well compensated.’
She spoke no more, but took the length of him deep into her throat and tightened her grip until there was nothing for it. He shuddered the weightiness of his release into her throat, and she drank it back like fine brandy. And when she had drained him as surely as if he had been the glass containing her drink of choice, she slipped up next to him, her tight roseate nipples brushing against his ribs. And when she kissed him, he tasted himself on her lovely tongue. This time she kissed him with all of her mouth, nay, with all of her body if that were possible, and he felt lust already returning to his loins.
When she pulled away, he spoke in one breathless sentence, fearful that if he did not find his voice immediately, the lady’s own greed for the pleasures of the flesh might make him forget that he even possessed the power of speech, might make him forget why his voice would even be of importance. ‘My dear woman, might I at least enquire who it is that pleasures me so well and in such unusual circumstances?’
Once again she held him with the deepest, darkest eyes he had ever seen on a woman so pale of complexion. ‘I’m Cassandra, Cassandra Larkin, and I’ve been waiting for you.’
‘Then it is clear you have most definitely found me, Cassandra Larkin.’
Though it was usually fear and uncertainty that drove those who rode the Ether to complete the task for which they had come and return to the World of Flesh as quickly as possible, those who were more adept at journeying in the Ether knew that passions and desires were always more difficult to control in that vast space. Therefore it came as no surprise that his desire should return with such intensity.
Though in truth, he had never taken his pleasure in the Ether before, and he was certain other practitioners of ethereal magic would not approve. But at that particular moment on his internal spell-induced clock, he could think of nothing in the Ether he would rather be doing than sharing pleasure with Cassandra Larkin. Though he was much more in control of his manhood after she had so deliciously emptied him, he would most definitely be the first to agree with modern theories on human sexuality, stating that the brain is the seat of desire. And this slender woman pale of flesh and hair, dark of eyes was truly intoxicating. He wondered if her appearance in the Ether was as her appearance in the World of Flesh. Some, he knew, chose to appear differently when riding the Ether.
He felt her hips shifting and rocking with her unsatisfied need, and as he lifted himself onto one elbow rising above her, for the first time he became aware of the bed on which they lay. It was devoid of colour, like the emptiness in which they found themselves, but it was a bed nonetheless. Anderson could not but admire the woman’s attention to function, much more important in ethereal magic than form. And at this moment, hers was the only form in which he was interested, though he wondered why that should be when there was important coven magic in which he ought to be participating.
She guided his hand to the soft warmth between her legs, and he eased a middle finger into the slippery wetness of her ardor. His thumb caressed the heavy node of her pleasure and she trembled like a leaf on water, honeyed eyelashes fluttering over dark eyes. She opened herself to him, shifting her buttocks until he could see the heavy folds and hillocks of her womanhood pouting open before him, until he could smell the heat of her rising up from below her belly at the seat of her desire.
She lifted her arms around his neck. ‘Anderson,’ she pressed his name up through her chest and past her lips with labored breath. ‘Anderson, it’s alright for me to have you here in this place, and I need you. Please. I need you.’
His own need grew with the feel of her beneath him, and he did not deny her the release she so needed. He cupped her buttocks, felt them tighten in his grip, felt the strain of her anticipation as he positioned himself, the head of his member pressed tight against her womanhood. ‘Please,’ she whispered again.
He pushed into her until the sigh of her breath was a sob, then she wrapped herself around him and pulled up to meet him, pressing her mouth to his, whispering against his lips. ‘Ride it with me, Anderson. I need you to ride it with me.’
The power of first contact drove fire up his spine and up into his head until the very fabric of the ether sparked with it. Then as he thrust, it was as though she had inhaled all of him into herself, right up through the very core of her womanhood all the way to the beating of her heart. And then she gave it all back to him again, each time driving the fire up into him hotter and brighter than the time before. His bliss was such that he wondered if it were her intention to burn him until he was but ash to be blown away into the nothingness of the Ether. But he was too far gone for his possible destruction by fire to matter, and when she began to shudder and tremble with her release, driving her heels into his kidneys, digging her nails into his back, he allowed himself to tumble into the abyss with her. The bed she had created quite literally vanished and they were falling, endlessly falling into the heat of their release.
For a time, they floated in nothingness, wrapped around each other. The clock in his head warned him he had been gone too long, that there were important responsibilities he must return to, but still he clung to her.
‘Are you alright?’ She whispered against his ear.
He chuckled softly at such a question. ‘As ecstatic as the experience of sharing pleasure with you is, my dear Cassandra, it was only le petite morte and surely you are aware that I am already dead, and therefore undamaged by even the power of your great ardor.’
To his surprise, she wept, only a little, but he appreciated the ways of women. Their ease with their own emotions was a thing much to be envied. And she did indeed weep, and hold him even closer to her, if that were possible. ‘Only le petite morte,’ she sighed. ‘Of course.’ She moved a hand down to rest against his heart. ‘I have to go now, Anderson, and so do you.’ She kissed him, and in that startling moment colours flashed before his eyes, steamy sunsets, nights dense with stars, an older woman with a cascade of white hair falling over a black robe, ghosts, memories, wild places. And the sharp crack of a bull whip and fire that was cold and unnatural, and yet familiar in a way that chilled him even in his ethereal body. Then, as inexplicably as he had come to be with Cassandra Larkin in the Ether, he fell away from her into darkness.
When the darkness broke over him, he awoke on the dream bed looking up into the concerned faces of the rest of the coven.