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Authors: Marion Zimmer Bradley

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BOOK: Ghostlight
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“No.” He smiled at her, as if inviting her to share a delicious secret, and tossed off the rest of his sherry in one draught. “But I hope to. And what brings
you
to Shadow's Gate, Truth Jourdemayne? Surely not an interest in Hudson Valley architecture?”
He leaned forward, completely at ease, and Truth was once more reminded of a lazy jungle cat, all midnight fur and hot brilliant eyes. It was disappointing to find him apparently on the side of the Thorne-ites, but wasn't it people like Julian whom her book was meant to help?
Besides, no biographer has ever worked without discussing his subject. She would have to mention Blackburn to someone besides Dylan sooner or later.
“I am writing a biography of my father,” Truth said.
Julian came bolt upright, his expression suffused with delight. “But how absolutely perfect!” he said. “You've certainly come to the right place to begin. You must stay here, of course; it will make everything so much easier for you. You knew, of course, about the collection—of course I place it entirely at your disposal—what an amazing display of synchronicity, to be sure.”
“Synchronicity,” Truth echoed, mystified. “What sort of a collection, Julian?” she asked, setting aside for the moment his invitation to stay.
“Why, Blackburniana—for want of a better name. You mean you
didn't
know? So much for my ego! I've been collecting for years. It's quite extensive, really: letters, tapes, mystic apparatus. Just what you'll need. I'll show you.”
He stood up, offering his hand. After a moment's hesitation Truth set her hand in his. Julian's warm fingers closed over hers with a confident sense of possession, and the power that flowed through his touch made her tremble.
 
“I was beginning to think I'd have to write it myself, and I have no literary talent, I assure you,” Julian was saying. “And there's no better way to learn about Thorne Blackburn than to write about him.”
Truth stood beside Julian in an airy, spacious room that had not been included in her previous tour. Its whitewashed walls and high ceilings gave it the indefinable air of a country schoolhouse. There were no built-in bookcases here, only expanses of molded plaster and scrubbed, wide-planked oak floors. The room also contained two long library tables and several freestanding shelves and files, but the entire room was dominated by the immense oil painting hanging over the fireplace at the opposite end of the room—Thorne Blackburn in his full magickal regalia.
“It helps if you can afford to advertise in magazines and newspapers—and pay, of course. It's amazing how
often cold cash is preferred to that cherished memento. But that makes me sound cynical—in truth, I was incredibly lucky to get my hands on a lot of this and I feel very—humble.”
Even on such short acquaintance, Truth didn't feel that humility was something Julian Pilgrim would ever possess. One might as well wish for a diffident eagle; a submissive tiger. She shifted her gaze to the portrait, lest Julian catch her staring at him like a hero-worshiping schoolgirl with her first crush.
The figure in the portrait had bare feet and wore a flowing green robe embroidered with gold ogham runes and a wolfskin—or something meant to represent one—tied about his shoulders. The robe was belted in at the waist with a wide leather belt set with gemstones and ending in the sort of silky golden tassels that Truth associated with heavy curtains.
The figure's arms were crossed upon his chest; in one hand he held a red-and-white-striped wand topped with a golden representation of the winged Isis, and in the other, a short sword with a large
Magen David
set into its pommel and elaborate symbols engraved into its blade. Blackburn's magickal belief system—whatever it was—had a remarkably catholic taste in symbols.
A gold band supporting a solar wheel held his flowing blond hair in place, and his green gaze was directed upward. That—along with the aureole the artist had seen fit to give him—gave the figure in the picture the sappily sentimental look of a dime-store Savior.
But something was missing.
“Where's his necklace?” Truth asked. “And the ring?”
Julian shot her a look of sharp surprise. “I thought you said you weren't familiar with the Blackburn Work.”
Truth said nothing, damning herself for having spoken out at all. The last thing she needed was to have Julian think that she had some secret inner knowledge of “Blackburniana” for him to tap.
After a moment, Julian shrugged. “Oh, well, my little inadequacies revealed,” he said with a laugh. “The ring and the necklace
should
be there; you're right. I know they're mentioned in the literature, but as you'll note, this is hardly painted from life. I couldn't provide any photographs of either piece, so I told the artist to leave them out. Perhaps they can be added someday—if they ever turn up.”
He turned his dazzling smile on her once more and Truth felt herself melting. It wasn't love, certainly, and maybe not even lust—Julian just seemed so much more
real
than anyone Truth had ever met before. She forcefully suppressed the urge to instantly hand over the necklace and ring simply for the pleasure she knew it would give Julian to have them. Whether she wanted them or not—and she didn't—all her inclination and training had created in her a profound mistrust of first impressions, seductive though they were. She would wait and see.
“At any rate, here within these four walls is nearly all that remains on Earth of Thorne Blackburn,
Magister Stella Maris
: photographs, artifacts, personal letters. The shelves contain copies of all of the books that mention him—the citations are listed in the front of each—as well as the bootleg reprints of stuff from the old
Voice of Truth
.” Julian's easy gesture took in the freestanding shelves along both walls. They were filled with books, from tattered paperbacks to books echoing the gold-stamped splendor of a law library.
“You know, it's a pity he vanished the way he did,” Julian continued. “The estate is so disorganized that some of those copyrights never will be untangled until the work becomes public domain sometime in the next century. But please—feel free to browse to your heart's content—and please, do consider my other offer. I would very much enjoy being your host, Truth. I flatter myself that I could even help you—perhaps more than you realize.”
It was impossible to mistake the genuineness of his offer, and Truth found herself once more returning his smile.
“I really … I don't think …” Truth floundered, in spite of that. She did not know Julian—he was her father's partisan—she couldn't trust him. “This is such an amazing collection, Julian; I hardly know where to begin—it's magnificent!” she said, hoping to distract him.
“It's yours for as long as you need it.” Julian folded her hand in both of his own. “Will you stay?”
“I—” Truth hesitated, and Julian, sensing her reluctance, made another offer.
“At least be my guest for dinner? The others would love to meet you—and I hope for another chance to persuade you to our cause.”
Julian's steady turquoise gaze and engaging, self-deprecating smile made it impossible to evade the question, even though Truth felt, somehow, that accepting this dinner invitation would be agreeing to a whole lot more than just a meal. Once again she felt that ghostly sense of challenge.
“Very well,” she said, feeling her reluctance dissolve with her assent. “I'd love to.”
“That much is settled then.”
Truth was about to ask what time she should return, but Julian forestalled her once again.
“May I leave you here for a while? I'd much prefer your company to what I ought to be doing, but there are some calls to California that I really must make. I hope you can amuse yourself here?”
Truth nodded. Julian continued, making his way toward the door. “I'm so glad you're staying; I'll tell Irene.” He pronounced the name in English fashion, giving it three syllables and a long “e” on the end:
I-ree-nee
. “She does me the favor of supervising our domestic arrangements, and I'd be lost without her. I'll be back as soon as I
may, but feel free to ask Irene or any of the others for anything you need.”
“Of course,” Truth said, slightly dazzled.
The afternoon sun, beating in through the high, uncurtained windows, bathed Julian in orient splendor, granting him a genuine halo in counterpoint to the painting's trumpery one. He looked like what he was—a powerful, important man. A man who would do great things—and who seemed already to believe that she would help him do them. He opened the door to leave.
“Julian,” Truth asked with sudden urgency, “What do
you
think happened to him? Blackburn, I mean. He can't just have up and vanished.”
Can he?
a part of her mind added in new uncertainty.
Julian paused.
“I think—I think he found what he sought, or nearly so. No frontier can be explored without risk—and magick is no game for amateurs.”
He turned and walked from the room, closing the high double doors behind him as if furling an angel's wings.
TO SEEK THE TRUTH
We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth.
—VOLTAIRE
 
 
 
TRUTH SAT DOWN AT ONE OF THE LONG LIBRARY tables. Now that Julian was gone, taking his energizing aura of glamour with him, she felt suddenly weary. It had been a long day, and a long drive on top of it, and now she's agreed to have dinner with an entire mansion full of—
Never mind “magick or not”—the real question should be: “Fruitcake or not”?
Truth told herself derisively. On almost any other occasion, the subject under review would be Thorne Blackburn. Today it was the far more immediate Julian Pilgrim. The undeniably handsome, charming, and fascinating Julian Pilgrim.
She picked up her purse from the floor and opened it, removing a thick notebook and a tiny tape recorder, ready for the business of note-taking. But at the moment, Truth's mind was elsewhere.
Magick? Or … not?
Always before, Truth had felt comfortable with her
sweeping dismissal of magick as an intentionally fraudulent sort of psychic shell game. It was easy enough to do so: She'd never met a really admirable person who professed to believe in it. But now there was Julian, who spoke of magick with the same calm acceptance that Truth's colleagues at Taghkanic spoke of Chaucer and submolecular physics.
He was wrong, of course, Truth decided, sighing regretfully. A belief in magick had informed the great minds of the Renaissance from Francis Bacon to Isaac Newton, but that didn't make them right. But at least Julian was in good company with his delusions.
But they were only that, and as impossible of proof as any other matter based on faith. Which, as Mark Twain had once remarked, consisted of believing “what you know ain't so.”
Truth sighed, leaning her chin on her hand and gazing out the window like a dazzled ingenue, letting her mind play for a moment with the enticing fantasy of living here at Shadow's Gate while she researched her book—and weaned Julian Pilgrim away from his logical fallacies.
With regret, she dismissed the notion. Julian was not her concern, she told herself firmly. He was unlikely to give up his beliefs just on her say-so, and she ought to be grateful for them anyway; with whatever motivation, he had amassed a fine collection of precisely what she needed and was willing to let her use it to write her book.
So she should stop daydreaming about how it would be to kiss a man she'd met for the first time less than two hours before and do something to justify her presence here.
She stood up, taking the tape recorder with her, and began to explore the trove that Julian had so magnanimously thrown open to her.
Here, in glass cases along the walls, were most of the objects she'd seen in the portrait, plus others.
“A shallow bowl, looks like—obsidian? Didn't Dylan show me something like that last year? A
scrying glass
, I think he said. I wish he were here now. I don't think I have a hope of understanding most of this stuff without a background in magick. Let's see, some things that look like silver hat pins, a small sickle … copper? Looks sharp. I've got to get a camera in here and photograph this stuff. And several daggers: One has a black hilt with about a six-inch blade … .”
She continued to dictate into the machine as she studied the objects in the glass cases beneath the windows: the daggers, with black and white and red hilts, the solar crown from the portrait—and here a matching lunar one, all in white silver. Only the fear of somehow offending Julian kept her from opening the case and picking it up; her forehead tingled as if anticipating the crown's cool weight.
It's been a long day
, Truth repeated reassuringly to herself. She rubbed her forehead, blotting the sensation away, and forced herself to continue taking notes.
“I wonder who wore these? Is there an actual full description of the Blackburn Work anywhere, I wonder? Julian seems to think it's something real—well, as real as magick ever gets.”
It was difficult, looking at the tools, to remember that they were simply items in an expensive and delusive form of theater. The objects seemed filled with such purpose—as if they knew they had once been used and looked forward to the day when they would be used again.
Truth turned away, barely able to repress a pang of unease. The things this room contained were nothing like the trappings of Wicca, the faddish Earth Religion that had been in vogue among the Taghkanic kids a few seasons back. One of Truth's test subjects had been a self-proclaimed “Wiccan High Priestess,” and Truth had been forced to endure a number of lectures and demonstrations of the power of Wicca in order to get Sally to
run the test series Truth had wanted. At the time, Wicca had struck her as essentially harmless, if silly—and Sally's results hadn't been any better than the statistical norm, either, for all her claims of “working magick” to influence them.
These things were different. When she closed her eyes, she could still see them.
You're just tired. And Dylan could give you a dozen explanations for this phenomenon without stopping to think—or mentioning magick.
Resolutely, Truth turned to the bookshelves. The Cavendishes and the Wilson were there, as well as a number of books by Blackburn's predecessor in the Trickster tradition, the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley. Truth frowned slightly. This was supposed to be a collection of Blackburniana, and Crowley had died in 1947; what could he have had to say about Blackburn? She picked up the nearest volume,
Gems From The Equinox
, and flipped it open.
To my faithful serpent's tooth, Thorne Blackburn
, it said, and was signed in a looping scrawl spangled about with symbols.
Serpent's tooth?
Truth wondered. Then she remembered—it was a quote from the Bible:
“How sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child.”
Had Blackburn been an ungrateful child? And if so, to whom? He could have been no more than eight years old when the book had been signed to him, assuming the signature was genuine.
“Seems to have known Aleister Crowley rather well, if inscription is any clue,” she told her tape recorder. “But from where? Wasn't Crowley English?” A thought startled her to laughter. “Was Blackburn American?” Her sources had seemed to indicate he might be English—but in that case, why come to America for the Blackburn Work?
Perhaps Julian would know.
She quickly checked through the other books on the
shelves; it appeared that a good portion of them had come from Blackburn's personal library, which was the reason for their inclusion here. Truth rattled off their titles into her tape recorder for later checking.

The Magus
, Francis Barrett;
The Sacred-Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage
, MacGregor Mathers, editor;
The River Where the Ghosts Walk
—”
A couple of large, gray boxes proved to contain archivally stored copies of Blackburn's newspaper,
The Voice of Truth.
Truth looked through a couple of them—the newsprint was already yellow and flaky with age—but found the combination of esoteric content and whimsical typesetting difficult to follow.
What did shine through was the aura of hope that had suffused those enchanted years just before her birth, when everything was thought to be possible, and the Four Horsemen of Disease, War, Hunger, and Death could be stopped forever.
Now the world knew better. There would always be newer and more frightful plagues, fiercer and more unjust wars, and people starving to death on the sidewalks of the richest nation on earth.
Truth shook her head, dispelling those morbid thoughts. Parlor philosophy would gain her nothing—and despite all he'd said, this might be her only chance for a look at Julian's trove. Collectors were a notoriously fickle lot; if she didn't share his view of Blackburn's greatness—and she didn't—he might change his mind about allowing her access at any moment.
The file cabinets were next. Truth opened the first drawer and realized with a sense of defeat that here was simply too much information to sort through and process in the little time she had. She closed the drawer and opened another almost at random. A jumble of blank manila file folders in unlabeled dark green hanging files met her gaze.
“Oh, my God,” Truth said in despair. “How can anyone ever find anything with a filing system like this?”
She stopped and wound the tape back to erase that last comment, then pulled a folder out of the jumble in the drawer. It was filled with about fifty sheets of 8
1/2
-by-11-inch paper in various colors, all handwritten on in purple felt-tip pen in an even, Spencerian script.
For all its antique penmanship, the materials themselves were very modern—this was no artifact produced in Blackburn's lifetime, but something from the last year or so, Truth judged. What possible connection could it have with Thorne Blackburn—unless, of course, it was Julian's own attempt at the start of a biography?
She turned so that the sunlight from the tall windows that flanked the fireplace and that ridiculously hagiographical picture fell on the pages, and began to read through the contents of the folder, being very careful not to get the pages out of order.
It was not a biography.
At first Truth thought that what she was looking at was a play—if they could do it for Evita Perón, then why not for Thorne Blackburn?—with stage business, entrances and exits, and speaking parts for the “Hierolator” and the “Hierophex” and a number of other vaguely Roman Catholic–sounding things. What was an “Hierolator”? Truth wondered.
Hieros
was Greek for sacred, of course, and the
lator
suffix meant worshiper. Thinking along those lines, Hierophex would be “sacred creator” or “sacred builder.”
Sacred worshiper? Sacred builder? It seemed to make no sense. Truth read onward, willing herself to understand. The script kept stopping and starting up again, with the words and actions in a slightly different order, until Truth finally realized what she was looking at.
It was not a play.
It was a draft of one of the rituals in
Venus Afflicted.
But this was ridiculous. You produced the rough drafts, then the finished book. You did not produce the finished book—which was in her suitcase in the trunk of her car
at this very moment—and then, thirty years later, settle down to produce the rough draft.
Unless it wasn't a rough draft, but a … reconstruction?
No. Surely
Venus Afflicted
had been published in Thorne's lifetime? It
must
have been—and no matter how small the edition, Truth was sure Julian would have a copy.
She set down the file folder carefully on the table and returned to the shelved books. Every work on Thorne, Julian had said, and a number from his personal library besides. Even the bootlegged English version of parts of
The Voice of Truth.
But there was nothing here about the Opening of the Way, the purported subject of
Venus Afflicted.
And if it existed anywhere on earth in any form other than as that book in her possession, Julian would have it here. And he did not have it here.
Truth felt a sudden thrill of scholarly excitement; even if
Venus Afflicted
was complete claptrap, she had the only copy. It had never been published—but she would publish it:
Venus Afflicted
, the spellbook that Blackburn considered the capstone of his work.
“But—” she said aloud. The capstone of his work? She didn't know that—how
could
she know that; she didn't know what the Blackburn Work
was
!
The world reeled, and she was back in that cool, directionless place surrounded by pillars of light, the place of the Word that made the worlds … .
Truth clutched at the table with a sudden need for support. A chill immobility seemed to be sliding over her skin, taking possession of her senses, luring her into that other reality. Unnoticed, the folder of papers fell to the floor, hissing as they slid free in a fan-shaped jumble. Suddenly a sharp bang jolted her back to her senses—the tape recorder had slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor. The little door in the side
popped open on impact, and the cassette went skittering across the floor.
Grumbling to herself, the spell broken, Truth stooped down to retrieve both cassette recorder and papers. A quick check assured her that nothing was damaged—although the papers were now out of order. She didn't think it would matter too much, all things considered.
That's what you get for a glass of sherry on an empty stomach—and no lunch besides
, Truth scolded herself. She'd meant to stop for lunch in Shadowkill, but she'd been so eager to see Shadow's Gate that she'd forgotten all about it until now.
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