House of the Blood Lotus, Prologue

Late summers in California were the quintessential excuse to not go to work. I was supposed to meet up with an old friend of mine in the Haight, someone I hadn’t seen since she left our junior year of high school. We all change so much over the number of ups and downs and tumbles through the years, but when she wandered through the pavilion, covered in satin and sunlight, I knew it was her. I wondered if she would recognize me, hot dog in my hand, mustard smeared on my cheek.
“Cothran!” she blurted and rushed over. “How are you?!”
Amelia was always so chipper, annoyingly so sometimes, but her bubbly personality didn’t stop me from making friends with her in middle school. We were alike, she and I. Alone. Alone and gifted. She hugged be while I sat, arms around my chest and her cheek resting next to mine. A symbol from my past, one that I'd cherish.
“Perfect,” I said and gestured toward the seat across from me. “You?”
“Oh, you know, just flitting through life on my wings of light.”
“Ugh. Really?” I took a bite from my hot dog. “So poetic.”
She smiled big and sat down. “So, C, so much catching up to do!” She breathed and leaned in close. Her eyes flashed gold and pink. “Have you seen it?”
“Splurt, phlllck.” I gagged, coughed, and the bit of hot dog bounded on the picnic table before her. “Oh, god, sorry.” I plucked up the half-chewed processed meat stick with a napkin.
She giggled.
“Seen it?” I managed.
“Yes, Cothran.”
I knew what she was talking about. How couldn’t I?
“I knew it!” She shouted. “I. Freakin’. Knew it!” She stood up and pounded the table, sending my drink tipping over and spilling. “Oh, crap, sorry. I’ll get you a new one.”
“Don’t worry about it, just,” I checked around us, “keep your voice down.”
“Ever since middle school, C, I knew it!”
I couldn’t help but feel relief. We were both too scared to mention the draw, the compulsion we felt toward each other, but it was present and it was strong. I could feel the same compulsion, the liquid burn in my chest once anew. “Yeah, but what of it?” This sensation was starting to distract me.
“C. Do you know how important this is? The Alterplane? Jesus, C, this would blow the top off the world!”
“What?” The Torrent, what I called an astral-physical response in my body, roiled in my chest. “We can’t say anything to anyone.”
“But, you feel it don’t you?”
“I do,” and I started perspiring. “That means we have to go.” I stood, looked around trying to pinpoint where the Torrent was pointing me. Problem was, I couldn’t. It felt like it was coming from all directions.
“Go? Why?”
I grabbed Amelia by the elbow.
“What’s going on, Cothran?”
“Sh.” I looked her square in the eyes. “You feel it now? You feel that churning in your chest? Do you know what that is?”
The Torrent spread across my shoulders, down my fingers, innervating me, pulsing through my body and out into the ground.
“It’s… it’s something I’ve always felt. I call it my Interconnectivity.”
I was beginning to shake. “You and I are going to have to have a long discussion after this.”
Her eyes widened, and her jaw fell slack. She slowly raised her finger and pointed behind me. “Wha- what’s that?”
I turned and started to run toward Broderick Street, pulling Amelia along with me. “A reason to leave.” I reached in to my Torrent, embraced it, and called out telepathically to Magus, my altercelestial. “Alright, Magus, here or there?”
“Cothran, my friend. The absence of field energy would indicate that the-“
“Okay, great. Great news.”
The ground beneath us trembled and lifted, sending Amelia and me through the air. I heard screams from others in the park. It was huge, this energy surge. Black, threaded with red flashes of lightning, which seared the air around it. It reached out with wispy tentacles, striking people in the park, and sucking the life from them. Their bodies collapsed in heaps on the ground.
It had to have been summoned. But, where was the master?
I landed upright, but Amelia stumbled and dropped to her knees. I scooped her up by the armpits and threw her to her feet. We started running again.
The ground before us rent open; black energy spewed upward toward the sky.
“Cothran,” whispered Magus. “There is no pulse here, but there is a sigil.”
I stopped short.
“Cothran!” Amelia shouted. “We have to keep running!”
“A sigil?”
“Of a lotus pierced by a spear."
Amelia turned to face me. The ground behind her exploded and a wall of energy shot up, twisted, coalesced, and a form materialized.
He was cloaked in his shadows, red pouring from where his eyes should be, energy dripping from the ends of his arms in searing droplets.
Amelia froze in an exhale. She peered deep into my eyes, her own eyes drowning in tears. She nodded, moved her hands to her chest and interlocked her fingers in a triangle. She thrust her hands from her chest, releasing her Torrent in a single beam to my chest.
I’ve never been touched by another’s Torrent. I didn’t even know it was possible. But, it slammed into me and sent me flying back away from her and gaining momentum. The energy behind her reached out through her chest and tore her in half.
I was speeding faster. Faster. Faster. Out of Haight. Out of California. Out of this plane.
I would have shouted. I would have screamed. I would have rushed in and probably died. But now, now I had Amelia’s Torrent. I had her spirit intertwined with mine, and I was now someplace I had only ever glanced before. I was in the Alterplane, and Magus was waiting for me.

-JR Simmang


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