Signs & Portents
The Cup of Ahura Mazda
Robert reflected with some amazement he had started living this strange life. Perhaps what was happening to him had a parallel, perhaps many parallels, in ancient history. And some place in man's long unrecorded history—he now believed this firmly—there had existed a way to stop the world's unraveling. Endless research had taken him through many of the world's library systems, his connection with Spirit had been helpful in gaining entry to normally closed archives where priceless volumes resided. His search took him to museums, through interviews with scholars and crackpots. Sometimes he gained a clue in an ancient text and he had collected tantalizing evidence that there had been custodians of an ancient knowledge. But had it survived?
His search had began around five years ago when a bedraggled and unusual manuscript had found it's way to his desk at Spirit. The manuscript bore the title of B. J. Thomas, Biography of an Explorer. He had been annoyed at finding on his own desk what normally should have gone straight to the readers of the slush pile.
Suspecting one of Rachel's practical jokes again, he snatched it up to consign it to its rightful place when a phrase caught his eye: "...without the kind assistance of Gurdjieff..." Good Lord, he paused, had B. J. Thomas—whoever he was—known Gurdjieff? Apparently he could have, the bundle dated back to 1925. Of course, many in the Twentyfirst Century had probably never heard of Gurdjieff, the Russian- Armenian guru who had popped up in Europe, and quickly captured the imagination of a hefty percentage of the Western world's intellectual elite.
By odd coincidence, the name of Gurdjieff was quite well known to Robert. As chance would have it, he had been briefly involved with an organization which claimed to derive its main methodology from Gurdjieff's almost forgotten work. How authentic this claim was, Robert could never sort out. It was more than a little dubious that anything could be derived from Gurdjieff's teachings, the Russian-Armenian seer was something of an enigma, even in his own time. But it was by this small coincidence that caused Robert to give the manuscript a perusal, which led him, inexorably, to a more thorough examination.
It was an untidy bundle, parts of it written in B. J. Thomas' nearly illegible script, some was on paper so old it threatened to crumble. Robert kept sneaking a read at sections of it as the day wore on. As evening approached, the manuscript had seized his full attention. Even though he strongly suspected a hoax, he was intrigued enough to stay after work in order to make photo copies of the threatened pages which formed an inner section of the book. These photo copies were all that now remained of the original manuscript which, Robert learned that night, told quite a fantastic story.
In the days when the towers of Ilium fell to Achaean barbarians; the coast of Egypt was attacked by ravaging hordes of sea people; the Hittite empire of Asia Minor collapsed from internal dissensions; the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, following a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night, bent on conquest of the land of Canaan; the great Santorini volcanic eruption having destroyed the small round island of Thera (which may have been the real Atlantis), decimating the Minoan empire which ruled the shipping lanes of Homer's wine-dark Mediterranean Sea, (Santorini was the world's most violent eruption, quite likely, darkening the whole world, producing unknowable geophysical affects, hurling portions of its millions of tons of ash and debris into the orbit of Mars)—well, the world faced a period of chaos, suggested B. J. Thomas.
Robert was a little amazed to realize that such upheaval had taken place at around the same time, but a quick bit of checking confirmed that give or take a few hundred years either way—and dating these ancient events was a shaky proposition—B. J. Thomas was right. The ancient world in the throes of such events altered Robert's own perception—that was one hell of a lot of upheaval. But even this profound upheaval was not the worst of it, Thomas maintained, "cracks" in the very fabric of the reality of those ancient times had started to appear, and were, by far, the worst danger. But that same ancient world made amazing progress, old knowledge was preserved and vigorous fresh civilizations sprung up. Starving survivors did not sink down into savagery, Thomas pointed out, when fragile societies were uprooted or decimated. And there was a reason...
This reason, Robert soon learned from the manuscript, was the forceful intervention of a principle known only to the older religion on which Zoroastrianism had been based. At another place and time, Thomas's diary would have seemed so much doggerel. But in Robert's generation, there was no escaping the fact that it made an eerie connection.
An obscure reference in Gurdjieff's teachings—and Robert knew there were many such—had launched B. J. off to meet the great man himself. From this meeting, he claimed to have obtained knowledge of the existence of a sect of Chaldeans. B. J. had been captivated by the secret knowledge held by these Chaldeans and was quickly off on a mission to ferret them out. There followed, at this point in the text, quite a list of complaints about the indignities and deprivations suffered by the traveler to those parts in the twenties, even if one were a millionaire. But B. J. persisted.
He listed in graphic detail all of the avenues that were dead ends, but eventually random chance caused him to come face to face with the High Priest of the Refai, as they preferred to be called, rather than "Chaldeans." They all spoke some strange dialect, but the High Priest himself, an enterprising individual, had learned English from a book, and although his English was often mispronounced, he served as the translator.
The High Priest explained that the Refai had most recently come from "Ur" when they had arrived in Armenia many centuries ago. They were actually of a much older people, a civilization too old to be of even ancient record. Therefore they were known only as Refai, which indicated "those who had passed away." As to Ur, the City of Light, while there was Light in Chaldea, the priest explained, Ur was only a sort of way station for the Megi. It was meant to serve only as a lighthouse for the centuries of tribulations that the world must go through. But because it was the home of the Megi, a small "adjustment" had been made, the man of the past had explained—to adjust the balance of Light in the world.
These references and the story seemed to be lost on Thomas, but he duly recorded it. Many of his diary entries were marked for later research. Robert, however, recognized Magi for the word Megi and realized that the reference seemed to be to the "light or fire" of the magician astrologers, whose enigmatic legend had survived to modern times—the "Three Wise Men" or "Kings" of Christian tradition was a case in point.
B. J. described the High Priest in detail, a man of middle years, who wore rainbow striped robes, belted by cords of many colors and a turban in the center of which glowed a huge opal. Craftily, B. J. pried into the affairs of the Refai, who did indeed have some strange beliefs. Chief among these, of course, was the secret of how to "rebalance the world" when it veered too far toward darkness. The Refai kept very much to themselves, living in a small village somewhere at the foot of Mt. Ararat (some caution or secretiveness kept Thomas from revealing the exact location).
The Refai told B. J. Thomas that they had encountered no outsiders in many years, a fact, Robert realized, which probably greatly assisted Thomas in winning their confidence. They were of the view that everyone knew this, although in 1925, all traces of even the concept of "world balancing" had long vanished. Ancient formulas must be fulfilled and performed, if the "world was to be balanced," they told Thomas. The High Priest and elders seemed to feel that rival schools of thought as to what the correct procedure was, existed in the outside world. The real key, they kept pointing out to Thomas, was the use of a cup in the possession of their High Priest, and his father before him, apparently passed down through the generations. Only by using this cup, could any lasting results be obtained.
Apparently, using just the right mixture of charged interest and feigned disbelief, Thomas finally inveigled the High Priest into taking him to the temple of the cup, which lay at the end of a tunnel carved into a rock face of the mountain. The tunnel wound deep into the earth for, Thomas estimated, a good mile or so. Their progress was interrupted by a small earthquake before they reached the temple. Earthquakes were very common to the region, but riding one out deep in the dark cave tunnel was an unforgettable experience. Thomas confessed that he had been terrified.
However, they safely reached the underground chamber where Thomas was astonished by the sight of an altar of white alabaster on which rested the large shining cup of Ahura Mazda. A glow, which seemed to emanate from the cup itself, filled the chamber with a dim, but wonderful light. The cup bore the image of a bird with down swept wings. The Priest told him that the bird engraved on the cup was Karshipta, the messenger of Ahura Mazda, and that the cup was imbued with a fire that burned without smoke or heat. They lingered only a moment or two in the temple, then the priest turned back and the long path to the outside was undertaken. The sun had been shining when they had entered, B. J. was happy to emerge in the twilight hours.
B. J. had another surprise. Indications and signs had come to the High Priest that help to "rebalance the world" would come to them from the outside. Inasmuch as B. J. was the only outsider they had met, they were now assessing B. J. as a possible candidate.
"I could see that you were frightened, but there is no reason to fear," said the priest. "That was why you were taken to see the Cup. But, there is no need to worry, if you really are the one, it will be shown."
For reasons that Thomas never understood, the Refai were worried that they lacked the resources or strength to make the new and major adjustment that would be necessary to balance the world again.
It was three days before Thomas ventured to undertake his own private return to the underground chamber. Thomas took several pages to tell what he considered his great adventure, his fear of taking a wrong turn in the caverns—the conviction he had done so, at least once, only to find his way again to the temple chamber, and rediscover and remove the cup of Ahura Mazda while the unsuspecting Refai slept. He fled with the concealed cup without further incident, and reaching the dock where his own yacht was moored, he set sail at once. He judged that the Refai were a pretty tame lot, but it was well to get away, in case he was pursued.
Considering the parallel with today's global mess, Robert could have easily understood why a descendant of B. J.'s might offer the manuscript to a publisher. He had deduced that some such person had probably mailed the manuscript to Spirit, perhaps deliberately leaving off his name, unsure about the legalities involved. People were eccentric about such things. As to publishing it—a piece of interesting literature for the general public, it was not—but he had wondered if, like the grail legend, it might serve to infuse fresh hope into the world. Of course, he knew it would most likely be regarded as fantasy, and unfortunately, a rather corny one. But it was known in publishing history that strange books had developed followings with the general public.
He could feel little sympathy for B. J. Thomas, his sympathy went out to the obscure Refai tribe, whose treasure had been plundered by a man they had trusted. In B. J.'s Chauvinistic decade, such an escapade could be made to seem heroic, at least by the members of B. J.'s own tribe. But from another generation, Robert was quite appalled. Yet he had the vague impression that the Refai had allowed Thomas to take the cup of Ahura Mazda out into the world, launching it on a journey to fulfill its destiny. He shook his head, and realized it probably was no more than an outright theft.
Well, to either publish the manuscript, or to inquire further into the subject matter, he'd need a real break. The manuscript had no return address, or accompanying letter or note—nothing to identify the person who had mailed it to Spirit. As the days went by, he made studious inquiries around Spirit's office for any additional pieces of mail that might come in referring to B. J. Thomas, Biography of an Explorer. He'd given up hope when a note finally arrived at Spirit International.
Dear Sir: By now, perhaps you have read the biography of B. J. Thomas. If the manuscript interests you, please call on me to discuss the matter at 1 p.m. Wednesday. "28 Templar Court."
Robert was able to make out the address, but not the signature which was more in the nature of a wavy line than anything with real letters in it. Fortunately, "Templar Court" was nearby, and he found the address quite readily. He was ushered in by a brown skinned young man, to meet a shriveled and frail skeleton of a tiny brown man, who all the same rose, bowed and greeted him warmly, in an uncertain accent, before collapsing back into the Victorian bath chair where he was obviously more at ease.
A tray was quietly and quickly produced by the young man and offered to Robert. Speaking, after a long pause, that wafted the smell of ancient desert etiquette and hospitality laws:
"Well, you see, I would have had you earlier, but I hope this time is convenient. At my age, well, it is sometimes difficult."
Robert could only stare with disbelief, that melted into belief at the next comment by the ancient manikin, who said with a twinkle in his buried eye socket:
"Oh, come now, you didn't think we would let him get away with it, did you? No, no, we pursued him for many years, many years."
Realizing that incredibly, he was addressing a priest of the Refai, Robert asked simply, "Did you recover it?"
"Would I be here if we had?"
The small brown creature laughed, a frail but good natured laugh.
"No, the best we ever recovered, you have already in your possession. It is that manuscript about his great discovery and his theories about the world. The Cup, alas, he has hidden it somewhere in North America. That is all that we know today."
"Well, ah," ventured Robert, "some of the descriptions in the manuscript refer to world conditions quite like we are experiencing today. Mr. Thomas seemed to feel that the cup was a sort of talisman that would help set the world right again."
"Talisman, no," declared the ancient brown man.
Robert now tried to tell himself that it was impossible, this ancient small man could not be the same one who had custody of the cup in B. J. Thomas' time—he would have be almost 300 years old. Robert had heard of cases of longevity, but this was bordering on the fantastic.
"Oh, yes," intruded the ancient again, "It was my own stupidity that allowed the theft to take place. I have therefore devoted my life to the recovery of the Cup of Ahura Mazda. But a talisman, it is not. It is a living operative object designed by those who were my own people's ancient forerunners. It was designed to transform chaos back into order, to compel light out of the darkness. It functions as a vital signal to the gods, you see. And it has worked to restore order in the past."
Robert decided to skip over this bit of telepathy, if such it was.
"Well," he questioned, "apparently B. J. Thomas did not put it to use, or I presume, we'd be living in a better world right now?"
"Yes," said the old one, "that is the difficulty. He did not know the ancient rituals or the correct formula that must go along with the evocation to Ahura Mazda. All he succeeded in doing was hiding the cup away where no one can find it. Now, when it is needed most urgently."
At the end of their talk, Robert felt he now knew what it must have been like to have had an interview with Mahatma Gandhi or someone like him. The old priest exuded a kind of aura or charisma that was both calming and at the same time energizing in a way he could not fathom.
It was the beginning of many interviews with the ancient man, usually at 1 p.m. This seemed to be the time when the ancient priest's stamina was at it's highest level, Robert had always assumed. And all of these were needful, there were a lot of odds and ends to put together. Robert was, of course, more than eager to learn all he could about how one could make "an adjustment" that would "rebalance the world." The ancient and Robert talked of many things, although not everything brought up by the old man could make it into the English language. But noticing Robert's befuddlement, the old priest turned subjects around, so that Robert could comprehend at least a part of his meaning.
At times, he found himself nearly speechless in the presence of the High Priest of the Refai, and he listened keenly, trying to record what he did not understand.
"Oh, that will do you no good," the old man remarked when he saw Robert taking notes, "No, perhaps that has been lost."
Many times, the old man paused to find a modern parallel for "lost" items. He appeared adroit at this, causing Robert to wonder if such parallels were entirely reliable.
Robert realized with amazement, that he had somehow taken on the commission of discovering the location of the Cup of Ahura Mazda. He could not take it too seriously, but this was what he was being groomed for—to seek out the "light" that could make harmony in the world before it was too late.
"Because you are better equipped," the old man said, "we of the Refai are so few now, you see."
The B. J. Thomas, Biography of an Explorer manuscript had been lost when the letter bomb came to his flat in Hammersmith. He'd walked in with his mail turning the plain brown packet which had no return address over and over in his hands, puzzling about what it could be. However, a sudden flicker of light from the kitchen of his otherwise darkened flat had caused him to quickly drop the mail on the coffee table where the Thomas manuscript also rested.
Moving swiftly, he had actually leapt over the sofa and bounded into his kitchen to investigate. Afterward, he was startled at the speed with which he had acted. The fragile barrier of the pivoting kitchen door stood between him and the brown paper packet when it exploded. His hand was groping for the light switch when that same kitchen door knocked him to the linoleum, fortunately dazing him only briefly.
He'd managed to scramble up and make his way through the smoke and dust to the hallway where his apartment house neighbors were already trying to summon the fire department. Unable to reach the fire department, after a few ineffectual dumping of buckets, pots and pans of water—wet blankets, soaked in a nearby bathtub were instituted by one quick thinking neighbor and the fire was put out.
Robert had been just as glad that those officially responsible for extinguishing fires had not been able to make it that night. He'd been in such a muddle of confusion, it had taken him awhile to comprehend what had taken place. In his disorientation, he'd bemoaned the loss of the manuscript more than the damage to his flat. He'd been in the habit of studying it on a nightly basis in those days, vainly looking for some clue.
His downstairs neighbor, one of those hardy souls, who was a vigilante, after listening to Robert's ramblings, deduced that it was a letter bomb device. He pointed out Robert's own narrow escape. There was now a hole in his own ceiling from the charred spot where the coffee table had stood in Robert's flat. He expressed a concern about Robert's "enemies." Robert had no "enemies" that he knew about, and was inclined to view the whole episode as a case of mistaken identity.
Robert arranged to see the old priest the following day and told him of the disaster.
"Oh yes," the old priest had commented. "I'd feared the hunter would come, you must be very much on your guard now—very much. But it is good news, on the other hand—were we not likely to succeed, why would Ahriman bother?"
The old man had told him move at once. Robert did not like that line of reasoning, but acting on the old man's advice, he had moved from his old flat. His former neighbors were happy to see the threat to the safety of the building depart and he couldn't blame them. It was the first of a number of moves, always on the old priest's advice.
"I think I have prepared you for your task," the old man said. "I will not be coming to North American, and you should not tarry too long."
The old man's eyes clouded over, and Robert sensed that the priest was unhappy at some prospect. It had turned their meeting into an awkward one which Robert had left early, baffled and a little hurt because the old man didn't set the time of their next meeting. It was the last time he was to see the old priest. The old man had usually set the meetings on Wednesday, and there was no harm in stopping round at 28 Templar Place at 1 p.m., but thinking that he should give the old man some rest, he delayed. Friday, while he was at work at Spirit, he received the news that Templar Court had been reduced by a violent explosion, followed by a raging fire storm that threatened nearby streets.
Number 28 Templar Court, he was devastated to learn, had been the focal point of the explosion. He'd always hoped the old priest and his attendant had somehow been warned and had escaped, but when they failed to contact him at Spirit, he judged that the prospect was not good. He'd never been contacted again by either of them.
On the night of the explosion, Robert had a rather unpleasant experience himself. He was holed up in his flat with a collection of rare books garnered from a university library on the weekend. He was attacked by shadow forms—black apparitions, who suddenly just appeared in his living room. He struck out at the first one that flapped toward him, discovering that his hand passed through it, seemingly it was only half materialized, but materialized enough to do considerable damage to his flat and some to his person. They kept coming and overwhelmed and desperate, completely exhausted by flailing at the bizarre creatures with bare hands or improvised clubs consisting of anything he could seize that was near at hand, he'd fled from the sometimes clinging touches and occasionally stinging blows.
He'd fortunately kept any description of his assailants brief and simple when he'd appealed to the vigilantes. They'd hurried back to the flat with him. The creatures were gone by then, but the flat left no question that quite a battle had taken place. After receiving their condolences and promises to keep an eye out, he was quite content to let them attribute the whole adventure to local muggers. The precious collection of rare books had been soaked in a foul smelling liquid. It was his first contact with the supernatural side of the darkness. He believed he'd actually prefer explosions and fire to what he guessed would have to be called—although he shied away from the word—demons.
Recalling the old man's advice about moving, he'd next moved to a flat on the outskirts of the Old City where he had lived in peace for almost a year now. On the positive side, he also now believed that there was also a protecting supernatural agency which intervened at desperate times, a benign force that he attributed to Ahura Mazda. Probably, the first case of it was that mysterious "light" in his kitchen which had apparently saved him from the letter bomb. Reflecting on the episode, he realized that something had summoned him out of range of the bomb, something he'd responded to instantly in a sort of mindless urgency. And something had released him from whatever had seized him on the station platform. But this benign force did seem fragile and elusive, whereas he hoped that the dark side of the supernatural would not discover some way to increase the efficiency of its attacks.
With the old priest gone from his life, he'd had many doubts he could continue in any real way. But finally, he'd settled into a routine of work by day at Spirit and as many hours as he could in the evenings at the task of researching the texts of Zoroastrianism.
He was determined to pursue the subject more deeply. It was, after all, very close to the truth as he saw it and it fascinated him. In the early days of his research, one scholar had recommended Miramne O'Leary, an amateur scholar, he'd said, but a gifted one, who lived in Berkeley, California. Such coincidences were amazing—at that time, he'd thought only that it was just too remote to follow up. But as it happened, he had later met Miriamne and her son, Carl, and although she wasn't much help on his search, the three of them were drawn together like old friends. They discussed starting a publishing enterprise in the Pac states, helped along by the fact that they were all members of a spiritual brotherhood which Robert had joined seventeen years ago.
Robert crossed the floor of his small flat and gazed out his window at the street below. Through the encroaching darkness, he could see only the thin light of the kerosene lamps behind the barricades of steel filing cabinets, desks and chairs the vigilantes had dragged out from nearby abandoned offices and stacked around the building entrance. Everything looked quiet.
He was just about to move away from the window when his attention was caught by two sprays of light trailing across the night sky. Glowing like comets for a long moment, they disappeared, enfolded by the night. Meteors? Aircraft lights? He couldn't tell, in these times it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between the natural and supernatural. He looked up into the sky again, but could only see the faint outline of rooftops and slow drifting clouds against the gray and black sky. Later that night, stretched out on his sofa, he tried to recall the events of his accident, but could remember no details before waking up flat on his back on the platform—it was all a rushed blur of confusion, pain and incomprehensible noise.
Did he fall, or was he pushed, or even attacked by muggers from behind? Well, what had caused his fall, he knew quite well—Ahriman—the heart of the Dark Force—he, who moved over the earth with a thousand changing faces, disguises and masquerades—behind all of which was unchanging Ahriman, Master of the Lie. Ahriman, the spoiler, the spreader of the Lie over the Good Creation of Ahura Mazda was on the move again, hungry for evil thoughts, evil words, and the evil deeds of men.
Robert switched on the International Communication Network System and sent the following message to Undiscovered Worlds Press in Berkeley, California:
Dear Miri and Carl: Have been very busy, or would have tried to contact you sooner. Spirit International has finally given up and I am unemployed. In the mean time, I have come across an amazing manuscript that touches on ancient Javanese wisdom as well as describing the lost book of Zoroastrianism. I have one more thing to check out before I try to join you in the Pac. States. I'm going to Scotland to investigate ley lines. I'll try to pick up some local color, I think it's time to go ahead with the Undiscovered Worlds concept. :-) No word came back to my last e-mail, are you still connected? :-) love Robert.
Robert hoped things were going well with Miri and Carl. He had not been in touch with them since early in his return to the UK from Indonesia via San Francisco. With a new publishing enterprise, he'd been hoping to tie it in some way with Spirit International. But Spirit had been on shaky ground, and the ICNS was on still shakier. Oh well, he was used to living with uncertainties.