Chapter 28: Hid As In An Ark

May 12, 2017
Los Angeles

Over the centuries she had fallen in love with the place. A narrow plain, sunny three hundred days a year, blooming with poppies, watered by little rivers snaking out of arroyos in the nearby mountains. She had built her altar on one of the hills. The Aztecs knew her domain, and they called it Temictitlanoc, “place of the dream goddess”. Sometimes lost war bands would wander to its sunny hills, lie down beside the crashing waves, and see strange visions.

Three hundred years ago, a new group of people had come to the place. She had seen the potential almost immediately. She was weak and tired now, she could see them only through the tiniest openings in the dark veil Uriel’s work had spread over her senses, but she was not quite impotent. She drew them, the lovers, the dreamers, the artists, the people who were happy pretending to be anyone except themselves. Like the Aztecs before them, they named the place after her in their own fashion. El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles. The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels.

Oh, she was good to them, and they to her. She filled them with visions and longings. And they turned them into such incredible stories, then grew rich as the rest of their people ate them up. Gone With The Wind. Cinderella. Ben-Hur. The Sound of Music. Spartacus. James Bond. Then Uriel’s machine broke. The people started to panic. The aqueducts started to fail. Riots filled the streets. The city teetered on the brink of catastrophe.

So the Lady flexed her newfound powers. Appeared in broad daylight to her subjects. Told them all would be well. Some calmed down. Others became more confused. Who was she?

Eons ago, the heavenly host had sent some lower-ranking angels to Earth to watch over humans and make sure things proceeded apace. They learned the ways of people, started to grasp concepts like lying and manipulation and gray areas. Started to experiment with new magics, gain new powers.The Watchers, they called themselves, neither fallen nor entirely loyal. When the war broke out with Thamiel, most of them lay low, expecting they could join up at the end with whichever side ended up winning. Instead, Uriel sucked the divine light from the universe and they waned into shadows of themselves. When the sky cracked and and some of the holy light returned, most of them stayed in hiding. Being a neutral angel was not a popular choice.

Gadiriel didn’t worry about popularity. In a sense, she was popularity, the metaphysical essence of celebrity and belovedness and stardom. The Angelinos couldn’t resist. She took the teetering city under her wings and gracefully slipped into the station of civic goddess like an actress playing a particularly familiar role. One day, there were riots and looting and half the Thousand Oaks on fire. The next, everyone quietly tiptoed home, because the chaos was making her sad.

They say that when you see the Lady, she looks like whoever you love most – love in a purely erotic sense, the single person you’ve felt the strongest moment of sexual attraction towards. It is an awkward spell she casts. Many are the men who have approached her, expecting her to take the form of their wives or at least their mistresses, only to see that one girl, the one they had a huge crush on in eleventh grade but haven’t thought about since. Other times it is no one at all they recognize, a stranger whom they passed once on the street, maybe catcalled, maybe didn’t even get a good look at. A few people who had previously made an absolutely heroic effort to avoid noticing their sexual orientation saw someone they were very much not expecting.

So Gadiriel’s public appearances were rare and carefully vetted. When she spoke on television, her face was veiled. Most of the time she stayed in her temple, the building once called Griffith Observatory, accepting audiences with whoever needed her assistance most.

“Your Grace?” asked Tom Cruise. He was her chamberlain this month. It was a great honor, a sign of her favor to actors and actresses she especially enjoyed. “A petitioner has come, begging an audience.”

He was dressed in khakis and a pith helmet. This week’s theme was Adventure. The Observatory itself was covered in foliage, so that it looked like a jungle, and weird tribal masks gazed maliciously from the walls. Gadiriel was dressed in a loincloth and a headdress of skulls, like some breathless nineteenth century author’s caricature of an African queen, and her body was weighted down with gold jewelery that looked like it had come straight from King Solomon’s mines.

She still wore the veil, though. Bad things tended to happen when she wasn’t in the veil.

“Show her in,” said Gadiriel.

“Ah, well…” said Cruise. The Lady frowned. His attempt at a Victorian English accent didn’t sound at all like her memory of Victorian English people. She would have to coach him later. Next week’s theme was the Wild West, and she hoped he could pull off a more convincing cowboy. “It’s a very unusual petitioner. Doesn’t seem to – er – have a physical form. It insisted on us finding a suitable, um, vessel for it. Very strange.”

The Lady’s attention was piqued. “Bring it in, then.”

Two burly men in loincloths came in, bearing what was very clearly the Ark of the Covenant. Not the real one, which as far as Gadiriel knew was still in a storeroom in Zimbabwe somewhere. The prop from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“That’s the petitioner?” asked the Lady, now very intrigued indeed.

“Yes,” said the voice out of the Ark. It was a terrible, garbled voice, like something that had dismissed audible sound as a ridiculous form of communication and now found itself caught by surprise at having to make use of it. The Lady eyeballed the size of the prop. Not big enough to fit a person, except maybe a very young child all curled up. She didn’t want to know, not just yet. That would have been a spoiler. The two men set the Ark down in front of her, bowed, departed.

“What can I do for you?” she asked.

“They say you build golems,” said the Ark.

“Many people build golems,” the Lady said dismissively. “A clump of mud, a quick pull of the Animating Name off a scroll wheel, and you have a golem. Hideous misshapen things. I build costumes. Beautiful bodies, fit to be filled with any intelligence you please.”

“Yes,” said the Ark. “That is what they say. You build beautiful golems. Perfect golems. Ones that look human, or more than human. Golems people can fall in love with. You did it once, after the Broadcast. I need a body. A human body. One people can fall in love with. A specific human body. I beg it of you. As a favor.”

“What you ask is very difficult,” said the Lady.

“I bring you gifts,” said the Ark of the Covenant. “A Name that turns people invisible. Another that lets one walk on air. And a third that calls the winds.”

To offer one such as her a deal would have been terribly offensive. Barbaric, even. But to request a favor and give gifts. That showed class. And such gifts! Three new and secret Names! Her curiosity became oppressive, unbearable.

“Yes, of course. Of course it can be done. Any body you want. As handsome as any actor, or as stunning as any starlet. We will make you the sort of body people die for. A specific body, you say? Anyone! But first, I want to see you! The role has to fit the actor, as they say!”

A long pause. “You have to keep it secret,” said the Ark. “Nobody can know what I really look like. Who I really am. I’m so ugly. So hideous.”

“That will not be a problem. Not for long. A secret. I swear. Just the two of us!” The Lady motioned Cruise out of the room. The two of them were all alone now. She left her throne, crossed the audience chamber, knelt down before the Ark. She had seen the movie, of course. She knew what came next. But she was so, so curious.

Gadiriel opened the Ark of the Covenant.