The intercom buzzed. "Sir?"
"Yes, Jennifer," he replied.
The voice on the other end was uncertain. That was fine. Jennifer had been one of his many "students", and uncertainty was at the core of their conditioning. He expected them to turn to him for guidance in all things, which is why so many ended up working for him... in some fashion or another.
"Sir, there is a... Dana here to see you."
"She won't say, sir."
"Does she have an appointment?"
A hesitation. "No, sir. But she insists on seeing you. I was going to call security, but wanted to check with you first."
He smiled. "Good girl. Always check with me first. And don't worry about this 'Dana'. I have a feeling I know what this is about. Make her wait another few minutes, then send her in."
"Yes sir," came the relieved response. "Thank you, sir."
The intercom clicked off. He crossed back to the bar, bringing the wine bottle to a small table in the far corner of his office. Oh, he definitely knew what this was about. Some out-of-town "high priestess" had gathered herself a coven, and learned of his school. Full of self-righteous empowerment and a crusader's zeal, she was no doubt here to "shut him down". He laughed, tossing a few pillows onto the plush couches near the small table in the corner. He'd made no friends in the larger pagan community since he rose to power. There was considerable anger at what many considered the "branding" of their faith.
He'd enjoyed a great deal of financial success selling pagan books, self-help manuals and pre-packaged ritual kits. His tax-exempt "Church of the Great Goddess" was the fastest-growing alternative religious organization in the country, surpassing even Scientology. Many pagans were wary of his commercial success, and the fact that he was the only male member of his church. The tendency for members of the church to break all ties to home and family caused some concerns among lawmakers, more than one had used the word "cult", but he usually managed to settle such concerns over a glass of wine.
He lifted the bottle, smiling as he swirled the blood red liquid around. The wine was key, of course. Without it, the hypnotic suggestions would not have taken as strong a hold, and his wealthier students would have been far less inclined to open their bank accounts to him. He also would have had a much tougher time convincing those two senators that his church was on the level. He put the bottle back down on the table, turning toward the door as it opened.
To say the woman who entered was beautiful was akin to suggesting it might be warm on the surface of the sun. This woman defined beauty, and negated all other applications of the term. The hem of her long black dress brushed the tops of her bare feet as she glided across the carpeted floor. She was tall, with wide hips and round full breasts. Her hair fell in dark waves around a face that was at once palest white and a deep dark brown. Her features seemed vaguely Asian, except when they didn't. To look in her eyes was to stare into infinity, and when she smiled, it was as though the sun itself had come to his office to shine for him alone. Her hair glittered when she moved, and he could have sworn he saw stars among her thick black tresses.
Without waiting for his leave, she sat down on one of the couches, gesturing for him to do the same. He did so, before remembering that he was supposed to be in control. He quickly stood, attempting to assert his dominance.
"You must be Dana." He tried to keep the quiver out of his voice.
"I am," she replied, staring directly at him. He found he could no longer meet her gaze unflinching. Doing so made him feel as though he were falling from a great height, the black void of space all around him, nothing to hold on to, no one to help him. He was alone, falling forever in a--
He closed his eyes, bringing himself back to the reality of his office. He didn't know who this woman was, or what cheap parlor tricks she was using against him, but he'd put a stop to that straight away. He lifted the faux-ancient decanter.
"Some wine, my dear?"
She smiled, as though sharing a private joke. "I would love some, thank you." Her gaze followed him as he reached for the glass he'd placed on the table earlier. He refused to meet it. Later, when those piercing eyes were glassy and half-closed, then he'd look at them. Then it would be her turn to feel the power of his personality.
It usually only took about a third of a glass to make the girls pliant. The wine was laced with a potent cocktail of sedatives and hallucinogens that made the drinker highly susceptible to suggestion. The effects tended to linger, even after just one dose, as he was discovering to his benefit in his ongoing dealings with the two senators. He filled her glass to the top. He'd never given anyone such a strong dose before, but something told him he'd need it with this one.
She accepted the glass, draining it in one swallow. He sat down next to her, waiting for her eyes to glaze over, her speech to slur and her head to loll back against the cushions. Then he'd dim the lights and begin the conditioning process, among other things. She...
She was still staring at him, and her eyes were still clear. "I suppose you're wondering why I've come to see you," she said, with no hint of slur in her voice. So stunned by this was he, that he failed to look away, and found himself staring deep into her eyes. Eyes that went on forever, deep pools of infinite void that pulled him down. Down into nothing, he was falling, falling without end, and this time he couldn't stop it, even with his eyes shut tight.
Her voice echoed around him, bombarding him with waves of sound. "Do you recognize me now, little man?"
"N-no," he stammered out. Somehow, he was naked. His paunchy belly and balding scalp revealed. And still he fell.
"No?" There was laughter in her voice, mocking laughter, directed at him. "Is it not my church that you use to strip the gullible of their fortunes? Is it not my name you invoke in your clumsy seductions of innocent girls?" The voice deepened with fury. "Did you honestly believe you could do such things and worse in my name, and I would not know? For how long did you think you could escape retribution?!" Stars swirled around him, her voice took on the quality of thunder and he fell even faster. "My daughters deserve better than to suffer for your petty ambitions and your venal appetites." She was all around him now as he fell. She was in his mind, devouring his soul.
"I-I'm sorry!" he cried out, his voice a thin whine nearly lost in the din of her anger. "P-please! M-m-mercy!"
Her laugh echoed across infinity. "No, little human thing," she said menacingly. "I believe you have me confused with someone else. There will be no mercy for you, and no forgiveness. You will send a message to all who would use me as a tool for profit and conquest."
Her laughter wrapped around him, and he knew then that he would never stop falling, and that it would be eons before he was granted the refuge of madness. And the sweet release of death would be forever denied him.
Jennifer sat uncomfortably at her desk. She was starting to feel odd. Well, not so much odd, rather... normal. Yes, that was it. For the first time in what seemed forever, she felt a bit like her old self. For the first time in too long, she felt she could make a decision without asking Jonah first. It amazed her that she had not even realized how different she'd become. She had been studying law once, hadn't she? What was she doing working here? What had Jonah done to her?
She stood, determined to get answers from the man she was convinced had stolen not only her money, but years of her life. She flung open the doors to his office, words of accusation on her lips, and stopped short with a gasp.
He was seated at his desk, naked, his toupee lying limply on the desk in front of him. He stared dully into space, a thin sheen of drool covering his chin. He made no noise save a low, almost inaudible hum punctuated by soft grunts. But the thing that really gave Jennifer pause, the thing that made her turn and run from the building screaming, never to return, was the word that hung above his head, made from letters of pure fire.