"Sex is magic. It is the oldest, most powerful kind of magic there is. It binds us to creation. But creation is nothing without destruction. Life and death feed on each other -- the eternal serpent devouring its own tail. Since the dawn of time the most primitive cultures understood this. They personified the elements they feared and worshipped, offering sacrifices to appease them. And so they created gods."
The Immaculatrix crossed the floor, her high heels echoing through the darkness. Three antique hypodermic syringes glittered between her latex-clad fingers like archaic weapons. Paralysed with fear -- naked and defenceless -- Osborn couldn’t speak or make a sound. The Immaculatrix watched him coldly and continued:
"They drove spikes into their tribal idols, signifying the fusion of sex and violence, life and death. Recognising the magical power of symbolism, anthropologists called these barbaric images fetishes. Eventually more sophisticated religions evolved. They were equally brutal. Just think of poor, gentle Jesus hanging from the tree -- the nails embedded in his hands and feet. The passion of Golgotha is a Christian fetish."
The Immaculatrix inserted the final needles.
Syringes covered Osborne’s entire body, anchored in dense layers of meat and muscle. Some touched bone. Others pierced his groin, testicles and penis. A nest of glass and steel encased his face. The syringes contained a cocktail of pharmaceutical-grade heroin and blood. They glowed like rubies. Lethal jewels. Osborn had been utterly transformed. No longer human, he had become a thing. A fetish.
"Quite a makeover, wouldn’t you say, Robert?"
But Robert Osborn could say nothing.
Chains attached to metal hooks buried in his chest suspended Osborn from an apparatus known as the gibbet. Osborn dangled above the floor, swaying gently. He had lost count of how many women and girls he’d hanged on the device. Of course, he’d never forgotten how they squirmed and pleaded. The blood gleaming on their pale flesh, sweet tears on their cheeks. Their suffering had enthralled him. He had become addicted to their pain. But now he found himself condemned to share their fate.
Whiplash marks striped his skin. The beating had lasted for hours. At least he guessed it had. Every moment had felt like an eternity. Osborn had shrieked until his lungs ached and his throat bled. His body reduced to a boiling mass of pain, he had lost consciousness repeatedly. And each time the Immaculatrix had patiently revived him.
And had started again.
But then, abruptly, the scourging had stopped. Osborn had succumbed gratefully to the darkness. The respite proved brief. He had awoken just in time to witness the completion of the Immaculatrix’s masterpiece: the monstrosity she’d made of him. He had no choice but to see it all.
While he’d been unconscious she had removed his eyelids.
Even that was simply the beginning.
And it had started here in the heart of his secret lair. The Tabernacle. Osborn’s hidden sanctuary resembled a blasphemous shrine. Decorated entirely in black, leather and latex featured throughout. Ominous red light illuminated the gloom. Plush black velvet drapes trimmed with silver braid covered the altar erected in the middle of the floor. A life-size obsidian skull, flanked by a pair of black candles, a silver chalice and a ceremonial dagger stood on top of the altar.
The Tabernacle came equipped to satisfy every perversion. The sadistic inventory included whips and clubs, handcuffs and suffocation masks, genital clamps and anal plugs, ligatures of various types. Everything needed to inflict the most delicious kinds of pain. From behind a two-way mirror a digital VCR set-up -- linked to microphones inside the torture chamber itself -- recorded everything. The footage could be played and replayed, watched and enjoyed again and again. But now Osborn stared in horror at the thing in the mirror. A nightmare confronted him -- his own reflection.
"Yes. It is quite magical, isn’t it, Robert? An illusion worthy of Houdini."
The Immaculatrix stepped in front of the mirror, obscuring Osborn’s reflection. She coalesced mysteriously from the substance of shadows, an enigmatic siren. It seemed as if the black latex cat-suit she wore wasn’t just a costume but her actual skin itself. Her reflection apparently intrigued her as much as the sight of Osborn’s maimed body. Which of them did she consider the illusion?
The Immaculatrix turned and looked back over her shoulder, apparently reading Osborn’s thoughts. Sensing his fear. Her large turquoise eyes transfixed him. The black eye-mask she wore heightened their brilliance. Her perfect bone structure described an elegant diagram of death and desire. Tied in a thick ponytail, her black hair snaked over her back like the crested headdress of a glamorous Amazon.
"You know all about magic, of course. Don’t you, Robert? You’re an alchemist of sorts. Like Faust you sold your soul for the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone ..."
Wrapped in clear plastic, a large quantity of heroin lay neatly arranged on the altar: luminous tablets of beckoning death. The Immaculatrix extended a claw and sliced through a sachet the size of a house brick. She scooped a little of the white powder on the end of her talon and placed it to her lips. Her jewelled eyes sparkled as she tasted it.
"Drugs and money are both the elements and the product of your craft. Your genius, Robert, is to transform one into the other."
Wads of money lay next to the stash of heroin.
The Immaculatrix lifted a tightly bound bundle of US currency, eyeing it disdainfully. "Wealth and power are transitory -- just as the transcendence narcotics promise is a cruel illusion. Once cannot serve God and Mammon both." She paused, reading the slogan IN GOD WE TRUST printed on the banknote. A smile played about her lips, as she remarked: "Unless, of course, Mammon is one’s God."
Osborn failed to see the joke.
"Curious inscriptions -- practically occult. The Eye in the Pyramid. Novus Ordo Seculorum -- ’A Secular New Order.’ Interesting --" She held a bill to one of the candles and watched it burn. "Is that how you and your kind see yourselves: God-Kings of a new world order? Heirs to the tyrants of the Nile?"
Osborn realised he was going to die. But he no longer feared death.
The prospect of further pain terrified him more.
"The pharaohs believed that not even death could deprive them of their wealth. Yes, they worshipped money too -- just like you, Robert. They couldn’t bear to be separated from their god either. So the priests of Egypt devised special rituals to ensure they would achieve immortality and retain their riches in the afterlife ..."
A trolley -- the kind used in operating theatres -- stood close to the altar. It carried an array of sinister-looking objects. They resembled surgical instruments designed to inflict suffering -- obscene procedures that had nothing to do with healing. Anticipating his captor’s cruel intentions, Osborn felt his blood turn to ice.
The Immaculatrix watched him, gauging his reaction. Satisfied he’d had sufficient time to contemplate his fate, she showed him an elongated metal hook and said:
"I assume you’re familiar with the burial customs of ancient Egypt."