At the center of this history then is Sanctuary. A spherical speck of existence containing four planets rimmed by a belt of asteroids around a middling yellow star. Altogether unspectacular at a passing glance, Sanctuary, unbeknownst to its native inhabitants, was esteemed as the sacred jewel of the multiverse, for it was the one place in all existence where consciousness could not penetrate inward across the moebius bridge into the probability fields of the quantum vortices.
Few, if any, of the wisest sages in all reality suspected that the being who would become the dread Abraxas, vanquisher of all free will in the multiverse, would be born on Sanctuary: the one world – the only world – where magic did not work.
4984 AD SR (Sanctuary Reckoning)
The Temple of the High Court of Heliopolis,
Present Seat of the Celestial Necropolis, Soul-Trade Tribunal,
and House of the Nights of the Order of Oblivion
The Pentarchy has convened to render Judgement of The Abraxas.
“Abraxas Godslayer, or if you rather, Andy Crowley of Magicless Earth, is hereby found guilty of attempted tyranny over reality. By the authority granted The Pentarchy by the Fractured Spirit of The Unamed All, we order him banished to Limbo to ponder his villainy over the births, deaths and rebirths of universes, across the span all of time.”
When he finished reading the scroll, Gitche Manitou tightened his jaw and shot Zeus of Olympus a glare that roared “control your temper!”.
The Olympian gestured and the scroll floating in front of him rolled open.
The entire room shuddered and went silent at the growling venom in the next words.
“My father, Cronus, I regret to say, of Our Glorious Realm of Olympus, is hereby found guilty of aiding and abetting attempted tyranny over reality. By the authority granted The Pentarchy by the Fractured Spirit of The Unamed All, we order him banished to Limbo to ponder his villainy over the births, deaths and rebirths of universes, across the span all of time.”
Cronus smiled at Zeus as though he had not a care in the cosmos.
Odin, stood straight-armed over the council table. It was Asgardian tradition to never sit in a chair at a meeting. The polished cyborg half of his face cast rainbows about the room as he spoke.
“Banjoman, Lord of Limbo,” Odin said it with a friendly wink in his voice. “You are not entirely innocent in this matter of cosmological armageddon, now, are you?”
The Banjoman, who was kneeling in accordance with proper etiquette, had been sure to cock his brown derby hat back on his head and to the side at the perfect angle for showing disrespect. He took the hat off, looked into Odin’s one eye and said,
“Yes. Ya. Sure. All that. Now hand them over because I have to go.” He stood up straight, turned around and walked away from the Council of Five to the rear of the chamber where the dread Anubi of the Heliopolitan Dynastic Guard held Andy Crowley of Earth and Cronos the Titan of Olympus in golden shackles.
The Banjoman’s eyes shifted from grey to a fiercely glowing purple storm that made his red gunfighter moustache look like a sunset.
Polished black marble exploded upward as the amethyst snake head of the Ouroborus of Limbo burst through the floor. It arced high overhead before rocketing down to smash into the floor again. Faster and faster it spun, creating a blurring, spinning arc of amethyst light as it chased its tail. The purple mist of Limbo was even now crossing the threshold between the middle way and reality-proper. The event horizon was a straight line between the pillars made by the arc of the spinning Ouroboros. The oscillating whir of non-existence and entropy spread nausea throughout the room. It was true for many what they said about The Banjoman.
“Even more spectacular than is his arrival, is his departure.”
The Banjoman winked at the Jackal-headed Anubi as he took the chains that held the prisoners.
Then, with the teenager from Earth who had waged war against the entire multiverse for three thousand years at his left side, and the oldest living being in existence history’s only known time traveler to his right, The Banjoman walked to the purple archway where the roiling nebulous purple plain of Limbo could now be clearly seen.
“Happy trails,” sang The Banjoman. Andy Crowley threw up the peace sign with his left hand and the devil horns with his right. A “V” and an “H”, as in Van Halen, for the gods behind them.
“What of Dream Queen Deb Holcroft, Usurper of the Realm of Sleep.” Yelled Lucifer Morningstar from the council’s table.
“Let sleeping dogs lie,” said The Banjoman. He had no intention of looking back at them. It galled him that they demanded respect. The Lord of Limbo never got on well with the gods of the multiverse — well, at least not the ones in the region around Sanctuary anyway.
“Punintentional“, he said through a smile.
And as he stepped out of reality into the realm between realms, the legendary, magical banjo on his back offered a parting roll, which, in a language solely The Banjoman could understand, conveyed more of a raspberry than a goodbye to The Council of Five .
Then, into the purple mist and beyond all reckoning, they were gone.
1984 AD SR
There were only a handful of beings in all existence that regarded Andy Crowley as an entity of some cosmological significance. Of those beings, roughly half of them knew it was his destiny to become the most powerfully destructive being in the multiverse, and roughly the other half now straddled their bikes at the end of Dave and Ian’s driveway.
“Think of it as two swimming pools,” Andy said. His hands chopped the air emphatically indicating two divergent directions as he shifted on his bicycle seat trying to vanquish the discomfort caused by his wet bathing suit.
“The first pool is normal. The second is full of ice cubes.” He continued as he wiped a strand of hair, still wet from the river, off his face.
For dramatic effect, Andy straightened up and jerked his head in the direction of the cemetery across the River Road.
“Before you were born, you were the water in the normal swimming pool.” He kept his gaze on the cemetery. “After you die, you are the water in the normal swimming pool again.” He turned back to deliver the coup de grace. Nick, Ian and Dave leaned forward on their handlebars. Andy was worth listening to on all matters cosmological. He wasn’t just their Dungeon Master that summer. He was their philosopher in residence.
“But here, right now, in life, in the world, we are ice cubes in the other pool. We’re still the water but we’re separate and distinct from each other… kind of… for a while… while we are alive. Then, when we die, we just melt back into all the other potential living again.”
Dave and Ian looked over at the cemetery now. Nick swatted at a mosquito on his neck. As Andy’s next-door-neighbor he had heard the swimming pool metaphor for mortal existence possibly one too many times.
With the grinding drone of the cicada bugs as their soundtrack, they quietly mulled over Andy’s notion. The twilight tinge of the setting sun complemented the metaphysical subject matter perfectly.
For Nick, the quiet stretched on too long. So he broke it.
“Have you ever thought about how the solar system is like a giant atom? He said, “The sun is the nucleus and the planets are the electrons.”
Andy, Dave and Ian all turned their heads to look at Nick now.
“What if we’re all on an electron in an atom on a giant toenail of a giant dude sitting on a giant bike talking about this stuff with his giant friends? And that giant is on an even bigger electron on an even bigger atom on a – ”
“Big thinkin’!” Andy said, throwing Nick an approving nod. Nick beamed with self-satisfaction. Even dismissive approval from Andy Crowley on such matters would be deemed high praise by his friends.
“It doesn’t scale exactly like that of course. The mechanics of solar systems and atoms are completely different, but the general idea is there,” Andy said matter-of-factly. “As above, so below,” he added and that strange look came into his eyes. All present knew it well. It was like he was gazing through everything to a beyond only he could see. The look, when it came, was fascinating to his friends – but it made nearly everyone else question his sanity and wonder at his worth amidst all the pressing practical affairs of the everyday world he seemed not to inhabit.
To common sense, it was improbable that a 14-year-old could know the true nature of the grand architecture of the cosmos. But the way Andy spoke about these things with absolute certainty won him easy converts amongst teenage boys wallowing ecstatically in fantasy novels, comic books, role-playing games and cinema space opera.
“Should we get back?” Nick said to Andy, slapping at another mosquito. They were still bad in August this close to the river.
Andy nodded to Nick and said to Ian. “So, we’re not playing tomorrow ‘cause Jim and Bill are away, right?”
“They’re back on Wednesday,” Ian said. Jimmy was away at the cottage with his family, and his neighbour Bill had accompanied him.
“Alright, it’s Wednesday then!” Andy said. “Roll and rock, gentlemen!” He shook a loose fist with the thumb up back-and-forth at about waist height. It was supposed to represent rolling dice, but to everyone’s amusement it always came off as representing something else altogether.
Andy and Nick launched onto their pedals and Dave and Ian solemnly walked their bikes down their driveway to the house to prepare supper, watch music videos, and quite possibly, to investigate the inventory of their father’s bar in the rec-room.
Though they had always lived next door to one another, Nick felt he would never really know Andy. He was a lot of things: peculiar, distant – but mostly he was clever. He was also a fantastic Dungeon Master. Even the kids from the city, who had adventured with them on occasion, had said Andy was the very best.
Nick analyzed his friend, riding his bike in that way of his: that way that made you think he was all alone in the world, and that this was precisely the way it should be. His long, straw-coloured hair whipped in the wind as he pumped his bike toward home. Andy looked like Alex Lifeson from Rush or Rick Emmet from Triumph. His signature black-and-white concert shirt (Black Sabbath today) was wet from swimming in the river and it clung to his skinny but well-muscled frame. Three-striped track shorts and white high-tops with laces loose and the tongues hanging out were his summer uniform – invariably. Soon, when the weather cooled, they would be switched out for the winter uniform: the baseball-style concert shirt and high-tops would remain, but the gym shorts would be swapped out for worn jeans. When required by the Canadian winter, either a jean jacket or a black leather one would also be in play. And that was that. It never changed. It was a dated look for a teenager in 1984, and Andy took a lot of heat for it at school. But he didn’t care.
Going into Grade 10, handsome, athletic, straight-A Nick, would in a few weeks be a debutante among junior high school nobility. In the company of his other friends, in their shaker-knit sweaters, acid-wash jeans, and popped-collar polo shirts, it was nearly impossible to avoid deriding Andy at school. But he did his best and it helped immensely that Andy never showed any sign of caring at all about what people thought of how he dressed.
“What are you doing after supper?” Andy slowed down and rode alongside Nick.
“Archon?” Nick said. He loved the fantasy computer chess game but his parents wouldn’t get a Commodore 64 because they thought the idea of having a computer in the house was ridiculous.
“Cool! Come over whenever.” Andy shot ahead and turned down his driveway.
Despite always winning, Andy never felt bad about beating Nick at Archon. He saw himself as a mentor to Nick. Beyond trivialities like how to win at computer games, Andy had also taken on the responsibility of trying to help his best friend circumvent the new and unfortunate obsessions with the social superficialities that had started to manifest in his life. Andy felt obligated to guide Nick away from the nonsense of sports, girls and grades, and toward the mystical state of enlightenment he knew. But only up to a point. There were, so many things Nick, nor anyone else for that matter could ever know.
After months of occult research had established the efficacy of the Hebrew, Greek and Atlantean symbols in the dreams he had been having Andy had established a regular routine of taking short excursions onto the astral plane and the realm of sleep. On these hikes as he liked to call them, he learned very quickly, through some random encounters with various entities on these proximal planes that the challenges to one’s sanity presented by the relative absurdity of alien creatures and landscapes are significant. When it comes to sorcery, the possibility of physical injury is actually the very least of your worries.
As much as he longed to share his vocation and his life’s purpose with Nick, and especially, Deb, he did not. The risk of them coming to harm was too great.
He put the B-side of Led Zeppelin IV on his record player, slid his headphones on, reclined in his bed, and fixed his third eye, called the pineal gland by Earther science, on a spot on the ceiling. The tip of the left horn on Boromir’s helmet on the Lord of the Rings poster over his bed specifically.
Gesturing absent-mindedly with his fingers, he mumbled one of the first Atlantean incantations he had taught himself, and packed his body’s natural aetheric field tightly into the thin, hard suit of invisible brainmail that would protect his physical body while his astral form wandered one of the more idyllic and uneventful corners of the astral plane near its boundary with the realm of sleep. Looped into his belt with a golden cord, he wore a purple velvet bag that once held a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey but now held five small plastic-cast Platonic solids. To nearly everyone else they were D&D dice. To Andy Crowley they were the equivalent of a wizard’s staff or a witch’s wand.
His determination to skip physics class tomorrow took hold. He would go to the arcade instead. But how would he pull it off? Mr. Jones had proven himself a worthy nemesis.
Envisioning the necessary magic circles and reciting the required mantras, Andy transferred his consciousness from his physical body to his astral one and stepped onto the spongy surface of the astral plane. The soft-edged, peach, pink and pastel ambiance of the place immediately set his mind at ease.
As he walked through golden grass beneath the sunless, perpetual pink daytime of the place known as the quiet realm, he once again thrilled at the sights of familiar towns, cities, and villages on enormous chunks of earth, like uprooted, upside-down mountains drifting lazily in the air. He had never been to any of them. He had yet to master the process of focusing and projecting his aether in order to fly in this place.
For now, he was content to just rest and think. He still lacked confidence in his skills and was not ready to risk engaging the other beings he could meet here.
Andy enjoyed the springy surface of the astral realm. It was a hallmark of this particular plane that all the surfaces had a kind of spongy give to them. The grass was pale gold. The earth was the colour of wine. In all his travels so far, this was his favorite place beyond the threshold of the everyday plane of waking, material existence.
He looked up at the grassy ridge he had been walking toward, and there it was – his tree! A “splinter of Yggdrasil“ he liked to think. He had often imagined that every mind had a tree at its center; and that in-turn, every one of those trees was but a branch of a single tree – the Asgardian life-tree – winding through all the minds of all the realms in the multiverse.
He made his way up the ridge, placed his palm on the tree’s bark and invited its strength to enter him. The sphere of his awareness began to stretch out and he felt calm. He did not see it, but he knew his silver chord was there, connecting him to the tree, which in turn connected him to his physical form back in his bedroom.
Every being has a silver cord that connects to a touchstone on the astral plane – part base of operations on the quiet realm – part gateway back to the physical body. It was impossible to truly come to harm on the astral plane. One’s silver cord would always pull them back to their body in their native realm should the astral body be sufficiently shocked or wounded. Andy’s touchstone was this tree, with its branches, mostly unseen, stretching out across the planes and throughout the cosmos.
How would he get out of physics tomorrow? He nestled in between roots that felt as though they had been tailored specifically for the purpose of helping him relax. Then he closed his eyes, envisioned the enso (brushed circle of Zen), focused his attention on his breathing, and repeated his stillness mantra.
“Aum Namu Narayanaya”.
The chatter of his waking mind receded quickly and the quiet came with an ease – and to a depth – that was only possible on the astral plane.
The answer would come to him here.
The answers always came so easily in this place.
While he sat in quiet meditation, he did not sense that he was being watched. A handsome mariner in a blue cloak, wearing the markings of both the Martian and Olympian empires stood just to the Olympian side of the entrance to the astral plane.
This moment was the beginning of what he had trained for all these years and the satisfaction of finally laying eyes upon the fabled sole sorcerer of Sanctuary put him in the mood for celebration. His hallmark smile, which had been likened by more than one poet across the multiverse to a supernova, spread across his face as he swung up into the saddle of his horse. The port of Stygia, where he had laid anchor the day before, was well known for the enticingly low-character of its taverns.
To be continued in Chapter 2
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