“The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.”
~Alfred Lord Tennyson
Taking care not to look down at the mosaic floor, Kipling Kilroy noticed Jasco as soon as he stepped into the Hall of Memories. She was sitting cross-legged toward the archway that opened on to the astral plane. Making his way to one of the intricately carved stone benches set evenly spaced around the hall at mid points between the eight massive archway entrances around its circumference, he sat down and rested his head against the wall.
He had been thinking about how generous Jasco had been in her efforts to aid him in this effort to connect with Ancaster Crowley when the astral carrier pigeon flapped noisily into his consciousness.
Though he was not a sorcerer, Kilroy could still receive messages from the astral plane. Anyone could. He was relaxed in this place and had been comforted to see Jasco here. He let his thoughts melt away. He was accomplished at the skill of meditation, a staple of his Martian martial arts training. Through half-open eyes he saw the apparitional pink pigeon against the void of his emptied mind. With phantom hands that were his, though his physical hands rested perfectly still upon his knees in the Hall of Memories, he opened the canister on the pigeons leg.
“HE is with me.
He is holding up.
Bringing him to entrance today.
Feeling a powerful sense of relief. Kip opened his eyes and looked at his friend sitting still as a stone across the hall. She always came through for him.
He wondered how long ago she had sent the pigeon. A consciousness perceived the passage of time more rapidly on the proximal planes and here it was late afternoon by Olympian reckoning. He surmised her astral form – along with the astral form of Ancaster Crowley – could appear at the pink gateway to the quiet realm at any moment; but he had no way of knowing for certain when they would arrive.
The Hall of Memories sat at the very edge of the Olympian plane in the region known as the Stygian fringe. It was located on a meta-cartographical anomaly where waveform variations manifested spatially and terminated precisely in a manner whereby they butted up against one another. The history of the hall itself was lost to antiquity, but it was assumed it had been constructed by the ancient primordial demiurges known as the Olympian titans. The archways of the structure aligned with the terminal lines between the astral realm, the realm of dreams and the realm of Olympus.
Like most beings, Kip had on occasion unwittingly ventured across the fringe of the realm of dreams onto the edge of the astral plane while asleep, but he could not consciously project his astral form there. He was not a sorcerer by any stretch, and had never developed that particular skill. Indeed, because of the role he was to play as steward to the one who would be Abraxas, the Pentarchy had insisted that he should receive no sorcerous training whatsoever. It was strictly forbidden. Pharaoh Garuk had told him this was because they feared a sorcerer-steward would be more vulnerable to the temptation to corrupt Ancaster Crowley in order to benefit from the power of The Glass Grimoire, which only he could use.
Having travelled to the Hall of Memories in his physical form, Kip would only be able to converse with Jasco and Andy’s astral forms at the threshold of the enormous archway to the quiet realm: he would stand on the Olympian side, they would stand on the astral side with the strange transitory wall of waveform variation rippling, almost imperceptibly, like a syrupy liquid between them. He thought of how strange it would be to have Jasco’s meditating physical form just meters behind him while her astral form would approach the astral barrier from the other side. His signature child-like grin spread across his handsome face. Even though he had witnessed horrors unimaginable to most mortal men, and even though he had no real memories of his childhood on Earth to contrast with the adventures he had undertaken beyond the Rim, the sense he had that he was blessed to know such wonders filled him to bursting with the infectious gleeful enthusiasm that was the hallmark of Cormac Kipling Kilroy.
Now he just had to wait. He looked over at the two eastward arches that lead to the astral realm. They shone twilight pink. Jasco and Andy would come to one of those doors. To the right of those doors, he regarded the deep blue through the archways that lead to the dream realm, where all minds in this region of spacetime travelled to when they slept.
The other four towering archways, on the side where he now sat, opened onto the indigo skies of the Stygian Fringe, the gateway realm to the Olympian underworld.
Kipling Kilroy began to ponder a seemingly impossible predicament that had perplexed him for years. He, even on this moment of coming face-to-face with his life’s purpose, still did not know how much he would tell Ancaster Crowley about his situation. As was Kip’s way, he needed to know more in order to make a more informed decision about how much to share. As was his nature, he had simply hoped that the right hunch would strike him. But it had not. Knowing more about Ancaster: where he was at in his life, the extent of his learning and power, the degree to which he was willing to cooperate – all of these things would affect how much he should tell him about the larger reality he was about to become a part of. And then there was the biggest question of all: should he be told that it was possible he would become the Abraxas: the most feared being in all the history of reality?
But Kip Kilroy did not want to think about all of that right now. He had dwelled upon it for years. Knowing he might have a long wait here, he had come knowing exactly how he would spend his time. This was the Hall of Memories after all.
Closing his eyes, he pictured his most beloved Lady Anuket, the Egyptian goddess and the namesake of his legendary dreamship. She had been his love and his betrothed, and she had been taken from him far too soon, and far too unnecessarily in an entirely unnecessary war over real estate. He swallowed back his anger and tried to recall every detail of her beautiful face. He was saddened that it was becoming more and more difficult with the passing of time. Then he looked down at the mosaic tiles of the floor of the ancient room, which had been laid down so long before the Olympian gods had come into being, even the fates did not know for sure who had placed them there.
A gasp escaped his lips. She was there in the tiles, as vivid as the day he had seen her for the first time descending the stairs of the dais of her father’s throne in Heliopolis. The tiles of the floor seemed to have fallen away and precise memory of events involving Anuket were being presented to his mind’s eye with perfect clarity. For a moment he forgot the image was not real and he reached for her.
His eyes welled with tears.
In the manner of all Heliopolitans, her perfect, brown skin shone with its own soft light – more so around her face, which would be deemed beautiful by almost any standard in any realm. A stark contrast to her warm, brown complexion, her eyes were a light aqua blue-green and were complemented perfectly by the golds, teals, and blues of the feathers that flowed from her head where one of his own kind would have had hair. She wore a loose sleeveless blouse of white and bracers of solid gold crafted into long stylized crocodiles that spiralled up around her bare arms from her wrists to her elbows.
It has been said that all beings that truly loved beauty, whether they knew her or not, shed a tear – though many knew not why – on the day Anuket fell.
She had been poisoned, and though it had never been proven, many assumed Lucifer had been behind her death. Kilroy was never convinced of that. He struggled to believe anyone would want her dead and deep down he felt that Lucifer would have enjoyed Anuket’s existence too much to murder her. At that sad time, Kilroy was too distraught to be angry. He had lost his bride. The Lord of the Sea of Tears had lost his Goddess of the Celestial Nile, and its earthly namesake in Sanctuary – one of only two places where the Sea of Tears intersected with the plane of Earth.
Someday, Kilroy thought now, he would know who had taken his bride from him. On that day, he was sure, a thirst for vengeance would overtake him. But for now he felt that anger, blame, and blind judgment tainted the beauty of his memory of the way she had been in life.
Suddenly he felt a pang of guilt for having written the letter The Banjoman had taken to Anuket’s brother, Anubis. It was underhanded to play on Anubis’s suspicion of Lucifer’s complicity in the death of his sister. But the stakes were high enough that the mariner felt justified in appealing to Anuket’s brother’s thirst for even a trifle of revenge. Besides, it was a soul-trade matter and it was Anubis’s responsibility to render justice in what had transpired between Lucifer had The Banjoman.
Kilroy let the thoughts and cares of the moment drift from his mind and allowed himself to become absorbed in what he was seeing now in the tile floor. Anuket was riding with him on Old Mars, in the ancient royal courtyard that had been deserted when his guardian, friend and mentor, Pharaoh Garuk Motankhamun IV had led the exodus to Galilean moons beyond the Rim. Her skin and the usually vibrant colours of her feathered mane were muted under the Martian skies and it made her appear even more beautiful. The vision had the sepia cast of an old Earth photograph.
Then, just as he shifted his thoughts to conjure another memory, he heard it.
The paralyzing wail of a banshee is a dreadful sound, and for Kipling Kilroy at this particular moment it was even worse than usual. For hearing it now meant that Jasco was nearby and in trouble.
And if Jasco was in trouble, then all they were working for was at risk.
He wiped a tear from his eye with the corner of his blue cloak, and drawing both his British Navy cutlass and his Martian sun-pistol, he ran across the Hall of Memories toward the enormous archway that marked the transition between the Stygian Olympus and the astral plane.
The voice was mellifluous. “There is no valour without honour, faerie – so you know I will fight fairly. The lords of Hell are nothing if not proud.”
The banshee spun around and recognized the demon instantly as Leraje, (pronounced La-Ray) 14th of the sovereigns of Hell.
Dressed in the signature all-green garb of a woodland archer, Leraje’s head was that of an immaculately groomed red fox with incredible, engaging green eyes and the long straight horns of a gazelle. Zir arms were crossed and ze was smiling. In one hand ze held a longbow, which upon closer inspection was revealed to be a living snake.
The demon’s tall, lithe athletic form was ideally proportioned without revealing a hint of either gender, for Leraje was perfectly androgynous. But ze was also androgynously perfect! The effortless, ambiguous beauty, grace, and charm ze projected were equally beguiling to members of both genders. In voice, mannerisms and appearance, Leraje was the living embodiment of the term devilishly handsome – and this was equally true whether one was a man or a woman.
Jasco crouched into the fey-ral, the wolf stance of the form of martial discipline practiced by her coven, and pulled the concealed fang-horned iron blade from her boot. Her other hand went to the silver megaphone that hung from her belt and she summoned her brainmail. She resolved to fortify her will so as not to succumb to the allure of the demon’s beautiful voice. She needed to take the initiative and do most of the talking. Of course there was no risk to anyone coming to harm in the astral realm. But Jasco was terrified to think of why a sovereign of Hell was here now.
“What is the occasion, your highness?” Jasco said with sarcasm befitting the circumstances. “Should you not be over-indulging yourself in some comfy corner of your newly expanded Hell? I’m sure Lucifer treats you like a good dog! You have certainly demonstrated your obedience.” The banshee glanced over her shoulder and saw that Andy stood silent and staring at the demon. Was he smitten with Leraje? That was likely. Jasco wanted to roll her eyes but already it was becoming impossible to do anything but gaze into the intoxicating depths of the green mystery of Leraje’s eyes.
And then the demon spoke again.
“Such vulgar creatures you are – though comely enough.” The voice was dripping with sensuality. Jasco swooned but held on to the notion that no matter what was said, Leraje was more fiend than friend. “You should know faerie, that I am happiest when hunting. And especially so in that precise moment when I have happened upon my prey!”
Suddenly, Jasco had a horrible thought. What if a sovereign of Hell had come for Andy? All would be lost! Though no harm could come to him here, she shuddered to think this beast would be capable of bringing harm to Andy to cause his departure in order to discern his location on Sanctuary by following his silver cord. She looked over her shoulder and Andy was there looking back at her. His eyes quivered with a bizarre mixture of doe-eyed longing and terror.
“Are you expecting someone to rush to your aid banshee?” The demon was reaching into zir quiver and rather too casually nocking an arrow into the string of the longbow. “Of course, I cannot kill your astral form, but I will be able to follow your cord and get to you soon enough. You are wanted alive, though I would not take too much comfort in that, considering who it is that wants you.
“So eloquent for a dog – and a lapdog no less.” Jasco spat the words.
The demon smiled. “Oh yes! That’s right. The dogs.” Holding the nocked arrow in place and deftly swinging the bow around on the string to rest horizontally on zir forearm to free one hand, ze twisted its fingers and waved the hand in a uniquely Olympian gesture that was unusual to see being used by a fallen angel. An intricate orange magic circle drew itself in the astral air about two feet above the ground and two hulking cyberi, the size of small ponies stepped through it. Each had the body of a powerfully built warhound with three heads. One had two mechanical heads and one organic one. The other had one mechanical head and two organic ones.
“Olympian certainly has become fashionable, I see!” the banshee feigned friendly sincerity. “Of all of Hell’s recent annexations, why do you all seem to be so taken with the trappings of Hades.”
The demon grinned. “Though not a thinker and strategist of the caliber of our Lord Lucifer,” ze said, “Hades did have a knack for designing effective instruments of war. And I am guessing, considering the feisty disobedience that is so characteristic of your kind, you are about to find out just how effective. Though you could still just come willingly.”
Through the glorious haze of wanting to give herself completely to Leraje, Jasco felt there was something peculiar about how the demon had been behaving. Something was amiss, though she could not quite determine what it was.
“Of course, I have no need for the bounty on an errant reaper. Oh but how I do itch for the sport of such things. And as you may know, I have never been one to let my itches go un-scratched.”
Jasco’s knees felt weak. The voice was alluring and seductive. She redoubled her efforts to ignore its effect on her. As she focused, she tried to put her finger on what was strange about how the demon was behaving. Something was definitely not right about the whole situation. What was it?
“Retired reaper,” Jasco said. The intensity of her concentration was showing and Leraje smiled at this evidence that zer seduction was taking hold.
Then, Jasco realized what had been unusual about Leraje’s behaviour. Neither the demon, nor the cyberi had so much as glanced at Andy. Was it possible they had not seen him or even sensed he was there? Why?
Jasco, decided almost instantly that she was not taking any chances. She had come too far this day and accomplished too much. From her crouched position she spun toward Andy. In one movement she threw her fang-handled dagger at the demon in a back-handed motion and carried her momentum through and around in an arc that brought her head close to the ground but brought the heel of her boot full-force into the centre of Andy’s chest.
The demon was surprised and moving quickly to avoid the dagger caused zir arrow to fly wide of its mark. Dropping instinctively, ze rolled and came up with another arrow ready to shoot. The great three-headed Olympian hounds – part-dog, part machine – remained where they had arrived. They foamed and snarled, poised to strike, should the command come from their master. But their master was one of the most chivalrous warriors of the Lords of Hell and they knew the call would not come unless the banshee somehow found unfair advantage.
Andy was wide-eyed and on his knees. The pain where Jasco had hit him was incredible. Why had she done it? He could do nothing but watch in awe as the woman he had thought was his friend launched herself at the beautiful fox creature. He groped for his chest where Jasco had hit him. First he felt it. Then he saw it. His silver chord was there. Instinctively, he gripped it hard with both hands.
Then, he saw Jasco go down. An arrow hit her in the right leg with such force it went almost completely through and spun her almost bottom over top into the air. He watched in horror as the arrow squirmed and then wrapped around her leg. Like the bow it had come from, it too was some type of snake. It was all too much now. The intense nausea that had threatened to overtake him at the diner returned, only this time it was compounded by the incredible pain he felt in his chest. It was all too much now for his conscious mind and he reflexively tugged on the silver cord that would take him home.
While his vision tunnelled, Andy caught a reassuring look from Jasco. There was a nod and a smile and though she had just hit him, he knew she was his friend. Then she raised her silver megaphone and there was fear in Leraje’s eyes. The demon, and the great snarling dogs, stepped back, suddenly desiring to put distance between themselves and the warrior of Fey.
Andy felt a warm comfort envelope him and the world around him was fading. But for a moment his curiosity fought his instinct to flee and he held on.
He saw Jasco drop to her knees and arch her back so that the silver megaphone pointed straight up into the twilight pink of the astral sky. And it seemed then that all the world fell away so only Jasco was there.
Then there was only the indigo of oblivion.
He did not hear the banshee’s scream and by way of some mystical sensibility deep within, he knew he was glad he had not.