“Beware the fury of a patient man.”
~ John Dryden
Realm of Nav
Upon a luxurious meadow
1984 AD SR
Undetectable, simply because he desired to be, the ghost of Harry Houdini crouched on the bough of an enormous tree by the most magnificent meadow he had ever seen. He wondered about the curious hut with the legs of a great predator bird and the beautiful beings that frolicked about it with abandon. The scenery and the sounds of the place were so idyllic they even offered solace against the torturous hunger for vengeance, which had up until now, driven him headlong and thoughtless after his prey.
Having sapped enough of his murderer’s aether to have reacquired something of his intellect, Houdini was beginning to feel pleasure again, have memories, and think productively. After nearly hundred years of nought but blind, mindless, plodding instinct, he was reasoning and emoting again – nearly, but not quite — to the full, prodigious degree he had known in his life of living flesh.
As he intently measured the bird-legged hut he knew housed his prey, confounding notions came upon him. He could have walked right up to it, passed effortlessly through the wall and claimed his prize: the last of Aleister Crowley’s aether and a return to corporeal form. The cosmic law that allowed for the ghost of one murdered for their soul would be fulfilled. Justice would be done.
Why then did he hesitate? It had to be something more than the distracting beauty of this place.
In that moment he mustered and focused his faculty for reason, newfound and still growing, in an attempt to reconcile this hesitation with his heretofore ravenous desire to end his quest. But reason would not take hold for now memory imposed itself and he recalled the night of his murder.
He had agreed to a duel with Crowley beneath the Great Pyramid at Giza.
When his pistol had jammed, rather than shoot him outright, Crowley had punched him so hard in the stomach he had lost consciousness; then he had seen the stars through a porthole; then a ritual of some sort; then the inside of a hospital, which he now possessed the capacity to reason was in Chicago. Then he bore witness to his own funeral. Then nought — for year-upon-year, decade-upon-decade — but the pursuit of his prey and the appeasement of his fury: the hunt for the man become beast become machine.
These dark memories rekindled his rage. And so he descended the tree and walked toward the hut, determined finally to end Aleister Crowley for what he had done.
But as his approached, and as even more of Crowley’s aether came into him, and even more of the faculties of mind he had known in life returned, he stopped suddenly and stood pensively mere yards from his goal.
He recalled then witnessing Crowley’s dealings with Lucifer and his acquisition of an abundance of magic-fuelling souls. He recalled the beast’s powerful sorcery on Cygnus Denagar. At the time, he had lacked the reason to make sense of these events. But now the significance of them, in the light cast by reason rediscovered, gave him pause.
Then, in that moment it struck Harry Houdini that he and Aleister desired, to some degree, the very same thing – to be made flesh again. But there was a difference in the nature of their drives to that goal.
Harry Houdini’s lust for revenge was more powerful even than his desire to be whole again. And so, in that moment he reconciled to deny his prey of that which he desired most. This immaculate revenge — robbing the beast of his life’s passion — in that moment overtook even the hunger to end Aleister Crowley and return to the realm of living beings.
The ghost had decided he could wait. Sitting down in the tall grass, he looked up into the beautiful spring sky over the meadow full of beautiful people and tried to remember what the sun felt like upon a face of meat and bone.
And then, with ferocious intent, Harry Houdini concentrated his newly recovered powers of thought upon recollecting everything he had seen and heard of this Glass Grimoire so coveted by the one who had stolen his soul.
“Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star.”
~ Albert Einstein
Sea of Tears,
Edge of Tau Cetian Space,
Ramses IX, flagship of the Martian Dreamfleet
The almost black teal of the sky over the inter-dimensional Sea of Tears in no way diminished the starlight that shone through from the expanse of regular spacetime beyond. The eerie voices that comprised a light wind over that strange sea rustled into the hair and clothing of the four men gathered on the foredeck of the Ramses IX: dreamship and flagship of the navy of the First Martian Solar Dynasty.
The Banjoman, Lord of Limbo, seemingly oblivious to the other three men conversing at his back, cast swirling purple eyes, which had assumed an eerie vacancy, out over the undulating crystalline indigo that was the mysterious multiversal network of waterways between realms.
Generally invisible and ephemeral from the perspective of an observer in regular spacetime, the Sea of Tears was a lattice of rivers, lakes and oceans that spanned reality and converged both spatially and vibrationally with bodies of waters on various planes of existence. It was said that every drop in that sea represented a corresponding soul on its meandering journey through the planes of the multiverse. It was also said that the sky above the sea was a perfect, though less substantial, reflection of the sea below and that the movement of the air was nought but the voices of the uncountable souls that comprised the water below.
Cormac Kipling Kilroy, who knew the Sea of Tears perhaps better than any other mortal, knew the Banjoman was listening to the murmuring of those voices now, for the ears of the Lord of Limbo could discern much that most ears could not.
“We have nearly 10,000 Ra-craft, and 440 vessels in the armada bound for X-Region Arcturus,” Admiral Cavendish Farlore, a dignified man with the shining shaved head of Martian military and silver mutton chop sideburns, said it in the casual manner of one long past earning an easy, honest relationship with the one he served.
Kip Kilroy, who had taken in almost nothing of the Admiral’s report to his adopted father, the Martian Pharaoh, Garuk Motankhamun IV, gaped, slack-jawed to the aft of the ship. The sky all about the Ramses IX, was filled with white, ellipse-shaped saucers terminating in sharp points at two ends. With their tinted dorsal and ventral plasteel bubble cockpit pupils (the top one for a pilot and the bottom for a turret gunner) and the coloured squadron-designating ring irises, the Martian armada created the altogether disconcerting impression of a sky filled with staring, unblinking eyes of every imaginable colour.
“I’ve never seen so many of them in one place. And never in here, above this sacred sea.” Kilroy’s head came down and looked at Admiral Farlore. “Very impressive Sir.”
“Thank you Cormac.” The older soldier paused and measured his next words. Then, offering a mock clearing of his throat and looking at the luminous blue deck of his ship, the Admiral addressed his Pharaoh, “It required an equally impressive effort to assemble…” Looking then up and purposefully up and away from the Pharaoh, who stood across from him, he added, “… one I’m not altogether convinced was necessary.”
“OH, You saucy old swamp-stomper!” bellowed Motankhamun. “I am standing right here!” The Pharaoh looked at Kilroy and shook a thumb toward the Admiral, who was smiling mischievously. Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, the Pharaoh said to Kilroy, “Can you believe this salty old dog!”
This was the way it usually went between these two, who both held in equal disdain the rules of propriety, hierarchy and decorum. They had seen too much together. Of course, they did not do this in the company of their juniors, Kilroy being the sole exception.
Their camaraderie comforted Kilroy, for his mind had been preoccupied with how Jasco was faring on her mission to convince Andy to accompany her to Atlantis.
“With all due respect, sire, and understanding completely how busy you must have been of late,” Kilroy smiled at the Admiral before turning to the Pharaoh, “I am guessing it is high time the Admiral be more fully briefed on why he has assembled the armada.”
“Oh, and now insolence from you too! Who is Pharaoh here, by Ra?” Again, there was no real anger in the Pharaoh’s response, for in the company of his closest confidantes, he thoroughly enjoyed the game of making light of his power and status. “He’s as briefed as he needs to be! His job is to defend our efforts at the location – if we discover it, of the object of our quest – if it exists, and to defend the efforts of Ancaster the Earther, if he bothers to help us!”
With a shake of his head to indicate his bewilderment at the Pharaoh’s words, Admiral Farlore said to Kip, “Thank you for your concern Cormac Kilroy, obviously, the extent of the thorough and prolific intelligence gathering we’ve just heard from our eminence warrants completely, the assemblage of the collective military might of Mars.”
The Admiral’s feigned seriousness thrilled Kilroy so that he slapped the Pharaoh on the arm. All three men laughed heartily.
Then, with a hallmark shift in tone that showed without question that the time for playfulness had come to an end, the Pharaoh tilted his forehead toward The Banjoman, who still stared silently out over the ship’s railing. To neither of the men in particular, the Pharaoh said, allowing awe, reverence, and no small amount of concern ring through in his low voice, “that one such as he is among us now, should be assurance enough – despite all absence of details – of the severity of what transpires.”
Farlore straightened his back, and though he spoke with authority – none of his gregarious humanity was diminished by it. He was so like the Pharaoh, Kip thought in that moment. So alive, but in a way that was smooth and gentle where the Pharaoh was coarse and brash. “Aye, gentlemen, I do not question, save in jest, the import of the precautions being taken. And frankly I have no need of information regarding whys. It is my purpose in life solely to deliver hows.” He said it in a way that betrayed no apology for the fear in his voice.
Admiral Cavendish Farlore, who was by no measure, a timid or fearful man, felt genuine distress in the presence of the Lord of Limbo. It was not just the palpable power of the lithe yet sturdy physicality that legend told had single-handedly vanquished entire armies; it was not just the visceral, perpetual hum of the mysterious banjo he clenched in his fist that set the Admiral him ill at ease. For The Banjoman radiated an almost tangible sense of uncertainty. All about him the forces of chaos and order, peace and war, torment and grace seemed to swirl, coalesce and magnify.
There was a throbbing pulse to him: an oscillating sensation of nothingness and everythingness that approximated the space between the beats of one’s own heart and the space between those beats.
Even the Pharaoh, who had just recently conspired secretly with The Lord of Limbo to arrange the liberation of Cronos, was ill at ease in his simmering presence. At the moment, however, he was embellishing this nervousness, for he did not want the Admiral or Kilroy, his adopted son, to suspect it had been he and The Banjoman who had freed Cronos from the Prison for Gods to conduct a secret mission through time. The Pharaoh shoved the thought away, for he feared it would draw him into a deep lament. He felt in his heart that unto the end of his days, he would feel nought but regret for what he, Cronos and The Banjoman had done.
Kilroy spoke then, “The Lord of Limbo is harmless enough.” He said it pensively before adding after some thought, “He is merely unaccustomed to the presence of others; and awkward in expressing himself in concrete terms, which elude him mostly.”
He is like a munitions barge in a lightning storm, Admiral Farlore thought, though he did not utter it aloud, for he just then he feared he had seen The Banjoman stir, and he was altogether sure that, despite appearances, the Lord of Limbo was taking in every word they said.
The Pharaoh sensed the Admiral’s discomfort and resolved to change the subject. “What of the intelligence you have received, Admiral? If the recent escape of Cronos, and the Minstrel of the Middle Way standing on the deck of the flagship of the Martian navy are not enough to make you think we should be at least drilling our forces, then what of the reports you shared with me yesterday?”
“Aye, Sire.” Farlore, intuitively ascertaining the Pharaoh’s intent to have yesterday’s intelligence briefing conveyed to Cormac Kilroy, turned and spoke to the younger officer directly.
“From corroborated sources, Cormac, we know that Curator Lucifer has met with both Acting Emperor Ares and Baron Arawn of Fey. Kip’s eyes widened with excitement and he smiled widely, which surprised the other men, who expected concern, even dismay at this news.
“Wicked!” Kilroy whispered to himself. The light of child-like wonder shone from his handsome face. The Pharaoh rolled his eyes.
Farlore continued, “And the whereabouts of Emperor Zeus, whom we do know is accompanied only by Torus Phi, are still unknown. He has not been seen since the report from the Temple of Hanuman at Nova Valhalla–Pleiades.
Farlore paused as though to reflect upon the information he had just shared. When he continued, his playful sarcasm returned, “So here we have tales of the new, nice Ares, very possibly doing little more than making daisy chain necklaces and pining for the release of the next Yes album with Lucifer, and signs of Zeus on a pan-dimensional self-help tour. I reiterate my inclination toward concern being merited, but do these goings-ons truly deepen that concern – or are they rather, glad tidings of the sad state of Olympus?”
The Pharaoh smiled at the return to the game! “It appears your assessment that the Admiral needs to be more informed was warranted, Cormac Kilroy. If you please, could you give us your interpretation of this information, in light of you current mission?”
Despite knowing the nature of the game they now engaged in, Kilroy, who had great respect for the Admiral, felt a tinge of embarrassment at being asked by their Pharaoh to share information with his superior officer. But the feeling did not last, for almost instantly, he remembered that Farlore’s gracious, sensible nature would not likely find insult.
“History would suggest that after The Hells’ annexation of Hades, an alliance with Olympus should be impossible. But this does not take into account the converging variables of the evolution of Ares’ character and the opening left by Zeus’s misdirected attentions.” Kip paused to let the Admiral think on this.
Admiral Farlore’s jaw slackened, his eyes widened, and he almost whispered the words, “One, for so long regarded a prolific warrior is not so easily regarded a prolific diplomat!”
“Or politician,” added the Pharaoh, thoroughly enjoying the productive, strategic chemistry of his two favourite people.
“Having guided Farlore so effectively into such an eloquent estimation, Kilroy was excited to continue. “With Poseidon and Hades gone, Ares’, eventual attempt on Zeus’s throne was inevitable! What if the warm-and-fuzzy thing is an act? Or what if Ares is completely genuine and wants a kinder, gentler Olympian Empire? Either way, I’d say an alliance between Olympus and Hell is coming.”
The Admiral was taken aback at Kilroy’s reasoned assessment. He understood once again why his Pharaoh had placed so much faith in the mind and skills of the young son of Sanctuary. Whatever his thoughts were, the look on the Admiral’s face was one of concern. Kip’s enthusiasm melted away, and he looked again into the armada of Martian saucers that seemed to stare like uncountable, unblinking eyes into their very souls. He pondered something for a moment and coming to a weighty decision, he stepped forward and looked hard into his father’s eyes.
“And what if this new alliance were to aid Tin Prince Twain in securing his prize.” Both he and and the Pharaoh glanced sidelong at Farlore has he said it.
“Tin Prince Twain?” Farlore all but coughed the words. That the mention of the name had shocked him was obvious – but not as obvious as his disdain.
“Aye, old friend.” The Pharaoh was pleased that Kip had taken his lead and had finally shared this with the Admiral. He put his hand gently onto Kip’s shoulder to let him know he had done the right thing. “The time has arrived for you to grasp something of the whys, for though I would never question your commitment to delivering victory, knowing the stakes – and in this case, the severity of the ramifications of failure – never hurts.”
“There is another factor in this that concerns me greatly.” Kip looked mostly at the Pharaoh then. “What of the escape of Cronos? His vengeance will be for Zeus, but that does not mean he will not ally himself with Olympus under Ares in this! What could stand against such power? Few even live that remember when Cronos was free! And what of Asgard? Even the Allfather could fall under the sway of one such as Cronos.”
In that moment, the Pharaoh became visibly nervous. Not because Cronos had escaped from the Prison for Gods, which was under his administration as the guardian of Sanctuary, but rather because Kip now ventured disturbingly close to the secret caper he had hatched with The Banjoman. But he would not have to address this concern, for just then, all men startled at the emergence of a fourth voice.
“You have nothing to fear of Cronos.” It was the Lord of Limbo. Without turning to face the others, he had finally spoken. “He desires only to die after a life too long lived. Ask not how I know this.”
The Pharaoh, though rescued from Kip’s distressing line of enquiry, was now nervous for another reason. He could only hope, The Banjoman would keep their secret regarding Cronos. The Admiral, one who had seen entire star systems die, was simply terrified. And Kipling Kilroy rolled his eyes at the familiarly melodramatic tone The Banjoman assumed in the company of those who did not know him.
“He returns!” Kilroy exclaimed. To the astonishment of the others, the young marinar walked right up to The Banjoman and slapped his hands upon the much larger man’s shoulders. “And gracing us with impressive words of powerful substance and import no less.”
The Lord of Limbo scowled as Kilroy guided him over to join the others, talking as he went, “We were just assessing the pieces on the board and speculating on an alliance between Olympus and the Hells under an upstart Ares.”
“It is possible,” said the Banjoman. “But as I said, you need not worry about Cronos.” As he said it he looked hard at the Pharaoh, and the Martian monarch found himself already wishing the Lord of Limbo were back looking over the railing again. His unpredictable nature made him a terrible person to share in a secret conspiracy with. Perhaps changing the subject was the best course of action the Pharaoh decided. So he thought to shift the conversation to what Asgard might do, but before he could speak, The Banjoman did exactly that.
“If I may offer it, Asgard has little taste for war of any sort at the moment.” The Lord of Limbo spoke absently, matter-of-factly as he pulled his purple goggles down from the band of his derby hat. “Despite Lucifer’s annexation of Hades,” he continued, “they are no friends to the Prince of Light for they wonder if Helheim and its trove of souls is next on his list of acquisitions.” Now he threw the banjo that had been clenched in his fist over his shoulder on the strap of orange leather taken from the wing of a demon he had slain in a realm none present had even heard of. Kipling knew then that The Banjoman was leaving them. He glanced over and saw Nexsusa, noble warmole of Limbo, stirring to her feet. Her massive reality-rending claws clacked against the solid blue-light surface of the dreamship’s deck.
“Yes.” The Banjoman’s eyes were changing now. Swirling from the perfect grey back to the deep purple of Limbo, “there is not an Asgardian anywhere that will not thrill at the magnificent turmoils the escape of Cronos and the treachery of Ares bode for petulant Zeus. Shares in mead will rival the value of souls before long as they fall over themselves to drink to the gorilla emperor’s diminishment and doom, either at the hands of a vengeful father or at the ambitions of a disapproving son.”
The Banjoman’s good humour on the subject, but moreso the way he spoke – as though all these things were certainties – comforted all present, and they laughed mightily.
The Pharaoh then, putting on a more authoritative air than he had worn before, lent his support to The Banjoman’s assertion regarding Asgard. He was relieved the conversation had turned away from the topic of Cronos . “Your reckoning rings true, Lord of Limbo. I will know for certain when I speak to Loki, but I suspect you are entirely correct.”
Admiral Farlore seemed more at ease with The Banjoman now and his sense of humour returned. “Is it also safe to assume then, that Asgard will not serve as an ally either? Or is there yet more information I require before I return to forming strategies of my own?”
“After our involvement in the Battle of Hades, it is a safe bet that while Asgard is not out enemy, they are also no friend of Mars.” The Pharaoh slapped Kip on the shoulder as he said it and the son of Sanctuary blushed with pride. “No, our list of allies is thin indeed. Even Heliopolis, I have been told by Ra himself, will not risk the perception of partiality during their millennia as the seat of the celestial Necropolis.”
Kip Kilroy shuddered at the mention of Heliopolis, seat of te Celestial Necropolis that presided over fair and balanced conduct of the soul trade, and enforced the Binary Proclamation and he recalled the recent, secret dealings he and the Banjoman had conducted with magistrate Anubis. Kip looked hard at The Banjoman then. It was his turn to fear the Lord of Limbo’s unpredictable nature, and he felt a pang of guilt for having appealed to Anubis’s suspicion of Lucifer as Anuket’s murderer.
“And Heaven,” the Pharaoh threw in, “will certainly, as usual, sit another one out upon their bloated mountain of souls — taking no risks, offering no aid, losing no face, and gloating from a safe-distance about their moral superiority.”
“If there be war then,” Farlore now seemed more convinced than he had been before that the preparations the Pharaoh had asked for had been justified. “Then it seems the diplomats of Mars have their work cut out for them. I can do my best Pharaoh, but we cannot stand alone against the combined forces of Olympus and the United Hells.”
The Pharaoh put his hand on the shoulder of his Admiral and his friend. “I have shared all I can old friend, but I assure you, I will find us the friends we need.”
The Banjoman knew of what the Pharaoh spoke. And he knew that Garuk Motankhamun IV would be doing much more than merely talking with Loki, for there would soon be another jailbreak at Olympus Mons. This time though, The Banjoman would not be involved.
No. The Lord of Limbo had another task to undertake. One he assigned to himself.
Good cheer burst from The Banjoman then, “And rest easy, Cavendish Farlore, for you count The Banjoman of Limbo as sympathetic to your cause and history is rife with worlds that have both risen and fallen by way of the banjo at the end of this arm!” Then as quickly as he had brought the Admiral to good cheer with his proclamation of loyalty, he terrified him once again, for the purple of Limbo flared to a living blaze that surged beyond the limits of his eyes and his countenance assumed a truly fearsome aspect. “I will deliver what I can unto the fray when the time comes from where only one such as I may go.”
Admiral Farlore actually stepped backwards in spite of himself.
Everyone there knew not to question The Banjoman on this, and this time even Kip did not dare discount his demeanour as melodrama. For when the lord of the middle way, and a reader of time, has chosen a path to set himself upon, it is reasonable to assume that his choice is in the interest of the balance of all things.
Then, to the shock and great concern of Pharaoh Motankhamun and Admiral Farlore, Kip stepped forward unflinchingly and put his hand on The Banjoman’s shoulder and looked directly into those fearsome, flaming, purple eyes in the way only men who have faced death together can.
“Go then friend. I speak for the others here when I say that our honour and our humour will be lessened by your absence, but I possess wisdom enough to know when to trust yours. All I ask is that you and the grand Lady Nexusa take good care in your travels, for I surmise you now venture to realms where the sanity of most cannot be sustained.
“You have guessed then that I venture edgeward,” The Banjoman said. Instantly his eyes became kind and inviting. The men who had only a moment before been so fearful were suddenly overtaken by a gleeful sense of peacefulness.
“I hesitate even to utter the names of the places I go to now, for I fear the impact of even the mention of them upon your minds.” He looked kindly at the Pharaoh and Admiral. “No offence meant,” he said with a smile. “Fine minds, no question, but fragile on the whole, nonetheless.”
Kilroy laughed. “Yes, old friend! Your thoughtfulness is appreciated, for doubtless, the fate of all minds in reality now rely on the effectiveness and lucidity of those gathered here.”
The Banjoman lowered his head and looked up from under his flaming red brows. “And that of the boy we have taken to calling Andy as well.” There was an ominous edge to his tone. Kilroy, echoed it, in another uncharacteristic display of concern. “Aye, Banjoman, and that of the boy.” There was quiet then and the four seemed content to let it stand.
It was the Pharaoh who broke the silence. “Jasco will convince the boy, I have no doubt. She is persuasive in her way – and trustworthy. If the lad has character, which I think he does.”
The Banjoman turned to the Pharaoh and said, “Andy has character, Pharaoh. This I no know – but I also know that times of pain can challenge a man’s character, especially in youth. Our faith is with the reaper then – and if there’s one thing we all know in the end, isn’t it that chance favours the Fey?”
The Lord of Limbo turned, and looking directly again into Kip Kilroy’s eyes said, “She will get Andy to Atlantis.” He said it as though no others were there. “I have no doubt.” And this comforted the Lord of the Sea of Tears greatly.
Then Kip Kilroy and the Banjoman embraced fully and heartily. The Pharaoh beamed with pride that his ward had won such personal loyalty from one of the most powerful beings in all existence.
Stepping back and looking excitedly at his friend, Kip barked heartily, “And all the gods help Punta Epsilon when this war is won…”
… for we rabble will return to drink it to rubble!” was the Banjoman’s enthusiastic, nigh on deafening, response,
Then, the Lord of Limbo tipped his worn bowler hat and leapt effortlessly onto the back of The Lady Nexusa, greatest of the legendary warmoles of Limbo. With a gentle nudge of his heals and a slap of the reins against her massive rippling shoulders, he urged her over the railing of the Ramses IX where her mighty foreclaws tore open a tunnel in spacetime.
Together, the three remaining men marveled for a moment at the departure of that strange and mighty pair before a sadness set in, for they knew that there was to be yet another parting of ways.
“I make haste then for Atlantis gentlemen,” though my thoughts be with Jasco and her trials now.” Suddenly, the Pharaoh, consumed with guilt again, for he had also hidden arrangements made with Jasco of Fey from his adopted son, grabbed Kip in a crushing hug. He loathed all the necessary duplicity, and had come to hate the burdens of authority, for he loved his adopted son and despised the need to deceive him.
Thrusting Kip out like a ragdoll, the Pharaoh gripped him by the shoulders at arms length. “As always we are blessed to have the sympathies of the daughters of Venus. No mean feat considering who this lad is to them.”
“All the more reason I must beg your leave so urgently, for I must prepare that realm for his return.” Kipling said it confidently, but they both knew that, though Atlantis was the place Ancaster Crowley must go, there were more than few reasons he would not be welcome there.
“King Gary. Admiral Farlore. Atlantis awaits.” And, with a bow to his liege, and a salute to his commander, the one history would record as the steward of the sole sorcerer of Sanctuary, departed to his dreamship, the legendary Lady Anuket, to set sail upon the Sea of Tears for the Venusian enclave of Atlantis – where a fateful friendship would set in stone a dark destiny.
To be continued in Chapter 21
COMING DECEMBER 2017