You can’t lose your shit. You can’t lose your shit. Andy Crowly’s Northstar high-tops slid across the mall’s tile floor with a squeak that belied the severity of his immediate circumstances. His mind, which had been forced to process its fair share of peculiarities of late was not ready for this.
At the far end of the entrance to the Tudor Arms, there stood a robot. It was about seven-feet tall and had a tall cylinder of a head tapered subtly down to its chin. Its movements were disarmingly un-robotic: fluid and gracefully athletic. And its manner of dress was unlike anything Andy had ever imagined he might see on a robot: leather breaches tucked into high boots, and a blousy pirate’s shirt. A broad-brimmed hat with a massive black plume trailing from the band perfectly complemented a pencil-thin, swashbuckler moustache painted over its mouth. There were silver-buckled pouches around a wide belt, upon which hung a disturbingly large two-handed broadsword.
Andy followed the robot’s glowing amber slits for eyes to the object of their attention. Surprises upon surprises!
“No, not now, Banjoman.” Andy heard the robot’s voice in his head. What a strange accent — right propa British, yet Alabama-somethin’ er’ other.
A powerfully built man in worn jeans and a hooded sweater of a thick, grey, heather fabric under a denim jacket glared at the robot. Amethyst eldritch fire blazed from his eyes. He wore a bowler had and had a spectacular crimson gunslinger moustache. Across his back on a strap of orange leather, there was a banjo.
“Andy!’ Deb screamed. Not the scream of terror he expected under these circumstances, but rather an expression of glee. Does she not see this? He thought.
Then everything changed.
Where the robot had stood, now stood Scott St. Pierre.
The Banjoman, likewise, was instantly gone. O’Finnegan, a bewildered expression on his freckled face, stood in his place.
And not a soul in the Tudor Arms seemed disturbed in the least. It was Saturday afternoon as usual — as though no extra-planar entities had been there at all.
Andy saw Deb coming for him waving papers. Over her shoulder, toward the back of the bar, his eyes met Nick’s. They were perplexed, and Andy instanly knew his friend had seen what he had.
Three Hours Ago
Andy’s eidetic memory allowed him to remember — simply by glancing at their tables of contents — all the books he had ever read about astral projection.
He had dipped his toe in the astral realm before, but he had been hesitant to explore it. Now, however, trepidation slipped away by the moment. He would go beyond his boundaries today. He had read enough to confirm his suspicions about Guskar’s Earthsotone. It would help him unlock the confidence he needed to delve deeper into the astral plane.
In the basement recroom, Andy pulled back the worn, chorded, oval area rug that hid a protective magic circle etched into the floor. Settling into the full lotus position with a hand on each knee, he contorted his fingers into the necessary neuro-trigger formations. As he breached the inner barrier to the null-point, he felt standard gravitation collapse around his body: the telltale sign he had accessed the probability vortices where he could re-define reality itself.
Elaborate vocalizations, physical postures and gestures, and circles and mandalas weren’t the means by which the sorcerer altered probability. They were merely sensory stimuli, which, in various combinations, generated specific electrical patterns of impulses in the nervous system, and subsequently, specific vibrations in the body’s toroid-shaped morphogenic field of aether. These phenomenon and the quantum field variations they caused opened access by the consciousness to the deepest inner mind where the conceived world and the perceived world are one and the same: where probability could be altered by the dictates of one’s will.
As above. So below.
When Andy could no longer feel his physical body, he opened his eyes.
He found himself nestled between roots of a tree that felt as though their sole purpose was to help him relax. He looked out upon a golden field of tall grass beneath a glowing, peach-coloured sky. Conical islands, like inverted mountains, hung like clouds therein.
The tree at his back felt as if it were part of him. My “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 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 the recroom. Perhaps an extension of his Kundalini, he had hypothesized.
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.
It was time. He reached into his purple velvet dice bag… and finding nothing like the gem he remembered Guskar’s Earthstone to be caused his heart sank.
The six-sided die: the red cube was heavier than it should have been. And the moment he grasped it, it spoke on his mind.
“I am life. I am Gaea. Daughter of The All. You are less than, but also, me!” The voice was the voice of one’s mother — or, if not a mother one cared for, then instead, the voice of the mother one wished they had.
Andy felt strong. Not merely football-linebacker strong but tank battalion strong — grounded and solid. But at the same time limber and full of energy and vitality. He saw his body sheathed in a tight, bright emerald light. Gaea’s aether?
His theory had been correct. The Earthstone corresponded with the red chakra, the sacral chakra: one’s foundation. The cube of Plato’s forms was representative of the element of Earth in The Timaeus. He had not expected to encounter the mind of the demiurge Gaia. But it made sense that he had.
“Thank-you,” he said to Gaia. And his voice seemed to him then as gravel and gale.
“This armour will protect you.” She was referring to the thin bright green light that surrounded him. Gaia’s matronly, melodic voice whispered in his head. “Sorcerers call it brainmail. It is a construct of the aether of a demiurge and the confidence of its wearer. You are ready, Andy Crowley! Alexandria awaits!”
He felt Gaia’s mind depart from him then. He suspected a profound privilege had been granted him in experiencing her presence. In the brainmail, her aetheric energy remained and mingled with his.
Andy looked at the six-sided die in his hand. It appeared to be the old, worn plastic cube, but now it was heavy and he felt its charge in his hand. He knew it was, in essence Guskar’s Earthstone. Clutched it in his fist, he walked to the edge of the ridge.
He looked down upon the tall grass of pale gold. The earth at his feet was the colour of wine. Bending his knees slightly, he pushed gently off from the edge of the ridge the way one departs from the side of a swimming pool.
In the peach coloured sky of the quiet realm, Andy Crowley soared toward the island before him. And he somehow already knew he would find Akashic Library of Alexandria there.
Cerberus should not have been in the astral realm. But, in the closing hours of the Siege of Hades Prime, he had been sent to hide there by the Admiral of the Stygian fleet of Olympus. The three-headed hound, infamous sentinel of Hades, had been told that one day an Earther would seek to enter Akashic Alexandria, and that when that happened, he was to tear the Earther to shreds. This order from the admiral had come, in-turn, from Hades himself. The Lord of the Olympian soul-trading house knew his enemy Lucifer desired the young would-be Earth wizard’s soul. The lord of the Olympian underworld, assured of his coming fall, would do all he could to see that Lucifer, even in victory over him, would at least be denied this prize.
Cerberus, sat back on his haunches. Front legs stiff, his middle head was tall and proud. And it stared hard into Andy Crowley’s soul as it spoke.
“So a pretentious child of the magicless realm seeks the wisdom of the Library then.”
“Library?, I see nought but a misshapen whelp with shrill words that make me long for a return to a place I once knew as the quiet realm.”
Indeed, where Andy now stood there was nought but a flat rolling plain atop the massive inverted mountain he had landed upon. As he approached he had seen all manner of architecture from all manner of cultures veining the roots of the island like precious metals in the wall of a cave. Greek, Egyptian, Persian, North American First Nations, African, and Asian. Some of the styles he did not know at all and had a completely alien flavour.
The left head of the Cerberus, a pup’s, wore a puzzled expression. It was tilted. Its eyes looked up and to the side. The centre head’s eyes, wickedly smart, were locked onto Andy’s eyes — onto his soul. The head to his right, aged even beyond death and rotten, was mad and wild with ravenous hunger. Foam sprayed from its fetid, flailing maw.
The Cerberus, reared on its glistening black haunches to strike. Each head was the size of an African elephant. Andy knew his silver chord was assurance he could not die here — but Cerberus could certainly prevent him from entering the library.
“You have smart mouth.” The center head’s cool voice had a smile in it. “I’ve been told I have a mouth that smarts.”
Andy groaned and rolled his eyes. He almost heard the words in Schwarzenegger’s accent. Then his eyes were wide and he began to regret his arrogance completely. Where had it come from?
In the instant before Cerberus was upon him, by no will of his own, the green aether of his brainmail flowed into the form of an ornate trident in his left hand. But this mattered not a whit. The sight of it bewildered him. Then the worst pain he had ever known consumed his mind utterly.
Through his own screams, he heard a howl from the pup tear into the astral sky. It was so loud, Andy — had he been able, would put his hands to he ears to check for blood. He knew the howl was an alarm — a klaxon to signal his presence. The hound of Hades was a sentinel after all. But who? Who would now know he was here?
Through the explosion of pain, he lost all desire to answer his own questions. He heard his bones crunching in the fetid maw of the rotting wolf’s head. Teeth tore into his flesh as it shook him violently. Its foaming acidic saliva hissed as it ate its way into his eyes and open wounds. He knew his spine was twisting, snapping, and grinding in all manner of grotesque life-ending ways.
Then his pain was gone. A curiosity, strange and yet also somehow familiar had appeared and suddenly presented a fascinating matter, more compelling even than mere imminence of death.
A black monolith of glass had appeared in his right hand.
Where have I seen this before? No! he did not just hold the black glass, it was a part of him. No! They were one and the same! Where a moment before it was new to him, now it was as though they had never been apart. It was as though they were all there could ever be.
Spherical points of light shrank away into the distance from this new, fused perspective.
Quarks; atoms; molecules — is that what they were? — spiraled away and downward.
Next, alien creatures swimming in a raindrop came into view from all around them and receded into the singular point at the most distant limit of perception.
What now? Is this blood?
What is this? bone? Could it be stone? Does it matter? Are they not all illusory distinctions. Unnecessary. Arbitrary. Petty.
Some small part of Andy was holding on to ask these questions: a speck of ego in the exploding vastness of this new being, hungering to vanquish division — swelling fat on all it assimilated into its awareness.
Are these questions or are they answers? The speck of ego’s whispered curiosity infuriated the monolith mind. This nonsense of distinguishing one from other was anathema to its very purpose for being.
Shrinking away now was Terra. or was it Earth, Diqiu, Arda, Kadoor Ha’aretz, Ea, Maapallo — so many pointless names.
“No!” The ego of Andy Crowley exclaimed as it began appropriating the vast knowledge it was acquiring. They call that world Sanctuary! That is the name most beings know it by.
“Enough with the delusional distinctions!” The monolith seethed to the now minuscule Andy-ego. “For what are labels and names, save the most heinous of attachments and deceptions! See that world now. It is a dust mote crawling with specks of meat: meaningless, pointless, temporary.”
Then the stars sped away too. Then the galaxies. Then the entire universe. All receding beyond reckoning.
And then, for the last of the shrinking particle of mind that remained Andy Crowley, something surprising occurred.
The remnants of Andy Crowley’s egoic faculties ascertained that he was growing in size upward beyond one universe, which alas was something of the subatomic fabric of the next, larger, universe.
Quarks to atoms. Atoms to worlds. Worlds to universes.
And then, again.
And in the very last moment, just before that sliver of ego would finally be amalgamated into the monolith-mind, the mind of Andy Crowley — filled with wonder — seized upon one last musing.
As above, so below. As below, so above.
The Hermetic expression came as a gleeful whisper that sent a shudder through — what was it now — a uni-mind? The words of it festered like an infection. This modicum of delineated thought, of self-awareness, was as a poison to the expanding thing: a pulsating gangrenous tumour. Writhing and bloating it spread. The ascent through realities sputtered and slowed. Then the expansion ceased altogether before it started to reverse.
In relation to the whole, that fragment which was Andy Crowley was growing.
“I love you,” Deb’s voice joined the now-shrinking malignancy, causing the reversal of its expansion to accelerate.
“You’ve always been a selfish asshole,” Nick’s words were there too, adding poison that fuelled the collapse of the merged entity.
Suddenly, Andy Crowley knew himself again. Hovering in the white nothingness, he now held the small, black rectangle — a perfect fit — in the palm of his hand. As memories and thoughts poured back to him, he thought of Star Trek. The little monolith seemed to him like some sort of futuristic device. He imagined the beeping sound made by Captain Kirk’s communicator.
The grey apple icon appeared within the rectangle’s smooth onyx face. A synthetic chime exploded in his head. It was a deafening single note. Later, he would recall it made him recollect the opening synthesizer riff of Subdivisions by RUSH.
He could not tear his attention from the bite out of the apple icon that floated beneath the black glass.
His vision tunneled down. He fought to remain conscious. The limits of every aspect of the elusive notion of what constitutes mind came then to be tested in the egoic construct that was Andy Crowley.
Though he could not discern as much, a vague sense of having murdered all manner of beings in numbers too enormous to comprehend brought crippling nausea upon him — and for but an instant he had a veiled understanding of what it had felt like to be; vanquisher of worlds; usurper of gods; and murderer of souls beyond count.
The pain of the thought was but a blip in the arrow of time known to his consciousness for it was impossible for him to carry any concrete memory of an experience of this magnitude into the everyday fabrication of consciousness and existence that was self and world. Indeed, no sentient creature in all the multiverse could conceive of and process reality on this scale. Not yet.
You’ve always been a selfish asshole. Nick’s voice was echoing in his mind. His best friend had never said such words to him. But they could not have felt more real.
You’ve always been a selfish asshole.
Andy recalled then, that he had come here searching for answers. Was this one of the answers he sought?
You’ve always been a selfish asshole.
As the words repeated, it occurred to him to ask the monolith if it could help him know if this was indeed one of the insights he had come here to discover.
He didn’t know why, but he had the sense that touching a finger to the flat glass of the rectangle he held in his hand would cause something to happen.
But when he looked into his hand, the sleek, black monolith was gone.
Panic overtook him.
The sense of loss transcended anything he had ever experienced before. He arched his back and roared unintelligible grief into the void.
Such was the severity of his anguish that Andy Crowley did not feel the warm tingling rising at his navel. He had altogether forgotten the torturous maw of Cerberus that had shredded his astral form.
And by way of one of the great mysteries even the most esteemed sorcerers in existence have yet to explain, the silver chord, which somehow, defying the arrow of thought and time, always seemed to know what is best, manifested to yank him home.
His trembling hands reached for the recroom floor to stop him from falling over. His hair was damp with sweat. Tears were in his eyes.
Mom! NO! Ruby! His mind roared. She is at the airbase.
He breathed deeply to calm himself. Reason was returning. The Earthstone was in his hand. He could not recall Gaea’s voice but he had a feeling she was with him, even here in the material realm. Andy heard the pup’s howl again. The alarm that had gone out. maybe even a summons. By now, as it usually did, all memory of the glass monolith had left him, but it had imparted something in his thoughts before it had departed.
A robot dressed like a pirate! A minstrel with purple eyes and a moustache! They had heard Cerberus’s alarm. They were coming.
Terror came over him. I have gone to far!
I want to be with my friends. The urge was powerful — and it was tinged with peculiar urgency.
They are in danger!
Jesus! His calm was returning. He would need a level head. I have to get my shit together!
I have to go to the goddamn mall!
Read Andy Crowley, Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary