“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
~ Francis Bacon
Largest of the remnants of the planet Tiamat that was destroyed in the Wrath of Sol approximately 22,000 years ago, Ceres is an astronomical mass roughly 950 kilometers in diameter. Within the elliptical orbit of the asteroid belt between The Warrior (Called Mars by the Earthers) and The King (Jupiter), Ceres intersects with the perfectly circular equator of the event horizon of Sanctuary Rim four times. This means that in a Cerean year, the planetoid spends an almost equal amount of time within The Rim, where magic is not possible, and outside, where it is.
On its equator, on the dark side, hidden from the curious eyes of the humans of magicless Earth, there is Punta Epsilon: a luxury resort that rides the celestial edge between the peace of non-magical Sanctuary and the limitless wild of the magical multiverse.
At this time of year, the elliptical orbit of Ceres had brought it into the Sanctuary side of The Rim, which meant magic was not possible on Punta Epsilon, and would not be again until it intersected and crossed The Rim in a few months. This stretch of time, when Ceres was assuredly within the circle of The Rim, was known as the diplomatic season. It was a time when Ceres in general, and Punta Epsilon Resort in particular, was booked solid with diplomatic sessions, trade agreement negotiations, family reunions, and tourist arrangements. It was also the time of party goers and people fascinated with the prospect of experiencing the effects of Sanctuary alcohol, which was highly coveted among the elite of the multiverse for the unique, unpredictable, and impossible to reproduce, chemical effects it caused on sentient beings.
The resort itself was over 35,000 years old, and so was a haphazard conglomeration of predominantly Asgardian, Olympian, Heliopolitan, Martian, Venusian, Rigellian, Andromedan and even ancient Tiamatian architectures.
In the back of the Ares and Tut tavern, which was crafted in the style of the Martian Empire Middle Dynasty era, sat one of the mightiest beings in all reality. As Lord of Limbo, he was a time reader and a wanderer always in-between places and events. In the elite cosmic circles that would have known Punta Epsilon existed, he was well known but not feared. For just as he was well known, it was also common knowledge amongst those who knew he existed at all, that The Banjoman of Limbo was only ever dangerous when your interests were counter to his; and his interests were few.
Mostly he just wanted to be left alone. Mostly, he would intervene in the affairs of others only when it was absolutely necessary.
He was tall, slim, and rosy cheeked, with a blazing shock of red hair and a matching, crimson gunslinger mustache. His perfectly grey eyes, which conveyed the exact spectral midpoint between perfect black and perfect white, were patient and kind, but at the same time, they looked right through you. And while they showed deep wisdom, compassion and discipline at work, they also betrayed that, should he or any in his company be maligned in any way, there would be swift and merciless redress.
He donned a worn, but not undignified, brown derby hat with purple-tinted goggles set about the hat-band, a grey-hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans of authentic Sanctuarian denim (so coveted outside the Rim for its magic-repelling properties), and high-cuffed boots in the deep purple tint of the mists of Limbo. On his right wrist, he wore a silver watch with a satin face of the same colour as the boots. It bore no numbers and no hands.
Slung over his back, on a strap of dark orange, demon-wing leather – there was a magical banjo, which – to one inclined to listen for it – could be heard on occasion murmuring quiet wisdom.
The Banjoman enjoyed visiting Sanctuary. It fascinated him. And he both understood and appreciated its value as a place where complete absence of the wild whims of the wild minds of wildly powerful beings could make possible attempts to reconcile complex inter-personal, inter-planetary and inter-planar disharmonies.
Here, where he sat, he could sense the intensity of densely converging magical lay lines about 300,000 miles to the celestial west. The lines approached the event horizon at The Rim and curved sharply back into the space beyond from whence they came. Aside from the residual fluxprob weak force that had once powered the ancient Martian alchemy, the inaccessible probability fields this far within The Rim meant magic was not possible.
The absence of sorcery meant technology was required to render the resort inhabitable. Venusian atmo-interface field generators assigned upon arrival at spacedock, assured ideal atmospheric conditions for inhabitants of varying physiologies. Temporary PSI-EM translators were also assigned but were mostly unnecessary nowadays as their implantation at birth had been a requirement of many regional treaties for millennia now. The Banjoman was intrigued by the technologies required inside Sanctuary Rim where run-of-the-mill magical standbys like brainmail and telepathy didn’t work.
Spacecraft were of particular interest to The Banjoman, who did not need them except when he came here. He had arrived from Memphis Nova III on a fantastic top-of-the-line Fey-Coven witchcraft he had bartered for. The Captain had wanted some unpleasant memories removed in exchange for the charter. Being lord of Limbo had its privileges.
“Well met again old salt! Dopplebocks tonight?”
The Banjoman looked up at the man approaching him with overflowing flagons of dark German lager in each hand. It was the man he had come to meet.
With the paradoxically obnoxious grace unique to one who has lived their life at sea, the man with the beers swung a leg over the chair back and dropped into the seat across from The Banjoman.
By the grin on the mariner’s face, The Banjoman presumed the lad would report that the banshee had succeeded in her task.
He admonished himself for the presumption. This was Kip Kilroy. The idiotic grin was no indication of circumstances. It meant only that drink, hooliganism and debauchery were at hand.
And at that moment — urgent, secret mission to avert cosmic calamity aside — The Banjoman recalled precisely why he so liked the bastard mariner of Mars.
Dave Grayson cornered into the arena parking lot at a speed that challenged the enormous Oldsmobile station wagon to remain on the icy dirt road.
“Jesus!” Dave McFinnegan said from the front passenger seat. He had called shotgun for so long — and had always created so much drama when he didn’t get it — that everyone had just taken to proactively relenting on the matter. He commented on Dave’s driving just to hear himself talk. Everyone in the car knew Dave Grayson was a spectacular wheelman.
Ian Grayson reclined sideways across both back seats scribbling down what he could recall of everyone’s liquor store requests on the back of an Incredible Hulk comic. His kind face, cool demeanour, and receding hairline had made it impossible for him — the moral high-grounder of the group — to defy his calling as high school bootlegger.
Nick Morrison opened the back of the station wagon where Jason Baker was sleeping off his hangover and threw in his hockey stick and bag.
“Figure skating is hard, eh St. Pierre?” McFinnegan roared out the passenger side window at Scott St. Pierre who was crossing the parking lot in front of the car.
St. Pierre threw up the finger and McFinnegan laughed.
“How ’bout you shut it, Dave,” Nick said as he climbed into the seat Ian had freed up for him. “You can’t even skate let alone play hockey, dipshit.”
“Oh sorry then, MorrisON.” It was McFinnegan’s go-to to say Nick’s surname sound like moron. “Are you and Lady St. Pierre dating or something?”
Hockey practice had eliminated all but lingering traces of Nick’s hangover. Having resolved that he was done with Friday-night D&D and would go to Club Cedars this coming Friday, he was feeling better about things. He still wanted to play — just not on Friday. As much as he would have loved to punch McFinnegan in the back of the head, he didn’t.
“A twenty-sixer of Rough and Rowdy for me, Ian.” Nick tapped on the comic where Ian was writing up his shopping list.
“Is St. Pierre your new boyfriend? Is he why you want to go to Cedars so bad.” McFinnegan persisted.
“Jason is going to kill you for writing on his comic.” Nick said to Ian in order to make a show of how committed he was to ignoring Dave.
“If you want, Nick, I can pull over,” Dave Grayson said it into the rearview mirror and jerked his head sideways toward the other, mouthier, Dave.
“Thanks, no, Dave. I’m good.” He reached over the front seat and flicked McFinnegan’s ballcap off his head onto the dash.
“The little guy is just cocky about hitting 10th level. No need to send him hunting for his teeth in the snow.”
They all laughed, Dave McFinnegan re-donned his hat and sheepishly apologized. He had two modalities: mirth (which typically manifested as sarcasm) and melancholy (which typically manifested as regret for his sarcasm).
An awkward silence fell upon the station wagon.
It was weird that — even though he hated the mall intensely — Andy had not accompanied them today.
There was not another word about the proposal Nick had made last night. Everyone knew a breaking of the fellowship had occurred and they all had already begun making their peace with it.
Andy knew the edge of the Olympian empire bordered the astral plane mere kilometers behind where he sat in meditation. He did not know the realm of sleep also bordered with the Olympian and astral planes in the tall round building atop the high bluff at his back.
In the very near future, he would learn that The Eden Edict, which forbade contact with the Earthers of Sanctuary, was difficult to enforce on the astral and dream planes where Earthers could travel either by sleep or meditation.
For millennia, entities of the Olympian and Fey empires, which bordered on these planes had exploited their proximity to tap the unique ingenuity of human-kind — an ingenuity born of the absence of magic. For on Sanctuary, the one place in all the multiverse where magic was impossible, creativity and cunning in the arts and sciences were unsurpassed in all the cosmos.
Deep within, far beyond the nonsense of ego and the ramshackle assemblage of concepts that constituted the delusion of self, Andy Crowley soared the inner realms.
There, across the Moebius Bridge, the delta quanta churned in the probability vortices, where imagination and manifestation, conception and perception, within and without were the interchangeable equivalencies at the heart of reality.
From across an unimaginable distance, a familiar voice whispered to him: a reminder of why he was here — the mariner in the blue cloak, who is he? Why does he beckon?
It required mastery to defy the bliss of that would accompany relinquishing the constructed self to become one the ultimate truth of The All. To entertain notions in this place required retaining a splinter of that which sat under the tree on the astral plane, and in turn, sat within the magical circle in the bedroom in the house in Corbyville.
Suddenly then, a cold, penetrating horror came upon him.
Absence of colour.
Absence of love.
Where there had been the joy of the perpetual present moment, now there was nought but the plodding, ponderous falsehood of the arrow of time.
His sense of disembodiment disappeared completely and he wore once again, all the notion and form that was Andy Crowley again. An endless, white nothingness stretched to infinity in every direction. A whispering voice came into the ears of his deepest mind.
In trying to hear what the whispering voice said, he sensed the direction from which it came.
His eyes rolled upward and took on the white of the wizard’s gaze as his third eye blazed onto his forehead.
There! It comes from that speck of black. In the white expanse, he could not discern if now he moved toward it, or it moved toward him.
Then the word it uttered rang clearly in his mind. And he neither hated nor loved its voice, which both whispered and roared at once.
And he saw that the black speck was a rectangle about the size of a deck of playing cards, though stretched slightly along its length. It was flawless black glass with subtly rounded edges. Deep within the glass, in the center of the screen, there was a stylized apple rendered to convey that a bite had been taken from it.
“We are Abraxas, Andy Crowley,” the black rectangle said to him in a voice that was somehow trillions of voices in trillions of languages.
The thrill he felt then was all-consuming. Every nerve, every cell exploded inward and outward to infinity.
“We are all that is.” The voice whispered.
Andy laughed uproariously. He had never felt such complete satisfaction. He was drunk — no, mad — with the pure, unrestrained power that coursed through every aspect of his being.
He did not know how his next words came to his mind.
“We are all that has ever been. And we are all that can ever be,” Andy Crowley said to the tiny black monolith.
And though he did not know why he had said that, he knew it was the truest, most honest thing he had ever known in his mind or felt in his heart.
To be continued in Chapter 6.
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