“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.
Please read (and share) The Andy Crowley Saga!
“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there, love is lacking. Each is the shadow of the other.“
~ Carl Jung
The screams of the drowning thousands did not come that night — though thoughts of the mysterious blue mariner did find their way into what had been a peculiarly restful sleep for Andy Crowley.
“The blue mariner?” he thought.
Over months of having the same dream, Andy had become accustomed to the psychic signature of the seaman’s presence, and though he had not put his finger on it at Deb’s last night, he now realized he had sensed something of that presence accompanying the banshee he had seen in Deb’s mind.
What did this mean? So much in flux. So much coming to light. He would need to use his Saturday wisely.
The exquisite aroma of bacon sizzling in a cast iron pan wafted up the stairs.
Ruby Crowley wore her mother’s apron over her Canadian Air Force uniform.
She loved her weirdo little brother. He deserved better than he had gotten from his parents and yet he took it all in as though even the shittiest things in life were just more wonders to be experienced. The least she could do for the only family she had left was cook him a big breakfast whenever she was free. She was on leave from airbase in Trenton and had arrived home late last night.
“Cap’n Ruby bringin’ home the bacon!” Andy was wearing a Journey concert shirt, which raised Ruby’s eyebrows. She knew Andy’s taste in music well enough to be surprised by the fact he even owned a Journey shirt. There was only one reason he would wear it. And that reason made her heart flutter with excitement.
“How’s Deb?” She asked. Her tone was loaded with innuendo. Her eyes and a quick jerk of her head showed Andy she noticed the journey shirt.
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” As he shoved bacon into his mouth, Andy used his head to indicate the stairs he had just come down. The suggestion was that Deb was in his bedroom.
“Oh puleease?” Ruby said. “Alfred E. Newman thinks he’s Jon Bon Jovi now? And what’s with that shirt?”
“Hah!” Andy laughed. “Nosy Aunt Ruby! It would make a good band name. Hey, maybe we’ll name the baby after you.”
He savored the toasted bacon sandwich he had constructed and got lost in his thoughts for a moment. He had gone to bed in a maelstrom of concerns about a banshee’s pronouncement of Nick’s impending demise; the bittersweet glow of Deb’s profession of love for him; and confusion about whether or not to reciprocate with his own profession of love for her. The absence of his regular drowning nightmare had made him feel better about Nick. His best friend’s death was not a certainty, Andy now felt. As for Deb, he felt like a weight had been lifted by hearing her say the words — but that the burden lifted was offset by another, heavier issue: could he — considering who he was and the trajectory of his reality as an entity chosen by sorcery — actually be with Deb? As he pondered these things, trying to assemble order from the chaos, he failed to notice Ruby’s silence following his joke about her being an aunt.
“Don’t even joke about that Andy,” she finally said. Her face was a mask of stone. It was Soldier Ruby. Andy had seen that face a lot when she — with the Morrison’s help — had fought for the right to be his legal guardian. She smiled so he would not think she was angry with him.
“We are dealing with enough, aren’t we?” She was pulling her shoulder-length auburn hair into a bun she would wear under her Air Force wedge cap. It told Andy she would be going somewhere for work. He was saddened that she would be leaving again so soon.
He summoned as much compassion into his face as he could.
“Ain’t that the truth,” he said around a mouthful of bacon sandwich.
Ruby could tell he felt bad about the joke and she let it go. This kid, she mused — so sharp; so tuned in; so insightful.
“I have to go to Germany for a week. But before I go, I want the total skinny on what’s up with you and Debbie Holcroft.”
“Of course,” Andy said. And he smiled. “Nosy old-lady-next-door Ruby.”
Ruby laughed. “Still better than Aunt Ruby!” she said. She loved him so much. And was so proud of him. Their situation was strange, but she felt no concern about leaving him alone so frequently. He was so far beyond his years. He was the most together person she knew.
Andy told her everything he could about what had happened with Deb last night. Omitting everything about the banshee, Nick’s death, and anything to do with magic or the occult was, however, required.
He sometimes wondered if his esoteric interests had played a part in driving his mother to church, which had in turn driven his father to drink. In no way did he feel responsible for what his parents had done to themselves. Nonetheless, he had sworn to himself that his mysterious vocation would never bring one of the uninitiated to harm.
When Andy had finished recounting the night’s events, Ruby came around the kitchen table, bent down, and hugged him.
“You know I love Deb, Andy,” Ruby was genuinely excited for him. “He needed this,” she thought.
“It was always going to be either you or Nick? But I always knew it would end up being you.” She looked at him as a mother — a good mother — would have then.
“Why?” Andy laughed as he asked the question. To his mind, Nick was literally the Jon Bon Jovi to his Alfred E. Newman.
“Because I’ve watched the three of you grow up,” Ruby looked away. An easy, dreamy smile was on her face.
“And I saw the way she always looked at you.”
Andy’s heart sank. Suddenly none of this seemed right. He couldn’t be with Deb anyway. could he? And what about Nick? If Ruby was right, then Nick and Deb should –
He needed to meditate. There was too much here to process.
“I love you, Roob,” was all Andy Crowley could think of to say in that perplexing moment.
It was all he wanted to say.
“Hey, Morrison!” Scott St. Pierre spat the words across the dressing room. It was not his intention to come off as rude and obnoxious, but any intention he ever mustered in that regard never seemed to matter in the slightest.
Nick ignored him. He decided he wasn’t quite hungover from last night, but he was still irritated about Andy’s self-centeredness. Why had he bolted out of their game like that? All his pontificating about selflessness and the construct of self, yet he always seemed to do his own thing with no regard for others.
“Morrison!” St. Pierre hollered again, louder this time. Suddenly it was quiet. Every player in the room knew Scott and Nick’s history. And considering Nick always managed to humiliate Scott — be it physically or intellectually — everyone there was dying to see why Scott seemed so insistent on poking the bear.
Suddenly, Nick determined he was hungover after all. He glared at Scott St. Pierre and remembered that Andy had humiliated him on the bus. Was this going to be about that?
“What is it, Scott?” The deadpan was not intentional, but to the room, it came off as delightfully dismissive.
The unexpectedly cordial tone of Scott’s next words caught everyone off guard — especially Nick. “I thought you were going to Cedars on Friday, I didn’t see you.”
Confused by the friendly overture, Nick, due more to laziness than anything else, deemed it easiest to just play along.
”I thought about going.” He said as he snapped on his helmet. He paused and the words in his head did not get to his mouth. But Friday is always D&D night. Suddenly his truth seemed absurd to him: immature — even embarrassing.
“I went to the flat rocks with some friends from Toronto,” he lied. Nick didn’t know why he lied. It just happened. He felt shame — but also an unexpected sensation. Was it liberation?
“Maybe next time, Scott.” It suddenly occurred to him that he could go to Cedars with Deb and her friends next Friday. The reception the idea had received at the game last night had been cold, to say the least. He resolved to go to the mall after practice to talk to Deb about this. He could also ask her what the hell was going on with Andy. His gloves were on now. Grabbing his stick, he stood and made for the door, which required him to walk right past Scott St. Pierre.
Standing up on skates caused Nick’s hangover to descend upon him in earnest. He had too much on his mind. There was too much in disarray for his liking. He felt like a lost soul and it irritated him.
Impulsively, he tapped the heel of his hockey stick on Scott St. Pierres’s shoulder pad as he walked past. Scott was bent over and lacing his skates.
”I’ll save you a dance.” Nick said. This time the dismissiveness was intended.
A snicker rippled through the dressing room. But if Scott St. Pierre noticed he was being laughed at, he did not show it.
“Patience, Scott,” The voice in his head was intoxicating. Had he possessed the worldliness to discern such things, he would have noted its peculiar mixture of British and Midwestern American accents. He was enthralled by the electronic tinge it possessed — like Max Headroom on TV, he thought.
“Nick Morrison is donefore.” The alluring synthetic voice said.
“You just need to be patient.”
Because his face was down as he finished lacing his skates, nobody saw the malicious grin that split Scott St. Pierre’s wide, freckled face.
Had they seen it, they would have been horrified at how much that grin was not his own.
Andy knew Deb would be at the mall today. She and her friends spent every Saturday there. Rumour had it Deb had even applied for a job at the Denim Nexus. He reminded himself to ask her about that.
Nick would be at hockey practice.
Andy was glad his friends were busy. His breakfast with Ruby had given him room to think more about what had happened with Deb.
He knew he loved her. What he didn’t know was whether or not he should let that take its natural course. Andy Crowley did not know why he had become a sorcerer. But he had. When the dreams of the strange runes had come upon him, he had not questioned what they were. He had assumed this was normal. Nick had helped him realize it wasn’t. The cruelty of children — and their parents — had brought him around to keeping his occult knowledge to himself. He had come to understand the importance of flying under the radar. He had also read enough comic books to know that possessing the kind of knowledge and power he did would eventually place the ones he loved in harm’s way.
He quashed the fleeting thought of his broken parents only to have it replaced with something even worse.
What if I’m the reason the banshee came to Deb? What if I’m the reason Nick is supposed to die?
This menacing notion only reinforced his fast-solidifying position that there was no way he could be in a romantic relationship with Deb. And the thought was excruciating. Despite realizing that being with her was what he wanted more than anything — all the more, now that he knew she wanted to be with him — he was also realizing that getting what he wanted in this regard would put the one he loved in harm’s way.
But couldn’t he just drop sorcery: walk away?
He had transcended the prison of everyday consciousness and explored the proximal planes that were the springboard to the mystery and wonder of the wider, wilder multiverse. He pondered all that he had already experienced — and what miracles there were to come: Olympus, The Hells, The Nine Realms of Asgard, Heliopolis, the realm of Fae! Could he really walk away from all this?
But could he really walk away from Deborah Holcroft? He was convinced he could not remain upon the mystic’s path and also have a life with Deb. He now knew this much completely. And there was another complicating factor. His friend’s — no his brother’s — name had been uttered by a banshee of Fey. Who but he, with all he had so fervently endeavoured to learn and know, was equipped to save Nick? He had wondered if there were others like him: other true magic-users. But all indications were, from the research he had done, that there were not.
If it fell upon him to save Nick, why was he focusing on what to do about Deb?
Selfish bastard, he admonished himself.
Too much was happening. Forces were converging. It had not been like this since just before his father left.
He assessed the prevalence of the mariner in the night-blue cloak in all the events that now perplexed him. The one, simultaneously so strange yet so familiar, who had come to him every night in his dreams — and whose presence he had sensed when he had seen the banshee through Deb’s eyes last night.
Enough with conjecture, he thought. Ruby had left for the airbase. He needed to use this time wisely.
Settling into the full lotus posture within the Solomonic pentagram carved into his bedroom floor, Andy extracted the five, coloured dice from their purple, velvet whiskey bag and placed each one at a point on the pentagram. Each die, a Platonic solid, represented an element, and as such, had its proper place in the magic circle.
Gesturing with his fingers, he chanted one of the first Atlantean incantations that had come to him in his sleep and willed his body’s natural aetheric field to pack tightly inward into the thin, hard suit of emerald green brainmail that would protect his astral form. His destination was one of the more idyllic and uneventful corners of the astral plane near its boundary with the realm of sleep, but Andy Crowley was nothing if not a cautious practitioner. He knew well the dangers of extra-planar transfer, even in the relatively peaceful proximal planes.
He envisioned the necessary visual triggers and recited the mantras required to generate the bio-electric field that would allow the transfer of his consciousness from his physical body to his astral one and he 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 tall 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 aetheric field in order to fly in this place.
For now, he was content just to 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 always thrilled at the springy softness of the astral realm. It was a hallmark of this particular plane that surfaces had a kind of spongy give to them. The grass was pale gold. The soil 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.
Andy 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. His 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. It was impossible to truly come to harm here. 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.
Enough with thinking! He thought then.
Where blazes empty mind, no shadows pose as truth.
And so Andy Crowley nestled down 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 answers would come to him here.
The answers always came so easily in this place.
As Andy Crowley sat in quiet meditation on the astral plane, he did not sense he was being observed.
High atop a distant bluff, a handsome man of the sea stood in the tall archway of a massive structure of Olympian design. The archway delineated the event horizon between the astral realm and the Olympian realm of Stygia. His curly chestnut hair and night-blue cloak fluttered in the breeze that whistled up the bluff from the river Styx at his back. The mariner, could not enter the astral plane and so looked into it through the archway. What he saw there set his heart ablaze.
In the gravity pits of Jupiter; upon the Sea of Tears in the ra-ships of the legendary Martian Dynastic Navy; in hundreds of battles in hundreds of wars on a hundreds of worlds in hundreds of realms he had trained for this. For the entirety of two lives, the one he had forgotten and the one he lived now — he had prepared for this. To finally lay eyes upon Andy Crowley, Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary — the only being ever to use magic on otherwise magicless Earth, quickened his pulse, brought tears to his eyes.
But he could not act yet. Jasco of Fey must do her work in the dream realm. The boy must not confuse what must now come with a trick of the mind, a dream, or some madness or other.
A smile, which had been likened by more than one poet across the multiverse to a supernova, spread then across the mariner’s face. He swung up into the saddle of his horse and spun it about. The clatter of its shodden hooves echoed through the massive Olympian hall.
His heart lusted for raucous celebration. And the Port of Stygia, where he had laid anchor the day before, was well known for the quality of its taverns.
TO BE CONTINUED
in Chapter 5
Read (and please share!) The Andy Crowley Saga
”Just like the prophecy said he would, he came from magicless Earth…
‘It was a rectangle of light that could tell him anything anyone could ever want to know. The fruit of Eden, dreaded in prophecy from the dawn of the multiverse.”
The Banjoman, was solemn as he pondered the implications of What he was about to say. His bright eyes dimmed and he parted his red gunslinger mustache with the fingers of one hand. Then he whispered the words as though they were an affront to reality and should not have been uttered.
“It was The Glass Grimoire.”
“I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
~ Mark Twain
From the kitchen table, Nick Morrison watched leaves all the colours of roaring flames meander down to settle like Viking funeral boats onto the river.
He had made short work of his book report for Mr. Latimer and pretended he was still at it for the benefit of his mother in the living room. He and Andy had read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit way back in Grade 2. There was likely no book either of them knew better. It – along with The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion – had been something of a religion to them in their adventures across the forests of Foxboro and Corbyville. Indeed, painted in elegant silver strokes on the dark blue mailbox at the end of the Morrison’s driveway was the word Imladris. It meant Rivendell in the Sindarin tongue of Tolkien’s elves: a place of refuge and reflection for weary travelers.
He closed his English binder and put his pen in his pencil case.
“All done! And exquisitely reasoned and presented as usual. I’m off to the Grayson’s for D&D,” he yelled into the living room. He was sure to amplify the D&D part for his mother.
A monotone “Have fun,” came back from his dad. Nothing from mom. Her disapproval of the game was well known and Nick reveled in it.
Pulling on his new Quinte Saints football jacket, he grabbed his set of red translucent dice off of the Players Handbook on the bench by the door. They were marvellous to him — like sacred gems from the dawn of time. With effort, he worked them down into the pocket of his too-tight Jordache jeans. He checked to make sure his player character sheet was still tucked inside the book.
He hollered over his shoulder as he left.
“I’ll leave the axe I’ve been sharpening in the garage. Demonic possessions and all. Can’t be too careful.”
His father’s laugh made Nick smilewhiskeyand he savoured how much that laughing would irritate his mother.
The Morrison’s porch door opened onto the same gravel driveway the Crowleys used. Andy was there strapping his Adidas bag to the crossbar of his BMX bike with Bungie cords. Nick’s eyes seized immediately on the purple, velvet bag at Andy’s hip. Its gold cord was threaded through a belt loop in his jeans. The bag, which had once held a bottle of expensive Canadian whiskey, now held the Dungeon Master’s dice. Nick looked quickly away. He didn’t want to think about them, for those dice would determine the fortune and fate of Argwain Cirth, His eighth-level, half-elf ranger.
Faded, pockmarked and rounded at the edges, they were from the first basic D&D set TSR released in 1977 and they were the only dice Andy Crowley had ever owned. Andy had gibbered on to him once — in that way of his — about how they were The Platonic Solids: the fundamental geometric forms of all reality. As usual, he hadn’t really listened to Andy. All he knew was Argwain Cirth’s destiny would be decided by them — and that made them the most fearsome artifacts conceivable.
He didn’t want to think about that.
“Did you get your Bilbo-ography done?” He said, knowing full well what Andy’s answer would be.
“Bother burgling and book reports and everything to do with both of them,” Andy said in his best Bilbo Baggins Shire accent. “I’ll write it Monday morning.”
Nick frowned. He knew Andy better than anyone except maybe Deb, and had always lamented his best friend’s unwillingness to play along — to fit in. He had tried for years to get him to give a shit about his marks at school; to wear something other than concert shirts and Levis, and to take some sort of interest in girls and sports. All of his efforts had been to no avail. After Andy had quit smoking and lost weight last summer, Nick had hoped high school might spur some kind of change. But two weeks in, Nick worried now more than ever about what kind of future his best friend was setting himself up for. Even worse, he had taken to thinking they were doomed to grow farther and farther apart.
Andy had been through a lot. His dad’s drinking, His mom’s church-thing. Who in Hell left their kid to be raised by his older sister? Nick thought. Mr. and Mrs. Crowley had been like parents to him too. It made him sad to hate them. The whole thing was a mess. Was it any wonder Andy was such a malcontent? It was all made worse by the fact he was the smartest person Nick knew. “Smart all the way back ’round to stupid,” his mom always said. And she loved Andy like another son.
Nick thought better of challenging him to do his school work again. After all these years it had never gotten him anywhere. He thought of bringing up what had happened on the bus with Scott St. Pierre. Deb had told him at the mall. Funny he thought. He and Deb always seemed to talk about Andy at the mall — a place he refused to step foot in.
It was game night after all. Why pontificate on homework. But Nick could not quell the creeping sadness that swelled in the back of his mind. The chill in the air, the earlier dusk and the fallen leaves swirling about them didn’t help.
All things end, a voice inside him said — though he felt the words more than heard them.
“Nothing too mind-bendy, for poor Mr. Latimer if you can manage it,” He said. His sympathy for Andy’s teachers was genuine. “No comparing Beorn’s lodge to the night you spent on astral plane with the mayor-of-hyena-people-town’s harem.”
“Gnolls,” Andy muttered matter-of-factly as he straddled his bike. A C-3P0 Star Wars card clothes-pinned to the forks chattered over the spokes as he started up the driveway.
“Hyena-people? Shameful!” Andy admonished over his shoulder. “Read your Monster Manual son.”
Smiling at his best friend and his Dungeon Master, Nick launched onto his pedals in a standing drive into the wake of flaming leaves Andy Crowley tore down the driveway to the River Road.
Andy thought of Nick as a brother and was sure he always would. The two of them, along with Deb, had grown up together on the River Road. But he knew Nick was struggling with their friendship lately.
He had always known Nick would be successful in the way society measure success. Nick Morrison was handsome, athletic, smart, and disciplined. The girls loved him. The coaches loved him. The teachers loved him. That their fork in the road would appear on the horizon had been as certain as the return of a Canadian winter.
Andy recalled the time they raided Mr. Morrison’s liquor cabinet and he had told Nick how much he was enjoying Michael Moorcock. Nick had cried blasphemy against Tolkien — a betrayal of their sacred brotherhood. The alcohol escalated things to the edge of a drunken brawl. The whole matter — especially considering what he’d seen booze do to his father — had unsettled Andy so much, he hadn’t drunk since.
High school seemed to be accelerating the inevitable, and Andy had been meditating on this frequently. There was no point in grasping. Attachments were the bars of the prison that kept us from truth.
If you have a problem that has a solution, what is achieved by worrying about it? If you have a problem that has no solution, what is achieved by worrying about it?
Besides. It was game night.
“Total bullshit!” Dave slammed the palms of both his hands down onto the flimsy, green card table. His freckled face was as red as his hair. “I sneak in, AGAIN; set off a trap, AGAIN; barely make a saving throw AGAIN — he lunged for the Marvel superheroes thermos on the floor by his chair and took a gulp from it. Then he winced and bellowed, “Then it’s all big people treasure. ALL THE GODDAMN TIME!”
Every one recoiled from the spray of rye whiskey and ginger ale that delivered his angry words. For a moment, the musty, teenage boy smell of the Grayson brothers’ rec room took on a tinge of gingery rocket fuel.
“Say it! Don’t spray it, asshole!” Jason Baker yelled. “And slow down!” Dave was notoriously obnoxious on an average day — exponentially so when he was drinking.
“Treasure is not everything, halfling,” A calm suddenly came over everyone at the table and they turned to revere the words of the Dungeon Master. “For Brudo Thornshrike of Moonsmoor has learned much in the grey arts of stealth and lockpicking. And despite his incorrigible demeanour and frequent pettiness, he has more than shown his worth to his companions of late,” Andy paused for dramatic effect.
“Brudo Thornshrike’s small stature may limit his access to the spoils of war, but experience is a treasure in-and-of-itself — and so our halfling thief has risen a level.”
Dave’s expression went blank and everyone at the table braced for what they new came next. Jay and Dave Grayson (there always seemed to be more than one Dave) seized the opportunity the pause presented to reach for their drinks on the floor, and in so doing, avoid getting sprayed again.
“Seriously?” he asked. His disbelief was genuine. “10th level already?”
Ian Grayson hoisted a beer over the center of the table. “To Brudo Thornshrike!” he hollered and the party cheered.
“Weasel, snake, creeper, swine and drunkard!” Ian embellished. Another roar went up from the group. Brudo’s was the most enthusiastic of all. He drained his thermos and slammed it upside down on the table. Polyhedral dice and lead miniatures of a thief, a ranger, a cleric, a druid, a magic-user, and three fighters were sent every which way.
Andy was happiest in these moments. He looked at the dice scattered across the hexagonal map — a yellow four-sided, red six-sided, green eight-sided, blue twelve-sided, and a white twenty-sided.
Though few knew it, these dice were modeled on The Platonic Solids, the fundamental forms of reality. Andy wondered if, when used in the manner he used them every Friday night, they were generating new realities on planes within the mind. He wondered if, at the very least, they functioned to dissolve — even to a minuscule degree — the constructed everyday identities of his friends around this table as they shifted their energies into other selves experiencing the inner planes.
Was he a missionary of mysticism? Were his friend’s unwitting disciples toeing the thinnest edge of a wedge into the realm of the only true faith possible: the Eden of belief in no belief where transcendence of dogma and delineation alike bestowed ultimate grace. A realm of peace and a joy beyond the relative confinement of this realm’s nonsensical conceptualizations: countries and races, political affiliations and religions, letters and numbers — self and other?
His dice were his witch’s wand, his wizard’s staff — the veritable keys to — call it Nirvana, call it Valhalla, call it the Kingdom of God, found just the other side of the putting away of childish things.
Then, suddenly, his mind exploded. Something was wrong with Deb. The terror she felt assailed his wits. And in flash, he saw through her eyes what frightened her.
Frantically, he gathered his dice and dropped them into the purple bag at his hip.
“Nick, you should stay,” He said it like a command and Nick’s face darkened.
“See you guys,” He managed as he bolted for the door.
They’d seen it all before.
Rolling his eyes, Nick drained another bottle of Black Label. With Andy gone this would be the perfect opportunity to pitch the guys on changing game night from Fridays so they could go to the dances held at Club Cedars just down the road. He knew Andy wouldn’t like it, but in that very instant, like a damn that had restrained more river than was possible for far too long, he let go. For the first time in his life, he felt the relief of not considering what Andy Crowley thought.
He liked it.
They’ll see it my way, he thought.
Then, with a confidence and deftness that amazed everyone there, Nick Morrison, slammed the cap off another beer with the edge of the rickety card table.
TO BE CONTINUED
in Chapter 3
Friday, October 5
7:00 p.m. EST
“The infinite mind of The All is the womb of universes.”
~ the Kybalion
The wild-eyed sea captain dropped to his knees on the white beach and savoured the caress of the cool wind on his sun-ravaged face. Closing his eyes, he let the rush of triumph consume him entirely.
Three of his haggard crewmen and the rowboat they dragged onto the sand were all that remained of his Arcturian clipper and her crew of eighty-five that had disembarked from Denlar.
How long had it taken him to get here to claim The Glass Grimoire: the prize of prizes? More than a year to be sure – but the specifics now eluded his ruined mind.
He fell into the hot sand and wept. His crewmen, having secured the landing craft, dared not approach him. Instead, they sat on the beach to watch the remaining third of the Sojourner – their home and their curse – slip beneath the Cartigian Sea.
The sailors whispered to one another about starting to look for wood but decided instead to stay where they were lest they incur the wrath of their now-wretched master.
The captain regarded the tree line of the tropical island. Blue pines, 200-feet-tall, lined the beach. Were it not for the heat and the murmur of the surf, he could have mistaken the scene for a memory of his childhood in the Northern realms of Plaxus Main. The thoughts of his youth fanned the fire in his heart to a roaring flame. He put a hand on the Culduran cutlass at his side and launched his emaciated, nearly naked form to its full height.
With failing vision he scanned the beach and spotted the peninsula roughly a mile distant. It lay about ten feet across and stretched about a quarter-mile out to sea. At its farthest reach, a solitary pine clung to the rocks. Bent seaward by the wind off the island’s mountains, it pointed like a gnarled sea hag’s finger out to the sea.
Without heed for the crewmen sitting behind him in the sand, he took the first step in the last leg of his journey toward his destiny. The pain of the scars of battle, the agony of thirst and starvation, and the torture of a conscience fragmented and rotten by the things he had done to get to this moment were forgotten. Now, there was only his future – the glorious future of one bold enough to finally possess The Glass Grimoire – a future of vigorous health and unlimited power.
Out on the peninsula, his hunger for his prize took him in earnest. Were moisture available to his dehydrated body he would have wept tears of joy, would have slobbered like his lost ship’s beloved mastiff while he scrabbled frantically across the rocks on bleeding hands and knees.
When finally he came upon the tree, no capacity for pain or suffering remained. There was only a vacuous kind of ecstasy — and a sensation entirely new to him, touching gently, enticingly, upon the fringes of his mind.
Squatting, and slack-jawed now, finally, he regarded the mysterious, ancient tree with the awe of a religious zealot come face-to-face with his god.
It had grey bark that was not quite silver in that glorious, subdued patina of heirloom armour, ancient and proven. Though it was said to be old beyond reckoning, it was thin and whimsical in form. Working up the courage to reach out to a low-hanging branch, the mariner found the needles to be soft to the touch. They were a green that reflected the sea, but with an inclination of the eye or a change in the light of the sky they could also take on a cool tinge of blue.
Then, the gentle touch he had felt encroached inward through a slow-swelling madness. Reluctantly at first, he accepted it into his mind, for it was soothing and inviting.
And he knew then that the mind that was touching his was indeed the legendary intellect of The Grimoire itself.
Through the wonder that had replaced the ecstasy, he now felt that it was sharing with him. Kindly, politely, it began urging him to stop being who he was. It appealed to him to forsake his delusion of self – the delusion of all humanity. The sea captain’s mind began to sing with notions he had never before even begun to entertain: no beginning or end, no here or there, no me or you, no us or them.
And though he was at peace in his mind, he began shaking violently. Walking became difficult on the uneven footing of the rocky ground. His vision tunneled to a pinprick. Then, beneath the ecstasy of victory mingled with the grace of the mind now in his, a subtle fear emerged deep within.
He struggled over the rocks and around the ancient pine to stand with his back to the sea. Some portion of his mind, perhaps the small sliver that was still him, reflected on the beauty of the ocean for the last time. And then he saw it.
The Glass Grimoire.
It was embedded in the tree about four feet from the ground. A glass rectangle with slightly rounded corners, it was roughly the size of a deck of cards, though stretched along its height. A thin border of grey metal rimmed the flat glass. It was much smaller than he imagined it would be.
It appeared as though the tree had grown up around it, embracing, nurturing and protecting it over millennia. He thought on this. Perhaps the mind of nature coveted the vast arcane knowledge contained within the Grimoire as fiercely as did as the minds of gods and men. Now that knowledge, and all the power that came with it, would be his.
He reached to The Grimoire and felt it connect with him even before his finger touched the glass. There was an otherworldly chiming sound that was almost mechanical.
Then he – at least he as he had regarded himself since childhood – was gone.
The sensation was not unpleasant. For in that instant he was everyone, everywhere, everywhen. There was a blinding – or was it totally illuminating – light. Then there was nothing – or was it everything – just with all the borders removed?
The only witnesses to the end of the captain’s quest were the whistling blue Cartigian seabirds. And caring not at all about what had transpired, they saw the decrepit waif of a sea captain transformed instantly into a cloud of sparkling white sand that was borne upon a swirling breeze to be laid upon the beach with the rest.
The crewmen who had not dared disturb their master’s final triumph experienced the same momentary peace before they too became sand upon that beach.
Within the tree, beneath the rectangle of glass known for millennia across the multiverse as The Glass Grimoire, a small symbol appeared: a stylized fruit. It was grey in colour and rendered to convey that a bite had been taken from it.
The Grimoire did not belong to this brave captain or his men. It belonged to another man: a man who would not be born for another eight thousand years.
For a few more seconds, the bitten-fruit icon remained behind the glass.
Then, the quiet chime sounded again and it was gone.