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.
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 The Eidetic Vault Trigger had been the first spell he had learned.
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 secret to operating safely in the astral plane.
In the basement recroom, Andy pulled back the worn, chorded, oval area rug that hid a protective magic circle he had etched there with a pocket knife. 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, standard gravitation collapsed around his body. It was 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 vibrations in the body’s aetheric field. These phenomenon and their associated quantum field variations opened access by the consciousness to the deepest inner mind where the conceived world and the perceived world became 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 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. Andy’s touchstone was this tree, with its branches, mostly unseen, stretching out across the planes and throughout the cosmos.
It was time. He reached into his purple velvet dice bag. He felt nothing like a gem in there and his heart sank. But wait!
The six-sided: the red cube was heavy! 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 could have.
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.
“Thank-you,” he said to Gaia. And his voice seemed to him then as gravel and gale.
“This armour will protect you.” Gaia’s matronly, melodic voice whispered in his head. “Sorcerers call it brainmail. It is made from 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, but in the brain mail, he felt her aetheric energy mingling with his.
Andy looked at the six-sided die in his hand. It appeared to be the same, 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.
Boldly donning his new brainmail, with the Earthstone clutched in his fist, he stood and walked to the edge of the ridge by his tree. He always enjoyed the springy surface of the astral realm. It was a hallmark of this particular plane that all the surfaces had a kind of spongy give to them. The grass was pale gold. The earth 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.
And then, with a push from the edge of the ridge the way one pushes from the side of a swimming pool, Andy Crowley soared toward the island in the astral sky he somehow already knew was Akashic Library of Alexandria.
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 Sygia. Cerberus 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. The order to the admiral had come from Hades himself. Hades knew the fiend Lucifer desired the Earth wizard’s soul. The lord of the Olympian underworld about to fall would see Lucifer denied his prize.
Cerberus reared on his haunches. His three heads lathered and foamed as he spoke.
“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 what I once knew as a quiet realm.”
Indeed, where Andy now stood there was 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, Gothic, Renaissance, Persian, North American First Nations, African, Asian — some of the styles he did not know at all and had completely alien alien (an hence, beguiling) flavour.
The left head of the Cerberus, a pup’s, puzzled, tilted, and looked up and to the side. The centre head stared hard and smart into Andy’s eyes — into his soul. The head to his right, aged even beyond death, 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.
In the instant before Cerberus was upon him, by no will of his own, the green aether of his brainmail to on the form of an ornate trident in his left hand. But this mattered not a whit. The sight of it bewildered him — until pain consumed his mind.
From the pup a howl went up. It was so loud, Andy — had he the option, would have checked to see if his ears were bleeding.
The beast was upon him. His last thought before the pain was that the howl had been an alarm — a klaxon to signal his presence. The hound of Hades was a sentinel.
Before he could even respond he was 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 away his eyes and open wounds. He knew his spine was twisting, snapping, and grinding in all manner of grotesque life-ending ways. His curiosity however, was transfixed on matters much grander than the mere imminence of death.
For in the hand that did not clutch to the trident, a small monolith of black glass had appeared. 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 onefrom 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 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: 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 greatest sorcerers in existence have yet to explain, the silver chord, which somehow, defying the arrow of time, always seemed to know what is best, manifested to yank him home.
His shaking hands went to 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 calmed himself. He breathed deeply. The Earthstone was in his hand. He could not even recall Gaea’s voice but he had a feeling. Andy heard the pup’s howl again. The alarm that had gone out. maybe even a summons. Fear came over him then. I have gone to far!
I want to be with my friends. The urge was powerful — and it was tinged with fear and peculiar urgency.
My friends 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!