A Klondike Sorceress Falls. A Banjo Goes East.


The steel grey sky over Dawson City shone a little bluer to the boy’s eyes. Less smoke than usual meant folks were indeed sleeping later today. Fair enough, he thought, it being the first day of a new millennia and all. He pondered how wild it would have gotten last night and looked over to Zadok Jon, who plodded alongside him on a spectacular Palomino that deserved far better than the haggard ribbon of road that lead into the Klondike’s capitol city.

“A proper shindig last night, do you reckon?” The boy, held his horse’s reins loose in one hand and pantomimed drinking from a bottle with the other.

Zadok Jon laughed. “Proper might not be the word I think!” His English was perfect for a member of the Han tribe. Like his best friend, who he rode with now, he had learned his letters on the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the conversations that accompanied same.

The snowfall was light and the flakes were large. The town seemed peaceful for a change. But it didn’t matter that it was New Year’s Day, in the year 1900 by Christian reckoning, Dawson City was always open for business.

 

“Sorry to hear about the Maestro, Pluck.” Percy Greymore, who was the train station attendant, tipped his stovepipe hat to the boys. He had scurried over as soon as he heard the door creak shut. As e scurried to the desk, he made an effort to hide a darkened, swollen cheek he seemed ashamed to have acquired the night before. The boys looked at one another and tried not to smile. Proper shindig indeed.

“You too Jon. He lit up a lot of nights for folks around here. We will miss him a lot.”

“Thanks Mr. Greymore,” Pluck Doherty quickly pulled off his derby hat to show he meant what he said. “It woulda meant a lot to him that you said that.”

“Here it is.” Percy slid a yellow envelope under the opening under the bared enclosure. “I hope it’s good news, boys. You deserve it.” He looked at them and nodded. It struck Pluck that he was a genuinely kind soul. Not a common find in the Klondike. “And give a Happy New Year to your mother from me and Betty. If she needs anything we will be sure she gets it.”

“Will do, sir.”

“Obliged for your kind words, Percy,” Zadok Jon gave a curt nod. His fearless confidence and urbane manner was unsettling to the outsiders who had come for the gold. The Han native took great joy in flaunting what he had come to think of his white-man costume.

Outside, the town had livened up somewhat.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Jon exaggerated his distress at watching Pluck put the envelope in one of his horse, Cherie’s, saddlebags.

“When I get home. I want mom to see.” He stroked Cherie’s haunch. He was pensive. The telegram had come Christmas Eve and his father had died the day after Christmas. It had taken him until now to work up the gumption to come pick it up.

Zadok Jon swung up effortlessly onto his palomino, Plotinus was her name, after the Neoplatonist philosopher. “You’re a good boy, man. I would’ve opened it.”

“Lets see what’s up at Dolan’s,” Pluck said. “Maybe they’ll have somethin’ left behind the bar.”

Zadok Jon’s eyes lit up. “Happy New Year brother!”

“Happy New Year.”

And the boys on their horses sauntered toward the saloon.

 

When an Asian dragon enters the material plane, the long tendrils from their nostrils and brows are always the first things to manifest. Sniffing the quantum substrata for stray aether, they grab the first molecules they can find. In this case, the majestic serpentine spirit became the smoke from a woodstove in a quaint log cabin in the Canadian Yukon.

Elizabeth Crow pumped a shotgun. The Ancient Sumerian hieroglyphs and Asgardian runes etched into its twin barrels made it look like it was carved from Grecian marble. Blowing a damp strand of her auburn hair from her face she pointed the weapon at the ceiling.

She muttered a circle of protection into existence around her body. The pail green light it cast made her look more frightening than frightened. The true face of a witch – a witch with the face of an angel.

She pulled the trigger and blew a hole in the tin roof. When she heard nothing she knew their was no point in reloading. She turned to the door and smiled. Not a hint of fear was in her.

The dragon, now fully formed from the chimney smoke was elegant, white, gold and beautiful. It bowed its head and looked into the witch’s eyes. Believing in neither good nor evil, the dragon was merely serving the balance. It would feel no regret for what it was about to do. Its eyes smiled. The witch’s eyes smiled back.

Then with a simple breath, the Elizabeth Crow became silver dust on the pine plank floor. Not burned by fire, just simply and painlessly transformed.

And with but a thought, the dragon was gone as well. Back to its home in skies far beyond this realm of our experience.

Two riders and a wagon pulled by a large draft horse came up the hill to the east and out of the bush to stop at the cabin’s front door.

The smallest of them, and no more than a teenager really, flipped the tails of his confederate army long coat away so he could crouch down to frown at the pile of silver dust by the magic shotgun. Elizabeth Crow was a kind and good woman, He thought. But this was necessary.

He handed his tricorner hat to one of the enormous thugs that worked for him.

The banjo rested on the mantle of the stone fireplace. It was magnificent.

Its ouroboros-rimmed head; its marble neck; the orange, demon-wing leather strap. Legend was, its head was skinned with the hide of the Nemean lion, its strings were wrought by dwarves of the nine realms.

Despite his best effort, the man could not safely lift it. Indeed, it took both of the henchmen to load it into the back of the horse-drawn cart.

As per their agreement with the witch-slaying dragon, the banjo was the only item they took from the house.

 

His mother had been a prostitute in Skagway, Alaska when she had met his father. She had come to the Yukon with her boyfriend from California. The boyfriend had fallen through the ice in Northern British Columbia. Elizabeth Crow had finished the journey alone.

She had met Pluck’s father in Skagway and he brought her with him to Dawson city. He loved her and taught her much, including the Kabala, the Tarot and a Hermetic, Gnostic understanding of the esoteric path.

Pluck knew the neat pile of silver dust was her. But he did not weep as Zadok Jon did. He loved is mother – but he did not weep.

He got to his feet and collected the enchanted shotgun. Beth, he named it then and there. It’s what his father had called is mom.

“We need to go if we intend to catch them John.”

“There was three, two big, one small, maybe a child. And a horse and wagon.” Jon wiped tears from his face with the frilled doe-skin sleeves of his jacket. The light dusting of morning snow had told his eyes the tale.

“Why did they kill her?” Jon’s anger was emerging.

Pluck reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the folded telegram. Jon noticed the tab that sealed it shut had been torn.

Gustav!

Time for Moon to return to New York. I have unlocked her secrets. Safe travels!

Nikola

Pluck watched Jon’s eyes look over the mantle for the banjo. As expected they came right back to his.

“Luna,” he whispered. It’s what their father called is banjo.

“Moon,” Pluck said.

And with a bag of ammo, a bag of food, and a bag of essential books. Pluck Doherty and Zadok Jon of the Han tribe set out from the little cabin neither of them would ever see again.

Read Andy Crowley, Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary

Hubris Begets a Humbling: The Ten-Thousand Eyes of Mars


Painting by Rodney Matthews

Parting the neatly combed moustaches of his dark silver mutton chops, Admiral Cavendish Farlore strode for the high deck to aft of the Martian dreamship. And not just any dreamship either: the Ramses IX, flagship of the First Martian Solar Dynastic Navy. Overhead an escort of thousands of Martian Ra-ships hung in the sky. With their elongated saucer shapes that came to a point at each wing, and their keel turret bubbles of dark tinted plasteel, they looked like unblinking eyes in the indigo of the inter-dimensional sky.

On a ribbon of the Sea of Tears that meandered outside sidereal spacetime to terminate in a massive secret chamber beneath the Pyramid at Giza, the Ramses IX had sat at anchor for half a celestial day.

“You are relieved, boatswain,” Farlore gave a curt nod.

“Aye-aye, Admiral,” In the Martian fashion, the young sailor saluted by touching the serpent arched to strike from the golden brow of his nemes helmet. “Thank you, sir,” he added over his shoulder as he left. The grass-green cloth that hung to his bare shoulders from his helmet fluttered in the breeze. The admiral smiled in his head to note the youth’s surprise at having been relieved.

“Your are most welcome, son. The mess is not yet as lively as it is likely to get tonight. Tell Kator-La, I said to give you the admiral’s special and don’t make any plans before celestial noon.” The Admiral glowed to see the pride come into the boy’s face. “And if you don’t mind, I need you to pass along that everyone is on leave tomorrow until we make port at Memphis Nova I.”

“With all haste due, Admiral!”

Farlore turned his back to the sailor. Memories of his early days in the navy came upon him then and he didn’t want to risk the lad seeing him smile. It made him happy to give his crew some time off. Heavy matters weighed on the First Martian Solar Dynasty. And though he did not know all the factors involved, the admiral was worried that his Pharaoh was over-reaching on this mission.

While it had pleased him to relieve the boatswain, he had done so with an ulterior motive. One he took no pleasure in executing. Indeed, he felt that the moment in cosmic history fast approaching — an event he had been appointed by the Pharaoh of Mars to facilitate — was going to have catastrophic implications for all reality. He scowled. He wanted no part in this.

He looked at a pocket watch he kept tucked behind the holster holding the alchemical sun pistol at his hip. The uniform of the Martian soldier was nought but a skirt to the knees held at the waist by a belt upon which hung a single holster and single scabbard. Feet were sandalled and fastened by wraps, which were intricately woven up to the knees in a morning meditation. Typically there was also a nemes helm of gold from which hung a coloured lappet denoting rank. But admirals, as was the custom, wore no such helmet and shaved their heads completely.

Snapping the watch shut and replacing it, Farlore stepped to the aft railing. Save for the crows nest, it was the highest vantage point on the ship. The world he looked upon, was slightly out of phase from the ship’s position on the Sea of Tears. The effect of the phase variance was such that the world appeared all blue. But Admiral Farlore, who had seen it on occasion from a perspective in sidereal spacetime, knew it to be blue and green and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Pure.

Innocent.

The world was held in esteem as the sacred jewel of all reality. And it was Mars’s responsibility to protect it at any cost.

For this little world was the sole place of refuge from the sorcerous bedlam of the wider, wilder multiverse. It was the one place in all existence where consciousness could not penetrate inward to the probability vortices.

Sanctuary.

The one place in reality where magic did not work.

The Eden Edict of the Binary Proclamation forbade meddling in its affairs. This was decreed by no less than the authority of Pentarchy. But Mars, as its celestial steward, had special rights of access and trade. The unique and remarkable effects of its alcohol and the magic-repellant properties of the fabric called denim were much sought after beyond Sanctuary Rim and the unique privilege of trading these Sanctuarian treasures had filled the treasury pyramids to bursting.

Despite its value to his Pharaoh’s Dynasty, Admiral Farlore was never comfortable being this close. It felt unnatural somehow to be here: like a violation of some timeless, sacred truth.

“Metatron k-reysus,” His voice was stern and purposeful. The sky of eyes — the Martian Ra-ships, each with a single pilot in the dorsal bubble and another in the keel — peeled from formation in long curving arcs that brought them into the space below the celestial horizon of the Ramses IX and the blue ribbon of this tributary of the inter-dimensional sea.

None, save him, could bear witness to what was to now transpire.

The admiral did not know how long he waited before he felt the hairs on his arms stand on end. It is time then.

His hand quickly polished his bald head, and he straightened the gold and teal wrap about his waist. After checking to ensure the snap on his holster was fastened, he clasped his hands behind his back an assumed the disciplined posture of an emissary of the high court of Heliopolitan Mars.

Below him, on the pale blue ambient light of dreamship’s main deck a Coriolis of emerald green nimbus twirled from nothingness into an opaque swirling vortex. In the same neon green hue, the thin lies of a dodecahedron faded into his visual range. Admiral Farlore felt the gentle zephyr of displaced air rustle through his perfectly groomed mutton chops.

When the emerald swirl cleared, and the lines of the dodecahedron faded, a perfect physical specimen of middle-aged man was revealed. The subtle, golden aura of Olympian physiology issued from him. He wore the highly technologically advanced running shoes of the natives of Sanctuary and the orange-trimmed sky-blue toga of the Olympian Empire. At his feet, unconscious and dripping wet, lay a boy — he looked to be no more than fifteen roundings of Ra by Sanctuary reckoning.

The arrogant fools have really done it! Farlore pressed the horror deep down into himself, forced a smile and bowed.

“Lord Cronos! Welcome to the Ramses IX, flagship of the Martian Navy of Pharaoh Gatunkhamen IV,” were the words from Admiral Cavendish (Crash) Farlore’s lips. But in his mind, beneath fealty to the lord whom he loved, there was a whisper…

Hubris begets a humbling.

Read Andy Crowley Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary