“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
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