“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
~ Mark Twain
The United Hells, Hades Prime
Port of Plutonia, Lucifer’s Yacht, The Prince of Light
1984 AD SR (Sanctuary Reckoning)
“His eminence will see you now,” said one of the two demons wearing perfectly tailored smoke-grey suits. He reached across the rich, scarlet, shag-carpeted stairs and unclasped the velvet rope barrier to the gangway onto the yacht. “It’s an honour to have you here sir. I hope Curator Lucifer shows you a good time.”
“Thank you,” said Tin Prince Twain, still working even after all these years to subdue the remaining electronic tinge in his synthetic voice. His accent, unique in all reality, was a perfect balance of Aleister Crowley’s aristocratic West-London English and Mark Twain’s Midwestern-American derivative. The demon, like most, did not know that the Tin Prince’s body, crafted by Nikola Tesla from stolen Atlantean schematics, was the vessel for the feuding souls of these two men (though in recent years they had settled into a loose and functional truce).
“I can’t remember ever having anything other than the best possible time on a visit to Hell,” continued the robot, looking directly into the demon’s eyes and causing him to blush in spite of himself. This degree of poise and charm from a machine was unexpected and disarming.
Fascinated and speechless, the handsome demon, who — with his perfect, waxed golden hair and flawlessly tailored suit, looked like a 40’s movie star — smiled and nodded as he watched the robot pass. He marvelled at the majestic machine’s gracefulness. The Tin Prince was over 8-feet-tall and must have weighed at least 500 pounds, but despite his size, he moved silently with the effortless physical fluency of an elf-maiden of the Feylands. The demon now understood why he had been warned ahead of time not to underestimate the skill at arms of the one called Tin Prince Twain.
Cast in an unknown metal with a pleasing pewter finish that skewed to a mellow golden tint, the Tin Prince’s design had an Earth Victorian clockwork appearance. His proportions, though somewhat longer of limb than a typical humanoid creature, were also pleasing. His head was a tall cylinder slightly wider at the crown than at the chin, and it had a straight-edged, sharply angled nose over a thin black swashbuckler’s moustache, which sat, in-turn, over a straight rectangular slit of a mouth. The proportions of the head and face were as pleasing as those of the body and the demon wondered at the possible use of the sacred geometric aesthetics of Phi (the Golden Mean) in the robot’s design – a distinctively Atlantean trait. His eyes, which were simple rectangular slits, gave off an amber glow; and somehow, either technological or magical (it was impossible to tell), they were capable of communicating emotion much more effectively than one would have thought possible. He wore a loose-fitting white blouse and exquisite doeskin breaches tucked into high black leather boots. At his side, what would have been a two-handed broadsword for a normal-sized human warrior hung on a black leather utility belt with sliver-clasped pockets all the way around.
The demon wondered at the machine’s strength. The way his sword hung suggested the robot used a cross-draw, which meant he could use the heavy two-handed broadsword (seemingly of Tau Cetian make) with one hand. The being’s speed and strength must have been something extraordinary to behold.
What the demon did not know was that Tin Prince Twain was, not only a legendary swordsmen with the incredible mechanical advantages afforded by his Atlantean engineering, he was also one of the most powerful sorcerers in the multiverse. Indeed, approximately 3030 years in the future, it would be he who would deal the deathblow to the Abraxas.
The Tin Prince had told the truth to the demon. He did genuinely enjoy coming to Hell, and he was always surprised at how widely off the mark Earth religions were in their descriptions of it. Especially since Lucifer had taken over management from Hades, Hell was a veritable paradise of free thought and creativity. So much so that it was regarded amongst the elite as a kind of museum of the multiverse. Lucifer had done everything in his power to cultivate a Hell that would provide a stark contrast to the joyless obedience, sterile utilitarianism and soulless bureaucracy that characterized Heaven, which he had departed from millennia before to set up his own soul-trading house.
Everywhere, there were paintings and sculptures. Everywhere, beautiful music, various in tone and style beyond imagining, played. Men and women practically glowed with self-expressive energy. There was no trend in fashion (unless every trend – or none – was a trend. Hell was a vibrant celebration of self-actualization and self-expression. The only sin here was not allowing yourself to become who your soul intended you to be. This was a notion that appealed to a robot sorcerer possessed of an amalgam of rebellious souls from both England and America.
It was easy to see why Hell did so well in luxury tourism, art curation, publishing, and music and motion picture production; but none of these were its main business.
First and foremost, Hell had quickly become the most reputable of the soul-trading houses of Sanctuary Proximus. Souls had always been – and still were – the chief business of Hell, which many now called the United Hells because of its recent, and highly controversial, expansion. For nearly a century ago, Hell proper had annexed this region – Hades of the Stygian province of the Olympian empire – along with all of its substantial soul resources. It had been a nasty conflict, which had drawn in the interests of both Helheim and Necropolis, the soul-trading houses of Asgard and Heliopolis respectively. There were still hard feelings all around.
Lucifer had retained the name Hades for the realm he had conquered and changed the name of its capital from Plutonia to Hades Prime in an earnest attempt to pay tribute to Stygian Olympus and the thousands who had fallen in the vicious conflict – including the realm’s ruler and namesake, Hades himself. The name change was Lucifer’s effort toward kick-starting what he knew would be the long process of mending fences with Olympus. It would also buttress his admittedly loose alliance with Loki, the new ruler of Asgardian Helheim. He did not want him to think he was next. He was already perturbed that Asgard had been drawn into the conflict – and displeased, to say the least, at the way Lucifer had gone about making that happen.
Lucifer, did not share the hard feelings of the others. And while some would say this was simply because he had emerged the victor, his gesture of reconciliation was indeed heartfelt. For Lucifer was the very embodiment of authenticity.
Indeed, his moniker, The Prince of Light, which was very often nowadays, an allusion to his passion for the illumination of the individual, of free will, and of expression of the soul through the arts, had originally been a reference to his reputation as an illuminator of truth. For though he was capable of sometimes rationalizing his position, he was very rarely anything less than completely genuine in the conveyance of his thoughts and feelings, and he strove to inspire the same in all beings.
His reputation as a duplicitous liar, cheat and scoundrel was almost entirely a fabrication of the political forces of Heaven; but The Prince of Lies construct was so ill-fitting that only the most foolish could believe it after actually spending time in his company.
Heaven’s reasons for maligning Lucifer had been strategic. For as much as Lucifer was authentic and honest in his dealings with others, he was also a stalwart and ferocious enemy of tyranny. This had been the reason for his break with Heaven millennia before.
Lucifer made no secret of his powerful disdain for the beings he had once served as an architect-angel of Bria, in the once great soul trading house of Heaven.
He had believed his masters to be lovers, a man and a woman, but he had no way of knowing for sure, for they were invisible beings who cloistered themselves away in an invisible palace at the top of the two-mile-high solid gold staircase in Heaven’s capital. Their arrogance; their sense of entitlement; the way they deemed all other beings undeserving of the magnificent privilege of looking upon their faces, being in their presence or even uttering their names; their expectation that they should be respected, revered, admired – even worshiped; their indifference to the suffering of others; the way they shouted orders to those they deemed their lessors in booming, seemingly disembodied voices – sometimes his, sometimes hers: Lucifer despised them above all else. And he did not despise much or many, save for one other being now that Hades was gone. The Banjoman: that irreverent and unpredictable Lord of Limbo, realm between realms.
Lucifer had felt something of the same seething disdain for the despicable vanity and sense of entitlement displayed by the petulant Hades as he had felt for the nameless, invisible rulers of Heaven. Indeed, this is what had fuelled his desire to vanquish the cruel, vain, despotic Olympian manchild once and for all. Many now thought of Hell’s annexation of Hades as a test-run for what Lucifer had in mind for Heaven. For there was no mistaking that his eye was ever upon those pearl gates and that ridiculous golden staircase and that insufferable invisible palace. None who knew Lucifer, including the Tin Prince, doubted that one day he would go back and raze it all to the ground – and that he would liberate his kin – though most of them did not even know yet that they were enslaved.
Despite all his virtues though, Lucifer’s incredibly creative intelligence was adept at rationalizing and reorienting his own perception of reality to fit his self-interest, and his insight into human nature made him both remarkably charming and incredibly dangerous in the pursuit of his goals. The Tin Prince knew he must bring every modicum of attention he could muster to his relationship with Lucifer. And the robot was thankful at times like these that he possessed the uniquely magnificent sensory acuity of a being with two souls.
At the moment, his elevated awareness continued to soak in the beauty of the surroundings.
From ashore, in the distance, he heard choral music, which must have been coming from the incomparable Amadeus Mozart Opera House of Hades Prime. He paused and leaned on the yacht’s starboard railing to listen, and to regard the sparkling crystal waters of the Sea of Plutonia. Here, the great Olympian River Styx converged with the celestial branch of the Nile and the dimension-spanning Sea of Tears. Indeed, thought Tin Prince Twain, under the skilled leadership of Lucifer, Hades Prime had become the most fascinating, cultured and metropolitan city he had ever visited. It was positively throbbing with potential now.
It was a miracle really; and a testament to Lucifer’s talents as a leader, that the devastation of the Siege of Plutonia had been completely undone in less than half a century.
When the Tin Prince had last met with Lucifer at Punta Epsilon resort in Sanctuary Rim, the charismatic, energetic new ruler of the United Hells had told him how Zeus alone had reduced a third of the city to electrical ash in the grief-driven rage that following the lowly death of his brother Hades. The Olympian had been throttled on his throne, kicking and weeping, at the mechanical hand of the legendary Norse general Tyr. And he had been tossed like so much offal to be devoured by Fenris, the enormous wolf of Asgard.
Word was Plutonia had burned for a decade. But Lucifer was a dreamer, and the gleaming jewel of a city the Tin Prince now admired showed what could be accomplished when a dreamer the likes of Lucifer had access to an unlimited number of souls to fuel their sorcery.
He continued along the starboard deck alongside what he assumed was the ship’s main lounge until he met another demon leaning against the wall smoking a cigarette. This one had shoulder-length, unkempt strawberry-blonde hair and big-yellow tinted sunglasses. He looked like a 70s surfer. Flashing a friendly smile full of perfect teeth, the demon sort of bowed and tapped his forehead with his left hand while he pushed open the door and waved the Tin Prince in with his right. The cigarette had not left his mouth the whole time, and the demon had done all of this with a laid-back grace the robot was sure must have been artificially induced. He smiled his appreciation to the demon, and couldn’t help but note once again that, as always, the hospitality of Hell was unparalleled.
The room was large and luxuriously, but tastefully furnished and appointed. Lucifer stood in the middle of the room facing an enormous television screen that filled the entire wall to the fore of the yacht. He jumped and bobbed excitedly. The giggling of a gleeful child escaped past teeth clenched hard around a long sweeping green glass pipe. He was playing some sort of game on the screen but he stopped immediately when he noticed his guest had arrived. The curator of Hell, set a black joystick with a single red button on a beautifully ornate Olympian style end table engraved with celestial bodies and skeletal sea-life: the hallmarks Stygian motifs.
Green smoke billowed from his mouth and nostrils as he spoke. “Tick-Tock, my dear friend!” He walked briskly across the room to shake hands with the robot. As was always Lucifer’s way, everything he had and everything he was came into the moment. If you were that moment then everything he had was focused on you. He made whomever he was talking to the centre of his reality. He was more accomplished in this capacity than any the Tin Prince had ever known. And for this reason, The Prince of Light was charm incarnate.
The Tin Prince was not offended by Lucifer’s pet name for him. He appreciated it as term of endearment and knew the curator respected, even feared, him.
“Is Zeus still a gorilla?” Lucifer said it with a concern that was forced for comic effect.
The Tin Prince genuinely laughed, “Last I heard, he — very deservedly — is.”
The current marital plight and predicament of the philandering Emperor of Olympus had become the icebreaker of the day in the elite circles of Proximus Sanctuary: the name give this region of the multiverse.
“But I for one, think it is nice that he is sticking it out.” The robot continued. His eyes connected with Lucifer’s.
“He truly loves Hera. I certainly know how hard it is to be judged on appearances. And you certainly know what it is like to be in the doghouse. Do you not admire his commitment?”
Lucifer laughed so uproariously it startled the Tin Prince.
“For one made of metal, you have the softest heart I know! But few are wiser so I’ll heed your words! Indeed you are correct. I meant no insult to the Lord of Olympus. I just find his situation… amusing. For one as proud as he to submit to the perpetual humiliation is just too much to pass up. You must admit?”
The Tin Prince laughed again. This time, more Mark Twain than Aleister Crowley came through.
“Of course it is funny! But it is also a fetching love story is it not? His commitment to Hera is admirable – and no less than she deserves after how he has behaved for so long. We were all waiting for her patience to run out. I for one hope he never changes back. Call me a romantic!”
Lucifer looked at the robot with a giant smile and shook his head enthusiastically. “You are too much! Always, you amaze me.” Now he was speaking to his guest while walking backwards to the bar in the corner of the large room like someone who definitely knew the way there – even without looking. The Tin Prince was impressed with the subtle sorcery that had caused Lucifer’s glass pipe to simply vanished in a puff of the same smoke as that which had emanated from it.
Lucifer, emperor of the United Hells and curator (a title he preferred over mayor) of luxurious Hades Prime, was a smallish and exquisitely handsome man. He had the white pupil-less eyes of the celestial host of the noble Seraphim. But unlike the eyes of most archangels of this order, which were typically piercing and cold beyond imagining, these eyes were inviting and warm. There was always a smile in them. Always.
His hair was so black as to appear blue in most light and his skin was a healthy tan. Not the phony, synthetic tan of a, Vegas lounge-singer from Sanctuary Proper, but the perfect tan of a man who looks after himself. Not so dark and uniform as to hide the glow of his cheeks, and just enough to offset the likewise not-too-perfect white of his wonderfully welcoming smile.
His wings, which spanned 30 feet when fully spread, were folded tight to his back and were raven black-blue like his impeccably coiffed hair – his one feature that nobody could argue was not perfect.
He wore an exquisitely tailored plain black t-shirt and red slacks adorned with a thin golden belt. His black, English brogue shoes – made by hand – were the epitome of comfort, class and craftsmanship, as were all things that belonged to The Prince of Light.
He looked nothing like the beast the residents of the worlds his trading house acquired souls from imagined him to be. Indeed, The Tin Prince, a being whose two souls had been born on one of those worlds thought he looked rather more like Earth’s popular musical performer, Donny Osmond than the horned, goat-legged, spade-tailed monstrosity the humans of Sanctuary Proper thought him to be.
“Enough of Zeus, may he never tire of bananas!” continued Lucifer, who was now behind the bar mixing drinks. “I have souls for you and you have news for me, is that right?”
“I know where it is,” said the robot. “Our source was correct.”
Lucifer walked over to the robot and handed him a highball of his regular request: two fingers of Tennessee bourbon, no ice. Lucifer knew what everyone drank. He never had to ask. He then walked to the entrance to the room, winked at the surfer-dude-demon standing sentry there and closed the door in his face. Once they were alone, the Prince of Light led the Tin Prince to sunken couches to the aft the yacht’s lounge.
“Please don’t tell me where it is, if you don’t mind. I believe it’s much better that I don’t know. But my curiosity in another regard cannot be contained. Tell me, just how do you intend to lay hands upon the untouchable. What clever designs has the matchless wits of The Tin Prince conceived of that will enable us to make use of the most utterly unusable?”
Then the robot, now reclined in the steel-blue leather couch with one leg casually crossed over the other, in an altogether human mannerism that made it easy to see why those who knew him quickly stopped thinking of him as a machine, held up his glass. The whiskey inside glowed brightly and was gone. The light in the robot’s eyes told Lucifer that by some mysterious means the Tin Prince had imbibed – and even enjoyed – the drink. Then he thought he saw one of the amber-lit eyes wink.
“Of course none save Andy Crowley can wield The Glass Grimoire,” said the robot. “As you know, this was told to me in the dream.” The Twin Prince was referring to a dream he had had 25 years prior – a dream he knew with sorcery-derived certainty contained messages sent to him from himself from some three thousand years in the future.
The robot paused pensively, looked to the bar and twitched a finger. His glowing amber eye holes shifted slightly into the green of the visible spectrum and a bottle of bourbon – this time from a Centaurean distillery – surely, and with unnerving speed, shot up from behind the bar and over to where he was sitting. Then it tipped gracefully and refilled his empty glass.
“When last we met we agreed we could not risk defying the Binary Proclamation to approach young the boy on Sanctuary. We have not the familiarity with him to effectively mask our intrusion. And we cannot risk drawing the attention of the Pentarchy.”
Lucifer looked at the bottle of whisky floating beside the robot, and merely with a movement of his eyes, caused it to float over to him and refill his glass as well.
“So a doppleganger? Perhaps a relative of yours, Mr. Crowley?”
“Ahh yes,” said the robot. “We’ve been through this, your eminence. The lad is no relation. Just a happy coincidence.” Lucifer marveled at how the robot’s completely static metal face somehow managed to convey a good-humoured smirk. His casual and effortless competency as a sorcerer was remarkable – no — frightening.
“No,” continued the robot. “Golems, clones, and the like are out of the question. We need the actual Andy Crowley, complete with the soul thereof.
“So without access to the boy,” Lucifer was swirling his whisky. He wasn’t enjoying it as much as the robot was, and was just drinking it to show camaraderie. ”The only option would be to…”
Lucifer’s pupil-less eyes widened slightly. The Tin Prince’s two-souled, heightened perception saw some of the ambient tension dissolve out of Lucifer’s jaw and the blood pressure increase at his temples.
“Yes.” said Tin Prince Twain. “I have found another Andy Crowley, though he does not go by that name where he is from. And yes, I will bring him here to serve our mutual purpose.”
“But that is impossible!” Lucifer made no attempt to hide his surprise now. The bottle of whisky shot back to the robot and tipped slightly and suggestively, the robot nodded his appreciation and the bottle filled his empty glass.
Lucifer jumped up and ran back to the bar. Secretly he dumped his whisky down the sink and reached for his usual – an ancient Venusion black wine made from tautenberries, which had been extinct now for some 30,000 years.
“The impossible is a hobby of mine. You know this Lucifer. It’s why you find me such interesting company,“
“But how will you breach the dimensional barrier? The energy both physical and magical is theoretically…“ Lucifer, at a rare loss for words, was now running back to the sunken couches. The Tin Prince noted that, rather than pouring a glass, he had brought the entire bottle of wine with him.”
The Tin Prince was quite pleased with himself. He had managed to entirely dismantle the legendary cool of the Emperor of the United Hells. In this precise moment, he knew he had him. He knew he was going to get exactly what he needed to execute his plan.
“The physical energy required will not be a factor. I intend to simply disintegrate reality so completely at the boundary layer between multiverses that it will not be needed.
“Simply?!” Lucifer was almost hysterical with joy and enthusiasm.
“Multivers-ES!” He was also possibly a little intoxicated by this point as well.
“Simply?! Why yes! Of course, you will simply take a stroll into another multiverse and bring back another Abraxas Junior!”
He had been waving his arms about with excitement. The Tin Prince noticed he had not spilled a drop of the precious black wine. Lucifer just stared at the robot and subtly shook his head. The grin of an awestruck child illuminated his face.
His excitement was contagious. The Tin Prince, by whatever sorcerous means he used to convey emotions through his motionless metal features, showed Lucifer he was pleased with his enthusiasm.
“Let’s just say my unique situation – having two souls – provides the whole process with certain efficiencies with regard to the amount of aetheric plasma I will need to burn the gateway open.” He had decided to strike while he had a captive audience; and he noted that, at the mention of souls, a tiny amount of enthusiasm had melted out of Lucifer’s face.
“And I have spent the twenty years since we last met constructing a device that will amplify those efficiencies. The designs for the amplifier were given to me in my dream.”
“Incredible,” said Lucifer, still shocked, but now he had come down from his manic state and the Tin Prince noted that business had crept back into his tone.
“But I can’t recall anyone ever having attempted this before. Even with your genius and your… efficiencies… it’s till going to take A LOT of ace.”
Ace was the most recent – albeit, now centuries-old – slang for aetheric plasma.
“A lot is a relative term, your eminence. I would like a lot more of this Centaurean whisky, for example.” He chuckled. The synthetic tinge to his voice was becoming more pronounced, for he too – by some inexplicable, sorcerous device – was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol.
Then, suddenly, the Tin Prince’s face looked pensive in that moment – possibly even solemn. He looked directly into Lucifer’s eyes.
“You know why I need this. And you know what I can do for you if I get what I want, Old Nick.” It was the Tin Prince’s turn to call Lucifer by the pet name he had for him.
The archangel was touched by such a rare moment of openness from the robot.
“You are a brother in this place. You know this. Both of you are,” Lucifer said it with the empathy and the authenticity he was so well known for.
The “Both of you” part of what he had said could have been a fatal proposition for any other being. For any who knew Tin Prince Twain knew that there was no love between the two souls that occupied that mechanical body. But Lucifer knew how to read the robot better than most and he sensed in this moment which soul had ebbed into mastery.
Lucifer was among the few beings in the multiverse who knew that the twain in the Tin Prince Twain was not just a reference to the pre-12th Century English way of saying two: a popular reference to the fact that the robot possessed two souls. He knew it was also the pen name of one of those souls: Samuel Clemens – one of the writers he admired most in all reality.
“What is mine, is yours,” said the one who, despite being called a fallen angel, was seen by so many, as having risen to the pinnacle of wealth and taste. He smiled his respect to the robot.
“How many souls are you going to need my brilliant friend?” Lucifer was much more serious now, but in a way that was by no measure, unfriendly.
In an instant, the heaviness that had descended upon the room lifted and he who had become a machine with two souls, and then a master of sorcery out beyond Sanctuary Rim, stood up. It was his turn to go to the bar.
“You are going to need a lot more of that expensive wine,” was the robot’s response.