“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and his feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of delusion of consciousness.
Time and space are modes by which we think. Not conditions in which we live.”
~ Albert Einstein
The sailor’s eloquence of speech and regal bearing could not have been more of a contrast to the grounded, sensible presence of The Banjoman. Obviously an experienced seafarer and commander by dress and demeanor, this one was the high watermark of fashion and class; and he pushed the embodiment of the word dignified dangerously close to the edge of being a dandy.
“To be honest, I always get nervous when someone asks to meet in Sanctuary during the diplomatic season,” The Banjoman said. He was lying of course. He was not nervous at all and he had just been thinking about how much he enjoyed visiting Sanctuary.
He reached up to receive the flagon of beer the man handed to him but did not raise it to return the toast offered by the mariner.
The sailor furrowed his brow, stuck out his lower lip and feigned insult.
“Nervous and suddenly unfriendly as well it seems!” a grin exploded across his face. “I always thought you to possess a rare excess of manners for a nobleman, Banjoman! Why not more enthusiasm for a drink with an old friend? I am buying after all. And Earth booze no less!”
The handsome young man looked across the table at The Banjoman and silently drank his beer. He signalled a bar-bot to bring another drink despite only having finished half of the one in front of him. After a much longer period of being ignored by a drinking companion from than would normally be socially reasonable, the sailor piped up.
“Relax then your mightiness. I’ll do the talking.”
“There is much I doubt these days, Kilroy.” The Banjoman offered a sly smile. “Especially when I am summoned to Sanctuary for German beers through the dream realm. But that you will do the talking, I most certainly do not doubt at all!”
The Banjoman studied Kipling Kilroy, Lord of the interdimensional ocean known as the Sea of Tears and the legendary High Cormac (a title given by Olympus to the highest ranking contract freebooter) of the Stygian Navy. As a time reader he was accomplished at determining when someone was at the beginning of something, in the middle, or at the end.
The Banjoman’s assessment was quick and conclusive.
Protected by Punta Epsilon’s atmo-interface field generation system, Kilroy had likely left his spacesuit in one of the spacedock bays. He wore his usual magical cloak, crafted from the blue-black wing of a dragon he had slain in the Realm of Fey. The Banjoman knew the lines of alien runes embroidered in spider-spun silver at the collar and the hem cast a charm about the cloak that imbued upon Kip the respect due to one of royalty. Of course, The Banjoman knew the charm would not work here in Sanctuary. He also knew it was not powerful enough to work on him anywhere else either.
At his right hip, on a loose hanging belt, he wore a British Navy cutlass from Earth. In a shoulder holster, hidden under a dark blue shirt of exquisite make, he could see the bulge of the priceless alchemical Martian sun-pistol he knew the sailor had won in a game of chess with his guardian and mentor, Garuk Motankhamun IV, esteemed Merchant Pharaoh of the First Martian Solar Dynasty.
His curly, chestnut brown hair, was still clean and coiffed – but not too coiffed in its perfected unruliness. His blue-green eyes were clear and bright. And his tanned skin betrayed no fresh wear exceeding the healthy weathered glow of a still-young man of the sea.
There was no sign of hunger, fatigue or recent battle.
Cormac Kipling Kilroy was at the beginning of something. This was a relief to the time reader. But there was a tinge of apprehension, for in his assessment, The Banjoman also intuited that this beginning for the sailor was weaving its probability fields into his. He already felt, with a fair degree of certainty, that this was quickly becoming the beginning of something for him as well.
“I called you to Sanctuary because we need to talk seriously about one who lives there. Someone I plan to meet with as soon as possible, though he does not yet know it,” said Kip.
“Then I regret this already,” said The Banjoman. “I have not finished even a single drink and already your penchant for recklessness has you running roughshod over The Binary Proclamation.”
In a cosmos vibrant – some might say mad – with the practice of sorcery, Sanctuary was a reprieve. It was hallowed as a place where the cosmic elite could find common ground. In the magical impotence forced upon one in the unique, inaccessible probability structure of Sanctuary, a level playing field, even for gods, was possible. The typically hair-trigger impulse toward spellcasting could be mitigated, reason could be brought into negotiations, and agreements could be made. In the beginning this was just important. Then it was essential. Eventually it was sacred.
Over time, The Binary Proclamation developed to preserve what had become the diplomatic heart of all reality.
The Binary Proclamation consisted of two edicts. Both named from indigenous Earth culture.
While the Earthers, knew nothing of true magic, they did — within their rich cultures — whisper of gods and wizards, angels and devils, dragons and fey, which had indeed wandered in humbled and powerless guise in and out of the realm of Sanctuary — and thereby in and out of Earth history.
Magical beings also sometimes interacted with sleeping, meditating, entranced or chemically intoxicated Eathers while their souls peeked into the proximal planes: the dream realm, and the astral plane, in particular. But in nearly all of these cases, Earthers wrote these interations off as dreams, daydreams, visions, or other such phantom encounters with no basis in reality.
The first proclamation was The Eden Edict. It stated simply that, inhabitants of Earth were to be kept unaware of the sorcerous forces that ran rampant across the wider multiverse.
Humanity was never to know of the arcane, alien world beyond Sanctuary Rim.
Enforcement of The Eden Edict was overseen by five wizards and gods appointed to serve in secret on a high council known as The Pentarchy. This group had cast a vast and powerful spell, referred to simply as The Glamour, about the sphere of Sanctuary so that humans looking out into the multiverse would see only the illusion of barren, lifeless, uninhabited space.
The Binary Proclamation’s other edict, The Reaper Edict, proclaimed that killing to acquire a soul distinctly for the purpose of powering magic was the highest affront to the cosmic order. Policed and enforced by the powerful Knights of the Order Oblivion under the authority of the Court of the Celestial Necropolis, violation of The Reaper Edict was punishable by the madness of the deathless solitude brought about by eternal imprisonment in Limbo the realm between realms in the thoughts between thoughts.
The effect of the two edicts of the Binary Proclamation had been that, except for a few occasions, which had been dealt with abruptly and possibly rather too harshly, Earthers knew nothing of magic, or of the vibrant sorcerous bedlam just beyond their doorstep.
The Eden Edict, a simple law about non-interference in the lives of the Earthers of Sanctuary, had worked so well because it was fiercely enforced. It was not something to be disregarded lightly. Over the millennia, aside from the Mars problem, which stemmed from feelings that Mars had been given unfair access to the rare riches of Earth, most among the elite who were concerned with such things had simply, over time, just accepted the Pentarchy’s management of the issue.
For The Banjoman, Kip saying he planned to make direct contact with an Earther was unsettling; but it also piqued his curiosity. He knew the character of the Lord of the Sea of Tears, and so it was interesting to him that the mariner would propose undertaking such a risky proposition – one rife with the severest consequences imaginable. Sure, Kilroy was known for his courage — even foolhardiness — but this was something beyond that? Whatever the young sailor’s motivation was, he had deemed it must be worth the monumental risk of breaching The Eden Edict.
The Banjoman repeated his disapproval to see what it would shake loose.
”You are still aware of The Eden Edict, I’m sure,” he patronized. “You didn’t invite me here to give you a refresher on Cosmic Law now did you…” He paused for effect, lowered his head and looked menacingly up from under his copious flaming red eybrows. “… young man?”
The sailor’s upbeat demeanor, which had been maintained effortlessly up until now, disappeared in an instant. This concerned The Banjoman. He had meant the insult, and had expected anger or frustration in response. But the reaction he got was unexpected. Kilroy, youngest ever to achieve the rank of Cormac in the Navy of Styx, Lord of the Sea of Tears, most favoured ward of the court of Mars, and captain of one of the legendary dreamships, Lady Anuket, actually looked afraid.
Kilroy was not known for seriousness. Nor was he known for cowardice. The Banjoman was shocked that he had so jarred the sailor. He leaned in to convey interest and to show some concern. He figured he had been sufficiently standoffish to this point. He liked the lad and despite doubting him in the past, had learned to trust his judgment. Talk of interacting with a native of Sanctuary was a serious matter. The Banjoman quickly discerned that Kip Kilroy must have a good reason for planning something so dangerous.
Now The Banjoman was genuinely interested – and more than a little concerned. He decided to set the lad at ease and let him make his case. Besides, the boy had been right, the Earth beer was damn good – and the sailor was paying!
“Fill me in then! I am sorry for my mood. How can curiosity not get the better of me when tidings undoubtedly grim have darkened the countenance of the fearless Cormac Kilroy?”
Kip leaned back in his chair and noticeably exhaled. “You are too kind, Banjoman,” he said. “I never know with you. For a moment there, I forgot we were in Sanctuary and feared you were about to wink me off to one terrible hell or another.”
Then he leaned in toward The Banjoman. He did not want what he was about to say to be overheard.
“The Pharaoh has discovered the location of The Glass Grimoire,” the seafarer’s face was almost childlike in its enthusiasm and that grin returned, ear-to-ear across the face so handsome it had once been invited to the legendary orgies of Mount Olympus. “And I have been direct to recruit he who would wield it. The Earther. The Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary.”
The colour disappeared from The Banjoman’s face, his eyes widened and a hint of the deep purple of Limbo came into them. He put his flagon down and forgot to wipe the suds away from his moustache.
“The Grimoire?” The Banjoman whispered the words so quietly that he actually just mouthed them. Kip nodded excitedly.
As Lord of Limbo (the timeless, spaceless realm) and by default someone who could intuit vague notions from the entirety of spacetime he knew something of The Glass Grimoire. It would come into existence and roughly 30 years in the future. When this happened, an Earther would become a host for The Grimoire’s power and in so doing would become the symbiotic entity known as the Abraxas.
The Abraxas was the entity beyond all entities. The force of being beyond all other forces of being. In the Abraxas, all opposites – the forces of dark and light, order and chaos, good and evil – would be reconciled into one. And though The Banjoman had initially thought (upon first hearing this tale centuries ago from a Norse Norn) that this sounds good in principle, it most certainly was not good in practical terms.
For though the Abraxas would bring perfection to the cosmic balance by way of assimilating all life into a single hive-like mind, in so doing it would eliminate the kernel of variable probability enshrined in each being’s soul: the kernel that was the splinter of autonomy that was the key to individuality, and thereby the basis for the existence of diversity and free will in the cosmos.
Were the Abraxas to succeed in achieving its singular purpose: a multiversal, eternal, mindless, soulless unity of all things, sentient and otherwise, would be the result.
This state of affairs should not to be confused with the dynamic, vibrant holism conveyed in the conception of mystical reality known as The All, that notion so celebrated by the sorcerer. No indeed! For in that conception, the spark of individualism possessed by each of all the souls in reality remains intact to fuel the diversity, beauty and mystery of a multiverse manifesting like a meadow of wild flowers.
Victory for the Abraxas would mean a perfect omnidimensional matrix of unthinking, unfeeling, static compliance and predictability that is not entirely possible for beings now in possession of free will to understand. Suffice it to say that, where once there had been a variable, rolling kaleidoscope of color, scent, flavour and form, now there would be a uniform carpet of mould.
All one needed to know was that all the things that made life worth living would be lost. In simplest terms, the Abraxas was the embodiment of perfect unity, and as such, its success would mean the end of free will for all life in all the multiverse.
In that moment, The Banjoman recalled all that he had loosely envisioned of this possible dark future. And he took some small comfort in the fact it was a future not yet carved in stone.
He knew that after the deaths of quadrillions of worlds, over the span of some 3000 years, the Abraxas would fall and the Pentarchy would hide The Grimoire.
The shock of hearing that The Grimoire had been found had instantly caused The Banjoman to feel his way around the timeline. As usual, the patch around the future period involving the rise and fall of the Abraxas was blurred and scratched with what he had come to think of as a form of scarring. This meant it was both a significant event in the grand scheme of the cosmos, but also that the history leading up to the event had been tampered with. Time travel! But there was only one being in all existence who was even capable of violating the arrow of time. There was only one instance of him ever using that power — and he had been imprisoned for eternity by Zeus for the mayhem that transgression had caused. The Pentarchy must have called upon him to do this: to hide The Grimoire in the past.
But why hide it in the past? It was as though the Pentarchy needed to leave open the possibility that it could be found. This perplexed The Banjoman. But he knew the Pentarchy. They were no slouches. They would have thought things through with all the significant genius at their disposal.
The nature of the images he was seeing in his mind’s eye told him something else as well. Yes, the images were scarred, like the timeline had been mauled and abused but what he could see was more vivid than it should have been. This told him one thing. There was a high degree of probability that he would be present at the moment the Abraxas would be defeated.
Thankfully, this also meant the probability fields were still loose and flexible. He began to suspect what Kip Kilroy had in mind and this jived perfectly with notions beginning to form in his mind about why the Pentarchy had chosen to hide the most dangerous artifact in all reality in the past. Was it possible they thought they could use it to prevent the ascent of the Abraxas in the first place? Even for a Lord of Limbo, whose understanding of spacetime surpassed that of most other beings, this sort of conjecture was almost pointless. He dropped the line of thinking. And entertained a new theory more to his liking: that the existence of time paradoxes were compensated for in the cosmic balance by the spectacular effects of this Sanctuary alcohol.
The Banjoman swallowed hard, shook his head, and wrapped his hand around the handle of his flagon of beer until the white of his knuckles showed.
“I won’t even do the clichéd thing and say – but that’s impossible,” he said in a deadpan voice. He looked visibly weak – possibly annoyed – to one who did not know him.
Kip had been sitting quietly letting The Banjoman think. He respected that the Lord of Limbo would need to process news of this significance, and had guessed that he would be scanning timelines and other such Limbo Lord in-betweeny, non-spatial, non-temporal geometry stuff. He had quietly drunk half of another flagon of beer when The Banjoman suddenly decided to pick up the conversation.
“Just get on with it then, Kip. If you are right on this, then you already know I have no choice but to help you.” With this, he lifted his flagon to his mouth and emptied it, plunked it on the table, and smiled at the bar-bot who had just then, put down two new drinks.
Kip was practically bouncing in his seat he was so anxious to share what he knew.
“To beginnings,” The Banjoman raised the new flagon toward the sailor and Kip knocked his flagon against The Banjoman’s with more enthusiasm than was necessary. Foam spilled onto an ancient tabletop.
“I knew you couldn’t turn down saving all of reality again!” Kip said. “To the Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary!” he added with a whisper as his his metallic flagon clinked gently a second time against the one the Lord of Limbo hoisted over the table.
“Unfortunately young friend, you would be surprised at how much my involvement in these kind of things is not up to me.” The Banjoman, looked suspiciously around the room then took his Banjo off his back and leaned it against the wall. He settled back into his chair and crossed his arms on his chest. He was genuinely interested now. How could he not be? This was history in the making – but that wasn’t the only thing it was.
His consciousness, which was intricately intertwined with the loose meandering threads of possibilities that might or might not become reality with the perception of the passage of time along the regular arrow of its proper course, gave him insight into the relative significance of particular events. And what he was feeling right now told him that what was about to happen was going to set him upon one of only two possible directions. This moment was a fork in the road and the Lord of Limbo knew it.
What would be decided in the next few hours, would determine the fate of all life in the multiverse.
Beer, even miraculous Sanctuary beer, isn’t strong enough for this, thought The Banjoman.
And almost as though he had read his thoughts, Cormac Kipling Kilroy excitedly handed the Lord of Limbo a more comprehensive drink menu than any Earth human had ever laid eyes upon.
To be continued in Chapter 11