“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
~ Francis Bacon
There had been the monolith of black glass and there had been Andy Crowley. But not 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 one from 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 loss dwarfed anything he had ever experienced before. He arched his back and roared unintelligible grief into the void.
And then, jarring him from his sense of loss, a voice whispered in his mind. At first he thought it was Nick, but it was deeper and imbued with an alien lilt.
“Our destinies converge, Ancaster Crowley! We approach the appointed time.”
Even through his grief over having loss the Grimoire, he knew the voice was not a trick of his mind. He knew it was real. And he was reasonably sure of who it belonged to. None of these things worried him.
But a deep fear boiled up into him nonetheless.
For none, save Ruby and his parents, knew his real name was Ancaster, the name the blue mariner had just called him by. How was this possible? He had never told a soul.
Andy was spent. As this new terror swelled, he did not even feel the warm tingling rising in his navel before exhaustion overtook him. His silver cord had come to take him home.
Punta Epsilon Resort
The Ares & Tuttavern
Largest of the remnants of the planet Tiamat that was destroyed in the Wrath of Sol approximately 22,000 years ago, Ceres is an astronomical mass roughly 950 kilometers in diameter. Within the elliptical orbit of the asteroid belt between The Warrior (Called Mars by the Earthers) and The King (Jupiter), Ceres intersects with the perfectly circular equator of the event horizon of Sanctuary Rim four times. This means that in a Cerean year, the planetoid spends an almost equal amount of time within The Rim, where magic is not possible, and outside, where it is.
On its equator, on the dark side, hidden from the curious eyes of the humans of magicless Earth, there is Punta Epsilon: a luxury resort that rides the celestial edge between the peace of non-magical Sanctuary and the limitless wild of the magical multiverse.
At this time of year, the elliptical orbit of Ceres had brought it into the Sanctuary side of The Rim, which meant magic was not possible on Punta Epsilon, and would not be again until it intersected and crossed The Rim in a few months. This stretch of time, when Ceres was assuredly within the circle of The Rim, was known as the diplomatic season. It was a time when Ceres in general, and Punta Epsilon Resort in particular, was booked solid with diplomatic sessions, trade agreement negotiations, family reunions, and tourist arrangements. It was also the time of party goers and people fascinated with the prospect of experiencing the effects of Sanctuary alcohol, which was highly coveted among the elite of the multiverse for the unique, unpredictable, and impossible to reproduce, chemical effects it caused on sentient beings.
The resort itself was over 35,000 years old, and so was a haphazard conglomeration of predominantly Asgardian, Olympian, Heliopolitan, Martian, Venusian, Rigellian, Andromedan and even ancient Tiamatian architectures.
In the back of the Ares & Tut tavern, which was crafted in the style of the Martian Empire Middle Dynasty era, sat one of the mightiest beings in all reality. As Lord of Limbo, he was a time reader and a wanderer always in-between places and events. In the elite cosmic circles that would have known Punta Epsilon existed, he was well known but not feared. For just as he was well known, it was also common knowledge amongst those who knew he existed at all, that the Banjoman of Limbo was only ever dangerous when your interests were counter to his; and his interests were few.
Mostly he just wanted to be left alone. Mostly, he would intervene in the affairs of others only when it was absolutely necessary.
He was tall, slim, and rosy cheeked, with a blazing shock of red hair and a matching, crimson gunslinger mustache. His perfectly grey eyes, which conveyed the exact spectral midpoint between perfect black and perfect white, were patient and kind, but at the same time, they looked right through you. And while they showed deep wisdom, compassion and discipline at work, they also betrayed that, should he or any in his company be maligned in any way, there would be swift and merciless redress.
He donned a worn, but not undignified, brown derby hat with purple-tinted goggles set about the hat-band, a grey-hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans of authentic Sanctuarian denim (so coveted outside the Rim for its magic-repelling properties), and high-cuffed boots in the deep purple tint of the mists of Limbo. On his right wrist, he wore a silver watch with a satin face of the same colour as the boots. It bore no numbers and no hands.
Slung over his back, on a strap of dark orange, demon-wing leather – there was a magical banjo, which – to one inclined to listen for it – could be heard on occasion murmuring quiet wisdom.
The Banjoman enjoyed visiting Sanctuary. It fascinated him. And he both understood and appreciated its value as a place where complete absence of the wild whims of the wild minds of wildly powerful beings could make possible attempts to reconcile complex inter-personal, inter-planetary and inter-planar disharmonies.
Here, where he sat, he could sense the intensity of densely converging magical lay lines about 300,000 miles to the celestial west. The lines approached the event horizon at The Rim and curved sharply back into the space beyond from whence they came. Aside from the residual fluxprob weak force that had once powered the ancient Martian alchemy, the inaccessible probability fields this far within The Rim meant magic was not possible.
The absence of sorcery meant technology was required to render the resort inhabitable. Venusian atmo-interface field generators assigned upon arrival at spacedock, assured ideal atmospheric conditions for inhabitants of varying physiologies. Temporary PSI-EM translators were also assigned but were mostly unnecessary nowadays as their implantation at birth had been a requirement of many regional treaties for millennia now. The Banjoman was intrigued by the technologies required inside Sanctuary Rim where run-of-the-mill magical standbys like brainmail and telepathy didn’t work.
Spacecraft were of particular interest to the Banjoman, who did not need them except when he came here. He had arrived from Memphis Nova III on a fantastic top-of-the-line Fey-Coven witchcraft he had bartered for. The Captain had wanted some unpleasant memories removed in exchange for the charter. Being lord of Limbo had its privileges.
“Well met again old salt! Dopplebocks tonight?”
The Banjoman looked up at the man approaching him with overflowing flagons of dark Earth-German lager in each hand. It was the man he had come to meet.
With the paradoxically obnoxious grace unique to one who has lived their life at sea, the man with the beers swung a leg over the chair back and dropped into the seat across from the Banjoman.
By the grin on the mariner’s face, the Banjoman presumed the lad had some sort of hair-brained scheme in mind. But what else was new? His intuition — as well as something of a veil that had been thrown up around Martian and Heliopolitan intelligence operations of late hinted to him that the lad was involved in something significant. And that he, himself was about to be involved as well.
Could it be? The sentient banjo strapped across his back murmured a feeling of deep concern to directly into his mind. An icy shiver ran up the Lord of Limbo’s spine.
He admonished himself for his presumptions. This was Kip Kilroy. The idiotic grin was no indication of circumstances. It could mean mean no more than an overabundance of drink and hooliganism were at hand.
And at that moment — all possible secret missions to avert cosmic calamity aside — the Banjoman recalled precisely why he so liked the Merry Mariner of Mars.
Continue to Chapter 8