Chapter 8

“Glance into the world just as though time were gone: and everything crooked will become straight to you.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

 

iu-3

 

Hades Prime
Port of Plutonia
Lucifer’s Yacht, The Prince of Light

“Did you know that when Dr. Andy Crowley created the Grimoire he could not wield magic? He had merely collected all of Sanctuary’s grimoires and put them into some kind of pocket computer they use on Earth in the future.” The Tin Prince had leaned in and delivered in a hushed monotone voice to convey the significance of this information to Lucifer.

“He was a professor of Occult History who had collected spell books from the time he was a teenager. True to the nature of Sanctuary, he had no power to use magic himself.”

“Then how do you explain our predicament?” asked Lucifer. “Or should I say, our opportunity.” He smiled mischievously into the bottom of his glass as he drained it.

“After nearly two years of meditation on the matter at the Oracle of Tauren, I have come to the conclusion that Doctor Crowley’s past — our present — was altered at the moment the Abraxas was destroyed in the future by me.” The Tin Prince leaned back in the comfortable cushions. The libations had enhanced his mood and he revelled in being the bearer of such privileged information.

“In the moment I will defeat the Abraxas, the souls of the trillions of lifeforms it absorbed will be released. Many of them will be set adrift in the usual manner. Many will de-incarnate back into the Ain-Sof and release all their aetheric-plasma from all their potential incarnations at once.”

Lucifer was entranced. “What a burden to know your future. Even if you are to be the champion of all reality.”

The Tin Prince was enjoying this genuine respect from Lucifer. He did not tell him he only knew of the details around the defeat of the Abraxas, preferring to let the Prince of Light think he knew much more.

“The unprecedented release of ace,” the robot continued,  “did something to the arrow of spacetime. I’m not sure, but I wonder if some aspect of the doctor’s psyche, or the Grimoire’s, cast some sort of spell – maybe even unconsciously. Whatever happened, a massive probability-decimating wave of anarchy roared backward through time.”

“What are you saying? Lucifer was intrigued to say the least. “More paradox stuff? How unfortunate!” The Prince of Light genuinely disliked this kind of thing. It threatened his sense of control.

“But of course!” The Tin Prince was jubilant. He loved these sorts of anomalies the way some people love riddles and puzzles. “My theory is that, what I call The Abraxas Wave, traveled back through time and altered Doctor Crowley’s own past. It seems to have only affected him and his previous incarnations personally. Perhaps this is what made it possible for him and all the previous incarnations of his soul to practice sorcery – even on Sanctuary.”

Lucifer looked to be at a rare loss for words. He was struggling with the robot’s use of the past tense to describe events that would not happen for another 3000 years. He was perplexed by timelines and paradoxes, and was not comfortable with the notion that history could be tampered with or changed. Though he had thrilled at the mostly Earther contrivance of time travel as a plot device in books and films, the only known occasion of it ever actually occurring in reality was the incident with Cronos. The Olympian Titan had been the only being to ever defy the arrow of time and he now sat in the Prison for Gods on Mars for the havoc his experiment had wrought.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” The robot grinned. His eyes were alight with self-satisfaction. “I know you don’t like these things,” said the Tin Prince. “But a re-writing of the continuum of this nature is truly a rare event. It took something like the destruction of the Abraxas for this to manifest. It would take a focused probability disruption fuelled by the power a billion souls to reproduce this sort of event intentionally. It is a cosmic fluke – a natural disaster, as it were. Rest easy old friend”

“Be it as it may,” Lucifer was walking back to the bar. The conversation was unsettling for him and a drink would help. “Amongst the few who know it exists, all of them know that only Crowley can touch the Grimoire – let alone wield its power – and your workaround for this… hurdle… does not comfort me in the least.” Lucifer daintily put the garnish on an indigo-hued martini of some kind. “It seems to me that you are taking the magnitude of what you intend to do rather lightly.”

Lucifer looked into the glowing amber rectangles of the Twin Prince’s eyes, and for the first time in their long meeting, which was now into its third day, the Prince of Light summoned something that could possibly, on the very outside, begin to suggest an unfriendly tone.

“I hope you don’t take the ridiculous number of souls I have given you as lightly.”

The Tin Prince noted the almost imperceptible hint of menace in his tone but took no offence from it. He appreciated the souls he had been given and would honour the promise he had made to Lucifer in return for them. It was not lost on him that the Prince of Light had just given him more souls than any being had ever given another in the history of the multiverse.

He stood up and walked over to join Lucifer at the bar.

Lucifer, nervous that he had gone to far, telepathically messaged to the Surfer dude demon outside the door to the ships lounge to be ready should any hostilities ensue. It was just a precaution. He did not anticipate the robot would do anything. To cover, Lucifer handed the martini he had just made for himself to Twin Prince Twain who now towered over him.

The robot received the drink graciously. Then his eyes faded from amber to green and quickly back again. Instantly, there was the outward rush of displaced air and another martini, identical to the one Lucifer just handed him, was in his other metal hand.

He handed the martini to Lucifer who marvelled at the robot’s intuitive, almost autonomic spell casting prowess. He had not even heard an invocation.

“I will make exquisite use of your souls Old Nick.” This time it was the robot’s turn for subtle intimidation and Lucifer knew, that in this moment, it was all Aleister Crowley talking. The soul of his preferred , Mark Twain, had been shoved into the background.

“Like I said, I have spent two decades planning this.” As the robot spoke, the martini he was holding disappeared from his hand – this time, glass and all – and Lucifer saw once again, the glow of the mysteriously imbibed drink take effect in the metal man’s softened eyes.

“And I am nothing, if not efficient.”

The Tin Prince then turned and made for the door. “Your hospitality has been exemplary as always.” He turned and bowed to the Prince of Light. “As usual, you think of everything don’t you?”

Lucifer wondered at the unusual emphasis the robot had put on the word think as he watched him walk out the door.

Then he heard the demon that had been standing sentry outside the lounge scream a long, increasingly distant scream.

For with merely a clenched fist, a muttered invocation, and an imperceptible tightening of his metal jaw, Tin Prince Twain had sent the demon on an arching trajectory that would – if his estimations were correct – land him in the orchestra pit at the Amadeus Mozart Opera Hall.

“I will be in touch old friend,” he said it with exaggerated friendliness for comic effect.

Lucifer drank his martini all at once. He was embarrassed that the robot had noticed his telepathic signal to the guard. But he was equally amused at Tin Prince Twain’s grand departure.

He couldn’t help but smile.

“Why do I feel like I just made a deal with the devil?”

Then he ran over to pick up the simple black joystick with the single big red button he had placed on the end table when the Tin Prince had arrived three days before. The giant screen blinked back to life and he picked up his game precisely where he had left off.

 

“Ian!” Deb was excited to share the news of her new job with everyone.

Nick’s head snapped around to see Gare-Dog Murphy unloading brimming steins of draft beer for his friends at their usual Saturday booth.

Damn! He had suddenly been so excited about being alone with Deb, he had forgotten they would be here.

Nick braced for an incoming cheap shot from O’Finnegan. Walking in here with Deb would be too much for his smart mouth to pass up. When nothing came. He realized he had also forgotten that Saturday’s Deputy Dungeon Master wouldas usual, having been offended by a shortfall of deference from the boys, be nursing a double rye and ginger ale by now. After a quick hello to Deb, and a disinterested glance at Nick, he returned to ignoring everyone and flipping through a Star Frontiers rulebook he must have bought at Leisure World.

Times, they are a changin’. Nick heard Bob Dylan say in his head. The prospect of playing the new, percentile-based, space-opera RPG would have thrilled him a week ago. Not anymore.

“I’m buying Deb a beer to celebrate.” Nick said. His only goal was to be alone with her.

“Star Frontiers?” O’Finnegan said with exaggerated enthusiasm. After last night, he knew full well that is not what Nick wanted to celebrate.

“Of course!” Nick said sarcastically, “But also Deb’s new job.”

“Here — ” Always the complete gentleman, Ian Grayson slid over on his bench seat and signalled for Deb to join them.

Panic-stricken, Nick lunged.

“Deb and I have something to talk about… privately.” As he said it he grabbed Deb’s hand to stop her from joining his friends. The bewildered look on Deb’s face, and the way the entire table went silent signalled to Nick he was bungling this badly. He saw Dave O’Finnegan’s eyebrows go up. He hadn’t had time to think.

“Nick’s hobbit paper,” he heard Deb say. “The D&D take on hobbit-dom varies from Tolkien’s, and I fear Nick’s essay requires objective review from an impartial party.” She pulled papers from her purse. They were the new employee orientation forms from Denim Nexus but she passed them off easily as an English essay.

The shock and embarrassment on straight-A Nick Morrison’s face had nothing to do with being embarrassed about needing help with school work — but it sold Deb’s quick thinking perfectly.

“And I thought we were nerds.” O’Finnegan said it to Deb in a way that was unusually good natured for him. His tone conveyed genuine respect and surprise at the same time.

“Brudo Thornshrike of Moonsmoor is buying.” O’Finnegan said. His depression had completely lifted. “Congrats on the job, Deb. Tell Gare-Dog to send your tab to me.”

Normally Nick would’ve commented on O’Finnegan high-rollering him. His silence didn’t go unnoticed and he knew it. But when Deb took his hand and pulled him toward a table for two, nothing else mattered. Instantly, for the second time today, his entire world became Deb Holcroft.

 

The process was not painful so much as disorienting. On the astral plane, everyone has a silver cord that connects to their landmark, which is connected in-turn to their physical form on their native plane. In situations of egregious injury or extreme stress (Andy had postulated that it had something to do with elevated neurotransmitter levels and such) the cord yanks the astral body back into its physical form. It made it virtually impossible to come to harm in the place called the quiet realm.

Andy felt as though the lurch backward had folded him in half bringing his forehead to his knees. Red, yellow and blue sheets of light flew past in the vast, endless, nebulous starscape of inner space, which was discernible from outer space by the deep indigo of the void and the amethyst-hued plumes of the mists of Limbo.

As the state of panic subsided, for it had been raw fear that had summoned the silver cord, he closed his eyes and focused on retaining all that would be important for him to remember. Regrettably, almost the entire incident with the black monolith had already been lost to him. All he would remember was his initial speculation that his nervous system, in its physical manifestation operating under the natural laws of three-dimensional spacetime, would not be equipped to manage the vast scope and scale of what he had experienced.

He recalled with perfect clarity that he had been called by name – and not by the name he went by. The voice had not called him Andy. it had called him Ancaster. And no one, not even his family, ever called him that. Ever.

His consciousness slammed into his physical form with a force that caused him to spasm painfully. Sprawled across the magic circle on his bedroom floor, h broke into a cold sweat and noted the familiar, nasty metallic taste in his mouth. Laying still for a moment, he collected his thoughts.

Andy had developed a recovery protocol for this exact scenario. He would ground himself with a quick mindfulness meditation then go for an unbearably cold shower that would kill a lesser being. Over the past few years, in trips to the dream realm and the astral plane (known collectively as the proximal planes) he had developed this procedure for recalling what had transpired.

One did not need sorcerous training to access the proximal planes. The dream realm was visited every night by every sleeping being on Earth. The degree to which a given being manifested as an identity in that realm — in most cases as a completely different conception of self from their waking life — varied greatly between individuals. Andy did not have a dream identity. His sense of self remained consistent across his waking and sleeping lives.

The astral plane was also accessible to some degree by most people, though most do not know (or believe) this to be the case. Visits to the quiet realm, unlike those to the realm of dreams, required that a being be conscious. Meditation, prayer, trance, some chemical agents and even specific training to learn the process of astral projection were all means by which even people without sorcerous knowledge could travel to the astral plane. But remembering what transpired there could be difficult. The effects of phase variation sometimes made what was recorded by the more subtle neuro-chemistry of the astral body incompatible with what could be processed by neurological processes in the physical form. The skill of remembering could be learned though — and Andy had come a long way in that regard.

He got dressed quickly – jeans, high-tops, concert shirt (Styxtoday).

He felt better. But the doubt was descending on him. It always did after a bad extra-planar experience.

Was he really cut out for this? He was still inexperienced as a sorcerer and sometimes it terrified him that he was self-taught.

Or was I?

He had no idea why he had started dreaming of what he later learned in the Akashic libraries were Atlantean runes. He had never really questioned the voices that whispered encouragement to his sleeping and meditating mind.

Am I being trained?

The 19th Century occultist Aleister Crowley (no relation) had proposed that all magical initiates would be eventually be approached by a guardian angel at some point in their training. What if, unlike, others who undertook to become magic-users, he was approached as a child and encouraged to set upon the path?

The man who had used his name – his real name – had frightened him, not so much because he was strange, but more so because he was familiar. Andy recalled the feeling that he could trust him, but that this had paradoxically made him not trust him all the more.

The farther he went with this line of thinking the more the image of the man crystallized around the voice he had heard. Indeed, he could now conclusively say that whoever had just called him by his true name and the blue mariner from the drowning dream were one and the same. He wore a British navy sword and a dark blue cloak embroidered with silver runes. Andy could not read them but he sensed charm magic in them, a glamour of some sort. He was excited by the snowballing realizations, but warned himself to be wary. There was an edge of betrayal to everything as well.

Tonight, he would dig into the works of Besant, Leidbeater, Heindal, Yogananda and Bruce and contemplate fortifying the integrity of his astral form and recall. He needed to go back. He needed to be more confident. With some preparation and effort, perhaps tonight he could be more present in the encounter.

He was determined now that he might meet the man in blue. Perhaps he was to be a mentor of some sort.

Maybe, this was the way forward on discovering the truth of the situation with the banshee and Deb — and the foretelling of Nick’s demise.

As was typically for Andy Crowley, an overwhelming curiosity had once again displaced an overwhelming fear.

A fear that most certainly had abated in large part because he had completely forgotten everything about his merger with the Glass Grimoire.

Suddenly, overcome with relief and exhilarated by his discovery, he wanted to be with his friends, though of course, he could tell them nothing of any of this.

He even considered riding his bike to the mall where he knew they would be drinking at Tudor Arms.

TSR-Dice

Continue to Chapter 9

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