“The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.”
~ Erwin Schrodinger
The Astral Plane
Jasco understood the intent behind Andy asking “if there was somewhere they could get a drink or something?” She was familiar with the culture and social behaviours of Earthers. The waveform of the Realm of Fey was close to that of the plane of Sanctuary. Historically the faerie-realm had had more interaction with Sanctuary than most. That Earth history was rich with mention of dragons, faeries, leprechauns and elves was an indication of this. Because of this proximity, Jasco had collected more than a few souls from residents of Sanctuary, so she understood something of their culture. Andy wanted to go with her to an establishment that sold food and drink. It was a friendly gesture that implied Andy’s interest in exploring the possibility of friendship.
This close to the port of Hypnos Somnos, there was no shortage of taverns, hotels, bars, diners and restaurants she could take him to. She thought Olympian (what Andy would call Greek) would likely offer fare that would be most palatable to him. She surprised herself with how compelled she was to make him happy: to impress him.
She felt relieved that this breakthrough had finally happened, and she was confident she would be able to convince him to come with her to the Hall of Memories for the introduction to Kip Kilroy.
But she was wary.
In the short time she had known him directly, Ancaster Crowley had demonstrated remarkable aptitude for sorcery. More than that, he had revealed himself to possess an incredibly sharp and quick mind.
The banshee glanced over at the sole sorcerer of Sanctuary who flew beside her. It had only taken him minutes to learn the basics of flying in astral form. He was ecstatic. His long, pale golden hair fluttered through the astral air. She wondered at his tight, thin shirt. It was black but had white sleeves. On the front it displayed a circled pentagram with a naked man recoiling from it. The Arabic numerals 2112 were emblazoned in blue above the image. Was this some form of protective ward? The shirt was too thin to offer protection. Perhaps with these symbols it was a form of magical armour. She respected too that he wore jeans. Across all the multiverse, denim was a fashion standard. Known for its durability, and highly regarded – like leather – for its practicality and aesthetic appeal, denim had been created in Genoa, Italy, in the mid 18th Century (the word “Jeans” comes from the French word for Genoa).
His shoes also seemed very utilitarian. Bright white with the tongue pulled up and out over the laces, they looked very comfortable and technological in that way Earther things always tended to be. This kind of design permeated Earth fashion, art and architecture, and was assumed to be the result of a cultural preoccupation with science and engineering that emerged in a society where magic was not possible. The shoes were adorned with bright, lime-green stripes, which actually complemented the subtle green glow of his brainmail. She considered asking him where she could get a pair.
“So where are we going?” Andy’s voice was exuberant. It startled Jasco. Why did he always surprise her! She wondered if his Earther-nature rendered his unusual psychic aura less detectable. If so, this would offer him a useful defensive advantage.
“Sisyphus’s Souvlaki,” she said. Best gyros on the astral plane. You do know your mythology right? For millennia Sisyphus has been forced by Zeus to push a boulder up a hill in Olympus. Running this diner on the astral plane, is one of the ways he copes with the boredom.
“So that isn’t just a story?” Andy seemed genuinely surprised to hear his. “Sisyphus is a real guy?”
This in turn genuinely surprised Jasco. She hadn’t thought about the possibility that Andy would assume that most mythology would be analogous to fantasy.
Because there is no magic on Earth, Andy would think many of the realities of the multiverse were just stories. As an Earther, he would have – quite reasonably – postulated that many of the multiverse’s prominent historical and political figures were merely products of human imagination. She suddenly became very excited at the prospect of introducing him to a wider, richer canvas of reality than he could have possibly known.
“Ancaster…” she started out of habit, forgetting he had asked her to call him Andy.
“Just Andy,” he said. “Even my parents don’t call me Ancaster. It was the name my birth parents gave me and I chose not to use it. It’s Andy now.”
He was surprised he had just blurted that out. He was overwhelmed with the ecstasy of having learned to fly – even if it was just astral flight. For the first time he entertained a new thought. What if this was all just a dream?
“Andy,” said Jasco. She felt saddened at this revelation. Perhaps the fact that Andy was adopted explained some of the sadness she had sensed in him. “This is why I said you know almost nothing back there. It was not meant as an insult so much as a warning. I know as a student of its magic, you are familiar with the truth of the Atlantean civilization – something most of humanity believes to be a myth – but the truth is, that much of what humans believe to be stories, legends and myths is indeed quite real. It’s just real in places they cannot go to or perceive. Do you understand?”
“It is reasonable.” He said. “So Sisyphus is real – only he isn’t pushing a rock up a hill as punishment for being a smart-ass; he runs a Greek restaurant on the astral plane. Is that right?”
“It’s Olympian restaurant, Andy” she smiled widely. You best learn that quickly. The Olympians are a fanatically arrogant and patriotic lot. They would not take kindly to being called Greeks by an Earther. And no. Sisyphus is still pushing that rock on the Olympian plane. But with nothing better to do he has learned to project his astral form here where he runs his restaurant. Just like while you’re here with me – you are really in your bedroom on… Earth.”
She had almost said Sanctuary, which made her nervous. How much could she reveal to Andy? Suddenly she was uncomfortable with how ill prepared she was for actually making contact. She started to think it would be best if she didn’t reveal too much and got Andy to the Hall of Dreams as quickly as possible. The banshee admonished herself for how she had succumbed so easily to the Earther’s charm.
“Too much!” Andy said. “Superman, Buck Rogers, Merlin! You are saying they are all real people.”
His enthusiasm was contagious and made the banshee smile.
“Not quite,” she said and noted that the floating island of rock that was their destination was getting close. “It’s not that what humanity believes is made real on other planes. It is that beings from other planes have interacted with humans on Earth over its history and have become their stories. Superman and Buck Rogers – no. Merlyn, certainly, yes. I met him once, in fact.”
Andy shook his head in disbelief. “I think I understand,” he said. “Too much, man. Wow!”
He was looking at her and beamed like a noon-day-sun.
She had never felt so much enthusiasm for the world. And the way this made her feel was frightening to her – in the best possible way.
Andy had expected to be headed for the green rolling pastures and forest he had glimpsed on the topside of the upside-down mountain that floated in the pink astral sky. He was surprised when Jasco pointed to a blinking sign over a walkway carved into the underside of the island about half-way-down toward the inverted peak that pointed to the shifting golden fields below.
Landing was easier than he thought it would be. He could not believe how simple learning astral flight had been. And he realized that he never would have learned this effectively without Jasco’s help. It boded well for all the things he could learn from her. But he was not a fool. He trusted no one here. Not yet.
From outside, the diner looked strangely normal. At least more normal than Andy had expected from a diner run by the astral projection of a figure from Greek mythology who had been cursed to push a boulder uphill for all eternity.
When Sisyphus saw Jasco enter the diner he raised his right hand to his forehead where his third eye would be. His thumb and index finger touching at the tips to form an “O” which was the multiversal symbol for the evil eye – and the traditional way to greet a reaper – a courier of souls, an angel of death. In the traditional response, Jasco placed her hand palm out over her third eye to symbolically block the evil eye gesture. The two smiled a sincere greeting to one another.
Andy was awestruck. His face was white and his jaw was slack – yet a hint of a smile remained on his face.
Sisyphus was the most handsome and enormous man he had ever seen. His skin was a perfect golden tan. He wore a sky-blue t-shirt, which barely seemed capable of containing his muscular, ridiculously chiseled physique. The Olympian’s shirt stretched, rippled and looked about to burst as he wiped down the marble top of the counter.
When he managed to pull his eyes away from Sisyphus, Andy looked around the diner. He was still surprised at how much it looked like… well… a diner. He was both comforted and perplexed at how familiar it felt and his mind reeled trying to conceive of what had come from where amidst all the cultural crossover between Earth and other realms. Everything he thought he knew had changed today.
Sisyphus’s Souvlaki (Andy wondered how he was reading the sign. Why would it be in English? Was his mind translating for him?) had a 1950s flavour and the décor was all sea-blues and whites. Apparently, he thought, Olympians had the same interior design sensibilities as Greeks. There were bar stools at the diner counter and booths varying greatly in size were set around the outsides against windows, which let in the perpetual mauve twilight light of the astral plane.
Then Andy looked at a booth in the corner and froze. Suddenly he wondered if this was all getting to be too much for him.
Four patrons sat in the booth. On one side of the table there was a hippy looking sort, replete with beard, bell-bottoms and tie-dye shirt. Beside him there was a child of about eight-years wearing a simple toga. He was golden haired and handsome. Across the table from the hippy and the golden boy there was a dandy of a man in a scarlet double-breasted (it looked British) tunic and tri-corner hat. Beside him, there was something new for Andy altogether. The fourth patron was enormous and generally humanoid in shape. He had the powerful hind legs of a jackrabbit, a powerfully built male humanoid upper body with four human arms, and the giant head of an Asian elephant. His great form, which was awkwardly and comically hunched over and crammed into the limited space of the booth, was wearing plaid walking shorts and a bright yellow (four-armed) T-shirt. A large, more-utilitarian-than-menacing double-bladed axe leaned against the booth behind him.
Andy felt Jasco’s elbow in his ribs.
“Staring!” she whispered harshly. “Are you going to be okay?”
Startled, Andy swung his head to look at Jasco. His face was white. Frantically, she shifted her perceptual range and looked at Andy's chest. As she suspected, there was a shimmering silver mist there. The coherence of the aetheric body that made up his astral form was unraveling. The interference she saw on his chest demonstrated that his unconscious was drifting defensively toward summoning his silver chord, which would pull him back into his physical form. She understood why. That he had not fled in a panic already, considering what he had been exposed to, was something of a miracle.
"A first-timer?" Sisyphus shook his head in Andy's direction and shot a sympathetic look to Jasco. Perhaps a couple of drinks are in order. Still an Irish Old Fashioned for you? What will the gentleman have?
The banshee and the Olympian were shocked when Andy answered for himself.
"Gin Sonic for me sir." Andy was pale and jittery. He was sweating too but he had put a smile on his face and now looked directly at Sisyphus. "Pleased to make your acquaintance Sisyphus. You are the first Olympian I have ever met. I must confess that I was ill prepared for the experience. And please know sir, that I am sorry for your terrible plight… the boulder and the hill and such. Total drag man."
The Olympian was taken aback. He shot Jasco a look of exaggerated approval. "This one has impressive manners." Then he looked back to Andy.
"Take comfort young man. There is no plight I haven't accepted and adapted to long ago. What greater pleasure could there be than keeping the company of all the fine souls that come here to enjoy the best Olympian fare on the astral plane,” he spread his arms wide with bravado.
"So down to business then. A Gin Sonic it is! Please help yourself to a table. I'd invite you to sit here with me. But I know Jasco well enough to know that you are here to attend to private business – urgent as well, I am sure. You will need food too. Two gyros. One for an old friend, and another it would seem – for an enigmatic but impeccably courteous new one!"
Andy and Jasco took a booth at the end of the diner opposite to the other patrons. The instant they sat down, the drinks they had ordered materialized on the table in front of them.
Jasco regarded Andy with deep concern. "You are struggling Andy. I understand that this is a lot for your psyche to process. It is very likely no human has ever sustained their astral form for this long and penetrated this deep before. I think it might be time for you to return to your physical body.
Andy was licking his lips. He had finished half of his Gin Sonic in one gulp.
"I’ve never been better!" he said with genuine aplomb, and lifted and tilted his glass to the reaper. "I think I just got my second wind!"
Because he was so fitness conscious, Andy was not a serious drinker at all. But this was his astral form on the astral plane, and this was an astral Gin Sonic. There would be no damage to his physical body back on Earth. And the drink made him feel much better. He hadn’t wanted Jasco to know, but despite the thrill of all this, he was completely terrified. Indeed, he had been entertaining serious thoughts of packing it all in. In the course of this one astral adventure, he had moved all the way from complete brought on by curiosity about unlimited possibilities to complete terror brought on by the unmistakeable feeling that he was in way over his head. He didn’t have any idea at all how astral alcohol worked, but he knew it had cooled him down enough to tip him back from the brink.
He drained the glass, put it down, and was delighted to notice that as soon as the glass touched the table it was full again.
"Why does everyone drink Earth drinks? Shouldn't Olympians serve ambrosia or wine made by Dionysius something?" Andy was looking out the window as he said it, “What does creepy King Babar over there drink?" He discreetly tilted his head in the direction of the table of four.
Jasco was sipping her drink. She pretended to drink more deeply while she thought about how to answer his question without saying too much. Again, she regretted not having worked more of this through with Kip. The correct answer to Andy's question was that in the absence of magic, the cultures of Sanctuary had perfected the use of chemicals to induce altered states of consciousness. The potent potables of Earth, both In terms of palette and effect, were the most desirable in all the multiverse. It was also understood that the subatomic properties of alcohol produced within Sanctuary Rim weakened the ability to access probability. The more intoxicated a sorcerer got on Earth alcohol, the less capable he was of accessing the null-point. Many a potentially catastrophic battle between arch-mages had been reduced to slobbering, sprawling wrestling matches on barroom floors thanks to the way Earth alcohol negated the ability to access probability and cast spells.
But Jasco wanted to be careful not to get into the magic-less nature of Sanctuary discussion with Andy. She wanted to leave that to Kip.
"It's a matter of serving local fare," she said. "Also, you need to think of it this way. I'm of the Realm of Fey. The planar barrier between my realm and yours is thinnest (meaning the planar waveform signatures come closest to synchronicity) near what you call the British Islands. The barrier between Earth and Olympus is thinnest near your Mediterranean Sea. There is cultural crossover." she raised her glass, "Irish whiskey. Same is true of art, fashion, literature, music."
"And so banshee’s wear plaid!" Andy pointed with his glass at the fly-plaid pinned to her shoulder and then drained his second drink.
This time when he put his glass down it did not fill up again. He assumed this was because he was satisfied and didn't actually want another at this moment. But how did Sisyphus know that?
Sisyphus arrived with two plates and put them on the table. He winked at Andy and said, “You look better son!” He wiped his hands with the small towel he had been wiping the diner counter with. Andy noted that somehow the towel never seemed to get dirty. “If you need anything else, let me know.” The food looked incredible, and Andy noticed his glass was full again.
“Is he trying to get me drunk?” Andy asked Jasco in jest.
“No Andy. The drink fills when you want it too. And frankly, while I am relieved you haven’t crashed on me yet, I think you might want to slow down.”
“THIS is WICKED!” Andy’s mouth was so full bits of food fell out onto the table as he tried to talk around the spiced lamb and vegetables wrapped in a pita he had just bitten into.
Jasco understood Andy’s excitement and enthusiasm, but considering the mental processing shortfall that had nearly propelled him back to the physical realm now giving way to what was beginning to look like something of a bender, she determined it was time to get down to business. She had worked too hard to get this far.
Andy’s eyes were closed as he munched. He had ascended to a new level of ecstasy.
“You asked me to come somewhere to talk Andy.” She said it kindly but seriously. There was no mistaking her intent to get down to business. She was gratified when, as Andy’s eyes opened, the liquid in his glass on the table disappeared into thin air.
“Of course,” Andy said. He appeared a little embarrassed. “You do understand this is all pretty exciting for me – and a little intimidating. Also, I never thought the food, this food, ANY food could be THIS good!”
Jasco laughed. “Of course. And to be fair, it is me that has most of the talking to do anyway. Though I can only share so much with you at present. Cormac Kilroy must share much of what he knows with you directly, in person.”
“I wish, Kilroy was here,” Andy was slurring a little and was very proud of his cleverness, though he noticed that Jasco had not understood the reference.
“Yes, that would make things simpler,” said the reaper. “But he cannot travel consciously to the astral realm. He is mortal, an Earther like you, and one not adept in the arts of the deeper mind as we are. He is limited to visiting the fringe of the astral realm. I hope to take you to meet him in a place where the astral and the physical converge: a place called the Hall of Memories in the Olympian port of Hypnos Somnos.
“Overlooking the river Styx.” Andy said it matter-of-factly.
Jasco was shocked.
“How would you know this?”
“I saw it: a high cliff overlooking a busy port in a wide river. I assumed it was Styx because of all the ships and I felt the presence of the boatman Charon. I can’t really explain it all. A lot of times I just have feelings about things.”
“So, I take it you would know of Charon from mythology. He is, in fact, Lord Admiral Charon, High Commander of the Stygian Navy of Olympus.”
“And he’s totally creepy,” added Andy before eating the last bite of the delicious Olympian gyro.
“Yes Andy,” She let her sarcasm show. “In the way all people who shepherd souls to the afterlife are creepy.”
Her disapproval of the comment was not lost on Andy. He felt bad that he had forgotten that her vocation was nearly identical to the Charon of mythology. But she was definitely not how he envisioned an angel of death. He wanted to know more about the mechanics of death and was surprised he hadn’t asked her about this yet. But that was a discussion for another time.
Her disapproving smile faded and she continued.
“Charon has not served as a reaper for centuries. Not since Lucifer’s reapers began to monopolize Earth’s soul harvest. The more souls Hades lost to Hell, the more hostile relations between Hades and Hell got. Eventually both sides started to arm themselves and the conflict became something of a cold war between underworlds.”
Andy said nothing. But the look his face told her he was soaking up every detail of everything she said.
“But I don’t know how you would be able to know that you were at the river Styx, or how you would recognize Charon. I can see why Cormac Kilroy finds you so interesting. And I am starting to worry that I have told you more than I should have already. I hope you understand that we do not want to overwhelm you.”
“I do understand. I was feeling a little anxious when I got here, but the food and drink helped. Maybe we should just go see Kilroy now. I can’t get enough of this stuff!”
Andy was only being partly honest with Jasco. He had decided that he trusted her – at least in terms of his safety. She had made it clear she could have defeated him easily. And she, with the help of Sisyphus, had helped him pull himself together. But he was still concerned that he might become embroiled in some nefarious purpose or be played as a pawn by someone exploiting his inexperience.
It also wasn’t lost on him that this alleged offer of help and guidance had come from someone she had just told him wasn’t even a sorcerer himself? Also, he wasn’t convinced that she was just holding back info out of consideration for his mental frailty. He felt as though there were things Jasco – and this mysterious Cormac Kilroy – did not want him to know. There was a lot that just did not add up.
But tonight had been a breakthrough, not just because he had solved the mystery of who had been calling to him, but also because his development as a sorcerer in general had taken an immeasurable leap forward. Whatever questions were gnawing at him, Andy was determined to go down this path. Even if he were in danger, his curiosity demanded satisfaction.
“Wrapping it up then?” Sisyphus was at their table again. Behind him, the four other patrons were leaving. The bell on the glass door jangled as they departed. Again, Andy couldn’t take his eyes off the diverse group of remarkable beings.
“Yes, thank you,” Jasco smiled at Sisyphus and got up and gave the massive Olympian a hug. She looked tiny in his rippling golden arms. “Can you send a pigeon for me Sisyphus?”
“Of course,” said the Olympian. “You know where the notes are.”
Then Jasco left Andy and Sisyphus alone.
“That was the most remarkable gyro I’ve ever had sir,” Andy said. “Maybe the best food I’ve ever had – period!”
Sisyphus smiled and Andy noticed his teeth were as flawless as the rest of him. “Thank you Andy. I have a secret recipe, but if I’m being honest you should know that with astral food, a large part of how good it is, is in the mind of the person doing the eating.”
Andy understood the theory behind what he was saying. On the astral plane – a less substantial plane than his native one – the interplay between consciousness and reality was more direct.
Noting the pensive look on Andy’s face, the Olympian put his hand on the Earther’s shoulder. Andy was surprised at how un-intimidating the Olympian’s physical presence was despite its enormity and perfection. He even smelled perfect – honeysuckle, he thought.
“You seem a quick study and a good sort of lad. You’ll sort this all out in no time,” The Olympian jerked his head over his shoulder to indicate Jasco, who was at the counter writing out a note for the carrier pigeon.
“I make it a point to take no interest in the private business of my patrons, Andy, but you should know that she is an honourable one. You are fortunate to have one such as her showing you the ropes.”
“I get that impression,” said Andy.
Jasco walked back to the table and handed Sisyphus a tiny metal canister.
“For Cormac Kilroy,” she said.
The Olympian accepted the canister and pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows in a look that suggested to Andy that this Kilroy character must be someone important.
“Certainly,” said Sysiphus. “Safe travels to you both.”
Jasco dropped her head in a single, respectful nod at him. Her eyes communicated her gratitude.
“Thank you Sisyphus,” said Andy. “For the way you have lightened my burden this day, I hope sincerely that your burden is lightened as well.” Andy put one hand on the Olympians arm in a gesture of camaraderie and shook his other hand.
Jasco and the Olympian were both taken aback by the Earther’s forthrightness, confidence, and thorough understanding of the nature of Sisyphus’s punishment. He had certainly moved beyond the pale, sweating mess he had been when had walked into the diner that short time ago.
“I like you Mr. Crowley,” Sisyphus slapped Andy’s comparatively puny arm in return and looked into his eyes like he was trying to see something. “You’ll fit right in!”
Then he turned his head and cast a knowing look to Jasco. It was obvious to her that he had seen something in Andy’s eyes, in that way only Olympians can see into the fortunes of others. And despite the wide smile on his face, the hint of respect and concern in his eyes was unmistakable to her. But more than that, she saw there the promise to say nothing, which was precisely why she had brought Andy here. She could trust Sisyphus.
“I do believe you will go far lad,” he said.
The Olympian’s smile disappeared the instant the two astral travellers turned their backs and leapt into the sky. And while he had decided he liked the young man he had just met, the Olympian light that seemed to shine perpetually in Sisyphus’s face faded away entirely as he watched them leave.