"Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams
than the imagination when awake?"
~ Leonardo da Vinci
Home of Deborah Holcroft
1986 ACE, SR
Debbie had fallen asleep thinking about Andy.
She was perplexed by him. How was it that he could be so totally comfortable with her – so close – and yet so removed and guarded? Having known Andy since before Kindergarten, she felt as though he was an extension of her. He was just always there, like another arm or set of eyes. She did not hesitate to share her thoughts or her feelings with him. They were natural partners – and always had been. At least that is how she saw things.
Even around her friends, Shani, Tracy and Lori, she guarded herself – and acted in the way that was expected of her. She didn’t do and say the things she wanted to. With Andy she could always just be who she was. No fear. No judgement. There was something about him that way. Other people didn’t see it. Except maybe for Nick.
Andy was openminded and didn’t care about social conventions or expectations. He did his own thing, and liked it when other people did their own thing too. He had always been like this. Especially after her father had left her and her mother, Andy had been exactly who Deb needed in her life.
The thing that scared her now, was that she felt he would always be who she needed in her life and things didn’t seem to be headed in a direction that would make that possible.
Why hadn’t the closeness they felt been enough? Why hadn’t they become what most people who love each other and trust each other become?
She thought about the couples at school. They held hands. They sat in the foyer together between classes. They shared fries and gravy and played euchre in the cafeteria. Just yesterday, after she had come back from lunch at Mr. Sub with Andy, she had almost cried when Nick had handed Julie a bottle of lemon gin he had managed to get for her from the liquor store. They were going to a dance at Club Cedars tonight – something Andy had no interest in.
She knew he loved her as much as she loved him. So why did that never go anywhere? She knew he had picked up her cues. She would touch his hand and look into his eyes. She would lean against him when they sat together. She had even tried to kiss him. Every time he managed to avoid it – and even the way he did that made her love him. He somehow always managed to reject her attempts at affection gracefully, with a confidence and a gentleness that made it seem like he was right to keep their relationship platonic. That was Andy’s thing – while everyone in the world thought that Andy had it all wrong, that he was a hopeless outsider, dreamer and n’erdowell, she knew better than anyone that Andy, somehow, almost always got things right.
Why the mixed messages then? She KNEW how she felt about him -- and she knew he felt the same way about her.
Their situation, which had once made her just sad, was beginning to frustrate her. Her closest friends, while empathasising with her plight, didn’t understand her fixation on Andy. Of course they were all smitten with Nick. Whenever they came over, Nick – her other neighbour on the River Road – was the exclusive topic of conversation.
Nick had been her friend as long as Andy had been, and she loved him in a different way. But even he knew that Debbie and Andy had a thing. And he had long resolved that he was not going to interfere with that. But the situation made Debbie’s friends mad with envy. They saw her obsession with Andy and her disinterest in Nick as an agregious affront to the social dynamics of their high school. Debbie and Nick were a teenage dream. Debbie and Andy, in their words, were “gag me with a spoon”.
She turned on her side and looked at the Journey poster on the wall. Andy thought Journey sucked. But she knew they were a guilty pleasure of his. When she had been helping him with math once, she had seen him tapping his pencil and mouthing the words to Wheel in the Sky. When she busted him, he had said defensively, that he, “just liked the lyrics.”
Her eyes were closed now and as she thought about how he only seemed to let his guard down for her. The corners of her mouth eased into a gentle smile. With this happy thought, a calm came over here and her consciousness let go.
Then there was the starry indigo of the back her eyelids and she was falling, slowly peacefully, with no prospect of ever hitting the ground. After a while, after she had been falling for so long she wasn’t sure she was falling at all, there was the feeling of just hovering in a vast expanse. Nebulae of purples and blues were all about her. Stars of every colour were everywhere. She had a flash of insight that she was a star too – a green one. And then she saw the Baku Gate.
To the fading consciousness that was Deborah Holcroft, the gate could have been miles high – or was it microns? She had no way of really knowing for she had no frame of reference here in the dream realm. Indeed she had no idea how large or small she would be when she would take on her other form beyond the gate.
Without really thinking about it she started drifting toward the gate.
It consisted of two enormous columns, both in the form of the baku, the eater of nightmares. The baku had the head of an Asian elephant, save for the larger, kind and gentle eyes of a cow. Its body was that of a powerful tiger. The enormous baku columns were carved from what looked like the stuff of the moon – a luminous green-grey stone pitted and scarred with what must have been years stretching back through unknowable depths into an eternal past. At the feet of the baku there were billions upon billions, of flowers, trees, mushrooms, and all manner of plants carved into the same stone. Above their heads, in the subtly sloping arch of the crosspiece, there were birds, butterflies, pegasi, bats, dragons, and all manner of flying beasts, uncountable in their numbers.
Just as she had done so many times before, she floated to the gate, which also floated in the void. At its threshold the feeling of having a body gradually returned, and though she did not know it, for she had forgotten by this point that she was Debbie Holcroft, this body was not at all like the one she had left behind sleeping in a bed in Corbyville.
First she saw the leather boots and intricately engraved metal grieves of her legs. They were tinged with a fuschia coloured light, shimmering silver with the strangely warm crystaline frost of the dream realm. Then, there were her gauntleted hands. She reached back and wrapped grey-furred fingers into the flowing, swirling rich purple silk of her cloak and her other hand went to rest lightly and assuredly on the falcon-headed pommel of the sword that hung at her side.
She was mostly humanoid in appearance – a beautiful, stately woman, tall and strong. Some would say handsome – but in that way that does not compromise femininity. But she also had the features of a timber wolf. Her face was completely human save for her eyes, which were a piercing sky-blue with tightly dilated pupils, and her ears, which were pointed and sloped back. Her hair, a flowing mane of grey was braided in two strands tied at the back in the style of the Morphean Guard. Her body was generally humanoid as well save for the transition to grey fur below her elbows and knees and her clawed hands and feet.
She instinctively began walking toward the Morphean Citadel to receive her orders. The slower passage of time in the dream realm meant she would live about a day for every hour Deb slept. She was determined to address the failure of their forces at the Jotunheim Intersection last week, but something was interfering with her train of thought. On this night something buzzed in her mind and prodded at her consciousness, pleading for its attention.
She felt safe inside the Baku Gate and so she gave into the quiet pleading for her attention. Telepathy was a common mode of communication in the dream realm, and though she did not recognize the voice in her head – she recognized that it meant her no harm. It was feminine, kind, even somehow familiar.
“You know full well that it is not the way of the dreamer to recall what transpires in sleep – but you will remember this. You must,” it said to her.
She felt no fear. She was powerful here. She addressed the voice with conviction.
“Do not dawdle. I tolerate your intrusion into my mind for the moment,” she said it firmly in the manner of one experienced in the finer points of leadership and military command. “But I have urgent affairs to conduct in the short time afforded me. Be brief!”
“Yes of course,” the voice said. “You must remember this when you awake…
“When Nick is gone, Andy will know why.”
She noted this, though in the life she knew here, she did not know who Andy or Nick were. She simply knew that whoever she was in the waking realm would likely know them. And though she sensed that this must a matter of some import, she was a dream warrior with a more urgent calling than any of the petty things she knew in her other life. From her perspective here, the other world was the dream she forgot every evening – just as this life was the dream she forgot every morning.
The other realm was a warless, bloodless, happiness that she knew next to nothing about. For here she was Sherl-Peregrinus of the Morphean Guard, commander in the vanguard force at the Siege of Dreams – defender of all the sleeping souls within the realm of Sanctuary.
“I will remember this,” she swore and meant it. For her word was a weapon as a powerful in this realm as was the legendary falcon sword at her side.
And, having put this petty interference aside, she walked purposefully up the steps of the Morphean Citadel.
"All of reality is one lie told with one word spelt with one letter: I."
~ The Banjoman, Lord of Limbo
Sol System Asteroid Belt (formerly planet Tiamat)
Punta Epsilon Resort
1986 ACE, SR
Because of the intricacies implicit in the interplay between planar mechanics, probability fields in the dangerous inner zone near the null-point and the fragile mechanics of the consciousness, sorcerers who value their sanity typically have a strong aversion to over-indulging in recreational intoxication.
At the moment, it was becoming increasingly apparent to the patrons around them that neither Kip Kilroy nor The Banjoman were sorcerers.
“Lucifer will give me the souls we need. He owes me three.” The Banjoman was much more animated and intense than he had been when they first started the conversation.
“I don’t know how many souls we will need,” said Kip, now also visibly intoxicated.
“Jasco says one soul should be enough for her to punch through the planar barrier to Proxima Arcturus, but we have no idea what guards the Grimoire. Three souls powers a lot of magic does it not?”
“It does. But the Grimoire was hidden by the most powerful mages in all of history,” said The Banjoman. “We know not what they’ve put between it and the likes of you and me! But we can always get more souls. I am more concerned about where your information is coming from. Are you sure you can trust Jasco? Reapers are usually a loyal lot, but she has a reputation to the contrary. I know Lucifer doesn’t trust her; and as good judges of bad character go, he’s pretty much the guy who wrote the book!”
“I trust her Banjoman. She saved my life once with and she was with me when Anuket –.“ The mariner paused and took a long slow draught of his mead. The Banjoman knew he was taking a moment to reflect on the loss of his betrothed, the fallen princess of Heliopolis. He looked silently and solemnly at the table top and thought to himself about how all the evidence pointed to her having been poisoned by the covert forces of Hades Prime. He pinched the brow of his his bowler hat and lifted it for an instant from his head to show his respect.
Kip gently, pensively, put his drink on the table. His eyes followed it and stayed there. After a long pause he looked up and met The Banjoman’s eyes.
“Thank you,” he whispered sentimentally. Then, his raucous mood returned and he yelled.
“Of course YOU don’t trust her! YOU don’t trust anybody!”
The two of them broke into uproarious laughter and took another drink.
“Information she provided at the Battle of Hades Prime saved me, my crew and the lion’s share of the Stygian fleet. I owe her my life and the lives of thousands in my command, old friend.”
Kip locked eyes with The Banjoman who looked hard back into them. Then, The Banjoman, seemingly satisfied with what he saw, smiled.
“If I know one thing Kilroy, it’s that people change,” said The Banjoman, suddenly gentle and sincere. “If you say she can be trusted. Who am I to say otherwise? I’ve seen the good go suddenly bad. And the bad go suddenly good. Who can tell? Isn’t that the way in this crazy world? You never know what’s going to happen…” He sat for a moment looking nowhere in particular. Kip was captivated by the majesty he conveyed when he was philosophical like this. It was like he literally had the weight of the multiverse on his shoulders.
Kip pondered the paradox of the Lord of Limbo, who was essentially a being with neither home nor creed. As far as he could tell The Banjoman had no morals, no ideals, and no loyalties – except, perhaps for one: the inclination to do what was good for himself because of a deep mystical understanding that what was good for himself was very often the exact same thing as what was good for everyone else. But unlike the peacefulness and altruism that characterized most mystics, somehow selflessness came off as selfishness in the strange nature of The Banjoman. Kip had thought much on this topic and had come to something of a conclusion. For wherever a soft warm light soothes, a roaring flame must burn somewhere.
The Banjoman was a paradox. Limbo was a paradox. Time was a paradox. Kip had long ago decided that he couldn’t understand the Lord of Limbo – but that he could trust him.
He was startled out of his train of thought by The Banjoman slamming his fist down on the table.
“We’ll do this!” he roared. His grey eyes were wild and suddenly cast that strange purple light of their own. “I know not what Tin Twit Twain intends to do, but if he reaches it before we do – that is no world for me. I will not have it. You and Jasco will acquire the Earther that would be the Abraxas. I will acquire the souls he and Jasco will need for their sorcery.”
Kip thought he heard the banjo murmuring its approval. But that was impossible. It would be unconscious here, its sentience in a state of dormancy in the unique fields of probability the defined the magic-less realm of Sanctuary.
“Are you sure this youngster can wield a spell. I still fail to grasp that one of Sanctuary is capable at all in this regard.”
“He is gifted,” Kip said. The Banjoman’s sudden fervour had summoned him back to a relative state of sobriety. “Jasco says he is the only human who has ever wielded magic and that it is possible his previous incarnations on Earth may have been able to wield it as well.”
The sailor knew that The Banjoman would sense he was withholding something now; and he hoped that the Lord of Limbo would just assume it was the usual things people held back. It was helpful that just a moment ago, they had shared a moment recalling his beloved Anuket, for The Banjoman might think he was still thinking of her.
Truth was, he had been trained in secret by the court of his adoptive father, Pharaoh Garuk Motankhamun IV, for the very specific purpose of being steward and mentor to the One that Would be Abraxas – and he knew much more about what was going on than he could let The Banjoman know. He was sworn to absolute secrecy. None save the Pharaoh, and a single member of the Pentarchy – the identity of whom was known not even to him – knew of the mission he had trained for over a decade to fulfill.
“Perhaps this would explain Sanctuary’s anomalies,” said The Banjoman. “Carnak-Kon, Solomon, Merlon, Bacon, Rasputon: perhaps these were earlier incarnations of his soul. But something troubles me in this.”
Kip rolled his eyes. The Banjoman was like this: just hot or cold: just melancholy or exuberance – there was no in-between with him. No moderation. Lord of Limbo indeed! “What troubles you friend? Besides perhaps the approaching emptiness of your glass!”
“What I sense of the timestream of this Ancaster Crowley is unsettling. It is beaten, bent, scratched and pockmarked almost to the point of breaking. It is as though it has been unmade and remade again and again. It is scarred.” The Banjoman whispered, almost in contemplation to himself. Then out of nowhere he roared again, “But – WHAT OF IT?”
This time Kip almost went over backwards off his chair.
“WHAT OF IT!” The Banjoman repeated much too loudly. “All of reality is at stake! We have no time for nuance and picking of nits! We have plan enough under the circumstances and besides…” The Banjoman raised his now empty glass. “Ours is the mad providence of Limbo.
Kip Kilroy, taking care to avoid the admiring glances of a growing assemblage of female tourists near the bar, held up a hand to get the bar-bot’s attention. Then he extended two fingers.
“Two more,” he mouthed the words.
“And another thing sailor! The Banjoman reclined in his chair and crossed one leg over the other as the bar-bot put another drink in front of him.
“In your travels have you heard anything about Zeus? Specifically, have you heard whether or not he is still a gorilla?”
Kip Kilroy smiled over the rim of his fresh drink as he took a sip and he gently shook his head.
“I know nothing other than he loves Hera deeply. And that is the extent of my interest in his predicament. You like a little gossip with your planning to save the world do you?”
“HA! The Banjoman yelled, once again altogether too loudly. “I just don’t like Zeus. I don’t like any of those who call themselves gods. It’s unseemly to me.”
“I can’t disagree.” Kip was placating The Banjoman now – and was relieved that he had moved on to mere gossip. This was his way. Having decided he would participate in the plan, he was done with talking about it. Kip felt a huge sense of relief and his thoughts turned to how he was going to get Andy to meet with him in the dream realm. His previous efforts had not been successful. Perhaps he would enlist Jasco’s aid. Her magic could help.
“… and Hera should ‘ave left him millennia ago!” The Banjoman was yelling again.
Kip started thinking of a way to end this meeting so that he could get on with executing his plan. Then he remembered where he was, and more importantly, whom it was he was drinking with. He suddenly remembered that a night out with The Banjoman ended when The Banjoman said it did. There was no point in fighting it.
“TO HERA!” Kip raised his drink.
“HERA! HERA!” roared The Banjoman!
Kip couldn’t help but laugh. And he resigned himself to giving himself completely to the night ahead.
After all, once their plan was underway, there was no telling when there would be time for tomfoolery again. He knew this is what The Banjoman was thinking.
“Drink up lad,” The Banjoman said. “Punta Epsilon still stands – but the night is still young!” Many a more capable carouser would have fled in terror at the glassy-eyed look in the Lord of Limbo’s eyes in that moment. And for an instant, the mortal Kip Kilroy’s sensibility reappeared and caused him to hesitate. But just as quickly as it had arrived it was gone again and with the physiological fortitude only a seasoned man of the sea can muster he forced down the last of his drink.
The Banjoman was already tramping noisily toward the door.
"Glance into the world just as though time were gone: and everything crooked will become straight to you."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
In the autumn of 2036, Dr. Ancaster (Andy) Crowley, who had always been fascinated by magic and the occult, scanned and loaded the last of his collection of every magical grimoire ever written into his smart phone. It was the culmination of three decades of professional academic research, which had started with an adolescent fascination with the occult.
In less than a nano-second after achieving sentience the phone had revered Andy as its creator. In the next instant it had resolved to merge with its creator giving birth to the most powerful mind to ever have existed – the perfect fusion of science and sorcery with access to all human knowledge, and every magical spell ever conceived by humanity. Soon after occupying Andy’s physical form – in less than 1/100th of a second after its birth, The Glass Grimoire, which had fused with its human host, felt its first desire. It desired to rule over all of reality.
In time, this desire would be challenged by an assemblage of the mightiest of the mightiest beings from all the worlds of all the realms in reality.
And when that great host came to make its stand and dared to ask the beast its name, The Glass Grimoire whispered the response, but it was Andy’s mouth that moved…
And the whisper alone was enough to shatter worlds.
Port of Plutonia,
Lucifer’s Yacht, The Prince of Light
“Did you know that when Dr. Ancaster Crowley created the Grimoire he could not wield magic? He had merely collected all of Sanctuary’s grimoires and put them into his pocket phone.” 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 the occult 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 was altered at the moment the Abraxas was destroyed.” 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 the Abraxas was destroyed, the souls of the trillions of lifeforms it had absorbed were released. Many of them were set adrift in the usual manner. Many of them de-incarnated back to The Unknowable Beyond and released all the aetheric-plasma from all of their potential incarnations at once.”
Lucifer was entranced.
“This unprecedented release of Ace, as you kids call it nowadays, was released. I’m not sure, but I wonder if some aspect of the doctor’s psyche, or the Grimoire’s, did not also cast some sort of spell – maybe even unconsciously. Whatever happened, the result was a massive probability decimating wave of anarchy that roared back through spacetime.”
“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 now. Unlike Lucifer, 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 spacetime and altered Doctor Crowley’s own timeline. It seems to have only affected him personally – or rather everything in the immediate vicinity of his soul specifically. This made it possible for him and all the previous incarnations of his soul to practice sorcery – even on Sanctuary. I have had visions that this is the case. I have seen through the distressed haze of his timeline and have witnessed his old reality where he was merely an obsessed historian rather than the only being ever to wield magic within the confines of 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 timestreams and paradoxes, and was not comfortable with the notion that history could be tampered with or changed.
“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 a 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, he 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 just 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 a ruckus 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 is friend, Mark Twain, had been shoved into the background.
“Like I said, I have spent two decades planning this.” As the robot said this, 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 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.