“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Realm of Dreams
1984 AD SR
A giant, lifeless world of nought but rock and ice, the planet called Jotunheim takes 22,000 years to traverse its long ellipse that stretches far out beyond the warmth of yellow Sol.
It would be 10,000 years before Jotunheim would return from the distant apex of its path around the sun to again cross the asteroid belt that marks Sanctuary Rim: the event horizon that separated the quaint magicless realm from the bedlam of the wider sorcerous multiverse where the probability fields at the foundation of reality can be accessed by consciousness. The intersection of the orbit of Jotunheim and the event horizon of Sanctuary was called the Jotunheim intersection: a weak point exploited by the chaos-fuelled entrolopers who lay relentless siege upon Santuary Rim as it manifested within the realm of dreams.
Peregrinus-Sherle floated between two enormous asteroids and looked back toward the hundred-and-forty-four soldiers in her command. Some crouched on asteroids others floated in the space between the shattered rocks that had once been the planet Tiamat. As was sometimes the case, the waveform signatures of physical matter stretched into the proximal planes as well. The asteroids of Sanctuary Rim were just as substantial here in the dream realm, as they were in the physical reality the dream warriors assembled here would know in their waking lives.
The dizzying assortment of sizes and forms, colours and manners of dress and arms of the assemblage of warriors was typical of a legion of the Morphean Guard: the subconscious heroic self-images of sleeping consciousnesses from the worlds within the circle of Sanctuary: the defenders of the border between the grace of the magicless realm and the dark anarchical force that would have that peace fall to the chaos of the beyond.
Peregrinus-Sherle drew the falcon sword and it cried the falcon’s cry as the razor sharp blade rode the metal lip of the scabbard. Sound was possible in the indigo space of the dream realm.
“They come now sleepers! In all the manifestations I am told, and in the usual number!” Her voice rang clear in the ears of her troops.
“But no matter, that,” she held her sword high above her head in a gesture of defiance. “For before we are lost to wakefulness, there will be none!”
The troops roared then. “For Sancturary!” And it was precisely in that moment they felt the knotting in the stomach that indicates the approach of the denizens of chaos most vile and fell, churning into being beyond the event horizon of The Rim.
“With haste!” Peregrinus-Sherle turned to face enemies yet to appear, and by force of will alone shot herself beyond the asteroid belt and across Sanctuary Rim into magical space. She knew from experience, and by the cacophony of bellowing voices at her back that her troops followed.
Some of the dream warriors were of elephantine proportions, others were as small as insects; they wore, some of them, the form of flora, some of them, of fauna. Many were combinations of both. Most, but not all, were humanoid in appearance and all were regaled and outfitted for battle with kit spanning the cultures and eras of all of the four worlds of Sancturary.
Peregrinus-Sherle’s eyes widened. Now, where there had been nought but space and floating rock, a barren landscape faded into the ephemeral reality of the dream realm. It was always this way. Always, a world emerged beneath the floating warriors. She looked down to see her companions setting down on what would be their battleground: a consensual manifestation of a subconscious need for substantial footing shared by the dream warriors and the spectral spawn that would begin appearing any moment now.
From her vantage point in the sky above the strange, bleak wasteland that had solidified hundreds of feet beneath her she felt a static cracking in the air behind her. Mouthers! She thought – probably suspended in the sky by some construct conjured by liches yet to appear.
“Nimbus Gamma!” she roared. Instantly, any of the dream warriors capable of flight sounded subsequent commands and took to the air in the direction where she had detected the energy.
On the ground, she saw leucrotta and bugbears emerging from vortices to confront her troops.
Keeping her eyes on the area where the aerial troops now hovered, she felt the energy she had sensed at her back intensifying and her fist tightened on the falcon sword. Its purple eyes sprung open.
She had been correct. Fully materialized now, in direct proximity to the event horizon of Sanctuary Rim, the vile mouthers – amorphous gelatinous masses of salivating, mewling, screaming mouths of all colours, sizes and varieties – began gnawing at the unseen border between magicless and magical spacetime. They were suspended on a translucent, pea-soup-green skyscape she was now sure from the colour was being conjured by liches.
Then, triggered by a crackling of energy and a sick heat on the back of her neck, she spun and in an upward diagonal movement brought the screeching falcon sword across the face of the beholder that had appeared immediately behind her. A gash opened across the floating, eye-filled orb. Foul gore followed the arc of her blade and the dead husk began its descent to the surface below.
Always, invariably, there were mouthers, beholders, bugbears, leucrotta, and liches. The numbers of each varied with each attack, as did their tactics, but always there were only these five creatures.
To the Pentarchy it was known that the entrolopers were the dark fantasies of the one who had become Abraxas made manifest from a wave of chaos energy that traveled back through time from the moment of the Abraxas’s defeat in the future. The Five had postulated that they were embodiments of repressed frustrations from the dark recesses of the mind of a teenage Earther.
Called the Abraxas Wave, it had first appeared 8000 years in the past shortly after the time in which the Pentarchy had hidden the Grimoire. It was theorized that the phenomenon – a final desperate salvo from the subconscious mind of the failed Abraxas – had been drawn, as to a beacon, to the time in which the Grimoire was hidden from the moment 3000 years in the future when the Abraxas would fall.
For the 8000 years then, up to the present moment, the entrolopers had laid siege to Sanctuary Rim in the dream realm. And for 8000 years, the Morphean Guard, the constructs of the sleeping consciousnesses of beings within the magicless realm had defended the sanctity of sacred Sanctuary.
She saw the first of the liches then. Mounted upon a spectral wyvern it had conjured, it turned its gaze upon her. Somehow even in the hollow sockets of the skull that was its head under its tall hat she could see nought but raging madness. And though, after so many times looking into those eyes she had learned to confront them fearlessly, in this moment she felt terror. On the fringes of her vision she sensed red lights – flashing. Then blue. Then the red and blue lights were alternating and the din of the battle far below, and all about her now in the air, faded.
Somewhere deep inside, she heard again the words she had sworn to recall in that alien, waking life unknown to her.
“When Nick is gone. Andy will know what to do.”
Then the battle receded completely from her awareness and the red and blue lights were all there was in the mind of Peregrinus-Sherle.
Home of Andy Crowley
1984 AD SR
The rec room where they had fallen asleep was bathed alternately in red and blue light that flashed through the small window at the top of the wall facing the driveway. At first, Deb was not startled by it. The needle on the turntable clacked gently against the end of side two of Hemispheres by Rush. She saw the LPs strewn across the coffee table and a glow came into her heart.
Then, she felt confused. A feeling that she had been doing something important was with her and then gone. What were the flashing lights?
As her focus came into the room she saw her hand resting on the denim of Andy’s torn jeans. Her head was in his lap and his hand was in her hair. They had fallen asleep. Then she remembered, and for a moment, before the would panic set in, she was completely content.
Andy had told her he knew they were meant to be together and that he knew she had always known this too. He had told her he was sorry it had taken him so long to act on his feelings and had said that now that things were as they should be, they would never be any different.
And they had kissed. Really kissed – in the way she always knew they one day would.
She sat up now and looked at him. His head was back and twisted awkwardly. His mouth was wide open and his straw-coloured hair was all over the place. For just a moment, Deb let the love she felt fill her completely. But, just as the bliss seeing Andy had replaced the confusion of awakening, the alternating red and blue on Andy’s face was now drawing a deep dread up into her awareness.
Police? Ambulance? One or the other was in the driveway.
Then she remembered Nick’s driveway was adjacent to Andy’s and her stomach turned over with genuine terror.
“Andy!” She pushed his shoulder hard.
He smiled at her until he saw the look on her face, which caused him to sit up straight. When he saw the lights of the sirens reflected on her face his head snapped to the window.
“Nick.” He whispered to himself. It was a statement: a certainty.
“Something’s wrong, Andy,” Deb was on the verge of tears. Andy was surprised. There were a million reasons fro the police to be there. Why was Deb so upset?
“I had a dream that something would happen to him.” She said it with a certainty that unnerved him.
“What?” Andy’s mind raced. He looked hard and deep into Deb’s eyes then, looking for something that would tell him what she meant. He saw nothing there but fear.
He ran his fingers across her cheek and held her face gently. “Let’s go see what’s going on.” His voice was a calm, controlled attempt to comfort her. He would figure out what she meant by what she said about her dream later.
Hand-in-hand they topped the stairs and made their way through the kitchen. The interior door to the porch was open and Andy knew his parent’s were outside. He felt his heart in his throat and the mystical awareness that would never leave him despite his retirement from sorcery sensed anguish everywhere.
Through the screen door he heard his father talking to the police – always, he was the level head: the disciplined soldier who got cooler the hotter things got. Andy could see Nick’s dad now. He was standing staring blankly at Gail, Nick’s mother. She was sobbing and Joan Crowley was holding her.
“Nick didn’t come home last night.” Andy heard his mother’s voice from earlier in the day repeating the words in his head. And in that instant a new reality formed concretely in his mind: Nick was never coming home again.
Thinking of Nick’s parents then, he stopped hard at the screen door.
Despite the emotions just beginning to form in his own mind, he knew that him and Deb diving into the sea of emotional chaos on the other side of that door would only intensify the trauma for everyone. Andy pulled Deb close to him and held her tight.
“Something’s happened to Nick,” he whispered. “He’s gone.”
Surprisingly, Deb did not cry out; she was not even sobbing. Andy knew she loved Nick as much as he did. The three of them had been friends since before they could even use words. Her head was pressed into his chest under his chin and he could sense that she was staring motionlessly, silently, into oblivion.
He looked through the screen and saw his father’s head turn. Andy had never such despair in his face. Their eye’s locked and welled with tears in the same moment. Later that night, he would be the one to tell Andy and Deb that Nick had fallen near the flat rocks last night and drowned.
As though she felt Andy’s pain emerge within him, it was then that Deb finally began sobbing. Instinctively Andy pulled her even closer. If he could have, he would have pulled her completely into himself, as though somehow that would make her safe from the pain.
“The silver girl told me he was going to die,” she whispered almost as much to herself as to Andy.
Deep in Andy’s mind, beneath the avalanche of grief that was building but had not yet arrived, ideas connected and a pale spark of recognition formed. In less than a moment, it flickered into anger.
The silver girl? His question did not form as words. Rather it came to Deb as a tightening of his hold on her and a subtle backward movement of his chin on her head.
“She said you would know what to do,” Deb whispered.
Andy fought to keep his voice down. “I don’t know what you mean Deb. I don’t know what to do. What dreams? What girl?” His jaw clenched and his nostrils flared. He inhaled deeply, knowing he had to remain calm.
And then, though none could have noticed in the flashing red and blue of the police lights – a dim tinge of green light rose within his forehead as his third eye opened wide.
And though he was on Sanctuary, where it should not have been possible, that seat of his sorcerous power blazed out onto the planes beyond like an eldritch beacon.
”Jasco,” Deb whispered. “She said this would happen. She said you knew what to do.”
Andy had known that she was going to say the banshee’s name.
So then, on the very day he had promised himself he would never use magic again, he accepted that he had lied to himself. And on the very night he had promised his heart to another, he accepted also, that he had lied to the one he wanted to be with forever.
Finally, the avalanche came. And though he knew more of the true nature of death than perhaps any other Earther, grief came upon Ancaster Crowley, for he would miss his friend, and the pain was the selfish pain of imagining his life as it was never supposed to be: without Nick in it.
For Nick’s parents, for his parent’s, for Deb, and for himself, Andy’s tears flowed then.
And in the hurricane of empathy, and loss, and confusion of a future suddenly completely, fundamentally different, there was another emotion as well – and were it not for the discipline of his highly trained mind that emotion would have broken through its restraints and consumed all the others.
He wiped his tears in Debs hair and summoned all the strength he had…
…for he did not want her to sense his fury.
To be continued in Chapter 19