Dave Grayson cornered into the arena parking lot at a speed that challenged the enormous Oldsmobile station wagon to remain on the icy dirt road.
“Jesus!” Dave O’Finnegan said from the front passenger seat. He had called shotgun for so long — and had always created so much drama when he didn’t get it — that everyone had just taken to proactively relenting on the matter. He commented on Dave’s driving just to hear himself talk. Everyone in the car knew Dave Grayson was a spectacular wheelman.
Ian Grayson reclined sideways across both back seats scribbling down what he could recall of everyone’s liquor store requests on the back of an Incredible Hulk comic. His kind face, cool demeanour, and receding hairline had made it impossible for him — the moral high-grounder of the group — to defy his calling as high school bootlegger.
Nick Morrison opened the back of the station wagon where Jason Baker was sleeping off his hangover and threw in his hockey stick and bag.
“Figure skating is hard, eh St. Pierre?” McFinnegan roared out the passenger side window at Scott St. Pierre who was crossing the parking lot in front of the car.
St. Pierre threw up the finger and McFinnegan laughed.
“How ’bout you shut it, Dave,” Nick said as he climbed into the seat Ian had freed up for him. “You can’t even skate let alone play hockey, dipshit.”
“Oh sorry then, MorrisON.” It was O’Finnegan’s go-to to make Nick’s surname sound like moron. “Are you and Lady St. Pierre dating or something?”
Hockey practice had eliminated all but lingering traces of Nick’s hangover. Having resolved that he was done with Friday-night D&D and would go to Club Cedars this coming Friday, he was feeling better about things. He still wanted to play — just not on Friday. As much as he would have loved to punch O’Finnegan in the back of the head, he didn’t.
“A twenty-sixer of Rough and Rowdy for me, Ian.” Nick tapped on the comic where Ian was writing up his shopping list.
“Is St. Pierre your new boyfriend? Is he why you want to go to Cedars so bad.” O’Finnegan persisted.
“Jason is going to kill you for writing on his comic.” Nick said to Ian in order to make a show of how committed he was to ignoring Dave.
“If you want, Nick, I can pull over,” Dave Grayson said it into the rearview mirror and jerked his head sideways toward the other, mouthier, Dave.
“Thanks, no, Dave. I’m good.” He reached over the front seat and flicked McFinnegan’s ballcap off his head onto the dash.
“The little guy is just cocky about hitting 10th level. No need to send him hunting for his teeth in the snow.”
They all laughed, O’Finnegan re-donned his hat and sheepishly apologized. He had two modalities: mirth (which typically manifested as sarcasm) and melancholy (which typically manifested as regret for his sarcasm).
An awkward silence fell over the station wagon.
And while there was the typical banter, not another word was said about the proposal Nick had made last night. Everyone knew a breaking of the fellowship had occurred and all of them had already begun making their peace with it.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
~ Francis Bacon
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, within the only known region of spacetime 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 and 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 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 would report that the banshee had succeeded in her task.
He admonished himself for the presumption. This was Kip Kilroy. The idiotic grin was no indication of circumstances. It meant only that drink, hooliganism and debauchery were at hand.
And at that moment — urgent, secret mission to avert cosmic calamity aside — The Banjoman recalled precisely why he so liked the bastard mariner of Mars.