They returned back to the golden palace later that evening with Triton having done most of the talking. He could tell that there was something on Neptune’s mind and chose not to ask her questions which might somehow offend. Throughout most of their journey Triton babbled about subjects that neither of them really cared about and tried to make her laugh on a number of occasions, but for the most part he ended up chuckling at his own jokes instead. Eventually they made it back and Triton walked her back to the dining room where he began his kitchen duties.
He looked over his shoulder from time to time to check on her and was concerned by her lack of conversation. She was staring into the old fireplace and looked to be deep in thought. Triton shrugged in his usual overstated way and turned his attention back to the cooking. He whistled some favourite songs from his past when he heard voices coming from the other room.
“Who are you?” Neptune asked with searching eyes. Triton walked back into the room and stared disbelievingly at the figure in the doorway. It was the legendary old man of the sea, Proteus.
“I am neither here nor there,” the man Proteus said as his voice resonated throughout the room. There was a piercing quality to it that left Neptune feeling ill at ease. “No need for introductions between us, drowned lady of the sea. I have watched your progress with great interest.”
“Great scot!” Triton said. The sight of his mouth hanging open would’ve been enough to make Neptune laugh under different circumstances. He pointed his finger at the old man and looked on vacantly with lost eyes. “You’ve not been seen for centuries!”
“What do you want with us?” Neptune said with clear impatience. Despite having been nicknamed ‘old’ the man before her was anything but and looked to have just graduated from school. More surprising was the tail of the fish which gave off the impression that Proteus was a merman. She looked suspiciously at this half-human and was vaguely shocked by his appearance but had no interest in giving him the satisfaction that he’d made any impact.
“There is nothing you can give me that I don’t already know,” the merman tittered. He smiled and brushed his brown wavy hair out of his eyes. Neptune looked at his tanned skin and loose clothing and could tell that he was completely in love with himself. “I’ve seen everything that matters. I’ve happened to meet other versions of you before.”
“Now Proteus!” Triton said in alarm. His eyes had a fearful look that lit up his face. “You mustn’t start causing trouble again after all these years!”
“Trouble for whom?” Proteus countered. “Every action has a consequence, does it not? What matters is if I help you or not. You can do nothing for me. But I can give something to you. I can give you your future.”
Neptune’s eyes widened with bewilderment. She looked at Proteus with new eyes and immediately remembered the old Greek legend.
“You’re the shape shifter who can see the future,” Neptune said. “Why have you come to me?”
“Knowing all there is to know is such a lonely existence,” Proteus sighed. “I have so much to tell and no one to share it with. I have only been caught twice in my eternal existence. I’m bored, Neptune! You know what it’s like to be isolated from the world. That’s not the only reason, of course. But I won’t spoil your fun.”
“This is madness!” Triton said in protest. He marched into the middle of the room and levelled with Proteus from just a few metres away. “You can’t interfere with the laws of the land in this way!”
“Wait, Triton,” Neptune said. She stood up and moved between them. “What are you proposing, Proteus?”
“She knows her legends!” the merman said with a croaky laugh. “You’ve figured out who I am. You know the rest of the story, then! I will tell you everything about your past – and your future – if you can catch me in my many forms! You won’t say no because you want to find out what happens to your son.”
“You will use Pisces as a bargaining tool?” Neptune said icily.
“I am simply getting to the point,” Proteus said. “I’m throwing you a line, but that won’t mean a thing in the long run. Only two people have caught me in history and one of them was Jupiter. Do you really think you can catch someone capable of shedding his own skin?”
Neptune reeled back in astonishment as the merman suddenly changed into a robed wizard. He had aged hundreds of years within an instant and carried a long, magical staff.
“I can change my face more than you can change your wardrobe, my sweet!” Proteus cackled. “What’s more, I don’t ever give anything away easily. You’ll have to catch me within a week. No exceptions.”
“We most certainly won’t be taking part in your game!” Triton said, crossing his arms with animated dislike for the wizard.
“I’ll catch you in five.” Neptune said with the biggest smile Triton had ever seen.
“My lady!” he cried.
“That’s more like it!” Proteus said with a raucous laugh. “I knew you wouldn’t disappoint. So without further ado, I’ll tell you the plan,” he stepped backwards and swung his staff with a quick horizontal slice. “Precautionary measure for if you try and do anything untoward, you understand. As I was saying, I have some terms and conditions. Firstly – I am not allowed to travel from beyond this island. On the other hand, you aren’t allowed to ask for Jupiter’s help!”
“Understood. What else?”
“That’s all. There will be heavy consequences if you fail, of course. You won’t know anything about what’s coming up and nothing about what’s happening around you right now.”
“I won’t lose.”
“Forgive me, Neptune, but I’ve already seen the future! Let’s begin!” he cackled. Moments later he swung his staff and disappeared from sight, leaving Neptune and Triton considerably changed by the encounter.
There was nothing to tell Moon what time it was as there was never any light in the sky. He knew this was because there was no reason to know in a place that was more or less a graveyard for the soul. He was still standing and moving around the island in order to keep his mind away from the energies sucking away at him like parasites. Every so often he checked on the mariners who were barely alive. One of them had slipped into unconsciousness and would likely not be coming back. The other two were looking at him with ashen faces and
had suffered terribly, adding to the guilt that Moon felt about having fallen into the trap.
It was the older one that still had enough strength in him to ask the question. He was likely was made of stronger stuff.
“I know we’re going to die here. I want to know what’s caused you to look like you’re still putting up a fight.”
“I’m a stubborn old devil like you,” Moon said with a tired smile. Then a thought came to him and he added: “Will you help me out one last time? Assuming you don’t hate my guts.”
The old man considered him for a moment and then shook his head. “I’m past the hating game, sonny. What can I do to help?”
“Watch my back as much as you can. I’m going to be gone for a while and I need you to be on the lookout,” he saw concern creep into the old boy’s eyes and quickly put his mind at ease. “I’m still going to be here physically, but I mean I’m going to be falling in and out of consciousness and I need you to make sure that I don’t slip too deeply. I need you to wake me up every two hours or so.”
“What are you planning on?”
“Changing the odds a little. I’m going to step into the twelfth house and play with time, so to speak. Playing with the future is not something I’m strictly supposed to do, so I might not be coming back. But I’ll need you to help me out for as long as I can get away with it.”
“You can really do all that, huh?” the old man said. His eyes sparkled with amusement and Moon was grateful that he didn’t have to try and explain the process. It looked like the mariner was ready to believe almost anything given his position.
“I am only borrowing the resources that were given to me,” Moon said to try and justify his actions. “I can’t change everything about the future, but I can intervene enough to get to the right people. I’m not sure it will be enough.”
“Any chance you can use those resources to stop this from ever happening?”
“Not that simple. I am the keeper of memories, but they don’t really belong to me. I’m only looking after them, which I expect I’ll be relieved from shortly.”
“I don’t know what in the hell you’ve just said,” the mariner growled. “But I’ll go along with it because I need something else to think about other than that goddamn howling going on in the background. Do I just need to shake you a little?”
“Shouting my name should be enough,” Moon said. “But if it’ll make you feel better don’t hold back on my account. Two hours from now, okay? I’ve got some visiting to do.”
The old mariner watched the man inquisitively as he closed his eyes and appeared to fall instantly into a kind of trace. He was surprised that Moon hadn’t sat down to meditate but put it aside and followed his every movement. He retaliated for a moment against the trance and then fell into a deep catatonic mode as he stood frozen like a statue.
Moon was aware of the cast in his life standing on the sidelines while he walked through an unfamiliar abject world. He was vaguely conscious and smart enough to know that he’d entered the House of Reckoning because he couldn’t shake off a feeling of unreality following his every movement. A long time ago he’d entered the land of karma when he made the transition from the physical into the astral world. The sensations were still the same and Moon feared that he was once again going to have to face all of his past actions.
This time he was still conscious of what was going on around him and so he wasn’t as affected by the wide circle of people who he’d known throughout his life. He knew that they weren’t real and were transparently linked to the fragments of his subconscious. All of his regrets and sorrows swarmed into his thoughts and overwhelmed his senses. He remembered this part of the process all too well and considered it to be the perfect punishment for each individual soul that had to pass through the final house of the Zodiac.
Yet Moon had no time to divulge into his own karmic ties and blocked the thoughts with his developed psyche. He poured all of his thoughts into the visions which had only come to him in his dreams and could feel the divide growing in his consciousness.
Until this point in time he hadn’t known exactly what he was trying to remember and was now relying on his subconscious to lead him back to the vision he’d glimpsed while during trance. Then he could feel himself being transported into a portal which manifested as a prison cell and with its powerful energy absorbed him into another area of his memories.
There was no knowledge of how long this had taken and Moon was only aware that some time had passed. Suddenly the darkness was gone and had been replaced by the insides of a spiritual church. He noticed that the room was small and without the usual airs and graces that its religious counterparts often shared. A smile crept onto his lips as he thought about the irony of having passed through a prison cell into an altogether different kind of sanctuary.
He looked towards the altar and saw that a man was seated next to a lit candle and appeared to be praying. He was thinly-built with receding hair and wore jeans and an open white shirt. Moon recognised the slender looking man immediately and moved soundlessly towards where he was kneeling. There was a minute of silence in which he took the time to take in the scenery when the man finally acknowledged his presence.
“I wasn’t expecting to see you here again,” the man said in a serene tone. His calm and considered manner was something which Moon remembered from their other meetings.
“Hello Chris, or should I say Capricorn?” Moon said. “You’ve gotten old. And I can see that you’ve lost some weight, too.”
“I think you’ve forgotten what it’s like down here. This is the result of spending too much time trying to serve human nature.” Chris moved back slightly and shook Moon’s hand while looking at him with curious eyes. He held the gaze for a long time before finally ushering them back towards the chairs.
“Last time I saw you I was worried about your life. You didn’t seem to have one. Has that changed at all?”
“Nope,” Chris said, grinning at his bluntness. “I’m still a workaholic. By the look on your face I don’t think you’ve got much of one left, either. I’ve already noticed your energy field is going. What’s happened to you, Moon? And what can I do to get you out of it?”
“I’ve been a bad boy, Chris, and I don’t think any of your healing is going to help me this time around. I do have a favour to ask you, however. Do you know what that is?”
Chris looked thoughtful and tried to guess what was going on in the fabric of Moon’s mind. He’d met him a handful of times and the man’s exploits never failed to amuse or baffle him, but he couldn’t figure out what he might mean. For the most part he was a good judge of character but when it came to Moon he was one of the biggest tricksters he’d ever met. Eventually he resigned himself and confessed that he didn’t have the foggiest.
In spite of everything Moon erupted into laughter. His friend was one of the smartest people he knew and yet he always looked lost whenever they were together. Moon had a feeling that if he was to spend more than a day with Chris he would go completely spare.
“You do know how to make me laugh!” Moon said, his eyes brightening up. “If only we had more time. I’ve not had much company for a long, long time. Can you tell?” Chris could more than tell by the mad glint in his eye that Moon hadn’t had a conversation in a while. “Sadly, I’m going to have to get to the point. You’re all up to date with what’s going on with the Zodiac, aren’t you?”
Chris nodded and immediately knew where this was going. He should’ve thought as much.
“Not too long from now you’re going to meet with the Pisces descendant face to face. He’s going to come here to try and get some answers. I want to encourage you to go against caution and tell him who he is and everything you know. You can’t let him leave this place without your knowledge.”
“What on earth are you up to?”
“Capricorn, you know exactly what I’m up to,” Moon said, using his other name for effect. Chris shrugged his shoulders and took a seat. He needed a moment to take in what he was being asked.
“You’re asking me to directly intervene with the cosmos. Now you’ve really lost the plot. Next you’ll ask me to fill him in about everything to do with the Zodiac and the astral realms.”
“Would you?” Moon said. “That was going to be my next request.”
“You’re absolutely off your rocker. It’s not even my place to tell him everything.” Chris said.
“You don’t know everything. You just know more than most people do on this plane. I’m not asking you to break any laws. This will only take a small amount of your time. Chris, you must see the importance of this case!”
“I’m literally breaking the law, Moon. You know the teachings. We’re not supposed to tell anyone on the material plane about our existence. They are supposed to figure everything out for themselves. It’s not very spiritual for me to dictate to him about who he is.”
“It’s too bad you haven’t got a choice in the matter!” Moon said, laughing again at his friend’s heavy expression. He sat down next to him and leaned in to whisper. “I’ve already booked him in for an appointment to see you.”
“You did what!” Chris yelled. “That’s not something you should have access to; you can’t just go around fiddling with my diary!”
“I’m sorry Chris, but I know how slow you are to change your mind and I had to take action. He’s coming to see you tomorrow in fact, so you’re going to have to get on your best storytelling voice. If you don’t tell him anything, I’ll know. You really don’t want me coming in here every night.”
Chris sighed and looked at Moon with a tired expression. He really needed some time out.
“Look, it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s something in it for you. You have karmic ties with Pisces. Once you tell him everything he needs to know, he’ll be able to help you along to reach that mountain of yours. It’s all part of reaching that spiritual enlightenment. Trust me, you’ll love the next stages in the process!”
“Is this how you treat all your friends?” Chris said with a wry smile. He was going to get in trouble for this but there was no getting away from it. After everything he’d heard about Pisces he could hardly just ignore him and see him on his way. Moon knew there was nothing he could do to threaten him but that wouldn’t be needed. Chris was more than obliged to tell Pisces the truth because if he didn’t the whole Zodiac could collapse. All that was left for him to do was to play his part and let nature take its course.
“Since we’re here, I was wondering if I could ask one last thing of you.”
“You’re not joking.”
“I’m serious. This might be the last time I get the opportunity. I don’t suppose you have any drink stashed away?”
“I’m offended!” Chris said in an attempt to sound upset. “Do you really think I’d keep that stuff here in this sacred place?” Their eyes met for a moment. Chris broke into a laugh. “Alright. Since you mention it, I have some in the cupboard.”
“You’re a lifesaver!”
Moon stayed seated and thought about his situation while Chris pottered around in the kitchen. There was a sound of doors slamming and glasses clinking together. Moments later Chris returned with a bottle of scotch and two glasses. They sat in silence for a time and enjoyed the drink when Chris finally decided to ask Moon what had happened to him.
“I can’t tell you what’s going on exactly because I still haven’t figured out who’s behind it. You will have to count on this being our last meeting, though. I don’t think I’ll be coming back and this is why I’ve had to be so urgent with you.”
“You mean you’re moving onto a higher realm?” Chris said in awe. He often contemplated about the other worlds beyond his own understanding.
“If I’m lucky. I’m on a few errands before that happens to help the boy out with his mission here on Earth. I suppose you could call me the ghost of Christmas.”
“Ah. ‘The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.’ I see what Carl Sandburg was talking about now.”
“Thinking aloud again?” Moon said, smiling. “Any moment from now I’m going to wake up from this place. You are going to do what I wish, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t much choice. You knew I was going to say yes from the beginning. I don’t know how much this will help the boy in the long run.”
“Time will tell. I’m going to help to put a chain of events together to give him the best possible chance. The rest is out of my hands,” Moon looked at his friend and raised his glass. He had a feeling that there time was almost up. “I don’t suppose they still sing that song, do they? I heard it once a long time ago. It goes something like this…I’d been a wild rover for many a year,”
“And I spent all my money on whisky and beer…” Chris sang in unison.
“And it’s nay, no never! Nay no never no more…will I play the wild rover, nay no never no more!” Moon said.“A wonderful song. Thank you, Chris. Here’s to your splendid singing!” Between them they managed to drink through another four glasses before Moon disappeared from sight and was once again looking back at the mariner.