Moon took off his spectacles after studying a series of black and white photographs on his desk. Feeling hopeless, he stood up from his seat and looked out towards the balcony. It was this time at the end of each evening that he thought about the world outside of his self-imposed prison. He could stare outside for hours thinking about everything going on in what he called the other place – the world beyond his own – and sometimes even dared to think he was allowed a piece of it for himself. He would look dreamily from within his lighthouse and muse over the possibilities. Then, without failure, he would move back towards his desk and take a glass of whisky.
He glanced over at an old photograph of himself and his twin, Sun. It had been one of the few occasions when he was forced to attend a public event. For years Sun visited his office with a keen interest in his affairs. Moon simply stared nonchalantly and said that he had many responsibilities. This much was true – but only because he had insisted on taking on a number of cases, reports and contracts well beyond his own workload. Eventually his twin had accused him of being unsociable. Just thinking about that conversation caused Moon to pour another drop of whiskey. He downed it without hesitation and went back to musing over his papers.
Weeks ago he received news that Pluto had passed on after a run in with a mysterious woman. Moon had heard many far-fetched stories in his time and was wise enough to know that some of them were true. He had lived long enough to know that anything was possible. Even so, there was something about this particular case that nagged away at his thoughts. In an effort to ease his overanxious mind he had breached confidentiality rules and checked over Pluto’s reports in relentless pursuit.
After a while he rubbed his eyes and brushed his fingers through his tousled hair. It was no wonder he had no energy left after not sleeping at all in the past few days. Even luminaries needed rest sometimes.
He shuffled through the papers well into the night but came up with nothing. Finally he could do no more and fell asleep on the armchair. After slipping into a light sleep he fell awkwardly on his side and farted loudly. There were advantages, at least, to being a hermit.
Time passed. Moon skimmed through various sheets and folders but found nothing. Not that he had any idea of what he was trying to find. All he knew was that he felt deeply uncomfortable about the Pluto incident and wanted answers. Planetary beings simply didn’t die without reason. They certainly weren’t easily dispatched by beautiful girls who had been drowned at sea. He had a feeling that the official story was almost definitely lie – yet there were elements of truth in it, perhaps. The best cover-ups always had fragments of honesty. To distract his overworked mind, he looked over lovingly at the bottle of whisky on his desk, sighing over his addiction.
It hadn’t failed to escape his notice that every time he took a look at the whisky he was reminded of his alcoholism. In his early years he had been susceptible to the occasional glass of wine during boring conferences. It had helped him with the nerves. At that point it had been a harmless way of passing the time. Now, well, he passed the time alright. He couldn’t remember the last time he had even chatted with Sun in person. The last time he had seen him Sun had suggested he might be depressed and was not facing up to his problems. Moon assured him that he was absolutely in the right frame of mind and had shut the door – treating himself to another drink for having to listen to such nonsense. All the while, though, he knew Sun was telling the truth.
He batted his head against the table a little too violently – feeling a sense of despair over having not found what he wanted. In truth, he had not expected to come across anything in print but had hoped for something unusual to pique his interest. One thing led to another, as they say. Yet as he thumbed through the pages he was at serious risk of finding nothing at all and was close to declaring himself officially mad. It was either the drink, or the lack of sleep, or the isolation that had been the nail in the coffin. In spite of himself he smiled – using such expressions was ridiculous for anyone who didn’t live in the material realm.
Desperate to distract his mind he then moved across the room and took another look at the calm waters along the surface of the lighthouse. The setting was much the same as it had always been. With the exception of a few boats and their fishermen on the lookout for food the rest of the waters lay bare and empty. He was well and truly isolated from the rest of the council. He could communicate with them through his psyche, but that was hardly the most reliable of connections.
For a while he fell dreamily into his own world and became hypnotised by the sea. Eventually something did catch his eye, however. He caught the shadow of a winged creature coming towards him. At first he feared that someone had found out about his illegal interest in Pluto’s demise. Then a rush of relief swept through him when he spotted the man flying towards him, his caduceus in hand, with two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.
“Mercury.” Moon said, bewildered. He moved to open the doors and watched passively as the messenger of the gods landed elegantly on the top of his tower’s entrance. Mercury glided softly onto the ground and moved to embrace Moon, who accepted it gracefully.
“It has been a long time, old friend,” Mercury said. His features had not changed over the years. Unlike Moon, who had a sickly look about him, Mercury was a picture of health. Nevertheless, his most impressive quality lied in his ability to barter with any of the gods and never lose in a game of wits. Mercury appeared to read his mind on this as he added: “I see your lights have been on and off for some time. You aren’t looking after yourself as well as you should, are you? Moon! Why, Sun and I keep telling you to come and join us on the council and take your rightful place!”
Moon stepped backwards and offered Mercury a seat.
“Whisky?” He asked hopefully. Mercury looked at him bright-eyed and smiled fondly.
“You know I have not touched a drop of that stuff in years,” Mercury said. “It looks like my last pep talk with you didn’t quite work, did it? Old friend, I do worry about your health! You’ve thinned since I saw you and you’re as pale as a ghost. You really need to come back on the council. We need your guidance more than ever.”
“You’re wrong. Whisky is the only thing keeping me happy,” Moon didn’t quite meet his gaze and reverted to his usual absentminded expression. Then, after a period of apparent self-enforced silence, added: “I retired from that job many years ago, Mercury. And not by accident. I was never much liked by the public. They did not see me as having enough swagger for the job, I feel. I remember the feedback. Too dreamy, they thought! One even said I had no empathy whatsoever.”
Mercury stared deeply into Moon’s eyes which shone like green-orbed pearls from another world. It had often been said that a man’s eyes often reflected the truth of a person, keeping all of their secrets. His friend’s were vast like the ocean and as wise as the Old Gods, but there was also a sense of absence within them which made Mercury feel that Moon was never fully present. He had the similar look of the old spirit he had once known but there was no fire in them anymore, no sense of purpose. He was like a forgotten relic whose truth had never been exposed. Even Sun did not truly know who lived behind the mild-mannered face of his twin. Moon had often been swept under the carpet by the others as a harmless eccentric. Mercury simply wasn’t fooled. Those eyes told a different tale.
Suddenly his train of thought was interrupted by the sounds of fishermen howling into the night.
Mercury raised his eyebrow and Moon, looking back dumbly for a time, finally tweaked and flustered into the balcony. He twiddled with the controls and watched as the lights from the top of the machinery lowered its vision towards the direction of the sailors. Likely they were still struggling to find a catch tonight and were panicking about their supplies. It was not lost on Moon that his ‘official’ job was to act as a caretaker to lost souls who were like corks upon a wild sea. He tittered at his own fate which was not so different.
“You are wasted here, Moon!” Mercury barked. “Sun has already told me that you reticently wile away your evenings doing the admin for the council. Why would you waste your time doing all the tedious business when you could be having a hand in the real matters? You have never cared a jot about what people think and I don’t believe you resigned for the people you served. You are much too inquisitive for that. You would not sacrifice such a privileged role for such...earthly reasons!”
Moon glanced over his shoulder but did not meet his eyes. Instead he tightened his grip over the barrier and stood very much like an immovable object. After a period of silence Mercury rose from his chair and with an air of amicability clapped his hand lightly on his friend’s shoulder. At this Moon clamped up uncomfortably but with a light smile on his lips – much like how he had smiled in the past when they were alone after meetings. It had always been this way.
“Tell me Moon. Come now. I have come here tonight as a messenger yet I am quite sure my reason for being here has a different purpose. I am quite sure,” he repeated, “that you already know about what I am about to tell you. I was not sure you would until just now, but looking at you as I do I am certain. You know about Pluto’s passing?”
Moon’s shoulders stooped miserably. “I do,” he said. “I am still tied to the others even in my reclusion. I could feel the change in my own energy field. Even without that I can see the changes from up here in the lighthouse. The world has thinned, Mercury. The sea is getting rougher and rougher every day. When I stare into it, I see death.”
“For whom?” Mercury said, puzzled.
“I do not know. Nothing is set in stone yet. But every time I look into these waters I feel that a hand has already been dealt. Once you move one brick away from its natural place the rest are almost certain to fall. There is death for us all, Mercury. It is just a matter of when.”
“Living here has made you too glum, friend!” Mercury said with a touch of alarm. He grabbed Moon and without any effort at all rotated his body to face his own. “Your prophetic skills must be rusty, somehow. Pluto was an exception to the rule and his will has been passed onto another. A drowned woman. Some call her the goddess of the ocean. She will restore balance to the council.”
“Your words are hearty but I sense the same dejection in them as I feel. This woman is not a saviour. She brings death, Mercury, but not necessarily for you or I. No, I do not see that in so many terms. At least not yet. Make no mistake, however, that Pluto’s death has signalled the beginning of a new age. Fate has acted out its final part. We are now left with a blank canvas, Mercury! Only we are not the painters…”
Mercury could say nothing and simply looked fixedly into Moon’s glazed over eyes. No matter how intensely he bore into them there was nothing left in them but empty shells, as if in a long deep trance.
“Our time is coming to a close, Mercury,” Moon said detachedly. “This is only the beginning of something much, much bigger. The material world is evolving. Soon our astral realm will have no choice but to acknowledge the lower men...We are finally coming into the Age of Aquarius.”
Darkness overcame Neptune while she was dragged along the stony ground by rough able-bodied men from another world to her own. She’d been drifting in and out of consciousness for as long as she could remember and knew not where she was or where she had come from. Her blindness was nothing new. Somewhere within her confused mind she had memories of a happier time. Those were the days when she had liked the ocean and still had all of her dreams. At that time she had been someone else; someone shielded from the cruel reality of life.
She slowly turned her neck from side to side to find relief from the stiffness in her body. In return the captors shook her roughly and threw her to the ground. Any strength in her body had been taken away long ago by the unrelenting
depths of the ocean. After a very long time of having not been on land, however, Neptune felt some kind of movement. It wasn’t life, exactly. But there had been a glimmer of acknowledgement from her aching bones that told her that she hadn’t been crippled by years of imprisonment.
Then there was a hollow voice that sounded far away but Neptune sensed differently. It sounded like death itself had arrived to take her away.
“10892,” The voice said. This time it sounded more sickening and sent a sharp pain through her body. “Do you remember who I am, lady?”
Neptune did not. Surprisingly, however, there was enough life in her bones to feel very anxious. She couldn’t remember anything from the past except her childhood. Neptune saw in her mind’s eye the bakery, the flowers and the kindly neighbours. Everything else she had chosen to forget. She made an attempt to speak and nothing but a mouthful of water gushed out, triggering a loud chorus of laughter from the guards. The voice remained silent.
Then, after a period of silence, it added: “I did not expect you to, my goddess. Your mind is weak. You have been acting useless for a long time. You have eyes but you think you cannot see through them – have another go.”
Energy flowed through her body as the voice fell silent again. Moments later there was something else. It felt like a change of perspective. Unreality ensnared her as the darkness finally brightened into some hazy notion of sight.
“What do you see, 10892?” The voice asked. “Are you finally beginning to wake up? Now, answer!”
“I do not know how!” she cried, startled by the sound of her own voice. It sounded croaky and fearful, but it was the first time she’d used it in so long. Her senses were coming back to life after years of silence. “Wh-what are you?” Neptune finally shook off her lethargy and strained to make sense of her surroundings. This time she moved her neck freely from side to side and observed the low ceiling, crumbling cells and harrowed, tight corridors that stretched into the funereal blackness.
“You are here under arrest after the murder of a senior member of the council,” The voice boomed. Neptune reluctantly turned her attention towards the strong, deafening sound and was stunned by its appearance. It belonged to a man after all, and not a large one at that. He was short and bald with scars crisscrossing along his face. There was nothing at all frightening about him except that he carried a long pole and evil eyes which locked into hers. “I see that I do not scare you, Neptune?” he tittered.
“Yes, you do,” she said defensively. Neptune could not meet his gaze for long and submissively lowered her head. For the truth was he did frighten her on a deeper level. There was something very unsettling about his presence. “Who are you?”
“I am your new God and the one to whom you are now accountable,” he said. For a moment Neptune thought he had finished when suddenly he added: “I am Mars. And I am very pleased to meet with you again.” Mars tittered but not in an amused way. It was simply the sound of a being used to the gross arts of intimidation. Moments later Mars swung his stick effortlessly, forcing Neptune to jerk sharply as she waited for the nightmare finally to end. Instead, the iron-lock grip from the two men latching onto her quickly relaxed as they made a dull thud – hitting the ground. She looked around, bemused, and then watched helplessly as Mars signalled for her to stand.
“They were your men,” she said weakly after obeying his instruction.
“They were thugs,” Mars corrected. He moved towards Neptune and grabbed her wrist with surprising gentleness. “Do not misunderstand. I am not your friend. But I do have something I want you to do for me which will determine whether or not I will let you live.”
At this Neptune felt obliged to listen closely. She had not expected a choice in the matter. She let Mars take her down the narrow corridor and passed the jeering prisoners in their cells. Their faces were starved and dying, with their blood-shot eyes almost bulging out of their sockets. Many lay heaped along the ground as if they’d given up altogether and prayed for death. They were not allowed such an easy fate, however.
“What is to become of these people!? They have already passed on from the material world...surely they cannot die again?”
Mars grinned devilishly and then made an overhead gesture to where they had just walked from. “What do you think I just did to your prisoners? And what do you think I’m going to do with you, for that matter? There are many roads to death, my lady. The soul may be eternal but do not think you are safe. To die once is enough, but to die twice...will take you to realms that I cannot even imagine. Some fates are worse than death.”
“So the man I killed...I have condemned him to hell?!”
“Do not feel pity for Pluto,” Mars said softly. It sounded so different to his usual tone. “Aye, he may have been a god, but only of these dungeons here. He is exactly where he belongs in a hell of his own making. Sometimes where you choose to spend your eternity is in your own hands...no matter how many times you live or die. The cycle must repeat until the lesson is learnt.”
Neptune nodded but did not understand. She had once been told that all souls were indestructible and that death was not strictly possible, but there were many events which said to the contrary. And even if one was somehow able to bypass it there was something oddly chilling about the law of karma. If hell was in one’s state of mind...then she could imagine very few people ever being able to find their own heaven.
Mars picked up the pace and impatiently dragged Neptune through the underground prison. The gentlemanly manner which he had briefly adopted had been quickly overridden by more compelling matters. Neptune looked at the bald-headed overlord and wondered if he was anything like the other planetary rulers. Mars had always been known as the God of War and his character certainly lived up to the legend. The others were supposedly lambs by comparison. Yet Neptune had a feeling that they too were menacing in their own way.
They moved passed the rotting cells at speed but like a mirage in the desert there didn’t seem to be an end to the place. There had been a few prisoners who had looked to be in reasonable health; some were still able to call out for help and even stand up without needing to cling onto the bars. Most of them seemed to be in a state of limbo, however. They were neither alive nor dead but wandering aimlessly through their own purgatory – likely they did not even know where they were anymore.
Neptune felt pity for them because she had been in the same place only hours before. She didn’t know how long she’d drifted through that colourless world and quickly pushed the thought out of her mind, choosing to put all of her attention into Mars instead. Just as she was about to make strenuous small talk, they suddenly stopped in front of a barred door.
“From here on out I want you to do something very important for me,” Mars said with a sense of urgency. “You will go through this door and tell me if the being trapped inside means anything to you at all. I want you to tell me exactly what happens and if you exchange any words. When you feel it is time to leave, I want you to come back. And before you think about staging any sort of rebellion, I can see what you’re doing from another place. So don’t attempt to lie to me.”
Neptune grabbed the handle disbelievingly and could feel a twinge of paranoia running down her body. She did not understand the task nor trust his intentions.
She knew that there was no choice in the matter, however. If Mars had intended to kill her directly he would have done so already.
In blind faith she pulled at the handle and entered the darkened room. For a moment Neptune thought she had been blinded again – perhaps she had lunged straight back into her dreamy prison and her mind was still playing tricks on her. As she cradled her way further into the room she came across another prison cell with a gangly, pathetic figure holding loosely onto the bars. At first she didn’t think anything except mere curiosity. Then, without any kind of warning, the prisoner cried out and sprung nervously onto his back.
“D-Don’t hurt me!” The boy yelled. He was dressed in rags and looked as if he had not eaten for weeks. After further inspection Neptune saw through the drastic changes to his appearance and identified his slippery movements. The faraway look in his eye was unmistakable. It was her son, Pisces.
“Pisces!” Neptune yelled. “What have they done to you?! How did you end up here? Speak, son, and quickly! I do not have much time.”
The boy startled at the sound of his mother’s voice while his eyes widened with disbelief. His misshapen face, which had been bruised and beaten after months of imprisonment, totally collapsed with both relief and desperation. After all the energy he had shown trying to run away from his captor Pisces found it very difficult to get back onto his feet. Then, after moments of struggle, he forced himself up and shakily moved towards his mother. Silent tears fell onto his cheek upon realising that his caregiver had finally arrived.
“I d-do-don’t know why I’m here or what they plan to do with me,” Pisces said. “I have been in and out of it for some time, mother! They locked me away in isolation and I have no idea of time. I don’t even know if anyone else even knows I’m here except for Pluto, who has been playing some sort of mind game with me!”
“You are safe now my child, he is no more,” Neptune said – no longer remorseful at having dealt the final blow to her son’s kidnapper. She looked lovingly at her son’s wide eyes and how different he had become since her disappearance. Her last moments with him had been when he was just a small child. Now he was a dishevelled and scared teenager who had been caught up in affairs far beyond his own understanding. “Listen to me very closely. I am going to get you out of here. Is there anything at all you can remember?” She then added soothingly: “I am here now, my child, come...don’t be scared.”
“That’s enough,” The same, booming voice droned again from the end of the corridor. Neptune closed her eyes calmly and almost laughed at how cruel her
gods had become. She had been about to hatch some plan of escape but now had no choice but to directly confront Mars. As she turned to face the fearsome warlord and protect her son Mars held out his stick commandingly. Yet he did not go to attack or make any sudden movements.
“I do not suggest you act on your intentions, 10892,” Mars warned. The role reversal had not been lost on Neptune. “Now that both of your identities are revealed to me I can make this pass far more smoothly. You can drop any thoughts of revenge, prisoner. I am not going to harm you or your son…yet.”
Mars strode across the room and made no attempt to quieten the loud echo from his boots as they hit the marbled floor. He laced his stick through his fingers and smiled slightly while Neptune followed the motions curiously. Pisces began to scream. Moments later, he watched as his mother hit the ground soundlessly and slipped into unconsciousness.
“You better start learning how to swim upstream, maggot.” Mars bellowed as his raucous laughter filled the chamber.