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Chapter Twenty-Four

Saturn was sitting at his desk while measuring the hourglasses from his mantelpiece when there was a loud banging at the door. He had been expecting company, so he moved quickly across the wooden flooring. After opening the door Saturn had to crane his neck upwards to take in Jupiter’s great size and looked up at him with his bright, emerald eyes.

“Time’s up, then?” Saturn asked calmly. Jupiter nodded, failing to hide his downcast eyes, and gestured for his colleague to come along.

“There is much that I don’t understand about what’s happening. I am running out of old friends who I can trust.” Jupiter said, sighing.

“Quite,” Saturn said. He didn’t need anything from his study and followed him out into the night. The astral realm shared many similarities with the material and often moulded itself in its image. “There is very little to plan for now, my friend. We are nearing the end.”

“Will the world end in darkness, then?” Jupiter asked. He spoke in a low tone and sounded as if he’d already given up. “Despite all of my efforts, I feel I have achieved nothing.”

“Who said that the world will end at all?” Saturn said, his mouth twisting into a small, knowing smile. “There are many endings along the path, but that doesn’t mean there will not be life that will be born from it. We are the bearers of the torch, Jupiter, and mayhap it’s time to pass it on for good.”

“It’s comforting to hear you use the old tongue. I am glad there are some of us on the Council who still cares for tradition.”

The two of them circled the old walls of a monastery and walked along pebbled sand with heavy strides. They walked twice as fast as any ordinary man and were keen to reach the prison walls on time. There were energy portals that could transport them to the grounds but the walk provided a much needed opportunity for reflection and conversation. Jupiter seemed especially knocked by recent events.

“Have you spoken with Mars about what happened?” Saturn asked.

“There were moments when I wanted to confront him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I have often disagreed with Mars about a great many matters, but he has been serving the realms for almost as long as I have. I cannot believe that he betrayed us.”

“You are right not to,” Saturn said, eyeing the land around them with suspicion. There were always hidden traps that were invisible, though not naked to the senses. He had learned to trust his inner feelings. “Some call me the Lord of Time, which is not a title that I would choose for myself. Even so, I know that our rulership is indeed coming to an end. We are becoming more divided by the second. Yet I don’t think Mars is behind Sun’s murder.”

“That might be so, but I cannot dismiss the evidence against him,” Jupiter said. “He was very unhelpful after being accused and didn’t try to defend himself. Why would an innocent man act so silently?”

“Mars has never been an easy man to read. Perhaps, though, he has faith in your judgement. As do I,” Saturn added, with tactful timing. He wasn’t one to give out compliments easily. “Whoever is plotting against us will not stop until the whole Council is in ruins. We will find out the true source sooner or later. Karma weaves as Karma wills.”

Jupiter murmured his assent and became silent for a time as he drifted into his own thoughts. For centuries they had served as the gatekeepers of the two realms, he and Mars and Saturn. Sun and Moon had acted as luminaries for almost an eternity and Venus had been faithful for nearly as long. Mercury, too, had acted as his messenger since before he could remember. Now he had to come to terms with the cold truth that somewhere within their unit there was a traitor, and possibly even more than one.

He had always encouraged them to think for themselves and challenge his decisions, no matter how much that might undermine his own authority. They were protectors of two realms, after all, which chained them all with great responsibility. As they paced along the sandy beaches, with the roaring tide smashing against the rocky terrain, Jupiter was once again reminded of the vast size of spiritual consciousness.

The coming of Pisces had acted as a catalyst that exposed any underlying tension among them, though the consequences had been unavoidable. There would always be another descendant who would eventually come along to coincide with the dawn of a new age, and that would inevitably impact upon the balance of power between the two realms. Jupiter acted as an intermediary in an effort to stay faithful to his duty as a servant of the worlds and in doing so had created more enemies.

Now there was no reversing the events that had been put into motion. Jupiter was confident that whatever the resolution, the ending would come quickly. Saturn seemed to share his sentiments, and Jupiter trusted his insights more than anyone else. There was no one else more judicial and enslaved to his bonds than Saturn, who had sacrificed his own image in the name of order.

Nearly an hour passed as they walked uphill towards the ledge and arrived at a mountain terrain that buttressed the dungeons. They had exchanged few words during this time and were content to prepare their thoughts for what was about to happen next. After following a pathway that was sheltered between two towering walls they made their way towards an unused back entrance.

There was no need to struggle against the door as Jupiter placed his large hand on the lock and watched as it folded inwards. They walked through and after a few moments heard the entrance renew and materialise itself behind them, bringing with it an all-encompassing darkness. Saturn held his hand upwards and generated a bright white light that illuminated their pathway.

The two of them walked along the linear hallway and after moving into a side corridor they came across an isolated prison cell. There were energy beams wrapped around the cell like ivory that revoked Mars’ ability to break free by his own accord. He showed little interest as they appeared in front of him, though the mad glint in his eye was unmistakable.

His body was sprawled up against the wall of his cell and was an unfit sight for such a powerful warlord. Jupiter held Mars in his gaze with a mixture of pity and disappointment. He noted the far-away look in the man’s eyes and feared that their visit had been wasted.

“Mars, we are holding you here under serious allegations. Are you aware of the crimes posed against you?” Jupiter asked in a commanding voice. Mars glanced over at him and regarded his superior with bemusement.

“All too well!” Mars said with a high-pitched cackle. Now he was wearing a lop-sided grin that looked a little too mad. Jupiter darted his eyes in Saturn’s direction and showed his concern. “I’m caught right inside the spider’s web.”

“Oh?” Saturn said in a neutral tone. He was not going to give away any sign of weakness in the interrogation room. “Tell us what you know, Mars, and we’ll be able to use it in our analysis.”

“Horseshit!” Mars interjected with a deep guttural sound, causing Jupiter’s expression to become thunderous. Saturn, however, betrayed no sign of emotion, though his stare was unyielding. “Piss on your analysis, Saturn! I’ll tell you what’s going on under your nose.”

“Mars! I will not have you break your oaths and disrespect the Council in such a way!” Jupiter yelled, his voice causing the rocks around them to shake. The warlord looked at him apprehensively for a moment but without fear; as if he had already descended into a madness that had forgotten what it meant to be afraid.

Saturn mediated the conflict quickly and held his hands out with an open-palmed gesture. He said: “Then tell us what you know.”

“You have a Joker in your pack of cards. He is a trickster who offers no value to your deck and with no interest in playing by the rules. I would blame you myself, but I have been outwitted by the bastard, too.” Mars spat, jerking his neck out angrily. Saturn studied him without interrupting and nodded for him to go on.

“It’s your little errand boy, Mercury. He’s to blame for all of this. Moon’s disappearance…Sun’s death…though the little worm deserved it, all the same. All in the name of Pisces…”

Jupiter’s mouth tightened, his eyes widening in shock. He moved to speak once or twice but struggled to find the right words, and simply turned to look at Saturn helplessly. His colleague met his gaze and tried to process what had been said.

“So you acknowledge that the problems are internal, though you are keen to shift the blame,” Saturn said, without giving away his own thoughts. “These are strong claims to make. We have no reason to suspect Mercury, but I am keen to know the truth. Did you not also imprison Pluto weeks before his death? It does not look good on you, Mars.”

“As you can see, I ain’t got much to tell you to the contrary,” Mars said with a bitter laugh. He was sitting more upright now, his eyes animated and alive; his gold and silver teeth reflecting from the light. Jupiter wondered if he might even try and lunge at them from his cell, especially with that unhinged look on his face. “That’s why I look like such a mouse in a trap, isn’t it?”

“Being passive aggressive won’t help you here,” Jupiter said hoarsely. He didn’t believe Mars was behind it all but he was testing his patience all the same. “What game are you playing?!”

“The long one, if that’s what it takes,” Mars said, licking his lips. There was a hunger in his expression but not for food. “You might be better to keep me locked up if you want your messenger boy to keep his pretty face. He will play you all for fools.”

“If he’s as you say, there won’t be any game to play,” Saturn said icily. “Too much has already happened for us to return to the ways of old. We will all be changed by what comes next.”

“You will be trialled, and quickly,” Jupiter said. He didn’t like the idea of having two of his Council as suspects. “You better pray that your honesty is more intact than your manners…”

“You’re already out of time,” Mars said, grinning as if he the devil had possessed him. “I will crush him, if you let me out of this cage.”

Saturn looked at him evenly and said: “You will not be freed until the Law has decided, Mars. We will find Mercury ourselves.”

“Then go!” Mars tittered. “Go and see what happens when your damned Karma turns against you!”

There was no need for another exchange so Saturn nodded at his partner and headed for the door. They were silent for some time after leaving the dungeon but Saturn knew that Jupiter was inflicted with the same dread that he felt. Those final words by Mars never left him and followed his path like a shadow.

Go and see what happens when your damned Karma turns against you. There was no escaping the truth of that warning.

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