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Chapter Four

During the middle of the ceremony Neptune was instructed to wait within the underground body of the great hall. She was led down a narrow exit on the stage and walked along the twisted stone stairway. Saturn trailed closely behind her in silence as they passed the dimly lit torches. At first she feared that they were leading her into another prison cell but the passivity on Saturn’s face said otherwise. After reaching the bowel of the underground Neptune turned to her guide and was alarmed by his decaying skin. His emerald eyes shone brightly in recognition of her discomfort.

“You don’t like me much, I see,” Saturn said calmly. “You are curious about how I ended up like this, aren’t you? All in good time, I will tell you, lady,” he paused for a moment as he looked into her interrogative eyes and then added: “Perhaps you wonder why I haven’t changed my appearance into something more handsome? I wear these scars as a reminder. There are many here in the astral who think that they can escape responsibility and simply undo their past actions. I think differently. Karma never truly forgets, you see.”

Neptune listened in silence but avoided engaging with the subject. There were too many questions and there was something about Saturn which put her on edge. Knowing what was going on in his mind right now simply didn’t sound very appealing. “Where are we going?” She asked matter-of-factly.

“You won’t be coming back for the ceremony,” Saturn said calmly. Neptune looked at him and feared the worst. “There is no need to look so concerned. The result has already been decided. I am taking you to the portal room where you will send Pisces on his way into the material. Your son has a duty to fulfil.”

“I cannot do that!” Neptune said reactively, without taking a moment to feel relieved that they would both live.

They carried on through the dark tunnel of the underground and avoided any small talk. Occasionally Neptune would ask a question about their whereabouts to which Saturn would reply uninterestedly, offering the basic of facts before returning to his own reflections in silence. He hadn’t shown any more indication of telepathy since their first encounter but that didn’t stop Neptune from feeling guarded and challenging his motives. Saturn was different to Mars but there was still something oddly secretive about his presence. She couldn’t help but feel like the council knew something that she didn’t and it was unnerving. Unfortunately for Neptune, however, she didn’t really have any other choice.

Eventually they came across a densely lit side room with twelve pillars surrounding a large circular symbol which had been drawn into the ground. She saw the glyphs for all the Zodiac signs and questioned why they had come here. After taking a moment to immerse herself in the room she turned to Saturn who nodded towards the fireplace to their left. She followed his meaning as they walked forwards, resting into the two armchairs between a small wooden table. Once again his emerald eyes fixed brightly into hers.

“Have you noticed that the air has thinned since coming inside?” Saturn asked. Neptune nodded. It wasn’t quite a physical sensation but there was a definite change of atmosphere – they were no longer sorely relying on the energy of the astral realm. “I don’t need to tell you that this room is one of the few portals between the two realms. And in a few moments you will have your chance to send Pisces into the material. From then onwards you will be a member of the council.”

“And what if I should choose to go against your decision?” Neptune said and with immediate regret. She wasn’t trying to be deliberately rebellious but couldn’t help herself under the circumstances. To her amazement Saturn smiled wanly and spoke as if he was lowering his voice for a child.

“You don’t,” he said simply. “Before we begin I am going to need your attention.” He fished into his pocket and brought out a pack of cards, placing them gracefully onto the table one by one. They passed seamlessly through his hands onto the solid surface with the secrecy of a skilled magician – moments later his expression became unreadable.

“I am doing this of my own accord,” he said in a low voice. “I’ve been at odds whether I should test the waters but I think I shall. It is not very often that we come across a lady such as yourself. Now then, I want you to pick any card from this deck. I will not peek, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

She returned his neutral expression and then turned towards the cards. All along she’d been trying to second guess his motives but this new dynamic had thrown her completely.

Neptune’s hand hovered over them uncertainly until it dawned on her that it didn’t really matter whatever she chose. Destiny had no time for the free will of lesser beings. So, with an attitude of impulsive daring, Neptune tapped the very bottom left card and looked back at Saturn with wild eyes.

“That’s not a good idea, child,” Saturn said paternally as he turned over the card which revealed The Hanged Man – showing a figure suspended by a wooden beam. She dropped her composure briefly upon realising they were playing tarot cards. Saturn was in another sense using her son’s life in the material like a voodoo master might play with his dolls. “You didn’t listen to yourself on that one, did you? And so you picked another card just to be difficult. This is not my life, you know, but I wouldn’t suggest being so careless. Giving up is what you can take from the Hanged Man – that attitude won’t help Pisces much on his quest, will it?”

She faltered at this and thought to protest but forced herself against any sudden outburst. Right now she was right in the palm of his hand and knew that no matter how much she might oppose his methods, it dawned on her that she was very much in his debt. For some reason or another, Saturn had played a decisive role in her survival. And although she didn’t understand it there was something very significant about his choice to use the tarot cards. Inadvertently she guessed that it wasn’t strictly part of the original plan. This time she reflected for a few minutes over her next choice and picked the card in the centre of the table.

“The Hermit,” Saturn said. His expression was as unreadable as ever but Neptune swore she had seen his eyes flicker with hope – or had it been fear? She could not tell. “There is a lesson to be found in this story, my dear, but I suspect that he himself is the lesson. That’s interesting. There are many interpretations you can take from this. Some say the Hermit is the threshold guardian that the hero must overcome if he is to move on with his plans. Yet there is something else, too. Isolation. Running away from one’s responsibilities because the trivial pleasures of the cave are too intoxicating. Ah – so Adam did take the apple and give into temptation – are we doomed to repeat the cycle again? Oh, but let’s not waste time!”

This time she didn’t think too hard and pointed to the card next to her second choice. She had felt drawn to it for some time and followed her hunch.

“The Chariot. A noble choice, indeed! A princely figure with some tough choices to make. Quite possibly the most complex of them all, Neptune. All I can tell you is that this symbolises conflict – whether they be enemies in front of you or your own inner demons. See the black and white steeds there?” he placed his finger onto the picture and moved it closer towards her. “Like a union of opposites, they pull in different directions and need to be tamed to work together. Remember – the charioteer fights alone and moves between land and water. He moves between the unconscious and the conscious, the earthly and the spiritual. Well, I think you have your answers!”

Neptune stared back uncomprehending. She didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Three wishes. Three choices. I can’t show you anything else. But do you remember the two fishes? Internal conflict can do terrible things to a boy. There are two sides to this story, and I can tell you now there’s nothing half-way about it. He will either succeed or…” he paused for a moment and looked at her sympathetically. “Well, a lot remains to be seen yet. Perhaps I will be able to shed more light on his journey later down the path. For now, though, I think it might be time!”

They remained seated for a few minutes as Neptune reflected over his predictions. She didn’t want to believe that everything was predetermined but knew better than to simply dismiss the cards as trivial.

What she did take from them was that he wasn’t going to have an easy ride of it, and unfortunately, she didn’t think he was going to take to heroism all that easily, either. When a fish is dragged out of water it squirms and spasms against the hook until hitting the ground. Afterwards it reacts violently and beats against the floor before finally giving in and surrendering to the inevitable. Did her son even have a chance in this game of fate?

There were many questions she wanted to ask Saturn but there was no time to because they were joined by a number of guards who dragged Pisces into the room. He looked around innocently and locked eyes firmly onto her before being taken into the centre of the pillars. Saturn nodded to her and they both rose from their chairs. As they walked towards the congregation she thought about asking Saturn about the ritual but there was no need as he once again appeared to read her mind.

“Your blessing will be enough,” Saturn said. “There is nothing brilliant about the process, I’m afraid. We have all of the technology assembled. A few words from you will be more than enough.” He made an authoritative gesture at the guards to which they promptly acknowledged and disappeared from sight. Pisces was left in the middle of the circle with his wide eyes looking into his mother’s fearfully. It tugged at her to see him so scared and without asking for permission she immediately moved in for an embrace.

“You’re not hurt?” She asked maternally. Pisces shook his head but didn’t seem totally sure. His silence told her that although he hadn’t been physically bruised there were some impressions which would last for a lifetime. His innocence had been taken away for good.

“Do you know what they have planned for you?” She asked tenderly. He said a few words and seemed to know that he was going into the material world. Long ago, Pisces had travelled into that world and had come back into the astral a completely changed being. It hadn’t been an easy experience and going back into it was madness. Legend said that in order to reach the final stage of the Zodiac a soul must travel through each and every sign before finally becoming Pisces – and the look in his eyes spoke volumes. He had not wanted to take another journey back into that place.

“There is no other choice, is there?” Pisces said matter-of-factly. It was less of a question and more of a sudden realisation of his circumstances. His only other choice was to go against the gods themselves and abandon himself to a fate simply unimaginable. So instead he looked at his mother with almost a look of wisdom in his otherwise youthful appearance – as if the old soul had etched itself upon his features – and simply added: “I want to remember everything, mama. I don’t want to forget.”

Neptune turned to Saturn who shook his head agreeably. Then, turning to her boy once more, she said: “You are in very good hands. I am going to be watching over you the whole time, okay? And we all want you to succeed, you know! You have a lot in your favour to help you so just remember to think of home sometimes. It won’t be too difficult. And when you come back, think about how amazing you’ll be!” Pisces smiled sweetly but said nothing. After a long time Neptune pulled back from him and immediately felt the weight of her predicament. A part of her wanted to go against the council and stage a rebellion but that had never really been an option. Instead, she had no choice but to voice her approval.

Pisces watched her move away with steady eyes, triggering Neptune to feel a rush of pride for the boy. There had been a definite transformation since their last meeting in the prison cell. They looked at each other helplessly as the room turned into an industrial engine that churned noisily while the Zodiac symbols gradually flickered on and off. Saturn watched curiously as waves of blue energy channelled into Pisces and surrounded him like a protective shell. This carried on for a few minutes as the signs appeared to warm up and then, without another word from Neptune, there was a flicker of light and Pisces was gone. He had landed into the material.

“Something isn’t right,” Saturn said. He looked at Neptune, who was already visibly shook up by the process, and added gently: “There was a flash of light at the end which shouldn’t have happened. I’ve not witnessed many of these events, but I think that means something important. I have a feeling they’ve just wiped his memory.”

Neptune stared back at him, unbelieving. His one wish had been to remember his spirit and they had taken away that right. Now her son was not only going naked as a lamb into the world but with a case of amnesia, too. He was completely in the dark.

At that moment she decided that choosing to elect her on the Council was the worst mistake they would ever make. She would see to that, alright.

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