Reality is an illusion, an artificial construct that we build around ourselves, a comforting shell made of the things that are familiar and loved. Time and circumstance can shatter that reality. That I learned when everything I held dear was lost to me. Shattered like a broken bottle when the brilliant light of my life that was my dear wife, Alexandra, was snuffed out in giving birth to our son, Arthur. And it was into a bottle, nay, several, that I crawled, trying to construct a new reality to shield me from that pain, until my dear mother came looking for me and coaxed me out.
A few months later, while seeking solace in the arms of another, my new reality was rent asunder again when Katharina took me away from the world I thought I knew into a world where the creatures I knew as myth and legend were just as real as I my own hand. Even more, I was now one of those mythical creatures, a creature of darkness; a vampire. I adapted, I learned, adjusting to my new life and by and by, found myself in London, but not the London I knew. It was a darker, stranger London; where creatures such as I walked openly alongside demons and faeries and were-creatures. A land where the sun never rose. I made my home there, made friends, and made a life. Until that reality too was shattered when the power that maintained that place, the Nexus, shifted and changed, sucking that world I knew into a deeper and unreachable dimension.
I fled that place; my friends gone, each escaping their own, separate ways, taking the ship that had become my home, seeking answers from the only person left that would know, Katharina, if only I could but find her. But even that brief respite was taken from me by a storm. A storm that cast me upon a stranger shore still; onto the shore where I met the boatman who offered me the chance of a new life. And so it was that I came to be in Jasper Cove, an island cast adrift from the normal stream of time, such that I companied with beings from deep in my past and the far, far reaches of my future. I made a home, made new friends, and even reacquainted myself with some few old friends who had also been cast up on this shore. I began that new life the boatman promised me.
And now, once again, my reality is twisted and torn apart; old and new are confused, past is present, new friends are found to be once old friends, and much of what I thought I knew is thrown into confusion. I am wrenched apart from all that I held dear and I am landed now in a new and strange land with a mission I can barely comprehend; handed me by one I had thought lost and is now lost forever to that bourn from which no traveller returns. As once again, I encountered the Boatman after Jasper Cove fell to forces unknown and I fled, not knowing where I was going…
Terror comes in darkness and the worst fears are those that are realised. I had just returned to the apartment after touring the courtyard and grounds when the strange noises returned; louder, more threatening and closer than they had been the previous evening. That tension returned, cloying, claustrophobic, ominous, sucking the very breath out of the air. The fear gripped me again, fear for my friends, for the children and even for myself. I grabbed my bag and hurried out, calling into the bakery in case Mitternacht were there, then across to Sophia’s. She met me at the door, the same fear in her eyes and on her face. I told her to grab her bag too. I did not know quite why, thinking only that I wanted to put distance between us and whatever was going on. Perhaps I imagined I could make it down to the docks and sail the ship out of there. We stood there together in the doorway of her cottage with no thought than to get away from this fear and the peril it promised.
“What shall we do?” She asked.
“I don’t know,” I had to reply, “save that we should get away from here, but to where, that is another question.” At that moment, the world ended, or so it seemed. With a terrible cry, the light was sucked from the sky, taking with it the lamps in the courtyard and all other lights that I could see; save for a distant glow towards the end of the island. This was not the dark of night, for there were no stars, no moon, and no reflection of light from the clouds. The only guidance we had was a thin line of tiny lights, fireflies it seemed, lighting the way towards the strange glow. I grabbed Sophia’s arm and we clung together, the question of what was happening on both our lips. Then I could hear screams and shouts; voices from I don’t know where, urging us to run, to head for the light at the end of the island. My thoughts went immediately to Aoibheann and the children, but before I could make my way towards the tavern, I saw them running, Aoibheann carrying Jada and Kale in tow. I called out, but could not make myself heard above the roars and howls that filled the air. The princesses passed too, out of the gateway and down the path. There was nothing else to do, I grabbed Sophia’s hand and we ran, following them as though the very hounds of hell were at our heels, which well they might have been. There was no time for any thoughts but flight; to get away from whatever it was, with no real thought as to where we were going. I could hear Sophia’s breath labouring and thought perhaps to fly, but I did not know if I could carry her and I would not desert her. All around us, strange and unknowable creatures flew and slithered and crawled, engaging in battle with the last of the palace guards; their screams mingled with grunts and roars and the sounds of claws rending flesh, and metal crunching on bone. I had no thought of combat, but drew my sword anyway, in the case that anything should come at us, even if I had little skill with that weapon.
Whatever the creatures were, they spared us, or did not consider us worthy of attack, and soon we came upon the end of the island, a brilliant and unnatural glow that hurt my eyes and obscured what lay beyond. We slowed and paused, uncertain, afraid and indecisive.
“What should we do?” She asked, confused and afraid, just as I was. “Do you think it is safe for us to pass?” I had no real answer as I squinted into the light. I sheathed my sword and took Sophia’s hand, then, on impulse, pulled her into a hug and kissed her on both cheeks.
“I don’t know,” I said, glancing behind us, “But can it be any worse than what we are running from?” I held her hand tightly and faced the light before us. “Shall we?” I asked. She nodded, surprised by my sudden show of affection, and then squeezed my hand.
“Yes, let’s,” she said and we stepped forward…
The light enfolded and swallowed us and I screamed as I felt her hand slip from my grasp. I was lost in between unknowns and suddenly, I found myself somewhere else, strange, yet strangely familiar. Soft light and the sounds and scents of a river filled my senses. I knew this place, this boat on which I found myself. This was where it had all started, when I was washed up on the shore and the boatman took my hand.
“Nathaniel!” Said a soft and oddly familiar voice. “There you are. I was hoping I would get to see you before… well before everything. I am really glad that you made it out alive. But I’m afraid that we don’t have very much time here…”
I knew that voice. I turned around and my grasp on reality was shattered still further. There, at the other end of the boat sat a familiar face, a gentle and beautiful young man who had once almost stolen my heart. Greyson Devonshire! Greyson, onetime student of economics and my erstwhile assistant at the Legacies Treasury, sat across from me smiling affectionately. I was lost for words, bewildered beyond comprehension, a thousand questions crowding into my head. I could no longer stand and collapsed onto the remaining seat. I could do nothing but gasp his name and ask what the blinding blue blazes was going on. He smiled and reached his hand out, placing it on my arm, his touch strengthening and comforting. I placed my own hand over his and entwined our fingers, hanging on to the only thing that seemed familiar. He told me that there was much to speak of and little time in which to do it, then reassured me that my friend, the woman I had been with, was safe and so was I, adding rather confusingly, given my location, that I was not dead.
“I do not understand,” I said, weakly. “I know this place, this boat. But you are not the one that brought me here, you are not the one I thought to be Charon. And you? I thought you lost to the Nexus when London died.” I could not frame any sensible questions and said simply, “Perhaps it would be better if you explained.” He smiled once again, that gentle smile that had so beguiled me when we knew each other before, had I had the courage to admit it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather-bound book which he started to hand to me, then changed his mind and placed it in his lap.
“The boatman is complicated,” he started to explain. “I was not the one that ferried you, yet, in a way, I was. And, I have always been with you, even though you did not know it.” I just looked at him, not comprehending. He continued, “Perhaps, I should start with my name. It was not Greyson, though I told people in London that, it was John Dee. Then, it was Ulrich Von Dee, though we only met briefly in that form. And then, after I trapped and escaped Death and the Four Horsemen, you knew me best as Alec Damondred.” I stared at him, my mouth dry, my mind swirling with confused thoughts and emotions, not knowing what to say or do. For some strange reason, my writings, on Serendipity Island came to mind and I spoke of that, telling how my relationship with Greyson had inspired my writing. I started to tell him how something had seemed strangely familiar about Alec, in the way he behaved towards me and spoke. Then, another name he had mentioned came back and hit me. I vaguely remembered one of the doctors at the Legacies Memorial Hospital had been called Ulrich, but it was the name John Dee that struck me. John Dee, that famous advisor to Queen Elizabeth; alchemist, mathematician, astrologer and much else. I remembered reading about that worthy in my history books. Surely this could not be one and the same. Dee, I remembered, had died in the early 1600s, aged in his 80s. There was no way this could be the same person, yet, he said he had also been Alec. I looked at him, even more confused than before and asked if that was who he meant, saying that he had lost me. He told me that he had worn many names, many disguises, John Dee being the first and wished he could explain further. Our time together was limited, he told me. He told me how he had enjoyed the time he spent as Greyson, and how his love for me, as Greyson, had been his reason for choosing this aspect to greet me. Time was short, he said, and he had a task for me.
“I do want you to know that for all the secrecy, I truly did enjoy being Greyson for as long as I was. But that is neither here nor there,” he said, his fingers toying with the cover of the journal in his hands before handing it to me. “Aiobheann told me once about your journal, that you kept one and used the idea to help teach her to write, though I fear by the time I realized your incredible gift it was too late. I would have made you our Lore Keeper, you know, would have given you an office and a title and the library in the castle. But now all I have to give you is this old book, written by a mirror of myself. I believe that all that is happening here is linked to what is written in the pages of this journal; and that if I can discover what this man was doing then I can discover the key to everything else. But I need someone, someone that has been there from the beginning, whether he knew it or not, to tell my story, and the story of all of us who made our home in Jasper Cove.” he paused then and met my eyes once more. “Do you think you can do that? Though I no longer have a library to give you, or a title for you to claim?” I looked down at the journal, old and worn as it was, yet a great treasure, especially to a bibliophile like myself. I had to laugh at the mention of titles.
“I never cared for titles,” I said with a chuckle. “Even when Alec made me Lord Ballard, I rarely used the title. The library, now that I would have treasured, much as I did my mother’s but, I gather that is now lost to us.” I looked up fondly, the affection I had felt back in London welling up again. “It is good to see you, old friend, even if it is hard for me to comprehend, knowing who else you have been. I thought of Greyson often and parts of me regretted not having the chance to get to know each other better. I guess I was a victim of the mores of the times I knew, though I gather things are better in what is the future from my point of view.” I looked down at the journal in my hand and laughed. “I have charted my own life, through numerous journals, since I was 12 years of age,” I told him. “I encouraged Aoibheann to take up the pen. I think Wren did also, and most recently, the child Kale, who I hope survived to write in his. This, this is a great gift, and a great responsibility. I only hope I will prove worthy of your trust whenever and wherever I end up after this.” A question occurred to me. “But, the question remains, to whom would I report my findings, if this you, has no future?” He stood, his attention distracted by some sounds in the distance, sounds not unlike those I had fled from just moments earlier. He looked towards the banks of the river as though he expected those beasts to be there waiting for him.
“Keep the journal hidden, even from Isabella if you can,” he said with a saddened smile. “For I fear all who know of its whereabouts are in grave danger from the secrets written in those pages. For the rest: find Isabella, find my son, and tell her of the task I have given you.” He turned once again towards the banks, his face hardening, his face determined. “We may not ever meet again Nathaniel, my friend, my confidant; but whatever happens I hope you look upon my memory with fondness, whatever names I have called myself.”
Those were his last words to me. The river, the boat and his form faded from my eyes.
“No! There is so much more…” I cried out, but he was gone. My old, old friend, the love that might have been, was gone from my sight, perhaps forever. “I shall not forget you, not while I live. And I will find the answers, if they be in these pages.” I looked down at the journal, stroking its old and worn cover gently with my fingertips before placing it gently in my satchel, adding, “If I can.” A lump came to my throat and I wiped away a blood-flecked tear.
I looked around, finding myself on a rustic bridge in a sylvan glade. There was a strange sense of familiarity about the place, reminding me of those few occasions I had visited the faerie realms while in London. I called out once for Sophia, but there was no reply. Somehow, despite Greyson’s assurances, I had not really expected one, yet somehow, I knew she was safe, somewhere in this strange land. This, wherever it was, was where I was now. Lacking other direction, I decided to follow the path that looked most used. I knew not where it led, but it would do, for now.
(Many thanks to Alec (Greyson) and Sophia for their role-play and their words, which make up part of this entry)