I like to think of myself as an optimistic person. I think it is fair to say that I don’t often sit around contemplating death and destruction, much less the Apocalypse, Armageddon, the End of Times and such like. Back when I was a student in London, it was not uncommon to find some religious zealot or other walking the streets carrying placards proclaiming that “The End Is Nigh”. Depending on how much we had been drinking, we would either ignore them or mock them, which was perhaps unkind, since most of them were somewhat sad, delusional types or single-minded fanatics. Once or twice, I would engage with the more coherent individuals and debate the matter with them, much as when the Rev. Elverson and I used to debate such things over dinner. Sadly, even with those individuals, I often found I knew more of Biblical things than they did. Now, it seems, we may be facing some version of the end of times. The brief vision of Vedis that I had picked up from Maric came from the meeting he was having with her. It seems that the angels are coming to get her to send her back to Hell and we might all be in the way. Life is never dull.
I was heading across the green towards the castle when I ran into Sophia and Aoibheann. They were talking about the Kraken and the dress Sophia was having made by the tailor. Maric came out and greeted us all in his usual gracious manner and asked if he could have a word with Aoibheann and me. He phrased it as ‘when we were available’, but I got the impression he meant now. Sophia left us, making some comment about being used to being left out of things. I do hope she isn’t upset with us about something. I did my usual joke summary of the situation for Maric and suggested that we could discuss whatever it was over a drink.
Soon, we were settled round the table, with a dry red for me and a sweet red for Maric and Aoibheann. On the way up, Aoibheann mentioned that she had seen Alec in the village, calling out for her, but she didn’t go, saying she was no longer his dog, to come and go at his beckoning. I commented rather darkly that we would have to have a chat about Alec, since I have been beginning to have my doubts about him. Maric was similarly inclined, saying that if she wished to have nothing to do with him, then that was her choice. We then moved on to the more serious topic.
Vedis had told Maric that the end of the world was coming, so far as she could read the signs, which in many ways was in accord with some of the things he was seeing. The angels were coming for her to reclaim her or to destroy her, and this would be bad for anybody with links to her, or who happened to be in the vicinity. He could tell that she was very afraid of this. Her offer was mutual aid, if we assisted her in the battle against the angels, she would lay some spell on Mysthaven to protect it by transporting it to her domain, in Hell. That was what all the business about crystals and ground bones was about, creating a boundary for the portal. This, I guessed was when we were supposed to ask sanctuary in Vedis’ name from the Matron of the Temple of the Sisterhood of the Void. There we would be safe from the angels and from the denizens of Hell.
I can’t say that I was entirely impressed by this proposal. As I said at the time, many people, over the years, have told me to go to hell, but very few have actually offered to get me there, save for the few that might have helped me achieve what I had thought to be the preliminary requirement of being dead. Maric, I could tell from his words and his thoughts, did not relish the prospect either. He was seeking alternatives, any alternatives. Since he did not know how Mysthaven had come to be here in the first place, he could not guess how to move it again, even if he had the power, which he as not sure he had. Aoibheann was also unimpressed, as I would expect her to be of any suggestion involving Vedis. She was determined that we should save Faerie, though she did not offer any suggestions as to how this might be achieved.
I took my time contemplating the proposal, and what possible alternatives. I did not, for one moment, believe that we, even Maric, stood much of a chance in any battle between the angels and the demons. I pointed this out, suggesting that in any such battle; the kindest way that I could think to describe our fate was ‘collateral damage’. Even if we did join the battle, I said, it was doubtful that we would make much of a difference. Going up against angels, I thought, did not seem conducive to survival. I tried to think of what alternatives there were, including Aoibheann’s insistence that we save Faerie. For that, I had little idea of how it could be achieved, save that I knew that the existence was tied in with the trees. Perhaps we could learn something from Ardan, I suggested, although it was hard to separate that from the presence of the Boatman, in whom I had very little trust at the moment. I had to admit that the Boatman himself might be able to offer an alternative, but given the price he already claimed we owed, I wasn’t sure if we could pay his price. He had brought individuals across to Jasper Cove, and then here to Ashmourne, but I did not know if he could do the same for the entire village. The only other thing I could think of was the Shadowroads. Could the entire village be hidden therein, and what would be the price? All I could do on that was to ask Valene, if it was even possible.
Maric agreed with my assessment of the options. He had no more desire for going to hell than I did and was in agreement with my assessment of the chances involved in going up against the angels, quoting an old saying of his people – “Do not tread in the path of Gods for you shall be crushed.” He also mentioned that Vedis had spoken of Faerie as if it were a god, a god seeking his goddess, and in leaving the land, it would be destroyed. The Huntsman was also seeking a consort, he said, looking at Aoibheann, clearly thinking that he thought that the Huntsman saw Aoibheann as a potential consort. I could not blame him; I had sometimes wondered the same. Though, with Maric, I thought I detected a note of almost jealousy.
Aoibheann corrected me on the story of my travels, saying that the Boatman had not brought me here to Ashmourne. I guess I never told her about my encounter with him as Greyson. She had brought the Boatman here, which is something she seemed to regret. She wasn’t sure if he even had the power to do it, and the price would likely to be too great. That had been my opinion too. Alec, she said, might be able to, but he could only shift us to what he called a Null world, where my kind could not exist. And again, there would be a price. I did not know quite what she meant by a null world, but perhaps it could be something like the world I thought I had known, with no magical creatures, no magic. She moved on to answer Maric’s questions, telling him the story of the creation of Ashmourne. Some of which I had heard before, but not all the bits about it being separated from a great land where the God and Goddess were together, until a demon called Oorin tried to destroy the place. He was defeated, but not ended, and so the God separated himself and this land from the Goddess. This much I had mostly heard before, albeit in bits. Aoibheann has a habit of mentioning bits and pieces and rarely sits down and tells the whole story like Valene did with Faermorn’s story. Aoibheann then looked a little shocked, as she worked out what Maric had been implying about the Huntsman seeking a consort – i.e. her. She looked horrified at the thought and insisted that all that the Huntsman wanted was a home. I got the impression she was trying to convince herself of this as much as anybody.
Mari c looked even grimmer and trotted out some further bad news. From his understanding, Vedis could only protect the castle itself, not the entire village. He wasn’t sure if this was some limit to her power, or a cruel joke on her part. He was going to look into it anyway, but in the meanwhile, he asked me to make sure that the emergency procedures were in place so that we could get everybody into the vaults if the worst were to happen. He summarised the situation as the god trying to return home and destroy everything in the process. He then returned to the theme of consort and asked a little more bluntly, did the Huntsman want Aoibheann for his consort? I guess he really does like her, which I shouldn’t be surprised about; I’ve been getting hints of that in the side thoughts when he sends me messages.
I must admit, by this time, I was getting somewhat confused. And, as I am wont to do, had to resort to pen and paper to try to help organise my thoughts. Somewhere in my bag, I found the diagrams I had been sketching while trying to work out the cosmology, for want of a better word, of Jasper Cove. I started to jot down everything that Aoibheann had just told us, plus adding what I had learned of Jasper Cove since that time. I think I may have been muttering to myself as I tried to fit all these different pieces into a solved puzzle – what I knew of Jasper Cove and the consorts that held that together, how some of those had come through to Ashmourne, where the god and goddess fitted in… I must admit, I was not getting any closer to working anything out. Two questions did remain in my mind, so I asked Aoibheann – what counted as Home to the Huntsman, and would he stop fighting once he got there. While I was writing, I could sense a question in Maric’s mind, so I sent him a brief summary of our last encounter with the Huntsman, and what had happened when he had touched Aoibheann.
Aoibheann, possibly trying to avoid Maric’s question, had clearly been paying attention to my mutterings. She told me that Llwyd was supposed to have been one of the four consorts of Jasper Cove, the Huntsman should never have come there. But Llywd, being foolish, had tried to take some of the Huntsman’s powers and, well, we all knew how that had gone. She paused and scolded me for calling the Huntsman a hat-rack, thinking that if he heard me, he would, make a hat out of me. I responded that I had said worse of him to his face. She continued, talking about the creation stories, saying that those who had made Jasper Cove – mostly Isabella and Vedis, had done so differently, compared to those who made Ashmourne Wylds – the god and goddess, well, mostly the forest god, but she did suppose that the sidhe rulers maintained the well-being of Ashmourne, much as the rulers of Jasper Cove did there. Finally, she addressed Maric’s question. She did not know if that was what the Huntsman wanted. She understood it to mean that he wanted to find a way home, so that he could remember. If he had meant her to be consort, then he would have said, subtlety not being his strong point. However, given his insanity, it was hard to tell what he meant.
Maric appeared to be focussed on what the Huntsman wanted of Aoibheann, clearly believing that he wanted more than Aoibheann suspected. First though, he summarised the situation as being that we needed to find the fae rulers and get them to stop their god from destroying everything. He then asked Aoibheann what the spell was that had been cast on her at the bridge. That, could only have come from what I had told him of our adventure there, unless somebody else had told him of that. I got the feeling that this was perhaps a good point to leave them to discuss matters in private, so I made my excuses, claiming I needed to go and find Royce so that I could get touch with Valene, and left them to it.
So, the end of the world is nigh. I never thought, when I saw those signs back in the day, that I would one day find myself plotting how to avoid it.