The mages, living and dead alike, are in the spirit world, on a strange beach beneath a wild and churning cosmos. Acting on Emaline’s instructions, they summon the vast umbral turtle known as Muthaam, Stone of Oceans, and ride on his shell across a sea of souls. Their path is to take them through the spirit wilds, to the fortress of Tivare Tevarissi, and thence into the upper astral reaches, where they hope to find the Well of Souls.
During their journey, Jade Kim questions Thomas O’Byrne on what it is like to be dead. Thomas is disconcerted by her frankness, but even more disconcerted by what appears to be a small boat following in Muthaam’s wake. Investigation reveals that the boat is piloted by a cowled ferryman, and Timmy sits as a passenger in the boat’s prow.
During the trip, Terrence Pollard discovers that there is a dvd in his pocket that he did not notice there previously. Preliminary investigation reveals that it is a copy of the film Gone with the Wind but that other information has been steganographically encoded within the footage. Terence resolves to investigate further when he has the time.
David Evans, for his part, ponders the nature of the aid given them by the enigmatic Emaline. Demon or angel or something else, she has made it clear that her aid will have a price, and David wonders who will be the one to pay it.
Muthaam reaches the far side of the sea of souls and the group disembark. They make their way through an unearthly landscape and come at last to a great chasm filled with continent-sized floating landmasses – the Floating Islands of Jun-Mu. They encounter other travellers and make their acquaintances after some initial tension.
Balthazar of Thebes (aka. the Thebian) is a human sorcerer hailing from Egypt. Death-Takes-Last is a native American shaman who also claims to be a shapeshifter and the last of his kind. The Cluracan of the Fae appears, to all intents and purposes, to be a sidhe out of gaelic legend. And Sobek is a foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping crocodile who claims to be the actual Egyptian god Sobek, now very much down on his luck following the demise of the dynastic Egyptian pantheon. Each of these figures is in the umbra for their own reasons, and they discuss the possibility of working together for mutual benefit. Thomas begins a monumental spirit-working to forge a link between their current location and the distant tower of Tivare Tevarissi, by which they hope to ascend to the Astral and purge Jade of her taint.
His sprit-working comes horrifically undone, however. Not only does it fail utterly, but it reveals their location to their enemies. There is a sudden ripping of the umbral airs and the appearance of a vast and sinister fortress. This is nothing less than the House of Helekar itself, come to claim Jade at last. A great swarm of dark spirits flood out of the fortress and battle is joined.
While the mages and their newfound allies are able to hold off the initial onslaught, a pair of angelic entities emerging from the fortress soon begin to tilt the battle in Helekar’s favour. One is a creature with broken white wings and eyes sewn shut, while the other has black wings of tattered lace and wields a sword of white bone. And as if this were not enough, they are joined by the Phoenix in Pearl, determined to make good on his contract to slay the hapless Jade.
The mages decide that flight is the better part of valour and together they hurl Jade through a portal back into the material world (watched over yet again by one of David’s own angels) and then forge a second portal for themselves. With only moments to spare, they once more evade the grasp of the House of Helekar and return to the world of the living.
The mages (or, rather, two mages and one ghost) limp back to Thomas’ house to consider their options. Timmy once more puts in a appearance, furious at Thomas for having used magic without him, and demands that Thomas surrender himself to death and come with him. Thomas refuses, saying that he still has one task remaining to him in the world of the living – the salvation of Jade – and he will come with Timmy in good time. Timmy does not take the rejection well, and departs in a fury, stating that Thomas will come with him, willing or not.
David also has a visitor in the form of Emaline. While David tries to understand Emaline’s true nature and motivations, she calmly reminds him that her help does not come without a price. Even though the mages were not able to reach the Well of Souls, she did try to help them and did so at the risk of censure from the Authorities. She will not be denied her prize.
Terence investigates the dvd in his pocket and finds that it contains steganographic images of girls dancing and chanting backwards in the occult language of Enochian. When he finally deciphers this enigma, he discovers a set of instructions and messages to him that seem to hail from the other side of the mirror, an alternate reality that may well be the variant timeline that is the Red Word itself.
Terence is able to contact a mirror version of himself in this alternate timeline and discovers that events there are mirrored here, but in bizarre parallel. Through this communication, Terence theorises that it might be possible to transfer Jade’s infection back across the mirror, thus “curing” her.
Jade, however, is still missing, having been sent through a separate portal from the umbra in sheer desperation. She should be somewhere in the region, but precisely where is not yet known. The mages therefore join their insights into a great working that reveals where she is likely to be located: the vicinity of Manchester’s Ringway airport – the same location where the mages planned their jaunt into the spirit world (and where Terence left his distraught daughter Victoria).
And so the three mages (well, two mages and one ghost) set off in Bessie for Ringway. The trip is far from uneventful.
As they speed down the motorway, they are approached by a trio of black SUVs and an unmarked helicopter, which try to drive them off the road. A furious, high-velocity fight ensues, with the mages pulling out all the stops to fight off their assailants. Although they are able to get the better of their pursuers (downing the helicopter in the process!), their own car is fatally damaged (poor Bessie!) and hurtles off the road. Only their supernatural powers save them from a lethal crash. Bessie, however, will never ride again.
As they crawl from the wreckage, another familiar car pulls up at the side of the road – the same battered green volvo that was tailing them en route to Dewey Docks. Bracing themselves for further conflict, the mages are startled to see that it is being driven by none other than the Thebian and Sobek!
Their two friends reveal that they also fled the battle with House Helekar, emerging some point further back along the mages’ timeline and have been trying to locate them ever since. The identify the mages’ pursuers as a group called the Tabula Rasa – an organisation that seeks to eradicate the supernatural from the British Isles. And they agree to help the mages find Jade and cleanse of her taint once and for all.
The final phases of the mages’ divinations are put into play and, clambering into the oddly spacious volvo, they zero in on Jade’s location. They find her just outside the arrivals lounge of Ringway airport, pull up at the kerb beside her and bundle her into the car. For now she – and they – are safe.
The group return to the Travel Lodge at Ringway airport (minus Sobek for the moment). They discover that two days have passed, that Victoria is no longer there, and that their room is now occupied by a semi-naked Louisiana businessman. They obtain another room and discuss how to proceed.
Thomas tries to locate the spirits of his family, but without success. He makes contact with Timmy again, but it is a strained conversation. Thomas asks for Timmy’s help, but Timmy demands that Thomas promise him “whatever he wants” in return. Thomas calls Timmy’s bluff, and the ghost-boy grudgingly reveals that both Balthazar and Terence should know where to go in order to transfer Jade’s taint back whence it came.
The group agree that they need to find a method of tapping enough power to punch a hole between this reality and that of the Red Word. Terence (after some consultation with his reflection) thinks that the Large Hadron Collider could be used, and Balthazar suggests using the ancient power of the pyramids at Giza. The mages settle on using the mysteries of Giza, and Balthazar reveals that there might be a portal to Giza at an old Shoal safehouse. The Shoal, Balthazar says, is an organsation that seeks to protect the gates to a mythical paradise (alternately described as a sea, a book, a tapestry or a secret garden…) He was once a member, but no longer owes them his allegiance.
Without further ado, the group head for the Shoal safehouse in Rosedale (not forgetting to bring Mr. Toady along!). After a long drive, they climb up the slopes of the dale and are almost at the safehouse when they are approached by a young woman who identfies herself as Theora Hetirck.
Theora says she was a member of House Helekar until very recently, and Jade states that she was one of her abductors. Theora has had a change of heart and now seeks the protection of our heroes. The mages are skeptical, but the arrival of Tabula Rasa hitmen curtails any extended discussion. They race toward the ruined safehouse, their pursuers only moments behind.
Balthazar, Thomas and Terence try to open the portal to Giza while Theora, David and Sobek protect Jade and fight off the Tabula Rasa agents. It is a bloody and dangerous battle, complicated by the presence of old Shoal guardian spirits (vile creatures made from shit and semen, called Lix). Through the repeated use of highly vulgar magic, however, the mages win the day and bundle themselves through the portal, emerging not far from the pyramids.
While they catch their breath in a Cairo cafe, Balthazar reveals that he was expelled from the Shoal for trying to enter Paradise instead of merely protecting it. Through his knowledge of the Shoal, however, he will lead the group into the Chamber of Thoth, which lies beneath the Sphinx. From there, the mages can do what needs to be done with Jade. In the meantime, they need to keep their heads down. Although they are well beyond the influence of the Tabula Rasa, Egypt is not without its own dangers, most notably the Ikhwan-al-Safa. As if this were not enough to worry about, while the mages plan their next actions, they are approached once more by the enigmatic Phoenix in Pearl.
The Phoenix in Pearl comes to parlay (for the time being) and he and the mages come to an agreement. He will “lose their trail” for 24 hours to give them a chance to cleanse Jade without killing her. At the end of that time, however, he will find them. If Jade is not cleansed, he will take her back to House Helekar. And – whatever the situation – he will kill Theora for her treachery.
At least, he will try…
The mages prepare for their entry into the Chamber of Thoth. Theora quizzes Terence on why he draws distinctions between magic and science, while the Thebian instructs the others on the finer points of magical defenses. Suitably warded, they wait until nightfall and make their way down amongst the ruins.
After bribing the local guards, they make their way into the Temple of the Sphinx, to a secluded area where the Thebian activates ancient heiroglyphics that open an enchanted doorway into the hidden chambers below. They have only begun to set foot in those timeworn halls, however, when Thomas realises that a newly-dead ghost is down there with them.
The ghost belongs to the dead body of someone whom the Thebian immediately identifies as Munira al-Safira – a member of the Shoal. She has been slain only recently by having her throat cut. While his companions examine her body, Thomas realises that her assassins are still on hand.
From out of the darkness they come – knife-wielding cultists dressed in flayed human skin, their features scarred and torn, their hair matted with blood. They give the mages no time to ask who they are before battle is joined. However, it soon becomes apparent that these bloody murderers have no interest in further bloodshed.
Instead they effect a sinister ritual that does nothing less than propel Jade into the final phases of Awakening by bringing her into communion with the Red Word taint that lies within her. Jade unleashes instinctive sorcery of such potency that all in her immediate vicinity are catapulted into the parallel timeline that is the Red Word itself.
Once on the other side, Jade readily accepts her taint and seems wholly at home with this terrible new world – a world where the pyramids are red with blood, and the Sphinx bears the image of her own face. The others, however, struggle to make sense of where they are and what has happened. They have little time to contemplate matters, however. Bronze-clad warriors surround them and fell Thomas when he tries to tap into the power that burgeons here just as it did in his own reality. Thomas is battered unconscious, moments after discovering that he has a body here once more. A vile, obese priest confronts the group, incensed at David’s accoutrements of faith. The priest calls David a servant of Ialdabaoth, and proclaims that he will be the first to die. As the mages (the Thebian no longer among them) are separated and taken away, David sends out a desperate mental call to Emaline…
Thomas awakens alone in a cell to find that Timmy is with him, equally corporeal. Harsh words pass between them, but Timmy seems done with subterfuge now, dejected and defeated. Thomas taunts him, saying that he has no more scales to be torn from his eyes. Timmy soon proves him wrong.
The eerie youth reveals to Thomas his powers of skinriding – possession – and suggests that he use them to get himself and Thomas free. Thomas is unwilling, so Timmy reassures him that it will be fine – after all, they have done it before. When Thomas seems not to understand, Timmy reminds him of how Holly and Ivy’s murderer was never found. Of course, a murderer who does not realise that he is one is the perfect criminal for the perfect crime.
Thomas swiftly realises what Timmy means: the ghost possessed him and made him murder his own wife and daughter. Rage overcomes him and he attacks Timmy, throttling him with his bare hands. With Timmy only moments away from extinction, a guard bursts into the cell and demands that Thomas stop. In the depths of his fury, Thomas looks over his shoulder to see that the guard is none other than Ivy herself – his long-dead daughter…
David, likewise alone in a cell, receives a visitor of his own. Sure enough, Emaline has answered his call and come hither, from whatever heaven or hell she calls home. David asks her if she can help him save Jade and Emaline explains that she can. It is, after all, Jade’s newly-Awakened Avatar that is keeping them here, anchoring them to the home of the taint that resides within her. If Jade can be rendered unconscious, they will all return home. Jade, however, would still be tainted.
David asks her to help him all the same, and Emaline agrees. She reminds him, however, that her help requires payment. The price? One paltry soul. More specifically, David’s soul. He promised it to her long ago, and now she says that the time has come to make good on his promise. For David, the choice is simple: damnation for Jade in this benighted world, or damnation for himself. Even as guards arrive at his cell to take him away for execution, he realises that this choice is no choice at all…
Terence, meanwhile, is also taken from his cell. But in his case, his guards seem oddly deferential, even going so far as to call him “Great One”. Under their escort he is taken along the great causeway – under the auspices of its freight of impaled bodies – and up into the Great Pyramid itself. There he comes face to face with a figure out of dream, out of memory, out of the mirror. Himself.
It would seem that this is the very individual Terence has been communicating with in trance, vision and reflection since his initial accident in the lab all that time ago – that inner self that speaks of genius. From this alternate version of himself, he learns that it has been proved possible to send metatemporal packets of information into the mirror-realms (his own world among them), resulting in the return of one of those packets here in the body of young Jade Kim. Now his parallel seeks to discover if it is possible to send information back.
Terence agrees that it should be possible (thereby sending them all home) but would like to remove the “metatemporal packet” from Jade first, thus curing her of her taint. His parallel concurs, and together they begin to devise a methodology of how to accomplish such a fact, harnessing the eldritch energies and weird sciences at hand, here in the heart of the pyramid…
Back in the cells, Thomas has released Timmy and stares in shocked disbelief at the features of a daughter who – in his own world – has been dead for some time. It takes him a few moments to realise it, but this Ivy is but a parallel of his own, an echo from beyond the mirror. In this world, he and Holly died in a fire while Ivy was young, yet a life of dreams and premonitions led her here to meet him (so she believes). Ivy tries to persuade Thomas to leave with her, telling him that she has a small number of other guards loyal to her and not to the priesthood. Thomas, however, refuses, saying that his task here is simple: to return Jade Kim home. And Ivy, who knows all too well what it means to be a little girl lost and far from home, agrees to help him. She departs to rally her supporters, leaving Thomas alone with Timmy once more. And then the worst of truths come to the fore.
Timmy, sullen and broken, finally confesses his true motivations for wishing to shackle Thomas to him throughout eternity. For Timmy is none other than the ghost of Thomas and Holly’s unborn son – aborted in the first years of their marriage without Thomas’ knowledge, back when times were tough and money in short supply. Timmy eventually made his way back into the family home, using Thomas to kill the mother that murdered him in the womb, and the sister who took his place. All that Timmy wants – all that any boy wants – is to be together with his daddy.
Thomas has neither the will nor the energy to confront Timmy over this revelation. Indeed, he is not even sure he is able to believe the ghost-child. Instead, he focusses himself on the task ahead – the liberation of Jade Kim.
David is taken out of his cell and marched up the pyramid to a sacrificial dais where the high priest waits to make an offering of his body. Jade is present too, still lost in the trance that has claimed her since arriving in this parallel reality. And also present – invisible to all except David – is Emaline. “Decision time,” she tells David, but David’s mind is already made up. He commands the angel to assist him in freeing Jade, and with those words, their escape is underway.
Below, Ivy and her loyal guards free Thomas and begin to escort him to the pyramid. Thomas asks Timmy if he will join them, but Timmy says they will meet again soon enough. So Thomas – still clutching Mr. Toady – begins a mighty willworking, to join Jade to the power at the heart of the pyramid and to the toy in his hand. It is a spell that will reconnect her spirit to her home, fill it with power, and give her spirit the focus required to send them all home. It is his finest working. And it will be his last.
Above, the Terences have completed their calculations and are ready to unleash infinite cosmic power to purge Jade of her taint. Although the machines in the pyramid are more than equal to the task of generating such power, it will take a mortal mind – a mage – to focus it. Terence realises that this task falls unto him. So as his companion activates the machinery, he prepares himself to focus its power into the small girl on the dais below.
On the dais itself, Emaline drops her veil of invisiblity and manifests in her true form – a black winged angel with a halo of fire – and falls upon the high priest in a murderous frenzy. David unleashes his own power – appearing for a moment like nothing less than Emaline’s twin – and attacks the guards with blasts of spiritual power. Here, however, he is a heretic of the worst kind, and Paradox strikes him immediately.
An explosion of furious power results, collapsing half the dais, shattering the altar, and battering David to within an inch of unconsiousness. He clings to awareness, however, and turns his righteous anger on the surviving guards. He calls upon the spirits of those who have died here before him, imbues them with primal power, and sets them against his attackers. The results are cruel and bloody. A sacrifice is indeed made here this day, but it is David’s humanity and not his life that is offered up under this strange and alien sky.
Below, Ivy and her loyal warriors are battling up the face of the pyramid, carving a route through the guards for Thomas. As he continues his willworking, Thomas notices that Theora has been brought from her cell. Seeing that an escape is in the offing, Theora goes on the offensive, and her own guards soon regret being in such close quarters with an erstwhile assassin of the House of Helekar.
Terence finishes his preparations and cosmic fire begins to flood through him and down into Jade. He realises almost immediately that his mortal form will likely not survive this, but he persists all the same. Bit by bit, the taint of the Red Word begins to evaporate from Jade.
David presses the attack, wreaking havoc amongst the guards on the dais, just as Ivy and Theora slay those on the steps in equal numbers. Thomas, suffering injuries of his own, struggles onto the dais and completes his spirit-crafting. Jade is connected to both the power of the pyramid and the simple familiarity of Mr. Toady, and her spirit prepares to forge the connections that will take them home. Seeing that she is ready, David calls on Emaline to make good on her own promise, which the angel does.
With a kiss, she plunges Jade into a deep and healing slumber. Now only Jade’s spirit and the connections with home that Thomas has forged are at play. Immediately, Jade’s avatar begins to breach the barriers between realities. And now it falls to Terence to eradicate the last of her taint before they are all sent back across the mirror.
He does not disappoint. With a last burst of primal fire, Terence wipes the taint clean, leaving Jade as pure and innocent as the day she was born. And in doing so, he pays the final price. His body evanesces, consumed by the same fires that he funnelled into Jade, and naught remains of him save a standing waveform flickering with membranal energies. His own counterpart, in an echo of an event that happened to Terence at the start of his own road to enlightenment, reaches out and touches that shimmering waveform. In an instant, they are joined, Terence’s spirit entering that of his mirror-self, becoming Avatar to the entity that was once his own Avatar. And so the circle is complete.
For David, there is sudden sunlight, stinging sand, a rush of fire and light, and he is home, Jade slumbering in his lap. Dawn comes to the pyramids, and alone he watches the sun rise over the Sphinx. And then the Phoenix-in-Pearl comes. The white-clad assassin soon realises that David has made good on his promise. Of Theora, the Thebian, Terence and Thomas there is no sign. But for the Phoenix-in-Pearl it is enough to know that David has been true, and that Jade Kim presents no threat. And so assassin and former priest shake hands before parting ways, secure in the knowledge that their bargain was not in vain.
For Thomas, there is but the silence of the spirit world, a place where it never rains and the clamour of chains lurks behind each moment. But here he is not alone. Timmy is with him. Timmy is with his father, and takes him by the hand. And in that moment, Thomas is at last undone. His spiritual form becomes so much plasm, roiling, contorting and collapsing until it is pooled in Timmy’s palm. Then Timmy moulds it, stretches is, blows three holes to form holes for eyes and mouth and holds up his new creation – a mask forged from the essence of his father’s ghost. He dons this pale face and, so garbed, is admitted into a curious brotherhood of masked wraiths, and steps into an afterlife that none can guess at.
David, in time, returns Jade home, smiling as she runs up her gravel driveway – Mr. Toady in hand – into her mother’s loving arms. It is a final scene of bliss, for behind him Emaline awaits. His soul is hers now, but she promises him it will be worthwhile. He takes her hand, and off they walk down the sun-dappled avenue, to step beyond the bounds of the law, and learn the true nature of God’s creation.
Terence, on the other hand, is beyond not just the law, but the very mirror of reality itself. Avatar to his avatar, he is off in the wild blue yonder, unfettered by flesh, now and forever a standing waveform on the infinite deep.
And Thomas? He is chained, as he ever was. Chained to horror. Chained to oblivion. Chained to his son, frozen forever in an eternal scream, staring forever through a lost ghost’s eyes. At least, however, he is with his family. Such as it is.
And Jade? She is at home, where a young girl belongs, ensconced in her bedroom drawing with her crayons, the beloved Mr. Toady at her side. And what is she drawing? Why, a scene of summer fields, wild green trees, white fluffy clouds and the flawless vastness of a summer sky of deepest, sweetest blue. Everything, right where it belongs.