Finale – Now Available!
...which was, coincidentally, the wrong answer.
Her cultivated presentation was, in retrospect, probably impossible. It was too manicured, too idiosyncratic not to be a glamour of some kind. Even so, as a polite fiction or knowing lie, it was preferable to this.
She had been luminous, but she had graduated to incandescent, with post-doctorate work in searing a motherfucker. It had the opposite of a face. “I am Elzabet Hark, and more,” projected the entity in all directions, not as words but as the idea of words, elemental and raw, the ore of thought. “Our purpose is A HUMAN PURPOSE,”
Quietly, almost imperceptibly, Gabriel speaks. “I thought that was, like, a dolphin.”
“NO, THAT’S A PORPOISE.”
“Yeah, because I was like, a human dolphin?” He shakes his head. “Whoa.”
“ANYWAY,” she pounds it in, like a railroad spike. The not-face directs its blistering awareness at Tycho. “WE RECOGNIZE THE DISTRIBUTED DIVINITY OF HUMANKIND. THIS IS OUR REVELATION. AND BRINGING IT TO FRUITION REQUIRES A UNIVERSE.”
“I guess we have stepped it up, recently,” admits The Scholar, struggling to retain an identity of any kind in this thing’s psychic wake. “We’ve been killing a God every other week. But I swear to you, upon my nameless mother, and upon my curséd father, Yog Modaigh will come to no harm by me.” He is making Crownsign with his left hand; clearly, he means business.
“WISDOM FROM A BRAHE,” it thunders. “MARK YOUR CALENDARS.”
And with that, Elzabet is back.
“Was that so hard?” she croons. “Come. I will give you an opportunity to be useful.”
She leads them from the dining room to the foyer, which may or may not be the same shape it was before. They go up a spiral stair and arrive in a basement; they exit the basement and enter a garden. The garden leads to an attic. Gabriel thinks that is pretty cool. Tycho wonders if they’ll get out of here, ever. He wonders something else, as well: is this a path she has remembered, some interpretation of contiguous space? Or does she bear herself in such a way that the “house” simply accommodates her?
The stairway is nonsense, but the steps behind them are losing coherence so there’s nothing to do but climb it. The mahogany door at the top of it is bible black, and bears a crest. It is a plain shield, at one time perhaps an actual shield, steel over wood with the hammered emblem of a torch. Or a painter’s brush. One might assume the ambiguity is purposeful.
Beyond this door are hundreds of canvases. They are leaned against one another, sequestered under sheets of tawny muslin, occasionally peeking out to reveal a tantalizing wrist or ankle. At the far end of the room, suspended over them like the painting version of royalty, is… something. Greater in height than width, it is depicts a hand so real that Tycho half expects it to wave.
“There is one other canvas outside my care,” says Elzabet. “I don’t trust Euripedes to secure it. He’s already lost one.” Turning her eyes from the canvas, she wheels on her guests. “Riverbrook Park, at the Bank of Money. Vault 6. Bring it to me; anything else, you may keep.”
“Are you sure you don’t need help here?” asks Gabe, sheepishly.
It’s clear that she finds this somewhat adorable. “No.” She turns again toward The Hand. “It has been safe here for more than two thousand
It would be difficult to overstate the intensity of their surprise over the next few seconds. It may be instructive to take it moment by moment:
The attic wall behind her collapses inward, pulverized brick, plaster, and shingle flying directly through her, slowing perceptibly, carrying with them some measure of her light. What has entered the room, which I would remind you is an attic room, is a car.
The car is long but not especially tall, with four large wheels that project far outside its body - something like a rollerskate which has gotten airs. That is where the comparisons to rollerskates end.
You certainly wouldn’t confuse the back end with a rollerskate, for example. It has a wide, vertically compact spolier that is more like the neck of an elaborate cape; not a part of the car per se, but something the car is wearing. That is to say nothing of the hinged dome, a dome with a stark white skull upon it, a dome which is even now opening.
I hesitate to say that it is a man which exits the vehicle, but it may suffice as a general sketch; bipedal, wrapped in a getup of featureless night. Red gauntlets that reach near to the elbows, an equally red cape which is barely holding itself together, and its mouth covered by a three-tiered marvel of fabric architecture. Two pistols of inconceivable manufacture rest at his hips, with more skulls on each. There is also a skull on his belt; perhaps there was a sale. In his left hand, the swearing hand, rests the Necrowombicon - dimpled and vile.
As he approaches the hung canvas, the hand begins to flex and twist violently. A curtain of fire licks from every edge of the frame, converging on the dark figure like a wave. He doesn’t appear to notice.
So maybe fire isn’t a big deal for him.
Everyone present would like very much to stop him. Nobody wants him to do this; indeed, it’s almost the exact opposite of what they want him to do. To that end, they are moving to stop him. Slowly. At their current speed, they should get to where he is in (best estimate) around two hundred years.
He sees a couple more portraits on his way back to the car, likes the looks of ‘em, throws ‘em on the stack. When the dome clamps down, hissing as it does so, he spins the car sideways out the wall. It whirls in mid-air like a rotor, generating lift, landing in perfect alignment to the road and speeding away.
Elzabet is looking out the hole, at the ruined edge, and at the rapidly receding bloodlights. She looks up, then, into the rain, and blinks with the drops even though she doesn’t need to.
“...years,” she says.