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Episode Three: Chapter Seventeen


Vault Six was the target, Elzabet Hark had suggested as much, but they had a huge golem and they thought, well, why not.  Vault One must have been some kind of Bank Joke, the kind of thing that really gets ‘em goin’ at the annual meeting, because the door opened to reveal a solid wall.

The second vault was not a joke, but seemed to open into a kind of throne room.  Everybody in there seemed pretty surprised to see them, so they decided to close the door, and leave it closed, and not to open it.  They decided that maybe this was enough weird vaults, and maybe they’d just go to the one they were supposed to open.  They didn’t want to get to one that was just a big mouth, inside it only darkness, and it seemed like things were progressing along that continuum.

Vault Six, or more specifically the squat Strenghthium cyclinder that was its door, opened soundlessly on its dutiful hinge.  It smelled like a library in there; old paper and metal, leather and wood polish.  Gabriel wrinkled his nose.  The scent gripped some kind of receptor in The Scholar, seized him in some place before thought.  When the moment passed, he took up the slack reins of his mind and drove himself forward.

It wasn’t really for him to say, whatever liberties he’d taken with the Long Project.  But he hoped that whoever came next would make books.

The Society of the Hidden’s vault didn’t look especially, well, vault-y.  The walls were stone, and not of marble, but stone as in rock.  It was as unlike the surrounding bank as could be, like the meat of a walnut that had grown a shell around it.

There is a face in the dark.  They can see it, and apparently it can see them.  Tycho produces a matryoshka doll, or something like it, twists it two clicks, and then sets it in the air just as you would place something on a shelf.  It stays there, floating but not bobbing, in raw space.  It sings, a high sweet note rich with vibrato, and then glows.

This light reveals the amassed treasure of a prolifically creative species, if you’re into that kind of thing.  It also reveals that the face they saw is mounted inside a frame, presumably because it is the ensnared visage of Yog Modaigh, who is God of Doors.  Beautiful, even in his disembodied terror, it bears no idiot trace of mute, slack humanity.  Indeed, the two are so disparate that it is hard to tell how you would get from one to the other.  It was not a difference in degree.  There was some terrible fact hinted at by the ratios, something missing in his own face.  Tycho reaches up to touch his cheek, lets his hand drop.  He doesn’t have time to think about this right now.

A chain of explosions race out from a single point above the portrait, describing in a wholly new medium the image of a human skull.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” growls Tycho, now on the ground, because of explosions.  “Doctor Blood!  Hey, it’s Doctor Blood!” shouts Gabriel into the growing cloud of granulated rock.  “Look!  Look at my cape,” says he, holding up his cape.

The skull shape shivers in place, and the painting with it, until the entire affair is drawn out and up, up into the air, by something a young Da Vinci might have drawn on his peechee in junior high.  A black airscrew with a roar like a beating heart bored through an obelisk of dark glass, beneath which another strange fold of fabric whirled.  Wound in close beneath it, the way an eagle might haul a writhing salmon, is their lost prize.

“Come back,” says Gabriel, looking on, unconsciously kneading his cape at the fraying tip.  “Come back.”

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