Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Burning of Effigy: Chapter Four

We’re in a hallway in what appears to be a high school. I look around and let my eyes adjust to the change in light. Yes, it’s not just a high school, but the high school. Are we back in Springfield? I find the nearest window, hoping to see a landmark I recognize, but the terrain is that of the weird planet, so we are still stuck here. We can hear voices down the way, so we follow them. “Our calculations were off,” a woman is saying. “We’re speeding toward Earth much faster than we thought. Well, we were supposed to have more time, but Hokusai’s arrival has given it some kind of boost. If we want to stop the world before it collides with Earth, we must act now.” Hokusai, she’s here too?
I round the corner and step into the room to watch. Everybody stops and looks at me.
“Uncle Kal?” the woman who was talking before asks.
“Kallias, you’ve come,” Hokusai says. “How fortunate.”
“You can see me?” I question.
“I told you that I don’t have control of it,” Effigy says. “They’re not meant to see us, it was an accident.”
“No, it’s fine,” the woman who called me Uncle Kal says. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Effigy, is that you?” yet another woman asks.
“It is, Miss Kovac.”
“I’m so lost,” I say. “What the hell is happening here?”
“It’s me, Hogarth. I’m...quite a bit older, I know. You must have thought I was dead.”
“No, I didn’t,” I half-interrupt her. “I saw you a long time ago. You were running from that Smith asshole with Hilde and Paul Harken.”
This she clearly did not know. “His eyes. You did that.”
“Okay,” Miss Kovac, as Effigy would call her, says. “We don’t time for this. Hokusai, you have to get your work done. Mister Bran, we could really use your help.”
“With what?”
“I’ve lost most of my powers,” Kovac begins to explain, “and there’s a horde of angry men on their way who don’t realize we’re trying to save their lives.”
“Well, I don’t have powers.”
“She does.” Kovac gestures to Effigy. “And you have a penis. The army out there will only respond to someone born with such a gift.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I say honestly.
“They’re chauvinists, and they won’t listen to us.”
“What about those guys?” I point to two old men.
Kovac nearly rolls her eyes. “Escher and Rothko have business in here.”
“Escher? Rothko?”
“Yes, yes, yes, they’re alive and older. Very exciting and surprising.”
“Escher, Rothko,” I repeat. “Hogarth, Hokusai.”
“Could we be quite quick?” Kovac pushes.
“I have been looking for everyone in this room, some for decades, so you’re going to give me a second to a second to wrap my head around it.”
“However long it’s been for you,” Kovac begins, “it’s been longer for most of them. “You didn’t find them, you stumbled upon them. Right now, though, they all need you. They need you to go out there and stall for time. If you don’t, this planet is going to hit Earth. I mean that literally.”
I say nothing.
“If you help me with this now, I promise to help you and Effigy get to where you need to be. Do this one thing now. Do one more thing after that, and you can go home. You can put all of this behind you. Escher, Rothko, Hogarth, Hokusai. They all belong here. You’ve done your job. You solved the case...es. You solved the cases.”
I take a good look at all these missing people. They’ve clearly each been through a lot, and if this is what they turn out to be, I can’t go back in time and change that. Who knows what I could screw up in the timeline? She’s right; it’s time to move forward. “Come on, Eff.”
“Eff you,” Effigy says, but just as a joke. We both walk out of the room, out of the high school, and towards an oncoming army.
The army is disorganized and untrained, but the soldiers look antsy and hungry for blood. “Is there any way for you to protect them? I ask of Effigy.”
“Go on and do your thing,” she tells me, staying back and looking like she’s preparing to cast a spell over the school. I approach the no man’s land between us and the men. One of them pushes his way out of the crowd to meet me halfway, a second man at his flank. Behind me, Effigy is creating a barrier of fire to stop anyone from nearing the school, or—is that a ship? It’s sitting several meters away.
“I am Common Purcell,” the man says with the air of formality. The other one, his personal security guard, says nothing.
“Your name is Common?” I ask.
“No, it’s my title, dumbass. Common. You’ve never heard of a military Common?”
“You mean Commander?” I offer.
“No, it’s...ugh.”
Then I get an idea. “General. You mean General.”
“Yeah, that’s an archaic term,” Common Purcell says. “I don’t know why it changed.”
“It’s because you people are stupid, and didn’t understand that general isn’t a synonym for common in this context.”
“Are we having parlor, or not?”
“Do you mean parley. Jesus, what have you done with my language?”
“Where are you from?”
“The past,” I answer.
“That explains your...insolence. You protect the Earthan visitor?”
“I am an Earthan visitor. And yes. Whatever you want with those people, you can’t have it.”
“They threaten our way of life.”
“Your way of life sucks balls.”
Purcell and the other man look to each other for answers. It’s probably best they don’t fully understand the derogatoration.
“My friend back there is trying to do better. I suggest you don’t piss her off.”
“Yes, we can see that she’s a mage remnant.”
This time, I don’t recognize the term. “I don’t believe so. She’s the real thing.”
He slowly stands up straighter, surprised, but still hardened. “She’s a full mage.”
“One of the most powerful. Possible the. She can take out your whole regiment with nothing more than a thought.”
“What are your demands?”
“Leave them alone. Apparently this world is on a collision course with Earth. As you can imagine, this is not something I’m interested in seeing happen either. We all want the same thing.”
“It is women like her who did this to us in the first place.” He’s not referring to Effigy this time. He’s talking about Hokusai.
“Does that really matter? If she can fix it, you need to let her do it.”
He tenses up at the sight of something behind me. I look back to see the group leave the high school, and head for the ship. I also hear the army of men collectively drawing their weapons. Purcell holds one arm out, indicating to the army that they should stay back. “Hold!”
“Have you ever had faith, Mister...” I close my eyes at the mere thought of having to use this ridiculous term, but I do anyway, “Common?”
“You want me to have faith...in a woman?”
“Many men before you have done just that,” I reason.
“And how did that work out for them?” Purcell asks smugly.
“Perfectly,” I say with all honestly. “You’ve been living a nightmare, brother.”
He tilts his head at this. “What did you say?”
“This is a nightmare. The whole world...Earth isn’t like this. We have a sun.”
“The Nightmare Brother,” he says in shock. “You’re the Nightmare Brother.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Purcell turns to his men. “He is the Nightmare Brother!”
After a few moments of silence, theoretically waiting for Purcell to admit it to be a joke or something, everyone in the army bends their knee, and bows their head.
“What..is going on?” I’m so confused.
Purcell is now smiling widely. “You are the prophesied arrival in the words of Orabela, The Teller. You have come to save us from The Falling Planets.”
“What planets? No planets are falling.”
Purcell looks up at the sky. “Yes, they are.”
I look up as well and see that he’s telling the truth. Massive planetary bodies are falling down like rain in the distance. But that can’t be what’s happening. I recognize the distinct coloring of Jupiter right away. The others must have been Neptune Uranus, and Saturn. What’s happening is the planet we’re on is heading towards Earth at an incredibly, impossibly, insanely fast rate. The fire Effigy had created has died down now, and I can hear Hokusai’s ship powering up. Rothko Torchlight shines from it, extending upwards through my home solar system. Earth is still a distance away, but it’s coming down fast.
“How is this possible!” I scream to Effigy. The rumbling from the ship echoes across all dimensions. The ground itself vibrates with immense power. 
“Time, right!?” she calls back. “You’re lucky to see this!”
I crouch down to lower my center of gravity. The planets keep falling, but we appear to be rotating. Somehow, Hokusai is turning the whole of the planet we’re on. In no time, Mars begins falling up, up, and away from us. The power surging through everything around me intensifies, and threatens to tear my whole body apart. The Rothko Torch, now facing the right direction to act as a rudder, adjusts the planet’s path. It does so just in time, it would seem. Earth comes inconceivably close to us, I can almost see people waving as we pass by. We continue past Venus and Mercury. Once we’re clear of the sun, the Rothko Torch flickers off, the vibrations abate, and it feels like we’re slowing down.
The rest of the crowd stands up with me, still staring up at the sky, watching the solar system drift away from us. “Did we just avoid hitting Earth?” I ask, knowing the answer.
Effigy smiles and puts her hand on my shoulder. “Just barely. This is good for us. The power that Hokusai just unleashed; I can feed off of it. I can get us back to the 21st century, exactly when and where we’ll need to be to close the portal once and for all. If we don’t do that, Gimura will never be able to save the world.”
We make one more jump.

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