Viktor rubbed his eyes wearily, then returned to reading St. Germain's treatise on chirurgomancy. The stars may soon be right, he thought, but I need to be certain where to array my sorcerous forces.
On the table to his left, a disembodied hand squirmed in a pool of its own blood, dipping its fingers in the reddish-brown fluid. Then like a spider, it scurried over to a stack of parchment and started a strange, lurching dance atop it.
Then the hand returned to the puddle of blood, and Viktor picked up the top sheet of parchment. Fingerpainted in blood on it: "time known place unknown ?"
"Exactly," Viktor said. "Three weeks from tonight, but I don't know where. St. Germain is his usual obtuse self, the Diary of Althotas contradicts itself, and the relevant section is missing from Tobaine's Catalogue.
"I'm about to delve into the Key of Solomon -- now that I have the page Minerva stole from me. But it's called the Key for a reason. It's useful only if I have the right lock."
Buried beneath a mountain of granite, a piezoelectric switch engaged, then another, and the collection of processing power that referred to itself as Omega flashed into wakefulness. With a throbbing drumbeat, it sent signals across the world.
To a silent submarine beneath the ice floes of the arctic: Commence/Scan/Final.
To a sorcery-reprogrammed NOAA satellite over the Azores: Commence/Scan/Final.
To the secret radar installations along the Volga at Saratov Oblast: Commence/Scan/Final.
To the "Magic Lantern" surveillance software at FBI headquarters, Quantico: Commence/Scan/Final.
Thousands of eyes and ears across the globe, real and virtual, electronic and mystical, knowing and unknowing, all received the same command: Commence/Scan/Final.
With a satisfied snap, Viktor closed the cover on the Key of Solomon, stood up, and strode to the steel cabinet against the library's far wall. Hearing the scurrying of the disembodied hand, he turned back toward his desk, then flicked his hand outward. Electric blue sorceries flitted in the air, scattering many of the papers on the desk, but holding aloft a single piece of parchment so Viktor could see it from across the room. In dripping blood was another message: "Success ?"
"I'm not that much of an optimist. Call it 'progress' if you like. We'll see if Neferhe's instincts were right about the Antikythera Mechanism. If the incantation from the Key of Solomon opens up the damned box, we might find our answer in there."
Tracing designs in the air with his hands, Viktor began dismantling the eldritch protections arrayed around the cabinet. Then he reached inside and pulled out a bronze box covered with spinning dials and gears.
"I think all of us endbringers knew that things were coming to a head, so we all cast about for antiquities like this -- anything that would give us an edge. It looks like I wound up with the artifacts that matter -- the ones that'll tell me where to go to end the world," Viktor said.
"And over the last several months, most of the other endbringers have fallen from the path -- or I've pushed them. Now it's down to just me and Omega."
Its commands sent, the distributed being known as Omega waited. Hours later, it sensed a thrum across its web of wire and cable. With the speed of lightning, it traced the thrum to its source.
Omega noted the source of the response: HAVE STARE Radar Installation Norway. It translated that precious message into a long string of binary, then sent the digital pulse back along its web, but inward, inward to a chamber deep within the granite of a Colorado mountain.
Within that chamber, nestled in a tangle of wires, probes, and sensors, was a stone disc a dozen feet in diameter. Running in channels carved into the stone, the blood of the Tonalpohualli stone began to dance.
The sensors in the chamber picked up the drumbeat of the dance and sent it across the web of wire: Imperative/Converge/Final . . . Imperative/Converge/Final . . .
Another scramble from the hand and another message in blood on parchment: "Agnar ?"
"He's the remaining wild card. A lot of the old Scandinavian demonology texts talk about Agnar and the Gjallerhorn being the harbinger of the end of the world. But they aren't clear on whether Agnar is one way to bring about the end, or the only way to bring about the end. A lot of first-millennium texts are quite parochial that way.
"In any case, he made it clear that he doesn't want anyone ending the world. When I succeed, he'll be disappointed -- for a fraction of a second before he and his horn wink out of existence."
Viktor turned the last dial, and the bronze box popped open with a hiss, instantly clouding the library in a pall of velvety vapor. Then one by one, globules of purple light rose from the box and hung suspended in the firmament of the vapor.
Viktor squinted at the arrangement of purple motes, then gave the disembodied hand a toothy grin. "If I know my astronomy, we're going to Vardo Island. It was a flux point during the Transit of Venus in 1769. But in three weeks, it'll be something more. Much more."
To be continued...
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