The Account of a Lifetime

September 12, 2010

The Thirteenth Hour

Filed under: Bolthole Game — xisor @ 9:28 pm

The light has fled as if before the dark clouds of a storm. A cold breeze blows, stirring gowns and feathery finery, though Xicarph is sealed in a dome of crystal. Guests throng to the Theatre of Clocks. Servitors pass through the rooms and promenades, lighting huge candelabra of pale candles. In the candlelight, a hush falls as minutes pass and many of the masked faces turn upwatd to watch the light become blotted out. Others in the crowd finger their weaponry and edge into position, waiting for the permitted carnage of the revel to begin. The barest sliver of light, like a ring of silver, can still be seen behind the dark orb that has devoured the sun.

In the last seconds of light, the countless clocks of the Theatre of Clocks, which have struck the hours of a thousand different worlds for a thousand years, begin one by one to tick in unison with the Steel Clock. The guests begin to mutter, surprise showing in every gesture and glance; such a thing has never happened before. With a sweep of the pendulum of the Steel Clock, the last clock falls into rhythm with its fellows and the air resonates with the ticking of a thousand mechanical hearts. Then, as one, they strike the Thirteenth Hour in a great chorus of noise and chaos.

As the final, thirteenth note is struck thousands of hands reach for masks and draw weapons. There is a heartbeat as the chime holds in the air… and then the world is plunged into a twilight gloom. All is primed, taut anticipation, but before a shot can be fired between rivals, an exultant voice shouts words as loud and terrible as the chiming of the Steel Clock. His heron mask glittering in the candlelight, an all too familiar figure leaps onto the plinth of the Steel Clock and gazes around smiling.

“Look, look at the sun!” he calls out. Above Xicarph shines the sun, so bright that it cannot be looked at, but it gives no light. All around in the impossible darkness people begin to scream and the sound of violence erupts in a desperate, panicked rush. “Come, Widower of Haarlock! Show me your face, it is your hour and you will unmask!”

A figure walks from the seething crowd, his robes billowing in an unnatural wind, his jackal mask still in place.

“You!” shouts the heron mask, and the wearer of the jackal mask reaches up and removes his own.

“Fool,” the Widower growls in a voice that is a hundred blended to one. “You have brought the Haarlocks’ by-blows here and sealed your doom! You thought to tame me, but you know nothing! You are nothing! By their blood I have summoned the black light of death for this world, a shadow out of time captured centuries ago by the Traveller but no less lethal now. In death I shall be free of him who comes!”

Suddenly the mechanisms of the great Steel Clock begin to whirl and change, and unholy howling echoes from the machine.

The deathly fires of a black sun crawl around the dark totality of the eclipse, blacker than the darkness of the void.

All around the chamber, men and women scream. Some fall to their knees beneath the black light, clawing at their eyes and faces, while others lash out at each other like rabid animals and the Widower laughs…

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