Congrieve interjected, “Orville, what he means to say is that the three of us… you, me, and the Queen… will have to power dive straight to the ground from a height of ten thousand feet.”
Wootin rolled his eyes and smacked his forehead. “Hollister, if this makes sense to you—or anyone else present—then I’m proud to be a lunatic.”
“Look, Orville, I don’t claim to know how this hocus-pocus works. But I’ve seen enough of it to know that it does. And for that matter, so have you. And you know what ends up happening when we ignore the warnings these two give us, crazy as they always sound.”
Even with her colorless skin and her blood flooded eyes, the Queen was still very beautiful. It had to do with the triumph of geometry over limitations of her health. When he considered the unnerving effect of that beauty upon his friend, Wootin wondered whether the Mysteriarchs had the right idea about destroying beauty.
“I can’t argue with you. It wouldn’t do any good if I tried. But for the heck of it, I’m not going along this time. I’m not, just not. I get despondent sometimes, and my disposition might even tend toward the suicidal. But tonight, I’m not in the mood.” Wootin folded his arms across his chest as a show of stubborn opposition, and he tried to anchor himself in the sand, but the soft ground made him all the more unsteady. He had the uncomfortable feeling that his refusal was not a real manifestation of his will—not a decision he could guide by mulishness or maneuvering or zeal or adherence to principles, but rather another part of the conventions overtaking him. Even if his refusal were simply a mandatory prelude to his inevitable acquiescence, it still felt genuine; it still carried a stamp of authenticity. It made him feel as if what he was doing would control the final outcome.
“The time…” Ben-Zimra looked to the creeping shadows over the pentagram.
“We’ll have to leave without him,” said Congrieve. He ran his hand through his reddish blonde hair, now silvered by the rising moon and other worries. “Anyway, Ben-Zimra said that I would be the key to our success. So maybe we don’t really need him. Everything is supposed to depend on me. Wasn’t that the augury?”
“What a bunch of rot,” said Wootin. “They’re appealing to your ego, man.”
“Orville won’t budge when he gets like this.”
“We need him,” said the Queen. “Find some way to persuade him.”
“It’ll take longer than we have time, and more liquor than I brought.”
Cassiopeia turned back to Wootin. “Life is pointless and trivial except for moments like this one. Here you have the chance to see splendor and beauty beyond the imaginings of men. And you have the chance to save that beauty. By saving that beauty, you will prevent the occurrence of an unspeakable disaster. You’ve already seen the horrible evils that come from the dealings of the Mysteriarchs. If they succeed here, the results will be far worse than anything you’ve already witnessed. We might fail to stop them. That’s true. We face terrible foes and battles against terrible odds. But what is the worst that could come of our trying? A death so instantaneous you won’t even know it happened.”
The citizens were united in solitary purpose, showing loyalty to the greater need. They all joined in the task without being summoned. Each contributed without question or demand.
An orgy of urban destruction ensued. Old men took to hammering oaken planks to splinters. Children joyously lit fires. Many huge explosions unleashed avalanches of bricks and powdered masonry. The great tower shuddered with the clanging echoes of girders giving way. Furniture and machinery rained down from the upper levels, bursting with the force of artillery shells after falling so many miles. Those who lacked explosives or matches or clubs or crowbars would try the strength of their spines and skulls against concrete. Multitudes grabbed the bannisters or pushed the walls, rocking, moaning, gyrating, trying to topple the gargantuan tower with their collective movement. The effort seemed absurd, until the windows shimmered with vibrations and the walls began to crack.
Liquor was being rapidly consumed, and the bottles smashed, so not even that beauty or consolation might remain. Singers who had the proper range were shattering glass with song, while fiddlers and drummers played a destructive accompaniment, breaking their instruments as part of the music.
The air reeked of the acrid, dusty perfumed smell of all and everything being unmade.
The citizens peeled away the coats and layers, the lines and depths, the contour, form, and sinew, the masks and facades, reaching for the pure untroubled bone. All of them were receiving glory as they tore the city to its essence. They were mounting a defense that would favor an old fashioned universe.
It was the winter of existence; it was the summer of the end, and the fall of eternal spring.
The spectrum itself was being broken beyond the repairable delights of the rainbow. Reds were very bloody, but turning to deathly blue before evaporating to yellow emptiness.