The Coming Night
Major Arcana: Forces, Matter
Inferior Arcanum: Time
Order: The Free Council
The cramped bedroom was pitch black, except for the dull red glow of LED digits. If Sadie had been paying attention to the room, she might have contemplated smashing the alarm clock in retribution for its unceasing vigil over the motionless monotony that had become her nights. But Sadie wasn’t paying attention to her cheap clock. Instead, she was staring at the ceiling, unblinking, unmoving, not unlike the stories of vampires or zombies. A month ago, that kind of comparison might’ve seemed silly to her. Before she’d discovered just how real the undead were. Before Hawkeye had been massacred and burned. Before SHE had burned them.
Her head twitched slightly as she tried to shake the memory out, to think of something else, anything else. It had been necessary. That was the mantra she’d clung to, chanting it over and over again in her head as she envisioned the burning corpses night after night. The truth did little to ease the memories, though. As much as Sadie had felt that she never quite fit into the sleepy resort town, it had been her life. It was home… the room next to the workshop she’d grown up in, the tiny store, the resort, even the fire bro-gade.
And now, that home was gone. Torn asunder by… what? What had he pulled from that cave? Sadie’s lips contorted in an angry snarl. Nathan Fletcher. She’d always known the rules were different for the rich. They could afford vacations to distant places, never worried about fixing up a machine or going without, all the frivolities that life could offer. But Fletcher… murdering people on a whim. Tearing apart a town to get some secret… thing… that had piqued his interest. Her rage burned silently inside of her, as it had every night, at the things he had done. At the things she had been forced to do because of him. And, like every night, her rage faded into impotent despair, as she thought about what she could possibly do against a man like that. He had money, power, fame, men willing to kill for him… what did she have? The question had burned at her soul each night, dragging her down into fitful unconsciousness as she tried to find (fight?) the answer…
But you know the edge you wield, Sadie. You just don’t want to embrace it. Embrace the truth.
Sadie’s eyes flew open, and she gasped in terror. Gone was her cramped, dingy bedroom. It had been replaced by a never-ending expanse of gears, as far as she could see. She found herself standing on one herself, the cog expanding to the size of a football stadium. The teeth of the gear meshed with other teeth, working in an intricate machinery that went on forever, in all directions of scale. Red hair bounced suddenly as the traditional pinch for wakefulness resulted not in pain or sudden consciousness, but the excision of a small patch of flesh. As she stared, she could see as if through a microscope, the individual layers of what should have been skin and blood instead moving constantly as a sea of flesh-toned microscopic gears, and dull-red colored lightning pushing the gears into motion. Slowly, the patch of flesh started to build itself away, gears rearranging in infinitesimal scale out of her hand and back towards her side. With a sudden flash of red, the skin leapt back, and rearranged itself, looking within seconds as if it had never left.
Sadie curled her toes, and found another surprise, as the seemingly solid gear sifted through her toes like sand. She knew without looking down that if she did, she would find that the gear itself was comprised of more cogs and wheels, like her skin. Atoms. Her ragged breathing started to calm. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the usual appearance of the world, but the rules were the same. Tiny building blocks making bigger objects, which interacted with larger objects in turn… It was a dream. Some sort of dream world, but even here, her mind was ordering things into proper working order. She smiled for a brief moment.
Jerking around at the harsh, ethereal whisper, Sadie froze as she was confronted with a new part of the nightmare. At the edges of her vision, she could make out shambling bodies. Slowly, they were moving towards her, but their progress was not nearly as disturbing as the effect they had on the clockwork landscape. With each step, the gears near them crumbled and deformed, breaking away and falling into nothingness.
“No, no, no…” Sadie immediately regretted making a sound, as the bodies slowly turned, striding towards her with increased vigor. There was no mistaking their movement or appearance – they were the creatures that had swarmed over her hometown. As they drew closer, Sadie’s vision seemed to shut the rest of the clockwork world out, zooming in on the zombies as she had the patch of flesh. No matter how hard she looked, though, she saw nothing of the smooth mechanical construction that she had seen in her own flesh. Instead, there were only disjointed gears and sparks of energy. The gears seemed to float alone in nothingness, the bursts of lightning sometimes arcing to dead space, or to a cog that would spin for a moment, then stop. How could something so obviously broken and impossible work here? Work anywhere?
They are not broken.
“Shut UP! You’re wrong! YOU are! And I’ll fucking prove it to you!” With a cry, she plunged her calloused hands deep into the clockwork sands. Something deep inside her mind called to the matter surrounding her, and the surface of the gear slowly rose up, swirling over her hands. She shaped the microscopic gears with the speed of thought, rearranging them, forcing the energies that surged through them to connect and power the cogs once more. As her hands slid back out, they pulled with them a pair of weapons – one hand wielding dual blades of coppery sheen that flowed perfectly from over her arm and wrist. The left hand was engulfed in a gauntlet, with circuits and resistors arranged in a pattern that somehow fit perfectly to draw energy from her flesh, focusing it into a constantly crackling point of energy just in front of her palm.
With a desperate cry, Sadie flung herself at the husks. She found herself crossing the expanse of the gear in a heartbeat, her twin blades sinking into the first zombie’s chest like slicing through butter. The gauntlet pulsed, and an arc of cold, white energy shot into another body, rending it into bloody bits. Body after body fell in a blur of copper, ice, and a constantly moving blur of red hair. Finally, Sadie stumbled to a halt, staring around at the remnants of the corpses. A smile grew on her face as she watched the bits of bodies at their cellular level once more, as the gears that had been arranged in impossible patterns settled into a dead, lifeless arrangement. As they settled, tiny gears from all around began to settle onto the freshly reined-in flesh, drawing tiny sparks of electricity from it to power themselves. “Bacteria,” Sadie murmured to herself in satisfaction. She’d forced these… things… back into reality. She’d won.
The whisper drew Sadie away from the bodies, the smile on her face frozen as she realized she was no longer alone. Across the void, she saw another gear, this one familiar to her. She could make out buildings, landmarks… Hawkeye. And on the edge of that gear, the population of the town stared at her silently. Her mother and father looked down at her, with terror in their eyes. Why were they afraid? She’d beaten the monsters! And they weren’t the residents of the town this time, they were simply unnatural… creations…
Sadie’s mind recoiled in fear as she looked anew at the weapons she wielded. Blades out of the ground, gloves that turned her own life energy into a weapon? She’d created them, they’d flowed so naturally out of the gear, they couldn’t be like those… things she had put down. But as she stared into the hearts of the weapons, her hopes were dashed. The gears inside of her weapons made no more sense than those of the zombies. They were disconnected, constructs of energy and disassociated cogs that should no more function than a computer should if half the parts were thrown together in a heap. Frantically, Sadie tried to pry the blades off of her hand, but they refused to part. She strained, harder and harder, but was only rewarded with pain, and the sight of blood as her flesh began to rend. A fresh horror burst to life in her mind as she watched the torn flesh melt, and then reknit with the rest of her body once more. But this time, she could see gaps in the machinery – spaces where things turned that shouldn’t have turned, and energy crackling from her blood into empty space. She had been infected by the unnatural nature of the monsters.
Desperately, Sadie aimed the gauntlet at her flesh, prepared to burn it off if she had to in order to get rid of the infestation of unreality. But as she prepared to fire, her eye caught something on the gear below. She sank to her knees, staring down at the inner workings of the cog. What she saw, she couldn’t process for several moments, her overwhelmed mind almost fractured under the stress. The unreal workings of the zombies, of her weapons, of her flesh… it was here, too. It was everywhere within the gear – within all of them, she realized as she cast her gaze around. Every gear, every bit of machinery, everything in this reality, they had the same gaps, the same failures of logic and reason. Sadie’s mind spun as she looked back to the Hawkeye gear, praying to find an island of sanity in this madness. But even there… even in the structures that made up her parents, she could see the flickers, the bursts of energy that made no sense, the gears that defied logic. She curled up into a ball on the ground, quivering, shaking as she felt her grasp on reality crumbling. The world was created out of insanity. There was no order, no reason, no logic to any of it…
And yet you’ve seen it, shaped it.
This time, the whisper elicited no response from Sadie, who was still brokenly curled in a fetal position. Her eyes gazed out over the copper landscape, seeing everything, but taking in nothing. Ages passed, and she stared, as she had since that night… a tiny part of her still trying, even now, to understand HOW. Magic, fantasy, monsters and make-believe… it was alien to her. There were no gods in the sky, no magical creatures lurking in the wilds. The wonders of the world existed when the world made them. People, animals, nature… they shaped reality to form wonders, they… Her mind stopped, turning over a new thought slowly, studying it. People shaped reality into wonders. Into stories, into legends. She had always seen science and logic as the engine, as the paintbrush and canvas. But what if it was people themselves? People didn’t just shape the world with tools, they created the tools. It had been that way since the first steps of man – reaching out into an unfamiliar reality and shaping it to suit their needs. Just as she had done with her weapons… she had been the Neanderthal man, creating the first fire from nothing.
No. Not the first. Others had come before her.
Sadie blinked once, slowly, her body restoring itself once more. Gradually, she uncurled, stretching limbs that were no longer stiff or tired. As she pushed herself to her feet, the entire clockwork world seemed to spark, to vibrate with barely contained energy. But it wasn’t the world, Sadie realized. It was her. Her will to create, to reshape the world. Trembling, she stretched out her hand… and the world exploded in a burst of color and dust. Colors surged from her body, every color she could name and thousands more she couldn’t, pulling at the fabric of the clockwork reality. She stood at the heart of a whirlwind, countless forms and shapes emerging and disappearing as quickly as the thoughts crossed her mind. The fear had vanished, replaced with sheer childlike joy at the possibilities. THIS was reality!
The voices of the whispers spoke as one. Sadie turned, floating at the heart of her maelstrom, and observed five towers, surrounding her, watching over her. Instinctually, she knew that they had been looking for her, trying to guide her. And she knew what was supposed to come next. The towers were meant to guide her to this truth, to cement the knowledge in her soul through an unbreakable bond. But as she looked at each tower in turn, none of them called to her, as she somehow knew they were meant to. Why?
BECAUSE FIVE VISIONS OF THE WORLD ARE NOT ENOUGH.
Sadie smiled softly, then let the maelstrom of light and matter coruscate in a crescendo of energy. The colors swirled into an intensity she could barely perceive… and then everything went white.
Sadie’s eyes flew open as the first rays of dawn shone in through her window, landing squarely in her eyes. She looked around, slowly shrugging off her covers and sitting up in bed. She usually woke up before first light – her alarm should have gone off by now. Why hadn’t it? As she turned to the nightstand, she paused. The cheap plastic of the alarm clock had vanished, replaced by a construct of steel and oil, giving off a scent that perfectly matched that of the workshop back home. The scent matched the form, which closely resembled the workshop back home, if the workshop had been constructed out of gears. The LED digits had been replaced with a field of smaller LEDs, which seemed to be unrestrained about the form and color of the digits they displayed. Staring for a moment, Sadie smiled, and let a tiny burst of electricity flow from her finger to the new construct, rewarded with a sudden burst of a radio. The world still worked. Now it was time to find out what she wanted it to do.