December 31, 1997
Alto H. Clef ticked another box off on his bucket list. Specifically the one next to the phrase “Have coffee with the Venus of Willendorf”.
Of course, he had only added it to his bucket list several moments beforehand, after deciding that having coffee with the Venus of Willendorf was, among other things, something that could be considered a major accomplishment in life. Granted, it wasn’t entirely accurate. He was the only one drinking for one, and this Venus was not a four-inch statuette dug up in lower Austria, but a rather rubenesque woman who had slid out of the womb only a few minutes before. She was still connected to the primary mass by a thick umbilical extending from the back of her head.
From his vantage point near the edge of the stone precipice, Clef had an excellent view of the cavern, the lake of milk, and the mountain of wombs and teats that rested in it, all illuminated by the soft, source-less glow that filled the place. There was some movement down on the lower slopes, faster and choppier than the steady in-out of breath. Some of the children had decided to stop their suckling, then, or at least decided to move to a better location.
Clef reconsidered his choice for a brief moment before changing the entry to “Have coffee with Shub-Niggurath”. That worked better, though it didn’t really have the charm. He finished his rather lengthy sip and set his mug down on the worn stone altar that served as a table.
“That’s disappointing. I was hoping that you’d be a bit more flexible with the idea.”
The proxy smiled. It was more genuine than most Clef had seen in his line of work, but that meant very little to him.
“It’s not inflexibility, dear, it’s incompatibility. I’d love to let you all go on with your lives, but I’m afraid your kind is too soft to handle the old ways. I would help, but a Mother has to look out for her own.”
Clef nodded in approval.
“I can respect that. Don’t think anyone else will, though. There’ll be a fight.”
“It’s not one you can win.”
“I know. It won’t stop people.”
The Mother shook her head, a twinge of sadness intruding into the smile.
“Noble fools, every one of you. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I really do. I don’t like seeing my children getting hurt as much as any, but the seals are fading. Ages come and go, and the Daevas’ time has come again, as has my time to bear them. I’m afraid you’re too late.”
“I feel that I work better under pressure. I always end up procrastinating anyway, so waiting until the last possible second just works out better for me. Cuts out the middle man. Speaking of which, I should be going. Only a few hours to prepare for the upcoming global catastrophe, and all. Sorry to cut this short, this was a delightful conversation. I thank you for your hospitality.”
“The pleasure was all mine. I’ll have Epon see you out.”
The Venus nodded past Clef’s right shoulder.
Hooves clopped on stone. Clef turned to see a young woman standing behind him. She was somewhere in the indeterminate twenties, wearing simple, earth-brown robes and inherited nothing of her mother’s looks or size. A cord of braided horse hair hung around her neck.
“Oh, hello there.” Clef waved to her. The girl bowed, but said nothing. Clef stood up and made to move towards the exit.
He paused after a few steps.
“One last thing…”
The scene changed: The daughter’s head was locked under Clef’s arm, a gun barrel pressed against her head.
“I’m wondering if your daughter here knows how to recast the seals on this place.” There was no anger in his voice. This was business. “Or if you’d be so kind as to tell me yourself.”
The shock on the Mother’s face passed. The smile returned, accompanied by a chuckle, which evolved up through the chorus of laughs until it was a full-blown guffaw. The smile had lost any figment of friendliness it held before.
“You picked the wrong Mother to fuck with, boy.”
Rumbling echoed up from the slopes. Five monstrous forms pulled themselves over the edge of the promontory: misshapen, headless forms with bulbous eyes and slobbering mouths, claws sharp and ready for rending. Clef’s expression didn’t change.
“Give my daughter back. Now,” the Mother growled.
“Hmm…gonna have to think about that…no. My answer is no.”
With that, Clef hefted Epon over his shoulder and began to run towards the cavern’s exit. The howls of the anthropophagi and the enraged screams of the Venus faded into the background. They were minor details at the moment. He may have been quicker on his own compared to the Venus’ misshapen children, but he still had to complete a fifty foot sprint with a grown woman, though a small one, slung over his shoulder.
The realization that this may not have been the best idea pushed its way through the blockade of bravado. It was then beaten into submission by a combined effort of the ego, confidence, and the knowledge that everything was going entirely according to plan.
Seconds passed. However close the other children were didn’t matter: they hadn’t gotten him. The world was compressed into what remained between Clef and the doors.
A string of indistinct syllables intruded on the edges of Clef’s condensed bubble of awareness. Epon was mumbling, a chant of some sort. It was ignored. The stone doors loomed, the glyphs glowing slightly. Clef grit his teeth and ran through it as if it were little more than a suspended sheet of water.
Stone and warmth gave way to the crunch of snow and the brilliant white of a spotlight. Clef let Epon down, only slowing his pace slightly.
“Up the hill! Run!” Clef pointed off to the left as he continued running straight ahead. He looked back just long enough to see that she had taken off up the hill, and to see her siblings emerge from the stone.
Gunshots rang out from the hill as the snipers went to work. Clef didn’t need to watch to know that they hit their marks: He suspected none of the creatures got more than ten feet.
This was far enough. He closed the remainder of the circle in in the snow with his foot and scribbled a few extra symbols around it before spitting in the trench. Now to see if she had taken the bait…
She had. A fleshy blob was pushing itself out of the stone block, the wards tearing at it with invisible blades. Blood poured out across the snow as flabby, amorphous limbs formed and deformed as the mass clawed and dragged itself forward, the gashes growing deeper. The screaming was an ear-splitting mixture of rage and pain, leaning towards the rage end of the spectrum.
“Come on, ya bitch! This all you can do?”
He hadn't actually expected the taunting to work: The mass tensed for a moment before charging forward with considerable speed. Red chunks of flesh sloughed off of the mass, staining the snow. It was halfway to Clef now, close enough that he could see the half-absorbed face of the Venus cursing at him.
He smiled and stuck his fingers in his ears.
Up on the hill, an agent pressed a detonator.
A thermobaric bomb hidden under a light dusting of snow, conveniently located directly underneath where the Mother was located received the message and exploded, which was generally what bombs did.
The smoke and dust and ground beef rain eventually settled. Clef, still standing in his little circle of snow and completely untouched by the blast, glanced at his watch.
“Midnight already. How about that. Happy new year to me.”