Far away, in a magical art-created land, the sculpted Thinker gazed into his steely hand as sparks fizzled down his bronze arm. The images of Alex flickered in his palm and faded.
How could this be? Alexander shouldn’t be seeing visions; nor traveling to Artania and back. Never had one Deliverer traversed their worlds without his knowledge, much less two.
He thought back. For millennia, every time a human lifted a paint brush or dipped hands in clay, a wondrous being, like himself, had been born. Over time, Artania’s population grew into a perfect blend of watercolor, collage, and mosaics; a mix of multihued lives.
As art changed, separate countries emerged. From the Renaissance Nation where the competing Michelangelo & Leonardo watched over Mona Lisa to the Land of Antiquities where Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods raced over sands to Gothia where medieval knights fought dragons; he had watched his world expand.
Until the time of danger.
Shadow Swine horrors were becoming all too common. The new millennium brought constant tales of Sickhert’s army attacking from their underground lair. With increasing frequency, they pulled his brethren below to become mindless slaves. Or, at chosen times, they opened their horrible mouths, and with great slurps, swallowed brilliant chunks of this land’s beauty.
Like a fading photo, every bite turned the earth whiter causing the Blank Canvas to grow. Now they were attacking the Impressionist Republic, that place where muted light and color capture a moment in time.
Closing his bronze fist, The Thinker lifted his gaze to the man in the bushy beard and linen suit in the wooden chair opposite. His words echoed in the nearly empty cafe as he spoke. “The Shadow Swine seem to have some new power. I fear for the soft hues of this land.”
Claude Monet took a long draught on the stub of a cigar in his mouth and blew a wisp of smoke over The Thinker’s head. “As do I.”
“The Blank Canvas grows.”
“Oui, there have been reports of new areas bleached white. The sinking village of the Alps.”
“When you ceased dipping brush in paint.”
Monet looked at his feet and nodded sadly. “I was immersed in depression.”
“Do not berate yourself, friend. It was he who painted you. His poverty got the best of him and no one, not even I, could have altered that.”
“Gauguin would argue otherwise.”
“Is he spouting more talk of revolution?”
“Larger crowds come to listen. Many say you are growing old and unable to lead us.”
“My strength does not wane with age but with the belief in the power of creation.”
“I know that, but others do not.”
The Thinker shook his head. “It seems that no matter how hard we try; it is never enough. The Shadow Swine capture more and more of our kind.”
“We are weighed down, every moment, by the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping this nightmare: pleasure and work. Work strengthens us.”
“True. I only hope Bartholomew realizes this before it’s too late.” The Thinker shook his head.
“Yet now he struggles.”
“Leaving ripples of despair here. If he’d just–”
The Thinker heard a buzz. Then a whine. The gaslights in the café began to flicker. Tilting a confused head to one side, the sculpted man glanced up. Every glass lampshade was quivering and expanding as if Vulcan was filling each with superheated magma.
As the sound amplified into a din, Monet dug his boots into the floor and scooted his chair back. Although a painting, Thinker knew that his friend could be injured as easily as any human and rose to protect his ally.
Diving over the table, he extended his bronze arms and tackled the gaping painter to cover the creation’s body with his own. A moment later, the crystal globes exploded in a deafening blast, shooting glass in all directions.
Streaming shards sharp as knives rained down. The Thinker pushed Monet beneath the table.
Strong back heaving, he glanced to the side at the blinking barkeep, now dusted with glass shards. A few slivers jutting from the painted man’s balding scalp began to bleed.
“Help me,” he said, lip quivering.
Artania’s leader had just begun to stand when a hissing sound from under the floorboards stopped him mid-crouch.
A stunned Monet angled a finger at the ground where rotten steam rose from cracks in the wood. “Shadow Swine, here?”
White tendrils twisted upward filling the café with sulfuric fumes. Then, as if someone were using a crowbar to pry them open, the floorboards next to the bar began to part, and a dark arm slithered from the opening.
The barkeep gasped, stepping back. Opened and closed his mouth in silent screams. The arm grasped him by the ankle and the painted man stumbled. He fell against the wall.
The crack in the floor widened, swallowing half his leg, then a thigh and soon his hips.
Arms outstretched, Thinker vaulted toward the barkeep, crossing the room in two strides.
He reached out, clutching at air.
It was too late. The injured barman was gone. Another water-colored being taken below to become a mindless slave in Subterranea.
“No!” he cried as the floorboards closed.