The Core had gathered. And they had gathered well. The first of their tasks had been performed most admirably; exterminate the population of Yulumson.
The Collector was standing in front of the library, on the eastern end of George Street. The librarian had been killed by a falling bible. The kid who had been looking for books for his next school project (and what a conscientious little tike he was!) had been crushed by a suit of plate mail. The Collector thought that there was a fair chance he was doing research on armor of some sort. After all, in The Collector's countless travels, fate had always carried out business with a certain sense of irony. Why would that change now? So close to the end of all things...
He could hear the government helicopters flying in from the south. They would arrive within the next twenty minutes; they would set up base to the south of Yulumson and they would send in a man (whose last name would end in G, C, P or possibly M) to do reconnaissance. That was the way of things.
The dust cloud he had used to spawn the gathering had descended on the town shortly afterwards. The Collector's vision reached out only for about fifty meters, before it was obscured by a light brown fog. The dust, as it hung suspended between the buildings, entranced him, even as its choking smell filled his lungs.
How many guardians would the universe muster against him this time? How many more men would cease to live against the tip of his steel pipe? The forces that held the pipe together were becoming weak... it might not survive another attempt.
But at that moment The Collector had business to attend to. Some of the Core were missing, or, at least, not in their correct place. He would have to remedy that if everything was to go well. And it had to go well. This was the only chance. The Core would not gather again for another five-thousand, seven hundred and eighty-two years. And that would be in the six hundredth and thirty-third reality. Too far to travel. Too long to wait.
The Clans, The Book, The Core, The Guardians... it would all fall into place this time. He was sure of it.
And then he would be released.
And the Saelieni would be freed from their shackles.
"The land lord said the rent is late, he may have to litigate. Don't worry," Arthur sang along, "Be happy."
The radio was blasting out the old tune into the even older Holden ute. He wasn't sure the old rust bucket would make the trip to Roma, but he'd have to try if he wanted to pick up his new one. He wasn't pushing it above ninety, just in case the radiator decided to implode, souring the deal. It'd be right, though. ‘Course it'd be right!
"Ain't got no cash, ain't go no style..."
The trip was likely to take another forty-five minutes going at this speed and in fact a stop over at Yulumson would probably be a good idea, just to let the engine cool. Arthur had always liked Yulumson. Friendly people, and a roadhouse that cooked one hell of a works burger. What more could one ask of a country town?
As the song ended, and the radio started playing some blasted piece of hip hop, Arthur shut the music off.