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When you were a kid, and you saw a rainbow, did you ever want to try to get to the end of it? I bet you did. I did, anyway. It wasn’t the mythical pot of gold that tempted me. Wealth was too abstract of a concept at that age to dream about, and leprechauns were creepy little bastards. I just wanted to see what the rainbow looked like up close, and maybe even try to climb it.

Of course, you can’t get to the end of a rainbow because not only is there no end, but there isn’t even really a rainbow. It’s an illusion caused by the sunlight passing through raindrops at the right angle. If you did try to chase a rainbow down, it would move with you until it faded away. That’s why chasing rainbows is a pretty good metaphor for pursuing a beautiful illusion that can never manifest as anything concrete.

I bring all this up because I think it was that same type of urge that compelled me to chase down the Effulgent One. It’s not a perfect analogy, however, considering that I did actually catch up to the eldritch bastard.

I first saw the Effulgent One a little over two years ago. My employer – who happens to be an occultist mad scientist by the name of Erich Thorne – had tasked me with returning a young girl named Elifey to her village on the northern edges of the county. The people of Virklitch Village are very nice, but they’re also an insular, Luddite cult who worship a colossal spectral entity they call the Effulgent One. I saw this Titan during my first visit to Virklitch, and more importantly, he saw me. He left a streak of black in my soul, marking me as one of his followers. I can feel him now, when he walks in our world. Sometimes, if I look towards the horizon after sundown, I can even see him.

This entity, and my connection to him, is understandably something my employer has taken an interest in. I’ve been to Virklitch many times since my first visit, and I’ve successfully collected a good deal of vital information about the Effulgent One. The Virklitchen are the only ones who know how to summon him, and coercing them into doing so would only earn us his wrath. He’s sworn to protect them, though I haven’t the slightest idea of what motivates him to do so.

Even though I can see him, I usually try not to look, to pretend he’s not there. The Virklitchen have warned me never to chase after him. Before Virklitch was founded, the First Nations people who lived in this region were aware of the Effulgent One, though they called him the Sky Strider. Any of them that went chasing after him either failed, went mad, or were never seen again.

I was out driving after sunset, during astronomical twilight when the trees are just black silhouettes against a burnt orange horizon, when I sensed the presence of the Effulgent One. He was to the east, towering along the darkening skyline, idling amidst the fields of cyclopean wind turbines. I could see their flashing red lights in the periphery of my vision, and I knew that one of those lights was him. I tried to fight the urge to look, but fear began to gnaw at me. What if he was heading towards me right now? What if I was in danger and needed to run?

Risking a single sideways glance, I spotted his gangly form standing listlessly between the wind turbines, his long arms gently swaying as his glowing red face bobbed to and fro.

I exhaled a sigh of relief, now that I knew he wasn’t chasing me. That relief didn’t even last a moment before it was transformed into a dangerous realization. He wasn’t just not chasing me; he wasn’t moving at all. He was still. This was rare, and it presented me with a rare opportunity. I could approach him. I could speak with him.

This wasn’t a good idea, and I knew it. The Effulgent One interacted with his followers on his terms. If I annoyed him, he could squash me like a bug. Or worse. Much worse. But he had marked me as his follower and I wanted to know why. If there was any chance I could get him to answer me, I was going to take it.

“Hey Lumi,” I said to the proprietary AI assistant in my company car. “Play the cover of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows from the Hazbin Hotel pilot.”

With the mood appropriately set, I veered east the first chance I got.

Almost immediately, I noticed that the highway seemed eerily abandoned. Even if anyone else had been capable of perceiving the Effulgent One, there was no one around to see him. I got this creeping sense that the closer I drew to him, I was actually shifting more and more out of my world and more and more into his. The wind picked up and dark clouds blew in, snuffing out the fading twilight and plunging everything into an overcast night.

The Effulgent One didn’t seem to notice me as I drew closer. He was as tall as the wind turbines he stood beside, his gaunt body plated in dull iridescent scales infected with trailing fungus. The head on his lanky neck was completely hollow and filled with a glowing red light that dimly bounced off his scales.

Seeing him standing still was a lot more surreal than seeing him when he was active. As impossibly large as he is, when he’s moving it just naturally triggers your fight or flight response and you don’t really have time to take it all in. But when he’s just standing there, and you can look at him and question what you’re seeing, it just hits differently.

It wasn’t until I started slowing down that he finally turned his head in my direction, briefly engulfing me in a blinding red light. When it passed, I saw that the Effulgent One had turned away from me and I was striding down the highway. Even though his gait was casual, his stride was so long that he was still moving as quickly as any vehicle.

Reasoning that if he didn’t want me to follow him he wouldn’t be walking along the road, I slammed my foot down on the accelerator pedal and sped after him.

That’s when things started to get weird.

You know how when you’re driving at night through the country, you can’t see anything beyond your own headlights? With no visual landmarks to go by, it’s easy to get disoriented. All you have to go by is the signs, and I wasn’t paying any attention to those. All my focus was on the Effulgent One, so much so that if someone had jumped out in front of me I probably would have killed them.

I turned down at least one sideroad in my pursuit of the Effulgent One. Maybe two or three. I’m really not sure. All I know for sure is that I was so desperate not to lose him that I had become completely lost myself.

He never looked back to see if I was still following, or gave any indication that he knew or cared if I was still there. He just made his way along the backroads, his bloodred searchlight sweeping back and forth all the while, as if he was desperately seeking something of grave importance. Finally, he abandoned the road altogether and began to climb a gently rolling hill with a solitary wind turbine on top of it. I gently slowed my car to a stop and watched to see what he would do.

I had barely been keeping up with him on the roadways, so I knew I’d never catch him going off-road. If he didn’t stop at the wind turbine, then that would be the end of my little misadventure. As I watched the Effulgent One climb up the hill and cast his light upon it, I saw that the structure at the summit wasn’t a wind turbine at all, but a windmill.

It was a mammoth windmill, the size of a wind turbine, made from enormous blocks of rugged black stone. It was as impossible as the Effulgent One himself. No stone structure other than a pyramid or ziggurat could possibly be that big, and the windmill barely tapered at all towards the top. Its blades were made from a ragged black cloth that reminded me of pirate sails, and near the top I could see a light coming from a single balcony.

When the Effulgent One reached the hill’s summit, he not only came to a stop but turned back around to face me, his light illuminating the entire hillside. Whether or not it was his intention to make it easier for me to follow him up the hill, it was nonetheless the effect, so I decided not to squander it.

Grabbing the thousand-lumen flashlight from my emergency kit, I left my car on the side of the road and began the short but challenging trek up the hill.

I honestly had no idea where I was at that point. Nothing looked familiar, and the overgrown grass seemed so alien in the red light. The way it moved in the wind was so fluid it looked more like seaweed than grass. The clouds overhead seemed equally otherworldly, moving not only unusually fast but in strange patterns that didn’t seem purely meteorological in nature.

With the Effulgent One’s light aimed directly at me, there was no doubt in my mind that he had seen me, but he still gave no indication that he cared. The closer I drew to him, the more I was confronted by his unfathomable scale. I really was an insect compared to him, and it seemed inconceivable that he would make any distinction between anthropods and arthropods. He could strike me down as effortlessly and carelessly as any other bothersome bug. I approached cautiously, watching intently for any sign of hostility from him, but he remained completely and utterly unmoved.

The closer I got to him, the harder I found it to press on. From a distance, the Effulgent One is surreal enough that he doesn’t completely shatter your sense of reality, but that’s a luxury that goes down the toilet when he’s only a few strides or less from stomping you into the ground. His emaciated form wasn’t merely skeletal, but elongated; his limbs, digits, and neck all stretched out to disquieting proportions. His dull scales now seemed to be a shimmering indigo, and the fungal growths between them pulsed rhythmically with some kind of life. Whether it was with his or theirs, I cannot say. There were no ears on his round head. No features at all aside from the frontwards-facing cavity that held the searing red light.

As I slowly and timidly approached the windmill, he remained by its side, peering out across the horizon. I turned to see what he was looking at, but saw nothing. I immediately turned back to him and craned my neck skywards, marvelling at him in dumbstruck awe. I’d chased him down so that I could demand why he had marked me as one of his followers, but now that I had succeeded, I was horrified by how suicidally naïve that plan now felt.

Many an internet atheist has pontificated about how if there were a God and if they ever met Him, they would remain every bit as irreverent and defiant and hold Him to account the same as any tyrant. But when faced with a being of unfathomable cosmic power, I don’t think there truly is anyone who wouldn’t lose their nerve.

So I just stood there, gaping up at the Effulgent One like a moron, with no idea of what to do next.

Fortunately for me, it was then that the Effulgent One finally acknowledged my presence.

Slowly, he turned his face downwards and cast his spotlight upon me, holding it there for a few long seconds before turning it to the door at the base of the windmill. I glanced up at the balcony above, and saw that it aligned almost perfectly with his head.

Evidently, he wanted to meet me face to face.

Nodding obediently, I raced to the heavy wooden door and pushed it open with all my might. The inside was dark, and I couldn’t see very well after standing right in the Effulgent One’s light, but I could hear the sounds of metal gears slowly grinding and clanking away. When I turned on my flashlight, the first thing I was able to make out was the enormous millstone. It moved slowly and steadily, squelching and squishing so that even in the poor light I knew that it wasn’t grain that was being milled.

The next thing I saw was a flight of rickety wooden stairs that snaked up all along the interior of the windmill. Each step creaked and groaned beneath my weight as I climbed them, but I nonetheless ascended them with reckless abandon. If a single one of them had given out beneath me, I could have fallen to my death, and the staircase shook back and forth so much that sometimes it felt as if it was intentionally trying to throw me off.

When I reached the top floor, I saw that the windshaft was encased in a crystalline sphere etched with leylines and strange symbols, and inside of it was some kind of complex clockwork apparatus that was powered by the spinning of the shaft. Though I was briefly curious as to the device’s purpose, it wasn’t what I had come up there for.  

Turning myself towards the only door, I ran through and out onto the upper balcony. The Effulgent One was still standing just beside it, his head several times taller than I was. He looked out towards the horizon and pointed an outstretched arm in that direction, indicating that I should do the same.

From the balcony, I could see a spire made of purple volcanic glass, carved as if it was made of two intertwining gargantuan rose vines, with a stained-glass roof that made it look like a rose in full bloom. The spire was surrounded by many twisting and shifting shadows, and I could perceive a near infinitude of superimposed potential pathways branching out from the spire and stretching out across the planes.

The Effulgent One reached out and plucked at one of the pathways running over us like it was a harp string, sending vibrations down along to the spire and then back out through the entire network. I saw the sky above the spire shatter like glass, revealing a floating maelstrom of festering black fluid that had congealed into a thousand wailing faces. It began to descend as if it meant to devour the spire, but as it did so the spire pulled in the web of pathways around it like a net. The storm writhed and screamed as it tried to escape, but the spire held the net tight as a swarm of creatures too small for me to identify congregated upon the storm and began to feed upon it. But the fluid the maelstrom was composed of seemed to be corrosive, and the net began to rot beneath its influence. It sagged and it strained, until finally giving way.

A chaotic battle ensued between the spire and the maelstrom, but it hardly seemed to matter. What both I and the Efflugent One noticed the most was that the pathways that had been bound to the spire were now severed and stained by the Black Bile, drifting away wherever the wind took them.

The Effulgent One caught one of them in his hand and tugged it downwards, staring at it pensively for a long moment.

“That… that didn’t actually just happen, did it?” I asked meekly. I waited patiently for the Effulgent One to respond, but he just kept staring at the severed thread. “But… it’s going to happen? Or, it could happen?”

A slow and solemn nod confirmed that what he had shown me had portended to a possible future.

“That’s why you marked me as your follower then, isn’t it?” I asked. “You needed someone, someone other than the Virklitchen, someone who’s already involved in this bullshit and can help stop it from deteriorating into whatever the hell you just showed me. If Erich had picked anyone else to go to Virklitch that night, or hadn’t asked me to stay for the festival, it wouldn’t have been me! It didn’t have to have been me!”

His head remained somberly hung, and I hadn’t really been expecting him to respond at all to my outburst.

“Elifey liked you,” he said in a metallic, fluid voice that sounded like it was resonating out of his chest rather than his face. “I would not have chosen you if she hadn’t.”

He twirled the thread in between his fingers before gently handing it down to me like it was a streamer on a balloon. I hesitantly accepted the gesture, wrapping as much of my hand around the spectral cord as I could. The instant I touched it, a radiant and spiralling rainbow shot down its length and arced across the sky. When it reached the chaotic battle on the horizon, it dispelled the maelstrom on contact, banishing it back into the nether and signalling in biblical fashion that the storm had passed. The other wayward pathways were cleansed of the Black Bile as well, and I watched in amazement as they slowly started to reweave themselves back into an interconnected web.

“But… what does this mean? What do I actually have to do to make this a reality?” I asked.

The Effulgent One reached out his hand and pinched the cord, choking off the rainbow and ending the vision he had shown me.

“A reality?” he asked as he held his palm out flat and adjacent to the balcony. “It’s already a reality. All you need to do is make it yours.”

It seemed to me that I wasn’t likely to get anything less cryptic than that out of him, so I accepted the lift down. He took me down the hill and set me down gently beside my car before setting off out of sight and beyond my ability to pursue him.

Even though my GPS wasn’t working, the moment I was sitting in the driver’s seat the autopilot kicked in and didn’t ask me to take control until I was back on a familiar road. I know that windmill isn’t just a short drive away, and I’ll never see it again unless the Effulgent One wants me to. I don’t think I can say I’m exactly happy with how that turned out, but I suppose I accomplished what I set out to achieve. I know what the Effulgent One wants of me now, and why he chose me specifically. If it had been all his decision I think I’d still be feeling kind of torn about it, but knowing that I’ve been roped into this because of Elifey makes it a lot easier to bear.   

And… I did actually manage to catch a rainbow. I just needed a giant’s help to reach it.

Written by The Vesper's Bell
Content is available under CC BY-SA