Renowned Louvre Curator Jacques D'Arcachon skidded around the corner of the 'Grande Galerie', slipped slightly on the slick polished floor and raced down the exhibition under the gentle gaze of several dozen Renaissance madonnas.
'Non, non, non... cerveauuuux!'
'Ah, excusez-moi... cerveauuux...'
Behind him, the mob of zombified Parisians, under the control of Rasputin and disoriented by the bright lights and artistic genius all over the walls, lurched forward with less benevolent expressions.
'Back into the building!' cried X.
As if in reply, a horde of groaning French citizens spilled out of the doors and began advancing, while the horde from the bridge advanced, met the edges of the second horde and so became a mob. The Agents and Sfret were trapped in the courtyard. A great throaty roar went up from the teeming masses.
'Vive l'Empereur! Vive Rasputin!'
'A multitude! We're trapped!' cried X, with a fine eye for the extremely obvious. He bit his fist and grimaced, applying his tactical savvy to the situation as the crush of mindless Parisians surged forward. 'Can't shoot them... they're civilians; it's not their fault they're weak-willed and don't have the rigorous mental discipline of a trained Agent.... Wait! I know! Climb up the pyramid! It's our only chance!'
'What did you say?' called Arthur.
X turned around to see Arthur and Sfret already scrambling up the sloping glass wall. 'Yes. Well. Never mind. Wait for me....'
A baguette-wielding cyclist in a beret clawed at his leg, and D'Arcachon skipped over his outreached claw and dodged behind a plinth. Racing forward again, his eyes darted from side to side as he muttered to himself.
'Secret annex... secret annex... aha...'
Knocking a zombified mime artist to one side with a viciously-swung marble bust of the Florence School, he rolled across the gallery into an alcove containing a da Vinci. Striking a series of points on the wall beneath the painting, D'Arcachon turned back to face the crowd and gritted his teeth. A low rumbling emerged from the wall behind him. A dead-eyed nun, with a line of snarling little schoolgirls behind her, lurched forward, hands extended in claws... and then he fell to one side as the alcove rotated swiftly, dumping him onto cold stone, and just as swiftly rotated back. The bemused murderous throng was left with nothing to look at but a murky picture of John the Baptist. With nothing better to do, they drew a beard on it and wandered off to find fun elsewhere.
Scrambling up the side of the pyramid in the garish red light of a Parisian dusk and kicking mind-controlled Frenchmen off the glass to fall screaming into the heaving mob below, Arthur frowned. He turned to X.
'I know what you're thinking,' his partner shouted as he put a shoe in the face of a growling pastry chef. X and Arthur both smiled and said in unison, 'Just like Stockholm in '97!'
Arthur chuckled and hauled Sfret up another few feet. 'When something like this seems familiar,' he mused, 'perhaps we've been in this game too long, old friend.'
X spread his legs, put a foot beside the heads of a street-artist and an interior decorator and then brought his legs together sharply, knocking the two heads together and sending their owners tumbling down the gradient. Four more crawled up to take their place.
'I believe these chaps think so too, Arthur old chum...'
Not a lot of people know this: one day, in Amboise, in France, in the year of Our Lord 1516, in the garden, Leonardo da Vinci met a young boy he had never seen before.
He finished a quillstroke, put down the feather and gave a rumpled smile over his sketchpad. 'Hello, little man. Are you one of the servants' children, eh?'
The sullen little teenager said nothing, but sniffled into his sleeve.
'What's that, little fellow? Ooh...' Da Vinci twisted in his large, padded chair, shifting the blankets. No sign of any parents. Damnation. What did children like? 'Look, boy! Mmm? It's you! See?'
The boy neglected to look at da Vinci's quick and accurate caricature sketch of him. Instead, he knuckled his eyes and muttered in the half-cracked voice of an adolescent, 'I'm suposeta t'tell you something. I'm Michel from St. Remy, and I'm suposeta t'tell you something...'
'What's that, then?' da Vinci was getting uneasy. This child had presence. He would make a splendid subject for a quick portrait, and the master's hand strayed towards his brushes.
'Something you're suposeta t'do,' offered the boy, staring at the ground.
Da Vinci scowled. 'Look now, bambino, what d'you mean by that? Who are you? Why are you bothering me?'
The boy looked up, and tears were rolling down his confused face. 'I'm Michel de Nostredame from St Remy, and I don't know why I'm here.'
Da Vinci rose and awkwardly patted the weeping boy's shoulder.
'But there's something you have to build... one of your devices...'
The old man sat back sharply, fearful now. The child was touched, that much was clear. But by some god or devil?
'No-one wants my devices, boy.'
'Not now, m'sieur. But... I think they will. There's something about... a dying fish, and a blue moon...'
Da Vinci rolled his tongue around his cheek and blinked. They were out there, weren't they? Prophets, seers, whatever you wanted to call them. Not for the first time in his long life, he was creeped out.
'Very well, child. But I must know... why?'
Michel ran at him and battered his chest with little fists, tears running down his cheeks. 'I don't know! They don't tell me why! All right? I don't know!'
Jacques D'Arcachon knew, and he counted his footsteps as he walked down the corridors of the Louvre's secret annex. Here were stored all the parts of art history not fit for public consumption: the pornographic brass door-panels that Michelangelo used to knock out when he was drunk; the series of Rembrandt's experiments in 'rear portraiture', akin to what you might get with a drunk office party and a photocopier; the entire, shameful collection of what was privately known as Van Gogh's 'Electric Pink' period; and, of course, The Secret.
One thousand, six hundred and eighteen steps. He unlocked the door and entered the chamber.
'Looks like this is it, then,' observed X. The Agents, yanking Sfret by the collar of his cardigan, had reached the pointy end of their ascent, and were perched around the pyramid's peak, kicking back the tide of attackers.
'We could always... use those cyanide pills the Agency issued us with,' Arthur grunted, kneeing a hefty waiter in the neck. His legs were exhausted.
'Can't...' replied X. 'Lost mine long ago. Down the back of the couch.'
Arthur smiled. 'Me too. Damn tricky little things.'
There was silence for a few sweaty, desperate seconds of struggle and temporary victory.
A noise like the shattering of worlds, and the entire pyramid quivered. Shards of glass flew up to glint in the last glow of the absent sun — a great hole had been punched in the side of the pyramid, and the hushed zombie horde stood breathless with surprise. Now some monstrous black silhouette lurched into the sky, whirring madly. It swooped from side to side unsteadily, and came to some rough equivalence of a halt three feet above Arthur's cowering head. A beckoning figure leaned out from among a mess of levers and spinning belts.
'Agents! Quickly! Hop aboard, s'il vous plaît...'
A short while later, cruising over the tip of the Eiffel Tower, Arthur and X began to have a vague inkling of a clue of what was going on.
A working helicoptor made by Leonardo da Vinci. Amazing! Air support from the sixteenth century! Hah...' X would have found it easier to be sceptical if he hadn't been sitting in the actual device, wind whipping through his hair, chuka-chuka-ing haphazardly over the Parisian skyline.
'Oui. Bequeathed to the French crown with vairrry specific instructions. Quite a mystery until today,' the Curator narrated.
Arthur squirmed in his seat. There was a little tag on his seat, with RUHTRA written on it. As a firm believer in free will, this made him fantastically uncomfortable.
'But now, my English friends, I must leave you. You will be able to make it to the coast, for a boat to north Africa — might I suggest Casablanca? It is quite traditional...' D'Arcachon flicked an errant strand of hair back from his face. 'As for me, I must stay — Paris is my city. She was beautiful once, and she will be beautiful again!'
'We can't thank you enou—' began Arthur.
'Please!' D'Arcachon held up a hand. 'No thankees. You are brave, strong Agents — I am a mere Curator. Au revoir!'
With that, he launched himself from the da Vincicopter and fell into the air, at the last minute pulling a ripcord. A parachute bearing a huge French tricolour billowed into sight and shrank into the streets alive with bodies of the possessed.
As Arthur gazed at the retreating parachute, X took the controls and began expertly maneuvering the Renaissance helicopter.
'What a stout fellow,' mused Arthur. 'I don't suppose we'll ever see him again...'
'Can't be helped. Can't be helped,' said X, suppressing a hint of jealousy. 'At the very least... we'll always have Paris.'
'Sorry. Mind was wandering...'
Night fell in the City of Lights and the Agents were gone.