Excerpt: Blood and Clockwork
There comes a time in a boy’s life when he grows weary, sick of seeing his fellow creatures suffer. Why has no one done anything to help them? Why has no one disproved this absurd fiction of a ‘curse’? Why has a madman’s clockwork tower been allowed to haunt our people for a century, bringing economic decay and industrial stagnation?
Well, no, I suppose not every boy asks himself these precise questions. But I, Alistair Click, did, and I do believe that was the moment I became a man. No longer a traveling boy scrounging far and wide for bits of metal to make the gears and cogs of his dreams, but a young man who questions his place in the world, his destiny, and the destiny even of his homeland. Including those citizens who perhaps don’t deserve his help, after mocking his fanciful and innovative designs or insisting that gingers have no soul.
But I digress. When I finished my last temporary job I gathered my utility belt and rolled up my proverbial sleeves. As usual before shifting towns, I used what pennies I’d saved to purchase hardtack, a supply of various jerkies, a fill-up of life-water for my flask, and a skin of wine. And then, I set off from the decaying but buzzing hive of Westin for the abandoned capital of Avalonia.
Some say the stories of the Mad Prince’s Tower are exaggerated. Avalonia stands a century-old ruin, yes, but we’re told not to take the phrase ‘ghost town’ literally. We’re told that it was abandoned because the river dried up and there was no way to safely ferry our famous clockwork to and from the outlying provinces anymore. That the wells went bad or the streets were claimed by vermin or that one of the deities of old superstition claimed the city for her own and sent everyone packing.
I wonder if those who speak such nonsense have never entered the old city themselves—or if they have and only hope to dissuade adventurers for their own good. It was through the eastern gate, choked with dead ivy and paved with rubble, that I first entered. Though the suns remained uncovered in the sky, I was conscious of a darkening about me, and the hairs on my arms stood on end. I tried to prevent it, but I couldn’t; I strained to hear the infamous, never-ending sound of the Mad Prince’s clockwork.
And there it was, like a voice on the wind, with the tiniest telltale stutter: Tick-tock. T-t-tick-tock. What sort of endless mainspring must wind about a forever arbor, that it could still be letting down a hundred years later? No, it was all my imagination, and it getting the better of me was no way to start this adventure.
Still, I don’t mind admitting that I stopped and drank a little life-water for fortification before venturing farther into the old city.
The tower was a wonder from afar. I had seen it once before, passing by on a job to make a delivery to Westpinch, where I stayed and worked for some time after. But such clockwork must be seen up close for its true wonder to become evident—which is not to say understood, because it was the most unfathomable creation. The spire stretched skyward like an ancient giant until it almost disappeared into the fattening, darkening clouds. Near the top, it was nothing but a massive needle—some said the massive arbor for the endless mainspring itself. Having seen it, I knew from whence that myth must’ve arisen, if myth it was. The exterior had turned green, oxidized copper in patches, the occasional bronze; a conductor for lightning and a perfect medium for the delicate gearwork visible everywhere.
Some cogs held perfectly still, as expected—whatever mechanism had formed the engine of those works should’ve run down ages ago. Others clicked and ticked as if their spring had just been wound yesterday. Metal teeth gnashed against one another, a sound that I’d always loved—the sound of order, method, creation, measurement, time. But I shuddered at it now.
Everyone who’d dared to enter and discover the source of the tower’s continued function had disappeared. But I would not. I would not. I would emerge with the answers, the source of this perpetual motion, with long lost technology to make my own.
I adjusted my waistcoat, took a deep breath, and pushed on the massive, clockwork-carved front doors. They groaned open. The ticking carried on.