When an assassin is ordered to hunt down the creator of a mind-bending blueprint, the search spirals into disaster. The identity of the creator forces the assassin to make choices that could destroy him.
The city’s master assassin, Thomas Meade, is hunting. His prey - the creator of a device so disturbingly dangerous that somebody is killing to protect it. Are the creator and the killer one and the same?
Meade doesn’t like where the trail is leading him. He’s even less enamoured of the effects this device has; they are unlike anything Meade has ever encountered. But nothing, it turns out, is as it seems.
While the body count grows, Meade’s past taunts him, sometimes just out of reach, but at others, close enough to turn betrayal into devastation.
Meade’s search takes him from the poisoned air of the walled city to the windswept heights of the Living Ice glacier and beyond. When Meade discovers the identity of the device’s creator, the hunt takes a stranger, darker turn. One he never saw coming.
Draumaborgin – The City of Dreams
The burning-dead-flowers smell of solder hung sharp in the air. It was paradise.
On Thomas Meade, smiles died early deaths. But he’d been friends, if you could call it that, with Keg for a long time, so at the sight of the Master Device Smith, hunched over and intent on the mechanical brains of a tiny box chronometer, he smiled. Or rather, his mouth jerked up on one side.
“You’ll have to wait. I’m—”
“Right in the middle of something,” interrupted Meade. “You’ll say that when the Devil comes for your soul, Cornelius Keg.”
The smith shot an irritated look from under his bushy brows at the dark, wide-shouldered shape of the man towering in his doorway, picked up a fine screwdriver and went back to work, sucking in the lower edge of his walrus moustache as he concentrated. The workbench was cluttered with glass bottles, one lying on its side, its contents spilling out on the ironwood. Other bottles stuffed with copper springs and small metallic gears stood within reach, some filled with anonymous sizes of brass screws. A tin of pencils, a fine, black-tipped soldering iron – still smoking - leather finger-press bellows, scraps of sketches held down by lumps of ore or half-finished mechanisms, all lay waiting to be needed.
“Is there anything to drink?” Meade asked, pushing the door closed.
Keg hunched up a petulant shoulder and jerked his chin at the massively chased, silver samovar on the shelf. “Milk, yes."
Meade swung the satchel off his shoulder and thumped it down on the end of the workbench. Dust coughed and hung in the air before sinking back with a sigh. Dropping his hat on top of the bag, he unhooked one of the samovar’s silver cups and twisted the tap. The milk was almost on the turn and did little to quench his thirst. Another swig was even less helpful. He tossed the cup back on the shelf and surveyed the room.
Large mechanisms stood, one could almost say lurked, in the workshop. Most were decorated with small tags carrying the name of the device and their owners in a delicate calligraphy of twirls and ink. The rest of these marvels of copper, brass, and bronze were the smith’s own creation. Nowhere in Draumaborgin could there be found devices like those of Cornelius Keg.
Meade liked being here. It amused him. He was always impressed, even slightly intimidated by the craftsmanship that littered the place with an almost nonchalant ease. And he wasn’t often amused or impressed. Outside of this room, he was never intimidated.
There was one device he’d never seen before. Its long, curved arms rotated in delicate arcs around its spine, rising and falling as a brass ball dropped from one spoon-like appendage to another. He sauntered over for a closer look.
“What’s this?” Meade flicked the sharp end of a flat copper coil. It bounced as if nervous.
“Leave that alone.” Keg’s voice was as pointed and anxious as the coil.
Meade bent down, inspecting the device more closely. Deep inside the vibrating centre of its heart, a dozen tiny cogs clicked their way through tight, neat arcs around the device’s power source. The pulsating lump of resin was held in one of the most delicate yet intricate clasps he’d ever seen.
“What does it do?” Careful not to touch any of the working parts, Meade stretched out his forefinger until the resin was within reach. He could feel the silence tighten behind him. The corner of his mouth lifted in amusement once more. A sharp blue light crackled through the air.
“Sst!” He jerked back his now blistered finger.
“Serves you right,” Keg grunted. He put down his fine screwdriver and twisted the telescopic monocle on the headgear strapped to his forehead away from his left eye. It hung with a slight droop, an overweight antenna on a mildly demented bug, the other lenses sticking up on their own stems in a bizarre fashion.
“You’d better show me what you have, then you can leave me in peace.” Keg climbed down from his tall stool, muttering under his breath.
Although Meade was over six feet, Keg was short by anyone’s standards. He made up for it with genius. No one could turn blueprints into devices with as much ease or magnificence as he could. Which was the reason he was the Master Device Smith in Draumaborgin. An unspoken competition existed among the city’s Most Respectful Guild of Device Smiths to create a blueprint that would, once and for all, foil his legendary skill. It gave him immense satisfaction to continually prove them wrong. There was no part he couldn’t build, no matter how small or convoluted.
Meade pulled a linen column out of his satchel and, unrolling it as he went, carried it across to the oval survey board standing under the single window in the room. Keg followed, climbing the two or three stairs curling up against the wall on the other side of the table, bringing him almost to Meade’s eye level.
Keg twisted the clips on the table’s edge to hold the blueprint in place. Even these were miniature masterpieces. Copies of the stone gargoyles, those tragic, extinct beasts that jutted out from the corners of the Patent Master’s Hall.
“There’s no maker’s mark on it,” said Meade.
“Well, that may not matter much. Every smith leaves their signature in one way or another.”
Meade knew that for Keg, there was nothing more intoxicating than a new blueprint; that he revelled in the ritual of the first examination.
The smith cracked his knuckles, rubbed his fists together in delight, placed his hands on either side of the board and bent over with anticipation. “What have you brought me this time?” Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath, savouring the aroma of the ferro-gallate.
Meade leaned against a thick wooden pillar to wait for the sigh of satisfaction that always concluded the little ceremony.
There was only silence.
He glanced at the small man. Keg had frozen. He almost wasn’t breathing. The smith’s face grew paler, filling with a deepening fear.
Meade’s eyes narrowed, a frown tightening on his forehead. He pushed himself upright. “Keg?”
Keg dragged his gaze off the plan and stared at him, horror etched into his skin. “What did the Patent Master say when he gave it to you?”
“He wasn’t in a good mood.”
“Death?” Keg’s voice was almost a whisper.
Meade wasn’t sure he’d heard right. Nobody spoke to him like that. “What?”
“Get out!” Keg’s voice rose.
Meade stepped forward. “What is this device?”
Keg erupted, scrabbling at the desk, ripping the blueprint violently off the board. Small bits tore, trapped under the gargoyles’ tight fists. “Get out! And take this infernal thing with you!” He was hysterical, shaking, and pale. He scrunched up the blueprint, throwing it at Meade.
Trying to bring some calm back to the room, Meade said quietly, “Keg, what is it?”
“I will have no head with this. Get out. Get out!”
Meade had never seen the smith so distressed. He knew pushing him for more information now would be a waste of time. He tucked the crushed sheet into one of the cavernous pockets of his greatcoat, shoved on his hat and swept up his satchel as he strode out.
In the street though, he paused and looked back into the workshop. The room stood in shocked silence. Golden dust motes, disturbed by the unexpected rage and fear were drifting, searching for a place to settle once more.
Beneath the table where he had crawled, Keg was clutching his knees to his chest, rocking himself backwards and forwards, whimpering, tears sliding down his face.
The samovar pinged.
Copyright Elaine Dodge 2013