Alan Campbell

God of Clocks

A boy was given a riddle and told that if he worked out the

answer he would understand the secret at the heart of the

universe and thus know god. The riddle went:

A man and his new wife step down together from the altar of

a church, walk hand in hand along the aisle, and reach the

door at the same instant. During that short march, which one

of them travels the greater distance?

Scribbles from the Severed Hand of Polonius. Deepgate Codex, Ch. 339.

When I was dying on that battlefield, I got set upon by ticks.

I had enough life left in me to pull their tiny paddle bodies

off, but the heads stayed in and I lived. The wounds healed

right over those heads and now they're part of me forever,

like canapes for the soul.

“The Tale of Tom Granger.” Deepgate Codex, Ch. 88322



In the dark heart of Cospinol's great wooden skyship they boiled a demigod. Her wings and legs had been broken with hammers to fit them inside the iron cooker-a witchsphere now strengthened to resist steam at high pressure. It was clamped in a mighty vise set upon a brazier. A lead pipe fed carbolic water in through a nozzle in its paneled shell. Another pipe channeled the demigod's spirit to a glass condenser, for collection.

For fifty days the slaves had pumped water and stoked the brazier while red shadow-figures loomed over them like some infernal puppet show. Steam issued from valves and moiled the tarry bulkheads, but the workers neither perspired nor complained. They moved with the mute efficacy of men long used to a task. All around them the Rotsward shuddered and pitched, her joints sorely tested by her captain's desperate flight westwards.

The slaves observed as sparkling liquid gathered in the condenser flask like a colloid of starlight, then crept up the glass and cascaded back down in furious scintillations. It seemed to whisper to itself in voices edged with madness. They paused to study the vise clamps each time the cooking sphere rattled or boomed. Yesterday they'd brought their hammers and laid them out on the floor where they could be reached in a hurry, poor weapons as they were. And then they added more coke and curried the furnace with blasts of air from bellows. The booming sounds intensified as Carnival continued to kick within her pressurized prison.

A boy with hooks for fingers watched the stewing process from a crawl space above the chamber ceiling, his small red face afloat in the gloom up there. Why didn't the demigod just die? He had never seen Cospinol's workers take so long over a boiling. Only after the light had bubbled clean out of her would they tip out the water from the sphere and let him fill his kettle. The black tin vessel was the only one of his meager possessions that he had not stolen, and he glared at it now accusingly. It remained mournfully empty.

He looked on for a while longer then scratched another line into the ceiling joist, joining up four vertical gouges with a long diagonal. Then he turned and wriggled back down the passage in the direction he had come.

Smoke from the burning city below the skyship had leached freely into her tattered wooden hull. Air currents buffeted her endlessly. She rolled and creaked; she sounded as though she would not survive for much longer. The boy hummed a fragment of a battle march he had once heard, repeating the same notes over and over again just to block out the other frightening sounds. He blinked and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve. His shirt smelled of brimstone. He crawled onwards, deeper into the maze of filthy ducts and passageways.

Urgent voices came from the stern: the god of brine and fog himself, clearly angry, and a woman with a strange soft accent. The hook-fingered boy wormed around another bend and found a place where he could peer down through one of the many chinks in the floor.

“…The assassin saw everything,” Cospinol was saying. “Coreollis is leveled, Rys's palace reduced to ashes by some unknown cataclysm. Are my brothers dead or simply scheming?” He paced before a bank of windows at the far side of the room, his crab-shell armour clicking with each step. Lank strands of grey hair fell back from his noble face and rested in the hollow between his wings. Behind him the windows framed nothing but fog, crosshatched by the dim lines of the Rotsward's gallows. “All Rys's Northmen are now slain or have fled,” he went on. “Pollack's Outcasts, too. The war was over when King Menoa released his arconites.”

A female voice responded: “The war is not over, Lord Cospinol. Have some faith in providence.”

The hook-fingered boy adjusted his position over the hole to see who had spoken. Directly underneath his hiding place sat a woman in a cowled grey robe, glittering red gloves clutching a tiny scrag of a dog to her chest. But then the boy peered closer and saw that the gloves weren't gloves at all: The woman had glass scales for skin.

A Mesmerist witch?

Cospinol halted his pacing, his pinched expression evidence of this verbal lash against his pride. “Whose providence? My mother Ayen's?” he snapped. “Or were you referring to my missing brothers? Are they truly lost? It matters little. Mirith is a mad coward and knew nothing of warfare. Rys, Hafe, and Sabor possessed some skill on the battlefield, but they were all in Rys's bastion when it fell. Likely their souls are now lost in Hell. And Hasp is useless to us.” He looked away from the woman. “No offense intended, Hasp.”

From up here the boy could not see the room's third occupant, but the reply sounded gruff and fierce. “I am well aware of my value to you, Cospinol.”

The woman glanced back at the hidden speaker before returning her gaze to the old sea god. “Your own providence, Lord Cospinol. You must seize control of this wayward situation. Many of Rys's Northmen fled the battlefield at Larnaig. Hafe's troops are now leaderless and there are militia abroad. Tens of thousands of men, armed and ready to fight.”

Cospinol threw up his arms. “To what end? Menoa's arconites cannot be killed. We learned that in Skirl.”

“If you do not recruit them, Menoa certainly will.”

He snorted. “Menoa will simply disband them-or murder them.”

“He's not that much of a fool. Rys's disappearance has robbed these warriors of their leaders, their purpose, and their income. How will they earn wages to feed their families?”

“You really think these soldiers would actually turn traitor and fight for their sworn enemy?”

“They will unless they prefer to starve.” She set the dog down on the floor, whereupon it pissed and then sniffed at the pool it had made. “Menoa uses lies and persuasion on people. In Hell he turned the dead to his purposes, and he will do the same in this world. Lord Cospinol, if you yourself do not recruit these men, the king's arconites will soon acquire a formidable foot army. We do not need any more foes.”

The sea god shook his head. “How can I be expected to maintain an army? They will devour the Rotsward's stores like an infestation of weevils, and then empty my coffers of gold. And

Вы читаете God of Clocks
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату