All due to clockwork
by Marco Attard
“I’ve never met your kind on this ship before”
The airship Arrogance just left the unlovely fortified city of Metz, towards the floating city-state of Fenris. Once a warcraft, it’s now converted into a passenger ship, ferrying passengers from the groundland to the cities in the sky above. The barman at the First Class Deck can claim to have met plenty of people in his ten years’ career, but he can’t recall ever meeting a Wikinger warrior, in full chainmail, shield and axe strapped on his back, dagger in his belt.
The Wiking asks, in unaccented Commonspeak, for a neat firewater. The barman can’t hold his curiosity, and hesitant tries to strike conversation.
“My people to tend to prefer the solid ground, so that’s probably true”
“What brings you to visit the Free Cities?”
“I need a watchsmith. Unfortunately the Shards are not the place for those skilled in clockwork.”
And with those words, he brings out a beautiful pocket watch. It’s not working. The barkeep can’t help but ask what happened to it.
The Wikinger tells.
Maniraptor slavers were raiding towns north of Metz, and the authorities hired him to take them out. The war band proved to be no problem to take out, but their Shaman/War Boss, resplendent wooden armour, feathered headgear and facemask produced high pitched ululating cries, probably an attempt at Maniraptor hynpagogy that left the Wiking disoriented and vomiting. It also had the probably unintended effect of making his watch, which hadn’t stopped since the days of his grandfather, halt its operations.
The barman is left all agog with this story. In the Free Cities, Maniraptors are pretty much the stuff of legend, mythical monsters intended to scare children. But here is a warrior who claims to have not only seen, but fought these beasts; he tells how they are half as tall as a man at the shoulder, but just as long, bipedal feathered saurians with cruel claws, mouth full of teeth and wicked intelligence. The Wikinger could understand some of their tongue, an ungodly mixture of shrieks and clicks, and could tell that the War Boss he fought was named Individual Guts-the-Moon, Very Respected.
“And what’s yours of name? I’m Olivier”.
“They call me Egill Skallagrímsson”
In a nondescript warehouse in Fenris’ nameless scientific quarter, Johannes Helmsraum is preparing for the culmination of his life’s work. Son of a humble watchmaker, Johnannes now considers himself a student of the clockwork; specifically the ancient art of meta-clockwork, as applied to exotic fields, such as computation engines. Along with his long time collaborator, Rebbeh Leow ben Bezalel, he came up with the novel idea of using golemetry as a means to keep a clockwork engine’s spring continually wound up; while a second thaumic cycle would be used in parallel to a computation system to control an automaton. Today’s experiment is to test out this potentially heretic thesis; few months back Johannes managed to acquire, through another old friend of his, the half empty shell of an ancient battle automaton in near perfect condition. And there it stands at the far end of the warehouse, nearly eight feet tall, its guts an unwieldy mixture of ancient and modern mechanisms, undecipherable technology and calculated thaumaturgy. Rebbeh Leow connects the final two power couplings, descends from the step ladder and gives his A-OK’s for Johannes’ revving up of ADA, their trusty Difference Engine. Both put on their communications headgear and the lights dim.
There’s a sudden whirring sound and the air starts tastes of ozone.
“Initiating EMET cycle, electric fields read normal, mechanism stable, over.”
The giant automaton’s single eye glows. The whirring gets louder.
Suddenly, a piercing roar and –
– the automaton takes life, taking a tentative first step. It raises its arms, slowly.
“Helmsraum my readings are off the charts we’re loosing controlll…”
…And there’s another roar, and the automaton literally runs off, smashing through the warehouse door, into the busy streets. Johannes can’t even get himself to mutter an obligatory oath to the gods.
It’s nearly noon, and Mario Testaforte, ex-Capitol Militia Commander now leader of the Free Company is not a particularly happy man. Couple of months back the Free Company graciously donated an ancient automaton to Tito Kosintsev, archaeologist at the employ of the Fenris City Museum. It was hoped that it would be displayed in an exhibit about Ancient Weaponry or the like; instead, yesterday Mario received a crow telling that the automaton was in fact loaned to the mad scientist, Helmsraum, and his heretic sidekick Rebbeh. Surely anyone with half a brain could tell this could only lead to trouble! Instead the rest of the Free Company just insisted that Mario has a well earned break and stop worrying so much. Here he is with his wife, Lady Testaforte, carrying her shopping in Fenris’ Postdammer Plaza, gritting his teeth and waiting for the inevitable. Lady Testaforte knows her husband’s moods by now and doesn’t even bother asking why he’s so visibly tense.
There’s a sudden sound of crashes and explosions. To Commander Testaforte, it sounds right on cue. He might be dressed in civilian finery and bearing no weapons, but he drops the wife’s bags and runs north, towards the Science quarter. As expected, there’s the panicking crowds jostling with the curious onlookers. Also expected, talk of a giant mechanical man many feet tall causing many, many dollars’ worth of damage on public and private property. Mario pushes onwards, following the noise and smell of smoke, arriving to Geigerstrasse, the main road connecting the city’s main quarters.
And there’s the automaton, looking somewhat battle weary. Confronting it is a warrior of some sort, armed with a shield and what appears to be a sledge hammer. The fighter’s decided to go for the dramatic; he runs, leaps and smashes what can be called the machine’s ‘head’ in with the hammer. Sparks fly, gears grind, and the automaton collapses to the ground. The crowd gathers around to follow the excitement. Mario pushes through the crowd.
“Egill! You whoreson! Why didn’t you let one know of your sojourning the Free Cities?” he exclaims, genuinely pleased of bumping into an old friend.
“And I was hoping to repair my pocket watch! Can’t excitement stop following me for one day?”
With those words, Mario grabs a young man who was tutting at the mechanical corpse by the collar.
“Maybe my friend here could help with your particular predicament… isn’t that right Mister Helmsraum or do you want your involvement with this mess to go public? And what’s your fellow Rebbeh up to?”
Johannes is too stunned to speak and resorts to nodding blankly. He’s had previous encounters with the Free Company’s top man, and he knows just how intimidating the man can get. Mario Testaforte is known throughout as a force of nature, so much that he can even go calling the man armed with 5 feet of sledgehammer names about his mother.
“You see Mister Skallagrimsson here requires some applications of the skills your father taught you, and quickly too. How about you take this and give it a quick look and fix what’s wrong? We’ll be heading for beer and sausage and will come over to that warehouse of yours in, oh, an hour?”
“Sure I can trust this with this kid? It’s a family heirloom!”
And with those words Egill hands Johannes his reason of coming to Fenris in the first place. Johannes takes out a pair of spectacles from his jacket’s inner pocket and has a quick look.
“Uhh yes sure you can trust me” he stammers. “Have a good day sir, err, sirs, yes I’ll be off. To work. On this.”
The Wikinger hero of the day turns around and points to Old Tom, the city of Fenris’ landmark clock tower.
“An hour, kid. Actually, make it two. I hunger for a large lunch. You promised beers, Testaforte.”
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