The Art of Bookkeeping
The Brass Automaton Part XX
It took longer than I had anticipated to put these last two Chapters together. In the end I’m glad I took the extra time because I think they turned our very well, and will give Mark a lot to work with. Speaking of which, head over to Mark Gardner‘s place for the Brass Automaton Saga’s Project Page for more about our story.
|| Sky screamed Prymgu’s name as he crumpled to a still heap at the foot of the Brass Automaton. This close to the Mirror the Automaton’s steam reserve never dropped. With its only weakness gone, the Dwarves and Sky were fighting a desperate battle they had already lost. Prymgu’s desperate sacrifice had only delayed the inevitable, letting Pelyse and Pypha pull Odc’s and Lubfash’s limp forms away from the Automaton’s killing blow.
Sky fought to remove her brass scimitar from the soft mud of the bog. Half the blade had been lost in her first thrust at the Automaton, its crisp point replaced with a jagged line halfway down the blade. She had already resigned herself to death, and she knew the dwarves had too. They had battled valiantly nonetheless, refusing to concede even while suffering grievous wounds. Sky was all too aware of her own wounds, and knew they had failed. They had underestimating the power of the Automaton and Ceridwen’s Magick, and they would all die because of it.
“For Prymgu!” she bellowed, holding her broken sword before her, “For the Dwarves! For my Sisters! For Queen Snow!”
The automaton turned to face her, implacably waiting for her desperate charge.
At the end of the path was a crumbling cabin with a trail of smoke coming from its rough stone chimney. Poedy opened the crooked front door and walked in without any hesitation. Inside was a slender dwarf with half moon glasses and ink smudged throughout his huge, grey beard. He looked up and squinted at Poedy, struggling to place his obvious recognition.
“Hello Poedy,” Poedy said.
“How’d you know my name?” the dwarf in the cabin demanded, standing up from the table and sending a flurry of parchments to the floor. “My books! Now you see what you made me do? Who are you again!?” he added distractedly as he picked up the sheafs.
“I’m you,” Poedy said, stroking his smooth face in remembrance of the beard only the other now wore. “Don’t you remember splitting me off? The parts of you that felt and recoiled from your work. You desired only Logic to keep the Books of Time, and so you sundered me off. Creating the first, and last, dwarf to not have a beard.”
The other Poedy took off his glasses and made a show of cleaning them in frustration. “You’ll have to leave. Whoever you are. There is work. Yes. Much work. These are confusing times. Very confusing. Good- Good day good dwarf.”
“My name, is Poedy. Just like you. If you truly have forgotten, I’m sure you can look it up in one of your volumes.” He gestured to the wall of books behind his flustered other self, each shelf home to dozens of leather bound volumes.
“I- That’s not important. The work. Yes, I must get back to work. Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! I’m behind! Already. It calls to me! You must leave. Yes. Leave. I must get back to work.”
“Your work,” rasped Poedy, his bare eyes darkened with burning fury, “is done.”
He unslung a brass axe from his back, its head and haft burnished from years of use. The Dwarf at the table held up a feather in an instinctive reflex of protection, but then he panicked as it dripped ink on the parchments before him. He was trying to blot it off when the brass axe rent the desk asunder before him. Fear washed across his face as he staggered back from his smooth shaved self. “But Time needs me!” he pleaded, sagging to the floor. “I have to track the ripples! The realities are my responsibility!”
“No! You cannot rescue Time from itself, any more than you can save Time from Magick. Time needs no mortal help. You know that. We know that. It’s why,” Poedy said dropping to a whisper, “you had to split everything, everything, but Logic from yourself, us, to keep the ledgers.
“Ask yourself, ‘how did it happen?’ How did you, we, split?”
“It was Time. Time came and… Time…”
“Time? Time? Or Magick?”
“His name was Jarvis. I saw him again. You’ll remember too. Soon enough,” he said, calmly, but with deliberate intensity, Poedy removed a shard of the Mirror and tied it to his axe’s head.
The axe swung again.
Time slowed as Sky hurtled herself towards the Automaton. Each step was a painful struggle by itself to overcome both her wounds and the sticky ground. She could see the dwarves slumped over their comrades, only just looking up to watch her death. She saw the resolve in King Odc’s face, and knew that she would not die alone. She saw the faintest of nods from Pelyse, and was grateful for the approval she saw it convey. Her sword felt wrong in her hand; foreign in its weight and balance. Knowing she could only thrust, she committed herself wholly to the attack, surrendering any defense. The Automaton pivoted as though the mud were solid and began bringing its arm up and around to block her, even as its other arm was readying an overhand blow to follow.
Then, midstep, the world went white in a flash. Everything, even her own hands, disappeared from sight into a wash of piercing brightness, only to instantly give way in a snap to abject, blank darkness. She staggered to a stop in a world that had suddenly turned blacker than the deepest of their caves. Silence enveloped her, muting even the beating of her heart. The smells of the swamp, of battle, evaporated as though they had never been. She couldn’t even feel her limbs, let alone the heft of her sword.
Then, slowly, the darkness gave way to haze, as if Reality itself were groggily waking from a deep slumber. She felt the wight of the sword, and the smell of rot. Then, amongst a tangle of images, the Automaton began to resolve. It’s armor was blurred, and still more mist than metal, when she saw, in a fleck of Time, it’s true face. Her face. She stabbed without hesitation, feeling her sword shudder through the Automaton’s unprotected neck. It fell to its knees, pulling the sword from her hand as Reality sharpened from the haze with a thunderous *KRAZACK*
Sky stood over the Automaton as it slumped to one side. Sky looked down upon herself, her dead form partially encased in brass that hadn’t been fully able to form. She shuddered at the pockets of raw flesh surrounded and enmeshed by polished metal. Sky’s retching was interrupted by a gentle hand pulling her away from the vileness.
“The Prophecies said that only the Queen could kill herself,” King Odc said in fast, rasping breathes. “There is more I would have you know before we die.”