13th Voyage

44 - Murder in Clockwork

The tale of the castaway and the clockwork serpent.

Attsu cannot set aside a great curiosity for this clockwork city that has created something in his image, even loosely. He decides to go down into the streets to see if anything there strikes him as familiar. He takes on his small scouting-cat form and descends into the island’s interior.

Regrettably, his stealth fails him almost immediately. He crosses the path of a trio of guards, two very like the near-satirical halberdsmen that the party fought on the docks. The third, and clearly the leader, is made more cunningly. It sights the small clockwork cat attempting to remain out of view in an alley, and long blades snap out from along its forearms and into its hands as it advances. But before it draws back to strike, it pauses, and it looks at the signet ring fastened into Attsu’s forepaw. The clockwork officer presents an elaborate and respectful salute, and Attsu bows in return. Then the guards resume their patrol and leave him be.

And so Attsu explores more of the heart of the Isle of Gears. The city seems to be a small but elaborate replica of a living metropolis, though Attsu cannot recall any living city that might have been the specific pattern. The city is neatly apportioned into various districts, such as a market, upper-class residences, a few parks that boast lush and living greenery in addition to trees of brass and steel, and a foundry that seems to be ever at work repairing, reforging, and creating the clockwork citizens. The city even has a slum quarter, where the clockwork inhabitants have been neatly devised to resemble the poor unfortunates of mortal societies. Attsu looks on many works, but still cannot ascertain what might drive a jann to create such a thing.

At the same time, Kismet and Aya decide to go investigate the crumpled body of the clockwork noble that so resembled Attsu. They slip down to the base of the wall and look it over. The mechanical nobleman was clearly a much less sophisticated creation than Attsu, and its wreckage shows no sign of the more elaborate workings that allow him to change his form. Its only weapon is a curved short sword at its side.

Aya is satisfied to discover that her initial hunch was right — the noble appears to have been “murdered,” in whatever sense that may be. He bears a wound in his back where a blade, perhaps the same length as his own sword, was driven through his breastplate and into the cogs within. But Kismet has a much more comprehensive understanding of mechanisms, and her assessment is that the fall was what rendered the clockwork inoperable. Their curiosity honed further, the two return to wait for Attsu. They choose a patio on the walk to the estate, and sit on a bench under a tree with large, white, pleasant-smelling blossoms to pass the time.

As they wait, a small clink draws their attention. A small cog now lies on the patio floor before their bench, fallen from some unknown direction, with a thread tied to it and to a small scroll. Aya cautiously takes the scroll and unrolls it as Kismet looks around. The paper carries a short message in imprecise calligraphy — “Are you here for the jann?”

“Um. No,” says Kismet to the open air. The two women wait the span of a few breaths, and then another cog falls to the patio with a second scroll. They open this second message, which reads “Are you planning to leave?”

“Um. Yes,” says Kismet again. Aya looks into the tree, and sees a small form close to the trunk, which flashes in a subtle movement before becoming very still. Another clink, and a third cog lands on the patio. Kismet reads the third scroll — “Can I come?”

“Um. …Yes?”

Aya locks eyes with the figure, and then it slips down to the ground and emerges. The subtle visitor is a kobold, three feet tall at best and with streaks of grey in his jackal-like muzzle. He wears layers of threadbare cloth, and a complicated mass of small bundles. He introduces himself as Nyip, a name that Kismet has some initial difficulty pronouncing. He also says he is late of the Netmakers Quarter, and Kismet quietly acknowledges with a countersign of the City of Thieves.

Nyip tells the two that he has been on the island for a long time. He unfolds a small bundle of dates and offers them to the women; Kismet gladly accepts, and Aya takes one only after Nyip eats one himself. The kobold says he was aboard a ship that now lies at the bottom of the harbor, and he has been evading the clockworks ever since. He claims that he has only remained sane by reading books in the meantime.

The two ask him if he knows anything about the “murder” of the noble master of the nearby manse. The kobold shakes his head, though he can tell them the name of the noble — Battsu Cadmia.

At that time Attsu returns. Nyip is back in hiding immediately, but the women encourage him to reemerge and introduce himself. The kobold quickly recognizes Attsu’s new signet ring, and allows himself to be convinced that Attsu is not one of the island’s creations. The group talk for a moment about the “death” of Battsu Cadmia and who or what might do such a thing. Nyip mentions that the city was making plans for Battsu’s wedding, which intrigues the venturers. The kobold denies knowing any more details, though. “No, Sarasti would know more about—” and he clamps his paws over his muzzle, eyes wide.

With some coaxing, Nyip admits that Sarasti is his one friend on the island. The venturers convince him to guide them to her, once they have spoken to the manse’s residence once more.

Attsu strides into the manse of Battsu Cadmia and calls out “I need assistance!” The sphere-riding servant appears almost immediately. Attsu first asks the servant his designation, and “Eight ibn Cadmia” is the response.

“Who was the last person not of House Cadmia to visit here?” asks Attsu. Eight ibn Cadmia consults his records, and then says, “No one, my lord.” Aya and Kismet gasp with excitement — apparently the clockwork nobles are sophisticated enough to scheme to murder one another!

Attsu orders Eight ibn Cadmia to show him the manse records. The mechanical scribe guides them into its office and shows them the thin sheets of metal stamped with peculiar writing. Attsu finds the script familiar, as does Aya. Together they discover that the latest record dealing with an external matter was a formal complaint registered by Jattsu Cadmia regarding the forthcoming wedding.

At this, Attsu dismisses Eight bin Cadmia, and the scribe awkwardly leaves the venturers alone in its office and rolls around outside as they discuss the matter. With no clear course of action — is the intrigue even their business at all? — the venturers leave the manse and return to the patio. There Nyip gives them directions to the house of Sarasti and slips away, promising to meet them there.

The venturers proceed to one of the finer districts of the city, Attsu’s signet giving them free passage. The directions lead them to an elegant home with a ramp rather than stairs leading to its entrance. The interior is somewhat dim, but lamps ignite as they enter. There they come into a room where the metal couches have actual cloth cushions upon them. Nyip is already seated on one of the pillows, but the hostess uses no furniture at all. Sarasti is a clockwork herself, fashioned in the form of a beautiful woman from the waist up and a great bronze serpent from the waist down, adorned with metallic jewels and a length of shed snakeskin for a shawl. She welcomes the venturers to her home, and it is immediately clear that she is a work of comparable sophistication to Attsu.

Their hostess speaks as though she already knows something of the venturers even before they are introduced. She says she has been a guest of the island’s jann master for some time, and spoken with others of his circle. She clearly recognizes Attsu, and she mentions that she knows of Aya by reputation.

Sarasti freely speaks of the jann Hajanti Coppertooth fashioning her current form. Attsu says it’s clear that the two of them are very similar, and she admits to it. “Though this body has not extended my life,” she says. “Rather, my already extended existence—” and she strokes the dry snakeskin about her shoulders— “has been moved into a more useful body.” Attsu asks to take a closer look, and she elegantly poses to show off one side, then the other. At this, Aya decides she is certain just what Sarasti is. She has heard stories of necromancy, rarely used, that binds a dead Serpent Emir’s spirit to one of its skins. There are no tales, to her knowledge, of the serpent’s spirit being removed from its skin to a new vessel, but that clearly does not mean the practice is impossible.

Attsu asks Sarasti what she knows of the city. She tells them of the exile of Hajanti Coppertooth, who settled in the material world because he had been disgraced among the Sultanates of the Jinn. Hajanti had a bitter rivalry with an efreeti, another artisan who specialized in clockwork. The jann claims that his rival framed him, and that he has been building the city here as an attempt to impress his former patron.

The venturers ask about the wedding, and Sarasti smiles. As one of the few complicated social developments in the city, it has been of some interest to her. The bride in question, she says, is the Bronze Crane Princess, and she is still in the refining process. The groom was to be Battsu Cadmia, but of course, no longer. Aya says that Jattsu was likely the one responsible for destroying Battsu.

“That sounds likely,” says Sarasti. “Attsu’s…” She pauses to choose the correct term. “His cousins are a great variety. Jattsu has very realistic ambitions; Tattsu is rather dull, but a more proper heir to Battsu. Khattsu is just a beast, and so on.”

Hajanti Coppertooth, she says, is trying to recreate his greatest work. But he’s obsessive, and in that obsession he isn’t getting all the details quite right. This puts Attsu in an interesting place, she notes. He might well be the inspiration Hajanti requires. Attsu digests the news, and decides that perhaps he and his companions are better off not going to meet the jann just yet.

Attsu shakes his head. “This isn’t even why I came to this island. I came in search of a shipwreck.”

“Fate moves in strange ways,” says Sarasti, “yet it is always in motion.”

Nyip speaks up at that point; he paid more attention to the corsairs who arrived recently. They made two dives to pull something from the wreck, then they had a dispute and marooned a handful of their own crew members. Then the ship sailed away. As much as he had hoped to leave the Isle of Gears, Nyip admits that he thought stowing away on that particular vessel would have been a poor idea.

Sarasti adds that she’s sorry that the venturers will be taking Nyip, for he has been a witty companion, but he will be happy to finally leave, and safely as well. The venturers exchange parting pleasantries with the clockwork Serpent Emir, and she tells them they will be welcome again in her house should they return.

They ask if she would like to leave as well. “I could leave at any time,” she says, regarding the back of her hand, “yet I could not move quietly, as I once did. And it is difficult to be… presiding all the time. Travel safely.”

The venturers return to the Twist of Fate. Nyip catches up with them partway, bowed under a pack full of the books he would rather not do without. The three introduce the kobold to the crew, and Captain Tairasha warns them that one of the island’s siege engines fired on the harbor not long ago.

“That was my fault,” says Attsu, “but it wasn’t fired at you, and it won’t be fired again without my command.”

Tairasha also introduces the three to the small group of rescued mutineers. A grizzled sailor called Waba the Martyr speaks for the group, thanking the venturers for their intervention. He tells them that the crew of the Fang of the Shaitan grew restless when their captain spent too much time listening to the sorcerer he’d brought aboard. After two dives, Barbafir ordered them to make ready to sail, having brought up only a portion of the shipwreck’s spoils (and therefore much less of a share for the crew). When they protested too strongly, he marooned the most outspoken on the Isle of Gears and then left. Waba knows their destination, though. Barbafir is sailing for the location where the Eye of Hunger will be in a week, for he is confident that he can bind the mighty marid there and plunder the manse of a jinn.

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