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PostPosted: Sat Aug 13, 2016 10:02 pm 
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Whisperweft
by RavenoftheBlack
Status: Public :diamond:

(Editor's Note: an uncensored version of this story can be read here Content Warning: heavy swearing)



“Whoooooooo!”


Sumner Vise looked up from his tinker’s table as the large, clockwork owl screeched its greeting, two small puffs of steam escaping from the bronze feathers at either side of its neck. The tinker lifted his loupe goggles up to his forehead and rubbed his large, white eyes with a single hand. Massaging the bridge of his wide nose, the kithkin reached into his breast pocket with his free hand and pulled out the small timepiece, flicking it open in the same motion. He shook his head as he noted the time.


“You’ve got a spring loose, Nicodemus. You’re six and a half minutes late.”


The owl said nothing. Indeed, it had no ability to hear the tinker, let alone respond with anything more than the screeching, imperfect facsimile of a real owl’s call. Of course, no one in Cogdon had heard a real owl’s call in at least a generation, probably more. The soot-choked skies had driven all the birds out of the city so long ago that birds existed primarily as figures of legend, like unicorns, dogs, or the Elves of the deep forest. The thought made Sumner look around his cramped shop for the clockwork puppy he had made, as well as ponder how to go about constructing a clockwork elf.


Sumner pushed himself away from his table and his newest project and approached the bronze owl, sitting motionlessly on its perch near the window. He would have to take it apart again to replace the timing spring. As he reached for it, however, he remembered what he had originally set the owl’s alarm to remind him of in the first place. He again peered at his timepiece, realizing the significance of the hour beyond the implications for the owl. He was supposed to pick up Orida from the train station.


Hurriedly, Sumner buttoned up his gray waistcoat, straightened his collar, threw on his overcoat, and bounded out of the house into the cobblestone streets. Sumner was a tinker, and for a kithkin in Cogdon, he did fairly well for himself. Some of the other ‘kin joked with him from time to time that he was nearly human, an absurd thought that always made the tinker chuckle. However, his comparative affluence did allow him one or two luxuries, his favorite of which was his own personal carriage, pulled by two great, mechanical horses. Sumner could never have afforded the time away from his shop to build them himself, but he had the knowledge required to keep them in good repair.


As Sumner rode through the curved, sweeping streets of Cogdon, other kithkin reached out to him, and he sent feelings of greeting back to them along the thoughtweft. Occasionally, he would get vague sensations of jealousy, but none of the ‘kin bore him any malice for his success. He had always treated others well, and never overcharged for his services, and he was generally well thought of in the community. At times, he felt brief pangs of pity from the others, mostly from those who knew where he was going. Even to these, though, Sumner tipped his top hat, smiled, and sent thoughts of thanks and greeting. His thoughts of tears, however, he buried until he felt no other minds tugging at his.


The tinker watched the streetlamps as he rode. They glowed endlessly now, ever since the sky was hidden behind the tufts of coal smoke hanging above the city. Occasionally, the pipes running alongside the gutters would expel jets of the steam they carried, used to power the rows of lights that kept the night at bay by maintaining perpetual twilight. The metallic hooves of his clockwork horses clanked loudly against the stone, but the noise merely merged with the prevailing cacophony of the city. There was something oddly satisfying to Sumner about the constant sound. It felt like family.


Sumner arrived at Larkin Station just as the pull-gears were grinding to a halt. The great metallic juggernaut of a train hissed to a stop at the platform, which was filling up with people anxiously awaiting the arrival of friends or relations. The area near the front of the locomotive was occupied solely by humans, the rear solely by kithkin, and the center was a strange mix of the two, where the taller humans stood confidently in front and the kithkin hung back, knowing they could not see. The tinker felt the thoughtweft wash over him in waves as he exited the carriage and stepped up onto the station’s platform.


The gears resting on the sides of the train began to turn, and as they did, the doors slid open almost in unison. The excitement from the humans built into an almost tangible cloud of noise as they watched for the targets of their anticipation. Behind them, the kithkin waited in silent patience, reaching out with their thoughts rather than their arms at those they were expecting. Sumner bit down a sudden wave of sorrow at that, the one luxury that he would never have. Instead, he strained his eyes between the forms of the taller humans, trying to spot his only daughter.


People poured out of the train in their finely pressed suits and their dark petticoats. As always, the humans came first, meeting up with their loved ones and exiting the platform, as the kithkin moved out of their way. The humans paid little mind to the shorter figures of the ‘kin, which was nothing new. As the larger humans began to clear the way, the kithkin started to emerge from the locomotive, moving instantly and intuitively toward their family. Sumner frowned deeper, scanning the platform visually for Orida. He felt like he did while tinkering with a watch, trying to find that one, miniscule imperfection that kept it from keeping time.


He finally spotted her near the far end of the platform, exiting the train and looking none too happy. She was wearing her preferred outfit, the dark leather corset, the matching trench coat down to her knees, and the skirt shorter than Sumner had ever approved. Her tinted goggles were pulled over her eyes, and her long, black hair escaped from under her equally black hat to her left side. Sumner could see her scowl as she scanned the crowd, apparently not finding what she was looking for. The tinker sighed and attempted to push his way through the mob to reach her. Eventually, he succeeded, and when she spotted him, she moved to join him in a huff.


“There you are!” She said, folding her arms. “Next time you send me on one of these little trips of yours, do you think you could spring for first class seats? That cabin was hotter than hell’s steambaths!”


“First class, Orida?” Sumner replied. “We’re kithkin, remember? We’re not first class.”


“**** that. Any human wants to argue with me, I’ll knock her right on her pampered ass.”


“Language, dear,” her father warned.


Orida spit on the ground. “Yeah, what about my **** language?”


Sumner looked around, his embarrassment seeping into the thoughtweft and spreading to the other ‘kin around them. Gulping, Sumner refocused on his daughter. “It’s not proper, Orida.”


The young kithkin reached into her trench coat and withdrew a brown leather pouch tied with a red silk ribbon. She waved it in front of Sumner’s face, causing a quiet, metallic clink as she did. “And is this **** you send me to steal proper? Huh?”


Sumner quickly grabbed the bag and his daughter’s hand and pulled them downward. Sensations and thoughts of surprise, embarrassment, and shame surged through the thoughtweft as the tinker tried to calm both his daughter and himself. He projected forced thoughts outward, trying to assure the other kithkin gathered in Larkin Station that everything was alright and it was nothing anyone should worry about.


“Will you stop with that **** thoughtweft ****!” Orida yelled, growing visibly agitated. “Do you think I don’t know what you’re saying to them? Just because I can’t hear it doesn’t mean I’m a **** idiot!”


Nearly all kithkin eyes, all wide and white, were turned on them now. Orida didn’t seem to care. Instead, she let go of the bag her father was now holding and reached upward, pulling her goggles up over the brim of her hat. Sumner found himself staring into the deep, black void of his daughter’s eyes. Countless emotions were carried across the threads, but one word echoed from a hundred different minds: Whisperweft.


The Whisperweft were an anomaly amongst the kithkin. Nearly all of the kithkin of Cartrevard were a part of the thoughtweft. They were a community, in the truest sense of the word. They knew one another as truly and as fully as was mortally possible. To a kithkin, the thoughts and emotions of ‘kin were as familiar as their own, and in a city the size of Cogdon, with so many kithkin in so small an area, there was never truly quiet in the mind.


But the Whisperweft were different. They were rare within the ‘kin; perhaps one in a thousand were born with the shadoweyes. Sumner knew of only half a dozen others or so in Cogdon besides his daughter. The life of a Whisperweft could be difficult. They were still ‘kin, and the rest accepted them as such, but many simply did not trust them. Because, unlike other kithkin, the Whisperweft were completely cut off from the thoughtweft that bound the rest. They could neither hear the threads, nor speak through them. They were silent.


To the living, anyway.


The Whisperweft still possessed a dark shadow of the thoughtweft. They could hear the whispers of the dead. They could hear their thoughts and feel their emotions, presumably in the same manner that normal kithkin heard one another. And they could speak to them, as well. The thought bothered most kithkin deeply, although the Whisperweft grew accustomed to it quickly, or else they went mad. It was said that in ancient times, some shadoweyes were smothered in their cribs on their seventh night, and then the crib was burned in seven fires, to undo the hex. Now of course, in more civilized times, the parents of the Whisperweft merely hung a new elderberry leaf above the child’s door every seventh fortnight. Throughout Orida’s comparatively young life, Sumner had never failed to replace hers.


“This is not the place, Orida.”


His daughter laughed. “Unless we all stop with this ****, it’s not going to matter soon, is it?”


At her words, panic spread through the thoughtweft, although few of the gathered kithkin made a physical show of it. Sumner straightened to full height, about four and a half feet. “Don’t speak of that, daughter.”


“Why the **** not?” Orida laughed. “Not talking about it isn’t going to stop it, you know.” She squared up to him and continued, enunciating each word for emphasis. “The Hour is growing late, father.”


For a long time, Sumner stared at his daughter, but finally nodded his head. “I know,” he whispered. He lifted up the pouch he had taken from her. “That’s what this is about. Now come along. We need to get to the Elder before it’s too late.”


Orida groaned. “Ugh, that ****? Why do we need her?”


Sumner shook his head, and stepped closer to his daughter. “We need her,” he said quietly, “because without her permission, we cannot even attempt to enter the Graveyard.”


“It’s a **** wooden fence, father. I think I can get through without some words from a withered old hag.”


“Show some respect! That’s our dead you’re talking about disturbing.”


Orida narrowed her eyes at Sumner. “I think I’m in a better position to know how the dead feel than Myrta Pulpit is.”


Sumner exhaled slowly, then hung his head. “We also need her because she has the final component, and it’s absolutely vital.”


Orida threw her hands up in exasperation. “Well, why the **** didn’t you say so? Fine, let’s go.” She started to look around, then sighed loudly. “Damn it. Where the hell is Royce?”


Sumner’s white eyes grew wide. “Royce? Royce Ingot? You brought the blacksmith’s son with you to Silver Chasm?”


“Well, I had to bring somebody!” She said. “At least Royce knows how to keep his **** mouth shut. And he can handle himself if there was any trouble, so he seemed like a good choice to me.”


“Why were you expecting trouble? It should have been a simple deal!”


“It’s never a simple deal, father,” Orida said, still looking around. “Product, money, money, product. When both sides want both, it’s never **** simple.”


“Orida,” Sumner hissed. “What did you do?”


“Let’s just say that neither I nor any girl who looks like me should set foot in Silver Chasm for quite a while.”


“Spirits, girl!” Sumner exclaimed. He stared at her for a moment, then just shook his head. He reached out with the thoughtweft, and in seconds found Royce’s thread, following it to the young man’s location. He pointed behind Orida. “There he is.”


“I hate that ghostdamn thoughtweft,” she muttered as she turned around. Royce was working his way over to them, his suit ragged and his hat askew. He had a hard time looking Sumner in the eyes, and the tinker could tell he was trying, and failing, to keep his thoughts to himself. Sumner sent some feelings in Royce’s direction, then remembered his daughter, and spoke with words instead.


“Greetings, Royce. Thank you for helping Orida.”


“You’re welcome, Mr. Vise. It, uh, was nothing.” An odd sensation trickled through the thread. It was hard to lie to ‘kin.


Sumner chose to ignore it. “We have to get going.”


“Royce is coming with us,” his daughter asserted.


“Orida…” Sumner began, before she cut him off.


“Do you want to stand around arguing with me, or do you want to get this **** done? Royce is in this up to his eyes now, and I’ll be ghostdamned if I’m going alone, so Royce is in.”


“I…” Royce began, his head low. “I’d like to help, sir. Like Orida said, I’m in this whether I like it or not, after those constables in Silver…”


“****, Royce!”


“Constables?” Sumner asked, raising his voice.


“Never mind,” Orida said. “We got out, didn’t we?”


“Spirits,” Sumner said, looking away. “Fine. The carriage is small, though. You’ll have to ride on the back.”


“That suits me,” Royce said quickly.


“Then let’s get going.” Sumner turned around and started walking back toward the street. Orida shot Royce a particularly dark look before lowering her goggles back over her eyes and following her father. Royce lowered his head even further, but walked beside her as they followed. Sumner crossed the sidewalk in front of the other two, but as Orida stepped out onto it, two human men crossed their paths, moving quickly. Royce felt the warning screamed at him through the thoughtweft and dove out of the way, but Orida had no such advantage. She barreled into one of the men and was knocked backwards.


The man, annoyed, lifted up his cane as if to strike the smaller woman. “Damn kiths, always underfoot. This should teach you!”


Orida braced for the impact, as if daring him to strike, but Sumner stepped in front of the man and held up his hands, pleading. “Please sir, please don’t hurt my daughter! She meant no offense!”


“You’ll get it next, kith!” He flexed his arm to strike, then stopped, looking closer at Sumner. “Wait a moment,” the man said, relaxing his arm slightly. “Vise? Sumner Vise?”


“Yes, sir. The very same.”


The human brought his arm down, using the other to fish a small timepiece out of his breast pocket. It was virtually identical to Sumner’s. “You crafted this watch for me.”


Sumner looked closely at the piece, then nodded. “Yes, sir. That is my work, to be sure.”


The man nodded, then showed the piece to his friend. “Keeps time wonderfully,” he remarked to the other human, as if ignoring Sumner. “And quiet as anything, too. It’s the best timepiece I’ve ever had, truly.” He looked back at Vise. “I like you, Vise. I hope you survive the Chiming.” He turned to look disdainfully at Orida. “Can’t say the same for this clumsy little hellion, though.”


“**** off!”


The man looked shocked for a moment, but then he glanced at his friend before the two of them laughed. “Hellion, for certain!” He said. “Didn’t have the time to teach her manners, eh, Vise?” He checked his timepiece again. “I suppose it’s too late now.”


Laughing, he and his friend continued on down the sidewalk, passing by Sumner on either side. Sumner’s face had paled, while Orida’s was flushed with anger. The tinker moved over to join his daughter, grabbing her wrist and whispering harshly to her. “What is the matter with you?”


“I’m not going to **** take that!”


“Do you really think now is a good time to draw attention to yourself. What if they had had you thrown in jail? Tonight? What good would that do?”


“Fine,” Orida said, glancing over at the humans moving away from them. “Smug bastards. We’ll see how ghostdamn smug they are after…”


“Orida!” Sumner said, looking around. After a short pause, he exhaled. “Come on. Let’s go.”


Orida made a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a growl, but she followed her father, and the two climbed into the mechanical carriage. Royce, with his shoulders slumped, climbed onto the back and held on as the metallic horses began to move, pulling out onto the cobblestone and away from Larkin Station. They rode in silence for a long time, merely allowing the sounds of the city to fill the space between them. They followed the winding cobblestone streets until they came to the Great Clock Tower, which had apparently once been at the very center of town, before the city grew.


Sumner’s and Royce’s white eyes locked on the grim tower immediately, and Orida’s shadowy eyes followed soon after. The tower was tall and dark, as if it somehow managed to cast its own shadow on itself. The clock face was a strange sight, as well. One clock face had been set atop another. The front clock face, smaller than the one behind it, kept the time as well as any timepiece that Sumner had ever crafted. The rear clock, however, had but a single hand, and it moved at a glacial pace around the circumference. No one knew for certain how long it took to complete one circle around the clock. Most figured it was somewhere around a hundred years, give or take. It didn’t matter how long. What mattered was what happened when that hand pointed straight up, and it was nearly there now.


Every kithkin on Cartrevard knew about the Clock. Regardless of whether or not they lived in Cogdon, every ‘kin lived in its shadow. Legend suggested that long ago, the kithkin nearly overthrew the humans, who were less numerous and less organized than the kithkin with their thoughtweft. And so the humans, desperate to maintain their power and their position, constructed the Clock Tower. Inside, they hung the Apocalypse Bell, which had been tuned by dark sorcerers to the ‘kin. Once the Clock’s largest hand pointed up, the Chiming would strike, and the spell would, as well. And with the Chiming, doom would come to the kithkin. It never killed them all; the humans needed some around to do what they wouldn’t. But the losses would be devastating.


Surrounding the Great Clock Tower was the Graveyard, where the kithkin who fell to the Chiming were laid to rest. It was a great taboo to enter the Graveyard without the Elder’s permission, and even the Elder typically had to go to the humans for that dispensation. The Graveyard housed the dead, but it also protected the Clock Tower. The humans had thought of that, too. Throughout the Graveyard, the humans had placed the Scarecrows, horrible, frightening, twisted monstrosities with a single purpose: stop any kithkin from reaching the Clock Tower.


No living ‘kin had ever seen a Scarecrow before. The last Chiming was generations ago, and so there had been no reason, and no permission, to enter the Graveyard. But no kithkin doubted their presence. They could hear them at night, shuffling around the graves of kithkin ancestors, keeping their eternal vigil and protecting the doom of ‘kin. No crows had flown above Cogdon in living memory, and so some of the humans had taken to calling them Scareproles, heaping insult on insult, slighting both the kithkin’s place and their impending apocalypse.


As they passed by, Orida began to hear the whispers. The dead were restless. They knew, just as much as every living ‘kin, that the time was fast approaching. Some complained about the Scarecrows trampling their bones. Others wished their descendants would visit, even knowing that was impossible. Still others yearned for life once again, which was even more of an impossibility. And a few lashed out at Orida, knowing her plans and her thoughts, just as they had known one another’s in life. As their whispers grew, Orida shook her head.


“Shut the **** up,” she whispered aloud.


“Hmm?” Sumner said. “What was that?”


Orida lifted her goggles and looked at her father. “Nothing.” She pointed toward the pouch he held. “Do you really think that ****’s going to work?”


Sumner looked over at his daughter, intending to chide her for her language, but the earnestness in her voice and the concern on her face stopped him. Before he answered, he pulled the red silk drawstring and opened the pouch, examining the contents. He reached in, fumbled around briefly, and withdrew a singular, tiny gear. It was thin as a knife’s edge, but perfectly shaped. Sumner held it between his thumb and forefinger and pressed, but despite how thin the metal was, the gear neither broke nor bent. Sumner nodded, and dropped the gear back into the pouch.


“They will work. I don’t know how they do it in Silver Chasm, Orida. I could never hope to create a wonder like this. Nothing this small should be this strong.”


“That’s what the humans will be saying about us soon,” Orida said. “They’ve oppressed us, kept us down, insulted us every **** day of our lives. But they’ve also underestimated us.”


“Well, let’s not underestimate them.” Sumner paused, growing pensive. “Orida, this is a huge risk. What we’re thinking, what you’re thinking…it’s never been done before. It’s never even been attempted. I…I don’t feel good about this.”


“And what, it’s better to wait around for death? Ghostdamn it, father, I’d rather be torn apart by those…things, then wait for a **** bell to kill me.”


“They say the bell strikes fast.”


“Then so will I.”


Father and daughter looked at one another for a long time, but did not speak again until long after they had passed the Graveyard and the Clock Tower. After a time, they arrived at the townhouse of Myrta Pulpit, the kithkin Elder. Orida lowered her tinted goggles back over her eyes, as she usually did in public. Sumner sent out his greeting through the thoughtweft even before emerging from the carriage, and Myrta was at the door waiting for them as the three other ‘kin walked up. Myrta greeted Sumner and Royce warmly through the threads, but made no motion to speak to Orida. The youngest of the kithkin rolled her shadowy eyes as she followed the elder and her father inside.


Myrta began to speak to Sumner and Royce through the thoughtweft until Sumner held up one hand. “Forgive me for interrupting, Elder, but for the benefit of my daughter, may I ask that you speak in words?”


“Of course,” the Elder said, shooting Orida a disdainful look. “I had forgotten.”


“You didn’t forget ****,” Orida challenged immediately.


“Daughter!” Sumner scolded. “This is the Elder. Show respect.”


“I’m showing this **** windbag exactly as much respect as I have for her.”


“Well,” Myrta huffed. “You come into my house, seeking my permission to tread the sacred ground where our great grandkin lie, and this is how you act?”


“Tell you what,” Orida said. “While I’m in there, I’ll find your great grand-mum’s grave, okay? And then I’ll **** on it, and even that will be better than she or you deserve!”


“Orida Vise!” The Elder yelled. “Do not speak ill of the dead!”


“Why the **** not?” Orida said. “They speak ill of me all the time.”


“Now, you listen to me, young lady,” the Elder began.


“No, you **** listen! You’re supposed to be the ghostdamned Elder around here. The ‘kin are supposed to be your people, right? Well, when that **** clock chimes, how many of your people are going to be left? Twenty percent? Ten? And rather than do anything about it, you want to stand around and lecture me? I’m the only **** person doing anything about it, and I’m not even really a kithkin, isn’t that what you think?”


“Of course you’re kithkin,” Sumner snapped.


Orida scoffed. “I’ve never seen her **** act like it. You people talk out loud all the time, but whenever I’m around, it’s nothing but **** thoughtweft!”


“The things we are talking about today are not for prying ears,” Myrta challenged. “And the delivery I have for your father is not for other eyes.”


Orida pulled her goggles back up above the rim of her hat. “You mean, it’s not for these kinds of eyes?” Myrta looked away, but did not reply. Orida scoffed. “Seems like nothing of the kithkin are for the shadoweyes. Well, you listen to me, Pulpit. Whether you **** like it or not, these eyes are the only thing that give us half a chance of getting through the Graveyard without joining the dead ourselves. Which means I’m the only **** chance we’ve got.”


For a long time, nobody said anything. Orida assumed that the others must have been sending something through the threads, but it didn’t matter. She knew she was right, and she knew they knew it, too. Finally, Myrta turned toward Sumner.


“Does this mean you believe the Chiming can be stopped?”


Sumner glanced at his daughter, and then back at the Elder. “Yes. I’ve been studying the Clock Tower for years, as you know. It hasn’t been easy. Very few texts still exist from the time it was created. I had to sift through tons of rumors, fears, and superstition, but I believe I found something, written by one of the surviving ‘kin from the very first Chiming.”


“What did it say?” Myrta pressed.


“It spoke of the casting of the Bell, how it was attuned to the ‘kin by the most powerful mages in the human ranks. But it also spoke of the Bell’s clapper, which was apparently separately enchanted. It seems like the Bell only calls out to the ‘kin, but it’s the Doom Clapper that speaks death.”


“So, if we remove the clapper,” Royce volunteered.


“Then the Chiming will do nothing,” Elder Pulpit finished.


“That is my belief,” Sumner said.


The Elder turned back to Orida and looked her straight in her dark eyes. “And do you truly believe that you can get through the Graveyard, even with the Scarecrows, and make it into the Clock Tower?”


Orida nodded, tapping her head just beside her right eye. “The dead can lead me to places those sons of bitches aren’t.”


“But even so,” Myrta said, “you can’t avoid them forever. Legend says the Scarecrows are larger than a human and faster than the wind.”


“Winds die down,” Orida said dismissively.


“Besides, that’s what these are for,” Sumner said, lifting the pouch. “And your delivery, Elder.”


Myrta nodded, and walked over to a small chest sitting on a shelf. She unlocked the chest and withdrew another pouch, this one white with a blue tie. Carrying it in both hands, she walked over to Sumner and began to recite. “An ancient truth, a ‘kin belief, a pinch of powdered Snowrust leaf, with water mixed from kithkin well, pass o’er a flame to cast the spell.”


Myrta handed the pouch to Sumner, who bowed his head reverently. “Thank you, Elder.”


“Be careful,” she warned. “Snowrust powder is illegal in Cogdon. The humans saw to that a long time ago. The risk I took to smuggle that into the city was great, and you take an even greater one carrying it. If the constables learn you have it, there will be no keeping them from you.”


“I understand,” Sumner said, slipping the pouch into his overcoat’s pocket.


“How long do we have,” Royce asked. “Before the Chiming?”


Both Sumner and Myrta looked over at him. The tinker spoke, his voice low and dire. “There’s no way to know. The hand is nearly straight up as we speak. It could be any moment.”


“The hand still moves,” Myrta said. “Minutely, but it still moves. I believe we have a few ticks left yet.”


“And if we don’t?” Royce pressed.


“The frames are already built,” Sumner assured him before gently patting the pockets of his coat. “All they need are these. I can be done in a single night. Then, all we need to do is wait through tomorrow, until night falls again, and…”


“**** that,” Orida burst in. “Night, day, morning, it doesn’t **** matter. I’m leaving as soon as you’re done.”


“If the humans see you approaching the Graveyard…” Myrta began.


“You think they’re going to get their **** hands dirty when they know the Scarecrows are in there? So what’s the worst that can happen, huh? If they try to arrest me when I come out, we’ll fight them. And if I don’t come out, well, then, it won’t matter anyway.”


“I’m coming with you,” Royce said.


“Don’t **** say that, Royce.”


“What? You said I was in this deep.”


“Yeah, which is why I brought you here, you stupid ****. So the Elder can protect you. So don’t **** say you’re coming with me.”


“Why not?” Royce pressed.


“Because that Graveyard scares the **** **** out of me, and it should you, too. And I would love someone living to watch my back, so it’s going to be really **** hard to say no to you if you keep asking. And I’m telling you right now, if only one of us makes it out of there, it’s going to be me, and you’ll never let me hear the end of it.”


Royce laughed. “We’ll both make it out.”


“I’m the sneaky one, remember? You’re just the **** muscle.”


Royce shook his head. “I can be sneaky too, you know.”


Orida stared at him. “You’ll tell fewer lies when you’re dead.” Royce simply looked at her until she finally sighed. “Fine. But stay out of my ghostdamn way.”


“We need to get back to my shop,” Sumner interjected.


“Good luck,” Myrta said, then turned pointedly at Orida. “All of you.”


The next several hours passed slowly for all of them. The carriage ride back to Sumner’s shop was taken in total silence, and the moment they had arrived, each went to a different corner to prepare themselves. Sumner vanished into his workshop and began his work, intend on finishing before the morning, knowing that Orida was intent on leaving the moment he was done. Orida went into her room to grab a few short hours of sleep before her fateful foray into the Graveyard. Royce, who had never been in the Tinker’s home before, found himself awkwardly pacing the floor as he contemplated his future.


The Vise family may not have been able to communicate through the thoughtweft, but they certainly seemed to be in sync with one another. Orida emerged from her room first, fresh and ready to go. Sumner came out of his lab less than a minute later, carrying a small, black, leather satchel. It was still the middle of the night, and Sumner looked exhausted, if his matted hair and dull eyes were any indication. He walked straight to Orida, handed her the satchel, and then pulled her in close for a fatherly embrace. Royce could feel the emotions Sumner was projecting, sensations of love, pride, and deep, terrified concern. The blacksmith’s son nearly shed a tear at the thought that Orida could feel none of it.


Without a word to her father and with only a nod in Royce’s direction, Orida pulled away and moved through the door into the lamp-lit street beyond. The two kithkin moved as silently as possible through the darkened city, trying to avoid detection. There was no official curfew imposed on the kithkin of Cogdon, but it was still best to avoid being caught by the human constables after dark. A fog had rolled in during the evening, and the occasional jets of steam from the street pipes only added to its thickness. Orida and Royce used the fog to their advantage, ducking into the heaviest of it whenever they heard footsteps.


“****!” Orida whispered sharply as they approached the gate of the Graveyard.


“What?” Royce hissed back.


“Look,” she said, pointing toward the gate. Just beside the wrought iron gate, which was affixed to the seven foot tall wooden wall, there was a constable reclining, his hat pulled down over his eyes. He was breathing in and out with slow, measured breaths.


“I think he’s asleep,” Royce said.


“Even if he is,” Orida said, looking around through the fog, “those **** never patrol alone. We’ll have to find another way in.”


Royce nodded and followed as the Whisperweft moved off into the darkness. They gave the constable a wide berth, and approached the Graveyard’s fence further along the street. There, Orida stopped and held up her hand, as if asking for silence. After a moment, she continued along, moving a few dozen feet down the impossibly long wall and repeated the same motion. After a few whispered profanities, she moved on again, until finally she found a place she seemed happy with.


“This is the spot,” she whispered to Royce.


“How do you know?”


“They’re telling me that the Scarecrows are furthest away from us here.”


Royce furrowed his brow. “Who is?”


Orida stared at him for a long moment, then pulled her goggles up over her hat’s brim. Her black eyes were no longer a solid black, but instead seemed to be swirling toward the center.


“Oh,” Royce managed before looking away.


“Yeah. Anyway, since that **** kept us away from the gate, we need to find a way to get in here.”


“I’ve got this one,” Royce said, stepping back from the wall. “Just watch for constables.” From inside his coat, Royce produced a metallic tool hammer. Orida was momentarily confused, until she noticed that a long coiling chain had been soldered to the hammer’s handle. Royce spun the hammer by its chain a few times to gain momentum before tossing it up to the top of the fence. Much to Orida’s surprise, the hammer’s claw found purchase, and Royce leaned back on the chain, to pull it taut.


“Go. I’ll be right behind you.”


Orida looked at Royce, and then at the chain. She shook her head briefly. “What the **** are we doing?” She said, mostly to herself. Then she grabbed the chain, scaled the fence, and leapt over to the other side. Somehow, the fog was even thicker in the Graveyard. Orida couldn’t see much more than a dozen paces or so. The mist seemed to swirl and twist like a living thing, the only living thing within the vastness of the Graveyard. Through the fog, she could hear the dull, constant ticking of the Great Clock, counting down to kithkin oblivion. In her head, she could hear the echoes of the innumerable dead.


A few moments later, Royce landed hard on the ground beside her. He recovered quickly, and scrambled behind a nearby gravestone, pulling Orida along with him. He looked around cautiously, then spoke, his voice barely audible to her above the din of the whisperweft.


“Which way?”


“Hell if I know,” she said, then seemed to direct her eyes away from him. They began to swirl again, strange patterns of black on black, constantly twirling like the fog around them. Orida pointed in a direction just slightly off to their left. “The Clock Tower is over there,” she whispered, then waited. Then she pointed off to their right. “But we need to go that way. Fewer Scarecrows, apparently.”


“Wait, fewer? As in, ‘some?’”


“Well, what the **** did you think, Royce?” Orida snapped. “That we’d just be able to stroll into the Clock Tower? Don’t you think someone would have done that by now if it were that **** easy?”


“Sorry, sorry.”


Orida didn’t respond except by moving silently off to her right. Royce followed as quietly as he could, although he was not as stealthy as she was. They moved quickly and cautiously, keeping the wall within sight for as long as they could and resting beside gravestones often to keep a watch for the Scarecrows that were watching for them. Behind one of these grave markers, Orida held up her hand and leaned in close to Royce, speaking so softly that her voice was nearly lost in the wind.


“We need to turn in here. There’s a nasty Scarecrow waiting against the wall ahead.”


Royce gulped and nodded his understanding, and then followed Orida as she left the relative safety of the Graveyard’s fence and ventured into the maze of graves and death. They moved much the same as they had before, ducking behind tombstones at nearly every sudden shifting of the fog. After a short time, they came across a path in the grass that had been worn down to dirt by constant use. Just as they were about to sprint across the path, Orida’s eyes widened, and she grabbed Royce by the shoulders and dragged him back.


Half a moment later, a huge, lumbering form lurched into view through the fog. Orida had to cover Royce’s mouth to keep him from yelping in surprise. The creature was the very definition of a monster, all sharp angles and tattered cloth. Its eyes burned with an unworldly green flame that seemed to lap at the edges of its uneven eye sockets. It moved with an imperfect, sickening gait, lurching forward crudely with its left side, and then slowly dragging its right along to catch up. As it moved, it cast its eerie gaze from one side of the path to the other and back again. But luck’s folly or fate’s mercy, the creature did not see the two small kithkin, and continued its awkward patrol until it disappeared back into the fog.


Orida and Royce shared a glance between one another, but said nothing. Suddenly, the danger of the Graveyard was very, very real. The Scarecrows were verified now, and no longer the monsters of bedtime stories and picture books. They were here, in the Graveyard, a place that had been their home for centuries. That they knew it better than the kithkin interlopers was a matter of fact, and was not lost on Orida or Royce. But they also knew that somewhere in the dense fog was the Clock Tower, and if they didn’t reach it, they and every other kithkin had a better than even chance of dying anyway. Orida quickly checked what the spirits of the dead ‘kin were saying, then nodded to Royce, and they were off again.


Twice more, the young Whisperweft was forced to correct their path, once away from the direction of the Clock Tower and once toward it. They did not see any more of the unnerving Scarecrows, but they heard them all about, scratching and clawing their way around the Graveyard. Unlike the noises of the city, these were not constant sounds that blended together into a single, impenetrable din. These were occasional, distinct, and solitary. And often, they sounded close. The dead never whispered warning that Orida and Royce were in immediate danger, but the sounds seemed so incredibly close. The entire Graveyard, impossibly massive as it was, seemed to constrict in the fog, and the kithkin felt increasingly trapped.


Eventually, they came to a strange site. As they moved inward, the kithkin slowly began to notice that the grave markers were growing both larger and more elaborate. Now, scattered amongst some simpler gravestones, they started to see full structures, like tiny crypts. These were spaced unevenly throughout the inner rings of the Graveyard, and while most were sealed tight, the one they found themselves approaching looked as though it had never truly been finished. The outer structure was there, a small stone crypt with swirling patterns carved into the sides, but the door was missing, and dirt was piled high in the doorway and on both sides of it. Orida signaled for Royce to stop, then she focused on the Whisperweft. She heard nothing, no warning, no whispers. The tinker’s daughter shrugged and, cautiously, approached the derelict mausoleum.


The moment she approached, the large, clawed hand erupted from the ground, showering the young kithkin with dirt and bones. Orida did not even have time to scream as the hand grabbed her around the throat and hauled her off the ground kicking and struggling. After the hand came the rest of the monstrosity. Different from the first Scarecrow they had seen, this one had a massive jaw of sharp, metallic teeth and no eyes whatsoever. The creature’s grip was impossibly strong, and while it seemed to be expending no effort at all, Orida could already feel herself losing consciousness as she gasped for air.


The Scarecrow was holding the kithkin in its right arm, and as it did, it drew its left arm back as if to slash at her with its claws. Orida’s eyes flicked over in that direction, but her vision was beginning to darken. The Scarecrow lurched forward with its left hand, intent on finishing her off, but its arm was knocked away by a flying hammer at the end of a chain. The creature’s head snapped to its left, focusing its eyeless attention on Royce, who was pulling his hammer back to him. The Scarecrow, sensing a greater threat, dropped Orida to the ground and moved to attack Royce instead.


Royce struck at the Scarecrow’s body with his hammer, but it seemed to do nothing, and a moment later, he was backing away as the creature was gaining ground on him. Orida took just a moment to collect herself and rub her sore throat before she forced herself into action. She quickly rooted around in the leather satchel her father had given her and pulled up a small metal sphere about the size of her palm. Hoping her father knew what he was doing, she pushed the small button on the sphere and tossed it toward the Scarecrow, which had just pulled Royce to the ground with his own hammer chain.


The sphere was already changing shape before it hit the ground. It opened up and folded out with an almost silent sigh of the metal, and as it landed, nine small appendages emerged, four legs on each side, and a segmented stinger in the back. The clockwork scorpion instantly darted forward, covering the ground quickly even as the Scarecrow was bearing down on Royce. The scorpion ran straight ahead until it bumped into the Scarecrow’s back foot. The moment it did, the clockwork scorpion began to sting viciously.


The Snowrust venom began to take effect almost instantly. Spreading upward from the scorpion’s sting, the Scarecrow’s metallic body began to change color, and it struggled to move its infected leg. The Scarecrow momentarily lost interest in Royce as it tried to figure out what was happening, but the change only gained speed as it went. The Scarecrow opened its massive jaws and produced a blood-curdling screech moments before it was completely consumed. Orida hurried over and helped Royce to his feet and glanced down at the scorpion. It was stuck to the Scarecrow, and had also transformed into a sickening reddish white color.


Catching his breath, Royce spoke. “Why didn’t the spirits warn you about that thing?”


Orida shook her head. “I have no idea. I couldn’t hear anything from them. I…” she stopped, turning her head to the side as her dark eyes began to swirl. After a moment, her face contorted. “You have got to be **** kidding me!” She turned back to Royce. “They were afraid of that thing!”


“The…the spirits?” Royce asked in disbelief.


“I swear, if these **** weren’t already dead, I’d kill them myself…” Orida muttered, then stopped again. “****! Other Scarecrows are coming! They heard the fight! Royce, we need to run!”


Royce nodded, securing his hammer in his hands. “Which way?”


“Just follow me! And don’t fall behind! ****, here they come!”


Another of the Scarecrows burst through the fog, thing one a tall, three-armed construct with one massive eye. Orida bolted in the other direction, and Royce followed close behind her, wishing she had the thoughtweft so he wouldn’t need to depend on his eyes to follow. As they ran, other shapes emerged either to chase them or to cut them off, but at first, they were too slow. Once, a large Scarecrow that looked more like a wall appeared directly in front of them, and Orida had to pull Royce out of the way by the arm.


“****!” Orida yelled.


“What is it?” Royce yelled back, trying to concentrate on following her without falling.


“Our **** ancestors just now informed me that the **** Clock Tower is locked! Now what the **** are we going to do?”


“Can’t you…” Royce tried, struggling to breath. “Can’t you pick the lock or something?”


“Father’s a tinker,” she called back. “Not me. ****! Here we are!”


Orida and Royce came skidding to a halt in front of the door of the Great Clock Tower. Between the fog and the chase, they hadn’t even noticed the structure. As they approached the door, Orida risked a quick look straight up. Although it was mostly obscured in the mist, she could see that the largest hand was almost straight up.


“We’re ****.”


Before Royce could respond, the swirling of the fog gave way to the forms of several large Scarecrows, stalking slowly toward the two kithkins.


“Find a way to get through that door,” Royce said, trying to put a note of confidence in his voice. “I’ll…I’ll keep them back.”


“I think I’m a bit more qualified for that,” Orida said, tossing two more of her father’s clockwork scorpions on the ground, and then two more after that. Each one struck one of the Scarecrows, and they shared the fate of their brother, but she knew that more were lingering in the fog. The dead were screaming at her now that they were coming. “There’s too many, Royce.”


“How many more of those scorpions do you have?”


Orida glanced into the satchel and frowned. “Not enough. ****! I don’t think we were supposed to fight them like this…”


“Give them to me,” Royce said. “I’ll lead them away, toward the gate. I can use the scorpions to keep safe if they get too close, and I can climb the gate out of here. You take care of that Bell. That’s the only thing that matters!”


“Don’t **** say that! I…I can’t keep saying no…”


“Then don’t! Just figure out a way to get through that door!” As Royce was pulling the satchel away, Orida stopped him, pulling one scorpion sphere out first.


“If you **** die, remember this was your idea.”


Royce smiled. “Talk to you soon.”


Without another word, Royce bounded into the fog toward the gate. Orida could already see a shape in the fog move to follow him. The dead were still speaking to her, telling her to hurry. Some warned that other Scarecrows were coming her way. Others warned that the Clock was about to strike, that the Chiming was near. Whatever their reasons, Orida agreed with them. She pressed the button on the clockwork scorpion and dropped it in front of the Clock Tower door. The metallic creature uncurled, matched forward a few steps, and bumped into the door. It started to sting the door, and in moments, the door had become the same discolored, rusted, and most importantly, brittle state that the Scarecrows had. Orida breathed a sigh of relief, then threw herself against the door with all her weight. It took five attempts, and a very sore shoulder, but finally, the Snowrusted door gave. Orida was inside the Clock Tower.


Inside, the tower was dirty, dusty, and choked with cobwebs. The only feature was a massive staircase running in straight flights along all four walls as they climbed to the top. Orida sighed. She was already exhausted from the search and the chase, and numerous flights of stairs designed for human legs did not thrill her. However, as she thought about Royce, running for his life, she was resolute. She raced up the first several flights, but the effort quickly slowed her. Then, about half way up, she heard a heart-stopping screech, the kind she had only ever heard from a Scarecrow.


Orida only had a moment to react as a large shape came rushing down the stairs at her. Without thinking, she jumped over the railing, the wind from the creature’s passing challenging her grip. The Scarecrow’s momentum carried it well past the kithkin, and Orida took a moment to catch her breath. A moment later, though, she felt a scream of warning in her whisperweft. She glanced behind her to see the Scarecrow closing in on her again. Once more, she scrambled over the railing, and this time the Scarecrow hammered hard into that railing and plummeted to the ground, nearly shattering the railing as it did.


“Are you **** kidding me?” She yelled to no one. “A **** flying Scarecrow? Ghostdamn it!”


Don’t speak ill of the dead, Orida.


The tinker’s daughter froze, her corset suddenly feeling very, very tight.


Royce? She projected the name into the whisperweft, and a moment later, her fears were confirmed.


One more scorpion and I could have made it.


What? Oh, no. Oh, ****, no.


I’m kidding, Orida. I never had a chance. And neither will you if you don’t get moving. That flying one isn’t down for good, and the ones that got me are coming for you.


“****!”


Orida did not allow herself to think of the full implications of Royce’s words. She just ran. She ran despite the burning in her legs, despite the pounding she heard from below, despite the flapping she heard coming nearer and nearer. She ran because she knew she had to, because if she didn’t, she’d be talking to the other Whisperwefts directly, rather than through a dead messenger. Unfortunately, when she reached the top of the stairs, she found another locked door.


Duck!


Orida dove to the ground just as the flying Scarecrow crashed into the place she had been moments before. Instead of striking her, however, the creature collided with the wooden door, knocking it off its hinge.


Others are at the bottom of the stairs, Royce said. You have to hurry.


You talk more dead than you did when you were **** alive.


Get used to it.


Orida groaned and climbed to her feet. She could already hear the Scarecrows beginning to ascend the stairs. Shaking her head, she rushed into the bell tower, and there she saw it, a great bell larger than she was. In its center, she could see the Doom Clapper, waiting like a predator to pounce on its prey. All around, she could see the gears of the Clock Tower working, the steam from their machinery escaping in occasional puffs that heated the bell tower to an unnaturally warm temperature. But all that mattered now was getting to that bell. And the only thing between her and it was an angry looking flying Scarecrow.


“Oh, ****.”


Orida. Check your coat pocket.


What? Orida slipped both hands into her pockets while keeping her eye on the Scarecrow that was approaching very, very slowly. In her left pocket, she felt a small, metallic sphere. What the ****?


I told you I could be sneaky too.


**** you, Royce. And thanks.


Orida pulled the clockwork scorpion out, pressed the button, and tossed it on the ground in front of the Scarecrow. It quickly unfolded and began to crawl forward, but just before it reached its target, the Scarecrow launched itself into the air and directly at Orida. The Whisperweft dove out of the way in disbelief, but this time, the Scarecrow had been more cautious, and was able to stop itself before flying out the door. As it turned around, Orida saw the clockwork scorpion still marching straight ahead, about to fall down the opening beneath the Bell.


“****!” Orida yelled as she scrambled forward. She jumped for the scorpion just as the Scarecrow jumped for her. The creature slashed her across the calf, but she landed within reach of the tiny mechanism her father had crafted. She grabbed it from behind just as it started to topple over the side, and the scorpion immediately started to try to sting. Orida panicked and threw the scorpion, but mercifully, she had the sense to throw it in the direction of the Scarecrow. The two collided, and the scorpion stung it. Unfortunately, the Scarecrow was airborne at the time, and flying directly at Orida.


The Scarecrow was mostly rusted by the time it struck the kithkin, and so it did not claw at her as she feared it would. Its bulk was sufficient, however, to push both of them through the hole in the floor. Acting purely on instinct, Orida managed to get the flying monstrosity underneath her before they fell, and she pushed off with her legs, launching herself upwards. Grasping on to anything she could, Orida found herself inside of the Apocalypse Bell, clinging desperately to the Doom Clapper. She quickly wrapped her legs around it and examined it with her hand, unable to see anything under it. The clapper seemed to be affixed with only a few small bolts, for which her father had provided a tool.


They’re here, Orida.


****!


As quickly as she could, Orida tried to unhook the bolts, knowing that she would fall to her death if she succeeded. She could hear the lumbering Scarecrows surround the bell, trying to get to her, but she just kept working. If she could just remove the Doom Clapper, then at least she would be remembered as a hero, and not as that Whisperweft girl. As she worked the bolts, she found herself thankful that she couldn’t see anything under the Bell, because her tears would have made it impossible anyway. She was just working the last bolt when she heard the entire room erupt in steam. There was a single, loud click, and she could actually feel the gigantic clock hand outside move.


The Chiming.


Desperately, Orida tried to loosen the final bolt as she felt the mechanism of the Clock Tower pull the Bell back, preparing to strike.


****! ****! ****! She said into the whisperweft as she scrambled to remove that last, stubborn bolt. Then there was a click, and the mechanism let go of the Bell, trying to force the clapper against the side.


Orida braced for impact, and for death, but as the bell swung back the other way, Orida’s own body prevented the ball of the Doom Clapper from hitting anything at all. The force of the impact knocked the wind out of her, but it also loosened the final bolt, and both Orida and the Doom Clapper slid out, falling at an angle and crashing to the floor, at the top of the bell tower. The Whisperweft was stunned, if for no other reason than that she was still alive.


The Scarecrows around her did not seem to share her amazement, and instead advanced on her. Orida pushed herself backward toward the wall, and from there, to her feet. In her hands, she still held the Doom Clapper. It was a long, metallic rod, golden in appearance but much, much lighter, that was almost as long as she was tall. The rod itself was fairly thin and square, but with a spherical ball at the far end. It was the near end, however, that amazed Orida the most. The area where the bolts had connected the Doom Clapper to the bell was a perfect fit for her two hands.


The nearest of the Scarecrows lunged at her, and out of reflex, Orida swung at the creature, using the Doom Clapper like a club. The spherical end of the Doom Clapper connected with the Scarecrow’s misshapen torso, and instantly, the monster burst into dust. Orida was dumbfounded, and by the sound of his thread in the whisperweft, so was Royce.


What the hell?


Orida’s dark eyes lit up. “Yeah,” she said, nodding her head even as the other Scarecrows advanced. “****, yeah!”


Orida swung again, and another Scarecrow crumbled. Two more swings, and two more fallen Scarecrows. But the horrible creatures just kept coming, so Orida just kept swinging. Dust and steam mingled in that hellish bell tower, and the world began to spin for Orida. The chaos of the whisperweft seemed to be screaming at her, but the Doom Clapper just kept ringing out in the dark. At some point, Orida stopped hearing the whispers at all. She just kept swinging, kept battling onward. She kept swinging even after she realized she was no longer feeling any resistance. She kept swinging even after she realized that she couldn’t see anything. She kept swinging until the world collapsed in on her, and she realized she was no longer in the Clock Tower, in the Graveyard, or even in Cogdon.


Orida looked around the bleak landscape and frowned.


“Royce?”


There was no answer.


“Royce!” She tried louder.


There was still no answer. She decided to try her whisperweft.


Royce?


What’s that? The voice that answered hers was decidedly not Royce Ingot’s.


Who the **** are you?


I’m Perod. Or I was, long, long ago.


Where am I?


Ythol. Where else?


What the **** is Ythol?


Orida heard laughter through the whisperweft. Ythol is a dead world. Welcome home.


Orida Vise, with the Doom Clapper still tight in her hands, slumped down to the dead ground, and wept.



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