Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – Steamworks 2

Then, when I turned eighteen, Foreman Humphreys died.

I remember everything about that day. I can remember which junction I was at, and which Steam Meter I was replacing. I remember exactly where the cracks and chips were on the old brass piping that snaked in and out of the wall. I remember where my hands were, and which tools were on my belt when I heard the long sharp cry of the whistle.

The whistle means everything in the Steamworks. It is communication–the breath of our work. The whistle sometimes blows for lunch, other times for rest. Other times, someone has fallen and burned themselves on the pipes, or cut their heads on the sharp bolts that seal the connections. Sometimes it’s a meeting, or a call for the young Runabouts to meet with the Foreman to coordinate their efforts with the repairmen.

Sometimes it is a funeral.

The Steamwork Spiders removed our hats as he passed on the doctor’s cart, tears in our eyes. His face was still red, but thin and waxy from the glowing lights, not bright and vibrant as we remembered him. As I watched him pass, I became aware, for the first time it seemed, of the sound in the Steamworks. It is never quiet in the Steamworks. The pressure bangs and claps against the piping, while cooling vapors and dripping water ticks and taps against the brickwork. The Steam Meters tick, while the fire roars, and the boiling water pops and fizzes in the gorged belly of the City. And randomly, a whistle would blow.

The officers said it was an accident, but we Spiders suspected murder most foul. It would never be proven, but we knew the Foreman was not a man who made mistakes. The funeral was in shifts, because the Steamworks never slept. After the funeral, Sir Walter Finneius Pike took the reigns. He was a harsh man, thick of stomach and sharp of tongue. He had a bright gold ring that glittered in the dim red light. When he spoke, he barked like a dog, his spittle flicking about to sizzle on the burning hot brass.

“Keep up the pressure!” he would yell, pointing a chubby finger right at us, the ring glinting in the lamplight. “The blood of the City, that is!”

And so we would, running to and fro, keeping the pressure high.

After a year he decided to move me and Peeks from the pipes. He said it was to make room for new blood, and that we were getting too big. He needed us to work the Boiler.

There are thousands of boilers in the Steamworks, all filled with thick bubbling water and Areos Vitae. They were fickle things, and needed constant tending to make sure the heat was always high, and the steam pressure steady. They provided the lifeblood of the City to every nook and cranny, but these were mere homonculi–vague mockeries of the one true Boiler.

Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – Steamworks 1

You have to be careful in the Steamworks.

Brass and steam fill the belly of the City. When I first became an Engineer, and I saw those towering pipes that twisted and turned like yarn through the brick walls and floors of the Steamworks, I had first thought I had gone insane. It seemed impossible that so much metal could exist. But of course, Cliffside is a giant place, filled with steam cars and zeppelins, doctors and fine gentlemen and ladies going about their days, and it was our duty to keep the City running, ticking along like an old Steam Meter.

I had only ever seen one of the old Steam Meters in a book before I went to the Steamworks. Of course, Ventometers were everywhere in the City, their thin and gleaming cylindrical forms replacing the loud thick clunky disks. In the Steamworks, however, the Steam Meters still reigned, their thin black needles always quivering slightly as they measured the steam pressure in the pipe, or valve, or regulator, or cooler, or boiler. The ticking was everywhere. Even with the roaring blaze of the boilers, and the banging of the boiling water, the ticking echoed through the tunnels like a clock, reminding us of the steady passage of time.

I was named Wetherbee Spikes by a mother who did not survive my birth. When I was young, my father sold me to my eventual mentor and friend, Foreman Humphreys, for drinking money. I worked with Kites, Pullson, Richards, and Peeks. We five were the Lower Runabouts, and we knew every inch of the lower half of the Steamworks. We kept the pipes clean and tight, sealed all the cracks, and knew all the shortcuts so we could get from one side of the lower half to the other in fifteen minutes flat. We scouted all along the twisting web of pipes, dodging Engineers and Steamologists. We made a game of it, seeing how many days we could go without the other workers seeing us fix the cracks. Foreman Humphreys called us his Steamwork Spiders.

Of all five of us, I was the smallest of stature when I joined the Runabouts, so I was sent down the deepest and narrowest pipes to adjust the valves and regulators in the hollow bowels of the Steamworks. My ears were sharp, and I could find a leaking pipe quicker than anyone, seal it off, tighten the bolts, and get back before the pipes had time to cool. We had pride in our work, then, the boys and I.

But time passed, and as I grew older and could no longer fit down the narrowest of cracks, I would climb the large boilers and thick pressure pipes to seal leaks and keep the pressure high. I became an Engineer then, fitting new valves, adding new threads in the ever widening web of pipes. My muscles grew strong from lifting large spanners, and hoisting giant brass pipes into place with my fellow men. Kites fell ill when he was fifteen, and died before the year was out, and so it was just me, Pullson, Richards, and Peeks.

Edmund’s Notebook 16: Down, Down, Down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/twm_news/7447732100/

Image: A Young Scholar, Tyne &Wear Archives; Museums

Excerpt from “Born from Ashes: A Learned Study of Patron Lord Edmund Moulde and his Writings” by Sir Loomus Kohlm, DFA, MRD, NDA:

Perhaps most interesting, in the entire annuls of Sir Edmund Moulde’s great poetic history, is the poem simply titled ‘Down, Down, Down.’

Found in the seventh Unpublished Notebook of Poems, the title appears at the top of a loose page that had obviously been crumpled and mostly burned before being used as a macabre bookmark. No other words are legible on this page.

Nowhere in Sir Edmund’s vast collection of writings is there any indication of what this poem might have contained, and Sir Edmund himself was famously tight lipped on the subject. As a result, countless pet theories, such as the laughably nonsensical idea offered by my respected and otherwise learned college, Sir Wather Krink, that this poem was somehow connected to the random sketches of burning skeletons that were peppered throughout his notebooks, have become quite fashionable. 

The Clock Statue

The clock itself, Edmund had to admit, was rather striking. The sculptor had gone out of his way to carve minute whorls and spirals in the clock to give the white stone the appearance of ashen wood. The pendulum hung crosswise, frozen in mid swing, while the numbers were carved in a beautiful script. The hands themselves were covered by a glass window, attached with a realistic looking hinge.

As soon as Edmund looked closer, he saw what he had expected–the hinge was real, painted to look like stone, and a tiny keyhole sat on the edge of the frame. Edmund reached as high as he could to slip the tiny key from the gargoyle’s mouth into the hole, just managing it.

He twisted the key gently, and the glass window opened with a click. Edmund smiled as he saw that the hands, which had been so exquisitely carved to look like part of the stone face, were in fact painted iron and could rotate about the face.

The rain and thunder crashed down on top of Edmund as he stood, staring at the large granite statue. The cold wind pushed at him, twisting and winding through the holes in the hedges, but he would not move no more than would the clock statue.

‘The time my child first cried,’ went the poem, Edmund recalled. Lucky that he had spent so much time pouring over the journal for clues about the Mechanus Vitae.

Reaching up to the face of the clock, he cast his mind back to Plinkerton’s journal, and the entry about his son: Rotchild had been born at seven twenty-three. Carefully, he moved the hinged hands on the clock to seven twenty-three. Stepping back, Edmund waited in the pouring rain.

Nothing happened.

Was there something he had forgotten? ‘When lightning fills the sky,’ was the next part, but that was obviously about when Rotchild was born.

Was it?

A hunch building in his mind, Edmund’s eyes locked onto the very top of Moulde Hall, barely visible over the tops of the hedges.

After only a few seconds, with a crack that almost split his ears, a bolt of lightning struck the western pole on the roof of Moulde Hall. Deep in the building, thought Edmund, the large copper wire traveled down the chimney to the furnace in the cellar, and then into the ground. It had been there for years to protect the building from lightning strikes. Perhaps Plinkerton had put it there himself. Edmund had assumed the cable ended there.

Now, Edmund could imagine the lightning traveling through the building, and then just after the wire sank the ground, it turned to the side, and traveled down the hill, heading straight for where he was standing.

For a moment, nothing happened, and then a tinny gong echoed from the statue, and the sound of a crying bird drifted through the air. There was a loud grinding, and Edmund watched as the grandfather clock slowly moved aside on small brass wheels, revealing a long dark stairway heading into the depths of Haggard Hill.

Braving The Maze Once More

He ran outside towards the maze, a small black umbrella open over his head to protect him a little from the rain, and a small crank-operated lantern in his hand. It was hard going–the wind was strong and it tried to either blow the umbrella out of his hands or to throw soot filled rain in his face.

It was almost too easy. ‘Beneath an unkindly hour,’ Edmund reflected as he ran outside towards the decrepit maze. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have given the line a second thought, except for the mention of the Cavalcadium hidden ‘under the foundation.’ If Plinkerton had hidden the Cavalcadium under a clock, he would have had to us a clock he knew would stick around.

Edmund came up short as he reached the entrance of the large dilapidated hedge maze. He wished he had paid more attention the first time he had stepped into the hedge. Now, with lightning streaking across the sky, he wasn’t sure he could find the statues that lined one of the many twisting paths.

Nevertheless, he had to try. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped past the stone skeletal sentries and pushed into the dark maze.

At first he walked randomly, jumping through holes and taking turns without forethought or concern. The moon gave little light, and what perception was gained by the lack of mist was lost again in the darkness. Edmund had a lantern, and would have used it, but he didn’t want anyone to glance out a window in the Hall, see his light, and then perhaps decide to investigate. Luckily, the lightning provided brief glimpses of the path ahead, and helped Edmund recognize paths he had taken before.

Finally, a bright flash of lightning illuminated the rows of statues on a path on the other side of a small hole in the hedge. Edmund squeezed through, and began looking for Plinkerton’s statue.

He hadn’t looked carefully the first time he saw the statues, being far more interested in the maze itself. Now he saw each one with astonishing clarity, and a new understanding. These weren’t a part of the landscape like trees or flowers. Each one had been put here by someone, for some reason. A sundial held by bones, a skeleton in white-tie holding a cane, they all had been created and placed like furniture. And some…

Edmund stood in front of the large statue of the grandfather clock surrounded by ravens. At first he had thought the dark ravens were merely huddling around the tall clock, but as he looked closer he could see the looks in their eyes. Each one was staring intently at the clock, mouths open in aggressive spite. These were not birds that had lit on a flat surface to rest, but furious ones, that had been caught up in the violent passage of time. Edmund sighed to himself. It was a bit of a stretch, the sort of thing only a poet would recognize.

He wondered briefly what a group of ravens was called.

The Key From Kahmlichimus

When Edmund stepped off the elevator, he had already begun to hear another storm brewing. Distant thunder and the faint tentative taps of a slight rain echoed through the roof into the fifth floor. Edmund took a deep breath as he knocked gently on the tower door.

The door swung open. Edmund paused, staring into the dark stairwell. The door had never been left unlatched before. He wondered if the Thing was out wandering between the walls of Moulde Hall.

He stepped into the middle of the round room, listening to the strengthening rain and deepening thunder. A flash of lightning lit the room as Edmund turned to look at the large gargoyle statue. It didn’t look as frightening as it had before, Edmund thought. Even in the darkness with the mouth hanging wide, it seemed somehow smaller to Edmund now. He remembered how large it had seemed when he first saw it–how strong and angry. He remembered the mouth had…

Memento Mori…the mouth of memory…

Edmund stepped closer to the stone statue. He remembered he had seen a gleam in the teeth. Looking at the statue now, he could see it was a rough granite–not shiny at all. But the gleam had to have come from somewhere…

Leaning closer and twisting his head, Edmund could just make out something metallic in the beast’s mouth. Carefully, he slipped his hand between the large stone teeth, and felt about until a small piece of metal had slipped off a delicate stone hook, and was now in his hand. It was a tiny key.

Another key? What did this one unlock?

Edmund stared at the steady gaze of the Gran Gargoyle. He had the key — the key that would lead him to the Cavalcadium of Fortune. He was one step closer to his goal, and if there was anything he was certain of, it was where he needed to go next.

‘Walk the winding path,’ Tayatra had said. Edmund almost felt insulted.

 

The Mansion struck ten in the evening.

Edmund gripped the tiny key in his hand as the rolling storm clouds crept over the city, blanketing the smog and making everything darker still. The black rain fell fast and hard, splattering against the hundreds of windows in the walls of Moulde Hall, with a sound like irregular clockwork.

It had only taken Edmund a few moments to make his way down to the basement, and the side door that led out into the gardens. And now, he stood in the open doorway, staring out into the shadowy mists. It was time, and Edmund was ready.

He wasn’t positive he was correct, but he couldn’t help but feel confident. He had to be right–it was exactly what he would have done. A flash of lightning lit the world a brilliant blue as Edmund’s heart began to beat faster and faster. The air was electric, sending tingling energy though his body. He felt like he had just before he had given Matron his poem to read at the orphanage, or fit the Mechanus Vitae into Tayatra. He was about to experience something important.

Mrs. Kippling Trusts

“Do you understand how hard that is for me to trust someone? In this house?”
“I think so,” Edmund admitted.

“Well you don’t,” she shook her head. “You haven’t seen half the things I have, nor dealt with people half as viscous. You think the family is bloodthirsty now… well… It was worse eighty years ago!”

“I’m sure it was.”

“Begging-your-pardon,” Mrs. Kippling looked at Edmund with red-rimmed eyes, “but no…you aren’t! You never had to deal with the madness of Matron Victrola, or… or Grunder…”

Mrs. Kippling paused, and took a deep breath. Shaking her head slowly, she reached into her bosom, almost to the elbow. After two quick tugs, she pulled a thick yellowed letter out of her blouse, and held it out to Edmund.

“Patron Plinkerton gave me this letter before he died. He said it were a prophesy, and I was to give it to whoever were going to save the family.”

“Are there instructions on how to find the Cavalcadium?” Edmund asked, reaching for the thick yellowed letter.

“Well…sort of,” Mrs. Kippling said, uncomfortably. “In that it probably doesn’t. No, I’m sure it doesn’t. It’s… he made it sound a little personal, maybe? I’m sure I haven’t read it, it’s-not-my-place–You can see the seal is still there.”

Mrs. Kippling pointed a finger at the letter. Edmund turned it over to see the red wax seal; an ornate ‘P’ that obviously marked the correspondence as from Plinkerton’s own hand. It was heavy–heavier than he thought it should be, considering how long ago it had been written.

His finger traced the misshapen blob of wax. Just pop the seal, and he would learn what Plinkerton had wanted him to do.

He looked up at Mrs. Kippling. “No thanks,” he said.

“What?” Mrs. Kippling said, after a momentary pause. “But… but it’s the prophesy!”

“I don’t care,” Edmund shrugged, setting the letter down on the table. He thought a moment, and then nodded. “I think I’m done with adults giving me the answers. If it’s prophesy, than it will happen whether I read it or not. If it isn’t, than it’s not important. Either way, I’d just as soon not read it.”

“But it’s about you!” Mrs. Kippling protested. “At least it could be, and it could tell you what you’re going to do next!”

“Then you read it,” Edmund said, walking to the door. “Then I won’t have to come back and tell you what I’ve done. Besides, I think I already know what I’m going to do next. Thank you for your help, I think you informed me of something very important.”

“I did?” Mrs. Kippling stood dumbly in the dark kitchen as Edmund pushed open the door and headed for the elevator.

Edmund Asks His Questions

“I want to ask you about the Cavalcadium of Fortune,” Edmund said.

“The what?” Mrs. Kippling looked confused. “What on earth is a cavalcadium? Where did you hear that?”

Edmund took a deep breath. “I found the library,” he said, slowly. “And Tayatra.”

“You found Tayatra?” Mrs. Kippling’s mouth dropped open even further. “I thought Patron Rotchild had ruined her completely!”

“No,” Edmund interrupted. “I fixed her. She just needed some Mechanus Vitae and string.”

“You fixed her? You? All on your own? Begging-your-pardon, but how old did you say you were?”

“I’m eight and a half,” Edmund said, not even bothering to hide his frustration. He was getting tired of everyone being surprised that he could do anything on his own. “Now please, you were around when Plinkerton was Patron. You know him and remember him. He hid something important to the family in a Cavalcadium of Fortune. I don’t know where it might be, or even what it is. I think you can help.”

“Well, I might…” Mrs. Kippling sighed, wringing her hands fitfully, somehow avoiding cutting herself with her knife. “It’s-not-my-place, but he never told me much at all though, really. He was always a quiet one, walking alone outside with a pipe in his mouth, or sitting alone in his room. Not much more to him, really. He was a kind and quiet man.”

“Do the words ‘Memento Mori’ mean anything to you?” Edmund asked, trying a different tactic.

“Oh, I know that one,” Mrs. Kippling shrugged. “That’s the family motto what used to be writ above the main door. It means ‘Remember you will die.’”

Strange, Edmund thought, but somehow fitting. A motto that was at once a philosophy and a threat. Quite poetic too, that this reminder of death could only be seen when the tree loses its leaves. Mrs. Kippling was sighing

“Patron would stare at old Kahmlichimus for hours, sometimes. He even said it to me, once, when I were dusting the Foyer clock. ‘Memento Mori, Mrs, Kippling,’ he said, ‘Even you’ll die someday. All things come to an end in time.’ He loved time, he did. He kept his watch so carefully wound, and even put in a clock statue in the maze.”

“He loved time?” Edmund wasn’t sure he understood. Mrs. Kippling nodded, her eyes drifting to far away.

“He loved history, and clocks, and the seasons turning. He used to watch the sun cross the sky, and count the stars as they came out. He invented watches and calendars and all sorts of things… kept track of when everything happened–said it was important for the future of things. He was such a wise man… and he seemed to know things that… Oh, I just don’t know, is this the time?” she muttered to herself. “I don’t know, you found Tayatra… maybe that’s enough? Oh I wish Tane still worked here, he was always a bit more clever about this sort of thing than me…”

“What sort of thing?” Edmund asked, feeling not a little left out. “Can I help?”

Mrs. Kippling’s pacing stopped, and she turned to him with a look of determination in her eyes.

“I am going to trust you, Master Edmund,” she said, her voice sounding a little frightened.

A Secret Reveled

“Oh, well, I must have misspoke,” Mrs. Kippling stammered, keeping her back to Edmund as she selected an onion and began to slice it slowly. “Begging-your-pardon, I meant Matron’s daughter. Her name was Victrola too, named after her great-great-”

“Her name was Riiana–I found it in the Moulde Family records,” Edmund pressed on, his eyes beginning to sting from the onion. “I don’t think you’re telling me the truth. I think you’ve been House-Keeper at least since Plinkerton. I think you made him soup–the same soup you make for me. He spilled some, you see, on a book he was writing in, and it’s the same shade of color, even after so many years, as the spill I made in my book.”

“It’s an old recipe, passed down from house-keeper to house-keeper.”

“Which one?” Edmund said. “I didn’t say which soup it was.”

Mrs. Kippling sighed, her shoulders sagging. Edmund’s eyes were watering from the onion so badly he had to wipe his face, and when he opened his eyes again, Mrs. Kippling was directly in front of him her sharp knife glittering in the stove light.

“You are clever,” she said, sadly. “Almost as clever as Patron Plinkerton. He was a great man, he was. He never did anything mean or crazy–he was as kind as could be. I hear all his descendants call him the first of the worst, and it breaks my heart, it does. He cared for his children, and his wife, and… and his servants.” She lifted her left hand to the stove light and looked at it as if she could peer through it and study its bones. “He fixed my hand when the accident burned it almost completely away. He gave Master Rotchild his sight back when he poured liniment in his own eye… and when my heart gave out…”

Mrs. Kippling sighed again, and a dreamy look spread across her face like an advancing cloud front. “He was clever, but not always right, you see. He started my heart up again–gave me some jolt or elixir or some such–and it hasn’t stopped yet. He always did say he wasn’t sure he followed his notes just right… So I’ve been serving the family ever since.” The dim light flickered in the knife, catching Edmund’s eye. “And now you’ve found me out, what are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” Edmund said, his voice steady.

The knife dipped in surprise as Mrs. Kippling’s mouth fell open. “Nothing?” she asked. “Begging-your-pardon, But… you aren’t going to bleed me? Matron Isaybel kept threatening to sell my blood at fifty a bottle.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You are a Moulde,” Mrs. Kippling let a smile flicker across her face.

“Now that doesn’t mean anything,” said Edmund, crossing his arms. “Does Matron know?”

“No,” Mrs. Kippling said, after a moment of thought. “I don’t think so. She tries to ignore the staff. She’s a proper lady, she is.”

Edmund nodded. Now he needed to ask the real questions.

The Mysterious Mrs. Kippling

Edmund sat in the kitchen, waiting on the edge of the counter with his legs crossed beneath him. He knew he wouldn’t have to wait long; he had paid very close attention to Mrs. Kippling’s daily schedule.

Sure enough, he had only been waiting a few minutes before he heard a rattling at the door. Mrs. Kippling was trying to unlock the already unlocked door to begin the day’s breakfast. It had been an easy lock to open, Edmund reflected. He almost wondered why she bothered locking it at all. Perhaps this door was older than all the other ones he had practiced on, or perhaps the humours flowing through his body were guiding his hands, his nerves focusing his thoughts.

After a few moments of confused fumbling, the door opened tentatively, revealing Mrs. Kippling standing at the ready, her fingers balled into tight fists, ready to strike should it prove necessary. She may have only been a house-keeper, Edmund mused, but she kept a house filled with Mouldes, and to keep that job she must have known how to be careful.

When she saw Edmund, sitting on the counter, she almost laughed in surprise.

“Master Edmund,” she gasped, her fingers relaxing. “Begging-your-pardon. You scared me half to death!”

“I’m sorry,” he said, keeping his eyes on hers. She brushed her hands on her apron and walked into the room, heading for the large soup pot that sat prepared to cook on the stove.

“I must have forgotten to lock the door,” she said, half to herself. “I’m getting old, I suppose.”

“I think you’re old already,” Edmund said. Mrs. Kippling gasped, turning to face him with a wounded look on her face.

“Now, Master Edmund, It’s-not-my-place, but that was a cruel, spiteful thing to say.”

“I am a Moulde,” he shrugged.

“Now that doesn’t mean anything,” Mrs. Kippling sniffed, turning away from his gaze to grab at her utensils. “It’s-not-my-place, but I’ve known quite a few Mouldes that weren’t plain rude like that. Kolb isn’t vile at all, and Matron was quite nice when she was younger.”

“And you knew Plinkerton, didn’t you?” Edmund asked.

Mrs. Kippling stopped, her hands poised over the handles of the knife chandelier. Slowly, her hand began to move again, selecting a long thin blade and drawing it carefully from the wheel.

“Now what makes you think a silly thing like that?” She said, too casually. Edmund smiled.

“I missed it at first, but a long time ago, when we were talking about Kahmlichimus, the Gran Gargoyle, you said you spoke to Matron Victrola about it–but she was Matron’s Grandmother. You’d have to be at least a hundred years old to have spoken to her at all, much less given her advice.”