Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – The Brass Helmet 3

A dull thud shook the room. Several patrons shot up in their chairs, and three strong sailors left their drinks to look outside and see what had happened. Arthur didn’t move – it sounded like Phillip de Margot’s Emporium again. Sure enough, not half a minute later, a young thin girl covered head to toe in soot ran past the Brass Helmet, sobbing into her hands. She was followed soon after by an equally soot-covered long thin crow of a man, shouting obscenities at the girl, alternating between English and French, before he stopped, brushed himself off, and turned back, stomping furiously while muttering to himself. Arthur indulged himself in a small scoff. Even Civilization had its characters.

Philip de Margot was famous for two things in Lower Cliffside. The first was his remarkable ability to have the most bizarre and esoteric tools and materials available for purchase. If you required a 13/25ths spanner, or an original Klickman’s valve before they added the leather seal to the design, then he would either have it or know where to find it. His network of salvagers, scavengers, bargainers, and businessmen stretched far and wide. He was invaluable to any number of historically minded engineers or mechanical scholars fiddling with unique and absurd designs.

The other thing he was famous for was a fanatical passion for tinkering. Phillip fancied himself a bit of an engineer, and always closed his shop two or three hours early to lock himself in his upstairs flat and fiddle with steam-broilers, toggle-switches, and glass-transistors. The results were rarely astounding, but always interesting. The locals knew better than to linger for long on the street above The Emporium after closing hours.

Arthur, my old friend!”

Arthur set down his tea and twisted to see Peter Zephren walking towards him, leaning heavily on his metal cane. His once strong jaw was softening with age and leisure, and his bones creaked when he sat down.

Arthur set down his book, smiling. He liked Peter, he really did. There was a straight-forward no-nonsense manner about him that was a refreshing change after dealing with Topside gentlemen and ladies all day. There was a part of Arthur that hated to see how old his friend had become. Arthur was old too, of course, but he had never worn out his body through constant use and abuse.

Travels to Asia, dark expeditions to deepest Africa, even a journey to the summit of the peaks of the Tibetian mountains were all in Peter’s past, carving their way though his diaries like winding snakes. Arthur had tried to get Peter to publish his diaries and sell them to lazy dilettantes who wanted to dream of places they’d never been.

Peter had declined, of course — there was still too much of the explorer in him. How could anyone enjoy reading about a place, Peter had asked Arthur once. You can’t understand a place by reading words — you have to see it, feel it, and smell it! Arthur didn’t have an answer for him. There was no explaining books to Peter Zephren.

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