Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – The Clockwork Spider 8

Image: Steampunk Cyclopean clockwork Spider Robot Sculpture by Daniel Proulx

“Ah, you’re here,” Markus nodded to the Butler as he stepped carefully into the room. “I’m afraid our other guest had to leave quite suddenly. Will you please have the staff get the water out of this room? And do what you can for the Knox, will you? I’m afraid it got rather soaked.” He gestured disapointedly at the water-soaked chair where it lay.

“’S funny,” Schussel said as the butler left the room. “I don’t remember you ever telling me to handle the Spider with thick gloves.”

“A lie, of course,” Markus smiled.

“Only you wouldn’t be the first to have a… loophole to paying the rest of the bill.”

Markus’s eyes snapped to Schussel’s.

“Do I look like the sort of man who would do such a thing?”

“Looks can be decieving,” Schussel muttered, almost embarrased.

“Quite true!” Markus nodded. “I hear in your accent a bit of Kleidstown? Not the most wealthy spot in the Empire, I believe. I can imagine you’re a bit of a name in your old street, people talking about good old Schussel, who went to Cliffside to seek his fortune…”

“I won’t say your wrong, sir,” Schussel’s eyes narrowed.

“Years ago, you’d have had no better than a… a flat on the lower banks. Now, thanks to Prince Reinheart’s passions you can be as wealthy as any nobleman. Why, even a Duke of Cliffside pays you handsomely for your services. I won’t deny that killing you crossed my mind, but the damage to my reputation would hurt me far worse than simply paying you would hurt my wallet.”

“That’s good to know, sir.”

Markus hesitated only a moment before taking the glass from Schussel’s hands.

“Please accept my apologies for the rough treatment you recieved at the hands of that gentleman. I will of course increase your fee by fifty pounds to compensate your troubles.”

“Very kind, sir,” Schussel nodded, and then stood. “He seemed quite insistant on getting the thing. Almost as insistant as you were. Seems quite a bit of fuss over something so small.”

“It’s not the size that makes it valuble,” Markus smiled wistfully. “It’s what it represents.”

“Oh aye? And what’s that?”

“For others, I presume it means the key to a legendary supposedly unkillable warrior,” Markus waved his hand dismissively. “For me, however, it represents the first new artifact to find its home in my new Museum of Ancient Artifica. It is almost finished, and will be the greatest of its kind in the Empire. People shall come from miles around to see the ancient wonders of the world I will collect. Why, with all the treasures I own now, I won’t be able to fill half of it!”

“Seems a lot of effort for things you don’t have yet,” Schussel coughed.

“Fortune favors those who plan ahead. I know the common folk think of the League as dottering old dilettantes who spend their days with bad tobacco and rambling stories, but I know what you really are: pioneers on the boundary-line of the future! Old sands are being swept away and shadowy forests are being chopped down. The ancient Dragons of superstition are being slain, and I plan on finding and studying every piece of them. With, of course, the help of anyone in the League of Gentlemen Explorers who is willing to join me?”

Schussel barely hesitated before reaching out and shaking Duke Markus’s offered hand.