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Clockwork River

By Christopher Robin Negelein

CHAPTER EIGHT

Excerpt

Arwin tried to relax, but his brain raced with what he had seen today. Not just the spectacle of the giant rotting ape creature hunting for a boat it could have lifted with one hand, but that he had finally found what he been searching for in the Shan Kingdom. Proof, they had abominations as well.

He wanted nothing more than to talk to his father about it. But the only thing he could get away with on the crowded deck was to check to make sure that the black cylinder was still intact and none the worse for wear. His father never told him where the ancient relic had been found, but it predated the Empire, maybe even into the early eras of history.

He assessed what supplies he had left and realized that he could stretch them out for just a little while longer. He would need to get more of the mystical păcură soon though. Otherwise, he and Fen would have to say goodbye to father for a second time. The thought of how their father had gone the first time gripped an ache on his soul as the memory flashed in his head.

Back then, anger was Arwin’s close friend as he watched his father go from well-respected man to a pariah. Many had feared that the growths that welled up under Father’s skin was a contagion but it was a sickness of the flesh that evilly dug into the bone. He remembered the long nights that his father moaned and cried until he had finally got enough poppy seed elixir to drown the pain away. But that elixir also dulled my father’s brilliant mind, stealing him away for us. Now, in the black cylinder, his mind was better but his life, such as it is, is now measured in mere weeks. Arwin thought. If I am to get the mystical păcură I need, then we must make this pirate venture work.

At that moment, Arwin knew that he needed to fully commit to the idea. And get Fen to agree to it as well.

He looked over to the little girl, Soon. “So tell me about this great beast. Was he always like that?”

Sitting next to him, she looked up at him. “No. They say he was dead last year. I remember the party in the street. The grand Emperor was happy and gave us a holiday.”

Arwin felt something rubbing against his butt after he sat down. He leaned over to pull out the little red ball. Looking at it, it seemed like the dinner entertainment he had done for the governor was another life and many years ago. He tossed it up, caught it, and then with graceful finger movements, gave it to the little girl. She smiled as she took it. She peered a little closer and saw that it had tiny maroon little falcons embroidered within the red cloth. “The birds are pretty.”

Arwin pulled out his tool and a little bit of twine and kept working at the little tool he had started a few nights ago. “Thank you. I had a friend of mine make that for me, she is far-far away now.”

“Oh, is she your wife?” The little girl said.

Arwin put his hands up. “Oh no-no-no it wasn’t like that. She was just a good friend.”

Fen giggled, a true lighthearted giggle, at Arwin’s uncomfortableness. For a moment, Fen seemed to be a young woman instead of the hardened warrior. “She would’ve come if he had asked. But Father thought they were both a bit young for that.”

“Yes, yes, we are too young. And we both had many things to do.”

The day he wanted to talk to Father about his good friend, Arwin awoke to a scream from the lab.

He had jumped off his cot and ran into the workstation to see a strange masked man wrapped in white clothing and looming over his father’s body. The assassin slit his father’s throat and the blood ran freely. Despite the shock, Arwin had grabbed a box of poison tipped darts and threw them in a scattered fashion at the assassin. There wasn’t enough time to ignite the tiny explosives in the tips. The experiment to make self-propelled arrows would never happen after that day.

One dart landed in the assassin’s wrist, which was exposed between glove and sleeve. The man jumped and ran for the door as if the cut had been much deeper. Odds were that he had heard that the Reagans clan had a reputation for coating their weapons with mystical poisons..

A small part of Arwin wanted to run after him but his father was laying there on the floor, still and unable to speak. The blood pooled so fast. So damn fast. The quick-thinking young man grabbed rags off the shelf to staunch the flow from his father’s neck but the blood kept spurting out.

Father pointed to the relic in the corner. Arwin knew what that meant. “No Dad, please don’t. We don’t know if it will work!”

But his father’s eyes told him everything as the blood drooled out of his mouth. He was dying so quickly. Arwin grabbed the cylinder and yanked on the lever that opened up the bottom. He sat his father up and slid the cylinder over his father’s head, noticing for the first time how its legs lined up perfectly on either side of father’s shoulders. The glass fogged with his father’s fading breath.

Unable to watch what he had to do next, Arwin closed the dark shutters over the cylinder and then closed his eyes. As he released the latch, it sounded like the slicing of a butcher’s knife. A final sluice of blood went everywhere, on his father and on him, until the headless body fell twitching back down on the floor.

Rushing as fast as he could, Arwin poured the lab’s water that had been boiled last night, but was now clean and cool, into the cylinder. For the first time, Arwin prayed to the gods he didn’t believe in. He grabbed the experimental păcură and coal, which he and his father had been testing for the device, and fed it into the burn chamber.

Grasping the flint and steel, Arwin couldn’t get the spark going even though he knew time was of the essence. For once, his fingers betrayed him. He tried again and then on the third time the flint sparked up and he blew on the kindling to get a small meager light. He nursed it with great tender care as if he was cupping his father’s soul in his hands. When it burned stronger, he closed the hatch. There was no time to attach the tiny grill and diaphragm that would give father a voice to see if he was okay. Arwin just had to hope for the best.

And that was when he allowed himself the luxury to scream and cry for help.

Check out the rest of the chapter, right here!

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