This is where it all changes and the siblings can take nothing for granted.
Check out the next chapter of Clockwork River and enjoy!
By Christopher Robin Negelein
Arwin thought the sky had had never looked more beautiful as it had with the searing
white clouds drifted against a bright blue. Then the smoke rolled over, blocking it all out. He
realized that he was laying on the ground. The world, and his thinking, were fuzzy.
Those dark eddies above, though, had a depth and symmetry that Arwin wanted to
scribble down on paper, even as he hoped he could still feel his fingers. He curled his fist to
confirm that he still had five fingers on each hand as the ringing in his ears faded. Thank the
Gods, he thought. I’m too young to go deaf already.
But when he sat up, he realized that going deaf was the least of his problems.
People were running around, some in traditional Shan green and others had red scarves
tied around their heads or arms, with weapons drawn and steel flashing. Rolling onto his hands
and knees, Arwin crawled to his wagon. While his body seemed to move in slow motion, his
brain was on fire with questions. Where was Fen? Or Uncle? I hope they are okay. Who did this?
Until he found them, he had to take care of himself — and father. The wagon was not far
off, he had to walk just a few steps to reach it. As he crawled closer, he felt better. He tried to
stand up, which became a wobble and then a few solid steps.
Closer to the wagon, he peered into the destroyed kingdom workshop that Ju was going
to show to him. The building’s doors, that the Shan magistrate had opened with such a flourish
before, now stood askew and smoking.
Inside was a swirling inferno, fed by the lab’s stocks of coal and mystical infused oil, the
păcură, as the thick smoke darkened the sky.
That was when red arm banded men noticed him. With a sword pointed in his direction, a
younger one came his way. Shit. Why you could have waited until I was in the wagon? That
would have been much, much more convenient.
Arwin’s heart was racing as he shuffled towards the wagon. “I’m not the one you want.
I’m just a visitor.” Both hands were in the air as he tried his best performance voice. It squeaked
a little. Damn, Fen, where are you? You’re the sword-fighting type and there are too many
The man, barely older than Arwin, kept asking him something in their foreign tongue,
marching up to him and emphasizing his seriousness with a flick of his sword.
With his back to the wagon, Arwin slid closer to the door. If he could just get two
minutes, his creations would turn the whole mess around. Without them, he felt so helpless. He
lowered his arm, reaching for the door handle.
That set his new friend off and the man yelled as he grabbed Arwin’s arm. The other hand
pointed a sword under Arwin’s chin. The man called over several older men. Arwin’s heart sank
when he saw the leader had cold eyes and a grey streak in his beard. He had seen that look
They continued talking as Arwin felt the weight of the man’s gaze.
Arwin swallowed. “Ransom, do you understand the word ransom? I am worth money.
My lord and clan can pay for me. I am a walking gold purse for you.”
The man raised his hand, silencing his underling. “Ransom? Gold? You?”
More Kingdom tongue flew past him like garbled nonsense. Someone came up to him
with a rope. Arwin sighed and held out his arms. Oddly, they made for his forearms instead of
his wrists. He tensed his arms, making his muscles bulge a bit as they wrapped him from forearm
They suspect something. Maybe they think I will do some sort of wizardry. Afraid that I’ll
summon lighting or demons if my arms move. Then they shoved him down onto the cold gravel
as the old man nodded to the younger.
The young man approached the door in a crouch, ready for anything to jump out at him.
Arwin sighed. “I would just leave well enough alone.” Everyone looked at him for a
moment. Then they looked back at the youth. The leader nodded his head.
The boy stood stock still, disbelief in his eyes. His leader nodded again and grunted an
order to the boy, but as the youth put his hand on the handle, Arwin took in a deep breath and
leaned away from the door. The boy crumbled and sank to his knees, babbling in what was
obviously a plea to not open the wagon.
The man roared his frustration, walked over and kicked Arwin hard in the hip. The boot
hit a nerve, making Arwin cry out. The rest of the kicks were for his minion. The young man
took only a few before he scuttled away, still pleading for mercy.
Puffing up his chest, the leader walked straight for the door and yanked it open. The
simple twist and pull tripped the complex tumblers in the door, setting off the booby trap.
The Swarm Dagger shot out from its spring release. The blade bounced off his chest and
hit the ground with a pathetic thud. The leader looked down at the scratch in his armor and then
smirked at Arwin. The kind of smirk that promised retribution.
Then a hazy smoke spilled out of the wagon, making the men wrinkle their brows and
hold up their swords, ready to take on whatever demon they imagined was inside. Arwin simply
dove to the ground. Well, the spring was too weak to penetrate the armor, but it did its job. Here
The metallic wasps flew out, wings rattling and smoke billowing, but they lacked their
poisonous payload. Arwin had run out of the nightshade after the bandit ambush.
Their stingers and bites still hurt, though, distracting the men. Arwin rolled under the cart
and wiggled out of the ropes by relaxing his tensed forearm. Within seconds, he shucked off the
coils and rolled out to the opposite side. Arwin heard the red army men already swatting away at
his priceless constructs.
Arwin cringed. Years to build, seconds to destroy.
Without a moment to mourn, Arwin rushed into the wagon and slammed the door and
slapped down the brace. Immediately, people were battering at the door.
He grabbed a few pieces of parchment, some potent păcură and then released the latches
securing the black cylinder. He yanked it off the shelf and unceremoniously stuck it in a bag.
A rattle came from inside.
The voice wheezed out like a deflated bellows. “What’s going on?”
“Hush, Father, not now.”
There was no room for the hawk. Hell, there was barely room for him to turn around
without knocking combustible and mystical materials off the shelves.
Arwin pulled out his personal dining knife. Only one person can come in here, I could
hold them off forever this way. Then he put the knife away. Unless they have a longer sword or
an arrow. But then two could play at that game. He looked around and found on a single
prototype barrel that he planned for his multi-cannon invention. With a dowel and a rag, Arwin
stuffed a scoop of his best gunpowder down the barrel.
He grabbed a rejected wooden ball he’d been carving as part of a toy for a noblewoman’s
son last year and tamped it down the barrel. Then he brought out his custom sulfur matches and
tinder box. With a quick cut of his knife, he whacked the fuse to be extremely short fuse. and
braced it against the back of the wagon. With practiced ease, he got spark on the match and then
gingerly held it over the fuse.
Arwin looked skyward. Please don’t let it me lose an arm when this goes off. His captors
were yelling louder and they were banging on the side of the wagon. He heard swords clanging
as the bellows reached a fever pitch. The wagon rocked back and forth.
Arwin poised ready with a spare sulfur match when the first burned down. He’d have to
crush that one under his heel if he didn’t want the whole wagon going up like a bonfire.
The door opened and the fuse lit. Arwin saw the flash of Fen’s red hair too late. “Duck!”
She ducked, exposing the man right behind her – to Arwin’s line of fire.