I did not have my Father’s love of the seas. He would step upon a ship as if he were walking through the gate of a familiar garden. It mattered not if he had ever been on board the craft before, he could easy read its history and the love (or lack thereof) that its crew showered upon it. Perhaps I did not have enough spider in me for, while I could recognize each knot and follow each rope up the masts, I spent little time thinking of them. I knew which way the wind was blowing but I could not tell if it carried fog or rain or greater waters. To my Father, all ships were women and he gave them the respect that he gave all the fairer sex. To me, a ship was construct, often beautiful and elegant, but not a feminine creature. Still, I knew something to be wrong on the Svetlana within an hour of it clearing port.
The ice cracked again. I could not see where but I could feel the surface shift beneath our feet.
I said, “We cannot stay here. The thaw is coming. The lake wishes to see the sky once more.”
The wretch looked at his feet. “Then let the lake open itself and bring me into its bosom. Let it hold me down in the cold and the wet and the mud. If no person will give me solace, at least allow the natural world to take my unnatural form into its heart.”
“Why would you give me this, Pudovkin?” I asked. I looked again at the notebook. The addresses were written in the alchemist’s clear, tight cursive.
“Would you believe that my conscience drove me to it? The men listed on those pages are poor scientists. They are driven more by their ambitions and the empty hungers of their intellect than by beneficent curiosity.” He gave me a tight and wholly unconvincing smile. None of his teeth showed between his lips.
“No, Pudovkin, I do not believe that your conscience could rise you out of your chair if your house were on fire. Do you have a more convincing lie to tell me?”
The constable looked at me sourly. He stuck his finger in front of my face and said, “You are drunk. The sun has not reached the top of the sky and you are drunk.”
I considered breaking the finger. Or perhaps biting it off. Yes, it was on his right hand so it would be relatively clean. No, it was still a finger belonging to an unattractive and smelly man. Resisting any further urges to damage the appendage, I gently pushed it aside. I said, “I am not drunk yet. I have plans to be drunk and you are interfering with those plans. There was no law against being drunk in one’s own abode when I woke up this morning so unless such a law has been passed in last hour I would invite you to find somewhere else to be.
He scowled. “The killer has struck again. You are needed.”
The witch said, “Some – like yourself, child – are born to power. Most of us must make our own.”
I wrinkled my nose. “I am far too old to be called a child. Not by any but my father and grandmother.”
The witch snarled, “You wear the pretty, pretty face of a girl. When I am done, I will wear that face and none will look upon you and still hold the contents of their stomach.”
“I am proud of you, Rose. No father has ever had a finer daughter.”
I snorted. “I suppose you have lived long enough to have met all the fathers and all the daughters that have walked this world?”
Father snorted in return. “I have met enough. I have had enough of my own. Only three of my other daughters have accompanied me on a Weaving Journey and none of them kept me companion for as long as you have. That shows either great dedication or great madness.”
“It is what I must do,” Hassan said. “I feel the devils with my skin. It aches and burns when they are around. The more there are, the more my skin itches.”
“How does your skin feel right now?” I asked.
He looked at me and narrowed his eyes. He looked at Father. “My scars feel warm. It is not a bad warmth. It is not the fire I feel when I stand before a demon. I don’t know what you are but I don’t think you are such things.”
We watched the sun descend beyond the sea. The fires behind us prevented the dark from truly settling onto the land. None of us cared. Most of the children had fallen into slumber when we settled on the beach. Those who had not gone down at arrival, did so before the stars filled the sky. The adults passed bottles and flasks and made little conversation. Soon they too began to curl up and let their exhaustion take over.
Father drank only water from his canteen. He smiled. He said, “That was two. There are three more. Be ready.”
The sound of engines echoed through the catacombs. Even with the cotton in our ears we could hear the grind of gears and the hiss of steam. The air smelled of oil and the rock around us vibrated with exertions of the machines. We turned a corner into a great open chamber.
The room was filled with perhaps two hundred of Windglass’s automen. They stood shoulder to shoulder, posture erect, eyes closed.
Windglass patted the man on a shoulder, just a master pats the head of his dog. He said, “Ade was my first. He’d been attacked by a lion. His brother caught the beast with its teeth in the poor man’s skull. He killed it with a machete and then carried Ade, over his shoulder, the four miles to my laboratory. There was naught I could do, not by conventional methods. The skull and brain were far too damaged for me to simply wrap his head with bandages. And the opportunity to test my devices was too tempting. I told the brother that Ade had died and then purchased the body. My greatest difficulty lay in assuring him that I had no intent to use the body for sorcery.”