Chapter Three: Macon
Under the direst circumstances, even the most preposterous solution seems viable. When I last crossed Henry Chittenden’s threshold, such a solution had been my greatest hope. Now after all these years that solution had become my greatest fear.
I wanted to know if it was now the reason for the Council’s case against me, even though knowing alone could not solve the problem.
The shop was dark, unusual for any shop midday, and I had never known Henry less than a hard worker.
Henry was a wizard, forced as I was to take up another profession. I had applied my wizard’s love of details to medicine and become an apothecary. He had applied his to clock making and become one of London’s finest clockmakers.
Henry had learned to make a clock that never needed winding, one purported to derive energy from changes in temperature and barometric pressure. I had been desperate to believe him as there were no other options at the time, and time had been of the essence.
There had always been a part of me that doubted such a mechanism possible. Now I needed to know for certain. Was his perpetual clock real or did it utilize even the smallest amount of magic to keep it running?
As I have said, the most advanced technology is nearly indiscernible from magic. I now prayed this technology was not in fact magic. If it did use magic, my doom was sealed.
The shop was dark. I pressed my face to the glass. Shelves laden with clocks of all shapes and sizes filled the windows and blocked the view into the shop.
Had Henry closed for an extended Christmas holiday? Surely people would want his clocks for gifts. Was his shop successful enough that he did not need customers?
I must admit, a part of me grew jealous.
But truthfully, Henry’s shop seemed more than dark. A feeling of abandonment hung in the air. I moved to the door and again pressed my face to the glass.
Afternoon sun filtered through the shop’s double wooden doors and lit the dusty air just inside.
From what I saw there, my heart began to race.
The orderly window shelves maintained the illusion of order inside, order upon which, as I remembered, had always been important to Henry.
In reality, the interior of the shop was quite different. Clocks lay broken, strewn about the floor. Shelves had been overturned.
My first thought was whether Henry had been hurt and if he were still in the shop, perhaps needing medical attention.
No time to waste, I broke one of the panes of glass and opened the door.
The air was heavy inside. Whatever had happened, the shop had not been opened to fresh air for at least a few days. Dust and soot hung heavily in the air. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me so no one would see I was there. I rushed to the counter to see if Henry lay behind it.
My eyes strained in the dark as I searched for a lamp. One lamp reflected some of the light from the windows. I seized it, trimmed the wick, and fumbled for the lighter I carried in my breast pocket.
I lit the lamp and lifted it above the level of my eyes to scan the room. No one remained there, and thankfully, neither had Henry.
Henry was a gentle soul and had been like a father to me. He would never have done anything to anger someone enough to ransack his shop. It had to be the work of a robber, but it didn’t seem anyone had taken any of the clocks. Many of them were quite valuable.
One clock, still in its glass display case behind the counter, gained my attention above all the others. It was painfully familiar, its appearance exactly like the clock I had purchased from Henry so long ago, one of his perpetual clocks.
Its case was locked, so I eyed it skeptically through the glass. As I had feared, the clock wasn’t running. It was not a truly perpetual mechanism after all.
Had Henry’s absence denied it whatever magic was necessary to make it run?
I had not the luxury of time to question its authenticity when I had purchased mine. I had trusted Henry, although there were reasons he had no longer trusted me.
If my fears were true, the magic these clocks needed to run, however small that amount may be, created one steady leak on the world’s magic supply. The drain created by the clock that ticked away in the back of my shop could easily be traced to me.
Stopping that clock was something I could not consider, no matter what the personal cost.
Perhaps the council would be kind. Perhaps they would judge that since I did not make the clock, I was not responsible for the strain it created on the world’s depleted magic supply. Actually, the magic supply was being preserved because the life of the world’s magical creatures depended upon it. My own clock was also sustaining a life, though not one of those so protected.
The door to the shop opened, startling me from my thoughts, and the unmistakable silhouette of a fairy hovered in the doorway. Three fairies in one day. What luck.
However, I did not know this fairy. He cocked his head to one side, narrowing his eyes to study me.
He ventured into the shop, watching me then looking back to the door, which he had left open, of course. The room filled with the sounds of the street and the chill of a late winter’s afternoon, but despite the cold, this fairy was sweating.
“Where’s Henry?” said the fairy, still buzzing toward me. His voice had the standard fairy freshness to it, in contrast to his disheveled appearance. He plucked at his clothing as though it stuck to his skin.
“I was wondering that myself. I hoped you might know.”
The fairy dabbed his neck with a tiny handkerchief. I sometimes wondered what sort of tailor specialized in such tiny clothing.
“How should I know?” he said. “I ain’t done nothing.”
“Was Henry expecting you?” I was grabbing at straws, trying to comprehend the situation.
“He’s always expecting me this particular day of the week. It’s when I always come to . . . “ The fairy stopped short.
“Then you don’t know where Henry may have gone or who did this to his shop?”
The fairy scanned the disarray of the shop, his eyes growing wide and looking even more bloodshot. He dabbed his forehead with the handkerchief and picked again at his shirt. His voice gained an edge. “I told you. I ain’t done nothing.”
This conversation wasn’t leading anywhere, and the clock was ticking. Literally. I drummed my fingers on the countertop.
He studied me again, but his voice grew hopeful. “You’re a wizard like him, are you?”
“How else would I be able to see you?”
“You can see me?” He dabbed his neck again, quicker.
I stood dumbfounded by his response.
The wheels of his little mind were spinning. A grin spread across his face. “So if you’re a wizard, do you know where I can get any?”
I had the sickening feeling I knew where this was going. It seemed to be all the fairies wanted to talk about these days.
“Is that why you came to see Henry?” I said. “Was he your supplier?”
The fairy clenched his jaw. He picked again at his clothes and scratched at his arm, watching me again.
“The name’s Fry,” I said. “What’s yours?”
He laughed wildly. “You think I’m an idiot? You don’t think I know better than that?”
I whispered under my breath, “Not an idiot. Just a junkie.”
He pursed his lips and buzzed closer, scratching again at his arm. “I’ve heard of you. Your name’s been making the rounds.”
“I’ve heard,” I said, stepping closer. The fairy backed away. I remained in pursuit, “You have any idea who did this to Henry’s shop?”
The fairy jerked his head around, looking back at the door. “I don’t know nothing,” he said. “I told you that.”
Then in a flash, he was gone. I wasn’t surprised. After all, he was a fairy.
But another thought had crossed my mind. Could Mr. Pancrackle and his little buddies have done all this? That seemed likely, except that it would have meant Henry Chittenden had become involved with dragon venom. From what I knew of Henry, that part seemed quite unlikely, but wasn’t that why this fairy had come to the shop?
This interview had been a waste of time. I needed to know where Henry might be. I needed to know if his perpetual clocks were the real thing or if the alternative were true and they required some troublesome use of magic.
Henry was not here to tell me, which meant I had to test the alternative myself.
The case was locked. I wrapped my handkerchief around my hand and broke the glass with my fist, although it felt like another reason for Henry to feel I had wronged him. I lifted the shards away until I could reach the clock, and I placed it on the counter.
No time to waste, I removed my hat and went straight to work. I gathered my thoughts and focused all the stray energy I could find in the room, aiming it at the clock.
Nothing happened, but that didn’t mean much. I hadn’t used magic for anything other than self-defense in a long time. It wasn’t as if I went around zapping princes into toads to keep in practice.
The room did not contain enough ambient energy to create the necessary magical spark, the thing that might animate this clock.
I looked around the room a few moments, thinking. Something was wrong. Finally it occurred to me. I slapped my forehead with an open hand. I had been going about this the wrong way. Magic drew upon emotions, the thoughts and desires of the person creating it.
A lot of people think you can mix a few ingredients and create a spell, but it doesn’t work that way. Any spell and any associated potion will only work if its ingredients hold some sort of meaning for the person combining them.
That’s why spell books are so ridiculous. Certainly, many wizards write them, but the spells are not likely to work for anyone but the wizard who created them. They might serve as a jumping off place, but only if you understand the original wizard’s associations with each ingredient. One man’s eye of newt is another man’s frog legs.
I stepped back and changed tactics. Surely with my need to know the truth, my emotional energy would be strong enough to start the clock.
I tried to focus again, but the crystal had steamed up from the drop in temperature caused by another stupid fairy leaving the door open.
No one who passed on the street would be interested in what was happening inside the shop, so the open door didn’t really matter. Even if they did look in, nobody was likely to make a fuss about me standing in the middle of all the rubble. The people of London have their own concerns, and in this part of the city, few were above picking a pocket or two. They weren’t likely to judge those who did.
Perhaps most didn’t go around ransacking and robbing shops, but they wouldn’t get in the way of anyone who did. Who said there is no honor among thieves?
I tied to warm the crystal with my breath, but that only fogged it up more. Silly, I know, but my thinking wasn’t entirely rational.
I spread my handkerchief over my open palms and stretched my hands around the clock, hoping that warming it would clear the fog. Tiny drops of condensation began to drip inside it.
I didn’t have time for this. I closed my eyes and focused, bringing my emotions to the surface so I could tap into their energy. Fear, anger, confusion, but nothing happened.
I began to grow hopeful. Perhaps magic had nothing to do with it. Perhaps this clock ran by perpetual motion after all.
If this clock didn’t use magic to run, then neither did mine. This clock was exactly like the one I had bought. I hadn’t actually seen my clock in years although it remained silently ticking away close beside me. It wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. It worked to an extent, but only enough to keep my hope alive.
But if these clocks were truly perpetual, why had this one stopped? If it were broken, it wasn’t going to provide any answers.
As far as I knew, there had never been more than a few of these clocks in existence. They were difficult and expensive to make, and surprisingly the market for them had not been good. I did not know where I could find another to test, and I certainly could not test the one at my shop.
I had to try harder.
I thought back to the day when I took my clock home and applied it to its new task. I thought of all the reasons I had been so desperate for it to work. These thoughts stirred my emotions, and their power rose to the surface. I closed my eyes and pictured the clockwork moving, willing the image in my mind to become reality.
The power of these thoughts and emotions swirled around the clock, and as I listened, a sound caused my heart to sink in my chest.
The clock started ticking.
As I had feared, Henry’s clocks were fake. They did, in fact, require magic to keep them running, and no matter how small that amount may be, the Council had taken notice of the clock working away silently in the room behind my shop.
Had Henry known it would come to this one day? Had that thought given him some small feeling of retribution?
The clock on the counter merrily ticked on, unaware it had sealed my doom, just as the one behind my shop had sealed it.
Although both clocks quietly whittled away at the world’s magic supply, only the clock in the back room of my shop used it to circulate the lifeblood of the person I held so dear to my heart.
That clock was the only thing keeping my Vivian alive.
End of Chapter
The preceding is a weekly fiction series, first-draft chapters of a work-in-progress Urban Fantasy and Suspense Novel set in Victorian London, Chronicle of the Raven, by Terry Heath.
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