From the journal of Alaric Clay:
I’m writing this as we head home on the train from Foundry. Yesterday we found inquisitor Hugolin’s journal, and Henri and some of the others managed to crack the code he used to obscure its contents. He’d made many notes useful in following up the misery that has befallen my beloved Chuton. One in particular spoke of an acquaintance of his, an ex-inquisitor turned surgeon named Keyvan, who had been in touch because he had been employed to replace the fingers of a mysterious woman. Of course, Sister Hüvje, Branka and I all came to the same conclusion – it had to be her. The woman from Oldoak. The one who brought the Demon Lord’s Shadow to Chuton, who cut off her own fingers to call in a demonic favour. We had found her.
So off we went: the Sister, Branka, Vertrix and, for some reason, the horrid goblin, Chrissie Todd. I never did find out what she wanted, or why she went. We walked to Oldoak, then bought tickets on the train; someone paid extra for first class, and I followed suit, but I regretted it. The carriages are so…wasteful. Tower – as I’ve come to call the clockwork who know follows me around – came along too, but I didn’t bother trying to put it in the carriage reserved for them. Instead I spent the journey losing myself in work, redesigning the interior of the car to fit more people in relative comfort. There’s precious little need for first class train travel these days.
Foundry was everything I’d heard; a marvel of engineering, everything that Oldoak could have been but wasn’t. But even there, the divide between those who work and those with money was writ large. We managed to ingratiate ourselves with a dwarf checking credentials, and he drew us up papers that made it easy to ascend to Foundry’s lofty heights and find the bar out of which Keyvan plied his trade, replacing organs for those with the money to buy them.
And this is where I don’t know what I was thinking. I was still ashamed, I suppose: of what we had done, signing the pact with Red Leaf and slaughtering the Swords of Astrid. I had killed three men – more – who believed they were purging the world of evil. But even as I reminded myself of the creature they had unleashed in their “holy” crusade, that these servants of the New God were no holy paragons to be looked up to, I felt sick. Was this my life now? Caught between demonic and otherworldly evils, and servants of a god whose only saving grace was that they were mortals like us?
Whatever I was thinking…I was rash. I waited in the bar while the others investigated Keyvan’s back room. Then, when four shadowy figures entered the bar heading for the same back room, I followed them, intending to…what, exactly? Warn my friends? Ambush the villains? No. If I’m honest, I…I think I truly wished to die, fighting an evil I could be sure of. And I nearly got my wish. The figures turned out to be Harvesters – mockeries of men who used special knives to pierce the tear ducts of mortals, drinking their tears just to feel something, all emotion being lost to them as they have replaced too many of their body parts with the organs of others.
I know the touch of those knives. I felt one drive deep into my eye socket, I watched blearily as the creature drank my tears. I tore myself away, with my face slashed open; I dragged myself to the Sister, hoping for help, only to feel another of those knives in my back. I collapsed.
I was dead. Or as close as one can get without stepping on to the wheel.
I don’t know what I saw, or what I felt, not exactly. But in that moment, as I teetered on the brink, I realised I couldn’t be so selfish. Things hadn’t worked out how I’d hoped – but if I were dead, if my soul languished in the underworld – or worse, Hell – what could I do to set things right? Here were creatures who stole from the bodies of the innocent. Here, too, was a man who had betrayed his church and his fellow humans, to fleece the desperate and the rich and the criminal out of their crowns. If I died…would my friends be able to find the woman from the train, Eleanor? Would they be able to stop her on their own? And what about Owen, and Gwenda, and my mother? I still had family in Chuton. There was no time for wallowing, for guilt, for despair. There was only time for action…and perhaps for hope.
And so somehow I pulled myself back from the brink. My face was still a ruin, but after I threatened Keyvan and helped the others force him to tell us what he knew, he fixed that for me. I still look much the same, save for a thin web of silver scars.
As we rode the train home to Chuton, the Sister ran a service, giving hope to those riding in the regular carriage with us. I saw their hope, and I even shared their faith – not in their god, for I still find it more plausible that the Old Gods in their multiplicity exist than a single, all-powerful New God – but in the idea that perhaps not all hope is lost. Perhaps we could, as the Sister suggested, bring some of these folk back to Chuton with us. I was lost in thought on the way home.
But not all my thoughts were of hope. I had a new mystery. For Tower, the clockwork, who so far had only mimicked me since I rescued it from the goblins, had awakened just a little when I had nearly died. Had moved, so it seemed, to protect me, to save me somehow. But when I somehow returned from death, it spoke – so softly I barely heard it. “So close,” it said, and then spoke no more, back to its old simpler ways. I do not know what it waits for, or what it had felt close to – but I feel, somehow, that it does not mean me harm. Quite the opposite. But I will look on Tower with new eyes from now on – much as I look on the world with a new face, threaded with silver.