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Authors: Adele Abbot

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Of Machines & Magics

BOOK: Of Machines & Magics
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Of

Machines

&

Magics

Adele Abbot

Barking Rain Press

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Of Machines & Magics

Copyright © 2012 Adele Abbot (www.adeleabbot.info)

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

Edited by Ti Locke

Cover artwork by Michael Leadingham (www.michaelleadingham.com)

Barking Rain Press

PO Box 822674

Vancouver, WA
98682
USA

www.barkingrainpress.org

ISBN Trade Paperback: 1-935460-30-7

ISBN eBook: 1-935460-31-5

ISBN Hardcover: 1-935460-37-4

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012930036

First Edition: April 2012

Produced in the United States of America

9 7 8 1 9 3 5 4 6 0 3 1 2

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the Barking Rain Press team, especiallyTi Locke for her editing skills,Michael Leadingham for his atmospheric and intriguing cover,and Sheri Gormley for her efforts in publishing this book.

Dedication

To family and absent friends.

Coming Soon from Adele Abbot

Postponing Armegeddon

www.AdeleAbbot.info

Chapter 1

The Concourse separated the City from the Lake. It was a broad swath of transparent and diamond-hard Lucite stretching for seven furlongs along the water’s edge providing its boulevardiers with astounding views of the denizens of Lake Mal-a-Merrion. Cafes and restaurants abounded along its length; shops, bazaars, emporia lined its city-side flank. A light breeze, a zephyr, flickered the flames in the table lamps, here and there a tendril of smoke curled away as though recoiling from the salty odors of the water. The so-called
noon
chime had sounded from Barto’s tower and the cafes were filled with patrons eating alfresco
.
Calistrope the Mage sat at one of the many tables, seemingly relaxed; but through hooded, knowing eyes watched the activities of a thief.

“Look,” said Calistrope, pointing. Ponderos turned and looked where Calistrope pointed. A young fellow, dressed in a tattered yellow shirt and too-small breeches, dipped his fingers in to the pocket of a passer-by. A moment after, the hand reappeared, a glint of bright copper was visible for an instant and the boy had disappeared into the crowd.

“A child and already a petty thief,” Calistrope sighed.

“And a thief of some skill,” Ponderos observed and turned back to his wine. “Though I would keep my voice low if I were you.”

“What do you mean?”

“He might consider
petty
thief to be derogatory.”

“Sachavesku allows too many criminals to flourish.”

“Too many,” Ponderos nodded, his expression grave. “It would be more agreeable if just a few were allowed, just the more picaresque of course. Um, a cultural activity.”

Calistrope looked at his friend, trying to decide between indignation and drollery. Humor won the day. He chuckled. “Crime…” he began and stopped as he felt furtive fingers searching for a way into the purse at his belt.

Ponderos looked up at the pause but warned by Calistrope’s expression, looked away again. It took a few seconds for Calistrope to remember the cant he needed but then…

To the young cutpurse who had chosen to thieve from the Mage, it seemed that the little bag—no bigger than a pair of fists—opened itself. Two rows of pointed teeth lined the opening; the bag had eyes as well… little red ones. When the teeth snapped shut on the boy’s hand, the eyes looked up at him and one of them winked. The illusion was entirely visual but Roli could not imagine teeth sinking into his flesh without hurt, thus, he felt pain which was no less real for being imaginary. Men and women sitting at tables round about turned and looked at him but since what the thief saw was visible only to himself, they frowned and returned to their refreshment with shrugs.

Calistrope turned in his chair and grinned, a great wolfish grin. To Ponderos, he said “Crime is far too prevalent here on the concourse.” The Mage looked down at the boy in the grip of those illusory teeth. He tut-tutted. “I’m afraid it’s the Justiciary for you my boy. We’ll take you along presently, as soon as we’re finished here, then the Deemster can think up an unpleasant punishment for you.”

“But Sir…” wailed Roli looking from Calistrope to the vengeful bag of teeth and back again. “ I…” and paused.

“You?” Calistrope prompted.

“I only…”

“Mm?”

The two men could see Roli’s mind working: thinking as he spoke and considering how his own interests might best be served by the truth—not all of the truth, of course. “My family is very poor. There is often no food to put on the table.”

Calistrope’s expression softened. “In that case, we must attend the Public Works office. We shall find work suited to your skills, my friend and I will recommend you.”

“Work?” Roli’s expression was one of horror. “Employment? But that will take up all my time, when shall I find time to enjoy myself?”

“You don’t find the idea appealing?”

Roli did not answer.

“Very well. I myself shall find something for you to do. I need a serv… an assistant.” A little shocked at his sudden whim, Calistrope paused to reconsider, then… “Yes, yes,” he stood up and snapped his fingers. The bag, which still held very fast—so it seemed—to Roli’s hand, pulled on the lad’s arm. “Well, what do you think Ponderos?”

“Excellent idea,” he got to his feet. “If you’re sure about this?”

“Oh, I think so, I think so,” he looked down at the boy again. “Apprentice.”

The two sorcerers walked off and the bag trailed after, like a woolly balloon. Roli, still in thrall to the delusion stumbled along in their wake with arm outstretched and fist covered in a small and unremarkable bag.

“Sirs,” he called. “Please.”

Calistrope stopped. “Wouldn’t you like to be a sorcerer’s apprentice? It’s a chance that is not given to many.”

“Sorcerer?” Roli took a step back. “Sorcerer! Now that’s the way the cricket jumps!” A blinding light seemed to suddenly ignite behind his eyes, his expression turned to one of horror. “Sorcerer? I tried to pick the purse of a sorcerer?” he fell silent.

“Quite right. You tried.”

Roli looked up at the tall spare figure with the dark blue eyes and face as thin as a hatchet blade then to the other with his gleaming bronze skin and muscled like a genie. Ponderos seemed a force of nature.

“You are a Sorcerer, too?”

Ponderos nodded. “Of the fourth grade.”

The boy could think of nothing to say. The circumstances were so bizarre that he could not grasp the situation, even when the magic bag let go of his hand and returned to Calistrope’s belt, he was hardly aware of his freedom. “A
sorcerer’s
apprentice?”

“Give it half an old year; we’ll see how we get on. We should go to see your parents of course, we should obtain their permission.”

“My parents forbade me to return home the third time the Constables came for me.”

“So you have been to see the Deemster already?”

“No. Oh no, they couldn’t catch me.”

High above the valley floor, the Bumanda tree lifted gnarled and massive branches to the sky. Its trunk, as wide at its base as three men were tall, sprang from a tangle of twisted roots anchored in the lower slopes of the massif. Higher, the trunk swelled to even greater proportions and the sun’s orange light glittered from the colored glass of widows set into the trunk and the more substantial limbs. Matt black leaves cast trembling shadows across the enclosed walkways and staircases which sprang from branch to branch. Calistrope the Mage had hollowed his manse into the Bumanda tree when it was but a fraction of its present age, when the ether was still rich and the sun still marked out days.

Roli had lived with Calistrope now for several months. The boy’s working life was split between domestic duties and starting the long path of learning. Calistrope had taken pains to explain the nature of the apprenticeship. He pointed out that there was but a single initial goal: to learn to live long enough to learn the arts of wizardry. Progression from novitiate to master was a task spanning several generations of ephemeral humankind.

They had walked the deserted shores of Mal-a-Merrion with Calistrope introducing Roli to nuts and roots, plums and apples. Foods which grew wild and ready for the gathering was a concept both new and novel to one whose short life had been spent on the infertile streets of Sachavescu and in its manicured pleasure parks.

They sat now in a small glen where a cold breeze had frosted the trees and grasses. Roli listened; his expression that of a skeptic while Calistrope explained the nature of magic.

“There is no such thing,” he said and Roli smiled lopsidedly as the Mage denied his profession. “Magic is the name given to effects we no longer understand.”

“In that case,” replied Roli, “of what use are seven hundred and thirty two Magicians who sit in the College Tower debating the efficacy of magic?”

“You may well ask. I have also wondered at this, but then I am an eccentric and often a thorn in the sides of my fellows. Still, I tell you there is no such thing. The old arts of science and engineering were used in ages past to create and change the world about us; these skills were of many different kinds. But if I was asked to comment I’d say steam power was the most ubiquitous of these.”

An ocular dangled from a twig, its single great eye rotating within the transparent globe of fluid until it could watch as Calistrope held up a fist and extended a finger: “Mechanics.” Another: “Mentation.” One by one, he extended fingers. “Galvanism. Numerics. Nanotics.” Coming to the end of his fingers and what he could conveniently remember, he finished off, “and many more.”

Roli was bored and watched the progress of a wanderlust beetle as it trundled from one patch of gravel to another. “All ancient sciences, all long forgotten even though they were practiced for hundreds of millennia. We but enjoy the results of long ago labors. Magic is those few bright shadows left behind by the forgotten dazzle of science.”

“Why are insects very small or very large?” asked Roli, watching the iridescent beetle bigger than a man’s head which left a trail of singed and burnt grasses behind it.

Calistrope paused to assess the
non sequitur
. “The wanderlust beetle,” he said, “Searches out particles of radium and other unstable elements among the rocks. The creature’s alimentary processes pack each iota away in a stomach sac lined with lead where their decay has been designed to generate a great deal of heat. The heat accelerates the beetle’s metabolism.”

Calistrope had taken care not to answer the direct question yet a clue had been given to his apprentice.

“Why are insects very small or very large?” Roli repeated. “The water skater stands half as high as you do and is twice as long. It makes a loud buzzing noise which often breaks into screeches and clicks. The parlor fireflies that ladies keep in cages in their bedrooms are quite silent.”

“And when were you in the bed chamber of a lady?”

Roli pressed his lips together and ignored the question.

“The water skater’s tracheal bellows are not very efficient. The firefly breathes by absorption only.”

The Mage climbed to his feet and the ocular, alarmed by the sudden movement, assimilated its suspension thread, climbing speedily back to its branch.

Roli was silent for the twenty minutes it took to return to the Manse. Then, outside, he stopped, a frown of concentration on his brow. “Large insects grow large because they breathe more efficiently?”

“That is the case with waterskaters though not with wanderlust beetles,” he looked up at the Gargoyle which guarded the doorway. “Have there been any visitors?”

“Visitors? I saw no visitors.”

“Still, the waterskater—its forebears I mean—did not always breathe in this way nor did the wanderlust beetle always snuffle up hot dust?”

“No. In an earlier epoch, a mage saw how to improve the ways in which insects functioned. He experimented over the millennia and
bioengineered
his designs into several species of insects. The insects grew larger, and some became intelligent; others, just more efficient. What did the Gargoyle say?”

“It said, ‘No visitors.’ None.” Roli continued his questions, “Intelligent like the ants?”

“Just so.”

BOOK: Of Machines & Magics
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