The Clockwork Dagger

BOOK: The Clockwork Dagger
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


To Jason. Because.



























About the Author



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Octavia Leander's journey to
her new source of employment was to be guided by three essential rules: that she hide her occupation, lest others take advantage; that she be frugal with her coin and avoid any indulgences that come with newfound independence; and that she shun the presence of men, as nothing useful or proper could possibly happen in their company.

Not ten feet from being let out of her carriage, Octavia was prepared to shatter Miss Percival's most strongly advised first rule.

The dog was but a puppy, round tummy swaying and tail wagging. It had whirled in the middle of the busy roadway and then chased after a chugging steam car. Along the elevated wooden boardwalk on the other side of the road, a little girl cried, tears leaving clean streaks in the gray filth of her face. A broken leash draped from her hand. Even through the port-side din of bells and motors and murmuring humanity, Octavia could hear the joyful barks of the puppy.

She also heard the sharp crunch and the guttural howl. Seconds later, the klaxons and discordant notes of fresh trauma rang faintly in her ears.

Urgent healings of dogs and other small creatures, such as children, only invited grief. Miss Percival's advice echoed in her mind.
You are a businesswoman, not a charity worker.

Those canine notes of pain pierced through any armor offered by rationality.

“Fiddlesticks,” Octavia muttered beneath her breath.

She glanced both ways. It was a busy avenue four lanes thick, the traffic a mixture of horses, steam cabriolets, and automated cycles, all of them stirring up a thick cloud of dust. The fumes stung her nose and burned in her eyes. She could no longer see the dog. No matter; the cry of fresh blood would call her forth. Octavia set her satchel atop her rolling case and strapped the two together, then pulled forth her parasol. She flared it open to reveal cloth of a brilliant blue with a white lace trim. Stabbing the parasol forward as a bright shield, she stepped into traffic.

A chorus of steam horns, like maddened geese, deafened her. A workman leaned out of his lorry and swore. Octavia refused to meet his eye. The wails of the body in need guided her around the backside of a cabriolet. She spied the filthy lump of mutt just ahead, not far from the fidgeting hooves of a drayman's carriage.

“By Kethan's bastards! Are you mad?” snarled the driver from his high seat. His body's song burbled sour notes of infection.

Octavia didn't deem him worthy of reply. In a graceful gesture, she shut the parasol and hooked it on her luggage strap. She snapped off her gloves and tucked them into a satchel pocket, then scooped up the fat pup. It whined and tried to struggle, the cries of its blood louder than the vocalizations. The dog's side was caved in and bore the distinct narrow track of an automated cycle. Tucking the puppy against her hip, she strode toward the walkway, her suitcase bouncing with each rut. A few more horns blared, and then the rattle of traffic resumed.

On the boardwalk again, the reality of what she had done caused her knees to quiver.
The puppy needed me, but I didn't need to nearly kill myself in the process. Lady, what was I thinking?

Now here she was, burdened by luggage with a dying puppy on her hip, soiling her best new dress. Only new dress, actually. It was a good thing the cloth was a deep burgundy.

However foolish Octavia's actions, Miss Percival's first rule of travel still held true. Octavia couldn't advertise the fact that she was a medician.

Shops and strolling merchants lined the boardwalk. Pedestrians swerved around Octavia and didn't otherwise react to her presence, as though well-dressed young ladies often hauled about bleeding animals. So many bodies in proximity left her addled by the mad chorus of their bodies' songs.

Her one certainty: the puppy was dying.

She glanced both ways and spied the dark recesses of an alley. Tugging her bags behind her, she found shelter in the shadows.

The space was tight, not ten steps across, with buildings towering high above. Rubbish bins and refuse blocked the way almost entirely. By the smell of the place, this was where chamber pots were dumped. Hardly a hygienic environment, but she had little choice. At least it was quiet.

Almost camouflaged by rotting bundles, a decomposing body sat in a collapsed heap. The faded green clothes were standard Caskentian army attire. The posture reminded her of a child's doll. The spine and head bowed forward to touch the lap, the legs and arms sprawled as if boneless. There was also a literal lack of bone—the legs were missing from the knees downward, maggot-smothered flesh exposed to the air. This had been a double amputee, a soldier. Whether he died by starvation or more insidious means, someone had stripped him of his mechanical legs and undoubtedly sold them for scrap. His soul had long since departed; there was no music, no hum.

The puppy squirmed against her. Urgency pushed her forward to the discarded chassis of a wagon.

She heaved her case up into the flatbed. The wood seemed relatively clean even if damp. Octavia set down the limp pup. She passed her hands over the extended staff of her umbrella. The fresh blood on her hands dried and fell away as dust. The copper of the staff was naturally antimicrobial, and radiant enchantments to kill zymes and eliminate excess body fluids took care of the rest. Her skin sanitized, she unstrapped her satchel.

Casting a glance to the windows above, she muttered, “Do you know the risk I'm taking, little pup? People are desperate, and angry, and I have so few herbs. I shouldn't do this.”

Her fingers didn't hesitate as she opened her bag to reveal clear jars with contents ranging from vivid purple to sandy brown to powder white. She knew each jar by location, smell, and sound, by how the contents spoke to her. A formal diagnosis wasn't necessary; she knew she needed Bartholomew's tincture and pampria to mend bone, flesh, and organ.

There were many herbs with natural healing properties that could be used in common doctoring, the stuff any illiterate goodwife could do, but only certain herbs could be utilized by the Lady with a medician as conduit.

With a flick of her wrist, Octavia opened the necessary jars. She undid the drawstring of the honeyflower pouch and scooped enough to spread it in a circle around the still puppy. Magical heat crackled beneath her fingertips as she touched the circle. The Lady was listening.

This was where it could be tricky. Would the dog understand what she asked of it and grant her permission to heal?

“Pray, by the Lady let me mend thy ills,” murmured Octavia, bringing her gold-tinted fingers to rest on the puppy's head. The animal whined. She sensed the way easing, the conduit opening. Discordant music flared in her ears even louder than before. She hadn't healed a trauma this severe since armistice.

Armistice—whatever that meant. As if the fighting between Caskentia and the Waste ever truly stopped.
I can't stop the conflict, but I can mend this dog. That is something. To that sobbing little girl, it may be everything.

First, to knit the bones that crushed against the poor beast's lungs. She pinched out the soft white powder of Bartholomew's tincture and tossed it over the bloody mess of the dog's ribs. The enchanted herb was absorbed in an instant. The puppy grunted, releasing a sharp breath. The off-key tubas within the music went mute.

Next for the organs and flesh. She pinched pampria from its jar and extended her hand over the puppy. The image of the creature filled her mind, of how it had looked pleasant, plump, and intact only minutes before. The presence of the Lady flowed over Octavia, warm and heavy, as the coarse red herb drifted to the dog below. Soft light traced the puppy's body then faded to nothing.

The music altered to follow the rhythm of a heartbeat, the body of instruments almost synchronized. Octavia unstoppered a final jar. Using a small spoon, she dipped out a few globules of soaked Linsom berries. They were absorbed in an instant as new lines of red, healed skin emerged beneath the crust of blood. No fur, but that would grow back in time.

“Thank you, Lady, for extending your branches.” Octavia bowed her head as a sense of sadness weighed on her again.
Profoundly blessed by the Lady; profoundly isolated by most everyone else.
Five minutes spared for this healing. Other girls might have prayed for an hour for the same results, and none could hear the song of a body outside of an active circle.

She brushed her hands against the soft grains of honeyflower. The music vanished, the circle broken. The healed puppy emitted only the faintest of tones, all in tune and easy to ignore. She pushed the evidence of the honeyflower into the slats of the wagon bed.

The puppy craned its head as if to examine itself, tail already thudding a steady beat. Octavia smiled. Under normal circumstances, she would remove the blood and leave her patient looking as good as new. Here, it was best for the dog to appear unhealed and graced with a light wound.

Out of curiosity, Octavia peeked beneath the tail. A young boy-pup. Perhaps that explained his lack of judgment. She snorted and shook her head.
As if I was any smarter as I bounded into the street.

She packed up to leave. A sudden ache in her left forearm caused her to pause. “Lady, already? It's only been a few days,” she murmured.

With another glance up and down the alley, she unbuttoned her sleeve at the wrist and pulled it halfway to her elbow. She unwound the inch-wide bandage to reveal the plug of cantham wax over her wound. The wax sealed the incision, but also prevented it from healing.

Octavia peeled back the wax. Blood immediately welled along the fingernail-size cut, and she angled her arm so it dripped between the wagon slats to the dirt below. The pressure in her arm eased, blood slowing, as a single blade of grass thrust up through the gap in the wood. Her offering was accepted. Quickly, she reapplied the wax and wrapped the bandage, then grabbed the puppy before he made a mad dash for freedom.

BOOK: The Clockwork Dagger
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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