Inquest: Chapter 1

A native Londoner, Twist was no stranger to rainfall. Even so, the rain now pelting down onto the cobblestones before him was so heavy that Twist marveled to see currents and waves on the surface of the ankle-deep sea that filled the plaza. Under the safety of the awning overhead, he glanced down at the umbrella in his hand; its frail metal limbs and thin fabric wouldn’t last a minute in this downpour. A diving suit was more to order.

Oh my…” Myra muttered, her voice barely audible over the sound of the rain as she stood beside Twist and stared out into the torrent. “Darling, do you think we really ought to go out?” she asked, turning to him with a worried expression. “The sky seems to be falling.”

Twist looked uncertainly at the white-lace-and-pink-silk flowered parasol that she carried. Although it matched the short, white-lace shrug that covered her copper shoulders and accented nicely the pale-pink cotton dress that clung attractively to her slim clockwork form, it would do nothing at all to shield her from this storm. Her delightful, tiny pink bonnet, pinned delicately to one side in her expertly curled maroon-wire hair, would certainly be lost in the wind.

At that moment, a roaring crack of thunder bellowed down from the charcoal clouds. Myra gasped, her hand over her open mouth and her eyes wide. Twist shivered to feel the anger of the storm rumble deep into his bones. For a dizzy moment, he almost felt as if the storm was growling at him, personally. Though the air wasn’t actually cold, he instinctively pulled his blue-accented black frock coat closer around himself, over his blue silk waistcoat, black cotton shirt, and sturdy black trousers.

Perhaps we should stay in today,” Twist said, tentatively glancing upward. He tugged his silk top hat a bit more snugly onto his head against the breeze, while the wild, free wafts of spray clawed in at him from the edge of the wooden awning. He pulled back and wiped the rainwater out of his eyes.

Jonas stepped out of the doorway behind them and stopped at Twist’s side. In the warmth of the Australian rain, Jonas wasn’t even wearing a jacket over his brown leather trousers and white cotton shirt. Twist sighed, seeing that although he’d finally convinced Jonas to try wearing a waistcoat for once—a simple one of chocolate-brown silk—the sky pirate had left it defiantly unbuttoned. Jonas’s goggles were off of his eyes and nestled in the needlelike points of blond hair that covered his otherwise bare head, as he looked out at the storm through a delighted grin. Twist could see a deep, happy blue in his eyes. He smiled softly and leaned closer to his friend’s ear.

Jonas, you shouldn’t grin like that,” Twist said gently. “It gives you an air of madness.”

What?” Jonas asked, glancing to him. “Why? This storm is brilliant! Just look at those gorgeous air currents.”

Oh yes, I can sort of see them,” Myra said, squinting now. Looking up, Twist realized that—more than just on the surface of the sealike puddles—he could make out the shapes of currents in the air even without the help of Jonas’s powerful Sight, thanks to the copious amount of rain that defined them.

We’re going to drown if we try to go out in this,” Twist said to Jonas.

Jonas nodded, still grinning at the rain. “Oh, most certainly. Aden can come here, if he really wants to interrogate us.”

Interrogate?” Myra asked, looking concerned. “I thought he just wanted to ask you about the dragons.”

At the word “dragon,” Twist’s Sight rippled uncomfortably with a subtle but very uneasy energy. He shuddered against it. Myra looked to him curiously, but Jonas reached out to lay a hand on Twist’s shoulder. The sensation vanished instantly as Twist’s Sight filled to bursting with the cool, calm, white fog that always followed Jonas’s touch. Twist took a deep breath, savoring his relief as the fog ebbed away to the edges of his mind.

Thank you,” he said to Jonas.

Is that getting worse?” Jonas asked, looking at him with concern in his now-lavender eyes. “I can see it. It’s like an oily film on your skin that wriggles whenever anyone says that word around you.”

Oh!” Myra gasped, suddenly understanding. “I’m so sorry, dear. I forgot.” She moaned unhappily.

The night before, they’d discovered that every time someone spoke the word “dragon,” or especially the name of the blue dragon Twist had accidentally slain in Japan, the uncomfortable sensation would once again ripple over Twist’s skin. Myra had confessed to not being able to sense any disturbance on Twist’s skin and so had forgotten a handful of times to be careful of her speech.

It’s fine,” Twist assured her with a smile. “Really, don’t trouble yourself.”

There’s got to be someone who knows what to do about it,” Jonas said.

I said it’s fine,” Twist said as brightly as he could, struggling to shove his own concerns away as well. “Just try not to say that word. Maybe it’ll go away on its own.”

While Myra put on a brave face, Jonas didn’t look at all convinced. He turned Twist around and put both hands on his shoulders, leading him back into the lavish lobby of the Elizabethan Hotel.

Come along,” he said, while Twist let himself be led. “You’re going to sit down by a window, have a nice cup of tea, and enjoy this lovely storm. Doctor’s orders.”

That’s a splendid idea!” Myra said, following beside them. “I’ll go fetch a pot of Darjeeling!” Twist couldn’t help but smile at her excitement as she hurried to the smartly dressed young lady who stood behind the front desk.

But you’re not a doctor,” Twist muttered back to Jonas.

And you’re not fine,” Jonas said softly. Twist glanced instinctively at Myra. She didn’t seem to hear them as she spoke to the hotel clerk. Twist stopped in the middle of the lobby and turned to look at Jonas. “That’s a really bad habit, you know,” Jonas went on. “You ought to just take the word ‘fine’ out of your vocabulary.”

Twist sighed, looking back sadly at his friend’s anxious expression.

Excuse me,” said a deep, rolling voice that gave Twist a shudder.

Twist and Jonas both turned to look at the man who had entered the lobby behind them. Twist was instantly startled by the newcomer’s appearance. He was amazingly tall and slim—Twist himself barely came up to the height of the man’s shoulder—with a dark complexion, a long neck, and very sharp features. He wore a long, rough, brown leather jacket over a simple-looking shirt and trousers, a black cravat at his throat, and a very tall black top hat on his bald scalp. The man smiled down at Twist lightly, his dark, reddish eyes sparkling. For no clear reason that Twist could identify, his heart began to pound as he looked up at the man, and fright whispered at every corner of his mind.

Did I startle you, little one?” the stranger asked with a colorful and gently French accent, his rich voice reverberating off the wooden floor. Twist unconsciously backed away a step. Jonas’s hand moved to Twist’s shoulder as he stood his ground just to Twist’s left.

Can we help you?” Jonas asked, not looking at the man’s face but glancing over him quickly. Twist felt his friend’s anxiety in the cold, elusive, and shifting white fog that filled his Sight but heard none of it in Jonas’s level voice.

I’m here to collect you,” the stranger said pleasantly. “Well, it’s really more of an arrest, actually. You see, you slew one of my brothers. I can smell his blood on your skin.”

Twist’s tightened nerves couldn’t bear this information, and he let out a tiny, frightened gasp as he felt himself begin to tremble. The stranger’s smile grew. Jonas snatched Twist’s walking stick from the holster on Twist’s back and flipped the switch to send a lick of lightning dancing at the tip as he held it up toward the stranger’s face. He shoved Twist behind him and struck a ready pose.

Try to take him anywhere, and you’ll have me to answer to,” Jonas announced, his uncovered eyes steady on the man’s chest. “I won’t forget him, even with your spells.”

The stranger looked at Jonas with mild interest. “And who might you be? You don’t smell like a warlock or any sort of magical creature.”

I’m Jonas Davis,” he said, much to Twist’s terror. Surely, after all he’d done in his escape with Skye from the dragons’ spaceship, Jonas’s name had grown notorious. “Leave now,” Jonas went on boldly, “or my name will forever be emblazoned across your tombstone, just after the words ‘murdered savagely by.’”

The stranger’s eyes widened in surprise, their red color shining brightly. Then, he began to laugh heartily. Confused, Twist and Jonas shared a glance. Twist caught sight of Myra, standing to the side and watching the interchange with silent horror. Twist held out a hand to her, and she rushed to his side, both of them standing just behind Jonas.

Well, well,” the stranger said as his laughter subsided. “It was a simple little man after all who managed to obliterate years of planning in just a few moments. That is wonderful.”

Jonas frowned, glancing up to the stranger’s face for the merest instant. “I might be a simple man, but you’ve obviously heard what I’m capable of. You’ll leave us alone if you know what’s good for you.”

I have no intention of battling you, little one,” the stranger said with a smile. “I don’t intend to make any of you disappear, and there is no reason to make you part from your friend,” he added, glancing to Myra as she clung tightly to Twist’s arm. “Honestly, I’m happy to allow you or anyone else to come along, if you will come along willingly.”

Why would you give us any concession?” Twist asked, frowning.

The stranger shrugged. “My brothers and I don’t always agree on everything, any more than humanity does. I didn’t personally know the one you slew. He may well deserve some time alone with his thoughts, in the aether. Besides,” he added pleasantly, “it’s highly amusing to think that you simple little things caused so much trouble.”

Jonas paused, clearly suspicious of their adversary’s amiable tone. As if experimentally, he lowered the walking stick and turned off the lightning. “You don’t want to kill us for our impudence?”

Not at all,” the stranger said, shaking his head. “I find impudence quite charming.”

What about the rest of your ‘brothers’?” Jonas asked.

Ahh…” the stranger toned, his smile falling. “Some of them are rather upset with you, as you might imagine. Others feel as I do. That is why we came looking for you. You will be taken to our elders and be put on trial to determine what is to be done with you. No human being has defied us since the Middle Ages. No one’s exactly sure what should be done.”

And if we try to make a break for it?” Jonas asked.

Then you’ll be captured, either by me or by another. But I warn you, little one, the others might not find you as charming as I do. You will be brought before our elders. How you get there is up to you.”

Welcome back to the Clockwork Twist series, lovely.  Want more of this story?  You can read the second chapter right here!

 

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