Try as he might, Twist simply couldn’t fall asleep that night. He tossed and turned until the sky outside his dark rooms grew bright enough to count as daylight. The drizzle hadn’t stopped from the previous day, leaving the world in a gray half-light long into the morning. As he stood at the window in his attic workshop, looking out through thick glass at the soot-blackened city of London, Twist struggled to imagine a world beyond it. Nepal: the highest mountains on Earth, on the other side of the world. The idea of it was simply too big to fit in his head.
Packing only made Twist more nervous. In the end, he found himself with a bag full of clothes, his best clock-mending tools, and a pair of candles, just in case. He looked over his bookshelf next—adventures, histories, and a fair amount of chivalry—and selected a book of poems to pass the journey. The chunk of clockwork that Arabel had brought to him last night was wrapped safely in soft cotton and buried deep in his bag. Looking about his workshop, he was suddenly struck by the thought that he might not stand here again for a very long time.
His own personal clock collection covered the bare wooden walls, filling the room with their constant, stable harmony. He looked over them in their gleaming perfection, recalling quiet, comforting moments with each one. The sound of their regular, mechanical rhythm was as familiar to him as his own breath.
His newly mended watch was still in his waistcoat pocket, ticking gently like a second heart. Twist drew it out, opened the face, and then placed it gently on the desk in the dim light that seeped down through the rain. He held perfectly still and quiet for a long moment, letting the soft sounds of the rain and his clocks soak deep into the tension on the spring, into the brass gears, into every part of the little watch. Then he closed it and placed it back into his pocket.
With nothing left to pack and the meeting time a mere half hour away, he set out for the airship docks. Twist didn’t believe in umbrellas, and so put on a pair of silver trimmed, blue-lensed goggles to shield his eyes from the fine drizzle and wrapped a thick wool scarf around his neck. Water collected on the heavy black cotton of his loose, hip-length coat and fell into rivers down his back, but he was so accustomed to the chill of the air that he hardly noticed it. His boots, black as his jacket, hit the cobblestones with purpose as he forced himself to banish all second thoughts.
He hurried through the dark, narrow, winding streets, rushing past the unnamed masses of London without a moment’s glance. By the time he got to the airship docks, perched high in the air on exposed wrought-iron platforms, his wild, curly black hair was heavy with the rain, and his hands were shaking. He told himself that it was because of the cold. His heart beat so strongly that he feared others could hear it as he hurried up the stairs along with the other travelers. He followed the signs to the seventh jetty, but his steps slowed as he drew near.
The airship was massive, large enough to carry a full crew and a significant amount of cargo, though it flew no flags of nationality. The body of the ship appeared to have three decks, with the topmost deck hanging out over the back of the ship like a platform, while the front end of the second deck reached out forward into a point. All the open areas were rimmed with metal railings of varying shades of patina and rust, but the rest of the ship appeared to be made of gray wood, the same color as the storm clouds overhead. Above, an enormous white balloon was stretched from bow to stern, and was flanked with wing-like sails on either side. Huge brass propellers were set at the stern of the ship. In the dim of the drizzle, the vessel appeared nothing but menacing and impressive to Twist.
“Twist, you’re right on time,” said a girl’s voice from farther along the jetty. This time Arabel had an umbrella, but she still looked a bit damp as she hurried closer to Twist. She was dressed much the same as the day before, except that her bodice was shimmering a deep green that matched her happy eyes, and there was a silver pistol strapped to her right hip. Behind her, Twist could see the crew turning to look at him. Each one differed in race, size, and shape. A few of them appeared to be armed as well.
“Are you ready for your adventure?” Arabel asked, a wide smile on her face.
“Are you pirates?” Twist asked, looking at her through the blue lenses of his goggles.
She seemed to give the question some thought. “No, not really.”
“Explain that, in detail, please,” Twist said as calmly as he could.
“I assure you,” Arabel said, “that we are fine, upstanding gentlemen and ladies who don’t seek out unlawful activity. Now, are you ready to leave?”
Twist’s jaw tightened despite his efforts to stop it. “I’m not skilled with … violence, you know,” he said softly, even for him, causing her to tilt her ear to hear him.
She moved back, a laugh on her breath. “My word, you are cute!” she said, the words forcing their way out through the tightly clenched teeth of her wide smile.
Twist bristled at the accusation, and he opened his mouth to tell her that he was going home and that she could very well leave him alone for the rest of his life.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, taking a breath to calm her apparent glee. “I see we might look a bit odd to you, but I can promise that you will be perfectly safe for the entire time that you are in our company. We need you, after all. So please, don’t forget why it is that you’re here.”
A flash of memory followed her words, calming Twist’s temper. He wasn’t going on this trip for his health. He was doing it for the princess, because no one else ever had. He could almost feel her still, cold, clockwork, so far away, depending on him alone to bring her back to life. No one else would be able to do her justice.
“I’m ready,” Twist said, looking to Arabel.
“Splendid,” she said, guiding him towards the airship. “We’re just about ready to cast off.”
If you enjoyed that little nibble too, then why not have more one? Continue on to the next chapter right here! – Chapter 3 -
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