Ephraim’s Curious Device by Lita Burke
Copyright 2012 by Lita Burke. All rights reserved.
His Lordship Hissalumieon, Mevil Island
The air popped at Bright’s elbow. He jerked, then dropped a tiny brass gear from one of their airship’s clockwork automata. A scroll with an unfamiliar wax seal fizzled in to existence on his workbench. The vellum rocked for a moment, then lay still.
Bright slipped off his stool and backed away. He ran a hand through his long blond hair to get it out of his eyes. “Ham-fisted mooncalf of a magician. Our message box is in the next room.”
A crash came from Kadmeion’s forward workroom at the end of the hall, followed by rare harsh words. A wizard’s curse flapped through the doorway on leather-like wings and circled Bright’s head. He snagged and crushed the curse. It squeaked. Disappeared. A wisp of mint and pine-scented magic tickled his nose.
“Furgo, fetch my broom now.”
Bright blinked. Kadmeion never shouted. Another wizard’s curse winged its way in. Time to lend a hand. Bright snatched his workroom’s broom and trotted toward the commotion. He paused at the wizard’s doorway. Several circling curses swooped toward him. He swatted them away. “Need some help?”
“Yes. Where’s Furgo?”
“Haven’t seen him all morning. I brought a broom.”
A porcelain crucible lay shattered at Kadmeion’s feet. Magic dust coated the wizard and surrounding floor.
“I also need a collector rod,” Kadmeion said.
“I’ll get it.”
Bright batted away curses, skirted the floor’s chalk circle, and rummaged through a drawer at the workbench. Kadmeion cursed again. Two more of the winged things converged on Bright. He crushed them, then found the drawer with the unused collector rods.
“Will this rod work?”
“Perfect. Toss it here.”
The wizard gathered the vermilion powder from his clothes using the magical rod. Bright fetched a rag, wiped away the chalk circle, then swept the scattered magic dust in a tidy pile near Kadmeion.
“What were you making, Kadmeion?”
“Furgo’s employment bonus has all but emptied our accounts, so I tried a money charm.”
“Even I know those are tricky.”
“Even if the spell had worked, it would have produced only one copper coin a day.” Kadmeion knelt and passed the rod over Bright’s dust pile. “I might sell love charms instead.”
“They’re not your specialty.”
“I know. Too bad our commission here on Mevil Island fell through. Maybe we should move on. Mevil doesn’t have much demand for conjuring demons or reading magic scrolls.”
“That reminds me. Someone sent you a scroll, Kadmeion. It landed on my workbench instead of in our message box.”
“Imbecile.” Kadmeion muttered something inaudible. A new leather-winged curse emerged and dived for Bright.
“The scroll’s arrival fouled the money spell?” Bright asked.
“Yes. Our message box has simple spells. Even a hedge-witch can use it. Mundanes can contact us by courier. There’s no need to drop messages on us willy-nilly.”
The wizard muttered another curse. It attacked Bright.
“Kadmeion, would you please watch the curses?”
“Sorry. It isn’t you, of course. I’m in a twitchy mood.”
One of the curses nipped his ear before he could catch it. Bright yelped. “How many of these are there?”
Kadmeion glanced up at the high-peaked ceiling. He shrugged and returned his attention to the dust pile. “Don’t know. Looks like a lot.”
“If you plan to be cranky all day, I might open the windows and let the things find others to torment.”
“That would literally spread the word.”
“Would the Magic Guild disapprove?”
“Oh yes, they would disapprove. They would fine us for every curse they caught. The more they discovered, the stiffer the penalty.”
“We don’t need more debt, then. Let’s close the door. I’ll catch the curses later.”
They tidied the workroom to Kadmeion’s satisfaction. Bright fingered his nipped ear and followed the wizard to the clockwork shop. The scroll sat undisturbed on Bright’s workbench.
“Interesting,” Kadmeion said. “Hissalumieon’s rune.”
The wizard gestured. Wooden tongs darted from a nearby shelf in to his hand. Bright ducked to avoid the flying implement.
“Do you mean this letter is from the Lord Hissalumieon with the home in Palace Row here in Mevil City?”
“Yes. Hissalumieon’s wizard sent a message.”
“Hissalumieon has a reputation. People who cross him end at the bottom of Lethe River. It flows over the island’s edge in to the sea.”
“All floating island rivers do that.”
“Have we annoyed Hissalumieon?” Bright asked.
“He probably wants to commission some magic work.”
“Why not use his wizard?”
“We can do things Hissalumieon’s wizard cannot.”
“I disagree. It’s because we are disposable and his wizard isn’t.”
“For a shame. Lord Hissalumieon’s reputation intimidates you.”
“Yes, I’m thoroughly cowed by what he could do to us. Let me open the scroll, Kadmeion. We can’t have you injured. Our money is too scarce to afford a wizard’s healer.”
“Your materialistic concern for my welfare is touching.” Kadmeion surrendered the tongs to Bright and stepped a prudent distance from the work table. “If Hissalumieon wanted us gone, we’d be dead already.”
Bright held the scroll with the tongs and broke the wax seal. He unrolled the thick paper, then scanned the text without reading the words. His gaze would awaken any malevolent spells. Cursed scrolls made the eyes bleed, to begin with. This scroll was inert. Kadmeion stepped forward, then read.
“Surprise. The Lord Hissalumieon wishes to commission us for a magical task.”
Bright let out a sigh. “Just roll me in fairy dust and call me a unicorn.”
“I can arrange that.” Kadmeion grinned. “Hissalumieon requests our presence at his palace, without delay. He has something of immense value to us that he wants to exchange for our services. See here? He mentions an ‘interesting’ task.”
Bright took a deep breath. “I’m being practical. Let’s send a polite refusal.”
“What? And not learn what Hissalumieon has for us? Bright, you’re too cautious.”
“We’re alive, aren’t we?”
“But the scroll mentions payment. Or do you want me to try another money spell?”
“It says that he has something of immense value. It’s different from payment. Have you lost anything, Kadmeion?”
“Not that I know of. We must see what Hissalumieon has, Bright. We also want to be paid, don’t we?”
“I see there is no talking you out of this. We’ll go, but with precautions. Please?”
“I’m not foolish, Bright. Just interested.”
End of Chapter 1 Excerpt
Read about the earlier Clockpunk Wizard story, Forever Boy.
Read about the next Clockpunk Wizard story, Old Bony Blue Eyes.