The Clockwork Sea

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Enter the Soldier

“Nister Webly, you’re heading back I take it?”

“Yes sir.”

“The Navy could use men like you. Honest men.”

“I wish I could stay, Sir, but I intend to fix the mainland first.”

“That’s you’re problem, Webly, you’re far too honest even to yourself. The sea is where the real danger lies, the real adventure.”

“What we do isn’t about adventure, sir.”

The man patted him hard on the back and Webly coughed, barely catching a glimpse of the man’s bare iron chest.

“Life, Webly. Life is an adventure. Navy or not. Doesn’t matter. Do what you enjoy and if that means soldiering, do what a soldier does best.” He flashed a silver smile at Webly. “I trust you know the answerafter all the years I’ve trained you.”

Webly furrowed his brows. It was a memory, one that replayed in his head thousands of times. He gripped his cane and held it tight to the black rock floor. An endless cavern engulfed him. It would have been pitch black if not for the myriad of lights arching down the city like a river of stars. The cries of porters could be heard even from he stood, minutes above the main streets. The smells of dried seaweed remained just as pungent.

He scanned the city with his chin as a pointer. The roads were packed everywhere he looked. Crowded and toppling, the city was a mess of rotted black wood walls and angled, dripping rooves.

“They’re late.” Snapped the Sergeant.

“Permission to speak, Sir?”

Webly sighed, “For the last time, cadet, you need not ask.”

Remy Le Ricci cleared her throat and faced the front, “When have the hunted ever been late to a hunt?”

He glanced at her goggled eyes and saw a hundred yellow lights twinkle in the reflection. Her black hair seemed to meld into the black cityscape. Ebony spires blurred to the side of her. A warm wind rushed.

“Niss Ricci, judging by the time they escaped they should have reached this city days ago. Something’s happened. A change of course perhaps?”

“Or a shipwreck, sir.”

“Please, it was hardly a three day trip and the weather’s been exceptional, it would take a bundle of idiots to make that mistake.”

Remy nodded, “It was a foolish theory, sir. My apologies.”

Webly frowned. “Assuming,” he continued, “They did shipwreck then a delay of days would be most appropriate.”

“Should we travel back then, sir?”

“No. They’ll come.”

A factory let out steam in the distance. Small sailboats connected with the thin piers at the city’s edge.

“How can you be so sure, sir?”

Webly gripped his cane and tilted it away, “Gut feeling, cadet.”

“Sir…”

Gunshots popped a ways away. Webly tensed. It came from near the Imperial Consulate. Remy already had her gun out. Her white gloved fingers ringed the trigger.

“Nearby.” Guessed the Sergeant. “Minutes. Most likely we’re hearing Second Sea issued steam rifles.”

“Red rots, sir. Second Sea guns are rifled while red rots are smoothbore.”

Webly’s brass brows twitched.

Remy lowered her head. “You can… hear it in the echoes… sir,” she squeaked.

“Whatever they are, they’re close.”

More shots reported from a further distance. Just as Webly made to turn, a soldier from the Sevens stopped by him and saluted.

Webly saluted back, “What have you, Charles?”

“Viceroy Mikaera has been slain.”

“What?!”

“Worse, the two factions underneath him have begun squabbling.”

“Right.” Sighed Webly. “Take the Sevens to the Navy office, we’ll enlist ourselves and pray to the Hours that the officer in charge is more competent than Levili.”

“Yes sir.” Nodded Charles.

“But sir, what if our target arrives in the chaos?”

Webly spied at Remy. She seemed intent on that man more than anything else. Of course she hardly showed it in front of him, but he saw it in her expression when she wasn’t looking. He noted the way she held her breath when the target was mentioned, or how she balled her fists when further delays were brought up.

Niss Remy Le Ricci hid a lot more than her eyes.

He tapped the cane, “We protect, Niss Ricci. It is the duty of soldiers.”

“But what of merit? Does it not rank us up?”

Webly took a breath, “It does, and I’ve suffered for it. I’ve been a sergeant for twenty years, Niss Ricci. Do you know why?”

“Because you call your general a twat sir?”

Charles chuckled.

Webly grumbled, “Because I am a soldier. I protect. We’ll catch our man, you need not worry about that, but right now the civilians down there need our help as much as we need information on who we’re fighting. Charles,” He said turning to the reporting man, “What are you waiting for? Who did it? What organization?”

Charles dipped his head, “Sir. No organization has claimed responsibility, but rumors say a red hat did it. One that’s also a half turn.”

“His name, Charles. Give me his name.”

Charles swallowed and glanced up, he had pure black eyes upon a face ceramic and white. A crack stemmed from his chin that the other Sevens tried not to mention.

The crack wobbled as he spoke, “Venezio Trimbly, sir.”

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