Guided by Silver
The boy’s body skid across the dusty floor leaving a trail of blood splotching behind him.
Again. It happened again.
Tig drew scores of shallow breaths and flicked his eyes from Vene to Anu. Remarkably, the boy who had just been impaled stumbled to a knee.
“I won’t… lose.” He said with blood oozing out his mouth. “Not to… Trimblys.”
Vene took steps towards him, “This one’s a chitik.”
“Vene stop this.” Said Tig.
His brother’s mouth frowned and contorted, “Look at you Tig, look what they did to you.”
A bullet zoomed by. Vene spat and jumped into flight.
“You again.” He scowled, directing his voice far.
Tig snapped to Remy by instinct, her gun was steaming.
“Venezio Trimbly.” She shouted back. “You’re guilty of multiple murders and the chaos caused by them. Today you answer for your crimes.”
“Guns make awful restraints. Tell me, soldier, do you have the authority to kill me?”
Remy lowered her weapon.
Vene snorted, “Only in self-defence is that right? Or if I actively try to attack another?” Vene flapped his red wings and spied at Anu fleetingly. “That one will die anyways. All I’ve come to do is collect my brother.”
“Remy!” cried Tig.
She grit her teeth, “He’s right, I can’t shoot.”
“Don’t shoot.” Bellowed Tig, turning back to his brother. “I’ll go, just leave them alone.”
“You’ve changed brother. What happened to your fraught resistance?”
“There’s nothing worse than seeing those you love suffer.” Tig eyed Cinder and Hau as he said that. “Take Anu to Doctor Meratmarrag, he’s the only one who can save him now.”
Perhaps too frightened to disagree, the two ran around the flying Vene and made to Anu.
Vene descended as they helped their friend up, his voice played before him, “You’ve seen it now haven’t you? How this world treats us? Dejects us? We’re killers, we live through fear.”
Tig clutched his book and its thin bindings creased as he dug into it, “I’m no killer.”
Vene met the ground and started towards him, “No, I know that. Believe me, I’m the only one in our family that understands you. They want you to fight. Me?” he said pointing at himself. “I only wanted you to defend yourself. But now I think you should stay in Verace where we can properly defend for you.” He pulled his mask to the side and his long talons recoiled. “It’s what’s best.”
With Vene before him, Tig felt the horrible truth of it claw at him. No matter what, no matter how much he struggled, Vene was right.
He saw Hau and Cinder helping Anu in his peripheral and shut his eyes, “I want to be a doctor, brother.”
“You?” scoffed Vene. “A doctor? Hours, you’re a Trimbly.”
“I know, I just know. This is my path.”
“You are a Trimbly.” Stressed Vene.
Tig narrowed his brows and faced the man, “I’m also Tig.”
There was a pause as Vene searched Tig’s eyes, blue moons and all.
“Tig, be serious. Who would entrust us with their lives? I would love to endorse your dream, but it’s impractical.”
“I could name three.” Hushed the boy.
“Three people who would entrust their lives to me, maybe…” he said glancing at Remy. “Four.”
A fiery pain consumed his as Vene grabbed his arm.
“My foolish foolish brother. You’ll be home soon.” He slid his mask back and his steel talons grew. Air rushed as his wings beat. Tig could do little to refute his brother, the pain kept him from resisting. A moment now, Tig knew, a moment and he would be gone.
The wings froze. Tig blinked and turned. The sound had come from a place without light.
“Leave him for now.”
He swore he knew that voice, he could almost picture the slim figure of the woman who said it.
And it had to be that woman otherwise Vene would not have let go and not wordlessly so. Yet the way Vene glanced at him said much more than any words he could muster.
I’ll come back for you.
He flew up a moment later and darted to where Tig thought he heard the voice. His retreat was marked by Remy’s approach.
“Are you unhurt?”
Tig laughed meekly, “No.” his eyes wandered to the darkening tunnel. Anu and his friends, now gone, had managed to dent every part of him that was metal and bruise the bits that weren’t.
Remy sheathed her gun as she circled him, “You fell on a boot.”
“Don’t sound smug about it.”
“You lack logic, Trimbly. If you are repeatedly beaten to the point of incapacitation, no amount of tutelage will help you save any one. It seems you’d need to either run from them or get strong enough to properly face them.”
“Then what? Hospitalize them?” Tig winced as he said that. The bloody blade cutting out of Anu flashed before him.
“Self-defence is perfectly legal.”
Tig hadn’t the words. He stormed out the coliseum door instead, The Basics of Anatomy pummeling his side.
“Where are you going?” asked the still standing Remy.
“To those who need me.”
She paced until she was walking besides him. She seemed on the verge of speaking even as Tig wanted nothing of it. Still, her presence was a wanted one. Vene could have been out there and Remy was one of two people he knew who could fight the man. Of course if his assumption proved right and that woman was here, he’d doubt even the Timebender would survive the encounter.
Strangers stared as they rushed through the halls, but Remy continued all the same, “If you suffer so under your family’s name, why not join the army. Surely then you could properly dispatch those murderers.”
“But I don’t want to dispatch them.”
She cocked her head, “But you suffer because of them.”
“Would you murder your own father?”
“I…” she lowered her head and raised it a moment later. “That depends. What did he commit in this hypothetical case?”
“Does it matter?”
“Based on imperial law, yes it does.”
“Well it’s not about that. Look. Families are complicated.” His throat buckled to that, his favorite word. “I don’t love them, but I can’t bring myself to harm them. They’re murderers, yes, but they raised me.”
“Their name alone should give you reason to rebel.”
“It’s more than their name Re—Niss Ricci, it’s who they are.”
Sea air greeted them by the open plaza. The shadows of gondolas blotched the sun kissed grasses.
“Then,” she started as she stilled, “will you head back to Verace? My offer stands.”
“That was the plan when Vene was there but if he’s truly left for now, I’ve a more pressing matter.”
Tig half smiled, “You’d accuse me of conspiring if I told you.”
Her brows narrowed.
“Right, no point in hiding it. The south seas where the Zanae Kara grows. The others needed it for their treatment, but with Anu hurt I think I owe it to him to go.”
“So long as you do it legally.”
“And now you know my new plan.”
Her brows eased and she saluted him briskly, “Then I wish you good luck, Tiguak Trimbly.”
He spoke up as she whirled abruptly, “Where are you going?”
“A Trimbly is here, and you’re safe for now, I need warn the others on the ship.”
“Ricci.” He said before she left again. “Please, no matter what, don’t kill them.”
Still and silent, she strayed for longer than he expected before she gave him the nod he needed, “Promise.”
Lazily, he watched her meld into the collaged crowds and waited for minutes as cogwork canaries passed overhead. He became ensnared by the peace of it. A fountain flowed nearby, loud and crystalline. Small half turns giggled by it, kicking the water gleefully while full turn women ambled about in fine corsets and men in black tailcoats. Some of the women carried ornamental umbrellas. Hats of every color mixed with those covers. Every color except red.
Red was the color of his family, the shade that marked them different from all else. It was the one color he could not be, the one hat he could never wear. He took a step away from the plaza and a stranger bumped into him.
He gazed at the thin halt turn now steps away and caught him bowing slightly and running on the spot. He had a violet hat, open vest and puffed pants.
“Sorry ’bout that. Honest mistake.” He said smiling with gears clicking where his jaw had. Lines stretched from his mouth over his eyes and grew brightly from the yellow lamps that were his eyes. His skin seemed a dark silver with a satin finish. Strands of copper wire looped from under his hat.
Tig nodded and figure vanished behind the crowds. That turn seemed many things but not a scholar as his hat suggested. More so, he had a light on him. Tig stared at his own flickering blue hand and remembered how Anu had studied it a week prior in utter astonishment. He blinked. Anu.
Tig spied in the direction of the lower tunnels as urgency returned to him. Anu needed help, and, If he was lucky, Gemjo and Franco would still be there.
He ran to make up the difference. Casually strolling full turns became blurs as he rushed by them, and the flap on his open satchel pounded against the leather ceaselessly. Soon, the endless libraries appeared before him. Ticks dodged him nimbly and he navigated the halls in expert fashion.
He was close now, minutes away. His heart beat ruthlessly but he did not care. When he slowed near the hospital, the obscured metalwork soldiers became defined and ticking. Their blue hats wavered about as he stared at them off-mindedly.
They did not know. Venezio Trimbly had arrived in Kura and not one of them seemed the wiser. It made him question just what kind of ‘defence’ the Navy truly brought. He thought of Anu. Clearly they did not do enough.
The hospital settled in his sights, and, as he entered he saw drip of blood leading the way. A small crowd buzzed around the room his friends had stayed in.
Even seconds away he could hear ‘Trimbly’ uttered in worried breaths. He could see Anu inside with several white hats congregating around him.
He spun with her name on his tongue, “Gemjo.”
Franco stepped ahead of her, arms crossed and eyes bulging, “He’s here then?” asked the man.
Tig nodded, “Came for me and by the looks of it you know what he did.”
“Everyone knows, Tig.” spelled Franco. “Hours it’s only been a few minutes since he got here but the whole building’s buzzing.”
“As will the city.” Entered the Timebender, pushing through the crowd. “It appears I have let my guard down. The boy’s been poisoned the same as these two. Dr. Meratmarrag’s remaining medicine will only delay what is it to come, unless…”
“We find the flower.” Said Tig.
The white eyes on the man narrowed, “You are wounded.”
“Not by Vene, by them actually.”
“By the victim?” asked Franco.
Tig laughed a little and rubbed the back of his head, “A long story, a week-long in fact. But never mind that, I’ve changed my mind.” He paced to where he could catch a glimpse of Anu and tensed when he saw Cinder and Hau weeping by the bed side. “It’s my fault he’s hurt that way, so I’ll take responsibility for it.”
Gemjo grunted as she leaned against the wall, “A determined fool. You’re the opposite of me in every way, Tig.”
“Would my opposite kindly accompany me to the southern seas?”
“So the original plan.” Surmised Gamjo.
“Except for one key difference.”
“You?” yawned the girl.
Tig shook his head, “No, the locket.”
“Right the locket!” beamed Franco. He frowned immediately after. “What locket?”
Tig peered down the hall and spoke quickly, “Back on the slaver’s ship we met a witch doctor who gave us a locket. Said should we ever travel to southern seas to bring it.”
“And where is it now?” asked Franco.
Gemjo shivered and Tig cast his eyes lows.
“The Professor.” He answered.
Gemjo’s lowered brow, dropped further, “You think that will make the difference? A piece of metal that happens to be cursed?”
“He owes us a debt so we should collect.”
Gemjo sighed, pushing herself off the wall, “Can’t hurt I suppose. Except for the extra work it has me do.”
“The Zanae Kara is rare flower even where it’s from, perhaps our man will know more of where to find one.” Argued Tig.
Gemjo was already slogging down the hall, waving her steeling hands behind her and swishing her tail like a metronome, “Yes, yes, you’ve utterly convinced me.”
Tig caught up to her, Franco a close second.
“I take it you’re only going to avoid debating it?” Said Tig.
“Says a lot about my options.”
Tig paused and caught the Timebender standing by the door.
“You’re not coming?” asked the chitik.
His mandibles stretched, “I never said I would.”
Tig tried to argue, but even then he couldn’t, “You’re right. We’ll be back soon anyways, just going to get that locket. It’s just if Vene attacks, I--”
“Return when you wish to learn. That is all I have to say, apprentice.”
“Right.” Laughed Tig. “I’m overreacting.”
“Mind reacting closer to the door?” bellowed Gemjo.
Tig nodded and made towards her. Though he knew he’d return, he could not help but glance back every few steps at the old bony man.
Even as they pushed open the hospital doors and covered the grassy paths, the image of the Timebender standing there replayed in his mind.
Leaving the Timebender there made him worry. He thought it was fear. He wished it was fear. Something in his gut told him it was simpler, worse. Emptiness.
Tig became the guide for the two who had been hospitalized for a week. He had been through those halls a dozen times but for them the wonder of Kura was forged a new.
The massive library, the unending ceilings, the realisation that they walked within a giant tree that knew no bottom made Tig wish he had more excitable companions. Had Gemjo been more than half awake and Franco not been deathly afraid of the blue expanse up ahead, perhaps Tig could have enjoyed the pleasure of reactions.
For now there was little obstructing them, little giving them even the slightest pause as they trudged through the ever expanding tunnel.
Until a screaming blue hat ran past him. Tig blinked, pointing back over his shoulder.
“Was that Charles?”
Another man, much rounder and equally familiar ran by in similar fashion, screech and all.
“Ah and his bumbling companion.” Noted Gemjo.
“Why are they…?”
More and more blue hats ran by, each, as Tig noticed, were members of the Sevens.
He heard its buzz first when they made out the darkened tunnel. All three pairs of eyes rolled high.
Tig swallowed hard. Either Webly lied or someone left the engine running. The shadow of caravel brushed overhead of them.
“The ship…” trailed Tig.
“Well there goes the locket.” Said Gemjo.
Tig spun to her, “And the Professor!”
“Right and him.”
“It’s far.” Said Franco. “Even with a small clock engine we’d require speed to get up there.”
The ship seemed to float and more into the distance. It reminded him of his own endeavour. No matter how close he got it seemed further and further away. His iron chin dipped.
“I didn’t even read the Basics of Botany.” He muttered. He remembered it was on the ship and sitting in that miserable room where the two beside him stayed. “Wait.” He thought out loud, his head rising. “By the Hours I have it!”
“The Basics of Botany?” asked Franco.
Tig shook his head and plopped two fingers in his mouth just as Anu had done it. Then he whistled, a sharp, high pitched tone. He repeated that over and over in quick bursts until Gemjo seemed ready to render him unconscious.
When he ended his mad recital, he gestured towards the dark tunnel behind him.
“Gemjo, take off your scarf, Franco, you sash.” Directed Tig, removing his own jacket. “Jump when I say so and use your clothing as hooks. They’re coming.”
“Who?” asked Franco.
A distant buzz answered. Here and there some of the turns who had entered the tunnel ran out of it. Others ducked into halls.
Gemjo stumbled away with her scarf in hand.
“No.” said Tig.” Stay there. We wait.”
“Again.” Said Franco. “For what?”
The buzzing became distinct. Dozens of shadows covered them and Franco’s expression dropped. They zoomed close, second before impact.
Tig yelled it then, cupping his mouth with one hand and flashing his watch with the other, “Get me The Basics of Botany.”
A hundred glimmering blue eyes flicked to where the ship was leaving and Tig turned to his companions. “Jump!” he called.
Six feet launched off the wooden floor and three pieces of fabric caught on to brass. The tick of countless clock engines followed.
Tig shut his eyes as he felt his body jostle. A cool, rushing breeze washed over his exposed skin. Franco’s frantic cries intermingled with the deafening buzz, and Tig opened his eyes.
They were high. Ludicrously so. The turns underneath seemed like bottles, seconds later they were specs. Tig imagined what it might have looked like from below. Nearly fifty ticks escaping Kura, glinting madly in the evening sun.
The entirety of the tree came into view. It was glorious, gigantic, a monster even from up high. The coat tightened in his grasp. He managed a look at the other two. Franco was thrashing about madly while Gemjo… He frowned. Gemjo was yawning.
What came next took a crane of his head. The ship was close and nearing. Despite how larger the vessel was than the ticks, it lacked the same speed of the smaller creations.
The railings flashed before them and they crashed against the deck, fabric and all. Tig stumbled up.
Franco was hyperventilating besides him. Gemjo had already risen to her wolf feet, re assuming her scarf.
“So we’ve made it.” She said with little surprise. “That was something.”
“That!” breathed Franco. “That was insane. I almost died! We almost died! Tij what were you thinking!?”
Tig shrugged, “It worked didn’t it?”
Franco’s jaw waved up and down, “Yes but… but…”
“Now the locket.” Said Tig with a flip to his feet.
He entered the cabins first with the other two behind him. Strangely the ship was empty of soldiers. He saw the odd hat here and there, but heard no voices.
He made quick work of the stairs leading down then the second flight to the prison. He froze when he got there. The cell door was open.
“He’s gone.” Hushed Tig.
Gemjo brushed by him, plugging her nose to the stench of liquor. “More importantly, who’s driving the ship?” she asked in her nasally tone.
They met each other in the eye. Tig considered the unlikely scenario, “No…”
Running, the trio traversed the cabins, crossed the whole of the main deck, and tumbled into pilot’s quarter, which rested by the bow of the ship.
The metal door guarding the end of a long glass sided path spun and three heads popped through.
They saw his dirty blue coat first, the glint of the bottle on his arm rest second. His arm slid haphazardly and the bottle toppled low, spilling foul liquids everywhere.
“Hours damned. Another… hic… good drink. Oh.” His goggles eyes floated up wobbled at them. “When in the Twelfth fine arse did you get here?”
Tig stepped forwards his brows contorted in disbelief, “You were a prisoner. You were locked down there and… and…” He stopped short of a sitting figure fast as sleep and slumped against the wall. “Is that Niss Ricci?”
“Oh aye, tried to apprehend me she did, so I gave her a quick knock on the head. Tap, shlap, thwap. Always does the trick that.”
“Unbelievable.” Scoffed Tig. “You stole their ship—a Navy ship.”
“A ship’s a ship, mate.” Said man turning the wheel with one hand and madly swiping at his fallen bottle with the other. “Who cares who owns it.”
He spotted Gemjo in the corner of his eye and saw her crouching low to Remy and grinning, pen in hand.
Tig felt at his own coat pocket. Sure enough the pen was gone. She was already mid scribble upon Remy’s face when Tig approached her.
“What are you doing?”
“Art.” She said.
Tig frowned. The words ‘Rich Witch’ were now sprawled on the girl’s exposed forehead. Gemjo tossed Tig his pen and she stood up abruptly.
“Still strikes me as odd.” She started. “How’d you best all those soldiers? They were running and screaming when we saw them.”
“Ah that.” The Professor reached in his coat and threw her a silver object, one she caught and held out with outright aversion.
“This?” she questioned it.
Franco leaned by, scratching his chin, “Seems like a locket. Oh! That locket.”
“Don’t look at it, mates. Turns out the curse is one that brings out your worst fear should you stare into it. Frightening stuff, enough to send half a contingent of Sevens jumping off ship.”
Gemjo handed it to Franco who promptly held it to his rounded eyes.
“How’d you know it was cursed?” asked Franco.
“Licked it, mate.”
The locket fell and Tig caught it just before it hit the ground.
“Remember we need this when he head to the south seas.” Said Tig.
“South Seas?” questioned the Professor. “South seas it is.” He spun the wheel haphazardly and the ship tumbled sideways, launching the three to the wall. Tig expected pain, but was happily surprised when soft had broken his fall. He squinted to discern what and the words ‘Rich Witch’ balanced above his eyes, Remy’s over goggled specs reflecting his own. And his lips…
He gasped away, covering his mouth, and heard Gemjo snicker.
“Not a word.” He muffled.
She smiled coolly and passed him to the Professor, “Do you know how to drive this thing?”
“Me? I’m a Professor, of course I know. I happen to know all that needs knowing.”
“And do you know where we’re going?” she pressed.
The Professor bobbed his head, “Not at all.”
Franco joined them then, map already held open before him. He scanned it quickly, and briefly glimpsed at the darkening sky.
“Dip low about three minutes.” Directed the Navigator. “Come night we’ll follow the Hare’s star.”
“The Hare’s?” hicc’ed the Professor. “That’s my favorite mate.”
“Well it’s also the one that’ll lead us south.”
Finally, Tig joined them, “This is happening then? We’re actually stealing this ship and heading for the Zanae Kara?”
“Look. Mate. I know two things above all else, savy? You get lemons, you throw them. You get a cursed locket, you scare off the crew of a ship and steal the ship. Simple.”
“Of course.” Said Tig. “Then we get caught and arrested and executed.”
“Or we run.” Suggested Franco.
Gemjo hummed in agreement, “I like that idea.”
“We run, huh?” said Tig as he focussed on what lay before him, dirty glass covering all, caged between curving bronze frames.
It was a sea of clouds, each cloud rushing by at dizzying speeds. A sky of embers fell away to one dark, blue and beautiful. Little specs of yellow and white glinted within it.
Then he caught his own reflection trapped there in the dust pocked glass. His exposed eyes seemed alien, especially with the blue crescent marking the tops of his pupils. His black coat proved warn and cut up from the recent flight.
He wondered who he was as that black image traversed the heavens. A Trimbly? A doctor? Or perhaps, as his eyes traced the black of his coat, a Pirate.