March 25th, 1820 | Newcliff, England
The sound of hands hammering on the door to the small rented room woke him from his troubled sleep. It was a constant and annoying sound. Slowly he pushed himself up onto his elbows, while he tried to look through the darkness with tired eyes. The person behind the door did not seem to give up anytime soon. He groaned to himself, before planting his feet on the floor to walk to the door.
He turned to the small table next to the bed. A small oil lamp gave a weak light when he turned it on. Next to the lamp was a small mirror - or rather a piece of the beautiful mirror that had been on the wall of his former master’s home - and which he was given just after the incident that also made him unemployed. Carefully he reached out and picked up the piece of glass. He looked horrible. With dark circles under his blue eyes, he sighed and shook his hair, so all the white hair danced round his head. Placing the broken piece of mirror back on the table, he stretched his body and rubbed his sharp chin. He felt unshaved and dirty, but he had no water to wash up before opening the door for his guest.
Barefooted and with little clothes on, he opened the wooden door. Behind the door stood a young man and fidgeted impatiently. This man had long dark hair, a sharp chin and wore silk from head to toe. His beardless face lit up in a smile when he saw the door open.
“Mr. Whiterun! I’m glad I caught you at home!” the man said in a high pitch tone, while smiling like a fool and petting his own black hair. Shawn Whiterun looked over his shoulder into the dark room. It could barely be called a home, rented as it was, in the small tavern. He did not comment on this fact, but stared back at the young laps. The stranger was holding a lantern, which had a bright shining light bulb. Whiterun pushed the lantern farther away from his face with an annoyed grunt. The laps lowered the lantern, still smiling.
“What do you want, rat?”
“Oh!” said the man in an even higher tone. “I do not want anything! Nothing at all! It is my Master, Lord Alexander Charles. The lord wants your attendance in his home.”
Shawn felt unsure if he should feel relieved that the servant finally shut up or annoyed for being woken in the middle of the night. The man smiled again and this time like he could read Shawn’s thoughts.
“My lord has a job offer for you and to be frank, it would be stupid not to take it,” said the servant in a calm tone. At that instant Shawn decided that he didn’t like the smaller man in front of him. He did not have a choice in the matter though. Shawn returned to the room and got dressed. His clothing made the male laps frown.
“Mr. Whiterun, you are well aware that my master, Lord Alexander Charles, is the most powerful man on this side of the Thames. He will expect that you be … well, presentable.”
Shawn Whiterun looked down. He was wearing his one and only set of clothing; black pants, leather boots, a once white - now light grey shirt, a blue vest and his many leather braces for weapons and bullets. From his right hand hung a carbine gun in one of the leather braces and in the other he held his coat.
“This is all I own,” the taller man muttered.
The laps, who came to introduce himself as Henry, turned around and walked away. In a state of cluelessness, Shawn Whiterun, the travelling gunman, followed him. In the dark, distant land, that was his conscious mind, he was sure he heard the rat jabbering on continuously through the streets, though he had absolutely no idea what about.
Shawn’s small, rented room was on West Wilmott Road and they followed it northbound for quite a while, past the small, slum-like houses on both sides. They were all sad shades of brown and grey, held together by rotting half-timbering and metal slaps here and there.
Only about a third of the wind-up streetlights every ten feet were turned on; a cranking of rusty gears filling the night, whilst steam rose from the vents connected to the sewers; covering the street in a pale fog. Every once in a while, the lament of rusty gears were joined by a choir of haphazard drunks mumbling, arguing or vomiting – the symphony of the slums.
They took a right on Rose Bridge Avenue following the river Acheron. Ahead, in the distance, red and blue lights flashed through the steam and an automated bell drowned out the symphony for a while, as the steam-powered emergency vehicle crossed the Rose Bridge and disappeared down another street, heading south.
Rose Bridge was the first of the new bascule bridges in Newcliff for two reasons, Shawn knew. The official reason was that the mayor did not want people to think that he had given up on the southwestern slums, but the real reason was that if it went wrong, nobody important would get hurt.
The bridge was made from some kind of ebony steel and looked like a regular suspension bridge, decorated with rose carvings on the sides, though the mayor’s lack of interest was obvious. The bridge was slowly being eaten by rust in several places, and the rose carvings were covered in moss. On either end of the bridge was a complicated system of gears rigged to raise the bridge when necessary, though Shawn did not know exactly how that worked. Mechanics had never really been his thing, to be frank.
As they crossed the bridge on the small sidewalk, Shawn’s eyes followed the dark, dirty water eastbound until they reached the Newcliff Bell Tower. He shot a look at the lit-up clock in the distance: A quarter to one. He sighed. On each side of the river were lines of trees, grey in the darkness with crooked, naked branches – a mute reminder of a gilded summer that seemed a lifetime away.
“Are you coming or what?” the Rat called a few meters ahead.
Shawn suddenly realized he had been standing still for quite a while, shook his head clear of thoughts and caught up with him.
They kept walking for another while and Shawn knew that they were in the northern part of town by now. Not only did he have quite a good sense of direction, but also the houses here were a lot different: They were taller and wider than in the slums, of course. The half timbering was fresh and nicely painted in deep black, whilst the houses themselves were pale shades of orange, red and grey, though several of the houses appeared green due to climbing plants covering the walls.
As the Rat stopped in front of a house and climbed a few steps to the front door, Shawn realized they had reached their destination. 1 Chardmore Place, Shawn noted. The Rat ushered him closer and then knocked on the door.
The door made a metallic sound as it swung open by itself. Not completely by itself, but helped by the steam that powered the tiny gears, steel wires and other mechanics, that Shawn knew was powering the motion. Henry went inside and placed the lantern on a small cupboard beside the door. There was nobody in sight, Whiterun noticed as he wandered through the door. As soon as he was inside the doors shut tight. He swallowed hard at the sound of the cool night air being strangled against the doorframe. He felt strangled as well in this gigantic house.
The room he was now standing in had about the same size as his rented room at the Tavern and had no furniture, except for a rainforest of ugly plants that led the way to the staircase, as if anyone could miss it. The stairs were as wide as the room itself, made of white marble and went up and up, until Whiterun no longer could see where it went.
Henry was already moving up the stairs; still talking nonsense as if anyone was listening and answering. Shawn Whiterun moved along, but far behind the laps, because he kept turning around when they walked past yet another strange, mechanical object of unknown function.
They went part a round window in one of the labyrinth-like hallways, where the glass was coloured and seemed to show the season of the year. A clocklike needle was moving round the season watch, with a heavy and hollowed sound. There were no visible gears or trace of steam on or near the season clock, just like there had not been any visible mechanical gears on the door downstairs. This told Whiterun two things: The first was that the owner of the house was rich and the next that the owner was a possible genius, doing something as seemingly complicated as hiding the clock’s gears. Raindrops were sprayed on the glass, running down the glass from the figures as if they were tears. It gave Whiterun the chills to look at it for more than a few seconds, but he found himself turning more than once to catch a last glimpse.
Henry seemed to find Shawn’s reactions funny, but thankfully, he never mentioned it. The laps opened a double door in a swift motion - apparently, not every piece of the house was mechanical, yet.
"My Lord, I report the gunman’s arrival!" Henry said, suddenly very serious and respectful. Whiterun walked past the rat and into a library. The walls were covered in bookshelves, making it appear as if the walls themselves were built from books.
"Welcome, Mr. Whiterun."
A thin man sat behind a great desk, and was reading some papers. There were two chairs in front of the table, with their back to Whiterun, who had not moved an inch.
"Cut the crap, why am I here?" Shawn responded, clearly fed-up.
"Well, that was a little blunt, don’t you think, mr. Whiterun?" the Lord calmly said, with a little smirk and eyebrows raised. He gestured towards one of the armchairs in front of the desk, but Shawn did not react.
"Stop the ‘mr. Whiterun’ routine, old man. Nobody calls me that."
He gestured angrily towards the clock to his right, “It’s 1 o’clock in the morning - why am I here?”
Lord Alexander Charles sighed and looked at someone in the other chair, “I apologize, mr. Hatch. I guess mr. Whiterun may have gotten out on the wrong side of his bed this fine morning,” he leaned forward and leaned on his desk, causing his face to be better lit up by the small desk lamp, which neither had any obvious gears or power supply. The Lord was an older gentleman, with very elegant lines in his sharp face. The white hair was laid back and reached the elderly man’s ears. When he talked again, it was like watching layers of dusty skin move into new lines and wrinkles.
"Oh, it’s quite all right, my lord,” a gentle voice responded from the armchair on Shawn’s left, “I bet he’s very cuddly at other times of the day.”
Henry, the rat, chuckled at the-voice-now-known-as-mr.-Hatch’s comment, to which Shawn quickly replied sarcastically, “Yeah, you bet I’m going to get all kinds of cuddly, if you don’t cut to the bloody chase.”
The look on the Lord’s face went serious, and he gestured towards the armchair once more, “Please, sit down.”
Shawn shrugged, walked around the dark red chair and sat down in a clumsy movement, obviously surprised by the sudden sensation of being swallowed by a piece of furniture, as he sunk into the deep, soft chair. He quickly regained his posture and expression, and looked at the man in the other chair:
The man sitting in the opposite chair was much smaller than Shawn, but undoubtedly an older man. Not much older, but a couple of years or five. He had brown hair, which was way too long to be a fashion statement. It was more like; this man, Mr. Hatch, did not care about his appearance. Black stain pried his face like a woman’s make-up, but looked like it was roughly washed off - but with a lot of missed spots. He also had a pair of goggles buried in his mane of a hair.
When the man noticed Mr. Whiterun’s stare, he simply turned his big brown eyes towards him and stared back. There was a silence before Shawn coughed uncomfortably and shifted in the unnaturally comfy seat. The smaller man smiled, before reaching a hand towards Whiterun.
“Mint?” said the man. The gunman looked at the hand in great confusion, before realizing that the smaller man was indeed handing him a small container of white mint sweets. The container was made of a silver metal, with a small lid and marked with the symbol of a gear.
“What?” Shawn realized just how much he sounded like an idiot - to Henry’s amusement - the moment the word escaped his mouth.
Shawn gestured a no thanks to the mint offer, as the lord finally spoke, “The fact of the matter is, that I have a job for you… To protect the dear mr. Hatch here,” he said, nodding once toward mr. Hatch.
“And why would he need protection?”
“We’ve been receiving threats lately, you see,” the lord responded, “I’m not sure why or who is sending them, but it might be some of those darn ethics-people - they seem to be unpleased with some of the technology we develop here for some reason.”
Shawn did not know why, but he was not sure he bought the explanation, but he decided to roll with it for now.
“Then why me?” he added, “there are tonnes of hired guns in this town and the next, why did you pick me?”
He noticed Henry’s eyes widening, as if he himself had wanted to ask that question a million times before, and now finally might get the answer.
Lord Charles smirked and looked at him for a while, as if he was attempting to see through his skin, then said, “Well, I guess that is a fair question, as you do have a bit of a reputation,” he put extra pressure and tone on the last words, then continued, “but you see, that is exactly why I need you. I am no fan of the plain stickler for the rules, while I also need someone who is not afraid to take action. Adding to that your experience and impressive résumé, I could think of no better man for the job.”
Shawn turned his eyes at the mention of his reputation, straightened in the chair, and as soon as the lord finished he asked, “And what’s in it for me?”
The lord smiled at the question, as if he had been looking forward to this exact point. Everyone could be bought, he had learned.
“Besides from accommodations and lodging, in a very nice suite, you will find that the monthly pay is quite generous.”
The lord rose from his chair, revealing to Shawn a compelling appearance. The man was taller than he would have expected, and much fitter than his age would commonly dictate. The air surrounding this man was strong - a feeling of pure power with a breath of elegance. He circled the table, so he stood in front of them. For just a moment, it looked like he was about to spread his arms like the wings of a hawk ready to dive for its prey. Shawn had never known of a man able to muster such intimidation with simply his appearance. The lord smiled at them.
“Now, I think it is time to end this little meeting. I take it that you are joining Mr. Hatch in his workshop at my service,” said the lord, while casually looking around the room, as if he were getting ready to do something more important. Almost instantly, Whiterun felt his throat grow dry.
“And why do you think I’ll accept?”
Whiterun felt the urge to back away, but found that such an attempt would only result in his sinking even further into the very, very relaxing chair. Mr. Hatch never said a word, but seemed to have dozed off into an abyss of deep thoughts, his eyes fixed on an invisible spot somewhere mid-air. The lord smiled at Whiterun.
“You are forgetting the position you are in, Mr. Whiterun,” said the elderly man with a grin. “I’m the only person that can grant you the reputation you had before. You can almost say that in a way, I have the ability to give you back your life. Unless you prefer to live in this pity and self-misery, perchance? It was my understanding that you wanted your life back - to pay for your crimes?”
“Well, you have a point,” he quickly responded, “I guess I’m your man, then.”
“I was counting on it. Someone is currently taking care of final payment on your room at the tavern, and Henry will take you to your room.”
A few moments later, Shawn found himself walking down the hallways of the lord’s enormous house, accompanied by mr. Hatch and the rat, Henry.
“So, rat… It would appear you’re actually a pet rat!” Shawn noted, as Henry led them through the house. Henry simply cussed and mumbled beneath his breath, “What was that?” Shawn responded immediately with a smirk, though he did not expect a reply.
The walls in this hallway were half-covered with dark, wooden panels, whilst the upper half were two shades of green stripes. Every few meters hung another boring painting of another old gentleman doing the same pose and expressionless face.
“So, mr… Hatch, was it?” Shawn asked, attempting to start a conversation. Mr. Hatch walked with a straight back and his head held high, clothes immaculate: He was wearing a white, ironed shirt, tucked tightly in his pants, a dark brown bowtie and matching suspenders - a look that in no way matched the long, shaggy hair and dirty face.
It was a short while before mr. Hatch answered, as he apparently tried to work his way out of a complicated train of thoughts: “Edward Hatch, yes, that’s me. And I don’t do first names, mr. Blackwalk-”
“Whiterun,” Shawn interrupted,
“-Whiterun,” he continued, “of course.”
Edward let out a slight giggle at his own humour, “Seriously, though, I usually go by Hatch.”
“Alright, Hatch, and what exactly do you do for the lord?”
“It’s well, uhm, complicated. Most of all just gadgets, mechanics and such. He has some strange requests every once in awhile; keeps me interested. But most of the time, I just play around down in the Workshop.”
“And he pays you for that?”
“Apparently he believes my research will change the world or something, I don’t know. But he pays well, and I can get the resources I need, so I don’t really ask questions - I don’t really care.”
Unlike the other doors in the house, they reached one made from some kind of dark metal. Above the handle was a rotary dial with the numbers from 0-9, and Hatch quickly dialed it six times without Shawn getting a chance to notice the combination. As the dial turned back to default after the sixth turn, a series of clicking noises announced the unlocking of the door, and it slowly swung inward, revealing a downward staircase.
“Welcome to the Workshop.”
Dormiveglia have its own tumblr, where most of the new uploads will be,
please check it out if you liked this first part.
Also I will be posting more on movellas, if there are readers