The Artificer's Angels

A tale of love, hate, illegal resurrection, mad science, and a giant mechanical crab.

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1. Prologue

Prologue

In which we meet two men of dubious character.

 

Two men cut across a patchwork field of mud and snow, dead reeds snapping under their feet and sludge clinging to their ankles. Faster this way, Maxwell had said. Better. Less conspicuous. Then he crushed a wild tulip through the bud with the tip of his cane, eyes fixed on the horizon before him.

Mister Maxwell Gallows carried a cracked leather pack of his favorite tools in his left hand. He wore gloves stained with oil and grit and less savory substances, charcoal gray at the fingertips and white atop the wrist. He was past middle age, tall, gaunt, his coloring bad, dark circles under his eyes. A mop of thick black and silver hair had been crammed under an out-of-style black top hat, and he dressed as if he'd attended an opera ten years prior and had never changed since.

Uriel followed carrying the heavy machinery, whose loose parts shifted and jangled. The instruments were so large that they surpassed impressive and trespassed into comical, surely even too large for a big man to manage. And Uriel was a very large man, a young giant in fact, strong featured and muscular, long black hair tied behind him with a bit of twine. His irises were red and without pupil: unnatural, artificial. Despite the weight, Uriel strode on without complaint, and he kept his attention on his footing. He did not have much to his name, and the thought of miring his only trousers with mud did not appeal to him.

Maxwell did not look at Uriel when he addressed him. "How much farther?"

"Two kilometers, six hundred and thirty-two meters," Uriel answered.

Maxwell scowled, switched his cane with his tool case, compared the weights, then stopped completely to better cram his hat over his hair. "Worse yet," he muttered. "My arms feel leaden, Uriel. Take the pack?" He proffered his leather case. "Mind yourself, now. Some of my delicate instruments are in there."

Uriel stared at the case for a moment, tested what he was already holding while the metal edges of his load bit into the palms of his hands and ground into his shoulders. He managed to free one single finger for Maxwell, who draped the bag's handle over and turned away as Uriel's burdened groaned with the slight shift and swayed from one side to side. Uriel leaned with it, one way, the other. It balanced somehow.

"Onward!" Maxwell started out again, stabbing another wildflower with his cane. "How much further now?"

 

Maxwell called for a rest when they reached the dirt road at the edge of town, though their destination waited behind the old church only forty meters away. Paint chipped and flaked at the corners, the same white as Maxwell's gloves, and the shutters had been chained shut, broken glass littering the edge of the building, last autumn's sodden leaves slicking the front walk and steps. A stone angel prayed over them from the steeple.

The road itself was sparsely traveled-- this particular town had once been the site of a mine, its veins of silver overestimated, overrun, and deserted-- and so the road showed footprints of deer, birds, a single solitary carriage. Maxwell Gallows paced over them all, his eyes far away, his mouth moving with a constant mutter. Occasionally he would call out questions to Uriel. What was the ratio of a human body to the volume of blood it contained? How much electricity did a resting body generate? What was the proper temperature a functioning cryo-chamber should drop to to prevent the cells from bursting? And in reverse?

With each answer, Uriel's artificial red eyes would flicker and glow as the machines in his head checked computations and calculations. For all his questions, though, Maxwell did not seem interested in the answers. While Uriel stretched and massaged his muscles, felt the gears shift beneath both natural and artificial skin, Maxwell muttered and paced all the more. The foliage suffered for it.

Finally, Maxwell sat beside Uriel and held his hat in his hands, his eyes trailing to the steeple. "How old is he, Uriel?" he asked. "Thirteen?"

"Discounting the time spent after his deaths, Leo is fifteen years, five months, and twelve days old today," Uriel said. "Measuring from the date of his birth, Leo is twenty years, one month--"

"That's quite enough!" Maxwell snapped.

Uriel fell silent.

"Things won't go wrong again," Maxwell said, glaring into the underside of his hat. "I'll see to it. I know how to fix him this time."

He pushed himself to his feet, crammed his hat over his hair again and marched forward to the decrepit picket fence around the church's graveyard. He placed his foot on the gate and kicked it forward, bringing down much of the nearby fence with it. Then he called for Uriel to bring the machinery.

The gravestones within stood among weeds and tall grass almost as high as they. Maxwell passed them, first weaving between rows, then walking on the tops of the stones and wiping pale brown mud from his dress shoes as he passed. At the edge of the cemetery stood a stone mausoleum with the word GALLOWS standing out in beveled letters. A stone angel had once been carved over the gate; now only a pair of mossy wings. Maxwell had taken a sledgehammer to it years ago.

Maxwell pulled a key on a white ribbon from around his neck and unlocked the door, throwing the entrance wide and descended the stairs. Light filled the tomb at the flick of a lever, humming and flickering as Maxwell passed his father's grave, then his wife's without a second glance. He needed the very back of the room, where a hidden keyhole and a pull-away wall revealed a sophisticated panel of gages and switches.

The readings made Maxwell Gallows smile. "Uriel, my tools!"

Uriel entered with Maxwell's cracked leather bag in hand. Maxwell opened the bag at once and began to root through its contents.

And though Uriel did not appreciate the mausoleum's low ceiling, his stooped head and bent profile put him at a very good angle to observe what Maxwell had missed. Resting upon Missus Emily Gallows' sarcophagus was something that absolutely did not, would never belong: a fancy gentleman's curved pipe carved from rosewood and ivory. Maxwell had many vices. A love of leaf was not among them.

A dedicated servant would have called out. A dedicated creation would inform its master of this discovery, a presence that did not being, a sign of meddling, tampering here amid Maxwell's greatest work, his most fiercely guarded treasure. Uriel did neither.

He would obey any order his master asked of him.

He would not volunteer.

The pipe disappeared into the pocket of his only trousers.

Uriel left the mausoleum to set up Maxwell's machinery-- machines to control the thawing process, machines to generate electricity, pre-build parts to replace the broken pieces of Maxwell Gallows' only son. Machines to restore the preserved dead.

Maxwell's hands shook in anticipation, and he flicked his switches, shifted his dials with the mind of a scientist and the hands of an artist, the sort of rare excellence in talent that accompanied the title of artificer. He called for the thawing device first, hazel eyes gleaming with excitement, a boyish grin creeping up the sides of his lined face. Machines were installed. Numbers were monitored.

"Open the sarcophagus," Maxwell said at last.

Uriel gripped the heavy stone slab with both hands and drew it from its place, the work of four or six men. He set it gently aside. Maxwell peered within.

The cryo-chamber was made of matte blue metal, the cold covering the surface with a feathery frost. Wafts of cold steam rose as drops of liquid nitrogen evaporated as the temperature readjusted.

"Start the thaw," Maxwell said. "Open the case."

Uriel twisted his left hand at the wrist-- it parted along a thin brass seam, and he set it aside, pulling out a metal claw more suited to dealing with such extreme temperatures. He tripped every latch, every lock and catch, then pulled the handle.

The casket opened with the hiss of normalizing pressure. The chemical fog cleared. Maxwell's eyes stopped shining.

Leo Gallows' body was gone.

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