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Diamonds of the New Gods

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  • Diamonds of the New Gods

    Diamonds of the New Gods


    by Jason D. Brandon


    NOW:

    O’Riley fell hard, his shoulder slamming into the floor as the creature barreled over him. He saw a blur of fur, caught a glimpse of the red jeweled eyes bracketed in brass. The creature landed hard, its metal talons clattering across the wooden floor of the carriage. Beyond it, the passengers of the Underground shrank back in fear, but it ignored them, turning again to face O’Riley. With a snarl, it pawed the floor, ready to pounce again.

    Still lying on his side, O’Riley fired from the ground an ancient pistol, sleek and black. A salvo of thin needles embedded themselves across the muzzle of the beast, piercing its nose and tongue; one of its mechanical eyes shattered in the volley. The wolf arched its head back and howled in pain. The second salvo of needles took it in the throat, killing it instantly.

    O’Riley grimaced. He had hit his shoulder hard, and his aim was off. He should have been able to finish it with the first shot. Grabbing a brass rail, he pulled himself up and turned to face the rest of the pack.

    From the previous car they came. Five monstrosities, wolves augmented with a lattice of brass wires and jeweled receptors. They were as large as a man, and they loped casually through the door, alternately on four feet and then on two. A wicked intelligence gleamed from within their eyes.

    As one they all looked to O’Riley. “Give usss back what-t you have stolennnn-” A mechanical voice like a recording issued from the throat of the largest wolf, albino white. “Give themmm back-k orrr we willll dest-trrroy you…”

    O’Riley held up a small bag, dangling it in front of them enticingly. “You stole these diamonds from Buckingham Palace,” he said. His smile did not quite reach his eyes. “The Culinan and the Kohinoor diamonds, but you skipped the Black Prince Ruby. I want to know why? What do you need these diamonds for? Why just the diamonds? And who sent you? Where are you from?”

    ***

    “You’re not from around here.”

    “I thought that’d be obvious,” he drawled, pouring on the charm.

    “You haven’t answered my question.”

    “You never asked one.” Tipping his head back, he downed the drink in one swift motion.

    “My mistake. Who are you?”

    “Call me Jack.”

    “And do you regularly frequent clubs like ours?”

    “Every chance I get, my dear. And what can I call you?”

    “I am the Contessa von Bek.”

    “Contessa it is, then,” grinned Jack. “You’re clearly not from around here either.”

    “My Louisiana accent gave me away?” Her eyes twinkled, and Jack found himself blushing.

    “I guess I didn’t realize they had titles in America.”

    “Where?” she asked.

    “Never mind,” stumbled Jack. “Yeah, I’m not from around here. Tell me, Contessa. What’s a nice noblewoman like you doing serving drinks in a dive like this?”

    Smiling enigmatically, Contessa von Bek took his empty glass from him and poured him another. “And what’s a sailor like you doing in a club like ours, Jack?”

    Jacks eyes narrowed. “I need some information.”

    “Ah,” said the Contessa knowingly. “Then you have indeed come to the right place, for here at the Fault we cater to the wisest and savviest of discerning clientele.”

    “Indeed? And why, pray tell, my dear Contessa of Louisiana, do they call it the Fault?”

    “The owners have a strange and twisted sense of humor, Jack of clubs.”

    “And who might they be, these mysterious owners? Whose Fault is it?”

    “That is of no concern of yours, good sir.”

    ***

    “That-t isss not yourrr concernnn…” snarled the albino. “Give!”

    With a growl, the beasts surged forward. Behind him the passengers screamed, throwing themselves into the seats and back against the corners. Faster than the eye could see O’Riley let off another volley of needles, bringing two of the creatures snarling down, but their momentum carried them forward, one careening into him even as it died. O’Riley grunted as it knocked him towards the floor, pinning him beneath its weight.

    The other three continued to advance. “Get-t the diamondsss!” the white wolf commanded his underlings. Unable to bring his pistol to bear, O’Riley was powerless to stop the creatures from descending on him. Brass-fitted talons dug into his shoulders, pinning his arms further to his side. Remorseless claws plucked the bag of gems from his hand.

    “We should k-kill it-t!” intoned one, slowly dragging its claw down the side of his jaw. O’Riley felt his cheek sliced open, felt the blood pooling on his neck.

    “Go!” ordered the pack leader. “We d-do not-t have t-time t-to playyy.”

    With grunts of disappointment the creatures scrambled past him towards the back of the train.

    As it passed him, the albino leaned in, whispering in his ear. “Int-terfere againnn and our queennn will certainnnly dessstroy you.”

    ***

    “Someone is out to destroy the king,” said Jack, sipping his drink. “Time is slipping. Anarchy in the streets. A call to overthrow a British monarchy powerless to keep up with the times. Seems a bit excessive, but then what do I know; I’m not from around here.”

    “Was that a question?”

    “’Suppose it wasn’t, my Contessa. So let’s see. If London is on the verge of falling apart, who stands to gain?”

    “You don’t expect me to answer that, do ya?”

    “Oh, I know the answer to that,” said Jack. “That’s an easy one. Those Nazis seem to be a problem anywhere you go. What I want to know is this: who’s their sympathizer here in London? See, Nazis may follow orders well, but their soldiers don’t operate very independently. They need an agent provocateur, a man with a plan, if you will.”

    “Was that a question, sir?”

    “It was, my dear Contessa. Where can I find the most influential Nazi in London?”

    Contessa von Bek flashed her most winning smile. “Why, Monsieur Jack, you’ll find Baron Zero at the card table right over there.”

    “Cards, huh? Fantastic! I haven’t hit the decks for far too long now.”

    ***

    “Hit the deck!” warned O’Riley as he shot after the retreating wolves. Passengers dropped to the floor of the carriage with cries of dismay. He let loose salvo after salvo at the retreating figures, and managed to drop another of the beasts, but the final two continued to get away.

    “Damn!” he swore. He managed to push the dead beast off of him and struggled to his feet, running down the carriage after them. Passengers recoiled from him, seeing him as alien as any of the creatures he pursued.

    He heard the crash of broken glass before him. Emerging into the final carriage of the underground train, his gaze fell upon the broken window that opened into the subways that stretched behind them, tracks extending into the gloom of the underground tunnel. He could just make out the form of two figures loping off down the shaft. Without pause he ran forward, tucking into a ball and leaping through the window, converting his momentum into a roll that brought him up painfully behind the train that continued to race away. Startled, the wolves turned to see the commotion. Another volley of needles, and another wolf fell dead.

    O’Riley shot after the final wolf, but the needles slowed down in midair and hung there, suspended and unmoving. “Chronal displacement again!” muttered O’Riley to himself. Suddenly the flechettes began moving again, instantly returning to their original speed, but the wolf had already faded into the darkness of the tunnels. O’Riley was unable to pierce the gloom, and though he fired more shots into the darkness, his shots failed to find their mark.

    The albino wolf laughed macabrely from the darkness, the sound echoing from everywhere. “T-too late, G-gunholderrr,” it hissed. “My queennn will have the d-diamondsss, and you have nnnothing. You have lost.”

    ***

    “I got nothing. Just a queen of diamonds,” said Jack, throwing his cards down in front of him.

    Baron Zero laughed warmly. “Well then, herr freund. I fear that you have lost. I have a full house. Jacks and aces!” Baron Zero adjusted his sunglasses and leaned back in his chair. He tapped the pommel of his ornate cane on the card table. The croupier obediently gathered up the cards and began to deal them out again.

    Jack smiled and inclined his head ever-so-slightly. “Well played, monsieur. It is good to see that your reputation is not undeserved.”

    “My reputation?” The Baron raised an eyebrow quizzically. “I had no idea that I was beginning to make a name for myself in cards. What are the people saying of me?”

    “Only that you are a canny player,” answered Jack. “That you always know how to read the situation. That you always play to a plan. Always know how to judge the odds.”

    “Is that what they say?”

    “And that you always have an ace up your sleeve.”

    The Baron pursed his lips thoughtfully, his brows knitting together in a fixed expression. “That almost sounds like an accusation, herr freund.”

    “I got nothing. Just a queen of diamonds.” Jack paused, and eyed his cards again. He shook his head, trying to clear himself from the sense of déjà vu. He looked up to the Baron and smiled weakly. “Forgive me. Did I just repeat myself?”

    The Baron pulled a pocket watch out of his watch and checked it. He raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Ah,” he said. “Quite alright, herr freund. What were you saying?”

    Jack thought a moment. “Oh yes. The ace up your sleeve. Forgive me,” said Jack innocently. “But surely you didn’t think I was talking about cards, did you? I simply meant that people say that you always have a contingency for every plan. Something always in the works. An ace up your sleeve, nothing more.”

    Baron Zero nodded. “Indeed,” he agreed. “Such a description is apt, I suppose. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be leaving.”

    As the Baron rose from the table, so did Jack. “Forgive me if I have offended you, Baron. It was not my intention. This was one of the most enjoyable games I have played in some time.”

    “And for me,” agreed the Baron. “But it appears that I have other business. That man in the doorway motioning to me? It would appear that I have business that draws me away.”

    “A shame,” said Jack, following the Baron to the door. “Won’t you at least introduce me to your associate?” He looked the man over. Aviator goggles, a leather jacket and a scarf around his neck made it clear that the man was a pilot of some sort.

    “Ah, yes. Jack, this is… well, my Ace, I suppose you would say.”

    Jack stuck out his hand. “Ace, huh? Fantastic! And I’m the Jack of Clubs.”

    The pilot looked stunned at him, visibly paling.

    Jack looked down at his hand. “Something the matter with my hand, Ace? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

    He nodded slowly, recovering his composure. “Forgive me. Perhaps I have. Only, I find you look uncannily like someone I once knew.”

    “Just pulled into town,” said Jack. “Can’t be me.”

    “Then I must be mistaken. Forgive us. We really must be off,” he said, turning to the Baron. “Shall we be going?”

    “Indeed,” agreed the Baron. “We have a time schedule to keep.”

    “Sorry,” said Jack. “Didn’t mean to be keeping you from your trip out of town.”

    “Trip?” said the pilot.

    “Forgive me,” said Jack again. “I may have misunderstood the nature of the Baron’s business. I assumed since you were a pilot, that the two of you were going somewhere.”

    “Indeed not,” said the Baron. “Good day to you, herr Jack.”

    “And to you, Baron. Good to meet you, Ace.”

    “And you, Jack. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Shall we be going, Baron Zero?”



    EARLIER:

    “This looks like London.”

    “It is London. Or at least, it is another London.”

    “It doesn’t look like any London I know.”

    “Is this to mean that you are remembering your past now?”

    Jack shrugged. “Not really. But I know this isn’t it. Sometimes some things are familiar, but not this time. This is all wrong. Technology is all different. Too much brass. Too many cogs. It’s not like this where I’m from. What about you?”

    Septimus O’Riley shook his head. “It is not like my Londinium either. I see almost nothing of the Neo-Roman Republic. This city is very foreign to me.”

    Jack breathed deep and looked around the docks. “Fog’s the same, though. The Thames must be the one constant of London.”

    “Like an old friend,” mused O’Riley.

    “Hey, don’t get all maudlin on me,” countered Jack. “You told me we were here for a reason. Scenic though this London is, I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.”

    “Anxious to return to the Sea of Mists?”

    “Not particularly. But there’s something here, something that sets my teeth on edge. But I can’t put my finger on it. I’m not expectin’ you to understand.”

    “I might,” said O’Riley. “It may be the reason we are here. This London is at a crossroads. Politically it is at a tipping point, a moment of crisis that perches over it like a predator ready to pounce.”

    “Very poetic, Septimus.”

    “And yet apt. The Multiverse hangs in a precarious balance. Disrupt the order too far in one direction or the other and the Balance tips inexorably to one side or the other. Too much order and the universes become static and dead. Too much chaos and the universes become uninhabitable.”

    “And this London?”

    “I cannot tell,” admitted O’Riley. “I fear it could tip either way. Something drew us here. If this London falls, it will have a destabilizing effect on the surrounding spheres that will reverberate through the cosmos. Whatever disruption is attendant in this London, it is imperative that we stop it.”

    “I hate politics,” said Jack. “Just thought I’d add that in for free.”

    O’Riley nodded. “I share your enthusiasm. I suspect that we will not have to grace the forums or palaces of this realm to accomplish our mission.”

    “What is our mission? And what’s our next step? We don’t even have any place to stay.”

    O’Riley peered through the evening fog. “That lad over there on the far street. He appears to be selling newspapers. That is just what we will need to get started. It should elucidate us on the nature of this realm.”

    “And we might even learn somethin’,” quipped Jack. The two of them made their way through the darkening fog to a dim circle of light, made out by the wan illumination from a solitary streetlamp hung over their heads, the soft buzz of its electrics a faint backdrop to the sounds of the London night.

    The boy looked up as they approached. “Evenin’ gov’nors. Paper?”

    “Yes please,” said Jack, handing the boy a coin. He was relieved to note that the boy did not bother to check the currency; he doubted his few remaining coins bore much more than a passing resemblance to the local coinage.

    “A question for you, lad,” asked Jack as he took the newspaper from the kid. “We just got here, and we don’t have a place to stay tonight. Any suggestions?”

    The boy nodded. “Saw you comin’ from the docks. Didn’t see a ship come in, though. You been hangin’ ‘round the docks for a few hours?”

    “Unloading,” answered Jack.

    “Right you are, gov’nor. If’n you got the coin, I can recommend for ‘ya a few nice hotels. But if money’s tight, the Bennies have a poor house not far from here.”

    “The Bennies?”

    “The Poor Order of the Monks of St. Benedict. Don’t you have those where you’re from?”

    “Of course,” said O’Riley to Jack in explanation. “The Benedictine Monks are an ecclesial order to the cult of the Galilean, a figure of greater significance in most realms, including this one.”

    “Galilean, huh?” said Jack. “He’s not big in Nova Roma, I take it?”

    “A fringe movement, nothing more,” answered O’Riley.

    “Hey, what’r’ya on about,” said the newspaper boy, mystified. “Where’r you gents from?”

    “A question for you, lad,” asked Jack as he took the newspaper from the kid. “We just got here, and we don’t have a place to stay tonight. Any suggestions?”

    O’Riley looked up sharply and stared at Jack.

    The boy nodded. “Saw you comin’ from the docks. Didn’t see a ship come in, though. You been hangin’ ‘round the docks for a few hours?”

    “Unloading,” answered Jack.

    “Right you are, gov’nor. If’n you got the coin, I can recommend for ‘ya a few nice hotels. But if money’s tight, the Bennies have a poor house not far from here.”

    “The Bennies?”

    “The Poor Order of the Monks of St. Benedict. Don’t you have those where you’re from?”

    Jack turned to O’Riley, but he just stared at the two of them. “Septimus? Something wrong? You seem awful quiet.”

    “We have had this conversation before. Do you not remember?”

    Jack rubbed his hand over his head. “What do you mean?”

    “You feel it too, do you not? That headache you are experiencing?”

    “What… what’s going on?”

    O’Riley looked around. “Chronal displacement. You were repeating your own timeline.”

    Jack shook his head as if to clear it. “So why didn’t it affect you?”

    “Because I am of the Ghost Worlds. When I died, I was saved by the Qui Lors Venturers. They took me to their system, the Ghost Worlds. There I was reborn as M’v Okum Sebpt O’Riley, and given a new purpose, my p’rind’rha. As a creature of the Ghost Worlds, like the Qui Lors, I stand slightly out of step from this reality. I stand adjacent to this timeline, interacting with it while slightly removed from it. The chronal displacement would not affect me, for I am already displaced. You sense it because you have sailed on the Sea of Mists and Shadows. I suspect that the local populace would not have even realized anything was amiss.”

    “You gents talkin’ ‘bout the time distortions?”

    O’Riley and Jack turned in shock to the newspaper seller.

    “You are aware of it?” asked a surprised O’Riley.

    “Not really,” he said. “But it’s been goin’ on fer weeks now. Ev’ry now ’n then we lose some of our times. Clocks will be all different than they should. Sometimes it’s the other way ‘round, and we gain the time back. Been getting’ worse lately. Sometimes whole hours disappear or get relived. Lots o’ folks are pretty upset about it. They’re sayin’ that if His Majesty can’t do nuthin’ about it, that maybe we need a new Cromwell.”

    “Do you know the source of this disturbance?” asked O’Riley.

    The lad shook his head. “I figure it must be some new weapon of His Majesty gone crazy. Maybe his scientists have cooked up some weapon to take whole days away from the ‘Krauts. Show ol’ Adolph whose boss, don’cher know. But maybe it’s backfired on ‘em.”

    “Adolph,” said Jack resignedly. “As in Adolph Hitler.” He turned to O’Riley. “It’s one of those worlds. Nazis with time machines.”

    “We appear to have found the disturbance,” nodded O’Riley. He turned to the boy. “You have been most helpful, young man. And now if you could direct us to these ‘Bennies’, we would be most grateful. We may need our rest, it seems.”



    NOW:

    O’Riley examined the floor of the subway. No tracks. The beast had left running along the rails, exiting along one of any number of divergent steam tunnels that undergirded the city. He sighed, and stretched his shoulders. His clothing was torn and muddy, his face still bleeding.

    With a grimace he found a niche in the tunnel wall and hauled himself up into it. From his perch he could wait and watch for the next underground carriage to arrive. He could hear it in the distance, its deep-throated rumble drawing it relentlessly onward. Very soon it would be right beneath him.

    He was frustrated. The chronal displacement was throwing him off.

    Ever since his rebirth, Septimus O’Riley had stood slightly askance to the normal flow of time, a part of him congruent with varying levels of the normal time flow. He could perceive events in tandem, sometimes catching glimpses of parallel potentials that would result from divergent choices. He intuited actions and occasions, giving him a near prescience at times and granting him reflexes that far outstripped mortal humanity. In extreme cases he could even pass into a simultaneous time flow, allowing him to appear to be in two places at once, or to move nearly instantaneously or even through intervening barriers.

    As the underground carriage approached, O’Riley closed his eyes and waited. He could still perceive the train, could see every moment of its passing before it arrived, while it passed him, and after it had left him. He chose his moment, inserting himself back into normal time. He moved his body, throwing it forward just at the right second. A fraction before or after and he saw himself crushed by the massive vehicle. But in that briefest of instants when he needed to, O’Riley jumped between two of the carriages, landing neatly on his feet.

    He opened the door to the foremost carriage and found for himself an empty seat. No one saw or questioned his arrival on the Underground.

    ***

    When the Baron and the pilot left the Fault, Jack made his way back to the bar and ordered another drink. “And was it a good game of cards,” asked the Contessa. “You appeared to be losing.”

    Jack winked and raised his glass to her. “I never lose, my dear Contessa. Games are not about winning the cards. They’re all about social interactions; games are about power over people, not just mere tricks.”

    She smiled. “Do you ever play solitaire?”

    He took a sip from the drink before answering. “Only when I hate myself.”

    “Where are you from, Jack?”

    “Whose Fault is it?”

    “Not the Baron’s, if that’s what you’re asking,” she evaded.

    “Not here, if that’s what you’re asking,” he replied.

    “Why so tight-lipped?”

    “Maybe I don’t want to know the answer.”

    She frowned. “And which question was that an answer to?”

    He finished the drink quickly and got to his feet. “I’m afraid I have to be going, my dear. I have a friend to meet. But before I go, can I ask you one more question?” He leaned in close, looking both ways conspiratorially.

    The Contessa von Bek leaned in as well. “Go on,” she encouraged.

    “Where can I get one of those spider-walkers? I just have to drive me one of those.”



    EARLIER:

    “This,” said Jack, “Is definitely not my London. But I think I could come to like it.”

    Septimus O’Riley smiled warmly, his own thoughts going back to Londinium. It had been a long time since he had been there, and longer yet since he had called the city home. Nearly killed in a dogfight amongst the stars, he had been rescued and revived by the near mythical Qui Lors Venturers, a delegation of relic hunters from the equally mythic Ghost Worlds. They had rebuilt his body, bringing him back to life while simultaneously improving his physical form. They had renamed him M’v Okum Sebpt O’Riley, an honorable name within their culture that spoke to his destiny. O’Riley was no longer fully human, and his destiny, his p’rind’rha, was now tied to the inscrutable machinations of the Qui Lors. They had designated him their Gunholder, and gifted him with a relic from earth’s past, a black pistol that shot volleys of needles, said to have once been wielded by the greatest assassin the crown of Britannia had ever employed.

    Some time ago O’Riley had been separated from his ship, the Origin of Faith, and from his comrades. He felt they were still alive; they were his family now, and his separation from them grieved him terribly. But he knew that they were resourceful; they had survived without him before he had ever joined them, and they would be fine without him even now. He knew that they would be just as worried about him as he was for them, and that they also would be looking for him as he sought them out.

    His search for his brethren had led O’Riley to the shores of a Sea of Mist and Shadows, a nebulous realm of waters that stretched between the spheres of the Multiverse and connected the various worlds together. He had taken passage aboard a mysterious ship that sailed the seas, and shortly thereafter met Jack, a cheerful card playing amnesiac whose p’rind’rha seemed to draw him along with O’Riley. The companionship had been good for the both of them, and true friendship had developed between the two. They had remained on the ship since that point, occasionally disembarking at various otherworldly shores to engage in a myriad of miscellaneous tasks that the ship captain assured O’Riley would advance his p’rind’rha and bring him back to his brothers.

    Today O’Riley and Jack found themselves in London: a London crawling, quite literally, with clockwork beasts.

    “Is that a giant spider?” asked Jack as they dodged out of the way of one iron leg that came to rest where they had been standing, missing them by mere inches, so close that Jack could count the rivets on the blackened frame. Steam whistled out of the boiler on the back of the machine. Through the amber portholes above them he could make out two people inside, a mustachioed man in a top hat and a woman laced up in a tight-fitting gown, a fan held in her gloved hand. The man waved cheerily at them and pulled a couple of levers amidst a dizzying array of controls in front of him; the mechanical spider shuddered and lumbered down the street with a hiss of hydraulics, clambering over a smaller machine with only six legs that was heading towards them.

    “I have just got to drive one of those before we leave,” said Jack, shaking his head. “That is absolutely beautiful.”

    “Quite fascinating,” agreed O’Riley. “An entire culture whose technology appears to be steam-driven. And instead of motor cars with wheels, machines that emulate life, walking on mechanical legs. Rather remarkable. Strange, though.”

    “What’s so strange about a giant mechanical spider?”

    “Such a culture would consume fossil fuels too quickly. It is not an efficient technology. The whole system could only last for a brief amount of time before breaking down.”

    “Way to spoil my moment, Septimus.”

    “But it does help us in our mission.”

    “How so?”

    “I am unconvinced that such technology could produce any machine that would distort time to any noticeable degree.”

    “So what do you think we are dealing with here?”

    “Either a higher power with anachronistic technology from outside this world or something mystical in nature.”

    “Spaceships or wizards,” said Jack matter-of-factly.

    “Hmmm,” agreed O’Riley. “As you say. ‘Spaceships or wizards.’”

    “Amazing as this all is,” said Jack, “I’m tired. Let’s find these Bennies and get a bed for the night. Not much we can do about it until the morning.”

    “True,” agreed O’Riley. “We should be near these ‘Bennies’ soon enough. Let us continue.”



    NOW:

    Jack left the Fault and strolled down the streets of this other London, so familiar, and yet so alien. The amber glow of streetlamps lit the main thoroughfares with ruddy warmth while still allowing the darkened alleyways to keep their sordid secrets. Overhead, tethered dirigibles slept, reflecting back the wan illumination, hovering over the street like man-made clouds all precise and neat.

    Jack found himself a seat at a corner café just getting ready to close. He ordered two cups of coffee, and sat down to watch the late-night pedestrians, few and far between at this hour.

    A tall and pale bedraggled man made his way through the tables and took the seat next to Jack, grabbing the coffee without a word. A faint trickle of blood ran marred his cheek. In silence the two watched the street for some time.

    “Rough day at the office?” asked Jack, finally breaking the silence. He sipped at his coffee, still watching the street.

    “I am convinced that the crown is not involved with the chronal displacement.”

    “Useful but of information to know.”

    “While I was at Buckingham Palace, an attempt was made on the Culinan and the Kohinoor diamonds.”

    “Come again?”

    “Gems within the crown jewels.”

    “No kidding? That took some brass balls.”

    “Cyborgs,” said O’Riley. “Someone actually spent the time to augment wolves with whatever passes for cybernetics in this divergent age.”

    “Literally. Brass balls.” Jack laughed at his own joke, but stopped short when his companion failed to join him in his humor. “Oh, lighten up, Septimus. How bad can it be?”

    “I was able to get the diamonds from them,” said O’Riley.

    “Well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

    O’Riley snorted. “They took them back.”

    “Oh. Damn.”

    “How was your part of the operation?”

    Jack took another sip from his coffee. “The Nazis are indeed active in London in this era, but just starting out. It turns out Hitler hasn’t made his grab for power yet in Germany, but he’s definitely the up-and-coming power-to-be. The local Nazi poster-child is one Baron Zero. A Romanian if I judged his accent right. I lost a few hands of cards against him tonight.”

    O’Riley raised an eyebrow. “You? You lost in a game of cards against him?”

    “Ah. Well, I threw those games. People talk more when they are winning.”

    “And what did this Baron Zero say?”

    “Tightlipped, that one is. But he slipped up. We had another spell of chronal displacement.”

    “Yes,” said O’Riley. “I experienced that in the tunnel systems. It’s what allowed the beast to get away. It seemed immune to the effects of the displacement.”

    “Yeah, well, so was our Baron Zero. He didn’t even bat an eye when it hit, but I think it shocked him that I noticed it. And something else. He’s local. Whatever he’s planning, it’s here in London. Oh, and he has a pilot working for him. That makes me think he’s got something planned that would take a pilot.” Jack sucked his lip.

    “Problem?” asked O’Riley.

    “Now that I think about it,” mused Jack, “I don’t know that the pilot was working for Zero. It almost felt like the other way around. He was casual around the Baron. Almost even ordered him around. Not at all like someone the Baron would have in his employ.”

    “One of the wolves mentioned a queen,” added O’Riley. “It is possible that the Baron and the pilot both work for her.”

    “Baron Zero doesn’t strike me as someone to work for anyone else.”

    “Except herr Hitler?”

    “Ah,” nodded Jack. “Fair point, Septimus. So the Baron is working for someone else. It would have to be someone of considerable power and authority to pull his strings.”

    “A queen, perhaps?”

    Jack nodded. “And maybe not even a figurative term? Except that this London is ruled by a king, so it’s not the crown he works for. So what’s our next move?”

    “We know that whatever they have planned, it is local, and it involves a pilot.”

    “And it involves time,” added Jack. “But it doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting harm beyond some political destabilization. It’s more like an overflow effect. Whatever time stuff they’re doing, the rest of London is suffering the after effects.”

    “Are there any other parts of the world also dealing with these chronal displacements?”

    “Not that anyone ‘round here knows about.”

    “Then our investigation must confine itself to this London.”

    “What d’we do next, then?”

    O’Riley pursed his lips. “What is the most basic necessity for any experiments or forays into time?”

    O’Riley thought a moment. “A clock?”

    “Indeed.”

    “So we’re off to see a man about a clock?”

    “Let us discuss matters with the local clockmakers,” agreed O’Riley. “I suspect that we should continue our investigation therein.”



    EARLIER:

    “Pardon the pun,” said Jack, “But wait a minute. The Bennies live in… Big Ben?”

    Septimus O’Riley and the Jack of Clubs stood outside the monastery of the Poor Order of the Monks of St. Benedict, a vast tower dominated by an unmistakable set of clocks facing the four cardinal directions.

    “Big Ben?” O’Riley turned to look quizzically at Jack. “You call it Big Ben?”

    “Yeah, why? What do you call it in your London?”

    “In Londinium we see it as a magnificent feat of modern engineering, a testament to the leadership of the Caesars and their patronage of our city. It is the Magnum Pater Horologium.”

    Jack sounded the words out, working them around his tongue as he pondered them. “Wait a minute. I know a bit of Latin. You guys call it the Grand Fatherclock? That’s ridiculous!”

    “And Big Ben is somehow more formal?”

    Jack just scowled. “It’s Queen Victoria Tower,” said Jack. “We just call it Big Ben.”

    “But not named after the Benedictine monks?”

    “Nah. It was based on the designs of some Yank named Ben Franklin.”

    “Apparently that is not the case here. Come, Jack. Let us see if they have any beds tonight.”

    “At least we should be able to hear the alarm clock,” said Jack under his breath. “Not sure which one, though. The clock faces are all showing different times.”

    O’Riley nodded. “If anything, I feel closer to the effects of the chronal displacements here.”

    “Some kind of epicenter?”

    “Or at the least a focus for the phenomena. The clocks on the tower may simply exaggerate the effects.”

    Jack stopped and pointed up. “Septimus, look. Is that a Zeppelin tethered to the side of the tower?”

    O’Riley nodded. “I presume so. I am afraid that it is a primitive technology I am unfamiliar with. Is it recognizable to you?”

    Jack shook his head. “No, I’m like you. Seems very antiquated to me.”

    “Technology has indeed taken a different course in this London, it would seem,” said O’Riley.

    Together the two of them approached the main door. O’Riley rapped smartly on the door, and within a moment a young man clad in black robes opened the door for them.

    “How may we help you?” He spoke softly and carefully, enunciating each word precisely.

    “My companion and I have only just arrived in your city,” said O’Riley in explanation. “And it appears that we did not make adequate preparations to account for your indigenous currency.”

    “What my friend is sayin’ is that we’re broke and homeless,” cut in Jack. “Boy on the docks said you might be able to put us up for the night.”

    The monk smiled disarmingly. “Indeed, the Monks of St. Benedict will not turn away those in need of shelter or sanctuary should it be asked of us. Please, come in. Have you no belongings? I see you do not carry any baggage.”

    “More true than you know,” said Jack.

    “We travel very light, and find ourselves often on the move,” explained O’Riley. “We have a ship that we generally reside upon, but have been recently set ashore to undertake some business of a necessary nature.”

    “I see,” said the monk, clearly uninterested in any explanations.

    “What my friend is sayin’ is that we’re broke and homeless,” cut in Jack. “Boy on the docks said you might be able to put us up for the night.”

    The monk smiled disarmingly. “Indeed, the Monks of St. Benedict will not turn away those in need of shelter or sanctuary should it be asked of us. Please, come in. Have you no belongings? I see you do not carry any baggage.”

    “More true than you know,” said Jack.

    O’Riley looked askance at Jack.

    Jack groaned. “It happened again, didn’t it?”

    “Is there a problem?” asked the monk.

    “Do you not perceive the time distortions that fluctuate around us?” asked O’Riley.

    “Ah,” said the monk. “Why don’t you come in? Please. My name is Brother Arnold. Let me show you to your beds. It is already late this evening, and I am afraid that supper was some hours ago.” He led the men deep into the tower and to a large and winding staircase that gradually spiraled up the center of the monument. “Often we note that the clocks must be reset,” said Brother Arnold. “We will find the different faces of our tower set at different times. It is as if time moves at different speeds in different portions of the city. Sometimes we may have some vague recollection of actions repeated or of time passing quickly, but it is difficult to notice such things. Perhaps it is because we are accustomed to it. As outsiders, maybe you can perceive more easily what we do not.”

    “How long has this been in effect?” asked O’Riley.

    Brother Arnold scratched his head. “A few weeks? Surely no longer than a month. I confess that at times it is difficult to focus on such matters. Time, if you’ll pardon the expression, gets away from us these days.”

    “A further effect of the distortion,” explained O’Riley.

    “And is this why you have come to London,” asked Brother Arnold. “To investigate the displaced moments of time?”

    “You are perceptive man, Brother,” said O’Riley.

    “It is not difficult to see that you do not belong here, and that the issue concerns you.”

    “Can you help us?”

    “I have not heard of anyone knowing the cause of this,” said Brother Arnold. “Perhaps there are those who know more, but if so, they have not told any of us, I am afraid. Ah, here is your room.” After climbing multiple stories, they found themselves on a simple landing before a plain wooden door. The large staircase continued to spiral up further into the darkness. A soft clatter of cogs could be heard drifting down from the clock tower above.

    Jack looked further up the stairs. “I suppose this goes all the way to the top? Must be a real headache having to reset the clocks every time the distortion goes off.”

    “It is not our concern,” said Brother Arnold. “The clock itself is the property of the crown.”

    “May I take a look at the mechanisms that drive the clock?” asked O’Riley.

    “I’m afraid that is not possible, even if I could allow it,” admitted Brother Arnold. “We do not possess a key to the inner workings of the clock tower. The stairs terminate at a locked door that none of us have opened.”

    “Really?” asked Jack. “Who tends to the clocks then?”

    Brother Arnold shrugged. “The crown, when it is necessary. They staff the tower with their own stewards, flying them directly to the tower by the crown’s zeppelins.”

    “We saw one tethered to the tower outside,” said Jack. “Is that normal?”

    “More and more lately,” nodded the monk. “It is difficult to keep the clock faces synchronized with each other.”

    “Clearly,” agreed O’Riley. “We noticed that they were not so when we arrived.”

    “Perhaps it would be good for the citizens of London to worry less about the time and more about what they do with it,” said Brother Arnold. “We are too much slaves of Grandfather Time. Ah, but the hour is growing late, and you are in need of rest.” Brother Arnold opened the door to a simple and sparse room; it held a few single beds and a couple of simple wooden chairs. One lone mirror marred the otherwise blank walls over a simple wash-basin next to a closet that must surely contain the chamber pot.

    “You have our gratitude,” said O’Riley. “We will repay you as best we can,” he added.

    “Our Lord repays us,” explained Brother Arnold. “Only give what you feel best honors our Lord.” With that, the monk left.

    “Not bad for a free bed,” yawned Jack, throwing himself onto the nearest cot. “Sorry, Septimus, but I’m feeling pretty beat.”

    “Largely an effect of leaving the Ship,” he said. “Now that we have left the Sea of Mist and Shadows, time inevitably catches up with us. The chronal displacement will not help us in that. Get some sleep, my friend.”

    “What’s our plan tomorrow?” Jack was barely able to keep his eyes open, and settled onto the bed gracelessly. He noted O’Riley standing by the window, looking down into the city.

    “The newspaper lad wondered if this was some kind of weapon of the Crown,” said O’Riley. “I think I shall travel to the palace and see if I can discover anything there. Perhaps you can look into the local underworld? See if any of the local criminal organizations know anything.”

    Jack smiled and settled into his pillow. “Gambling at the local clubhouses. Right you are, Septimus.”

    O’Riley turned back to the window and looked out upon this other London. Above him the gears of the clocks continued to mark time in their relentless motion. Behind him Jack began to snore softly.



    NOW:

    “Now that is a classic,” said the proprietor, an old man who introduced himself simply as Smith. He came to stand beside Jack, who held a small wall-mounted clock that was inordinately ornate. “German design, sixteen hundreds. Quite an antique,” he added in caution.

    “Funny you mention the Germans,” said Jack as he put the clock back down, but O’Riley cut him off.

    “My clocks have stopped working,” said O’Riley without preamble. “I blame these time distortions.”

    “Yes,” said Smith. “It’s been good for business, I suppose. People wanting more clocks, trying to find some way to measure time accurately.”

    “I was thinking of trying to build a clock that was immune to it,” continued O’Riley. “Something to protect me from the effects.”

    Smith snorted. “You’re not the first. Ah, but forgive me. I just don’t suspect that you will have any luck where so many others have failed.”

    O’Riley nodded. “You are probably right, Mr. Smith. I suppose that you have seen some outlandish attempts at circumventing these effects, have you not?”

    Smith chuckled. “Indeed. One fellow bought over a dozen pocket watches to spread throughout his house, trying to create a circle that would ward out the effects.”

    “And did it work?” asked Jack.

    Smith snorted again. “Not at all. He wanted his money back the next day. Brought back the lot of them, all set to different times. Of course, I took them back, but charged him a service fee for resetting all the watches.”

    “Fascinating,” said O’Riley. His eyes twinkled. “Tell me, Mr. Smith. What is the strangest equipment that has been purchased to rectify this situation?”

    “Or the most expensive,” add Jack helpfully.

    “Other than the Bennies?”

    O’Riley looked up from a pocket watch he pretended to examine. “The Bennies? Forgive me. Did the Bennies purchase additional clocks here?”

    “Nah,” scoffed Smith. “But they sent their boy in to buy additional equipment. Said it was to keep the four faces of Big Ben in check with each other.”

    “Really,” said O’Riley. “How fascinating.”

    “Wait a second,” said Jack. “The faces of Big Ben all tell different time.”

    “I know,” laughed Smith. “Doesn’t seem to have worked, does it?”

    O’Riley exchanged looks with Jack. “No, it doesn’t. Thank you for your time, Mr. Smith.” He put down the pocket watch he was holding and made his way for the door, motioning Jack to join him.

    As he opened the door, he turned back, as if in afterthought. “Out of curiosity,” he added, “Do you know who made the purchase of those parts?”

    “Tall bloke, eastern accent. Sunglasses and a cane. Nobleman, I think.”

    “Baron Zero?” asked Jack.

    “Yes, that was him. Quite the gentleman. Paid handsomely for some custom parts. Shame they didn’t work out for the Bennies.”

    “Yes,” acquiesced O’Riley. “Quite the shame. Thank you for your time, Mr. Smith.”

    Outside, Jack turned on O’Riley. “The Bennies didn’t say anything about Zero working for them,” he said.

    “No, they did not,” agreed O’Riley. “And I do not believe that he is.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Brother Arnold and the rest of the monks seemed unconcerned with the displacement of time. And he was as affected by the distortion as you were. More so, if anything, as he did not notice it.”

    “He could have been faking it.”

    “No, I do not think so. And from your own account the Baron remained unaffected by the displacement even when it affected you. No, if the Baron was in league with the Bennies, they would have been unaffected as well.”

    “But they have access to the tower.”

    “No they do not,” countered O’Riley. “While you were asleep, I attempted to gain entry into the clock tower. Brother Arnold spoke the truth. The door is locked from the other side, bolted thoroughly. There is no way in from the base.”

    “Just the zeppelins,” mused Jack.

    “The kind of thing that would require a pilot,” added O’Riley.

    “Ace!” snapped Jack.

    “Ace?”

    “Baron Zero’s pilot. And they weren’t leaving town.”

    “Brother Arnold did say that the Zeppelins had been tethered to the clock tower much more since the onset of the chronal displacements,” said O’Riley. “Perhaps it is not a result but a cause.”

    “You said earlier that the tower felt like a focus for the distortion.”

    “Hmmm…” mused O’Riley. “We need to get to the top of the clock tower. Any suggestions?”

    Jack grinned. “I can think of something.”



    LATER:

    “I am not convinced that this machine was made for this,” ventured O’Riley, but the din of the boiler as it pushed the pistons and gears of the spider walker past its limits drowned out his voice.

    “What was that?!” shouted Jack over the noise. He pulled another level and furiously pumped a set of bellows that piped steam from the engine to the legs of the machine.

    “This machine,” continued O’Riley, more forcefully. “It cannot have been meant to traverse vertical inclines.”

    “What?!”

    “It is not made for climbing towers!”

    “Nonsense!” yelled Jack cheerfully. “We’re doing just fine. Look! We’re over half-way up Big Ben even now.”

    “We have lost any element of surprise we might have had.”

    “You killed four of their cyber-wolves, and I played cards with their head Nazi,” countered Jack, beating a loose valve into place with a firmly gripped pipe-wrench. “Septimus, we lost the element of surprise some time ago.”

    “The structural damage to the edifice you are causing-”

    “Damage they can fix later,” interrupted Jack. “Look, and I know these unintended puns are getting old, but time is of the essence, right? If we don’t stop these time distortions, this reality will become destabilized or something and have a cascade affect that will be felt throughout the Multiverse, right?”

    “Yes, but nevertheless-”

    “Nothing to argue with, then,” said Jack. “We need to get to the top of the tower, and there’s nowhere to land a plane, and no way to tether a dirigible without assistance topside. This is getting us exactly where we need to be.”

    Behind O’Riley, a rivet popped out of its place, and steam vented into the chamber. By the sound, the boiler itself had been pushed well past its limits. “I do not think the walker can withstand the strain of what you are putting it through for much longer.”

    “It only has to get us to the top,” said Jack. “And we’re just about there.”

    “Have you thought about how we will gain entrance when we have reached the pinnacle?” asked O’Riley.

    “Got it covered,” said Jack, giving O’Riley a wink. Driving the walker further forward, it surged upwards, arcing out away from the tower and brining its body level with the nearest clock face. With the pull of two more levers Jack positioned the front two legs of the walker directly towards the tower. As the machine traveled through the apogee of its arc, its momentum brought it fast upon the face of the clock. With an enormous crash the front legs of the spider-walker crashed through the face of Big Ben, dragging the body behind them. With a screech of twisted metal, the engine seized up and the boiler clattered to a halt, the body of the machine still hanging partly out of the tower.

    “Front door service,” said Jack, opening the hatch at their feet as the machine shuddered to a rest. “Ladies and Gunholders first,” he motioned with his wrench.

    “You are too kind,” said O’Riley, dropping out of the hatch in a crouch, gun in hand. As the smoke and dust settled, O’Riley stood carefully, taking in the entire room.

    “Ah, there you are, Gunholder!” called out Baron Zero. “We knew you’d be coming! We just never expected something so dramatic.” Zero was seated on a raised dais amidst a dazzling brass and jeweled orrery, the various constellations spinning about him in an intricate dance of the cosmos, their lights reflecting off of his sunglasses. Wires and tubes connected him to the workings of the machine. With his sleeves pulled up to allow the machine access to his veins, O’Riley was able to make out the traceries of brass filaments etched into his own skin. Beneath him stood an aviator holding a pistol trained on O’Riley. Behind the pilot crouched the familiar form of an enormous albino wolf.

    “Ah,” said O’Riley. “The one that got away.”

    “Funny,” said the pilot as Jack descended from the walker. “And here I was thinking the same thing.”

    “Ah, there you are, Ace,” called out Jack. “And Zero. Good to see you again, old chap.” Behind him, sparks showered down through the open portal of the walker. “Sorry about the mess and all. You’d never believe, but parking is a nightmare in this town. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize pets were allowed in this establishment. Oh, how cute. His enhancements match yours, Baron. I bet you designed him yourself. But I never would have guessed that you’d done the same to yourself. You really do have tricks up your sleeves, don’t you?”

    The wolf snarled and rose on its haunches. “You esc-caped meee once, Gunnnholllderrr,” it purred. “It-t-t willll not-t happennn ag-gainnn.”

    O’Riley nodded. “I was going to say the same thing.”

    “Except without the stuttering,” added Jack helpfully.

    “And there are the diamonds,” said O’Riley, motioning to the orrery. “I see they have found quite the home.”

    “Very pretty,” agreed Jack. “But I don’t see the point of going to all this trouble to create the world’s prettiest astrolabe.”

    “This is no mere astrolabe, you fool,” gloated Baron Zero.

    “No, it is not,” breathed O’Riley in awe. “It is the Multiverse. A near perfect replication of the Million Spheres.”

    “I am impressed, Gunholder,” said a woman’s voice. O’Riley and Jack turned. Out of the shadows strolled a woman dressed in a shimmering red dress. She wore her long black hair free on her back. Her porcelain features were flawless, cold and pristine. She held a glass of deep red wine casually in her hand and gestured with it towards the pair of them.

    “Our mysterious queen of diamonds?” asked Jack.

    “A safe bet,” agreed O’Riley.

    “This is an unusual place to find the Gunholder of the Ghost Worlds,” said the queen laconically. She offered up her glass in a mock toast.

    “And an unusual place to be recognized,” finished O’Riley. “My reputation rarely precedes me. But other than in the stealing of diamonds, I am afraid yours has escaped me. You have the better of me, my lady.”

    “In so many ways,” she purred. She came to stand beside the pilot, and reached out to stroke the fur of the wolf like a pet dog. “But I should warn you that you have come too late, Gunholder. Our plans are too far along for you to stop us now.”

    “I don’t even know what she’s up to,” said Jack. “Do you know what she’s up to, Septimus? I don’t know what she’s up to. Maybe you can gloat for us a bit, let us know what the master plan is.”

    “Fools!” shouted Baron Zero theatrically. “Do you think that you shall stop our schemes by mere banter? Immortality shall be ours in moments; you have arrived only in time to see the birth of your new gods!”

    “Now that’s more like it,” nodded Jack. “So now we know what the problem is.”

    “Is that what this is about?” asked O’Riley. “The chronal displacement, the stolen diamonds…. Is all of this just a petty bid for apotheosis?”

    “There is nothing petty about immortality,” snarled Zero as spheres and planets continued to whirl around him, light catching and playing off of the various facets of the gem-encrusted orbs in a hypnotic dance. “When we are the new gods of the Multiverse, you will grovel before us, begging for our favor and mercy.”

    “But not yours,” said O’Riley, striding forward confidently. The pilot continued to keep the gun trained on him, the wolf behind him crouching back and ready to pounce. “This will indeed give immortality, but not to you, Baron.” He turned to the queen. “It is a good design. I recognize its form; the Ghost Worlds revolve in a similar pattern.”

    She smiled, and lifted her glass to him in toast. “Well spotted, Gunholder. A shame that, of all people, it had to be you that they sent to stop us.”

    Baron Zero looked confused. “What are you saying? I don’t understand.”

    “You are a pawn, Zero, and nothing more,” said O’Riley. “She has no intention of sharing her immortality with you. You are immortal already, are you not?” She bowed her head in acquiescence. “You see? They intend to use the power of the Conjunction of the Spheres to channel the energy of this world to themselves. Every moment past and future, all coalescing on one point. But you are not that point, Baron. You stand in the middle, and it does indeed focus on you, but not as the recipient. You are a lens, nothing more. They will focus the power of the Conjunction through you and claim the power for themselves, burning you out in the process.”

    “No!” he shouted, turning to her. “She would never betray me so, after all that I have done to help them.” But something in her laconic smile must have caused him doubt, for he cried out in that next moment in the anguish of betrayal.

    “It matters not,” she said, gesturing expansively. “The process is too far along.”

    “There we will disagree,” said O’Riley. One moment he stood still, and the next he was surging forward at full momentum. The abrupt movement took everyone by surprise. With a roar the white wolf sprang towards him, but he landed on nothing. O’Riley skipped off of his back like a trained dancer, whirling through the air. His momentum should have sent him crashing through the intricacies of the orrery, but his timing was perfect. In midair he twisted his form, just missing the spheres and arcs that slashed across the spinning ensemble.

    “Stop him!” shrieked the queen.

    The pilot lifted his gun to fire, but his aim was thrown off when a wrench was thrown into his hand. The bullet went off into the inner workings of the orrery, sparking off an orb. He grimaced in pain and turned to face the maniacally grinning Jack.

    “Do not damage the machine!” yelled the queen. Within the machine the orb that had been shot fell with a crash, narrowly missing O’Riley.

    “Jack, you fool!” said the pilot. “Your betrayals are really becoming quite tiresome.”

    “Now there you go again, Ace, talking about me like we’re old friends. Is there somethin’ I should be rememberin’?”

    The pilot’s eyes focused. He held the gun up, pointing it directly at Jack’s unflinching face.

    On the dais, O’Riley dropped from the machine and began to release Baron Zero from the clamps that secured him to the machine. A second sphere shattered to the floor, followed by a coil of brass covered in beads of colored glass. At every opportunity the wolf tried to get to them, but was prevented by the intricate dance of the spinning spheres. Finally it saw a way in, charging into their midst.

    With an uncontrollable rage, Baron Zero wrenched himself from the machine, throwing himself at the wolf. His sunglasses were knocked from his face as he collided with the beast, revealing jeweled eyes beneath. O’Riley noted that the muscles that rippled beneath his clothing were lined unmistakably with patterns similar to those etched into the wolf’s fur. Sparks shot down his arms as he grappled with the wolf as his implants coursed with energy to give him extra strength. “Go,” he forced out through gritted teeth as he wrestled with his creation. “Stop her. Avenge me!” Around them, the machine continued to disintegrate.

    O’Riley moved between the spheres to the floor, always pivoting and turning just before he would have been crushed by another piece of the machine. Arcs and arms of the machine sliced out of the mechanisms, missing him only by what appeared to be the slimmest of chances.

    He emerged from the monstrous contraption seconds before it collapsed completely behind him.

    Jack stood alone on the floor before the ruined face of Big Ben, looking out over the streets of London. A lone zeppelin slowly carved its way through the skies away from them. He turned back to O’Riley. “Sorry, Septimus. I couldn’t stop them; they got away.”

    O’Riley looked back at the wreckage of the machine. “Did you do that, Jack?”

    Jack shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “I may have thrown a wrench in their plans, now that you mention it. What happened to Zero?”

    “Betrayed by those he served. In the end, he was killed by his own creation.”

    “Are we done here? Is this world safe?”

    “I cannot sense any other chronal disturbances,” said O’Riley. “We have accomplished our task.”

    “Good. Then let’s get out of here. This world has lost any appeal for me.”

    O’Riley nodded. “Look,” he said, pointing out through the ruined face of the clock. “The fog is coming in. I can see our ship in the quay.”

    “Your eyes are better than mine,” said Jack. “Ummm… Septimus? You wouldn’t happen to have a plan to get us down from here, would you? Only, I don’t think our ride would make the return journey.”

    O’Riley nodded. “The door to the tower is bolted from this side, Jack. We can say our farewells to Brother Arnold on our way down.”


    AFTERWARDS:

    “Explain your defeat.”

    “It was… unanticipated, my king. The Jack has returned, and with him the Gunholder of the Ghost Worlds.”

    “I see.”

    “Their interference could not have been predicted.”

    “But we should have predicted it. I sense that the Grey Lords have now revealed their hand.”

    “This is their doing?”

    “It matters not. Our enemies cannot defeat us, and our forces are greater than theirs. Our triumph remains inevitable. The day of our apotheosis is at hand, and the Balance will yet be overthrown.”

    “And we shall be the new gods of the Multiverse.”

    “It is as you say, my queen.”

    “And what of Jack and the Gunholder?”

    “Has our former protégé regained his memories?”

    “He has not.”

    “Then there is little that he can do to stop us. Should he regain both his memories and the knowledge to use his abilities, we might have cause for concern. But this is not the case.”

    “And the Gunholder?”

    “Ah. The presence of the Gunholder is more troublesome. Perhaps it is time to deal with his threat preemptively.”

    “Shall I assemble a contingent to confront him?”

    “Yes, I think that we may be at that point. There will be no room for him in our new universe when it comes.”

    “As my king commands.”
    Last edited by J-Sun; 01-31-2013, 11:07 AM. Reason: bit of formatting issues
    "Self-discipline and self-knowledge are the key. An individual becomes a unique universe, able to move at will through all the scales of the multiverse - potentially able to control the immediate reality of every scale, every encountered environment."
    --Contessa Rose von Bek, Blood part 4, chapter 12
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