Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times

BOOK: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times
11.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

To every reader who believes in legends and doorways

To every writer whose stories have let me explore them

And to Brooks, the very first to believe in these ones


Many people were instrumental in helping the Gearwing—as this story was known for several months—take the long flight from imagination to reality. Undying thanks to:

My family, for love, encouragement, earwigs, and pineapples.

Brittany and Brie, who keep me sane.

Brooks Sherman, extraordinary agent and even better friend, to whom this book is partly dedicated because the idea hatched after a conversation with him and because he refused to let me give up when I got discouraged. No “thank you” could ever be enough. More gratitude to the rest of FinePrint, particularly Janet, to Kathleen Ortiz and all at New Leaf Literary & Media, and always, always to Meredith Barnes.

My editor, Zareen Jaffery, who needed exactly a minute and a half of our first phone call to convince me that the Gearwing’s delicate mechanisms would be safe—and run more smoothly—in her capable hands. Zareen, thank you for your passion and serenity. You absolutely hang the moon, and thus worlds both real and imagined are immeasurably brighter when you’re part of them. Everyone at S&S BFYR, including (but in no way limited to) Justin Chanda and the whole editorial team for supporting the book, and designer Lizzy Bromley, who made it so beautiful I just want to hug her forever. Lizzy literally searched across the world, all the way to Australia, to find Glenn Thomas, whose illustrations still make me gasp in wonder. Glenn, we’ve never met and yet you not only managed to see inside my head and bring the pictures there to life, you improved on them. That was some trick. Thank you so, so much.

Those marvelous people who run London’s museums and historic attractions, without which the story would have had infinitely less depth and detail. Any mistakes are my fault, any liberties are taken only where necessary.

Bradley who read a rough draft when he was precisely Jack’s age, and Tonya, who read it with him.

Katherine Catmull for brightening my days far more often than she knows, Claire Legrand for sharing everything from editors to guacamole with me, and especially Stefan Bachmann, my fellow clockwork bird enthusiast, for a peculiar friendship.

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.”



and there are

Of the first type, there are many: into bedrooms and shops, schools and houses and parlors. Most people spend their lives going in and out of the first kind, slamming them on occasion, or else closing them with the softest of little
. They never know of the second kind, and depending on the type of person they are, they might be glad of this, or not.

London, in those days, had too many of the first to count, and that wasn’t nearly as many as there are now. Shut tight against the oily black soot that hung over the city like the permanent promise of rain, or thrown open to
tempt any fresh breeze that might wander in off the river as if it were coming to tea.

Behind the nicer ones, whose knockers gleamed from the housekeeper’s daily polish, electric lights shone. In the grotty East End slums, the barest hint of glow from tallow candles oozed out from gaps around the wood. In the heart of the city, people gathered in dank alleys for a glimpse of the star just seen on the stage as she stepped through and out to her waiting carriage. Behind them all, people went about their business, whatever honorable or thieving business that was.

Of the second type, there were far fewer, and only one that matters for this tale.

Those who knew enough looked for them, but not in the right places. They searched graveyards, and in dim, shuttered rooms where people gathered in circles to clasp hands. Others scorned them for the attempt. What a thing for sensible people to do! And London, seat of the mighty British Empire, should be sensible above all things. But the queen herself was one of those who looked for doorways into the realm of the dead, never finding one, and certainly never stumbling across an entrance to a different world where the people were very much alive.

There were legends, of course. Stories from faraway lands, changing and growing from one country to the next.
The landscape always changed, but the magic never did. The tales were told to children wrapped up in sheets, to frighten or soothe, but those doing the telling didn’t have to believe. Perhaps it was just as well that they didn’t, for the stories got so much of it wrong. They always do. The legends told of dragons and faeries, of locked towers and imprisoned princesses, and this was true enough.

But the faeries didn’t come in hues of blue and pink. They did not smile, except when something went wrong. Black, silver, brown, and tarnished copper are the things to be thought of here. They oiled one another regularly, as girls might plait one another’s hair, and their laughter rang like steel. Dragons curled like smoke in hidden caves, breathing steam, not fire.

There were people, too, normal except that they weren’t, not really. Occasionally they escaped through a door, bringing with them knowledge that seemed like magic, for to them that was the same as science, and they learned from their creatures.

And there was one thing that was not a faery or a dragon, though it had wings, one thing that was even more magical.

Or it was, before it was broken. Before it was killed.

But some things don’t stay dead forever.

The Sorcerer Ever Watchful

London, 1899

He did so deliberately, slowly, as if to gauge just how deeply his fine shoes sank into the mud.

Mostly, he preferred to sit. Sitting was for those in command, walking for the commanded. It wasn’t often that he walked, but when told to, he went.

For there was only one who could give such orders, and to refuse her would be unthinkable. Unforgivable.

Right now, he was walking, not far, though
was relative. He was a long way from home and wished to be back, but the Lady wanted a boy, a son, and the Lady got her every wish.

Hard as he’d tried to delay, the inevitable time had
come. That blasted doctor’s experiments to find another solution had all failed. The cats and birds and butterflies he’d fetched to please her had grown tiresome and been set free from the palace to run rampant outside. And so Lorcan carved his way through busy streets in the wrong place, so familiar and yet so strange.

Small metal things jangled in his pockets with every step, making his long fingers twitch with desire to stop them. Instead, he stroked his mustache and watched the people rushing past. They paid him little notice on their way to and from the trains. If they marked him at all, it was for the strangeness of his dark glasses, but it was bright here, lurid and blinding with its electric lights. Billows of steam dropped soot on traveling clothes and this, at least, eased his longing to be back in his own land.

Soon, very soon. A whistle blew, high, screeching, so like a frightened birdcall that his fingers jerked toward his pocket again. This time he let them, just to check, and they caught on a half-dozen sharp edges.

Yes, still there.

Lorcan drew out a smooth, heavy golden watch on a long chain as he stopped in the middle of the station, pretending it was what he’d meant to do all along. “
” whispered the filigreed hands. Not this one, but the next.

It would be so very simple. The plan was in place, and
the Lady would be pleased, pleased with Lorcan for a job well done.

Perhaps she would smile. It had been some time since she’d truly smiled, yet longer since Lorcan had been brought to her by the one who came before him, just as he’d do with the boy. The man who’d taken him was dead now, rotted to dust. Lorcan could not remember his name.

He’d been young then, and happy as boys should be. But he had aged, aged so he could be her son no more, and with every minute spent on this side of the door he grew older still.

Oh, how he wished to be home. Home, where he’d lived thousands of days and no longer aged a single one.

He felt, once again, for his pocket.

The train withdrew from the platform with a new set of passengers, headed north to where the sky was cold, stars frozen behind a shield of clouds.

Five minutes
,” teased the timepiece. Soon, yes, he could return, back to the land of comforting things. A home where he was powerful, for he had scant power here. The Lady would be amused by her new child, and the fleets needed his attention. It was unlikely they’d fallen into disrepair in his absence, but war rumbled across the ocean like thunder before a storm. The colonies wished to govern themselves and would soon need a reminder that there was only one
Empire and only one Lady to rule it. There, the objects in his pockets would settle once again into their safe, hidden place. He disliked carrying them and did so only out of fear.

BOOK: Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times
11.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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