The Sight of Time
The Brass Automaton Saga Part IV
This saga was started by Mark Gardner over at Article 94. He explains the origins of this Snow White / Terminator mashup as a preface to Part I, “The Brass Automaton.” I contributed Part III last week, “The Price of Beauty,” which picks up after the events in Part II, “Floating Smile.”
|| John stared at the Tenyks laying flat on his back. There were at least a dozen more forever trapped in the contorted positions in which they died. The Tenyks on the Barn’s floor though was different though, and John couldn’t take his eyes away from the agonized face struggling to move despite a broken back. It wasn’t just that it was the only one still alive, it was that John had sent it to it’s current pain. He’d managed to cast it down from the loft when it had surprised John, interrupting his flight for refuge.
“How many more? Where?” Reese was demanding of the thing. “Tell me and I will end your suffering quickly.” When her answer was naught but the silently moving of its lips like a fish gaping at its own reflection in a tank, Reese deftly slide the dagger across its throat. She shook her head and sighed before looking around the area.
The freezing of its face in a mask of impotent fury roused John to speech, “I don’t believe it!”
“I know. This is bad. Very bad.”
“You killed a helpless man!”
John steadied himself against the loft’s ledge to brace himself against the force of Reese’s glare.
“Look at them John. How much humanity is left? When you wound a stag to where it cannot walk do you wait for it to die slow? Or do you end its suffering?”
John used the excuse of coming down from the loft to avoid answering. He looked at the Tenyks faces again, but closer this time, looking through his horror and disgust. Even in death there is a mark of humanity that remains with people. Here there was none. Their faces bore only the marks of savagery and the grim castings of hatred.
“I’m sorry Reese, this is all so… So-”
“Yeah. I know.”
It was some hours, and more miles than John thought possible, before they spoke again. “Why is it so bad, Reese?” he finally asked.
Reese sighed again, and her eyes focused faraway before she answered. “Time is fickle even for Magick. The Evil Queen made a Time Portal to send the Brass Automaton back to get you. A rip in Time itself,” she added when she saw he didn’t understand. “I tried to stop it, but fell through Time with it instead, arriving years before it did. So, the Tenyks could only have come through if it was stabilized. Which would also mean, many, many more of them.”
“Our only hope is that we found out about it, and stopped it, before any more could make it through.”
“How would we do that?” asked John after some quiet, confused thinking.
“Not you and me, ‘We,’ my Sisters, ‘We.’ Bugger Time and talking about it!” she added kicking a small rock.
“How many Sisters do you have?”
Reese released a hearty, full laugh, one that John couldn’t remember ever having seen from her before. “I have been trapped here so long I forget how little you know and how long its been. It has been a long time since I’ve truly thought of them.
“Hundreds, John, I have hundreds if not thousands of Sisters.”
“Thousands of Sisters yes. It’s what we call ourselves. Almost every man exposed to the Evil Queen’s spell was trapped. Forever. Nothing we could do, and believe me we tried everything, could break her spell. The women though, and most of the younger boys, were swayed but not controlled. When the message ended we broke free.
“There was only one woman on the Council of Nine, and she realized what was going on almost immediately. She made her escape through a secret passage and then organized the Resistance. She gathered the Sisters, the boys, and those few men who weren’t trapped, and brought them to the shelter of the Caves.
“The Eastern Mountains are our home now. The men toil over our flocks and the few crops we can grow. The Sisters ensure that the Evil Queen is reminded of her mortality and that no Tenryks who enter the foothills leave alive.”
She crouched suddenly, pulling John down after her. He strained to be quiet, even holding his breath tight enough to where he started hearing his own heartbeat in his ears. It sounded far too loud and fast.
“Breathe fool!” she hissed, “just do it quietly.”
He saw now what she had seen. It was a small village, thought he couldn’t remember ever having been visited it. He wondered it if it even had a name beyond, “The Village,” for the surrounding people. Something about it felt deeply wrong though. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it when Reese whispered, “The people are gone.”
Wary of traps, it took them hours to verify the village was empty. On their final pass Reese grinned, “There!”
“People?” John asked, looking in all directions.
“Better. A blacksmith shop. Now we may just stand a chance against the Automaton. Then we can worry about the Time Portal.”
Any questions John had about the plan were soon lost as she directed their preparations. “Do you think this will work, Reese?” he asked while they ate dry bread with their back’s against the Blacksmith’s cold forge.
“I hope so. We don’t have many options left, but at least its a practical plan.”
“It’s nice just to not be running anymore,” John added some time later after they finished their meager rations in silence.
“It is. The more so when it’s harder in some ways too.”
“I’ve been thinking about the Sisters,” he added, nodding to her sagacity. “Don’t you worry that one of the men will catch a reflection somewhere and be turned while he’s with you in The Caves?”
“No, not anymore. We take strict measures to ensure they can never see a reflection.”
“Oh. But, how would you even manage that?”
Reese took a long swallow from a wineskin they’d found before answering. “We blind them.”