This is my entry in the Dirty Goggles Stempunk/Dieselpunk flash fiction challenge. You’ve got till May 18th to get your entry in in, so there’s still time if you hurry.
Title: The Clockwork Thurmaturgist
Word Count: 795
Name/Twitter Handle: Snellopy
The Clockwork Thurmaturgist
Satiated after a sumptuous repast, the members of the Xerxes Club repaired to the smoking room for postprandial brandies. After some appreciative murmurs about the quality of the liquor, there was a lull in the conversation. “That was a passable tale you told over the roast Higginson old chap, yet you’ll not win the bet. Not by a long shot!”
“Years ago when I was just starting out in the business, I went through a period of following up all sorts of unlikely leads, on the chance that there was something there that most sensible people would ignore. I was reading a poor translation of a familiar Babylonian tract looking for any inconsistencies. The dashed thing was full of them, and the script was abominable! I was about ready to throw it away in disgust when I noticed a whole page where the scribe was blathering on about a key with peculiar qualities. Completely unrelated to the text. You have heard all this recent faff about a blind watchmaker? Well, think of this key as crafted by a blind locksmith. No lock, shackle nor bond was able to resist it. I at first wrote it off as poppycock, but as a lark decided to run it by a technomancer I’d recently heard about who was billing herself as the Clockwork Thaumaturgist.”
“When I got to her abode I nearly turned round then and there. Not out of fear mind you, but because the shingle above her door was so plain and shoddy it could have been that of a drunken cobbler. Upon seeing her man who opened the door however, I felt much more inspired. His livery was spotless and presentable, but he himself seemed not all there. He gave me a quick apology about difficulties with phase shifting, and led me in fits and starts to an audience chamber. Once again, my spirits sank, for the room was crammed with gewgaws and cheap gimcrackery such as mechanical nightingales wittering away and crystalline perpetual motion machines.”
“After a short wait, I was received by a mere slip of a girl that I took to be yet another servant, till she turned her head and I saw a flywheel where her cheek should be. She gave me a frank glance then had the temerity to ask me if I was sure I was wanted to engage her services for something as venal as pecuniary affairs! Wanting to hide my disdain - just in case there was something to her powers - I merely nodded. ‘Very well,’ said she ‘the price will be your shadow and all that it entails and implies!’”
Without hesitation I reached out and shook her hand. For a moment the very air glowed with opalescence of a multitude of colours, then things… changed. Her hand, which had first been lithe and pleasant to grasp, now felt cold and grainy. The tuneful warbling of the birds had become harsh and jarring. Nowadays I’m am used to these minor adjustments, and prefer it, but at the time it was most vexing.
Offering me a small smile, and bade me follow. Down a short hallway we came to a nondescript door which she flung open. The room - if indeed room it was - was cavernous, the walls distant and shrouded in writhing shadows. Suspended from an unglimpsed ceiling was a large orrey of astounding detail. Walking to a summoning circle that was currently overshadowed by mighty Jove much as Damocles by his fabled sword, she set about inscribing it with sigils and equations. From a nearby tool rack she selected a range of parts, pipes and tubing of copper, glass and some that had definitely been organic. After tightening the last screw, the Phillips head in her hand served double duty as a wand and she did an admirable job of Bartholomew's invocation in Old Eldritch.
The creature she summoned was all horned and befanged - a denizen of the ninth netherhell if I’m not mistaken. I knew not what dialect they communed in, but after a heated discussion it disappeared in an actinic flare. A mere moment later it did return, yet breathing heavily and with one arm hanging useless and bloody. ‘Here is your prize, wrested by my minion from Raoul Ibn Wazarik... the Djinn of the Trackless Namib. Yours now and fear ye no repercussions, this is not the first time that he has held something of interest to me.’
She escorted me back to the door which this time opened upon the street and sent me on my way, before I had uttered a single word in her presence. The key has served me well, and not just in the telling of simple wagers such as this!”