Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 11 - Opus Palladianum

A fine filigree of moonlight crept across the wall, threading its way over the figured plasterwork. Glitch watched it for a while, breathing carefully so as not to awaken the monster behind his eyes. So long as he was still and quiet, the pain drowsed, a sullen grumbling ache - unpleasant, but bearable - and he could think clearly. Moonlight... that meant something. Sometimes there was a different sort of light, and Glitch had decided that there was almost certainly a pattern to the variations. It was something to think about, if the monster would only stay quiet for long enough to let him think.

"...have a visitor." The voice was soft and pleasant, and, in spite of the nervy flutter of discomfort it evoked, Glitch hoped he might hear it again. It wasn't the low, unhurried carefulness of Cain, who spoke like a man laying out the foundations of the universe, but it had a significance he couldn't place and he turned over gingerly, looking for the speaker - a dark-haired young woman, who greeted him with a patient smile. He smiled back, unable to account for the fear curling gently in the pit of his stomach.

"Do I know you?" The words were barely there, a strengthless sketch of speech, and he thought about bones, the skeletons of birds without feathers to catch the breeze and lift them into flight. He'd been thinking about flight often in the most recent episodes of now he'd been experiencing and, tentatively, edging out onto an untested bridge of reason, he'd tried to assemble the various nows that floated within his grasp in the hope that some of them might decently be described as then. And from now and then, you could extrapolate other things. Things that had no existence beyond the theoretical. Things like before and ago and once.

"You do. You did. Dear Ambrose, forgive me."

Ambrose. Hourglass. Footsteps on a marble floor. Laughter, not unkind, but not friendly, either. A chiming clock and the distant sound of music. Lonely Ambrose in his tower. A small hand

closed over his, and he blinked, fixing dazedly on the young woman at his bedside, following her gaze to a slender figure silhouetted in the archway.

My head's cold.

"Come in, Mother. He's awake." The newcomer's face was in darkness; Glitch could make out no expression, but when she finally spoke, the tension in her voice was unmistakeable.

"I don't know if I can..." She paused, trailing a hand over the carved wood; Glitch imagined the fine grain sliding beneath his own fingers; slippery-rough and beeswax-scented.

The world slipped sideways.

"It's just Ambrose, Mother. He won't bite." Amused impatience, now - not quite contempt, but close. Glitch bristled at the tone, then wondered why. Show some respect, He shuddered at the ripples it made in his mind. Afternoon sunslight, the sound of bees and rising entropy.

"I don't want to see. Azkadelia... Please, this is cruel."

"But you must." Much colder, now, and the light was harsher, clinical. The warm stillness had held a suggestion of peppermint, but now a stronger tang of disinfectant hung in air.

The shape in the doorway moved with a soft swish of skirts and perfect, gliding poise. It doesn't hurt at all. Just a weird trickly-tickly feeling on my neck. Glitch tried to brush it away - a stray curl, perhaps, but his arms didn't want to move. And it couldn't be his hair, could it? They'd shaved that off during the tangled, featureless anywhen he'd woken up to. He gazed dully at Azkadelia.

"Ambrose? I don't think he can hear me, Az, darling, are you sure he's awake?"

"Princess, it's late. You shouldn't be out here alone." The boat rocked gently as he disembarked, sending out dark ripples that cut into the reflected amber light of Azkadelia's lantern. Tigers in the water, he observed vaguely, and shivered.

"I'm not alone. You're here. Besides, it's early, not late." She linked her arm through his and fell into step with him as he set off up the path. "You're cold. Why did you take a boat out on the lake in the middle of the night?" Come to think of it, the light did have that rosy morning quality. How long had he drifted in the little boat, disconnected from the world and seeing only the silent, stately dance of the stars as they turned overhead?

I really must start wearing a watch, he thought.

Something that doesn't need winding, he thought.

In theory, adding a modulated electrical charge and rotation to a simple Schwarzschild black hole would transform the nature of the singularity, opening the gateway to other universes, and making the journey possible at speeds less than that of light, he thought.

Yes, definitely a watch. "I was thinking. It's peaceful out here and sometimes the fish bring me ideas."

Azkadelia giggled. "Funny Ambrose. You missed the Midsummer Ball, you know. DG was looking forward to seeing you dance."

Ambrose essayed a few graceful steps, humming a snatch of a half-remembered refrain. "DG should be in bed. She's too young for the ball." Only five, but inquisitive as a magpie in a jeweller's store. He'd started storing his more intricate inventions on higher shelves, theoretically out of DG's reach, but it was only a matter of time before she learned to climb. She was already driving her attendants to distraction with her exploring. There goes a child doomed to lead an interesting life, one of them had remarked, unaware that Ambrose was nearby, and he'd wondered what was so bad about that.

"Of course she's in bed - it's almost dawn. Come and have some breakfast - you missed dinner last night, too."

"I had an -"

"An apple doesn't count as dinner. Come on, Ambrose - before everyone wakes up." She tugged at his arm and he

"I think he's trying to say something. Ambrose, old friend, can you hear me? Do you need us to call the doctor?"

almost stumbled, determined to keep his head high and show that he wasn't afraid. The Longcoat on his left tightened his grip, gloved fingers digging into Ambrose's upper arm.

"You can let go of me. I'm not about to run anywhere," he snapped with as much dignity as he could muster, and was rewarded with cuff to the back of his head from another of the black-clad men.

"When we want you to talk, you'll know about it. Until then, keep your trap shut or I'll break it for you."

Ambrose opened his mouth to reply, then closed it hurriedly; even without the threat, the Longcoat's attitude didn't encourage debate. In any case, he had something new to worry about. They'd finally crossed the threshold of the grim black building that had been looming up ahead for the last quarter-hour. The squat fortress was half shrouded in a dirty yellow dust cloud in which blurred figures drifted - sinister dancers that moved to the sound of clanking, grinding machinery. What are they building? Suns above, is this what the OZ will become?

"It doesn't look much now, but once you give us the plans you burned, work can begin in earnest." Ambrose staggered again as the Longcoats stopped abruptly; a lean, sallow man had stepped into the hall, smiling like a shark.


"The Sorceress prefers 'Alchemist'. I transform things, you see? Things... and people." The scientist moved closer, and Ambrose shrank back from the malevolent sneer on his waxy features as he leaned closer, but it was the Longcoat to his right that Raynz addressed. "I was watching you, Kinley. That head holds something of great value to the Sorceress. If I catch you striking him again in that manner, I'll have you posted to the moritanium mines before you can blink." Ambrose fought down a childish urge to stick his tongue out at the Longcoat, then tensed as Raynz laid a proprietorial hand upon his shoulder.

"Ambrose. Didn't I say you'd be seeing me again? We're going to have such an interesting time working together."

They have Viewers here... Ambrose had seen one of the poor creatures as he was being hustled from the Longcoat van - a scraggy, half-starved young male, whose hair was matted and clotted with mud and something that might have been blood. Azkadelia had terrorized the Eastern Khuadelin tribes, rounding up the males, and it was rumoured that she was using them to interrogate prisoners. I won't tell. My machine is safe, locked away in my head and there's not a Viewer alive who could make sense of the calculations.

Comforted by the thought, he glared obstinately at Raynz.

"You're wasting your time. The plans are gone, and I'm not going to help you."

His defiance didn't seem to phase Raynz in the slightest. Ambrose recoiled as the smirking scientist reached out and tapped him lightly on the forehead. "So stubborn. What other secrets are you

"...cold. Wrap that blanket around him, Az - he's shivering."

hiding in there?"

Ambrose closed the box with a hurried snap and looked up at the princess with a hastily assembled expression of innocence. Clearly it needed some work, because DG grinned and scrambled up onto the bench beside Ambrose, trying to see inside.

"What are you working on? Is it another engine? Can I help?"

"Highness, I would love you to help. You're picking things up wonderfully well." DG's face lit up at the praise. "However, your mother has spoken to me... at length, and has raised some concerns about you," he gave her wrist an admonitory tap as she fiddled with the clasp of the box, "leave that alone, please - attending dinner with engine grease, and I quote directly, 'permanently tattooed' beneath your skin." He stood and stowed the box away on a shelf.

"Mother won't know - she's down at the dance. Az is down there too. She's allowed to stay until ten o'clock." She pouted at the injustice of it all, and her small, busy hands sought something else to occupy themselves, bouncing a folded paper crow across the workbench in a series of jaunty hops.

"Azkadelia is fifteen. You, Highness, are five." The pout vanished.

"Almost six. It's my birthday soon, you know?"

"It is?" Ambrose regarded the young princess solemnly. "Are you sure? I feel certain someone would have mentioned it to me by now..."

"Ambrose. I told you about it yesterday." It was impossible to maintain a grave expression in the face of DG's exasperation, and Ambrose laughed and nodded.

"And the day before, and the day before that. I'm not likely to forget, Highness." In fact, he'd been working on her birthday gift - a singing clockwork bird - for a month, and tonight she'd very nearly caught him adding the final touches to the outer body, bright cabochons of polished amber for the eyes, elegant brass wings feathered with glossy green enamel. He smiled to himself, imagining her anticipation as she unfolded the wrappings. The princess noticed his expression and bounced excitedly in her chair.

"You have a secret! Tell me

"...upsetting you, Mother. You don't have to stay if..."

everything you know." Time had ceased to mean anything, the world reduced to a binary system: pain and the cessation of pain. Ambrose counted in his head, watching the numbers flare and fade as they settled into their designated places, the jagged silhouette of the primes lining the distant horizon. The pain had stopped for now, but uneasy echoes still flickered across the sky, ready to return at a moment's notice. He raised his head with difficulty, blinking stinging sweat out of his eyes, and stared at Raynz.

"Everything?" Raynz nodded, eyes agleam, and Ambrose grinned dismally. "You don't have that much time." He tensed, anticipating another bolt of spasming agony, but Raynz only smiled and signalled to the Longcoat standing in the doorway.

"And yet - in spite of your superior mind - here you are kneeling there in shackles, while I shall soon be Queen Azkadelia's head scientist. How is that possible, Ambrose? Can you explain it?"

Ambrose watched the Longcoat disappear outside, footsteps ringing on the marble floor. "Easily. I'm not a coward." This time, the pain came right on cue. When it stopped he lay still, feeling his cramped muscles let go one by one, wondering how long he could hold out. He'd made a space inside his head, a small, snug place wound about with a storm of emerging ideas - treacherous ground for anyone who tried to follow. If it seemed that they would break him, he'd go there and pull his thoughts down around him. Perhaps he'd never return to the world, but he wouldn't betray Iskra, either.

"Get him on his feet." All at once he was being pulled upwards, strong hands clamped around his arms, and he stared resolutely at the floor, not ready to meet Raynz' eyes. He heard his own breathing, rasping, ugly gasps he hardly recognised as his own; Raynz was a few feet away, and his excited inhalations played a descant, balancing out the Longcoat's catarrhal rumble. Then there was a fourth: a sluggish, drowsy sound. There's something in here with us...

A cold hand pressed beneath his chin, forcing his head up. "You're not the only one with plans. Look." If he'd been expecting anything, it had been a Viewer, but the trembling heap of rags huddled abjectly in the doorway was human. Except...

"What is that thing?" he whispered, not entirely sure whether he meant the grotesque, silver-lined scar in the man's shaven head or the unfortunate prisoner himself. Raynz looked gratified.

"Isn't he marvellous? The anatomy of the human brain is such a fascinating study." He stooped over the man and laid a hand on the back of his neck, ignoring the whimper this elicited. Ambrose stared, appalled, as Raynz forced his victim's head forward and delicately took hold of a square metal tag at the end of the scar.

"That research was banned. The Queen would never allow -" Ambrose babbled, trying desperately to blank out the soft, metallic tick as the zipper's teeth parted.

"Your queen might not, but mine has shown great interest in my experiments." Ambrose could say nothing - only watch in horror as the man's head opened like

"said that he was waiting to hear back from his colleagues at the Royal Hospital, but I"

a flower. He smiled to himself and picked it up, burying his nose in the vivid petals.

"Now, Highness, were you going to creep off without saying hello?" he asked, without looking up. DG emerged from her hiding place, looking tremendously pleased with herself, and he placed the flower carefully in his empty coffee mug, trying not to sprinkle pollen on his drawings.

"The red ones are your favourite, aren't they?"

"Without a doubt, Highness, this is the most magnificent bloom in all of Finaqua. Don't lean out of the window, please. It's a very long way down."

"You were asleep," DG giggled and sprawled herself across the edge of his workbench in demonstration, head lolling on her forearm, mouth hanging open. "And you were snoring," she added gleefully, and attempted to simulate the sound. Ambrose listened patiently, wondering why the few people who had ever shared his bed had neglected to tell him he snored like someone shovelling gravel into a tin bucket.

"A charming impersonation. Did you only come here to make that extraordinary sound at me, Highness, or-"

"And bring you your flower," she interjected quickly, and Ambrose smiled.

"And bring me my flower, of course. But was there something else? Don't you have to prepare for your journey to the Winter Palace?" The princess shook her head and held up her arms; he lifted her obediently and set her on his lap.

"It's all been done. Mister Rawlins has been watching them put the trunks in the cars." She pulled on a strand of hair, then chewed the end pensively. "Are you sure you can't come with us? It's a big car - there's lots of room."

"I fear not, Highness. I have work to complete here. Besides, you'll have your sister to keep you company." And then an odd thing happened: DG tensed as if something - a stinging insect, perhaps - had alighted upon her. "Ohh... have I said something wrong?" Perhaps they'd had a falling-out? Even the princesses, whose relationship was generally tranquil, squabbled occasionally.

"Az is acting funny. I don't think she likes me any more." There was something in the way she said it - not a petulant complaint by a sibling out of favour, but the reluctant admission of a gnawing worry. Ambrose frowned.

"Highness, I'm sure that's

said that it could be a tumour. But Doctor Spicer

not possible," he murmured, knowing already that he was wrong. Raynz was a genius in his own, cruel, cramped way - the kind of man who would dismantle a glorious puzzle and set each part on a shelf, categorised and labelled, the delight of creation forgotten in his obsession to master the enigma. A man who would capture the world like a butterfly, to be fixed in a killing jar, and pinned, and reduced to its component parts, meaningless without the context of the whole. That's why the best dreams are forgotten; our minds protect us from taking them apart and breaking them. He wished he was dreaming now.

"Oh, I'll admit, the first few attempts were disasters." Raynz looked down at the zipper-headed captive who was drooling, chin slick with spittle. There was something perversely paternal in his expression. "You can't imagine the mess they left. But the brain is merely a complicated machine, and if you know which buttons to press it can be used and controlled, just like any other tool."

Ambrose had tried not to look, had been desperate not to look, but his eyes had betrayed him, and now it was impossible to look away from the terrible cavity in which something lurked, pink and grey and glistening.

"You're controlling his mind?"

"This?" Raynz snorted. "This is just... leftovers. All the important parts are in my laboratory, which is not to say that I won't come back for the other half if I don't get what I want this time." He looked meaningfully at Ambrose, who fought down a surge of nausea, still gazing at the zipper-head with revolted pity.

"And what happens to him?"

"If I learn what I need from him, we'll let him go." Raynz made a shooing gesture. "Tamed and harmless. Sometimes we let them go in the Papay fields; the Longcoats take bets on how long they'll last. Give me the plans and this won't happen to you. Give me the plans, and I'll let you keep

cry, darling. None of this was your

your mind." He looked up blankly.


Tutor - always 'Tutor', for he said that true names were a risky business, especially for one of his profession - smiled indulgently.

"I said 'you look like you've got something on your mind'. Ambrose shuffled over to make room for the shapeshifter, who lowered his broad behind heavily onto the stone seat, sighing with satisfaction at the accomplishment of this small manoeuvre.

"I'm worried about Princess... Azkadelia." It struck him with a sharp, fresh pang of dismay that there was no need to specify which princess; there was only one still alive. He fell silent, waiting until he could trust himself to speak.

Tutor clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, son. Let's go for a walk," he said kindly, and heaved himself to his feet.

October was breathing its last, waving arthritic branches in defeat as November rolled in to lay claim to the land. Ambrose usually liked autumn best of all the seasons, when the earth gave up its riches and the trees vied with one another to see whose robes of gold and red were the grandest. He liked the frosts that chilled his breath into fine, swirling clouds, and nipped insolently at his nose and fingertips. For him, autumn in the OZ brought with it a feeling of completion, the closing of the circle that began with the torpidity of winter. The land spoke to him in colours and scents of ripe berries, and the sweetness of apples hidden by fading leaves, saying 'we have done all that was asked of us, and done it well. Now it is time to put away our work and sleep'.

This year autumn had seeped in, damp and sour, leaving a stain on everything it touched. Drab leaves rotted on the ground, unstirred by the sharp wind that bullied its way through even the warmest layers of clothing, burrowing beneath skin and cooling bones from the marrow outwards. A grim procession of misfortunes had visited the OZ, the death of Princess Dorothea at its head. The Munchkins, taking the Royal tragedy as a bad omen, had begun to bicker amongst themselves. Some tribes, advocating total withdrawal from the affairs of the OZ, were setting up outposts within the eastern forests and turning away travellers and traders alike. Nowhere seemed to have escaped the unhappy spell; crops withered and languished in the fields, and livestock were sickly and hollow eyed. There were rumours of animal attacks along the stretch of the Brick Route that passed through Papay country. In the city, profiteering rackets sprang up like mushrooms in a rotting log as the realms faced a fast-approaching winter without the usual comfortable insulation of a good harvest.

Deep in thought, Ambrose trailed after Tutor, pausing only once to examine a particularly fine example of an orb-weaver's web that had survived the squally rains of the morning. The maker herself was nowhere to be seen, the web home only to fat raindrops that trembled in the wind.

Tutor was talking and Ambrose made an effort to look interested. In spite of the fact that he was perfectly capable of listening to more than one conversation at a time and participating in both, he'd discovered that unless he was visibly paying attention, people tended to assume he was ignoring them.

"...is grieving for her sister, just like the rest of us. It's only natural that she should be quiet and withdrawn for a while. Her Majesty is keeping a close eye on her, you can be sure of that. So what's eating you?"

"I don't know..." It was hard, in the presence of Tutor, to put a name to his nebulous misgivings. The amiable scholar lived in a world of magic that was entirely impenetrable to Ambrose, a world that operated on intuition and will instead of solid physical principles, and somehow he'd expected that to make it easier to talk about things that were more to do with feeling than knowing. But what could he say? That Azkadelia's smile was...
wrong? Suns above, I should be glad that there's any smiling left in her, not wringing my hands because when she does smile, it looks painted-on. Like she's wearing a mask. "Does she seem different to you?"

Tutor paused, his hand on the latch of a tall iron gate that barred the way into a walled-off section of the garden. "No. And she doesn't seem different to you, either," he added meaningfully, and, while Ambrose was pondering the significance of the remark, pushed open the gate and went through.

When Ambrose finally followed, Tutor was stooping a little way down the gravel path, gazing at his reflection in a copper bowl propped on its side on top of a stone plinth. "I'm not really supposed to come in h-"

"Her Majesty won't mind, if you're with me," the shapeshifter cut in easily. "The Repository's out of bounds to folks without magic for their own protection, but you'll be fine so long as you don't start meddling with anything." Ambrose pursed his lips, stung by the implied caution, but his mild chagrin was quickly replaced by fascination as he got a closer look at the bowl, which was not - as it had first appeared - solid, but was made up of several hundred concentric rings, some fine as wire, others narrow ribbons several times as thick.

"I've seen this before - there's a drawing of it in the Royal Book of the Realms..." He peered at the bowl and his upside-down face gazed quizzically back at him.

"A gift to King Pastoria during the Second Age." Tutor nodded and flicked the metal lightly with his thumbnail. "Funny kind of thing to give a king. It's meant to be an Oracle, but I've looked into it time and again, and all I can see are a few scratches on the metal. No words, no pictures." He shrugged. "Guess I'm better at teaching magic than I am at using it. Or maybe it's not the original bowl - the book says it's made of glass."

Ambrose gnawed his lip thoughtfully.
Or maybe there aren't any words to see. The bowl chimed dully when Tutor struck it, and the note took almost a minute to die away, hazing the air with a soft veil of blueness. He didn't ask the shapeshifter if he could see it too - he was accustomed, by now, to being alone in the way that he experienced the world. "Not made of glass... hhlas - it's Old Ozian for 'voice'."

Magic," Tutor reminded him patiently. "Not dead languages. I leave that kind of thing to clever folks like you."

"It's not a dead language." Ambrose picked up the bowl and cradled it defensively. "There's a Khuadelin tribe in the south that still speak it."
I still speak it, although admittedly only because he'd learned it the previous winter while laid up in bed with a nasty dose of Awgwan Flu. "I think this is a singing bowl. Listen..." He peeled off one leather glove with his teeth and selected an ornamental pebble from the side of the path. Wrapped in the glove, it raised a most satisfactory peal of sound from the bowl.

Tutor smiled. "Well, that's very pretty, but it doesn't sound much like a voice to me..." he trailed off; the low chime diminished and tapered to a thin, clear tone that swelled and faded in waves.

Ambrose ran the pebble around the edge of the bowl, gliding it over the metal, hypnotised by the colours woven into the pulsing sound. And then - a click, an unwinding of hidden springs - the concentric bands were moving, sliding over one another. Fine scratches aligned - revealing themselves to be minute apertures in the sides of the bowl - and vanished. The single note split like light through a prism and Ambrose breathed in sharply, finally realising what he was listening to.

"It's like no voice I ever heard." Tutor scratched his head, leaning over the bowl like a dog anticipating the arrival of a bone. The copper bands turned more quickly now, spinning complexity into the resonance.

Ambrose nodded, enjoying Tutor's fascination. "Now, this
is a dead language. The Munchkins call it the Sen Dain-e; the Old Song. They say there was one universal language that all things knew, and it was sung by the water and the mountains, by stars and stone and sea and all the living things." Sound spilled from the bowl, a cascade of vibrant indigo tones that surged and ebbed rhythmically. "It still survives in a few ancient ceremonies, but no-one speaks... sings it any more. No-one can." He smiled sadly. "In time, even the Munchkins may forget it, and then it will be extinct." He lifted the stone from the edge of the bowl and let the otherworldly harmonies die away.

Tutor took the bowl so that Ambrose could put his glove back on, and held it up to the listless sunslight, squinting at the metal. "I have to tell the princess about this. When the the household came back up from Finaqua I couldn't keep her out of here. She must have spent a week doing nothing but study this darn thing." He hesitated, then added "After little DG... well, afterwards, she pretty much lost interest." Ambrose, who had sought refuge from grief by throwing himself into his work - with an intensity bordering on unhealthy - nodded, trying to look as if he understood. A silence fell between them, each man lost in his own thoughts, until a sudden cold breeze knifed through the garden. They both shivered and Tutor laughed uneasily.

"I guess I'll have to try and persuade Doctor Spicer to share a few Munchkin secrets with me." He tapped the bowl speculatively. "Unless... I don't suppose you can translate Sen Dain-e into Ozian, can you?" His face fell as Ambrose shook his head.

"Not as such... the Old Song doesn't really have words to translate." Ambrose smiled and tossed him the pebble. "But if you make it sing again, I can try and tell you

trying to tell us something. Ambrose, we're here. What are

what it means? Simply this: I've won. There is no-one left to help you. No Father to tell me I've gone too far, no DG to paw at my conscience..."

no-one left

          I've gone too far

He was nowhere, just a collection of tangled thoughts in a dark place, with voices to keep him company.

"...no army to lay down their lives for you. And no devoted advisor to whisper in your ear."

    I bring grave news

"You promised me you wouldn't kill him. You gave me your word." A frail voice, worn beyond endurance and sick at heart. He wanted to reach out to it, to stand between it and the source of its distress, but he couldn't stand. He couldn't move at all.

  The fourth brigade has fallen

"And I kept it. Come and see for yourself." The voice came closer, and with its approach, awareness. Cold air burned his skin; something else - a pungent doctor-smell - burned his nostrils. He could hear machinery somewhere behind him and odd little fizzing noises, like lit matches being dropped into water.

"What are they doing to him? Raynz, how could you be a part of this?"

    Sometimes we let them go in the Papay fields

"Now, Mother, don't distract Raynz when he's working. You wouldn't want him to slip while he's... what are you doing, Raynz?"

I transform things...and people He opened his eyes and found the smiling visage of a bald man a few inches away. It was a relief to see a friendly face; the voices had been unsettling. He smiled back, wondering at the dull ache in his temples.

"My head's cold," he confided, then frowned at the sound of his own voice because it seemed slurred and drowsy. Maybe I was sleeping? He was lying down, at any rate.

"The removal was a success, Sorceress. And, as you can see, we have a backup should anything go wrong." The bald man, who looked oddly familiar, moved out of his line of sight and there was the slightest sting of a needle, and a creeping numbness that spread across his scalp until the last of the ache subsided. "I'm just tidying up a few loose ends. We wouldn't want your pet genius getting big ideas."

"That depends upon whether or not I can use them. Come along, Mother. Ambrose will think you don't care."

"I can't -"

"It's just Ambrose, Mother. He won't bite." Cajoling turned to amused impatience, now - not quite contempt, but close. He bristled at the tone. Show some respect, he thought angrily, then shuddered at the ripples it made in his mind. Afternoon sunslight, the sound of bees and rising entropy; tigers in the

"I don't want to see. Azkadelia... Please, this is cruel."

"But you must. It's the kindest thing, Mother. No more lonely Ambrose in his tower, working on your little schemes. Now he won't have to worry about all those things. I've simplified him." Laughter, not unkind, but not friendly, either. "I've taken him out of himself."

"You're a monster."

He lost interest in the conversation. Now that the smiling Raynz had withdrawn to the dark periphery of his vision, he could see a blurry reflection of himself in the underside of some metal device above him. At least, I think that's me... He gazed up at a pale oval, seeing dark smudges where his eyes should be, and the thin, downturned line of his mouth. Except it wasn't really an oval - it was marred by an awful absence, raw and red and broken. That's why my head's cold - there's a hole letting a draught in. He started to giggle - he couldn't help himself, even though tears were streaming down his face. Deep down his thoughts had set up a terrified clamour, but with each little hiss and sizzle it became harder to understand what was happening. His hands are inside my head. His hands... I think I'm losing my mind, and that sent him into another fit of helpless giggles.

"Interesting. Did you want a court jester, Sorceress?"

"Don't be frivolous, Raynz." A woman leaned over him, strands of dark hair tickling his cheek. "Do you know me? We were good friends, once. You and I, and little DG. You'd tell us such stories. Such a pity..."

His laughter dried up, and he hiccupped softly. Stories. Such stories. "I know a story. I know... I know. Such stories. This is the place where the world cracked open. This is a singing map of the universe. And they took what remained of her down to the catacombs, and sealed her away in the dark until she was nothing..." A cool finger pressed against his lips, forcing him into silence.

"A different story, I think. What shall we do with him, Mother? Perhaps he could keep you company; 'Storyteller to the Exiled Queen' has a certain ring to it, wouldn't you say?"

I know a story about a queen.

"By the queen that has no king,
Ancient line of Dorothy.
Feathers of Galinda's wing,
Rare and lovely they shall be.
One to darkness shall be drawn,
One to darkness shall be thrown.
One in light shall be reborn,
One to light may yet be shown..."

"Raynz, what is this?"

"I don't know, Sorceress. Just some old memory. A glitch, nothing more."

He hiccupped again, tears drying on his cheeks and the scent of blood and chemicals mixing with the dark-haired woman's perfume. Just a glitch.

"I want it gone. Burn it out of him."

"It's not that simple. It isn't like removing a book from a shelf. Perhaps magic -" The voice was cut off suddenly. Something fell to the floor with a metallic clatter.

"The next time you question my instructions, it will be the last time."

He shied away from the malevolent voice into the refuge of his memories, where the blue light of the singing bowl still wove itself into tantalising shapes, and found that he was not alone there.

How does it end, Ambrose? Do you remember? He opened his mouth to reply, but the simple act of shaping words seemed to have slipped beyond his grasp and he made a frustrated, inarticulate sound. Hush, old friend. Don't try to speak. You know how it ends, don't you?"

He did.

When the hourglass has run down,
When the gods their faces hide,
Heart and Spirit, Mind and Crown
to the Bitter Tower, ride.
Light will fail in the still Between
if only one and one alone
should claim themselves as rightful Queen
and hold the Emerald and take the throne...

Thank you, my faithful Ambrose. Rest now, if you can. He felt a somnolence stealing through his body, the last of the panic dwindling away, and he forgot about the disturbing little snaps and sizzles behind him, and watched out of the periphery of his vision as a large tank was wheeled past, something indistinct suspended in the murky liquid.

"G'bye, fishie," he mumbled, and closed his eyes.


   "Raynz, you've broken him."

             "Ambrose? Doctor Spicer, thank goodness. he"

       "You're welcome, Sorceress."

                "Ambrose?" Sometimes, I'm Ambrose. Sometimes I'm just a glitch. The thought circled, becoming more meaningless with every repetition - he reached out blindly, looking for something to stop himself slipping entirely away.

"Your name is Ambrose. But your friends call you Glitch."

Cain. Even if it was only for a moment, it was stable ground in the eroding landscape of his mind. Cain is real. Amidst all of his confusion, that was something he could be sure of. Cain was real, and he would come back again and again, ticking like a metronome, clean-scrubbed and scowling but gentle... underneath he's gentle giving Glitch a solid base beat for his syncopated thoughts.

A slender hand squeezed his, and he smiled. That was nice. His head was filling up with a low buzzing, but the hand holding his and the thought of Wyatt Cain remained, keeping him in the here and now. Everything would be okay, so long as Cain stayed with

The air split open and his thoughts scattered like frightened birds. A gunshot, and that could only mean one thing. He grasped the dark-haired woman's hand urgently. "He's fallen. The Tin Man's fallen."

"Mother, wait here with -"

"No. No, darling, I will go." As she passed, Glitch caught her wrist.

"Please... find him. Make sure he's okay. Everything depends on him."


Chapter 10 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Tin Man ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 12



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