“She grows stronger,” a voice rasped from behind her. The Delf turned to see her brother standing behind her.
“Brother,” she whispered and went to him. Wrapping one arm about his waist, she reached beneath his hood with her free hand, and ran her broken fingernails down the length of his face. His skin felt cold, like ice, and she could feel the coarse stitching which held his flesh together. Tracing his cracked lips with one of her fingers, he let his swollen tongue slide from his mouth. He wetted her finger with it. The Delf shuddered and withdrew her hand from beneath his hood.
“You feel so cold, brother,” the Delf breathed, her foul breath stinking of rotten meat. “You promised that we would soon be as we once were – beautiful.”
“And we will be,” he rasped, sounding as if his throat was being squeezed.
“But how long must we wait?” she said, followed by a fart that echoed back off the walls.
Moving away from her, Throat went out onto the balcony and looked out across the ever-increasing desert. The Delf joined him, the wind dragging her wispy lengths of grey knotted hair off her boil-infested face. “It’s the boy, Zachary Black, isn’t it?” she asked her brother.
He nodded, great chunks of his hood falling away. The spiderpedes scuttled over his hood, re-joining the intricate weave of the black fabric.
“But you said that he was nothing...” the Delf started.
Wheeling around, Throat gripped his sister’s throat with such force that her eyes bulged wetly in their dark sockets. “And I sent his sister to you!” he settled, his voice rattling.
“But she never reached me...it was Fandel...” she gasped. “He lost the girl. I went after her. If it hadn’t been for the peacekeeper...”
“Peacekeeper?” Throat hissed, gripping his sister’s neck tighter as if trying to squeeze the information out of her. “The peacekeepers are dead – I made sure of it.”
“There is one...” the Delf croaked, a stream of maggots escaping out of her mouth.
“Where is he now?” Throat gasped as if his neck had been slit open.
“The bandits have him, they have the girl and Fandel, too,” the Delf wheezed as she clawed at her brother’s fingers around her throat. “The bandits will kill all of them.”
“But we need the girl,” Throat spat. “She is no good to me dead – not just yet. Not until the box is open. The Queen and her reflection must die together. Where are they heading?”
“To the volcano,” the Delf choked.
“How do you know this?”
“I heard Fandel bargain for his life. He said he would take them to the box if they let him live.”
“The snake,” Throat rasped. Then slowly, he loosened his grip on his sister’s neck and turned away. From beneath his hood, the Delf heard her brother start to chuckle. It sounded like he was choking on a throat full of glass.
“What is it?” she spluttered, rubbing her stringy neck with her hands.
“To reach the volcano and the box,” Throat smiled beneath his hood, “all will have to pass through the outer-rim and the Clockwork City.”
“Is that good, brother?” the Delf asked, hoping that it was, for her sake.
“It’s more than good, it’s perfect,” Throat chuckled. “I have someone in place there that I can trust. And even if they fail me, I have riders patrolling the edges of the outer-rim. They will intercept the boy and his pathetic band of friends. This is far better than I first thought. Not only will I catch the boy Zachary Black in the net I have cast, I’ll also catch his sister, and the wolf-boy with the key to the box, and the last remaining peacekeeper. There will be no one left to stand in our way. I will have the Heart of Endra, and its power, will be mine.”
“We will turn back then?” The Delf asked him. “Will we return to how we were once before? Live how we did before?”“Yes, sister,” Throat gasped, taking her in his arms, as if no longer angry with her. “But I need you to do something for me.”
“Anything,” she said, staring beneath his hood.
“Make your way to the Craggy Canyon by the outer-rim,” he said, and be ready to take the key.”
“Let us travel together,” she said, holding him tight, some of the spiderpedes scuttling from her brother’s cloak and finding a new place to nest in her hair.
“I have to stay and keep watch over the Queen,” he rattled from deep within his throat. “It seems that our enemies are many. And besides, unlike my sweet sister, I am in a further state of decay – but that will change.”
“And what of Fandel?” the Delf asked.
“What of him?”
“I want him,” the Delf smiled.
“Then he is yours, sister. I will have no use for him once this is over,” Throat rasped.
Then, sneaking her hand back beneath her brother’s hood, she cupped his decaying face and said, “It will be over soon, won’t it? I can’t bear to be like this any longer.”
“You will soon look beautiful again,” Throat tried to convince her. Then leaning forward, he gently kissed her maggot-infested lips.
Zachary and William sat in the glow of the fire, as Faraday told them his story. Bom sat apart from the others, the pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth, bushy white eyebrows covering his eyes. To look at him, one might believe he was asleep, but every now and then he would grunt, or make a remark that told the others he was awake and listening to the mechanical man’s story. Neanna lay on her side, cloak drawn up beneath her chin, her eyes wide and bright as she listened.
Faraday sat crossed-legged before the fire and spoke in that odd-sounding voice, which again Zach couldn’t help but be reminded of a voice coming through an electronic PA system. The mechanical man started by telling them that as far as he knew, or his memory would allow him to remember, was that in the great Clockwork City lived a madman, and his name was Der Cribbot.
“I don’t know if he was truly mad,” Faraday explained. “Some called him a genius – but in the end he was believed to be insane.”
“Why?” William asked, his eyes glowing hot behind his odd-looking spectacles.
“Whether he discovered his doorway by chance – luck – or fate, I do not know,” Faraday said. “Is that important? I don’t much care. But what he found on the other side – that’s what is important. On the other side of his doorway he found...”
“Earth,” Zach cut in.
Faraday stared darkly at the boy.
“I come from there,” Zach added.
Faraday continued as if Zach hadn’t spoken at all. “On discovering his doorway, Cribbot became obsessed by what he found on the other side. He marvelled at the technology, the creatures, and everything else he had discovered. Living on the edges of the outer-rim, the people of Clockwork City were a simple folk. None had ventured through the doorways – none of them had even looked for one – they were happy and content with the city in which they lived. But Cribbot wasn’t happy with his lot and he couldn’t understand how the other people who he lived amongst could be happy with such simple lives. He would gather people together in the town square, street corners – anywhere people would listen to him. He would tell them of the extraordinary things he had discovered on the other side of his doorway. But those gathered before him would soon walk away laughing as he told them about the incredible flying machines he had seen soaring through the skies, the machines with wheels that ran on tracks and through tunnels cut deep into the mountainsides. He spoke excitedly about the cities made of glass buildings, and how they nearly touched the sky. Cribbot enthused about the animals he had seen beyond his doorway. He spoke of giant cats called tigers with fur painted orange and black, of mighty beasts called gorillas, and tiny, gentle flying animals called butterflies. But he couldn’t find anyone to share his enthusiasm. He could find no one who would believe him. Cribbot had fallen in love with the world he had discovered on the other side of his doorway. But he didn’t love the humans as much as everything they had created and the animals they shared their world with. He began to resent them – become jealous of them perhaps,” Faraday explained.
“Jealous?” Zach asked. “Why?”
“Cribbot told those who would listen that the humans didn’t appreciate what they had,” Faraday continued. “They were killing the world they had and the creatures they shared it with. He would shout from the street corners about how there were only three-thousand of those beautiful orange and black cats left on the other side of the doorway. With an ever-increasing anger, he would rant that the humans had destroyed the tiger’s natural habitat, poached them, driven them almost to extinction. He spoke of the mighty creatures called gorillas and how their numbers were even less. But it seemed just like the humans, the people of Clockwork City didn’t care – in fact, they cared even less because they didn’t believe him. Cribbot believed that if only he could bring one of these creatures back – if he could bring back some of the technology that the humans took so much for granted – if he could only show it to the people of Clockwork City, then perhaps they would care – perhaps then, they would believe him.
“So, by cunning or by magic, Der Cribbot brought some of those machines which the humans had made back through his doorway and into Endra. It wasn’t just machines he brought back with him – he brought some of those creatures back, too. But something went wrong – terribly wrong,” Faraday said.
“What?” William asked, his eyes now blazing behind his bulbous lenses.
“The doorways have the power to change you,” Faraday said.
Remembering how the doorways had changed his friends William and Neanna and the polar bear he had killed on his first night in Endra, Zachary nodded and said, “We know all about how the doorways can change you.”
“The creatures Cribbot snuck back through the doorway somehow became entangled with the machinery he was smuggling back into Endra,” Faraday said, and again his voice was emotionless, just like his dead, black eyes. “At first Cribbot marvelled at what had happened. His aspiration to soar through the sky like a bird was no longer just a dream. To travel at incredible speeds, to ride on creatures that ran on tracks and cut their way through tunnels was now a reality, and he was overjoyed. He took these creatures and travelled across Clockwork City and the furthest reaches of the outer-rim with his circus of mechanical animals. Just like Cribbot had, the people marvelled at these animals and paid good money to witness them. But word soon spread beyond the reaches of the outer-rim.”