The Castle of Gears: Chapter 005

When we left him later, stuffed full with hot chocolate and cookies that Wilden gave us, we were in a good mood. After cutting away from the topic of murder earlier, Isaiah and Wilden had gone off on a discussion of what it was like being a friend of Grandfather and Uncle Marcel, both of whom were, no doubt, famous in Moorwalk.

“But you weren’t listening to us, were you?” he asked as we walked away from the clock tower. The rain had finally stopped, but the yard had shallow puddles of water quite large that I was nearly compelled to jump in them. “The whole time you were studying the clocks. What exactly are you looking for around them?”

“It’s a secret,” I chuckled.

“A secret? Must it be that way?” Isaiah glanced at me disapprovingly.

“Looking for fingerprints that might have been left behind,” I muttered.

His disapproval only grew. “That is…disgusting.”

“Is it not?” I simply smirked. “But we are working on a case that I no doubt may not receive a reward out of except permanent friendship from an otherwise tough-to-please friend.”

“Are you talking about Mr. Lindon?”

I frowned. “Well, he is an important person to me, as a brotherly figure. I grew up around him often before Grandfather died.”

“I’m sorry, but I fear him.” Isaiah dropped his head, observing his nails. “He rather appears controlling, was my first impression, so I’ve been trying to avoid him. Do you think he could have…killed…”

“Lindon a killer?” I scoffed sarcastically. “Sure, of course he’s got enough motive. And emotion to do so. But I do admit that Lindon is a bit strict and uptight. You might call him a douche, an arse, at a first impression. He wasn’t like this back when I was a kid when Grandfather was alive, you know. Hot-headed and foolish, maybe, but he was freer.”

Isaiah looked up and raised his eyebrows. “I find that hard to believe.”

“You would since you don’t know what he was like. Part of that change might have been because he got married too early. It was a social meeting where Lindon was looking for someone to get a loan from for a business project, a shipping company. The person who accepted it was Emily’s father, under the condition that they get married. A business wedding, then.”

“Is it…alright for you to just tell me about it without Mr. Lindon’s permission?”

“Of course it is. It’s a lesson, Isaiah: do not accept such a proposition if anyone ever tells you, even if it’s to take care of your siblings. A decision based on supporting your desires no matter the consequences sometimes doesn’t work out, in the same manner as what has happened today. Once Emily’s family hears of this story, Lindon will get into trouble. Especially for bringing his mistress over while his current wife was still alive.”

“That’s true…but do I really need that lesson?”

“You’re quite hot-headed yourself. How else would you end up with a string of robberies at your age? You’re even a few years younger than me, an age that someone like you should be in school.”

Isaiah made a sound that was a cross between a gasp of shock and a grunt of annoyance. Then again, his entire childhood had been spent robbing houses to provide for his family; frankly, no one was going to accept a boy with such criminal talent anywhere.

“Uncle Marcel is no different either, though,” I added thoughtfully. “He might be a wrinkled old man at this time, but he is still quite energetic. You just don’t see it.”

“Really?”

“You know, the reason he doesn’t want to know who the killer is is the same as mine.” When Isaiah looked at me, puzzled, I continued, “The people who live here, who are our suspects, are people who we care for: the servants, Wilden included. On the other hand, Lindon only cares to clear Amanda’s name. Dr. Jennings on the other hand, even if he is lying, is only an outsider. If I have to find out the killer, this means that someone we trust will be gone. Lindon will do the same like Uncle Marcel did with Aunt Kamillia: he’ll do his damnest to side with the woman he loves.”

“So where do we go from here?” he asked finally, as we reached the front porch of the mansion.

“Do me a favor and start preparing a lunch with the cook,” I replied.

“You’re going to investigate alone? Do you need my help?”

“No need. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you if I need anything.” I dug my hands into my pockets and pulled out the Spider Clock.

Seeing it, there seemed to be a look of understanding on Isaiah’s face. “Alright! I’ll go and help with the cooking.  Yesterday’s dinner was delicious, and now that I think about it, thanks to the incident, we haven’t eaten breakfast yet, have we? Except for the snacks that Mr. Wilden gave us, which were great, but let’s have something filling for today!”

I watched as he eagerly went in the direction of the kitchen and marveled at how he somehow got used to the mansion’s interior while I was still get lost in corridors that didn’t lead to my usual guest room. And I have lived here frequently for a break out of the city.

When he was gone, I went up to the second floor. What I was going to do right now would be seen as absolute rudeness to the Lorrens, especially since it’s one of the things I remember being scolded for in my childhood: snooping around the house. Back then, I used to dig through people’s closets and then run around the mansion in an expensive coat – mostly one of Lindon’s – until someone caught and spanked me.

Still, the older they get, the more secretive my acquaintances seemingly get that the fight to stop looking through their rooms while they weren’t looking got harder. I doubt that Lindon would be happy if he found me in his room despite asking me to find out how Emily died.

There were many empty rooms in the house, except for the wing where the servants sleep when they weren’t here for work, like today. Guest rooms were plenty, but they would only be cleaned if there were guests present.

I passed through the many corridors I found myself on, starting from the row of guest rooms that included mine and Isaiah’s, then came to the servants’ wing, which was empty and quiet, cleaned rather well despite that all except the cook had gone to visit their homes.

Somehow or other, I came to a part of the house that was rarely approached. I’d been led here when I found the floor, thick with dust because no one was supposed to come here, decorated with footprints. They led to a particular room with massive wooden double doors with a carving of birds and roses, which were swung wide open, as were the windows, possible to air it out.

The furniture that used to be in the master bedroom here were all gone, except for the bed, unlike last summer when I came, and were replaced with newer sofas, a walnut dresser, and an elaborately carved room divider behind which was a stand with a pile of clothes.

The bed wasn’t the last of what remained of the previous room; the portrait of Mrs. Marcel Lorren, or Aunt Kamelia to me when she was alive, was one of two around the mansion, with this one showing her in a standing posture with a tea cup. The painting was done at a distance, so her full silhouette was seen in a blood-red dress. Her expression was indistinguishable, but she looked as proud as she always did. It was free of the cobwebs I had seen collecting on it from last year. The silver frame it was fitted in, which I brushed lightly with my fingers now, were polished.

Someone had either been cleaning this room out, and it was probably Lindon. Now that I think about it, Lindon moves the most around the house. Was he planning to move his things here? It would make sense since this was the bedroom of the owner of the castle, and it used to belong to Marcel – when Aunt Kamelia was still alive, that is. Uncle didn’t like coming here alone when she went with the stars.

I clicked open my pocket watch and light shone up as dots, like constellations. The constellations took on the shape of squares and a rough blueprint of the Castle appeared, with one dot standing out, which was my location.  How I got here from my intention to reach Lindon’s current bedroom, I do not know, but then again, I never quite know why I always end up far away from my intended location.

For a moment, I felt a bit of resentment; if it was Lindon who killed Emily, then his motive was obvious. But that’s if she was actually really killed. But if she was killed, then this case would stink of some meticulous planning. For Lindon, who hid nothing when he lost his mood, a premeditated murder was impossible. If he killed her, it would be an accident, and remain an accident. And he definitely would not lie through it…

Or would he? Presently, he was planning to divorce Emily in order to marry Amelia, right? So is that not enough motive to lie? And in front of me, a frequent consultant to the Moorwalk Enforcers.

And then if I considered Amelia’s motives, were she the killer, she could share the same thoughts as Lindon, but Lindon could have told her of my reputation in Moorwalk. Was she the sort who would dare risk my revealing her as culprit as we never met before?

How irritating. Will this be the first time I start doubting my grandfather’s friend’s family?

In this manner?

Trash had been heaped in a corner, and I approached it out of curiosity. I wonder if I could ask Lindon later if I could take all this and bring it back to the airship. But what interested me more was the accordion sticking out of the mess, which I pulled out now.

The air bags were already eaten through by termites, so it was technically useless, except for the weight and the tiny trinkets I could salvage from the inside, so Lindon probably won’t want it. He was the sort that threw the rubbish out when he didn’t need it.

It gave me an idea, suddenly, and I jumped to my feet. Scouring through the rubbish again, I could a thin string and made my way to the foyer – yes, following my pocket watch lest I lose my way again – and reached the top landing of the grand staircase.

I tied the string to the accordion and then, with a strong swing of my arm, I lobbed it upwards and watched as the accordion dangled by the string on the chandelier. I loosely tied the string to the railing, then searched my pocket for a scrap of paper and pen.

“Master, where are you?”

I jumped when I heard Isaiah’s voice. He had exited the entrance from the dining room. “Lunch is finished! Come now!”

“Wait, wait!” I gasped. The dear boy blindly walked beneath the chandelier. “Run, Isaiah!”

By such bad luck, Isaiah did not run but instead turned to my voice, just as the string beside me snapped with a sharp twang. I felt my stomach clench as the accordion fell – and scuffed him in the head.

And he lay on the ground, comatose as a rock.

 

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The Castle of Gears: Chapter 003

“Amelia is not the killer,” growled Lindon.

“I have a little interest in the science of photography, but I’m not being suspicious yet,” I retorted in sarcasm. “I’ll find out the murderer and what not, but I should tell you, I’m on the side of suicide as well.”

Lindon’s eyes widened, and for a moment, there was silence, until he sputtered with, “I thought you said earlier that it may be a murder?”

“I would prefer if it was suicide,” I said, then turned to Wilden. “You, by the way, live in the clock tower, since you aren’t just the gardener, but also it’s caretaker. Could you not have noticed anything during the night?”

“In my defense, if she was murdered, it was not I!” Wilden gasped in alarm. “Also, I could not have noticed anything! My eyes have lost some vision, and my hearing is not that good either, sir!” His voice became a tinge frantic when he noted Lindon frowning at him.

I laughed. “Then again, you’re too nice to think about killing another person. Would you three like to see Emily?”

“No, I don’t need to,” said Lindon abruptly.

“Um – likewise.” Amelia sounded hesitant.

“I will go and check on the master of the house and see if he is fine,” said Wilden thoughtfully, “so I will be passing by the foyer. In which case, I have no doubt that I will see her.”

With that, I left towards the foyer with Wilden, leaving Amelia and Lindon in the parlor.

Jennings was bent over the body of Emily when we came out, his eyes focussed while Isaiah leaned over the doctor with equally attentive eyes. The sight of Isaiah reminds me of the times when he shows a rogue side when he would sharpen his glance and study a subject as if he was in a trace. That rogue side, built from a rough childhood of thievery, at least gave him a quick mind.

“My word, although I’ve known you to have dealt with mysterious circumstances of deaths, it is very disturbing that there would be such a thing in this household,” Wilden muttered. “And not far from the clock tower as well.”

“I have a question, Dr. Jennings,” said Isaiah suddenly, startling me and Wilden; he did not seem to have noticed us both yet, still with his eyes over the dead. “I saw you in the middle of the night, in the mansion’s courtyard, where my room faces. Doesn’t the household lock the doors before midnight?”

Dr. Jennings’ hands froze, his fingertips brushing Emily’s neck. Slowly, he managed to reply: “I occasionally sneak out of the house at night to take a walk. How did you know? If I recall rightly, you retired early last night.”

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Isaiah: “I see a walking lamp. Oh, wait, it’s a man with a bag.”

“It happens at the most ungodly hours, but I wake up in the middle of the night every day at least once,” said Isaiah. “I stay up for a bit before going back to sleep.”

The doctor laughed in relief. “I have always been under the assumption that Gremlins are I have met a few who speak what later turn out to be nonsense.” He pulled a blanket over Emily. “But my job in this castle is only as Sir Lorren’s personal physician, so I am a guest in this house until he gets better. I must admit, though, this household is filled with stubborn ones.”

“I think the same oftentimes,” laughed Wilden. “Why, I’ve told Mr. Lorren that he must take Dr. Jennings’ advice and leave the castle to the country to recover, but he refused. And then the recent conflict of the wedding ring had Mr. Lindon in foul moods in his determination to not lose it. Their actions always make people think that the stories the city people in the metropolis tell about Kamillia Castle are true.”

“Like the rumors that the castle’s clock tower is alive?” Isaiah asked.

“Why, Isaiah, my boy, you believe in that?” Wilden burst out laughing as I cracked a smile; such rumors used to make the both of us, who knew the Lorren family well, laugh so hard.

“Forgive me, but I actually find that quite believable, if I must say so,” said Dr. Jennings suddenly, sheepishly. “I…have seen the rumored orbs of fire dancing through the top floors of the house, not from far away in the metropolis of Moorwalk, but even in the courtyard. I – never had the courage to ask, but – I have no been seeing things, have I, Mr. Wilden?”

“Huh? So it is true?” Isaiah gasped.

“No,” Wilden and I replied at the same time.

“You’re not half wrong about it being alive, though,” Wilden said. “The clock. Do you know why Ethaon comes here every year to check on the clock, Isaiah? This is a question for you as well, Dr. Jennings, since you’ve been among us for a while.”

“I…have been told by the master of the house that it is because of the maintanence of the clock, to clean dust away as well as to check on the gears,” Dr. Jennings muttered. “I must say, however that it was a vague answer.”

“The clock runs on steam power, not like the turret clocks we have in the city,” I replied. “What I’m supposed to do was make sure the engine runs well, and that the fires of the house haven’t clogged any pipes with soot, among other things. If you walked into the clock tower, you would notice a quiet hum. The orbs of fire you see have something to do with his function, as gaslights.”

“It is?” Isaiah’s eyes were wide with surprise.

“Grandfather loved steam engines.” I glanced at Emily’s body. “That aside, Dr. Jennings? Have you an idea how long the Lady  has been dead?”

The doctor’s eyes narrowed, but he also looked down at the Lady for a moment, contemplating. Finally, he said, “Possibly two hours, roughly estimating it. It must have been after I went indoors from my walk.”

I nodded. “I see. Thank you.”

“I will go and check on the Sir right now,” said Wilden. “Dr. Jennings, please accompany me. He may need your assistance.”

“Ah, yes.” With that, the two went up the stairs, pardoning themselves from me and Isaiah.

When they had gone and were out of earshot, Isaiah suddenly spoke, “Master, you do not think that it is a suicide, do you?”

“I would wish it was a suicide, as much as I feel bad, for this concerns someone who is like family,” I replied with a scowl. “Lindon, however, guessed correctly: it is a murder, Isaiah.”

“Then-!”

“But I am reluctant to find out who it is,” I sighed.

“Why?” Isaiah frowned, puzzled. “Lady Emily does seem distraught over herself and she said nothing at dinner as well.”

“You’d be wrong if you thought Lady Emily was the simple wife of Lindon Lorren,” I shrugged. “She has powerful friends, a rich family, and lives in extravagance. She had enough to spend for her lifetime. She’s a socialite with a lot of influential friends. Even a divorce won’t break her, though I don’t doubt she is petty enough to hold a grudge through it. Suicide won’t be in her head, but murder – for her – is possible.”

“That’s scary!” Isaiah gawked. Then he chewed his lip nervously. “For the record, I think Dr. Jennings is lying about going for a walk.”

“Why so?”

“The time I saw him on his ‘walk’ was three hours before dawn, when you wake up. Having gone for a walk around the castle yesterday, I found that it takes about thirty minutes to circle it, yet the doctor returned in another half-hour longer than that. If that’s so, he should have seen the Lady die. he would be the one to raise the alarm, not the Master.”

When he finished, the overhead thunder rolled as we fell silent.

“I need not tell you to stop calling me ‘Master’, do I?” I groaned. “I know he lied. Most likely, it was less than two hours since Emily died.”

“So you already know? Then what was the point of asking the doctor to give his guess?”

“To see if he, too, is a liar.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Heavens, in the year since I last visited, this Castle has picked up more secrets than it just being alive. At this rate, I may become as bald as our dear friendly investigator, Rathbone.”


It’s a little longer than a couple of weeks late, but I only reached halfway through my NaNoWriMo word count.  Ahh – well, there’s always…next year? T_T. Yep, I’m definitely going to try redeeming it in the next Camp NaNo.

And, lookie! I tried my hand drawing an illustration because I thought a picture would liven it up a bit. I’m heavily influenced by manga, though, so it’s not that realistic. I had a lot of trouble inking it, but a drawing made in an hour and a half is not even my toughest job.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 002

Solving crimes are like drugs to me, fun, enjoyable. The thrill of chasing someone, to run into questions and find the answers to them.

Although I do agree, like those with common sense, that it’s probably better off seen as unpleasant.

But because of that, I couldn’t have imagined it would hit close to home. Certainly not in front of Grandpa von Hald’s prized creation, the clock tower of Kamillia Castle; had he still been alive, Grandpa would come flying this way on a hurricane.

The clock tower of Kamillia Castle is famous all over Moorwalk, but not with the nicest reasons. At times, there were sightings of orbs of light dancing around it. Rumors were that the Lorrens were wizards, or that the Castle and clock tower itself were alive. A person dying on its grounds would catch sooner be gossip in the city.

Out of Emily’s hand, I found a piece of paper with these words written out,

To the household of the Lorrens,

I am disgusted by the way you must want me off the house so badly! In return, I have hidden the ring and you will never find it, not even the one they call the Horologii Gremlin. I hope misfortune shall fall on you accursed people!

Emily

At first glance, it looks like a suicide. But could she really have chosen this? Maybe, since her marriage to Lindon wasn’t out of love. Uncle Marcel was only polite to her. From an outsider’s point of view, they weren’t like family.

“Master, I’ve brought the things you asked for!” Isaiah called, and I turned to see that he certainly brought a blanket and two brooms. “What will we do with these?”

“It’s about to rain,” I replied. “I wanted to create a stretcher to carry her to shelter. We will bring Lady Emily into the Helios and leave her there until the police arrives.”

“The airship? Why? Shouldn’t we call the police first?”

“The rain looks as though it will be a storm, so they will no doubt delay it in the end. As for why the airship, I get the feeling that no one may want her body in the house.”

When we had done exactly that, the sky had begun to pour into a thin drizzle. Isaiah and I crossed the courtyard and reached the door into the Castle before barring the doors. Just in time to hear Lindon’s voice snap, “It’s going to take a long time to hail the police up here and wait until they reach us! Just what happened to that woman?”

“Lindon, sit and calm down!” Uncle Marcel ordered,  but his ragged voice didn’t let him speak clearly. “Ethaon, my boy! What shall we do?” His wrinkles seemed to sag in despair.

A meeting seemed to have commenced in the parlor while I had been gone. Lindon had seated himself in his favorite red chair, with Amelia standing beside him with a pale face. Uncle Marcel was in the sofa with his cane in hand, the doctor in another chair. On the coffee table in the middle of the room, there was a steaming pot of tea and teacups. I glanced at the mantelpiece above the hearth where a fire blazed; there were a few photographs here as well, of a group that Uncle Marcel and Grandpa von Hald used be part of in their prime.

“Well?” Lindon asked curtly, bringing my attention back to this room.

“A lot of things will move and be revealed,” I said. “On the poor Lady, I found that her neck broke. She may have fallen from the clock tower. It’s possible to be a suicide, too. Here is a letter that she wrote.” I handed her handwritten letter to him.

When he had read it, he slammed it onto the coffee table. “And she hid the damned ring? Not just suicide, but also the ring is gone?”

“Could it be a killer?” asked Amelia suddenly, and turned all eyes onto her in surprise. “I – just thought that it may be that because of Lady Emily’s position.”

“That may be true,” said Lindon, sitting up. “She’s popular in the city and attends a lot of parties and also invites a lot of friends over to this place from time to time-“

“No, Lindon! I wish not to know!” Uncle Marcel suddenly snapped, and even I winced at his voice.

“Father, what are you-” gasped Lindon, but he was cut off again.

“I say no! If the killer is one of the people in this room, I wish not to know. If it was an outside person, that would be better. But I do not want to know who it was. Your mother died by murder as well, and by the most unlikely person I ever imagined to be the killer. This is my answer. I will return to my room now, and I would like to be alone, Dr. Jennings.” Uncle Marcel began to wheeze as he hobbled to his feet and he seemed smaller than he did earlier. Dr. Jennings seemed reluctant to let him go, but remained in his seat.

“Even so, I’m not on that side,” Lindon grunted. “Nevertheless, find out how she died, whether it’s suicide or murder, Ethaon.”

“Does that mean you’ll tell me now who Miss Amelia is?” I asked, and smiled. “You will, won’t you? I’ll need it if I am to find out the answer to Lady Emily’s death.”

“Master, your smile is evil,” Isaiah remarked quietly as Lindon’s eyes flared.

“Amelia has nothing to do with this,” he said curtly.

“I thought you would say that,” I chuckled. “So it will be fine if I ask the servants since when you brought her here, and whatever gossip they might have spread amongst themselves, won’t it? Dr. Jennings, do you have experience with examining dead bodies?”

“O-only a little,” Dr. Jennings stuttered.

“If possible, please do so. Isaiah, accompany him, will you?”

When Dr. Jennings and Isaiah had gone, Amelia suddenly spoke: “I beg your pardon, but…what is this they call the Horologii Gremlin?” She frowned at me. “I heard rumors of this name and the importance of the titles of the Gremlins and their fame, but – what exactly is it?”

I looked at her blankly. “You never asked Lindon?”

Amelia turned red as Lindon immediately countered me with, “The upper-ranked Gremlins are not supposed to have their true names revealed, and I was about to ask you about it. So it’s not like I ever told her that you are the Horologii Gremlin.”

“What?” Amelia gasped. “Mr. Haldeir is Moorwalk’s Horologii Gremlin?”

“Allow me to explain, miss,” offered Wilder, and we all jolted when we realized that he was still in this room. Though the fact that he had been standing beside an indoor orange tree until his presence was erased didn’t reassure us, I chuckled. He dismissed that with ease as he continued on, “Since you are aware of the title of Gremlins, tell me what you know.”

“Um – in Pallin, those titles are given to people who are gifted in a specific area of study,” Amelia said slowly. “The title is at the same rank as a Knight or a Dame.”

“That’s partly true, though their official name is Clauditis Gremlin, and of all those with this title, there are five in particular who stand out.  Our Ethaon here contributes to helping the Democracy capture dangerous villains and takes part in espionage missions. In return, those five receive unlimited assistance from the Democracy.”

“Is that even contributing?” Amelia muttered.

“Let’s just say, I earned my Gremlin title by being something similar to a mind reader,” I said with a smile. “For the record, may I have your statements for what you were doing after dinner yesterday?”

“Why?” asked Lindon.

“Natural procedures if you want me to see if she died because of someone. That includes you, so just do me that as a favor.”

Lindon glared at me, but I didn’t budge. He relented in the end, “I was in my room the whole time, doing some cleaning. I had a lot of things I didn’t think I collected over the last few years, so when I found some things, I thought I’d throw them out.”He glanced at Amelia, and she seemed to seem something before she spoke.

He glanced at Amelia, and she seemed to seem something before she spoke. “Um…I was in my room the whole night as well. I took some pictures of the garden and darkened the room to form the images. I have the photographs, if you would like to see.”

“I guess that’s fine,” I said.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 001

 

And thus begins the story! I will later update the chapter to link it to the second chapter when I’ve finished it. 🙂


The Lady lay on the ground in a mess, her hair and limbs splayed out, broken and dirty.

“I should have more observant yesterday so as to not miss this,” I sighed as I knelt at the body.

“It’s not your fault, Master,” Isaiah insisted. “We were enjoying ourselves yesterday in a way that we couldn’t have noticed.”

“Isaiah. I run a detective agency and am an inventor. If I cannot understand a human, both occupations could cease being my pride.”

The dead Lady had been discovered not longer than fifteen minutes ago by me myself, but by now, all who live in Kamillia Castle should know already.

I wonder if I should have kept it quiet, though; the servants of this household are not going to keep quiet, are they? Women gossip, as my mentor always complained.

But I admit that we have jumped too far ahead in this story. Let us go back to yesterday to begin the story. That way, it would be easier to understand, won’t it?

***

Kamillia Castle sat among rocky hills, a grand and majestic residence that looked down at the city of Moorwalk in the distance, as a bird from its nest. Although anyone could visit it from the metropolitan of Moorwalk on foot, it would take an hour just to leave it, and a further two hours to hike and navigate the forest and hills that surround the Castle. A car or horseback would work better.

Me, being who I am, I decided the best way to reach it: my newest project: Helios the airship.

“I apologize, Master! I feel sick!” Isaiah groaned, lying flat on the ground of the cockpit.

“Hopeless!” I laughed as I manned the controls.

“There’s a reason I’m afraid of heights, sir!”

“Don’t worry, we’re nearly there now! Hold on a little longer.”

Isaiah groaned again and flattened himself to the floor as I turned the airship into the Castle’s courtyard. It landed with a light thud, and I turned to the boiler and tossed water to kill the fire.

“We landed safely!” I went to the door and threw it open.

“T-thank goodness!” Isaiah gasped, staggering up with much difficulty. “I thought I might die!” When he looked through the door, though, his eyes widened. “This castle is huge!”

Though we call it Kamillia Castle, in truth, it was more a chateau than a fort. Back ten years ago, I remembered there being a fountain in the middle of the courtyard, but what replaced where it had been was now a neatly clipped croquet lawn. Croquet was the Lady of the house’s hobby, so that was the reason.

Maybe I should have been more considerate and landed Helios on one of the nearby hills. The Lady will be angry.

While Isaiah gawped at the castle, I pulled out my pocket watch to check the time. Rather – I call it a pocket watch, but it’s too big to even be called one that I prefer to wear it around my neck like a stone medallion. Made of bronze and walnut, a present from my senile grandfather, I called it the Spider Clock. That’s because of the spider motif on the lid.

Ten o’clock, thirty minutes since Isaiah and I left the city of Moorwalk. The ride in an airship may have been pleasant, but I may need to up the speed a bit.

“Mr. Ethaon! Is that you? Welcome back!” a voice called, and I looked out the airship to see a man in overalls approaching cautiously. He had on a straw hat over his head and gardening gloves over his hands. This man’s face brightened when he saw me as I jumped out of the airship.

“Hello, Wilden,” I said, pushing the Spider Clock back under my vest. “You look fine today, though dare I say, your hair has gotten whiter.”

“Oh, I am quite fine. Ah – let me help with the luggage, son. Are you alright?” He peered into the ship, and I noted that Isaiah was still struggling to walk, despite still looking green.

They nearly jumped when a loud voice said, “Ethaon! This belongs to you? What are you doing?”

“Ah, Lindon! This is my latest project!” I turned towards the voice. I didn’t miss how Isaiah winced, but anyone would be scared of Lindon Lorren’s loud voice. “Your bellows haven’t changed since last year!”

“Last time it was a mechanical horse, and now this?” Lindon Lorren frowned as he walked over to us. “And you’re going to destroy the courtyard.”

Though Lindon looks to be a cold-looking man who seemed to be born out of fire, with deep brown hair brushed back from his forehead and fierce blue eyes.

“I hope that Lady Emily isn’t going to be angry about it,” I sighed.

“What is this mess? Hey, get that thing off my yard! How will I play my games if you leave it here?” a third voice shouted, this one a woman with a sharp tongue.

“Ah, the Lady herself,” I groaned as a woman in a bright red dress stormed out the Castle. “I beg your pardon, Lady Emily, but there’s at least still some space left. I made sure it fit only half the courtyard, so it’ll be fine.”

Emily Lorren, her eyes flashing with rage, started to storm towards me. “I would appreciate it if you -” She stopped abruptly, then, with a scowl, turned away again and stormed back to the house.

“Is she fine?” I asked Lindon, and now noted that he had dark shadows under his eyes. “What’s wrong? Missed a night of sleep?”

Lindon clicked his tongue. “You are not a doctor, yet your guess is correct. Last night was tiring.”

“Work?”

“No. Not – exactly,” muttered Lindon. “May we change the subject?”

I smiled. “Alright, then.”

“M-Master!” groaned Isaiah as he dragged out a suitcase.

“Don’t call me ‘Master.'” I pulled out a bottle of tiny orange baubles and tossed it to his hand. “That may ease you a bit. You should have told me about your airsickness when I worked on the airship.”

“I apologize, but I didn’t think you would force me on board just to meet the people here.” Isaiah  straightened himself. “But I have told you I dislike heights before.”

“Ah, I should have picked up the hint back then,” I chuckled. Isaiah threw a few pills into his mouth and the color of his face began to return to normal.

“What is that?” Lindon asked in a low voice.

“Homemade candy I made myself,” I replied, also quietly so Isaiah doesn’t hear. “He won’t know, but he doesn’t notice that he recovers faster if I trick him with something he thinks is medicine.”

“That’s deception!”

“But it eases his mind. If it works, it works.”

Lindon sighed. “I shall never understand that mind of yours.”

“So you are Isaiah, then?” Wilden dragged out a second suitcase with more ease compared to Isaiah. “Welcome to Kamillia Castle and thank you for taking care of Mr. Ethaon here.”

“Is he a bit of a prick to you?” asked Lindon.

“If I must be honest, yes, he is!” said Isaiah abruptly. “But my position is only as a less-than-noble character. Please take no notice of me and treat me as if I don’t exist.”

Lindon turned back to me. “Another weird person?”

“Compared to me, he’s normal,” I said.

“Come, come, now, Mr. Lindon! You’re forgetting your manners!” Wilden chided as he started to carry the suitcase towards the Castle. “Why don’t you go inside to have a talk?”

“Please let me take the suitcase,” Isaiah insisted.

“No, no, in this estate, this is my job. Let me help.”

Upon our entry to the Castle in the grand foyer where a large staircase led up to the second floor, a woman hurried to greet us. Clearly not a housekeeper or cook, for she was dressed in a pale brown dress, her long dark hair streaming down her shoulders in a smooth sweep. Her features made her beautiful and bright. She smiled at our entrance.

“Hello,” she said, squeezing her arms against herself. Her accent was clearly British.

“Pleased to meet you,” I replied politely, taken aback by this guest. “You are?”

“This is Amelia Bailey, a photographer visiting from an abroad country,” said Lindon abruptly. “Amelia, this is the grandson of my father’s friend, who is here yearly to wind the clock tower, Ethaon Haldeir.”

“Lindon has told me a lot about you,” the woman spoke politely.

“Pity I heard nothing about such a lady,” I chuckled. “Where is Uncle Marcel?”

“My apologies on not telling you about here,” said Lindon with a small smile. “Father is in his quarters as usual.”

“You must see him, Mr. Ethaon,” said Wilden urgently. “Sir Marcel is ill at the moment and there is a doctor present as another guest. Young man, if you’re feeling better, I shall lead you to your master’s usual rooms.” He turned to Isaiah.

“I feel better already, sir!” Isaiah said with relief. “Master, are you going to be alright?”

“Are you questioning me about my navigation through a place I’ve been through several times before?” I demanded. “Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, do not call me ‘master.'”

Isaiah smiled. Now that he looked better, the brat had the guts to smirk. “Yes, Master.” Wilden laughed as they went up the grand stairway, and I went through the second doorway from the foyer, leaving the lady Amelia and Lindon alone.

I have already begun picking up unusual signs in this house. Lady Emily, who is Lindon’s wife by arranged marriage, and her strange behavior; she is easily hostile. Lindon, a straightforward, honest man, with no reason to fear truths, wishes to hide a secret. And then Amelia’s presence; no doubting she is the cause of whatever is happening now.

Perhaps it would be better to be involved with whatever their problem is because I am a detective, yet I feel as though I will only worsen the subject if I were to interfere.

The doorway led to a large corridor that opened was also in a way an art gallery, exhibiting several paintings by many different hands. Most were landscapes and art of the Castle itself, but there were a few portraits of Lindon and Sir Marcel Lorren, the landowner. A few were photographs, all of them groups of people.

After the gallery came a smaller corridor with floor-to-ceiling windows that let in plenty of light. They showed an expansive view of the forest outside. Here, there was another door that was the bedroom quarters of the landowner.

I approached and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” an unfamiliar voice called out, and I pushed the door open to see two men sitting at a table, one in a divan, the other in a chair. The bed was not neatly arranged as if its owner had kicked off the covers and no one bothered to clean it. Natural light streamed into the room through the windows.

“Ethaon, my boy! Welcome! Don’t just stand there, enter!” A ragged voice came from the wizened man who sat in the divan, weak one second ago, but now energetic. He leaned on a walking cane, and the man in the chair, who was younger with graying hair, hurried to help him up. “How have you been? Ah – I must introduce you! This is Dr. Jennings, my current doctor who is staying here to watch over my condition. Doctor, this is-“

“Yes, your friend’s grandson, but also a son to you,” the doctor chuckled. “You have told me several times.”

“Doctor, do you mind if I talk to Ethaon privately? A favor, may I ask?”

“As you wish,” said Dr. Jennings, and he helped the old man sit back down in the divan.

When we were alone, I looked at Uncle Marcel up and down. Despite being Lindon’s father, the old man is water to Lindon’s hot-headedness; pale hair, cool green eyes, calmer features. He did seem to have changed somewhat – by height, I suppose? But it is strange that Uncle Marcel would have fathered a son at the age of sixty. Grandfather, whose name was Rudolf von Hald, received me as a grandson at that same age.

The relationship between Grandfather and Mr. Marcel was well-known in the city of Moorwalk and their hometown of New Tompa to the north of the Democracy of Pallin. Whereas Grandpa von Hald gained renown as a scientist, eccentric clock making hobbyist, and a bunch of other things, Uncle was a General, gaining his knighthood a decade after his retirement. The clock tower of Kamillia Castle was one of the few landmarks that indicated that friendship.

“So that airship was yours, I assume?” said Marcel. “You’re just like your grandfather! Tell what have you been up to recently!”

“Nothing much! I just spent a lot of time on a new project – ah, an airship, that is.” I glanced at the door, then turned back to the old man. “By the way, what’s happening in this house?”

Uncle frowned. “So you noticed in the end. As expected of the one we call the Horologii Gremlin, no?”

“Lindon being nice to anyone other than family is weird as him smiling twenty-four hours non-stop. Strangers are not allowed in the castle as guests unless they are approved by Lindon himself. And Emily is apparently angered? I thought I’d get an earful for taking up half the space of her courtyard.”

“Lindon and Emily are in the process of a divorce. Amelia is currently the woman Lindon is courting. I told him that it’s unwise to bring the woman he’s not married to yet into the castle, but he did in the end. That boy is stubborn. I wish he would be more considerate of his mother’s holy grounds.”

Marcel, you’re the only one who considers this castle your wife’s holy grounds, but that’s still romantic.

“The problem is that Emily refuses to hand over her wedding ring.”

That is a problem.

“And doesn’t Miss Amelia seem a mild person? I advise you to prepare to face a strict young lady, Ethaon. I lost count of times she chided me on taking a walk.”

“Those are very serious problems,” I blurted.

“Also, please don’t get involved. You will make it worse, so please just stay and only handle the clock tower. Do not think about this.”

I laughed. “Forgetting about it is the easiest, so don’t worry.”

“Oh, yes, my boy! I know your short-term memory problems, but yes, let us avoid it!” The old man burst out laughing too. “Heavens, I would like to see that airship of yours as soon as that doctor and Miss Amelia let me take a walk outdoors.”

“You should! This worked better than the clockwork horse I rode up here last year!”

Uncle Marcel started to cough, and I patiently waited, holding his hand until he stopped.

“What kind of illness is it?” I asked.

“Dr. Jennings told me that it is the early stages of a flu, and for an old man like me, it may get serious. Tell me a story of your last adventure. If I don’t hear a story of the outside, I will want to go out again.”

I spend the next hour telling the old man of the last adventure I had, in Narr, an old, now long abandoned city that supposedly had strange happenings. I had just finished telling the story when in walked Dr. Jennings again, announcing to perform another checkup on Uncle Marcel’s health, which also requires me to let them sit alone again.

After saying goodbye to Uncle and the Doctor, I left and returned to the grand foyer where I found Emily Lorren rushing out the door. She wore an expensive gown, which was just her usual style, and a bonnet loaded with flowers.

“Lady Emily? Are you going out?” I called after her, but either she didn’t hear me, or just outright ignored me. She was gone out, and I pushed the door open a little to peer out. I could see Isaiah and Wilden in the distant rose garden, a treasure of Kamillia Castle, both armed with a pair of sheaves, singing something as they trimmed the bushes. It’s not surprising, since Isaiah knows plenty of songs that come from the old peoples’ childhood.

On the other hand, Emily turned around the Castle on the other side. There were three places she could have gone to in that direction: the Lorren House’s graveyard, where she couldn’t have had any sentimental feeling towards anyone there; the second fountain with a statue depicting Niobe that she couldn’t have any interest in; and then a rough slope down the hill that may end up crumpling her body if she was careless.

With a shrug, I closed the door and passed myself into the family living room of the house where I sat down into a chair, avioding the larger, more comfortable red armchair that was Lindon’s.

***

If I could bet that this short vacation and visit to Grandpa von Hald’s best friend’s house was going to be fun, I would only be half wrong, in that the kind of fun I expected was going to be different.

For example, the next morning – that is, today – I thought that the dawn sky looked awfully heavy as I stepped out of the house and started my way towards the Castle’s clock tower. Perhaps it will rain today. No, no doubt it will rain.

As I passed through the rose bushes, I caught a faint hint of a smell. No, my nose is perfectly normal, but the amount of perfume that Lady Emily wears is enough to make my eyes water at times, and my nose sting.

But why would her perfume be here? Is she here?

Lying at the end of the rose garden and in front of the clock tower, I saw her. Face down, splayed against the ground on the path between both. Her head bled profusely.

Emily Lorren is the sad victim of this tragedy.

And I could only mutter, “Well.”

 

The Silence of Narr

A short story of the Gremlin Anthology

The surrounding street and buildings appeared quite literally the ghost town. The skies overhead were cast with gray, ready to pour. The stone paths were crumbling, laced with weeds and tiny trees already sprouting through its cracks. Steel structures stood bare in the sky, some rusting, all like skeletons of the town itself.

And the last time Luke Seiden and Abby Linne saw Ethaon Haldeir was just when they arrived in this worn-out city. Somehow or another, he’d gone and went on one of his wanderings without telling anyone he had been accompanying.

“I hate this,” groaned Luke Seiden as he stared upwards at the sky. “I want to go home.”

“And abandon Ethaon?” Abby grumbled. “This is a mission that the High Knights told us to figure out.”

“And in the process, we lost one of our companions,” Luke retorted. “Investigating the death of a city called Narr that happened sixty years ago sounds like a rubbish case. I mean, why don’t they have records of what happened in this city back sixty years? It’s not like all the people here disappeared in one day, right?”

“I think Ethaon will find his way back later,” said Abby cheerfully. “He probably got a headstart long before we did. We should go ahead, too.”

“Not in a ghostly city like this,” Luke groaned.

“Oh, beat it. You’re not afraid of ghosts, so let’s get to work. Investigating lost history sounds like an easy task, anyhow.” Abby tightened the grip on her rucksack. “If he doesn’t find us or we don’t run into him before evening, we’ll start searching for him.”

“-which is worse of a pain in the neck.” Luke sighed and cracked his fingers. “Well? Where do we start?”

“Why not the newspaper offices?” Abby suggested. “They might have some details about this place that we can check out. Since that’s what their job is supposed to be.”

“Oh, straight to the people who might have recorded all the most recent events of sixty years ago, eh?” Luke chuckled. “Why not? Also, where is it?”

A quick search around the city of an old map they picked up at a store took them to the where they wanted to go. Upon entering it, though, they felt a wash of hopelessness go over them; the first office they saw showed a room that had been cleared out of all papers and electronic devices. A search deeper into this building soon found a large corner that had been scorched black with untouched remnants of an old, now dusty fire that was intentionally made, but miraculously did not burn down the building. Why the fire was made in that corner instead of the empty fireplace, they couldn’t tell, but there were obvious scraps of paper left with ink writing on it.

It must have been hints of the event that someone didn’t want know, Luke guessed.

That proved correct because several other buildings that they both should have had at least even a file or two about the events that might have happened here were all marked with fireplaces that still had thick ash with a blanket of dust. Perhaps there were fires outdoors as well, but the ash from there had either been washed off by rain that might have passed by, or overgrown and long hidden by weeds and grass.

Just as fruitless as their efforts to find even an answer or at least the hope that someone might still be living in this ruined city was the fact that they still hadn’t found Ethaon since he disappeared.

It was dusk when they finally went through the city and also gave up on hoping to run into Ethaon somewhere there.

Dusk had arrived when they decided grew tired of running around the city. By now, they had come to a large street lined with many shops and boutiques. Compared to the rest of the ghostly city, this corner seemed safer for some reason. But chances that Ethaon would venture here was not that high; Ethaon preferred mischief and danger to safe-looking streets if he was in his best mood.

It divided the major city from the commoners’ homes.

“Think we should check this place?” Abby asked.

“Well, let’s just go look, and that’s for ‘just in case’,” Luke sighed, and they started on.

“Don’t go further!” shouted a voice, but the warning came too late, for suddenly, Abby yelled as she stepped down into a crack in the broken path, which shifted lower under her weight, as deep as if it was a lower step. The ground below Luke gave way below him and he almost disappeared through if Ethaon, who appeared out of nowhere with his trademark – a massive pocket watch that hung around his neck and swung wildly as he moved – didn’t catch his wrist.

Luke gripped hard onto Ethaon’s wrist in surprise and slowly looked down. Heights aren’t a problem, but he let out a sigh of relief when he saw what was below him. Had Ethaon not saved him in time, he could have landed into a hole of spears that most likely would have skewered him.

“Ethaon, don’t let go, don’t let go, don’t let go, or I swear I’ll haunt you if something happens to me!” Averting his eyes from the many skeletons and mummies that lay below him, Luke scrambled out of the hold with Ethaon’s help.

“I’m sorry! I’m really sorry!” Abby gasped, rushing over. With her face pale as she collapsed to her knees on the ground. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”

“As far as I know, I’m still fine,” grumbled Luke. “Speaking of which, why are you here? Where’ve you been?”

“Why are you guys here?” asked Ethaon, puzzled. “That’s what I should be asking.”

“Oh, don’t tell me, you forgot that we’re both here with you on a mission? Together!” Luke scoffed.

For a moment, Ethaon looked surprised. Then his face put on a look of recognition. “Oh. I forgot. I thought that I was investigating the city’s silence on my own. I just finished going through the commoners’ houses.”

Now it was Luke and Abby’s turn to stare at him in surprise.

“W-wait, you didn’t get lost?” asked Abby.

“No, I didn’t,” said Ethaon sheepishly. “I went around the town to take a look at the place here…but I – uh – I did forget that you guys were here, though…and then I found your bags and remembered…” He averted his glance as he trailed off.

“You didn’t get lost like we thought you did, but rather, you went about investigating stuff on your own? You moron!” Luke seized Ethaon’s shoulders and rattled him hard. “How dare you forget us! That feels insulting, even though I should already know that you’ve got problems with your short-term memory!” He wanted to say more but stopped when Abby started to laugh in amusement. He released Ethaon.

“Did you find anything?” Abby asked. “The city’s bare, it’s almost as if the people here didn’t want anyone to know what happened. They cleared off a lot of evidence, didn’t they?” She frowned at the hole. “What is that, anyway?”

“A trap to protect some graves,” said Ethaon grimly. “If we could go underground, we’d know, but I think it would be better that we don’t go there. “

“Graves?”

“To be exact, mass graves.” Ethaon nodded back to the main street. “I’ve gotten the gist of the story. Let’s camp here. It’ll be a bit safer than sitting out in the open. This street’s laced with a lot of traps that if you’re sleepwalking, you could easily fall into one.”

“I’m not eager to hear that,” muttered Luke.

But they followed him through this new street, following his footsteps as they tread carefully. A short ten minutes later, they reached a plaza at the end where rotting leaves from overgrown trees that surrounded it collected in the corners of the stairs that led down into it. Perhaps had the plaza been well tended, it would have been prettier.

“Are you sure this place is safe?” asked Abby.

“We’ve passed that street, so yeah,” said Ethaon, dropping his pack onto a step on the short stairs. “That street, as well as a few others leading towards the main city of Narr, are apparently widely used as the fastest roads, so anyone on their way there would fall into them. Six decades ago, they were meant to be used as traps against anyone who might still be alive back then.”

“Mass graves, you said before,” Luke mumbled as they sat down. “Well? What happened in this story? Sounds like you figured it out way before we did.”

“It was a plague.”

“What?” Luke stopped laughing and stared at him in surprise. “You mean, fleas? Something like that eradicated an entire city? They should have had the cure at that time.”

“Back then, the cure wasn’t distributed without a price, so a lot couldn’t afford it,” said Ethaon with a chuckle. “Narr’s people called it a curse instead.” He pulled out a large, thick book from his pack and handed it to Abby. “It’s a really dark story, one that caused the city to confine itself and its people.”

The book’s pages were yellowed and brittle, with the only thing keeping it straight being the tough black cover. Abby reluctantly thumbed through the pages as Ethaon said, “That’s an account written by one of the commoners, a diary. Start from page twenty, which is when he starts to document the events; the earlier pages detail the start of his year.”

“Luke and I searched the newspaper company headquarters, but they apparently burned whatever they had about the event,” said Abby as she handed the book to Luke.

“I thought so, though,” chuckled Ethaon. “I always considered the majority’s view; they’re loose with their tongues. Upper-class people and journalists had to be prim and proper with their words, so I think it’s likely I won’t find enough of what the people in this city see.”

“This is too thick,” grumbled Luke, closing the diary. “You’ve already skimmed through this book, right? What’s a brief story of it, then?”

“Aren’t you just lazy to read?” Abby retorted.

Ethaon frowned and sat back against the steps, thoughtfully looking out at the city. Then he replied, “Six decades ago, when that plague – curse, then – broke out, a panic rose in the city where people argued with the city’s mayor to leave to protect themselves. The outside cities, though, refused to have them, and not to mention, their means of travel – airships, carriages, cars – went on shutdown. The people were angered by their treatment, especially of those who are still physically fine, and they started gatherings on plazas, like this place here.”

He pointed out to the center of the plaza, where a large fountain, with only puddles of water from some rain that might have passed recently inside. “A month into the event, a particular gathering found their way to the borders of their town to a road that would take them to another city. This group barely escaped until they were gunned down by Narr’s Enforcers. They tried to keep this a secret, but then it was accidentally exposed. The gatherings changed into riots.

“The riots sickened more people into the curse; where a sick man stands in a crowd, more people get sick, too. Apparently, there were plenty of people ill with the plague who joined the riots of their own accord. Narr’s enforcers were rounded up to gun the riots down as a warning to keep them away.

“Fast forward seven months into that, both plague and riot had killed more than half Narr’s population. By that time, the riots’ intent has changed: from protesting that they weren’t being treated fairly and that their sick families weren’t saved from the illness to pointing out those who are dying of starvation and how unfair the government was. The author of that diary states that people were turning to robbery, attacking civilians’ homes and running wild. The diary ends with the final riot being the largest and emptiest of all that’s happened.”

Luke and Abby stared at him, then Luke said, “What did you think, then, was its death blow? Was that final riot actually it’s end?”

Ethaon frowned at them. “You really want to know?”

“Why not? We’re here, after all,” grumbled Abby. “And, like you, we’re Gremlins. We’ve seen the worst of the world, too.”

“The mayor of this town came down with the plague’s sickness, too. The rioters took the chance to attack his house, stabbed him to death in his sleep, along with his wife and son-in-law. His daughter was the only one who survive, and made to take over his position as mayor. Her final orders were, ‘Kill all and anyone who is still alive in this city. Massacre and leave no traces of the plague behind.’

“Somewhere underground in this city, there is a mass grave. All major buildings like the banks and government offices that have underground basements are now mass graves, and that’s only if you can find the doors to them. I’ve found a few bones of children scattered in a cathedral somewhere in a neighborhood of houses.”

Another moment of silence.

“Well, the truth is even worse, and shouldn’t there be at least one person who would refuse to obey those orders?” asked Luke finally.

“Not when the soldiers have been under a lot of pressure that many have long lost hope of saving their families and themselves,” said Ethaon. He thumbed his Clock, sliding his finger over the rims. “I think that even the people have long forgotten what they wanted to fight for. The new mayor, the aforementioned lady, was the last to die after making sure her enforcers died, too. Revenge and a tragedy. I think that, in its last moments, there was only fear in Narr before its silence.”

The Spider Clock

A Short Story of the Gremlin Anthology

A clock. Its presence, ticking loudly from her satchel, annoyed Neah as she walked through the busy streets that were flocked by several people in neat suits or dresses on their way to whatever they were up to.

Her current assignment had come from her own best friend, Astra, in her mother’s diner just a week earlier, in her hometown.

The clock was an unusual thing. It was a pocket watch, actually, with a spider’s shape engraved around the frame of the clock, and the legs extending to the underside of the watch. But because it was a big as a disk pendant, it would probably be correct to call it a clock.

“Creepy, isn’t it? How the ticking is really loud?” Astra had laughed as she placed it in front of Neah. “Mother received a guest yesterday, a cousin of ours. He showed it off to us, scared our souls out, too. I sometimes get the feeling that it’s alive. He left it behind accidentally. Sadly, he can’t double back to pick it up, so we’d need someone to send it to him. The Post would damage it, he said, so all that’s left is the Jack-of-all-trades. Do us a favor, yes?”

So she said, and Neah found herself walking through the unfamiliar city called Moorwalk. It’s a massive city built on a small island of buildings, old-fashioned, with stone paths still in good shape after centuries gone. Still, for a small, somewhat isolated island far from the mainland, it was famous.

Oh, and that he might also be a ‘Gremlin’, Astra had added.

Neah grimaced at the thought of ‘Gremlins’. Not that she never heard of them. Gremlins are honorary titles given to ex-assassins, famous throughout the world, skilled, and once highly-paid until they stopped taking services. Not that she hated them; Trick and Eva back at Dial, the handyman company she worked at, were also Gremlins, though now one has picked up the occasional call by a circus to perform and the other took on bandit hunting mostly.

That she would deliver back a clock to a Gremlin made her wonder what the clock’s purpose is to that person.

The only thing that Astra told her she didn’t have was the address to this person, Ethaon Haldeir’s home, so that meant that Neah had to inquire everywhere. Then again, Gremlins are famous, so their identities should be well-known where they live.

“Ethaon Haldeir? ‘Whozzat?” asked the woman managing a stall that sold tea and pancakes in a set on the side street.

“Uh – he apparently lives here? In this city?” Neah said, puzzled. “He could be a Gremlin, too.”

“‘Ain’t heard of this Haldeir man before, little girl. No Gremlin either. Oh, what about the Horologii Gremlin?”

“H-Horologii?” Neah gasped. That was the name of a famous Gremlin. No one in the world won’t know of it, and they said that he worked few bodyguard assignments for famous people before. His trademark had been something like a map of starts projected from some kind of object.

“Sir Horologii is sent here to defend us, but he doesn’t live here. But we ain’t know his face. Them Gremlins are rare, anyway. This Haldeir never heard of. Now how ’bout some pancakes?” As if to emphasize her stall, the woman flapped a fan and the smell of pancakes wafted into Neah’s face.

Giving in to the growling stomach she had been ignoring since her arrival, she bought two and a cup of tea before going on her way.

The next people to whom she asked the questions to, they never knew who Haldeir was, nor if he was a Gremlin, but attibuted their city’s defense to the Horologii Gremlin, just like the pancake seller.

A whole day of getting unanswered questions made her feel exhausted, and she sat down in a bench in the main square to rest.

A rattling sound caught her attention, and gawked at a sight: a wheelbarrow, heaped with possibly hundreds of gears, metal pieces, screams, and two or three wheels possibly torn from a car. The young man pushing the cart along was young and tall, dressed in a white shirt and brown vest, with a pair of goggles on his dark blond hair, and hazel eyes. He was in a rather good mood for someone who caught the attention of several people around him.

Or he was possibly too ignorant.

He passed her as one of the wheels fell off the wheelbarrow and started rolling by. He gave chase and managed to catch it, before passing her again and continuing on along the way he had been going, taking the wheel along.

The wheelbarrow just sat.

“Hey, wait! Your wheelbarrow!” she called, and the young man turned around in surprise. Catching sight of his wheelbarrow, his face contorted into a look of surprise and he ran back to it.

“Thank you! I’m really glad you told me! I always forget it when I get distracted!” the young man said, carrying his wheel back to the wheelbarrow. He topped his things with the wheel again and grabbed onto the handles.

“You forget?” Neah stared at him incredulously.

“Yeah. It’s a bit of a problem. Happens all the time.” The Mechanic – Neah decided to nickname him so, since he looked that part – shrugged. “I have a problem with my short-term memory, so I forget a lot of things.”

“What are all these going to be for?” she asked, looking at the stuff the Mechanic had collected. No doubt he might have forgotten how many screws he had here. “Someone gave them to you?”

“Nope. The town hall clock was being fixed and I asked if I could have the broken parts,” said the Mechanic as he started pushing the wheelbarrow down the street. Neah followed him. “I have a project, see, and I was collecting things to build it. An airship.”

Neah stared. “What for?”

“I was bored, so why not?”

His simple reason was hard to believe. No one normal do something possibly simpler than an airship. But maybe he was one of those scientists who loved building things, or a weirdo. The latter seems most likely.

“Well, then! I better go now! I think I’ll be late for high afternoon tea, and I’m starting to get hungry!” the Mechanic laughed, and he took a firm hold on the wheelbarrow. He was off on a running pace before she could tell him that, no, it’s not even lunch time.

*****

A whole day went spent without finding anyone by the name of Haldeir, and by now, Neah huffed into a park bench in exhaustion. For the first time on all her missions, she was at a loss. Maybe this person really doesn’t live here, but it would be impossible to return to Astra with a report of being unable to find him.

This city, unlike her, was still bustling with much energy, despite it already being dusk. People still walked to and fro around her, and through the part as a shortcut to another road.

She dug into her satchel and pulled out the clock. The only thing it was useful for at the moment was just that it could tell her what time it was rather than looking at the town clock towering above the city. She never really carried around a watch; jewelry made it hard to travel far without being stolen.

Just as she thought of thieves, though a whiff of air passed by her face, and she yelped as she fell back. She also realized that the clock was no longer in her hands. Deja vu, perhaps? Maybe, or maybe not.

“Hey, give it back!” she shouted, and sprang to her feet. Her shouts alerted the people around her as she gave chase after the thief, who hollered with laughter as he ran. He turned down a street, taking a thin, dank alleyway, and she followed him. If she hadn’t faced many thieves through the many other assignments she’d gone through, she possible would have tripped over her own feet.

The thief turned into a corner, kicked down a door, and threw himself in, slamming the door shut. She followed, pushing through the door, only to realize that it was a trap as a cage collapsed around her. Shocked, she squinted out and saw a simply mechanism that had possibly been holding the cage suspended over her, dropping only when she pushed the door open. It was quick to prepare, too, that explained why the thief could avoid getting caught in his own trap when he passed the door earlier.

“Give that watch back! It doesn’t belong to me!” she shouted to the smirking face of the thief before her.

“What do you mean, it doesn’t belong to you?” asked the Thief. “You’re holding it, you’re even worrying about it, so shouldn’t it be yours?”

“It’s a client’s watch! Give it back now!”

That made the Thief smile wider. “Now doesn’t that sound more amusing? You, a civil servant, lost a client’s belonging? That’s funny! How about you skedaddle along back to that client and tell him that you lost his watch? Let’s see what it is.” He dangled the massive pocket watch with its silver case hanging in front of her. “Whoa, it’s the size of a clock! They’re called pocket watches to fit pockets, and this won’t fit any pocket that I know.”

Neah scowled at him. The Thief smiled and clicked the lid open. She watched his face. The inside details were that of an artist, and she knew, having seen many intricate designs before, that the skill of the artist would worth up to hundreds of gold coins. If this Thief, skilled as his fingers were, could tell, he’d be happier.

Instead, she was surprised when his face took on an apprehensive frown.

“T-This watch,” he said, in a somewhat shaky voice. “W-where did you get it?”

As much as smugness and relief filled her lungs at the look on his face, she was equally confused. “What are you talking about?”

“You! You couldn’t have stolen this, could you?”

Aghast, Neah gasped, “What? Thief? I’m not the thief, you are!”

“But this watch is my-“

“ISAIAH!” a voice bellowed outside the building.

“Do me a favor and fall flat on the floor!” yelled the Thief, which she did. There was a beeping sound coming from somewhere, and then the wall collapsed with an explosion as if from a bomb. Neah bit on her lip, covering her head with her arms like the Thief did as he sprawled in front of her cage.

Through the dust and smoke, she saw a shadow walk through what was now a hole in the wall behind where the Thief had been standing. It stretched out through the building, leading towards the street across the alleyway they came from. People began to gather at that moment.

“Isaiah! I leave you at home for an hour, and you go out and cause some kind of mischief again?” thundered the voice of the attacker. When the dust had cleared some, she saw a young man in a dark brown vest over a white shirt, blond hair, and blue eyes, armed with what looks like a mechanical cresent shape over his shoulder. Whatever the cresent thing was, it was definitely the reason of the explosion. It was the Mechanic. “Do you never stop, you little rat!”

“Master! Do you know how much we’re going to have to pay for street damages again?” the Thief yelped, scrambling to his heels.

“I don’t care. Doors are too annoying, so I blasted my way through,” said the Mechanic. Then he saw Neah inside the cage. He turned a glare to Isaiah the Thief. “You’re horrible.”

“No, Master! This girl’s a thief! She stole your watch! Look, see?” Isaiah held up the watch.

“That’s wrong! I was supposed to deliver it to someone!” Neah shouted back. “And you’re the thief!” Then she stopped. “Wait, what? You – you’re the owner? You’re Ethaon Haldeir? Are you Astra Flemming’s cousin?”

A spark of recognition came to the Mechanic’s eye. “So you’re Iphigenia Cross from Dial? Astra did say someone was delivering my watch here. And Violet’s my cousin of twenty years, not Astra.”

Neah stared at him. “When we met earlier, why didn’t you say so?”

“How dare you speak rudely to Master Ethaon? Show some respect! He’s the Horologii Gremlin, after all!” Isaiah hopped to his feet to stare indignantly at Neah.

You show respect to strangers and bewildered young women, Isaiah!” Ethaon Haldeir smacked a gloved hand lightly across Isaiah’s face. “And did I mention that one of your chores today is to clean up the steam engine for the airship! Instead, you’re out here playing around. Now, apologize to Ms. Cross here before we go. Take the cage off of her, too.”

Isaiah scowled at her. Neah glared back.

“Isaiah.”

Isaiah moved, dragging the cage off her. Then he drooped his head and mumbled, “I-I’m s-sorry.” He practically spat out the last word. Neah glared at him again but passed it off.

“When you go back to Violet, tell her and Astra I said thanks,” said Ethaon, interrupting her.

“Is the watch important?” Neah asked, looking at it in his hand.

In response, he clicked open the lid and it flipped open, revealing the clock inside with the spider motif. The lid’s inside glowed and released a star map with several routes crossed over each other. “It shows me places I’ve been to, the easiest routes to get to those places without much trouble, and hideouts I mapped out for myself.”

“Hideouts? Routes? What do you use it for?”

Ethaon grinned. “Oh – gathering materials for my work. It’s nothing much to anyone, really, but it’s important to me. I connect this with a lot of my suppliers. Or else…without a map, I get really lost.”

“Right. Short-term memory problems.”

“Speaking off, Master, where is your wheelbarrow?” asked Isaiah.

For a moment, Ethaon paused. Then he burst out laughing unabashedly. “Ah, I forgot! I think I left it beside the Pancake Seller when I stopped by her stall earlier!”

“Okay, I’m done,” said Neah abruptly and started to leave.

“Thanks, really! Thanks for returning the watch!” Ethaon called again. He snapped it shut. “Oh, and if you’ve been asking the city’s occupant about a Gremlin by my name, they won’t have know. I’m usually called the Horologii Gremlin, not my real name. Thanks to this watch here.”

For a moment, Neah stared back at him. Ethaon grinned back.

“Horologium means ‘clock’,” he said. “Be careful on the way home, or bandit will be after you. I’ll be looking for my wheelbarrow again. Isaiah, let’s go!”

“Yes, Master!”

Neah watched as the two of them left the building before a uniformed group of men confronted them. Then she shook her head. Enough already. There had been a lot of things that happened today, and she hope that was all the excitement to happen to her for now.

She turned and walked out through the alley before the uniformed men noticed her presence.