THE KAIROS MECHANISM: a sneak peek, with my gratitude.

As promised, here’s an excerpt from The Kairos Mechanism. Thanks to everyone for bringing this campaign so close to completion, so quickly. Please bear in mind that the text isn’t final, and enjoy!

From Chapter Six: The Woods

Natalie laid the Chesterlane gently on the ground at the entrance to the big empty lot at the end of Heartwood Street where the burned and broken remnants of Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show were still waiting to be cleared away. She picked her way through scraps of oilcloth and blackened rope and smashed timber, ignoring the huge open swath down the middle of the lot. That path marked the route the Paragons of Science had taken when they’d chased after her in the terrible glass-and-brass contraption on wheels that had been the Amber Therapy chamber.

Even now, more than three months later, Natalie had nightmares about the chamber. Sometimes the dreams were about racing it and the Paragons to the crossroads at the Old Village; worse than those, however, were the dreams in which she had to witness the Amber Therapy treatment her mother had gone through in that awful glass room.

After a little exploring she found her way to what was left of a boxy carriage she had once hidden inside: Jake Limberleg’s consultation wagon. She had been staring at it for a few minutes, thinking and remembering, when someone spoke. “You are a problem, aren’t you?”

The voice was both sympathetic and completely full of malice. The debris littering the ground crunched under a pair of boots as the sutler came to lean upon the charred corner of Limberleg’s wagon. He looked around. “What a mess.”

“There’s going to be a town cleanup next week,” Natalie snapped. “It isn’t like we’re going to leave it this way.”

Trigemine’s frigid blue eyes blinked, amused. “It wasn’t an insult.” He ran a finger along a fragment of burned gingerbread ornamenting, chipping away thin chunks of charcoal until he came to a splinter of the pale wood underneath. “I crossed paths with Jake, you know, once or twice. We took the same roads, he and I.”

“Don’t talk about him,” Natalie said, remembering with a shudder how Limberleg’s own hands had tried to silence him before he could help Natalie undo what he’d done to Arcane. Well, not his own hands, she reminded herself. “He wasn’t like you. Not in the end.”

“Now what could you possibly mean by that?” Trigemine asked curiously.

“Like you? Evil,” Natalie retorted. “Something that has to be fought.”

She’d expected some kind of villainous laugh at her answer, but the sutler tilted his head and frowned at her. “That’s what you mean when you use the word evil? Interesting. Of course, you’re a child. You likely use plenty of words you don’t understand properly.”

That couldn’t go unchallenged. “I absolutely do not use plenty of—”

With a wave of his hand, he cut off her protests. “What I intended to ask was, what do you mean by ‘at the end?’ But this is neither here nor there. I didn’t come out to this rubble pit to discuss your ill-informed and ill-advised choices in wording.” He brushed the ashes from his fingers and folded his hands in front of him. “I think you have the capability to help my young friends do their work. I think you also have the capability to sound the alarm that will bring this town down upon them. And I am here to offer my advice as to which route you ought to take.”

“I know which route you think I ought to take,” she muttered.

“And I imagine,” he continued, “that, having survived this sort of thing”—he gestured at the remains of the medicine show—“you might not fully appreciate how seriously you ought to take me. You might think that I am only one man, and you might imagine that you have bested stranger and darker creatures than I.”

Natalie stared at him. “How did you know—?”

“News travels the roaming world quickly.” His voice was patient, but his eyes were hard. “So I believe a demonstration of my bona fides might be in order.” He swept aside the green coat and reached into the watch pocket of his vest. A heartbeat later, with that same viper speed he’d used in the hallway outside the Claffans’ room, Trigemine launched himself forward and grabbed Natalie by the collar of her shirt.

She twisted sharply away from his grip. To her surprise, he released his hold. Then Natalie saw why he’d let her go. She’d been planning to run from him, naturally, but now she stopped in her tracks.

In the seconds that had passed since she’d yanked free of his grip, the world had changed.

The shallow curve of land upon which the town of Arcane sat was gone entirely; now they stood in a wooded place. The air was heavy, thick and still with an unnatural silence. There was no noise of birds, no sound of wind.

“Where are we?” Even whispering, Natalie’s voice sounded like a shout in the bizarre quiet.

Trigemine leaned against a tree, arms folded. The trunk pushed his tall hat forward over his eyes, until they were nearly hidden. He lifted a finger to his lips.

The roar came first. It was and was not like voices, thousands of voices, thousands of shouts coming all together, all at once, from all sides. It came from far away, or perhaps from very close; it was impossible to tell. It ricocheted off of thousands of trees so that the woods all around resonated with it. To Natalie, who was turning frantically in all directions in search of the source of the roar, it almost seemed that the trees themselves were making the noise.

She took a terrified step backwards, and a twig snapped under her foot. Somehow the nearness of the sound made it perfectly audible over the all-surrounding roar. Just as Old Tom had the day before, Natalie put both hands to her thudding heart, which now felt as if it wanted out of her body so that it could flee on its own.

“Don’t move,” Trigemine suggested from where he leaned, unperturbed, as the roaring rose in volume and fury. “Stay right where you are, and you’ll leave this place with a healthy respect for what I can do, nothing more. Take one step further in any direction, and the Claffan boys will have to make do on their own.”

What?

The noise that erupted next ripped through the air and shook the ground. It was so loud, so awful, and so sudden that only pure terror held Natalie still. Her body was completely numb. Then, as if she hadn’t already heard enough to reduce her to a mindless collection of panicked nerves, came the sounds of furious crashing through the undergrowth: running things, coming toward her, just like the roar, from all directions.

More eruptions; smaller this time, but infinite and uncountable. Little explosions followed by ripping noises like screaming in the air. Next, the shattering: all around her, the trees were splintering. Then the smoke, which came curling through the trunks and the undergrowth like lazy, unhurried mist.

The first dozen shapes came pelting out of the smoke, sharp ends first, and Natalie’s disordered mind saw them and could not process what she was seeing until the first one jolted to a halt and fell face-first and disappeared into the smoke that now hid the ground. Another one stopped abruptly in the middle of its race through the trees, and part of it disappeared in a spray of unnaturally bright red.

Then, the screaming. Real screaming. Human screaming.

 

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