28 May An Excerpt for Clockwork Kiss!
Eliza’s throat was hoarse from crying and screaming. Her tiny frame was bruised and scraped but the waves of teeth-chattering pain had long since faded to numbness. Her body had stopped throbbing from her fall and she could even ignore the weird angle her leg was pointed in.
She’d fled the safety of the camp hours ago. Angry and hurt, she’d run off without paying attention to where she’d been going, and no one had found her yet. Her young mind had decided that no one had come for her because they didn’t want her anymore.
“I’m sorry I was bad, Llesenia.” The little girl tried to scream her apology, hoping that her adopted mother was hiding in the trees, but all that came out was a pitiable mewl.
When nothing happened, she dropped back against the leaves and swallowed the salt that welled up in the back of her throat. If she hadn’t yelled at her Rommom she wouldn’t be here now. Instead of looking up at the orange tinted noon sky from a dirty, moss infested forest floor she could be watching Llesenia mix and crush the velvety black powder she loved so much.
The elderly Gypsy woman would hug her with soot-covered hands and promise to teach her how to use the blasting powder when she was ready. But that wouldn’t happen now, Eliza had been too mean. The child frowned at the memory of her cruelty.
“Why can’t I just go and watch now?” Eliza had botched a simple one-handed cartwheel, whining when she hit the ground hard enough to bruise. “I just want to see the zeppelins drop off the morning postage.”
The familiar, patient voice of her Rommom—a term she had come up with all by herself to refer to the Romanian who had taken her in—had filled the clearing they had made between dozens of tents. “No slacking off, practice the tumbles Vetz taught you.” The older woman had waited for the younger one to attempt a back flip and land clumsily on her back, before sighing. “No, no. Spread your arms a little further. That way you’ll be able to stay up longer. I’m not seeing any improvement, young lady.”
“That’s because I don’t want to learn to tumble. I want to … go to the country. And raise horses!”
The woman sighed again. “You have to start with smaller goals to reach the ones you have in mind, my dear. Try again.”
“Then can I go see the zeppelins?”
Eliza had inelegantly rolled into a standing position. “That’s not fair!”
The Gypsy reached up to tug on a thick lock of silver hair that was tucked behind her ear. It was an action the little girl had seen a thousand times while her Rommom was thinking. Usually, it ended with her getting what she wanted, so the girl smiled. That smile quickly died when the silver head began to shake.
“But why?” Eliza all but exploded.
“Because it’s outside the limits of the camp. Ah, ah, don’t think to argue with me. I know exactly where the postmaster is and what you’d have to cross to get there.”
Eliza bristled at the reminder. To anyone who knew anything, London was separated into Five Quarters, a geometrical impossibility that didn’t escape her young mind.
In the First and largest were the Blue Bloods. They kept all the wealth and land, looking down at everyone else. The Second Quarter was for their mules, the people they hired and commissioned for their expensive soft clothes and the other shiny things they supposedly needed. It was where they found “acceptable” house workers.
The Third Quarter was primarily made up of people who labored. Not crafters like those in the Second Quarter, these people grew things, fished, or moved heavy objects for a living, which was ironic since they never seemed to live long. They weren’t so much respectable, as considered a necessary evil by the Blooded. After all, it wasn’t as if they were going to muck out their own stalls.
The Fourth Quarter was filled with the unmentionables of society. Gamblers, prostitutes, murderers, drunks and thieves gathered in the dark alleys. Various bars, taverns and brothels littered the area like so much garbage and still, still they were considered better than the tiny and elusive Fifth Quarter.
Comprised of a small settlement of Romanians, they’d been abandoned by an airship pirate fifty years back. Their grasp of chemistry had given them a small allotment of land so they could trek to the Second Quarter to sell wares that would be otherwise missed. Untouchables, they were sometimes called, shunned and ignored beyond basic transactions.
For the most part, nobody cared. At least, none of the Gypsies cared. They were glad for the space and isolation. It allowed them to keep their secrets, for everyone knew that while the people of London had a firm grasp of all things steam and mecha, it was the Gypsies who understood the secrets of alchemy and chemistry.
“You’re too curious for your own good, my girl.”
Her mumbled response had gone ignored or unheard. “…one little peek couldn’t hurt.”
Eliza had turned her back to Llesenia as she reflected on the confusing world of social status. She didn’t understand much of it but she did understand that the Roms were a lot like the Blooded, though they thought they weren’t. They were a mysterious group of people and even though she had lived with them as family for years they still held her at a distance. The secrets they kept from outsiders were kept from her as well. They were nice, even loving, but she knew as well as they did that she didn’t really belong.
“The others travel through the Fourth all the time, so why not me?”
She heard the softening in her mother’s voice and it made her even sicker than the irony of being part of a Quarter that wasn’t a quarter. “You know why, Elizabeth. You’re special.”
“Special? Special?” In a rage she swung around, eyes wide. The messy veil of her hair, purposefully cut to hide her face, flew to the side as a curtain parting. Clear as day, the little girl saw the woman who claimed to love her, flinch. In those sad brown eyes, Eliza saw the reflection of her own, and hated herself for them. Startling neon-blue surrounded her pupils, intensified by her emotions. The blue glowed brilliantly as if there were some inner light behind them desperate to get out. “Don’t lie, Mom! You tell me every day that lying is bad. You just don’t want anyone to see me for what I am.”
Llesenia took a step back, and Eliza would have sworn she had heard her heart breaking in that instant. When the Gypsy spoke, her voice quavered, betraying her fear. “That isn’t it. The post is in the Second Quarter. It’s too close to the Blooded. If one of them were to see you they would know you’re not Rom. They might try to take you away.”
Blue flames leapt up Eliza’s arms as she stood before her mother, panting. The flames didn’t hurt, didn’t burn her, but she knew instantly that they weren’t of this world. They were something else entirely and if she didn’t get them under control something would happen. She knew this in the back of her mind, in the place where adult thoughts and reasoning were beginning to form.
But to her conscious self, all she saw was the fear and disgust coming from someone she loved. Someone she knew she’d deeply wronged who may be trying to punish her now by keeping her from something she wanted. She lashed out. “You’re just afraid that if they do, their ghosts will come to me!”
The sound of skin connecting with skin registered in her mind before the sting of her cheek. Eliza lifted a hand in shock, her eyes settling on the crumpled expression her mother wore. Then she’d taken off.
Sniffling, Eliza closed her mind to the memory. She knew what she’d said had been cruel. She would apologize to her Rommom and be forgiven later, but for now she had to find a way to get back home.
Think. That was what Llesenia had always said was her best weapon. If she could be resourceful and quick she would find a way to do anything.
Unfortunately she couldn’t think of anything. What she needed was help. Too bad she was all alone … the little girl closed her eyes and swallowed. Help, she whispered in her head. Please, someone. Come save me.
She must have nodded off because once she opened her eyes again the sky had gone from the polluted orange of noon to the deep red of dusk. Heavy clouds the color of vile smoke were pasted to the unhealthy sky, threatening to unleash drops of murky rain all over her battered body. Eliza felt tears threaten her eyes again moments before a familiar sound roared into hearing distance. The flapping of metallic wings was to her as a banquet would be to the belly of a starving man. It filled her up, made her bursting with hope that she’d long since lost.
Her voice, rested from her nap, wasn’t a hundred percent but it was functioning. “I’m here. I’m here, please help me.”
The flying machine, frequently called a Flapper, kicked up more debris and leaves, forcing the girl on the ground to turn her head.
The rider disembarked, and she expected to hear one of the Gypsies call out to her. The Flappers were a higher end product and they were frequently only readily available to the Blooded. Still, Eliza knew that sometimes the Rom worked on them so her rescue party may be using the mecha to look for her.
“I finally found you,” gasped a tiny, cultured voice. “I finally found you, Elizabeth.”
Before she could adjust to the shock of hearing her voice on strange lips, Eliza found herself surrounded by a soft golden light. The warmth settled onto her skin and sank down into her bones. Slowly, slowly, the unnatural numbness vanished, taking the pain with it. Disbelief warred with the unmistakable mobility of results. Eliza stood on shaky legs and stretched. “My leg. It’s all better.”
“Yes.” Her rescuer stood up slowly, tossing back rivers of golden hair. Familiar blue eyes blinked back at her from a different face. “My name is Olyve and I am your sister.”