Not wishing for there to be a sizeable gap between full length novels following the success of Cirque (see my previous articles), I've recently published a novella set in the same ficitonal universe to (hopefully) sate the demand for a full sequel in the near future. Below is the prologue for said novella, Clockwork Dreams. All comments are welcome.
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Alice Ardent felt out of place. It was not something that she was used to. Humans very rarely entered the elite northern quarter of Unda, the sole remaining city on the sunken continent of Altania, but Grimoire had insisted she inform him should any more incidents occur. It was permission of a sort, but still Alice felt nervous as she strode down the wide cobbled streets. Tall stately buildings lined either side, interrupted by the occasional junction with a subsidiary road. It was all very imposing.
She kept her gaze low, even though her mind screamed out to her that she had no reason to do so. There was no law in this city that prevented her from walking anywhere she pleased, but somewhere deep down she knew that it was not the done thing. Humans did not socialise with arlan.
There were a few of the tall, lithe beings about even at this early hour, striding gracefully along. Alice considered herself clumsy and ungainly by comparison and, despite her lowered gaze, she sensed the curiosity of their stares as they passed.
She caught sight of a few of them out of the corner of her eye, clad in their finery. The ladies wore dresses she could only ever dream of acquiring and the gentlemen wore waistcoats and top hats that would cost her father half a year’s salary, despite his prominent position in human society.
Alice knew that it wouldn’t take an arlan that long to save the same amount. It was true that the arlan had some natural advantages over humans but it irked her that they didn’t seem to acknowledge the benefits that humans offered, using the advantageous traits of the arlan race as justification for the disparity in pay for performing the same job role.
Alice’s dress rustled and her heels clacked on the cobbles as she quickened her pace, turning from Flounce Street and onto King’s Way. Grimoire had assured her that she wouldn’t require the number of the premises and he was right. All along King’s Way the houses were standard, for this area of the city at least; and then there was the anomaly.
It was situated about halfway along the street and, as soon as she set eyes upon it, Alice could tell that it was in dire need of a woman’s touch. It wasn’t as obvious as cobwebs in the windows, though the glass could have done with a bit of a clean, but there was a subtle neglect about the place.
And yet it wasn’t the uncared for sensation that set it apart from the rest of the street. Whereas the other houses had tiled roofs with only a chimneystack to interrupt the monotony, this house had cogs and springs and pistons, assembled in a ramshackle fashion and all arrayed within reach of the balcony that had been constructed to emerge from the loft space. Alice’s eyes were wide in wonder at the sight.
Then, remembering herself, she straightened her posture and daintily climbed the stone steps to the sturdy wooden door, lifting her skirt to prevent it catching beneath her feet. She felt butterflies in her stomach and yet that only served to make her angry; this was her city as much as anyone else’s, after all! With the residual rage from that thought in her mind, Alice seized the door knocker and brought it down thrice on the plate.
The sound echoed loudly around her head and, after a minute or so with no response, she tried again, this time more decisively. She wondered if Grimoire wasn’t in, if the journey had been for nothing and if she would be forced to walk back home alone. Fervently wishing for that to not be the case, she listened intently, hoping for some sound from within to indicate his presence. And that was when she heard it.
It started off low, growing in volume as her ears became accustomed to what they were hearing. Metal clashed on metal, backed by what sounded like a full classical orchestra, if a little erratic in places. It was as if some sort of battle was taking place upstairs. Without thinking of her own safety or the trespass she was about to commit, Alice pushed open the door and stepped inside.
The corridor within was dimly lit and the floorboards creaked underfoot as she made her way to the stairs. The same creaking theme followed every footstep as she climbed, the music and the sounds of battle growing in volume the higher she went. She paused on the landing, for the first time uncertain of her actions. Then, telling herself that she had come too far to turn back now, she stepped towards the door to the room from which the noises appeared to be emanating and pushed it tentatively open.
The chamber beyond could only be described as chaotic. Furniture, such as there was, had been pushed to the walls to create a space in the centre. A full suit of plate armour had been erected there and, dancing around it, was Edward Grimoire, seemingly duelling – or, in this case, soloing – with his inanimate opponent, attacking it with the rapier that he wielded deftly in an outstretched hand, his stance bladed in the traditional fencing style.
Grimoire was not officially an arlan, though he was usually referred to as such, and nor was he a human. There had always been social separation between the two races but, as was eventually bound to happen, an arlan woman had fallen for a human man. The result had been Mr. Edward Grimoire, a former officer of the law turned private detective and all round inventor.
It is said that humans only use a small part of their brain in order to function. The same is true of arlan, but they utilise a completely different area. Grimoire had got the best – or worst, depending on your point of view – of both races and possessed an amazing intellect. He was also eccentric and could not still his mind, forever inventing things in his spare time, which he endeavoured to ensure he had little of. He had a mass of curly black hair and smoky grey eyes and yet these were not the first things people noticed about him.
Whilst having the agility and speed of an arlan, as well as the long pointed ears, Grimoire didn’t quite have their height. He was tall for a human and short for an arlan and as such had to have each and every item of clothing tailored to fit. He also failed by design to pay any attention to trends in fashion, preferring instead to wear clothes that he liked, rather than what he was expected to don.
The resultant waistcoat and trouser combination, complete with open-necked shirt, loosened tie and shiny shoes, would have caused him to be subject to ridicule in normal circumstances. But Grimoire was a well-known figure in the city and his eccentricity and sense of style had been accepted over time as, well, just the way he was.
The dancing figure placed a few more well-aimed jabs at his unresponsive foe before he noticed Alice’s presence, standing slack-jawed in the doorway. With an apologetic smile he sheathed his blade and hurried over to the corner, where a mass of instruments connected by more cogs, pistons and pulleys, all seemingly powered by a large handle that was slowly turning, were being blown, plucked and beaten to form the orchestral melody that had been the soundtrack to his exertions. Grimoire seized the handle and gave it a sharp tug, apparently disconnecting it from the internal mechanisms, as evidenced by the cessation of the music.
‘Sorry about that,’ he said. ‘Just having a little practice.’
Alice closed her mouth and shook her head, trying to recall the original reason for the visit. Ah, yes.
‘It’s happened again,’ she reported, ‘and this one’s different.’
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Clockwork Dreams: An Edward Grimoire Novella
In the arlan-dominated city of Unda, Automatons form the backbone of society, performing the least desirable and most dangerous tasks on behalf of their living masters. But when one of them is suspected of committing murders independent of its owner, the city is thrust towards the brink of chaos.
Faced with this uncomfortable evidence, two beings separated by both race and social rank must put aside the boundaries that seek to confine them in order to unravel the mystery before it’s too late.
For to murder is to live, and to live is to strive, and who wouldn’t fear the mysterious clockwork men and their unfathomable clockwork dreams?
Clockwork Dreams is dirt cheap (as cheap as they would let me sell it) at the moment on Amazon: