The Shadow Homunculi

Now that Galwynn had his mending dust hammer, he was ready for the next step of his plan. Kevin cleared a large space on the storeroom floor, and then asked Aaron and Peter to extinguish the lanterns and sconces in the room. Soon, the space was dim except for a shaft of light coming through the eyebrow window near the ceiling. 

Aaron noted that a few birds—large ones, probably ravens—must be roosting out of sight on the sill of the eyebrow window because he could see the shadow of their wings ruffling. But he was busy dimming the room and thought nothing more of it.

Kevin took a fat, yellowish candle from his toolbox and put it near the center of the cleared space. Then he rummaged through his tools until he retrieved four crudely human-shaped dolls—homunculi—and placed them on the floor at four corners around the candle. Instead of lighting the candle naturally with iron-and-flint, Kevin spoke the same magic word that Peter heard the haggard man use, but did not understand: “accendo.” Suddenly, a flame sprang up from the candle and cast four crudely human-shaped, but elongated, shadows across the darkened floor and up the wainscoting of the walls. Each shadow was the silhouette of an homunculus whose projection was twice as tall and hulking as the strongman at the county fair.

Aaron’s and Peter’s curiosities were raised by this display, but they didn’t know what to think of it until Kevin pointed to two broken timbers neatly stacked in its group’s woodpile, and then told two of the shadow homunculi, “Pick those up.” 

The two shadows turned their heads obliquely, and then in a walking motion, slid down the wall and across the floor until they came to the woodpile. There, the shadows peeled themselves off the floor and stood with length, breadth, and depth in the middle of the storeroom like two jet black columns of smoke hanging stock-still in dead calm air. The shadow homunculi seemed ephemeral, unsubstantial; and yet, each picked up a heavy timber with ease and waited for Galwynn’s next command. 

The ends of the two timbers matched each other perfectly, obviously because they had been a single beam before they were broken asunder by the explosion on the mountain. Kevin tapped each jagged end of oak with clarty dust, and then told the homunculi to shove the broken pieces together. Instantly, the two pieces were mended into one. Kevin told the homunculi to put the reconstituted log down on one side of the space he had cleared out. Then he turned to the neat piles and crates in the storeroom and began pointing out to his shadow homunculi more broken pieces of the haggard man’s machine to be mended.

Peter had described as best he could what he had seen the night the stars spun round the star, Alta Vystra, but that was enough for a Master of Enlightenment. Kevin Galwynn could envision the shepherd’s story in such detail and verisimilitude that it was as if he himself had witnessed the tale unfold. And having envisioned the machine whole, Kevin could now fit together the disparate pieces in the crates and barrels and piles on the storeroom floor as easily as he could help his children assemble one their put-together puzzles. 

Is it any wonder then, that bit by bit, and piece by piece, Master Galwynn began to reconstitute the shards of splintered wood, bent metal, and shattered crystal that had been the haggard man’s machine?

Aaron and Peter could not help but be amazed by what they were seeing, and they slowly rose out of their chairs without realizing it. 

“That’s it!” Peter cried incredulously, as a cube-shaped framework began to take form. Mounted inside the frame was a bottom layer of metal vessels, tubes, and shafts. Above that, a middle layer with a disc adorned with cherubic figurines carrying replicas of the constellations. And finally, a top layer with the remnants of four silver chains and a missing lantern box. “Some bits and bobs are missing yet, m’lord,” said Peter, “but Cosmos strike me down if what I say isn’t true: That’s the machine I saw that night!”

Previous page | Next page