Royal Visit

Lt. Nimbus opened the storeroom door, tipped his head twice, and respectfully said to their guests, “Greetings, Your Majesty; Your Mage.” Peter, the shepherd, came to his feet on the storeroom floor and tried to decide whether to nod, bow, or do both. As for the two noble visitors, they stopped dead in their tracks as they entered the storeroom, stood on the stair landing overlooking the floor, and beheld the shadow homunculi silently lifting and carrying heavy chunks of debris at Kevin Galwynn’s command.

Galwynn waved in his visitors from inside a tangled framework of wood and metal. “Please come in,” Kevin said from behind a maze of copper tubes, “but do you mind if I keep working while we talk?” Galwynn thought to himself, let Lt. Nimbus handle any ruffled feelings if he had violated royal protocol by not stopping what he was doing. But he felt justified because he had an aching feeling deep in his bones, that the most important he could do right now was finish his work.

Nimbus was about to shut the door and follow King Cirrus and Mage Sleet down the stairs, when a page whizzed up to the door and gave him a message. Lt. Nimbus thought about the message for a moment, then gave the page an urgent reply to deliver. Finally, he secured the door, walked downstairs, and stood quietly next to Peter. 

The Sky King perused with interest the machine Kevin was rebuilding. “Is this strange…device…the reason you called me to your workroom?” he asked. “Fascinating. What is it?”

“This is the machine that dislodged a star-child from Heaven,” replied Kevin, “and doomed Land and Sky to the wrath of Emperor Sun and Empress Moon, the child’s parents. Care to know more about it?”

The Sky King and the Doubting Wizard looked at each other quizzically, while all weariness and despair from their earlier audience with the hermit sages became a distant memory. Then they sat down and leaned close to hear what the Master of Enlightenment had to say.

Galwynn quickly summarized Peter’s story for the king and the mage. The Doubting Wizard didn’t take Kevin’s interpretation of the shepherd’s story at face value and frequently challenged him with probing and insightful questions. Kevin smiled affably and answered each question with patience and confidence. He had honed this skill over many years as an Apprentice, a Journeyman, a Brother, an Abbot, and in due course, a Master of Enlightenment. Skeptics who were either impassioned, shortsighted, or in denial often assailed the wisdom of the Basilica Lux, but patience, confidence, and the naked truth eventually quenched their ardor.

“Alchemists across and between Domains regularly exchange letters describing their latest discoveries and methods,” said Galwynn. “As part of my duties, I try to keep abreast of whatever the alchemists are most excited about. I believe alchemists nowadays would call the device at the bottom of the machine, an engine. I don’t have to tell you, the folk of Sky who are kith and kin with the storm, about the power of high and low pressure air. Imagine, if you will, that this small, portable, engine harnessed the power of confined steam to propel the middle layer of the machine.”

The Doubting Wizard asked a slew of questions, but Master Galwynn dispatched them quickly and efficiently. The Wizard looked even more sour than usual, but he had to admit Galwynn had answered all his questions.

Unhindered by further doubts, Kevin resumed his summary. “The middle layer of the machine employed magic to propel replicas of the constellations around a disc that represented the Upper Reaches. Stargazers call a device like that an orrery. In Land, stargazers and astrologers use them to represent the motion of the heavens. Even the black clock face on Northwitch Cathedral tower that tells the hour for the faithful to pray, is an orrery.”

Galwynn walked around the machine to point out the mounting stand for the rail of gazing crystals, and the empty chains where the missing lantern box had hung from the topmost beams. “This orrery was combined with another device, called a cosmolabe or pantacosm, to measure the azimuth and angle of the stars. Used together, the alchemist could target one particular star in the constellation Vystra.”

There were only a few pieces of debris left to mend to the carcass of the machine, and Kevin continued his summary even as he used his shadow homunculi and magic hammer to continue reconstituting the machine. 

“The alchemist conjured a thin ray of eldritch light to connect the necromancy of the machine to the firmament,” Kevin said. “The ray pinned the star Alta Vystra in place, and made even nearby stars orbit round and round against their will. The engine resisted the cosmic forces until Alta Vystra was forcefully dislodged from Heaven, dragged across Domains down to Land, and imprisoned in the lantern box. Meanwhile, the conflict between the cosmic and alchemical forces got out of control and built until the strain was too great, and the machine exploded.”

“The star-child couldn’t escape a fragile box of glass, metal, and blackthorn twigs?” asked the Doubting Wizard, doubtfully. 

“Remember,” said Galwynn, “that the inside of the box looks mirrored, and that stars are beings of pure light. Once the star-child entered the lantern box, she was trapped. Whenever she tried to escape the trap, the walls reflected her back.” 

Then Galwynn’s demeanor turned from affable to fierce. “But fully understand what I’m saying, my lords: The star-child wasn’t trapped in the lantern by chance or by choice. She wasn’t merely imprisoned. She was kidnapped!

“Someone kidnapped a star?” said the Doubting Wizard, in disbelief. Meanwhile, Kevin steadily added the last bits and pieces to the reconstituted machine while continuing to listen over his shoulder. “Oh, I understand, Master Galwynn, that you’re saying this…contraption…combined magic and alchemy to wrest a star from Heaven. Surely its inventor is either a knave or a monster. But who is capable of committing such an unprecedented crime? Such a sacrilege against the gods? Who kidnapped her?”

Master Galwynn did not answer immediately. He had one last bit to attach to the rebuilt machine. Like a blacksmith laboring over his anvil, Kevin struck a crumpled piece of silver with his magic hammer and the piece unfolded into a flat, silver plaque. The plaque was blackened with indigo soot from the explosion it had suffered through, but Kevin wiped it clean with a cloth until it shone. Then he tapped the four corners on the back of the plaque with his hammer, coating them with clarty dust, and then gave the plaque to a tall homunculi to attach to the center of the topmost beam of the machine.

Galwynn stepped back to view the entire machine for a moment, then walked over to the candle and the four human-shaped dolls that were projecting the shadows of his homunculi. Kevin kneeled down over the candle, which had nearly burned down to a waxy puddle, and whispered the magic word, “Extinguo.” In an instant, the candle flame guttered and then snuffed out; and in turn, the four shadow homunculi wavered and then vanished without a trace—poof! Kevin quickly collected his spent tools and returned them to his toolbox.

The Doubting Wizard glanced in confusion at King Cirrus. Surely Galwynn had heard his question. But instead of answering, the Master of Enlightenment slowly walked around the machine he had just reconstituted, examining it, scrutinizing it, and sensuously stroking its smooth oak, iron, and brass curves. 

Finally, the Master of Enlightenment spoke. “This machine may be the haggard man’s greatest creation. It is surely and unparalleled blending of alchemy and sorcery. But hasn’t it occurred to you,” said Master Galwynn, addressing both king and mage, but not turning to face either, “that this machine isn’t merely some crass, utilitarian, mechanism. It’s also a beautiful work of art and craftsmanship. 

“Look at it, my lords; look at it carefully. Can you not see the skill, the attention to detail, the genius—and dare I say, love—that went into every fragment of this machine? Look at it, my lords. If you had been the creator of such an astonishingly powerful and beautiful creation, wouldn’t you be immensely proud of your achievement? Wouldn’t you be proud enough to…sign your work?”

Master Galwynn pointed to the last piece of the haggard man’s machine to be mended, the silver plaque that was finally put back in its rightful place on the framework. With the plaque now cleaned and polished to a sheen, all could see that it was decorated with a coat of arms whose heraldry proudly identified the machine’s creator.

Upon interpreting the plaque’s heraldic devices, the Master of Enlightenment said grimly, “I know this man. And I know where he dwells.”

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