Peter restated what he had said before. The machine consisted of three distinctly different parts, each stacked one atop the other. The bottom layer embodied alchemy and power. The middle layer embodied sorcery and stars. And the top layer, the strangest of the three, embodied passion and mystery.

“The bottom layer was some sort of machine a craftsman or a blacksmith would make,” said Peter. “In my latter days making a living as a metalsmith, I was sometimes commissioned to build contraptions made of similar bits and bobs, but nothing that combined those parts to make such a device. 

“The heart of the base was an iron firebox sealed with a black grill as gibbous as the grin of a buck-toothed country bumpkin,” said Peter. The shepherd went on to say the haggard man hauled bundles of lightning-wood from his packhorses, stoked and lit the firebox, and in short order was rewarded with roaring violet flames shining through the firebox grill.

A sealed, iron vessel full of water sat on the firebox. “Boilers have been around for centuries,” said Peter, “but they were mere toys. This boiler was sturdy, with its lid fastened around the rim by nuts and bolts as brawny as the knuckles on a ploughman’s fists.” 

Jets of white steam hissed from the cast iron boiler, brass valves, and copper tubes that snaked their way to another iron box. When hissing steam vented out one side of the iron box, a thick iron rod projecting from the other side of the box rotated and turned a meshwork of gears. “A gristmill powered by a river and waterwheel has similar gears,” Peter pointed out, “but this machine was small and mobile, and yet just as powerful.” 

Peter sniffed a deep breath. “That part of the machine was a mad thing to behold, I’ll have you know, sirs. Purple fire blazing, white steam belching, hot metal and burnt oil reeking, and the most gods-awful clanging and grinding filling the night. Yet, say what you will, sirs, whoever made that machine was very talented.”


“The middle layer of the machine was some sort of measuring tool, I think,” said Peter, “like the ones stargazers use.” The middle layer consisted of a metal disc whose diameter was as wide the bed of the oxcart, and was affixed to a heavy timber platform reinforced with oak struts and iron plates. The disc resembled a sundial with degree marks notched around its edge in silver, and with two special gold marks at either end of a diameter. 

A series of concentric rings spread from the central axis like ripples on a pond. Each ring carried one or more cherubic figurines of celestial sprites holding either a single candlestick or a candelabra like a torch. Instead of a flame being at the tip of each candle, there was a dazzlingly incandescent crystal. Each ring with its sprites and candles rotated freely, even though an escapement mechanism welded beneath each ring could be driven at any time by the gears on the bottom layer.

“Wait, you mean the middle layer wasn’t engaged already with the gears on the bottom layer?” Aaron said, looking confused. Even folk in Sky knew about the spring-driven clocks and toys that had been made for centuries by toymakers and metalsmiths in Land. “The celestial sprites were obviously meant to move. But if they weren’t driven by the mechanism on the bottom layer, then how?”

“Well, sir, the figurines were enchanted, you know,” explained Peter. The haggard man was obviously not a practiced mage or sorcerer—he didn’t have the bearing or confidence of a wizard. Instead, he consulted a notebook in his pocket and then spoke some magic words that Peter didn’t understand. Suddenly, the figurines began to move around their circle the way the tiny, enchanted replica of a rooster in Master Thaddeus Álainn’s gold pocket fob moved to indicate the time. Or the mural painted on the dome of Castle Castellanus’s bailey moved to indicate the passage of celestial bodies in the Upper Reaches.

At the center of the disc was a stubby mounting post holding an intricate, metal whirligig made of interlacing brass arcs and vanes. When the haggard man said the spell that caused the celestial sprites to begin promenading around the disc, the brass arcs and vanes of the whirligig also began spinning around each other. Peter asked, “Have you ever seen a wizard build up to cast a spell by rolling his hands and fingers around each other as if they were gliding over the smooth surface of a crystal ball that only the wizard could see and feel? Well, I’ll tell you, m’lord, when that brass doobry began to spin, it looked just like a wizard working up a spell.”

The haggard man retrieved from his packhorses a stanchion attached to a swiveling mounting rail holding a series of gazing crystals. The man climbed into the bed of the oxcart and hauled the stanchion to one of the two special gold marks around the disc, then slid the bottom of the pole into a notch made for that purpose. Then he sat down on a stool and feverishly dug into his coat pocket until he found his notebook. He riffled through the pages until he found an excerpt from an ephemera of coordinates scribbled there, and then adjusted the azimuth and declination of his rail of gazing crystals until his sightline flew over the whirligig, through a strange device hanging from the top corners of the machine, and then soared into Heaven.


The top layer of the machine seemed almost too fragile and mundane to be of any consequence, even though being topmost it held importance of place. 

A lantern box framed with silver and blackthorn wood, which some sorcerers favor for making magic wands, was suspended by four silver chains from the corners of the cube-shaped oak framework. The lantern box had glass sides; one of which was hinged to form a door. And though the glass looked sooty-gray from outside, when the side door was open the inside of the lantern box was revealed to be half-silvered like a mirror.

Finally, the haggard man thumbed through his notebook one more time and found what he was looking for, but he paused before he did anything to take a deep breath and calm his nerves. “The night was chill,” Peter conceded, “but I am of the opinion it wasn’t the cold alone that made the man tremble.” 

Cautiously, the haggard man held out his palm toward the eyepiece of his gazing crystals and whispered a magic word. “I couldn’t hear what he said from where I was hiding,” Peter apologized, “but when he finished speaking his mystic tosh, an emerald flame appeared in midair above his palm.” The emerald flame danced and flickered above the man’s hand, but it seemed to be made only of light and did not burn him. 

Then the haggard man cautiously held out his palm close to the eyepiece of his gazing crystals and…snapped his fingers. Suddenly, the flame—if that’s all it was—flashed through the gazing crystals, flitted through the lantern box overhead, and then shot into the firmament at the particular coordinate where the gazing crystals were targeted. 

The trajectory of the flame did not fade away, but lingered permanently like the trail of a firework, or the course of a fire arrow, or a fuse of black match. In the end, a faint, emerald-white beam of occult light reached from Land to a particular quarter of Heaven. 

The beam of light did not falter. It pointed straight and true as an arrow to that singular point in Heaven even though clouds, nebulae, comets, stars, and constellations steadily paraded past the point. The beam held fast.

“And the witchery didn’t stop there, sirs,” said Peter, in an incredulous hush. “As soon as that ray of light shot into the sky, a thin thread of green light appeared on the middle layer of the machine! It seemed to float just above the surface of the disc, like a cloud, and stretched from the axis at the same angle on the disc, as the light in the sky. It was as if the disc was a mirror of…Heaven.”

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