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Petronus

Petronus led the small group of men over the last rise, and those who hadnt already seen it fell back, gasping, at what they saw there.


They pushed wheelbarrows full of tools, and those with mules or horses pulled small carts along behind them. Petronus looked them over and shook his head.


Damn Pope Resolute and his Exercise of Holiness. It had cost him two thirds of the crowd. No one wanted to tangle on the wrong side of Sethberts army. They were all smart enough to know that the Exercise was to keep people from digging, and gravediggers were diggers nonetheless.


He looked down at the boy. He hadnt spoken again for two days now, but Petronus was fairly certain that he could if he wanted to. But you dont have to, hed told Neb when he realized that he hadnt spoken since, if you dont want to.


As they crested the rise, Petronus saw birds fly out of the forest, moving north of them, their wings beating furiously. He read their colors and smiled. A horse pulled out from a copse of trees not far from the edge of the blasted area. It rode toward them, and Petronus saw ripples of wind in the grass to the left and right of the rider.


He waited until the young lieutenant pulled up and hailed him. Windwir is closed, he said. The wind rippled out as the magicked scouts took up positions around them.

Petronus pointed. Windwir is a {;Wiv field of bones. We aim to bury them.


The faintest hint of surprise registered on the young mans face. Im afraid I cant let you pass. Petronus stepped closer. What is your name, Lieutenant?

Brint, the young man said. He studied Petronus and the motley band of travelers. Have you not faced a loved ones passing?

Petronus watched the young mans face. He saw the stab of loss rise to the surface and then quickly vanish as the officer forced his emotions aside. It was just slight enough that the untrained eye might miss it, and Petronus suddenly realized he wasnt dealing with the spoiled son of an Entrolusian noble.


Petronuss hands moved close to his body so that others could not see. Whose are you? he signed, first in the intelligence subverbal of the Forest Houses and then in the hand dialect of House Li Tam.


The lieutenant blinked but kept his own hands still. I have seen several loved ones pass, he said in a quiet voice.


Petronus leaned forward, his voice also low. Did you bury them or let them lie where they fell?


The first look was anger, but it was followed by a look of deep weariness. The lieutenant said nothing for a full minute, then stared down at Petronus. He whistled, and the wind blew back from around them as

the Delta Scouts retreated. When they were out of earshot, he leaned down from his saddle and spoke in a quiet voice.


Be watchful. I can let you pass but I cannot keep you safe.


The light will keep us safe, Petronus said, quoting the Whymer Bibles opening admonition.


The young lieutenant shook his head. There is no light now. He looked around again, scanning for any sign that his men were nearby. And the one now asked to guard it is the same who snuffed it out. You will not be safe here.


Then, he turned his horse and rode off in the direction of the wind.


By nightfall, Petronus and his ragged band of gravediggers had set up their camp by the river, just outside what had once been the river dock gate and clearly in compliance with the Exercise of Holiness. That

area had been granted special Dispensation to keep the supply chain moving through the duration of the

Exercise in years past.


Jin shook her head. Not that. I can piece that together myself. Sethbert has fingers on many strings. What I dont understand is why they would even undertake such dangerous work in the first place?


Isaak looked at her, and steam trickled from his exhaust grate. The preservation of all knowledge is at the heart of the Androfrancine vision.


Jin knew this was true. Along with an abiding curiosity about how and why things work. Shed heard stories of fabulous machines and intricate mechanicals kept locked away in the hidden vaults of the now dead city. Her father, along with others close to the Order, had benefited from this. There was the mechanical bird in his garden-a trinket really. But more practical than that, there were the iron ships at his docks, powered by engines that the Androfrancines had built from ancient specifications and housed in high, broad iron-shod cruisers. It made House Li Tam the most formidable naval power in the Named Lands.


Perhaps, she thought now, the root of Windwirs fall lay exposed in that.


They hid in their city, guarded by Gods knew what in addition to their Gray Guard. And they doled out scraps of knowledge and innovation to those they favored, withholding it from those they did not. They held on to what they learned until they felt the world was ready for it.


Theyd been so cautious about those outside of their city but had somehow not brought the same level of care within their own Order. Somehow, Sethbert had learned of the spell and had then learned how to use it to bring down the Androfrancines.


She looked at the metal man across from her. She wondered if he wasnt another example of their failure to watch themselves as well as they watched the world. Im curious about you, Isaak, she said.


He blinked at her. Why would you be curious about me?

She shrugged, smiling. Ive never met a metal man before. You are somewhat of a rarity. He nodded. There was a time when there were thousands of us. When Rufello drew up his

Specifications and Observations of the Mechanical Age, he was working with the broken and discarded remains of mechoservitors found in the ruins of the Eldest Days, broken artifacts from the Age of the Younger Gods.


Jin finished chewing her rice before speaking. When were you built?


He hesitated, and Jin noted that hesitation. Hes not used to speaking about himself.


But then he continued. My memory scrolls have been replaced at least twice since my first awareness. I havwarifye no record of those times. My first memory is Brother Charles asking me if I were awake and could I recite the Fourteenth Precept of the Francine Accord. He paused, and she watched his eyes alternate between dim and bright as the gears in his head whirred. My last awakening was twenty-two years, three months, four weeks, six hours and thirty-one minutes ago. Im not sure when I was built, though I suspect that knowledge is stamped somewhere onto me. Brother Charles was a meticulous craftsman.


She studied him. His chest bellows moved in and out to keep whatever strange fire burning in him hot enough to boil the water and keep him moving, to keep air moving through him to power his voice. His eyes were jewels of some kind-dull yellow and glowing with varying degrees of brightness. His mouth was more of a flap that opened and closed-probably to humanize him more than for anything else. A wonder of the ancient world, brought back carefully by adapting old knowledge to present-day capability.


He was indeed a meticulous craftsman, she said.


Isaak looked at her and the eyes dimmed. He was my father.


The bellows began to pump faster and harder. Water leaked from around the eyes-another humanizing characteristic: A machine that could cry. A high pitched squeal leaked from his mouth.


She put down her bowl and reached across, placing her hand on his shoulder. It was hard beneath the coarse wool robe. I dont know what to say, Isaak, she told him.


In the end she said nothing, and simply sat with him while he cried.


Jin Li Tam | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | c