Ch.1 On the Brink - Part 2

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Christina Creangle bowed her head as the room full of angry men and women unleashed another barrage of insults and fury at her. She grimaced, allowing them to vent, all the while thinking of how the peace and harmony of their sanctuary, hidden in the ancient ruins of the underground city of Kar'm, was a distant memory. Every story has an ending, and she could feel theirs coming.

"We need a new leader! You've made a mess of things for long enough," jeered a man in a red sweater in the back, many around him nodding and raising their fists.

Peering up at the fearful faces, Christina's stomach twisted and churned. She couldn't help but feel she'd spent too much time away helping allies instead of being here, leading and protecting these people.

How many spies and disruptors slipped among our ranks in my absence? she thought. I can't believe we were wrong to accept every fleeing scientist and refugee inventor, rather than allowing them to be killed or starve.

Christina stepped to the edge of the speaker's platform. "How have we changed so much in a year? Look at us. This is not who we are. This is the result of poisonous words and deeds by those who want to see us—"

A woman stepped forward to meet Christina and cut her off. "Is it true that the Mad Queen is hunting us? That we've aligned ourselves with the Tub, and she's going to make us pay for that?"

"I heard the same thing," the man in the red sweater said. "Tell us."

How could she know? Christina dug her nails into her hands to stop from reacting. Her mouth slipped open. She wanted to let the words out, to tell them how it had been her actions that likely led the Mad Queen to see Kar'm as no longer neutral between the great secret societies, but Christina couldn't. She knew it would be adding kerosene to the fire, and as their leader, she couldn't be so selfish.

"What were you doing for those months you were away?" a woman with welding goggles on her forehead asked. "Off trying to find yet another of your father's mechanical horses? It's bad enough having that senile old man wandering the halls at night, but without you here to keep an eye on the creepy old nutter, he gets into everything. He took metal from my workshop. Again!"

Drawing in a deep breath, Christina rolled her shoulders, a hint of anger flashing across her face at the disrespectful reference to her father.

Finding him and bringing him to stay at Kar'm had been hard, but discovering that his mind was eroding had nearly broken her. Though they rarely spent any time together, she would sometimes watch him at his work table, putting things together, sketching out ideas on paper. But since his arrival, the old man's paranoia that his inventions and ideas could harm society had consumed her, stealing her time and attention. It was that very thing that had destroyed their relationship long ago, and now she saw it destroying Kar'm.

"This has nothing to do with Christophe. Nothing," she said sharply, her words swallowed by the noise of the crowd. One of her legs started bouncing.

A short man forced his way to the front and raised his hand. "I heard you found an MCM engine. That would make a huge difference in my research if you did." He glanced at the woman next to him who nodded in agreement.

Christina stared at the two of them. While most of her expeditions over the years had been fruitless, she had found a few more of the forty-year-old King's-Horses, though she only had one remaining that worked. Surprisingly, her latest adventure had turned up an unsealed Magnetic-Copper-Magnesium engine in the hands of none other than Nikolas Klaus himself, Christophe's original partner for making the mechanical horses.

The MCM engine was the heart of the mechanical horse. Knowing that the engine itself could revolutionize the world in unpredictable ways, Christophe had booby-trapped each and every one.

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