The father let go but the boy clutched at his hand and held on for a moment, then the city tilted again, rolling back in the other direction and entirely shifting the boy's potential trajectory. As the father unpicked the boy's gripping fingers, Tranton moved to his left, adjusting his position. The city moved again, and the boy fell, falling fast and too wide, the city's motion making it near impossible for Tranton's eyes to comprehend the physics of what he was seeing. At the last moment he stepped into position and got beneath the boy, receiving him into open arms and slowing his descent just enough to lower him to the floor with only a slight bump. Tranton got a good look at him for the first time, realising the boy could only have been eight years old at most. "He's alright!" he shouted.

"Thank you," the father began to say, but was drowned out by the roar of collapsing masonry as the building came down around him. As he vanished from the window in a plume of dust and smoke, Tranton swept up his son and dashed away from the destruction as it spilled out onto the street, the vibrations knocking them both to the ground.

The boy cried out in terror and clutched at Tranton, then a moment later pushed him away and raced back towards the rubble. Tranton got back to his feet and wiped dust from his eyes. The boy was on top of the broken rocks and shattered frame of the former building and was scrabbling at the pile of debris, screaming for his father.

That old, solid dull ache returned as Tranton watched. He hadn't felt that ball of lead in his stomach for many years, where it pulled at him, determined to drag him back to the past. The boy kept at it, and with every desperate attempt to dig Tranton felt his insides harden further. He'd split himself away from people and responsibility and cares for a reason.

"It's too late, kid," he said, approaching slowly. His shoulder ached from where he'd caught the boy. "Kid, there's nothing you can do."

The boy whipped his head around and glared with a vehement anger that caught Tranton unawares. Then with a piercing scream, the boy raised his hands, clenched his fists into tight balls, then twisted back to face the rubble and spread his palms out before him. The debris shimmered and shook and a path was cleared through them, as if an immense twist of wind had heaved up the chunks of stone and metal and tossed them away. Lying in the cleared area and now only partly covered by the rubble was the father, bloodied and broken, his legs evidently crushed beyond use.

Clambering over the ruins, the boy embraced his father tenderly. Tranton was bemused by the turn of events, both at the display of power and the unexpected glimmer of hope. He stomped over the piles of crushed building, his boots crunching into the rocks. The father's eyes were open and he appeared to be breathing.

"I'll be damned," Tranton said. He began clearing away the remaining debris, the man crying out in pain as he did so. "I can't stay," Tranton said, "but I'll find someone to help."

"Please, sir," the father croaked, his voice hoarse. "I owe you a great debt. You saved me son."

"And your son saved you. Nobody owes me anything."

Tranton turned and strode away, forcing himself to not look back. He grabbed the first strong adults he saw and pointed back towards the ruined building. "There's a man there who needs assistance."

The ground shifted again and the street cracked yet further, forcing Tranton to leap across ominous, black chasms on his way to the spire. When he finally reached it there was a sense of panic far worse than there had been down in the streets. Whatever had happened seemed to have affected some of the more highly trained Aviar citizens and they lay about the plaza at the spire's base, delirious and useless.

As he was about to enter the tower's base, where the doors lay wide open, he heard a familiar shout and looked over his shoulder to find Fenris Silt approaching with his always-surprising speed.

"You know what's going on?" Tranton asked.

"I fear the worst."

Tranton snorted. "Right now, I don't even know what that might mean. You heading to the top?"

Fenris nodded. "My thoughts precisely."

They travelled through the desolation of the spire unimpeded: the powered doors, demonstrated so clearly by Akila upon their arrival, were inoperative and open, while nobody tried to halt their progress. Moans echoed around the corridors. Entering the training hall, they discovered a scene of bodies lying in their own filth, where they writhed in apparent agony.

Kneeling by one of them, Fenris placed a hand upon the woman's head. "She is feverish," he said. "Something has affected all of them."

"Most people outside seemed fine," Tranton said.

"Those who work here are more advanced in their training and abilities," Fenris noted. "They are also in closer proximity to Aera's chamber."

"You think this is connected to her?"

"It is her influence that keeps this city suspended above the clouds. Given what is happening to the island, something very bad must have happened here."

Finding no sign of Tarn, they progressed further into the spire. They reached one of the vertical transports but had no way to operate it, so instead used an adjacent staircase. It didn't escape Tranton's notice that the only way to Aera's chamber at the very top of the tower was via one of the transports that could only be operated by someone like Akila or Eris.

After several minutes of climbing stair after stair, they emerged onto an exterior balcony that overlooked the city. "It looks worse from above," Tranton said. The entire city was clogged with dust and billowing smoke from fires that had broken out. As they watched, one of the smaller islands dropped away out of sight, tearing its connecting bridges away from the main island. Tranton grimaced: as it had happened he had clearly seen bodies in freefall.

"This whole place is going down," he said.

Fenris nodded "We must hurry."

The doors to the room which would lift them to Aera's chamber were wide open but there was no way for them to operate the mechanism. Tranton pulled his sword out and activated the blade. "Let's see what they built this place from," he said, thrusting the sword into the ceiling. It pierced through and kept going. "Easier than I thought." Tranton carved out a hole, until the ceiling piece fell out and landed on the floor with a thud. "You think they're going to be annoyed about that?"

"It is not my place to say," Fenris said with a shrug, accepting Tranton's clasped hand as a foothold. The old man pulled himself up through the hole with some evident effort. At least he showed some occasional signs of age. Tranton checked his sword at his side, then hauled himself up. The shaft was tall and dark, with a recessed ladder built into the side.

"Mind if I go first?" Tranton asked while grasping at the rungs. Spritely or not, he didn't know if the old man would have the stamina to climb all the way up.

The ascent took almost ten minutes of solid climbing and they emerged through open doors into Aera's chamber to a picture of devastation. The room itself was destroyed, with steam venting from ruptured pipes and bright sparking embers the like of which Tranton had never seen flicking away from exposed wires.

Scattered about the chamber there were five bodies.


Well, we're not quite at the end of Arc 5 - that'll be the next chapter. Thank you so much for reading - I've been publishing this book every week for over two years and lots of you have been with it the whole way. Amazing! And if you're a more recent arrival, I'm very glad that you're here.

As always, votes, comments and shares are massively appreciated. Spread the word!

The Mechanical Crown (complete novel!)Where stories live. Discover now