The burst of light refracted instantly across a myriad of mirrors, bounced through suspended glass and metal instruments before finally burning bright and settling deep into the brass and wooden fixtures of the room which after a second faded to a dull steady glow. Where before there had been nothing, a small man shaped figure of six inches dressed in motley of grey and white robes hovered, glowed and buzzed in the centre of the lavishly furnished workshop. For a moment he stared around at the wondrous contraptions and machinery that was set out before his eyes, marvelling at the intricate details etched into the wooden and metal forms that surrounded him. It was at the larges work desk amongst the delicate array of handcrafted tools and carefully sorted materials that he eventually found his employer: The Not-Maker.
Ilquis, lurker in the light fae of the shadow realms, was no stranger to dark and beautiful sights, but the creation carefully cradled in the Not-Maker’s hands shocked even him with its spectacular appearance. Under the ember glow of a soul-light crystal the Not-Maker meticulously inspected what at first would appear to be a small ball of copper; however, as it turned in his hands the soul light revealed far finer details. The item was not completely spherical but opal with four pairs of uneven yet equidistantly spaced legs arching from what was the back of the artificial creature. Approaching closer to the Not-Maker’s shoulder revealed that etched along the surface of this body were swirling patterns, the legs were filigreed with fine joints and hairs, and at one tapered end, eyes and teeth gleamed like set gems. The metal spider looked real.
‘A second Ilquis, if you would not mind.’ The Not-Maker spoke over his shoulder in a low and calm voice, his eyes only momentarily leaving his work to politely address the fae before turning back. ‘This work is nearly complete.’Ilquis enraptured did not move or offer reply but continued to watch as the Not-Maker began lifting the simulacrum spider above the light, held delicately between two silvered pincers. Here subtle strands of webbing waited and glinted in the soul-light, wavering slightly at the touch of the Not-Maker’s breathe. With careful deliberation he placed the spider at the centre of the web, barely disturbing the careful balance. Satisfied, he leaned back on his simple wooden stool to observe his work, absentmindedly tilting the soul light’s axis to shine upon the web.
It was only now, with the spider in place, that Ilquis saw that the webbing was itself a facsimile composed of fine strands of glinting metal; silver lines caught in the cast of soul light. The Not-Maker inspected this scene for a few seconds and then reached to flick a switch at one side of his work-desk. A spark ran along the thin metallic tendrils of the web and up across and seemingly into the spider. The creatures back arched once and then the long legs began to pinch their way across the surface of the web as if it were home.
‘By Lex’s mechanical tits. That’s amazing Not-Maker! Is it mechanical?’ The Not-Maker shook his head, and continued to shake through a long list of Ilquis’ assumptions: a miniature golem, an illusion, an intricate toy, a genie trapped stylised phylactery… The list went on for a while as the two watched the spider cross the web in skittering strides, until perplexed Ilquis asked his final question: ‘Is it real?’
‘No, it is not.’ The Not-Maker sighed, flicking the switch and picking the spider from the web. As soon as it left the shimmering network the spiders legs ceased to move and it settled inanimate in his palm. ‘Not yet.’
‘I was just letting the little thing get used to what it could be, what it should be, what it will be.’ The Not-Maker’s eyes lit up as he stood up, and gently laid the spider to rest upon the desk with hands that shook imperceptibly. Reaching up he unscrewed the soul light from its fixture and lifted the small crystal to his lips. He spoke in a language that Ilquis could not understand and smoke began to rise in a white haze from the light infused faceted edges. Continuing to speak the Not-Maker leaned down and Ilquis floated down to match his height, watching intently, as the Not-Maker reached a crescendo in his speech, closed his eyes and spoke a final word. The bright light would have blinded most; luckily Ilquis was fae and could see what happened next with perfect clarity. The vapour from the soul-light fell like liquid onto the copper shell of the spider, seeping through un-seen pores and disappearing from sight.
For a moment silence reigned.
In the glow emanating from Ilquis the Not-Maker watched the spider for several heartbeats before straightening and sighing once more.
‘Not to be.’
The Not-Maker noted the confusion on Ilquis’ face and endeavoured to explain whilst staring at the failed remains of what might be his last creation.
‘The soul did not hold. Either it was too weak, the creation was too sloppy or I rushed it; come time for tea I should think and we can discuss the matters of the day.’ Gently he pulled down the webbing and it folded like fracturing suspended light in his hands. He set it aside carefully in a nearby draw, screwed the now empty soul-light back into its fixture, and looked fondly at the spider one last time before pushing it aside to get lost amongst his tools. He turned around and searched past the glare of the faes luminescent glow, through gloom of the room, and out of glass window with which he gleaned Shallow’s silhouette gleaming against the evening’s gloaming sky.
The sun had set with the last of his days labours.
‘Ilquis, I am sorry I have kept you here overly long. Forgive my rudeness and thank-you for indulging an old-man, obsessed with pointless details. You have news for me, I trust?’ The Not-Maker spoke quietly his eyes never leaving the city in the distance. ‘If you wouldn’t mind, could we take it into the study?’
‘Of course Not-Maker, it hasn’t been a trouble Not-Maker. An honour to watch you work, Not-Maker.’
Ilquis spoke in hurried tones and followed the Not-Maker through his workshop of wonders and designs, through the oak doors and out into candle lit red carpeted halls.
The Not-Maker’s pace did not slow as he crossed through another set of double doors into a lavishly decorated study lined with leather bound books and intricate artefacts gathered over a long career. At the centre of the room two large backed green leather chairs rested before a large hearth, above which not-a-painting hung, but instead, a carefully drawn charcoal anatomy of a mannequin. The details were exquisite. As they approached the seats the fire in the hearth whipped wildly and almost drew out into the room before settling once again. Looking around Ilquis noticed that at the back of the long study two intricately carved double doors opened out onto a balcony which look directly out over Shallow’s cityscape. A cold wind was blowing and grey clouds billowed violently over-head. The Not-Maker sat in one of the chairs and held his hands out towards the fire, shaking gently in the shadows that it cast.
‘Well, go-on.’ The Not-Maker encouraged, gesturing towards a chair.
‘That won’t be necessary Not-Maker my tale is a short one, our-mutual friend wanted to ensure you that all deliveries have been complete and the payments have been made to the right people, everything you have asked for has been arranged, the only outstanding request is that of the Foxglove boy, could you shed any details on that?’ Ilquis spoke quickly, as many fae do, barely pausing for breath.
He watched as the question caused the Not-Maker to age before him. Ilquis realised not for the first time that he had forgotten that despite all the power the Not-Maker held, he was still quite mortal. Moments like before where the Not-Maker had sat upon a stool and attempted to breathe existence into one of his creations often hid the reality of the Not-Makers situation. Outside of this workshop, huddled in his chair, the firelight revealed the truth. The Not-Maker was a small and odd creature even for a gnome. At first he appeared a rough cut copper coin amongst opulent diamonds thought Ilquis, until you saw the things he could create with his hands, and then you would never consider edges rough again. The leather work-apron he wore although fine was tattered with age and had numerous creases and breaks were tools was supposed to fit. It matched his skin which was lined and wrinkled and hung especially loose and gaunt across what once must have been a cheerful hearty face. The kind of face like many of his race held, ones full of laughter and joy, but there was no more laughter or joy in that aspect, his eyes only held serious contemplation at the question he had been asked; contemplation and pain.
‘ The Foxglove boy is as ready as I can make him, given the time I have been given. He awaits transport above on The Misfortune, pending receipt of the final payment.’
‘Then that is the message I shall take back, they will be glad to hear it—‘
‘If they had given me longer I could have done better, he is not as he should be, I don’t understand the rush.’
‘Well, all I can tell you is those fools from Brass Street, the ones who dealt with Podiker and the idiot self-styled Spider King, are on their way to see you after your little invitation.’ Ilquis attempted to watch what reaction this would have on the Not-Maker. The Not-Maker did not move. ‘ Given their propensity to put a spanner in the works of our plans, the final date was brought forward. Infact I was given word tonight that they did not come straight here but somehow managed to break into the bank vaults… and well.. I won’t go into details, but it is a good job you’ve finished because we may have just lost the method of procuring the souls in the first place.’
‘We should never have had to resort to those methods anyway, Ilquis, the situation with the Foxglove boy proves that.’
‘Yes, but we had a budget and urchins are five a dozen…’
‘Damn your budget, the goods you brought me half the time were faulty half the time.’
‘What about the other half?’ The Not-Maker stared harder at Ilquis, then sighed and returned his resigned eyes back to the fire, unable or unwilling to refute the point.
‘Look you’ll just have to believe me, we gave you the best we could come by, given the time constraints. And remember, what we’ve done will save thousands of lives at the cost of a few, you can’t argue with that.’
‘No. I won’t argue with that.’ The Not-Maker spoke quietly. ‘So, they really are coming then?’
‘Yes. This Brass Street gang appear to have taken a personal interest in our operation, who knows why, so it looks like they will be coming here directly, you should leave.’
‘No. I don’t think I will. I invited them here after all. I will deal with them.’
‘Will you be requiring my help in the fight, they were unable to match me but neither was I able to over power them. Perhaps together we could defeat them.’
‘Thank you, but your services will no longer be required.’ The Not-Maker rose slowly from the depth of the chair and walked down the foot-rest onto the carpet to stand before Ilquis and give him the once over. ‘Things are coming to ahead and your part in this is quite over I believe, you have gone above that which was asked of you. I’m not one to judge, but perhaps you should find yourself a less distasteful line of employment.’ The Not-Maker gave Ilquis a concerned smile, reached into his deep chestnut robes. and handed him a small bundle of letters, ‘Perhaps these will help, you’ll find various letters of recommendation from any number of careers you could be suitable for, forged of course, can’t let everybody know what you’ve actually been doing. Our dark association is at an end.’
‘Sir, honestly it is no problem me staying here— ’
‘I wish you luck in all manners of your future employment, Ilquis.’ The Not-Maker spoke with finality that whilst genial for now strongly suggested that further inquest would not continue be addressed in such a manner. No argument was to be brooked.
Ilquis nodded and in a flash much like that which had heralded his arrival was gone.
‘Good-bye, Not-Maker.’ The words echoed from where Ilquis had hovered but already began to sound very far away.
For a while the Not-Maker continued to watch the flames before he decided to speak to the figure who had been listening to the entirety of their conversation from out on the balcony.
‘He could have been useful in the fight father.’ The voice from outside spoke as the Not-Maker made his way slowly across the large room and out into the cold night air.
‘Who says there will be a fight, Ithacus? Why are your first thoughts turning to violence?’ The Not-Maker’s breath frosted before him. Looking around he noticed that out over the roof below the balcony, across the fields and further beyond that over the city itself snow had begun to fall. He collected some from the balustrade and held it cool to his face and neck as he turned towards the young, tall and dark handsome man that leaned casually against the railing. He too held cold ice in his perfectly formed sinuous hands. However, on closer inspection it appeared that the ice had some kind of form. The Not-Maker decided not to mention ‘They come to investigate a crime and I have not committed any. Perhaps they wish to just talk?’
‘If they try to take you, I will kill them, father.’
‘Will you now? I don’t think so; you were not made to kill Ithacus.’ The Not-Maker sounded tired, wearier even than when he had been speaking to Ilquis. ‘You were made to be pure, one day, with those hands you will create great beauties, wonders the like of which my eyes will never see.’
‘What I have made is not beautiful, father, I shame you with this poor attempt.’ Ithacus held out the figure of ice in supplication, head bowed, offering it to the Not-Maker. He adjusted his glasses nad began to examine the small figurine of what he assumed was meant to be himself. The limbs elongated and unrealistic, although its face and body were squat and malformed, which the Not-Maker supposed was becoming more accurate. Everything was out of proportion, there had never been a taller depiction of a gnome, but to the Not-Maker it was perfect. Just as every fumbled note played out of tune on the harpsichord by Ithacus was angelic to the Not-Maker’s ears. Every daubed finger painting a masterpiece. Every jumbled story that Ithacus told about a small gnome defeating the cobwebs of the attic was an epic to his ears. For truly that Ithacus could do these things was beauty in its truest form.
Something he had created was able to create.
Without any false pretence the Not-Maker answered excitedly.
‘This is wonderful Ithacus! Great progress, I did not know you knew how to shape ice. You have shown ad lot if improvement over the last few weeks. Is it finished? Will you make another? Did you use your hands? Could you do it again?’
‘You lie, father, it is illproportioned and bad. Rubbish. Trash. It is not as I see things.’
‘Not as you see thing hmm?’ The self-doubt was new as well, every other time Ithacus had accepted the praise and basked in it. The Not-Maker smiled. How else could his creation achieve brilliance without being critical of himself. ‘Your eyes are new, two weeks ago they were blind, tell me how could they have seen enough to tell what is beautiful and what is not? Hmmm? Shouldn’t you leave that to the experts?’
‘I will tell you what these eyes have seen, father.’ Ithacus turned and looked out over Shallow’s immense spectre against the night sky.
‘These eyes have seen things you wouldn’t believe. Wyrd seemings in ocean depths, suspended in the water as if vapour in the air, the ghost-light reflected from the haunted ships of the Fallen Fleet. Boats that washed between my perceptions of reality on unreal tides that balanced between life and death. Arches of eldritch power cast against a city beset with shadowed night, fork tumbling through resistant blackened skies til as sorcerers duelled for their right to rule. Starlight from other worlds captured on the surface of dull granite towers and transform them into architecture of pure crystal.
I have watched a serving woman carry bushels of food more than she weighs through the lowest ward on the coldest night of Elial, only to die at the entrance of masters home without succour. A child being born and child dying. Tonight I watched my first snow fall for the first time onto the fields below, watched as the virgin white was broken by a the red fox which lives on our lands as it played with its new-born young.
I have seen beauty, father. For I have also seen then thing you have seen. I have seen the things you have made. All that will one day fade from your sight will forever remain etched upon my memory.’
The Not-Maker was stunned. The words Ithacus had used were so beyond his normal responses. So erudite and complex; the Not-Maker was shocked because he had not taught him those words or their meaning. Before now he had only used words that the Not-Maker had given to him. Imitation and repetition had become the hallmarks of his speech up until this point. Ithacus must have found new words himself.
The Not-Maker was stunned and the silence stretched on into the night. Until Ithacus broke it and jolted his ‘father’ back to the problems at hand.
‘I will kill them, father.’ Ithacus insisted. His grip growing tight around crude sculpture until a crack in the ice shattered the silence his last statement had created. The shards of ice fell from grip, On other men there might be blood mingled, but not on Ithacus. Ithacus would never bleed. The Not-Maker watched the melt water run through his knuckles and realised the strength of those hands could as easily destroy as create.
‘Perhaps it will not come to that, I can be persuasive. Plus, they’d have to get through the house first, it will be a rare day when my own preparations aren’t equal to a bunch of criminals from Brass Street.’
‘Did you not tell me that you came from Brass Street, father?’
‘Yes, I did. But I was not born there, I wasn’t even born in this city, though I did make it my home and I am happy with the world I have made. The Not-Maker looked at the genuine concern that wracked Ithacus’ perfect features. He thought about what had gone in to creating him. He thought about how much of his own soul he had put into Ithacus. He thought about how fast everything goes by. He thought about the Foxglove boy and The Misfortune. He thought about the deals he had made. He thought about his house full of his life’s works. He thought about the memories of childhood. He thought about the successes and the failures. He thought about the spider. He thought about the costs.
‘Fear not Ithacus, these men from Brass Street cannot hurt me.’
‘I will kill them, father, if they try to hurt you.’ Ithacus bent and put his arm gently around the Not-Maker’s head and cradled it tenderly to his neck . Lovingly.
‘It is the things I have not made, which hurt me.’ The Not-Maker, said in a language Ithacus could not know.
In the workshop, a copper opal leapt crawled from behind a scattered set of tools and leapt one desk to another, trailing a fine strand of silver wire in its wake. For a second it hangs limp between the two surfaces before with a quick movement it is brought in tight. In an hour, unnoticed by anyone else in the house, a flawless web had formed.