Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 32: The metal man

“Clank is a friend of the family but he’s a bit rough around the edges,” Jaxogeras warns me as we stand in front of some barn-like-looking place in the strip between the city and the rural area that surrounds it on the East.
They open the door and I find the place smells of rust and sparks. It reminds me of home in a way.
Back when I was just a child my father’s coat would smell the same. He’d only come by on Sundays for church and a glass of brandy afterwards.
Things used to be a lot simpler then
There’s a clang of metal on metal then a booming voice shouting “Whaddya want!?”
“Good day Clank, we’re here for some supplies.” Jaxogeras tips their hat at him.
The man is big, possibly bigger than Tungsten, a giant square of a man with dark skin, a thick grey beard and a balding head.
His eyes are covered by steel goggles filled with black glass and in his leather-gloved hands he holds a hammer the size of my head.
“What kind of metal?”
“Brass primarily, but also some copper and tin.” Jaxogeras specifies.
“Das gonna cost ya.”
“We know.”
The man’s eyes drift to me “Who’d the kid.”
“My name’s Inquiry, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I’m Clank, follow me.”
The man leads us deeper into the workshop and I can’t help but wonder at some of these machines. They’re similar to what we had at the university but not quite. They look handmade and very impressive. I want to ask about them but somehow I find it difficult to open my mouth around this giant of a man.
“Copper on the left side, brass on right, will show tin later if you still need it.” The man explains gesturing at a row of shelves, stuffed to the brim with boxes, rods, plates, and beams, all made of reddish metal.
“Thank you.” I start at the brass side then notice in the corner of my eye that the guy has started leaning against the wall, waiting till I’m finished.
But no pressure right?
I try to ignore it as best I can as I pull back box after box.
I pull out a sheet of paper. I made sketches of the parts that I need. I don’t expect to find them verbatim but if I can modify existing sheets and tubes at least I don’t need to try and melt metal underground.
“Which pieces need to be copper again?” Jaxogeras asks “I can start looking on the other side.”
“Pages five and six.”
“Thank you.”
My eye gets caught by a faucet with a thin, curly design, with some modifications I could make it look like veins or channels. I put it aside. “Do you sell rubber couplers as well?”
The man shakes his head “Only metal.”
Well, it was worth a shot.
“I can bring rubber couplers from Bar-B, don’t worry about that.” Jaxogeras assures me.
“Thank you, just let me know how much they cost.”
Jaxogeras chuckles “I’m not going to charge you over some couplers.”
“Not happening.”
I begrudgingly accept that I’m not going to change their mind over this and continue with my search. I find some flat pieces I could easily fashion into other parts “What’s the width of your metal saw?”
“Jewellers saw or chop saw?”
“About a quarter of a millimetre.”
“And your chop saw.”
“One millimetre.”
“Then I should be able to use this,” I add the sheets to the pile and find some thin tubes that when bent can look quite convincing.
If only I had a table to lay all of this out, I could make some sketches and see what’s missing.
I look around but it’s all just bins and boxes.
Oh sod it all.
I sit down on the ground and arrange the pieces on the cobbles.
If this goes over here then this can go over here, connect it up with the tube, Oh wait that’s too short I’ll need another one of those. That might be difficult to manage…
I look around for the seller but he’s no longer at his post.
I’m not entirely sure if I should feel relieved or insulted by that.
I pick up a piece of copper piping that ended up in the wrong basket “Do you think you can use that?” I ask Jaxogeras.
“I’m not sure but we could take it along just in case.”
“I think that’s all the brass sorted then, how’s the copper going?”
“I need some springs but I can’t find any.”
“Guess we need to find mister Clank-”
“Just Clank will do.”
“Oh, okay.”
“Oh, and we should hurry up a bit.” Jaxogeras admits looking at their watch “I have another engagement in an hour.”
“Another engagement?”
“Tiborah, one of my siblings, has decided to travel here from Loptuny to attend the ceremony. I’m not entirely sure if he’s aware it’s supposed to be a trap for the alchemists instead but I’ll explain that but when he’s here.
My eyes grow wide at the name. Tiborah is the brother Stegarius visited back when we were stuck combining ether with wood. He gave us insights we never could have tested for ourselves. He was also the one closest to their father, the other Inquiry, according to Stegarius. “Can I come along please?”
“Oh, yes, do you know him?”
“Only by reputation but I owe him my gratitude. He helped answer some questions about your father back when I was still working under Mercury.”
“He did?” Jaxogeras sounds surprised “I never would have guessed him to be interested in such matters.” They then collect their pieces and add “We should keep looking if we want to be on time, however.”
We find Clank at the front of the store, feet up on the till and a mangy-looking street cat on his lap.
“Did you find your stuff?” He asks.
“We need copper springs and tin still,” Jaxogeras explains patiently.
“Springs are a separate category, they’re three shelves down to the left, Tin is on the shelves before near the top of the rack. I’d show you but…” He scratches the scruffy thing behind its ear.
“We understand.” Jaxogeras smiles.
Wait we do? I don’t understand.
But we leave for the back anyway.
The springs were relatively easy to find.
However, I find the tin is collected in a whole rack of silver-coloured metal.
“Uhm…did he say the top or the bottom of the shelf?” I call out to Jaxogeras who’s still with the springs on the other side of the shelves.
“The top of the rack.” they poke their head around the corner, glance at the shelves and specifies “from here to here.” before going back to their own side.
“Oh, thank you.”
By the time we have everything to get started another ten minutes have passed.
Luckily for us, at least the mangy cat seems to have vanished and Clank has the time to help us out again.
At the front of the shop, there’s a massive pair of scales.
The man pulls the copper from Jaxogeras’ hands first, I try to hand him the brass as well but he shakes his head. Loads it into the scales and then I understand. The backplate is made up of several bands. Each bearing the name of a different metal and a different price range per type. He points at the orange band and says 368 grams, 14 lodis.”
I nod, that’s a lot of money, this scheme better work.
He puts the copper in a wooden crate and then grabs the brass from my hands, the same procedure, another 36 lodis to the tab.
“And the springs and tin,” I ask
“Too light for the scales, two lodis.”
I pay the man his dues. he packs all of it into a wooden crate and then hands it to Jaxogeras.
As we walk out Jaxogeras hands the box to be and checks their watch “We should have plenty of time to get to the station. Let’s go.”
“I follow.”

The train platform is crowded.
People are scurrying all over the place, dragging luggage around, eating and fussing.
There used to be a time when the quick convenience of train travel was reserved for the elite alone, but with the introduction of second and third class the big black beast has made itself a staple in the lives of people of all classes and stations.
“The train should be here any minute,” Jaxogeras tells me as they’re looking at their watch.
“I hope nothing happened.”
“Don’t worry, trains are late all the time, it’s quite normal.”
“I see.”
“Have you ever travelled by train yourself Inquiry?”
“I…never had anywhere to go outside of Unebre.” I shrug feeling rather silly for it.
“Well, there are a lot of wonderful sights to see beyond the city.”
“Well, there’s-” Their voice gets drowned out by the pounding and rumbling of the steam train as it comes rushing onto the platform. Smoke billows up from the coal-black chimney. I take a step back in surprise, it’s huge! The sound is deafening, I wonder if it’s this loud for the passengers inside.
If so I wonder why one would even bother?
The machine thunders and stumbles to a halt.
Then the people come pouring out and the busy platform becomes so crowded that Jaxogeras has to pull me out of the throng lest I find myself dragged along with the crowd and end up on the train without a ticket or want to be there.
We’re picking someone up, nothing more.
Speaking off.
I look around, not quite sure what our guest even looks like aside from ‘like a doll’, Jaxogeras is quick to grab my hand though and pull me towards a tall doll with a smart-looking cane and an even smarter hat. Which he takes off in greeting as he spots us.
“Jaxogeras, it’s been far too long.”
“Only a couple of months old chap.” They embrace one another. I wait patiently to be introduced.
“Tiborah, allow me to introduce you to Inquiry.”
“Inquiry? You’re Stegarius’ ward are you not?”
“Used to be yes… It’s a pleasure to meet you Tiborah, how do you wish to be addressed?”
“Male pronouns for me and thank you for asking.” He then takes off his hat and bows his head “I was very sad to hear about Stegarius’ passing, you have my heartfelt sympathies.”
“Thank you, my condolences to you too, you knew him for longer after all.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’ve known him at all.” His voice sounds wistful for a moment.
“What do you-?”
“Thank you.” The doll nods briskly, then turns his attention to his sibling “Now I believe the others are waiting at Bar-B?”
Jaxogeras nods “Yes, I’ll fetch us a coach.” The doll strides to the exit.
The doll follows with a relaxed gait, gently tapping his cane on the ground with every step.
I walk beside him trying my best to find the words “I, I wanted to thank you for the help you’ve extended to us.”
“Yes…the information I gave Stegarius, did it do you good?” there’s a profound sadness in his voice, a tinge of regret maybe.
I like to say yes. I like to say it’s all going to be fine from now on but- “I don’t know.” it wouldn’t feel good to lie. “only time will tell.”
“I see.”
“How far did you get?”
“We imbued the wood with ether and made some strides creating the heart, although we didn’t manage to perfect that part.”
“I guess.”
“You’re not sure?”
“Not entirely no.” I cross my arms. All the trouble started because I wanted to create new dolls but now that we’re almost there I’m not even sure if it was worth it. Worth the pain it inflicted, the deaths it caused.
“I’m sorry. I spend less time with humans than I perhaps ought to and now it looks to me like I upset you.”
“I’m fine,” I tell him without much conviction.
He stares at me for a bit. Then says “All right, if you say so.”
Not long after, we reach Jaxogeras ready with a coach. It’s a bit snug on the backseat I’m practically sitting in Jaxogeras’ lap by the time we arrive at Bar-B.
They don’t seem to mind though.
I gaze out the window as we re-enter the city.

We get out of the coach.
I’m not sure if I expected the door to be open or closed but Jaxogeras just pushes the door open and says “Welcome to Bar-B.”
“You redecorated since I was last here.” Tiborah points out.
“When you were last here this place was a gallery still. A lot has changed since then.”
“I’ll say.”
I spot a fierce pouffe of red hair in the crowd and find myself suddenly filled with the urge to run.
“Aren’t you coming in?” Tiborah asks confused.
“No uh, I should be bringing this crate away uhm, it was a pleasure meeting you.”
“Likewise, I’ll see you soon.”
I turn away.
And head on back.

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