The following is not the finalised edition. Chapter order and little details may change before book publication. This hasn’t been formally edited and will likely contain errors. Let me know if you spot any!
Delik helped Seaview clear the rocks from the railway intersection. The golem worked fast, his body grinding out a wail each time he found a stone with an orange aura. These stones he reverently placed inside his cart while the others were dumped in a pile beside the tracks.
“Hurry up! Moonview’s dying!” Starla rummaged through the debris focussed on finding more orange rocks. Any she uncovered were rushed back to a pile beside the derailed cart. “We’ve got to get her together again.”
“We’re not slouching, kid.” Delik hefted a jagged rock off the tracks and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Almost there.”
After all the smaller rocks were cleared, a hulking boulder still lay over the tracks. No matter how hard Delik shoved and strained, the damn thing wouldn’t budge. Even the might of Seaview was no match. The golem pushed and pulled, spinning his wheels but getting no traction. The poor thing wailed and and hung his head in defeat.
For the first time in his life, Delik wished he was a dwarf. Not that he’d ever have admitted it out loud. Dwarves were right bastards but they knew stone as well as shankakin knew soil.
“One prayer to Thia and a Dwarf’d split a mountain.” Delik huffed. “Think she’d bless my broken sword to smite a boulder?”
“Thia?” Starla screwed up her nose. “Why waste a good prayer? Just get under it.”
“What? Dig a hole in the stone floor? With this?” Delik demonstrated the futility of Starla’s plan by striking the floor with his broken blade. At best he dislodged some dirt and jarred his wrist. “Even if I had a pick, it’d take forever.”
Starla knelt beside the boulder and tucked her little hands underneath it. “Stuff a big strong metal bar under it, like this.”
“A lever. Smart girl!” Delik turned to Seaview. “Mind if we pull up some of your tracks?”
Seaview shook his head, jittering his stoney body in a frenetic buzz. Before Delik had a chance to convince the golem that they only needed one length of metal from his tracks, Seaview pushed past the shankakin and set to work. The golem stuffed his stoney hands as far as they would go beneath the boulder, just as he’d seen Starla do. With careful configuration of his energetic digits, Seaview morphed his forearm into a rolling wedge. Inch by inch the boulder turned, shifting off the tracks. As soon as it was out of the way, Seaview rushed to the centre of the intersection where he opened a grate on the floor and turned a combination of cogs. Dust puffed up from the floor and a circular crack appeared. The floor trembled and a sound like giants gnawing bones came from below. The intersection of tracks turned slowly like a grind stone until Seaview’s tracks lined up with the derailed cart.
At last Seaview made it to the remains of his fellow golem, Moonview. First he righted her cart with his strong arms, testing the crank wheel and gently pressing the larger foundation stone at the base of the cart. Delik and Starla helped him fill the cart with all the faintly glowing stones, though none of them knew what order they should be assembled. Seaview was certainly at a loss. Every stone, big or small, had an arcane sigil and the golem tested combination after combination, trying to match them. None would fuse together and their aura continued to fade.
Seaview lifted Moonview’s head to his. Her orange gemstone eye flickered. Her face ever so faintly displayed two pictograms; the Sun over the sea beside an eye. Seaview’s sapphire pulsed slowly and he showed her name not as a pictogram but as a moving starlight scene. The full moon shone above an ancient archway standing vigil atop a grassy hill. The night was serene, a dream of peace. Constellations danced across the heavens and the moon drifted ever lower. The moon kissed the horizon goodbye and Moonview’s orange light faded.
With a reverence laden by sorrow, Seaview cradled Moonview in his arms. Every stone in his body rattled and his sapphire eye dimmed.
“I’m sorry.” Little Starla climbed into Seaview’s cart and hugged the golem as tight as she could. “I tried to help her, but there were so many…” Tears dripped down her dirty nose.
The whole thing broke Delik’s heart too, but he was damned if he started crying again. “There there, lass. You know, sages say golems don’t feel emotion.” Delik dried his eyes and dabbed his forehead as if he were just sweating from moving rocks. “See now, folks smarter than you and me magically weld stuff together to follow orders. That’s all. They don’t have a heart or anything. There’s no need to cry.”
“I don’t care what some old man says.” Starla sniffed. “They were in love.”
“Love, eh?” Delik sighed and patted Seaview on the shoulder in sympathy. “I suppose you’re right. What’d a sage know of that?”
Delik, Starla and Seaview were quiet for a time in honour of Moonview. Delik watched the dwindling campfire and wondered if Seaview would want to go on. Did he have other golem friends down here? A family? Were baby golems a thing? Surely not. As much as he’d grown to like Seaview, Delik needed to get to Calimska. He also needed to figure out where this lost youngster came from and get her back to safety.
“Starla, what say you and I scout out this chamber and give Seaview some time alone with Moonview. I could use your help.”
“You think he’ll be alright?”
“If they were in love, then I think he’ll be sad a while yet. We won’t go far.” Delik offered his hand to help Starla down, but she jumped out without any assistance. “You been down here long?”
“My whole life. But I’ve had enough.”
“That so?” Delik began a circuit of the chamber, checking the sigils on the tunnel entrances. “You know the way out?”
“No. Don’t you?” Starla pointed to the tunnel Seaview had come from. “Moonview said she’d take me to Seaview.”
“Names and destinations.” Delik thought out loud. “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The moon too. What if this chamber’s like a compass?”
Delik squinted across the chamber at the sigils glowing above the tunnel he’d some from. Sure enough it was marked with the pictogram; Sea View. The exit across the chamber directly opposite was Moon View. “As sure as the moon follows the Sun, it sets in the west too. That’s the way to Calimska, lass. West over the Great Dividing Range. Or under…But how far west?” Delik peered into the Moonview’s tunnel. A short way in the tracks ended at a smooth stone wall. On closer inspection, the metal tracks impossibly continued into the wall. It was as if the stone itself had healed over an open wound.
Starla slapped the wall like a cooper testing a cask. “Mages.”
“How would you know?”
Starla shrugged. “Who else melts rock?”
Starla laughed at Delik like he was a little slow. “They’re too big, silly.”
“Not all of them. They come in all sizes.”
“They do?” Starla’s eyes opened wide.
“O’course!” Delik grinned. “I know a certain fellow who has a wee dragon no bigger than a parrot.”
“Really? What’s your friend’s name?”
“Never you mind. Gods’d curse me if I waste breath on it, so don’t ask. Point is, dragons can be full grown and still be smaller than you.”
“What’s a parrot?”
Delik frowned and walked toward the tunnel from which Starla and Moon view had come. “A parrot is a type of bird.”
“Oh, I know. They’re like bats, but with feathers like quills and snappy beaks. They sing too. I know all about birds…”
They walked back past Seaview who was laying Moonview’s head down with the rest of her body in her cart. Starla gave the golem a sincere pat on the shoulder then quickly returned to Delik’s side, chatting about how birds came in all colours. The girl knew a great many colours indeed. So many, Delik found it hard to think. “You and Moonview came from this tunnel, eh.” Delik interrupted Starla’s chatter as politely as a man with a splitting headache could. “What’s that sign say you think? A rain drop and and eye. Rain View? Water View?”
“I say it’s a tear drop.” Starla kicked a rock. “Or a drop of blood.”
“If that’s the way you and Moonview came out then that’s the way we get you back home.”
“Starla, this is no place to be wandering around. It’s not safe.”
“Neither’s back there!” Starla hurled a rock into the tunnel. “Besides, I don’t know my way back. I was lost until Moonview found me.” Starla began to sob. “Now she’s dead… and if I go back Ma will be so mad. I’ll be in chains for sure.”
“Oh, sprout, it can’t be that bad. Easy now, don’t cry.” Delik ruffled the girl’s hair. “Seaview can follow the tracks and —”
“I’m not crying!” Starla donned the monster skull once more. It covered her tears from view, but could not hide the sniffles and sobs or her shaking shoulders.
Delik always wanted children of his own, but had no idea how to ease Starla’s worry. He’d fought monsters and men but couldn’t handle a poor lost child. With everything he’d gleaned from Starla so far, she was no ordinary child. No shankakin in their right mind would raise their family underground. She must have been one of the Guildmaster’s slaves. Why else would she fear being chained up if she went back? It was the only reasonable explanation.
“Listen here, Starla. I’m going help get you back.”
“I can’t go back till I find help,” she sobbed.
“You’ve found it. That’s why I’ve come see. To free all the shankakin.”
“What about the others?” Starla lifted the mask to wipe her snotty nose on her shoulder.
“I’ll help everyone.”
“Not Ma. She says she don’t want saving nor need it. Says we should make peace with the underdown.”
“Don’t you worry about your ma. I’ll talk to her, and your pa too.
“He’s dead. Ma says Ona built him a special garden. He’s got a cottage by the stream with a waterwheel and an orchard of nectarines. They’re my favourite.”
“Mine too!” Delik smiled at the six-eyed bone helmet, hoping Starla could see his sincerity. “I bet your Pa’s real happy.”
“Ma says he’s probably real fat. She says he’s filling a big larder with jams and pickles and all sorts. There’s real sunshine, warm like the bread Pa’s making for us. I’ll see him when Nathis takes my hand.”
“Well there’s no rush for that, lass.”
“The old grey man says Nathis saves folk. But what’s the use if he only saves you when you drop?”
“Forget Nathis.” Delik lifted Starla into Seaview’s cart and clambered in behind. “I’ll make sure you and your Ma have your time in the real sun, just as Ona’d wish it.”
Delik reached into his pocket and clasped the hopestone, praying that he could keep his promise. “All the birds you can imagine.”