This is no way to learn artificing.
Danie ducked the falling masonry, hearing the crash and boom as it hit the buildings behind her, breaking through the walls and what sounded like more than one floor. Her breathing came harsh in the dusty air, wheezy with effort. Shed never had to run like this before. Other scavengers had told her of their ventures into the ancient ruins, beset by crumbling floors and toppling walls seemingly designed to trap the daring intruders, but Danie had always trodden softly in the old city, and had never felt threatened. Until now.
She turned a corner and stumbled to a stop, bending over, hands on her knees, catching her breath. Behind her, the dust swirled gently, lending solidity to the fading sunbeams where they passed through on their way to the floor of the ruined city. That was far below; Danie stood on one of the hundreds of balconies which adorned the ancient buildings. She didn't know anybody who'd been all the way to the bottom of the chasm. They said there were monsters down there, guardians made by the ancients which still prowled the depths, keeping watch for their long-dead masters. She didn't believe them, but she didn't want to make the trip. What if it were true?
As her breathing eased, she straightened up, bending back a little to look up. Above her the building roofs cluttered the view, the chasm walls beyond them silhouetted black against the sky. She was nearly back to her preferred entry tunnel. Perhaps next time, the ruined city would be quiet again.
She checked her bag, slung around her shoulder and secured round her waist. The artifacts were safe, tucked into specially sewn padded pockets. The bag was her own design, and one she felt justly proud of, sewn from a hundred ragged patches, looking like nothing much but concealing its strength and capacity beneath the dirty exterior. She pushed it back into place and set off again, treading carefully, not wanting the city to notice her.
Not that a ruined city could notice anyone, of course. It was all superstition. But like all the scavengers, as she pulled herself up to the tunnel entrance, leaving the city proper, she made a quick warding sign. She knew - better than most - that it had no power behind it, but it felt right to do it. Thus protected, she turned her back on the chasm and hurried up the tunnel towards the surface.
There was nobody in the shop when she reached it except for Lily, Simeon's occasional assistant. Lily nodded at Danie but didn't deign to speak. Danie felt herself flush with irritation; took a deep breath and let it out carefully.
"Afternoon, Lily," she said. Lily flicked her long black hair behind her shoulder and paused, leaving it just a little too long before she replied.
"Simeon's in the back," she said.
"Ta." Danie concentrated on looking innocent as she headed to the back of the shop. She knew the slang annoyed Lily.
Simeon didn't look up when she came in, pushing past the heavy curtain which separated shop from workshop but allowed him to hear if he was needed for a customer. He was seated at his bench looking down one of the bigger eyepieces at her find from last week. The wide bench surface was cluttered with other finds and copious bits of paper covered with his cramped, messy handwriting. Danie sidled over to the bench and scanned the nearest sheet. It was a description of the artifact Simeon called the Long-Handled Cuboid with Auxiliary Passage Glyphs, and she had nicknamed the Rectangular Thingummy. He hadn't been able to use it with anything yet, and she knew it frustrated him. It had so many glyphs on, it had to be important, and to have it sitting pointlessly on a shelf needled at him. At present, the Thingummy rested on the workbench next to several other long-term puzzles.
The device he was examining now was a power source. She'd known that when she'd picked it up, recognising the basic glyphs etched neatly on its surface. It was a bigger one than usual, and Simeon had spoken about selling it with a set of protectors, maybe for one of the deepwater merchant ships. But when she'd asked how the glyphs would be connected, what would tie the little protective charms to the larger power source even when they were held at a distance, he'd become irritable, had dismissed her abruptly. It worried her. He'd been so patient when he taught her to read, back when she'd first become his apprentice. What had gone wrong?
Simeon straightened up with a sigh and a wince, rubbing his back. He groped for his glasses, left to one side of the eyepiece, and nearly knocked them off the table before managing to manouevre them into place. Then he noticed Danie.
"Yes, master." She winced at the flattened "a" she'd let slip, but for once Simeon failed to correct her accent. He was looking preoccupied.
"We've got a commission," he said, looking back at the cluster of artifacts on the workbench.
"From the Duke."
Danie bit her lip rather than echo his words again.
"The Duke of Solen Attersay?" she asked instead. That was the nearest city-state to have a Duke. But Simeon shook his head.
"From His Grace the Duke of Aberwyn," he said. "He's fourth in line to the High King's throne!"
Danie stared. The words didn't really mean much to her. Aberwyn was miles away, far to the north, and the High King's city further still. The people of Ben Ethed might pay dues to the High King, and his face might be on some of their coins, but nobody expected any more interaction than that. If a traveller had said he came from Mair Regis, the High King's city, most people would have assumed he was telling stories.
"What will you make, master?" she asked, careful to extend the a this time. Simeon grimaced.
"That's the problem," he said. "I don't know. But you've come from the Chasm, haven't you? Did you find anything?"
Danie undid the bag ties and produced her finds, four small power sources, two connectors, a trident fork, two different lights and what she thought was a converter. The final piece, her treasure from the depths, she saved until last. Simeon watched as she brought them out, one after another. The trident fork earned her an approving nod, the converter made him smile. But the last piece made his eyes light up with glee.
"Now that...." he said slowly, "that looks like something I haven't seen in a long time."
"What is it, master?"
"Come here," he said, holding up the artifact, which was approximately fist-sized and irregularly many-sided. It was beautifully crafted, with thin gold lines etched onto what looked like sapphire. The feeble light from the workshop lamps was transformed when it hit the artifact, becoming a blaze of blues that splashed across the wall, moving as Simeon turned the object around. In the Chasm city, under sunlight, it had been breathtaking.
"See these glyphs?" Simeon said, indicating one facet of the artifact. Danie leaned in and squinted. The glyphs were there all right, tiny tangled complex things beyond her ability to decipher. Did Simeon understand them? Why wouldn't he teach her?
"What do they do?"
"I think... I think this is a Navigator."
"A Navigator? Like a compass?"
"Well, yes," Simeon looked annoyed. "In a manner of speaking. It is to a compass what the lights you've brought back are to a simple torch."
In Danie's view, a simple torch was a better bargain, since it didn't require an eldritch power source. Using a power source for something a bit of tallow could do seemed a waste to her. But Simeon was the master, so she held her tongue. Best not to argue. Not about this, anyway.
"Master, will you teach me more glyphs?"
Simeon frowned without looking up from the Navigator.
"Not now, Danie. I need to work on this new commission. Ask me after that's over."
"Yes, master." She sighed, and left the workshop, one hand on her bag. Commission or no commission, she hadn't expected him to say yes. At least he hadn't realised the bag wasn't empty.
Danie's room was at the top of the building, a oddly-shaped little space with a tiny window crammed beneath the rafters. Master Simeon had the two floors in between the shop and her little attic, but since she slept and ate for free while she was his apprentice, she felt it was a bargain. It was the first room that had ever been hers. Before she had come to Master Simeon, she had shared a room at Auntie Ruth's with as many other children as wanted to sleep there that night, and if she didn't want to share the room the only alternative was the street. In her room now, she could latch the door and know that nobody could come in unless she let them. It was still an intoxicating feeling.
Now she fastened the latch, sat crosslegged on the bed and pulled off the bag properly, undoing the last ties on the pouch Master Simeon hadn't noticed. Inside was a two-way connector, a standard type, one she knew by the glyphs on its side. Six months ago, Simeon had taught her the glyphs for power sources, lights, connectors and the various types of standard forks. Then she had gone to the Chasm city to look for artifacts, and since then she had learned no more. He had praised her that first time, when she had been so scared she had barely ventured further than the first few houses, but she'd found a power source somehow overlooked by all the other scavengers, and that had pleased him. Somehow, between then and now, he'd decided not to teach her any more and not to tell her why.
She reached up to the rafters and felt along to the box wedged between the rafter and the roof proper. Undoing the catch, she put the connector in with the other components. There was a power source, of course, a small one but good quality, or so Master Simeon said of that type. Two lights, of the kind they sold most frequently, a fork and a couple of small things she didn't know the glyphs for. She had wondered about giving them to Master Simeon, pretending she had found them that day, but she hadn't done it yet. She wanted to know what they were, but in a way it was fun to imagine, and she told herself she was saving them for the time when she didn't find anything. They were her insurance.
Danie woke early the next morning, before the sun reached her window. She pulled on her overtunic and groped for her bag in the dim, predawn light. Tiptoeing down the stairs so as not to wake Master Simeon, she helped herself to a heel of bread, two oranges, a handful of dates and a hunk of cheese from the kitchen and let herself out by the back door.
The city was beginning to stir from its sleep, goatherds and shepherds driving their charges in to the livestock market, craftsmen and merchants opening their stalls and arranging their wares. Danie scurried down a side street, munching on alternate bites of bread and cheese, and turned into the main street that led across the city. Sticking to the edge, out of the way of the carts, she walked more slowly, taking the time to look around at the hustle and bustle of the wakening city. At the big Archal Temple, she turned left, dodged down an alleyway, knocked at a battered-looking door and was let in to Auntie Ruth's.
Auntie Ruth was standing with her back to the door, kneading bread. Danie looked down and met the solemn brown eyes of Imigen, who had been barely walking when Danie had left.
"Hello, Imigen," Danie said. Imigen blinked and ducked her head, suddenly shy. Danie offered one of the last of her dates, and Imigen hesitated, then grabbed it and ran off.
"How's you, Danie?" Auntie Ruth said without turning round. She was a tall, skinny woman with iron-grey curls only partly bound by a green headscarf. Her age was impossible to know. She'd looked the same for all Danie's twelve years, at least the ones Danie could remember.
"'M good, Auntie," she said in reply.
"What brings you to my door this morning? Is all well with Master Simeon?"
"'S all fine. Just felt like it." Danie heard her own accent collapsing to match Ruth's familiar short vowels and skipped syllables.
"You been taught the magic yet?"
"You need to tell that Master Simeon to get on with it. Else he's just taking advantage." Auntie Ruth turned round to face her and Danie scowled.
"He will. When it's time."
"You be sure he does."
When Danie didn't reply, Ruth turned back to the bread. After a little while, she said:
"If you've got nothing to do, there's laundry needs hanging. Make yourself useful."
Danie left Auntie Ruth's two hours later, having hung laundry, chopped vegetables, washed dishes and mended two shirts. The routine of the chores settled peace around her. It felt good to finish things, to be productive and to help out at the place she still, somehow, felt was home. Outside, the trading had reached full swing along all the main roads, but the back roads were comparatively quiet. She scuffed and skipped along the alleyways, swinging her arms and devising new routes to avoid the busy main streets. Reaching the workshop, she found no sign of Lily, which improved an already good mood.
"Master!" she called, closing the door behind her and squinting in the dim light inside the shop.
She went through to the workshop. Simeon was looking agitated but also, oddly, pleased. He turned as she entered.
"Master, I wanted - "
"No time now, girl." Simeon dismissed her words with an abrupt wave. "I need more tincture of ebonite, and four pegs of gold. Here," and he scrabbled over the bench until he found his purse and fished out several coins. "Go to the market, to the stall marked "Orifalcon". They sell the best."
Danie stared at him, his face eager and intent, his hands holding out the coins. She'd never gone to the market for him before.
"How much tincture, Master?" she found herself saying, as though somebody else had taken over.
Danie found herself outside the workshop door, still carrying her bag and holding more money than she'd ever dreamed of in one clenched fist.
The route to the artificers' market was different from the route to Auntie Ruth's, less familiar, so she kept to the main roads, enjoying the bustle of the city and the swelling noise around her, far louder than it had been in the early morning. The closer to the centre, the thicker the stalls clustered and the louder the calls, each trader competing with her neighbour to promote her wares. Danie took the time to inspect any interesting stalls that she hadn't seen before. It couldn't matter if she dawdled a little, surely.
"You are Simeon El Ashak's tame scavenger, are you not?"
Danie spun round from the display of intricate wooden mechanisms she'd been looking over to see a tall, elegant lady watching her from the other side of the street, just outside a door marked with the sign that meant "Artificer". She wore a robe like Master Simeon's, only on her it looked like the finest ballgown. Small, sparkling jewels were arranged along her earlobes and threaded through her long dark hair.
"I'm not a scavenger," Danie said. "I'm his apprentice."
The lady raised one eyebrow.
"His apprentice. Truly? He has not registered you. What is your name?"
Danie flushed, knowing what the lady meant.
"Just Danie," she said, trying to sound defiant.
"Well, Just Danie, have you attended the apprentices' functions?"
The lady turned her head to the door behind her, which was slightly open.
She stepped gracefully to one side as a boy came to the doorway. He was dressed neatly in dark clothes, with a dark robe over them which looked like the lady's, although it was shorter and unadorned.
"Jonatan of Asketh, my apprentice," the lady said. "Do you two know each other?"
Mute, Danie shook her head. Jonatan eyed her with distaste.
"No, my lady," he said.
"You know all the other apprentices, don't you?"
"Yes, my lady."
She turned back to Danie.
"So you see, El Ashak himself does not consider you an apprentice. He overlooks your obvious talent. Or rather, he makes use of it."
"What do you mean?" Danie's voice was tight, high-pitched with strain. She made herself breath steadily.
"You are an excellent scavenger. He boasts frequently of the finds he has acquired from you. Indeed, it is those finds which have enabled him to become one of the top artificers in the city."
"So, I wish to employ you. Unlike your current master, I won't constrain you to only working for one artificer. But I do want first pick of your finds. In return, I will pay you a regular sum. Say, five half-crowns a month?"
Danie sucked in her breath. That was almost double what she held in her hand. So much, just for first pick?
"Will you teach me too?" she asked. The lady sighed, and Jonatan of Asketh looked disdainfully amused.
"That is not possible," the lady said, and Danie felt her heart clench.
"Then I'm not interested," she declared, turning to leave before her self-control failed.
"If you change your mind the offer is still open," the lady said behind her, and Danie felt her cheeks heating. She stared straight ahead and kept walking, imagining Jonatan's smirk and the lady's laughter all the way to the market.
On the way home, the tincture and the gold tucked safely into one of her pouches, she turned the words over in her mind, allowing the repetition to file the sharp edges off a bit, although they still stung. Clearly, she had been let down by Master Simeon. Just as Auntie Ruth had said, it was time she realised that. He may have started teaching her, but he'd never truly considered her an apprentice. But why not? It couldn't just be money, surely. And he'd taken her on before she had discovered her ability to scavenge. That first trip down the Chasm, taken with one of the older boys from Auntie Ruth's, had not been at his behest but for her own curiosity. Fahan had shown her the way, boasting that he found loads of those little things "her Master Ashak" treasured.
Well, whatever the reason, she had to find some way to make Master Simeon fulfil his promise to her. Refusing to scavenge wouldn't work; he would throw her out, and then she'd be back at Auntie Ruth's again with no more chances. But if she could find something.... if she could find something really special, perhaps it would work as a bargaining tool?
She considered the idea, then put it aside. She couldn't conceive of any artifact worth so much as to permanently change Master Simeon's attitude towards her. But all the same, if it was possible, it was worth a try.
It was two more days before she went to the Chasm again, and those two days were marked by Master Simeon's increasing bad temper. Several times Danie, minding the shop while Lily wasn't around, heard him curse with a pungency she had never expected of him, the words coming clear through the heavy curtain to fill the shop with obscenity. Thankfully, no customers had been present at those times. She guessed it was the important commission that was going wrong, but it was almost impossible to talk to him about anything, so she didn't ask.
The day she went to the Chasm, Lily still hadn't shown up. Danie didn't quite understand the role Lily played in her master's life, but she seemed to be able to do as she pleased. Master Simeon had never questioned her. Until that morning.
Danie had opened up as usual, sweeping the front step and putting out the display goods. Two merchants had stopped by to buy cart protectors, small cheap items that probably wouldn't last ten miles if used at full strength. Danie offered both men a better protector, but they refused to pay the higher price.
She slumped behind the counter as the morning wore on, bored and restless. Master Simeon was thumping around in the workshop. Near mid-morning he came through the curtain and glared at the shop.
"Where's that girl?" he demanded
"Me, Master?" Danie asked.
"No, Lily. Stupid girl! How are we supposed to get anything done if she's never here to mind the shop?!"
Danie stared. Master Simeon looked at her, then dropped his gaze as though ashamed of his outburst.
"You better be off," he said.
"To the Chasm, girl! We need more components."
"Yes, Master." Danie slid from the stool and hurried upstairs for her bag. When she came down again, Master Simeon was sitting on the stool behind the counter, scribbling notes on a worn slate. She left by the front door, wondering if any customers would dare go in with that grumpy expression on his face.
It was a short walk from the workshop to the edge of the city, marked not by a wall or guards but by the petering out of shops and homes, buildings giving way to scrubby grassland where tethered goats eyed her with their yellow glare. Here and there were half-built homes, waiting to be finished. The way their owners worked, it might take them twenty years more to complete those homes. The smooth road became roughly paved, then a dirt track. Nobody came out here for anything important. This road went nowhere. Nowhere except the Chasm.
The old city was quiet today, the slanting sunbeams lazily picking out swirling dust motes drifting endlessly down between the buildings. Danie stood for a moment on the balcony nearest her entrance tunnel, staring at the scenery. The city stretched out before her, filling the enormous canyon all the way to its furthest end, nearly ten miles away. From where she stood, if she squinted, she could almost imagine it was all still intact and in use. She could hear the children laughing as they played, running between the balconies on the bridges whose existence was now only guessed at from the broken edges that were all that was left. She could picture the smiling people, chatting over the railings, walking between houses, going down perhaps, on their way to...
She shook her head. Going down wasn't something she liked to think about. But if she was going to get something good - something for Master Simeon and maybe something for herself - then venturing further below gave her the best chance of success. She swallowed, and began the careful traverse of the broken balconies, one house to another, walking through them where she could. They were tall, elegant houses with multiple stories, many still intact but stripped of all their goods. Any artifacts that had once been there were long gone, taken by scavengers like Danie herself. She wondered, as she often did, what had happened to the inhabitants. Who had they been, what had they been like? She pictured them as human, but were they? The houses and stairs were about the right size for humans, but that didn't mean they had the same shape as Danie, or Master Simeon. And how had they made the artifacts, the wonderful, magical objects about which even Master Simeon understood so little?
Twenty minutes in, halfway through a particularly fine house, its walls covered in ornate decorations which reminded Danie of the Passage Glyphs on the Rectangular Thingummy, she turned off the standard course. It was a tricky route, requiring her to squeeze between two walls which leant against each other, then to descend two floors with no staircase, but once she had climbed down the rope she'd brought with her, the paths onwards from this point were comparatively easy. She did not think many of the other scavengers knew this way. Outside the decorated house were more stairs down. She'd been this way last time, when the city had been disturbed, but she didn't think she had been the one to upset it. So she moved carefully, quietly, and respectfully, and kept her ears and eyes open. The city stayed quiescent.
At this level, the houses were simpler and bore little of the fine decoration which covered the inside walls of the houses further up. The rooms were smaller, or sometimes much larger, so that she wondered why houses would have been made to such a size. Were they meeting halls, perhaps? Storage rooms? The light this far down was dim, and she spent what seemed like a long time in each room, carefully looking to make sure she didn't miss anything. Although the inner walls were entirely undecorated, she kept finding glyphs painted by windows or doors, or sometimes by small vents in the walls. They didn't have the flourishes of the ornate decoration further up, but looked somehow workmanlike. Most of them she didn't recognise.
By the time she reached the furthest point she'd ever explored, she had found only two small artifacts, both converters of a standard type. They would be useful, but they would not help Master Simeon with his commission. Danie looked up, trying to see the sky, gauge the time of day, but this far down it was impossible to tell. She looked down the way in front of her - a staircase with several stairs missing, but it looked sound. It led to a wide platform with several buildings around it. It looked promising. Screwing up her courage, she ventured carefully down the stairs, pausing every few steps to look and to listen for trouble.
The houses around this platform were long and low, and weirdly connected to each other with cylindrical pipes. Danie had never seen anything like it before. The pipes were big enough that she could have crawled through them, although no adult could. Glyphs marked their lengths in repetitve patterns, with the same workmanlike painting as the buildings on the level above. Poking her head into one of the buildings, Danie lit her candle and looked around. Its flickering light revealed a small room with a doorway leading to an inner room. The inner room had a square depression in the centre, for what purpose she could not imagine, but she could see the entrance of the pipe connecting this building to the next. More small, neat glyphs were painted around its rim. Perplexed, she left the odd buildings and walked to the other side of the platform.
There was another platform below, only dimly visible, but there was no way down; the stairs had fallen in. She squinted into the depths, and could make out odd shapes; a huge wheel, more pipes, tall thin buildings and wider, squat buildings, but could see nothing more. Somewhat frustrated, but also relieved at not having to go any further, she headed back up the way she had come.
She was most of the way back to the house with the rope, halfway up one of the more intact staircases, when she heard the city groan. Danie flattened herself to the wall to which the steps were attached, and looked around, trying to stay calm. In the distance, a flock of white birds winged out from the other end of the chasm, climbing effortlessly into the sky, a thin streak of blue far above. The city was silent.
Danie took a breath and continued. At the top of the steps she looked back in time to see the wall against which she'd leant collapse. It started with a crack, oddly soundless, and then sections of the wall fell apart, blocks of masonry falling forwards to obliterate the stairs, or backwards, into the building which had supported them. The noise of destruction washed over her.
Panicked, Danie ran, hurdling blocks of masonry which seemed intended to trip her, dodging awkward bits of stone jutting out from walls which she was sure hadn't been there before. The dust got in her eyes and the city played tricks on her, making buildings seem close when they were far away, or disgusing cracks in the floor until she nearly put her foot through them. She had intended to get to the rope in the decorated house and get out, but somewhere in the confusion she lost her way. She squashed that awareness and the growing terror and concentrated on running away instead; away from the destruction and the instability, away from the city which seemed to want to squash her. Just like last time, only now she was much deeper than she had been then, and she was pretty sure she was completely alone. There was nobody else who could have upset the city, nobody else who could maybe help her. The city seemed to shake and roar around her as she fled.
She stopped running when she ran out of breath, sinking to her knees in a little nook beside a doorway. A fearful glance over her shoulder showed her no destruction, and the noise had died away. Breathing hard, she crawled close to the wall, although she knew it offered no real shelter. It was just as solid, just as fragile as the one she'd seen collapse. She leant against it anyway, and as her breathing steadied she realised she'd never been where she was now. The thought brought both panic and excitement. Here, perhaps, she'd find something new.
The doorway she had crouched beside led into a room with decorations on the wall, like those of the houses further up. The room was medium-sized, with an alcove in one corner and two doors leading out, a standard sort of room. Danie started scanning the corners for potential artifacts, but something about the decorations caught her eye. They looked somehow familiar. Their turns and twists, the way they were arranged, the not-quite-symmetry of their placing... And she had it; they looked like an ornate, decorated version of the glyphs on the Rectangular Thingummy! Only there were more glyphs than fit on the Thingummy, arranged to one side. One small section of that pattern looked like a power source. If that was a power source, and the other side was the Thingummy, was the bit in the middle what was supposed to go between them to make it do whatever it did when it was working? Was it a part of a power source? Was there, somewhere in the city, the power source designed to go with the Thingummy?
A cold shiver ran through her, a feeling of the world shifting under her feet, of bits fitting together that she hadn't even realised were part of the same puzzle.
Were the other patterns also instructions?
Master Simeon was angry with her meagre findings, but Danie took very little notice. The concepts, the possibilities, were still running through her head. That night, lying in her little attic room, she stared at the rafters and imagined life in the Chasm city, how it might have been so long ago. With the rooms intact for families to live in and the walls decorated for learning, so that the devices could be used to their fullest potential. The wall hadn't said what the Thingummy was for, or if it had, she hadn't understood it. If she could read the script, what could the walls tell her? And what about the lower levels, with those plain, workmanlike glyphs around the buildings? Were they for learning, or were they somehow functional? How did those long-ago people learn? How were the artifacts made?
Somewhere in the middle of her wondering, she drifted to sleep and dreamed of a city filled with people, people who looked a bit like Auntie Ruth but younger, tall and dark of skin and hair, elegant in white robes, using artifacts like they were a normal part of life. Little Imigen found a place in the scene, playing with a light, turning it on and off again by touching the right glyph. The city hummed with life, busy with people doing and making, playing and learning, thinking and working and studying and dreaming.
She woke up with tears on her face, weeping for the city and its people and their culture, lost so long ago that nobody even knew what had happened to them.
Master Simeon sent her back to the Chasm, which she expected. She took with her some scrap paper and a charcoal stick, wrapped so it wouldn't come off all over her bag pouch. When she got to the Chasm, several other scavengers were in sight, so she waited until they'd gone their separate ways then went into the first house with intact walls and wrote down all the glyphs she could find. She repeated this for every house between her starting point and the house with the rope - still there from the day before. She rescued it, coiling it up neatly and tucking it into her bag, and making notes on the glyphs on the wall.
Then she spent several hours searching, but despite her best efforts she found little more. It felt like the city which had once been so generous had changed its mind about her, intent on denying her its treasures. She left in mid-afternoon, hungry from missing lunch, bearing three forks, one light and a power source, standard fare but nothing that would please Master Simeon. She kept one of the forks back and took it to her room after his angry reception of her few offerings. In the little attic space, lit by the afternoon sun, she took down her box of bits and spread them across the bed, adding the new fork to the pile. Then she pulled out her notes from the wall decorations, and tried to match them up.
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In the morning, Danie came downstairs with her heart pounding and her stomach tight. Lily was there already, messing with the shop in an entirely pointless fashion. She turned her back on Danie, who barely noticed the snub. Her entire attention was on the workshop, and what was going to happen inside.
Master Simeon was seated at the bench, staring down his eyepiece at one of the more complicated artifacts. He wasn't moving the focus knobs, though, or the stage. He seemed more slumped over the instrument than actually using it, more looking inward than through it.
"Master," Danie said, wondering at how her voice stayed level. He didn't move.
"Master, I have something to show you."
Simeon lifted his head from the eyepiece and turned to face her. He looked worn-out, weary and defeated.
"What is it?"
"I know what has to go with the Right-Angled Turntable." She'd spent a lot of time thinking about the appropriate choice of artifact for her scheme. Firstly, she had to have all the necessary parts. Then, it couldn't be something as important as the Thingummy, but it had to be something which Simeon had found no use for himself. She'd found the Turntable four months ago, but despite its obvious moving parts, Simeon had been unable to fathom its purpose. He thought it was for transport. Danie thought she knew better.
Simeon scowled, as though her remark had been irrelevant.
"What do you want, girl? I'm busy! This confounded commission..." he trailed off, as her words penetrated. "What do you mean?"
Danie went to the other side of the big workbench and lifted down the Turntable. Putting it to one side, she also took out a standard power source, a converter, and what until last night she'd thought was a light. This was one of the ones which flashed in different colours, and typically sold for a high price. She connected the four components up according to her carefully-memorised blueprints, then paused. Master Simeon was watching, his curiosity hidden beneath irritation. Stomach clenching with nerves, Danie activated the light. It flashed green like it always did, but nothing else happened. Danie felt her heart sink. The Turntable sat motionless on the workbench, and the light blinked greenly, and all her ideas ground to a confused halt in her mind.
Then the Turntable moved. Just as its name implied, it started turning slowly, steadily. Danie let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. Master Simeon lurched forward to sprawl across the wide workbench, his hands reaching for the Turntable.
"What - what is this?"
"I think it's a potter's wheel, Master," Danie said.
"What - how did you know how to do that?"
"I found the instructions, Master."
"In the city. In some houses there are notations on the walls. I recognised the glyphs."
Simeon drew in a deep breath and let it out again. He had never been to the Chasm, Danie knew. None of the artificers ventured down there, instead leaving it up to the scavengers to risk their lives finding artifacts. Similarly, none of the scavengers would have dreamed of becoming an artificer. That was for the educated, the wealthy, those who could afford the time to spend poring over ancient artifacts so they could make spells to sell. She was the only person to have visited who knew even a few glyphs, probably one of a very few who could even read. How much time had they wasted by never visiting, never seeing the decorated walls that no scavenger would have paid attention to?
"I can bring more instructions back, Master," she said, breaking the silence.
"Yes," Simeon said hoarsely. His voice sounded far away. "Yes, do that. Quickly."
"You have to teach me more first," she said, amazed to find her voice steady, as though she wasn't talking about anything important. Simeon focussed on her.
"You have to teach me," she said. "Otherwise I won't know what I'm looking for. You promised to teach me."
Simeon sighed and sat down, as though suddenly very weary.
"I did," he said. "Very well. I will teach you, and you will bring me the diagrams."
"I want to be an official apprentice," Danie insisted.
"Because one day I want to be an artificer. And I won't be able to if I am not your apprentice first, isn't that right?"
She could see him wanting to disagree, but he was an honest man at heart, even if he was prone to taking advantage of people.
"You won't like the other apprentices," he said.
"I don't need to mix with them. Do I?"
That brought a hoarse, croaking laugh.
"No, no you don't. Very well then." He heaved himself to his feet. "Come with me. We will go down to the Guild now and I will write out your apprenticeship papers." He headed for the door, and Danie hurried to follow him. Lily stared at them both as they left the shop together. The morning sun was already hot, and the streets were filling with people on their morning errands, shopping, gossipping, fetching and carrying. Master Simeon walked down the middle of the street and people made way for him like they would for all artificers. Danie hurried beside him, taking two steps for every one of his.
"What will you do when you are made artificer?" Master Simeon asked, as they turned off the main road to take a shortcut to the Guild.
"I will find an artifact that no-one has seen before, and study it until I know everything about it," Danie said.
"You have high expectations."
Danie couldn't help it, she had to laugh. Simeon chuckled too, as though she was laughing at his joke, but she wasn't. She was laughing because she knew exactly what she was going to study. The Chasm city itself, source of artifacts, place of learning, of living... the city itself was an artifact, the greatest ever created. She was sure of it. Those depths she had started to explore were the once-living heart of the city. What kind of wonders had it provided for its citizens so long ago? She dodged sideways in the street to make way for a water-carrier. Had the Chasm city had running water in every house? Did the citizens need fires in the cold months, or was there some other source of heat? She already knew they had had lights with no need of candles. All the things she had retrieved from the city thus far might as well be toys for children compared with the city itself. She ran ahead in the small street and jumped as high as she could, ignoring Master Simeon's irritated sigh at her exuberance.
"I can't wait!"
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