Welcome to the third and final part of my weird western/fantasy novella, Clock Strikes Death. If you've been along for the ride since the beginning, thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you love the ending of this story as much as I do. If this your first look at the story, go ahead and check out the first and second part here. And if you're one to comment along as you read, feel free to check out the Google Doc here and use the comment option to give me some feedback on the story. I'd really appreciate it.
As always, thanks for reading.
The pain did not leave. There was pounding. Noise, movement, jagged edges. And pain. He was alone in a dark room, there were stones, rolling across the floor of the cave, and then they were being crushed, slowly, one by one, piece by piece until there was nothing left but dust. His body screamed at him for relief. For something. Something to stop. To stop. To stop. To stop the pain.
He should be dead. But death was for better men. He was not. He was not.
Red. Metal. Fingers reaching... His body was tearing itself apart. And then back together again. And somehow he was still alive. He should be dead.
Back, back. Jolie lay screaming. It was his fault. It was Biggs' fault. It was their fault. And then she was dead. He should be dead.
Biggs was standing over him, praying. Hypocrite. They were probing him, stabbing him with needles, digging into his skin, pulling out a piece of him, and putting that thing inside. Clockwork. He didn't want it there. He would rather be dead. He should be dead. He didn't want to be dead.
A familiar voice rang through the cave. No, not a cave. Wood floors, wood walls, wood ceiling, light. He was not in the cave. Where was he? Who had taken him? The girl, the girl, the girl... She saved him. He saved her. It was only logical. She saved him again. But it was not her voice that he heard. It was his.
He didn't want to be dead. The ringing in his ears chimed the hour. Nine o'clock.
The grandfather clock in the corner chimed counterpoint to the ringing in his ears. Sunlight flooded through the window to his right, warming him with its rays. Declan smelled flowers, a rich and fresh scent. And food--ham and cooked vegetables, if his nose wasn't betraying him. He lay in a warm bed, in a warm room, and everything was quiet. One couldn't even call the ticking of the grandfather clock noise, seamlessly as it fit into the ambience of the room.
The pain, as intense as it had been before, was now subdued to a low throb. He felt a kind of fogginess about his mind, and figured that he had been given some sort of drugs. How someone in the middle of the Canyons' wilderness had an anesthetic was beyond him. And then he remembered.
"You always were a fighter," a man said, with a gruff yet nasal voice that Declan recognized instantly. "I never worried that you weren't going to survive a job, even back then. We all knew that no matter what else happened, who else died, how else the job went wrong, you were going to get out of it with your skin."
Declan glanced to his left, where a balding man sat in a chair next to the bed, his face worn and wrinkled, covered over with a goatee and mustache. His facial hair, and what little hair he had left on his head were brown, with relatively little signs of grey. He wore simple utilitarian brown shirt and trousers, common in the Canyons. "H-ha-harning..." he stammered, speech made difficult because of the fog covering his mind.
"So you do remember me," Harning Lonshorne said, smiling faintly. "What a surprise."
"Of course I remember you," Declan said, starting to find his voice. "I remember all of you."
Harning raised an eyebrow. "Even the ones you killed? I would think you'd want to forget those."
Declan didn't answer, but met Harning's gaze, refusing to back down.
Harning continued to glare back. "When my daughter dragged you home, half-dead and delirious, I wasn't sure whether to praise her for saving a man's life or scold her for saving yours."
Declan ignored the jab. "Your daughter? Somehow I never took you for the fatherly type."
"I would have said the same thing five years ago," Harning said. "Soria is adopted. I found her stealing from me once, when she was ten. I figured I would look after her, one thief to another."
"'You're not a thief, Harning. The rest of us were."
"Not directly, no, you're right. But I dare say without me, we never would have made it as far as we did."
Declan hesitated. "Fair enough."
"Humility?" Harning asked with a cold laugh. "From you? Where did you get that, the same place you got the gray hairs?"
"It's been a long time."
They paused, still staring at each other with a cold animosity. Harning finally spoke. "It has. Yes, it has." The balding man stood, rubbing his face in a weary sort of way. "You've changed, Declan. You talked a lot more back then."
"We've all changed, Harning," Declan said, shifting with considerable effort in the bed. "You, for example, lost your hair."
The man scratched his scalp absently. "Not all of it. At least not yet. Was this conversation going somewhere? What in the name of the Father are you doing back in the Canyons?"
"Looking for you, actually, if you can believe it."
"Really?" Harning's mouth turned upward, amused. "Well, you found me. And my stash of clockwork, apparently. What possessed you to put Cards in those two, by the way?"
"Your stash of clockwork?" Declan asked, confused.
"Hmm." Harning pursed his lips. "Well, crap. So you didn't know already?"
Declan shook his head, eyes widening.
Harning put a hand to his forehead. "Me and my big mouth..."
"Wait a minute, so you're saying that you've scavenged--or stolen--those hundreds of clockwork and stuffed them in a cave in the middle of nowhere?"
Harning nodded, resigned. "I suppose so, yes."
"If the Emperor ever found out...you would be killed on the spot. That's high treason!"
"As I recall, so is taking a Card."
"There's a big difference between two cards and hundreds of clockwork bodies! Are you insane?"
"You were always so fond of telling me that I was."
Declan started to say more, but winced as a flare of pain washed over his body. It passed, and he went on, more reserved. "Where did you find them?"
"Here and there. From this criminal or that criminal. I've been doing it for five years now, though, so it's all piled up."
"Why?" Declan asked, shaking his head. "What would possess you to--" And he remembered who he was talking to.
"Because that's what I do. If you recall, I am--I was a mechanist, before you talked me into joining the crew. I've been researching them, taking them apart. Putting them back together. And I have a few Cards as well. I've been trying to..." Harning stopped, realizing he had probably said too much already.
"You're trying to figure it out," Declan guessed. "The secret. How they can think, feel, act. Animation."
"Yes," Harning said. "It's what I've always been doing. Even back then."
"You're insane, Harning."
They kept eye contact for a long time, before Declan sighed and looked down. He noticed his hands for the first time. They were bandaged, and though he could feel a slight throb coming from his fingers, they seemed relatively intact. Declan frowned. "Did you do this?"
Harning followed his gaze and then shook his head. "My clockwork did. I found a few Leech Cards a while back--they've come in handy. You have about thirty stitches there, around ten in your back. It's going to take a while for that to heal. In the meantime, it looks like I'm stuck with you."
Declan nodded. Neither talked for a moment, but then Harning broke the silence, stepping towards the door. "You're probably hungry."
Declan chuckled, trying to force some warmth into his voice. "Yeah." The other man opened the door, and was about to step out, but Declan spoke again. "Thanks."
"For what?" Harning paused at the door. "The food? The stitches?"
"For not killing me on the spot."
Harning turned from Declan. "That's the difference between you and me. I'm never the one with the gun in my hand." He walked out of the room, and closed the door behind him.
Declan sat on the porch of Harning's cottage, rocking back and forth on a worn chair. He stared at the dusty badlands beyond, wondering how he was going to ask his old friend for help again, even after all the man had already done for him. After all that Declan had done to him. That was the reason he had come back to this place. To beg Harning to try to save what was left of his humanity.
The balding man sat in a similar chair at the other end of the porch, reading a book through spectacles that seemed to make him a dozen years older. He licked his finger and turned the page, never speaking, never losing focus on the words below him. He had always been focused, precise. That was part of why he was such a good mechanist--or, used to be.
Soria sat on the porch between the two men, near the door, playing a card game with herself. She also had a look of intense concentration plastered to her face, as if each move she made, each card she drew, had earth-shaking consequences. Like father, like daughter, I suppose.
Soria was an interested girl, to say the least. She was an extremely accomplished trapper and survivalist, and spent her days exploring the rocky landscape of the Canyons, only returning to eat and sleep, or for rare moments like this, where she graced them with her company and stayed a while, playing a card game or talking, or both. Harning never seemed troubled by his adopted daughter's absence from the cottage, even when she spent the night out in the wilderness. Declan had been confused until Soria took him out one day on a walk, once he was healing well enough to do some physical activity. After a day spent with her in the wild, during which Soria chased off a pack of wild dogs, saved Declan from falling down two different cliffs, and foraged enough food along the way to make the rations they brought with them unnecessary, Declan realized that she could take care of herself.
Soria had dark skin for a Colonist, which marked her as having native blood, and had medium-cropped raven hair that Declan almost never saw let loose. Tonight was a rare occasion, and she sat next to her card game with her hair around her shoulders, only taking her eyes off the game long enough to take a bite of the salted potatoes that lay on a plate by her side. Her name as well, was odd for a Colonist. Soria. It sounds very native. I wonder how closely related she actually is.
The Nanaki, the people who had lived in this land before the first Colonists came across the sea, were mostly extinct now, a sad circumstance only made possible by the massive amounts of clockwork technology that the Colonists had brought with them on that day, almost a hundred and fifty years ago, when they had landed on the eastern coast of the continent for the first time. Now the Nanaki only lived on in small tribes in the west. There were a few in the Canyons, but Declan had never encountered any of them. The Canyons were an enormous stretch of territory, and the Nanaki were quite elusive in this day and age.
Harning sighed and closed his book, setting it down on the small table next to his seat. He took off his spectacles and rubbed at his forehead. "Soria, did you see anything today?"
The girl glanced at him distractedly. "No people, if that's what you mean."
Harning nodded, looking thoughtful. "Well, that's almost a month now, with no one. It looks like you weren't followed after all, Declan. Or at least, they haven't found you quite yet."
Declan grunted. The two of them had barely spoken a word to each other since that first day he had woken up. Harning had been worried that someone from the bunker-prison--which he himself hadn't known existed until a month ago--had found Declan's trail and would find his stash of clockwork because of it, but it looked as if his worry was unfounded. "Well, Biggs needed to heal up too. He got hit pretty hard in that last fight, and he's been the one trying to track me down all these years. He'll probably want to lead the headhunt after he gets some rest--he's the best one the Emperor has for the job, anyway--though he might have sent out Hunters in the meantime."
"No clockwork either, I checked." Soria didn't look up from her card game.
"This is a pretty secluded place," Declan said. "I only found you through almost a year of searching--and some dumb luck. I have a feeling Biggs is going to have a crappy time if it's taken me this long to find where you've been hiding."
Harning nodded again, but he still seemed tense. The silence returned anew, and the three of them watched while the sun sank to the west. Well, Harning and Declan did. Soria was too involved in her card game. A moment later, Harning got up from his chair and went inside without saying a word. Declan waited for a minute or two before getting up himself and following the man. Soria gave him a look, but didn't say anything.
Declan found Harning in the cellar, tinkering with his Leech, replacing a few worn parts here and there and oiling the gears. It didn't really look like the clockwork needed the attention, but the mechanist went to work anyway, obviously trying to lose himself in it. Unfortunately, Declan wasn't going to let him.
"It's been a month now, and you still haven't asked why I came looking for you," Declan said, leaning on a box. He still wasn't completely healed yet, and his joints still ached, along with the wound in his back. His hands were pretty much back to normal, though there was definitely some scarring, and one of his small fingers was pretty badly deformed. Luckily, he could still shoot a gun just fine. Or at least, he thought he could. Harning wouldn't let him near one, and Declan couldn't blame him.
"Maybe that's because I don't care," Harning said after a moment, not looking up from his work. "In a few days you should be rested enough to leave, and at that point my hospitality will have run thin. I will no longer be inclined to let you stay here, and you will no longer be inclined to stay, I think."
"I need your help, Harning."
"And I need you to help me from becoming a murderer. You can do that by not forcing me into a situation that will make me want to kill you. The Father knows I've wanted to for all these years." He put down his equipment and looked towards Declan. "Do you even understand how much I hated you after what you did? After what you made me do? Did that even cross your mind? I've dreamed of killing you hundreds of times over the last nine years, Declan. And now an opportunity to do so just lands in my lap, and it is taking everything I have not to follow through!"
Declan closed his eyes. He understood completely. They all hated him. Who wouldn't? Even Jolie did, before the end. Even Jolie. "Do you know what happened to me after I betrayed you all?"
Harning snorted, and turned back to his work. "Now we're back to me not caring."
"They killed me."
Harning paused. "What do you mean, they killed you? Obviously they didn't, or else you wouldn't be standing here."
"I mean exactly what I said," Declan looked up, meeting Harning's eyes. "I died. A clockwork held me down and ripped out my heart while I screamed for mercy."
For just a moment, Harning started to laugh. But then he saw the look in Declan's eyes, and he stopped himself. "You're serious, aren't you? That's what you remember happening?"
Declan nodded. "I know it sounds crazy."
"Well, of course it does. People don't just get their hearts ripped out and then tell someone about it nine years later. You must have been delusional."
"I wasn't seeing things, Harning. It actually happened."
"Listen to me, you idiot! I'm trying to explain." Declan took a breath to calm himself. "Let me explain. After I died, after the pain disappeared, there was nothing. And then I woke up again, and the pain was back, even stronger than before. Four Leeches were standing over me, prodding and poking me and slicing into me like I was some sort of animal for them to torture. And then there was a man. He had white hair, long, and was dressed in a gentleman's suit. He had a cane, and he prodded me with it, then said something to the Leeches and was gone."
Harning was growing skeptical again. "You mean, the Emperor was there?"
Declan nodded again. "I know it sounds even crazier now, but just listen. They put something inside of me--clockwork. I didn't see them do it, because that was what made me wake up, but they sealed up my chest again, stitched it back together, and I could feel that something was wrong. They tore out my heart and replaced it with clockwork, Harning."
Harning stared at him for a long moment. "And you say I am insane? That's the craziest--"
"It's exactly eight thirty-five, four seconds until the next minute,” Declan said, not breaking eye contact. “Check it.”
Harning glanced at his watch and started. “Yes, that’s right. Good guess. And what does that have to do with anything?”
“I am part clockwork, Harning. I know exactly what time it is, always. And I can use Cards."
Harning looked at him closely, trying to see the truth. "You're insane... You're serious... Oh, Father, you're serious!" The balding man glanced at his work table and picked up a worn Card, shoving it into Declan's hand. "Well, do it!"
Declan hesitated. "I can only do it once, and then the Card is useless. Do you really want me to waste--"
"Lands beyond, do it! I have to see."
Declan looked down at the Card. It was a Leech Card, but it was very old, and seemed to be on the verge of wearing out entirely. He pricked his palm with the small metal bit, and he could suddenly see Harning's insides. Everything that was wrong with him. His aches, pains, scrapes. Declan had never used a Leech Card before. So, this is how they do it.
"Your right elbow aches, you have a bruise on your left thigh, and one of your back molars hurts. You've been having some bad headaches, caused by increased stress and lack of sleep."
Harning stared at him in shock. "It's true! What in the Father's name..."
Declan blinked, and the effects of the Leech Card faded. It was too old to hold up to anything more than a moment of use from him. He squared his shoulders and faced his old friend, ready to say what he had come here to say. "I need you to help me, Harning. I'm becoming more like a clockwork every day. I'm losing my humanity, and I don't know how to stop it. You're the only one I can turn to, you're the only mechanist I know who doesn't work for the Emperor. You have to save me."
"I...." Harning started to say, when suddenly there was a gunshot.
Declan hesitated for only a moment before holding his hand out. "Give me a gun," he said to Harning, who had turned pale at the sound above them.
"Declan, I--" Harning began, but Declan grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him against the wall with such quickness and power that Harning could hardly let out a squeal before the wind was knocked out of him.
"Do not question me. We don't know who's up there, or what kind of trouble we're in, but I know for certain that I am a crap-ton more qualified to deal with it than you are. I am not going to sit by and let you get us all killed because you don't trust me!" He was breathing heavily by the end of it, shaking with anger. "Give me a gun. Now."
And that same look was back on Harning's face. That same widening of the eyes and clenching of the teeth. The man was back to being the terrified mechanist who hated confrontation. It had been a long time since Declan had seen him like that. "Of course," he said simply, and turned away. It was so similar to dozens of encounters they had had while in the crew together that it made Declan shiver. Things had changed so much, yet not at all.
There was a shout above them--a male voice. And then another gunshot. Harning nearly tipped over his desk trying to find a weapon. He finally found a lockbox in one of the drawers and took out a key from the underside of the desk, unlocking it and pulling out a revolver and some ammo. He hesitated only a second before handing them to Declan.
Declan took the gun and starting loading bullets into the cylinder. One round, two, three, a total of six before he snapped the cylinder closed. "Do you have a Card I can use? A Hunter or a Guardian?"
Harning thought about that for a moment, then went back to his desk, foraging around as fast as he could while the shouting continued on above them. He pulled out a thin clockwork card and handed it to Declan. "A Firecracker I picked up by luck a few years ago. Now, lands beyond, man, let's go!"
Declan grinned at his old friend, pricked his palm with the card and took off at a dead run up the stairs. Normally, he would be stealthier, but with a Firecracker Card... There was no such thing as stealth.
Declan forgot all of his worries, a gun in his hand and a flame burning in his veins. This was going to be fun.
As he reached the door, he curled his fingers into a fist and pounded on it with all his might. He felt a rush of heat in his fingertips and the door exploded outward into shards of wood. A clockwork lay just beyond the portal, and it fell backward with the force of the blast. The clockwork's body was thin and elegant, like... A Skyknight. Why in the Father's name was a Skyknight in Harning's cottage in the middle of nowhere? Something was not right.
The Skyknight course-corrected itself in mid-fall, lunging in to the air, doing a flip, and then landing on its feet at the other end of the hallway. Declan stood at the other end, surrounded by shards of wood, gun up and pointed at his target. He pulled the trigger just as the Skyknight hit the ground, and a flash of heat and sound ripped through the hallway as the bullet streaked towards the clockwork. It lurched back as the round took it in the neck, then tumbled away with its flight, shooting down the hallway and around the corner towards the entrance room.
"Why in the Father's name would you blow up my door?" Harning yelled from behind him.
"It probably had termites anyway," Declan said back as he took off in a sprint down the hallway. "Get up here, Harning, or so help me!"
"Dad?" A voice yelled from somewhere in the house. Soria.
Declan turned the corner to the entrance room and was suddenly slammed back by the combined weight of two flying clockwork, who flew into him and sent him right into the wall. He hit hard and then slumped down as the two Skyknights lurched away again. He reached out and tried to grab one of their arms, looking to blast it to pieces, but the clockwork were too fast. He grunted against the pain and brought his revolver up, firing off two rounds at the things' heads. They tinged off the metal, ricocheting away uselessly.
The Skyknights landed gracefully and brought up revolvers of their own, built into the arms themselves. Declan swore and slammed his fist against the floor in front of him, blasting a hole a few feet wide leading into the cellar. The two muzzles flashed as wood splintered in all directions, and Declan rolled into the hole as the bullets whizzed over his head and hit the wall behind him. He fell and hit the floor with a crash, unfazed thanks to the toughness granted by the Firecracker Card.
Declan started to stumble to his feet, but the two Skyknights were right behind him, lunging down through the hole firing wildly. He rolled behind an empty clockwork body, one of Harning's, and narrowly missed being shot. He brought up his revolver and fired off another round, but once again, the metal did little more than scratch one of the Skyknights. You needed to hit clockwork in just the right spot to--
And one of the Skyknights flew across the room in a blaze of heat and shrapnel, crashing against a wall and landing in a heap of twisted metal. Harning stood a few feet away, shotgun in hand. "Make up your mind," the man yelled. "Do you want me upstairs or downstairs?"
Declan wasted no time, sprinting out from behind his cover towards the second Skyknight, which was quickly reloading as it lunged toward cover of its own. Harning cocked the shotgun and fired it again, hitting the clockwork in the head and sending it spinning in the air. Declan ran and leaped off of a crate, arm outstretched towards the Skyknight. He caught it by the foot, and sent a wave of heat through his fingertips, blowing off the appendage in a flash. The careening Skyknight crashed into some crates, showering the room with splinters, and skidded to a halt.
Declan landed as gracefully as he could manage, wincing as his aches and pains caught up with him again, and then ran towards the downed Skyknight. It was attempting to stand when he reached it, disoriented by the shot to the head it had taken. He struck the clockwork's head with all of his might, and it popped off, metal screeching. He started towards the remaining Skyknight, but Harning was already there, shoving his shotgun into the hole on the back and finishing it off.
"Never the one with the gun in your hand, huh?" Declan said.
Harning gave him a death glare.
Another shot from above. "Dad!" Soria's voice.
Harning sprinted for the stairs. Declan made to follow him, then turned back and snatched both of the Skyknight cards instead. They were too valuable to just leave. He ran after Harning, reloading his gun as gracefully as he could. He reached the top of the stairs and heard shouting coming from the entrance room. He followed the noise, gun up, finger on the trigger, and turned the corner in the hallway as cautiously as he could.
Biggs stood in the center of the room, holding a gun to Jolie's head. No, Jolie was dead. It was Soria. Harning was before them, hands up, shotgun on the ground, pleading with Biggs to let her go. Biggs was yelling to give him Declan. Soria was trying not to cry.
"Stop!" Declan shouted over the noise.
The room went silent.
"I knew you were here somewhere," Biggs said, smiling with such ruthlessness that it made Declan shiver. "Give yourself up and I won't blow this girl's brains out."
"I hate you," Declan said, shaking his head. "Can't you see what you've become, Biggs? You're threatening a little girl, and for what? To see your vengeance satisfied?" He stepped towards them, gun still up. Harning was crying now.
"Don't come any closer!" Biggs yelled, pressing the gun further into Soria's temple. The girl whimpered. As strong as she was, apparently this was too much for her. "I know what you can do, Declan. You're just like them now."
"And you aren't?" Declan stopped moving, but kept his gun trained on Biggs. "You're just as heartless as any clockwork, Biggs. And you don't have a chunk of it pumping your blood!"
Biggs didn't answer.
"That's what your Father-cursed Emperor did to me--he made me into one of them. For some kind of sick experiment. Who's to say that when you've outlived your usefulness, he won't do the same to you? To all of us!"
"Father, dear Father," Biggs began to pray, ignoring Declan. "Forgive me for what I have done. For what I will do. Give me the strength to deal out justice as Your will has seen fit. Your Holy Servant protect me. Blessed life to him, your Holy Servant, the Emperor of the World."
"You're a joke, Biggs," Declan said.
"You're as bad as the rest of us."
"I didn't kill the woman I love!"
"I didn't either, Biggs!" Declan was shaking now. "Lands beyond, I didn't do it, I swear to you. It was the clockwork. They shot her in the head."
"But we all thought..." It was Harning. "We saw you."
"You saw wrong, Harning," Declan said, not taking his eyes off of Biggs and Soria. "You don't think the Emperor can make it look like a man killed someone he didn't? He can do whatever he wants, he's god, for the Father's sake!"
"I don't believe you," Biggs said. "I'm done talking. Put down the gun now, or this girl dies."
Declan took a step forward.
"Don't you dare come any closer or I will kill her."
"You need to do this, don't you?" Declan said, pausing. "You have to bring me back, or else... Your career is riding on this, isn't it?"
Biggs didn't answer.
"You've already lost me twice now. If you don't show the higher-ups that you can provide results, they're going to find someone else to do your job. So you're willing to kill anyone to keep your skin."
"Congratulations, you've psychoanalyzed me. Now put down the gun or so help me..."
"The thing is, Biggs, you and me? We're exactly the same. All we care about is ourselves."
Biggs furrowed his brow. "Where is this going?"
Declan took a deep breath. "Harning has a stash of clockwork in a cave a few miles west of here. He'll show you were it is--he cares too much about Soria to risk her life over it."
Harning nearly choked. "What are you doing!"
"Doing what I always do," Declan said. "Surviving." Biggs looked confused, and so Declan continued. "You have to prove yourself, Biggs. This could be your big break. If you bring in Harning and expose what he's been doing, you'll be a hero to the Empire. And all I ask is that you let me go."
"Curse you," Harning said, teeth-clenched, tears streaming down his face. "Curse you, Declan."
"I'm sorry, old friend," Declan said. "I truly am."
"Go to the blackest part of Eternity, Declan. I should have killed you when I had the chance. I should have killed you and then spit on your blasted corpse."
Biggs had relaxed somewhat, and Declan could tell he was thinking it through. "What's to say I don't just kill you now? Then I win both ways--a stash of clockwork and a traitor."
"I had a feeling you were going to say that," Declan said. He pricked his palm with the Skyknight Card he had hidden up his sleeve, and felt a surge of power flow through him. He slowed time, and lunged. Then he was flying through the air, flipping over Biggs, dodging one bullet, then two, then three. He saw each of them as they exited the barrel, saw each round's trajectory and course-corrected to narrowly miss them. He heard Harning's cries of disbelief and hatred, and shed a single tear, which flew from his eye as soon as it left, blown into the air by the force of his flight. Then he was out the door and soaring through the sky, a free man once again.
He wished he was dead.
He didn't want to be dead.
He was not dead.
Declan stood on a hill outside Enlord City, watching the execution. He was using a Sentinel Card to magnify his vision over the long distance to the spot just outside the city wall where one man stood opposite a firing range. Harning looked so defeated, so hopeless. Declan had been like that, once. After Jolie had died. Then he had become something else.
Biggs stood next to the firing squad, grim as always. He had a nice Imperial uniform on, the kind a Regional Marshal would wear. He must have got a promotion out of all of it. He said a word to the men, and they picked up their guns and trained it on the mechanist in front of them.
There was a small crowd of onlookers, people who loved to see criminals die. Declan himself had never liked going to executions. He was only here now because he felt obligated. He was responsible for Harning's death, after all. Somewhere within him, Declan wondered if he had just damned the Empire forever. What if Harning had discovered the secret, exposed the truth of the clockwork, and they had finally been able to stop the corruption that had overtaken everything? It could have been a start, at least. He would never know now.
Declan forced himself to keep watching, though all he wanted to do was find a dark hole and hide his face from the world. He hated himself for this, for all of this. But that never stopped him. It never made his actions change. And so it didn't matter. He was a horrible person. He always had been. He thought about what he had told Biggs that day, months ago. He had sworn that he hadn't killed Jolie. He had lied. Of course he had killed her. That was what he did. He killed, so that he didn't die himself. He survived, at the cost of anyone who happened to be in his way. And he did it over and over again.
A ringing in his ears chimed the hour. Nine o'clock. Time to die.
Twelve gunshots sounded as the firing squad executed Harning Lonshorne for high treason. The man's body fell to the dirt, devoid of any life. Biggs smiled as he watched men come and carry away the body. Declan wouldn't have to worry about him, not for a while at least. The man had gotten everything he had wanted--a promotion, a chance to pretend to be a hero, to keep up the facade of righteousness for another day. Of course, Biggs still wanted vengeance. Declan had betrayed them all, and killed Jolie, the one who was inarguably the best person any of them had ever known. He was going to see Biggs again.
But he had survived another day. The horrible ticking of his heart was a constant reminder of that fact. Declan took one last look at the scene below, trying to feel any emotion at all. There was nothing.
Declan walked away.