It was an antique work of art crafted by the hands of a master. Tiny brass gears sat nestled behind the timepiece’s enameled face, protected by the finest lead glass. Tinker’s difficulty came from trying to replace the timing element. No ordinary quartz would do, only purest sunstone.
Traditional sunstone in red or gold tones was well-known and far too ordinary to be used for anything other than merchant class jewelry. Pure sunstone would collect and store light from the sun and provide energy for various uses, like pocket watches that never needing winding. Some innovative fellow discovered the unique property of the stone, introducing it to inventors and tinkerers across the empire.
Too bad it could cost you your head if you were caught with one in your possession.
The old stories said the Sun King had been defeated once, his godlike powers brought under control after someone discovered sunstone was his one and only weakness. Some said an artisan once crafted a fabulous crown as a gift, inlaid with all manner of precious stones, including a single sunstone adorning the diadem’s central spire. The stone dazzled the eyes, collecting and reflecting sunlight. What monarch could refuse such a gift?
Within moments of the gleaming crown adorning his head, the Sun King toppled over. A cry of treachery rose up as his servants rushed to his aid. The crown tumbled from his brow and power surged through his veins once more, his eyes full of fire, rage, and vengeance. Before it was all over, the artisan and his family were dead, and half a city lay in ruins.
The Sun King determined the sunstone was to blame. Somehow it had fed on his kojta, draining him so thoroughly he thought he might die. A decree went out proscribing the possession of sunstone. The mines were seized and every stray piece of sunstone confiscated. Wardens were charged with the task of grinding the stones into the finest powder and burying it in a secret vault.
The timepiece lying in pieces on Tinker’s work table was an artifact of those times before the ban. Manufactured before the Sun King’s unfortunate incident, such objects had been known to slip through unnoticed, often kept as souvenirs by the very people responsible for their destruction. He supposed the block Warden kept it as an heirloom handed down from an ancestor of some sort.
Luckily for the block Warden, Tinker had sources less than legitimate.
Tinker sat back and ran a hand through his wiry hair, staring down at the timepiece. He rolled his shoulders, trying to work the tension out of his muscles. Built stocky like his father, he had a tendency to hunch over in concentration, his large hands working more deftly than any observer might think them capable. Though he loved the dark nights, he’d spent far too many up late with the lights bright, working to finish this damnable watch. The lines on his face were showing more than usual.
He rested his elbows on his bench and stared out toward the palace. Night was falling, and darkness fought in vain to find home near it’s environs. A brilliant jewel by day, the imperial residence thought to rival the fallen sun itself during the night. Its central dome was made of unbreakable crystal, sitting light a bright jewel atop an elegant crown. Light from within flooded the city so that even dwellings facing away from its glory were subject to its radiance.
The dome was the throne room of the Sun King himself. His shadowy figure could often be seen pacing back and forth during the night, never resting, always moving.
Hundreds lived and worked within the confines of the palace—courtesans, administrators, archivists, secretaries, Wardens—a whole menagerie of humanity. Scores of shadows could be seen moving past various palace windows at any given time but only one shadow was ever seen in within the crystal dome.
Surely the Sun King himself kept watch over his city.
A soft but insistent knock on the door brought Tinker out of his reverie. How long had they been knocking? Shaking his head with a grumble, he padded across the one room flat, spying a look through the peephole before opening the door to his furtive guest.
Dark eyes shifting nervously, Glance scurried into the room. Pent up tension drained from her shoulders as Tinker closed and bolted the door. She pulled her hood away from her head, making her auburn tresses crackle with static. She blew out a breath of relief.
“Problem?” Tinker asked.
“I don’t think so,” Glance said, fussing over her disheveled hair. “I ran into a gang of Wild Boys and had to put on a bit of glamour to get past them. I thought maybe a Sensitive caught a whiff, but I backtracked and couldn’t find anybody on my trail. Took a longer route here just to be safe.”
Tinker nodded, trusting her judgment. Though young, Glance was a pro, a lightspinner skilled at using her light-borne powers to make herself seem less than nothing. A petite head-turner possessed of exotic olive skin, dark sensuous eyes, and long flowing hair, her ability at casting illusions on herself made it so no one ever gave her a second look, hence the name.
“The Sensitives have been out in force lately,” he said. “I wonder what’s got them riled up?”
“Might have something to with the rumors,” she said.
“Rumors? Humph, you’ll have to tell me about them, but first things first. Do you have it?”
“Of course I have it. Why else would I be here?” Glance reached inside her raggedy coat and pulled out a small leather bag. Tinker took it and felt its weight in his hand. Lead lined, the little pouch protected Glance from what lay nestled within.
Padding back over to his work bench, he untied the bag and upended it, dumping the contents onto a piece of cloth.
The gemstone was small, but more than adequate to repair the Warden’s pocket watch. Tinker stared at the stone so long Glance began to wonder if he would ever touch it. His calloused hands hovered over it, and she noticed he closed his eyes just before touching it for the first time. She’d witnessed this very scene before, but when she asked him about it he only told her to mind her own business.