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The city will sleep

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The labyrinth is dreaming.

Once she was made of iron, of copper and concrete and stone. Once all was movement – the even, unrelenting tick of ten thousand pendulums, the low whir of one hundred thousand gears, the shuffle of pairs of feet across the floor as the servants went about their duties, one step per second, in time.

The explorers come now, because they think the labyrinth is dead. They come with specimen jars and artists' tools, with books and half-readable maps, with measuring tapes. They seek to record what once was.

The vagabonds come now, too, the outcasts and the refugees. But they come because they know the labyrinth is not dead, because they know she is only asleep. Asleep, and dreaming.

-----

His name was Farab, a word that came to mean both 'traitor' and 'hero.' To write it in his own language, he used the shape of a triangle, inside which was a dot.

He had been born the son of a metalworker, one who had gained some favor in the eyes of the royal family by creating a more elaborate style of armor for the king's mastiff bodyguard. From a young age, Farab had displayed a fascination with machinery, and at age fourteen he was put to work as an apprentice under Tol, the city's premier clockworker.

By age fifteen, Farab was disgraced, judged unworthy to wear the pale green sash of a clockworker. Every assignment given he had failed, every clock his hands had worked on ceased to tick. He had been subjected to countless lectures from Tol's elder apprentices and journeymen, delivered with rigorous meter and rhyme, and he had worked from patterns passed down from apprentice to apprentice, patterns that had enabled even the most fumble-fingered boys to gain skill.

But no matter how clear the pattern he worked from, Farab's gears were always elliptical, oblong, and no matter how simple the interaction, his crafts grew inexplicably complicated, with extra levers and knobs and gears that seemed to have no particular purpose.

At last, having been informed of Farab's unceasing string of failures, Tol released him from his apprenticeship, and sent him away. Farab accepted his fate with bowed head and said nothing as he left.

-----

It becomes obvious to Eland, after the first few days, that they are not alone. Not just "not alone" in the sense that there are badgers and frogs and bees and voices that Heinrich thinks they shouldn't meet, but not alone even when it's just the two of them and Mirabelle, outside the labyrinth in the quiet, seemingly-normal forest.

He writes in his journal, hunched over it as if to prevent the unseen whatever from seeing.

The evidence of some presence around us is unmistakable. Heinrich says he isn't convinced, but I think that's likely because he doesn't generally admit to believing in things he can't whack with a frying pan or poke with a stick. But when you add things up, it's the only explanation that makes sense.

Someone or something knows we're here.

-----

And then the things Farab left behind began to come to life again. No one could see why – gears did not mesh, pendulums swung irregularly. In some devices flowers grew, or lights glowed from empty, featureless holes. In a panic the other apprentices destroyed many of Farab's creations, and though of those some slowly stopped ticking and went silent, others carried on, moving and whirring despite shattered gears and twisted ironwork.

The trouble was that no one seemed to have asked Farab why his devices contained bowls of fish, or twelve unconnected, bright blue buttons, or braided-leather chains with wooden beads that went 'click click click clack' when the handle turned. They had all assumed he was simply scatter-brained, or clumsy, or perhaps merely whimsical and spoilt, being the son of someone valued highly by the king.

When Tol discovered this, he was silent for a long moment, and then he sent for Farab, saying, "We shall speak to him, and find out by what witchery he has done this."

But Farab had descended into the lower levels of the city, and not even his family knew where he had gone.

-----

Encountering the inhabitants of the labyrinth doesn't go quite as smoothly as Eland had been expecting. He looks down at the egg that had been thrust at him by the madman, frowning.

I cannot help but wonder whether we have stumbled into this situation, or whether we have been led here. True, the place where we made camp is the first sizable entrance we found into the labyrinth, and yet... if something can make doors and rooms appear and disappear, then who is to say it could not have caused that opening to appear as we approached? Could someone have wanted us to explore here, specifically, so that we could become involved in whatever insane plot is afoot?

I don't think I'll mention this theory to Heinrich. He'd only say "Mmmph" in any case.

Still, I think I'd better keep a close eye on this thing.

-----

Tol sent those he trusted to search for the boy, a few at first, and then more as those few returned with tired eyes and heads shaking in weary denial. At last he went himself, his old bones creaking in worn rhythms as he descended each set of sharply-cut steps. But the city was too large, too complex even for Tol's understanding, and finally he had to admit defeat. When he returned to his workshop he ordered all of Farab's devices removed above, to the forest, in the hopes that whatever strange force caused them to move would not taint the perfect clockwork of the city.

Then the city's mechanisms began to fail. Some fell apart dramatically, gears dropping away and clanging harshly, metal on stone. Others kept turning but in new directions, and yet others seemed to simply stop, only to start up again minutes or hours or days later, new gears having grown among the old.

Tol forbade his apprentices to speak of Farab or his strange ways, but his early searches for the boy and his trip into the lower levels had not gone unnoticed, and soon Farab's name was muttered in the marketplaces and the taverns, whispered between the footsteps of the servants in the king's chambers.

A few apprentices, the more adventurous ones, went after him. Most of them skulked back to their masters, days later, making up dramatic stories to hide the fact that they'd spent the time sniveling in a dark alcove. Two didn't return, and then two more the following week, and then more, a trickle of disillusioned young men and women that turned into a flood as the breakdown of the city became impossible to ignore. The corridors were filled with the sound of disjointed, arrhythmic ticking.

The king called for his clockworkers, his engineers, his machinists. But none could provide the answers to his questions, and none could stop the city's slide from order into seeming chaos. Soon the stones themselves began to fail, and sunlight and water seeped through the newly-forming cracks down from the forest above. Many hailed Farab then as a prophet of new times, as the one who should lead them. But still he did not return.

In a rage, the king ordered Tol be executed, and he carried the clockworker's head to the square in the center of the city. There he stood upon a rusted iron gear, five feet across, toppled from its housing in the ceiling above, and he let it be known that any man who could restore the city would be given a place as the king's highest advisor, would be rewarded with endless riches.

Many tried, but none succeeded. On the fifth day after Tol's execution the king was delivered a note, a torn piece of parchment folded into the shape of a crane. It said, merely, "The city will sleep, and then she will awaken." It was signed with a triangle, inside which was a dot.

-----

Eland was annoyed. He supposed it was a side-effect of being nearly strangled to death. Still, as an explorer he was rather used to being annoyed, even if not at quite this level.

If there is a war here, we have somehow found ourselves in the middle of it. Both sides seem to be equally mad, but it is hard to say which of them might be controlling the labyrinth. It is possible that the steamjacks have control, that it was they who disappeared the door in order to trap the madman who gave me the egg.

But if the followers of the Spring Green Man (which remains the most ridiculous scary name I've heard – as if 'Oh, no, a villain garbed in clothes the color of Brussels sprouts!' is a phrase that would ever cross a person's lips) could do that, they surely could have done so much more, could have had us at their mercy long ago. So perhaps their control is not complete. Or perhaps whatever people left us the blue-violet iris blossom are opposing them, and they have some measure of control as well.

There is not enough data for us to make any reasonable assumptions. But if I admit the truth, I cannot shake the conviction that there is someone or something else, beyond these two bands of mostly-humans. Something that is directing both of them, and perhaps us as well.

I am not fond of being bossed around, but neither Heinrich nor I are ready to turn back yet.

-----

Things began to grow in the city then – reeds like metal with roots of razor wire, stalks of grass with nuts and bolts for seeds, gleaming twists of ivory that were soon dotted with blood which they drew from any who dared touch them.

Then the animals came. There were dogs already, of course, and a few silver fish kept as pets in the royal apartments, but soon came the rats, sharp-eyed, scuttling in the darker corners. Soon came the badgers, the bright blue partridges, the water-striders zipping across the puddles that had formed where once were fountains. Soon came the hosts of butterflies, hanging in great scarlet chains across the roofs of caverns, their bright color dimmed only by the fog that was slowly creeping in.

Some of the people built shrines to Farab in the hopes of placating the city; some left messages in jagged graffiti, begging for the return of what they had known. Still Farab did not come back, still the city continued to change.

Tol's son Tiburt was young and skilled in his father's ways, and he soon drew others to his banner. Rather than holding to the traditional clockworker methods, they studied the few of Farab's devices that remained, dismantling them carefully in an attempt to discover how these new machines functioned. They learned a little, enough to begin manipulating the city, and when the king visited he found Tiburt repairing one of the large mechanisms high in the wall of a corridor.

"Truly you are your father's son," said the king.

Tiburt smiled cruelly and twisted his hand, and a single stone gear, three feet across, fell from a wall, crushing the king beneath it.

"My father is avenged," he said.

From then Tiburt's men, dressed in the traditional clockworker spring green color and calling themselves steamjacks, took control of the people. They spoke of order, but their justice was one-sided and violent, and most feared them, even as they obeyed. The steamjacks sought out those who worked with Farab and pressed them into service; they stole Farab's devices where they could, and examined them to learn more of the city's secrets. Farab's men did not fight back, and when captured they would only say, "The city will sleep, and then she will awaken."

Other groups formed – some who actively opposed the Spring Green Man, some who walled off sections of the city, hoping to keep their families alive inside, some who abandoned the city and escaped to the forest, to other lands. The people dissolved into chaos, creating a hundred warring factions. And none of them could completely control the city, which had now become a labyrinth.

Years passed. Gradually the inhabitants died or moved away, and the city's movements slowed, became quiet, until finally it was left nearly empty but for the few who remained – the madmen, and the vagabonds, and those who still fought for dominion over the city and over each other.

And there also remained a few who were the children of Farab, who served only the city, and who marked their works with a triangle and a dot.

-----

A few days after the discovery of the carnivorous staircase, Eland notices something strange.

My mind keeps returning to the fox boy that we released from his prison. Was he born as we saw him, or did he become that, while he lived in the labyrinth? Did this place change him, even as it changes itself?

My hooves are scuffed and chipped from walking on stone and concrete; that is a natural consequence. But when I looked down this evening the right one seemed to be almost shaping itself into a gear, the chips square and regular and even around the curve.

When I showed this to Heinrich, I expected he'd just say, "Mmph," in the way that tells me I'm being a complete idiot. Instead he started packing. We are leaving tomorrow.

We're taking the egg with us. I wonder if that's what it wants.

-----

She is still made of iron, of copper and concrete and stone. But in her dreams she is made, too, of tree roots, grown thick and deep, of paper-filled winds, of feathers and doorknobs and nests of straw. In her dreams she is made of bees, traversing their paths from hive to flower to hive unchanged over the uncounted years.

She is still a machine, but as she sleeps, she dreams. And soon, she will awaken.