Welcome to the world of Virtuoso, where steam-powered machines and magic coexist in a fragile balance. When Silas Valentine, a skilled repairman, is offered the job of a lifetime, he doesn’t realize it will throw him into a war between these two worlds. As Silas transforms himself into something that is neither human nor magical, he gains the ability to hear the thoughts of machines and even alter the flow of time. As rumors of Silas’s powers spread, the fear of what he could do in the hands of those in power grows.
Can Silas navigate this treacherous new world and use his abilities for good, or will they destroy everything he holds dear? Find out in this thrilling tale of magic and machines where anything is possible.
The humble ticking of gears filled my ears—a soft symphony my life revolved around. Day in and day out, I was surrounded by clocks and simple steam machines. Many would find the life of a watchmaker and repair person boring, but I loved the intricacies of mechanics and the ever-changing designs of the whirling gears.
It gave me immense pleasure to work on the tiny machines. I would mostly get watches and clocks, but occasionally I would also get the odd repair robot or steam-powered cleaner. It would be a truly rare sight to get any butler bots or sewing spiders. I lived in one of the bottom zones of the pipe district, far away from the sky and the beauty of the more affluent districts, and as far away from the beautiful steam-powered robots.
Today was especially exciting. A duchess of our fair land of Virtuoso, Lady Faraday, had dropped off one of her family heirlooms for repair, the Vacuus Temporis. It was a silver pocket watch with a red and gold crystal-encrusted door that displayed the stars. On the back it bore its name and a fading inscription; “Omnia tempus potentem et fugacem”. It was said to be one of the oldest still running, a relic of a time of magic, before the era of steam and gears had enveloped our world. Within its casing was a combination of gears and faintly glowing gems that made it run non-stop. It had only come to my shop for a good cleaning, as the gems had yet to lose their magic.
Normally, such an important task would be given to the repair person in the cloud district, but my skill had reached the noble families and I got the job of a lifetime. At first, I did not recognize the duchess in her plain clothes, but her curt speech pattern and the crest on her ring confirmed her identity. This was a rougher neighborhood; one could hardly blame her for taking precaution. Her red hair was tucked under a badly made black wig, and her eyes were hidden behind colored spectacles that made it impossible to know their real color. Even her fair skin was covered head to toe in average mechanic clothes.
Nonetheless, she seemed satisfied with my bars, closed circuit security system, and the short distance from my shop to the local police station. She even paid me double my going rate, with a promise of more jobs if I were to have it ready by tomorrow. Of course it meant a late night, but how could I forgo this excellent opportunity? Still, I do wish I had been made aware of her coming arrival. My old overalls, greasy brown hands, and messy dark hair… Well, it was not the way to greet a lady of her caliber. At least she commented that she could trust my honest brown eyes.
She also seemed interested in my ear piercings. I had three on each ear, and I was proud of my homemade jewelry for them. My left ear had an industrial piercing using a clock hand, an orbital using a worm gear, and a traverse piercing using screws. My right ear had a snug using a gear, an ear cuff of a spring, and a lobe with a dangling piston. All befitting of my profession, even if it is not considered “professional”.
The buzzing of my door brought me out of my thoughts. Looking at one of my many wall clocks in front of my work bench, I discovered it was well past midnight.
Who in the blazes would be ringing my shop at this hour? Should I answer it or ignore it?
The buzzing continued every few moments, grating on my nerves. While I was unable to outright ignore it, I was in no mood to answer it.
“Go away and come back at a decent hour. My repair shop is closed for the night!” I yelled out, not looking up from this magnificent pocket watch. The buzzing stopped, much to my delight, as I started polishing one of the watch's internal gems. It was a vibrant red ruby that sparked now and again in other brilliant colors; hypnotizing to watch.
A small click echoed behind my head breaking my trance.
“Stand up with your hands up. Do not face me or even try to look over your shoulder at me,” a deep robotic voice ordered. My stomach dropped as my heart raced. Putting my hands up, I slowly stood up from my work bench while tapping a silent alarm with my foot, unbeknownst to them. It would take on average two minutes for the police to arrive.
“The money is in the drawer near the front of the store. There is not much else.”
“Not here for money. I want the watch.”
“I have hundreds of watches, sir. What kind of watch are you in the market for?” I questioned, stalling for time.
“Which one? The one in front of your face! That watch is worth more than your life, so think twice before you get any funny ideas.”
This was a planned robbery. Someone leaked something. I was unaware I was going to work on this watch until it came in this afternoon. The duchess even came hooded to avoid attracting attention.
“Perhaps, I can interest you in another fine watch. My reputation and livelihood rests on this pocket watch, sir,” I explained, still counting down the minutes until help arrived. I felt cold metal touch the back of my head.
“Do I look like I care about your livelihood? Close up the watch and hand it over slowly!” He bellowed, his gun slightly shaking with rage.
“Of course.” I smiled, slowly sitting back down. Keeping my hands in view of the assailant, I grabbed my screwdriver and started putting the watch back together. I could hear the man's impatient tapping foot over the usual ticking of my shop. Glancing quickly at the wall of clocks, I found I needed only another minute or so before help would arrive.
I can get info from this assailant to give to the police, in case he escapes before they get here.
“How did you know I even had this relic?” I questioned, as I put more of the screws back into the pocket watch.
“Doesn’t matter and do not ask any more questions. Focus on the—”
Sirens rang out in this rusty older neighborhood as colored lights flooded into my window from the police “Serpent Model” airship. Looking over my shoulder, I discovered a woman, instead of a man. She was decked out in lightweight brass-colored armor, a lower-quality suit known as “Spider Web” for the webbing on the surface. A Devil mask, often worn by the local gangs, obscured her face and the voice modulator attachment changed her voice. Her blue eyes were full of panic as she looked out my window, but they filled with rage the moment she met my eyes.
“You should have just done as you were told,” she growled through the mask, gripping her steam-powered “Saint of Needles” pistol tighter. The gun was aimed squarely at my temple, causing a primal fear in my gut.
“You don’t have to do this—”
Tick… Tick… Tick… Tick…
The clocks were deafening in the cold silence. Opening my eyes, I found myself sitting on a translucent glass chair in a bright spotlight. There was pure darkness beyond it, but I could hear the ticking of a large grandfather clock nearby. Reaching up, I felt my temple half-expecting a hole, but I found nothing.
I was being held at gunpoint. My head was in the line of fire… Didn’t the gun go off?
“H-Hello?” I called out into the void. “Is anyone there?”
Another bright spotlight illuminated a woman made of stars and cosmos, wearing an outfit made of orange and red maple leaves. Her pink foggy hair and her bewitching sun-colored eyes with scleras not white but interstellar blue captivated me as she sat upon a throne of roses.
“Welcome, young one,” her silky voice cooed. I was at a loss for words. I had never seen a woman as beautiful as her. I could barely talk to women, unless it was repair related, and in turn, they rarely gave me the time of day. Yet before me was an ethereal being willingly speaking to me, genuinely interested in this verbal exchange. I was unsure how much time passed before I realized she was waiting for me to reply.
“Where… Um… Where am I?” I finally asked, breaking the silence.
“You are neither here, nor there; neither alive nor dead. You exist where you should not,” she replied with a dazzling shark-toothed smile.
What am I, Schrodinger's cat? Let me ask something else and see if I get a straight answer.
“Who are you?”
“I am a great many things and I’ve had a great many names, but you can call me Magic.” She playfully answered.
Magic? Like the essence of the old world? How can a concept have a consciousness?
“Did you bring me here?” I inquired. She seemed to think about my question for a moment before answering in yet another riddle.
“Yes and no. Your actions opened the path and I decided you could be of use.”
Not sure I like the sound of that…
“Use for what?” I asked, starting to get worried.
“My ties to your world are fading and my children will perish if nothing is done, so I am offering you a choice. Help me save my children or continue your journey to the Great Beyond,” she explained, as two doors appeared out of thin air on either side of her. The one on her right was gold and the other on her left was black.
Great Beyond… Does that mean this is Limbo?
“What happens if I help you?” I asked her, my palms getting sweaty at the fact both my life and my afterlife are coming down to a single choice.
“I will make you like me. You will become one of my children and you will punish those responsible for harming my brood before restoring the world to how it was,” she nonchalantly answered.
That is a tall order… Seems almost impossible. Is there a way back if I decide not to help her?
“What happens if I don’t help you?” I questioned, playing the devil's advocate.
“As I said, you will move on, and your world will slowly kill itself along with my children,” she replied, gesturing towards the black door that began to moan as white fog seeped out from under it.
Oh, so my world will also die. No pressure. I mean, while there is no one that I am close to, there are kids in my city who have dreams… I would be the ultimate bad guy to turn her down and that would affect my final judgment in “The Great Beyond”… To hell with it. I could use a second chance at life.
“Okay, I am going to be honest with you. I may not fully understand what needs to be done or how to do it, but I am willing to give it a shot. How do I become one of your ‘children’ and get a second chance at life?”
“She was right. Your eyes are honest, and the eyes are the window to the soul,” she smiled, as both she and the black door faded away, leaving only the golden door. Slowly standing, I tried to gather my thoughts, realizing what I just agreed to.
Whatever is behind that door will change me forever. Will it be painful? Will I be able to use the powers of the old world? Will I be able to summon magic from the air like the old heroes? I am here strictly by chance, so will this door even work for me? I am not some chosen one, just a watchmaker and repair person.
Nervously, I walked towards the door. My footsteps echoed in the darkness, silencing the ticking of the clock. Suddenly, I felt as if I was being watched. Looking into the endless sea of ink, I started to hear whispers.
“Is someone there?”
The whispers grew louder, but not any clearer. It sent cold shivers down my spine.
“I cannot understand you. Can you speak clearer?”
“We are The Whispering Spirits. Become one of us or Kin of others. Do not fail Mother,” a chorus of hissing voices threatened before the world fell silent again.
What if this change fails? What if it is impossible to become one of them? Will I go back and die again? What if I fail? Will I be punished?
Hovering my hand above the brass doorknob, I tried to calm my breathing and ignore the fear blossoming in my stomach.
Do not freak out. Do not chicken out. People almost never get a second chance at life. I can do this.
I turned the cold golden knob.