– EPILOGUE –
“We’ve been home for a few weeks, “Clara told the stone jutting from the grassy earth. “Have you gotten used to the view yet? You can see the town and the river. No better place to watch the sunset… that’s my opinion at least. The company up here is nice I bet.”
She received no answer and expected none. Talking helped release the pent up emotion that could strangle a person. It was the same when a conduit held too many Nites; after a while, when the strain becomes too much to bear, she had to release the Nites to feel relief.
Clara knelt on a hill northwest of Linden Grove. She picked at the blades of grass sprouting from around her knees, the blades speckled white with the season’s first signs of snow. She tore bundled blades in halves, then quarters, until she could hide the blades in the pinching of two fingers. Then she cast the shreds to the chill wind brushing her shoulder. Her dark curls followed, flapping against her cheek. She brushed those rebellious strands behind her ears before looking out over the grove around her hometown.
This vantage afforded her a wide view of the walled town, no bigger than a model from up here. The river ran beside Linden Grove, the serpentine scrawl of flowing liquid bringing ships and trade to the community. A couple of ships were leaving the docks with the rising morning, heading north. Although she couldn’t see the small details of the ships from the hill, Clara imagined the oars extending out from the sides of each ship to push and pull against the river’s current. The sun was beginning to peak itself up over the low hills in the east, an eyelid blinking away sleep. Its rays splayed out over the hilly landscape, gilding the grove from which the city took its name, flowing into the river to turn the waters a molten gold. Only the Field could compare in majestic beauty, wild and free, a brush fire out of control of the humans who wished to tame its fury.
Inhaling a deep breath, Clara returned her eyes to the upturned slap of stone inlaid with red and white veins. The words carved into the surface toward the top, above a hammer and anvil, read:
Martin Francis Tully
Husband, Father, Uncle
Friend at the End
“Hope you don’t mind but I closed the Wrench Works,” Clara confessed, slightly ashamed but relieved for the wind to take the words from her lips. “By myself I can’t make the rent. I sold most of our inventory to another salvage and tinker shop. I had to take a lot less than you would’ve wanted but I needed to move out quick. All of Dad’s stuff, my workshop, I moved back to Linden Grove with the money from the sale. The housing lord who Mom rents from is nice. He’s letting me use the big basement in our building to set up my shop. It’s large enough for Mo to fit comfortably and the guy gives me a cheap rate I can manage. Most housing lords laughed when I asked for a space to rent.”
She shrugged tiredly. “Maybe when I’m a little older I’ll get a place of my own. But till then I’ll make do. Mo isn’t crowded. I have space to work. It’s not far from home, just down a few flights of the stairs. Leo and Sammy can come down after school. They don’t get in the way… no more than I used to. They get along fine too, like best friends. They have a lot in common actually, I just never saw how much.”
How could Clara have missed that about her brother? He’s Mo Danvers’ son as much as I’m the man’s daughter.
“I know you and Mom didn’t get along in the last years,” she admitted quietly, but raised her voice happily, “but she’s glad you were there for me that last day. She cried when I walked in the door and then after when I told her everything that happened. I’m choosing to believe a tear or two was meant for you, Uncle Marty. And even though we have little room in the apartment, Mom didn’t hesitate to welcome Sammy into the family. She’s a good woman. Understanding. Loving. She has to be… she married a man with a secret and she keeps her daughter’s.
“Hopefully conduits will walk tall with everyone else some day, with people accepting of our abilities. One day. If not and if we need to stay apart from the normals… well, if Kell keeps his promise, conduits might find a new society together with the Junkers. It’s too early to tell if Kell will keep his end of the bargain.”
Pausing to watch the roads leading to and from Linden Grove, Clara thought of Roos. She wondered where he could be right now. Of Roos and Kell, it was more likely Roos would try to keep to the terms she and Kell agreed upon when she helped convince the willing conduits to join with the Junker crew. Unless the young salvager’s loyalty and fealty to his road captain had a stronger pull than his willingness to keep true to her. After all, Kell was part of Roos’ family. Clara didn’t know what Roos was too her or she to him.
“I keep an eye open for him,” she muttered. “Him being Roos,” her voice snapped to attention on the headstone she knelt before. “When he shows up—he promised to stop by when he could, ask after any conduits willing to join Kell’s crew—I’ll find out more. Real problem is the other Junkers, those not part of Kell’s crew. There are tons more spread out on the old asphalt roads, even the roads rolling to the other ocean, through the Middle Wastes. They may not want to free the conduits powering their road golems. Kell promised to treat with this ‘Junker council’ he mentioned. I think he might only want to make himself King, bring everyone underneath him.” That thought she shook off. No sense thinking on what she only assumed.
“Even if things with the Junkers go backward,” she continued in not so hopeful tones, “there is always Rose. She promised to start taking in conduits. She also said she’s going to openly promote her friendship with them and her willingness to give them jobs. After watching Mo tear up the battlefield and stomp on the His Hand, she wants me to try to get the old trackers working too. Her father’s not too confident, not after his wife’s death, but Rose has faith in me.”
Has she misplaced her faith? Clara wondered, wanting to trust her friend’s judgment. Thing was, it took a unique type of Nite to operate the man-golem. Tink was unlike any Nite Clara had ever encountered or may ever encounter. Waking the man-golem had taken more Nites than even Clara could produce from her own inner Field. To draw from the outer Field was dangerous and she dare not teach the method to anyone. Bad enough her reputation has the strongest conduit in memory was growing. That was going to attract attention. Kell suspected and had—probably still does too—designs to make use of her power. These were more reasons to put off opening another Wrench Works for the near future. Clara wanted to lay low in the basement of her apartment building for a while.
Clara had other promises to keep, though.
“Say ‘hi’ to Dad, Uncle Marty,” Clara said, rising to her feet.
She dusted off her breeches and pulled her boots tightly until her toes curled. Mornings this time of year—in the beginning of winter—were chilling enough to nip at you as a reminder of the coming season’s soon arrival. Clara hugged herself, rubbed her shoulders, and buttoned up her coat to the neck, a new coat that was cut close to show her figure about the waist and hips but that came down to mid thigh. Her mother made it, since she’d lost her father’s old coat and her reliable floppy hat.
Clara strode between the two headstones on the hill. She’d buried Uncle Marty next to his wife, so he’d have company and a nice view. A tree with a trunk nearly as wide as Marty’s middle had the initials M+J carved inside of a lopsided heart. Flashing a smile at the sweetheart carving, Clara took one last look at Marty’s resting place. She told him, “I’ll be back soon. It’s time I made good on a promise to Wendy and take her north, see if we can find her family.”
Truth was… the soles of Clara’s feet were itchy too. She needed an adventure. Along her way with Wendy, Clara planned to scout some ruins, smaller than Nork but maybe she could find a new mobile device. Looking at the sun was no way to tell the time. And Tink was no help! The Nite kept telling Clara—when she asked for the time, even as a joke—that time mattered little when the Field stretched forever, beyond the beginning or ending of anything.
The Field winked near Clara and Tink popped forth in a shower of power wrought sparks before streaking to fall into a pattern beside the conduit’s right shoulder.
As annoying as the Nite could be, she had a point. Her advice allowed Clara to forgive those who wronged her and not worry about Kell, his Junkers, and the future of the conduits in his care (and those who might come after them).
Still, Clara wanted some new junk to tinker with. Something small. Something she could fix, get working. Along the way north, the young conduit would find that piece of junk and bring it back to her relocated workshop. Between the beginning and end, there was nothing more soothing as Waking.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed “Conduits” don’t forget to try The Our Monsters Chronicles. Stories about teenagers and their genetically engineered monsters on the run from the military! Right now there are two books in the series: “Our Monsters” & “Bad Monsters“. Check them out.
© 2015 Clinton D. Harding, All Rights Reserved