The Fallowing – The Fourth, Part XV
by Steppen Sawicki
Novel: Occult Adventure
I left him and went back to the chair I had been sitting in for much of the day and night. Gin yawned wide and shook her head, red curls bouncing back and forth.
“Why is he so exhausted?” I said, even more distrusting of Gin after seeing how Sam had changed. She clearly wasn’t concerned about his state; she just kept on building the watches, moving back and forth between them, working on one, then piecing together the other.
“He’s just recalled all his happiest and most distressing memories and gave them form in his breath. It was like a day-long psychiatric session, but with the result of building a house rather than just talking. A house of emotions and memories. It isn’t done in one day, but you two are in something of a hurry so we sped up the process.”
“Will he be alright?”
“Certainly. Have sex when he wakes up; it’ll give him back some mental energy. He’ll need it to use his watch.” She twirled a screwdriver and peeked at me over her glasses. “That’ll be when he’ll really get in trouble.”
“What do you mean?”
“Atsel’s been using his watch for centuries. He knows what it’s like to have his perception of time shift on command. Sam will be taking a crash course, learning as he goes along.”
I clenched my fists. “If he can’t handle it, then why are we bothering with you?”
“Now, no need to worry. There’s always an ace in the hole.” She set the watch she was working on aside and reached into a pocket. The watch she took out had no chain, didn’t even have the hook for one. The surface of it was rough and unpolished. She tossed it to me, and I caught it.
“The art is in using breath as the vehicle for the self. But consider Atsel: in his normal state he is nearly catatonic. Breaths come slowly. Achingly slowly. So my master built a sequence of watches. The first tapped what breath Atsel could give, and that watch was used to speed him as best it could to allow breath to come imperceptibly quicker for a second watch and so on. Now, it was agreed these prototype watches would be destroyed. But my master is not as scrupulous in his dealings as I am.”
“This is one of those watches?” I breathed. I looked it over. The casing was only steel, misshapen and beaten roughly. There was no cover to the face, which had no numbers and no hour hand. I looked up accusingly. “Why didn’t you just give us this in the first place?”
“Don’t think too much of it.” She stretched her neck side to side and it popped audibly. “As I said, it’s only a prototype, with only pieces of his self. Just enough to give my master an edge to gain more breath. Atsel has the end product, which gives him an overwhelming advantage. Take that watch, and don’t tell Sam about it. Let Sam believe he has nothing to fall back on, so that he does his best with his own watch. When he fails, then see what you can do with that one.”
“If he fails,” I amended. “And what do you want from me for this? You want a watch of me too?”
She laughed briefly, almost mockingly. “Of course not! You’re not much of anyone, and I don’t make watches of just anyone. The process takes a lot of energy. I have no use of your self. Your watch would be like charcoal among diamonds.”
I bristled. “How little you know about me.” I told her of a monster I had fought with Sam just before encountering Cain – a birdlike creature that could quadruple in size on command, til it was blowing us away with a flap of wings so enormous they blocked out the sky. I bested the thing by shooting it directly in the mouth as it bent down to snatch me, and a second time in its left eye. The pain distracted it enough so it shrank down small enough for me to stomp down on a wing, pinning it so that Sam could slay it.
“How many people,” I finished, “could take on a beast like that and come away unscathed?”
Gin blinked at me, her expression one of defeat, and possibly disbelief. “Geesh,” she murmured, “I can see how you two ended up together. I’m just saying I’m picky about my collection. I don’t pick up just anyone I pass on the street.”
“What do you want then?”
She picked her project back up and poked at it with tweezers. “Sam bought you a watch, did he?”
“How did you know that?”
“I can sense it on you, like a chef smells the spices bubbling in a soup. There’s a lot of emotion tied to it, both yours and Sam’s. I would take it in exchange for that one.”
I looked down at the hard metal thing I held. Then I took out the watch with the blue jay on the front from my pocket. It positively glowed next to the other. I closed my eyes and slowly let out my breath, feeling the weight of it in my hand one last time.
“A poor trade,” I said, opening my eyes and holding it out to Gin.
She leaned over to take it and grinned. “You’ll get use out of it, I’m sure.”
“Hmph, I’ve never had to trade for a trump card with the person building our primary weapon.”
“They’ll both serve their purposes, don’t you worry.” She traced a finger over the blue jay.
“I don’t suppose you have any more watches in your pockets for any of these other monsters?”
She looked confused for a moment. “For these…monsters? Of course not. You can’t imbue an object with the perceptions of someone that has no sense of self.”
I tried to make sense of that and couldn’t. “I don’t understand.”
“What I mean is they have no souls.”
I thought this over. “But one was made for Atsel.”
She smiled, a genuine smile that reached her eyes for the first time. “The skill of my master. Atsel may have no soul of his own, but he is able to tap into the souls of others.”
“Hm. He told me as much.”
Her eyes widened. “Did he?”
“Yes, we had a nice little chat outside the building last night.”
“Then I don’t need to explain. My master was able to tie these funneled emotions into a watch. It took much skill. I myself couldn’t possibly do it at my current stage of training.”
“So it’s not really his soul connected to that watch, but emotions pulled through him from other people?”
“Correct. That’s why it can effect other people as well as himself.”
“Then how can it be so strong?”
“It’s not. Not at all. It’s only a secondary sense of self. Sam’s watch will be him. That’s the only reason you have a chance.”
“Well we have two watches now. Two chances. He has one. Advantage us I’d say.”
She studied me for a moment. “He’s lucky to have you around. Anyone else would have given up by now.”