They scuttle through the tight alleyways, a parading procession carting about their prize. Steep spires and tall towers rise around them, sharp claws gouging the heavens above. And if the upward reaching buildings are fingers and hands, then the street ways below them are arteries and veins of the city.
The boots of the men thump loudly on the stones of the street while the engine of their cart whispers under its load. They are the same men from the coliseum, the engineers, their prize the construct that had won the fight. It is their creation, their design, fuelled by their hopes and dreams and aspirations as much as the oil that seeps through it.
That oil still drips from the holes they had patched, drying blood on a wound.
One of the engineers rides in the cart with the machination, like a mother to her child. His hands hold a blackened rag, made all the much darker as it glides across the shining shell of construct. It would sigh if it could, and it does in a fanciful facsimile: vents open and steam billows in white clouds to the grey sky. The heaven-headed vapour draws the eyes of the men upwards, past the clutching fingers of urban masonry.
A woman arrives as their attentions are departed.
She steps into their midst, a shapely creature, all curves, but their gazes are already captured by the sprawling sky and sinewy swirls of steam. She snaps. Wide eyes spin down from the sky to fall upon her, greedily taking her in.
Her lips move, spouting silky sentences that fall dead on deaf ears. The engineers couldn’t care for her words; her voice is enough to intoxicate them.
A smile escapes her lips as she strides forward, still basking in the stares of the men. Their carted prize, their shining construct, still sits perched, ambivalent to the woman of flesh and blood approaching it. The engineer in the cart is likewise impartial to her, the lone survivor of her poisons, the only one who hasn’t fixed his gaze upon her.
The woman snaps a few words at him, and his back stands straight, head raised and rounding about towards her. He mumbles a mess of syllables, his name sounding like stutterings: Abenanin.
She shares her own name, Sustephanie. It slides from her light lips, insubstantial like the steam from the machination’s vents.
The caravan marches on, contented with its new member, a boisterous group that has claimed the victor and the damsel. She ambles beside the cart, eying the construct as Abenanin fusses over the fractures, tickles at its taints.
Eventually they come across their destination, the workshop of the engineers, bursting with sparks and shrieks as metal is formed and shaped.
The cart stops, affording Abenanin the ability to scurry across it to better service the construct. His movements are punctuated by pithy phrases, answers to the questions posed by Sustephanie.
Yes, he is composed of iron and steel and silver.
Yes, he has a system of tubes and pipes to carry fluids, oils, and vapours.
No, they hadn’t though to use-
The other engineers regard the pair in stunned silence, Abenanin slowly realising the weight of her last question.
It was one of the creations of the alchemists: those that toyed and tinkered with materials less tactile than the ores of the earth the engineers so dutifully shaped and slaved over. While these men worked at refining engines of movement, alchemists pursued the perfection of ichor, the very blood of their work.
For ichor is blood.
Sustephanie explains to the engineers, those men of minds not sharpened towards the chemical world, that ichor was made to be a substitution for blood, transfused into those individuals who wished strength, stamina, and a degree of immortality. The ichor also darkened the skin, due to its grey colour, driving out the life that had rushed so warmly through the veins and arteries of men.
She wants to pipe it though their construct, an alternative to oils and vapours.
Her proposition planted, Sustephanie makes to leave the group, having no desire to enter the engineer’s enclave, their workshop.
As she does so, it starts to rain, a bitter rain carrying drops of the smog that hangs above the city. It falls upon the shell of the construct, echoing loudly, a lamentation to the cries that the construct could never voice.
Cries of pain, cries of victory, and cries of refusal.