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By Brandon Crilly in Issue Five, July 2022

Spotting a seven-foot-tall construct in an open-air market should have been easy.

Kenli scurried between stone workshops and rattling wind towers, hoping not to draw the attention of his fellow crafters. Most hadn’t risen yet, even on the morning of Reconnection, but lights shone through the occasional curtain. If anyone noticed him out in his bedclothes and sandals, he’d find out how little patience they had left.

Especially since they had been right all along: finding that intact construct had been too lucky. It had wandered off twice already, thankfully without damaging anything. Tweaking its sigils after hadn’t helped either, though there was a lot about the old magics Kenli didn’t know. He must have missed some hairline scratch, or maybe one of the sigils he couldn’t decipher was at fault. With Reconnection looming he’d spent more time preparing his wares, and now that would cost him.

By the time he reached the transportation hub at the end of the market, its stone pillars were sparkling under the rising sun. At noon, the first visitors in decades from outside Greater Luumen would appear. Family and friends reunited, world news updated, and trade finally reopened now that the hubs were safe to use again. Every crafter had spent the past months deciding what trick they would use to stand out. Kenli had wanted the construct near his shop’s entrance – a perfect example of Greater Luumen’s history, which visitors would see come alive in his mobiles and smaller automatons.

“I told you to power it down.”

Kenli whirled. Beyin wore an apron over her ochre tunic, likely after spending the night tinkering. Their styles were drastically different – Beyin went wholly modern, wanting to show off Greater Luumen’s recent ingenuity, where Kenli combined Pre-Severing designs with more modern sigils – but she put as much time and effort into her work as he did, if not more.

“Technically you suggested it.” Specifics were the way of negotiating among crafters. “It’s not like there’s a switch. With its reagents it might run forever.”

“That’s theory, not fact.” Beyin pushed the curls out of her face. “Repurpose it, Kenli. Its parts could be used for something less … disruptive.”

Kenli only half-heard her. He’d been staring at the transportation hub, imagining those long-awaited visitors passing his workshop without a second glance, when he noticed smudges of dirt leading inside. Exactly the size of the construct’s wide, flat feet.

“I’ll do that. Assuming I can find it.”

Beyin grumbled something and waved him off. The moment she disappeared behind her workshop’s curtain, Kenli sprinted into the hub. In the center of the stone pillars, carefully arranged teleportation circles waited, their intricate sigils painstakingly maintained over decades for the potential of Reconnection. To his horror, the wide footprints led around the circles to a door at the back, down a set of iron stairs into the hub’s underbelly. None of the workers were in sight, so Kenli scurried after the construct, hoping he wasn’t too late.

Cables and rods crisscrossed the underbelly’s ceiling, channeling the intricate magical energies that powered the hub. The design alone was a wonder of arcane and mechanical craftsmanship, taking simple teleportation sigils and boosting them for long-range travel. Not a Greater Luumen design, but their best crafters put everything into understanding and maintaining them until it was safe to travel the world again.

The construct stood beneath the center of it all, one arm raised into the framework.

Kenli froze, since even one piece out of place could disable the entire hub, but when the construct didn’t react to his presence, he started inching forward. It didn’t so much as tilt its head. Wondering if somehow it had powered down, Kenli closed the distance between them.

He heard the reagents inside the iron skeleton swirling, powering the old sigils crisscrossing its cobalt shoulders and back. Less effective than sun-powered magics, but still a historical wonder. At the end of its outstretched arm, a single index finger touched the side of a wide pipe, without enough pressure to cause damage. The construct didn’t respond when he commanded it to move. Sighing, Kenli used what light he had to examine the sigils again, conscious of every minute ticking toward Reconnection. Not a single scratch caught his eye. After this many tries, he was sure he would have found something; the sigils he couldn’t identify had to be the problem.

“Could you maybe tell me what’s wrong, Old One?”

The construct squared its shoulders and Kenli stumbled back. Its index finger brushed the pipe with a soft scraping sound while its heavy-lidded gaze looked around the framework. Repurposing materials became more and more necessary after the Severing, and cobalt especially was needed for the hub. If this construct hadn’t been lost and buried outside town, its parts would have ended up here, too, in about two dozen places.

Kenli frowned. The histories said old crafters could program their constructs for all kinds of behavior. Maybe there wasn’t anything wrong. Maybe its crafter meant for it to wander. Logically that would require it to recognize where it had been, so as not to get lost. And remember what it had seen.

There were no glowing eyes or frozen jaws among the framework, of course. But Kenli wondered if the construct could imagine them anyway.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “There isn’t a whole lot left of the world before, is there?”

Kenli thought of the families waiting to meet distant cousins, and the crafters so desperate for something new from Reconnection. At least they felt the decades pass, recognizing that things would have changed in between. A sleeping construct couldn’t. But from the moment he found it, he only thought about its usefulness, to catch the eyes of strangers. Without realizing, he’d followed Beyin’s advice and repurposed it after all.

“Stay as long as you like,” he said around the guilty lump in his throat. “I’ll make sure no one bothers you.”

He walked back to the stairwell entrance and sat against the wall, just in case. Though he didn’t suspect the construct would be any trouble, and not only for technical reasons.

© 2022 Brandon Crilly

Brandon Crilly

An Ottawa teacher by day, Brandon Crilly has been previously published by Daily Science Fiction, Fusion Fragment, PULP Literature, Flame Tree Publishing and other markets. In 2021, he co-founded Bag of Giving, a monthly Twitch series where authors play TTRPGs for charity. He’s also an Aurora Award-nominated podcaster, conference organizer for Can*Con, and regularly has too many D&D campaign ideas than he could ever fit into his schedule. His debut novel Catalyst will be published by Atthis Arts in Fall 2022. Find him at http://brandoncrilly.com or on Twitter @B_Crilly.

Fiction by Brandon Crilly
  • Constructed