Hatchlet and the Dreadful Tower

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain

Another story in the world of Pathos, following the characters Hatchlet, a human child raised by harpies, and Bronweld, a powerful wizard suddenly forced to take her in and teach her as his new student. While currently written to be a collection of short stories that can be read in any order, I recommend reading this one first: https://www.booksie.com/659340-hatchlet-and-the-land-of-kulvar.
This story follows more from Bronweld's perspective, deeper insight into both of their pasts, and another wizard obsessed with answering the age old question: is it possible to turn a chicken into an egg?

To everyone other than the wizard himself, Bronweld’s tower is a cluttered, disorganized, haphazardly shambled together monstrosity of welded architecture. But to Bronweld, it was only half of those things.

Secluded in his workshop, a menagerie of tools, oversized equipment, and miscellaneous scrap surrounding him, Bronweld is deep into his work.

Leaning towards his forge, he pulls the molten metal out with a heavily gloved hand and sets it on his anvil. Normally he’d make a mold to cast into, but this particular ore was heavily heat resistant, and extremely difficult to cast. And for what Bronweld was making, it was a lot easier to pound it into shape than make an entire new mold.

“Bronnie! Are you almost done?” Hatchlet calls from outside the sweltering room, her voice intruding upon the wizard’s closest equivalent to a church.

“Give me a damned moment!” Bronweld responds as he pounds another prayer into the heated metal.

Technically, he knows magic that could halve the time of this work and shape it into his goal almost instantly. But to him, a craftsman ought to first use their own hands before resorting to the monotony of magic.

“Bronnie-”

“Another moment, thank you!”

And only a moment and a half later, the lopsided shape was complete.

He thrusts it into a reservoir of water brought in from his pipes, all made by him, of course, and an almost jigsaw-like puzzle piece solidifies into form.

“Bron-”

“I’m coming, you impatient harpy.”

Opening the door to his workshop, Bronweld is immediately greeted by his apprentice, Hatchlet. Being a human child raised by harpies has given her a number of idiosyncrasies, some of which make her an interesting pupil to teach.

Other symptoms of this, like her tendency to jump off from balconies, are a bit less appreciated.

“Bronnie! Where are we going today?”, she asks.

“We are going nowhere today. I have a quick delivery to make… and a quick visit. You are staying here to continue your studies.”

Hatchlet drops to her knees in an exaggerated pose. “Leaving me? All alone? In this dreadful tower? How negligent.”

“Spare the dramatics, and-”

“What if the tower is attacked? Without the great wizard Bronweld to defend it?”

“This tower is the most secure place in a million miles. You're safer on the roof here than most royals in their bedchambers, now I must really be-”

Hatchlet latches onto his ankle as he tries to walk away.

“Pleeeeeeeeeeease?”, she pleads as she is dragged across the cold metal floor.

“Look”, he says, irritation rising. “Normally I’d be susceptible to your nonsense, but in this circumstance I will allow no contention to my decision.”

“...That’s an awfully long way to say no.”

“Fine-”

“Really?”

“No. Go back to your room and-” he stops as he sees the look in her eyes shift to something unexpected:

Seriousness.

“...Please?”

But he still shakes his head.

Leaving her there, Bronweld ascends his tower’s steps, refusing to use his elevator per usual, and exits to the rooftop. Calling his staff to his hand and catching it as it phases through the floor and into his grasp, he points it towards a hatch in the floor and focuses his Intent.

Energy crackles within the deep, foggy blue globe of his staff and arcs into a burst of electricity. The contained lighting licks across the ground until it hits the center, and a mechanism opens the floor in response.

Raising from the platform is Bronweld’s most prized invention. Steel plating and spiked wheels, accompanied by firm, leather seating. Handlebars curving from the front of the boar-sharped insignia like a pair of winding tusks.

He calls the vehicle a motor-cycle. But this one’s name, the finest one he has ever crafted, is-

“Boris, let’s ride.”

Strapping his spiked helmet on top of his thick metal goggles, Bronweld hoists himself onto Boris and hits the throttle.

Boris roars in response, its nostrils and exhaust spewing pink-blue flame.

“I’d like to ride you normally… but I have a job to do. So it's the wizard’s path today.”

Bronweld raises his staff and points to the clear, morning sky.

It is cloudless. It is silent.

“This part always hurts like a-”

He disappears in a flash of light as the lighting bolt strikes him and Boris, then ricochets into the sky, leaving a trailed web of energy streaking across the horizon.

Meanwhile, inside the tower, Hatchlet sits in her room.

It is grey and windowless, the only lightsource the lightbulb in the ceiling.

There were no windows in the entire tower. Despite its intricate heating system and ventilation, it seemed to Hatchlet that the tower was devoid of real warmth.

Like all metal was.

She tried to distract herself by practicing some of Bronweld’s exercises, going over the basics outloud.

“To bend magic to your Intention, you must convince it. Not with your voice, but with your Will. Focus your Will into your Intention…”

She stares intently at the unlit candle, its rim already engraved with the crude and necessary runes for the evocation.

“Burn.”

The candle wick is still.

“Burn.”

The wick curls slightly, emanating an orange hue.

“Burn!”

A spark ignites from the light and the candle spurts into a small flame.

Hatchlet jumps from her bed, pumping her fists in the air. “Yes! I-”

Something metallic thumps in the walls and Hatchlet darts in response, her adrenaline suddenly pumping through her.

She leans against her bed, lungs heaving against her growing heart beat.

Nothing happens.

She sighs. The tower was like that. So full of random bumps, whirrs, and creaks. It was easier to ignore when there was someone else around. But when she was alone, each unexpected sound sent Hatchlet into a panic.

She puts the candle out and begins the exercise again. She tries to ignore the noises in the walls, the mechanical nonsense that keeps this place running. She tries to forget the sound of metal footfalls trudging through sand and stone, the sounds she heard barely a year before-

On the day the metal men came.

His molecules condensed into pure energy, Bronweld zips through the sky towards his destination. Far from his tower, far from the city of Weldler, and far into the sandy dunes of a distant desert, he uses the few senses that remain in this immaterial form to sense her presence.

Sensing a spark of familiar magic, he Wills his body to descend and revert to his original form-

He and Boris skid across the dunes, burning a trail of glass in the sand behind them before the lightning bends back into steel and flesh.

Bronweld rubs his forehead, feeling a headache hit him like thunder after… well after him.

But he presses onward, all his arm hair on its end, and his goggles barely containing the crackling energy still radiating from his eyes.

After barely a minute of riding through the dunes, he sees it. The sleek, triangular edge in the distance.

The tower of another wizard.

As he approaches it, its walls more angular and silver than the rough exterior of his own home, he slows down and dismounts from Boris.

As his feet fall to the ground, he stumbles, his nerves still on fire from his journey. He grunts, annoyed for a moment, but then solemn as he approaches the tower’s gate.

He places his hand on the cold, glossy door, and Wills energy into it, leaving a clear trace of his magical signature.

The door responds and disappears, not in a flash or by fading away, but simply by ceasing to be. After Bronweld steps through, the door ceases not existing and reappears seamlessly, as though it was never gone.

“Not teleportation… some sort of transmutation?”, he ponders as he continues forward.

The interior of the tower is skeletal and minimal. All the supports of the building are visible, and all the machinations that go into powering it are naked of plated walls or frames. To Bronweld, it was like walking inside a translucent clock.

“Backwards. Backwards”, a voice echoes further in.

Bronweld continues forwards into the chamber.

Scribbling calculations onto a mat of paper on the floor, a woman sits in the center of the room. She is surrounded by clocks, and dials, and metronomes of all sizes and shapes, most of them all built into the chamber itself.

And in front of her is a small cage with an old chicken.

She mumbles to herself, “It will not revert. Despite its age, and despite its species’ famously known malleability to transmutation, it does not revert… changing to formula two hundred and seventeen…”

Bronweld clears his throat. “Um… Cass-”

“Backwards. Backwards. Backwards.” She repeats herself again and again, staring at the chicken.

Bronweld leaves the room and sighs.

“I’ll find it myself then, okay?”

He hears no response to his question, only a repetitive, droning word as monotone and striking as the ticking of a clock.

It takes him a few minutes, but he finds the broken piece in the tower’s structure; an enchanted cog, etched with the fine tell-tale grooves of gravitational magic, though there is a crack in a piece that connects it to its axel.

He replaces the piece with the part he made and brought, and returns to Cass’ study.

“I fixed the part. Made it out of giant’s blood, so it should last.”

“Backwards.”

“I was surprised that you called me, after all this time-”

Cass abruptly stands up and rushes to another side of her chamber, fumbling through a selection of papers scattered across the floor.

“One seventeen… one seventeen…”

“Well, it was no trouble. No trouble at all.” Bronweld continues. “Have you been… have you been eating well?”

Silence.

Bronweld rubs the back of his neck, struggling to search himself for the words.

“I see you’ve… kept yourself busy.”

“Backwards. Backwards.” She continues her attempt with a different formula.

“Yes, I imagine…”

He stands there, silently for a few more moments before saying, “Look, if you’re going to summon me here, I assume you want to talk?”

Silence.

“Cass, you know this leads nowhere.”

Dead silence. No more backwards.

“Cass, please, you must know, deep down, that this-”

“I heard you have a new student.” Cass cuts in, turning to face him.

Her hair is strewn in every direction, and her face is haggard, but her eyes are the same as Bronweld remembers.

When wizards mess with enough magic, they are forever changed. The Likening, some called it, the sign that magic loved a wizard back. The Likening did many things, and gave many gifts, and weaknesses, but it always left a mark on the eyes.

For Bronweld, his eyes became dark and clouded, his pupils gone and replaced with the echoes of thunder and cracks of lightning.

But for Casspin, the white of her eyes are yellow. Her pupils are a figure eight, like the eyes of an octopus. But the most off putting part was that the fluid of her eyes moved in a spiral, giving the illusion that her eyes rotated, and the pupils would slowly shift up and down with each rotation.

Like the sand of an hourglass.

Bronweld stammers in response. “Y-yes. I do. Very bright, I’d say.”

“And that doesn’t make you ashamed?”

“I-”

She stands to her full height, and approaches him. “You will ruin her. You will fill her head with promises you can’t keep and dreams that will forever be out of her grasp...”

“Cass, I had no choice. The Fingers of Death decreed that I owed-”

“You could have died, that was the other choice. And a welcome one it would be. Better to have left her where she was, instead of abandoning her later!”

“...Why did you ask me here, Cass? There are plenty of metalworkers in Floehaven, and that broken king of theirs would give you anything for his damned-”

“He cast me out.”

“...What?”

“It's been two years now, in fact. Said I wasn’t making ‘adequate’ progress… and that he had a new solution.”

“What else could possibly… Cass?”

She looks past him, gazing blank-eyed at a small metronome.

“I see them still, of course. Their faces within faces. Sister and brother and mother, their arms reaching towards me.”

“They are dead.”

She whips focus back to Bronweld. “I know. But I can undo it. I can undo everything.”

“It is impossible to-”

“You of all wizards have no right to lecture me about the impossible! After everything you taught me, after everything you pushed me to do!”

Bronweld says nothing. Silence.

She continues, “No matter how many times you try to convince me, this is my path now. You have no one but yourself to blame.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Your apology means nothing.”

“I know.”

As he leaves the clockwork tower of Cass the high wizard, not even once wondering about the magic principals behind the door, Bronweld summons his staff to his hand and calls Boris forward.

“No more helping her with this nonsense.” He lies to himself.

“She has to learn… I won’t come back, no matter how much she begs.” He lies again.

Willing himself once more to transmute into lightning, Bronweld curses himself for crafting this spell…

For despite popular belief, he was not proud of all that he had created.

He returns to his tower, after making a brief stop at a bakery somewhere between the thousands of miles, and heads towards Hatchlet’s room with a box of pastries.

“Hatchlet! Sorry it took me a while, lightning can only move so fast. But I got some donuts and things! Shoulda seen the look on that baker’s face, me dropping from the sky in front of him…Hatchlet?”

Hearing no response, he knocks on her door. “Hatchlet?”

Silence.

“I know, I know, you don’t like being holed up in here, I’m sorry. But that person… she isn’t someone I want you around yet.”

Or ever. 

“Hatchlet?”

Still not hearing anything, a number of possibilities swirl in his mind: that she ran away, that something happened to her, that she was shunning him, or, the most awkward possibility, that she was… discovering herself.

Oh dear… she was at that age. Nothing wrong with it, of course, and these walls were good and thick. But still, Bronweld 

“Uh… if you’re in there, and you don’t want me to open this door, just say something, okay? Otherwise, I’m coming in, yeah? Last chance to yell at me?”

Silence.

He opens the door, preparing himself for the worst, and finds the room uninhabited. The candle she had used earlier set on top of her desk.

“Oh? Ithrian runes? Wick is burned too… impressive- ah! Focus, me! Hachlet!”

Not finding her in the rest of the tower, he exits and calls Boris, readying to fly off to track her in the dead, rock glades outside his tower, but immediately stops as her tracks lead but a step.

“Hatchlet?”

She looks up at him, still curled up in front of the tower’s ground door. Her face is red from dry tears..

“Ar-are you okay? Did something happen?”

“I’m fine.”

“Right. Why are you out here? Awfully gloomy, isn’t it?”

She turns away from him. “Better than in there…”

“What-”

“It’s nothing.”

Bronweld sits down on the other side of the door frame, not leaving, but still allowing her some space. He sits there in silence for a while, not wanting to press her. They stare at the sunset, barely visible through the thick clouds above the mountain crags.

“It’s just-”, Hatchlet starts. “It's really hard here with all this…” She gestures wildly at everything.

“Yeah?”

“It's always just a little too cold, no windows, and… it's all metal. Loud metal.”

“What’s wrong with metal?”

Silence, then realization.

“Oh”, Bronweld says. How did I not think of that? It was right before I found her, after all.

Hatchlet continues, “I’m sorry. Its stupid. I’m not that kid anymore, fresh from the broken nest… but it's like I’m back there. Everytime I’m alone and hear something clanging, it's like- it's like I’m hearing them nearby… like they’re killing my mom in the walls.”

“I see them still, of course. Their faces within faces.” Casspin’s voice whispers at the back of Bronweld’s mind.

Hatchlet shudders, and Bronweld notices that she is clutching a pendant in her grasp, one with a hooked talon as its centerpiece.

“It’s not stupid. And maybe you aren’t the same kid as back then…” He stands up and offers his hand. “But you’re still young, okay? There’s no need to hold all of this in-”

She abruptly leaps up and hugs him tight, burying her crying face into his arms.

Surprised, he awkwardly shuffles, before patting her back and saying, “It’s okay… it’s okay.”

Late into the night, long after consoling Hatchlet for a while and letting her eat too many donuts, Bronweld scoures his collection of tomes for the right spell.

“No… Rathish? No, that's rock transmutation. Xanadian? No, they just messed with the seasons. Damn creative farmers, why didn’t any of you just make- wait! It wasn't a farmer, it was an artist!”

Discovering the branch of magic he was searching for, Bronweld sets the book down and begins reading. If he could, he’d make what he was planning for by hand…

But some people were worth the monotony of magic.

The next morning, Hatchlet awoke to the cacophonous sound of scraping metal. Out of instinct, she jumps up from the bed and lunges forward with her fists, but instead of metal men, sees a crude hole ripped through her wall.

“Oh, sorry, Hatchlet. Thought I could be a bit more finessed about it.”

Hatchlet peers through the hole and sees Bronweld floating before the morning sky.

“Ok… whatcha ya doing?”

Still floating, he scratches the back of his neck and refuses to meet eye contact.

“Oh, you know… renovations.”

She just stares at him incredulously.

“Ok… just let me know next time… weirdo.”

She grabs a few of her day clothes and leaves her room to another hall.

When she returns, dressed and breakfast had, she finds not a hole in her a wall, but-

“A balcony?”, she says softly. She walks out towards it and onto it, her feet feeling an audible shift in the floor’s texture. Looking down, she sees not smooth, grey steel, but grooved brown wood. She reaches down, feeling it with her palms, and savoring the non-artificial warmth.

“Did you know an artist invented plant transmutation?”, Bronweld says, floating above her. “You’d think a gardener or a farmer or someone around those lines, but no. Some painter wanted good references for her art, but she was too poor to travel and too impatient to wait for it the old fashioned way. So she became a wizard’s apprentice, just so she could get those bark lines right.”

“Did… did you grow this?” Hatchlet looks closer at the railing, and spots the roots curling into the metal sides of the tower.

“Indeed. Took me a little bit, not really my speciality and all, and I’ve got a little more fine work to do to make sure it lasts, but it sounded like you could use a change of pace, right? Liven up this dreadful tower of mine.”

Hatchlet stares outward towards the horizon. The rocky peak of Smelt Mountain was desolate and grey, but the view from this tower, high in the air, showed the brilliant warm colors of the morning sun in the sky.

“Yeah. Thank you.”

“...But no jumping off this thing, got it?”

Hatchlet laughs, wiping a few tears from her face.

“No promises.”

 


Submitted: September 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 G.P.Sharp. All rights reserved.

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