The crows circled the tower outside as Rainald rested his hands on the stone balustrade surrounding the balcony. Inside he could hear the beating hands of a thousand clocks, each an echo of a heartbeat comingling with the cawing above him. It formed a cacophonous symphony that at once inspired him and terrified him.
As the sun touched the horizon, Rainald’s lips curled up at the corners. It was a faint movement, barely discernable to a common audience, but for those who knew him best, an obvious tell.
When the sun became a blood orange semicircle, he turned on his heel, large black boots striding effortlessly into the labyrinth of copper and steel inside. Moving gears fit rows of teeth into rows of jagged teeth like the gnawing of a giant whose hunger could not be sated–or the fangs of a beast so detested that legends had been written exposing the world to its dreaded desires.
Rainald found the top of a spiral staircase at the center of the machine and began descending it, each footstep’s echo tasting as metallic as they sounded. Faint blue and orange light came upon him through towering stained glass windows that followed him to the octagonal chapel beneath him. When he passed the last step, he found himself no longer on steel, but dirt.
The rich earthen smell tickled his nose as he walked to a large wooden box, one of a dozen or so in the tower. He took an iron rod and pried off the top, the box opening with a gasping breath. He uncovered a corpse as colored with life as he was, and as the sun tucked itself beneath the horizon and the tower went dark, its eyes opened.
“Is it done?” came the slow, rasping voice of the dead.
“As planned,” Rainald said, the clockwork above him now beating as though his own heart. “Tomorrow the sun shall harm you longer: Look at me, my friend, see that I am unscathed.”