Fire-gilding

Beyond the west of the world, where the sun cannot be seen, lies Crow Hearth – the city of ice and stone. A city out of time, lost beneath the snow and beyond the turn of the world. Men scurry through the lightless streets, holding their warm coats close until they can escape down into the rats’ nest of heated tunnels that make the bulk of the city.

Down now, down again. Through the tunnels. Follow the insistent ticking that lives somewhere behind the mind and pushes further onward. Don’t touch the men with blue-and-white carbuncles upon their skin, and pale light in their eyes – they are touched by the Heart and lost to the world.   

Down now, down again. Tick tick tick. The world here hums. The walls move in and out and the ice groans. There is a shop filled with clocks. An old woman attends. She wears goggles cobbled together from wire, obsidian and red glass; it is not clear what she sees. She scurries around, moving clocks back and forth. Her time is not up yet.

Watch. She opens a door in the back and enters the room of bad clocks. It is deeper, and closer to the Heart. The walls are ice, and glow with sickening light. In years past, she hammered hooks directly into the ice and now upon them the bad clocks hang. They tick a second too early, or too late. They tick when they should tock. They are ugly.

To make a gold clock, she coats it in a layer of, among other things, liquid mercury, then lights it on fire. The mercury burns so fast it doesn’t even damage the wood, and leaves a more pure and beautiful gold coat than mere paint could ever hope for. The room of Bad Clocks smells of piss and mercury. The old woman smells of piss and mercury. The horrid syncopated ticking hides the lower, more regular and insistent thump thump thump of the Heart.

She was young once. She did not want to die. Every second ticked away was a second she could never get back. She charted each passing second as the ice walls closed in. She took meticulous notes of her time ticking down. Now, she lives alone, encased in ice, with the ticking of her clocks for company.

Below, the Heart beats. Above, the snow falls.

There is nothing here but the ticking of clocks, counting down to gods-know-what.

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