This is a revisit of last year’s failed NaNo project. I’m resurrecting it for this year. Below is the first chapter, recast with a new lead, Penelope H. Adventure, & a new direction.
Penny stepped silently into the doorway of a cluttered, and she knew, deceptively cavernous, but comfortable workshop. It was lit only by a variety of gas lamps tacked hap-hazardly to various gray stone-walls and columns. In the middle of a region where the density of lamps was easily two to one on the rest of the shop, a little old man puttered contentedly, and hummed to himself. He leanend over an orderly, but thoroughly random looking conglomeration of cogs, gears, springs, and flywheels sitting on a work bench. Thittlebod the Adventurer he was called, or Thittlebod the Maker, Thittlebod the Secret Stealer, and sometimes Thittlebod the Great. Once she had even heard Thittlebod the Terrible. He wasn’t any of those things. As she stepped fully into the room, he looked up and removed his goggles, blinking at her with small eyes, watery from concentration. He ran his hand through his wispy white hair.
“My dear Penelope,” he said with a toothy smile. “You’ve arrived just in the nick of time.”
Penelope Hope was her proper name, but it didn’t suit her. It was far too formal for her tastes. She imagined a Penelope Hope to be one of those prim and brainless bimbos that flitted about the courts of the moneyed. No, that wasn’t her, never would be. Their story was always the same. There was no fairytale ending for them. She’d called herself Penny H. Adventure for years now, and couldn’t see herself any other way.
She let out an exasperated sigh. “You know I don’t care for the name.”
“Ah, yes, of course, my dear. You prefer Penny. Might you see fit to forgive an old man in his dotage.”
Thittlebod’s eyes sparkled at this. Whatever he was, he wasn’t dotty. Penny knew he thought of her as little Penelope Hope, always had. She had been a princess in his home ever since she was a small child.
“Oh, my dear,” Thittlebod said, embracing her tightly. “It is so good to see you. I am glad you have come down all this way.”
“I am pleased to have the excuse,” Penny said, taking a step back and looking him over more closely. She was disappointed to see that age was beginning to catch up with him. “To what do I owe the honor of your invitation?”
“Your help, my dear, your help.”
Penny raised her eyebrow. “Another wild and dangerous trip off into the far reaches of the world?”
Thittlebod waived his hand. “No, my dear, I’m too old for that now. Too old. No, I’ll show you.”
After fiddling with the mass of gears and what-not on his workbench, he turned a crank, counting aloud to ten, then he dropped a brilliant blue gem into the mess and clicked a panel into place over it. He took a few steps back.
“A dozen heartbeats, my dear,” He said.
True to his word, a dozen heartbeats later, the mass began moving. Out of habit, and a hard earned sense of caution, Penny’s hand fell to the the ornately carved wooden grip of her pistol on her hip.
“No, no, my dear, he’s safe,” Thittlebod said, holding his hand out to stop her.
Penny raised an eyebrow, but didn’t move her hand. “He?”
They watched as the mass, sat up on the bench, stretched, and turned to face them, just as if it were getting out of bed. It struck a remarkably human pose and, as much as a mechanical thing could, it took on a look of surprise.
“Most men of your age get a cat, Thits,” Penny said dryly.
Thittlebod shrugged off the remark. “Rundis here is the world’s first auto-winding automaton.”
“Perhaps you mean the world’s first automaton?” Penny corrected him.
“Details,” Thittlebod said vaguely.
“Why have you made it?”
Rundis stared at them with unblinking, glass eyes. Two little flaps, Penny took to be eyebrows were raised. Penny had interpreted the expression as surprise, but was now reconsidering that it might be curiosity.
Thittlebod frowned. “Why have I made him? Well, he’s part of your little adventure isn’t he?”
The polite thing to do would have been to let the enigmatic statement go and wait for clarification. After all, these sorts of statements were the norm for Thittlebod. Penny, however, didn’t set much store by politeness and they knew each other too well for little dances of etiqutte. “I’m not sure how that could be less obvious.”
“In due course, my dear.”
“Have I a role?” Rundis said in a metallic, echoing voice.
Penny eyed the automaton, who was still sitting on the workbench. “It talks?”
Thittlebod looked from Rundis to her, squinting. “Well, of course it does, my dear. Wouldn’t be of much help to you if he didn’t, now would he?”
Penny nodded, squinting at Rundis. “I need a very stiff drink Thits.”
“Of course you do, my dear,” Thittlebod said kindly.
“May I do a drink?” Rundis asked, cocking its head slightly.
“Two, actually,” Penny added.
“Naturally,” Thittlebod said, gesturing down a corridor leading off the back of the workshop. “And something to eat after your journey. There is very much to do.”
Penny shook her head and followed Thittlebod down a hallway lined with rapidly fading glow-bulbs. At each one, he stopped and gave a couple of turns to the cranks affixed to each, causing them to flame into their full brightness. Rundis tailed them, clunking and whirring with each step. They emerged into Thittlebod’s study where tall windows overlooked a small garden walled with tall trees. The room was bright and spacious. Comfortable chairs and fussy tables on spindly legs were scattered about. A pile of gear and all the trappings for a full adventure sat stacked in the middle of the room next to a tall mirror.
As many times as she had been in that room, Penny had never seen a mirror, but recognized it all the same. She’d seen smaller ones, usually on one of her journeys, but never this large. A crack near the bottom opened to a large missing piece along the edge of the frame. It was that missing piece that gave it away. Of course, that and the fact that it reflected some other, unknown room, the same as reflected by every other mirror of its sort.
“Where did you get it?” Penny asked.
“Lovely specimen isn’t it? Picked it very many years ago. Curious things aren’t they?”
Penny looked around the room. She realized there were more than a dozen other magic mirrors scattered about, hanging from walls or set on tables. Rundis was shuffling around clumsily picking up various frail looking instruments.
“I’ve seen my share, I just thought they were some old forgotten enchantment.”
Thittlebod poured a generous measure of a strong drink Penny could almost see smoking in the glass. “Yes, the prevailing belief. Never liked it really. It’s the missing piece in the bottom of every one that’s always nagged me. Look here,” He said picking up a hand-held mirror. “Feel the glass, it’s smooth.”
Penny ran her finger along the bottom where the missing piece was. Just as Tittlebod said, smooth.
“You’ve figured out the mystery then?”
“No, no, there is much here that I couldn’t hope to unravel. It’s taken me a lifetime to get to this point, dear Penelope.”
Penny took a sip of her drink. “I grew up here Thits, I’d never even so much as seen one of these until I went out on my own. How is it this is a life-long research?”
Thittlebod shifted uncomfortably. “I had rather hoped not to bring you into this adventure.”
Penny frowned. “So, then why have you?”
“Not just yet, my dear, not just yet. Food first. You must be terribly hungry,” Thittlebod said, turning to leave the room.
Before he could make it out, a man appeared at the door. He was tall, with blond hair that fell in curly locks to his shoulders. If it weren’t for his square jaw, he might, at first, be taken for a woman. His traveling cloak was pristene, as were his boots and the rest of his clothes. Upon catching sight of Penny, his face split into a broad, toothy smile.
“Ah, Eston you’ve arrived,” Thittlebod said. “Just join dear Penny here and I’ll have some food brought in.”
“Sure thing,” Eston said, moving past Thittlebod toward Penny.
“What have I done to be inflicted by your presence once again?” Penny asked as Thittlebod left the room.
“Surely it’s not so bad. That last adventure was a romping good time.”
“No, it wasn’t. You left me alone in the forest surrounded by some really pissed-off gnomes. Then when I made it back, you called me, what was it again? Sweet-cheeks. There is nothing good about it.”
“To be fair, you did shoot me. I still have the scars, care to take a look?”
“No, for gods’ sake keep your pants on!”
Eston smiled. “Well, if you ever change your mind, you just let me know.”
Penny shuddered. “I should shoot you again. What are you even doing here?”
“Same as you, work. Any chance I might get a bit of that?” He asked pointing at her drink.
“No,” She said downing the rest of her drink in one gulp, something she immediately regretted as it sent flaming vapors up her nostrils. “The last thing any of us need is for you to be boozed up,” she coughed.
“I have missed your fire, Penny,” He said with a smile.
“So what has Thittlebod told you?”
Eston took a seat in one of the chairs. “Not much, just that he had some dangerous work. So here I am.”
[Of all the people he could have chosen,] Penny thought, taking a seat herself. “I think we both know danger isn’t really your cup of tea.”
“People change, Penelope.”
Penny bristled at the use of her full name. “No, they just become more transparent about who they are,” she paused, realization dawning. “You’re only here because I am, aren’t you?”
Eston smiled. A loud crash sounded on the other side of the room, drawing their attention.
“I believe this is no longer functional,” Rundis said, holding up a mangled bit of gadgetry.
“Who is our friend here?” Eston asked.
“Strange fellow. I expect Thittlebod made him?”
Penny looked at her empty glass. The drink was already warming her belly, but it wasn’t going to be enough to deal with wherever this was going. “He did.”
Tihttlebod re-entered the room, carrying a tray with an assortment of meats and cheese. He set it on a low table.
“Where’s your help?” Eston said, immediately diving in.
“Some matters require private discussion. They’ll return to keep the Tinkerage while we’re away.”
“Where exactly is away, Thits?” Penny asked.
“I am not certian, somewhere in the real world.”
A long silence descended over their small group. Even Rundis’ constant whirring and clicking seemed to taper off.
“Surely,” Eston smiled a wide, nervous and very, very fake smile, “We are in the real world, are we not?”
Thittlebod walked over to the large mirror and rubbed his finger around the edge. “We are not.”
Penny closed her eyes, wondering if Thittlebod had finally lost it. She opened them and looked at her empty whisky glass, wishing it full again. “We’re not in the real world?”
Thittlebod put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels. “No. It is my belief that we are on the wrong side of the mirror.”
Penny shook her head. “It’s just magical illusion. Those mirrors always show the same empty room. It’s a trick, nothing more.”
“The real world does exist dear Penelope,” Thittlebod said softly. “What is not clear is whether we do.”
Penny held out her empty glass. Thittlebod sighed, but took the glass and filled it with another measure of evil smoldering liquid. He also handed Eston a generous share, before taking a seat himself.
Thittlebod’s eyes got the bright, excited look Penny associated with a brilliant new discovery. “Here we sit in the great city of Lundus. At last count, the largest city in the known world by a factor of ten. There are people everywhere. Very many of those people are little more than illusion,” Thittlebod leaned forward. “Not one of them could tell you who was not real. Perhaps all three of us might be real or illusion.”
This statement made Penny’s blood run cold and by the pasty look on Eston’s face, he wasn’t doing any better with it. “That’s downright alarming, Thits,” she said. “I don’t suppose you could give us a bit more?”
“I can’t. That’s why we’re going to the other side.”
“I don’t follow the bit about people being illusion.” Eston said.
“When you look in a normal mirror, you see an illusion of yourself staring back. You’re the real thing, but in our case, many or all of us are supposed to be the ones looking out of the mirror back at someone in the real world. Travel far and wide, and you will come across all sorts of mirrors just like the big one here,” Thittlebod handed Penny a hand mirror reflecting the same dusty room and having the same crack at the bottom as the large one. “Somehow, they all reflect the same exact place. It is my postulation that this is happening because our world is a reflection of the world we see in that mirror.”
“What about the regular mirrors, the ones that do just reflect things back?” Penny asked.
Thittlebod took a bit of cheese and meat and sat down. “They could be to our world what ours is to the real world. My hypothesis is that the world behind this mirror is special. It’s the true real world.”
“Thits, I love you to death, but I don’t believe a word of this.”
Thittlebod nodded. “This is one of the reasons we need to go. As right as I feel in the matter, I want certain proof.”
“And what do we do with that proof?” Eston asked. “I’ve spent my entire life comfortable with the notion I was as perfectly real as the next guy.”
“But you may not be,” Thittlebod corrected him.
“Thits, are we just going to do this just for the sake of figuring it out?”
“In a word, yes. It would help my soul to know the truth of it.”
That was enough for Penny. It was something Thittlebod wanted, and she owed it to him. Plus, it was an adventure she knew she wouldn’t be able to walk away from, but she could tell by Estons’ uncomfortable shifting that it wasn’t for him.
Eston shifted and cleared his throat shakily. “So, then, the plan is to leave this world and go into another?”
“Yes. Naturally, I will go first. You, Penny, and Rundis will follow.”
“What is my purpose?” Rundis asked from across the room.
“Ah, yes. I haven’t told you,” Thittlebod said. “I’ve made you and so I know for certain that you, at least, among us are real. This might be helpful, but more importantly, you are to remember all of my notes and books and things. I’m far too old to do this myself.”
“Do I know these?”
“Yes, it’s been encoded into your memory wheels.”
“How are we going to travel to this real world?” Penny asked.
“Obviously we go through the mirror.”
Penny stood up and walked over to the large mirror standing in the middle of the room. She pushed her finger against the glass. It was quite solid. “How?”
“Magic, of course. How else would I make it fluid?”
“You make magic?” Penny asked in a much too loud voice that exuded incredulity.
“I may avoid it at every opportunity, but I do know how it’s done.”
“What do we do if you go through and something bad happens?” Penny asked.
“I would say that depends on the manner of the happening.”
“So, when do you want to go?” Eston asked. Penny could tell he was trying to work out how to extricate himself.
“It’s nearly dark now. I think two hours past dusk will be adequate.”