[Found in a bundle hidden in what appears to be the quarters of a child squatter in the tunnels beneath the Temple of Condition: A letter, present day]
My Reluctant Love,
I am afraid of the City. I have never been afraid of the City.
Some tide is turning here, I don’t know what. I have worried for you every moment since you left for the Continent. I am furious with you. There are days where I hate you. Where I know whatever atrocity has likely fallen you, you have done it to yourself. Sometimes I wonder if you have gone there just to be somewhere as terrible as you are. It’s as though whatever darkness lives inside you cannot be matched by anything that isn’t destroying everything around it. Some days I think you even tried to consume me, but maybe this just how you are. All I know is that you are gone, you used to be here. All I know is you did not leave until I finally began to believe you would not. There are days when I hate you, it’s true, but wondering where you are is worse.
Sometimes I can’t remember how long you’ve been gone. Two years? Three? Where are you?
I know the Establishment has taken the city states of the Continent down below. That the Outland Queen has a price on her head. Our age of Queens ended a thousand years ago, here in the Floating City, but down there, it’s now just beginning to end. Maybe. I don’t know. I stopped trading in the markets on the Continent after you left. I stopped because I kept looking for you. I stopped because I found your face in every face. I stopped because my breath kept catching, because I kept willing you to arrive. I kept imagining you standing in front of me, half drunk, boring into me with those rich earth-colored eyes, smirking. Asking to trade for a bell. I stopped bringing bells to the market and it is your fault and I don’t know how to forgive you for it.
Now I am learning to make them. I am apprenticing with an old bellfounder. He does not speak much. In fact, when I began learning from him, he didn’t really speak to me at all. I just had to watch. I asked so many questions, and instead of answering any of them, he’d just keep working. I’d have to watch for the answers.
Do you know how a bell is cast? Most people in the Floating City do, I suppose. We are a city full of bells. You cast it with a mould. But tuning the bell, that is something only the bellfounders seem to know about. I suppose it’s a thing you don’t think about until you are doing it yourself. My whole life in the city, even when I was a bell merchant, the bells just were. I knew what they were made from, I knew where they were made, but I never asked what made them sing.
You tune the bell by taking parts of it away after it is already cast. You do this with a lathe. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Every movement, every breath, it’s a measurement. One slip, one imprecise calculation, and the whole thing is ruined. Maybe it is not ruined, maybe it just turns out different. But when you have a specification as to what the bell should sound like, and you remove too much from the lip, there is no coming back. You have a completely different bell, then. I have a whole room full of accident bells. You would be terrible at this, you were always too cocky for measurements.
We have been making bells here for as long as anyone knows. Bells, everywhere. Do you remember how you once told me you knew the story of the first bell in the City? I wish I did not remember. You haunt everything, even the bells. Even my hands making the bells. My whole, stupid, foolish heart. My heart is probably a bell.
What scares me most is that there is no place safe any longer. Maybe you have got the wasting sickness down on the Continent. Maybe you are dead. We cannot go to the Continent, not with their new regime. Ten years, it has been, and the Establishment only becomes stronger. When will they come here? They cannot stay away forever. If they do, would the City survive it? I don’t know. Here, there is a tension building. The Specters are beginning to…well, they are beginning to notice us. It sounds mad when I say it, but they just are. I locked eyes with one the other day. My eyes met his and he saw me. He really, really saw me. For as long as I’ve been alive, for as long as my grandaddy even has been alive, for as long as anyone I know has been alive, the Specters went about their business in the City as though they didn’t know we were here. Like we were Specters in their city. What does it mean if they know we are here? Will they speak to us? Where do they come from? Last year, and alchemist disappeared. Just vanished. They say he was looking for the origin of the Specters.
And the Clockworks, they are beginning to notice us, too. The machinists say they are at a loss for why the beasts are gaining such vivid sentience, but no one believes the machinists. The professors at the Lyceum are divided on how they feel about this business, and the disagreements are becoming heated. There is tension everywhere. Like a mist. It’s fear. It’s permeating all the people.
Are we being punished for losing our own history? All these years, we have taken for granted that the Floating City holds itself above the Lost Continent, that the five moons move around us all, that the mechanics will build and repair the airships, that the sun will come, that the water will run, that we will sleep in our beds. We should have known when the Establishment came to the Continent that we were not safe. We should have known that it was only a matter of time. That it is when everything continues as normal that one must be most cautious. Instead, we just made our bells.
What is next, will the bells ring themselves? Will the Specters and the Clockworks unite to kill us or worse? What if the Establishment could harness them as tools? What if the Establishment discovers there is no Queen? That we are rulerless? That we are beginning to divide against each other? That we are fools?
I am afraid. I am afraid, and you are not here. And if something awful happens, will it happen without my ever knowing if you survived it? Without my ever ringing a bell at the burning of your body?
I don’t know where to send this letter. I just love you. And I can never forgive you. And I am afraid. And you are gone.