A claustrophobic sting pierced Janey’s mind when she walked through the endless crowds toward Platform 1. On the highest gangway she had been overwhelmed by the sea of people in the arena but at ground level the noises and smells invaded her senses with such vigour she almost passed out.
She gripped Mojo’s hand and tried to ignore wave after wave of astonished faces that tracked them. They reached the platform and the crowds parted. Mojo stared up at the announcer. “I am ready to take the Oath.”
The announcer glared down at Mojo and Janey. “Speak your truth.”
“My name is Mojo. My Oath is to swear allegiance to the Cog. I will do what is asked of me without falter or question, without deviating from my path. I will serve the Cog until my Task is complete. Should I fail in my duty I give myself freely to the Cog and in turn accept the consequences of my actions.”
The announcer smiled. Behind him the Bonds Keeper kept watch. Janey wanted to drag Mojo away from the arena, to hell with the consequences. Mojo had saved her from making a huge mistake, though she didn’t know what. She sensed Mojo was afraid of the Cog. The booming voice of the announcer said Mojo was born 1802 but he barely looked twenty. Janey didn’t think it was possible regardless of whether time had no meaning here or not.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said the Bonds Keeper with a wry smile.
“The longest Oath never kept,” replied Mojo. “And as such it will include my solemn promise to protect Janey Thomas. She is my friend and I hers. I owe her a debt and as part of my Oath I will see that fulfilled. I will not leave her behind as your plaything. She will accompany me.”
“Oaths apply to the Oathtaker and no other,” said the Bonds Keeper.
Mojo smiled. “You made the rules, an Oath spoken true can not be bargained with.”
The Bonds Keeper strained to keep calm. “So be it. Her fate will be bound to your own.”
“As reward for my Oath I will granted my freedom and Janey Thomas will be reunited with her correct place in the wheels of time.” Mojo glanced at Janey. “She will also meet the clacker jacker, as foretold by Rickety Jack. This is my Oath. This is my truth. The Cog will accept it or fail.”
Janey noticed the barely concealed look of rage on the Bonds Keeper’s face.
“The Cog never fails,” said the Bonds Keeper.
“That remains to be seen,” replied Mojo. “All things fail in time just as everything is forgotten in time.”
Janey got the impression Mojo and the Bonds Keeper were dancing around a deep-rooted argument or battle. Neither were prepared to be specific as if they enjoyed their game. Janey didn’t want to be part of their game. The prospect of joining Mojo on his Task filled her with both dread and excitement. Ever since leaving the park she had ventured into the unknown and even though the Bonds Keeper scared her, the sensed the Cog was an entity without mercy.
“I will hold you to your Oath, Mojo,” said the Bonds Keeper. “We are bonded. Go now and accept your task.”
A section of studded wall slid aside beneath the platform to reveal a dark circular tunnel. Mojo pulled Janey behind him and they stepped inside. Janey heard the wall close behind them, the din of the crowds and honk of the claxon faded away. Mojo took a deep breath and they started walking. It was pitch black inside and Janey relied on Mojo to guide her, though she wondered how he could see anything. After a few minutes he stopped and glanced back at her. She gasped when she saw his luminescent golden eyes hovering in the darkness.
“The Cog is just up ahead,” he told her. “Whatever you do, don’t let go of my hand.”
“Me too, little Janey. Hold tight and everything will be okay. Do you trust me?”
“Do you want to see the Bonds Keeper fail?”
“I think he’s a bully. I don’t like him.”
“Me neither.” Mojo turned away and Janey felt alone without her friend’s eyes to comfort her. “Together we will show him the truth behind your jibb-jabba, little Janey. Too long I have danced with him and yet never bested him. United we will bring about his downfall.”
“How? Why have you never beaten him? What is this thing between you two?”
“A story for another time. Now we must pass through the Cog and accept the Task.
The ground beneath Janey’s feet trembled. Behind the walls she heard the grinding sound of gigantic machinery slotting into place. The hissing, rumbling and roaring grew louder until Janey could feel her ribcage vibrate. She gripped Mojo’s hand and held onto his arm.
Brilliant white light invaded the darkness. Janey closed her eyes but the light was so intense it penetrated her eyelids. When she risked a peek she saw something only one other day person had seen before. She thought the arena was an impossibility but this was something she knew couldn’t exist. Reality had either been banished or her eyes were lying to her.
14. The Cog.
The tunnel had retracted leaving Janey and Mojo standing on a small rusted cog in a cavernous space so vast it made no sense. Janey reacted by holding her breath. When her lungs burnt and she took a gasp of air she realised they weren’t in space. There were no twinkling stars or view of the Earth in the distance. Janey didn’t know where they were or how they had got there.
Countless cogs moved all around them. Each one was different, small, large, some rusted and others shone as if made of gold. They slotted into one another, each one powering the next. Their own cog was slowly driven through the enormous machine. Janey thought she was inside the largest clockwork device ever imagined. Springs and glittering coils popped and whirred, pendulums swung back and forth and wheels rotated. The only way Janey could tell they were moving was by the way the scenery changed. In every direction machinery churned and ticked away. She looked behind and saw nothing but the same thing, no exit and no tunnel. They were trapped inside the machine.
She found it hard to find a gauge the scale of her surroundings. She tried to compare the closest parts to others in the distance but the sheer size was too much to comprehend. When a flotilla of pistons, cogs and coils rattled in front of her face she jumped and Mojo pulled her against him. A few seconds later she spotted an army of similar devices in the distance, dwarfed by a cog that rolled across their path with eternal patience.
As they approached it Janey realised they were going to collide with it. The gears cocked around and connected with horizontal cogs. Janey estimated each gear was probably bigger then her apartment tower, eight stories high. Mojo steadied her as they passed through the centre of the cog just as it ticked away on its own journey.
Janey was about to ask where they were going when they stopped. Every part of the device shuddered to a halt. Janey experienced a moment of panic when suddenly everything span around them, cogs and wheels broke apart and floated around seeking a new home. Pistons reattached themselves to new arms, coils and springs connected to one another and the machine closed in around them.
When it finally stopped Janey saw they were ensconced within a room, the ceiling, walls and floor made of machinery that once again began to tick away. Janey felt trapped after their journey through the colossal space. Parts embedded in the wall tracked back and forth, moving differently to the rest of the machinery. Slowly a face came together that reminded Janey of Rickety Jack. Small cogs formed the eyes that rotated around a larger cog in the centre. Coils and springs tracked down to form a mouth and pistons pumped upwards to make a nose. Even though it looked like the face on the mirror at the old train station Janey knew this was very different before it spoke.
“Mojo and Janey Thomas,” it said. It had a tinny metallic voice, distant and cold, unlike the soft warm tones of Rickety Jack. “You are here to accept your Task. This can not be undone and failure to comply will result in your removal from the wheels of time forever. Are you prepared?”
“We are.” Mojo nodded at Janey.
“I want to ask a question first,” said Janey.
Mojo glared at Janey. “What?”
Janey ignored Mojo. If she was going agree to such terms she wanted answers.
“Ask your question, Janey Thomas of Arcane Town.”
“Are you the Cog?”
“The Cog is all around you. It is the beginning, the end, the past and the future. It is forever.”
Janey frowned at this unexpected response. “That isn’t what I asked.”
The machinery on the wall twitched and shuddered. “Without the Cog to govern there is nothing but chaos. Questions will not help you prepare for the Task.”
“I don’t need to prepare,” said Janey. She avoided Mojo’s shocked expression. “I want to know who you are. I want the truth.”
The eyes of the face swiveled and gyrated. The mouth of coils turned down to form a sneer. “You don’t know how you got here,” it said. “But you know you want out. You want freedom and choice and pleasure. You want to believe in yourself, in your quest, in Rickety Jack and the truth behind your jibba-jabba. You want to believe all this things almost as much as you feel your doubts creeping into your soul. This is your truth.”
“It’s rude to ignore a question,” said Janey.
“Asking a question without first considering the consequences of the answer are the actions of the foolish,” said the face in the wall
“Fool or not I would like an answer,” said Janey. “It’s up to me to worry about the answer.”
“I care not for your worries.”
“You said I.” said Janey.
The face on the wall jiggered to a stop. Mojo shook his head and glanced around them. “You push too hard, little Janey.”
“It was just a question,” replied Janey.
Piece by piece the cogs, wheels, pistons, coils and springs slid back into place and the face faded away. The machinery started to dissolve. It melted together to create a mirror. The only reflection was that of Janey and Mojo.
“I am the Cog,” said Mojo’s reflection. Janey glanced at Mojo but his lips didn’t move. “I am the beginning, the end, the past and the future. I am forever.”
“Because forever needs me,” said the Cog. “Without me there is nothing.”
“You said there was chaos, not nothing.”
“They are the same thing.” The Cog blinked and Janey noticed it didn’t have the same golden eyes as Mojo.
“That depends on your point of view,” said Janey.
“Maybe. But at this moment in time my point of view is all that matters.”
“For now,” said Janey.
Janey chose her words carefully. “All things fail in time.” From the corner of her eye she saw Mojo smile. “Just as everything is forgotten in time.”
She had never seen rage on Mojo’s face so it startled her to see it in his reflection. “Ridiculous! I will not be questioned by a foolish quest seeker again. You will accept the Task or I will bind you to the Cog for eternity.”
Mojo turned his head slightly. “Remember your path, little Janey,” he whispered. “Rickety Jack said you were to pass through the Cog, not cause upset and mayhem.” He winked at her. “At least not yet.”
Janey nodded. She had a feeling she would meet the Cog again. It seemed the Bonds Keeper and the Cog’s fate were somehow entwined , just as Mojo and the Bonds Keeper were similarly bound together in a never ending feud. She realised she was now bound to Mojo’s fate, her path had become his path and vice versa. In the back of her mind this all started to make sense, she just needed time to work it all out.
“Tell me the Task,” said Mojo.
To be continued…
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write a 1500 word piece of fiction using one of 4 photos as a prompt.
This section took just under 2 hours to write, and is a shade under 2,100 words. Every word, twist and turn has come straight from brain to screen without forethought or planning. Just the way I like it, well, for this ongoing adventure at least!
Just as I have done with the previous instalments, I have not given this piece of writing any thought since Part 5. I want to sit and write each piece in one go without any planning, just let the characters go where they will and must.
There’s something weird going on that I can’t quite see yet, the way things are bound together, the Cog and the Bonds Keeper, Mojo and the Bonds Keeper, and Janey and Mojo. Not to mention Janey and Rickety Jack and the odd kind of bond they have. We have still to learn who the clacker jacker is and what the Task will be.
As for how long this series will last, that I can’t be sure of. Even though I try very hard not to think about the next instalment of Arcane Insane, whilst writing each bit I am aware of thinking about where it will go and possible plots twists etc. I don’t make notes of these. I just call them up from the recesses of my brain when I sit down to write the next slice of strangeness!
We will find out together that much I am sure of.
The next Arcane Insane will hit your screens on 2nd September. Until then, dear blog reader, clickety-clack keep an eye on the track!
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.