The Key at Distance:
“I say, Janet, isn’t the tea ready?!”
A massive sweep of brocade and lace that was Lord Charles Vincent McKenzie III of Carningsby strode down the spiral staircase, less with dignity and more akin to a perpetual struggle with gravity.
“Lord McKenzie, sir…!” The maid with glasses broader and thicker than seemed necessary bowed at the waist, “I am sorry sir, the water is still boiling, I cannot make it go any faster.”
“Well, find a way to make it go faster!” Lord McKenzie adjusted his monocle and licked his teeth in dissatisfaction, “Tea time is extremely important! And should you burn the tealeaves, you’ll be sent to your quarters without supper! Are we clear?”
“Transparently, Lord McKenzie, sir…” Janet bowed again and made herself scarce.
Several disjointed stumbles later, and Lord McKenzie had once again barricaded himself in his office, and shed his ornate coats and frills. He wasn’t a large man, his clothing just made him look that way—they were just so heavy, and he had always been a bit clumsy since childhood. His mother used to stay he was in a state of constant astonishment at his own limbs; but no matter, there were more important matters at hand than childhood reflection.
“Setton would be a fool to fail me now…” He wrung his hands anxiously, glancing over at an elaborate grandfather clock, “Half past noon, that’s what he said. Half past noon and the key would be mine… It is of utter importance, I told him! I told him!”
“Lord McKenzie, sir?” A gentle tap came at the door, “Your tea is ready,”
“Fine, fine, come in…” He unlocked the door, and permitted entry to Janet, and the brand new, fully automated tea server. It resembled a tray attached to a baby carriage, but rolled on with a smooth hum and an occasional hiss of steam. Shiny brass limbs mixed cream and sugar into fine blue and yellow china, and offered the cup and saucer to its owner.
“I must say, I’m rather fond of this little trinket.” He took the cup and saucer with a smirk, “Soon, I won’t have need for maids and servants. Automated servers don’t complain. Isn’t that right, Janet?”
“Yes, Lord McKenzie, sir…”
“Has anyone come to the door yet? The front door, I mean.”
“No one yet, sir. Would you like to be informed if someone does?”
“Only if it is a man who calls himself Setton. Everyone else must come back at a later date. I am extremely busy, Janet—extremely busy!”
“Of course you are, Lord McKenzie, sir… with the Clockwork Congress coming together soon, I can imagine you have much to prepare for.”
“HA! You, imagine? Please, you hardly have enough room in that head of yours for scrubbing, dusting, and making tea!” He took a sip of the tea, and frowned loudly, eyes narrowing in on hers like a semi-automatic F.L.A.R.E rifle. “Janet. This tea is burnt.”
The Key at Hand:
“Beautiful… simply beautiful.” Lord McKenzie rested his heels on Janet’s unconscious form, cradling the key very near his cheek. It was calling to him, whispering, in subtle, minute clicks and whirrs. “It took a while, but here you are… in my hands…”
“I am indeed,” the key replied. “But why have you taken me? I did not ask to be removed. It is most rude.”
Any other man would have dropped the key there– after all, keys are not supposed to talk. But Lord McKenzie only held the gently humming form of brass and copper close, compelled and unafraid.
“Because I need you.” His lips hovered over the key, teasingly. “I need you to help me better this city. The is a sickness in the underbelly of the streets. I need you to help me cleanse it; help me purify it.”
“That is an awfully large task.” If a key could smirk, it did. “But why should I help you? What do I get in return? Surely, you know the laws of equivalent exchange.”
“I do. What is it you desire?”
“I desire your cruelty.”
The Key in Control:
“What utter filth.” The voice came as two, layered over each other speaking in unison, but acting as a single unit. “What a travesty. What a disgrace!”
The visage of the former Lord Charles Vincent McKenzie III of Carningsby clicked and whirred as it made its way down into the Underbelly of the city. The key was firmly fixed into its chest. Golden tendrils wove themselves from the key and into strikingly pale skin, almost mimicking the veins beneath. There was no pulse, but there was breath–steam. Steam from its ears and mouth, and flame from within, boiling with hate and malice to fuel the fleshy automaton. The palms of its hands bore open wounds without blood. From within them, the unfortunate onlooker could see the heated glow of that inner flame. The unfortunate bystander could feel its heat as it incinerated them.
“Burn! Let them all burn! Let them be cleansed of their maggot-ridden existence!” Dual toned laughter reached high above the flames as it strode down, down, down into the Underbelly. The heat grew more intense as everything around it began to ignite. It hardly noticed as it stepped over the fallen form of a police investigator, lavish robes trailing behind it. “Inferior, foolish creatures, robbing from the rest of us worthy! YOU WILL BE PURGED!”
The screams echoed off the walls, and the smell of freshly smoldering flesh excited it, “Yes, yes…! Fire sterilizes, fire cleanses, fire consumes…!”
“You’re…! Keep this up, and you’ll burn down the whole of Cairningsby! It’ll collapse on itself!” The muffled voice of Lord McKenzie seeped through. “This isn’t want I wanted!”
But it is what I wanted, the key snickered. I merely needed your hate to do it. See now? See the world burn? The sprung springs and the warped cogs? It is in this, that I am free.