Our stone fortress protects us from the rest. The steam rising in its hypnotising sounds, the smothering, dulling smoke and the sounds incessantly churn.

 

But we are safe here, Oliver and I. In one stone fortress we mend and mold and mask, safe from the dulling of the steam, surrounded by our overgrown moors of moss and evergreens we are safe, evergreen.

 

I sit beside Oliver, as he perfects the stopwatch , his exacting eye discerning bolt from screw. We find a beauty in these clocks, these relics. They are survivors, rising from the ruins. Just like us. It is said that there is little beauty in man-made things, but here in this time of chaos and uncertainty, the sure ticking of the stopwatch carries a venerability and certainty that in Clankland, is unparalleled.

 

Oliver passes the relic from his hands into mine. Its golden engraved numbers reveal the hour, nearly nighttime, nearly time to search.  I run the tips of my fingers over the rusted bolt, the watch that could be its last home. The nuts smoothen and gleam after, the metal of the edges returns itself to its former glory. It is a rewarding process this delicate mystery. His look of fascination and awe makes it worthwhile.

 

We retire our instruments, eyeglasses and broken relics for the night, it is time to exit our stone fortress, our lovely sanctuary, ever ticking on.

 

We are like the shoemaker’s elves, my uncle and I. The unseen labourers working our alchemy through the night. I always loved that story of the Elves and the Shoemaker, expressing unadulterated delight every time I re-read, when I imagined the shoemaker, his worries washed away by relief and security that he was safe, that his family was safe, his life was safe.

 

I always wished that I could have something like that happen to me while I slept, to wake up the shoemaker, his cause for worry defunct.

 

Never did I imagine I would become the elf. Oliver looks and I heal. That’s the way it is and has always been. We have make our way over the bridge, through the thick shrubbery when he notices the crack.

 

“Lucia, your touch is needed”.

 

The crack is catastrophic, a rugged crack though the earth revealing beneath it a stream of green smoke. Not evergreen green, but that malignant green, the colour of witches and poisonous plants and fatal gas. The colour of death.

 

My knees sink into the damp moss and I run my hands over the crack. Fate is on the side this time I can tell. Us alchemists cannot depend on each other alone, we need a greater force.

 

Slowly the earth pulls itself back together, like a the opposite ends of a magnet begrudgingly accepting the laws of physics. I look up to Oliver, his glasses resting at the bottom of his furrowed brow. The portals are getting worse, we both know it, the mages are drunk with the power and we are the only ones who recognise it.

 

Who knows how much longer we can sustain this.