'Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria still rules New England and her American Possessions; the Royal Navy rules the skies with its mighty Airships; and Earth still turns on God's great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sun from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.
In the town of New Haven, a Clockmaker's young apprentice is visited at midnight by a brass Angel, and told that he, and he alone, can find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down, and life will cease.' - Mainspring, Jay Lake 
At heart this is an adventure story that follows young Hethor Jacques, apprentice horologist, in his journeys through both hemispheres as he struggles to do God's bidding, having to deal with the various strata of society in this clockwork world. His adventure takes him all over the world, giving a very interesting view on the setting of Mainspring as he travels to both hemispheres of Earth, crossing the infamous Equatorial Wall.
Mainspring's setting is a mixture between classic steampunk and an orrery (a mechanical representation of the solar system). Set on an Earth that remains stuck with airships and mostly steam power (there are references to electricity) it combines the airship, steam-powered worlds of steampunk with a literal interpretation of an orrery, the Earth being a planet with huge gears straddling the Equator, pulling the Earth round the Sun on a slow orbit. This is a world where few people can doubt the existence of God as they can see it in the perfection of the orbiting body, there are mysteries to Him but there is no doubt. The British Empire, such as it is, dominates most of the Northern Hemisphere, but due to the huge gear mesh called the Equatorial Wall, the British Empire in this setting never developed any colony in the South Hemisphere. The Empire's main enemy in the Northern Hemisphere is China, Imperial and just as capable when it comes to creating and using airships.
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The story begins with young Hethor being woken by the appearance of an angel. The large brass creature stands in his room as he clutches the covers of his bed, hoping against all odds that he might be left alone from this apparition. Instead, it smiles at him, greets him and charges him with a duty. The angel ignores Hethor's complaints that he has quite enough duties as an apprentice and tells him that the Key Perilous is lost, that the Mainspring of Earth was running down even now and that only a man created in the image of the Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew word for God) could fulfil this duty. Hethor hopes to discover that the angel is just a cruel trick of his master's son, a Yale student. In answer, the angel presents him with a silver feather as proof of its veracity before departing with a crash of thunder that sets every clock within the watchmaker's house off. His master, Bodean, awakes and bellows for him.
After they have managed to silence every clock within the workshop, Master Bodean comments that Hethor is being unusually quiet. Hethor replies that the thunder had frightened him, though Master Bodean comments that no normal storm would have set off every clock, telling Hethor he'd warrant it was one of the good Lord's mysteries before offering the young apprentice a flask of spirit, 'to help him sleep.' The next morning, Hethor realises that along with the headache from last night's drink he is also late for his class at New Haven Latin, thanks to an innate talent he had for being able to tell the time even without any clock. The young apprentice knows that the visitation had been too real to ignore and decides to find out what he can about it before going to Master Bodean.
Of Master Bodean's three sons, Pryce who read Divinity at Yale was Hethor's favourite as he was considerate where the others were cruel. Not kind though. Hethor hopes to approach Pryce and discuss the visitation with him. He heads to Yale on foot, ignoring the more expensive electrick trolleys (trams) as he goes. He is invited in to see Mister Bodean by a porter only to have his story about being met by the angel Gabriel dismissed by the haughty student. His feather is taken away from him by Pryce who tells him that angels do not visit lowly clockmaker apprentices and certainly such an item (the feather) while probably not stolen should not be in the possession of Hethor. Rather than head home, Hethor decides to go to the university's library, desperate for some answer that could resolve last night's events.
Within the library, Hethor meets Librarian Childress, an elderly woman, who immediately calls Hethor out on feeding a creative story to the porter to gain access to the library. She points out he is too young to be even a prodigy student while the work boots and school books he carries indicate that he is more likely to belong to a lesser school as neither factions with the university (Spiritualists and Rational Humanists) would read such books by that stage. Though, to his surprise, she invites him to ask questions. Hethor asks to see any information they had on angels, specifically images of them, to which Librarian Childress tells him he'd be better off going to the arts college, but relents and takes him to a reading room, bringing with her several books on the subject. Within the books, Hethor spots and recognises the archangel Gabriel's image and when questioned why this mattered to him, he shares with her the events of the previous night, tells her of the silver feather taken from him and offers his final proof, the key-shaped scar that had formed after the feather cut him. Librarian Childress tells him that she wished to confirm his tale and she would do so by getting the feather from Pryce. Urging Hethor to hide away she summons Pryce and inquires about an artifact that she'd heard he'd come into possession of, before she railroads Pryce into giving her the feather. Satisfied by the proof presented, Librarian Childress tells Hethor to go to Boston and seek out a man named William of Ghent, who would be able to help Hethor discharge his duty.
When Hethor gets home, he finds himself held down by Faubus Bodean, one of Master Franklin Bodean's sons, accused of being a thief. His master comments that Hethor had been a bit late from school, and Hethor admits he hadn't gone. His master appears to believe the story Pryce had told him, that Hethor had stolen the silver feather from his son, though Hethor protests his innocence. As punishment, Hethor is turned out, his apprenticeship cancelled by his master, though his sons suggest calling the bobbies (police) to which Master Bodean tells them that the turning out was enough. When his sons are gone though, Master Bodean tells him that it would have saved him alot of trouble if Hethor had told him last night about the feather. He goes on to tell Hethor that he is aware that the truth wasn't as Pryce had stated it, but that it didn't matter, his son was soon to be a man of the cloth and was family before that. Master Bodean would not brand his elder son a liar as a result. His former master allows him to keep the clothes on his back and sneaks what is left of the money Hethor's father had paid the clockmaker into Hethor's pocket. He explains that his sons had a reason to go after Hethor in such a manner as Master Bodean was old and his shop and tools would go to them now that he did not have an apprentice or journeyman to pass his workshop to. As Hethor departs, he is stopped by Faubus, two blocks away, who searches him and finds the money Master Bodean had passed to the ex-apprentice. Incensed at the 'thievery', he pushes Hethor down and takes it from him, vowing to kill him if he ever set eyes on Hethor again.
The first day had seen Hethor clear the city of New Haven, forced to sleep amongst a bed of reeds. The second sees Hethor given a ride by a travelling farmer who tells Hethor the distance from New Haven to Boston was a hundred and thirty miles. He comments that there was a rail service that ran from New Haven to Boston, though Hethor admits he did not have the money to be able to afford even that. The farmer offers to share a meal with Hethor, asking for a story in return and so Hethor recites a loose interpretation of Homer's Illiad for the farmer. Homer, Sophocles and the Virgil's Aeneid get him as far as Hartford. He is invited to stay with the farmer but he declines the offer, telling the farmer that he had to continue heading towards Boston. The farmer tells him not to go out at night and to wait with the others, that there might be a cart heading towards Boston. That night, a little drunk, Hethor shares with the group the story of his visitation, swearing on its truth by the brass heavens and on an impulse, by the albino toucan, something Librarian Childress had told him to remember as a word that might engender some help. Thomas Mudge, the farmer that had brought Hethor as far as Hartford reacts subtly to the word and asks the group who was headed towards Boston before a Pierre Le Roy is mentioned as going that way.
Le Roy takes him the next morning, heading towards Boston. After a lunch, Le Roy warns Hethor of the nature of the Viceroy's court, how they might judge a man on their appearance before any other consideration, telling him that Hethor had the feel of the city about him but was still not one of their types. He goes on to tell Hethor that should the Viceroy refuse to listen, there is a man who drinks at Anthony's on Pier Four called Malgus who might listen. Le Roy leaves Hethor to await another pickup to take him to Boston proper, and after two hours wait, he finds a hearse fresh from a manufactory arriving to take him onwards. To Hethor's surprise, Le Roy had even slipped her a English pound note, (far stronger than the American pounds) so he would be able to eat in luxury. As Librarian Childress had said, hidden eyes clearly did watch him. The boy driving the hearse turns out to be a woman disguised as a boy, something that again shocks Hethor, whose opinions of women are typical of the era. Eventually, Hethor cannot help himself and confronts Darby, the hearse driver, about her gender. He is promptly put in his place and told that she preferred that information not to be bandied about.
Two days later, Hethor arrives in Boston Common with instructions to find Court Street, where he would no doubt find the Viceroy. Hethor finds his target, a large building flying three flags, the first being the Union Flag, the second the Colonial Flag and finally a third flag which Hethor hopes signals that the Viceroy is currently resident. He is unsure if he should seek out Malgus first or try the Viceroy, but eventually decides to try the Viceroy. He enters and is first told that the servant's entrance was around the back, but after asking to see the Viceroy, the clerk asks him if he is one of the Specials. Hethor tells the clerk he is, using the albino toucan as the password when requested before being taken to a separate room by the Sergeant of the guards. He is met by a Mister Phelps, who serves Lord William. Mister Phelps tells Hethor that he is clearly not one of his Specials (as in Special Constables or Secret Police), but Lord William felt it a necessity that Mister Phelps talk with him. Mister Phelps adds that the current courtly fashion is Rational Humanism, and that as a result, many would find Hethor's tale to be rather far fetched. Hethor is offered the chance to be coached and presented properly before delivering his message under the sponsorship of a gentleman, though Hethor declines, repulsed by the thoughts of gentlemen thanks to Pryce and Faubus. Mister Phelps tells him that the Viceroy will see a rustic countryman and not hear a word, but tells Hethor he will present him as soon as he can. When Hethor asks why he couldn't simply tell the Viceroy himself, Mister Phelps replies that unlike most of the stories he heard, he believed this one, though it was not his story to tell. If it had been, then the angel would have visited him.
After a night's rest in the room he was sequestered in (and some time spent cleaning himself up), Hethor is brought upstairs to a gathering of noblemen. As the presence of the Honourable Lieutenant-General Lord Devon de Courtenay, Knight Grand Cross of Saint Michael and Saint George, Order of the Wabash, by appointment of Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria now Viceroy of New England and the American Possessions, Protector of Canada and Warden of the Western Frontiers is announced, Hethor has a moment to wish that he had taken Mister Phelps up on his offer. He spots Lord William standing behind the Viceroy, a position of great trust. Hethor attempts to share his tale with the Viceroy only to be laughed at by the assembled nobility before being escorted out of the building to the mocking laughter and contempt of the nobility. Hethor returns to the meeting room of earlier and is met by no less than Lord William of Ghent, a visit that coincides with the arrival of an eclipse. He panics at first, asking of Lord William had caused the sun to be extinguished, only to be told the fact. He goes on to tell him, not unkindly, that Hethor had not been thinking during that morning's audience. He leaves telling Hethor that he might believe him, but therein lied the shame as Lord William was a Rational Humanist who believed Man should not be suborned to God. He tells the young man that though there is no profit in it, he might consider how differently things could have been. He is taken later by Sergeant Ellis who tells him he had truly managed to incur the displeasure of the Viceroy, though Hethor asks him to tell Malgus of his tale before the Sergeant leaves him in a small dungeon. In the darkness, Hethor can hear the rattle of God's great gears, the subtle telling that something is indeed wrong with the world, though few others seem to be able to hear it. Deep in the darkness he is approached by other men and welcomed to the pit of the Candlemen. He cannot fix the world, not from here.
The next morning he is woken by one of the candlemen who invite him to break his fast, though Hethor protests that he is not at all hungry. The candleman tells him that no one ever was hungry within this dungeon, this heart of stone, but a man needed to eat to live. The dungeon is lit by huge numbers of candles that appear to make the darkness even darker when away from the candles. As Hethor joins the group of candlemen they interrupt him when he tries to tell them his name, telling him they have one rule amongst them and that is to go slowly, not to reveal anything immediately because every morsel of news was a treasure to be valued (giving some idea how long they had been trapped in there). Hethor is scared, somewhat terrified by the darkness beyond the candles but relaxes slightly as they eat a meal together only to shriek when he realises what is being used as a platter for the foods, namely the tops of skulls. He is told by the other candlemen that they share everything in this dungeon, even in death. When Hethor asks where he is, he is told that the candlemen are in what was going to be the Massachusetts House Station of a planned underground railway, there is even a locomotive down in the dungeon with them. Most of the candlemen are draughtsmen and labourers though a few were once engineers. They were sealed up in this place after the Viceroy Earl Cornwallis' son was lost under the wheels of their test locomotive. As the candlemen close around him, and Hethor panics, a sudden light appears, followed by a group of men armed with staves and a lantern. He tries to head towards them, only to be grabbed by one of the candlemen. He fights free and presents himself to the men, one of whom turns out to be Mister Phelps, who tells the men with him that they would take Hethor with them, by the white bird. He is hustled into a wagon and taken away, finding himself at Pier Four. When he asks where he is bound, one of the men, a sailor punches him on the shoulder, calling him a silly bugger. Hethor and the group head into a rowboat and make their way across the harbour to a flat area with large wooden towers. The ex-apprentice asks where the ships are, and is told to look up. High above, he can see airships at berth, large vessels with gasbags embroidered with the Union Jack.
Another of the party members, a Scotsman, welcomes Hethor to the Royal Navy, the finest 'fewking' fleet in the world on air or water, specifically to Her Imperial Majesty's Ship of the Air Bassett. It is clear to Hethor that his request to Sergeant Ellis had seen Malgus summon the press-gang and rescue him. Once aboard, the ship casts off and Hethor is told to remain where he is until someone came to fetch him. He is met by a young boy, no more than twelve or thirteen, dressed in a fine uniform and with a sword. The young boy tells him that Hethor is now sworn to Her Imperial Majesty's service, at the pleasure of the queen or her appointed officers, under pain of punishment and death subject to the Articles of War and the captain's will. When Hethor displays his confusion, the boy cuffs him causing Hethor to hit him back. He finds himself facing the boy's sword point as he tells Hethor that he had just earned twelve lashes, and another twelve for striking a superior officer. Midshipman Fine tells him that as the most junior sailor aboard Bassett he would be required to do anything that any sailor or officer asked him to do before suggesting that he find Deck Chief Lombardo.
His sense of freedom evaporates quickly as he finds himself scrubbing the wooden decks of the ship, armed with a broom and holystone. Lombardo tells him he is lucky, most sailors have to spend five to ten years on water before they are allowed to get to the air. He's never even seen a press-gang for an airship before. He warns Hethor that he had not earned himself a cushy berth, that they would be travelling in skies where the Chinese often patrolled, that he'd better be able to fight. Fortunately for Hethor, he enjoys life in the skies as the ship steamed and sailed alternatively (depending on weather) onwards. On one occasion, Hethor is putting away brass pulleys and gears when he became aware of how dirty they were. He decides to use his Navy issue shirt to buff them earning a visit from Lombardo who comments that this was the first time he'd spotted Hethor appearing to genuinely care for his work. Hethor comments that he had worked with brass, precision machines (clocks) to be precise, for once, the Deck Chief doesn't hit him as he heads off, something Hethor counts as a victory.
Before long the airship arrives at Bermuda, a Royal Navy base, docking with one of those wooden towers by means of a harpoon and rope arrangement. The bosun's pipes call up a swarm of sailors on deck for general muster, where Hethor finally gets a chance to see Captain Smallwood properly, only to be dismayed when the Captain announces that the discipline parade would begin, asking for Seaman Jacques to step forward. The assembled crew watch as Hethor if flogged twenty four times in punishment. When it is over, Hethor finds the crew attaching something to his wrist before he is carried up by a group of sailors and thrown overboard to a gaggle of laughter. He falls 200ft towards the sea below though his flight is slowed by a harness attached to a silk cap (a parachute). Other sailors join him on the way down, one of them presses an oil-soaked cloth into Hethor's back. He later discovers that that had been to help him and the fall was part of being inducted as a sky-sailor. Hethor is bought a round of drinks and even a prostitute, though she merely helped care for his wounds, bathing them in rum.
Hethor awakes in Malgus' private cabin, finally face to face with the man he had never met. Malgus introduces himself as Simeon Malgus, Navigator of the HMS Bassett. He asks Hethor if it was true what Lombardo said about Hethor's experience with clocks, to which Hethor affirms that he had been an apprentice before. Malgus goes on to ask if Hethor had slept through the earthquake, which Hethor realises he must have done as Malgus continues to tell him about the quake that had hit Bermuda, toppling one of the towers and sparking fires. Though Captain Smallwood declined to turn back and offer assistance as their ship had urgent business to the Southwest. As Malgus watches Hethor he suddenly asks, amazed, if Hethor could truly hear the gears of creation (he had infact been listening to the subtle discordant notes in God's great gears). Hethor, in a moment of caution, claims that he didn't know what Malgus was asking, though Malgus continues, offering Hethor a chance to learn some of his trade as Captain Smallwood had suggested that a clockmaker's apprentice might be of use to him. Before long, he is taken up to the midmast of the airship along with a midshipman. There, he is required to drop all metal items on him into a bucket before heading up into the navigator's perch (due to its proximity to the gasbag). The gasbag has electrick lights and small pumps to shift the hydrogen around evenly. Hethor is told to be wary of feeling faint, and should he feel faint he should immediately summon the gas division. To Hethor's delight he is assigned the duty of ensuring that the ship's clocks continue to run accurately in addition to learning the navigator's trade and other duties.
Later, while the Bassett is being buffeted by fierce storms, Hethor is standing in the navigator's cupola ready to set the clocks to midnight. Even with the storm raging, Hethor can hear the gears of the Earth grinding against each other, but even as he presses the interrupter he knows in his heart that things are indeed wrong. Midnight had been three seconds late and in a world where everything ran like clockwork, it only highlights the warning that Gabriel had given him. He does not trust Malgus or anyone else enough to tell them though and finds himself fervently wishing that Gabriel had gone to Queen Victoria who had the ability to dispatch navies and fleets out rather than just him. As the airship approaches seventeen degrees latitude, Hethor sees the Equatorial Wall for the first time in his life, and endless storm front that girdles the world where the brass wall rose up. He is warned by Midshipman de Troyes to keep an eye on the Wall as they were approaching it. Bassett calls in Georgetown, Guyana to top up her hydrogen cells, a dangerous operation. The crew are given shore leave and the Scot from the press-gang, named Angus al-Wazir asks him if he wanted to head off with the rest of them, though Hethor decides to explore the town instead. Hethor wanders the town before being confronted by Malgus, who has with him Hethor's private observational data. To Hethor's shock, Malgus tells him that such curiosity does not become the common sailor and tells Hethor that forthwith he is being sent back to the decks division. He joins the marines who were busy wrecking a tavern that had earned their spite, his stress worked out through the violence.
They are only two hours out of Georgetown when another earthquake hits, following an enormous explosion to the west, from the town they had just left. Hethor realises the town's hydrogen store must have ignited. During the crossing of the Atlantic two weeks later, a funeral service is held for two sailors who had died within the gas division as Captain Smallwood leads the sermon, praising the might of the British Empire and those who served her, regardless of the enemy, be it Chinese or disease. He comforts the assembled crew by mentioning that the Middle Kingdom would fall just like Britain's other enemies of old, the Turks, Iroquois, French and Spanish. It is after the service that Captain Smallwood finally reveals the orders given to them by Her Majesty. The Bible talks about King Solomon having built forts and mines on the Equatorial Wall, so too did the Romans and Knights Templar later. The Bassett is dispatched to provide aid to an expeditionary force under the command of General Gordon. He adds that every man jack amongst them will have a place in history as a result. Sixteen days out of Georgetown, Bassett arrives at Praia and ten days after that sees the airship arriving at Conakry and at neither ports are the crew given leave. Hethor spots damaged airship docks and asks if the Chinese had been responsible, though al-Wazir laughs and tells him most likely another earthquake, the Chinese would have greeted them with fire and rockets. They take on fuel and water before heading off once again. The awe of the Equatorial Wall makes the sailors rather quiet, though Hethor still ends up being told that the air that rose along the wall was as thick as it was on the ground, allowing the storms. He is told by others of rumours of cities made of jewels and iron-men. Monsters of all sorts. Al-Wazir shares a tale of his father having sailed to the Equatorial Wall, haunted by ghosts and forced to sail back to port on a raft. He claims his father's hair went white from the shock and he never went to sea again. Dairy, another sailor, calls him out for a liar, telling the group he'd seen al-Wazir's da at the seafront selling oysters, though he earns a punch from the Scotsman as a result, who insists his story is true. Hethor finds Dairy and asks him why he said what he said, and Dairy tells him that he had seen al-Wazir's father, white haired and muttering about apes on the rigging of ships, that the Scotsman told a different tale every time. But he adds that the Wall takes things from a man and never gives them back, that God did the world no favours when he placed monsters along the Wall.
Eventually, the ship begins to fly along the Wall, climbing the slopes slowly as the gradient of the wall rose. Far below them on the sixth day, Hethor spots a rude village of wooden houses and watches the inhabitants spill out, surrounded by speckles which Hethor realises is rocks being thrown up at them. As they travel closer to the Wall, they spot a large white arrow painted from whitewashed rocks on the ground accompanied by a crude lion and unicorn, a British symbol. The Bassett lowers herself at the point, helped lower by men of the ropes division. As Hethor peers over the edge of the ship at the ground below, he suddenly hears a shout and a bell ringing. Some of the sailors mutter 'Sky Watch', the watch point at the bow of the gasbag. Then one of the sailors tells Hethor that the ship was under attack, the sound he'd been hearing was the swivel gun being used. Guns are cranked out, though the ship's sailors are unaware of what is attacking them. Hethor can see the marines on the ground aiming at the sky, the officers in a panic. Captain Smallwood signals the ship from the ground to bring him up on the bosun's chair to take direct command of his vessel. The attackers sweep past the Bassett in a storm, and Hethor has a moment to believe it is an angelic host, but sees the truth as they sweep past, ragged tattooed winged savages armed with bronze weapons. They set up the landing party and though the Bassett's crew throw grenades and fire at the savages, they are eventually left with only the bodies of their dead, not a single winged savage's corpse seen. Captain Smallwood is consumed by anger at the incident, by heading up to the Bassett and taking command he had done his duty by the Articles of War but he had betrayed his fellow officers leaving them to fight without him and as a result he was one of the few surviving officers. Malgus' body was not found and he was presumed to have been taken by the winged savages. After a service held for the dead and a promise to find and reclaim Malgus, Hethor is invited to see Captain Smallwood. For a moment, Hethor is worried that news had reached Captain Smallwood from Boston but instead is asked by the Captain, following the disappearance of Malgus and death of Midshipman de Troyes, if he would be willing to take up the role of navigator. Hethor feels shame at the excitement he felt at being offered the very work he'd wanted but agrees to the duty placed upon him as Captain Smallwood tells him that the entire ship's compliment were relying on him to guide them onwards. He is shown to Malgus' cabin and told that it would be unseemly for him to sleep in the cabin but he might use the cabin as Malgus had used it (a chart room). He finds in Malgus' room a sketch of the Key Perilous, though is unsure what to make of it.
Just after dawn, Hethor is summoned by Captain Smallwood and allowed to use the Captain's spyglass. The Captain asks him for comment, and after confirming the altitude, Hethor tells the Captain that the forest ahead of them, coating the Wall at 6,000ft, should open up into a valley. Sure enough, a valley is found and before them, the Bassett encounters the great harbour of the air that General Gordon had sketched, an enormous wooden city built and balanced on wooden poles and ropes. The city stretches upwards for miles, but Hethor eventually spots a section of burnt areas, evidence of cooking fires. Hethor's awe turns to fear momentarily when he thinks of the great wooden city as a potential home for the winged savages. A signal gun fired from Bassett causes millions of birds and bats to panic drawing a similar reaction from the marines aboard who start firing their carbines at the birds until told to belay by Captain Smallwood. He is invited to come with the shore party by Captain Smallwood, highlighting just how badly understrength the Captain is that he feels a need to ask Hethor rather than order it. On the one hand, taking him ashore could prove helpful if they find any maps General Gordon left, on the other hand, Hethor was all they had for a navigator. Hethor decides to come with the shore party.
The airship is tied to one of the large wooden structures as the Captain and his chosen shore party effect a landing. Hethor is instructed in no uncertain terms to refrain from going anywhere or touching anything that the marines had not been or done first. As they delve into the city, they eventually find leftovers from the expedition and a dispatch case left for them. Lieutenant Wollers tells Hethor that he could return to the ship, as the dispatches were what they had been searching for. Hethor though asks Wollers if he could look around a little longer, retracing their steps. He is depressed by the vandalism and rubbish left behind by General Gordon's soldiers but as he enters a room Wollers and he had visited before, he suddenly hears the sound of wings. Rather than an attack by the winged savages, Hethor finds three great feathers around a small brass plate. Closer examination reveals it to be a gold tablet, rather than report it to Captain Smallwood and Lieutenant Wollers he decides to take it with him, returning to the ship with the tablet secreted about his clothing. As he returns to the ship, he spots a loblolly boy (assistant to a Ship Surgeon) fall from the rope bridge, and though the boy manages to activate his parachute, al-Wazir tells Hethor the ship is operating under the Articles of War and had not the time to spare for search and rescue. Hethor examines the tablet in the privacy of Malgus' cabin, though is unable to decipher it, theorising at best that the tablet might contain God's name in the form of riddle or code. He is later brought to a meeting hosted by Captain Smallwood who shares the information found in the dispatches. General Gordon had been trying to reach Diamond Palace, where Emperor Hadrianus had once built a fort. General Gorden hoped to find traces of the Roman Empire still lingering there, though the rest dismiss it as a flightful fancy. Captain Smallwood decides to send Lieutenant Lorenzo and a contingent of the marines to follow General Gordon's route.
After Bassett disgorges her chosen shore party, she begins rising as Hethor remains in Malgus' cabin, pondering the tablet. It is not written in any language he can discern, though he suspects the central four letters to be God's name. Suddenly, the sky watch alarm rings followed by the sounds of the swivel gun firing. This time, the crew are better prepared as marines race onto the decks with two carbines each, passing the spare to sailors as they manned the sides. Once more the winged savages sweep past the ship, though Hethor fails to see any fall wounded before they board the ship, fighting in eerie silence with the Englishmen. Hethor finds himself surrounded by the winged savages who are clearly not out to kill him but instead knock the prybar in his hands away. He hears Firkin, the ship's surgeon, swearing in the name of the white bird, but is overwhelmed by the savages and borne away. He is carried all through the darkening night until dropped onto a perch from which he could not hope to escape. It occurs to Hethor that man was made in God's image, but the winged savages are perhaps an imitation of angels, a lesser creation. He is put off the next morning by the way they consume their meal, watching them butcher a sheep before his eyes. He sets himself to creating a bosun's chair from the tendons of the consumed sheep. He is carried away once more, this time passing close enough to the Wall to see various monsters that he realises are stalking General Gordon's expedition. When he attempts to call out to the expedition he is met by rather angry stares from his captors, earning his silence. He can see the expedition suffering an attack by fierce bronze automatons and crystalline beasts before his eyes are shown an even more terrifying sight, a full section of the Wall collapsing.
Hethor is continually taken further up the Wall as well, past numerous wondrous sights as the winged savages take him far away from Bassett. Up so high, near the gears of the Equatorial Wall, Hethor is treated to a sight few have ever seen. The winged savages take him to what appears to be a Chinese styled temple at the top of the gears, though the fear of the Chinese having dominion over the Wall barely concerned him, the poor man afflicted by weakness and exhaustion. As he enters the temple he sees creatures clothed in orange robes with the look of apes about them, and within he finds a gigantic ten foot armoured creature. He asks for water and follows it as it moves off through the temple. As he walks after the creature, he sees several other astounding sights, a boulder of jade that had been carved to resemble the Wall and a room with an automaton chess machine featuring a Turk-shaped opponent that looks back at Hethor as he stares. He is finally brought to a room with two men, the first being an elderly figure in orange robes, the second being Malgus. The elderly man greets Hethor in ordinary English, despite his Chinese origin. He is welcomed and provided food and drink. After sating his hunger and thirst, Hethor asks both men what they were doing here. Malgus tells Hethor that he took his sworn duties to the Royal Navy seriously, but that he had always had a higher calling. At first, Hethor thinks Malgus is an agent of the South (South Hemisphere), though Malgus explains that he saw himself as an agent of creation, not seeing the world in terms of nations or race, but seeing all equally. Hethor realises that the Jade Abbot (the elderly man) is closer to God than he could ever hope to be, and he blurts out his tale regarding Gabriel. The Jade Abbot kindly tells him that Gabriel was not related at all to the winged savages. Malgus laughs at Hethor's quest to find the Key Perilous, though the Jade Abbot tells him that it is indeed real, and also legendary, being one of the seven Great Relics that Christ left behind after death. He goes on to tell Hethor that some of those relics crossed over to the South and that Simeon Malgus would accompany him there, to Malgus' ire, though he rather stiffly accepts the abbot's order. After Malgus leaves, Hethor reasons with the Jade Abbot that he must have been the one to send the winged savages, to which the abbot replies that if Hethor was doing the work of Heaven, would that not mean that all ranks in creation were arrayed in support of him?
The next morning, Hethor is woken by Malgus and told to hurry so that they might attend the Sacrament of Listening, passing him thick winter clothing for the journey towards the gears themselves, the only way to cross over to the South. They stay at the Sacrament to witness the gears roll past the top of the Wall, a thundering noise that deafens them before Malgus tells Hethor to come with him, to climb. They ascend about two miles of stairs, scale bamboo ladders and finally reaching a cut in the brass that they ascend. Malgus pulls ahead, telling Hethor that he would wait on the other side, if Hethor made it, a logical decision if Hethor lagged behind too much and ended up being crushed by the gears as the Earth continued on its tracks, though Hethor can't help but feel betrayed by it. He catches up to Malgus a while later as they are crossing the twenty mile-wide groove for the gears who is swearing profusely. He tells Hethor that there's a problem, something was on the gears, an impossibility because the gears would crush everything into dust each day. Malgus is deciding whether to turn back, but Hethor sees the object arousing Malgus' worries, a golden tablet, identical to that which he had had on Bassett. He takes it, telling Malgus it is a message for him. Malgus begins to put on more speed as he moves towards the South, telling Hethor he could keep his tablet, but he'd prefer to live to see the other side. As Hethor begins to tire, he prays to God for the strength to keep going when he begins to hear an enormous building rattle. The orbital track is returning and it would crush Hethor flat. Panicking he does his best to race across the gears, screaming for help from Malgus.
Hethor comes to, hanging upside down from the bamboo ladder on the South side of the Equatorial Wall, his quilted gear caught on the ladder as he realises that he had survived the orbital track somehow, though he discovers he is deaf, presumably from the passage of the track, a small mercy considering the alternative. Cautiously he manages to free himself, narrowly avoiding being flattened by ladder as it collapses with him before making his way further down, keen to catch Malgus before he left him behind. He manages to find Malgus though after telling him he is deaf, is laughed at. The navigator pantomimes for Hethor, explaining that he had known Hethor was alive thanks to the collapsing ladders. Malgus passes Hethor a large leather pack before shouldering one for himself. Pointing out towards the cliff of the Wall, Malgus runs and jumps off, spread in an 'X' shape, allowing Hethor to realise the packs were parachutes. In his fear he hesitates, but the arrival of a group of 'hairy men' (ape-like men) throwing stones and clutching wooden poles gives him the couraged needed to take the plunge.
Malgus steers his body towards the coastline before opening his parachute, and Hethor has but a moment to realise he had no idea how to open his parachute, nor could he find any tags. Falling through the sky, Hethor puts his faith in God, pulling out the tablet and resigned to either death or rescue. Two winged savages catch the falling ex-apprentice though Hethor loses the golden tablet as it falls out of his grasp. Wordless as ever, the winged savages take Hethor to an enormous earthen fortress and leave him atop the gatehouse. Climbing down the ladder, Hethor finds himself before William of Ghent. Hethor is too tired to even display surprise and collapses before William of Ghent, knowing that the man would either succor him or kill him.
William invites Hethor to eat a meal, though Hethor is wary at first, given his previous intentions but his hunger eventually wins out and he sits through and enjoys the meal. After the meal, William asks Hethor a question, touching his ear, was he deaf? Hethor replies in the same way and William of Ghent stands, beckoning Hethor to follow him to a room with a large sand table. Using a stick, William asks Hethor questions by means of writing on the sand. He tells Hethor it was a pity he had gone deaf, but adds that he could save the world, but he needed Hethor's help. William of Ghent was a Rational Humanist, and he explains this by telling Hethor to allow the Mainspring to wind down, to see what new sun would rise after God's mechanical plan stopped. Hethor though realises that despite William's general likeable core, he had to oppose him at any and all opportunities, given that he was an enemy of God's design.
The next day after allowing Hethor some sleep, the young man is clothed in New England styles and given new boots. He meets William, still deaf and is asked by means of a pencil and paper if Hethor would give William a truce such that he might help convince the young man to his cause. Hethor says yes, though decides he cannot truly trust William of Ghent. William takes Hethor deep below the fortress to a room. The ground beneath him rumbles and within the room, Hethor can see a great field of spinning brass, a sphere that is powered by the Mainspring. William, still writing, tells Hethor that there are nine such sphere throughout the Earth, each powered by the Mainspring and are what kept the Earth spinning, captive to an absent God. He goes on to say that Rational Humanism believes only in the evidence of their senses. Hethor believes that William of Ghent is the man responsible for the damage wrought to the Earth by earthquakes, his access to the sphere granting him power to sabotage God's design. As an earthquake suddenly rocks the room, Hethor tackles William, sending him onto the field of brass as the sphere is slowed by the earthquake. As the field of brass moves once more, William of Ghent is taken away from Hethor's sight. Tracing his steps, he escapes the fortress and dashes out into the jungles only to trip on something, a golden tablet. Giving thanks to God he races onwards, attempting to reach the coastline as Malgus had been doing.
As he makes his way through the jungle to a constant litany of a refusal to lose his words, he suddenly realises that his hearing had begun to return, something that delights him. He encounters a fierce lion though is able to send it away when he brandishes the tablet before it. Ten days later, Hethor is weakened by lack of food, forced to crawl along clutching his tablet until he is stopped. It is the hairy men from earlier, armed with spears they jab him, stopping when Hethor brandishes the golden tablet. They instead bear him on a stretcher formed by a group of spears to their village. Waking within a rude village hut, he is given water by a hairy woman, his terms for the creatures tending to his care. Neither he nor the woman can understand each other, though it doesn't stop Hethor from attempting to introduce himself as Hethor as he is fed and given water. The second day sees Hethor asking about his tablet. By pointing at himself, he tells the woman he is Hethor, something she repeats back as Heh-for. Pointing at her, she tells him Arellya.
As he exits the hut with the tablet in hand, the sight he sees shocks and disgusts him. The assembled villagers begin to bow to him, falling to their knees, even Arellya. He begs them to stand, pleading in God's name not to bow to him. He is forced to listen to his name being chanted through the night, and day. However, after throwing a tantrum, trying to pick fights and eventually being reduced to tears he is met by Arellya who calls his name and indicates the outside of his hut. The chanting and bowing has stopped. Hethor comes to realise that they were not worshipping him but actually worshipping the golden tablet he had been carrying. He is later met by an older hairy man called Kalker who is brought to him by Arellya. To Hethor's surprise, Kalker can speak latin and they begin to talk. He explains that the 'correct people' (as they call themselves) were not worshipping a man, but a messenger who brought God's words. That night as he watches the correct people dance around a fire, he begins to hear the gears and rattles of creation clearer than ever before. In the midst of it all, he recognises all of the sights, sounds and smells around him as but portions of God's creation, every part a portion of a larger complex mechanism. As he listens, the words of the correct people begin to come to him and he realises he can understand the correct people with ease. When Arellya comes to offer him food, he greets and thanks her in the language of the correct people, though it elicits no surprise, merely a question from Arellya as she asks him what had taken him so long to use their language. Though Hethor enjoys being amongst the correct people, and shares a kindred affection (though not love) for Arellya, he is reminded by her that God did not send him with the tablet to live with them, but to head onwards as part of God's design. Hethor agrees, realising that he could not remain with the correct people forever and Arellya tells him the younger males had been creating rafts and paddles. They would take Hethor, though Hethor tells them he didn't wish them to come, too likely to die as many of his fellows had.
A flotilla of rafts are assembled and Hethor, brought back into focus on his mission as a messenger of God departs with Arellya and a horde of other correct people, all keen on following the messenger. Even Kalker indicates that he would have liked to come, but could not on account of his age. Hethor remains unable to read the tablet, despite the spirit magic that had allowed him to understand the correct people. That night they did not stop to camp but instead brought the rafts together, turning it into a form of floating wooden island. Seeing the aggressive and undisciplined work of the rafts' sailors makes Hethor think about al-Wazir and about the fate of the Bassett. That very night he realises that midnight is now four seconds late, and the clatter of midnight's gears brings Hethor back to thoughts of the Bassett and gives him a sudden bout of homesickness.At dawn, some of the young correct people encounter and kill a crocodile as large as Hethor's canoe. There is much celebration and Arellya explains that such a wealth of meal and skin was not to be wasted. Hethor complains that they were all in a hurry to meet God, but would stop to kill lizards. Arellya tells him that each of them travelled their own road. There were times before where his progress had been slow, he should not begrudge this one. The remain on the bank, the young males foraging and playing games. Hethor tries to concentrate on decoding his tablet and memorising the sigils on it, but he finds he cannot and is drawn into the heady jungle life. As they eat a meal of crocodile and snake, they share stories with Hethor. An earthquake strikes in the growing night, though not severe to them. As the correct people look to Hethor for comfort he shares a retelling of his own beginning, sharing the story with the correct people. At the end though, the correct people ask why would people need metal devices to tell them time when they could simply look up. Hethor does not know the answer, only aware that he had always been able to tell the time by looking and listening and so could the correct people. During another examination of the tablet, the words God and World leap out at him, finally whatever arcane means Hethor was using was granting him some understanding, though his examination is interrupted by a crocodile as it grabs Hethor and tugs him under the river water. Thinking fast, he jams the tablet between the crocodile's jaws, saving him from being immediately consumed, though he can't help but think this is his time to die. With a sense of detachment he notices that the tablet must be plated in gold not pure gold as a pure gold object would bend under the pressure the crocodile was creating. He is rescued by the correct people, though not before he had tried to change the gearing of the world, a curious idea that had come to him as he had tried to focus on the clockwork 'sense' of the crocodile. He comes to, told by Arellya that three of the correct people had given their lives for him, something that ashames Hethor, though Arellya comforts him by telling him that they had chosen that path, chosen to follow the Messenger and none present would ever protest their passing.
When he comes to again, a third word makes itself known to him, allowing Hethor to translate one portion of the tablet as 'the heart of God is the heart of the world.' He exclaims his successful translation to the cheers of the correct people. It comes to him slowly as:
The heart of God is the heart of the world.
As man lives, so lives God.
As God lives, so lives the world.
Hethor is almost disappointed with the result, not entirely understanding the meaning, though Arellya congratulates him on finally understanding the tablet's words, telling him she had worried he would never understand them.
The next day starts with a great panic as the assembled flotilla hastily detaches, hearing the roaring of a great beasts and as a surge of water races towards them, Hethor begins to laugh, despite the correct people hurling spears at it. He explains that it was a tidal bore, a natural phenomenon of a river as it approached the sea. It was a sign that they were close to the sea and in time the group arrive at the sea. He warns them not to go out to sea, though two rafts and three canoes of correct people do not listen and go out, beyond the range of voice. Arellya tells him that it is their way. Heading south beside the surf, they spot a lighthouse and Hethor tells the correct people to make landing and go on foot, though more are lost at sea as they either ignore or fail to hear Hethor's instructions. The correct people have little understanding of the nature of the sea and its storms. As the remaining survivors shelter for the night, Hethor asks Arellya how they can accept death so easily, though she tells him that when death is their path, they do not find it easy, but it comforts them to know that they died doing what they chose to do, and that their death brings them into part of the world, a concept alien to Hethor's teachings. As the dawn breaks, he is asked by Arellya to accompany her and her people as they search for survivors, to respect this day for them. They find many survivors though equally many are gone. His melancholy at the day's events lead him to wonder if the earthquakes are a sign of God's palsies.
They finally make it to the city, admiring the lighthouse from afar and the structures within the city that display a level of technology and sophistication far beyond that of the British. They enter through the harbour, seeing more familiar sights to Hethor, steamships, sailing ships and even a wide, low bodied airship. Entering the city is easy, as they look for Malgus, the walls unmanned and the gates open. When Hethor asks what would happen if any of the correct people got lost, Arellya tells him that they would be able to find their way back to their homes, unerring in their sense of direction. All around them within the city are many creatures, taller than men, and thin. Hethor believes them to be a city of sorcerors and witches, though none of the city's inhabitants spare even a moment for the correct people walking amongst them, making Hethor wonder if they were invisible to them or whether, like an E.A. Poe story, they were in fact ghosts. Within a square, Hethor finally finds Simeon Malgus, chained to the top of a fifty foot high stone tower, made much the same as the lighthouse. Hethor asks Arellya if it would be possible to rescue him, to which she replies with certainty. The correct people form a huge ladder, climbing one atop each other such that they might reach Malgus and cut his chains, though as Hethor watches in horror, Malgus proves to be too heavy for them and the group of correct people and the Bassett's navigator collapse. He dashes over to be greeted by a dying Malgus who expires shortly after telling him to trust in William of Ghent for the sake of the white bird. Hethor thinks that it was too late for that now, having attacked him, though he doubted William of Ghent was dead.
Arellya urges Hethor, telling him they should move quickly as their actions had attracted the angered attentions of the city's sorcerors and witches. The young males form a protective ring around them, spears held ready as Hethor tells them to make for the harbour, and to take with them Malgus' body. The correct people begin to run, with Hethor, Arellya and Malgus' body between them and the city's inhabitants. They head down road after road before appearing to falter, and when Hethor asks what the matter is, Arellya tells him that the gates have moved, proof of the eldritch power of the city. They pass through a gate that led to a darker portion of the city. A mob of the city's people block their way left, so they head right only to find another mob. The correct people do not alter their stride, but on command from Arellya, lower their spears and charge. As the correct people meet the city inhabitants' line they are met by a sheet of fire and lightning, though their momentum takes them past it. They pass through another gate into a yet darker area of the city, this time to be assailed by great beasts from the shadows before they escape through another gate, lines of retreat blocked by the sorcerors and witches. Hethor is struck by the impression that the city is a living thing, its daytime people the result of feverish dreams, its nighttime terrors the embodiment of its reality. The final gateway to the harbour is long, like a tunnel and flanked on both sides by the shadow-creatures and ahead, a glimpse of the sun. Hethor urges the correct people onwards, shouting the tablet's message that is echoed back to them as they race through the gauntlet.
They make it through, though Hethor can see that their band has been cut down to no more than three dozen. They race towards the harbour as night falls, chased by the monsters and even their own dead, flowing rivers of blood surging out of the city to trip and slip them. Hethor realises that none of them had the expertise for sailing a sea-faring vessel and tells the correct people to scale the tower that led to the tethered airship. As they scale up, Hethor feels the sensation of the shadow creatures at his back fade and turns to see the city looking calm and deserted once again. He tells the emptiness that he would not be fooled, nor struck down from the back. He takes one of the correct people's spears and brandishes it at the empty pier, and after jabbing at thin air is rewarded by a spurt of black blood from an unseen wound. When the correct people are safely aboard, he shouts at the invisible monster, telling it he had proved it could be killed by drawing blood before scaling the docking mast to board the airship. He is stopped when an invisible appendage grabs his leg, though a shower of spears from the correct people frees him. They cast off and leave the airship to drift away from the city. Later, Hethor holds a service in English-style for Simeon Malgus and consigns his body over the edge of the airship to the depths below them.
Exploring the strange airship they had appropriated, Hethor realises that the vessel was designed better than any English built airship after he discovers the ship's propulsion device (and discovers that he has no idea how to use it). He is also aware that he must discover the method to control the ship so that he might steer the vessel to the south. He reasons that though he did not know where the Key Perilous was, he did know how to find the Mainspring, which would be coiled between both North and South poles of the Earth to facilitate the rotation of the planet. He asks Arellya to accompany him as he tries to discover the ship's control system. Eventually, with the help of a correct person called Salwoo he is granted control of the vessel, which a moment's experimentation allows him to set a course and heading, further highlighting both Gabriel's hand at work and the sophistication inherent in the airship's engineering (that it is so easy to operate). As Hethor listens to the gear on gear sounds of the universe, he hears a discordant note and looks to see an enormous tidal wave crash down upon the African coastline. When Arellya asks what caused the world to hurt, something Hethor had mentioned earlier, he replies that it was the work of William of Ghent, then clarifies, explaining that the world needed winding, though Arellya simplifies it to the heart of the world needing winding, then adding that following the words of the tablet, the heart of the world is their hearts and God's. To his surprise, Arellya decides to lie with him (in the biblical sense). The next morning he goes above decks to find Arellya who is pleased to see him, though Hethor preferred to focus the conversation on finding ropes so that they might supplement their stored foods by fishing.
Hethor manages to bring the airship down to no more than one hundred feet, worried to go lower for fear of his inability to land. As the correct people fish, one of them catches a shark within his net, a twenty foot long creature that causes the airship to rock in its struggle to be free. A large number of the correct people are pulled overboard, but Hethor manages to grab them and they clamber back aboard, however, two of them had fallen into the sea. Hethor turns the airship around and the correct people fish both correct people and a horde of fish for a feast. Hethor continues to steer the ship to follow the African coastline further south and during this time, they manage to catch a small shark. He comes to think Malgus was right to describe the south as a paradise, if paradise was taken to mean nature unspoiled by man. As they continue south, Salwoo stops Hethor one day, telling him that as the Messenger's finder he had managed to discover the breasts of the airship. Sure enough, he leads Hethor to a spot below the ship that seemed to store water, a spot that is connected to the engines, forcing Hethor to conclude that the ship either ran on water or exhausted water as waste (letting us surmise that this airship might use hydrogen as fuel not just ballast). Following the success of obtaining water supplies, Hethor's remaining worries are dispelled as the ship continues south. He tells Arellya that they ought to name the ship, and they decide upon Heart of God as the name.
Sixteen days from the city of the sorcerers they reach the colder south. Hethor is shocked that there should be winter in July (thanks to the Equatorial Wall, the Northern Hemisphere would not realise that the seasons operated opposite to the South). He manages to calm the correct people, telling them not to worry about the ice, explaining that it was another form of water. He is surprised when he sees icebergs in the sea though, wondering how cold the south pole would be. They approach what must be Antarctica, spotting huge towers of ice, a sister to the crystalline cities of the Equatorial Wall though an earthquake topples them as they approach. Hethor is aware that time must be running out as each day's midnight comes later and later. By now, the correct people are struggling with the cold and he tells them to clothe themselves with blankets from the ship's stores. A few days later, Hethor comes onto the deck to find winged savages aboard, armed with swords and bows. He rouses the correct people to fight off the intruders, and Arellya gives him his tablet as they storm onto the deck. Like Bassett before, the battle is one-sided in the favour of the winged savages who butcher the correct people. Through the fight, Hethor spots the winged savages cutting the stanchions on the port (left) side and directs the correct people to attack them lest their ship be severed from the gasbag that held it aloft. As they approach, the winged savages drop away and fly around to the starboard side, cutting there instead. Having severed the stanchions, the winged savages depart, leaving the ship to wallow downwards. Hethor takes the helm, directing the remaining few correct people to hide below decks, to shelter themselves with what cloth and material they can find. Eventually the airship cuts loose of the gasbag and plunges down to the cold earth.
The survivors of the crash, including his love, Arellya pull together and begin a desperate march towards the South Pole, clothed with little more than extra blankets. Hethor is all too aware that he would die like this, but he intended to die facing south. Eventually they can go no further though, stopping to sit together in the biting cold. Hethor finds himself listening to the clockwork rhythm of himself, Arellya and the correct people, of the stars and even the brass cold of land around them... Only to find himself changing the gears, shifting the brass to bring forth a memory of his own to life. The group suddenly find themselves still standing in the cold south, but surrounded by a warm patch of greenery that defied the nature of the world around them. Arellya thanks Hethor for doing it, though he insists that God did it. Arellya tells him he had done it, begged from God a scrap. Hethor has caused a road of flowers and meadowed green to come into existence, leading towards the South Pole, providing them warmth. They reach an enormous brass shaft surrounded by the same meadowed green, delighting in arriving at their destination. Hethor tells the assembled survivors that he didn't expect to return, though Arellya tells him she would come with him, despite Hethor's protestations. When Hethor awakes, Arellya tells him that the young males had found an entrance, though per instructions had not stepped a foot within. The two of them descend together, down the shaft, following brass stairs that circle the enormous device. As they descend they are set about by wooden automatons, creations of William of Ghent. It is as Arellya is harmed that it occurs to him to alter the gears of creation once again, burning the automatons with fire. As he bends over Arellya to try to heal her, he is attacked by one last automaton that he had not seen. Unable to reach her spear, he conjures one himself, made of brass to defeat the last of William of Ghent's automatons. They both live, though Arellya is unable to walk, prompting Hethor to carry her down the stairs on his back.
As they descend deeper, he is suddenly met by Gabriel who lands before Hethor. Only Arellya's weight on his back stops him from collapsing on his knees as Gabriel greets him. He tells the angel that he had done as commanded and more, though it cost him dearly. Gabriel merely smiles and tells Hethor that he had gained dearly too, nodding at Arellya before adding that he had not done everything, he had neglected the Key Perilous. Hethor apologises saying that he had never come near it. In reply, Gabriel tells him that he had turned his face south too early. The angel appears to both pity and love Hethor equally, as he tells him that his errand is moot now, another way must be found even though time was short. Gabriel invites Hethor to sit and rest, he would bring food and blankets to him. Arellya's voice whispers no to Hethor. He realises that this makes no sense, he asks the angel why he would ask Hethor to suddenly stop his quest. Gabriel responds that he had earned a rest, though as Hethor's suspicion mounts, realising that the Gabriel that had visited him had never talked in this manner to him before and urged by Arellya's statement that the angel was playing him false, he asks what had happened to the horofix that the angel had given to him in New Boston. Gabriel replies that it was in God's hands now, giving Hethor the truth of the matter as he had been given a feather not a horofix. He pushes the angel over the edge of the stairs and collapses as the angel's form explodes into a cloud of clockwork pieces. He manages to arrest his slide down the stairs and continues deeper with Arellya still upon his back.
Deeper, he encounters William of Ghent, scarred by their last encounter. He retains his veneer of sophistication as he appeals to Hethor to stop. William tells him that Gabriel was nothing more than a winged savage with the genius of speech, telling him that God had abandoned their world right from the start, explaining that this was why the Mainspring wound down, but he cannot shake Hethor's faith to his disgust and as Hethor stands and tries to move past him, he tells William to have faith, though Willaim replies that he could not have faith as a Rational Humanist. As he stands to pick up his spear, he loses his grip on Arellya who tumbles over the side, and William, a surprising gentleman, reaches out to grab her, to stop her fall... only to be dragged down by her, overbalanced by her form. Left alone with grief and barely stopping himself at following his beloved over the edge, Hethor decides he has no choice but to continue. He would descend to find her, use the power he now had to give life to her, clinging to a dream that he could hope to find her, a dream as false as William's.
He finally reaches the Mainspring, an enormous steel spring that awes Hethor with its size. He feels foolish to have expected to find a small key to wind it, something as large as the Mainspring might need a key the size of Boston to wind it! He looks at the Mainspring and spots Arellya's body, caught between the coils though even as he watches he can see the Mainspring visibly unwinding and should they do so, his beloved's body would fall between the gaps. As he climbs the railing of the catwalk that extends along the Mainspring, he is stopped by a voice begging him 'no.' William of Ghent, his body a shambling horror animated by something beyond 'life.' He begs Hethor to let the world be, telling him that the winding down would call the Clockmakers to return, though Hethor ignores his pleas and clambers onto the Mainspring. He stops short of throwing himself down to die with his beloved, realising that Gabriel would not have sent him so far only for him to die. Instead, he realises that perhaps the quest he had been given was not to find the Key, but instead how to use it. Gabriel had told him he had the power to restore the Mainspring after all. He comes to accept that all his tribulations was to teach him. Utilising the power he had been developing, he sets about trying to heal Arellya, a hard and draining task. All of creation's gears rattle and he is filled by a sense of peace, completing Arellya's healing and ending William of Ghent's animated parody of life. As Arellya is revived, the Mainspring snaps shut, tumbling Hethor and trapping him by the knees. In his final act, still filled with God's regard, he opens his heart and withdraws a small crystal key, a mimic to the scar on his hand. The Key Perilous is Love, and Love is the heart of the God. He gives himself to the world.
He comes to, on the moon of all places, able to see Earth proceeding along her track far above. Before him sits Gabriel, though Hethor had been certain he had seen a bird just earlier. The real angel this time asks him a question very few people ever get to answer. He asks if Hethor is ready to go to God. Hethor tells Gabriel that he has a love back on Earth, that he would prefer to go back. Gabriel warns him that he would live as a cripple, his legs severed at the knees by the Mainspring, at the mercy of any brigand or beast that might set about him. Hethor merely tells the angel that he would have to trust God as He had trusted in Hethor. He is sent back to the village of the correct people where Kalker greets him and tells him he would tell Arellya. He is promised to Arellya and crafts pegs for his legs. Some time later he is met by William of Ghent, appearing much like Gabriel had on the moon who tells him, that perhaps 'Clockmaker' was just another term for God. He tells Hethor that he will return to London, having much work to do, though Hethor asks him not to reveal that he had survived, content to continue living in the southern hemisphere.
Food for thought
On the face of it this book is a mirror to our world's history, like most steampunk novels, though the concept of Brass Christ is definitely unusual for a variety of reasons. Christianity is not a single dominant religion anymore, having branched off long ago into multiple subsets and within the subset of those who consider themselves Christian there are massive differences in piety and interpretation of the Christian religion. To appeal to the largest audience, most authors (who have Jesus analogues or Christianity analogues) refuse to go too deeply into detail to avoid alienating some of their readers. Likewise, in this book, though God is mentioned often, and though the archangel Gabriel features an important role, Jesus is barely mentioned. This is a common taboo. However, if we strip away the setting, tear away the brass gears, we are given a world not too different from that of our ancestors.
The world setting (in terms of mentality) might be said to be around the mid 1600s, the cusp of the Renaissance (and New Rome movements) and the birth of proto-Capitalism (in Antwerp). The people have moved away from the old interpretations of Creation to a newer, more aggressive one. In Earth's history, the 1600s and 1700s saw changes in how science was approached. It was commonly reasoned by Christian scientists in the past that:
1: God created the world.
2: Therefore, all things on Earth are his creations.
3: God is perfect.
4: Therefore, all things on Earth are perfected.
5: Therefore, dissective work, to prod and poke, (be it on animals or plants) is the gravest disrespect.
Much like the book's Rational Humanism, the 1600s and 1700s saw the birth of more cynical behaviour and more questioning, pushing against the boundaries set by the Church. In Mainspring, the world is set around that change in thinking. England's empire is no longer a God-fearing one, but one that sets its stamp around the globe for England, one that no longer believes in God because there was little enough evidence in their lives. We see the analogy to the above reasoning in the form of the horologists (from horology meaning the study of time). In a world where the Earth runs on brass rails and therefore is timed to God's designs, to study time and to create machines that record time is to question God's designs, yet for Hethor, the controversy of creating such devices is long gone.
There's an interesting question towards miracles and acceptance of them. It seems strange to us that a world that runs of brass rails could ever be subject to cynicism about the existence of a Creator (regardless of whether that Creator is a God or some other being). However, I feel it merely highlights the reality that a miracle is not a miracle if it happens often enough. For the people in Mainspring, the brass rails are just a normal part of their lives, and on a cynical level, the existence of the rails is not proof of God, though they might be proof of an ordered universe totally anathema to ours.
At its heart then, the story is about faith. It's about being able to trust in God despite the world around you and on some level there is a criticism about assuming you are God's chosen people. Mainspring is a story that revolves around the power of belief in God, about one young man's journey towards a form of enlightenment as he realises that God is Love (as most Christian faiths teach today).* It is not a book that celebrates mankind's relationship with God, but rather the Earth's relationship with God. The English within the book have become prone to believing themselves masters of the world and of having a unique and special relationship with God, though as Hethor travels through the north and south hemispheres, he comes to realise that God loves all his creations, regardless of how strange or varied they might be, including the many creatures that dwell upon the Equatorial Wall.
*An example of an exception would be Westboro Baptist Church
At a deeper level, the book subtly reminds us through Hethor's powers that everything on Earth is part of God's design (a message for the reading audience). That there is no part of Creation that is not God's design. It's a small nudge that Christians should bear in mind that God does not love Christians alone (or perhaps I should say Brass Christians), but loves everyone equally. This is more akin to the God of the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. The New Testament God can be equated to Jesus, the one of the Old Testament is a rather different figure altogether. In some ways, the book is a message to reinforce the validity of the more 'modern' God. The Old Testament God is one who incites genocide amongst his followers (see: Deut. 7.1-2) and even once destroyed the entire world in a fit of anger (see: Gen. 6.17). Admittedly, the rationale was because mankind had been rather evil, but then it should be pointed out that God gave mankind free will. To give mankind free will only to turn around and destroy people for expressing it in a manner he doesn't approve of isn't really giving free will.
Not even slightly.
Mainspring takes us away from that God, to a God who puts Hethor through trial after trial to broaden his perspective of the world (painful though it is) and speaks of the singular relationship that each person maintains with God (much akin to Lutheran Protestantism), but the overall message is that the world we live in needs God and God needs people and God is Love, i.e. the world needs love freely given to continue (which is quite a romantic take). Ultimately, this book is a subtle learning process for Christians to, a reminder that even if people are not your faith or colour or race, or even species, one should still see them as another aspect of God's creation and that they deserve to be treated and viewed equally. It is a reminder that one's religion should not be something to shut out others, but a tool to accept others.
I do enjoy a nice uplifting tale.