Mrs. Renfield’s maid lay prone on the table, her chest cavity open, and her insides exposed to the air. Next to her, Alison Sharpe rifled through her box of instruments, the clinking of metal tools the only sound in the otherwise silent room. Finding a pair of tweezers, she turned back to her subject, only to find that her hand had picked up a slight tremble. That would never do. She only had so much time before the front door to her workshop would spring open. And to complete her task in that allotted time, she needed to remain calm.
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, holding it for 1…2…3…
Her hand now still, she opened her eyes and gazed down at her subject, who lay just as still. Perfect, Alison could not help but think. The maid was not overwhelmed by thoughts, or pulse sent racing by doubts.
The alchemical glass would never allow that.
Alison paused to linger over the t-shaped structure that lay roughly where a person’s heart would be. The glass was the color blue, and inside it, electricity arched, as if someone had captured lighting inside a jar. Alison would have to be careful to avoid the delicate structure. It was the reason why each automaton was encased inside of a sturdy metal body.
Well, one of the reasons. All automatons required a complex series of gears and springs to function. And while they were far easier to mend then alchemical glass, it was still both costly and time-consuming.
Alison would know. She had been repairing them since she was six.
Reaching up, she lowered the spectacles perched on the top of her head, knowing the glass would magnify the tiny gears inside of the maid, allowing her to work more carefully. She leaned over the open chest cavity, bringing her set of tweezers close to the maid’s glass heart. She carefully prodded the mechanical workings until she found her goal. A light twang rang out, and all the air escaped Alison’s lungs in one giant whoosh.
She pulled back, revealing a small bent spring, barely larger than a fingernail, and nodded.
Placing the tweezers down with a light clink, she closed the panel that allowed access to the maid’s chest cavity. Almost immediately, Alison heard the whirring of gears.
Well, that took care of that.
Moving to stand, Alison removed the magnifying spectacles and rubbed her eyes, her last job at Sharpe’s Workshop finally done. She glanced at the clock, and felt a stab of guilt, knowing that she couldn’t be the one to inform Lady Renfield that her maid was ready. That task would fall to—
The back door burst open and slammed against the wall. On the other side stood a young man.
“Oh, you’re still here,” he said with an eye roll.
Alison attempted to school her features but was unable to stop her lips from twisting into a frown.
“Finnick. Mrs. Renfield expects to hear back from the shop by five,” she said, voice crisp. “I’m sure if you’d ring her up, she’ll be happy to see—”
“I thought you’d be gone by now.”
She shut her mouth and took in a deep breath.
“Well?” he pressed.
Her eyes snapped toward her older brother, Finnick Sharpe, who crossed his arms over his chest.
Most people would not guess them to be siblings. They were too different, in both looks and temperament. Finnick was impulsive and (under normal circumstances) personable, while Alison preferred the quiet of her workshop to the hustle and bustle of the city. She was also famously even-tempered.
At least when she didn’t have to deal with infuriating brothers.
Where Finnick was light, Alison ran dark, from complexion to eyes to hair. Both of their locks had a curl to them though. A nuisance, as far as Alison could tell, even if her schoolmates had always said that they were her best feature. That and her full, red lips, which she pressed together in a firm line.
“Can’t you just wish me well?” she asked. “Why does everything need to be a fight with you?”
“I don’t see why anyone would blame me for being cross—”
“This is an excellent opportunity for me. You know that. Mr. Ashton takes in so few apprentices.”
“And maybe you should be more suspicious! Be realistic, Alison. The man hasn’t invited you to work Ashton Alchemical. He wants you to come to his house, out in the middle of nowhere!” He snorted. “Sounds more to me like he has other plans for you.”
Alison set her jaw, unwilling to dignify such a crude comment with a response.
“Why not just stay here.” Finnick gestured to the workshop around him. “We have more than enough clients to keep us afloat. And there’s nowhere else in the world that makes you happier.”
Had, Alison wanted to shout. There’s nowhere else in the world that had made her happier.
Instead, she squared her shoulders and looked at him, her temper firmly in check. “Are you prepared to offer me my birthright?”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“No. Not can’t. Won’t.”
“That’s not how things work.”
“Father’s will listed the workshop as going to me.”
“But that’s not how things work! A man’s property doesn’t go to his daughter when there is an heir around.” He let out a sigh. “It amazes me, Alison. Growing up, everyone always told me how smart you were. Yet you remain completely unable to accept the simplest concepts. These aren’t things that I have any control over.”
He stuck his hands into his pockets and shrugged. Alison felt her own hands clench, suddenly filled with the desire to wrap her fingers around her selfish brother’s pale throat.
From outside, she heard the rumble on an engine. She turned to the front door to see a mechanical carriage awaiting her, the coachman perched in his spot above.
Ready to take her away from the only home she had ever known.
“Well,” she said. “That’s that, I guess.”
“Alison,” Finnick protested as his sister moved to the front of her workshop where her two suitcases lay.
“Alison!” He cried again as she made her way to the front door.
The door slammed behind her, and the hum of the carriage’s engine blocked out his third and final protest.