Art by jiashu xu ©

Sheridan fell backward, his hands swinging wildly, his feet flying over his head, his spine crashing against the centuries-old stonework. In a tumble of tearing flesh and bone against rock he spilled off the staircase and into the midnight void. At the last moment his right hand latched onto the staircase, his fingers quickly gripping the curved edge of the concave step. In a fierce show of strength, he held on tight, breaking his fall in a painful jolt that slammed his face against the tower and nearly wrenched his arm from his shoulder.

“Awwwww!” His pained groans hung in the atmosphere like quick-drying paint.

With one arm he hung, swaying in the air, his face scraping against the coarse rock. Fearing he would lose his hold, he lunged for the sharp edge of the staircase with his left hand. His fingers dug into the rock. He repositioned the grip of his right hand. Then, swinging to his left, he threw his left foot over the edge of the staircase. Thrusting his foot into the hollow of the stair, he shimmied his leg back over the edge.

Far below, at the foot of the King’s Tower, Kunchen watched, egging Sheridan on with a whisper: “Feel the current.”

Hugging the staircase with two arms and a leg, he had begun dragging his torso over the lip of the stairs when he sensed something. He froze in place, straining to feel it above the pounding of his own labored breath. He felt it again. It was something deep, a vibration that resonated in his chest. And something else: a muted noise, uninterrupted and regular. He knew that sound. He held his breath and listened. He could almost make it out.

Breathing deeply, he bent his head to look over his right shoulder. He hadn’t it noticed before. A great waterwheel turned at the edge of the plaza, lifting water out of the canal and into a network of aqueducts that spread across the city. The wheel’s heavy axle turned in a small house that sat on the plaza facing directly toward the King’s Tower. Sheridan timed the pulse of the wheel. He watched each paddle catch in the water’s current while he listened to the sound resonating from within the tower. They were in synch! Then he knew.

It’s the sound of grinding gears.

Art by Cornelia Kopp aka AlicePopkorn