art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by Andrew Kaye
The Master's voice trickles from the speaking tube. "Renán," he says, his voice an urgent orange but matte with kindness, "please come downstairs."
Renán doesn't want to leave behind his canvas and his paint. But he's a good servant. He comes when he's called.
Master is waiting in the foyer in his hat and his coat and his comfortable boots. Somber colors, ubiquitous. Two parts bone char, one part umber. Renán smiles. Master is wearing cologne. Renán can see it hanging on his neck and chest in motes of pale blue and verdigris, the smell a wet blend of the two.
"I've received word that my order is complete," Master says. He reaches into his pocket, removes the Special Glasses. "The couriers are detained this afternoon, so I'd like you to come with me to pick it up. But please wear the spectacles," Master says. "We'll be out among people, and I don't want you getting distracted by the colors."
Renán doesn't like the Special Glasses. Renán doesn't complain. The Glasses are heavy on his face, make his nose hurt and his ears itch. The Glasses have dark lenses. They bathe the world in shadow.
Renán follows Master's too-black boots through too-black streets. He tries not to look at the sky. It's the sunny season: always brief, always beautiful. In a week the winds will come, the ash will return, the sky will grow heavy with gray and with brown. Sepia days and starless nights. He can't bear to see the sun in shadow.
Master's boots leave gray footprints on the paving stones. Renán mimics Master's shuffle. He frowns. The walk is different. Master is different. Renán thinks he looks uncomfortable, even scared--pale and crumpled gray-green. Renán rarely sees Master when he is Among People. His face has changed in ways that even the Special Glasses can't conceal.
Master usually has such a paintable face. The smile. The eyes. The glyph tattoos along his cheek: alchemist's marks, dark green-black like ornamental jade. A paintable face, yes, but one he is never allowed to paint. Renán does not want to paint it now. It looks too pale, a canvas smeared with turpentine. It scares him. He tries not to think about it.
"Master...?" Renán asks, hating the soggy gray croak his voice becomes through the Glasses' shadow. "Where are we going?"
"To the gunsmith," Master says, gray tinged with brown.
Renán beams. This is an Important Errand. His hands begin to twitch.