The Golden Egg
They clambered up streets strewn with rubble, weaving between the wild plants that spilled out between uneven cobblestones. Ahead, the ragged skyline stretched across the horizon, ruined buildings reaching broken limbs towards the storm clouds above. And either side were the neoclassical façades of long-deserted embassies and galleries, windows broken and door frames empty.
She stopped suddenly, and her brother stumbled clumsily into her back, almost dropping his musket.
“This one,” she said.
He looked the building up and down, trying to catch his breath. He was a big lad - powerful, but too clumsy to keep pace with his lean sister on ground like this. “Are you sure?”
She looked back over her shoulder at him, hair cropped short, almost sexless in her breeches and overcoat. Like the others, he had long since grown used to her once scandalous antics.
“Trust me,” she said, and led him through broken double doors.
Within, weeds broke up through a marble floor scattered with rotting detritus and massive bones. The grey light of the overcast sky broke in through shattered windows and cracks in the ceiling.
“Did there really used to be creatures this huge?” he asked, looking at the bones piled on a nearby pedestal.
She nodded and looked around at the markings on the walls. “Of course. But they were too big to ride. People would have always used horses for that. Come on, this way.”
He followed after her, down a shadowed hallway. It wasn't a thing he could understand - why she could read, or how she did it. But it made her useful. Made the others shut up about her many oddities.
He tripped over something, and looked down, recoiling from the golden arm that lay severed on the ground. “Cathy!”
She whirled around, a hand on the the pistol tucked into her belt. “Boyo,” she sighed, a note of disappointment in her voice that made him flush with shame. “You have to get over this fear. The clockwork men don't move anymore. And they never will.”
She turned and went on. And he followed after, still red, still clutching his musket tight in both hands.
The corridor opened into a room with an arched roof. An overgrown tree pushed in through the window, clouds of dust dancing in the thin beams of light that made it through its branches.
“A dead end?” she asked, surprised.
He looked around. Two golden figures lay together in the far corner, slumped against the wall - clinging to one another. “I don't like this, Cathy. Let's go.”
She looked at the markings on the walls, ran a finger through the years of accumulated dust that covered them. “Wait.”
Her fingers slipped through the dust, and then through the wall - no, not a wall: a thin curtain, hidden in the dust and shadows, closing off an alcove. Brazenly, without caution or care, she yanked it open.
He gasped. His sister fell back, landing on her backside with a thump and throwing up a thick cloud of dust. The room lit up, bright rays shining out from the alcove. From the great golden egg that sat on its pedestal, as large as a person curled up into a ball.
They could both only stare.
“What is it?” he asked, eventually.
“I don't know,” she said. And then: “Valuable.”
He was reluctant to approach it. “It looks heavy. We'll never carry it back.”
She got to her feet, unable to take her eyes off the perfect, radiant shell. “Go back to the caravan, Boyo. Bring a shire horse.”
He stared dumbfounded at the egg, and then tore his eyes away, running back down the corridor, musket slung over his shoulder. His feet clattered and scraped against the marble floor, drumming an irregular rhythm as he passed a closed off room, its door obscured by shadow.
Inside the room, the autotelegram stirred from its decade of slumber and began to quietly tap out a message.