Clockwork Legacy/Line of Succession/Part 1

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Line of Succession

Part 1

The automaton Autumn Lovelace was ruminating on the last verse of her latest composition when her carriage made the jarring transition from the packed earth of the country road to the granite sets leading to the city.

"A bit more warning, if you please!" she called to the driver irritably, opening the face on the pocket watch that detailed the state of her internal clockwork. A set of small hands told of a slight arrhythmia within some of her high-precision mechanisms, but that was to be expected after being unwound for so long. It was a small miracle she could be wound-up at all, that she had not ended up like Summer...

But that was a concern for another time. At present, there was the matter of the unknown individual who had done a great deal of damage to Spring and broken Winter entirely. Even more disconcerting, he was fully aware of her and her sisters' secrets and was loose somewhere within the city.

For him to have survived one of Winter's 'visitations' and then negotiated his release with Spring, she imagined he must be a cunning man. But she had matched wits with such men before; and she knew that even without his name or appearance, she would be able to set a trap that no man, regardless of how cunning or clever, could resist. And once she had drawn him out from wherever he might be hiding-

"-Lovelace!"

She started at the sound of her 'family' name, and called for the driver to stop. Cautiously parting the curtain, she peered from her carriage door to see a man in livery being dragged against his will beyond the gate of the Roquefort estate.

"Surely one of your guests must know who she is!" he insisted to his escorts. "And I can pay handsomely for the information!"

The threw him roughly into the street, the footman who oversaw his casting-out allowing himself a discreet sneer of contempt before directing the others back to the estate.

---

Roland stood, assessing the damage done to his servant's uniform. He had purchased it to gain access to the gala, but it had done little to conceal his unfamiliarity with high society. This more than anything else had thwarted his attempts to locate the Lady in Green, a mechanical woman whom he believed to be using the name Spring Lovelace. She had captured him, used him as a trap in a feud with her mechanical 'sister', and then attempted to discard him. But when she was on the verge of being destroyed herself, Roland had intervened and earned her gratitude.

True to the reward she promised when she asked for his aid, she had provided him with a stipend - a single payment consisting of more wealth than he had ever seen, and if she were to stay true, additional income for so long as he chose to remain in the city. But she did not provide him with the means to contact her, and the small bank that had administered the payment was unwilling in the extreme to provide any information regarding the owner of the account.

And so he set out on his own to uncover her whereabouts, but his inquiries had been rebuffed, his appointments refused, and this latest, boldest intrusion had been met with violence. "At this rate," he muttered, tugging off his ruined white gloves, "you're going to get yourself killed."

A polite cough caught his attention - in the shadows of the deserted thoroughfare waited an unremarkable coach pulled by an unremarkable horse, with an unremarkable driver, well-clad against the evening chill, sitting patiently atop. The coach's occupant, however, was very remarkable indeed.

In the silver moonlight, her pale, heart-shaped face almost glowed from within a curtain of raven-black hair, dark eyes and lips accentuating her rare beauty. She wore a fitted, high-collared jacket and matching top-hat of royal purple, favoring him with the trace of smile as she opened the carriage door.

His pace betrayed his eagerness, and he practically leapt into the coach to join her, grinning at his fortune.

"Onward, driver," she called in a languid tone. Though she still wore her curious smile, there was a strange detachment in how she composed herself; though perhaps her half-lidded eyes were simply the symptom of a tiring journey.

Does she even get tired? Roland wondered. She had to be another one of the mechanical women, a sister to Spring and Winter Lovelace. But what lead her to him now? And where was Spring? And why was she so quiet? Ought he make introductions?

"Roland Young.... m'lady... at your... service?" She had an unsettling air about her, and not just from her dark allure.

"Autumn Lovelace," she responded, and he found himself grinning like a child at the confirmation of his suspicions, his concern gone in an instant.

"I knew it! I had hoped one of you might return! I've been searching for Spring since she left... Oh, and not because I'm ungrateful or cross with her or anything of the sort, but... just... I suppose... because I would very much like to see her again."

Autumn gave him a curious look. "She must have made quite the impression."

"That she did, m'Lady. I now have more coin than I know what to do with, but she's all I can think about. Is she... alright?"

"She convalesces at the estate, but concern for her well-being was actually the impetus for my journey."

"Is there anything I can do?" Roland asked.

"As a matter of fact," Autumn said, the faint smile returning while she collected a small handbag from beside her, "...there is...."

---

The nobleman watched as the imposing Mr. Finch questioned the footman who had cast out the rake in borrowed livery. He would rather be questioning the footman himself, but such a display would arouse suspicion from his fellow attendees. Moreover, Mr. Finch had proven himself in matters requiring delicacy in the past; but delicate matters were not the task to which the nobleman customarily applied Mr. Finch's specific talents.

As Mr. Finch concluded the exchange and abruptly left the ballroom, the nobleman excused himself from his half-followed conversation and stepped outside to meet the tall, gaunt man in his employ.

"The bloke who had been asking after Lovelace left in a carriage," Mr. Finch explained in his quiet, gravelly voice. "And this carriage was passengered by a fetching Lady the footman did not recognize, but who seemed to be of high standing. He was also under the impression the man didn't know her either. I just sent Caleb ahead to pursue the both of 'em, and was about to follow myself."

"Then I shall join you," the nobleman concluded, stepping around the broad Mr. Finch toward the carriage house where he could see Caleb hastily readying his horse.

Mr. Finch plodded along behind him. "Joining us, m'Lord?"

"I am certain that Lovelace was a man of greater means than what I have thus far collected - and I suspect this woman may have information on that very subject."

"Very good, m'Lord," Mr. Finch affirmed, before adding. "But if we are to draw from her this information, there may be... unpleasantness."

"If she was in any way involved in withholding from me that old hermit's true fortune," the nobleman answered in a voice absent of concern, "then I would have it no other way."

---

The coach rumbled to a halt on a deserted street. Autumn opened her own door, stepping out without assistance. Roland followed, noting the convenient set of steps that had appeared below the door, folding underneath the carriage as the door closed on its own. "Clever!" Roland remarked to Autumn, but saw that she was already well ahead of him, walking into a dark alley.

"If you're looking for a place to talk," Roland called, following her, "There's always-"

She silenced him with a cold stare and easily opened a large and heavy-looking cellar door, gesturing for him to enter. Roland took the narrow steps cautiously, and just as he reached the bottom the cellar door shut with a bang, casting him into darkness.

"Hey!" he cried, "What-"

An electrical light flared into existence, produce by a thin wand held in Autumn's gloved hand. "You're quite prone to outbursts, aren't you Mr. Young?" she said in an uncaring voice.

"Sorry, just a bit... um... are you taking me to see Spring? Er... Lady Lovelace? I mean... the Baroness?"

"Just 'Spring' will do," Autumn sighed, brushing past him and travelling down the narrow stone hall. Stopping suddenly, she unlocked a door and stepped through. John followed her to find he already knew this chamber. The loosed bonds that had bound him still hung from the bedposts, the mattress still stained with the prodigious fluids Winter Lovelace had lost before her final... climax. The divan similarly marred by Spring. Bits and pieces of clockwork remained strewn about the floor.

Roland walked slowly into the chamber, turning to see Autumn closing the door behind her. The idea that she wasn't here to bring him to Spring suddenly dawned on him, and he asked, "What do you want with me? You mentioned there was a way I could help Spring..."

"Our continued existence, Mr. Young, is only preserved by secrecy."

Roland gave a worried glance at her handbag as a gloved dipped inside. Roland quickly said, "Which is why I haven't told a soul about her!"

Autumn withdrew a small ampoule of green liquid. "You were shouting our name in the street when I found you."

"Was I? Oh, yes, I suppose I was, but you see... well, I reasoned a man might know the name Lovelace and not know it bears any connection to... to... ottomans?"

Autumn gave him an exasperated look, but soon a wry smile crept on to her face. "I may be mechanical, Mr. Young, but I am no Turk."

While Roland puzzled over her words, she seemed to be waiting for a response. Finally, he said, "Er... come again?"

The smile vanished. "The word you were fumbling for is 'Automaton', not the name of the Turkish Empire. And the Mechanical Turk is a chess-playing..." she delivered an irritated sighed. "It was a clever bon mot, wasted on a man I appear to have greatly overestimated." She plunged a needle into the green fluid.

"Now... half a moment, Autumn!" Roland said, backing away. "Spring spared my life because I saved hers!"

"A short-sighted decision that has already put us in jeopardy. Tell me, who else knows about us?"

"No one! I swear on my own mother that I haven't told a single living soul about any of you or what happened here! I... I just want to see her again... please..."

"No one else knows?" Autumn asked, dropping the vial back into her bag.

"No, I promise you!"

Autumn looked relieved. "Then my stay here shall be brief." She strode forward, the needle pinched delicately in her hand as she spoke in a formal tone, "When seasons' secrets fall from keeping, Autumn's scythe is brought to bear..."

Roland backed up and stumbled backward on to the bed. He knew he was no match for her physically, but perhaps if he could get around her to the door...

"...for a harvest ever-reaping, Sewn by need of sisters' care." She stopped in her paces, just a few steps from him.

Roland had never been a student of poetry (or much else for that matter) but he could recognize the verse was amateur, and that again she appeared to be awaiting a response. Perhaps flattery would at least stall her?

"Shakespeare?" Roland offered.

"What? Oh, I...." she tittered slightly, and in the silence Roland believed he could hear the rising sound of clockwork. "...no, it isn't The Bard," she said coyly.

"Keats? Shelley?" Roland struggled for another name. "Uh... Byron?"

"Oh my," she tittered again. "Do you really think-"

"Don't tell me!" Roland said playfully.

"-that it could have been one of-"

"It's yours?!" Roland said, feigning shock.

"I confess!" she squeaked, clasping her hands. The sound of clockwork was easily audible as she seemed to be searching for her next words. "...Most seem to have no appreciation for my poems..."

"Well, is your audience mostly men you intend to kill?"

Autumn glowered, her clockwork quieting.

"Please tell me there's more!" Roland hurriedly added.

"As a matter of fact..." she glared at him. "And you aren't just stalling to come up with some silly plan, are you? I happen to be quicker, stronger, and obviously in possession of the greater intellect..."

"If I'm to die," Roland said in a dramatic voice, "then I only wish for your sweet words be the... things... to carry me off to... death?" he finished lamely.

"Very well!" Autumn said excitedly, but then looked perturbed. "When did it become so insufferably hot in here?" she asked, unbuttoning her riding jacket and slipping it over her bare shoulders. He was surprised to see beneath was only a lavender corset lined with dark lace and a choker of pearls and black silk previously concealed by the jacket's high collar. Flinging the jacket with abandon, she gathered her bag once more and drew out a notebook. Flipping through the pages, she looked up to see him watching her, then turned away while she studied its pages.

Roland leapt to his feet and pushed in on her exposed back - just like her sisters before her, a panel sprang open. Whereas Winter's interior had been functional and Spring's decorative, Autumn's was a work of art: the four major dials were each marked with elaborate carvings depicting the elements, the lattice underneath a trellis covered in gilded ivy and blossoming flowers.

"What?!" Autumn exclaimed, stiffening. Roland grabbed the dial marked 'Air' (a sylph blowing a gust of wind) and wrenched it clockwise. With a sharp twang, it came off in his hand.

She spun around and Roland ducked to the side, a winding-clock sound whirring noisily from her. "Do you have any idea of what you've just done?" she asked, her body beginning to shudder.

"Put you in a mood for something other than murder?" Roland offered, circling her defensively.

"I am Melancholic you half-wit," she said with simmering vitriol, the clockwork beginning to take on a discordant tone. "You've disrupted the delicate balanssssss-" she froze for a moment, and Roland raced around her to adjust the 'opposing' dial - 'Earth' - further clockwise. He heard something rattling inside her.

She gasped. "You're mmmmmaaking it worse!"

He turned 'Water', and hearing no improvement, tried 'Fire', only to hear strange clicking rise to prominence.

"I suppose your deep familiarity with science is what informs your seemingly random groping at my dials?" she said with heavy sarcasm while steam began to puff from the opening.

"What should I be doing?" Roland demanded, watching as the clockwork visible through the open port crackled with electricity.

"If you truly wish to keep ussssss safe," she began. "B-b-bring my b-b-body to my c-c-carriage...."

"I've got a better idea," Roland remarked, finding the dial marked 'Cognisance.' "But when I save you, no more trying to murder me!"

Autumn's head shook, her raven-dark tresses whipping around. "Whatever you're g-going to do, just d-d-do it!"

He turned the dial counter clockwise and immediately Autumn calmed, though her clockwork persisted in its noisy deterioration. She turned and gave Roland a brief and disinterested look, her dark eyes glancing about the room. "Was there something you were intending to do?" she asked tiredly.

"Would you be so good as to bend over the bed?" Roland requested. She sighed and walked around to the other side, leaning over with her chin resting on her crossed arms.

"And?" she said, bored, while the puffs of steam coming from her back became a steady flow.

Roland circled behind her, lifting up her numerous skirts to finally expose her bare legs, standing stiffly and wrapped in dark garters and lace. Her fair skin was flawless and appeared tantalisingly soft, dimpled where the belts held her various undergarments in place. He ran a hand over her thigh and found it just as soft as it appeared, and warm as well. Unlike Winter and Spring, it felt indistinguishable from the real thing.

"Could you get on with it?" she muttered, giving a slight shake to her hips. Roland pulled the skirts up further, uncovering the plush softness of her pert and fair backside. Roland squeezed her with both hands and a curious hissing sound responded, the underwear against her sex darkening with fluid. But Autumn only said, "Does my fanny present some sort of mystery to you, Mr. Young? Just below the cheeks is where you'll find my-"

Roland jerked down his trousers and removed her soaked panties, eagerly mounting her.

"Oh!" she offered in mild surprise. "I see you've managed to find her."

Roland drove himself inside her. Her clockwork only seemed to grow noisier from the act, and though her sex had soon drenched his groin and her thighs in response to his thrusts, she simply lay there, her chin resting on her arms.

"What is that dreadful racket?" she asked, and Roland remembered a particular detail from the events that had lead to Spring's recovery.

"Those noises are coming from you!" Roland grunted, thrusting deeper while massaging her soft cheeks with his hands and struggling to stave off his rapidly approaching climax. "Your an otto... you're a machine, Autumn!"

She looked over her shoulder, frowning, and saw the geyser of steam rushing from her, electricity dancing over her shoulders. She returned her chin to her arms, and gave a disinterested, "Hmmm."

Remembering another factor of Spring's recovery, Roland slipped out from Autumn-

"Are we finished?" she said in an apathetic tone.

-and plunged himself into her ass. A panel immediately sprung open on the small of her back, the machinery inside working at a frantic pace.

"Mmmmist-t-ter Young!" she cried, as a low whistling sounded. "I was not designed f-f-forrrr <click> Why, I was not designed at all, how silly, I was born a girl and now I am g-g-grown autommmmat-t-tonnn and can en-j-j-joyyy any act a human woman c-c-could because I ammmm one, isn't that s-s-sooo?" She pushed herself further on to him, giving a cry as the whistling increased in its pitch.

"Roland, this is not how I typically comport myself, but having your person stuck in my bottom seems to be making me... mmmak-k-king mmmeeee... <click> sssoooo hot, I feel ssssoooo<click> ahhhh!" she continued to push, the whistle at a scream as steam poured from her. "I am ssssooo hot, Roland, s-sshould I b-b-be this hot-t-t? This hhhooo-hhhhAHHH!" With a final push, she compressed her soft, quivering rump against his pelvis and he finally released, pouring into her as she trembled beneath, squealing in joy. He finally finished, but she only grew louder. "Ssssooo hot Roland, I AHHHH!! Ohhh, Roland, please, I'm s-s-sooo HOT-T-T!"

He reached over her and grabbed the dial marked 'Cognisance', only to meet with a stabbing numbness as electricity shot through his hand. He twisted it to its original position, remembering that had been what had finally allowed Spring to make her recovery.

"What is going-" Autumn began in confusion, then looked over her shoulder and saw Roland. "This is your idea of improving matters?!" Autumn shouted over the screeching whistle of escaping steam.

"I'm sorry! It worked with-"

"My body," she interrupted, "the ahhh... the c-c-arriage, b-b-bring me home AHHHH!... get to the workshop, and d-d-don't draw the notice of... of... oh, that's not ri-."

Her body shot back against him in a violent thrust, bowling him over in a tangle of her elaborate dress. Pushing her skirts from his face, he saw she now sat upon him, headless, her arms twitching slightly. As he slid out from her, her body suddenly became animate again and gave him a furious slap before slumping against the bed.

Rubbing where her hand struck him, Roland asked, "Autumn can you still... hear me?"

She rolled her wrist and displayed her palm while hunching her shoulders, the gesture somehow conveying both her understanding and her deep annoyance.

"As I was trying to say earlier,that worked with Spring! Here, let me..." he tucked his hands under her arms and lifted her to a sitting position on the bed. "Now, where did your head get to..."

She folded her arms, fingers tapping irritably on her elbow, while Roland pulled up his trousers and started across the room.

Suddenly, the door flew open and a man in a disheveled suit burst through. He looked around the room in slack-jawed confusion, almost stumbling over Autumn's head.

"Mr. Finch..." he said, nervously prodding her head with his toe. Roland looked back at Autumn's body to see her hesitate for just a moment before slumping motionless to the bed.

Two other men entered the room through the ruined door, clearly a Lord and his servant, and both in possession of a dangerous air. The nobleman was in a military dress uniform compete with sabre and pistol, his fine features quickly taking in the room before settling on Autumn's headless body. The other man was in a plain servant's clothing, but between a broken nose and the way his hand hung near a blade slung low on his hip, Roland knew he was a man of natural violence.

"'E's killed 'er!" the slack-jawed one said, pointing an accusing finger at Roland.

The nobleman picked up Autumn's head and held it before him, mesmerized. "No he hasn't - she wasn't a person at all."

"Who are you?" Roland asked, the first in a long string of questions he doubted he'd receive answers to.

"Viscount Wakefield, rightful inheritor of all lands and property of the late Baron Alan Lovelace." His eyes never left Autumn's head as he turned it over in wonderment in his hands. "I mention Lord Lovelace, as I suspect you know something about the man, or at least..." he turned the head to face Roland "...know something of his properties."

A queasy feeling struck Roland's as he now realized Autumn had every right to worry what trouble would follow his clumsy pursuit of her sister.

Part 2

Standing in the disheveled bedchamber next to the headless body of the automaton known as Autumn Lovelace, Roland faced the three armed men and offered a nervous, "Not entirely certain where to begin..."

"Start with you connection to the Lovelace family," Lord Wakefield said in a calm voice, turning Autumn's decapitated head to inspect once more.

"Not by blood... coincidence more than anything, really..." Roland was relieved to see this seemed to please the Lord, or at least did not upset him. "I was actually trying to find a Spring Lovelace when I encountered umm... her. Autumn Lovelace." He gestured at the body in her purple skirts and lavender corset. Her mechanical nature was betrayed by the piping protruding from her neck and the exposed panel on her back displaying dials clockwork beneath, steam seeping weakly from inside. He could still hear some internal mechanisms running, but they were faint. Roland wondered if she had finally broken, or if she were only feigning her currently immobile state.

"She claimed to be a Lovelace?" Lord Wakefield asked. "And this 'Spring' was a mechanical entity as well?"

Roland nodded 'yes' to both questions; he entertained no delusion that this man had Spring's best interests in mind, but he also was convinced that a clumsy lie would earn him a slow and painful death.

The nobleman held up Autumn's head in one hand. "And how did this come to pass?"

"Ahhh... she got into a state of imbalance and just...pop!" Roland made an accompanying hand gesture.

The Lord sighed. "Mr. Finch, please help this man with his presently inadequate explanation..."

The large man approached with a menacing swagger. Roland backed away, hands outstretched, saying, "H-half a moment! If you want to find Spring Lovelace, I know how to reach her estate! And I guarantee that she can answer all of your questions far better than I, who, as I have tried to explain, am really only involved by coincidence..."

Mr Finch had backed Roland into a corner when Lord Wakefield said, "Mr. Finch, do you take this man at his word?"

He nodded. "At present, m'Lord, I do."

Lord Wakefield addressed Roland once more. "Very well. Bring us to this 'Lovelace' estate... And should there be any trickery or forestalling-"

"There won't be, I assure you!" Roland promised, struck with a pang of guilt over how earnest this sounded. "I just need to get... her body to her carriage. If you should follow the driver, he'll bring you straight there."

Lord Wakefield gestured to Autumn's body. "Then let us not delay her return any further. Bring her to her carriage."

Roland closed the open panel on her upper back, trying to do the same with the smaller opening just above her backside, but the corset lace interfered. Sensing the Lord's impatience, he slid one arm under he legs, the other behind her back, and lifted. She wasn't light, but he felt he could manage her.

"The cellar door, Caleb," the lord instructed his oafish servant. Roland considered asking for her head, but worried such a request might cause the Lord to question his intentions; and so Roland left the hidden room carrying only her body.

The streets were still mercifully empty and Autumn's carriage was not far from where they had left it. Roland approached cautiously, worried at how the driver would react to seeing his mistress headless - but the driver only sat there, unflinching.

"Sir," Roland began, "If you would-"

The carriage door swung open on its own, and Roland hefted Autumn inside, climbing in after her.

"Driver, take us to-"

The reigns snapped and the carriage lurched into the street. Roland looked at Autumn's indecent and damaged body, hoping she was still with him. After a moment, he asked quietly, "Autumn, are you..."

Her leg lashed out blindly, the boot narrowly missing his leg and striking his seat with a hollow wooden thump.

"What was that-"

Her boot kicked again, this time striking his shin. "Ow! I'll have you know, I'm in this just as much as you are! Not to mention we would not be in this predicament if you had not tried to kill me."

She flattened one palm while the other pantomimed writing upon it with a pen.

"You want your pen and notebook! Of course... ah... looks like I... didn't... manage to collect your... ow! Look, stop kicking me!"

She folded her arms, slumping against her seat.

"Now if you're done with your abuse, I'd like to try and come up with a plan. You said I need to get to your workshop, correct? Is that still where I need to go?"

She bobbed forward, her breasts jostling in her corset, and he took it as a nod of confirmation.

"You were trying to warn me about something? Are there other... otto... ottomotto..."

She bobbed again.

"I mean other than your sisters... Less 'friendly' than you?"

Another bob.

"Can't I just explain to them-"

She shook her finger.

"So what should I do?"

Spreading her palm, she sped an alternating index and middle fingers along the surface as if they were legs.

"Run? That's all well and good, but if we should be caught..."

She sat for a moment as if in thought, then pantomimed firing a pistol.

"And where would I find a pistol?"

She began a series of complex gestures, which Roland proved incapable of understanding. Finally, after trembling with frustration, Autumn's body demonstrated firing the pistol again, then crossed her forearms and swept them apart, as if to negate the suggestion.

"Very well, no pistols... Is there just an 'off' switch I can flip-"

She leaned forward, blindly feeling with her hands. When she found his bicep, she ran her hand along his arm to take his wrist, then guided it to the breast of her corset. She shuddered slightly, her clockwork beginning to raise to a tinny pitch.

"I'm to... fondle them?"

She put her hand behind his head and pulled him forward, his face stopping him just short of where her head would have been. She dipped backwards, as if the two were locked in a passionate embrace, pulling him with her. Suddenly she began to twitch and fell to her seat. Roland worried she had broken down, but when she sat up once more he realized it had been part of the act.

"So I kiss them and... they just fall apart?"

She bobbed in affirmation.

"You lot seem to react very poorly to affection."

She made a dismissive gesture.

After a moment, he added. "The workshop - Spring is there?"

She bobbed.

"And she will know what to do?"

There was a pause. Finally, she made another bob.

From the window of his carriage, Roland watched the city outskirts yield to farmland and countryside.

---

Speeding through an untamed wood, the succession of trees going by the carriage window suddenly broke when they passed under a stone arch, then into the packed-earth procession rounding a large and gaudy fountain of trumpeting angels above a ring of mermaids. Beyond was an ostentatious manor house, a jarring collection of different styles of architecture with turrets and towers jutting at seemingly random intervals. The carriage stopped before the manor's main entrance, marble stairs leading to an iron-banded wooden door without knob or handle.

Roland moved to get up, but Autumn rose before him - the moment the carriage door swung open she hurried down the steps, gesturing urgently for him to follow. As he emerged from the carriage, he could already hear the sound of approaching hoofbeats.

Taking Autumn's hand, he ran to the front door, helping guide her up the steps. The door swung open before them automatically, revealing an opulent foyer filled with strange clocks and brass curios. Standing in the center of the marble floor was the brass statue of a maidservant in a scandalously shortened dress, her bare calves plainly visible beneath its polished hem. Her face held the classic beauty of a Grecian sculpture and featured the letter 'V' inexplicably stamped upon her brow.

"Stop!" he heard Lord Wakefield shout, and such was the command in his voice that Roland found himself freeze involuntarily. Still holding his hand, Autumn dragged him into the house and the door closed behind them. Autumn began to feel about the back of the door, running her hand over several complicated mechanisms in a frantic search.

The statue of the maidservant suddenly began to whirr noisily, as her bowed head looked up, fixing her shining brass eyes upon Roland. Two notes chimed from her, and those same notes were echoed throughout the house. After an initial halting lurch forward, she began to walk more naturally, her steps demure and wholly unthreatening.

"I trust that she's not what you were warned me about," Roland said with a smirk as she drew closer. He became slightly more concerned when her hand reached out to grab a bronze candlestick from one of the tables covered in bric-a-brac.

"Autumn?" he asked, backing away from the advancing maid. Suddenly the door swung open, pushing the still searching Autumn aside as Caleb charged in shoulder-first, evidently expecting more resistance from the heavy door. He plowed into the brass maid, bringing both of them down in a noisy clatter. As Caleb pushed himself off of her, she swung the candlestick into his head with a distressingly loud wet thump. He fell back on to the maid, his eyes wide and vacant.

Abandoning the door, Autumn began moving at a half-run down the hall. Roland followed, glancing over his shoulder to see the maid shrug Caleb's body off of her and sit bolt upright. The report of pistol sounded and her head jerked back. She refocused, her mouth in an 'o' of surprise, a single high-pitched note ringing in rapid staccato; a great portion of her head surrounding her temple had been shorn away, revealing spinning gears and a glowing filament crackling with energy. Her head recoiled again from the impact of a second shot and then burst apart in a flash of electricity, the chiming faltering then stopping entirely.

He turned his attention back to Autumn, and saw additional brass maidservants begin to filter in from adjoining and rooms, each identical save for distinct lettering emblazoned upon their heads. Roland and Autumn were moving quickly enough to avoid them despite Autumn navigating without sight. Behind him, Roland could hear Mr. Finch and Lord Wakefield were apparently embroiled in a melee with the converging automatons.

Stopping suddenly within a dark-carpeted study, Autumn turned and ran toward a door, her hands scrabbling for the knob. Roland could no longer see the pursuing Lord and his servant, but the sound of combat indicated they were not too far behind. Roland closed the door he and Autumn came through and was barricading it with furniture when he heard the whir of clockwork. Turning, he saw a maid 'awaken' from across the chamber and began her approach.

Finding the knob and turning a key just beneath it, Autumn flung the door open and lunged through, only to collide with another maid standing immediately on the other side. The two fell, rolling down the stone spiral steps with the maid clanging noisily on each impact. Roland went to follow, but the freshly awakened maid marked with 'XIX' seemed to guess his intent and moved to bar his path.

"I'm trying to help your mistress!" he insisted. "The men out there, they're the ones trying to hurt you!' But the mechanical chambermaid only emitted the same two notes as the first one had and continued in a wary but inexorable approach. As Roland maneuvered to try for a path to the door, she lunged, arms reaching for his neck. He ducked aside, but she caught his wrist. As he spun to escape, he ended up twirling them both in an odd sort of dance. The chambermaid paused in confusion with her outstretched arm clutching his, and Roland hoped he could trust Autumn's previous instructions.

In a dance step practiced upon many a girl at the tavern, he lifted their arms and spun the chambermaid back to him, her twirling ending abruptly with her metallic chest pressed against him. Her mechanical eyes blinked with a clicking sound, a few high pitched chimes sounding as if at random. He drew his other arm around her waist and leaned into her. Though her focus returned, she seemed to look at him in confusion, her chimes sounding hesitantly as her brass lips mutely parted.

He kissed her with as much passion as he could muster, and her clockwork immediately began to rattle and grind. She writhed unsteadily beneath him as her hand lost its grip on his wrist, her chimes playing an uneven scale of ascending notes. She lost her balance as her legs began to kick and he caught her bodily as she squirmed uncertainly, alternately trying to push him away and draw him closer whilst her chimes grew increasingly dissonant. With a metallic springing sound, he felt her grow lighter as a thud resounded beneath them, followed by another. He pulled away to see both her legs had fallen to the ground, her lips still searching for his as her arms sprang from her shoulders with a discordant twang. After a final convulsion, her mouth hanging open in a silent moan, her body emitted a hiss of steam and froze. A moment later, she broke down completely, her internal mechanisms falling apart along with sections of her body. He gently set her head amidst the pile of mechanical scrap, muttering, "React very poorly indeed," before taking the staircase down.

Toward the bottom of the long and winding stair, he came upon a brass arm, then a foot, then a steady trail of bits and pieces until he found what remained of the maid Autumn had collided with, a heap entangled with Autumn's headless form. Autumn herself now twitched amidst an unholy cacophony of damaged machinery.

"Autumn!" he called, but there was nothing he could read in her movement that seemed like acknowledgement. Roland looked ahead to her presumed destination and saw a room full of benches and devices - the workshop. He pulled Autumn's body from the wreckage of the chambermaid and drug her through the doorway, closing it behind them but sighting no locking mechanism.

He turned to survey the chamber - the instruments surrounding him, festooned with gauges, tubes, and odd protrusions, defied any understanding. Liquids of strange consistencies and coloring were held in innumerable glass containers, some travelling through spiraling tubes, others percolating over flames of an unnatural hue.

Most notable was the inert form of Winter Lovelace lying on a bench upon the back wall, staring blankly at the ceiling. She was dressed as he last saw her, nothing more than an embroidered underbust corset hooked to stockings covering her shapely legs, helping to conceal the doll-like ball-joints at her knees. It seemed her head had been re-attached, her exposed neck showing the re-connected piping and sutured tubing. She had been cleaned up, though residue still surrounded the seams around her hips where fluid had erupted from before.

On the floor beneath her, he could just make out a shock of coppery red hair emerging from behind a table. He rushed around it to find the Lady in Green, Spring Lovelace, lying motionless on her side. Her face was frozen in a stunned expression, emerald green eyes staring in shock, red lips open mid-gasp. Exposed panels covered her naked form, providing a detailed view of her internal mechanics but offering no insight to Roland as to why she was now inanimate.

He crouched beside her, looking at the numerous dials on her back, but seeing nothing so simple as an 'on' switch. Suddenly, a force slammed into his abdomen and he crumpled to the floor, rapidly followed by another blow that rolled him on to his back. He looked up to see Winter Lovelace, the haughty contempt unmistakable on her pale, cold, and beautiful face.

"We meet again, farmboy," she said softly as she bore her stockinged foot down upon his windpipe.

Part 3

Roland fought for breath as the automaton Winter Lovelace stood over him, her foot upon his throat. "You think this is the first usurpation I have dealt with?" she asked, her contemptuous voice untroubled as she pressed her foot down harder. "Oh no, dear farmboy - my sisters have made attempts to unseat me before, calling my rule 'unfair', 'unjust' - I believe Autumn claimed I was 'tyranical.'" Roland's hands pushed ineffectually at her foot, her leg, trying to grant some reprieve to the weight that was taking his life, his vision growing dark.

"And why should their words matter? I was the first, the eldest, the rightful heir - the others exist to serve at my pleasure!" Her foot eased, just enough to permit a ragged, reedy breath that burned through his throat. "I also know something they have yet to fully understand - they need me to rule them, as I am the only one capable of preserving our estate, of preserving us." Her eyes narrowed. "Now, I require you to confirm a small matter for me; do so and I shall end this torment right here and now. Tell me whether it was my sister, Spring, who loosened your bonds and instructed you on how you might bring me into a state of dyscrasia."

As her foot eased further, Roland tried to explain about the men coming here, but his words were lost in the tortured rasp of his voice.

"I do not need excuses, farmboy - a simple, 'yes' will suffice."

Roland tried again, "Wake... field..."

Winter's eyes flared as she crouched, straddling him, her hands tightly gripping his shoulders. "What did you say?" Even now he was struck by her imperious beauty, her chestnut hair spilling over her fair shoulders, just reaching the base of her heavy breasts left exposed by her underbust corset. It was not so different from their first encounter, her broad hips straddling him, her temper flaring...

Her eyes widened as she glanced down to see the cloth of his trousers brushing against her sex due to his sudden and unbidden swelling. She gave an exasperated growl and sat upon him forcefully, producing a not entirely unpleasant sensation. "You will not distract me again, farmboy - now speak! Was it Wakefield who put you up to this?!"

Finally recovering his breath, Roland gave a hoarse protest. "Why am I always explaining to you and your sisters that I mean you no harm! I am here because I am trying to <acccch>!"

Winter's fingers tightened upon his throat. "Tell me about Wakefield! I'm not interested in... in... ohhhh..."

Her fingers loosened and he could hear her internal machinery faltering, her weight shifting as she pressed her sex more firmly against his breeches. "Spring," she muttered, "What have you done to me?"

Roland's concern of his well-being managed to trump the more immediate demands of his libido and he put his hand on her cheek, forcing her to look at him. "Lord Wakefield is here with a fellow who, I am not ashamed to admit, terrifies me. Winter, I need you to help in dealing with them!"

Winter nodded absently, but continued her rut against him, warm fluid soaking his breeches. Roland pushed her off of him and stood, having to steady her as she nearly fell aside while emitting quiet gasps of pleasure. Seeing she was not able to remain upright on her own, he hoisted her to the workbench and set her against the wall - her voluptuous form was now covered in droplets of water, her focus largely absent as her head slowly rolled from side to side amidst indecorous moaning.

"Winter, please!" Roland insisted, breaking contact with her.

She looked at him with half-lidded eyes and quietly stated, "Despite the outcome, our.. time together was the most enjoyable experience I've had with a man."

"Uh..." Roland had no idea how to respond. "I... I suppose that despite being trussed like a hog for the slaughter, you trying to poison me, and other... events, I enjoyed my time with... you?" He shook his head and looked back at the doorway. "Now is not the time for reminiscing - we should really be focusing on the men coming here to kill us! Autumn is headless and, I fear, broken. Spring is-"

"In no state to counter these men, even if we were to wind her - and I find myself similarly ahhh... impaired." Winter gestured behind Roland, and he turned to see what he had first taken to be a white sheet over a workbench full of equipment - looking more closely, he could see the outline of a female silhouette. "You'll need to see if you can wind Summer."

Roland pulled the sheet free, revealing the final Lovelace sister. Unlike the others, her complexion was not the alabaster of sheltered nobility, but tanned and dappled in freckles, from her serene face to her pert bosom, down her toned arms and spry legs. Her shoulder-length hair was a strawberry blonde, reminding Roland of a sunset over his family's wheat fields, and he found that while she did not match the conventional standards of high-born beauty, she was achingly beautiful all the same. She was dressed only in a delicate white chemise, seemingly resting quietly with her hands folded upon her chest.

"The trigger to expose her keyhole is located inside her hindquarters," Winter said in the tone of a schoolteacher addressing a distracted pupil, startling Roland out of his quiet admiration.

"Right," Roland muttered, apologizing quietly to the inert Summer before rolling her on her stomach and lifting the chemise to expose her well-formed posterior, clad in a lacy, minuscule undergarment. Slipping it down, he felt between her cheeks, pushing deeper until a port on the small of her back opened just as it had on Spring and Autumn when entering them in the same fashion. Withdrawing his finger, he said, "I must admit, I'm a little curious about the man who designed you-"

"The key is to her right," Winter stated plainly. He did not need to ask for clarification - amongst several unusual tools was a large brass key, looking precisely like an ornate and over-sized key for a wind-up toy. Roland found the matching socket inside the port and inserted the key, looking back to Winter for instruction.

"Rotate the key clockwise as far as you can, then press it inward. With any luck..." Winter's voice trailed off skeptically.

"Is there a chance this won't work?" Roland asked, twisting the key. He heard a ratcheting sound, each rotation providing more resistance than the last.

She did not reply immediately. "Summer has proven 'resistant' to previous attempts to wind her."

Finding he could no longer turn the key, Roland pushed it in. There was a <click> and the key began to rotate counter-clockwise on its own, her clockwork grinding to life. "Look at that!" Roland said happily. Summer's head stirred, her eyelids opening - and then promptly shut. Her clockwork quieted, the key spinning for a few more revolutions before stopping.

"Huh?" Roland said in confusion, looking back to Winter whose mouth was pressed in a thin grimace. "Why didn't she...?"

"I cannot say for certain. She has been unwound for a very long time." Roland noted a touch of remorse in Winter's voice. "Perhaps too long."

Roland wound her again, turning the key as quickly as he could, straining at the end to twist the key another full revolution over his previous attempt. He then lifted Summer, propping her into a sitting position at the edge of the workbench where she slumped forward like a life-sized doll. Roland braced her upright with a hand on her shoulder and, reaching behind her, pressed in on the key.

Again her clockwork rattled to life - after a few moments, her eyes opened once more. Sky-blue, bright and playful set above her freckled apple-cheeks, but fixed on nothing. "Summer!" Roland said in an urgent tone. "Please, if you can hear me..."

She blinked twice, then looked at Roland dreamily. "...Master?"

"That is not your master," Winter said indignantly. "I am!"

Summer spared her an annoyed glance, then looked back at Roland and smiled. "Have I been asleep for long?" She was alert now, her sparkling eyes brimming with mischief. She leaned forward on the workbench toward him, her pert breasts visible through the neckline of her chemise, her raspberry-red nipples stiffening against the delicate fabric. Roland didn't even notice her hands on the drawstrings of his trousers until a final tug from her released the knot.

"Stop..." Winter said breathily, her head looking away and then, as if drawn by some compulsion, turning back. "This is neither the time nor the place-"

All of Roland's other concerns diminished when she Summer gave him a wicked smile and took his erection in an unhesitating grasp. She slid her thighs and backside forward off of the workbench, lowering herself upon his member, her tightly pressed labia offering only the briefest resistance before enveloping him wholly. She breathed out a long, trembling sigh as Winter's clockwork began to clatter unsteadily.

"As your Baroness," Winter breathed, "I command you to... ohhh.... s-s-stop!"

Summer kicked from the workbench and Roland stumbled backwards and into the bench where Winter sat. Summer rose and fell upon Roland, her sex holding him snugly in a firm, wet embrace as she began to moan softly. Winter twitched, her clockwork growing increasingly distressed as Summer continued her steady rhythm.

"It might... be a good idea to listened to-" Roland spoke the sentence with great reluctance, only to be silenced by Summer's kiss. Her scent was intoxicating, meadow flowers and spring water, and he was no longer willing to resist her advance. He pushed one hand through her strawberry hair, drawing her kiss tighter against him the other gripping her soft, toned haunches as he began to match and then increase her rhythm with thrusts of his own.

Summer's mouth fell from his in a startled gasp, her breathing growing louder, hotter as she struggled to match the rising tempo, her freckled knees squeezing tighter against him.

Winter was twitching now, her eyes fluttering as a metallic scraping and clanging sounded from inside. "F-f-farm-b-boyyy I <click> rrrememmmber I <click> <click> re.... re... nnnngh! us to-together, my... my systems cannot... they c-c-cannot... comp-p-pensaaaahhh!"

"Such is the consequence...ahhh... of your Phelgmatic design!" gasped Summer as she took Roland's hand in hers and brought it upon Winter's enormous dew-speckled breasts. Winter cried in shock, a leak hissing from inside her as steam escaped from her ball-joint mechanisms.

"We need her!" Roland protested, trying to draw away from the badly malfunctioning Winter.

"We most certainly do not!" Summer countered, working her hips frantically against his in total abandonment. As she lost control, she was no longer able to hold Roland's hand in place; but just as Roland released Winter's breast, Winter herself seized his wrist brought it back to her, pressing her tits together with him between them. "Love me!" she cried, her breasts trembling as they grew steadily to even greater size. "Love me, Farmboy! Ahhh!" There was a strange sound like material stretching past its strength, the artificial texure of breasts now rigidly smooth and coursing with water. "Love me!" she cried, pressing her over-inflated breasts harder around his hand. "LOVE-"

An explosion toppled both Summer and Roland, and Summer was brought to a shuddering climax, crying out in ecstasy as she milked Roland's pulsing manhood before she finally quieted. After a moment's respite, her freckled face was then nuzzling against him as she covered him in kisses. "I have had only one partner before you," she whispered, "And he had neither the advantages of your youth nor your... girth." Roland pushed away and looked up at Winter. She was listing to one side, her face still twitching. Her left breast had returned to its original size, but her right was gone entirely; in its absence was a spigoted mechanism that hissed steam and erratically spurted water and a strange white fluid. Her clockwork squeaked noisily and seemed to be slowing.

"Winter, are you still there?" Roland asked. Her head shuddered, eyelids flickering, as she muttered, "F-f-farm... boy..."

"What is your obsession with Winter!" Summer cried angrily, spinning Roland to face her. "I am of far better construction and do not share her poisonous disposition!" She grabbed his cock. "Do you require another demonstration as to why I-"

A sudden pounding from above interrupted her and they both looked toward the noise. "That would be Lord Wakefield trying to force his way into the study," Roland said, easing her grip from his member. "And I do not suspect he will spare either of us."

Summer furrowed her brow. "Wakefield?" she said, as if recalling a distant memory. "Who is he? What does he want?"

"The late Baron's holdings, near as I can tell," Roland said, then offering a slight, "excuse me," and pulled loose the wind-up key still inserted in her back.

"Oh!" Summer gave a startled cry. "What are we to do?"

They heard the sound of wood splintering above, footsteps approaching.

"I was relying on Winter for that," he said, looking at her softly babbling form. He knelt by Spring and inserted the key into her already exposed port. "But having no better ideas, I thought you might try violence."

"Violence I can do," Summer acknowledge, picking up an awl from the table and facing the entryway.

Roland finished turning the key in Spring's back and pushed it in just as Mr. Finch and Lord Wakefield entered the workshop. Mr. Finch held a heavily notched sabre before him, his tunic stained with fluid Roland did not take to be his own blood. Lord Wakefield had a thin blade of his own in one hand, the other clutching the hair of Autumn Lovelace's head like some unsettling trophy.

Wakefield looked upon Summer in her chemise and gave a dismissive snort. "I had expected to face you as a man," he said to Roland. "Instead I find you cowering behind the third of Baron Lovelace's clockwork whores."

"Whoever you are, I find you vulgar and offensive," Summer intoned, "and I insist you to leave my estate at once."

"You have no claim to it!" Wakefield said forcefully. "Even if you were a woman of flesh-and-blood, it would still fall to me. But the Baron did have us fooled, he most certainly did." He tossed Autumn's head upon one of the tables where it landed heavily, jostling the tools surrounding it. "We believed him to be nigh-penniless, without any of his family’s holdings... and we actually believed he had managed to net himself not just one but three exquisite beauties in quick succession, ladies who seemed to have come from nowhere, who offered him such fawning devotion..."

Summer looked confused. "What are you talking about?"

"And you, his last... as a boy I was so very stricken with you. I spent years trying to determine what happened to you after Lovelace's demise." He guffawed. "To think - you were just a thing! "

Summer strode forward, her first clenching the awl.

"Try not to damage her beyond repair," he instructed Mr. Finch as he moved to intercept her. "I have the frustrations of my wasted youth to vent."

"Do not worry, m'Lord," Mr. Finch said in his deep voice, his blade dipped low to invite a strike. "I've grown quite accustomed to dispatching these clockwork-"

Summer gave a lunge, artless and furious. Mr. Finch seemed surprised at the suddenness attack,but still managed to step aside, swinging his own blade in response. It severed her weapon-hand and buried itself into her torso, the injury producing steam and a frothing white liquid. Summer spun in place, wrenching the blade from Finch's hand, and fell backwards into him. His saber, still embedded in her side, sank deeply into his belly. Mr. Finch gave a quiet groan and then slumped heavily on to the floor.

Summer pulled the weapon free with her remaining hand, gouts of steam rushing from the opening and straining clockwork telling of some internal injury. She still managed to level the weapon at Wakefield as a silent threat.

Seeing no change in Spring despite the winding, Roland realized that Summer was likely to need his help. Rising from behind the workbench, he grabbed a spanner from the table and advanced on Wakefield.

"Don't worry, lad," Wakefield said without taking his attention from Summer. "I haven't forgotten you." He lunged quickly, his narrow blade perforating Summer near her existing wound, then narrowly retreating from her own counterattack.

"Ha!" Summer barked defiantly, her latest injury having no apparent affect. Roland grinned and closed in on the now-disconcerted nobleman.

"Ha!" Summer laughed again in the same tone, and Roland stopped.

"Ha!" She began to shudder, the sabre falling from her hand as her whole body succumbed to increasingly violent trembling. "H-h-hhaaa!" she said in a quavering voice, taking halting, mechanical steps towards Wakefield who simply moved aside.

"Hhhhhh," she breathed, steam hissing from her mouth as Wakefield gave her backside a nonchalant slap when she passed. She moaned, convulsing as panels sprang open across her form, sparking with electricity and producing gouts of steam before she pitched forward, crashing to the ground with the sound of a change-box stuffed with scrap metal.

Roland hurled the spanner at Wakefield, who easily ducked the throw. Before Roland could claim another tool to hurl at him, Wakefield quickly closed the distance with a step and a lunge.

Roland was aware of a sharp bite in his abdomen, followed by a strange lightheadedness as he saw his white shirt soak with red. Lord Wakefield was already wiping his blade off on a piece of cloth, saying, "I still am curious how you found yourself in the company of these automata - if you are uncertain how to spend your remaining moments, might I suggest you attempt to provide me with an explanation?"

Roland said nothing, falling into a shelf of alchemical mixtures. Vials rattled, tipped and fell, shattering on the floor. A pungent cocktail of odours assaulted his nose, a nauseating mixture of smells sour and rotten, others sickeningly sweet. As a vial of clear liquid dribbled across the counter-top, he was struck by the overwhelming scent of lavender. Though the fog descending upon his consciousness, Roland recalled the first time he had encountered this scent, upon the ruby lips of the Lady in Green, just before her kiss put him under...

He grabbed the still-leaking vial and hurled it at Wakefield. While his aim was truer than before, Wakfield's blade intercepted the missile - the glass shattered on impact, spattering him with the lavender-scented liquid.

"Perfume, boy? Really... now..." With a confused expression Wakefield staggered and fell, hitting the ground hard beside Summer's unmoving body. Roland grabbed an unidentifiable tool and, with the intent of using his last remaining strength to stave in the Lord's skull, took a step forward. But whether due to his injuries or his own exposure to the lavender, he was too weak to close that minor distance. He had changed nothing - the Lord would undoubtedly awaken before him (or rather, the Lord would awaken - he would not). As his legs gave out, he felt himself falling as if in slow motion. Before hitting the ground, he imagined arms catching him amidst the ticking of clockwork.

---

He could not be certain for how long he was unconscious, but the sound of clockwork stayed with him through his dark and dreamless slumber, clarifying now into a distinct ticking as he slowly came to. He opened his eyes and found himself upon a spacious bed in a well-appointed bedroom, warm sunlight streaming through the white curtain lace.

Beside him sat one of the brass maidservants, her clockwork sounding steadily as she watched him with a beatific smile on her sculpted face.

"Where am I?" Roland asked, wincing at the sharp pain he felt in his stomach. The maid stood and walked to the door - opening it, she gave a refrain of four notes once, twice - and then paused. Looking back at Roland, she quietly closed the door and demurely crawled upon the bed.

"He... hello there," Roland said uncertainly as she drew closer, her eyes closed, brass lips parting - he noted the letters XIX stamped upon her smooth brow and tried to remember where he had seen them before. She kissed him tentatively at first, a single high-pitched chime sounding and drew away quickly. Her expression was initially one of shock, but then gave way to a coy smile. With a glance back at the door, she bent over once more and kissed him fiercely, her chimes an erratic series of high pitched melodies, her hands haltingly running over her brass uniform. Roland guessed her clothing was sculpted as part of her body and could not be parted with, but found himself wishing it were possible as he put a hand on the back of her smooth thigh, running it up beneath the hem of her brass dress.

The doorknob rattled, followed by a knock. "Why is this door locked?" a muffled and testy voice demanded. The maid shot up,and slid off the bed, drunkenly staggering toward the door as her clockwork rattled noisily, opening the door and giving a clumsy bow. Spring Lovelace entered wearing the same deep green dress Roland had first seen her in. She looked to be doing well enough, composed, no ports visible, her hair neatly arranged in a bun - but her movements were hesitant, as if she did not entirely trust her body to behave itself. In passing the maidservant she muttered, "I could have sworn I left Number Six to watch over you."

Turning her attention to Roland, she beamed. "You've been out for a very long time, Mr. Young! How are we feeling?"

"A bit tender, but... well... grateful to be alive!" He coughed. "Also grateful to... see you... to see that you're... if I might begin by apologizing, actually-"

"That won't be necessary," Autumn said drearily, stepping haltingly into the room in her macabre purple dress. "Although you have every reason to be sorry for your actions, Spring feels-"

"It would seem we were ungrateful to harp upon any past mistakes," Spring cut in, giving Autumn a sharp glare. "When matters resolved themselves in our favor."

"In spite of everything," Autumn concluded gloomily.

Rapidly approaching footsteps followed by a loud thump preceded Summer's arrival. She recoiled from the doorframe with her eyes unfocused, muttering "Oh my word!" After a moment, she haphazardly danced into the room, her frilled pink gown gathered in her hands. "I appear to need some calibrating!" she cheerfully announced.

Autumn was staring daggers at Spring, who insisted. "She will be fine!"

Feeling awkward amidst the growing assembly, Roland asked, "What about Wakefield?"

"It seems him and his men were beset upon by highwaymen,” Spring said with convincing sympathy. “Or so it would appear, the poor devil is unable to recall anything from that night, let alone the past week."

"But Wakefield is alive!?" Roland cried.

Autumn looked to be on the verge of delivering a very long lecture when Winter swept into the room, fully restored. "I would not fault Spring for her decision in this matter - the Viscount's sudden disappearance would have been far more troublesome for us, especially if we are to proceed with you as intended."

"Proceed...?" Roland asked with some apprehension.

Spring smiled reassuringly. "The time in which this estate can remain hidden from the world is coming to an end. And without an heir-"

"A male heir," grumbled Autumn.

Spring nodded, "-yes, yes, without a male heir, the estate would indeed go to Wakefield or some other fool. But - fortunately for us - I believe we have found his heretofore unknown son."

Roland sat listening patiently, waiting for her to continue. When Autumn rolled her eyes, he finally understood. "Me?! A Baron?!"

"You would hold the title, yes," Spring affirmed. "But I think you'll understand if in practice you would remain here in a role closer to-"

"Manservant," Winter said flatly.

"Houseguest," Spring corrected emphatically.

"Paramour!" Summer exclaimed, clasping her hands.

Autumn simply shrugged in apathy.

Roland tried to imagine what all of this would entail while the four mechanical sisters looked at him expectantly. "What do I need to do, then?"

"He agrees!" Summer cheered, flinging herself upon him in a flurry of pink and white fabric, hugging him close while ignoring his pained protests.

Spring pulled her from him. "Let the man rest!" Bustling her out the door, she turned to say, "There will be time enough to discuss the implications of your title after you've made your recovery. We simply wanted the chance to present you with the opportunity, to thank you-"

"Thank?" Autumn remarked.

"-and to wish you a swift recovery."

"Yes, farmboy," Winter said. "Do let me know when you are recovered. I would have words with you."

"I'm well enough to talk now..."

"Words," Winter insisted, dropping her eyes, her ruby lips pursing sensually around the syllable.

"Oh!" Roland shifted the sheets around his stirring manhood.

"Let's not start in on that," Spring admonished. "We don't want him straining himself in his delicate state."

"I... appreciate that," Roland said, largely without conviction. "And I'm glad to see you've all managed to put aside your differences!"

"Hooray!" cried Summer from the hall, while the other sisters exchanged uncertain glances. With a final shrug, Autumn left the chamber, Winter following after a curt, "We shall see you soon, farmboy."

"And should you need anything else," Spring concluded, lingering in the doorway. "Six.. .or rather, Nineteen should be able to accommodate you. Now get your rest... Baron Lovelace." She left the chamber with a smile, the maidservant closing the door behind her.

"Baron!" Roland remarked. "How do you like the sound of that?"

The maidservant gave a single chime, strolling toward his bedside.

"So many questions, though... what does a Baron do all day? What did the old Baron do all day? Am I going to have to start talking like a ponce? What about my mum and da?"

The maidservant reached his bedside, giving three chimes and a shaking her head uncertainly.

"More pressing, I suppose," Roland muttered, easily abandoning his train of thought. "What is under your dress?"

The maidservant smiled and climbed once more upon the bed to answer her new Baron's inquiry.


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