by Rebecca Birch
Madeline Rowe stood on the parapets of Hinderly University beneath scarlet and gold
banners snapping in the stiff breeze. She clung to her hat with one hand and set her woven basket
on the flagstones. In the lee of the stone wall, Madeline readjusted her hatpins, opened the
basket's lid, and extracted one of the three clockwork birds. Its silver wings felt like ice against
Estella Peron, the university's only other female student, shivered and pulled her short
cape close. Loosened tendrils of her dark hair lashed across her face. "Madeline, do you really
think we ought to try it now? There's so much wind," she squinted into the distance, "and it looks
Once a castle, the university perched on Hinderly Hill's summit like a mother hawk
protecting her eggs. On a good day, the view stretched clear to the horizon, but today, the
mountains were hidden behind shifting curtains of turbulent clouds.
Madeline turned the bird over to check the winding mechanism. The faint, bitter smell of
oil touched her nostrils when she opened the bird's breastplate. Everything was in its proper
place, the coils, gears, and springs new and gleaming. Satisfied, she released the tiny rod holding
the gears motionless and closed the flap. The little body hummed with energy.
"If a little wind is enough to ground a silverbird," Madeline said, "we haven't done our
job properly. Hold this."
Estella accepted the rod in a gloved hand and slipped it into a pocket of her waistcoat.
"Daniel says it'll never work." Her voice took on a nasal tone and she held up an imaginary
monocle. "Silverbirds are pretty diversions, not bats."
A strong whiff of smoke tinged with a whisper of blasting powder blew past. Madeline
wrinkled her nose. "The Daniels of the world won't ever have to risk the mines. He doesn't
understand how important this is. Did you place the lure?"
"Well then," Madeline said and lifted her arm, the swiftly warming body gripped tight.
"Sightless silverbird test flight number one--"
"Did I miss the festivities?"
Madeline's muscles tensed and her shoulders rose toward her ears. There was no
mistaking that voice, no matter how out of breath.
The silverbird's wings strained against her hand.
"Daniel!" Estella exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"