title: Holy Clockwork Angels
by: [personal profile] ghostrunner
fandom: Supernatural
pairing: Jo/Ruby
written for: AU BigBang
rating: R
word count: 16K
enabling, encouragement, bribery, threats, advice, and sympathy by girl_wonder
summary: Steampunk AU complete with airships, gaslight, Victorian costume fantasies, and clockwork… everything. Ruby and Jo have to save the world. Probably.

bonus content:
They are You and I, fanmix by brilligspoons



“So, what’s the plan?” Jo asked several hours of fighting the elements later. “Search the entire city of Paris for an angel?”

Ruby looked sidelong at her and Jo paused in thought. “There’s a joke in there, somewhere,” she said, and Ruby grinned.




Holy Clockwork Angels

--

The moment between air and ground seemed to stretch, as the blur that had knocked her flying resolved into a figure standing at the mouth of the alley. An inordinate amount of her time, Jo reflected dourly in the interim, seemed to be spent in dark, wet alleyways.

Her shoulder hit the pavement in the middle of a puddle, broken glass from the window raining down around her. Time shuddered back to normal.

Jo levered herself up on hands and knees, water soaking through her sensible tweed trousers and jacket. Through the unpinned fall of her own blonde waves she spotted something just on the edge of the puddle that gleamed in the gaslight. Pearl-handled and inlaid with silver, shining like a promise no one intends to keep.

She’d dropped her flintlock pistol.

The figure at the end of the alley made a low, grating sound like a chainsaw trying to laugh.

“All alone, little huntress,” the thing growled, stalking closer, resolving into a man as the ringing in her head settled into a pounding ache rather than a blinding one. Jo watched him move and thought, ‘edged joints, to be sure.’ She gathered her limbs underneath her, carefully not looking at the pistol.

“You might have picked a cleaner alley to ambush me in,” she complained in a flat tone. The cobblestones were wet, but she dug for the edge of one with the toe of her boot, testing its setting. “I’m likely to catch something.”

The face under the low-brimmed hat was human, the broken blood vessels of a career drunkard, or a career boxer across the cheeks. That explained the edged joints; they were very popular among people in the business of hitting and getting hit.

“Pneumonia,” he promised, “will be the least of your-”

Jo dove for the pistol in the middle of his sentence, and then bit off a shriek of sudden pain, her grip on the handle slipping as the man drove his boot, with the rest of his not inconsiderable weight behind it, into her ribs. She took the opportunity to slice backwards and up with her boot knife, striking deep at the muscle of his thigh. He staggered away, pulled out the knife, kicked her again. Her head rebounded off the cobblestones.

“That,” he snarled from what seemed like a great distance away, “was a stupid move.” He pulled back her own knife for a blow.

There came the quiet, but sharp tap of a lady’s heel from the mouth of the alley and he paused, staring back over his shoulder at the shrouded figure in unrelieved widow’s black that stood like a dainty crow between him and the street.

Jo smiled through a mouthful of blood. “I don’t believe you’ve had the pleasure of meeting my companion,” she said as clearly as she could manage under the circumstances. “Apparently your friends failed to detain her.”

--


Two hours ago.

The sweep of black crinoline over wet cobblestones. Jo reaches for the dropped flintlock. The window into the alley shatters before her weight.

Two women walk into a pawn shop.

They were an odd pair, but the proprietor thought nothing of it. A very pretty blonde and a slender figure in widow’s weeds, a veil obscuring her face and hair. The blonde walked up to the counter, the soles of her shoes silent on the tile. Her hair was pinned up, like any respectable lady. Her suit was a winter-weight tweed and she wore trousers rather than a skirt.

The proprietor dragged his gaze from her legs and gave her his most charming smile. “How may I assist you, miss?”

Her friend in black mourning lingered near the cases of nautical instruments. The blonde smiled back. “I’m looking for a set of glass photoplates.”

“Oh,” said the proprietor. “We have quite a nice selection of photoplates in excellent condition. Would you be wanting a flashbox as well?”

“No,” said the woman, “just the photoplates. And a rather specific set of photoplates, at that. I heard you had some, filmed with amber?”

The proprietor blanched. “No, miss, I’ve nothing like that. Got a lovely set, near new, daguerreotypes come out clear as day. But I’ve never seen anything filmed in amber.”

She undid the single button of her suit jacket. His eyebrows, and his hopes, rose until he saw the smooth bore flintlock pistol tucked into her belt.

“Really.” She made no sign, didn’t even turn her head. The black draped woman glided across the storefront to a display of faceted crystal barometers. Very beautiful, very expensive. She reached out with one lace-gloved, black-nailed hand.

“Oh, dear,” she murmured, tipping the instrument to shatter on the floor. The proprietor flinched. The blonde smiled sunnily into his face.

--

“And the point of that was?”

“We’re beating the brush,” said Jo, strolling calmly down the avenue. “Spread the word around, see what pops out to ambush us.”

“Lovely,” said Ruby.

“Cheer up,” Jo told her. “Or don’t. But either way, go visit the Arm and Hammer and push them about amber filmed photoplates.”

Ruby sighed. “And what will you be doing?”

“I’ll be visiting the Nelson. And pushing them about amber filmed photoplates.”

--

A man behind her in the shop. The window into the alley shatters. Jo dives for the flintlock.

The rustle of black crinoline and lace over wet cobblestones.

The points of Ruby’s claws through the man’s neck.

“Alright,” said Jo, thickly, trying to talk with only one side of her mouth. “That did not quite go as planned.”

Ruby carefully placed a few more cubes of very expensive ice in her handkerchief with the tips of her claws and pressed it back to Jo’s jaw. “No, indeed it did not,” she murmured. “However, we did find those responsible for the ghosts.”

“How were they doing it?” Jo asked, taking the ice off her cheek briefly. She jerked away irritably when Ruby went to nudge it back into place and got pricked with steel claws for her trouble.

“It was actually quite ingenious,” said the demon as though nothing had happened. “They had found a way to capture a wandering spirit with a japanned box and glass plate photography. When they shone a lantern burning potassium sulfate through the glass they could control the spirit.” She sounded quite impressed.

Jo stared at her, the numbing pain in her jaw forgotten. “That’s horrible,” she said flatly.

Ruby raised her eyebrows. “Yes, well. It’s over and done now.”

“You smashed the plates?”

“I smashed the plates,” she echoed tiredly. “Whilst you were languishing unconscious and blessedly much quieter.”

Jo made a horrible face. Or rather, half of a horrible face. “Thank you,” she said very deliberately,” for taking care of it.”

Ruby visibly relented. “Not at all.” She went on replacing the ice in the basin. “I have some less felicitous news,” she said carefully.”

Jo narrowed her eyes. “What is it?”

“It’s the topsail.”

“Ah!” Jo flung herself backward to lie prostrate on the couch. “I knew it!”

“You were right,” Ruby continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “It has definitely developed a tear.”

Jo blew out a long sigh from her prone position. “Time to limp back to Bobby’s, then.”

--

Under normal circumstances Bobby’s was a day’s to a day and a half’s flight from London. Moving at half power with the topsail down, forced to steer by tilting the stabilizer wings, it took almost three days. When the vast mechanical graveyard of Robert Singer’s Airship Refueling and Repair came into view through the starboard windscreen Jo nearly wept with relief.

She flashed the running lights from green-yellow-yellow to green-green-green and prepared to move into the mooring pole.

“There’s a southwesterly gust,” said a cool voice behind her. “You’re a half-point off.”

Jo rolled her eyes where Ruby couldn’t see and swung the wheel accordingly before glaring back over her shoulder.

Ruby, out of equal parts personal preference and desire to annoy Bobby, who hated her with a complete lack of subtlety, had changed from her plain-fronted black mourning dress and veiled hat into a black silk mourning dress with an extravagant bustle and festoons of handmade black lace. A miniature tricorn hat with black gauze veil and pheasant feathers was pinned at a rakish angle atop her upswept hair.

Jo sighed.

“Smile,” the demon advised her, “or I’ll bring a parasol, too.”

Minutes later, steadying the ladder for Ruby’s mechanically graceful descent, Jo wondered if she couldn’t have convinced her to give up a couple of layers of petticoats as well.

“’Bout time you came back,” she heard Bobby call gruffly as he came up to the platform to greet her. “Topsail, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” called Jo. “You were right, I was right, I should have come back six months ago, I’m a terrible excuse for a pilot.”

Bobby grumbled an indistinguishable denial and glared as Ruby jumped the last seven or eight feet to the platform. She smiled toothily from behind her veil and Jo jumped hastily into the breach.

“There’s a tear along the haft of the sail, Bobby,” she said. “Ship won’t move in anything shy of a hurricane.”

“I’ll get a crew on it,” Bobby said without taking his eyes from the still-smiling demon. “Come on inside. Got a message for you from the Winchesters.”

Jo raised her eyebrows sardonically, feeling Ruby tense beside her. “Sam and Dean deigning to communicate with lowly mortals such as ourselves? This I must see.”

“Come on, now. You know that’s not fair.”

Unable to take it back Jo simply shrugged apologetically and followed Bobby down into the warren of tunnels and workrooms that comprised his shipyard, trailed by the still-silent Ruby.

--

“Find the key,” Jo read aloud. She looked at Ruby and then, finding her wide-eyed shrug unhelpful, at Bobby.

“That’s all they got,” he said, offering her a lowball glass with close to three fingers of scotch in it. Jo took a sip, winced, and gave the glass to Ruby.

“I can see that. The seer they went to gave them a prophecy for me.”

“Not much of a prophecy,” said Ruby, sweeping her veils aside and tossing back the remainder of the scotch.

“Well, it’s what you’ve got,” Bobby snapped, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his mechanic’s coveralls. “Take it or leave it.”

Jo opened her mouth to attempt impossible amelioration, but was spared by the entrance of one of Bobby’s assistant engineers who slipped in, touched the brim of his hat to Jo and Ruby, and handed Bobby a grease-smeared sheet of loose leaf paper.

Bobby squinted at it for a minute. “You’re in luck,” he said. “Whole jib doesn’t need to be replaced. Just need a new sail. Take a day or so. Eight hours maybe, if you’re in a hurry to get out of here.”

“God, yes,” said Ruby.

“Not really,” said Jo without missing a beat. “Unless there was any kind of urgency attached to this prophecy?”

Bobby shrugged. “No idea. ‘Find the key’ was all they got.”

“Then we might as well do it right. Take some time to restock.” Jo struggled out of the cracked leather armchair which, as far as she could tell, had grown organically from the floorboards of Bobby’s parlor thirty years ago. “Havisham still run a wholesale market?” she asked.

Bobby nodded, and pulled his eyes away from Ruby drumming her claws on his sidetable to glance at his watch. “They should still be open. Market runs all night in good weather.”

“Thanks, Bobby,” said Jo as Ruby rose from her chair with considerably more ease. “Can we borrow a car?”

--

Because she refused to let Ruby drive anything as long as she was physically capable, it was Jo who ended up bumping the borrowed truck over the worst-kept road in the civilized world and then parking in careless disgust before the street front of the Havisham Wholesale Market.

“That was diverting,” said Ruby as Jo opened her door and helped her to step down to the cobblestones. She certainly did not require the assistance, but Jo had found her early childhood training very difficult to resist and rather automatically opened doors and held chairs for Ruby.

“At least we’re more or less in one piece,” she shot back. “Unlike the last time I let you drive an automobile.” She pretended she couldn’t see Ruby rolling her eyes behind her veil.

“Right then,” said Jo briskly. She squared her shoulders to the gates of the outdoor market. “Do you want foodstuffs and medical supplies or toiletries and luxuries?”

Ruby actually lifted her veil to give Jo a disbelieving look.

“Okay,” Jo allowed. “Silly question.”

--

She was in the middle of bargaining over three sacks of flour with a completely unreasonable, grandmotherly woman, but that was no excuse for assuming that the brush of steel against her shoulder was Ruby, and not instantly going for a weapon.

Jo had plenty of time to reflect upon that particular shortcoming as the unfamiliar demon cranked her arm the wrong way and forced her to her knees.

“Hello, lovely,” said the demon. He was a tall young man, or at least he was shaped like one, with a gentleman’s top hat pulled down over one eye, and he was backed by another two male demons and a female. They stood smiling congenially at Jo like they were on a pleasant Sunday outing. One of the males shook a clawed finger at the flour seller when the woman opened her mouth to call out.

“Now, now,” said the demon holding Jo. “There’s no particular need for a fuss. You’ve got something of mine, lovely. Hand it over like a good girl and no one gets hurt.” He considered the blood darkening Jo’s shirt sleeve where he’d dug his claws into her arm and added, “…Much.”

People in the crowded market were starting to notice, but the tightly packed stalls made sightlines difficult and Jo seriously doubted the on-hand market security would realize what was going on in time to be any actual help.

“Give me what’s mine, little huntress,” purred the demon, his claws a steel vise of pain around Jo’s upper arm. He would dislocate her shoulder if he pushed it much farther, but she discovered she could still move from her elbow down.

“And what is it I have, exactly?” Jo gritted, straining behind her back with her fingertips.

For some reason she couldn’t explain even to herself, she was expecting him to demand Ruby, who was probably still dithering over scented soaps. So she was shocked when the demon leaned close, bared pointed porcelain teeth in a rictus grin and whispered, “Where is the key?”

“What?” Jo jerked back from the demon’s stale steam and burnt wiring breath and winced when the movement dug his claws further into her arm.

The demon sighed. “Don’t play games, girl. Lilith doesn’t like your silly human games.” He smiled again, watching Jo’s face carefully. “You remember Lilith, don’t you? You remember the kind of games she likes.”

Jo remembered the bodies and the notes and the scorched rubble she’d come home to and kept her face rigidly blank.

“We can play games if you want, I suppose.” The demon glanced around at the staring customers with a kind of exaggerated innocence. “But it could be so much easier. Just give me the key. It can all be over very soon.”

“Yes,” said Jo. “It will be.”

She twisted her lower arm back around and pulled the trigger on her flintlock, firing straight up into the demon’s body. The electric crackle and flare as the life burned out of him helped to take some of the pain in her upper arm and she thumbed the hammer back down, rising to one knee as she swung the pistol around to the nearest watching demon.

He shook off his openmouthed surprise, moving with mechanical speed, and she was too slow by half. Her arm seizing up and refusing to cooperate. The demon caught the lapel of her coat in sharp steel claws, staggering when she kicked out straight at his knee but coming on undaunted. He clicked his canines in her face, reaching for her throat.

And then Ruby was there. She buried her knife in the demon’s neck, severing spine from motor control and electric death flared in his eyes.

Jo switched hands with a grimace and brought the pistol back up to shoot the female high in the chest. Not bad for left handed.

Ruby whirled on the last, but he put on a surprising burst of speed and was gone, leaping to the top of a stall and disappearing over the neighboring roofs.

She came over to where Jo was levering herself up with her left elbow and the aid of a stall counter and touched her blood-darkened sleeve gently.

“Can’t I leave you alone for five minutes?” She demanded, covering the note of concern with steel-rasped sarcasm.

Jo sighed, examining the punctures in her bicep.

“Wrangle the flour out of that harpy, we need to get back to Bobby’s.”

Ruby gave the old market woman a slow, considering look. “Those demons were Lilith’s,” she said to Jo without looking at her.

“I know,” said Jo. “There might be something to this key prophecy after all.”

--

Jo clenched her left hand around another glass of scotch, wincing as Bobby cleaned her right arm.

“What’re you going to do?” he asked, gruffly. He was still upset with himself for not sending one of his shop boys with them to Havisham.

Jo hissed in pain, gulped a little scotch. “Find the key, I suppose.”

Ruby made an amused noise. “Oh, yes,” she said. “It’s reassuring to see your planning methods are unchanged by either pain or liquor.”

Bobby scowled over at her. “If you’d been with her instead of gallivanting around…”

“We’re flying a little blinder than usual, here,” Jo cut him off.

“Not by much,” Ruby murmured.

“… perhaps we should figure out what we’re actually up against,” Jo finished with a pointed glare in Ruby’s direction.

“You have a course of action in mind?”

Jo took a fortifying breath. “I think it’s time we consult the Visionary.”

Ruby made a horrible face behind her veils. Jo could tell.

--

Ruby had, to the best of Jo’s knowledge, always hated the Visionary.

“She looks right through me,” she complained. “It is deeply unnerving.”

Jo had never quite understood how the Visionary could make Ruby feel threatened, but then, she wasn’t a demon. Who knew what that slight, ancient figure saw in Ruby?

She tapped the glass casing of the barometer and watched the needle swing, let a little more hydrogen into the mix to compensate. If the Visionary could see what was inside Ruby, the cogs and wheels that made her up, could she read her intentions also? Could she tell Jo what to do?

Jo swung the ship’s wheel two points north, put one hand on the full-brake, and watched the clouds sweep by, wondering.

--

“Any sign?”

Ruby tossed back her veils against the wind for the thousandth time and put her brass telescope to her eye again.

“Nothing!” she called back. “Take us a point and a half east!”

Jo wrenched the Dashforth into a sweeping right turn, the stars wheeling dizzily overhead, lamenting bitterly the impossibility of finding the Visionary through any sane navigational method, or even the ridiculously quaint divination Ruby swore by.

She had stared, bewildered and frustrated at the fall of thrown dice and bird bones for long minutes before announcing, in a resigned sort of way, “Apparently, she is wandering the stars in unpredictable perambulations. And there’s something about time.” She had looked up and met Jo’s eyes wryly. “Time, and a bubble.”

Jo had blown out an exasperated sigh and said, “Wandering around the desert with a telescope it is, then,” and gone back to the helm to lay in a less sane course, ignoring Ruby’s muttered, “Or we could give her up for the useless old bat she is,” with the ease of long practice.

“Anything now?” Jo had to shout over the rising winds, but she knew Ruby could hear her without fault.

“Nothing!” she got back from the still-searching demon. “Try, wait! … Wait, there! three whole points south! We’ll come in on top of her!”

Jo gritted her teeth and eased back on the hydrogen, starting the long swing southward. The points of the Dashforth’s stabilizing side sails stabbing up into the clear night sky and down at the moonlit sands of the desert below, respectively.

Completing the turn and bringing the horizon back to true showed her the Visionary’s house, same as ever. A multi-story (four? Five? Thirty?), gabled townhouse, trim and window shutters all painted different colors for (knowing the Visionary) some terribly obscure but equally important reason, moving slowly across the frozen desert by the light of the stars on the back of a giant tortoise. The tortoise swung its head slowly side to side as it inched along. Jo had never been able to decide if it was mechanical or not.

It had to be. Surely?

Jo eased the engines to an idle hum, using the winds and the topsail to close in on the mooring pole atop the highest gable of the Visionary’s house.

--

The house was unchanged, Jo thought to herself as they were led by a silent, obsequious servant in red livery down seemingly endless halls, past doors of every size and style which, based on their placement around corners, at least some of them had to lead into the same rooms.

Ruby sniffed disdainfully, wrapped once more in black walking dress and silk shawl and veils, she was carrying Jo’s swordcane and tapped it against the floorboards with excessive force at each step. She widened her eyes when Jo sent her a dirty look, the picture of innocence.

The house hadn’t changed at all; the Visionary was completely different.

Shown through the goblin-engraved double doors into what Jo had always privately thought of as the Visionary’s Inner Sanctum, she stopped, shocked at the sight of the hall. What had formerly been a bare stone floor was now covered in Oriental rugs and low couches piled high with Chinese silks. Cast bronze braziers smoldered in every corner, burning frankincense and sandalwood, handfuls of jasmine, and something that looked like white sand and smelled like a thousand years of musty books.

The Visionary sat, as she always had, on a dais at the end of the room opposite the door they had come in. Every time Jo had been there she’d been led to a different door, and every time the Visionary had been waiting at the opposite end. As always she sat hunched over a long, low table surrounded by precarious stacks and rolls of parchment with a gold calligraphy pen in one long-nailed hand.

The Visionary was a different woman.

Where the bent, mad-eyed crone had sat, there was now a slender young woman wrapped in the Visionary’s robes. Her hair was as wild and unkempt as before, but dark and glossy where the other’s had been grizzled and streaked with grey. The face she raised to them was unlined and girlish, though tattooed with the same swirling lines and dots Jo remembered.

“Are you the new Visionary, then?” Jo asked before Ruby could elbow her into silence.

The Visionary, who appeared to be as nearsighted as her predecessor, blinked her moon-pale eyes in surprise. “New?” she repeated. “New, yes. But the same still. Time for a change, all things turning, turning, burning bright and new.”

Jo took this to mean, ‘yes.’

“Very well, then, New Visionary-“

“The same,” the new Visionary corrected sharply.

From the corner of her eye Jo saw Ruby bury her face in her hands.

“Ah, yes. Same Visionary,-”

“You are seeking a key,” the Visionary cut in again in a sweet, querulous voice completely unlike the previous Visionary’s rough muttering. Her pen had never stopped scratching.

“We… yes, Visionary.”

The seer beckoned them closer with one tattooed finger. Ruby folded her arms, tucking Jo’s swordcane under her elbow, and wordlessly refused to move. Jo rolled her eyes and climbed the dais to sit awkwardly across the low table. The Visionary scratched never-ending lines and circles and spirals, occasionally, for no reason Jo could see, tossing aside one parchment for another. All the scrolls were covered in her strange circles as she went back to them over and over, changing, adding, reinforcing things.

Her handwriting was neater than her predecessor’s.

“Clever snake,” murmured the Visionary. The circles she was constantly sketching became serpentine coils, the suggestion of scales wrapped around and around what might have been a faceted jewel.

“Um,” said Jo.

The Visionary continued wrapping the snake’s tail around and between and through her other prophecies. She skimmed her long nails down a pile of papers, selecting one seemingly at random. She spread it out in front of her and Jo could see, squinting sideways, patterns that might have been scales on the edges of nearly every circle in ink that had dried years ago.

“Clever, clever snake with her whisperings and her charms and her deals.” Jo froze, and then slowly turned her head to look back at Ruby who stared at her in silence. Still as a woman cast from bronze. Nothing in her eyes.

The Visionary went on scratching at the old parchment with renewed enthusiasm. “Made a key,” she said, drawing a line to bisect her latest circle and giving it prongs. “Made a key to replace God.”

“What?” said Ruby and Jo together. Ruby stopped rolling her eyes and became raptly attentive.

The Visionary ignored them, still drawing lines that intersected in groups of five between the snake’s scales. “Clever snake. Upsetting creation with a little key.” She trailed off, switching parchments once more and muttering, “Burning, burning,” under her breath, drawing different circles.

“Who is the snake, Visionary? Who made the key?” Ruby pressed, drawing closer to the dais.
The red-clothed attendants stirred uneasily.

The Visionary didn’t look up, still muttering to herself.

“Visionary? Who made the key?” echoed Jo. Behind her Ruby started tapping her foot obnoxiously.

The seer raised her head suddenly, cutting off in the middle of the word ‘burning,’ which Jo didn’t understand, but she doubted anything good would come of it.

“Who made the key?” Jo repeated softly.

“Hephaestus,” said the Visionary.

--

“So, we’re looking for a volcano.”

Ruby shuffled carelessly. Flipped the top three cards. The Sun, the Tower, the Devil. She tapped one claw against the middle card.

“That’s where we’ll find Hephaestus, yes.” She seemed worryingly eager at the prospect, but then, Ruby was often enthusiastic about questionably safe things. Her drive to find Hephaestus didn’t have to mean anything, Jo told the niggling doubt in the pit of her stomach.

“Which volcano?”

Ruby shrugged. “Any volcano.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Any volcano you travel into with the intent of finding Hephaestus will contain Hephaestus’s forge.”

“…We have to travel into a volcano?”

Ruby laughed at her expression. “Don’t worry, Jo. It will be fine.” More soberly she added, “This may be terribly important.”

Jo remembered the scales of the snake wrapped around and through a dozen separate prophecies. She looked into Ruby’s dark eyes for a long minute. Searching for truth with a deep sense of futility. Inside Ruby it was all smoke and mirrors and machinery. She knew this, but she’d never been able to break the longing for more.

“Where’s the nearest volcano?” she said.

Ruby smiled, and curved her hand over Jo’s arm.

--

Mount Tendürek. Anatolia.

The last eruption was in 1855, Ruby told her as they swept south across the Doğubeyazıt plain, south from Mount Ararat.

Jo saw it coming for miles. The elongated cone of the shield volcano rose five thousand feet into the air.

The drifting column of smoke was also a good indication of its position.

Jo tilted the stabilizing wings and began circling the caldera. The view out the port windscreen of a deep, smoking abyss was uninviting, to say the least.

“We have to go into that?” Jo asked.

Ruby tapped her claws idly on the sheet of glass separating them from the depths of the volcano. “I suppose so,” she said, doubtfully.

“I don’t like this.”

“So you’ve said. Repeatedly.”

Jo rolled her eyes, nudging the helm toward the high point of the rim.

“Relax,” said Ruby. “Everything will be fine.”

“Oh, yes,” said Jo. “We’ll climb down into a volcano and talk to something that thinks it’s a god and everything will be fine.”

“Why do you have to do that?”

“Do what?” Jo frowned over at Ruby.

“Assume that everything divine or supernatural is just another mechanical thing that hasn’t realized it’s a machine, yet.”

“Ruby… fifty years ago people thought demons were supernatural.”

“I don’t just mean demons, Jo. I know I’m a machine. But where did the first of the demons come from? Someone made us. Where did Lilith come from?”

“Hell,” said Jo, darkly.

“Do you even really believe in Hell? Or is it just a… linguistic holdover?” The question apparently rhetorical, Ruby turned back to the view.

“Ruby…”

“Let’s just go down,” said the demon quietly.

They tethered the Dashforth to the rim with the anchors and chains and lowered the rope ladder. Jo peered down through the hatch into the belly of the volcano.

“I still think this is a bad idea,” she told Ruby.

“I’ll go first, if you’re scared.” The demon grinned at her glare and swung one leg down onto the first step. Choosing practicality over sartorial impression for the only time in Jo’s acquaintance with her, Ruby had changed into trousers and boots. Both women wore naval pea coats and carried pistols. There was no way to manage a swordcane down a rope ladder.

Jo let Ruby get roughly ten feet ahead of her before starting down the ladder herself. Ruby’s weight steadied it somewhat, but the ship itself swayed between the lengths of chain. The air was sulfurous and chill and the wind whipped sharply at Jo’s hair and clothes. Stinging in her eyes and making her hands clumsy on the ladder rungs.

After long, torturous minutes of climbing Jo was wind blind and disoriented enough to bring her bootheel down on Ruby’s hand. She jerked her foot back at Ruby’s cry of alarm and peered down at her.

“Why did you stop?” she shouted over the howl of the wind.

“End of the ladder,” Ruby shouted back.

They stared down into the volcano below them. Its depths obscured by smoke.

“Ruby…”

“I’m going to jump,” Ruby shouted at her.

“You’re going to what?! It could be miles!”

“Or it could be ten feet. We came this far!”

She climbed down until she was hanging from the last rung and looked up at Jo.

“Ruby, don’t!” Jo pleaded.

Her lips moved, but Jo couldn’t make out the words over the wind and the blood pounding in her ears. Ruby let go.

Dangling in the biting wind above the mouth of a volcano, Jo cursed demons, prophets, false gods, and several mechanical processes. Her mind played back the last moment. Ruby mouthing, “Have faith,” at her before dropping into a volcano.

“My mother was right,” Jo told the wind. “I have no judgment to speak of.”

She stared down, trying to follow Ruby with her eyes but the smoke seemed to hang just at the end of the ladder. No telling how far she would fall.

Have faith.

Ruby with her ridiculous reliance on divination and mysticism. How do you hold onto faith when everything once thought magical has been revealed to be made of metal?

Did having faith in a devious mechanical demon count? Or did it simply make one an idiot?

Jo let go.

--

There was an impression of weightlessness in the smoke. A sense that the whole world had turned to ash and wrapped itself around her like a smothering blanket. Jo listened to the echo of the wind above her and feared she would fall forever.

Hitting the ground came as a sickening shock. The smoke was gone, the floor she was sprawled gracelessly upon was rough stone. She heard the sliding crunch of Ruby’s boots on the rocky ground before the demon’s head appeared over her.

“Is anything broken?” she asked.

Jo wiggled her fingers and toes experimentally. “I don’t think so,” she said. Ruby offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet with effortless steel strength.

They were standing on an outcropping on the side of the caldera. From over the edge came the dull, red-orange glow of fire. Or lava, Jo supposed.

Or a forge.

It was dim in the caldera, the only light source that glow, but around and past Ruby, leading from the edge of the outcropping and wrapping around the inside of the volcano, Jo thought she could see stairs. Stairs leading down by increments toward the glowing belly of the volcano.

Jo eyed them tiredly, and then looked at Ruby.

A human would have exhibited some sense of shame. Ruby just said, deadpan, “We’ve come this far.”

--

An hour later Ruby peered down over the edge of the rough, un-railed stairs and said, “They can’t go on forever.”

Jo, sitting on a step, propped against the side of the volcano, said, “How about you keep going, then? Come back and tell me what you find. I’ll be here.”

“We both know you’d eventually come looking for me, convinced I was either in trouble or up to no good.”

Jo dropped her head forward onto her knees. “And why is that, do you suppose?”

To that, Ruby had no response.

--

Part Two
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