Prologue

Angela squinted at the collection of gears and metal tubes in her hands, small fingers probing, trying to locate the mistake in the intricate machine. She gave a small gasp as she pushed the right cog into place with a quiet click. The gears slowly started to turn as Angela gently put the machine on the work bench in front of her.

"Well well, I see that my workshop hasn't gone to waste in my absence."

Angela turned to see a large man standing in the doorway to the shop. His face was almost completely hidden behind a thick black bushy beard. The long coat that he wore was soaked through, and it seemed to barely contain his muscular frame. The coat was held closed only by a large collection of straps and buckles that crisscrossed his chest and waist and bristled with weapons.

"Daddy!" Angela squealed. "You're home!" She ran towards him and laughed as he swept her up in a great bear hug.

"You sound surprised, my Angel. You know I would never miss your special day."

Angela pulled back from the hug and frowned. "You almost did. My birthday is tomorrow."

"I'm sorry Angel, we had a little trouble on the way back. I practically ruined the engines getting here in time."

"The ship is here?" Angela asked, her eyes widening in excitement.

"Not anymore, I told Andrew to take it to town to get it unloaded and fixed up."

"Oh," Angela said with disappointment, "I wish I could've seen it." Her face brightened. "Oh! I made something for you, come look!"

She grabbed her father's hand and led him over to the workbench. She reached into one of the drawers and pulled out a small mechanical bird which gave a loud "Tweet!" and cocked its head to the side.

"I named him Tweeters cause that's all he could do when I found him in the scrap yard. But I've been trying to fix him up and he can fly now!"

Angela slipped her fingernail under a panel on the bird's back, revealing a small hollow in the body. With careful precision, she lifted the small collection of moving gears off the workbench and slid them into the hollow.

Angela gently closed the panel. "Well Tweeters? How do you feel?"

The bird tweeted and then lifted one wing, then the other, then both with increasing speed until the wings were just a blur. The bird gave a happy tweet and hopped off the workbench, fluttering madly for a few seconds before freezing in midair and plummeting towards the ground. The bird hit the floor with a crash, sending small parts flying, both wings bent at awkward angles.

"Interesting," Angela's father said, "looks like a bad power cell, maybe a ballast issue."

Angela's eyes filled with tears as she looked at her shattered creation. Her father glanced at her and quickly enveloped her in a hug.

"Don't worry Angel, we can fix him. He just needs some new parts."

"But he was supposed to be a gift for you! So you could remember me when you're gone."

Angela's father smiled and brushed her hair out of her eyes. "I don't need anything to remind me of you. You and your mother are the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing to go through my mind before I fall asleep. I could never forget about you Angel." He stood and pulled a box down from the shelf above the workbench. "Tell you what, let's get these parts picked up and we'll fix Tweeters together."

Angela nodded and wiped the tears out of her eyes.

"I hope you're not planning on fixing that bird tonight Henry," Angela's mother said from the doorway. "It's already an hour past her bedtime and I don't want you two staying up til all hours of the night again."

Angela's father gave her a sheepish grin. "Yes dear."

He turned to Angela. "You heard your mother, time for bed."

Angela pouted. "Can I get a bedtime story?"

Her father glanced at her mother who nodded grudgingly. Angela squealed as her father swept her up into his arms and carried her through the workshop's door and into the tavern that sat adjacent to the shop, then up the stairs to the loft that sat directly atop the tavern. He gently swung her into the woven hammock nestled in the corner and pulled the thick blanket over her, tucking in the edges.

"There we go. Now, what story would you like to hear?"

"Can you tell me about the time you met the king?"

"Oh that's a good one. It happened just after I met you mother. She was just a barmaid who I had fallen in love with, and I was just a scoundrel drifting from isle to isle looking for whatever work I could find. The queen had just given birth to the new heir, and an official summons went out to all the corners of the kingdom. Everyone was invited to attend the official confirmation, and fancy gifts were expected by all. I of course, had no money for presents, and no skills to speak of, but I had my little barely functioning one man skiff and set out looking for the perfect gift, intending to make a point that not only the rich and royal can come up with something fabulous."

"And you found the angel bird right?"

"I like to think that it found me. I wasn't even an hour off the isle when it smashed into the side of the skiff, almost pitched me over it hit so hard. Majestic thing, brilliantly white with the most beautiful feathers, and it made a sound that would bring a tear to the eye of every person who heard it. They were thought to be a myth by all but the most travelled crews. The one I found was the first one ever actually captured in all of history. I made my way to the capital, filled with its towers and paved streets, nobility dressed in every color in existence, all decked out to impress the king and queen. But when I showed up at the confirmation I was instantly famous, the king himself came to thank me and proclaimed to those gathered that I had honored the kingdom with the best present ever imagined."

"And then he rewarded you with a small fortune."

Angela's father fake scowled. "Who's telling this story, you or me? That's right, he gave me enough money to buy a ship, hire a crew, and most importantly, marry the woman of my dreams. And then once you were on the way I still had enough left over to buy this place so we had a place to live."

"What happened to the bird?"

"I assume it's being well cared for in the royal menagerie. Being magnificent as always, making the royalty swoon and all that. I haven't gone back to the palace since. My place is out here on the rim with you."

Angela's eyes were closed and her breathing was steady. Her father smiled and gently kissed her on the forehead before quietly making his way for the stairs.

"I love you daddy. Thank you for the story."

Angela's father smiled. "I love you too Angel, happy birthday."