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Crookshanks Harry leaned into his tool, urging his whole body softly against the knot in the wood. “Wot’s it gonna be, then?” he asked.
He had imagined the Lord Protector as a towering, imposing figure. Instead, Cromwell looked like a farmer, and not a very handsome one. And his voice sounded like shattering glass and twisting wire. “The prototipos, as the Greeks would say. The first of my New Model Army.”
Harry hawked and spat into the sawdust. “Wot’s that? I’ve seen a model building afore. It was tiny. That Wren bugger wanted to patch up St. Paul’s, dinne?”
“He did,” Cromwell agreed.
“Only this thing ain’t tiny. It’s… it’s huge. Well, it’s a man, innit?” Harry spat again and looked at the thing he was working on. It was like a marionette, but the size of an adult man. He’d finished his work, but for this last knot. At least the thing didn’t have a face, Harry decided. That would have made him feel decidedly uncomfortable. “Bloody ’Ell.”
“It isn’t quite a man,” Cromwell corrected him. “Think of it as a house.”
“An ’ouse the size and shape of a man. God’s wounds, that’s a new one.” Harry worked the knot down a little more. “Almost done, ’ere.”
“Or a suit of clothes,” the Lord Protector continued. “For a being from another plane.”
“Another plane? Like wot, like a demon?” Harry crossed himself before he spat this time. “That’s wrong, that is. That’s cock-eyed.”
“No, it isn’t,” Cromwell said. His smile was gentle. “It’s perfect. God is the great dystopian, not I. He wishes his creatures to hop and flap and hobble about on crutches—” he gestures at Harry’s own crutch in the corner, “and suffer. I will redeem the world. I will rid it of its imperfections.”
Harry laughed nervously. “With this ’ouse for a demon, shaped like a man? God’s hooks, I almost believe you.” He didn’t, though, not quite. He thought the Lord Protector was mad.
“Almost.” Cromwell smiled again, reassuring. “John Churchhill and his cavaliers want to hold on to the world as it is, but they are profoundly mistaken. I will redeem this flawed creation with my New Model Army. I come not to send peace, but a sword.”
Harry spat. The knot was almost gone now. “’Ow’s it work, then?”
“A sacrifice is always necessary.”
Harry worked the knot. “Wot, to summon the… the demon?”
“To perfect the world.”
Harry eased over the knot one final time and it was gone. As the knot disappeared, he thought he heard the faint rasp of metal behind him.
“There she is.” He set the plane down. “Perfect.”
Harry turned back to Cromwell. His eyes caught the flash of steel as the Lord Protector sank his dagger into the carpenter’s belly.
Cromwell eased Crookshanks Harry backward. The crafter tried to speak, tried to object, but blood gurgled in his throat. Blood poured down his chest and belly, soaked his tunic, stained the wood of the perfect mannequin.
Incredibly, as his life seeped out of him, Harry thought he felt the dummy twitch. “Thank you,” Cromwell’s voice was gentle. “I will remember that you were the first.”