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TWO

TWO

A Chapter by Sloane Goldflies

TWO

 

As his limbs loosen and become acclimated to life he begins to eat away the distance separating him from the burning settlement.  Idly he notices that every so often a trail of blood will trace his path for a step or two, only to stop and pick up again after a few more feet.  He notices this, but he does not dwell on it, so focused is he on the burning madness just beyond his grasp.  The small point fills his vision until it is all he can see.  He ceases to feel his legs pumping beneath him or to hear the individual sounds of struggle: there is only one sound, a low hum that thrums throughout his whole body.  There is only one feeling, and that is of a gathering closeness as the wall of fire and bilious smoke looms larger and larger.

Soon he can begin to pick out shapes among the general chaos of battle.  Men armed with blood-rusted great swords and axes and wicked maces cut gory swathes through men and women clumsily brandishing whatever is at hand: farm tools like scythes and pitchforks and crudely sharpened spades as well as hatchets and knives and thick cudgels fashioned from dinner tables and studded with nails and glass shards.  A cluster of robed figures encircled by a ring of men bristling with steel stand away from the melee, gathering flame and hurling it at buildings and those not fit or brave enough to fight, who try vainly to run and hide.  Scattered here and there are great rock giants�"like himself but cruder and simpler, too�"kicking and flinging and hurling great slabs or rock across the field.  They are slow and clumsy and once or twice the rocks land off target and hit one of their comrades instead of the fleeing villagers.  He can see no twinkling of crystal on their stoneskin, but through the gray haze there are many details that get smudged and obscured.  The acrid sting of smoke and the rank stench of destruction and charred flesh hit the stone man in a disconcerting wave.  It is as though the spell is broken, and his will is his own again.  He sees a trio of battered men, one of them bleeding profusely from a leg wound that he realizes created the blood trail that he had followed to get here, are heading towards the cluster of guarded mages.  They speak with one of the guards, and the stone man catches a handful of words: “tower…awake…following us…Noreficio…betrayed…” and after a moment the guard steps aside to let the speaker pass.  The other two collapse to the ground where they stand.  The stone man begins to enter the outermost fringes of battle, into the small scuffles that occur there.  He passes from one clutch of combatants to the next, observing the figures struggling against each other.  So embroiled are they in the fever of combat that they do not notice him pass.  He watches a middle-aged townsman skewer a soldier on the tines of his pitchfork and steal the dying man’s blade only to find the soldier’s dagger between his ribs.  The stone man sees a woman with a hefty cast iron pan fighting back-to-back with her husband knock a man senseless so her partner can easily slip in and slit his throat.  He sees that the townsfolk are fierce but they are few and untrained, and they are losing.  In the few minutes it takes the stone man to reach the thick of the fighting the number of villagers standing is halved.  Dimly he is saddened, though he does not know why.  Here and there, where the soldiers are slow to move out of his path, he crushes them beneath his heavy feet and punishing fists.  A whisper follows him, like a ripple in a pond: “something is wrong with it, something is wrong with that golem.”

He turns sharply and heads towards the burning buildings and the teeming cluster of panicked humanity that surrounds it in a ring.  The screams are louder and sharper here, and in addition to the roar and whoosh of the flames he can discern the creak of weakened timbers giving way, of glass shattering, and the pop of small explosions.  The screams begin to wear on him, begin to drag on his limbs like quicksand.  The piercing screams of terrified and lost children are especially cutting.  The stone man stops dead, wanting to turn back and run, run as fast as his heavy stone limbs will carry him away from the terror and the pain and the fire.  But the niggling pull is back and drawing him into the burning town.  It lifts his feet and drops them, one in front of the other, closer and closer to the smoking, flaming ruins.  Again, it is as though there is a voice calling him that is just out of earshot, a voice that weaves among the battle sounds and at once is them.  He presses irresistibly on, unfeeling of the scorching heat and eye-stinging smoke. 

Unlike with the soldiers the stone man is careful not to step on the townspeople.  He weaves a needlessly roundabout path among them, even being careful to step over the dead.  Most of them are too lost in their own terror to notice him, and those few who do flee him in terror, thinking he is like the others, an instrument of war sent to ravage their town senseless. 

You are an instrument of war.

The thought is not his own, though he cannot be sure.  It is almost like the voice he almost-hears beneath the sound, evasive and slippery and of many tones and timbres.  It leaves no trace once it leaves his mind save for an unsettled feeling in his core.  The stone man feels overwhelmed suddenly, thrust as he has been into the chaos of battle not even an hour after his birth-wakening.  He is aware in a rush of the strangeness of his being, of his stoneskin speckled with crystal and gem fragments and of his self-awareness without a name.  Something like vertigo yanks him back into the moment and allows him to stop his mindless progression. 

Through a wall of flame he sees a large woman approaching him.  She does not run like the rest, nor do her movements seem at all panicked or even hurried.  Instead she is relaxed and disarmingly calm, her arms at rest at her sides.  Though her long hair and robes blow in the heat of the fire the stone man can see that she is untouched by the flames themselves.  She is a mage of some sort, able to create a void in the inferno.  At once the stone man is deeply afraid of her, the first thing he has ever been afraid of in his short life.  The stone man is awed by the fearsome beauty of this she-mage: her long hair is a stark and unusual red the color of blood or flame and her skin a dusky brown tattooed with the symbols of power particular to her devotion.  Pure-black eyes glare piercingly out at him from beneath cruelly arched eyebrows.  Her plump mouth moves with speech and again he hears the almost-voice and feels the fingers.    The almost-voice is hers.  The pulling fingers tugging at his feet are hers.  Behind her the hulking shapes of two other stone men fizzle into existence and stop behind her at her signal.

He runs.  Whoever the she-mage is, she is dangerous, even to the stone man, and he knows he has to run, and run swiftly.  He wills his thick, sluggish rock muscle to carry him faster, faster, to leave the woman with the black eyes far behind.  Burning buildings and crying, dying people slide past him quickly, though he begins to fear not quickly enough.  He tries to avoid crushing the townspeople on his way out as he had on his way in, but in his panic he fails.  The she-mage shrieks in rage and beneath the shriek he hears the slither of the almost-voice.  Before the last note has completely faded away the stone man feels the ground shudder with other pairs of stone feet running in pursuit.  The invisible fingers pull on him and try to drag him to a stop, but he pushes through them and onward.  Ahead, through a break in the thick black wall of smoke, the lurching forms of two more rock giants appear, running for him.  They are so close that he can see for certain that there are no flecks of crystal in their stoneskin, are in fact almost a universal roughly hewn gray, except for a plate of cloudy clear crystal in their chests, behind which glows something a pulsating gold.  The stone man has no time to admire this shocking difference, for all his attention is suddenly occupied by stopping.  It takes several precious seconds for him to stop and divert his course, seconds his pursuers use to close the distance between them.  He looks around hastily for an opening, but no matter where he turns he sees them.  They slow, perhaps realizing he is trapped and they need not hurry.  The woman is nowhere to be seen and then she is in front of him, as casually as if she had been there all along.  She c***s her head and puts her hands on her hips, studying him piercingly with her pitch-black eyes. 

“Who are you, golem?”  she asks in a voice ringing with power.

The stone man considers.  He opens his mouth and works it loose, trying to speak but the only sound that comes out is a sound like boulders tumbling down a mountain.  He tries again but is no more successful. 

The woman holds up her hand for silence.  “Enough,” she says, and he goes still.  Her rock men form a loose circle around him, penning him in, and she walks the inside perimeter, examining him. She mutters things he cannot hear and runs her fingers over one of his larger crystal fragments.  At her touch something shoots through him, burning icily with what he distantly thinks must be pain. 

She completes her circle and stares at him.  She says something in the almost-voice, and the fingers, at such close range more like fists, try and force him onto one knee, but he resists and stands firmly on his feet.  She stops and considers him a moment longer before barking a command and leaving the circle of rock giants.  As soon as she is clear they charge. 

The stone man is afraid.  There are six of these rock giants to his one, and they have the power of the she-mage behind them.  Perhaps against one or even two he would have a chance, but against this many he is doomed.  For a split second he has given up, has accepted that this is his fate�"to live for only a few hours and know only death and war.  But then something inside him resists, hardens.  No.  He will not give up.  The she-mage will not win.

He ducks below the grabbing gray hands and meteoric gray fists and somehow finds the agility to slip between two of them to the outside of the circle.  His movements are instinct, are done without thinking, and happen faster than he had thought himself capable.  With a grating roar he spins and slams his own fist into the pulsating gold on the chest of the rock giant before him.  The crystal plate splinters and his fist connects with something soft and springy but tough, like flesh.  The rock man crumples, lifeless.  The she-mage gives another shriek of rage and he can feel the almost-voice rise to a deafening pitch.  The rock giants, thrown off by his maneuvers, begin to regroup and redouble their efforts.  The stone man realizes that she controls them, and he turns once more, this time towards the direction of her furious screams.  He runs after her, eyes boring through the thick smoke and flame for his target.  He worries he will not catch her, his stone muscles move so slowly, but what he loses in quickness he makes up for in the length of his strides, and so before he knows it he sees her darting form through the blaze.  Seeing her gives him a burst of energy that allows him to move just fast enough to close the distance between them.  He knows the energy won’t last and that once it is gone she will most likely slip away on her darting-quick human legs.  He also knows it won’t last long enough for him to completely catch up with her.  And so, in desperation, he flings his stone body at her, diving for the she-mage.

The force of the impact when he hits the ground drives his eyes shut and when he opens them she is nowhere to be seen.  She has eluded him, and soon her rock giants will be upon him and will tear his stoneflesh to pieces.  But then he realizes that he no longer hears the stampede of their steps over the din of battle, and he raises himself into a crouch.  As he lifts his torso there is a sickening squelch as the squashed remains of the she-mage peel from his chest and land in a bloody heap at his feet.  Relief soars in a song through his chest and out his throat into a triumphant cry.  The stone man clambers to his feet and yells again with a sound like a hawk calling through a stone throat.  He stomps once more on the pulpy remains of the she-mage, blood and pieces of flesh and bone sliding grotesquely down his chest.  His celebration is complete, and the stone man turns to go looking for the rock giants, now leaderless.

He finds them standing in a confused cluster a few yards back.  He approaches them carefully, giving them a wide berth at first and keeping  them in his line of sight at all times.  While he watches them they come to their senses and begin to look around�"at each other, at the burning town, at the stone man.  They stand still, clustered together and placid as cattle; mindless drones without their mage to call them.  When they prove to be non-hostile he leaves them, heading away from both the tower and the battlefield.  Behind him he hears a distant cheer, the marauders finishing their slaughter, followed by some concerned shouts the stone man imagines must be the discovery of the she-mage’s body.  



© 2011 Sloane Goldflies


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Added on July 3, 2011
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Author

Sloane Goldflies
Sloane Goldflies

Chicago, IL



About
I am a writer. That's what I do. I hope I'm good enough to get published some day. Tell me honestly what you think of my work when you review: I want to know where it's weak, where its cheesy. more..

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A Chapter by Sloane Goldflies


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A Chapter by Sloane Goldflies