Sunday, 12 August 2012

Short Story Sunday: Under the Living Mountain

This week, I don't want to say too much of anything because I might blow the reveal.  So!  Enjoy!

Under the Living Mountain

            “Careful.  Stand back.”
The muffled words worked their way through the stone to an empty cavern on the other side.  Perhaps empty is too strong a word.  For the moment, lifeless.
“I’m always careful.  You be careful.”
“You’re never careful, which is why you’re always in trouble.”
“Well then I’m lucky I have you to get me out of trouble, huh.  Lucky me. You gonna blow this thing or what?”
“I would if you’d get out of the way.”  The two voices stilled for a moment. 
There was a deep intake of breath.
“Ixen garmth!” One of the voices shouted!  The last syllable was lost in a thundering explosion, a spell triggered by those ancient words.  The thick stone wall shattered in an instant, a crack and a roar tumbling through the now gaping hole with a column of flame. The cavernous walls lit up like the noonday sun and receded into darkness in an instant. 
Eventually, with much coughing at the hanging dust, two figures appeared in the breach.  One held a torch, the other simply held up his hand, a glowing mote of dust suspended above it.  They cautiously entered the cavern. 
“That’s always fun.” The one with the torch said, flicking some dust off his shoulders. 
“You have no idea.” The other replied, smiling.  He held out his hand, and the mote moved into the air, spreading light farther and farther into the room.
“What is this place?” The torch-wielder asked.  “The stone on the walls looks carved, but...”
“But we’re a mile underground, and haven’t seen a dwarven rune once?  I know... I’m confused too.  Look over there.” He pointed up into the corner. “Looks like a turret, from a keep. “ And indeed it did appear to be the insides of a turret, holding back the stone of the mountain.
“So... how did it get buried?”
“That, my shifty friend... is an excellent question.” The wizard started moving towards the far end of the room, picking his way over rubble and shattered floor, until he kicked something protruding from the jumble and heard a clang.  He looked down. “Hey, come look at this...” the wizard cocked his head.
“What is it?” The torch-bearer asked, gingerly working his way over the sharp and, in some cases, hot rocks.
“I’m not sure... it almost looks like...” He reached down, brushing dust and debris from the object. “Like a mask.  No wait... a whole head.”
The torch bearer grimaced, not liking the thought of yet another headless body mystery. 
“No... there’s more... put that down and come help me.” The wizard instructed, delicately removing shattered stone and ancient debris from his find. The torch bearer jabbed his torch in the ground, shrugged, and got to work.
Before long the two of them stood over a fully exposed, prone figure made of metal and wood.
“Sooo.... is it armour?” The torch bearer ventured skeptically.
“I don’t think so.” The wizard replied, crouching down.  He hefted a heavy arm, and let it drop with a resounding thud. “Too heavy.  Must be solid.”
“Sculpture then?” The thing looked, more or less, like a man in armour. It must have weighed three hundred pounds all told, and lying on the floor made for a very perplexing mystery.  The only other feature the two men had uncovered was a simple wooden shield, banded in iron.  How it had survived all these centuries down here was a mystery all its own, but was dwarfed by the purpose of the strange metal man lying on its back. “Maybe a form, to make armour on.  Or like... a mountable closet.”
“Then why make it flexible?” The wizard asked, bending the fingers and the wrist.  The thing only had three fingers on each hand, including the thumb.  “And they certainly weren’t making any gauntlets.”
“Alright then, wise guy.  What do you think?”
The wizard stared at the lifeless form, gazing into its cold metal face.  He chewed his lip.  He squinted. He brushed at the dust on the collar of the thing, revealing a series of letters and numbers. 
He stroked his small beard.
“I think we should turn it on.” The wizard said, cracking his knuckles and placing his hands over the thing’s chest.  Tiny rivulets of energy began to course down his arms from his torso, collecting in his hands. 
“Uhh... Not my vote. Not my vote!” The torch bearer exclaimed, stepping back.  It was too late, the wizard had made up his mind and that was that. 
The torch bearer ducked and ran for cover with a finesse that belied his experience with impulsive wizards.
The energy coalesced in the wizard’s palms, glowing a soft purple that intensified with each passing second.  “Tlush vers ropoqu...” the wizard muttered, gently lowering his hands to the thick metal breastplate of the thing.  The energy coursed through the thing, illuminating every nook and cranny, every crack and every seam, rushing across the body like lightning and settling in the dark sockets where eyes would belong. Instead of eyes, a pair of shimmering yellow dots shone out, slowly fading to a light glow as the power the wizard had imbued settled. 
There was a slight creaking sound, which echoed through the space. 
A low crack.  The “eyes” remained motionless, as did the heavy form.
Time passed. 
The wizard turned to see where his travelling companion had hid, and as his eyes left the body on the ground, it moved.
With incredible speed it lashed out, grabbing the wizard’s neck in a vice-grip with its three fingers, at the same time spinning and rising, slipping its arm expertly into the discarded shield.
In an instant, the thing was standing upright, the wizard lifted off the ground in front of it by his throat, its shield brought to bear in the direction of the hiding torch bearer.  The wizard gasped and struggled, tugging at the metal fingers squeezing out his breath.
The metal monstrosity opened its jaw, paused, and then shut it.  The wizard stared at it.  It’s eyes were flickering, like it was thinking.  The jaw opened and closed again.  The face remained impassive. The wizard clawed at his throat, trying to hold himself up on the metal arm that never wavered, never moved.  The wizard reached out, and gripped the collar of the thing, trying to push himself away.
The jaw opened once more. A grating, metallic sound squealed out into the still air, followed by words that were obviously artificial, but bore a strangely human note of confusion... and fear.
“What... is... this unit?” The creature asked the wizard, its eyes intense but still flickering, still trying to remember.
The wizard’s face was puffy and red now; he was close to passing out.  He gasped at the thing holding him aloft, wanting to tell it he had no idea.  That there was no way he could know. That if he didn’t let go this instant the wizard would explode his skull with a fireball.  But nothing came out.  His head started to loll in the metal man’s grip, his vision starting to tunnel. 
He could see along his arm to the collar of the thing.  Four symbols, right next to his thumb.  His eyes darted up to the creature’s flickering lights.
The thing was eerily motionless, even as the wizard struggled.  It was like a metal statue, a statue with a question. 
“Pu... Puh....” it was getting hard to see the symbols now.  Everything was so dark.  P... 3.... T.... “Puh...” The wizard gasped, his breath gone.  P, 3, T, R.  He let go of the collar, and groped at the thing’s face. 
“Peter” he whispered, and fell unconscious.  The thing didn’t move, it stayed motionless, holding the form of the wizard aloft. It’s jaw opened, and closed. 
It opened again.
“What... does a Peter do?” It asked the wizard’s unconscious body.  When the wizard didn’t respond, it cocked it’s head. 
From the shadows, behind a huge piece of debris, the torch bearer whispered “Screw it.”
He closed his eyes, made peace with his god, and shouted to the monstrosity holding his friend.

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