The Chain Golem
Nameless, utterly alone, It perceived a distant Voice echoing from the Outside not in sound, for It could not hear, but in thought. What served as Its mind fluttered awake, a simulacrum of consciousness possessing neither memory nor identity.
And so It was caught, trapped by perceptions from which It could not flee, for It possessed no faculty for such conceptions as thought or flight or will. Driven by the Voice whose very breath wrenched It from Its dark and timeless paths, It came, pitching through swirling lattices of darkness, light, and pain.
Wracked by flashes of whirling vertigo, It was thrust into existence, absorbed into crushing matter. It coalesced into simplistic awareness, imprisoned by the tyranny of the physical in a world of surfaces and substance.
The Voice slid through the emptiness where Its mind would dwell, if It had one: “Rise! Rise!”
And from a heap of metal wreckage, It rose, a hulking iron puppet hanging not from threads of nerves and flesh but of mind and will that were not Its own. A cacophony of clanking vibrations sounded through Its countless limbs.
Before It stood The Figure, a tall, thin being of flesh through whose eyes It saw Itself: a twisting mass of hooked chains and discarded weapons, half a ton of rough iron links roiling in the air in a wide space of flagstones between high walls and a fiery gate. Corpses lay all around the shattered siege engines from whence It came. Fragments of oak dragged at It, but It snatched them up into its clinking coils, grinding them to splinters in the way of choking serpents.
The Figure pointed to the burning gate as the ram broke through. Leaping through the fire they came, slow beings of soft, warm flesh wrapped in shells of metal and leather.
“Kill!” cried The Voice.
With lightning-fast violence devoid of malice, Its limbs lashed out, whistling through the air, thudding against armor, cutting through flesh, and snapping through bone. One by one It seized them in sawing iron loops, drew them into Itself where It churned them into an oozing paste that greased Its grating bands of iron, adding their fragments of iron and steel to Its own.
The Figure’s exultation echoed through It meaninglessly, for It possessed no passions with which to answer in kind. It knew only The Figure’s will and an urgent compulsion to obey, unhindered by choice or doubt or inspiration. Freedom.
Another flesh-thing leapt through the flames, larger than the others and girt in plates of steel. In one hand it held a broad-bladed axe, in the other a wide shield. The fleshy creature crouched and advanced, flanked by smaller ones bending curved bows. Through the smoking gate strode a figure whose eyes glowed in The Figure’s sight, bearing a staff of twisted wood.
The Figure’s fear billowed up, filling It with a resonating urgency.
With the sole sentiment It possessed, It answered: iron whip-strokes flailed at the armored figure, ringing off the shield, glancing from the greaves and pauldrons, and sparking across the high helm that glinted in The Figure’s eyes.
Behind the larger crouched the others, but It ignored them and the steel-tipped shafts probing pointlessly for the heart It did not have. Through The Figure’s ears It heard the glowing-eyed one bellow. Fire and light erupted, seared into the mass of Its surging chains. It glowed red, then orange, but still It’s limbs thrashed hissing through the air, seeking flesh. In Its coils the greasy remnants of Its victims ignited, wreathing It in flame and curling clouds of black smoke.
The large one fended off Its blows, pinned a slashing chain to the ground with its shield, and brought the axe down. The tempered blade bit clean through, and the smoking length of chain was lost to It. The beings of flesh cheered. But It had many more.
“No!” cried The Voice, and an image came to It. Forgotten, Its chains flopped ringing to the ground. The Figure’s fear surged but was ignored, as It struggled to comprehend The Voice’s will.
Again, the one with glowing eyes cried out, and glittering beams of light lanced across It, roasting Its iron in waves of heat that warped the shimmering air. Here and there, links of chain snapped and fell free, but It felt neither pain nor regret.
Through the Figure’s ears, It heard their shouts of triumph even as what passed for epiphany came: the image was not of what existed, but what The Figure wished to exist, what the Voice wished for It to do. Now knowing Its master’s will, It acted.
Its chains shot out to the end of their reach to either side, then turned and whistled past the beings of flesh, sinking into the stone and earth behind them. Anchored, It tightened Its grip, pulling Itself into them, catching them up in a fiery fence of red-hot iron that broiled their quivering flesh as It crushed their fragile bodies into the wall behind. Their screams ended quickly. It gathered their arms and armor into Itself.
The Figure’s relief passed through It without meaning. The Figure left for a time. The fires of the gate and corpses died out. Sometime later, The Figure returned, burdened with a bulging sack that clanked when The Figure set it down.
“Down,” said The Voice.
It collapsed into a heap. The Figure knelt and rummaged through the sack for a circlet of gold. The Figure pried loose a crimson crystal and set the jewel within Its chains and whispered words of power that echoed in Its mind. A new light awoke within It, and in that light, It saw.
“Kill all who come through the gate,” said The Voice, and It comprehended. The Figure hefted the sack and left.
But It remained in the courtyard, just inside the gate, waiting. The sun set and then rose, and set again. And again. And again. The cycles of light and dark alternated faster and faster, but It remained, Its crimson eye fixed upon the entryway. Sometime later, a quiet, four-legged thing of flesh and fur came through. A loop of chain whistled through the air like a cleaver. Before the antlered head had struck the ground, It was still again, and waiting.
More time passed. The cycles of light and dark whirred past as It lay, undistracted by any thought, any memory. Rain came, then dried. Periods of hot and cold, light and dark swept past while It watched and waited.
The passing of time reached a shuddering momentum that careened on and on and on - and then suddenly It crashed into the present as a small being of flesh approached, much smaller than the others whose bones had gone away long ago. The tiny being walked upon two thin legs, clutching a tiny cloth simulacrum of itself in its arms.
In motionless coils, It lay poised for the flesh-thing to come.
The fleshy being came closer and closer, pausing just outside the gate. The small flesh-thing noticed It and paused. The small eyes peeked from beneath long lashes, settled on Its sparkling eye. “Pretty!” the small figure cooed to its cloth companion and scampered closer, crossing the threshold of the gate.
With every barbed chain, It struck.
But Its limbs would not move. It strained, felt the creaking within Itself, but Its countless links had fused into a single solid mass of rusted iron.
The small flesh-thing’s hand grew huge in Its eye. The tiny fingers scooped up the red jewel, raised the shining stone close to a sparkling eye rounded with excitement. The small figure capered away on its little legs, singing and dragging its stuffed companion by an arm.
Through the gaps between fingers, It watched as the landscape careened past as Its eye was carried away. Deep within the mass of rusted iron, a single link broke free, waving wildly from its neighbor in malice-less violence, forever.